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. Night Train To Munich (Carol Reed)
  2. A Quiet Passion (Terence Davies)
  3. The Color Of Pomegranates (Sergei Paradjanov)
  4. Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig)
  5. The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos)
  6. Roma (Alfonso Cuaron)
  7. Ben is Back (Peter Hedges)
  8. Mary Poppins Returns (Rob Marshall)
  9. The Last of Sheila (Herbert Ross)
  10. Christmas in Connecticut (Peter Godfrey)

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1- Terence Davies has created few but miraculous movies, starting with the remarkable mood pieces Distant Voices, Still Lives and The Long Day Closes.  See a scene analysis of the latter here.  His latest film is about Emily Dickinson. A Quiet Passion is aptly titled. You get to ‘know’ Dickinson  as you get to know the working class Liverpudlians in the aforementioned films: obliquely and thoroughly. How does he do it? The same way Mike Leigh works his magic, I guess.

2- Talking about pure cinema, I had a chance to show The Color Of Pomegranates  my brainiest friends, Kathleen Rooney and Martin Seay.  They even brought a kale salad rife with pomegranates for the occasion. Often, when one loves something quirky and gets to know it intimately, one is hesitant to share it for fear a) that people won’t like it and b) maybe they will make you realize it is not as good as you think, no matter how you love it.  Luckily this didn’t happen here. Paradjanov remains as beloved as before.  Watch him if you haven’t. Read my post on him if you haven’t.

3- Lady Bird is a perfect depiction of teenagers in all their exasperating glory. At first, that made me stop watching it because, yuck, teenagers in all their exasperating glory.  But, it is well done, the acting is good, except for a very wrong-headed last act which totally clashes with the rest of the film.

4- I pride myself on being a huge liberal and very open-minded, but The Favourite actually nauseated me.  And not just because this (as well as Mary Queen of Scots) feature cunnilingus luridly in their plots. I don’t mind the act per se, but as a plot device? Is this a new trend?

5- With Ben is Back I continue my Lucas Hedges admiration society. This kid can act and is not a one-trick pony. Four powerful and very varied performance in this Manchester by the Sea, Lady Bird and Boy Erased.  Of the four, this film is the least, starting off promisingly as an insightful family analysis, but slowly dissolving into a police procedural.  The nuance of the parents in Boy Erased is not here, but that is not Ben Is Back’s problem.  It’s not that kind of movie.  It was pretty satisfying.   The second of the glammed down performances by Julia Roberts I have seen recently, the other being the Netflix series Homecoming.  Oscar and Golden Globe baiting?

6- No cunnilingus in Mary Poppins Returns. At least none that I have noticed.  Just a splendid, overwhelming good time.  Perhaps it hit me just right because I remember seeing and adoring the original when I was 7 years old. It was at Radio City Music Hall and there was a stage show featuring the Rockettes and others.   The AMC River East 21 is not Radio City, but Emily Blunt is at least as wonderful as Julie Andrews was, with a little more vinegar than her predecessor. The songs and musical numbers are fine, the plot is appropriately sweet. And you even get Angela Lansbury AND Meryl Streep AND David Warner AND Dick Van Dyke (!) and the original Jane Banks (Karen Dotrice) in a sweet cameo, and even the god-of-the-moment Lin-Manuel Miranda. I loved it.

7- Thanks again to the Rooney/Seay connection for getting me finally to make it through The Last of Sheila, and for helping me to unravel the mystery without making me feel like a total moron. Repeated viewing of this will be needed and are looked forward to.

8- Keep your depressing and misunderstood It’s a Wonderful Life. The only Christmas movie you ever need is Christmas in Connecticut.  Not only do you get the super-sexy pairing of Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan in the coziest set Hollywood ever created, but you get S.Z. ‘Cuddles’ Sakall.  But wait there’s more! Una O’Connor! and if that wasn’t enough, what every movie needs: Sidney Greenstreet.  And of course, Macushla.

9- I find it hard to write about Roma I will soon. I worship it.

 

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Have You Tried Parajanov?

