A blog formerly known as Bookishness
By Charles Matthews"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
Thursday, March 31, 2016
elsewhere, but the phrase has so often been associated with him that it reveals something about his relationship with actors. It's clear from Hitchcock's recasting of certain actors -- Cary Grant, James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman -- that he was most comfortable directing those he could trust. And Clift's stiffness and Baxter's mannered overacting suggest that Hitchcock felt no particular rapport with them. But I Confess also played directly into the hands of the censors: The Production Code was administered by Joseph Breen, a devout Catholic layman, and routinely forbade any material that reflected badly on the clergy. In the play by Paul Anthelme and the first version of the screenplay by George Tabori, the priest (Clift) and Ruth Grandfort (Baxter) have had a child together, and the murdered man (Ovila Légaré) is blackmailing them. Moreover, because he is prohibited from revealing what was told him in the confessional and naming the real murderer (O.E. Hasse), the priest is convicted and executed. Warner Bros., knowing how the Breen office would react, insisted that the screenplay be changed, and when Tabori refused, it was rewritten by William Archibald. The result is something of a muddle. Why, for example, is the murderer so scrupulous about confessing to the priest when he later has no hesitation perjuring himself in court and then attempting to kill the priest? No Hitchcock film is unwatchable, but this one shows no one, except Burks, at their best.
Wednesday, March 30, 2016
|Erland Josephson and Liv Ullmann in Scenes From a Marriage|
Tuesday, March 29, 2016
Monday, March 28, 2016
Have You Seen ... ?, puts the objection most provocatively when he observes, "With that one arty nudge Spielberg assigned his sense of his own past to the collected memories of all the films he had seen. All of a sudden, the drab Krakow vista became a set, with assistant directors urging the extras into line.... It was an organization of art and craft designed to re-create a terrible reality done nearly to perfection. But in that one small tarting up ..., there lay exposed the comprehensive vulgarity of the venture." I can't be as harsh as Thomson, for one thing because when I saw the film in the theater shortly after its release in 1993, I didn't notice the red coat -- the one note of color in the middle of the black-and-white film -- because I am mildly red-green colorblind. (It's difficult to explain to the non-colorblind, but those of us with the color deficiency usually see the color in question, but it's not quite the same color that the normally sighted see.) I did, however, notice the little girl: The framing by Spielberg and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski puts her in the center of the action and makes her search for a hiding place evident even in a long shot. What I did miss that time was the reappearance of the girl's body in a stack of corpses later in the film, something that would be evident to anyone who had earlier seen the red of the coat. Later, when I saw the film on video, after having read about the controversy over the red highlight, I was able to perceive the color -- not so intense for me as perhaps for you, but once brought to my attention inescapable -- and to be shocked by its reappearance in the later scene. But only when I watched the film again last night did I realize the function of the "arty nudge": When we first see the girl in the red coat, we see her from the point of view of Schindler (Liam Neeson) himself, on a hillside above the ghetto. And when we see her body, we are seeing it again from the point of view of Schindler, visiting the cremation site where Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes) has been ordered to burn the bodies of those killed in the liquidation of the ghetto. It is a subtle but effective move because it coincides with (or perhaps precipitates) Schindler's decision to try to save as many of his Jewish workers as he can. Is it "arty" or "tarting up" or "vulgar"? Perhaps it is, but it's also effective filmmaking. And only the fact that the Holocaust remains so large and sacrosanct an event in the moral history of the West raises the question of whether "effective filmmaking" is inappropriate to such a subject.
