Tuesday, April 6, 2010

1985: Year of the Dragon (Michael Cimino)

1985: Year of the Dragon (Michael Cimino)
If being a great director means making people feel good about themselves or providing a sort of fantasy American dream then Cimino is not very good at all.  But if being a great director means using a camera to tell a story and using a frame in as dynamic a way as possible then Cimino is a master.



It's been years since I've seen this film.  But off the top of my head I can already recall at least three scenes that are masterfully directed:  a nightclub shootout, the moment following a home invasion, and the final set piece.  When I say masterful direction, I mean perfect shot selection, purposeful and expressive camera movement, specific editing, and all done in a way where as a viewer we always understand the geography of the scene.  


I don't mean to sell Cimino short by suggesting that this film is all a cold, technical enterprise.  In fact, I feel quite strongly about Rourke's character, and the second moment I reference above is particularly devastating.


A flawed film, certainly.  But when it's clicking, it's crime elevated to the same operatic and cinematic heights as Coppola's work in The Godfather films.  A movie that seems to have exercised a major influence on the cinema of Michael Mann and an important  link to King of New YorkCarlito's Way, and other modern crime films.  Also, a film and an auteur, as much as anyone in this countdown, quite desperately in need of re-evaluation.




Other contenders for 1985: I still have some things to see from this year.  These include: George Romero's Day of the Dead, Agnes Varda's Vagabond, Atom Egoyan's Next of Kin, Jane Campion's Passionless Moments, Hou Hsiao-hsien's A Time to Live and a Time to Die, Claude Lanzmann's Shoah, Edward Yang's Taipei Story, Paul Schrader's Mishima, Tian Zhuangzhuang's The Horse Thief, Elem Klimov's Come and See, Jean-Luc Godard's Detective, and Lasse Hallstrom's My Life as a Dog.  I need to revisit Robert Zemeckis' Back to the Future as it's been too long since I've seen it to know where it'd place on this list.  But from this year I really like Akira Kurosawa's Ran, Martin Scorsese's After Hours, and Stephen Frears' My Beautiful Laundrette.  And my closest runner-up is Maurice Pialat's Police.


10/19/10 I watched Lasse Hallstrom's My Life as a Dog.  Sentimental and almost always looking to be likable.  But also with some nice heartfelt and a few inventive moments.  Overall not really my thing.  


3/28/11 I watched Wim Wenders' Tokyo-Ga.  This exploration almost feels like a Godard or Marker essay.  An unorthodox, somewhat meandering doc that seems like essential viewing for any strong fan of Ozu's work.  Wenders mourns cinema's loss of one of its most special practitioners.  Using Ozu's favorite city, Tokyo, as his lens to look at how the world has changed since Ozu's disapperance, Wenders also spends significant time with some of Ozu's closest collaborators.  


4/19/11 I watched Paul Schrader's Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. This abstract, highly stylized oddity actually is one of the more interesting films I've seen from Schrader.   At times, it is almost too obtuse, but there is also something here that feels quite personal.  And it's the most cinematic of the Schrader-directed films that I've seen.  The actor playing the adult Mishima is quite powerful, and Philip Glass's score, though in typical Glass fashion repetitive, also binds it all together into a successfully surreal, cerebral, and intermittently visceral work.  


8/30/11 I watched Elem Klimov's Come and See.   A harrowing, unflinching, and frenetic film about the horrors of war.  Klimov's camera is impressively mobile.  The film just felt so full of rage though that it is hard to take in.  

14 comments:

  1. Wow, this is a ballsy choice! I remember the controversy that surrounded this film when it came out and how critics felt it was misogynistic, too violent and racist! I guess it burned Cimino's final bridges with Hollywood.

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  2. "There's a new Marshall in Town."

    It's a spectacular film with a shattering performance by Mickey. Flawed yes but I will take this powerful work over most 'great' films from the period. Cimino is an absolute master to my eyes and it is such a shame he was forced on the sidelines due to this and HEAVEN'S GATE (another brave and misunderstood masterful work).
    Great choice Jeffrey!

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  3. JD, great to hear from you! This one definitely has a negative reputation among many, I agree. But I don't think it's deserved at all.

    Thanks, JD. Always a treat to have you here!

