This is a documentary about movies. It is also a masterpiece that can be appreciated on it's own terms. IL MIO VIAGGIO IN ITALIA is an essay film that uses clips from Italian masters(Visconti, DeSica, Fellini, Antonioni and above all RossellinI) not in the club footed manner of Oscar montages, but with the care and attention of detail of an art historian contemplating Renaissance architecture. It's like the scene in F FOR FAKE when Welles looks at the Chartes cathedral, the same sense of elegy and beauty, and defiance.
But just as importantly, the film is about Scorsese himself. He begins by noting that the total absence of non-American films in the cultural landscape and the influence these films had on him. Then he shares recently uncovered video footage of his father(who Scorsese resembles a great deal) as a young man and then footage of street life in New York as a boy. The film goes through each Italian film step-by-step, inch-by-inch and the effect generated by the use of the clips is very poetic. At the end of the film, Scorsese talks about Fellini's 8 1/2, a film about a film-maker who goes through a period of crisis, of reflection and then resumes rejuvenated and full of affirmation of life.
BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ is the stuff of legend. It was unavailable(until recently), mythical(and still is) and talked about with awe and mystery(and will continue to do so). It is adapted from a modern German classic by Alfred Doblin(a close friend of Bertolt Brecht) and it is set in the decade of the peak of German Modernism, a modernism that was irrevocably separated from the post-war Germany by 15 years of war and slaughter. The one single attempt by the greatest artist of post-war Germany to bridge the gap was a 15hour film, divided into 13 chapters and one epilogue, broadcast on television but crafted and composed with the most beautiful, most refined, most political language that cinema is capable of. BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ is a real thing of beauty on the small screen but on the big cinema it would be something else, a prodigal son returning to his father's welcoming arms.
Fassbinder claimed that Alfred Doblin wasn't especially interested in the Alexanderplatz(Berlin's key commercial district which lapsed to East Germany in the Cold War), the lives on the street came through the descriptions of the refuges in which the character's lived. The 14 episodes are minutely detailed observations and recreations of places - apartments, bars, offices, restaurants.
Franz Biberkopf(Gunther Lamprecht) is the most tormented character in film history since Chaplin's Tramp or even Vivien Leigh's Blanche DuBois, he is punished by society and worse he punishes himself abjectly. The spectacle of misery and horror is given tender beauty and rare generosity by the director and the actor. People still laugh, they still tell jokes, they still have sex and they have their beer and schnapps but each person he meets will point their thumbs down the road to death. Some do it by direct cruelty, others do it by the equally subtle cruelty of friendship and love. Fassbinder said that love is the most insidious form of social repression, yet he also longed for the unconditional love that human beings are capable of, even if in his world this love leads to death and madness. This longing is clear in the touching performance of Barbara Sukowa's Mieze, who is dressed up as a ballerina yet is realistically attuned with her status as a prostitute and of Franz's status as her pimp. It also manifests itself in the perplexing relationship between Franz and Reinhold(Gottfried John), two doubles who from their very first sight are drawn to each other and bound in soul though never in body. When Mieze enters the story, the triangle is complete and the stage is set for the apocalyptic finish.
This isn't a lot of plot for a 15hour film yet watching the film one can't say that that the film is too long. This is an epic film, a film that has to be lived in, to understand the characters. We have to feel the apartment and sad corridors. We have to feel these refuges as tactile presences if we are to understand the world of these characters - the Germany of the late 20s which is well on its way to the collective hysteria that installed Hitler and his gang in office and plunged the world into the most cataclysmic event of the last 100 years. This Germany of the 20s was of course shown in films like DOKTOR MABUSE, PANDORA'S BOX and of course in the key reference for Fassbinder, Murnau's DER LETZTE MANN. Fassbinder summons up the feel of the 20s despite limited sets and a tight schedule. One feels the despair and hysterical fury which is implied in those films but brought out into the open in this film.
Fassbinder encompasses diverse, eclectic visual styles, for this film he limits himself to the naturalistic approach he displayed in earlier films like EFFI BRIEST or ALI, the exception is an alley of brothels in Episode 7 which has the artificiality of a Brecht production and of course the famous epilogue. Structurally, the early episodes of BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ(up to Episode 6 when Franz loses his arm) play as single pieces while the later episodes work better when seen end-to-end. The final four hours of Alexanderplatz(Episodes 13, 14 and Epilogue) add up to a single whole. As a standalone piece the best part is Episode 4(A Handful of People in the Depths of Silence - A perfect subtitle for the film) where the tender warmth and compassion between Franz and Baumann(Gerhard Zwerenz) as well as the lyrical and poetic narrative employed in that episode(anticipating Franz's breakdown in the epilogue) creates the effect of a powerful music piece.
The joy of BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ, and I use joy without irony in talking of this sad and unhappy story, comes from the mere presence of the actors, all of them players in Fassbinder's stock company(the finest repertory since the death of John Ford) show up in this film. We see Gunther Lamprecht at first, a bit player in previous films given the role of a lifetime here, we see Brigitte Mira as the non-judgmental Frau Bast, a role written for her. Then there are the ladies, a honour roll that encompasses Hanna Schygulla(in one of her best performances), Karin Baal, Barbara Sukowa, a one scene cameo by Irm Hermann and finally just when you thought someone is missing in flies Margit Carstensen as an angel clad in golden tights in the Epilogue. Among the men, we have Gunther Kauffmann, Volker Spengler, Gottfried John(whose intense schemers in the early films seem to have fused into making Reinhold Hoffmann the most scary presence in German Cinema since Murnau's NOSFERATU) and Fassbinder's friend the novelist Gerhard Zwerenz who plays the small but unforgettable role of Baumann.
Above them is Rainer Werner Fassbinder(who appears with his angels in a one-shot cameo in the epilogue) whose vision achieves a clarity and a vitality bearing the weight of an artist at the height of his powers.
''LE CRIME DE MONSIEUR LANGE'' is a film that Renoir made as part of the Popular Front sympathies of the mid-30s when a co-alition of various organizations banded together in a show of collective solidarity under Leon Blum's leadership. It was this film which cemented Renoir forever after in the ranks of left-wing film-makers much to Renoir's bemusement years later and the film has been variously seen as a call-to-arms towards collective organization, as a film about the class conflict and oppression of workers and about creating a new social utopia. Such reductions do the film little justice because what seems an agitprop actually becomes murky.
LE CRIME DE MONSIEUR LANGE begins with a flashback(a device Renoir rarely used) at a Frontier Hotel(which frontier is unspecified) where a guard brings in a wanted poster informing the bar patrons about Amedee Lange(Rene Lefevre), a fugitive on the run from the law. Lange and his sweetheart Valentine(Florelle) arrive at the hotel and are recognized by the patrons. Valentine decides to explain why Lange committed the crime of the title as he sleeps from exhaustion in his room. The film then begins and is set in a courtyard(brought to vivid life by beautiful set design and superb circular panning shots) where writers of a publishing firm reside. This publishing firm is run by Batala(Jules Berry in a great performance), a corrupt fabulist of an employer who loves sleeping with his female employees and crushing the spirit of his males.
