The Discreet Bourgeois

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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. High Hopes (Mike Leigh)
  2. The Short and Curlies (Mike Leigh)
  3. The Gleaners and I (Agnès Varda)
  4. Merrily We Go To Hell (Dorothy Arzner)
  5. Lured (Douglas Sirk)
  6. Newsfront (Phillip Noyce)
  7. Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock)
  8. The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles)
  9. High Heels (Pedro Almodóvar)
  10. Peggy Sue Got Married (Francis Ford Coppola)

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1-  Mike Leigh’s films seems to be some combination of life-affirming, bleak, cynical and joyous, sometimes in equal measure. But all are works of genius. High Hopes tends toward life-affirming with generous dashes of bleak. The marvelous Ruth Sheen is on hand to provide yet another one of the indomitable figures that are sprinkled across Leigh’s works.

2- I don’t think that I had watched an entire Agnes Varda film before I watched The Gleaners and I.  It is a lovely, odd documentary of people in France who would better be described as scavengers. Although seldom on screen, the personality of Varda permeates the film.  It is a personality that I look forward to spending more time with.

3- Merrily We Go To Hell was shown on TCM as a complement to the Mark Cousins’ multi-part documentary Women Make Film. The documentary is really a film class explaining all aspects of creating a film (framing, script, track shots, characterization, etc.)  After each of the weekly episodes, films that were used as examples are shown in their entirety.  This film was by Dorothy Arzner, the only active woman director besides Ida Lupino in Hollywood.   I had hoped that  it would be pretty raw, since that this was a pre-code film about a society women who marries as seriously alcoholic newspaperman. It is mostly raw, but their is an unfortunate ‘happy end’ tacked on.  I guess even in pre-code days this was to be expected.

4- It was lovely to see Newsfront again. I saw it back in the late 70s as the Australian New Wave was hitting the US. I didn’t remember a thing about it except that it was about newsreel makers in the days just before television.  It is a great combination of fiction and archival footage, with a nicely affecting story to boot.

5- I always had fun watching Rear Window, but this time around I realized that it might very well be greater than Vertigo.  More on this in a later post.

6- Sometimes too much knowledge is too much.  I always knew that The Magnificent Ambersons was a mangled masterpiece, but I thought the mutilation by RKO was on the end of the film, which always seems abrupt and sloppy. I watched it again on the Criterion Collection with the full-length commentary. It seems that the mutilation was far more extensive, hitting about every part of the film. Apparently something like 50 minutes were cut and are now lost.  With the commentary it became apparent that the film is a mess, with moments of brilliance (Fanny’s breakdown, the last party at the Amberson’s mansion).   What was unfortunate about watching with the commentary is that it planted the seed in my mind that even with the deleted holy-grail scenes, it might still be a mess.

7- Pedro Almodóvar has gone from being a campy director of loco shock comedies to one of the great humanists working in film today. High Heels dates from his epater le bourgeois period, so a little of it, for me at least, goes a long way.  There is no denying that the film is stunning-looking.  He was a master of the art form even then, but he hadn’t yet found the great themes that his technical genius was begging for.   He has found them now. Watch Pain and Glory to see way I mean.  It is overwhelming in every sense, but first and foremost, it is overwhelming because you are watching a genius who is at the top of his game.

8- I hadn’t seen Peggy Sue Got Married since it was first realeased.  I remembered being disappointed with it at the time, and it still is disappointing.  It has great ideas, but it is too timid to do anything with them.  It’s fun to see a 12-year-old Sofia Coppola as an annoying younger sister, though.

 

 


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. A Separation (Asghar Farhad)
  2. Rebecca (Alfred Hitchcock)
  3. Nostalghia (Andrei Tarkovsky)
  4. Varieté (Ewald André Dupont)
  5. The Living Skeleton (Hiroshi Matsuno)
  6. Walpurgis Night (Gustaf Edgren)
  7. Swing Shift (Jonathan Demme)
  8. Meantime (Mike Leigh)
  9. Flunky, Work Hard (Mikio Naruse)
  10. A Scandal in Paris (Douglas Sirk)

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1- One of the great benefits of having the Criterion Channel is that it has opened up various national cinemas that I never really knew. The cinema of Iran is a case in point. I had only seen The Taste of Cherry by Abbas Kiarostami.  I found it quite austere and was deterred from seeing other Iranian films for an unforgivably long time.   I have watched many more Kiarostami films and I revere him.  Panahi also is amazing.  I had heard about A Separation when it won the Best Foreign Film Oscar. What a splendidly rich, nuances film that observes relationship dynamics, class distinctions and religious differences. Superbly moving, with an end that kind of took my breath away.

