Saturday, April 23, 2016

2016

4/23/16 I watched Ken Burns' Jackie Robinson.  The first Burns' doc I have seen in its entirety proves to be an informative, moving portrait of the great man.  Burns' style is more commercial and mainstream than Wiseman's work but his command of the medium proves to be impressive.  

Friday, April 15, 2016

Favorite (four), part thirty-three

Just like in my other thirty-two posts in this series, I want to take a second to single out the highlights of my recent film viewing.  Most of the films I have been glad to see but only very few have stayed with me.  This series is my filter for those and my hope is one or two will be good to you as well.

Arnaud Desplechin's How I Got Into an Argument...
Desplechin's second feature comes with a certain looseness that could belie a unique cinematic intelligence and a nearly unprecedented capturing of uninhibited femaleness.  It feels more akin to a novel in its shape and its courage to let time unfold within its own disheveled set of rules.  "Tenderness is the fear of adulthood", Desplechin quotes Kundera, and this film might be as spot-on as any in the medium's history for capturing that very strange road from freedom to responsibility.  

Jean-Luc Godard's Sauve qui peut (la vie)
Godard returns after a twelve or so year departure from "traditional" narrative cinema with this absolute scorcher of a film.  I was surprised (although I do not know why since Godard remains perhaps my favorite of all) by its beauty, its playfulness, its ability yet again to tap into the zeitgeist of its time.  It is Godard as post-punk and it is up there with his extraordinary work from the sixties.  If anyone thinks Godard's importance ended with Week End, have a look.  

Todd Haynes' Carol
Haynes' latest is very mature and sophisticated, more European in its textures and shape than American indy or mainstream.  It felt even more mysterious than its closest Haynes' counterpart Far from Heaven and it is poetic and delicate in ways I have never experienced his other work.  A great surprise and another extraordinary chapter in the already brilliant careers of Blanchett and (Carter) Burwell.     

Ryan Coogler' Creed
I was in the minority when it came to Fruitvale Station, Coogler's calling card film.  But after seeing his entry into the Rocky franchise, I admit, "they were probably right, at least in seeing something.  And I was probably wrong, at least in seeing very little."  Although an informal sequel of sorts, Creed derives its greatest force from digging into the past, going behind and underneath the previous Rocky storylines that have embedded themselves so deeply into many of our lives.  I noticed this unique power of the prequel when I recently watched Mendes do it with Bond in Skyfall and I felt it again a number of times in Creed, most distinctly when Creed's trunks are passed on.




Monday, February 15, 2016

30 ans

My favorite cultural mag, Les Inrockuptibles, is celebrating its 30 year anniversary this week (I actually have copies of the first 500 issues which are among my very favorite of any of my possessions).  They have put together all kinds of articles and lists to celebrate, including polling each of their key staff writers to choose their 10 favorite movies of the last 30 years, their 10 favorite albums of the last 30 years, and their 10 favorite books of the last 30 years.  Here are the lists:

http://abonnes.lesinrocks.com/2016/02/13/cinema/30-ans-des-inrocks-nos-meilleurs-films-sortis-depuis-1986-11805297/

http://abonnes.lesinrocks.com/2016/02/10/musique/nos-meilleurs-albums-depuis-1986-11804135/

http://abonnes.lesinrocks.com/2016/02/14/livres/30-ans-des-inrocks-nos-meilleurs-livres-sortis-depuis-1986-11805610/

And if I were participating:

Films
Le Rayon vert d'Eric Rohmer (1986)
Where Is the Friend's House d'Abbas Kiarostami (1987)
King of New York d'Abel Ferrara (1990)
Carlito's Way de Brian De Palma (1993)
Heat de Michael Mann (1996)
Dead Man de Jim Jarmusch (1996)
Mulholland Dr. de David Lynch (2001)
Les amants reguliers de Philippe Garrel (2005)
The Secret and the Grain d'Abdellatif Kechiche (2007)
At Berkeley de Frederick Wiseman (2013)