Berry's Batala is a caricature par excellence of a bourgeois businessman who will promote Lange's "Arizona Jim" stories in his magazine to make up for swindling his sponsors only to sabotage Lange's vision by inserting absurd advertisements into the mouth of his idealized and poorly researched Western hero. The film moves without a plot, smoothly scripted by the legendary poet-scriptwright Jacques Prevert(who worked with Marcel Carne and Jean Gremillon but this was his only work with France's best film-maker) driven by the actions and interactions between the workers of the publishing firm and their relationships with the girls who run the neighbourhood laundry. It's a portrait of class relationships like few others in film history making room for such expert caricatures as a old war veteran of an Indo-China conflict whose racism and colonialism is presented starkly.
The film's key movement happens midway when the publisher Batala seemingly perishes in a train crash, leaving the publishing firm in disarray...the sponsors want their money back, the workers want to keep their jobs. By mutual agreement and mutual interests they form a co-operative and in this phase, class distinctions fall apart, middle-class businessmen eat side by side with writers and businessmen, corrupt reactionaries alongside progressives, women with men. The publishing firm which had been in tatters because of Batala's pretentious detective magazine Javert rejuvenates itself by making pulp fiction of "Arizona Jim" novels, fumetti and even discuss making a film(although Lange disagrees noting the impossibility of faking the American West in France...).
The film's vision of co-operative society isn't one of classlessness but class co-ordination. The firm's major support comes from a dandy son of a bourgeois businessman, it passes into their hands through the aegis of an unconvincing distant relative of Batala who inherits the place when he "dies". Much of the film's strength comes from Renoir's effortless blocking of actors in group, with direct sound creating a palpable sense of place.
The film's finale climaxes in a stunning coup, where the line between Lange and Arizona Jim blurs. Batala returns from the dead to take over his firm and rub out the work done without him and in an act of inspiration, Lange commits himself to assassinate Batala. This act is carried in two successive spellbinding tracking shots. The first is a crane shot of a high angle which follows Lange walking through three rooms down a stairs, the other is a breathtaking semi-circular pan in which Arizona Jim Lange defeats the bad guy and rescues his girl and then of course heads to the frontier.
Visconti's best film and the Greatest Italian Film of All Time...
Luchino Visconti was the last scion of the Visconti di Modrone family, one of the oldest and richest families in Italy. He was also a lifelong member of the Communist party, whose first major masterpiece, LA TERRA TREMA is one of the harshest and most compassionate films about the lives of Sicilian fishermen, which was furthermore shot in the Sicilian dialect and released in Northern Italy with the appropriate subtitles. Andre Bazin noted that the fishermen of that film seemed imbued with the nobility of Renaissance Princes. As an artist, Visconti was like his greatest character, Prince Fabrizio, "straddling two worlds and not comfortable in either." "The Leopard" is set in the period of the Risorgimento, the Re-Unification of Italy. It was in this period that a group of principalities and isolated city-states grouped together to form a single nation, the Modern Italy more or less as it exists today. The film is however set in Sicily, the small island situated below the toes of the Giant Boot of Italy. A small island that in centuries was invaded and conquered by foreign nations and rulers and never had a say in the running of it's land. The promise of "being a free state in a free country", articulated by the Chevalley(Leslie French), is for the Sicilians, too late or not enough, when they are charitable or merely the latest in a long line of outsider powers ruling the small region of golden fields and beautiful mountains that is uncaring of the problems of the people or the Salina family.
In the middle of this turmoil is Don Fabrizio Corbera, the Prince of Salina. A fictional aristocrat modeled in part on the grandfather of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. As incarnated by Burt Lancaster, Salina is a man of great presence and intelligence, he claims he is 45 but realizes at once that he is already very old when he learns that his daughter Conchetta is in love with his nephew Tancredi Falconeri(Alain Delon). He realizes that his daughter is no match for the ambitious and handsome nephew and that all his family has left is a name and fading splendor but no money at all. However Anjelica Sedara(Claudia Cardinale) is a Goddess and her father is as rich and upwardly mobile as he is crass and vulgar.
IL GATTOPARDO is a film that deals with the birth of the Middle Class. 19th Century Europe witnesses the slow disintegration of the aristocratic families and the arrival of the middle-class mercantile consumerist faction in it's wake. The film more importantly shows this process, gradually and symbolically but also precisely rendering the machinations in detail. Dozens of films can recreate history by simply play-acting an event, it's another thing to show it as a process. This is one of the great achievements of Visconti. The middle-class, the bourgeoisie will take power but it can do so step by step. First it supports a peasant-led popular revolution only to compromise it, then it accepts democracy only to sabotage it, and then through marriage establishing itself as the chief ruling class of a nation giving the old Leopards a shiny new cage in a stately zoo, in effect allowing the aristocracy to survive as the walking dead.
Released in 1963, Visconti's film must have felt a little incongruous. A big international production on a scale not seen since the commercial disaster of Ophuls' LOLA MONTES, an adaptation of a respected literary source and starring popular international stars - Lancaster, Delon, Cardinale. This was the period of the French New Wave of Modern Italian cinema as embodied in Antonioni and Fellini(Cardinale in fact went back and forth between this film and 8 1/2, essentially in two separate solar systems). Yet Visconti's film could not be conceivable any other way. A film about the dying aristocracy, this film is also about the classical tradition embodied in that culture which is slowly disappearing and which Visconti, despite being a progressive, was a product of.
So THE LEOPARD is also self-reflexive about it's own style and mode of storytelling, yet the ending of the film is also vastly more different and more richer than that of the novel that it takes as a source. The novel written by a cynical aristocrat dilettante is a work of great emotions the chief being nostalgia for the old ways. This nostalgia is tossed out by Visconti, alongside its shameless misogyny. In the transaction the characters are richer and deeper than their literary forebears.
Visconti put his entire heart and soul into THE LEOPARD. You will never see widescreen and colour used as powerfully in all of cinema as it is used in this film. Light, colour, camera movement and the movement of the actors is choreographed in a single whole, the framing has a depth of field that is unparalleled in film history, comparable only to the works of Welles, Ophuls and Mizoguchi. This is a true spectacle - rich and grand, yet personal and intimate.
''Alphaville'' was made in 1965 during Godard's stunning creative outburst. It's reputation is curious. It doesn't have the reputation of ''Contempt'' or ''Pierrot le Fou'' or even ''Masculin-Feminin'', nor the hipster edification of ''Band of Outsiders'' but it has had a strong cult and it's poetic take on science-fiction, it's sense of fashion and style has had a huge influence.
Kubrick's HAL, the killer-computer is a child of Alpha60, the great machine that has power over the will and word of the citizens. The mix of a science-fiction premise with film noir makes this an ancestor of ''Blade Runner'', it's satirical edge foreshadows ''Brazil''. It also influenced a non-science-fiction Fassbinder's ''The Third Generation'' where, Eddie Constantine, the hero of ''Alphaville'', Tarzan, now works as a computer businessman, in effect serving his arch enemy IBM. More recently, it's vision of Technocractic paranoia informed The Matrix Trilogy.
