Sunday, February 28, 2010

1951: A Place in the Sun (George Stevens)

1951: A Place in the Sun (George Stevens)
Goddamn Shelley Winters is annoying in this movie!  Okay now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's have a quick discussion.  


I first saw this one in the same theater in Paris, Rue Mouffetard, where I saw You Only Live Once and The Blue Angel.  It's not even that great of a theater, but for some reason almost every time I went there, I saw something that became a favorite.  I wonder if others experience this phenomenon.  Even when I was living in Los Angeles, it happened. Some theaters I would go to, I almost always disliked the movie I saw. Other places were almost batting a 1,ooo.  Anyway, this theater on Mouffetard still holds one of the best records for me.

I guess if I had to boil down my reasons for loving this one as much as I do, I would say it has almost all to do with Montgomery Clift's vulnerability meeting Elizabeth Taylor's staggering beauty.  Paired with one of these doomed romance stories (based on Theodore Dreiser's famous novel An American Tragedy), this one becomes an incredibly powerful concoction for me.

I have a thing for tragedy in general, I almost always love Clift, and Taylor's beauty at this point in her career is about as convincing as anything I've ever seen.  George Stevens, the director,  just confidently delivers the goods.  The emotions are there, and I'm along for the story from almost minute one until the very end.

Other contenders for 1951: A year, like any other, where there are some things I still need to see.  These include:  Anthony Mann's The Tall Target, Federico Fellini's The White Sheik, Samuel Fuller's The Steel Helmet, Mikio Naruse's Repast, Georges Franju's Hotel des Invalides, Albert Lewin's Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, and Robert Wise's The Day the Earth Stood Still.  I really like Stanley Donen's Singin' in the Rain (yes, Mom, that pick's for you :), Vittorio De Sica's Miracle in MilanElia Kazan's A Streetcar Named Desire, and Nicholas Ray's Flying Leathernecks.  I love Raoul Walsh's Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N.  However, my closest runner-up would be another Ray film, On Dangerous Ground.

11/10/10 I watched Robert Wise's The Day the Earth Stood Still.  An incredibly useful tool to see the mindset of our country in the early fifties and full of Wise's extremely solid craftsmanship.  Michael Rennie suggests Tony Perkins circa-Psycho, and this film certainly wasn't lost on Spielberg and his Close Encounters.

11/11/10 I watched Federico Fellini's The White Sheik.  The director's sensibility is already large and well on display in this, his second feature.  The acting and Rota's music are both superb, but the story's not always entirely captivating.  Fellini shows promise that will produce greater work in the years that follow.  

11/17/10 I watched Samuel Fuller's The Steel Helmet.  Fuller's expressionistic style and inventiveness under constrained circumstances elevate this film to great interest.  Raw and full of engaged subtext, it's maybe not as thoroughly engrossing as his Pickup on South Street, but it's still an incredibly original film for its time.  

11/25/11 I watched Yasujiro Ozu's Early Summer.  Ozu mixes up the approach a little, adding more music than usual and quite a number of incredibly expressive tracking shots.  The cumulative effect though is about the same as I have to come expect with Ozu's cinema - piercing and majestic as anything the cinema has ever produced.  Feeling rattled or a bit adrift, I would think anyone coming in with the right amount of patience would leave Ozu's cinema, (this work definitely included), reminded of the lyrical beauty of life.  Ozu has gotten short shrift, too, when it comes to a reputation as something austere and wholly cerebral.  There's a nice playfulness at times with this one, as well as a real lively spirit.     
3/2/13 I watched Alexander Mackendrick's The Man in the White Suit.  A great little film I never knew much about.  Alec Guinness is wonderful as the vulnerable scientist.  And Mackendrick keeps things suspenseful, fun, and heartfelt.  One of those films that will be great fun to watch for years to come.

3/8/14 I watched Joseph Losey's The Prowler.  Shot by the great Arthur Miller, Losey brings a western, expansive aesthetic to noir.  Full of Losey's typical psychological discomfort, Heflin is spot-on as the sociopathic stalker.  Nothing is rosy here and trouble is announced nearly at second one.  Working its story more psychologically than viscerally, it is up there with the upper shelf artistic noirs. 

10/18/14 I watched Albert Lewin's Pandora and the Flying Dutchman.  A stately film with Cardiff behind the camera and a bit of the Powell-Pressburger aura is a bizarre work that is part confounding, part moving.  Gardner seems more exposed than ever and you can't help but think about the Cardiff-Gardner collaboration a few years later.  I liked this one less than I had hoped but am glad to have finally caught up with it.  

4/24/16 I watched Ida Lupino's Hard, Fast and Beautiful.  Possibly the first Lupino feature I have seen in its entirety impresses with its expressionistic camerawork and unconventional emotional passages such as the film's poetic final few frames.  Lupino has a big reputation as a marginal, early independent American filmmaker and after seeing this it is obvious why.  

Saturday, February 27, 2010

1950: In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray)

1950: In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray)

This is one I didn't see for the first time until about five years ago.  What the hell took me so long, I wondered, when I finally got around to it.


Like Double Indemnity and Out of the Past, this is film noir of the highest order -- incredible script, surprise, great acting, twist, wonderful direction, social commentary, surprise, twist, a movie firing on all cylinders.  


I like art film, movies that challenge you more than entertain you.  I like mainstream movies, movies that entertain you more than challenge you.  But most of all, I like movies that are a hybrid of both -- ones that challenge AND entertain you, films that are working vertically and horizontally at the same time.  Vertical is the depth, horizontal the story charging ahead.  


Like everything else, it's arbitrary when a movie is successful being this ideal hybrid as I describe it above.  But, as in a great relationship, I watch In a Lonely Place and wonder if I'm not getting everything I could ever want.  It's mysterious, heartbreaking, scary, fun, sexy, beautiful, sensitive, and smart.  And, if I weren't already, hell I'd probably want to propose to it.



