Friday, April 19, 2019

A Story of Floating Weeds (1934)

It has been nearly six months since my last post on Ozu.  Actually more than anything it took me a little while to track down today's entry.  But when I saw it was part of the library of Criterion Channel's new streaming service I jumped at the chance to see it.

Stylistically it feels very close to Ozu's previous work, A Mother Should be Loved.  It is full of many of the signature aspects of the Ozu style - ellipses, empty frames, long takes and tatami shots.

Among the few stylistically new touches that jumped out at me was Ozu's use of the tatami shot on an approaching train.  The effect was unlike any I have seen to date of a filmed, approaching train.  It almost gave a 3-D sensation to the movement.

Speaking of movement, this might be the first of Ozu's films that I would characterize as containing the Ozu rhythm, the slow, hypnotic drone of scene progression, unconcerned whether audiences follow or boredom takes over.

Ozu sets the rhythm immediately with a slow fade in (which also feels a little new to Ozu's work).  He then immediately jumps into a slow montage of people-less shots that, like A Mother Should be Loved, once again shows shows that Lang's M might have more than impressed Ozu.

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Sunday, January 6, 2019

Favorite (four), part fifty-nine

Just like in my other fifty-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 a 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.

Jean-Paul Civeyrac's A Paris Education
It's unfortunate that it is shot on digital black-and-white because if it had the cinematography of Garrel's Regular Lovers it would find a place in my small pantheon of truly cherished works.  But even as is it's pretty special.  It captures some of the poetry of Paris and what the formative years feel like at the fac.  That is, time as your captive and endless amounts of it for sitting around among peers, taking walks and formulating dreams for undoing the previous generation's misguided efforts and hopes.  The end has a narrative device so brilliantly utilized by Demy in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Kazan in Slendor in the Grass, Rohmer in My Night at Maud's and to perhaps a slightly lesser degree Chazelle in La La Land.  And even though the device is familiar, Civeyrac uses it in a way that feels fresh and new.  By fast forwarding with Etienne, it is not a particular romance that he is forced to reckon with but an entire view of the world and of himself.     

Matt Wolf's Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell
One of those documentaries that immediately convince you to go out and dig into the work of the featured artist.  Prior to watching the film, I had only heard one song by Russell and now I am very curious to spend more time seeing what he was all about.  He strikes me as part Scott Walker, part Mark Hollis and perhaps part Nick Drake.    

Alice Rohrwacher's Happy as Lazzaro
The first film I have seen from the young Italian filmmaker is impressive.  The best way I can describe it is a welcome concoction of Kiarostami's feel for the land, Lynch's ability for rupturing time and early Van Sant's poetic sense for the rough and marginal.  Based on this film, Rohrwacher is full of talent and tough to categorize.  I am very excited to see what she does next.          

Amy Scott's Hal
Another documentary, like the recent one I saw on Arthur Russell, that makes you immediately want to dig further into the subject's body of work.  As a long time fan of Ashby, Shampoo for instance might be in my all time top ten, I have always been curious to learn more about the filmmaker.  Having seen this doc, which I cannot recommend highly enough to any fan of Ashby, I now can't wait to go back and watch all seven of his films from the seventies.   


Sunday, December 30, 2018

My Top Sixteen Films of 2018

It was a strong year of discovery for me.  Like most years, many of the high points were from the past, but I also was really moved and struck by a few films that came out in 2018.

