- The Silver Cord (John Cromwell)
- Elevator to the Gallows (Louis Malle)
- Brewster Mccloud (Robert Altman)
- Deep in my Heart (Stanley Donen)
- Shoot the Piano Player (François Truffaut)
- La Règle du Jeu (Jean Renoir)
- Coming Home (Hal Ashby)
- Mother (Mikio Naruse)
- Contempt (Jean-Luc Godard)
- Ballad of Narayama (Keisuke Kinoshita)
1- Much has been written about how camera movement was suddenly restricted in the beginning of the talkies due to the restraints of the technology. Early sound films often look like filmed stage plays, and that is because they were often just that. The Silver Cord was a Broadway hit. It is a very odd story of a mother’s sick and controlling hold over her two sons. She breaks up one son’s engagement and nearly destroys the other’s marriage. Pretty potent stuff. And to think that this gorgon of a mother was played by Laura Hope Crewes, the dotty Aunt Pittypat from Gone With The Wind.
2- Both Elevator to the Gallows and Shoot The Piano Player are examples of what happens when French New Wave directors make their homage to film noir. It is clear to me that Louis Malle is by far the more accomplished filmmaker of the two. I believe this might have been his first feature. It is masterful and fascinating. Shoot The Piano Player is ok but the whole time I would just saying to myself, “Oh. I see. Truffaut is making hommage to film noir. It is the more artificial of the two.
3- It is no secret to anyone who knows me that I consider Nashville perhaps the greatest film of all times….at least the greatest American film. Yes, I am giving into hyperbole and I am not forgetting about Citizen Kane, The Godfather and All About Eve, but Nashville, even after 45 years, still thrills and satisfies. This preamble is to emphasize how disappointed I am with just about every other Altman film I’ve seen and yes, that includes everyone’s favorite, McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Brewster McCloud is weird and fun but I just couldn’t get a handle on what it was trying to do. It made me laugh a lot, and it was creepy, too. It is the first film to feature Shelley Duval doing her kooky Shelley Duvall thing, so that is fun. But when it was over, I said ‘Huh’?
4- Watching Deep In My Heart made me realize what a weird, stylized subgenre MGM musical biographies of the great song writers is. They always seem to have the same weird features:
a- a weirdly intrusive voice-over narrating the story
b- a completely fictionalized love story
c- cameos of the composer’s greatest hits sung by the big MGM musical stars of the day.
Deep in my Heart is a particularly demented version of the above mostly because it is about a mostly forgotten songwriter and it stars the totally uncharismatic and unmusical Jose Ferrer. You have not lived until you see Ferrer do a soft shoe routine with Metropolitan Opera Wagnerian soprano Helen Traubel. She steals the movie, by the way.
5- Coming Home was a satisfying surprise. I had never seen it and I felt it would be too dated to watch it now. No way. It is a wonderfully adult depiction of a very complicated set of relationships. Jane Fonda is subdued and powerful. Jon Voight is heart-wrenching. For once there is a sex scene that is not smarmy/gratuitous but which really underscores the bond between the two lovers. I remember at the time people were rejoicing that Hollywood was finally dealing with Vietnam. It was the year that The Deer Hunter won the best picture Oscar. Coming Home was robbed.
** I am happy to have finally subscribed to the Criterion Channel. What a treasure it is! The next three films were the first three I watched**
6- I love Mikio Naruse, but the problem is that only one of his sound films is available in Region 1 DVD format, the stupendous When A Woman Ascends The Stairs. The Criterion Channel has many of his sound films available to watch. The first film I watched on the Criterion Channel was Mother. It completely validated my opinion that he is one of the masters.
7- Readers of this blog will know about my humiliating struggles with the films of Jean-Luc Godard. For some reason though, I keep trying. I always think if I watched one more, it would all click. I must have seen at least 15 of his films so far. Is this bordering on masochism? My latest foray into the world of JLG was Contempt. I had great hopes for this one because it is universally praised and since it stars Brigitte Bardot, I thought the chances of accessibility would be high. I was right. I was quite taken by the whole thing. The supersaturated Technicolor and the Cinemascope look stunning. The music by Georges DeLerue was as overpowering as anything Max Steiner cooked up for MGM. I even think I have a good idea about what the film was trying to accomplish, which is no little feat for me watching a JLG film. It is such a nice feeling to come away from a film and not feel like you have just been kicked in the head.
8- After tempting fate with Contempt, I went back to safer stuff with The Ballad Of Narayama. This is the first filming of this brutal story and I found it very affecting. It uses many Kabuki tropes (music, costuming, sets), and that is always a plus for me. Looks like the Criterion Channel is already turning out to be a great investment.