Wednesday, March 31, 2010

1979: Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola)

1979: Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola)
Count me among the group that is in absolute awe of Coppola in the seventies.  Four films, four masterpieces in my book, and a run that has maybe never been matched in American cinema.  Best analogy I can make, Michael Jordan scoring over fifty points in four straight games.  
Apocalypse Now is a film that makes as great of an argument as any for the preservation of the theater experience.  You watch it at home, and it feels like it's about to overwhelm the television.  It's that grand.  
Walter Murch did the sound design, and it may very well have the most expressive, effective sound of any movie ever made.  Wow, that's a bold statement!  But Murch's work here is that mind-blowing.  And like a game of chicken, Vittorio Storaro is working at the same level as Murch.  The visuals here are staggering -- hallucinatory, brain-poppingly colorful, and heavy in grandeur and effect.  
I won't even mention the cast here.  Let's just say they're perfect, too. Just like in the two Godfather films and The Conversation.
Making movies is a risky business.  And whenever the risk gets me a little intimidated, I think about Coppola and all he went through to get this on screen.  He's a great filmmaker, a great dreamer, but most of all (and it's a quality that's often undervalued in our business), he had great courage.
Other contenders for 1979: I still have several titles to see from this year.  These include: Joseph Losey's Don Giovanni, Volker Schlondorff's The Tin Drum, Terry Jones' Life of Brian, Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker, John Huston's Wise Blood, David Cronenberg's The Brood, Catherine Breillat's Trouble at Night, Stephen Frears' Bloody Kids, Jean Eustache's La Rosiere de Pessac, Maurice Pialat's Graduate First, Rainer Werner Fassbinder's The Marriage of Maria Braun, and Shohei Imamura's Vengeance Is Mine.  I need to revisit Steven Spielberg's 1941 and George Miller's Mad Max as it's been too long since I've seen either of them to know where they'd place on this list.  But from this year I really like Carroll Ballard's The Black Stallion. I love Jeff Margolis' Richard Pryor: Live in Concert and Woody Allen's Manhattan.  And my closest runner-up is Ridley Scott's Alien.

6/27/11 I watched Rainer Werner Fassbinder's The Marriage of Maria Braun.  Absurd, dark, and a little under the influence of Godard.   I'm still fairly new to the cinema of Fassbinder and am not totally sure what to make of it all. But this one has a good bit to say on monogamous love and the loss of humanity that can come at the price of wealth.  

8/12/11 I watched Shohei Imamura's Vengeance Is Mine.  Artful but incredibly disturbing tale of a serial killer.  Imamura proves quite the ambitious storyteller, balancing many tones and linear shifts.  But this one is cold as can be and ultimately didn't leave feeling much other than dirty.  

8/24/11 I watched Joseph Losey's Don Giovanni.  Perhaps one of the best examples ever of opera on film.  But in spite of its strong execution, I could not keep interest.  Simply not my thing.  

11/17/13 I watched Gillian Armstrong's My Brilliant Career.  Armstrong demonstrates great poetry of feeling and image in this restrained, challenging story.  The chemistry that comes off the screen from Davis and Neill is intoxicating, and although Davis' decisions run counter to where we want the story to go, Armstrong delivers a wonderful statement on artistic sacrifice.  In fact, it must rank up there with the greatest of all filmed illustrations of the life one must lead at times to be true to one's self at the expense of all else including the longing for physical and emotional connection.  

1/9/14 I watched Mark Cousins' The Story of Film: American Cinema of the 70s.  Never as exciting as I want something to be about perhaps my favorite period of all in film.  But I did particularly like hearing Schrader talk about those elements that got lost as postmodern cinema took over - balance, harmony, beauty.

1/9/14 I watched Mark Cousins' The Story of Film: Movies to Change the World.  Of course I loved the section about Wenders.  And I enjoyed his treatment of Ken Russell, Performance, and Walkabout.  New names for me were Mambety, Gerima, and Goren. 