Other contenders for 1950: As with other years, I have gaps here that I still need to fill.  These include:  Robert Bresson's Diary of a Country Priest (somehow, this is a Bresson I've never seen), Michael Curtiz's The Breaking Point, Michael Powell's Gone to Earth, John Ford's Wagon Master, Vincente Minnelli's The Father of the Bride, Jacques Tourneur's The Flame and the Arrow, Anthony Mann's The Furies, Henry King's The Gunfighter, and Alf Sjoberg's Miss Julie. Both All About Eve and Sunset Boulevard are films I need to re-visit at some point.  After first viewing, neither impacted me like I would have expected.  Meanwhile, there are a good number of films from this year that I do love.  I'll break them into two tiers: films I love and films that were the closest runners-up.  In the first group are Luis Bunuel's Los Olvidados, Roberto Rossellini's The Flowers of St. Francis, and John Huston's The Asphalt Jungle.  My closest runners-up would all be among my favorite films of all time:  Jacques Tourneur's Stars in My Crown, Anthony Mann's Winchester '73, and Jules Dassin's Night and the City.


10/28/10 I watched Vincente Minnelli's Father of the Bride.  Cute if a little silly at times.  But Tracy gives it some weight and adds most of the humanity.   While Minnelli keeps it light and whirling along in a slick but artful way.


10/29/10 I watched John Ford's Wagon Master.  There's a lot going on, and a depth and darkness in this one that I don't find in all of Ford. Joanne Dru is beautiful, and the Cleggs add a real menace to everything.  A strong Ford western.  


10/31/10 I watched Jacques Tourneur's The Flame and the Arrow.  It's a rambunctious affair with a very nice use of Technicolor and childish fun.  But I found it just somewhat entertaining without too much more than that.  


10/31/10 I watched Anthony Mann's The Furies.  As is typical with Mann, it's dark and very psychological.  There are also several moments where Mann's incredible eye is on display.  A strong Stanwyck performance.  But overall, not spare nor visual enough to match my favorite Mann work. 


11/5/10 I watched Robert Bresson's Diary of a Country Priest.  The most difficult of the Bresson films I've seen so far and my least favorite. But it still demonstrates Bresson's tremendous feeling for nature and for the first time I realized how adept and expressive Bresson could be with moving the camera.  Claustrophobic for me to the point of a little disinterest, part subject matter, part Bresson's approach here.  


11/19/10 I watched Alf Sjoberg's Miss Julie.  An elusive, and at times quite lyrical film.  Anita Bjork is painfully beautiful and effective as the vulnerable Julie.  And for much of the proceedings, Sjoberg keeps a pretty light touch on it all.  

9/22/12 I watched Michael Curtiz's The Breaking Point.  So many things at once - a family melodrama, an action-adventure flick, a noir of reckless abandon, and a great film.  Curtiz shoots it with a wonderful sense of invention, every shot, a little off and angular, immediately creating an atmosphere of complete unpredictability.  The third act can be felt strongly in Taxi Driver and why this film doesn't come up more during discussions of the great noirs is beyond me.

4/19/14 I watched Joseph H Lewis' Gun Crazy.  A second viewing of a film that enjoys a major reputation but that I struggled with the first time I saw it.  The second viewing of course brought out some different observations, namely the cinematography is almost always innovative and interesting.  But I am sill not the fan that I am of some of my favorite noir.  There is too much score in this one for me and it is lacking the meanness of image and tone that I feel is key to make noir truly pop. 

11/28/14 I watched Jean Cocteau's Orpheus.  A very unusual film full of fantasy and Cocteau's unique flights of fancy.   It feels like Lynch must be a big fan and the film as a whole is still striking as incredibly modern today.  I cannot say I fully understand all that Cocteau is saying but it is a highly noteworthy work.  

5/1/16 I watched Ida Lupino's Outrage.  There are a few flashes of brilliance, such as the initial chase and assault, but overall feels like a very minor work from the very talented Lupino.  

1/4/17 I watched Charles Walters' Summer Stock.  Not sure where this falls in Kelly's career, but there is an extra dose of energy and charm whenever he is on screen.  Some of the performances and some of the music are not an absolute level of greatness.  But between Garland and Kelly there is so much talent on display that it is hard not to enjoy.

11/29/17 I watched 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.

Friday, February 26, 2010

1949: Jour de fete (Jacques Tati)

1949: Jour de fete (Jacques Tati)

The only time I ever saw this was its "Color Premiere" in France in 1995.  Tati wanted it to be the first French feature shot in color, but technology at the time wouldn't allow him to release it that way. Fortunately, he also shot a black-and-white version, and that's all that existed from 1949-1995.  


I've never seen the black-and-white version so I can't say with certainty, but it is one of these films where I really remember the colors.  I can only think this film's impact and power grew once the re-release happened (it was Tati's daughter, by the way, that did the restoration.)


This is definitely a sibling film for me to Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons.  Tati always seemed to have a fascination with the negative effects of technology.  But of all his work I've seen, this one affects me the most.  Like Ambersons, this movie is obsessed with the idea of our world getting faster and faster, and the dehumanization that comes with choosing this direction.  


As I hinted at in my Ambersons post, at this point in my career, this theme is probably more important to me than any other.  And Tati gets at it in his own special way, with humor, satire, and in a brilliant style that he made all his own.