Maurice Pialat's La maison des bois
It is very possible that within one of the cinema's greatest bodies of work this little seen seven part series for television is Pialat's greatest achievement.  It is certainly his most humanistic film and the work that most clearly grants him the title as Jean Renoir's closest French cinema successor.  All of it is remarkable, its characters, its Frenchness, its patience, its rigor.  And Pialat, time and time again, gives us moments that are so alive and so rich, and that surprisingly make us feel as if we are seeing them on film for the first time.  
Zachary Treitz's Men Go To Battle
The kind of imaginative lo-fi work that makes me rethink my normal skepticism around low budget digital filmmaking.  It feels like the cinematic equivalent to something Will Oldham might author.  It is quiet and earthy and comfortable just being pure and unadorned.  The acting is tremendous, and its restraint from using much light or music refreshing.  As strong of an American micro-indy as I have seen since Blue Ruin  
Bi Gan's Kaili Blues
Gan's ability to move a camera is startling.  Almost every shot is magical in the way it uses both space and time.  The locations are consistently among the most interesting and cinematic I have seen in a very long time.  Meanwhile, Gan's choreography of the long take immediately announces him as one of the next great filmmakers in the tradition of Hou Hsiao-hsien or the Romanians.  To read that Gan was in his twenties when he made this film is beyond comprehension. 
Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman
Spike is totally in his element and his passion and talent come through in ways that I haven't seen in his work in more than twenty years.  I found it messy, uneven and raw, as in akin to an early draft that still needed an editor's touch.  But I also thought it the closest American film I have seen in the 21st century to the spirit of the daring and uncomfortable batch of great indies that first burst on the scene in the early to mid eighties.   
Kelly Reichardt's Certain Women
I have never been much a fan of her work.  Having seen Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy and Meek's CutoffI often felt her work was admirably minimal without the heft or depth of a Bresson or Ozu.  But her latest feels different to me, saying a tremendous amount without saying much at all.  Reichardt uses one of cinema's greatest weapons, silence, to get underneath her themes and wonderfully rich characters and stories.
Frederick Wiseman's Boxing Gym
Perhaps my favorite of all of the Wiseman films I have seen to date.  Wiseman is pure cinema, devoid of non-diegetic music and devoid of anything that feels put on, forced, unnatural or basking in cinematic artifice.  Aside from feeling so human and so real, what impressed me the most about this work were its rhythms.  You could close your eyes and be mesmerized for almost 120 minutes by the musical sounds of its voices, words and movements. 
Luis Bunuel's The Phantom of Liberty
One of Bunuel's most free-flowing and "liberated" films is pure sexual and unpredictable fun.  There are a number of all-time great moments but for me it was the unconventional dinner party and the final sequence at the zoo.  Bunuel's key themes are all there - anti-establishment, anti-Catholic church, surrealistic flights of fancy - but the contemporary setting gives them a lightness and impact that I have rarely felt while watching his other work. 
Alice Rohrwacher's Happy as Lazzaro
The first film I have seen from the young Italian filmmaker is impressive.  The best way I can describe it is a welcome concoction of Kiarostami's feel for the land, Lynch's ability for rupturing time and early Van Sant's poetic feel for the rough and marginal.  Based on this film, Rohrwacher is full of talent and tough to categorize.  I am very excited to see what she does next.            
Robin Campillo's BPM (Beats per Minute)
I knew going into it that it was Les Inrocks' favorite film of the year and their taste is often closely aligned with my own.  What struck me most, aside from its performances, was its shape.  Campillo is able like Kechiche with Blue Is the Warmest Color or Bonello with Saint Laurent to avoid classical scene shape without seeming unstructured.  His modernism is not abrasive, loud or jarring.  It is immersive, fluid and welcoming.
Matt Wolf's Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell
One of those documentaries that immediately convince you to go out and dig into the work of the featured artist.  Prior to watching the film, I had only heard one song by Russell and now I am very curious to spend more time seeing what he was all about.  He strikes me as part Scott Walker, part Mark Hollis and perhaps part Nick Drake.    
Cy Endfield's The Sound of Fury
I did not know what to expect, having never seen a film from Endfield.  But I knew the film had a pretty big reputation and was curious to see what it was all about.  It has elements of Lang's Fury that place it in an interesting cinematic context (Endfield certainly has much of Lang's dark, venomous abilities) and offer some historical clue to some of what Endfield may be up to, using noir to lodge an attack on WWII atrocities.  What struck me most is how far Endfield goes into the darkness.  You cringe numerous times as you feel Howard splintering apart, first into violence and then into adultery and alcoholism.  This is uncomfortable noir, spewing out in all directions, unconcerned with softness or any commercial sentimentality.
Hal Hartley's The Unbelievable Truth
I thought I had seen Hartley's debut, but it turns out I never had.  It has to be one of the most stylistically assured debuts in the history of cinema.  Hartley's films are heavily musical, rhythmic in their mood and editing, but not in the way Hollywood uses wall-to-wall music to provide most of the surface emotion.  Hartley's music is his primary tool for carving out his special cinematic world.  While there may be no known adjective, it is as distinctly "Hartleyian" as David's world is Lynchian.  The acting, the locations, the framing, the almost Bressonian dialogue delivery combined with 80's Godard unique feel for the ellipsis immediately announce a very singular auteur.  This is a startling debut.  
Claire Denis' Let the Sunshine In
Perhaps most remarkable about Denis' films, aside from the fact that they are always top shelf, is that they consistently feel modern.  As she advances in her career, her work never feels regressive with respect to her own filmography or retro with regards to the history of the medium in general.  Denis and Binoche are a potent combination.  They are two of our most daring artists, repeatedly willing to defy labels, classification or emotional signposts in their venturing.  When the end credits roll, it is clear once again that Denis is writing the book on film grammar today.  It is precisely the little touches like this that keep us moving forward and remind us, once again, that she is one of the greatest filmmakers at work today.      
Elaine May's A New Leaf
The first May film I have seen in its entirety, and it immediately made me want to go watch her entire filmography.  Her style is loose and modern while still feeling intimate and restrained (I know, some of those words seem to be in direct conflict with one another!)  Perhaps it's her ability to achieve such lived-in, natural performances from her actors that makes her work vibrate so or maybe it's the fact that she never feels to be following any known framework or genre.  Her output as director is limited, but if her debut film is any indication, it ranks up there with the highest shelf of American filmmaking in the seventies and that's no small statement.