2- Hitchcock is regarded as the auteur par excellence. But not for Rebecca.  Here I would have to say the auteurs are David O. Selznick as well as the MGM tradition of quality.  Hitchcock was loaned out to MGM for his first American picture and it has Selznick all over it. The novel was an enormous success, just as Gone With The Wind was.  Selznick gives this production  the same lavish and slavish treatment he gave to GWTW. It doesn’t make for a bad movie, but it doesn’t make for a great Hitchcock movie. We would have to wait for  Shadow of A Doubt for that.

In the discussion after watching the film, Martin Seay contrasted the difference between the acting styles of Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine.   What you were seeing, he said, was a consummate stage actor (Olivier) and a consummate film actor (Fontaine).   What Olivier was doing might have been superb on the stage, but here on film it was too big.  Made me realize that all the Olivier performances seem to be very theatrical.

3- With The Criterion Collection, I have been able to watch or rewatch the films of Andrei Tarkovsky.  While I loved Stalker and The SacrificeI must admit that I was totally baffled by Nostalghia.  It was beautiful to look at.  I duly appreciated the eight-minute long take at the end of the film, but it mostly went over my head.  I would appreciate any insights you might have.

4- Watching Swing Shift again was a triste experience. I loved it so, when it came out in the 80s and had not seen it since.  It is a mess.  Heartbreaking for me, because I remember it with a warm, nostalgic glow.

5- Meantime is the most downbeat of the Mike Leigh films I have watched.   Perhaps too downbeat.  I have begun to realize that  Mike Leigh films have much in common with the films of Yasujiro Ozu.  Lower middle-class lives of quiet desperation, but always depicted in such a way as to leave you with an overwhelming sense of life.  While watching Meantime I thought it would almost turn into a  parody of itself, but at the end Mike Leigh delivered and there is a gorgeous epiphany of love and forgiveness and hope. Quite overwhelming even if you do have to go through a bit of hell to get to it.

6- You have my permission to skip the The Living Skeleton.  Japanese horror can be cheesy. This was absolute Limburger .

7- Varieté  is a good example of what we lost when silents became sound films.  The camera work here is so thrilling and baffling.  It has Emil Jannings and all the Weimar Republic depravity you could hope for.   It wouldn’t be until that we see such thrilling German film.

8- Just because it is by Douglas Sirk doesn’t guarantee that a film won’t be a turkey. Thanksgiving came early for me with A Scandal in Paris

 

 

 

 

 

 


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Mädchen in Uniform (Leontine Sagan/Carl Froelich)
  2. Come and See (Elem Klimov)
  3. Three Colors : Blue (Krysztof Kieślowski)
  4. Three Colors : White (Krysztof Kieślowski)
  5. Three Colors : Red (Krysztof Kieślowski)
  6. Seduced and Abandoned (Pietro Germi)
  7. The Nun (Jacques Rivette)
  8. But I’m a Cheerleader (Jamie Babbit)
  9. All or Nothing (Mike Leigh)
  10. Yotsuya Kaidan (Keisuke Kinoshita)

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1- I had little interest in watching Mädchen in Uniform. I had the feeling it would be a campy pre-Nazi Lesbian exploitation film that we were supposed to watch and feel superior to, the way we were supposed to watch and feel superior to Reefer Madness. I humbly submit my apologies to all responsible for this masterpiece.  This early sound film shows a German film style that still had some of its roots in Expressionism but unlike The Blue Angel of the same year, I feel that it is pointing to a new direction.  A blend of super-realism combined with not-too-excessive touches of Expressionism.  What would we have seen if that Nazis and their stifling hold on creativity did not come to power two years later? This film gives a good hint at what it would have been like. What I also find so astounding is that the Prussian dictatorship of the school is shown up for what it is. Something that would never have happened two years later.

2- Back when everyone was congratulating themselves for making or going to see films like Schindler’s List and Life Is Beautiful, I realized the fatal flaw here: Unless you were going to follow the hero or heroine into the gas chamber and actually watch them die, you are trivializing war and the Holocaust. Of course, I realize no one would go to see such a film and I doubted that one would ever be made. Therefore, I was stunned by Elem Klimov’s 1985 film Come And See. The title is a refrain from the Book of Revelations as one horror after the other of the Apocalypse is introduced. We follow a 16 year old boy Flyora as he becomes a partisan fighter against the Nazi invaders in Belarus. His idealism leaves him totally unprepared for what he (and we) encounter.  I feel it would be an injustice to describe what transpires here in any kind of detail.  It is the hardest film I ever sat through. Remarkably, it was the only film Klimov made. It may be one of the greatest films I have ever seen.