5/17/17 I watched William Richert's Winter Kills.  A New Hollywood film that I had heard about for years features interesting performances from Jeff Bridges and John Huston.  It pretty well sustains its tone of paranoia throughout and contains a couple of interesting scenes including the introduction of Sterling Hayden and the final set piece.  

5/21/17 I watched John Sayles' Return of the Secaucus Seven.  Sayles has never really been my thing and from his first feature here his approach is already pretty well formed.  He has very little cinema style and his films are loose, soft, and even slackerish.  He is not that far from Linklater although Linklater has a better feel for music and a better sense of humor. 

10/28/18 I watched Jeff Stein's The Kids Are Alright.  A fascinating, loose doc on The Who that captures their talent, their members and most important their personality. 

1/16/20 I watched Paul Schrader's Hardcore.  Schrader is tough for me and this one I liked but didn't love.  I deeply admire his intelligence and really like a couple of films.  At this point I would have to say Affliction is my favorite.  His films are always personal and never feel compromised.  But maybe it is their complete lack of humor that I find a little off-putting or perhaps it is some of his stylistic choices that seem curious, like his choice of music here.  

7/26/20 I watched Albert Brooks' Real Life.  Maybe interesting in how prescient it is with regards to reality TV but otherwise I got weary pretty quickly watching it.

3/7/21 I watched Paul Vecchiali's Corps a Coeur.  The main actor Nicolas Silberg bears an uncanny resemblance to early Brando.  He is perfectly cast and dressed in wonderful clothes throughout.  This was my first Vecchiali film and it all feels like it has a bit of a fever.  It is keyed up and the logic often scattered like the way one thinks when one is suffering in bed with a high temperature.  The direction reminded me a bit of Pialat's hard-nosed naturalism - it is intimate and raw yet seen with the eye of a painter.   

10/31/21 I watched Abbas Kiarostami's First Case, Second Case.  From a standpoint of morals and ethics, it got me thinking about Rohmer.  But it is far more political than the type of films the French filmmaker tended to make.  The whole film is a metaphor for the state of Iran at the time.  I just wish I better understood the situation to fully appreciate Kiarostami's setup.  

12/12/21 I watched Robert Altman's A Perfect Couple.  Altman's effort at a new type of musical fell flat for me as the music was grating and never moved me.  

12/12/22 I watched Peter Bogdanovich's Saint Jack.  Reminds me of other films that play more as two halves than one whole - films like The Passenger, Tropical Melody and Mulholland Drive.  While the first half does a good enough job setting our world and the cast of characters surrounding Jack, it is the second part where Bogdanovich really impresses.  He uses silence and several inspired set pieces - the scheme to take down the senator, William's death, the kidnapping of Jack - to masterfully stretch time and remind us he could in moments rise to the level of the great filmmakers of his generation. 

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

1978: Straight Time (Ulu Grosbard)

1978: Straight Time (Ulu Grosbard)
One of these small-scale crime movies from the seventies that I absolutely love.  Great production value (incredible cinematography by The French Connection's Owen Roizman), great cast (Dustin Hoffman, Harry Dean Stanton, M Emmet Walsh, and Gary Busey), and a grit and grime that recall some of the early great B noir films.  

It also boasts one of the greatest heist scenes ever put on film.  In fact, I rank it right up there with the famous ones from Rififi and Heat.

It's so cliche but I'll go ahead and say it, they don't make movies like this one anymore.  It has a mainstream-level cast and crew but a dark, indy mindset.  And it's not post-modern and not ironic, it's earnest, hard-hitting stuff.  Give me this, give me Night Moves, give me The Killing of a Chinese Bookie.  Honesty and artistry, a certain pedestrian quality, these are among my favorite of all crime films.  

