|Machiko Kyo and Ganjiro Nakamura in Floating Weeds|
Tuesday, May 31, 2016
Monday, May 30, 2016
Sunday, May 29, 2016
Saturday, May 28, 2016
Friday, May 27, 2016
- The "News on the March" montage. It's an efficient way of cluing the audience in to what it's about to see, but is it necessary? And was it necessary to make it a parody of "The March of Time" newsreel, down to the use of the Timespeak so deftly lampooned by Wolcott Gibbs ("Backward ran sentences until reeled the mind")?
- Susan Alexander Kane. Not only did Welles leave himself open to charges that he was caricaturing William Randolph Hearst's relationship with his mistress, Marion Davies, but he unwittingly damaged Davies's lasting reputation as a skillful comic actress. We still read today that Susan Alexander (whose minor talent Kane exploits cruelly) is to be identified as Welles's portrait of Davies, when in fact Welles admired Davies's work. But beyond that, Susan (Dorothy Comingore) is an underwritten and inconsistent character -- at one point a sweet and trusting object of Kane's affections and later in the film a vituperative, illiterate shrew and still later a drunk. What was it in her that Kane (Orson Welles) initially saw? From the moment she first lunges at the high notes in "Una voce poco fa," it's clear to anyone, unless Kane is supposed to have a tin ear, that she has no future as an opera star. Does she exist in the film primarily to demonstrate Kane's arrogance of power? A related quibble: I find the portrayal of her exasperated Italian music teacher, Matiste (Fortunio Bonanova), a silly, intrusive bit of tired comic relief.
- Rosebud. The most famous of all MacGuffins, the thing on which the plot of Citizen Kane depends. It's not just that the explanation of how it became so widely known as Kane's last word is so feeble -- was the sinister butler, Raymond (Paul Stewart) in the room when Kane died, as he seems to say? -- it's that the sled itself puts so much psychological weight on Kane's lost childhood, which we see only in the scenes of his squabbling parents (Agnes Moorehead and Harry Shannon). The defense insists that the emphasis on Rosebud is mistakenly put there by the eager press, and that the point is that we often try to explain the complexity of a life by seizing on the wrong thing. But that seems to me to burden the film with more message than it conveys.
Thursday, May 26, 2016
male gaze" -- the objectifying, depersonalizing view of women -- at its utmost. But then Antonioni subverts the male gaze by two scenes in which it is exposed in full and repellent play: The first is when the would-be celebrity Gloria Perkins (Dorothy De Poliolo) causes a near-riot in the streets of Messina. The second, more bitter scene comes when Claudia, having left Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti) to fetch Anna from the hotel in Noto where she thinks she may be staying, begins to be surrounded by more and more men, like a pack of feral dogs, casting eager, exploring stares at her. The sex in L'Avventura is troubled, like that between Anna and Sandro that earlier had left Claudia standing alone and idle in another street. Or the relationship of Claudia and Sandro that develops after Anna's disappearance, leaving neither of them particularly eager to find her. In the end, Sandro proves incapable of remaining faithful to Claudia, all too ready to ease his boredom with, of all people, Gloria Perkins, who returns to prowl the hotel in Taormina in search of paying customers. Before their liaison, Sandro is eyed by a woman who stands in front of a painting of Roman Charity, in which a woman breastfeeds an elderly man, a scene that blurs the distinction between charity and lust. After Claudia discovers Sandro and Gloria in flagrante, she flees the hotel in tears, followed by Sandro, and the film concludes with a scene in which her gestures, stroking his hair as he weeps, demonstrate her own form of charity -- or is it lust? L'Avventura presents us with a world in which the conventional and expected word and action never takes place. It was fashionable at the time the film was released to say that it was a depiction of alienation and ennui. But films about alienation and ennui invariably wind up alienating and boring, as many of the subsequent films made under its influence (including some of Antonioni's own) tediously demonstrated. L'Avventura didn't point out a viable direction for other movies, but it remains, like many great films, sui generis.
Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Preston Sturges, Howard Hawks, and Quentin Tarantino, for example, would be nothing without their characters' abundantly gifted gab. Hardly a year goes by without someone compiling a list of the "greatest movie quotes of all time." And invariably the lists include such lines as "Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy night" or "You have a point. An idiotic one, but a point." Those are spoken by, respectively, Margo Channing (Bette Davis) and Addison DeWitt (George Sanders) in All About Eve, one of the movies' choicest collections of talk. Joseph L. Mankiewicz won the best screenplay Oscar for the second consecutive year -- he first won the previous year for A Letter to Three Wives, which, like All About Eve, he also directed -- and in both cases he received the directing Oscar as well. Would we admire Mankiewicz's lines as much if they had not been delivered by Davis and Sanders, along with such essential performers as Celeste Holm, Thelma Ritter, and, in a small but stellar part, Marilyn Monroe? It could be said that Mankiewicz's dialogue tends to upend All About Eve: The glorious wisecracks and one-liners are what we remember about it, far more than its satiric look at the Broadway theater or its portrait of the ambitious Eve (Anne Baxter). We also remember the film as the continental divide in Bette Davis's career, the moment in which she ceased to be a leading lady and became the paradigmatic Older Actress, relegated more and more to character roles and campy films like What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (Robert Aldrich, 1962). All About Eve, in which Margo turns 40 -- Davis was 42 -- and ever so reluctantly hands over the reins to Eve -- Baxter was 27 -- is a kind of capitulation, an unfortunate acceptance that a female actor's career has passed its peak, when in fact all that is needed is writers and directors and producers who are willing to find material that demonstrates the ways in which life goes on for women as much as for men.
Tuesday, May 24, 2016
*An oddly prescient name: Rainbow is played by Terry, who also played Toto in The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939).
Monday, May 23, 2016
Liebchen -- sweetness -- what watch?Carl assures them, "You will get along beautiful in America." Has there ever been a movie more quotable? It is, of course, a great movie, largely because everyone took the time to weave such moments into its fabric. I don't claim perfection for it: The subservience of Sam (Dooley Wilson) to Rick, whom he calls "Mr. Rick" or "Boss," smacks of the racial attitudes of the era, and I wince when Ilsa refers to Sam as "the boy." (Wilson was in his 50s when the film was made.) James Agee, who was not as impressed with Casablanca as many of his contemporaries were, "snickered at" some of the expository dialogue, such as Ilsa's plea, "Oh, Victor, please don't go to the underground meeting tonight." But it continues to cast a spell that few other films have ever equaled.
Sunday, May 22, 2016
Saturday, May 21, 2016
Sunset Blvd. (Billy Wilder, 1950), for example, the film flashes back to tell us whose corpse is floating in that swimming pool and why. Inside Llewyn Davis starts with Davis (Oscar Isaac) performing in a Greenwich Village club, then being beaten up for some unknown offense by a man outside that club. The film then flashes back to several days in the life of Davis in which, among other things, he becomes encumbered with a cat, learns that a woman (Carey Mulligan) he knows is pregnant and wants him to fund an abortion, travels to Chicago to try to find a well-paying gig, tries to give up his music career and rejoin the Merchant Marine, and then finally returns to the night he performed at the club and was beaten up, whereupon we learn that he had cruelly heckled his attacker's wife the night before. Is there a meaning to this method of storytelling? If there is, it's probably largely to make the point that Davis is caught in a vicious circle, a spiral of depression and self-destructive behavior. Llewyn Davis is a talented folk musician in a business in which talent alone is not enough: As the Chicago club-owner (F. Murray Abraham) tells him after he performs a song from the album Davis is trying to push, "I don't see a lot of money here." Davis doesn't want a lot of money, just enough to pay for his friend's abortion (which it turns out he doesn't need) and to stop couch-surfing, but every time he is on the verge of making it, something rises up to thwart him. In the movie's funniest scene he goes to a recording gig to make a novelty song, "Please Please Mr. Kennedy," which his friend Jim (Justin Timberlake) has written about an astronaut who doesn't want to go into space -- or as Al Cody (Adam Driver), the other session musician, intones throughout the song, "Outer ... space" -- but he signs away his rights to residuals because he needs ready cash. Of course, the song becomes a huge hit. As unpleasant as Davis can often be, his heart is really in the right place: Not only does he agree to fund his friend's abortion, even though the baby may not be his, he conscientiously looks after the cat he accidentally lets out of the apartment where he has been sleeping, and when the cat escapes again he nabs it on the street -- only, of course, to find out that the cat he has picked up is the wrong one. Are the Coens telling us something about good deeds always being punished? Are they telling us anything that can be reduced to a formula? I think not. What they are telling us is that life can be like that: random, unjust, bittersweet. And that, I think, is enough, especially when the lesson is being taught by actors of the caliber of Isaac (in a star-making role), John Goodman (brilliant as usual, this time as a foul-mouthed junkie jazz musician), and a superbly chosen supporting cast. The Coens always take us somewhere we didn't know we wanted to go, but are glad they decided to take us along.
