The Discreet Bourgeois

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


Leave a comment

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)

.

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.


4 Comments

The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Elena and the Men (Jean Renoir)
  2. Zéro de Conduite (Jean Vigo)
  3. Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas)
  4. The Holy Man (Satyajit Ray)
  5. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong  Weerasethak)
  6. Of Time and the City (Terence Davies)
  7. My Dinner with Andre (Louis Malle)
  8. David Holzman’s Diary (Jim McBride)
  9. Celine and Julie Go Boating (Jacques Rivette)
  10. The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (Karel Zeman)

I recently subscribed to the Criterion Channel and I cannot believe what an incredible streaming service it is. I have watched 13 movies in 5 days and am ready for more!

1- I have watched all three of Jean Renoir’s ‘trilogy’ including The Golden Coach, French Can-Can and now Elena and The Men. I find them all quite amateurish and dull.  This is especially in light of having just rewatched the earth-shattering Rules of the Game.  Is this like Citizen Kanethe one work of genius in a director’s oeuvre? Although hearing Ingrid Bergman speak French for an entire film was entertaining

2- Clouds of Sils Maria is a film that I have been wanting to see for a while and having the Criterion Channel made it possible.  A beautiful and mysterious film. The performances are magnificent especially Kristen Stewart.  I had tucked away in my head a snippet from a review which said that it was a riff on All About Eve and I spent the first half-hour waiting for that to come to light. This turns out not to be the case at all.  It is an examination of how a work of art changes as we change. In this case, an actress who became famous creating the younger of two lead roles in a now-famous play  20 years before, is approached to play the older lead. Her view of the play is in fascinating contrast to the new actress who is taking the role she originally created.  Heady stuff and very moving.

3- I loved the magic realism Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. Apparently the director is very influenced by the culture and religion of the area near the border of Laos where much of the film was shot. The depictions of life after death, or death in life, (or perhaps reincarnation) were moving and very puzzling to me.  I wish I knew more about it. The film is stunning to look at.  I love the monkey ghosts.  I need to watch this again very soon.

4- Watching My Dinner with Andre and David Holzman’s Diary was a little too much New York for me.  The 1967 New York of the latter film was something I lived through.  Grimy, bleak, dangerous…all these feeling came back and made it hard to concentrate on what this very clever and witty meta-fictional film was doing.  I think I got it but I don’t want to go back to find out for sure.

 5- I know that I will love any film that I watch by Satyajit Ray.  The Holy Man is more of a divertissement compared to his other more profound film, but I found it delightful and very funny.  Thank you Criterion.

6- I wonder if someone of my age who grew up in Liverpool would have had the same reaction to Of Time and the City that I had watching David Holzman’s Diary. I would think not, because Terence Davies is a certifiable poet and the grime of the past in his film is so rich and emotional.  Also, the Davies film is a memory piece where as the McBride is more cinema-verite, albeit a funny send-up.

 If you haven’t seen anything by Terence Davies, this might not be the place to start. I heartily suggest the magnificent The Long Day Closes.  

7- I spent a lot of my birthday watching Celine and Julie Go Boating. I had a very happy birthday.

8- This post seems to be a lot about memory and The Fabulous Baron Munchause was something I am sure I had seen on local New York television when I was seven or eight.  The combination of cut-out and live action had a madeleine-like effect on me. Funny, beautiful and extremely weird. 

The Baron and friends on the moon

 


The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. One Hour With You (Ernst Lubitsch)
  2. Night Nurse (William Wellman)
  3. Suspicion (Alfred Hitchcock)
  4. Emma (Autumn de Wilde)
  5. The Cabin in the Woods (Joss Wheedon)
  6. It’s Love Again (Victor Saville)
  7. The Big City (Satyajit Ray)
  8. Tel Aviv on Fire (Sameh Zoabi)
  9. Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance (Kenji Misumi)
  10. The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (Rainer Werner Fassbinder)

.

1- I always found the winky, smarm-filled sex comedies of Mitteleuropa very off-putting. Sex is legal, even adultery, despite the biblical injunction, is legal.  Why the winkiness? For me it is the same as when people make nudge-nudge wink-wink noise about needing a cocktail after a trying incident. Have a cocktail. Prohibition has been over for ninety years. Shut up.

But the sex farces really leave me baffled and somewhat disgusted.  All these people having adulterous or not-adulterous affairs, and talking about it incessantly, telling us about why it is OK because we are all sophisticated adults…well.. I just don’t understand it.  I think of things like Die Fledermaus or Feydeau farces.  You want to have sex, go ahead. Why talk about it like you think it is bad, but you are going to do it anyway. I find it tiresome. As marvelous as Lubitsch can be, I find One Hour With You, a sound remake of his influential The Marriage Circle, to invoke the same kind of tedium. Now, I think the sex-farce aspects of Trouble In Paradise are just fine because they are coupled with a mercenary cynicism that makes the smarm tolerable.