FJ Ossang's Zona inquinata
About as great of a mix as I could ever imagine of Boy Meets GirlRepo Man, and Permanent Vacation.  Absolutely blew my mind with its formal beauty and uninhibited cinematic boldness.  
Amy Scott's Hal
Another documentary, like the recent one I saw on Arthur Russell, that makes you immediately want to dig further into the subject's body of work.  As a long time fan of Ashby, Shampoo for instance might be in my all time top ten, I have always been curious to learn more about the filmmaker.  Having seen this doc, which I cannot recommend highly enough to any fan of Ashby, I now can't wait to go back and watch all seven of his films from the seventies.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

A Mother Should be Loved (1934)

Apparently the film is missing its first and last reels.  But though compromised it still provides a number of interesting details about Ozu and his evolving style.

For the first time there are a number of long takes, the kind of which Ozu would become identified with in his later work.  There are also a number of long shots where it seems clear that Ozu is confident in taking a distant, observational vantage point.  The tatami shot seems more prevalent and more exaggerated than ever.  And his penchant for the ellipsis to portray the passage of time is more evident than it has been to date.  

Once again we find a number of references to film.  We see a poster for a Joan Crawford movie as well as a poster for Duvivier’s Poil de carotte.  Also interesting to note is a scene towards the end when Ozu employs a series of different tracking shots, one a long horizontal shot and another a backwards tracking movement.

Thematically the film along with I Was A Born, But… is Ozu’s strongest statement yet on the importance of the family bond.  In a way not dissimilar from the staggering footage of the father being mocked in I Was A Born, But…, Ozu finds a masterful way to communicate the power of family.  Here it comes from a housekeeper in a brothel explaining that if her bond with her son were stronger, she would never find herself in her current employ.

Lastly, as we will later find scattered throughout the work of another transcendental filmmaker, Robert Bresson, I was struck by Ozu’s use of empty frames.  I don’t know if he got the idea from Lang’s M, which came out only a couple of years before this film.  But the choice would become a signature aspect of the Bresson style and perhaps of the Ozu style which I will keep a watchful eye on as I continue to move forward through his work.


Sunday, December 16, 2018

My two most recent Spotify playlists

https://open.spotify.com/user/mynuitchezmaud/playlist/6nU4rwon6BPTiECPbiSkrJ?si=CzGU5eGoQvCS5TQBim_8xA

https://open.spotify.com/user/mynuitchezmaud/playlist/7GUjVmLOWX5I5Rm2oAON3r?si=5-JNSiCNRZuLOC_EuJxFbA


Sunday, December 9, 2018

Passing Fancy (1933)

The first time I am back to digging into Ozu's work chronologically since 6/12.  There is some familiar thematic territory, specifically to I Was Born, But... and a young boy's struggle with the way others view his underachieving father.  There are noticeable stylistic consistencies that he seemed to be moving more and more towards in his preceding films such as an increasing reliance on the tatami shot.  Still not as prevalent yet are the long takes that Ozu would emphasize later in his career.  And again, there is an allusion to Western culture as the young boy discusses honesty with his father by using the George Washington cherry tree story as his illustration. 

Most interesting to me in this work is the humanism on display that we would end up associating as much as anything with Ozu.  It will be interesting to see if this becomes an integral and inseparable part of every work from this point forward.


Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Favorite (four), part fifty-eight

Just like in my other fifty-seven 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.