Friday, May 20, 2016
Thursday, May 19, 2016
one of his "most hated films" on his web site. Having seen the film and read the review, I have to wonder if Ebert was in the wrong mood when he saw and wrote about it. I saw it in relaxed anticipation and found it anything but boring. Not a masterpiece, perhaps, but a strangely haunting film, whose images stayed with me through the following day: the winding dirt roads in the hills outside Tehran; the cascades of bare soil turned up by massive agricultural equipment; the shadow of the protagonist, Mr. Badii (Homayoun Ershadi), projected upon these mounds of dirt; the faces of the men the protagonist tries to enlist in his plan: a young soldier (Safar Ali Moradi), a seminarian (Mir Hossein Noori), the taxidermist (Abdolrahman Bagheri). I was struck by the way Kiarostami chose to make those three men aliens in Iran -- a Kurd, an Afghani, a Turk -- as if to emphasize the inner turmoil that mirrors the external conflicts of the region. I was tantalized by the suspense about what Badii wants the other man to do, and as Ebert points out, the fact that we suspect that he is cruising the outskirts of Tehran to find a sexual partner. (Which, given that homosexuality is a capital offense in Iran, is a frighteningly risky thing to do.) And when we learn that Badii wants someone to throw dirt over him after he commits suicide in a grave he has dug for himself, I was intrigued by what has driven him to this brink. But I'm astonished that Ebert took such a literal-minded approach to all of this, wanting to know why we are being led to believe that Badii is gay and to know more about what has driven him to this extremity. Have we not learned long ago not to expect full backstories of characters in literature and film, or to be able to explicate them in some definitive sense? Isn't that why Kiarostami uses the "distancing" device at the end of showing the film itself being made? I'm content with what it tells us of Badii, and with the emotions and ideas demonstrated by the men he picks up: the young soldier's terror, the seminarian's steadfast faith, the taxidermist's hard-earned wisdom. I was struck by the way we watch Badii at the end through the window of his apartment, as if we will never get any closer, but then see his face as he lies in the hole fleetingly illuminated by lightning. But Taste of Cherry is not so much a character-driven film as a fable: a story about the mysteries of human existence and the interplay of lives. It is full of reverberations, not only of one scene with another but of the events in the film with the troubles -- political, social, environmental -- that haunt our times. It can't be reduced to conventional narrative or even allegorical terms. It took me someplace alien -- i.e., Iran, and the possible last day of a man's life -- and yet deeply, humanly familiar.
Wednesday, May 18, 2016
|A Swedish poster for Kameradschaft|
Tuesday, May 17, 2016
M, made the same year, the underworld is presumed to consist of syndicates of thieves and beggars. The cinematography is by Pabst's frequent collaborator, Fritz Arno Wagner, and the splendid sets are by Andrej Andrejew.