Albums
The Smiths - The Queen Is Dead (1986)
The Go-Betweens - 16 Lovers Lane (1988)
Beastie Boys - Paul's Boutique (1989)
Talk Talk - Laughing Stock (1991)
PJ Harvey - Dry (1992)
Wu-Tang Clan - Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (1993)
Jeff Buckley - Grace (1994)
Tricky - Maxinquaye (1995)
Massive Attack - Mezzanine (1998)
Rufus Wainwright - Rufus Wainwright (1998)

Books (too many gaps still for the moment to have any input of import)



Sunday, February 14, 2016

Favorite (four), part thirty-two

Just like in my other thirty-one posts in this series, I want to take a second to single out the highlights of my recent film viewing.  Most of the films I have been glad to see but only very few have stayed with me.  This series is my filter for those and my hope is one or two will be good to you as well.

Satyajit Ray's The World of Apu
Ray takes a few years away from his trilogy before coming back and completing it with this film, and the style feels a little different than the first two movies.  This film has a slightly more elliptical quality and seems intent on drifting closer to poetry.  The ending of the film is one of the very strongest moments of the entire trilogy with Ray attaining that transcendent experience achieved by only the greatest of neorealist works (Umberto D, Germany Year Zero, Voyage to Italy).  


Samuel Fuller's Underworld U.S.A.
Fuller's strengths - his constantly roving, expressive camera and his hard-hitting sensibility -are at the fore while his weaknesses - such as a heavy hand creating believable romance and intimacy - are hardly, if at all, noticeable.  Clearly an influence on later great works such as Carlito's Way and an argument as good as any that the noir cycle did not end with Touch of Evil in 1958 but was still going strong well into the sixties with important and powerful entries such as this.    


Monte Hellman's China 9, Liberty 37
It's a wonder Tarantino hasn't remade this one.  This might be the only western I have seen that boasts a krautrock score (terrific work by the way from Pino Donaggio).  Further proof of Hellman's cult status as an auteur and even if the third act drags a little, this little known pic sits comfortably with Hellman's Ride in the Whirlwind and The Shooting and needs to be seen as a clear precursor to Dead Man and all of Tarantino's work.


Steven Riley's Listen To Me Marlon
The wall-to-wall music is off putting but the remarkable audio footage of Marlon overcomes any formal shortcomings the film might have, making this one of the most immersive documentaries I have ever seen. In other words, it puts one deeply into the skin of its subject.



Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Tokyo Chorus (1931)

I am back to working my way through all of Ozu's work chronologically.  This next entry, Tokyo Chorus, seems to be the first-blown emergence of the style most people think of when they think of the filmmaker.  Nearly the entire film is shot tatami-style and with a static camera.

Thematically Ozu also seems to be hitting his stride.  There are moments that hint at his skepticism towards technology, the son's plea for a bicycle, and other moments that indicate Ozu's buddhist nature, the main character's line, "A bear getting out isn't going to change our lives."  Ozu's humanism is also more evident than it has been up to this point, the evolution of our main character's feelings towards his professor and the wife's compassion and ultimate offer to help her husband with his new responsibilities.

Lastly, of interest, is the fact that for the first time gone are the abundance of allusions and visual references to American culture.  In fact, the only blatant reference I noticed was a casual mention of (Herbert) Hoover at one point.


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

My Top Twelve Films of 2015

Another year when I did not see as many films as I would have liked, yet I still have some high points I want to share.  Here are the twelve things I saw in 2015 that hit me the deepest.