Sunday, March 27, 2016
|François Leterrier in A Man Escaped|
François Jost: Charles LeClainche
Orsini: Jacques Ertaud
Blanchet: Maurice Beerbeck
Le Pasteur: Roland Monod
Director: Robert Bresson
Screenplay: Robert Bresson
Based on a memoir by André Devigny
Cinematography: Léonce-Henri Burel
Production design: Pierre Charbonnier
Film editing: Raymond Lamy
"I don't laugh," Fontaine says. No, he doesn't. In fact, throughout A Man Escaped, François Leterrier's expression rarely changes. But we always know the determination, the doubt, the calculation, the suspicion that's going through his head, thanks to Leterrier's use of his eyes.* But as Eisenstein taught us so long ago, montage is responsible for so much of what we feel and witness in movies, and we have to credit Raymond Lamy's editing as well as Léonce-Henri Burel's cinematography and of course Robert Bresson's direction for making A Man Escaped, based on the memoirs of André Devigny, a member of the French Resistance who was imprisoned by the Nazis, one of the most powerful excursions into a man's soul ever put on film. The word "minimalism" was not so much in use when A Man Escaped was made as it is today, but if ever a film was minimalist in avoiding conventional movie tricks like background music or flashy camerawork, it's this one. Bresson's restraint as a filmmaker serves to keep us in Fontaine's head, blotting out all but his grim determination to escape. When Fontaine murders the prison guard, we don't see it. We barely even hear it. We are watching a blank wall when it happens. But we hold our breaths while it does. Today we think of the prison-break movie genre in terms of films like Stalag 17 (Billy Wilder, 1953), The Great Escape (John Sturges, 1963), Escape From Alcatraz (Don Siegel, 1979), and The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont, 1994), with stars like William Holden, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, Tim Robbins, and Morgan Freeman, with action leavened by comic relief and made more tense by grotesque and sadistic guards, and underscored by mood music. What Bresson gives us is a film with no stars that concentrates largely on the face of the man planning his breakout and whose only music is the occasional underscoring with the "Kyrie" from Mozart's C-minor mass. And it works far better than those more famous and conventional movies.
*Leterrier went on to become a film director and writer. He made only one more film appearance as an actor, in the small role of André Malraux in Alain Resnais's Stavisky... (1974).
North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959) -- goes nowhere: Leigh's character serves no further discernible role in the narrative. But it serves nicely to keep the viewer off guard as things grow increasingly bizarre. The weakest performance in the film is probably that of Laurence Harvey as Raymond Shaw. Harvey can't seem to be bothered to keep up an American accent, but somehow even that fits the ambiguity of his character. Angela Lansbury, as Raymond's mother (this is the point where it's usual to mention that she was only three years older than Harvey), is absolutely terrifying as one of the movies' greatest female villains. It earned her an Oscar nomination, but she lost to Patty Duke in The Miracle Worker (Arthur Penn). James Gregory, as her Joe McCarthy-like husband, would not be out of place in the current presidential campaign.
Saturday, March 26, 2016
*Almost literally: Hemmings started as a boy soprano who was cast by Benjamin Britten in several works, most notably as Miles in the 1954 opera The Turn of the Screw. He can be heard on the recording made that year with Britten conducting.
Friday, March 25, 2016
The Piano (Jane Campion, 1993) and had forgotten what a gifted farceuse she could be when she sets her tight little mouth in that determined line and barrels ahead. Nicolas Cage was still in that goofy hangdog persona he used in Peggy Sue Got Married (Francis Ford Coppola, 1986) and only began to grow out of the next year in Moonstruck (Norman Jewison, 1987). But the real surprise for me was Frances McDormand, going completely over the top as Dot, the scatterbrained mother of the most odious bunch of brats ever seen on film. She was at the beginning of her career as a serious actress and would follow up Raising Arizona with her first Oscar nomination for Mississippi Burning (Alan Parker, 1988), so seeing her go all loosey-goosey in this film was a revelation. It's by no means among my favorite Coen brothers movies, and watching it in the company of their best -- among which I'd put Fargo (1996), No Country for Old Men (2007), and Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) -- would probably show up some of its flaws, but why would you want to do that? Sometimes silly fun is enough. At only a touch over an hour and a half, Raising Arizona doesn't hang around long enough to wear out its welcome.