2- I had seen Suspicion decades ago and all I remembered about it was Cary Grant mounting the stairs ominously, with a possibly poisoned glass of milk. I guess I know this so well because it is always shown in compilations of Hitchcock’s greatest hits.  The film  seems like a rush job. The resolution is very unsatisfying and suddenly the film is over.  Was it an attempt to duplicate his wild success with Rebecca? Maybe.  Joan Fontaine is on hand to do her distressed heroine thing and Cary Grant doing his poor man’s Laurence Olivier.

3- I was really pleased with the latest incarnation of EmmaI feel that of all the film versions so far, it really got the book down.  And how great to see Miranda Hart as the ridiculous and tragic Miss Bates.

4- Buffy The Vampire Killer was a surprising delight for me when I binge watched it a few years ago.  I loved Wheedon’s Much Ado About Nothing.  I had looked forward to The Cabin in the Woods because I had heard much about a surprising and satisfying plot twist. Well, not so much. It was fun to watch. Lots of pretty people in classic horror film tropes. In fact, I was hoping that it would be telling us that these horror tropes keep the world spinning, which is what it seemed to be heading for. But, about three quarters of the way through it kind of falls apart, into fun, Buffy-like sci-fi supernatural high-jinks.  I was entertained but not satisfied.

5- It’s Love Again demonstrates why TCM is essential for lovers of film and the performing arts.  This is not a great movie by any means. It is kind of a filmed play with lots of musical numbers. What is invaluable is it gives us a chance to see Jessie Matthews in action.  She was the singing and dancing sweetheart of the West End in the 1930s.  Is she wonderful? Hard to tell.  Her dancing is coltish, her singing is warbly, but still it is wonderful and instructive to see a beloved performer from a distant time.

6- I know when I watch a film by Satyajit Ray I know that I will be deeply satisfied and profoundly moved. The Big City did not disappoint. I need to see everything this genius did, twice!

7- Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance is an example of manga-inspired action films that the Japanese adore.  A genre that is just not for me.  It all seems so silly without being entertaining.

8- Tel Aviv on Fire gives a view of everyday Palestinian life through the eyes of people creating the eponymous soap opera for Palestinian television.  It was so refreshing to see day-to-day Palestinian life. People going to work, going to restaurants, etc. In fact, except for the fact that everyone speaks Arabic, one could imagine that one were watching a film about Israelis.  Yes, the ‘troubles’ are present in the dialogue.  Yes, there are difficult interactions with Israeli authorities but it is presented in a non-sensation, non-polemic way. And it is funny.

9- I love and I hate the films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder.  At his best he is a master creating fascinating characters who seem to grow out of the Germany of his time. At his worst, the films are sloppy and very much like a kid trying to provoke adults by being shocking, but who winds up just being annoying. The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant was dazzling to me. It is slow, claustrophobic and very stylized. It was German Kabuki.

 

 

 

 

 


4 Comments

The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Princess Yang Kwei-Fei (Kenji Mizoguchi)
  2. Rabindranath Tagore (Satyajit Ray)
  3. Flamingo Road (Michael Curtiz)
  4. Carnal Knowledge (Mike Nichols)
  5. The Catered Affair (Richard Brooks)
  6. Kongo (William J. Cowen)
  7. Prizzi’s Honor (John Huston)
  8. A Time To Love and A Time To Die (Douglas Sirk)
  9. A Page of Madness (Teinosuke Kinugasa)
  10. Bergman Island (Marie Nyreröd )

.

1- Flamingo Road is a perfect Hollywood entertainment.  I wonder why it isn’t considered more of a classic.  Terrific story, over-the-top performances by Joan Crawford and Sydney Greenstreet, directed by Michael Curtiz of Casablanca fame.   It is easily as enjoyable and solid as other Curtiz films, like Mildred Pierce or The Adventures of Robin Hood. But for some reason, those two have been elevated to ‘classic’ status and Flamingo Road has pretty much been forgotten. It would be interesting to figure out what things like this happen.

2- What a solid, depressing movie Carnal Knowledge is.  Totally unlikeable characters, dyspeptic script, jaundiced view of everything from marriage to friendship to morality.  I loved it.

