The Discreet Bourgeois

Possessed by an urgency to make sure all this stuff I love doesn't just disappear


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Le Cercle Rouge (Jean-Pierre Melville)
  2. The Report (Abbas Kiarostami)
  3. L’Argent (Robert Bresson)
  4. Judy (Rupert Goold)
  5. The Thick-Walled Room (Masaki Kobayashi)
  6. Beautiful Days (Masaki Kobayashi)
  7. The Underneath (Steven Soderbergh)
  8. Ordinary People (Robert Redford)
  9. Tabu (F.W. Murnau)
  10. The Great Sadness of Zohara (Nina Menkes)

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1- I am really finished with Noir. I will be posting shortly to explain why. Watching Le Cercle Rouge and The Underneath did not help matters.

2- I was glad to watch Abbas Kiarostami’s The Report.  I have greatly admired just about everything I have seen by him. This is a very early work of his.  It is fascinating because it gives us a glimpse of pre-Revolution Iran.  It is a very grim look at marriage and work life. Interesting that Kiarostami’s work is more life-affirming after the Revolution, which is counter-intuitive to what we are led to believe in the West.

3- L’Argent was the first Bresson I ever saw. I saw it in the theater when it first came out and Bresson was still alive.  It is the quintessential Bresson experience. It is austere, morally unambiguous and a brutal film-watching experience.  Wonderful creation.

4-  I always knew that earlier Hollywood films about Hollywood and other entertainment personalities had to be taken with many grains of salt.  Night and Day has even less to do with the life of Cole Porter than Rhapsody in Blue has to do with the life of George Gershwin. I always thought that things would improve, at least as far accuracy was concerned.  Judy could have been made 50 years ago. I doubt that much of what is portrayed really happened, so why make a picture like this? Renee Zellweger does an ok impression of Garland, but there really isn’t much to hold one’s interest since it just seems so fictionalized.  I had exactly the same feeling watching Mank.  A potentially great story with fascinating characters, totally squandered.   Also, I don’t get the vulture-like glee in portraying great artists in their decline, like Garland, Marilyn Monroe and Maria Callas.  It seems sadistic to me.  These were all great artists at their respective peaks. Why not show that? Focusing on the sordid declines nullifies what made them great and beloved in the first place.  Do I really want to honor Judy Garland because she was irresponsible, and addicted to pills and alcohol? Nope. Let me watch Easter Parade and Meet Me in St. Louis or even The Clock or Judgement in Nuremberg instead.

5- Having access to the Criterion Channel means having access to large parts of great directors’ catalogs.  I thought I would get a little more systematic in my movie viewing and pick at director whose films I have admired and watch all the other films they have available.   I loved the films of Masaki Kobayashi, especially Harakiri, Samurai Rebellion and the unique collection of ghost stories Kwaidan.  I watched two of his early films, The Thick-Walled Room and Beautiful Days. The former is one of those post WWII films that seems to be prevalent in Japan but not in Germany, films that deal with the guilt and corruption of the wartime leadership, and how it affected the little people.  It is a powerful indictment not only of the Japanese military dictatorship, but also of the U.S. occupying forces that worked in collaboration with them after the war. This is quite interesting when you consider that the U.S. censors had total control over what came out of the Japanese film studios for years after the war.  Beautiful Days is a more traditional effort tracing the loves and trials of three couples.  There is still hints of how the war has made their peace-time lives difficult, but it is a much more conventional film.  Still enjoyable, though.

6-  Films about dysfunctional families resonate with me for reasons you can guess. I was so happy to see that Ordinary People  holds up after four decades.  Its portrayal of self-healing and healing through psychotherapy never seems glib.  The performances are wonderful, especially Mary Tyler Moore who was robbed at the Oscars that year.

7- There are films that I know I need to watch as ‘homework’. I don’t think I will necessarily enjoy them, but I think they will make me a better-rounded film viewer.  I had always heard of Tabu and had seen all the other great Murnau films.   I was glad I watched it.  Such a curious movie to come out four years after sound took over Hollywood.  I think it works better as a silent anyway.