3- See my review of Three Colors Trilogy   And, of course, see the Three Colors Trilogy

4- Seduced and Abandoned dates from a time when post-Neorealism in Italian film was gradually being replaced by ‘lusty’ domestic sex comedies like this one and Divorce Italian Style.  At the time they were seen as sophisticated and more liberated than comparable movies being made in the US. They make me cringe.  This movie, which I read was supposed to be made as a satire on Italian laws that allowed a man who impregnates and abandons a woman to be exonerated, if he comes back and marries her. Sexist at best, misogynistic at worst. It is hard to imagine what women of the time were feeling, if they were not feeling outrage.

5- If you know me personally, doubtless I have foisted on you one of my favorite films, Jacques Rivette’s Celine and Julie Go Boating.  Despite all the happiness this film has given me (and hopefully others!), I have never been able to penetrate any of Rivette’s other films.  I am glad to say that I found The Nun mesmerizing. It is an adaptation of (of all things!) La Religieuse by Denis Diderot. It was serendipitous to watch it in the same week as Mädchen in Uniform. The two depictions of the brutalization of women play off each other powerfully. It is completely consonant with the anger and outrage of the #metoo movement. Unfortunately, Soeur Saint-Suzanne, the nun of the title, doesn’t make out as well as the Prussian school girls. Her story is horrifying  The lead role is taken by the luminous Anna Karina, muse of Jean-Luc Godard.  I am actually looking forward to watching this again very soon.

6- I am sure that the creators of But I am a Cheerleader were very proud of themselves in the late 90s for making a wacky teen comedy about a gay conversion camp. Unfortunately it is little more than a cartoon about a topic that just isn’t funny.  Not only is the topic not funny, and the film’s handling of it ham-handed, but it is so poorly and sloppily researched and executing.  Here is a case in point (go ahead and accuse me of picking nits). There is a young Jewish man in the group to be converted. Both he and his father are shown throughout the film wearing that classic Jewish signifier, the yarmulke. BUT! These Jews are wearing wearing the ones on the right, not the left:

  

If anyone making the film had bothered to do any research and talk to an actual Jew, they would have found out that for day-to-day wear, the ones on the right are worn and the ones on the left are for special occasion, often given out as souvenirs of wedding or bar/bat mitzvahs. You would never see an observant Jew wearing them during their day-to-day life.  It is as if someone said, “We’ll make these guys Jewish and we’ll let everyone know by putting one of those beanies on their heads”.  Look, I know this is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things but it just shows you how sloppy this movie is. To see a film that treats this topic with the gravity it deserves, please see Boy Erased

7- I don’t have any idea how to write about Mike Leigh’s movies. He is a master. He is Michelangelo, Beethoven and Springsteen all rolled into one. His films are rich, profoundly moving, deeply resonant.  All Or Nothing is as good a place to start as any.

8- So many of Japanese films from the golden era take their stories from Kabuki and Bunraku.  I had seen a later version of The Yotsuya Ghost story, but that was more like slasher-porn Kabuki.  Yotsuya Kaidan is the real deal.  Not sure why it is in two parts.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

If the movies I have binged since I subscribed to the Criterion Channel were filled with carbohydrates, you should worry about my waistline. Luckily they are feeding my mind and heart and not my body.

  1. Judex (Georges Franju)
  2. The Five Pennies (Melville Shavelson)
  3. Blood of the Beasts (George’s Franju)
  4. Intimate Lighting (Ivan Passer)
  5. Donkey Skin (Jacques Demy)
  6. The Limey (Steven Soderbergh)
  7. Senso (Luchino Visconti)
  8. House (Nobuhiko Obayashi)
  9. Naked (Mike Leigh)
  10. Devi (Satyajit Ray)

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1- I avoided Judex because I thought it would be a glitzy remake of the 1910s serial film by Louis Feuillade. I have only seen Feuillade’s Les Vampires but that impressed me as being so much of its time that I bypassed the Franju remake of Judex, another of Feuillade’s multipart sensationalist series. I was wrong. The Franju is delightful and is very much in keeping with the time and spirit of Feuillade and, this is the best part, without a tinge of irony or camp. The ludicrous plot twists are there, but presented with such sincerity that you don’t wince at all.

