The Discreet Bourgeois

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


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. OP 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. 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.






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