Other contenders for 1978:  There are still some titles I need to see from this year.  These include: Eric Rohmer's Perceval le Gallois, Errol Morris' Gates of Heaven, Paul Schrader's Blue Collar, Ingmar Bergman's Autumn Sonata,  Paul Mazursky's An Unmarried Woman, Claude Chabrol's Violette, Ermanno Olmi's The Tree of Wooden Clogs, Rainer Werner Fassbinder's In a Year of 13 Moons, Nagisa Oshima's Empire of Passion, Hal Ashby's Coming Home, Alan Parker's Midnight Express, George Romero's Dawn of the Dead, Fred Schepisi's The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, Karel Reisz's Who'll Stop The Rain, and Orson Welles' Filming Othello.  And, at some point, I need to revisit Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven as it's one I've struggled with in the past.  Meanwhile, from this year, I really like Francois Truffaut's La chambre verte.  I love John Carpenter's Halloween.  And my closest runner-up is Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter.

7/1/11 I watched Rainer Werner Fassbinder's In a Year of 13 Moons. Very intimate, raw, and clearly personal.  The production design and haziness of some of the scenes are extraordinary.  But overall the whole thing's also a bit of a slog.  

7/4/11 I watched Errol Morris' Gates of Heaven.  Quirky in typical Morris fashion, and curious as I almost always feel Morris just on the side laughing a bit at his subject and characters. 

7/21/11 I watched Ermanno Olmi's The Tree of Wooden Clogs.  It's an incredibly ambitious venture that is acutely observed and warmly rendered.  Ambles and captures the countryside in ways that remind of McCabe & Mrs. Miller, sans Altman's quirky stylings.  Never have I seen the rural parts of Italy look so alive.  Olmi asks for patience, but his eye is as natural and unobtrusive as the glory days of Kiarostami in Iran.  

9/29/11 I watched Paul Schrader's Blue Collar.  A Schrader with a big reputation, but I found it a bit too meandering.  It tightens up near the end and finds some nice dramatic moments.  But overall, I would say it's a little underwhelming to me compared to Mishima, Affliction, or even American Gigolo

10/18/11 I watched Maurice Pialat's Passe ton bac d'abord.  The young actors are all universally fantastic, but this one lacks the rigor of some of the best Pialat.  An interesting watch, if slightly underwhelming.  

1/3/16 I watched Monte Hellman's China 9, Liberty 37.  It's a wonder Tarantino hasn't remade this one.  This might be the only western I have seen that boasts a krautrock score, terrific work by the way by Pino Donaggio.  Further proof of Hellman's cult status as an auteur and even if the third act drags a little, this little known pic sits comfortably with Hellman's Ride in the Whirlwind and The Shooting and needs to be seen as a clear precursor to Dead Man and all of Tarantino's work.

4/7/17 I watched Daryl Duke's The Silent Partner.  Fairly interesting little crime film that I had never heard of until recently.  The plot seems fairly far fetched at times but Plummer is superb and it's certainly a good watch for fans of the genre.

1/12/20 I watched Eric Rohmer's Perceval le Gallois.  Stylistically the film is an oddity in Rohmer's body of work.  An artifical period piece with a Greek chorus does not readily recall any of his other films.  But when considered as a morality tale with an ambition toward the transcendence of a Bresson or Ozu work, it becomes clear it is an Eric Rohmer film.  The final five minutes rank with the most raw and disturbing of anything he has ever made.  As a result, the desired effect of transcendence, of producing a final feeling or shot that rises above all that has come before, is masterfully achieved.

1/20/20 I watched Hal Ashby's Coming Home.  In terms of the emotions Ashby gets at and the performances he achieves, it might be the most impressive thing I've seen from him.  But the wall-to-wall soundtrack of famous songs gets tedious very quickly and never relents.

3/21/20 I watched Floyd Mutrux's American Hot Wax.  The music is wonderful, making me want to delve further into early rock 'n roll, and the story of Freed I knew very little of and am interested in learning more after seeing the film.  Not a film I loved but one that I am glad I saw.  