Abdellatif Kechiche's The Secret and the Grain
The fact that this masterful work is little known in the States sums up the devastated state for the current American cinephile.  To seek out a film like this in 2015 is to be so incredibly marginalized, so alone in your interest and passion, to survive you might have to focus on the simple positive of having been able to somehow spot Kechiche's achievement among the overwhelming wreckage.  Kechiche's cinema is up to so much, all at once.  Formally it is a unique mixing of Dardenne ingredients (non-actors, industrial locations, faded colors, lack of Hollywood coverage) with Cassavetes' nervy, documentary-type editing. Emotionally it is an odd pairing of Scorsese's visceral moments of discomfort coupled with Rossellini's mystic humanism.  It is a much different film than the only other film I have seen so far from Kechiche, Blue is the Warmest Color, and yet another modern day classic. Kechiche is one of the greats, regardless whether our culture even knows who he is.    
Hou Hsiao-hsien's The Assassin
It's always a struggle to see a film by a director you greatly admire that you are not sure you fully comprehended, particularly when you suspect you are watching some type of greatness even if you cannot seem to make sense of it all.  What I do know for sure is that this is the most cinematic 2015 film I have seen, and by a longshot.  It is also one of the few films I would consider a part of that rarefied group of fully sustained hypnotic works, the group that includes McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Dead Man, The Mother and the Whore, Regular Lovers, and Kings of the Road.  If forced to step out and explain some of the themes or meanings that I might have caught, I would first say that it almost seemed Hou was saying about himself that he knows he is supremely talented (perhaps the most of anyone currently at work) but simply cannot allow himself like Yinniang to make the moves (or movies) that would make him more of a (commercial) success.  Or like the bluebird tale that is recounted two or three times during the film, is Hou saying that he is struggling with loneliness and feelings of isolation as one of the few remaining filmmakers still truly striving to make great art?  Or is he trying to tell us that he feels that if he were to allow himself to be less reserved, less ascetic, and less austere as a filmmaker and give in to what he knows would be easier commercial decisions that he would be concerned that a whole type of cinema would disappear?  Again I am not fully sure what Hou is up to in his latest but in an already incredibly impressive body of work, this is probably his most purely beautiful film to date.  
Maurice Pialat's Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble
One of the last of the Pialat features I had never seen, Pialat impresses again by his strong, uncompromising approach to the medium.  A French friend of mine once mentioned how revered Pialat was for his editing.  I had never paid real attention to the editing until now.  But here it is remarkable - forceful, edgy, propulsive and completely a piece with the rest of Pialat's form.  Pialat draws Jean as a character of such unpredictable rage that the final minutes simmer and vibrate at the threat of explosive violence.  

Damien Chazelle's Whiplash
As much as anything I have seen in a number of years, an indy that gives me hope and belief in the future of intelligent American cinema. Chazelle impresses first by his writing.  The movie is perfectly sized and veers off into directions never quite expected.  Chazelle then adds two unusually well drawn lead characters with Simmons seeming to put a career's worth of power into his performance.  The style is admirable, the attitude inspiring, and the balance of entertainment and art well struck.
Abbas Kiarostami's Like Someone in Love
What Kiarostami is hoping to convey I cannot say for sure.  But as a long time fan of his work I took it in as a very personal statement. Here Kiarostami, one of the cinema's warmest practitioners, the lovely wise soul of Iranian cinema, is working in the middle of a Japanese metropolis.  Far removed are we (and he) from the wide open expanses of his classic earlier work and we can only guess how fearful he is of our world and what it seems to be quickly becoming.  Through the Olive Trees this is not.  Kiarostami has entered a far darker phase and in the process might be one of the few holding up a mirror while still trying to find a way to be hopeful. 

Hong Sang-soo's In Another Country
I used to think of Hong as a Korean Rohmer and there are strong similarities - a penchant for naturalism, conversation as the main action and activity, and a recurring interest in the potential disruption of relationships due to the arrival of a third person.  But Hong also goes for real whimsy and seems lighter than Rohmer.  In fact the more I think about it he seems like this odd blend of Rohmer and Rivette, structurally adventurous but grounded primarily in reality.  Admittedly I have long had a thing for Huppert.  Hong uses her well, brings out her appeal, and ends up delivering one of his smoothest, most likable films yet. 
Bertrand Bonello's Saint Laurent
My first experience with the cinema of the highly acclaimed Bonello proves to be a fabulous new addition to trance cinema (Garrel's Regular Lovers, Dead Man, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, to name but a few), films that use time and the camera so effectively they lure the viewer into a near exalted hypnotic state. Bonello has a great eye and a painter's feel for texture and framing.  But what most impressed me here was Bonello's completely irreverent approach to the biopic.  He never feels the need to follow any of the more conventional rules for chronology or to finish any scenes or "sentences" he begins.  He simply glides us through the film, and we feel all the more excited because of it. 
Alex Garland's Ex Machina
Garland makes a grand entrance with his directorial debut proving a keen creator of mood, a stylist of noticeable control and restraint, a more than competent hand with his actors and a director with an eye that at its best moments conjures up memories of Welles, Tarkovsky and Kubrick.  The film that I would have wanted Her to be and about as interesting of an exploration yet of where our reliance on technology might be leading us.