3- The French critics lionized Douglas Sirk with very good reason.  He was a true master at what he did.  Godard said A Time To Love and A Time To Die was his best.  I am not sure about ‘best’ but it is really good. REALLY good. A sympathetic view of a German soldier during the end days of WWII.  It is from an Erich Maria Remarque novel.  Remarque even has a small but pivotal role in the film. What Remarque did for the WWI soldier in All Quiet On The Western Front he does for the WWII soldier. I haven’t read either novel, but this film is more of a chamber piece – a love story played out against the last days of WWII when Germany was undeniably beaten. The Sirk touches you have come to expect are all there: the saturated color, the high-flown romance, the extraordinarily handsome leading man, in this case John Gavin.

john gavin

4- Watching The Catered Affair made me realize what an effective tool black and white photography was in the 1950s.  This was the time when a lot was being shot in color in an attempt to compete with television.  However, this film, with its gritty working-class characters leading lives of quiet desperation would not have been served by Technicolor. There seems to have been an imperative to use black and white when a film is supposed to look ‘real’.  I have always found that ironic, since real life is in color and if color were suddenly drained from our daily life, it would look anything but real.  Nowadays, just about everything is in color, no matter what the subject matter, unless it is a pretentious indie project or a pretentious Woody Allen movie.  The last new black and white film I recall seeing in a theater is Nebraska.  I wonder why it was chosen for that film.  Perhaps because it was depicting ‘ordinary people’?

5- I had never heard of Kongo.  What a lovely mix of depravity, immorality, incest and Love Triumphant! It would make an amazing double-bill with The Island of Lost Souls. Walter Huston was a towering actor who is all but forgotten today.

6- What a treat to watch Prizzi’s Honor right after watching Kongo, seeing Walter’s granddaughter Anjelica command the movie in the way her grandfather did. This time around I was struck by how few minutes of screen time Maerose Prizzi has.  But, it is her movie.  Hell, it is her world. ‘Why don’t you take yourself on one of those cruises, honey?’

7- A Page of Madness is exactly that.  A film so experimental that it makes the Soviets of the 20s look like tired, old sentimentalists. It was presumed lost for decades, so it didn’t exert the kind of influence it might have. You can tell that the director was mightily influenced by The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari. Over-the-top editing, experimentation with shifting narrative, the lack of intertitles (it’s a silent film) make this quite a difficult but exhilarating experience. It’s 60 minutes can feel like 4 hours, but if you are game, it’s worth seeing at least once. It’s funny, but the director went on to win the Best Foreign Film Oscar some 30 years later with the very traditional Gate of Hell

a page of madness


2 Comments

Have You Tried The Criterion Collection?

criterion

When I first started reading classic literature, I got to know the indispensable Norton Critical Editions. These wonderful volumes contain the text of the work with copious footnote. In addition, they provide supplementary material like criticism contemporary to the work and from today, original source material, etc. The Norton version of War and Peace contains the text with footnotes, a ton of maps, letters by and to Tolstoy which shed light on the novel, along with a wealth of essays from the time the novel was published and later. Armed with the Norton Critical edition of War and Peace, you are ready with for a thorough and completely satisfying encounter with Tolstoy’s epic.

Criterion appeared in 1984 with the advent of laserdiscs. While several of the great ‘art house’ classics had appeared on VHS, now a huge number of previously unavailable classics of world cinema were now available in breathtaking editions.  The random-access capability of the laserdisc  was conducive to the concept of ‘extras’, and the Criterion editions really went to town with them.  In addition to beautifully restored prints of the film, we got the option of additional soundtrack, often a running commentary on the film by the director or a film expert. Relevant shorts, storyboards, poster art and other goodies were crammed into these discs, providing for film the same kind of experience for films that the Norton Critical editions provided for literature.

When DVDs replaced laserdiscs, the amount and quality of the ‘extras’ grew exponentially.  Multiple soundtracks, full-length documentaries, shooting scripts, production stills, interviews with the directors, stars and/or technicians who worked on the film provided a treasure chest for the film lover.  You could now encounter Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries, for example,  armed with an apparatus similar to that which the reader of the Norton Critical edition of War and Peace had. Needless to say, the arrival of Blu-ray kicked the storage capacity through the roof.  You could now have a disc featuring a film that would also have a complete two-hour documentary as well as various historical TV interview, alternative soundtracks, music scores and the like all on one little disc.  The learning these discs afford you is seemingly infinite.

In addition to the Criterion label, the company has two subdivisions:

1- Essential Art House offers the quality Criterion prints of the films, but in a bare-bones presentation, i.e., no ‘extras’. So, you can buy the super-duper editon of Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast with all the goodies, or just get the film itself without the frills in a beautiful print from Essential Art House. 

2-Eclipse offers bare-bones editions in box sets of films that aren’t featured on the main label or Essential Art House, but that the company feels should be out on DVD.  This gives us wonderful editions like a 5-disc edition of Late Ozu featuring films by that master not available anywhere else.