8- One of the joys of the Criterion Channel is that they feature films by unknown or forgotten film makers.  The Great Sadness of Zohara is from 1983. It is a bleak, almost silent 39-minute film about a very unhappy (we don’t know why) Orthodox woman in Jerusalem who leaves her community and travels deep into the Arabic world of North Africa.  She is miserable the whole time and she is miserable when she gets back to Jerusalem at the end.   I may check out some of Menkes’ full-length films that Criterion features.  But then again, I might not.  One can only take so much misery.

 

 


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Pickpocket (Robert Bresson)
  2. A Man Escaped (Robert Bresson )
  3. Vivre Sa Vie (Jean-Luc Godard)
  4. The Face of Fu Manchu (Don Sharp)
  5. The Barretts of Wimpole Street (Sidney Franklin)
  6. Rupture & Happy Anniversary – shorts (Pierre Étaix)
  7. The Curse of Frankenstein (Terence Fisher)
  8. Les Enfants du Paradis (Marcel Carné)
  9. The Revenge of Frankenstein (Terence Fisher)
  10. The House That Dripped Blood (Peter Duffel)

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1- OK. Let me explain something.  For me, Halloween is the greatest secular holiday.  It is the one secular holiday seems to be intrinsically tied into a time of year in the way religious holidays seem to be. I look at it as a holiday season which leads up to the great day itself on October 31st.  What the season represents to me is the slow decline of the year and the ushering in of the cozy winter. ‘Winter kept us warm’, as T.S. Eliot wrote.

The supernatural images that abound during this time seem to be inoculating us against the lost of summer and fall. By the time November 1st comes around and the ghosts, witches and pumpkins are gone, we are ready for the end of the year.  Ghosts, vampires, werewolves and the like are appropriate totems for this time of year – a time of year where the ‘death’ of the year is becoming more and more prominent. (Fear not, spring always comes – eventually).

I indulge in the season by gorging on horror films. Let me clarify. I am not interested in slasher porn type films. The films I watch have to have an element of the uncanny.  A Romantic-age kind of feeling of the world beyond ours intruding in a way that is both thrilling and a bit threatening.  Therefore, I have been watching a ton of classic Hammer studio films.  Yes, I know. They made hay with being the first of the major film studios to emphasize the gore by filming in lurid color, and they were not above prominently (yet discreetly) showcasing body parts of some of the female actresses – lots of peignoirs here.  But what I love is the atmosphere of these films.  Much effort is put into having a sturdy and interesting script as well as nifty Victorian spookiness of the proceedings.  My  husband is baffled by but indulgent of my passion for these films.  “But aren’t they pretty low-quality?” he asks. Yes, of course they are, but that is almost the point.  They are disposable in a way that most seasonal things are, yet they have a significant point.  Yes, I know that there are great horror films.  The works of Val Lewton (which I have written about here ) as well as masterpiece like The Bride of Frankenstein, The Phantom Carriage and The Birds are infinitely better than The House That Dripped Blood and The Curse of Frankenstein. However, these are films that can and should be watched all year round.  Save the Hammers for the Ghost and Goblin time.


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Fanny (Marc Allegret)
  2. Lancelot du Lac (Robert Bresson)
  3. 12 Years A Slave (Steve McQueen)
  4. Persona (Ingmar Bergman)
  5. Yoyo (Pierre Étaix)
  6. Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne (Robert Bresson)
  7. Rhapsody in August (Akira Kurosawa)
  8. Shame (Ingmar Bergman)
  9. Sword in the Desert (George Sherman)
  10. The Golden Coach (Jean Renoir)

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1- It was interesting to watch Lancelot du Lac and Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne so close to each other. Lancelot du Lac is a prime example of what we expect from a Bresson film.  It is an austere (very austere) telling of the Arthurian legend of adultery. I found it extremely moving in its depiction of an ideal world devolving into nothingness.  Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne, on the other hand, is very atypical Bresson.  His second feature, made from a script by Jean Cocteau, has more of the sensibility of that writer-filmmaker’s work than of the ‘Catholic Atheist’ Bresson we have come to know and perhaps love.  What is so interesting to me is that all the criticism and articles I found concerning Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne has the writers twisting themselves into pretzels trying to prove that this film has all the elements of his later, more ‘Bressonian’ films.  It doesn’t really.  What we have here is the theory of the auteur exercising its tyranny over any thinking about film.  I suppose I am guilty of it too, since I always list films followed by the name of the director.