Monday, May 16, 2016
|A Swedish poster for Westfront 1918|
Sunday, May 15, 2016
Pandora's Box (1929), in large part because its source, a 1905 novel by Margarete Böhme, was less distinguished than the one for the previous film: Frank Wedekind's two Lulu plays, which inspired not only Pabst's film but also Alban Berg's 1937 opera, Lulu. The print shown on TCM is also less successfully restored than that of Pandora's Box, owing to difficulties with censors that resulted in some major cuts that sometimes leave the narrative a bit hard to follow. Brooks plays Thymian Henning, the daughter of a well-to-do pharmacist (Josef Rovensky). She is raped and impregnated by her father's assistant, Meinert (Fritz Rasp). When she gives birth, her baby is taken away and she is expelled from her father's home, with the connivance of the housekeeper, Meta (Franziska Kinz), who later marries Thymian's father. She escapes from the oppressive reformatory to which she is sent and winds up in a high-class brothel. When her father dies, she expects an inheritance and marries her friend Count Orloff (André Roanne), who has been disinherited by his own father (Arnold Korff). But when he receives the money she discovers that Meta and her two children have been left penniless. Rather than allow her young half-sister to suffer the fate she has experienced, she gives away her fortune to Meta. Learning of this, Count Orloff leaps to his death from an open window, but his father takes Thymian in, allowing her not only to continue to prosper but also to take revenge on the reformatory personnel who had mistreated her. The elder Count Orloff then observes, "A little more love and no one would be lost in this world." That a story so improbable and sententious should work at all is a tribute to Pabst's willingness to take it seriously and to marshal a cast that performs it with apparent conviction. Brooks, however, feels miscast, especially after her triumph in Pandora's Box: It's difficult to accept the broad-shouldered, strong-backed Brooks as a 15-year-old, which she presumably is at the film's beginning when she attends her confirmation, and the performance feels one-note after the impressive range she achieved in the first film. It was not a critical or commercial success, owing in part to the arrival of sound, which made it feel obsolete, and it didn't receive an American commercial release.
Saturday, May 14, 2016
Friday, May 13, 2016
Thursday, May 12, 2016
Wednesday, May 11, 2016
The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933), stereotyping Wernicke as a cop for much of his career. And Gustav Gründgens, the imperious leader of the criminal faction, who later became identified with the role of Mephistopheles in stage and screen versions of Goethe's Faust (Peter Gorski, 1960) -- not to mention in Klaus Mann's 1936 novel, Mephisto, based on Gründgens's embrace of the Nazis to advance his career.
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
Monday, May 9, 2016
Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (1922) hardly needed a sequel, but the director makes it worth our while by adding sound to the concoction. Take, for example, the segue from the tick ... tick ... tick of the timer on a bomb to the chip ... chip ... chip of someone removing the shell from a soft-boiled egg. It's a witty touch that not only eases tension with laughter, but also demonstrates the prevalence of the sinister in everyday life. Hitchcock, it is often noted, learned a great deal from Lang. Mabuse (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) is more of a felt presence than a visible one in this version, confined as he is to an insane asylum where he supposedly dies, only to haunt not only the inmate Hofmeister (Karl Meixner) but also, and especially, the head of the asylum, Prof. Baum (Oscar Beregi Sr.), who is compelled to carry out Mabuse's plans for world domination. As in the 1922 film, there is a doughty policeman, Commissioner Lohmann (Otto Wernicke), who is determined to foil Mabuse's nefarious plans. Wernicke, whose character Lang brought over from M ( 1931), is not as hunky as the earlier film's von Wenk (Bernhard Goetze), so Lang and screenwriter Thea von Harbou add to the mix a young leading man, Gustav Diessl, who plays Thomas Kent, an ex-con who escapes from Mabuse's snares to aid Lohmann in trapping Baum in his efforts to fulfill Mabuse's plot. It's extremely effective suspense hokum, not raised quite to the level of art the way the 1922 film was, but still a cut above the genre. As is usually noted, this was Lang's last film in Germany. It was suppressed by the Nazis, ostensibly because it suggested that the state could be overthrown by a group of people working together, but perhaps also because of its suggestion that world domination might not be such a good thing.
Sunday, May 8, 2016
Saturday, May 7, 2016
This scorpion wanted to cross a river, so he asked the frog to carry him. No, said the frog, no thank you. If I let you on my back you may sting me and the sting of the scorpion is death. Now, where, asked the scorpion, is the logic in that? For scorpions always try to be logical. If I sting you, you will die. I will drown. So, the frog was convinced and allowed the scorpion on his back. But, just in the middle of the river, he felt a terrible pain and realized that, after all, the scorpion had stung him. Logic! Cried the dying frog as he started under, bearing the scorpion down with him. There is no logic in this! I know, said the scorpion, but I can't help it -- it's my character.Perhaps it was Welles's character that betrayed him into making movies that flopped but turned into classics.
Friday, May 6, 2016
Thursday, May 5, 2016
Wednesday, May 4, 2016
|Wild Rose director Sun Yu|
|Wang Renmei in Wild Rose|