To give you a taste of the Criterion selections I have particularly loved, I went to my shelf and pulled off the first five that jumped out at me.

1- The Flowers of St. Francis (Roberto Rossellini)

 flowers of st. francis

Perfection. Gem-like. Hilarious. Reverent. Gorgeous. Raucous. Meditative.  All this in only 87 minutes. A good example of Criterion preserving a film that might otherwise have been forgotten. Should be pretty relevant viewing nowadays considering all the hub-bub surrounding the new guy in the Vatican.

2- Ugetsu Monogatari (Kenji Mizoguchi)

ugetsu

The greatest film ever made? Many say so.  Definitely one of the most exquisite looking and most heartbreaking. The Criterion edition is an embarrassment of riches. The two disc set comes with the film, another disc with wonderful interviews as well as a 2-hour plus documentary about Mizoguchi. There is also a 72-page booklet with essays on the film as well three stories that the film is based on.

3- Fanny And Alexander (Ingmar Bergman)

F& A

Do you also feel that the 3-hour theatrical release of Fanny and Alexander was way too short? Then this is the set for you! Along with the disc of the theatrical release, there is a two-disc set featuring the original 5-hour version that Bergman made for Swedish TV.  Five hours of pure heaven! In addition, you get a disc with a documentary on the making of the film, countless interviews with the stars and crew of the film as well as introductions that Bergman give for  11 (count ’em 11!) of his greatest film. That should take care of you!

4- The Music Room (Satyajit Ray)

Music room

The service that Criterion provides was brought home to me last week.  I had watched this DVD a few weeks ago and for some reason our local PBS station showed it in a very old, beat up print. Because the film is so magnificent, its greatness came through even in the bad copy. But then reviewing the DVD I realized that we can’t take Criterion’s curator role for granted!

5- When A Woman Ascends The Stairs (Mikio Naruse)

when a woman

This single disc had the greatest effect on me out of all the Criterion discs I have watched.  This came to me via a Netflix suggestion (‘If you liked The Seven Samurai why not try……’). It was a revelation. It set me off on my obsession with Naruse’s films and Japanese film in general.    Naruse is a master, up there with Ozu, Mizoguchi and Kurosawa. Unfortunately this is the only one of his sound films available in Region 1 (US) format. There is a 5-disc Eclipse set of Naruse silents.  We can only hope that more of this master’s work will be available soon from Criterion!

And while we’re at it, how about a Criterion edition of Jacque Rivette’s Celine and Julie Go Boating?


2 Comments

The Last Ten Movies I’ve Seen

  1. Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman)
  2. Broadway Danny Rose (Woody Allen)
  3. Nashville (Robert Altman)
  4. I’m No Angel (Wesley Ruggles)
  5. All That Heaven Allows (Douglas Sirk)
  6. Charulata (Satyajit Ray)
  7. Stage Fright (Alfred Hitchcock)
  8. The Magician (Ingmar Bergman)
  9. Zero Focus (Yoshitaro Nomura)
  10. The Music Room (Satyajit Ray)

.

1- I recently had a big, round birthday and I wanted to do nothing more than watch a few of my ‘birthday’ movies.  These are films that one watches over and over again throughout one’s life and that come to define one’s aesthetic. On my big day I got up at 5:30 in the morning and had the pleasure of once again taking that momentous car trip in Wild Strawberries.  I rounded the day out later in the evening with a viewing of the exceedingly kind and lovely Broadway Danny Rose and the, for me, epochal Nashville. I think I need to write a piece about ‘birthday’ movies.

2- Ah, Mae West! Subversive, hilarious and, more than anything else, powerful. Too bad that there aren’t more films.  I’m No Angel is brilliant. I keep hearing her as she saunters past the jury box while she is acting as her own defense attorney and saying to the folks in the box ‘How am I doin’?’  Mae! The best.

3- Both Stage Fright and The Magician I had regarded as lesser works of towering masters. I was kind of right with Stage Fright, but it is still a hugely entertaining movie – just without the subtexts that make Hitchcock a master.  The Magician, on the other hand, is up there with Bergman’s best. Fascinating.

4- As time goes on, I realize that film noir isn’t a genre, it’s a posture. The very messy Japanese film Zero Focus really brought this point home to me. Plus, it made me realize that I find the whole film noir cult a little tedious.  It is all too operatic without the great music.

5- I am belatedly going through Satyajit Ray’s oeuvre.  You don’t need me to tell you that he is one of the absolute masters. You do need me to tell you to watch more Satyajit Ray. Good news: Criterion will be releasing the restored Apu Trilogy in the fall. Rejoice!