Archive for February, 2012

Copyright © 2012 by James Clark

Henri-Georges Clouzot was a most peculiar filmmaker who endured a most peculiar tenure. From out of an early career as a screenwriter and screenplay refurbisher, his full-scale productions strike me, at least, as written with brilliance and originality, and as attaining to management of mise en scene that is utterly masterful. And yet, what reputation he managed to evoke was that of a flashy entertainer, a French Hitchcock, and butt of disdain from the putative deep guys of the New Wave.

Thereby we are assured by film commentators and historians that in 1959 he was ordered to make a Brigitte Bardot movie and promptly whacked off the screenplay for what came to the public in 1960 as La Verite (Truth). His public image being what it was, no one at that time showed the temerity to credit Clouzot with the kind of fastidious foresight (also, come to think of it, seldom credited) demonstrated by Billy Wilder vis-à-vis Marilyn Monroe, in The Seven-Year Itch and Some Like It Hot.

The mundane-saturated emanations of Clouzot and Wilder came to look obsolete in light of the audacious and loudly heralded weirdness of films like Last Year at Marienbad, La Dolce Vita, L’Avventura and Breathless, all made at exactly the same time as La Vérité. It was apparently impossible to extend to Clouzot any credit for dealing with the same abysmal wildness his younger colleagues played to the hilt. (Fortuitously, a very recent and similarly head-turning film, Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, dips into the specific ranges of those revered titles, in order to very overtly reactivate for ongoing consideration the verities contained within the watershed moment of high-octane sensuality. We have a tony [wedding] party from hell—replete with a quickie divorce—[a foregone profit centre for Fellini, Antonioni, Robbe-Grillet and Godard], at a fabulous mansion with stunning grounds [vide Marienbad and all those billionaires’ digs beloved by Fellini and Antonioni]. We have the loveless bride trashing the hosts’ collection of austere and game-changing Suprematist graphics and replacing them with art books showing Renaissance devotional items. We have a rogue planet looming to trash a planet the bride declares to be “evil,” and, in a spate of voodoo physics, also declares to be the only place in the universe with “life.” [“I know these things,” she modestly admits.] Happy to be headed for extinction, she musters a bit of chipper diversion for her sister and the latter’s son, on their well-tended grounds just before the crash. A preamble had shown them at ground zero where compromised gravity endowed all movements with the uncanny reverb their hearts could never elicit. Von Trier thereby posits with maximum [and heavily precedented] panache the blind and deadly plunge of world history [a sidelight of which consists of the droll conceit that official science—predicting a close but harmless encounter—has missed the point]. [The ending of A Serious Man is in this vein.] What he does not powerfully convey are resources on behalf of countering such gracelessness in face of matter’s eerily foreclosing on consciousness. His Dancer in the Dark, a marvellous bit of Demy-revival, does address this more rounded phenomenon; but his Breaking the Waves goes much farther, as I hope to make understandable two weeks from now. (more…)


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by Allan Fish

(USSR 1967 108m) DVD1/2

Aka. The Commissar

The trams will never be running

p  V.Levin, L.Prilutzkaya  d/w  Alexander Askoldov  novel  “In the Town of Berdichev” by Vasily Grossman  ph  Valery Ginsburg  ed  V.Isayeva, N.Loginova, S.Lyashinskaya  m  Alfred Schnittke  art  Sergei Serebrennikov

Nonna Mordyukova (Klavdia Vavilova), Rolan Bykov (Yefim Mahazannik), Raisa Bedashkovskaya (Maria Mahazannik), Lyudmila Volynskaya (grandmother),

He was only a boy of five when he became an effective orphan.  Hard to imagine, having to stand back and watch your mother taken away by officials (and your father, veteran of the eastern front and the Civil War having ‘gone ahead’), and to hear the words “come back for the boy later.”  Credit to the boy for having the gumption to realise that he needed to get out of there, even though it’s not yet dawn and dark outside, and make his way to the house of friends of his parents, where he was hidden.  The family that were Jewish, and years later they themselves were to disappear in the Holocaust. 

            Thirty years later that little boy Alexander was making his first film, so it’s more than understandable what events in his life would influence him.  He took a propagandist story by Vasily Grossman and transformed it into a film which would prove the most incendiary Soviet work of its generation.  It was dismissed, booed, banned and derided upon its first showing, Askoldov himself not only losing his director’s license but being thrown out of the party.  He could so easily have been made to ‘disappear’ himself, but he hung in there, amidst the derision.  (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

As a cold spell envelopes the northeast the Academy Awards were staged in Los Angeles amidst the usual flurry of both casual interest and condemnation, and the results seemed sure to put the rubber stamp on a year where numerous critics’ organizations and awards’ groups mostly all sided up with the same film: The Artist.  Oscar bashers will from here on refer to the film as an “Oscar movie” to disparage both the system and the film they didn’t adore, but the film won way too many awards before AMPAS’ lovefest to allow for any pigeon-holing.  Point is, The Artist is one of the most critically-praised films in years, and Oscar’s annointment is actually one of it’s most inspired moments.  As I prepare this Diary lead-in the show is still hours eight to nine hours away, so even if I add a final summary comment it won’t be remotely comprehensive.  Discussion on the event may well take place on the comment thread, if it even materializes at all.  On a personal note, our annual party was held as scheduled, and a nice food spread and the company of friends was easily the most rewarding part of the night.  Postscript:  The Artist wins Best Picture, Best Director for Michel Hazanavicius, and Best Actor for Jean Dujardin, as well as for musical score and costumes for a five Oscar win to dominate the awards.  In a thrilling surprise, Meryl Streep upset Viola Davis for Best Actress.

