Archive for March, 2011

by Allan Fish

Note – This one’s a personal request for Sam over the phone 5 mins ago

(France 1926 38m) DVD1

A notre père et mère

d/w/ph/ed  Dimitri Kirsanov

Nadia Sibirskaia (younger sister), Yoland Beaulieu (older sister), Guy Belmont (young man), Jean Pasquier,

Dimitri Kirsanov is hardly a name that comes to readily to mind to even the hardiest film buffs.  Yet in the twenties he was a pivotal director in the French avant garde movement, a pioneer of many of the dreamy trick effects that soon were to become commonplace.  Many film buffs know of Man Ray, of Jean Epstein, of Louis Delluc and of the early Jean Vigo, yet Kirsanov remains an enigma, his films lost seemingly in the mists of the past. 

            His most famous film remains Menilmontant, and its many adherents included none other than Pauline Kael.  On one hand, it does have a linear story, and yet on another it seems to make the rules up as it goes along, from scene to scene.  It begins with a famous shot of lace curtains being grabbed at from inside a house.  A door handle is vigorously shaken from within.  A couple emerge frantically from inside, as they are being grabbed by an assailant.  After a feverish struggle, the assailant grabs an axe and murders them both.  Cut then to two teenage girls playing by the nearby river, trying to coax a cat down out of a tree.  The youngest runs off home, but finds a crowd gathered round the bodies of her parents and runs back to the older sister in an understandable hysteria.  We next find them by the graveside of their parents, before time shifts forward – beautifully illustrated by the overgrown nature of their parents’ grave – and we find them in Paris.  (more…)

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By Bob Clark

There’s a special pleasure in finding an early work by a director so strongly identified by another, later effort, even when such labors are almost universally recognized as masterpieces and definitive entries for their genres and mediums, the kinds that influence countless imitators and homages for decades to come. As a fan of Star Wars, there’s no bigger surprise than to discover the avant-garde brilliance of THX 1138, and observe George Lucas tackling science-fiction in a far more adult and abstract manner than his legendary space-opera ever could. As a devotee of Fritz Lang, it’s always a shock to find fans who never bother to look any further than the likes of Metropolis or M, and thereby deny themselves the arguably greater experiences of multi-part silent epics like Die Nibelungen or the notorious Dr. Mabuse series. In the realm of anime, one can look to any number of creators whose watershed efforts obscure their earlier triumphs– Oshii’s Patlabor movies and OVA’s have mostly been forgotten in favor of his Ghost in the Shell features; Miyazaki’s numerous animated television series have gone overlooked by all but the most dedicated of his fans following the formation of his Studio Ghibli legacy; Otomo’s efforts as a mangaka have been more or less forgotten, if for no other reason than how frequently gems like Domu and the six-volume Akira go out of print. Perhaps most deserving of a rediscovery by the cinephile community at large is the oeuvre of Hideaki Anno– though his 1995 series Neon Genesis Evangelion and its subsequent feature-film variations have dominated the work of anime creators and fans alike for the past fifteen years, perhaps coming the closest any medium has seen to the equivalent of a Star Wars level event of pop-cultural significance, his work has more or less gone ignored by the majority of film critics and mainstream audiences, never quite enjoying the same kind of appreciation that other anime creators have been given.


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Director: Mark Robson

Producer: Val Lewton

Screenwriters: Dewitt Bodeen and Charles O’Neal

Cinematographer: Nicholas Musuraca

Music: Roy Webb

Studio: RKO 1943

Main Acting: Kim Hunter, Tom Conway, and Jean Brooks

As the back of my DVD cover states by way of Chris Auty, “half noir, half gothic” is the best way to describe The Seventh Victim.  The story of Val Lewton’s evolution from David O. Selznick’s assistant to being the producer of the horror unit at RKO has been well documented many times before. Between 1942 and 1946, he was responsible for creating eleven pictures (two of which were unrelated to the series) that helped the studio stay afloat and posthumously earned him accolades. While the films entrusted to Lewton were supposed to be Universal horror movie knock-offs with lurid names like I Walked With A Zombie and Cat People, the producer was more interested in creating poetic works of art that ruminated on life and death. The pain of having to live in a complex world filled with hardships greatly fascinated him. His features all deal with existential grief and are best exemplified by the title of one of Christian Fennesz’s wondrous compositions, “The Point Of It All.” (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(France 1937 88m) not on DVD

Aka. Lady Killer

L’ami de Lucien

p  Raoul Ploquin  d  Jean Grémillon  w  Charles Spaak  ph  Günther Rittau  ed  Jean Grémillon  m  Lothar Bruhne  art  Hermann Asmus, Max Mellin