Other contenders for 1949: As with other years, there are still some major titles I need to see.  These include: Joseph Mankiewicz's House of Strangers, Jean Cocteau's Orphee, Yasujiro Ozu's Late Spring, Max Ophuls' Caught, Jacques Tati's L'ecole des facteurs, John Ford's She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, Max Ophuls' The Reckless Moment, and Michael Powell's The Small Back Room.  Joseph Lewis' Gun Crazy is another one of these films that I really need to revisit.  The first time I saw it, it did not have the impact I would have expected.  This year, there are so many films that I like I have decided to create three tiers of runners-up:  films that I really like, films that I love, and films that are extremely close runners-up.  The films that I really like are: Howard Hawks' I Was a War Male Bride, Jacques Becker's Rendez-vous de juillet, Carol Reed's The Third Man, and Raoul Walsh's White Heat. The films that I love are: George Cukor's Adam's Rib and Robert Wise's The Set-Up.  Finally, the three films that would most challenge for my top pick are Robert Siodmak's Criss Cross, Roberto Rossellini's Stromboli, and William Wyler's The Heiress.  


10/23/10 I watched John Ford's She Wore A Yellow Ribbon.  A film with great reverence for the US cavalry and one that teaches and reminds us of an important part of ourselves.  But Ford gives it, at times, a little too much corniness for my liking and like some of Ford's other work, it can devolve into a cloying exuberance and boisterousness.  


10/27/10 I watched Joseph Mankiewicz's House of Strangers.  Conte's great and so is Edward G Robinson (in fact, they both deliver two of their more memorable performances).  Also another key link to The Godfather and Mean Streets.  Doesn't always hum and stay on track, but at times it's downright classic.  


11/5/10 I watched Jean Cocteau's Orphee.  A strange film with some beautiful, poetic touches where Cocteau demonstrates that he's an inventive and lyrical stylist.  But I never fully connected to it in the way that I might have hoped.  


11/14/10 I watched Michael Powell's The Small Back Room.  Lacks most of the verve and fun of some of my other favorite Powell films. Overall pretty disappointing.


11/21/10 I watched Yasujiro Ozu's Late Spring.  Another extraordinarily tender and wise film about  life, relationships, and personal growth and evolution.  Ozu keeps things minimal and spare, as usual.  But whenever he goes outside he reminds us of his strong connection to nature and tremendous feeling and eye for the outdoors. Soft but packs a punch.  


3/14/11 I watched Max Ophuls' Caught.  Ophuls shows at times his gift at creating space and moving the camera.  But the script's creaky in this one, and all in all, I found it to be only a mediocre noir.


3/17/11 I watched Alfred Hitchcock's Under Capricorn.  Has anyone endured more psychological torment on screen than Ingrid Bergman? Just Gaslight, Europa '51, and this film alone might earn her the top spot.  She's excellent here, as always.  And this is an unusually oblique piece from Hitch with some of his most expressive camerawork ever. However, Michael Wilding seems wrong for the role.  Too loose when paired alongside two of the most contained actors in the history of cinema -- Cotten and Bergman.  


7/2/11 I watched Robert Hamer's Kind Hearts and Coronets.  Dry and sometimes quite funny, in a very British way.  Also shows off Alec Guinness' extraordinary talents.  But it's too deliberate and clean in ways as to come fully alive.  

10/5/14 I watched Raoul Walsh's Colorado Territory.  A western remake of Walsh's great High Sierra enjoys a strong reputation and it has some wonderful moments even if I much prefer the original Walsh noir.  Mayo grates on me more than I find her appealing and the plot sometimes seem to lose some of its urgency and thrust.  Of great interest though is the final murder which seems unusually violent for its era and a true precursor for Penn's finale twenty years later in Bonnie and Clyde.  

4/4/15 I watched Joseph Mankiewicz's A Letter to Three Wives.  As is usual with Mankiewicz the writing is intelligent and the direction is classy and there seems to be a real interest in emphasizing the female point of view.  And even though this one gets at some interesting emotional topics such as marital insecurity, I never was as fully captured in it like I have been with some of the director's other work.

3/25/16 I watched Akira Kurosawa's Stray Dog.  Kurosawa does noir and he does it fairly well.  But it is too long, too meandering and for the most part less raw than the best films of the genre.  

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Very cool little piece on Lullaby, me, and Tarzan!

http://www.erbzine.com/mag31/3113.html

#1 PERIL - an introduction

I just did my first short video of me talking a little about my newest film, PERIL. Here it is:



More of these as we move forward. Thanks so much for all the support! By the way, the Facebook group that I mention can be found here:

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=249626084292&ref=ts

1948: Letter from an Unknown Woman (Max Ophuls)


1948: Letter from an Unknown Woman (Max Ophuls)
Guess when it comes down to it, I'm still a romantic.  And an idealist, too.  Put these two things together in a film, particularly in the following order, "idealistic romance", and I could be in big trouble. Then, add to it by mostly keeping this "idealistic romance" from being realized, and I'm in even deeper.    


You could call the above my version of a synopsis for the Ophuls film.  It also helps explain why this film has as devastating an emotional effect on me as any film ever made. 


But that's not all.  Take the elements above and add to it one of the most operatic of all directors, the master Max Ophuls, and you've got a real doozy.  It's my favorite Ophuls film (although I do have a few gaps), my favorite Joan Fontaine film (and that's saying a lot), and without a doubt my favorite film of 1948.  And, if it came out in any year that decade, other than '40 or '42, I would say the same.



Other contenders for 1948: One of those years with a number of major titles that I've never seen.  These are:  Frank Borzage's Moonrise, John Ford's Fort Apache, Vincente Minnelli's The Pirate, Abraham Polonsky's Force of Evil, Leo McCarey's Good Sam, Fei Mu's Spring in a Small Town, Andre De Toth's Pitfall, Michael Powell's The Red Shoes (I know, embarrassing!), John Ford's Three Godfathers, Preston Sturges' Unfaithfully Yours, Robert Flaherty's Louisiana Story, and Laurence Olivier's Hamlet.  I need to re-watch Nicholas Ray's They Live by Night.  It's one I've struggled with for some reason in the past. And, although I would consider none of these close runners-up, I do really like Howard Hawks' Red River, Luchino Visconti's La terra trema, Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thief, John Huston's Key Largo, John Farrow's The Big Clock, and Orson Welles' Macbeth.