Jean-Luc Godard's Goodbye to Language
Godard's cinema is chiant; it is impossible to grasp it all.  It washes over you, drowns you until you feel overwhelmed by its intelligence, superior knowledge, its grappling with something you might not even be advanced enough yet to recognize.  I will be the first to admit, there is no way I can begin to analyze everything he is wanting to communicate.  But it is the small ideas that jut out (Plato's "Beauty is the splendor of truth") and the arresting images of the human body, dogs, water, and cinema spooling in back of a scene that penetrate deeply.  Forever, at least for me, Godard will be the one that pushes me to keep learning.  Because perhaps through knowledge life can be understood.  And through knowledge we might obtain beauty, truth, and make an impression on our generation, our world, and our time in life.
Oliveier Assayas' Clouds of Sils Maria
A surprisingly wise and complex film, both thematically and emotionally.  Like has happened a time or two before with other filmmakers, Assayas impresses so much that I am forced to reconsider his other work and perhaps consider him as a much greater filmmaker than I once thought.  The film is vital, of the present and is masterful in its exploration of age, like Dreyer's Gertrud.  Binoche and Stewart are perfectly cast and turn in as great of performances as at any point in their careers. 

Martin Campbell's Casino Royale
It is the first time I have seen a Craig-starring Bond film and he is quite good.  First of all he might be the strongest actor of all of the Bonds and he exudes the unusual mix of charm and guile I have come to think of with Bond.  The big difference is his Bond is a little more violent, a little more hands-on, more often full of visible scratches and bruises than boyish and dapper.  This Bond is a bit at the end of his line and Campbell/Craig seem to have a good thing going on.  The movie is non-stop action and although not always artful it is very good entertainment.  In fact, after seeing this Bond, I quickly went on a tear watching the remainder of the Craig-starring Bonds as well as Goldfinger, From Russia with Love, and On Her Majesty's Secret Service.  


David Simon's The Wire
Though historically I have always thought cinema deserving of a different, higher level of consideration than its domestic sibling, this work of art taught me otherwise.  Nothing I saw this year impressed me more than Simon's series, in its ambition, its execution, its artistry, its acting, its depth of feeling, its camerawork, and its "filmmaking".

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Still love these types of things...

http://yearendlists.com/2015/12/new-york-times-10-best-books-of-2015/

And don't forget to scroll down for others.


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Favorite (four), part thirty-one

Just like in my other thirty posts in this series, I want to take a second to single out the highlights of my recent film viewing.  Most of the films I have been glad to see but only very few have stayed with me.  This series is my filter for those and my hope is one or two will be good to you as well.

Abdellatif Kechiche's The Secret and the Grain
The fact that this masterful work is little known in this country sums up the devastated state for the current American cinephile.  To seek out a film like this in 2015 is to be so incredibly marginalized, so alone in your interest and passion, to survive you might have to focus on the positive of having been able to have somehow spotted Kechiche's achievement among the overwhelwing wreckage.  Kechiche's cinema is up to so much all at once.  Formally it is a unique mixing of Dardenne's ingredients (non-actors, industrial locations, faded colors, lack of Hollywood coverage) with Cassavetes' nervy, documentary-type editing. Emotionally it is an odd pairing of Scorsese's visceral moments of discomfort coupled with Rossellini's mystic humanism.  It is a much different film than the only other film I have seen so far from Kechiche, Blue is the Warmest Color, and yet another modern day classic. Kechiche is one of the greats, regardless whether our culture even knows who he is.