Jean Gabin (Lucien Bourrache), Mireille Balin (Madeleine), René Lefèvre (René), Margurite Deval (Madame Courtois), Jane Marken (Madame Cailloux), Jean Aymé (valet de chamber), Henri Poupon (Monsieur Cailloux), Pierre Magnier (commandant), Pierre Etchepare (Hotel patron),

It’s not well known today.  Unavailable on DVD in the English speaking world – like all Grémillon’s major works, come to that – perhaps due to the use of some salty language (an ‘f’ word here, a merde there) that would have necessitated whitewashing for British and American audiences.  Yet it’s a pivotal film not just in Grémillon’s career but in thirties French cinema, caught equidistant between the early thirties optimism and late thirties pessimism, and gave its stars roles that they seized with the glee of hunger-strikers offered up a roast dinner forgetting that if they eat too much too quickly, it can be fatal.  Welcome to the world where “unconstitutionally” means “je t’aime.”  (more…)

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Director: Jules Dassin

Producer: Robert Bassler

Screenwriter: A.I. Bezzerides

Cinematographer: Norbert Brodine

Music: Alfred Newman

Studio: Twentieth Century Fox 1949

Main Acting: Richard Conte, Valentina Cortese, and Lee J. Cobb

Social message picture or legitimate film noir? It is up to you, dear reader, to make a definitive judgement call. For me, Thieves Highway has always been a borderline noir that was Jules Dassin’s best picture up to that point in his career. The story of Nick Garcos (played by Richard Conte) returning home to his parents’ house after many years afar, only to find his father crippled and confined to a wheelchair has fewer common elements with the genre in question. The seemingly femme fatale, Rica (Valentina Cortese), is actually more of a hooker with a heart of gold than a scheming enchantress. Nick is far from a brooding doomed protagonist or character haunted by past demons (as an ex-soldier he doesn’t seem explicitly perturbed in any way). He is really a good guy that maybe is a bit naive about the real world or the fresh fruit market business he is entering. The best case Thieves Highway has of being placed in the genre is that it is a tough little movie with a pessimistic heart at its core. Dassin pulls no punches when showing the rotten side of the profession in question. Scheming produce market dealer will step on and scam anyone for a quick buck. Mike Figlia (Lee J. Cobb) is as ruthless and evil as Hume Cronyn’s Captain Munsey in Dassin’s earlier Brute Force. (more…)

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 Copyright © 2011 by James Clark

      We are so accustomed to having films speak to us by way of players whose physical presence is, if not awesomely attractive, awesomely repellent, that, when we are confronted with a predominant protagonist like Sylvie Testud’s “Christine,” in Lourdes (2009), we become somewhat squelched. Writer-director, Jessica Hausner, has remarked that in preparing and producing her film, “I also thought about Jacques Tati a lot;” and in this she reminds us that although in works calling for heavy lifting we tend to rely upon eagles, in comedy the sparrows come into their own. (Her contrarian casting would, thereby, also tend to revere the similarly disconcerting holdups of Robert Bresson.)

    Hausner, like Tati, in M. Hulot’s Holiday (1953), plants a comprehensive misfit in a setting aspiring, with mixed results, to grandeur. But whereas Hulot is a devastating buffoon tearing to shreds, despite matey intentions, widespread hopes for a taste of the sublime, Christine is a squashed-in paraplegic and excursion-relief junkie whose schedule gently confronts the titular French spa/casino-like Catholic shrine nestled into the lovely Pyrenees. On a number of occasions she candidly avers to preferring “cultural” junkets, but that does not preclude her quietly appreciative engagement of the profoundly stimulating excitements on tap. “Excitements” brings us back to the sharp dose of sensory privation she has booked us into. (Here we are as far removed from laugh-a-minute comedy as we are from shock-a-minute violence.) As it happens, Christine travels in a large convoy of wheelchair-confined invalids, and their laying down a world of inertia takes nightmare proportions in dovetailing with thousands more of their ilk, converging on that centre of belief-therapy and its break-the-bank (long-shot, to be sure) promise of miraculous transformation. (more…)

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Director: Fritz Lang

Producer: Walter Wanger and Fritz Lang

Screenwriter: Dudley Nichols

Cinematographer: Milton R. Krasner

Music: Hans J. Salter and Ernie Burnett

Studio: Universal Pictures 1945

Main Acting: Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, and Dan Duryea

