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. The Human Condition  (Masaki Kobayashi)
  2. The Long Day Closes (Terence Davies)
  3. Onibaba (Kaneto Shindo)
  4. Boyhood (Richard Linklater)
  5. Nothing Sacred (William Wellman)
  6. The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks)
  7. In The Mood For Love (Wong Kar Wai)
  8. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles)
  9. Kind Hearts and Coronets (Robert Hamer)
  10. Humanity and Paper Balloons (Sadao Yamanaka)

 

1. The Human Condition has been on my radar ever since I was a kid and saw it mentioned in the Guinness Book of World Records as the ‘longest movie’. I think nowadays it would be considered more of a mini-series since it consists of three separate two-part films. When considered in that light the prospect of watching six 90 minute films is less daunting than watching one 540 minute one.  Politically, the film is powerful.  It is astounding that Japan produced a film that is so self-indicting regarding the abuses of its fascistic military in Manchuria during World War II. There is certainly nothing comparable from Germany after the war or at all!.  The Human Condition is certainly ambitious and powerful with amazing set pieces, but the length does give rise to longeurs as well.   Watching it I felt like I was watching one of those epic American All-Star movies like The Longest Day. In fact, two of the hugest Japanese actors of the time, Chishu Ryu and Hideko Takamine, appear in cameos late in the film much in the way Red Buttons appeared in The Longest Day.  Wonder if there was some influence there.  The Longest Day came out after The Human Condition but that sort of thing was very popular at the time – consider Around the World in Eighty Days.  I have become an admirer of Kobayashi, especially for Kwaidan and Samurai Rebellion.  And Tatsuya Nakadai sure is dreamy.

2. If you haven’t read my Scene Analysis of the penultimate scene of The Long Day Closes, please do.  I hope it will inspire you to watch the whole magnificent creation.

3. I had forgotten how hilarious Nothing Sacred is and what an absolute mess The Big Sleep is. I love them both.

4. To paraphrase Enobarbus from Antony and Cleopatra, there are films which cloy the appetites they feed, but In The Mood For Love makes hungry, where most it satisfies’. I want to be watching it, always.

5. Humanity and Paper Balloons is yet another beautiful cinematic experience I owe to reading Donald Richie’s One Hundred Years of Japanese Film.  The director Sadao Yamanaka died very young as a soldier in Manchuria, which makes this film and The Human Condition neat bookends to my current list. As others have noted, it is also a nice companion piece to Kurosawa’s The Lower Depths, based on Dostoevsky.  We’ll never know what the world lost with Yamanaka dying so young, but if this film is any indication, it lost a lot.

 

 

 

 


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Scene Analysis: The Long Day Closes

So much of film criticism, especially film criticism on blogs, seems concerned with what the film is about rather than how it behaves as a film. Characters are discussed, plausibility of plot is analyzed, all the while treating the movie experience more like a book experience.  While story and plot are integral parts of most traditional movies (and even most non-traditional movies), the most satisfying discussions, for me at least, are discussions that lead to the reason why the particular film under discussion must be viewed as a film and not as a different art form.

This notion of ‘pure cinema’ exists, but the practice is scattered across more conventional films.  Hitchcock worked ‘pure cinema’ components into his movies so seamlessly that we take them for granted.  The attacks in The Birds or the shower scene in Psycho are the most famous examples of works of are that are intrinsically and only cinematic.

This is not to imply that ‘impure cinema’, if there could be such a term, is a lesser art form.  It is just a different art form. A movie adaptation of a book is a perfectly legitimate evening’s entertainment, as are dopey comedies. It is just that these kinds of movies don’t reach the emotional immediacy that ‘pure cinema’ does.  Story often can be an alienating factor, coming between the audience and what the filmmaker has in his or her heart.

A beautiful example of a ‘pure cinema’ moment comes at the climax of Terence Davies’ 1992 The Long Day Closes. The film is an impressionistic portrait of the life of a lonely but much loved young boy in early 1950s Liverpool.  The Beatles haven’t come on the scene yet. Popular culture is not yet Rock and Roll culture. In this magnificent montage, Bud, the protagonist, is once more alone, and he starts to swing on a metal pole that crosses the stairs down to the coal cellar. As he swings higher and higher, the camera tracks to the left and the stairs magically dissolve to a thrilling overhead view of an audience in a local cinema.  The panning continues and the cinema dissolves into an overhead shot of Mass being celebrated.  This gives way to an overhead shot of a boys’ classroom, which brings us back to the stairs down to the coal cellar.

Much has been made of how these three images sum up the life of this lower-class Catholic community: movies, church and school fill the days of these Liverpudlians. What I want to draw your attention to is that it is done without dialogue or narrative.  The only words we hear are snatches of dialogue from Kind Hearts and Coronets, a popular Ealing comedy of the day. This excerpt of dialogue is more  a seasoning than an integral part of the logic of the scene. What is integral is the song that laces the disparate parts of the scene together. The song is Tammy sung by Debbie Reynolds.  Terence Davies, the director, is on record as detesting the Beatles. It seems that to him they mark the break between the popular culture of the 1950s and what came after. This earlier culture seems to be of higher rank to Davies and his choice of this particular song, which is drenched in nostalgia for those of us of a certain age, works beautifully in tying together the visual elements of the scene.

So here we have a magical moment of ‘pure cinema’. We are forever in debt to Criterion for making this and other gems available. Please patronize them.

Enjoy the climactic scene of Terence Davies’ The Long Day Closes