2- One of the beauties of the Criterion Channel is that you can look at films in collections. After watching Judex,I looked at his other films, I realized that I had never seen Franju’s Blood of the Beasts. It is a 25 minute documentary short contrasting the dreamy, romantic river landscapes outside of Paris, with a graphic and brutal depiction of the daily work in the areas abbattoirs. I am pretty sure that the contrast is not meant ironically, which makes me admire this grisly little film even more.

3- When I was young, like 8 or 9, I went to day camp during the summer. One year they showed us The Five Pennies, a biopic about Red Nichols, legendary cornet player from the early jazz age. I remember that we were all crazy for it, often saying it was our favorite film ever. I caught up with it again after 50 years or so. I wonder what it was we were all seeing back in day camp. It was a kind of dull biopic with no great musical numbers. The story is kind of a downer (Nichol’s daughter contracts polio, thus stopping his music career for a spell). You do get to see some wonderful cameos with Louis Armstrong, but I don’t think we would have appreciated that at the time. We always say that we change in relation to the art we love, in this case film. I am convinced that someone did something to The Five Pennies since I saw it all those decades ago. It just can’t be the same movie.

4- Intimate Lighting is a perfect example of the whimsical, delicate comedies from Czechoslovakia. Like Lady Bracknell says about ignorance, whimsy is a delicate exotic fruit. Touch it and it is destroyed. I must have touched Intimate Lighting while I was watching it. It just evanesced in front of me!

5- I though Donkey Skin was being a late 60s/early 70s Technicolor hip film of a fairy tale, and therefore not really appealing to me. I was kind of right. But I have to say I enjoyed it. There is the weird incestuous relationship between Catherine Deneuve and her father, Jean Marais, that no one seems to be particularly fazed by. There are amazing, overwrought costumes and sets. There is the liberal homage (ripping off?) of Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast. But still, I rather enjoyed it. It is wonderful to see Delphine Seyrig in anything, but it is really wonderful to see here as the helicopter-flying Lilac Fairy. ‘Nuff said.

6- I will see anything Steven Soderbergh. Such a mastery of film direction, such an imagination. His films are so varied and so satisfying. The Limey seems to me like a ‘can we do this?’ kind of film. Fractured narrative, overlapping dialogue from different scenes, archival footage of the beautiful Terence Stamp from his days as a 60s heartthrob compared to his more weathered contemporary self. I was engaged the whole time. It is like a good crossword puzzle. Fun while it lasts, but you wouldn’t go back and do it again. I would go back and see his Contagion or Side Effects in a second, though.

7- I am a huge opera lover. Perhaps even more than I am a film lover. But I am not carried away by ‘operatic’ films. I am not talking about film versions of opera, like Bergman’s The Magic Flute, but narrative films that present themselves in an operatic fashion, i.e. overwrought emotion, sumptuous sets, beautiful actors. Senso is such a film. Everything else I have seen by Visconti seems to be in this style. I enjoyed watching it. The film was engaging. Alida Valli chews up more scenery than Maria Callas ever did. Farley Granger looks appropriately dreamy. But when it was over, I felt like I overate.

8- As readers of the blog know, I am crazy for Japanese film. I have mostly confined my viewing to the golden age 1930 – 1960. In the spirit of being a completist I have ventured into later works with varying levels of enjoyment. But House! What can one say about House? A Japanese fever dream of a slasher film where 7 extremely grating kawai types are brutally and graphically mutilated in what seems to be intend as comic fashion. I think? It is the weirdest thing I have ever seen, without being the least bit engaging. Approach at your own risk.

But seriously, to hear the commentators talk about it on the extras included on the Criterion Channel, House is the most innovative and influential film since Citizen Kane. I am willing to listen if anyone wants to make that case.

9- Mike Leigh, I love you. I worship your mastery. I love your humanity. Naked was his breakout film. It won big prizes at Cannes the year it came out for Leigh and his amazing star, David Thewlis. It has all the hallmarks of Leigh’s best stuff: amazing performances, fascinating dialogue, deliberate pacing. But it is a brutal watch. Not for the faint of heart or the spiritually insecure. Mike Leigh, I love you.

10- Satyajit Ray is another master that I revere. Every film of his is perfectly crafted, emotionally powerful, often heart-breaking but always life-affirming, even when everything falls apart. I had seen Devi many years ago and loved it then and still love it now. Unfortunately the print on the Criterion Channel is not pristine at all. And that tells me that this is probably the best print that exists. Never mind. Watch it. At 90 minutes it makes you ruminate on the big issues: the validity and danger of religion, the validity and danger of filial piety, religion as a tool in class division. Magnificent. But I could say this about any film by Satyajit Ray.