10/16/10 I watched Vincente Minnelli's The Pirate.  Gene Kelly and Judy Garland are terrific and magical, but it's not quite top-tier Minnelli in my book.  The story's a little too frivolous and most of the songs not as memorable as they could be.  


10/16/10 I watched Abraham Polonsky's Force of Evil.  A masterful noir that seems like one of the two or three biggest influences on The Godfather and on Scorsese's style.  It also seems like a key film to the noir texture found in many of the early French New Wave films.  A masterpiece.  


10/20/1 I watched Laurence Olivier's Hamlet.  I'm not as knowledgeable of Shakespeare's work as I'd like, but this one is far more contained than Olivier's Henry V.  And I think this containment really helps Olivier.  His flights of fancy pop, and his embodiment of Hamlet truly wonderful.  


10/21/10 I watched John Ford's 3 Godfathers.  An unusual and a bit tedious film from Ford.  But it does have a nice existential moment or two.


10/25/10 I watched Fei Mu's Spring in a Small Town.  It's a film I knew almost nothing about by a director I knew even less.  It has an interesting style, part Ozu, part neorealist.  And it has some nice, poetic chords and suggests strong erotic undertones once or twice.  But all in all, I found it to be a little too repetitious, with very little to keep me fully connected.


10/25/10 I re-watched Nicholas Ray's They Live by Night.  Finally, I understand all the fuss.  It's an incredible debut and now up there among my favorite noirs.  Bowie and Keechie's chemistry is amazing, and there's something tremendously compelling about both Granger and O'Donnell.  Ray keeps things moving and shows off his inventive eye in a number of different scenes.  And he demonstrates that he has a real poetic connection and understanding of the outdoors.  A wonderful fatalistic build-up near the end rounds up a very, very good film.  


10/26/10 I watched John Ford's Fort Apache.  Fonda's turn as a tough General is memorable and strong.  And some of the suspense Ford creates between the Apaches and the cavalry is strongly felt.  But overall, I can't always connect to Ford's hokey taste in music and lack of subtlety.  


11/2/10 I watched Preston Sturges' Unfaithfully Yours.  It's a stylish but very cold Sturges, lacking much of his fun zaniness.  A bit tedious, I found.


11/4/10 I watched Michael Powell's The Red Shoes.  Powell believed in beauty.  And Powell believed in art.  And this is about as beautiful a film about art, creation, and the artist's life as any I've ever seen.  Walbrook and Shearer's performances are otherworldly.

3/14/11 I watched Robert Flaherty's Louisiana Story.  Interesting that I always thought this was a documentary when it's actually a narrative filmed in a documentary manner.  Flaherty keeps the process very fluid and unobtrusive, and I enjoyed seeing my home state presented in such an authentic way.  But it lacks verve.  I wish Flaherty had found a way, equal to the best neorealist films, to punch up the drama.   I also wish the non-professional boy playing the lead was a little stronger.


3/16/11 I watched Frank Borzage's Moonrise.  The strongest film yet I've seen from Borzage. It's melodramatic, but the casting's perfect, and Borzage's ability to tell a story psychologically is crisp and effective.  It's a near masterpiece, ambitious, extremely well-conceived, controlled, and almost always achieving its intent.  


7/15/11 I watched William Dieterle's Portrait of Jennie.  A very strange mix of supernatural melodrama.  Original but not very satisfying.


3/31/12 I watched William Wellman's Yellow Sky.  A noir western with some moments of extremely strong atmosphere and unrelenting darkness.  Nice to see Peck in the role of a bad guy, and Baxter is extremely powerful in her role.  A little loose, at times, but an interesting watch.  

11/16/13 I watched Jacques Tourneur's Berlin Express.  Twisty and not easy to follow at first glance yet still containing many examples of Tourneur's underrated greatness.  One I will have to revisit at some point to give a full assessment.  For now, I will say of interest yet requiring an additional, extremely attentive look.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

1947: Out of the Past (Jacques Tourneur)


1947: Out of the Past (Jacques Tourneur)
When I made The Last Lullaby, some people called it film noir, and then others would ask me what exactly that meant.  It's a much debated term, and I try and stay on the side of being simple as much as I can. Noir in French = dark.  Dark here usually speaks of a thematic darkness and a literal, visual darkness. 


Still not sure what I'm talking about?   Take a look at this film.  It's a prototypical film noir, and almost everyone agrees it's one of the best.


I became a fan of noir, probably before any other genre, for a number of reasons.  One of them is I like a good story, and I guess I mean that in the traditional sense of the term -- something with a plot, a conflict, and a vehicle that charges toward some resolution, as ambiguous as that might be.  Many of the noir films fit this description.  They have surprises, they keep you guessing, and they're usually taut and charging forward at a pretty good clip.  Don't get me wrong, some of my (other) favorite films are purely character-driven, but I do really like the feeling of being sucked up into a plot, unsure of how it will all end up.   


Out of the Past has one of these stories.  It also has wonderful characters, two of the greatest noir actors (Kirk Douglas and Robert Mitchum) in two of their greatest performances, noteworthy composition, fluid camerawork, evocative lighting, and one of the moodiest house locations in the history of cinema (I guess it reminds me a little of James Mason's compound in North by Northwest.)  


Wholly satisfying on every level, this film is one helluva ride.   