Penelope Spheeris' The Decline of Western Civilization
Very interesting look, for its access and intimacy, at the height of the LA punk scene.  Two words - Darby Crash.


Christophe Honore's Love Songs
Less seemingly interested in Demy's bourgeois milieu and more in sync with the angst and edge of early Carax, Honore is so very French. While he has some of the early New Wave's playfulness and Desplechin's interest in the twenty set, his sensibility veers off into a strange terrain of gothic and poetic alienation.


Maurice Pialat's Nous ne viellirons pas ensemble
One of the last of the Pialat features I had never seen, Pialat impresses again by his strong, uncompromising approach to the medium  A French friend of mine once mentioned how revered Pialat was for his editing.  I had never paid much attention to that aspect of his work until now but here it is remarkable - forceful, edgy, propulsive and completely a piece with the rest of Pialat's form.  Also Pialat draws Jean as a character with such unpredictable rage that the final minutes shimmer and vibrate with such potential violence.  But Pialat runs counter to the catharsis Scorsese offers Bickle and through great restraint trails off into a very soft and wistful coda of extraordinary power.



Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Lady and the Beard (1931)

The next three films after That Night's Wife - The Revengeful Spirit of Eros, The Luck Which Touched the Leg and Young Miss - all appear to have been lost and so I pick up again with The Lady and the Beard.  Unfortunately the only copy I had was the version currently on YouTube and so my notes come from watching a copy without sound and for which I could not read the intertitles.  Admittedly I am not entirely sure of the details of the plot but since this exploration has been focused more on the formal aspects of Ozu, that "minor" inconvenience leaves me a little less concerned than it might normally.

Most evident was the sudden proliferation of the famous low-angle (tatami) shot.  While I noticed a moment or two in previous Ozu films where he employed the shot, usually to emphasize a certain emotion, it now seems to have become Ozu's default camera placement, no matter at what point the story might be. 

Other than the sudden emergence of the tatami shot, one of the key characteristics of style people would later associate with Ozu, not many other elements jumped out.  I did notice a crane shot or two and a few tracking shots, which again, seem to disappear almost entirely in Ozu's later work.  There is also again a prominent Western symbol, something that has shown up in almost every single one of Ozu's early works.  Central in many frames this time it is a poster for a Laurel, Hardy, and Lionel Barrymore picture with a large quote in bold "All Talking" (we are in 1931 after all, the beginnings of the sound film).  A couple of times as well Ozu cuts to a close-up of Abraham Lincoln. 

Ozu is out of the gangster genre and back in somewhat more familiar territory.  The film has a few signs of his characteristic playfulness.  We are not yet, however, completely in the world of Ozu, where the takes are long, the rhythm slow and the style as refined as the cinema has ever known. 



Sunday, October 11, 2015

That Night's Wife (1930)

Back to Ozu after a three month absence and what is most surprising again are the amount of Western allusions that show up in the early Ozu films, he who is oft considered the most Eastern of directors.  This time around we see Walter Huston film posters, a poster for a 1929 American film entitled Broadway Scandals and another poster featuring Jean Giraudoux.  Was Ozu already working out one of the themes of greatest importance to him, the threat of Westernization, or was Ozu deeply under the influence of his Western counterparts?

And it does not stop at the visual namechecks, Ozu is surprisingly but clearly working in a noir register.  There are shadows, the almost always-present nighttime, guns, pre-Hitchcockian close-ups and extreme close-ups focused on obects and a handful of noir-type twists and turns.

Ozu is not yet the restrained formalist at this point in his career.  Nor is he a pure genre filmmaker strictly following a recipe.  Ozu registers the most when he temporarily shifts his focus from plot to character, like when he startes to linger on the policeman watching the interaction between the husband, wife and their sick daughter or as the husband slowly considers his future all alone crouched down in a phone booth.    