Thursday, March 24, 2016
Wednesday, March 23, 2016
Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976) or Max Cady in Cape Fear (Scorsese, 1991), so unnerving, and it's what keeps us on the edge of our seats throughout The King of Comedy. Rupert Pupkin isn't up to anything so murderous as Travis or Max, but who knows what restrains him from becoming like them? As a satire on the nature of celebrity in our times, Paul D. Zimmerman's screenplay doesn't break any new ground. But what keeps the movie from slumping into predictability are the high-wire, live-wire performances of De Niro and Sandra Bernhard as the obsessive fans and the marvelously restrained one of Jerry Lewis as late night talk-show host Jerry Langford, the object of their adulation. And, of course, Scorsese's ability to keep us guessing about what we're actually seeing: Is this scene taking place in real life, or is it a product of Rupert's deranged imagination? That extends to the movie's ending, in which Rupert, having kidnapped Langford and engineered a debut on network television, is released from prison and becomes a celebrity himself. Are we to take this as the film's comment on fame, like the phenomenon of Howard Beale in Network (Sidney Lumet, 1976) and any number of people (many of them named Kardashian) who have become famous for mysterious reasons? (Incidentally, the odd thing about Rupert's standup routine is not that it's bad, but that it's exactly the sort of thing that one might have sat through while watching a late night show in 1982.) I prefer to think that we are still in Rupert's head at film's end -- it seems less formulaic that way. I don't know of a movie that stays more unbalanced and itchy from scene to scene.
Tuesday, March 22, 2016
Monday, March 21, 2016
Has any filmmaker ever made more eloquent use of the widescreen format than Tarkovsky does in this film? It was a process developed by Hollywood to help win its war with television -- bigger naturally assumed to be better. In Hollywood, it usually went hand-in-hand with color, and although the various widescreen processes -- Cinerama, Cinemascope, VistaVision, etc. -- were used in black-and-white films, they often feel out of place today. A case in point: The Diary of Anne Frank (George Stevens, 1959), which won an Oscar for the cinematography of William C. Mellor, but which seems to cry out for a format less expansive than CinemaScope, in which the Frank family's attic seems far too spacious. Andrei Rublev was filmed in a process called Sovscope, which like CinemaScope used anamorphic lenses to produce a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. (Before the widescreen revolution of the 1950s, the aspect ratio of movies was typically 1.375:1. Today's movies are usually either 1.85:1 or 2.39:1. The standard HDTV aspect ratio is 1.77:1.) But enough techspeak. What I noticed in this viewing of Andrei Rublev is how artfully Tarkovsky and cinematographer Vadim Yusov work with the expanse of the screen, not shying away from closeups but also doing extraordinary movement with the camera. One of the earliest scenes in the film takes place in the barn in which Rublev (Anatoliy Solonitsyn) and his fellow artist-monks take shelter from the rain. We are given an astonishing 360-degree pan inside the barn, circling from the monks to the other denizens of the shelter and back to the monks, a study in faces that establishes one of the film's major subjects: the nature of Russian humanity, which becomes an abiding concern of Rublev's. (I think there's a witty acknowledgment of the nature of widescreen in that the peep-hole cut into the wall of the bar seems to have the same aspect ratio as the film.) And in the concluding sequence, there is a magnificent pan from the gates of the walled city of Vladimir below and the emerging procession up to the structure that holds the newly cast bell, where Boriska (Nikolay Burlyaev) waits anxiously. To my mind, the only section in which Tarkovsky is thwarted by the widescreen process is in the final ecstatic survey of Rublev's work, the only part of the film in color. The paintings are more vertical than horizontal, so we're deprived of some of their aspiring height. I couldn't help watching Andrei Rublev again, because as I said in my first blog entry about the film, I dozed a little while watching it that time: It is, to be sure, a slow and challenging film. But if there is any three-and-a-half-hour film that more repays frequent rewatching, I want to know what it is.