Other contenders for 1947: As with other years, there are definitely some things I still need to see.  These include: Delmer Daves' Dark Passage, Alfred Hitchcock's The Paradine Case, Carol Reed's Odd Man Out, Jean Renoir's The Woman on the Beach, Robert Rossen's Body and Soul, and Edmund Goulding's Nightmare Alley.  Although they wouldn't be the closest runners-up, I love Jacques Becker's Antoine and Antoinette, Raoul Walsh's Pursued, and Henry Hathaway's Kiss of Death.  Then, there are two films that pain me a little to not have as top picks, both among my favorite films of all time: Roberto Rossellini's Germany Year Zero and Michael Powell's Black Narcissus.  A really tough year for me to call, I just probably like the Tourneur film a little bit more than everything else.  


3/16/10 I watched Edmond Goulding's Nightmare Alley.  Although it wouldn't contend for my top spot, it's definitely one of the more unhinged, full-fledged noirs I've seen from this period.  I really enjoyed it.  


10/17/10 I watched Alfred Hitchcock's The Paradine Case.  It contains some of Hitch's most expressive and emotional camerawork.  But it's a strange, ultimately very bleak film that didn't grab me near as much as some of his other work.  Worth seeing but certainly not top-tier Hitch.  


10/18/10 I watched Delmer Daves' Dark Passage.  The novelty of the subjective camera is used well, and Bogart/Bacall's chemistry is quite palpable.  But all in all a little too plodding and flaccid for my taste in noir.  


7/25/11 I watched Carol Reed's Odd Man Out.  Beautifully filmed and lushly scored, it's an impressive film.  It feels slightly theatrical to me, though.  I'm not sure if they were really in the streets or most of this is backlot stuff.  But the suspicion of artificiality keeps me from fully embracing it.  

3/15/12 I watched Robert Rossen's Body and Soul.  It's a strong noir, particularly as it drives to its end, and it has that hysterical, abstract quality that makes so many of the noirs so special.  Benefitting considerably from some James Wong Howe masterwork, it's a Scorsese favorite.  For me though, it's simply a very good, not great, noir. 

7/2/12 I watched Raoul Walsh's The Man I Love.  An extremely interesting noir, with a backbone that's as dark as can be, yet devoid of any on-screen shootings, murders, or highly realized violence.  The mood is foggy, and Walsh's great tool here is restraint.  You feel the atmosphere building and at any moment ready to all fall apart.   People are trapped, the outlook somber, and the effect all the more effective as no real catharsis is ever achieved.  

10/12/14 I watched Joseph Mankiewicz's The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.  Sometimes one film can make you completely rethink your opinion on a director and make you want to suddenly stop watching everything else and fill in whatever gaps may remain for you of that director's work.  I had one of those experiences today.  I have long been a fan of The Barefoot Contessa but aside from that Mankiewicz I have never had strong feelings about anything else I had ever seen from him and had quite a few films of his I still needed to see.  The Ghost and Mrs. Muir reminds me of all that I have come to love about Contessa.  It is deeply felt and wonderfully balanced in spite of some very unconventional tonal shifts and emotional territories in which it decides to tread.  Tierney is stunning.  Herrmann's score is among the most emotive I have ever heard.  And this is a flat out masterpiece that deserves a significantly larger reputation.   

12/2/17 I watched Robert Montgomery's Ride the Pink Horse.  An effective noir that makes great use of its Mexico locations.  It has that seamy atmosphere of the best films of the genre and exists in a haze and stupor that keeps it in a compelling, elevated state.  Not all of it pops but there are number of great elements, including all of the scenes on the carousel and the final few moments.  

12/9/17 I watched Otto Preminger's Daisy Kenyon.  Armed with a powerhouse trio of actors (Crawford, Fond and Andrews), Preminger creates one of his most effective films.  It is dark, unpredictable and tackles subject matter (extramarital relationships) that had to be far out of step with his time.  The most impressive aspect of the film is the way that Preminger is able to able to place the viewer, at different times, into the unique perspective of each of the three characters.  It is a complex, uncomfortable look at marriage with a resolution that, like Preminger, leaves you a bit perplexed.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

1st Peril Event!

Tomorrow night will mark our first official event for my new film, Peril. It will be an online discussion about the prize for our next target -- 2,000 fans of our Facebook group (we already hit 1,000, and I shared a few pages from the Peril script.)

To join the conversation, simply type in the following URL (http://www.ustream.tv/channel/prize-for-our-next-target-2-000-fans) at 9PM CST, February 24th.  You can log in from anywhere, on your computer, and see me.  Then you can type in ideas, and we'll determine together our next prize.  

I can't wait.  It should be a whole lot of fun!

1946: The Best Years of Our Lives (William Wyler)


1946: The Best Years of Our Lives (William Wyler)
This might have to go down as the most stellar year in the history of cinema.  So how offensive of me to put William Wyler, the somewhat unrecognized auteur, at the top of the list.  Please, I promise my intention is not to offend, only to represent my favorite film of the year.  


Wyler made a slew of films in his career, and I've probably seen less than 20% of them, certainly not enough yet to determine whether he's been undervalued by film history.  I feel comfortable saying this though  -- Wyler sat a little more in the backseat of most of his films.  He preferred an invisible style rather than something more evident for the auteurists to latch onto and recognize.  


When I think about The Best Years of Our Lives, what I think I respond to most is the honesty of the storytelling and a certain realism that it strives for, thematically, emotionally, and formally.  There's also a special fluidness to the way that Wyler allows all of it to unfold.  It's fairly epic (at 172 minutes), but everyone is so well-drawn, and the story so well-written, that it all goes down quite easily for me.  


The film is one of these ultra-rare, incredibly well-balanced works where everything is there and seems possible -- heaviness/lightness, exploration/entertainment, universal/personal, and reality/escape.  I watch it and can't help but feel that it doesn't get much better than this.