It's well known bit of film history that Godard initially, perhaps jokingly, considered calling this film ''Tarzan vs. IBM''. That essentially summarizes the feel of ''Alphaville'' which is cinematic and can't be adequately expressed on paper. Lemmy Caution(Eddie Constantine) is an agent from the Outlands who comes to Alphaville posing as a journalist but is actually looking for Leonard Von Braun, formerly Leonard Nosferatu who was exiled from the Outlands. He arrives only to find out that Nosferatu has become the architect of the totalitarian city where Bibles in every room are dictionaries regularly updated and deleted with newer words and shifting meanings. In the process of his investigation he meets and falls in love with the professor's daughter Natasha von Braun(played by who else...Anna Karina).
Everybody who has seen ALPHAVILLE notes the most significant aspect of this film's lyrical visual design. It purports to be set in another galaxy in that far and distant future but the film looks just like Paris of 1965, the weapons are props from crime films. In short, it takes the opposite approach to science-fiction films set in the future, locating the seed of the future in the present rather than exaggerating and fantasizing the future. Godard's vision of the future is sparse and minimalistic focusing on the new modern buildings that were changing the city landscape across France(as can be seen in MON ONCLE and MURIEL) and the empty office spaces and labyrinthine hotel rooms that has become for most international commuters their "Home". The chief recognizable aspect of this future is as Alpha60 intones, "we are all alone". There is neither past nor future, but only the present. We have no connections with our past, it's society and it's values and we can't understand or have any control over the role we will play in the future as it's decided by technology and consumerism.
These themes elevate ALPHAVILLE far and above 60s relics. But ALPHAVILLE is first and foremost a comedy and much of what happens in this film is quite funny. Like Lemmy Caution purports to work for a newspaper called Figaro-Pravda. Figaro is the reactionary old-guard Paris newspaper, Pravda is the official "voice" of USSR. Much of the film is a parody of Cold War anxiety over nuclear weapons and left-right divisions which Godard knew was being blurred on a daily basis. Godard also has a ball parodying his beloved crime films like KISS ME DEADLY(itself a noir-science fiction) and THE BIG SLEEP(a female cab driver) through his hero's deadpan acceptance of the world's absurdities(his facial resemblance to Buster Keaton helps immensely).
A fiction film that's also a documentary of 60s Paris, a science-fiction that's also a fairy tale, pop-art yoked with surrealist poetry, existentialist angst yoked with a florid love story. ALPHAVILLE is another film that shows that it is not only possible but necessary to put "everything into the cinema."
Glauber Rocha was once-upon-a-time a very famous man. A key figure in world cinema. Friends with Bernardo Bertolucci, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Marie Straub, an influence on film-makers as diverse as Martin Scorsese, Jonathan Demme, Amos Gitai and countless other film-makers. Today he's practically forgotten by most. His films rarely mounted as a retrospective, inspiring few articles on his rich and complex filmography.
What does it mean to be a fiercely provocative and openly formal film-maker of the "Third World". Most films from this vaguely defined economic sector of the planet that find a Western audience cater to the paternalism of the world hegemony, excorcise liberal guilt and work in schemas every bit as conventional as the worst sitcoms. With Rocha, you get fierce, cutting, vital celebrations of folk poetry, hymns to the landscape of the country that he loves so very much and a challenge to conventional film-making in Brazil and the rest of the world. His career as a film-maker suffered from problems of funding, common enough, and even moreso from the fact that his country underwent a collapse of its democracy which was replaced with a military dictatorship. This led to exile, a stint working underground and in short films.
This context makes THE AGE OF THE EARTH(A IDADE DA TERRA) all the more remarkable for its very existence. It is shot in CinemaScope, 35mm and was expensive and ambitious. It was his last film, he died shortly afterwards and it's perfectly clear from the stunning first take(no titles opening and credits) that he isn't going gently into the night. He's playing for keeps and taking no prisoners. The film's length of 2 and a half hours befits it's truly epic length.
Rocha's style of film-making challenged conventional film-making norms in a way that was totally unique. By no means a minimalist, he created a bold intense style of film-making that featured rich, saturated, loud soundtracks with eclectic music arrangements(cf, the opening of TERRA EM TRANSE) mixed with a tight emphasis on framing and long takes mixed with some of the most intense montage since Sergei Eisenstein's death. Stories matter even less in Rocha than they do in Godard. It's focus is in sculpting a particular vision of landscape, of folk rhythms and rituals.
THE AGE OF THE EARTH begins with a long tracking shot of the sun rising on the President's Palace in Brazil, slowly stretching back, recording the prism effects caused by the reflection of the sun on the lens and then a sharp cut to a rolling sphere("Action" yells Glauber offscreen) and then a frightening close-up on a very ugly mouth that yells, "My mission is to destroy this small, poor, planet earth!" The film then proceeds to a series of episodes that have vague relations to each other(it has been suggested that this film was constructed so that it could be played in any order of reels) yet at the finish of the runtime(there is no end to this picture) it constitutes a clear whole as Rocha creates a testament of his anxieties, fears and mystical visions regarding Brazil - it's various Christs and Satans, the omipresence of Western capitalist interests and a direct statement of Glauber's own political philosophy in his own write and voice.
Preminger's adaptation of G. B. Shaw's ''Saint Joan''(screenplay by Graham Greene) received one of the worst critical reactions in it's day. It was vilified by the pseudo-elite, the purists and the audiences was unresponsive to a film that lacked the piety and glamour expected of a historical pageant. As in ''Peeping Tom'', the reaction was malicious and unjustified. Preminger's adaptation of Shaw's intellectual exploration of the effects and actions surrounding Joan of Arc(her actual name in her own language is Jeanne d'Arc but this film is in English) is totally faithful to the spirit of the original play, not only on the literal emotional level but formally too. His film is a Brechtian examination of the functioning of institutions, the division within and without of various factions all wanting to seize power. As such we are not allowed to identify on an emotional level with any of the characters, including Joan herself.
As played by Jean Seberg(whose subsequent life offers a eerie parallel to her role here), she is presented as an innocent, a figure of purity whose very actions and presence reveals the corruption and emptiness in everyone. As such Seberg plays her as both Saint and Madwoman. Her own lack of experience as an actress when she made this film(which does show up in spots) conveys the freshness and youth of Jeanne revealing both the fact that Jeanne la Pucelle is a humble illiterate peasant girl who strode out to protect her village and her natural intelligence. By no means did she deserve the harsh criticism that she got on the film's first release, it's a performance far beyond the ken and call of any first-time actress with no prior acting experience. Shaw and Preminger took a secular view towards Joan seeing her as a medieval era feminist, not content with being a rustic daughter who's fate is to be married away or a whore picked up by soldiers to and away from battlefields. Her faith, her voices, her visions which she intermingles with words such as "imagination" and "common sense" leads her to wear the armour of her fellow soldiers to lead them to battle to chase the invading Englishman out of France.
And yet it can be said that the film is more interested in the court of the Dauphin(Richard Widmark), the office of the clergy who try Joan led by Pierre Cauchon(Anton Walbrook, impeccably cast) and the actions of the Earl of Warwick(John Gielgud) then in Joan herself. The superb ensemble cast(all male) portray figures of scheming, Machievellian(although the story precedes Niccolo) opportunists who treat religion as a childish toy to be used and manipulated for their own ends. The sharp sardonic dialogue gives the actors great fun to let loose. John Gielgud as the eminently rational Earl whose intelligence,(albeit accompanied by corruption), allows him to calculate the precise manner in which he can ensure Joan gets burnt at the stake and Anton Walbrook's Pierre Cauchon brings a three dimensional portrait to this intelligent theologian who will give Joan the fair trial that will certainly find her guilty. Richard Widmark as the Dauphin is a real revelation. As against-type a casting choice you'll ever find, Widmark portrays the weak future ruler of France in a frenzied, comic caricature that's as close as this film comes to comic relief. A comic performance that feels like an imitation of Jerry Lewis far more than an impetuous future ruler of France.