Elaine May's A New Leaf
The first May film I have seen in its entirety, and it immediately made me want to go watch her entire filmography.  Her style is loose and modern while still feeling intimate and restrained (I know, some of those words seem to be in direct conflict with one another!)  Perhaps it's her ability to achieve such lived-in, natural performances from her actors that makes her work vibrate so or maybe it's the fact that she never feels to be following any known framework or genre.  Her output as director is limited, but if her debut film is any indication, her filmography ranks with the highest shelf of American filmmaking in the seventies.

Claire Denis' Let the Sunshine In
Perhaps most remarkable about Denis' films, aside from the fact that they are always top shelf, is that they consistently feel modern.  As she advances in her career, her work never feels regressive with respect to her own filmography or retro with regards to the history of the medium in general.  Denis and Binoche are a potent combination.  They are two of our most daring artists, repeatedly willing to defy labels, classification or emotional signposts in their venturing.  When the end credits roll, it is clear once again that Denis is writing the book on film grammar today.  It is precisely the little touches like this that keep us moving forward and remind us, once again, that she is one of the greatest filmmakers at work today.      

Elaine May's Heartbreak Kid
My second experience with May's work after watching A New Leaf a couple of days ago.  Richer and deeper in its study of character than May's debut, it proves again the bold and unique place she occupied within American cinema in the seventies.  Her style, though not entirely lacking, definitely seems much less important to her than the words, the acting, and the opportunity to burrow deep inside the skin of her cast.  May's power of observation and ability to capture small details is remarkable, whether it's the egg salad on Lila's face or the way Kelly absorbs the conversation when Lenny first confesses to her father that he's married. 

F.J. Ossang's Zona Inquinata
About as great of a mix as I could ever imagine of Boy Meets Girl, Repo Man, and Permanent Vacation.  Absolutely blew my mind with its formal beauty and uninhibited cinematic boldness. 

Friday, November 9, 2018

Favorite (four), part fifty-seven

Just like in my other fifty-six 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.

Noel Black's Skaterdater
One of the most powerful shorts I have ever seen.  It captures adolescence and Socal in the mid 60s and renders them as vivid as Lamorisse in The Red Balloon.

Frederick Wiseman's In Jackson Heights
Wiseman has so many strengths and areas of mastery.  What moved me the most in this work was his desire to dig deep into what it means to be an American today living in a diverse, melting-pot community.  Wiseman shows so many different colors, the positives and the negatives, the beauty and the ugliness, the promise and the despair.  He may very well be our most important cinematic artist, narrative or documentary, that we have ever had.  

Frederick Wiseman's Boxing Gym
Perhaps my favorite of all of the Wiseman films I have seen to date.  Wiseman is pure cinema, devoid of non-diegetic music and devoid of anything that feels put on, forced, unnatural or basking in cinematic artifice.  Aside from feeling so human and so real, what impressed me the most about this work were its rhythms.  You could close your eyes and be mesmerized for almost 120 minutes by the musical sounds of its voices, words and movements.

Jean Rouch's La punition
Rouch stays in the streets of Paris and poetically captures a day in the life of a young Parisian girl during her formative years.  Most interesting are the last five minutes as the film shifts tone and becomes an expressionistic solo.


My two most recent playlists

https://open.spotify.com/user/mynuitchezmaud/playlist/3CFnkJfsKefDbZbQ8XoHwz?si=paFTjMHfSbSofc9OEkcEWg

https://open.spotify.com/user/mynuitchezmaud/playlist/264esSQZGO4I98wHTRraeH?si=lQGS4UKfSvKcD7kTo7TglQ


Favorite (four), part fifty-six

Just like in my other fifty-five 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.

Jean Rouch's Moi, un noir
Probably the biggest influence I have ever seen on Godard's Breathless.  I have long known that Godard was a big fan of Rouch but this film blew my mind.  The cadence of Belmondo's voicemover and the frenzied rhythms of Godard's feature debut seem to have been lifted almost entirely from Moi, un noir.  It's a remarkable film for its nudity, its post-sync methods and the most pop culture references I have ever seen from a work that came out before 1960. 

D'Urville Martin's Dolemite
It has an edge and grit that pushes things further than any other blaxpoitation film I have seen to date.  It is so freewheeling and unpredictable.  You never know what is going to come out of Rudy Ray Moore's mouth or where the film is headed next.

Hong Sang-soo's List
Top shelf Hong that in thirty minutes has all that makes Hong special.  His lightness of touch, his feeling for the sea, his natural, loose performances, his meandering scenes of drinking and eating, and his jovial spirit.   

