1962: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (John Ford)
I have a thing for great directors' later works. I love Dreyer's Gertrud, Bresson's L'argent, even John Huston's The Dead (and the list could go on). There's an element of spring cleaning that occurs in these later works. A director looks at their tools and gets rid of all but the most essential.
I still have a good many Ford films to see, but I've always felt that Ford could take an unusually "spare" eye to landscape. Meanwhile, to avoid being too minimal, too abstract, Ford would often counter with frames of hundreds of people conversing, battling, or whatever the film might demand. Valance is the first of Ford films I have seen that keeps everything from the landscapes to the interiors a little more stripped down. I like the austerity of it and the uncluttered nature of it all.
I guess I'm also a formalist since certain stylistic elements of filmmaking can singlehandedly determine whether I care for a film. The way that Ford shoots the titular scene is among the most formally solid and brilliantly executed moments I have ever seen.
I love Ford's humanity in the film, but that's not what I love about Valance the most. What I truly love here is kicking back with a master director as they share a little of the distilled stuff.
Other contenders for 1962: I still have a number of things to see from this year. These include: Arthur Penn's The Miracle Worker, Blake Edwards' Days of Wine and Roses, Tony Richardson's Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, Robert Aldrich's What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Forough Farrokhzad's The House Is Black, Luis Bunuel's The Exterminating Angel, Yasujiro Ozu's An Autumn Afternoon, Ingmar Bergman's Winter Light, Alberto Lattuada's Mafioso, Robert Bresson's The Trial of Joan of Arc, J. Lee Thompson's Cape Fear, and Robert Mulligan's To Kill a Mockingbird. At some point, I need to revisit Sam Peckinpah's Ride the High Country, Roman Polanski's Knife in the Water, and Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Doulos as none of them impacted me on first viewing like I would have expected. I also need to re-watch Jean Renoir's The Elusive Corporal and John Frankenheimer's The Manchurian Candidate as it's been too long since I saw either to know where they'd place on this list. But I really like Stanley Kubrick's Lolita. I love David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia, Howard Hawks' Hatari!, and Andrei Tarkovsky's Ivan's Childhood. Meanwhile, my closest runner-up is Jean-Luc Godard's Vivre Sa Vie.
4/26/11 I watched Ingmar Bergman's Winter Light. Although Bergman's religious obsessions are far from my own chief concerns, I did really connect to the previous film in his trilogy, Through a Glass Darkly. This one though moved me far less. It felt heavily talky, visually claustrophobic, and even a bit forced narratively. Its major reputation was a bit lost on me.
4/30/11 I watched Arthur Penn's The Miracle Worker. Heavy and unsettling as it is moving and real. Patty Duke's performance surely must go down as one of the greatest child performances in the history of the medium. Penn demonstrates a willingness to take on an extremely difficult subject head-on and to go all the way with it. Even though cinematically I might have wanted some things done differently, Penn really delivers with the emotional elements.
5/2/11 I watched Alberto Lattuada's Mafioso. I've long known this as one of Scorsese's favorites, and it certainly doesn't disappoint. But it doesn't meet expectations either. There's far less violence than one would imagine. The tone more often resembles a vivacious and sunny foreign film than a somber and serious-minded noir. And Lattuada shows an unexpected assertiveness with his editing, movement of the camera, and ability to juggle different genres. Lattuada also knows how to make great use of music to heighten the action (the jazz leading up to the barbershop sequence) and has no problem leaving the viewer with a great, big lump in his throat.
5/3/11 I watched Yasujiro Ozu's An Autumn Afternoon. Another strong film from Ozu. Ozu seems like he was such a peaceful person, and his films move in a way that's as soft and gentle as anything I've ever seen in the medium. This one is not as quite as perfect to me. A couple of the acting and music cues seem slightly unsubtle. But it's still a deep, engaged work, this time dealing with the emptiness that follows the marriage of one's children.
5/9/11 I watched Tony Richardson's The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. Dated now and feeling badly disjointed, in the Richard Lester style. It still holds some power in its Tom Courtenay performance and unexpected ending.
5/10/11 I watched Robert Mulligan's To Kill a Mockingbird. There is much to recommend here. The movie captures the phobias and rather unjustified fears that come with childhood. It also has a nice, surprising warmth and humanity that explains much of its lasting reputation. The filmmaking is a bit uninspired, for the most part. But Bernstein delivers musically a score of real strength and atmosphere.
5/11/11 I watched Robert Aldrich's What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Aldrich keeps the drama and intensity wound incredibly tight. And the result is disturbing, but I liked it more than I expected. There are moments that remind one of Aldrich's ability and that he was able to deliver one of the great noirs, Kiss Me Deadly.
5/24/11 I watched Luis Bunuel's The Exterminating Angel. I can't say that I necessarily understand all that Bunuel is saying with this one. But nonetheless, I feel comfortable saying it's too claustrophobic, morbid, and lifeless to grab me fully.
9/21/13 I watched Vincente Minnelli's Two Weeks in Another Town. So much of the film is mature, daringly dark, modern, and full of interesting feelings about Hollywood. And maybe the tacked-on happy ending is part of that commentary, but it feels unsatisfying when compared to the rest of work. Highlights include the incredible elevator shot and what feels like a very subtle use of slo-mo as Douglas, his ex, and her new man ride up together.
11/10/13 I watched Agnes Varda's Cleo de 5 a 7. More masterful than I remember from my first viewing more than twenty years ago, Varda's work separates itself from many of the early New Wave films by eschewing genre and delivering a film with a focus entirely on character. Varda's camera glides and records capturing a realness of faces and of Paris. And what we are left with is, as a capsule of its time, a film as valuable as Breathless, 400 Blows, and any of the other key Vague work from the early sixties.
8/2/14 I watched Robert Bresson's Proces de Jeanne d'Arc. One of the few films by the director that I had never seen and yet another reminder of his brilliance, uniqueness and above all clarity of approach. Bresson is a master of restraint and finding small stylistic touches that add such interesting rhythm to his work, like the repetition of an eyehole and visitors peering through it to comment on Joan. Bresson is the Thelonious Monk of cinema or Monk the Bresson of music. This work may lack some of the transcendence or full blown poetry of some of Bresson's other films - its subject matter and approach almost prevent it from the latter - but it is still a great film by one of the medium's five or ten greatest practitioners.
9/21/14 I watched Dino Risi's Il Sorpasso. It is amazing to step back and see the New Wave for what it was not only in France but as it touched Italy, England, Czech Republic and across the world. What was it? It was about championing the young over the old, the free over the responsible, the city over the country and beauty over decay. This film is a great example of what it looked like in Italy in 1962 even if I still prefer how the French did it and particularly Godard, Truffaut, Demy, Rohmer, Rivette and Chabrol.
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