Other contenders for 1946: What a year this was!  There aren't that many major titles I've yet to see, but there are a few:  Jean Cocteau's La belle et la bete, Kenji Mizoguchi's Five Women Around Utamaro, Michael Powell's A Matter of Life and Death, Raoul Walsh's The Man I Love, David Lean's Great Expectations, Ernst Lubitsch's Cluny Brown, and Lewis Milestone's The Strange Love of Martha Ivers.  Then, there is a special section this year of films that I have seen that I need to revisit at some point, as none of them had as great an impact as I would have expected.  These are:  Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious, Roberto Rossellini's Paisa, Vittorio De Sica's Shoeshine, and Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life.  This year I also have more runner-ups than in any other year so far.  It's definitely not top-tier for him, but I really like Orson Welles' The Stranger.  Also not among my absolute favorites for each director but ones I really enjoy are Howard Hawks' The Big Sleep and Jean Renoir's The Diary of a Chambermaid.  John Ford's My Darling Clementine, on the other hand, is one of my favorite Ford films.  Charles Vidor's Gilda is among my favorite noir films.  And, Robert Siodmak had a banner year, directing my two closest runners-up: The Spiral Staircase and The Killers.  


10/10/10 I watched David Lean's Great Expectations.  A wonderful adaptation of a celebrated novel, Lean keeps things moving, depthful but entertaining, heartfelt with moments of relief and whimsy. Extraordinary acting with Lean's fantastic eye keeping it all interesting, I really enjoyed this one.  


10/10/10 I watched Jean Cocteau's La belle et la bete.  Cocteau, like James Whale before him, really brings great humanity to the monster and allows us to care deeply for him.  Cocteau also employs slow-motion in an incredibly magical way and shows off his unique sensibility throughout.  


10/13/10 I watched Michael Powell's A Matter of Life and Death.  It's a film I believe everyone needs to see.  It's incredibly ambitious and beautifully achieved, although perhaps not as warm emotionally as Powell/Pressburger might have hoped.   But it's a technical marvel and something to greatly admire.  


10/15/10 I watched Lewis Milestone's The Strange Love of Martha Ivers.  It's a prototypical noir with many interesting elements, including performances from Stanwyck, Douglas, and Heflin.  Rozsa's score is overbearing at times and not all the plot elements click as strongly as they could, but it's still a film that deserves a bigger reputation.


12/10/11 I watched Jacques Tourneur's Canyon Passage.  I have to thank the great Peter Lenihan for placing this gem on my radar.  And what a tremendous western it is.  The first thing that jumps out is how contemporary it feels.  It has the modern psychological complexity of the Anthony Mann westerns, and already in 1946, feels as though it's tearing the genre apart, with a most incisive analytical eye.  But it's not cold and clinical like the Mann films.  Tourneur's camera's always moving, and there's a tremendous vitality and feel for real-life in every single shot.  It brings to mind another Tourneur favorite of mine, Stars in My Crown, in its acute ability to capture early American group and community, and makes yet another extraordinarily strong argument for Tourneur's deserved place in the highest of all cinematic pantheons.  


1/21/12 I watched Jack Bernhard's Decoy.  A tough, sick and unafraid Monogram noir.  One of, if not, the strongest of all the Monogram pics I've seen.

7/22/12 I watched Joseph Mankiewicz's Somewhere in the Night.  Twisty entry into the amnesiac noir genre from the great director.  Some nice one-liners but fairly pat in terms of style or interest.

10/21/12 I watched Vittorio De Sica's Shoeshine.  Has its moments of greatness, although for me not up there with the very best ne0-realist works nor the best of De Sica.  The filmmaking is quite exquisite even when the storytelling a bit fatty and unfocused.  

12/22/13 I watched Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life.  I had not seen the film in almost twenty years and had no real memory of it.  What struck me first is just how well made it is - brilliantly plotted, masterfully cast and performed, and of course emotionally affecting of the highest order.  Sure it is manipulative and sure it is very much a Hollywood film.  But it is also very human and universal and as a result very life-affirming.  If only Hollywood still had this much talent behind their films and this much desire to connect rather than escape, for all these years our cinema would have continued as the most powerful and important artform the world over.  

Monday, February 22, 2010

1945: Les dames du bois de Boulogne (Robert Bresson)

1945: Les dames du bois de Boulogne (Robert Bresson)
You will all have to excuse me a little with this one.  I'm completely writing from memory.  I've only seen this once, and it was probably ten years ago as part of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Bresson retrospective.  


Here's what I remember though.  I have never seen a film from a director that I consider a master that felt so unlike the rest of their work. In fact, the film felt more like a long lost Renoir film or something Cukor would have done.  It was verbose, moving, funny (did I really use that adjective with Bresson?), and romantic.  I absolutely loved it.  If memory serves me right, it felt a bit like this unusual hybrid of The Rules of the Game and Letter from an Unknown Woman.


I'm not sure this one is terribly easy to find, but it's more than worth a look, even for those that think of Bresson as simply an austere bore.  


Other contenders for 1945: Here's another year where I still have quite a few things to see.  The major films are:  Jacques Becker's Falbalas, Vincente Minnelli's The Clock, John Ford's They Were Expendable, Michael Powell's I Know Where I'm Going!, Elia Kazan's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, King Vidor's Duel in the Sun, Robert Wise's The Body Snatcher, and Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound.  Since Jean Renoir's La Chienne is one of my favorite films of all time, I've always struggled a little with the Fritz Lang remake, Scarlet Street.  A film I once saw at Eddie Muller's annual Festival of Film Noir in Los Angeles has always stayed with me.  That film is John Brahm's Hangover Square, featuring a haunting performance by Laird Cregar and a wonderful score by Bernard Herrmann.  I don't absolutely love John Stahl's Leave Her to Heaven, but there are several things about it that I'll never be able to shake, and I feel similarly about Roberto Rossellini's important film Open City.  The only true runner-up for me this year would be Jean Renoir's The Southerner.  I wouldn't argue that it's a top-tier Renoir, but it does have a great deal of heart and definitely works nicely for me. 