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Favorite (four), part thirty

Just like in my other twenty-nine posts in this series, I want to take a second to single out the highlights of my recent film viewing.  Most of the films I have been glad to see but only very few have stayed with me.  This series is my filter for those and my hope is one or two will be good to you as well.

Bertrand Bonello's Saint Laurent
My first experience with the cinema of the highly acclaimed Bonello proves a fabulous new addition to trance cinema (Garrel's Regular Lovers, Dead Man, McCabe & Mrs. Miller), films that use time and the camera so effectively they lure the viewer into a near exalted hypnotic state. Bonello has a great eye and a painter's feel for texture and framing. But what most impressed me here was Bonello's completely irreverent approach to the biopic. He never feels the need to follow any of the more conventional rules for chronology or to finish any scenes or "sentences" he begins. He simply glides us through the film and we feel all the more excited because of it.

Alex Garland's Ex Machina
Garland makes a grand entrance with his directorial debut proving a keen creator of mood, a stylist of noticeable control and restraint, a more than competent hand with actors and a director with an eye that in its best moments conjures up memories of Welles, Tarkovsky, and Kubrick. The film I would have wanted Her to be and about as interesting an exploration yet of where our increasing reliance on technology might be leading us.


Oliver Assayas' Clouds of Sils Maria
A surprisingly wise and complex film, both thematically and emotionally. As has happened a time or two before with other filmmakers, Assayas impresses so much I am left reconsidering his other work and that he might be a greater filmmaker than I originally suspected. The film is vital, of the present, and like Dreyer's Gertrud, masterful in its exploration of aging. Both Binoche and Stewart are perfectly cast and each turns in as great a performance as at any point yet in their respective careers.


Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's The Kid with a Bike
Perhaps the Belgians' most emotionally affecting and brutal film yet. Less formal than some of its predecessors and that lack of artistic trapping significantly enhances the feelings at stake. Cyril is up there with one of the strongest characters the Dardennes have created and the performance by Thomas Doret as fully felt as any actor in any of their films. I think there are a couple of moments where they fail to fully avoid cliche and the Bressonian music felt completely unnecessary and heavy-handed. But those are small gripes for what is yet another extraordinary work by the Dardennes.




Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Favorite (four), part twenty-nine

Just like in my other twenty-eight posts in this series, I want to take a second to single out the highlights of my recent film viewing.  Most of the films I have been glad to see but only very few have stayed with me.  This series is my filter for those and my hope is one or two will be good to you as well.

Martin Scorsese's George Harrison: Living in the Material World
One of the cinephiles I respect the most recently commented to me that Scorsese seems more of a master in his contemporary documentary work than in his recent narrative output and after seeing his Dylan and now his Harrison I would not argue.  What is most impressive is how vital he is able to make moments where his only footage is that of still photos.  Studying his technique during these moments and the unique way he is able to juice the medium through music, editing and camera movement is deeply instructive and a marvel to see and experience. 


Abbas Kiarostami's Like Someone in Love
What Kiarostami is hoping to convey I cannot say for sure. But as a long time fan of his work I took it in as a very personal statement. Here Kiarostami, one of the cinema's warmest practitioners, the lovely wise soul of Iranian cinema,  is working in the middle of the Japanese metropolis. Far removed are we (and he) from the wide open expanses of his classic earlier work and we can only guess how fearful he is of our world and what it seems to be quickly becoming. Through the Olive Trees this is not. Kiarostami has entered a far darker phase and in the process might be one of the few still holding up a mirror and trying to find a way to be hopeful.       


Hong Sang-soo's In Another Country
I used to think of Hong as a Korean Rohmer and there are strong similarities - a penchant for naturalism, conversation as the main action and activity, and a recurring interest in the potential disruption of relationships due to the arrival of a third person. But Hong also goes for real whimsy and seems lighter than Rohmer. In fact the more I think about it he seems like this odd blend of Rohmer and Rivette, structurally adventourous but grounded primarily in reality. And I have long had a thing for Huppert. Hong uses her well, brings out her appeal, and ends up delivering one of his smoothest, most likable films yet.