Even with the party and guests imminent, I stayed the course with the William Wellman Festival in torrid fashion.  From Monday to Sunday I made good on a week-off from my school position to manage a week of theatrical movie going that will have some impressed, but way more convinced that insanity has set in.  The latter is probably the right assessment.  In any case with Lucille present for most and Sammy for many,  I took in 16 Wellmans, and felt like I negotiated a crash course on the prolific director.  There were several great ones and a few rarities.  In any case the all-enveloping focus on Wellman precluded any other viewings with the long exception of a pre-Oscar repeat viewing of The Artist, seen with Dennis on Thursday night. (the one instance aside from Sunday where I watched the Wellmans in the afternoon).  Yes, that’s five viewings of The Artist, and it still hasn’t lost a thing. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

Again, right to it.  We could wax lyrical about what a bastard of a decision it was, at least compared to which flavour of shit the academy will vote for tonight.

Best Picture Sunrise, US (9 votes)

Best Director Friedrich W.Murnau, Sunrise (8 votes)

Best Short The Life and Death of 9713 a Hollywood Extra, US, Robert Florey, Slavko Vorkapich (4 votes)

Best Actor Lon Chaney, The Unknown (6 votes, again winning by 1)

Best Actress Janet Gaynor, Sunrise (9 votes)


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By Bob Clark

Makoto Shinkai’s origins as an amateur animator, creating a pair of shorts in his off time as an illustrator at a Japanese game company, are now something like the stuff of otaku legend. There’s an inspiring quality in the way that a single artist using little more than Photoshop could produce impressive, sometimes even stunning works and quickly move to making features on the scale and scope of veteran directors like Miyazaki, to whom the young director has most often been compared to. Indeed, at 38, he’s one of the most successful and youngest animators in the modern era, surpassed only by Hideaki Anno in recent memory, who at his age had already completed the magnum opus of Neon Genesis Evangelion and its apocalyptic film finale. Shinkai’s accomplishments so far are a little more modest, but only just quite– his two features, The Place Promised in our Early Days and Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below have won droves of accolades from critics and fans around the world, who both liken the director to the older masters of Studios Ghibli and Gainax, while also marveling at his own unique sensibilities, especially the way that he manipulates light and color to create immersive and convincing expressionistic landscapes both on the ground and deep in the sky. But for all the ways his longer works have solidified his esteem in online establishments, it’s his shorter works that have both earned and continued that respect, even in their slightest of forms.


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by Jaime Grijalba.

The Oscar race is done, and the principal winners are already known. They’re predictable at this time of year, but sometimes we have an itch, something that tells us that maybe not everything is said and done, there are many insider stories that tell us, for example, that maybe the winner that everyone is talking about is not going to be the real winner. So, here I am, supporting a sham, the awards season, the thing that most serious film enthusiasts hate, the Oscars. I don’t hate the Oscars myself, as much as I hate the options they take sometimes, but I think it’s always something to look forward to and it always brings up the conversation within friends… which was really the best film of 2011? For me the answer was clear, but for the Academy, they still have to choose, so here comes the entertainment, trying to predict what is going to happen.


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by Allan Fish

We all have our own ideas of what releases Criterion need to bring out in the upcoming months/years.  Requests ranging from the mad (Showgirls) to the unlikely (The Magnificent Ambersons).  As the chances of full blown Blu Ray releases of films is always going to be small, unless it’s an upgrade of an earlier DVD release, let us instead turn our attention to the strand of Criterion that is commonly seen as their burying tool, Eclipse.