Preminger shot ''Saint Joan'' in black and white, the cinematographer is Georges Perinal who worked with Rene Clair and who did ''The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp'' in colour. It's perfectly restrained to emphasize the rational intellectual atmosphere for this film. Preminger's preference for tracking shots of long uninterrupted takes is key to the effectiveness of the film, there's no sense of a wasted movement anywhere in his mise-en-scene.
It also marks the direction of Preminger's most mature(and most neglected period) his focus is on the conflict between individuals and the institutions in which they work, how the institution function and how the individual acts as per his principles. These themes get their most direct treatment in his film and as always he keeps things unpredictable and finds no black and white answers. This is one of his very best and most effective films.
It's fair to argue that the key film, the turning point of Preminger's cinema from that of a gifted film director of moody, dark crime films to an auteur of ambiguous, psychologically complex and rational examinations of irrational impulses and passion is with this 1952 film noir classic, the appropriately titled ''Angel Face''. While earlier masterpieces like ''Laura'', ''Daisy Kenyon'' and ''Where the Sidewalk Ends'' were original takes on melodrama and crime films, they were still missing the complex multi-dimensional style of Preminger's late-50's to early-60's films. With ''Angel Face'', Otto takes centre stage.
The plot is impossible to summarize. Even after seeing it twice. Mainly because the action of the film is totally character driven and the characters, even the supporting and bit players register as actual participants in the world of the film. The story revolves around the Tremaine family. The patriarch(the great Herbert Marshall) is a British novelist who lost his wife during the Blitz and who marries a richer, wealthier second wife and then comes to America with his daughter, Diane(Jean Simmons) from his first wife. Neither daughter and step-mother like each other very much. The film begins when the police answer a call at the Tremaine house when Mrs. Tremaine alleges an attempt at her life. An ambulance driver, Frank Jessop(Robert Mitchum) is also on the scene and his chance encounter with Diane Tremaine triggers the film forward.
Even this bare sampling of a plot doesn't really get the mood of the film which spirals forward increasingly into scenes bordering on the surreal and horrific, all the while Preminger keeps the film in check with his meticulous restraint and adept framing. Angel Face is a film that keeps you on the edge right from beginning to end in the original sense of the phrase. There is literally no way you can predict the motives and behaviour of these characters and that creates phenomenal levels of suspense and moments of strange beauty. Above all the scene of Jean Simmons wandering her empty house, all alone. The entire scene plays silently and more importantly isn't needed or demanded by the plot or screenplay. This totally avant-garde moment captured the heart and mind of Godard(who named it among the ten greatest American sound films) and it is the full triumph of both Preminger and Jean Simmons, who gives one of the best performances ever in this film, her beautiful angel face, black hair and deeply moving eyes remaining etched in your mind for days and years. Robert Mitchum in the Dana Andrews role isn't bad either.
One of George Cukor's greatest films and one of the best films ever made about acting.
Anticipating films as diverse as ''Opening Night'' and ''Raging Bull'', Cukor's film deals with the loneliness at the heart of the performance arts, with insecurity and jealousy, as well as a cutting examination of our thin hold on reality. Like Cassavetes and Scorsese, the viewing experience of the film is very physical and tough on the audience.
Anthony John(Ronald Colman) is a respected and admired thespian on Broadway. He stars regularly alongside his ex-wife but still very much committed live-in girlfriend, Brita(Signe Hasso). Their relationship which endures both a marriage and a divorce is hampered by Tony John's extreme commitment to his acting, the ability with which he becomes his characters hampers his sense of reality and enters his private life. This comes to the front tragically when he undertakes the role of Othello with Brita as his Desdemona and performs the part for two years non-stop. Othello's rage and insecurity feeds on his own insecurity at his press-agent Bill(Edmond O'Brien), who has a thinly disguised attraction to Brita. His attempts to escape it involve an affair with a waitress(Shelley Winters) and a constant battle with his own mind to hold on to his sanity.
The baroque Pirandellian plot of this film is an ultimate test on the actors. Ronald Colman more than deserves one of the few just Oscar victories for his performance. It's a performance on a big scale and he more than commands the screen. A great example is the first performance as Othello. After an exceptional montage of theater rehearsals where we see Tony slowly creating his character we see the death of Desdemona scene on-stage and the acting is so natural that we actually see Othello and not Tony John act as Othello. Signe Hasso is very good as Brita showing an intelligence and sexuality to her part. Edmon O'Brien on the other hand is a real surprise. Aided by a great script, he reveals new details about a dramatically conventional character in each scene.
George Cukor made ''A Double Life'' independently through Garson Kanin's production company. Kanin who was Cukor's lifelong friend and frequent collaborator also wrote the script, which was undoubtedly influenced from his own experiences on Broadway. As a result it's much tougher and sober than other Cukor films made at studios, also showing a more direct take on sexuality. Cukor's direction of this film is totally against the grain of people who see him as a theatrically oriented film-maker. The visual style shows a rich use of black-and-white and chiaroscuro reflected through window-blinds that is associated with Film Noir(to which it qualifies as a decidedly outré example). But the classic Cukor mise-en-scene, the movement in-and-out of frame, the blocking and cutting immediately shows his personal stamp on every frame of the film.
This is one of his richest and most personal films although atypical as per his image. Cukor is often associated with a lightness that's totally absent here, with sophisticated humour and wit. Yet ''A Double Life'' picks up from ''Gaslight'' which also dealt with insanity by adduced-illusions and paves the way for ''A Star is Born''. The press scenes here are a dry run for the latter film. It's also one of the many films Cukor made on actors, dealing with acting including ''Born Yesterday'', ''The Actress'', ''Sylvia Scarlett'', ''My Fair Lady'' and many others. A work of art from a true master.
''Land of the Pharaohs'' has become a film maudit. A french term for films which are considered cursed for reasons having to do with everything save the film. Hawks is famed for comedy, while this film is humourless. His films are also regarded as idealized portraits of camaraderie while this film is bereft of much of that(save for Greek chorus like workers, subjects and parades) and also because his film is a big budget epic on a non-Biblical and non-Roman theme. The biggest reason, cited by Hawks himself, is that this is a lone Hawks film where the characters are distanced and unlikable and the audience isn't encouraged to identify with them. It is this last quality that has served as the reason why this film has suffered neglect over the years.
The story of ''Land of the Pharaohs'' deals with the reign of the Pharoah Khufu(Jack Hawkins, excellent as always) who after a long campaign decides to build a pyramid by which he can sail into the afterlife with his gold and jewels. However the Pharaoh is displeased by the designs suggested by his staff architects as they had previously been broken and tombs were robbed. To this end, the Pharaoh appoints a new architect among a conquered enemy tribe named Vashtar(James Robertson Justice) to create a pyramid that would remain permanently sealed. In exchange for making the Pharaoh his crypt, Vashtar forfeits his life but gives his people a chance to be freed.