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (Nagisa Oshima)
  2. Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean)
  3. The Affairs of Martha (Jules Dassin)
  4. Night Nurse (William Wellman)
  5. Career Girls (Mike Leigh)
  6. Life is Sweet (Mike Leigh)
  7. Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of my Voice (Epstein/Friedman)
  8. Bombshell (Jay Roach)
  9. Little Women (George Cukor)
  10. Little Woman (Mervyn LeRoy)

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1 – It was strictly by coincidence that I watched Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence and Lawrence of Arabia back to back.  No parallels as far as I could see.  I was glad to see the Oshima. “Modern” Japanese films are a bit of a tough nut for me.  I always respond to Oshima, though.  His films are perverse, but engaging.  David Bowie was a terrific actor, at least in this.
I remember seeing Lawrence of Arabia a lot in the movies when I was a kid.  That would have been in the early 70s, which makes me think it must have been re-released a lot. What a crazy movie this is. I have no idea how it got made, or what we are supposed to make of the eponymous hero.  I remember it was hailed as ‘the thinking man’s epic’.  Not so sure about that.  Wait, was that about Spartacus?

2- I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Night Nurse since it was the first film I watched on TCM . It was a fitting prelude to the banquet to come.  I think it is the quintessential pre-code movie and I have showed it to many friends and hope to show it to many more.  You’re next, Kathleen and Martin!

3- Talking about TCM, they recently showed a double-bill of Mike Leigh films: Life is Sweet and Career GirlsEach time I see a film by him I shake my head wondering how he does it.  He slowly brings to life whole worlds and people, but quietly. By the end you are both elated and devastated. I think it might be time to write a Have you tried….. post on him, but I still have a few more essential films of his to see. In the meantime, watch either of these as well as Vera Drake, Happy-Go-Lucky, Topsy-Turvy and the magnificent Secrets and Lies.

4- I saw Bombshell as part of my annual ‘see all the best picture nominees’ rush.  Even though I really believe Oscar is not irremediably dumb.  But I have made a little project out of seeing every Best Picture winner since the first Oscar in 1927.  I have seen eight of the nine nominees for this year. I am dreading that Joker will win and I will have to see it.

5- See my post on Little Women


The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (Nagisa Oshima)
  2. Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean)
  3. The Affairs of Martha (Jules Dassin)
  4. Night Nurse (William Wellman)
  5. Career Girls (Mike Leigh)
  6. Life is Sweet (Mike Leigh)
  7. Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of my Voice (Epstein/Friedman)
  8. Bombshell (Jay Roach)
  9. Little Women (George Cukor)
  10. Little Woman (Mervyn LeRoy)

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1 – It was strictly by coincidence that I watched Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence and Lawrence of Arabia back to back.  No parallels as far as I could see.  I was glad to see the Oshima. “Modern” Japanese films are a bit of a tough nut for me.  I always respond to Oshima, though.  His films are perverse, but engaging.  David Bowie was a terrific actor, at least in this.
I remember seeing Lawrence of Arabia a lot in the movies when I was a kid.  That would have been in the early 70s, which makes me think it must have been re-released a lot. What a crazy movie this is. I have no idea how it got made, or what we are supposed to make of the eponymous hero.  I remember it was hailed as ‘the thinking man’s epic’.  Not so sure about that.  Wait, was that about Spartacus?

2- I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Night Nurse since it was the first film I watched on TCM . It was a fitting prelude to the banquet to come.  I think it is the quintessential pre-code movie and I have showed it to many friends and hope to show it to many more.  You’re next, Kathleen and Martin!

3- Talking about TCM, they recently showed a double-bill of Mike Leigh films: Life is Sweet and Career GirlsEach time I see a film by him I shake my head wondering how he does it.  He slowly brings to life whole worlds and people, but quietly. By the end you are both elated and devastated. I think it might be time to write a Have you tried….. post on him, but I still have a few more essential films of his to see. In the meantime, watch either of these as well as Vera Drake, Happy-Go-Lucky, Topsy-Turvy and the magnificent Secrets and Lies.

4- I saw Bombshell as part of my annual ‘see all the best picture nominees’ rush.  Even though I really believe Oscar is not irremediably dumb.  But I have made a little project out of seeing every Best Picture winner since the first Oscar in 1927.  I have seen eight of the nine nominees for this year. I am dreading that Joker will win and I will have to see it.

5- See my post on Little Women