4/4/20 I watched Nanni Moretti's Ecce bombo.  Moretti's first feature already has many of the elements he would become known for - his great feel for music, his quick, playful wit, his political engagement and a structural looseness that is as much part of his appeal as it is a weakness.  Not too far from the zany, episodic feel of Woody's early features.    

11/19/21 I watched Alan Rudolph's Remember My Name.  Only the third film of Rudolph's I have seen so far and my favorite.  It meanders and never feels like it needs to make itself more  conventional, comfortable or easy for those watching.  It inverts a story we have seen often and makes us realize how foreign a simple swap for a female lead in this type of story can make us feel.  Often I have read how Altmanesque Rudolph is as a filmmaker but this film seems to have influenced Altman (Short Cuts and The Player) rather than the other way around.    

1/8/22 I watched Frederick Wiseman's Sinai Field Mission.  Interesting to see Wiseman working in black-and-white.  I am not totally clear why he would make that choice here.  Like all his work, it has some extraordinary scenes.  Memorable here are the guys all drinking one night and the gentleman explaining why he was proud of the mission but why it was not for everyone.  I would say it is a less subject-rich Wiseman work, it's also considerably shorter than most of his films.  

11/6/22 I watched Sylvester Stallone's Paradise Alley.  A slog for me where the style almost always seemed too deeply artificial and the music and editing unusually grating. 

2/4/23 I watched Robert Altman's A Wedding.  Altman's meandering style gets harder and harder for me to take, except for the few films of his where the characters get to me.  Although I have waited years to see this one, it barely succeeded in keeping my attention.

2/9/23 I rewatched Martin Scorsese's The Last Waltz.  Now knowing more about The Band (after the Once Were Brothers doc), I definitely have a greater appreciation for this concert and why it was so important.

Monday, March 29, 2010

1977: Annie Hall (Woody Allen)

1977: Annie Hall (Woody Allen)
I really don't know this film that well.  In fact, I think I've only seen it once.  As is probably clear by now, I usually privilege dramas over comedies.  They're the type of films that affect me most and the kinds of films I'm interested in making right now.  All this to say, please excuse me for writing a less detailed piece for this year.  

What I can say though about Annie Hall is that it certainly features one of Allen's sharpest scripts, some of his most memorable characters, and a certain breeziness to the depth that keeps it all running forward at a great clip.  I mentioned awhile back while writing on Allen's film, Broadway Danny Rose, that he deserves more credit for his formal experimentation.  Although his reputation might be mostly as a simple comic filmmaker, his movies are always of a certain narrative complexity and feature bold formal experiments.  Here these come mostly in the form of flashbacks where Allen inserts himself in frame as he analyzes the events that lead to later dysfunction.

Allen continues to be a major source of inspiration for me, less as a filmmaker, more as a craftsman.  He's been able to create the most liberated system of working of anyone in American cinema.  He can make movies whenever he'd like, and it seems with whomever he'd like to do them.  Any day watching one of his films is a good day.  And I look forward to many more moments with this one.  

Other contenders for 1977:  I still have some titles I need to see from this year.  These include:  Fred Zinnemann's Julia, Martin Scorsese's New York, New York, Wim Wenders' The American Friend, Andrzej Wajda's Man of Marble, Paul Verhoeven's Soldier of Orange, Sidney Lumet's Equus, Alain Resnais' Providence, Ridley Scott's The Duellists, Robert Altman's 3 Women, Hans-Jurgen Syberberg's Hitler, A Film from Germany, Jean Eustache's Une Sale Histoire, and Robert Bresson's The Devil, Probably.  I really like Luis Bunuel's That Obscure Object of Desire.  And my closest runner-up is Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep.

7/8/11 I watched Martin Scorsese's New York, New York.  I'm not sure Minnelli is properly cast, and Scorsese definitely could have gained by cutting this one down.  But there are some very fine De Niro moments, and Minnelli's "But The World Goes 'Round" is quite memorable.  