10/4/10 I watched John Ford's They Were Expendable.  Some poetic moments, as always with the cinema of Ford.  But this one I could never completely connect to, perhaps due to some of the more overt propagandistic elements or the ambling nature of the storytelling.  


10/6/10 I watched Vincente Minnelli's The Clock.  Well-intentioned but never fully felt for me.  Most of this stems from the odd chemistry between Walker and Garland.  Whereas I found Garland as charming as ever, I couldn't ever quite shake my own relation to Walker from Hitch's Strangers on a Train.  He seems perfectly well suited to play the villain but a real stretch as a leading man.  


10/7/10 I watched King Vidor's Duel in the Sun.  Melodramatic and very much a Selznick production but also quite raw and effective at times.  Sure, it can be overblown, but Selznick goes for it and pulls out all the stops, and the movie stands out for its reckless abandon.  Of particular note are the final four or five minutes where Selznick takes the relationship between Peck and Jones to great extremes.  


10/9/10 I watched Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound.  Ingrid Bergman is as beautiful as ever, and Dali's dream sequence delivers on the hype. But this one's a bit too heavy on the psychobabble, and I never found myself caring that much about the plot nor the characters.  Marnie, for me, is a far stronger Hitch exploration of some similar thematics.  

10/11/10 I watched Michael Powell's I Know Where I'm Going!  Powell's style is vital, loose, and whimsical, and it allows him to create a very unique tone.  I'm not always with him here, but all in all, I very much enjoyed the ride. 

12/30/12 I watched Elia Kazan's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.  Kazan, of course, pulls some great performances, most admirably from young Peggy Ann Garner.  But the story creaks more than it could and suffocates more than enlightens.

8/1/13 I watched Raoul Walsh's The Horn Blows at Midnight.  Walsh proves, like Hawks, that he was very capable in a variety of different genres.  His visual gags perhaps lack timing, seeming on occasion to overstay their welcome, but he keeps everything tonally even, snappy, and makes an unusually fun farcical comedy.  And Benny is just absolutely wonderful.

6/9/14 I watched Vincente Minnelli's Yolanda and the Thief.  Interesting that this was made in 1945.  I watched it not knowing its production date but would have placed it ten years later.  So perhaps it is innovative in its abstractness and its expressive use of Technicolor.  But from an emotional standpoint I struggled.  I never became all that invested in the Yolanda and Astaire's relationship and could never quite figure out how Minnelli wanted me to take it all.  As melodrama, camp or fantasy.  

6/4/17 I watched Edward Dmytryk's Cornered.  A pretty routine noir with a good Dick Powell but nothing super memorable.  

Sunday, February 21, 2010

1944: Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder)


1944: Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder)
What don't I like about this film?  It's one where everything seems to be  in exactly the right place for me.  


If I were making a film noir and putting together a checklist of some of the elements usually associated with this type of film, here's how I would break down Double Indemnity:


1.  Femme fatale: Barbara Stanwyck, perhaps my favorite femme fatale in the history of film.  


2. Voice-over narration:  Like a few of my other favorite voice-overs (Shoot the Piano Player being at the very top of the list), Fred MacMurray's helps tell the story, but even more important, it allows us at times to get into the head of our protagonist.  


3.  Non-linear script:  The movie begins with the end and then tells the entire film in flashback.  Along with Carlito's Way (I've read that Wilder's film was a major influence on De Palma), this is my favorite use of the device in the history of film.


4.  Moody score: Miklos Rozsa immediately thrusts us into this dark world and and then periodically reminds us of the inevitable with one of my favorite scores in the history of this type of film.


5.  Fatalistic ending (SPOILER!): The story, so well-written by the way, takes us where we don't want to go but know we can't avoid.  This movie accomplishes the task as well as any I've ever seen in the history of this type of film.



Other contenders for 1944: It's nice to be back on a year where I don't have quite as many gaps.  The major films from this year I still need to see are: Michael Powell's A Canterbury Tale, Raoul Walsh's Uncertain Glory, Marcel Carne's Les Enfants du Paradis, Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat, and Laurence Olivier's Henry V.  I love Double Indemnity so much that I can't really say any other film is a close runner-up.  However, there are a few other films from this year that I also really like: the two zany Preston Sturges films Hail the Conquering Hero and The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, Fritz Lang's wonderful noir The Woman in the Window, one of my favorite films ever dealing with marital paranoia George Cukor's Gaslightand yet another excellent Howard Hawks entry To Have and Have Not.


9/29/10 I watched Laurence Olivier's Henry V.  No doubt very impressive and ambitious storytelling by Olivier.  But some of the artifice and a movie driven by words are always a little difficult for me so I did not connect entirely with this one.  


10/2/10 I watched Marcel Carne's Les Enfants du Paradis.  Incredibly well-made, ambitious, epic storytelling.  A bit impersonal and tidy for my tastes but a white tablecloth restaurant of the highest order.  


10/3/10 I watched Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat.  It's tremendous what Hitch is able to accomplish on one location, and the camerawork is subtly and brilliantly employed to emulate a boat adrift at sea.  But a fairly dry affair with only a few moments that really held me.  


10/5/10 I watched Michael Powell's A Canterbury Tale.  A rather bizarre concoction.  Powell's style is lyrical and poetic, neorealist and baroque, deep and whimsical.  Some extraordinary moments, such as when the organ player finally has his moment at church, but somewhat meandering too, in a way that can be off-putting at times.  


6/23/11 I watched Leo McCarey's Going My Way.  Likable enough, but a humanistic trudge that's more cloying than affecting.  

Saturday, February 20, 2010

1943: Shadow of a Doubt (Alfred Hitchcock)

1943: Shadow of a Doubt (Alfred Hitchcock)
For awhile, it was hard for critics to think of Hitchcock as an artist.  He was the "master of suspense" and a wonderful entertainer, but it wasn't clear that his movies aimed for anything higher or more profound than that.  I'm not sure they always did, and for some reason in Hitchcock's case, I have no problem with it.   