Every month in the much lamented Martha Stewart publication Everyday Food, there would be a feature called Have You Tried……,  spotlighting a slightly unusual (but not too unusual) ingredient.  It was Martha’s way of getting Everyday Chefs to expand their repertory into slightly more exotic territory.  In articles like Have You Tried Fennel?, Martha and her team would introduce the ingredient with pretty pictures and tips on how to include it in simple but delicious recipes.
It occurred to me that I might do the same with some of the outlying directors and I thought I would start with Sergei Parajanov (1924 -1990). Born in Tbilisi in then-Soviet Georgia, Parajanov’s films are deeply rooted in the folktales, art and sensibilities of the Caucasus peoples.  Constantly persecuted by the Soviets, Parajanov was constantly in and out of jail on charges ranging from bribery to homosexuality. His tiny handful of masterpieces, four in all, appeared over a 22-year span, punctuated with long periods of cinematic inactivity.  The four films all reflect Parajanov’s style of tableaux vivants featuring the art and culture of various cultures.

forgotten ancestors

Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1964) tells a well-known Ukrainian tale of star-crossed lovers whose love survives beyond the grave.  Apparently influenced by Tarkovsky’s My Name Is Ivan (Ivan’s Childhood), there is a wild dynamism in this film that becomes more reined in in his later work. The camera is in almost constant movement, even though many of the icon-like tableaux that feature in the later works are seen here.

sayat nova

Four years later came Sayat Nova (The Color of Pomegranates)  (1968) depicting scenes from the life of Armenian poet and holy man, Sayat Nova. Hardly a conventional biopic in any sense, the film depicts key scenes from Sayat Nova’s life with several actors and actresses portraying the poet at different ages.  Scenes of the poet’s childhood, life a monk, etc. are depicted with a voice-over of an actor reading from his works. There is no conventional narrative here. The highlights of his life are depicted in static scenes heavy with Armenian art and visual style. In this film we begin to see more deft use of the static compositions that will distinguish his two later films.  By the end of the film we do not have a collection of biographical data. What we do have is a glimpse into a remote and ancient world, the strangeness of which is frightening and seductive at the same time.

surami

The Legend of Suram Fortress (1984) appeared sixteen years later, tells the Georgian tale of the sacrifice need to complete a fortress. The unusually (for Parajanov) linear story arc makes this probably his most accessible film and for what it’s worth, it is the film of his of which I am most fond.

parajanov man 4

Ashik Kerib (1988) is his last completed film and depicts an Azerbaijani fairy tale as told by the Russian poet and great Byronic figure, Mikhail Lermontov.  Ostensibly filmed as a children’s film (really!) it has the feel of the Arabian Nights.

Some tips on encountering Parajanov’s work:

1-       The closest thing to which I can compare watching a Parajanov film is watching an opera. If you are armed with a good synopsis you can watch an opera, ‘getting it’ on its own terms, allowing its story to unfold on its own terms. The actual words being sung are often besides the point. Knowing the tale behind Suram Fortress or Askik Kerib is all you really need to bring to the films. They then unfold like tales portrayed in fabulously illuminated manuscripts. The seemingly arbitrary compositions of fruit, daggers and peacocks become a cinematic counterpart of filigree work.

2-       There is nothing to ‘get’ here in the sense that Parajanov is withholding a secret key to what he is doing.  It is all there on the screen. The more you know about Armenian or Georgian or Azerbaijani culture the better for you, I suppose. But, Parajanov has distilled all you need to know in his magnificent, overwhelming imagery.

I have not made a great study of Parajanov’s life, so I can’t address any of the ‘charges’ of homosexualty, but I  can say that some of the most stunningly beautiful men ever seen in film are featured either as main characters or decoration in his tableaux.  Does this indicate a Gay sensibility? The male figures are definitely more eroticized than any of the female figures, but there does not appear to be any agenda besides the depiction of beauty – a peacock or a beautiful man are of equal value.

parajanov man 1 parajanov man 2 parajanov man 3

As far as placing him in the context of world cinema, even though he himself has confessed an indebtedness to the works of Tarkovsky, it seems to me that his true cinematic progenitor is the static nuttiness of Sergei Eisenstein’s Ivan The Terrible.

So, now that you have had this little introduction, please make both me and Martha Stewart proud and try some Parajanov today. I eagerly await your reactions!


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. The Guilt Trip (Anne  Fletcher)
  2. Silver Lining Playbook (David O. Russell)
  3. Wagner & Me (Patrick McGrady)
  4. One Hundred Years of Japanese Film (Nagisa Oshima)
  5. Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow)
  6. Life Of Pi (Ang Lee)
  7. Sayat Nova (The Color of Pomegranates) (Sergei Paradjanov)
  8. The Great McGinty (Preston Sturges)
  9. The Life Of Oharu (Kenji Mizoguchi)
  10. Commissar (Aleksandr  Askoldov)

 

(Yes, above viewing reflects run-up to Oscars, but it also reflects research for upcoming post on Sergei Paradjanov. Stay tuned.)