10/27/11 I watched John Badham's Saturday Night Fever.  Iconic but also much more than most people remember. Incredibly exuberant whenever someone is dancing, also troubling, disturbing, and challenging in ways that Hollywood no longer dares to be.  And Travolta is simply fantastic.  

10/20/12 I watched George Roy Hill's Slap Shot.  A messy, irreverent sports film very much of the seventies.  Lacks the incredible footage and dramatic arc of the very best sports movies but that isn't its ambition either.  The Hanson brothers are one of cinema's great creations and spark the screen whenever they are around.  Otherwise though I just found it an okay document from its era.

10/22/12 I watched Michael Ritchie's Semi-Tough.  Just a mess, in my opinion.  A nice snapshot of the era, but so meandering, ironic, and uncommitted to any kind of narrative drive that it ends up unraveling more than anything.

1/13/14 I watched Mark Cousins' The Story of Film: The Odyssey: The Arrival of Multiplexes and Asian Mainstream.  Of particular interest was how Cousins' documented Hong Kong cinema - I will have to seek out films by King Hu and Tsui Hark.  And then I also was interested by Gulzar and the films Sholay and The Sparrow.

11/13/16 I watched Robert Altman's 3 Women.  The most obtuse Altman film I have seen to date and in fact I can't say I even fully understand what Altman was looking to do.  What I did appreciate was its acute study of Duvall and Spacek's characters as they move through many different emotional territories, almost growing and shrinking at different times (as all of us do) in front of our eyes.  

11/19/16 I watched John Cassavetes' Opening Night.  There can be an element so dour that pervades some of Cassavetes' work and this is no exception.  Everything is so unglamorous from the locations to the wardrobe from the framing to the set design, Cassavetes seems intent on revealing the underbelly of the business.  It is a rough ride that never fully transcended its bleakness for me.  

7/6/17 I watched Robert Aldrich's The Choirboys.  Nothing memorable but, towards the end, does have some of Aldrich's special toughness and unsettling darkness.  

7/27/17 I watched Lewis Gilbert's The Spy Who Loved Me.  Jaws is memorable as are a few of the scenes with Curt Jurgens but lacks the narrative drive of the best Bond films.

9/30/17 I watched Werner Herzog's Stroszek.  One of my favorite feelings as a cinephile is finding a film by a director whose work I only partially know and being inspired to track down the rest of their films.  Not only did Stroszek make me want to watch the rest of Herzog that I haven't seen yet but also get on a path to completion for Fassbinder.  Stroszek had so many things that I like but in particular I was moved by the emotiveness of Bruno S., the raw painterly quality of the camerawork, and the fact that it seemed a missing predecessor for a number of 80s movies I like a great deal including Stranger Than Paradise and the first two Leos Carax features.  And the final ten minutes have to go down as one of the greatest in the history of the medium.  They had the silent power of Anotonioni's The Passenger and embodied the absurd freewheeling nature of early Dylan better than any movie I have ever seen.

4/4/20 I watched Robert Bresson's Le diable probablement.  One of the remaining Bresson features I had yet to see.  Once again, Bresson impresses with his rigor and rhythm.  Not a movement out of place and every cut in sync with some atypical metronomic beat that is deeply his own.  Bresson grapples with action, love, enjoyment and life in what might be a world without meaning or purpose.  The strong blacks in almost every frame suggest a darkness that potentially threatens all existence while its bleakness brings forth memories of Carax's Boy Meets Girl.

10/8/20 I watched Dario Argento's Suspiria.  It's the first Argento film I've seen and I think one of the ones with the biggest reputation.  It's creepy with some viscerally affecting moments and an effectively expressive art design.  I can see where some of his work might have inspired De Palma or even Lynch but all in all not really my taste.