This is the main plot but the beauty of this film is that as in ''Red River'' and later ''Hatari!'', Hawks portrays a society of Egypt with enough fixed details in vignettes, asides that suggests a world and community of intertwined relationships, achieving something of a character of a documentary, to the extent that plot disappears and incidents take their character on the basis of point and counterpoint. During the montage of the pyramid construction(including an astonishing semi-circular pan) one gets the effect of watching a newsreel recently excavated. Hawks' film isn't realistic but it has a keen eye on how things function and work and about human relations.
''Land of the Pharaohs'' was made in 1955, the high point of Eisenhower's administration and post-war prosperity. Bearing this in mind(and from Heymar's intonation at the beginning that the story is set in the time that Egypt was the most powerful nation in the world), one can see this is an allegory about American expansion and capitalism. Hawks himself described the Pharaoh as an ancient predecessor to an American tycoon perhaps modeled on Howard Hughes, whom Hawks knew well. Jack Hawkins' domineering performance as the Pharaoh is also an extension of previous Hawksian figures, John Wayne in ''Red River'' obviously but also and less obviously John Barrymore in ''Twentieth Century''(the climactic scene of Nellifer's come-uppance is a repeat of the plot device at the end of that film) and according to reports, on Hawks himself, except one wonders if Hawks would have been as objective as he is if he shared it one hundred percent.
''Land of the Pharaohs'' isn't a perfect film but it is a film that offers patient audiences rich cinematic rewards. Technically it's a work of high craftsmanship, featuring spectacular sets from the legendary Alexandre Trauner, wonderful use of the CinemaScope frame and also one of Hawks' best and most briskly edited films. Unlike other epics which drag on for 3hrs or close to that, this film clocks in at 15mins short of two hours and yet it has more depth and riches than the other films. A lot happens in ''Land of the Pharoahs'', palace intrigues, sexual power-plays(in a debased parody of the usual Hawksian clash of sexes), murders and deaths. In fact by the end of the film, the Pharaoh himself disappears and the story continues after him, one of the most innovative aspects of Hawks' film.
The commercial failure of ''Land of the Pharaohs'' sent Hawks in a personal crisis and it took four years before he returned with ''Rio Bravo''. It also marked the final time he collaborated with William Faulkner on the screenplay(he's one of three credited with the screenplay) and some of the darker aspects of this film, the ones dealing with death, and survival convey(for the first time) Faulkner's own personality. The last shot of Vashtar's tribe leaving Egypt after the pyramid is sealed contains the same weight as that page in one of his books which ends with "they endured."
Whereas other films on Jesus imagine a figure of charisma(including Pasolini's sublime Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo) Willem Dafoe's take on the Messiah is as uncertain as James Dean and Marlon Brando's rebel misfits of the 50's. His first sermon alienates more than half of his potential disciples. His most faithful disciple Judas Iscariot(Harvey Keitel in the revisionist role) is his most severe critic, who's torn between the rebellion of Jesus and the physical rebellion of the freedom fighters who want to drive away the imperialist Romans. The film ponders on what Jesus had to offer this apocalyptic world, and by virtue ours and does so in the most concrete of ways. What can love offer to a world which as John the Baptist says is filled with violence, corruption, false prophets. Jesus's struggle with his role, this contradiction is the heart of this beautiful and strange film.
There's not much else to say about this beautiful film except that it must be seen by everyone and unlike other films about Jesus, it's open to non-believers and non-Christians as well. Indeed this film avoids much of the traditional Christian iconography. From the use of henna, and various hand patterns, the convincing costumes that are bereft of all European influence and also in its various details, like there being more than 12 Apostles, a significant portion being women, Mary is Mary and not shown and sanctified as anyone other than Jesus' mother. And it also ranks as the only film on Jesus to show women in large numbers in the Last Supper.
The music by Peter Gabriel mixes music from across Africa and the Middle East with some electronic rock percussion thrown in for good measure. It's a film that reminds people of the little known fact that like Judaism and later Islam(one of the singers heard on this soundtrack is Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the great Pakistani Qawalli singer), Christianity began in Asia, in the Middle East and not Europe, certain details and rituals suggesting connections with non-Abrahamic religions in both Africa and the Indian Subcontinent.
Scorsese returns Christianity to its roots to make this powerful, sensual and spiritual film that is simultaneously the film of a Catholic but also one that builds bridges across the world. An important point to consider in this very violent and intolerant world we live in today.
''Under Capricorn'' is one of Hitchcock's most moving and most beautiful films but which never quite becomes a masterpiece. It goes to show how unscientific a great work of art is. It has one of Ingrid Bergman's greatest performances, beautiful photography and camera-work by Jack Cardiff, great, riveting soundtrack and some of the most interesting sets. Then some scenes are among the best Hitchcock did. The famous scene where Wilding shows Bergman her reflection for the first time in years, then the long tracking shot with Joseph Cotten and Wilding along the street as the pass by the walls. The first half of the film is a masterpiece. Then the scene of Ingrid Bergman's confession is among the most powerful bits of acting.
But Joseph Cotten is miscast in the role as is Michael Wilding. And they have most of the screen time. Neither actor is bad but both don't go as far as to suggest the depth inside both characters. Margaret Leighton and Bergman and the other supporting roles are much better. The power of the film comes from really from the way Hitchcock puts his heart into it. Hitchcock regretted both castings a lot and complained about it to Truffaut but the fact is that Hitchcock didn't really change his ideas and concept to fit the castings. So in a way Hitchcock should be blamed. ''Under Capricorn'' could have been among Hitchcock's very best films, as it stands it's one of Hitchcock's most interesting and enigmatic films.
However, it's not much of a stretch to say that this film which falls just short of greatness has more to offer, has more moments of beauty and humanity than a great many masterpieces. The film has the saddest and bleakest characters in any Hitchcock film until ''The Wrong Man'' and ''Psycho'; all the central dramatic characters suffer and struggle out of love. A love that fights against a cruel, unjust and unfair society yet is permanently at odds against the frailties of the human soul and the human mind. They are never left alone. They pay for their sins always and can almost never redeem themselves. Yet through it all, love endures. Not the love of passion but the love that makes one struggle to live and fight and endure.
Lonesome is one of the forgotten masterpieces of cinema.,,
A sister of Sunrise and The Crowd, this film is more emotional and poetic than those landmarks and every bit as great. The plot concerns two working class American types, he works in the factory, she works on the intercom who meet by chance on a fairground and fall in love and then lose each other without knowing where the other lives.
The film's beginning is to be treasured, it follows in detail the morning ritual of first the girl and then the man in their respective homes. The effect conveyed is the organization and elegance of women over the tardy, rushed, half-baked activities of men. The love story between the two characters is so beautifully etched and played so naturalistically by the actors(Barbara Kent and Glenn Tryon) that the sense of loss in the latter half of the film is all the more painful and heart-breaking. The film deals with a certain truth about living in a city that has remained constant even after a good 80 years. At once a constant sense of community and at other an equally constant sense of loneliness from being in a crowd.