Let’s get right down to the black heart of this film and begin at the end. Chris (Edward G. Robinson) has lost everything. Having murdered his mistress and framed her pimp boyfriend, he stands by as Johnny (Dan Duryea) gets the electric chair and is dispatched permanently. At first he thinks he could live with himself, but as the man on the train says, “Mr. Cross, nobody gets away with murder. The problem just moves in here (pointing to his heart) where you go on punishing yourself.” In the brutal 5-to-10 minute finale, Edward G. Robinson’s character not only goes through the emotional ringer but is also shown the cruelest hand of fate. As a suicide attempt fails, he must live with his overwhelming guilt and be humiliated further by seeing the paintings he created for Kitty (Joan Bennett) become important works of art with expensive price tags. Oh Come All Ye Faithful plays in an almost-mock amusement as the man’s fortune is destroyed in a most horrific fashion. There is no happy ending, just crushing resignation. (more…)

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Director: Robert Siodmak

Producer: Dore Schary

Screenwriter: Mel Dinelli

Cinematography: Nicholas Musuraca

Music: Roy Webb

Studio: RKO 1946

Main Acting: Dorothy MacGuire and George Brent

Maybe the finest example of the kind of film that is best viewed late at night with a dark thunderstorm raging outside. The Spiral Staircase is not exactly a pure noir, but happens to successfully merge many of the hallmarks of the genre with that of the gothic melodrama and the old spooky house story. Robert Siodmak, who directed the picture, is definitely best known for making a clutch of film noirs during his 40-something-year-long career. Perhaps this tidbit of information leads me to consider this more of a film noir than horror. Nevertheless, comparing The Spiral Staircase with the Siodmak movies made precisely before and after, it seems to support my idea that it is a continuation visually and style-wise of what the director was focusing on and concerned with at this point in his profession. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(France 1944 105m) not on DVD

Aka. The Sky is Yours

Wandering in the sky

p  Raoul Ploquin  d  Jean Grémillon  w  Charles Spaak, Albert Valentin  ph  Roger Arrignon, Louis Page  ed  Louisette Hautecoeur  m  Roland Manuel  art  Max Douy

Charles Vanel (Pierre Gauthier), Madeleine Renaud (Thérèse Gauthier), Jean Debucourt (Larcher), Raymonde Vernay (Madame Brissard), Léonce Corne (Dr Maulette), Raoul Marco (Noblet), Robert le Fort (Robert), Anne-Marie Lebaye (Jacqueline),

Jean Grémillon’s career is one that, much like the modern counterparts of the planes seen here, slipped under the radar.  In France he was well known, fêted in some quarters, but his films rarely got the exposure they deserve outside of France.  Perhaps his making films during the Vichy occupation left a bitter taste, and Le Ciel est a Vous was seen as Petainist at the time, but it’s unfortunate, for here was a man who could, had the fates been different, have been mentioned in the same breath as Carné and Renoir.

            Ciel follows the story of the Gauthiers, Pierre and Thérèse, and their two children, who are forced to move from their garage to another garage in town as the land under theirs is needed for the development of a new aerodrome.  The aerodrome acts as a reminder to Pierre of his past, in the cockpits himself with the legendary Georges Guynemer in the Great War.  He survived, Guynemer of course didn’t, and the danger inherent in the then still fledgling science of aviation was still all too apparent.  Thérèse doesn’t want Pierre going up and getting too involved, but when she is taken up herself one day she gets the bug, and soon Pierre is building aircraft, mortgaging themselves up to the hilt, to achieve her dream of the longest solo flight by a woman. (more…)

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Director and Producer: Robert Aldrich

Screenwriters: A.I. Bezzerides and Mickey Spillane

Cinematographer: Ernest Laszlo

Music: Frank De Vol

Studio: United Artists 1955

Main Acting: Ralph Meeker, Maxine Cooper, and Cloris Leachman

Bare feet running along a desolate street. A quick jump cut to the full figure of a woman seemingly scared half to death. She stops as the camera zooms in for a close-up of her exhausted, pained expression. Waving desperately at lights that must surely belong to an oncoming car, the disappointment in her body language is readily apparent as the vehicle keeps going, never bothering to stop. Not deterred by this setback, she continues to barrel down the asphalt with every fiber of her being. Another approaching automobile steadily descends down the distant pavement. This time, a more determined woman places her body directly in front of the oncoming machine with arms outstretched. Wincing her eyes as the driver does everything in his power to avoid hitting her. Close-up of the male is notable for the rage that washes over his expressive features. We will later learn that this is Mike Hammer, Los Angeles detective extraordinaire. For now, he’s just some nameless person that narrowly avoided making mince meat of the random lady who got in his way. (more…)

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