11/22/20 I watched Abbas Kiarostami's The Report.  I have watched all of his work in chronological order up to this point, and it's really the first of his films where it is difficult to discern "the Kiarostami style."  It is an interesting character study, but mostly missing is a formal rigor and a certain softness of touch.  

3/26/24 I watched Wim Wenders' The American Friend.  Although it has been some time since I have rewatched them, a couple of his previous films, Alice in the Cities and Kings of the Road, stand as two of my favorite of the entire decade.  This film, though beautiful to look at, shot by the incomparable Robby Muller, was just a long, difficult slog.  

Sunday, March 28, 2010

1976: Kings of the Road (Wim Wenders)

1976: Kings of the Road (Wim Wenders)
Why Robby Muller isn't more of a household name is beyond me?  He's responsible for five or six of the most beautiful films ever made:  Dead Man, Alice in the Cities, Paris, Texas, Down by Law, Breaking the Waves, The American Friend, and Kings of the Road.  Okay, make that eight or nine!

I find that Muller has as great a sensitivity and relationship to nature as any cameraman that has ever worked in the medium.  There's a poetry to the way that he frames the outdoors and a lyricism to the way he lets his camera slowly absorb images that is deep and elemental.   And nowhere is his special gift so apparent, so affecting, as in this early Wenders road epic.  

This one demands patience, but if you can get hooked on its rhythms, it's an incredibly moving tale of friendship, love, and cinema.  It's also a definite desert island choice in these parts.  

Other contenders for 1976:  This is yet another strong year, in my opinion, even though there are a number of titles I still need to see.  These include:  Alfred Hitchcock's Family Plot, Alan Rudolph's Welcome to L.A., Eric Rohmer's The Marquise of O..., Bernardo Bertolucci's 1900, Jacques Rivette's Noroit and Duelle, Joseph Losey's Mr. Klein, Francois Truffaut's Small Change, Nagisa Oshima's In the Realm of the Senses, Larisa Shepitko's The Ascent, Ingmar Bergman's Face to Face, Luchino Visconti's L'innocente, Robert Altman's Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson, Dario Argento's Suspiria, Carlos Saura's Cria Cuervos, Don Siegel's The Shootist, and Peter Bogdanovich's Nickelodeon.  I need to revisit Sidney Lumet's Network as it's a film I've struggled with in the past.  From this year though, I really like Roman Polanski's The Tenant, Brian De Palma's Carrie and Obsession, David Lynch's Eraserhead, and John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13.  I love Alan Pakula's All the President's Men.  And my closest runner-up is Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver.

4/11/11 I watched Francois Truffaut's Small Change.  A strange film. Sweet, and at times Truffaut amazes at how he's able to remember and capture some of the aspects and feelings of childhood.  But it seems as awkward and distracted as most young children, and this meandering quality starts to take away after awhile.  

5/13/11 I watched Alfred Hitchcock's Family Plot.  An unusual final film from a master.  It's fun, light in many ways, and still maintains much of the great Hitch touch.  Dern is perfectly cast, as is Barbara Harris and Ed Lauter.  

7/22/11 I watched Nagisa Oshima's In the Realm of the Senses.  The ultimate film on co-dependency.  Incredibly intense and disturbing. Oshima proves himself one of the ultimate "cruel" filmmakers but also one who is unflinching and unafraid to take his subject into every single, possible realm, no matter the risk or daring involved.  Cold and not totally my thing, but I respect the achievement.

8/11/11 I watched Larisa Shepitko's The Ascent.  Incredibly visual, in the way a Tarkovsky film can be.  And particularly affecting when it comes to depicting torture and death.  Ultimately hard for me though to find a real window into it emotionally.  

8/19/11 I watched Luchino Visconti's L'innocente.  Another psychological and claustrophic chamber piece from Visconti.  Not my thing at all, but well done for what it is.  

3/7/17 I rewatched Michael Ritchie's The Bad News Bears.  Ritchie's slacker sensibility is a perfect match with the material.  I don't think this one gets near enough attention and should be in any conversation around the greatest sports movies of all time.