The remarkable qualities of this early sound film pertain to it's stunning use of sound which is inventive and innovative by any and all standards, the stunning camera movements and long takes. Just as remarkable is the storytelling which plays like a series of short stories and sketches rather than a novella or novel. Yet it doesn't break these short stories into segments or blocks or frame it unlike other attempts at multiple short narratives in a feature.
The movement between the various segments and stories is very poetic like from one Greek chorus to another. The central conceit being between the conflict between the war frontlines and the homefront of the village. The scenes of warfare shown in this film is harsh and brutal in a way that anticipates Roberto Rossellini's or Samuel Fuller's later films.
What makes it even more harsh is the sense of futility in the conflict. As the infantrymen who fight each other in the trenches have more in common than either would do with their civilian countryman, anticipating Renoir's La Grande Illusion. One breathtaking scene is when one Russian soldier saves a German from getting bombed and then tells him after their initial celebration that he'll be their prisoner now.
Equally moving is the tender love story between a Russian girl Anka and a German POW given permission to work in the village. This love story is made possible because Anka's father's friend Robert Karlovish, a German taught her enough about his country to escape the xenophobia of that community at war. Also interesting is the sense of homoeroticism, neither vulgar nor campy, among the various male characters. Early in the film when the soldiers leave for the front there is a wonderful shot of two men kissing each other on the lips which is shown casually without any sense of sensation in the presentation of this scene. Barnet in his film shows that despite the conflict, the violence, the sense of division among his characters(all acted superbly conveying a naturalism absent in many early talkies) there is always a brief glimpse of what things could be or should be.
Even if for reasons of propaganda the film ends with the parade of saviour communists, Barnet has managed to create a film that transcends that all the more by ending the film in a shot worthy of Dovzhenko(a key influence on this film) where a character after hearing the arrival of the commmunists, breathes close to death, "What a rush!" and presumably dies off-screen. The world of this film belongs to people, to human relations and not to party lines.
Along with In A Year of 13 Moons, this is the only other Fassbinder film on which the director/writer/producer also served as director of photography. Like that film it features bold striking compositions and rich colours that are perfectly saturated and stylized to the right amount. The Third Generation was made in 1979 two years after the German Autumn, the crackdown of the Baader-Meinhof gang. Despite it's topicality however Fassbinder's film is about the future about the world of tomorrow as exemplified by it's evocation of science-fiction masterpieces like Solaris mentioned and cited in this film, the casting of the star of Alphaville, Eddie Constantine as the head of a computer business organization and the constant presence of technology in this film, either off-screen(speakers and recording equipment) or on-screen(TV screens and later guns and bombs). The score by Peer Raben is appropriately electronic.
The story of The Third Generation is hard to summarize or describe and most people won't understand one bit of this film when they see it for the first time. See it twice and thrice and then it adds up. The story is just as fragmented as the personalities and lives of it's characters. The terrorist cell at the center of the film is a group of mostly middle-class misfits and apathetic junkies who are a mass of unresolved tensions and contradictions. Bulle Ogier's a stern history teacher(crucially introduced to us discussing the 1848 revolution in Prussia) but she's also a would-be feminist who submits to becoming a sex toy of Paul the "leader" of the group. Hanna Schygulla is your average bubbly corporate secretary but she's also carrying out a sado-masochistic affair with her father-in-law. Most of these "terrorists" activities for the first half are relegated to living in an apartment of a drug addicted young girl, later joined by her former boyfriend and his friend. Their activities here are confined to juvenile games and irritating each other out of their skulls later extended to breaking-and-entering and bank robbery. The sole murder committed by them is revenge acted out by a submissive over the dominant.
The actions of the police, the business interests, the government bureaucracy however is that of self-justification, of ruthless exercise of power and repression whose machinery ultimately incorporates these terrorists willingly and unwillingly.
The relation of this film to our current-day hell-hole needs little elaboration. This is a film for the 21st Century, the children of the third generation, one just as compromised and confused as it's forebears.
Enough ink has been spilled on ''Brazil'' for unimportant reasons pertaining to it's behind the scenes messes to the point that most people forget the film that they are watching which is among the most beautiful, exciting and inventive films ever produced in a major Hollywood studio since the end of the 70's.
''Brazil'' looks at the future the same way New Wave directors like Truffaut and Godard did in their sci-fi masterpieces ''Fahrenheit 451'' and ''Alphaville'' where the world people live in the "future" is merely an extension of the anxieties of present day society or what people expect the future to be as per present anxieties. And yet unlike many other science-fiction films it anticipates present day reality in eerie jarring ways. Like the cool flat-screen computers(with type-writer keyboards) ubiquitous in office rooms and watching old films on these monitors during working hours is a noticeable reality today. As are other scenes like the hilarious ostensibly upper class restaurants where the waiters and dishes are written in French but the food and menu make the restaurant in no way different from any other dimestore restaurant.
''Brazil'' has no real plot and the action takes place episodically at it's own pace and many of the events have no real relation to "the plot" like Sam's excursion with Jill on her huge truck. The original title of the film was ''1984 1/2'' which suggests that Gilliam's film(his very best) has more to do with Federico Fellini than George Orwell. ''Brazil'' in it's vision and scope has nothing to do with Orwell's book. Orwell's book is a nightmare vision of a totalitarian society permanently controlling it's subjects. Gilliam's film however doesn't seem to take place in a totalitarian society nor is it necessarily dystopian. It's a world where happiness and enjoyment is available to the rich for whom happiness and enjoyment is defined in successions of permanent appointments with plastic surgeons, eating bad food in bad restaurants and wearing horrible clothes and horrible jewels and where for the ones without privilege is one of frustration, disappointment, small pleasures and celebrations and persecution from their own governments and where everyone else is open season from terrorists save for eccentric misfits who may or may not be terrorists. In essence a world where those who laugh last haven't heard the bad news. Not very different from the real world.
The film's satire is filled with an anarchic sensibility in that it never goes after one particular person. There is no villain to the film. The main plot device(the MacGuffin) happens for absolutely no reason when a guy tries to swat a fly and the bug gets trapped in an automatic typrewriting machine which changes one alphabet in one of it's many copies. This one change of alphabet destroys one family, results in the death of an innocent man and yet the system continues nonetheless afraid to acknowledge it's error and in effect it's fallibility and in order to protect it's system it goes to even more ridiculous lengths. The world of Brazil is insane only because the system pretends to be rational and logical when it is not. Where the paperwork of a bureaucracy instead of regulating action only causes further chaos.
Jonathan Pryce's excellent performance as Sam allows the audience to see both a likable romantic dreamer and also a bureaucrat who likes his system enough as long as he can use it. The other characters range also from style and tone. Michael Palin's Jack Lint is a model of the banality of evil and would have done well in Nazi Germany while Ian Holm's comparatively minor level bureaucrat reveals one who is not inherently malicious but likes to get his job done as swathed as he is in paperwork.