Also, I am so taken with the performance of Maria Casares in Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne .  Best known as Death in Cocteau’s Orpheus and the unloved wife in Les Enfants du Paradis, she has one of the most impressive faces in cinema and was a hell of an actress.

Maria Casares

Maria Casares

 

2-  By watching Yoyo, I completed watching all the films in the wonderful Criterion box set of the complete films of Pierre Etaix.  A genius, ladies and gentlemen, descended from the line of Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati.  I hope to write a Have You Tried….  post about him soon.  But don’t wait for that! Untold delights await you from this comic master!

3- Some artists go from strength to strength as they age,  leaving us undeniable masterpieces at the end of their lives. Otello and Falstaff by Verdi, Parsifal by Wagner, The Dead by John Huston are examples of this.  But there are other genius who seem to fizzle out at the end of their creative life. It is hard to see how the director of Psycho and The Birds would have been content with Topaze. I was thinking about this watching Akira Kurosawa’s  Rhapsody in August.  This film comes shortly after his majestic epics Kagemusha and Ran, and compared to those mighty cinematic brothers, this film is little more that poorly executed cinematic claptrap. The platitudes about the affects of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the Japanese and America survivors some 40 years after the fact, are cringe-worthy.  The whole thing is  inept and  annoyingly sentimental. I really wanted to strangle that gaggle of a kids.

All that I have left to watch of the Kurosawa oeuvre is Madadayo, which, from its description, sounds like a bad Japanese version of Goodbye, Mr. Chips. I am nervous.

4- In the introduction to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain writes:

‘In this book a number of dialects are used, to wit:  the Missouri negro dialect; the extremest form of the backwoods Southwestern dialect; the ordinary “Pike County” dialect; and four modified varieties of this last. The shadings have not been done in a haphazard fashion, or by guesswork; but painstakingly, and with the trustworthy guidance and support of personal familiarity with these several forms of speech.

I make this explanation for the reason that without it many readers would suppose that all these characters were trying to talk alike and not succeeding.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you The Golden Coach by Jean Renoir. I have no idea why the decision was made to have everyone in the film speak English, but because of this, the film often devolves into an incomprehensible Babel.  Even Anna Magnani, the voracious star of the film, lapses into streams of Italian swearing from time to time and she seems much relieved.

 

 


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Good Morning (Yasujiro Ozu)
  2. Dreams (Ingmar Bergman)
  3. Saving Mr. Banks (John Lee Hancock)
  4. The Devil, Probably (Robert Bresson)
  5. The Godfather, Part 2 (Francis Ford Coppola)
  6. Masseurs and a Woman (Hiroshi Shimizu)
  7. Sadie Thompson (Raoul Walsh)
  8. Beauty and The Beast (Jean Cocteau)
  9. Marius (Alexander Korda)
  10. The Story of a Cheat (Sacha Guitry)

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1- Who would think that Yasujiro Ozu, sublime master of the small gesture, could make such a charming little comedy like Good Morning, with its fart jokes and neighborly misunderstandings?  You often read that this is a remake of his silent I Was Born But….., however I don’t buy it.  The earlier film is a graver affair about intergenerational disappointments. However, I do seem to remember that there were fart jokes in that one, too.

2- I thought that Saving Mr. Banks would be a nice, competent film telling the story of how Mary Poppins finally got made.  It was that, but it was quite moving as well, with some striking artistic touches.  I particularly liked the images of Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers finally signing the contract to allow Disney to make the film.  She is seated at a table at her home in London, and opposite here is a huge Mickey Mouse doll Walt had sent her as encouragement. It is a quiet and very funny touch.

3- My experience with Bresson has been sublime (Diary Of A Country Priest, The Trial of Joan of Arc,  A Man Escaped) or excruciating (Au Hazard Balthazar).  The Devil Probably falls into the latter category.  I wish I had the skill to watch his films more critically.  I know I am missing tons

4- We had a real New Year’s Eve treat watching Beauty and The Beast followed by Marius, the first part of Marcel Pagnol’s beloved Marseille Trilogy.  These films become more and more essential to me as time goes on.  I am planning a ‘Have You Tried…………..?’ article on Marcel Pagnol soon.