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  4. Jeremy, great to hear that you love this one, too! I also feel that "Cimino is an absolute master".

    Thanks for the kind words. Always wonderful having you here!

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  5. I agree with J.D., Jeffrey, that this is really a bold and unexpected choice. OK, I'm not the fan, but so what? We've been over that aspect a number of times, though I do notice we agree far more than we don't. Another point I never broached is that as a professional filmmaker you look at things with an added perspective, which of course is brough out here in your commentary. I don't myself possess that perspective. I do like Cimino's THE DEER HUNTER, though I've never bought into the revised "greatness" of HEAVEN'S GATE.

    My Own #1 Film of 1985:

    The Time to Live and the Time to Die (Hsiao-Hsien; Taiwan)

    Runners-Up:

    Ran (Kurosawa; Japan)
    Back to the Future (Zemekis; USA)
    My Beautiful Laundrette (Frears; UK)
    Come and See (Klimov; Russia)
    Alpine Fire (Murer; Switzerland)
    Mishima (Schraeder; USA)
    My Life As A Dog (Hallstrom; Sweden)
    Witness (Weir; USA)
    Shoah (Lanzman; France)
    Brazil (Gilliam; USA)

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  6. Sam, this is an incredible statement and an amazing testament to your kindness:

    "OK, I'm not the fan, but so what?"

    I aspire to this sort of approach every day, and it's this openness about you that's so amazing.

    Thanks, Sam. I appreciate all of your incredible support and completely respect your position. And of course I look forward to seeing your choice from my favorite Taiwanese director!

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  7. Well, Jeffrey, I saw this film way back when it was first released, remember liking it, but like you say it been a long time and a film I need to revisit. This year I picked a blockbuster but one that I thought was intelligent and fun.

    #1 Back to the Future

    Runner ups

    My Beautiful Launderette
    Prizzi’s Honor
    The Purple Rose of Cairo
    Witness
    After Hours
    The Falcon and the Snowman
    Lost in America
    Heaven Help Us

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  8. I'm with John on this one as I have to stick with the same pick I made the first time around - Robert Zemeckis' BACK TO THE FUTURE. It is a witty, intelligent, funny and zany script that epitomizes the best of the "summer blockbuster." I love the movie and what it might lack in deep, philosophical statements or themes it makes up for in sheer enjoyment. In fact, at the Wonders in the Dark 80s decade poll, I placed Back to the Future at #2 behind only Raging Bull. And I nearly put it at #1.

    My first runner-up would be Akira Kurosawa's RAN, which is about as gorgeous as color photography in film can get outside of a Terrence Malick picture.

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  9. Jeffrey, I'm sticking with Ran. I've only seen Year of the Dragon on television, and even then I could tell it wasn't as awful as most people said, though I could see why some people hated it. Beyond that, it's been too long for me to say anything fresh about it except that it's definitely a brave choice. As for your to-dos, my top recommendation for you is Vagabond.

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  10. Jeffrey,

    I love the first ten minutes or so. It is grand and brilliant in a way only the beginning of ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA is.

    The feeling of a vibrant city teeming with danger is wonderful.

    I feel the film goes a little flat in that Rourke's character is perhaps too much the infallible unflappable hero and he spends too many scenes battling with superiors and his wife.

    Arianne is a pretty poor actress (as in quite poor and pretty). Rourke is, in my mind, Bruce Willis-lite in this film.

    Still, a good film with moments of magic.

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  11. John, great to hear from you!

    I like PRIZZI'S HONOR, THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO, and WITNESS although all a little less than the ones I mention. I still need to see THE FALCON AND THE SNOWMAN and HEAVEN HELP US and did struggle a little the one time I saw LOST IN AMERICA.

    Always a treat to have you here. Thanks, John!

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  12. Dave, I look forward to revisiting the Zemeckis film. It's probably been fifteen years or so since I've seen it.

    Thanks, Dave. Always great having you here!

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  13. Samuel, great to hear from you! I'm a fan of RAN, too, so that choice completely connects with me.

    Always awesome having you here. Thanks, Samuel!

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  14. Stephen, thanks so much for the kind words on YEAR OF THE DRAGON! Although it doesn't go flat for me, I completely understand that someone can have that response with any film.

    Always great having you here. Thanks, Stephen!

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