|Jarl Kulle and Bibi Andersson in The Devil's Eye|
Sunday, March 20, 2016
Summer With Monika (Ingmar Bergman, 1953), which had been passed off in some markets as a skin flick. By the time I first saw it, sometime in the 1960s, it had been renamed Sawdust and Tinsel. (The Swedish title, Gycklarnas Afton, can be translated as something like "Evening of a Clown.") Frankly, the first time I saw it, I found it tedious and heavy-handedly sordid, with its shabby, bankrupt circus and its frustrated, destructive relationships. Having grown older and perhaps somewhat wiser, I don't hate it anymore, but I can't see it as the masterpiece some do. It seems to me to lean too heavily on the familiar trope of the circus as a microcosm of the world, and on emphasizing the grunge (sawdust) and fake glamour (tinsel) of its currently prevalent title. What it has going for it is the awesome cinematography by Sven Nykvist: It was his first film for Bergman; they didn't work together again until 1960 and The Virgin Spring, but it became one of the great partnerships in filmmaking. The opening sequence of the tawdry little circus caravan trundling across the landscape is superbly filmed, and I can't help wondering if Bergman and Gunnar Fischer, the cinematographer of The Seventh Seal (1957), didn't have it in mind when they created the iconic shot of Death and his victims silhouetted against the sky in that later film. The performances, too, are excellent: Åke Grönberg as Albert, the worn-out circus owner; Andersson as his restless mistress, Anne; Hasse Ekman as Frans, the actor who rapes her; Anders Ek as the half-mad clown, Frost; and Annika Tretow as Albert's wife, who has gone on to be a success in business after he left her. But the story is heavily formula-driven: There is, for example, a rather clichéd sequence in which Albert toys with suicide, which too obviously echoes an earlier moment when Frans hammily rehearses a scene in which he kills himself while Anne watches offstage. In the end, the movie is rather like a version of Pagliacci without the benefit of Leoncavallo's music. After a disastrous performance of the circus, someone actually says, "The show's over," which is pretty much a steal from the final line of Pagliacci: "La commedia è finita!"
Saturday, March 19, 2016
Friday, March 18, 2016
|Eva Dahlbeck and Gunnar Björnstrand in A Lesson in Love|
David Erneman: Gunnar Björnstrand
Susanne Verin: Yvonne Lombard
Nix Erneman: Harriet Andersson
Carl-Adam: Åke Grönberg
Prof. Henrik Erneman: Olof Winnerstrand
Svea Erneman: Renée Björling
Pelle: Göran Lundquist
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Screenplay: Ingmar Bergman
Cinematography: Martin Bodin
In A Lesson in Love, Ingmar Bergman seems to be trying to turn Eva Dahlbeck into Carole Lombard. She certainly has Lombard's blond glamour, and she makes a surprising go at knockabout comedy. But where Lombard had the light touch of a Howard Hawks or an Ernst Lubitsch to guide her in her best work, Dahlbeck is in the hands of Bergman, whose touch no one has ever called light. A year later, the Bergman-Dahlbeck collaboration would make a better impression with Smiles of a Summer Night, but A Lesson in Love sometimes verges on smirkiness in its treatment of the marriage of Marianne and David Erneman. They are on the verge of divorce and she is about to marry her old flame Carl-Adam, a sculptor for whom she once posed. David is a gynecologist who has had a series of flings with other women, including Susanne, with whom he is trying to break up. But Marianne has not exactly been faithful to their vows either. Meanwhile, we also get to know their children, Nix and her bratty little brother, Pelle, and David's parents, who in sharp contrast to Marianne and David are celebrating 50 years of marriage. While Bergman sharply delineates all of these characters -- especially 15-year-old Nix, who hates being a girl so much that she asks her father if he can perform sex-change operations -- the semi-farcical situation he puts them has a kind of aimless quality to it. I appreciated Harriet performance as Nix the more for having seen her as the dying Agnes in Bergman's Cries and Whispers (1972) the night before, but in this film her role makes no clear thematic sense.