5- I had heard of Sacha Guitry but didn’t know what his stuff was like.  TCM showed two of his films on their Sunday night franchise called TCM Import. Looks like they have some arrangement with Criterion.  I just watched The Story Of A Cheat, which was an absolute delight.  It seems to be a precursor to Kind Hearts and Coronets, but even funnier and more clever.  Looking forward to seeing more of him.  I may just have to buy the Criterion boxed set.


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seem

  1. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (Jaromil Jires)
  2. Julie (Andrew L. Stone)
  3. A Man Escaped (Robert Bresson)
  4. Isle of the Dead (Mark Robson)
  5. Nosferatu (F.W. Murnau)
  6. Eyes Without A Face (Georges Franju)
  7. Chance At Heaven (William A. Seiter)
  8. Les Enfants Terribles (Jean-Pierre Melville)
  9. The Most Dangerous Game (Schoedsack/Pichel)
  10. Love Affair, or the Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator (Dušan Makavejev)

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1 Some of that Eastern European New Wave stuff really drives me nuts.  I recently watched Daisies which I found insufferable, even though it presages my beloved Celine And Julie Go Boating. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders was in the same vein, but seemed to be playing with psychosexual stuff and who cares.

2 Ever want to see Doris Day, as a stewardess emergency-landing a plane after the pilot has been shot? Then Julie is the film for you. Some fun nuttiness from the 60s.

3- Cat People might be the most famous film of the Val Lewton oeuvre, but Isle Of The Dead really gives it a run for its money.  A eerie film with no trace of the supernatural. It is shot through with superstition and paranoia and is drenched in the legendary Lewton atmosphere.

4- I had the privilege of sitting in on Michael Glover Smith’s film history class at Harold Washington College.  He is a teacher that teaches up to the material and not down to the students.  This is particularly amazing when you consider that the class I attended contained a lecture and viewing of Robert Bresson’s A Man Escaped.  Bresson is one of the most, if not the most, rigorous filmmaker, and these kids ate it up. Good going, MGS.

5- I want to love Vampyr by Dreyer as much as I love Nosferatu by Murnau, but that is never going to happen. The first (illegal) adaptation of Dracula, Nosferatu is iconic – with an over-the-top performance by the rat-like Max Schreck – yes folks, apparently that was his real name!

6- It was fun to watch Eyes Without A Face after my recent love-fest with Holy Motors.  Eyes Without A Face is icky in the same way as its contemporaries Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? and Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte. Eyes Without A Face is way more fun and much more stylish. Brava, Edith Schob


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Japanese Girls At The Harbor (Hiroshi Shimizu)
  2. Monte Carlo (Ernst  Lubitsch)
  3. Side Effects (Steven Soderbergh)
  4. A Fistful of Dollars (Sergio Leone)
  5. Procès de Jeanne d’Arc (Robert Bresson)
  6. Smashing The Rackets (Lew Landers)
  7. The Scarlet Letter (Victor Sjöström)
  8. Crack-up (Irving Reis)
  9. Pickpocket (Robert Bresson)
  10. Un condamné à mort s’est échappé (Robert Bresson)

 

Thoughts on Bresson: In the study of languages the term ‘isolate’ refers to a language that does not seem to have connections to any other known languages. Basque and Korean are examples. They are akin to other languages in that they use spoken sounds to communicate ideas, and there is some kind of grammar, but the similarities end there.  One could say that the films of Robert Bresson are ‘isolates’.  Yes,  editing, lighting, acting are all part of their makeup, but the similarities end there. The gorgeous austerity underneath which is a powerful tensile strength make these films like no other. The use of the music of Lully or Mozart underscore the classical rigor. The use of non-professional actors give the films their own patina. But more than anything it is the unflinching moral examination of the characters and their situations that make these films ‘isolates’. Usually his films are referred to as ‘rigorous’ which is a way of saying ‘I know I should be admiring this but it is really too dull’.  Au contraire.   The  austerity and rigor of the films are always in the service of the message, yet do not undermine their immediacy. Un condamné à mort s’est échappé  is as thrilling an escape film as any you can think of, but through the lens of Bresson’s rigorous moral examination, it is so much more. The redemption at the end of Pickpocket is profoundly moving because it does not preach. It grows organically out of the life of the young man we have been observing for the past hour and a half.