Edward Yang, Yi-Chang, I-Chen Ko and Te-Chen Tao's In Our Time
An anthology film often credited with jumpstarting the birth of the Taiwan New Wave.  The first three films, in particular impressed me.  They concern themselves with similar areas of life as the Nouvelle Vague before them - youth trying to find its place, the experience of first loves and the awe for and questioning of the world around them.  There is a poetry and a feel for beauty that makes these early films particularly remarkable.


Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Most recent two playlists

https://open.spotify.com/user/mynuitchezmaud/playlist/5IRErXBNbisfLuLxOxAUai?si=T8VGpGVtRwaCAtEJ3pvWPw

https://open.spotify.com/user/mynuitchezmaud/playlist/5JNU672cunOdj7ZFcaTHq0?si=b_K8I4vgR-u0-aN5IHLC7A


Sunday, September 9, 2018

Favorite (four), part fifty-five

Just like in my other fifty-four 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.

Paul Schrader's First Reformed
Schrader has always seemed like someone on the brink of imploding.  He doesn't come across as one of these guys that easily shares his feelings or is often at peace.  And his greatest characters all embody the same brooding nature that, unchecked, could become dangerous.  I haven't seen all of his work but I am a huge fan of American Graffiti and Affliction and this is perhaps my favorite of all of his films I have seen.  Hawke is perfect in the role and Schrader gives us moments that I previously would not have thought him capable of.  

Serge Bozon's Mrs. Hyde
It is a strange film and I am unsure all that Bozon is after but it features yet another tremendous performance from Huppert and visually it all feels incredibly clean and clear.  It is, I guess, a little in the line of The Nutty Professor, but it takes that format to address the deep issues of racism facing France at the moment.

Guetty Felin's Ayiti Mon Amour
This film, although certainly flawed with times of mediocre acting or scenes that do not quite push past their influences, is impressive.  It has scenes of great beauty and inventiveness, such as when Joakim and Anisia share a dance listening to non-existent music.  It gives us Haiti, its sores and its riches while making us think, dream, sad and elated.  

Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman
Spike is totally in his element and his passion and talent come through in ways that I haven't seen in his work in more than twenty years.  I found it messy, uneven and raw, as in akin to an early draft that still needed an editor's touch.  But I also thought it the closest American film I have seen in the 21st century to the spirit of the daring and uncomfortable batch of great indies that first burst on the scene in the early to mid eighties.    

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Favorite (four), part fifty-four

Just like in my other fifty-three 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.

George Cukor's Little Women
FilmStruck celebrated Cukor last week as its featured director, making it as good of a time as any to dig deeper into his work.  He never was a flashy stylist and many of his films seem comfortable taking their time even at the risk of running off some of the audience.  What makes Cukor so special is how deep he goes with his characters.  He trusts their freewheeling spirits, loves them, knowing it is possible both for them to entertain us and allow us into their souls.  As a result, we care an unusual amount about the characters in his films.  Cukor also was a master at restraint.  Just look at how long he withholds things from Hepburn, a practice run for his finest hour a few years later in Holiday.  Less entertaining than Hawks, less visual than Ford, less buoyant than Lubitsch and less clever than Wilder but just as great as them all.

Kelly Reichardt's Certain Women
I have never been much of a fan of her work.  Having seen Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy and Meek's CutoffI often felt her work was admirably minimal without the heft or depth of a Bresson or Ozu.  But her latest feels different to me, saying a tremendous amount without saying much at all.  Reichardt uses one of cinema's greatest weapons, silence, to get underneath her themes and wonderfully rich characters and stories.

Morgan Neville's Won't You Be My Neighbor?
Fred Rogers' life makes for a fascinating film and Neville gets into much of what makes the story unique and provocative.  My only complaint is I wish there were more interviews from kids, like myself, who grew up watching Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and the way they experienced the show as compared to Rogers' ultimate vision and philosophy behind it.

George Cukor's Dinner at Eight
Most extraordinary is not the drama but the acting and the multitude of characters and social situations we can recognize and have probably experienced.  Not completely sure if it should all be viewed as a critique and/or satire but it sure seems like it even though Cukor was such a fixture in the world he is depicting.


Friday, July 20, 2018

Honoring Stan

https://open.spotify.com/user/mynuitchezmaud/playlist/0J9XmwnGWlOR6yh1cmT7Fm?si=8GIcKx-FToa4U_oLKPZ-lQ


Sunday, July 15, 2018

Latest Mixtape

https://open.spotify.com/user/mynuitchezmaud/playlist/03L2jHfQ6aicq4eJzmYGi6?si=TL0aa1CPRv26Zcu-5Jxoeg