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