Robert Mann's Altman
A fairly straightforward doc at least when compared to the cinematic complexity in Scorsese's documentary on George Harrison. What I found most enlightening was that even though Altman has become someone I consider among my favorite filmmakers I  realized how very little I knew about his life.  Mann does Altman justice and I think this would be enjoyed by anyone who thinks they are a fan.


Saturday, July 18, 2015

I Flunked, But... (1930)

The first Ozu film I was unable to find with English subtitles so I was forced to watch it the Langlois way and focus almost entirely on its form.

Again I was surprised to see the flagrant American references - pennants bearing the names Michigan, Ohio State and Yale and yet another American film poster, this one from 1929 for the film Charming Sinners.  It has been shocking so far to see so many allusions to American culture since Ozu is considered one of the most Japanese of all Japanese filmmakers.  I am still not entirely clear if the references are homages or warnings to the threat of Westernization.  Either way they show up in very flagrant ways in almost every single one of Ozu's early works. 

It is also surpising yet again to see Ozu utilize tracking shots.  It seems later on that Ozu will move away almost entirely from using any movements at all of the camera. In these early works however Ozu at least seems curious about the potential information such moves can convey and utilizes them with little but some frequency.

There is also Ozu's playfulness again on display.  Like in Walk Cheerfully, the close friends have little dances and secret moves they like to occasionally break into.  These tiny little flourishes suggest a certain lightness in Ozu's sensibility but also underline what I am starting to feel is one of his key themes, solidarity.

As the main character's friends go off to celebrate their graduation success and we remain with the character who did not pass his exit exam, Ozu gives us one of the first glimpses at a hallmark piece of his style, the extreme low-angle shot.  This moment is the perfect utilization for the shot as it creates deep empathy with our main character at an extreme low point for him.  It will be interesting to see if the "tatami shot" will start to show up in every Ozu film moving forward.   

Lastly I want to mention the first lengthy cheating scene in the classroom as the most sustained and accomplished scene at this point in Ozu's cinema.  He creates great tension and sustains what is almost comparable to a Chaplin or Keaton gag.  Ozu's rhythm and storytelling shine and the scene is wonderfully entertaining.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Walk Cheerfully (1930)

I had to order this film which is part of the reason there has been a gap in time since I last posted in this series.

I would classify Walk Cheerfully as an Ozu gangster film or an Ozu noir.  Before this viewing I never even knew the director dabbled in the genre.  It is a little like seeing Dylan do electronica, a bit shocking and not fully satisfying.  It is actually a place where Ozu's later, famous style of slowness and emotional heft could have been quite comfortably worked in.  Other extraordinary cinema stylists have certainly flourished in similar worlds, Leone with Once Upon a Time in America, Coppola's Godfather films and the list goes on and on.  But I do not think Ozu had found his exact voice yet and for the most part this work comes off as a pretty by the numbers entry in the genre.

However a couple of stylistic elements I would like to mention.  Including the opening shot, Ozu surprises with a few pretty complex camera movements, particularly crane and tracking shots, neither of which will show up very much in his later work.  There is also a shot framed with substantial foreground and background action, something I will be curious to see if Ozu returns to in later films.  When done in a subtle manner like Ozu does here, it certainly feels at home in the naturalistic spaces Ozu likes to exist in.   

Is it merely a genre film?  Is there not anything that makes it recognizable as the genre work of one of the greatest filmmakers the medium has ever known?  Perhaps.  There is both a playfulness and a deep emotionality Ozu is able to create in the final few frames that is trenchant and leaves us feeling this work is perhaps at least a little more personal than we had been led to believe. 


Monday, May 25, 2015

A Straightforward Boy (1929)

Based on the thirteen minutes of surviving footage I was able to see, this film seems like quite the oddball.  It reminded me a little of On purge bebe in Renoir's work, a film that just does not really fit with what comes before or after. 

The only two elements that stood out for me were it seems that Ozu was beginning to experiment with longer takes, a component of his work that would become defining as his career evolved.

And this film really starts to show Ozu's remarkable gift for directing young kids, a talent we will see on very clear display numerous times in his later work.