1971: The French Connection (William Friedkin)
Easily the biggest influence on my first feature, The Last Lullaby. I love the way this Friedkin film looks, and I love the way it sounds.
Let's start with the look. The cinematographer, Owen Roizman, has a pretty impressive body of work. Aside from this marvel, he was also responsible for the look of The Exorcist, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, Three Days of the Condor, Network, and Straight Time. What I love most about his work here is that it is both raw and painterly at the same time. Usually I find movies that are gritty and raw not terribly pleasing on an aesthetic level. And the films that I consider extremely refined on a visual level can often be a little distancing. But here Friedkin and Roizman are able to combine, in a unique way, intimacy and painterly.
As for its sound, the film mostly relies on ambient noises to propel it forward. There is very little music. And when music is used, it's usually between rather than during scenes.
I also love Friedkin's use of the zoom in the film. And both the extended, wordless opening and abrupt ending continue to be references for me. I still think this stands as one of the high points of Hollywood naturalism, and a tremendous hybrid of art and entertainment. I would argue that much of Michael Mann's early style comes from this film. And I would say that Friedkin's formal achievements here still tend to be a little undervalued.
Other contenders for 1971: I still have several things I need to see from this year. These include: Roman Polanski's Macbeth, Grigori Kozintsev's King Lear, Claude Jutra's Mon oncle Antoine, Ken Russell's The Devils, Robert Bresson's Four Nights of a Dreamer, Jacques Rivette's Out 1, Jan Troell's The Emigrants, Jean Rouch's Petit a petit, Jacques Tati's Trafic, Nicolas Roeg's Walkabout, and Barbara Loden's Wanda. I need to re-watch Don Siegel's Dirty Harry as it's been to long since I've seen it to know where it'd place on this list. Meanwhile, from this year, I really like Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs and Francois Truffaut's Two English Girls. I love Alan Pakula's Klute. And my closest runner-up (and one of my other favorite films of all time) is Robert Altman's McCabe & Mrs. Miller.
7/27/11 I watched Claude Jutra's Mon oncle Antoine. A strange, atonal coming of age flick that never fully connected with me.
10/15/11 I watched Abel Ferrara's earliest short film, Nicky's Film. It reminded me of a surreal recreation of the finale of Shoot the Piano Player. Short and interesting
12/16/13 I watched Mike Nichols' Carnal Knowledge. Nichols shoots it in a very artsy way that feels more under the spell of Antonioni or Bergman than any neorealist influence. I found it too theatrical though rambling more than building towards anything.
1/12/14 I watched Nicolas Roeg's Walkabout. There is much to admire here - Roeg's cinematography is powerful and the two young actors very effective, and the opening sequence until the kids go off into the outback is among the strongest I have ever seen. Emtionally however Roeg's sensibility eludes me at times, and I am left feeling more squeamish or confused than connected for the ride.
4/30/16 I watched Stephen Frears' Gumshoe. I am a big fan of Frears but this homage to noir lacks some of the heart of the director's greatest work. His team is already strong, Menges and Andrew Lloyd Webber, but Frears spends so much time paying tribute that he makes it difficult for us to connect or fully identify when anyone up on screen.
11/11/16 I watched Jacques Rivette's Out 1. With my biggest commitment yet to Rivette's cinema (it is over 720 minutes long), I am beginning if not to like him even more, at least to better understand his interests and style. First his interests. Rivette is fascinated by the process of being an artist and the steps by which one finds and makes its work. He loves Paris, its architecture and infinitely picturesque locations. He adores his actresses who seem to intrigue him more than his actors. He likes communities. In fact until now it hadn't occurred to me but the "13" plot line could certainly be read as a substitute for Cahiers and Rivette's yearning for a reformation of the gang. As for style. Rivette favors the long take, a handheld camera, and frames that allow the actors to roam both physically, and I suspect, emotionally. Of course, much has already been written about Rivette's unique use of time and nowhere is it more evident than throughout the more than twelve hours of Out 1. Rivette seems to possess if not a disdain then certainly an indifference to what is typically considered an acceptable duration for a film. The same for his relationship to the conventional rules of narrative storytelling. He rejects story arcs, traditional expectations of plot, and the entire concept of beginning, middle, and end. Watching Out 1, I realize finally that it is not Godard but actually Rivette who is the most unconventional of all the Cahiers filmmakers; Godard's cinema plays within more known and accepted parameters of time and plot. Rivette's cinema is challenging and frustrating because it defies convention and forces us into a space with very few recognizable cinematic landmarks to derive comfort from and cling to. On the other hand, its importance, if one is willing to go with it, is that it opens up new directions for the medium, shining light on areas previously considered prerequisites for the filmmaker (a beginning, middle, and end; 150 minutes max) and proving there is still new cinematic language to write and uncharted cinematic territory to explore.
1/8/17 I watched Robert Wise's The Andromeda Strain. Sci-fi is not my thing but this one is very impressive, from the sets to the acting to the tension Wise is able to create. Very stylish and proof that Wise was not just a Hollywood hack. He did after all make The Set-Up and The Day the Earth Stood Still, two films for which I have a great amount of respect.
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