The film's main thrust is it's sense of dream and fantasy and how it relates to everyday reality. The most ambitious conceit is the way the film conceives terrorism as an expression of a fantasy created in part by the out-of-control reality of it's society. The most shocking scene being when Sam forces Jill to engage a high speed action chase(a clear and highly effective parody of action film) with cops and when Sam gets excited at seeing two cars pile up, Gilliam doesn't flinch when he shows one man clearly getting burnt by the flames and also Sam's horrified reaction to it. And at the same time even if the terrorist attacks are targeted at the rich middle-class society the film mocks Gilliam doesn't flinch from showing the horrible violence and bloodied corpses that occur from these attacks. Terrorism according to ''Brazil'' is the only achievable form of fantasy in a world this corrupt and malfunctioning.
The other escape outside of blowing up people and buildings is in the refuge of insanity of being a vegetable. However what's the point of calling anyone insane in a world where a man plays with his daughter in an office next door to a torture chamber where he kills and maims people everyday. Or when people continue eating food at a dinner restaurant seconds after a bomb explosion kills diners a few tables away.
''Brazil'' is funny, intelligent and scary. It's dark and sad but it's also exhilarating and exciting. It's a bad world but one where people still watch old Hollywood films, and still listen to 40's songs and so not without moments of fun.
The Nutty Professor as remade by Bernardo Bertolucci in the 60's.
Bertolucci's third feature is one of his greatest films yet it's not very well known despite it's beautiful use of colour and 'Scope and a great and unique musical score from Ennio Morricone.
Maybe because the subject matter or the theme of the film is very oblique and fairly intricate and more subtle than his later direct tackling of themes such as class, sex and identity and also unlike ''Fight Club'' which deals with the same themes it doesn't become schizophrenic and fall in love with what it is against. It also has one of the greatest performances of the 60's from Pierre Clementi, a French-Italian actor(who worked with Luis Bunuel and Philippe Garrel). In this film, he plays a student who is disaffected and alienated, his life is transformed when he meets his "double"(the film is a loose adaptation of the Dostoyevsky story ''The Double'') who is everything he isn't. Bertolucci doesn't attempt to explain the two Clementis and refuses to spell out that either is a hallucination(the conceit of the film as it develops is the difficulty to tell apart which is which).
The film's tone is largely comic for most of the film including a hilarious and shocking send-up of Hollywood romances in the scene where Giaccobe(Clementi) and his beloved Clara(the luminous Stefania Sandrelli) plan to elope. But the tone of the film is also disturbing on other occasions as Clementi's character commits many acts of murder as the film moves along including one of the most upsetting and gruesomely cruel murder scenes in film history. The style of the film doesn't have a clear plot and is essentially a series of digressions. The film's style is intensely subjective and never abandons Giacchobe's point-of-view and some aspects of the film can be seen as dreams or hallucinations and others develop surprisingly including a suggestion of a narrative leap near the end. The music score by Ennio Morricone is avant-guarde enough to meet the challenge. The complete score played over the opening credits features four themes, each distinct and disjunctive, a quartet which during the film rotates in various junctures at various times sometimes diagetically appearing in the action other times working conventionally in the background. It's unlike any other score I have ever heard, beautiful and strange to listen to.
The film is one of the most interesting works made at the late 60's and it's location footage of Rome in colour is fairly unique for an Italian film of that period. It is a film that is Bertolucci's most Nouvelle-Vagueish with Godardian monologues on theatre and cinema, digressions on Artaud, attacks on consumerism but it's also one which is fully Bertolucci rather than a work of a dilettante. The visual design is a curious mixture of German Expressionism(F. W. Murnau) and Hollywood 'Scope pageants(Nicholas Ray), while some of the visual and editing tricks seem to come from Hitchcock(red thunder from ''Marnie'') and of all people, Jerry Lewis(''The Nutty Professor'' - from the foregrounding of the soft red and cobalt blue throughout the film right down to the white fadeaway it ends).
Bertolucci's exuberant non-realism allows him to directly confront the audience with the preoccupations and contradictions of Giacchobe and his generation all the while conveying the emotional confusion of his characters. It is perhaps dated to an extent since it's firmly addressed to the issues of the late 60's student unrest(May '68 happened when this film was in production) but it's also a film about confusion, about passivity, a psychological exploration of the main character's pathology and his charm and also sets up the themes that Bertolucci touches on ''Il Conformista''. The search for one's identity, the conflict between rebellion and conformism, the blurring lines in sexual and social politics. And it's all done in a manner that is very funny and light. The abrupt ending of the film which raises a lot of questions is one which the viewer can ponder endlessly for themselves. And Pierre Clementi's tour-de-force performance makes this just as much his film as it is Bertolucci's, anyone interested in a great performance by a charismatic if obscure European star that is emotional and simultaneously physical and sensual than this is the place to go.
''Party Girl'', Ray's final film for a major Hollywood studio(after this he worked with independent producers) is a highly baroque work. Screechingly mannerist in places, occasional head-first dives into camp but also remarkable instances of poetry and subtlety and a highly charged social portrait. It is a very discordant work which is to say that it deliberately skewers audiences expectations of a genre film by working as a genre film but stylized in a manner that the clichés and conventions look highly abstract, not unlike a film by Douglas Sirk.
''Party Girl'' is shot in CinemaScope and Metrocolor, is produced by Joe Pasternak who was in charge of the second-tier MGM unit. The Leonine studio had by the mid-50's devolved into an organization of penny-pinchers and according to Ray, the only reason this film got made was because it's backers wanted to get rid of it's two stars...Cyd Charisse and Robert Taylor so as to exhaust their run of contracted films as quickly as possible. This explains the fact that more than ''Johnny Guitar''(with it's superlative cast of actors), ''Party Girl'' is the closest Ray came to make a B-Film. The storyline is a standard-issue crime drama and it is by a safe distance the most generic of Ray's major films.
That it's still a major film is for me little doubt. Though lacking the strength of his early crime films and his 50's melodramas, ''Party Girl'' is still a deeply compelling film about the universality of compromises in society. The title ''Party Girl'' is essentially a slang for prostitute or for being under someone else's thumb. It refers to Cyd Charisse's character Vicki Gaye, a showgirl who works part-time as escort to various underworld types alongside other gals who work at the ''Rooster Folliers''(no joke). But it also includes mob lawyer Tommy Farrel(Robert Taylor) and applies to everyone else.
Ray's distaste for plot apparent in all his films is full in abundance here as the generic outline of this story of crooked lawyer turned straight through the power of love takes on several asides. Like the one-scene appearance of a fellow showgirl who's waiting for her man and whose depression, Vicki stifles as a result of habit and accord over the years. The scene where she walks into her roommate's bathroom and finds her swimming literally in a pool of her own blood in a bath-tub is one of Ray's most embedded images even if(in accord with then censorship) the image lasts only a few micro-seconds before a quick fade-away. Much of the secondary section of the film centers on Tommy's relationship with Rico Angelo(Lee J. Cobb in a towering performance) and there's very little plot driving their very powerful scenes. Tension arises from flaming egos by a mob underling played by John Ireland over Tommy's relationship with Vicki.
The film's sense of decor and colour is what we'd call now Fassbinderesque. It's pictorially fascinating and the colours are very eye-catching but the underlying design behind it is a sense of decadence of vulgarity. This reflects perhaps that the underlying subtext of this film is less about gangsters than about Hollywood. With Lee J. Cobb's mix of charisma(like Vito Corleone in ''The Godfather'') and crass vulgarity(like Joe Pesci in his films with Scorsese) stand-in for many studio heads of that period and the two musical interludes(numbers is the wrong word for it) by Cyd Charisse while visually striking is poorly choreographed and seems like a parody of the dying MGM Musicals.