Thursday, March 17, 2016
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Tuesday, March 15, 2016
Monday, March 14, 2016
Sunday, March 13, 2016
|Rosemary Leach, Daniel Day-Lewis, Simon Callow, Helena Bonham Carter, Rupert Graves in A Room With a View|
Charlotte Bartlett: Maggie Smith
George Emerson: Julian Sands
Mr. Emerson: Denholm Elliott
The Rev. Mr. Beebe: Simon Callow
Eleanor Lavish: Judi Dench
Cecil Vyse: Daniel Day-Lewis
Mrs. Honeychurch: Rosemary Leach
Freddy Honeychurch: Rupert Graves
Director: James Ivory
Screenplay: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Based on a novel by E.M. Forster
Cinematography: Tony Pierce-Roberts
Production design: Brian Ackland Snow, Gianni Quaranta
Music: Richard Robbins
Costume design: Jenny Beavan, John Bright
James Ivory and producer Ismail Merchant had a collaboration that began with the formation of Merchant Ivory Productions in 1961 and lasted until Merchant's death in 2005. It usually included the screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. The trio developed a reputation for literary adaptations that were beautifully filmed with opulent sets and costumes and a gallery of celebrated stars -- most of them British. But the trouble with developing a distinctive style is that you can become a cliché: "Merchant Ivory" eventually became a label for a film that was tastefully middlebrow -- well-done and entertaining but just a tad safe. It's a pity, because their best films -- Howards End (1992), The Remains of the Day (1993), and this one -- set a high standard, despite their "safeness." Few films have a better sense of place and time than A Room With a View, in its depiction of Florence at the start of the 20th century. Granted, it leans a bit too heavily on the cliché about stuffy Brits losing their cool in the warmer climate of Tuscany, but that's the fault of E.M. Forster's novel -- not one of his major works -- and not of Jhabvala's Oscar-winning screenplay. Oscars also went to the art direction team and to costumers Jenny Beavan and John Bright, and it was nominated for best picture, for the supporting performances of Denholm Elliott and Maggie Smith, for Ivory's direction, and for Tony Pierce-Roberts's cinematography. The cast includes Helena Bonham Carter (in her "corset-roles" period) and Julian Sands, along with a then little-known Daniel Day-Lewis. Proof that Day-Lewis is one of the greatest actors of all time is no longer needed, but it's worth contemplating that he created the character of the prissy Cecil Vyse in this film within a year of appearing as the gay street punk Johnny in My Beautiful Laundrette (Stephen Frears), and that he would follow with the sexy Tomas in The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Philip Kaufman, 1988), the paralyzed Christy Brown in My Left Foot (Jim Sheridan, 1989), and the dashing Hawkeye in The Last of the Mohicans (Michael Mann, 1992). Day-Lewis's Cecil Vyse verges on a caricature of the sexually repressed Brit, but he has an affecting moment near the end when, after Lucy (Bonham Carter) breaks off their engagement, he emerges as a vulnerable, three-dimensional character. Richard Robbins's fine score is memorably supplemented by Kiri Te Kanawa's recordings of two Puccini arias: "O mio babbino caro" from Gianni Schicchi and "Chi il bel sogno di Doretta" from La Rondine.
Saturday, March 12, 2016
Friday, March 11, 2016
Thursday, March 10, 2016
Wednesday, March 9, 2016
Tuesday, March 8, 2016
|Lewis Stone and Helen Hayes in The Sin of Madelon Claudet|
*The others are Rita Moreno, Audrey Hepburn, and Whoopi Goldberg. Barbra Streisand and Liza Minnelli are sometimes included in the list, but Streisand's Tony and Minnelli's Grammy were honorary, not competitive, awards.