What was it?  Was it Hitchcock's sense of humor?  Was it the way he would keep us guessing, depriving us of knowing for sure how the story would turn out?  Or was it simply the pure visceral thrills that he seemed to so easily provide?  Really, I'm not sure of the exact answer.  But whatever it was, Hitchcock could entertain at times in a way that would completely satisfy me, without ever seeming to directly address my more intellectual side.  


Shadow of a Doubt is a perfect example of the above for me.  It's fun, entertaining from beginning to end, creepy, darkly humorous, but it never really forces me to question anything above and beyond the story. All right, maybe it's just good moviemaking.  The story is extremely well-written, perfectly cast I would argue (particularly Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright), full of some fantastic set pieces, and demonstrates Hitch's understanding and mastery of suspense as well as any film he ever made.  


It's Hitchcock as I like him most.  He's distilled down to his role as master entertainer.  And it would be years before the French New Wave guys let him in on a little secret -- he might also be an artist. 



Other contenders for 1943: This is the sort of year that gives me a slight complex.  I didn't realize, really, how many key movies I still have to see until I started doing this countdown.  But this year, as much as any, exposes some serious gaps.  From 1943, here are all the major movies I have never seen: Jacques Tourneur's I Walked with a Zombie, Howard Hawks' Air Force, Henri Georges Clouzot's Le corbeau, Fritz Lang's Hangmen Also Die!, Carl Theodor Dreyer's Day of Wrath, Jean Renoir's This Land Is Mine, Raoul Walsh's Northern Pursuit, Robert Bresson's Les anges du peche, Howard Hughes' The Outlaw, Jacques Tourneur's The Leopard Man, Mark Robson's The Seventh Victim, and William Wellman's The Ox-Bow Incident.  Given that I've seen very little from this year, it makes sense that I only have one true runner-up. Michael Powell's The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is another one of these movies that takes its time and gives us an unusually well-rounded look at the life of one man.  I've only seen it once, many years ago, but I remember it being human, epic, and very moving.  But, alas, I gave the year to Hitch as this is one of his films that I've always loved the most.  

9/1/10 I watched Jacques Tourneur's The Leopard Man.  I know it has a huge reputation, and I did enjoy it - it certainly achieves an extraordinary amount given its limited means.   And Tourneur/Lewton certainly understand the power of suggestion as well as anyone I've seen.   

9/10/10 I watched Henri Georges Clouzot's Le corbeau.  I was excited to finally see this one as I know it was a key film to Truffaut during his formative years.  Although I find it a little too talky and plotting and perhaps even a little dated, there are some extremely interesting moments.  I especially liked some of Clouzot's close-ups, and it was interesting to me to see how the idea of a character running from his past identity might have informed Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player.

9/15/10 I watched Carl Theodor Dreyer's Day of Wrath.  It's a film with a huge reputation and one that certainly has a real special strength to it. Although I would have to say that I still prefer his Joan of Arc, Ordet, and Gertrud, I found this film to be incredibly powerful, as well.  I'm not sure I understand all the subtext, but Dreyer proves to be unusually skillful with nature, actors, and providing his films with a special heft and sacredness.  

9/17/10 I watched William Wellman's The Ox-Bow Incident. Interesting to think how much of an influence it might have had on both the tone and look of Jarmusch's Dead Man.  The dialogue and feel of the film is stunningly modern at times.  And it once again confirmed how much the war factored in as subtext to the majority of the films made during WWII.  Wellman once again turns in a very interesting film.

9/17/10 I watched Jacques Tourneur's I Walked with a Zombie.  It's a very specifically directed film that maximizes all that it has.  I can't say that I fully connected to the story, but I certainly appreciate the strength that Tourneur was able to achieve from all his choices.  

9/22/10 I watched Mark Robson's The Seventh Victim.  Producer Lewton's reputation is valid - he's the master of lo-fi discomfort and offscreen sound, achieving masterful moments with the most limited of means.  Of all his work I've seen, this is probably my favorite.  

9/26/10 I watched Fritz Lang's Hangmen Also Die!  It's a bit long, perhaps, but Lang demonstrates many times how cinematic his eye was.  He also shows how baroque and dark he was willing to take his work.  Some incredible moments, and a personal film, albeit a bit propagandistic.  

7/13/11 I watched George Stevens' The More the Merrier.  An offbeat, tonally strange romantic comedy.  Some of the romantic stuff seems to defy the Hays Code, which is fun to see, but it was hard to ever fully get into rhythm with the thing.  

10/17/11 I watched Jacques Becker's Goupi Mains Rouges.  My least favorite of the Becker films I've seen.  Has a terrific scene near the end in a tree, but otherwise not as engaging as some of his other work.  

11/16/13 I watched George Stevens' The More the Merrier again.  I am sure there have been great studies done on the correlation between viewer state of mind and a response to a work of art.  Even though I pride myself on having a fairly good first response that rarely shifts significantly one way or another upon a subsequent viewing, I have had occasion where I completely change my opinion.  Here is such a time.  I am not sure how I could have ever made the comments above as today I found this to be one of the most wonderful, moving romantic comedies I have ever seen.  The chemistry between Arthur and McCrea is downright dangerous and Coburn is the lovely force, both funny and wise, that keeps the fires stoked.  A new favorite and a lovely film that I hope others get to savor soon.  It brought me the exact pleasure I needed on this glum Saturday.

5/19/14 I watched Raoul Walsh's Background to Danger.  I found it entertaining enough.  Full of twists and turns and Lorre and Raft are always fun to watch.  It was tough though for me to get terribly invested in the plot or any of the characters.  Definitely not top tier Walsh.  Just decent wartime entertainment.