''Party Girl'' is a reflection ultimately of what are the results when a great artist and a few good actors are working with conventional plots can achieve. It's a work that's of it's own kind. Not a gangster film entirely, mostly a Film Noir though in colours, visually creative but mostly functional. The decor of the film makes it's genre trappings apparent and obvious revealing and critiquing it's functions yet the scenes between Taylor and Charisse are very much played straight conveying genuine compassion between two characters who have long lost their innocence and are merely doing their best to survive and find a semblance of happiness, a happiness that's threatened not only by the mob but also by the cops who want to use them to catch the bad guys(which has much benefits for their own political careers).
What may put off most fans of Nicholas Ray is the graphic violence of the film which is quite unexpected and strong for a film of the 50's. Plenty of bloodletting is on display on this film...of course Ray would say "that's not blood...that's red."
The lone oddity in Dreyer's filmography which usually deals with such lofty topics as faith and the female role, his first sound film is nevertheless one of his finest achievements. Released a good four years after his silent film masterpiece 'The Passion of Joan of Arc', his choice of making a genre film had alienated his admirers who had been expecting something far more ambitious than an adaptation of '''Carmilla''' but time has revealed 'Vampyr' to be among the most dreamlike of Dreyer's films.
Allan Gray(Nicholas de Gunzburg) is an adventurer and traveler who's had a particular interest in the occult. He comes to a small town in Eastern Europe for a relaxing stay but things don't turn out very well because of a strong supernatural presence in the midst. The innkeeper where he's at is haunted by beings enslaved by local vampires. The entire area seems to be a kind of hell on earth as their shadows literally make merry. Their latest target are a pair of sisters living nearby whose father they murder but not before entrusting gray with a book on vampires and the safety of his children. Soon however one of them is infected and Gray has 24 hours to rescue her soul.
Plots are often not spoken in conjunction with Dreyer's films. For good reason to. His films rely on imagery and atmosphere and mood. 'Vampyr' was his first sound film yet with it's use of intertitles and spare dialogues it feels like a silent film. It would be a good 11 years later when with 'Day of Wrath', Dreyer changed his aesthetic completely doing away with the sparse sets and quick cuts for a tightly constructed mise-en-scene and use of long fluid takes that he has become synonymous with in his three sound masterpieces of 'Day of Wrath', 'Ordet' and 'Gertrud'.
The two titles of Max Ophuls' 1953 classic is representative of the way people saw the film. In France it was 'Madame de...' and in the English speaking world it is : 'The Earrings of Madame de...'. Most people who approach Cinema in general prefer intricate plots while in France and in Europe people concentrate more on form, style and character. Indeed the plot of 'Madam de...' is perhaps the only reason why it still has it's detractors since it's about as contrived as it gets with much attention payed to what's really a MacGuffin.
In the latter half of the 19th century, Madame Louisa de...(Danielle Darrieux) is in a loveless marriage with General Andre de...(Charles Boyer). In the brilliant opening scene she searches for articles to sell to stave off debts. She settles on precious diamond shaped earrings gifted to her by her husband. She gives the earrings to a jeweler and tells her husband that she has lost it. However her husband instead puts a notice stating that it was stolen prompting the jeweler to bring Louisa's adventures to Andre's notice who purchases the earrings back from him and gifts it to his mistress who in turn loses it gambling until it finally reaches the hands of Baron Fabrizio Donati(Vittorio De Sica) who happens to be a diplomat and an acquaintance of the General and also Louisa's future lover.
The earrings are meant to be symbolic but the meaning is so obvious that it's impossible for a director of Ophuls' stature to depend so much on it as to intend the meaning literally. The meaning of the film is not so much the vagaries of fate but about the changing emotional realities of people. Louisa refuses the earrings when it is a gift from her husband, yet treasures it when the earrings are returned to her as a gift from the baron. She then makes a show of 'finding' it so that she can wear the earrings for the Baron, much to her husbands chagrin leading to a tragic climax.
Max Ophuls was legendary for his innovative, breathtaking fluid mise-en-scene and his famous use of a constantly moving camera. Unlike most melodramas which feel overwrought and bore you to tears, Ophuls' film moves at a quick pace because of his gliding, floating ghostly camera that moves with his character as they climb stairs, climb down, circle parlours, doors, windows and so on. His characters seem to be on the move constantly. In one of the all-time great scenes of cinema, Madame de... and Baron Donati fall in love over a series of waltzes effortlessly edited together and the sense of space created is 'real'.
'I don't know if it's a comedy or a tragedy. But it's a masterpiece!'
When the character makes this statement, we sit back and wonder...how narcissistic was Godard when he made this gem of a film.
'A Woman in a Woman' was Godard's first colour film, the second film starring his then wife Anna Karina(though the first released) and outside of 'Band of Outsiders' it's probably his most light hearted, most carefree of all his films.
Godard called this film a 'neo-realist musical'. This moniker is laughable and was probably meant to be tongue-in-cheek. Nothing in 'A Woman is a Woman' has anything to do with either Neo-Realism or Musicals for that matter. There are no songs and the music in most cases is used for stylistic effects that often startle rather than enchant(as most music is used for). Outside of numerous clever references to musicals and one 'number' sang without music, there is little music in this film.
Godard rarely used plots in his films. Often it seems like he just took his cast and crew on location and began shooting whatever was there in his mind and later cut and edited the film at his whim. this film follows a character called Angela(Anna Karina) a stripper living near the Champs Elysses district who wants a baby with her husband Emile Recamier(Jean-Claude Brialy), a Communist intellectual who refuses to father her child or marry her. Upon her husband's refusal, she turns to other men to impregnate her and her former boyfriend Alfred Lubitsch(Jean-Paul Belmondo) is more than willing to step forward and 'do the deed'.
There's probably a million porn films with a plot as identical as this film. Yet like he did in 'Contempt', Godard avoids nudity and titillation as much as possible and when he does show it, it's de-eroticized and almost comedic in its presentation. The film is just plain funny with a million film references to absorb and several of them just laugh-out-loud and then there are sight gags that dazzle you. Like a couple who're always kissing underneath the stairs no matter what day.
Then there are moments of self-reference that just leave you laughing your head off. Like Alfred insisting on getting home soon because 'Breathless' is on TV. A film directed by none other than JLG, starring JPB who also plays Alfred. Then Jeanne Moreau conversing with Alfred and informing him how her upcoming film is coming along. The film was released the following year was also about a love triangle and was also a seminal New Wave film(anyone who doesn't know this should be shot for his stupidity and shot again for good measure). And then he references other seminal films of the New Wave like Jacques Demy's 'Lola' and Truffaut's 'Shoot the Piano Player'. Godard wasn't the first to use the fine art of self-reference. Chabrol hilariously advertised the book on Hitchcock he had written with Eric Rohmer in one of his earliest films.
Raoul Coutard began his work on colour with Godard in this film and became an indisputable artist among cinematographers for his later work with Godard, especially 'Contempt', the use of colour is low-key in this film though perfect in composition and design.