Essentially, this was begun with the intention of getting releases out of films that they’d never otherwise get round to.  What it has turned into is a way to bury films that that should have been given full on releases.  So Ernst Lubitsch’s Design for Living gets a full on Blu Ray, while his musicals (The Smiling Lieutenant et al) languish in Eclipse.  (And where’s the upgrade of Trouble in Paradise, while we’re on the subject).  Nice to have them, yes, but any one of that boxset beats the 1933 film.  Most recently, we have Daisies, a film that deserves a full on release every bit as much as say Kalatozov’s Letter Never Sent, but gets buried in an Eclipse set, along with Capricious Summer, which anyone who’s anyone will tell you is a better film than Menzel’s Closely Observed Trains that got a full Criterion release.  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(France 1938 100m) DVD1/2

Aka. The Human Beast; Judas Was a Woman

A black smoke

Robert Hakim  d/w  Jean Renoir  novel  Emile Zola  ph  Curt Courant  ed  Marguerite Renoir  m  Joseph Kosma  art  Eugène Lourié

Jean Gabin (Jacques Lantier), Simone Simon (Severine), Julien Carette (Pecqueaux), Fernard Ledoux (Roubaud), Jean Renoir (Cabuche), Blanchette Brunoy (Flore), Gérard Landry (Dauvergne’s son), Jacques Berlioz (Grandmorin), Colette Regis (Victoire), Jenny Helia (Philomene),

Whenever I think of Jean Renoir’s classic adaptation of Emile Zola’s tale of violence and lust on the railways, I am reminded of that memorable speech made by Edward G.Robinson’s Barton T.Keyes in Double Indemnity referring to the couple who commit a murder being tied together on a train ride on which the final destination is the cemetery.  Though in the films of Satyajit Ray and Yasujiro Ozu trains are equated with the notion of moving from home and displacement amongst communities, in French cinema they have always been a symbolic reference point for studies of sexual obsession, dating right back to Abel Gance’s La Roue.  The almost phallic significance of various shots of locomotives entering tunnels, coupled with the deliberately fatalistic script, combine to evoke an erotic web of treachery, uncontrollable violence and sex by the sidings.  For some time it was perhaps overlooked against the poetic realist films of Marcel Carné and with coming between Renoir’s more accepted masterworks, La Grande Illusion and La Règle du Jeu, but this remains one of the great French films of the thirties. (more…)

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By Peter Lenihan

The name of this series is half-borrowed from a very short post of screen captures I did for Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s A Screaming Man a while back that I entitled “Rediscovering John Ford in the Twenty-First Century”. That’s the purpose of this post as well, and I hope you all forgive its somewhat digressive nature.

2010 saw the release of two superb oaters—Kelly Reichardt’s defiantly allegorical Meek’s Cutoff and the Coen brothers’ endearingly eccentric adaptation of the Charles Portis classic True Grit. I’m not interested in elevating one of these movies (or a particular style of filmmaking) at the expense of the other—they’re both great, and although more different than similar (it’s instructive that the two films are set on virtually the opposite sides of the country), they do share an awareness, if not a pre-occupation, with their cinematic forbearers, even as they supposedly distance themselves from a “classical” approach (…which they don’t, but that’s a discussion for another time). True Grit’s most obvious point of reference isn’t Henry Hathaway’s uneven, disappointing 1969 effort as much as The Night of the Hunter (which had been explicitly alluded to in several of the boys’ previous productions), but the palpable, almost omnipresent sense of giddiness has nothing to do with Laughton and everything to do with the fact that they’re working on the same terrain that Mann and Boetticher once did. As such, they’re less interested in referencing specific films (although both Ride Lonesome and The Naked Spur are at least suggested) than doing justice to a certain milieu, and their refusal to go for the easy landscape shot or the obvious “lonesome violin” soundtrack cue is an unusual, old-fashioned choice that should be celebrated.

Reichardt’s film is a bit more complex in this regard—although its scenario shares a lot with those of Wellman’s Westward the Women and Ford’s own Wagon Master, they probably aren’t the best points of reference, and even comparing it to a kinda-feminist western like Richard Pearce’s neglected Heartland paints a less-than-accurate picture. The “existentialist” (can’t believe I’m using that word) finale owes something to Hellman, certainly, and while the modesty of the plot could be compared to that director’s spaghetti China 9, Liberty 37, the bleak, ambiguous framings of an unknown desert stretching out into infinity has far more to do with the amorphous, mysterious landscapes of silent cinema. There’s nothing enigmatic about the Coens’ Arkansas; it’s rough, unpredictable country that has given birth to rough, unpredictable people, but it’s geographically and historically grounded, and the directors’ (or, more accurately, Portis’) emphasis on Greil Marcus’ oldweirdAmericaisms guarantees that for all the moral disorientation (articulated most clearly in Bridges’ magnificent “I bow out” soliloquy), the characters still know the way back to town. Meek’s Cutoff, by contrast, seems to use the word “lost” in every line of its not exactly verbose script, and we’re never completely certain that the characters are in Oregon or, for that matter, on Earth. Generally, dialogue contextualizes and familiarizes and grants a sense of realness that moves beyond the physical; by making a talking silent picture, Reichardt foregrounds the material that makes up this world, and generates an uncanny atmosphere that seems more tied to the films of Victor Sjostrom or Mauritz Stiller than the aforementioned Boettichers and Manns. (more…)

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Sam and Dennis Talk Oscars

This interview was filmed two weeks ago at the Edgewater multiplex and at the Boulevard Diner in North Bergen, New Jersey by Jason Giampietro, who also provided the dazzling embellishments.


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