5/14/17 I watched Eric Rohmer's The Marquise of O.  The first period piece I have seen from Rohmer and it is a stunner.  What impresses most is the way that Rohmer uses his incredible talent for distillation to tell a story of transcendence and humanism in the unexpected backdrop of the late 1700s.  Rohmer proves that he learned much from Rossellini and the effects he is able to achieve do not feel terribly far removed from Rossellini's great La prise de pouvoir par Louis XIV.

8/14/17 I watched Larry Peerce's Two-Minute Warning.  An interesting cast and a somewhat promising plot are let down by pretty uninspired execution.  

1/12/20 I watched Elaine May's Mikey and Nicky.  May only made four features and I had seen the other three before seeing this for the first time.   In seeing her other work, it was already very clear that May was unusually good with her actors and had this very unique, punchy editing style.  Nothing else May had done creates the sense of dread so palpable here or has this level of realism.  It would rank on my list with any overview of key American New Wave films.  It is unrelenting, powerful and a bit different than anything else I have ever seen.   

4/12/20 I watched Joseph Losey's Mr. Klein.  Only the second or third film I have seen from Losey but what a film it is.  Delon's performance ranks with his very  best and Losey sustains interest and an uncomfortable mood and atmosphere throughout every single shot.  The camera is elegant, as are the locations, the set design and the wardrobe and Losey ends up making a film about the Resistance that might be every bit as powerful as Melville's Army of Shadows.  

4/20/20 I watched Abbas Kiarostami's Rang-ha.  One of the things that's most impressive about Kiarostami is his ability to have retained a childlike wonder with the world.  This film is different than anything else I have seen from him but it's a joy to see for anyone interested in a complete understanding of the Iranian master's career.

8/12/20 I watched Abbas Kiarostami's A Wedding Suit.  The premise is great and Kiarostami's patient, warm approach fully visible.  He lets the events slowly unfold, never really taking the story where you expect it to go.  Devoid of music except in the final frames, Kiarostami is already pushing his cinema to strong points of transcendence.  

Saturday, March 27, 2010

1975: Night Moves (Arthur Penn)

1975: Night Moves (Arthur Penn)
For what it's worth, I guess this is one of the most flawed films to top my list.  By no means would I tout it as being perfect, and I'm not even sure it's great.  But I love it more than any other film I've seen from 1975.  

I put Night Moves in the same category as The Killing of a Chinese Bookie and Straight Time, films that are all substantially lower in budget than the Coppola and Polanski crime epics.  And I only mention budget because there's a grit and casualness to Night Moves that immediately announces its relative lack of ambition.  In fact, its this lack of ambition that accounts for much of its likeability.  Like a close friend that puts no expectations on you, it's always easy and a pleasure being in its company.

I say all this, but there's still much to boast about in this one.  Gene Hackman delivers one of his finest performances, Melanie Griffith is criminally sexy, Michael Small proves once again that he's a master when it comes to subtle, minimal scores, and the serpentine plot is an absolute delight.

I miss Arthur Penn.  I love this film, and I love The Chase, and I admire the hell out of Bonnie and Clyde.  Like Cimino and even Coppola, if the system had worked better, we'd probably have another handful of incredible Penn films to love and discuss.

Other contenders for 1975:  Even with some gaps, I already know this is a really great year.  I still need to see: Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger, Richard Fleischer's Mandingo, Theo Angelopoulos' The Travelling Players, Abbas Kiarostami's Two Solutions for One Problem, Jean-Luc Godard's Numero deux, Elaine May's Mikey and Nicky, Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai de Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Fox and His Friends, and Francois Truffaut's The Story of Adele H.  At some point, I'll need to revisit Sidney Lumet's Dog Day Afternoon, Milos Forman's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock as these are all titles I've struggled with in the past.  From this year, I really like Woody Allen's Love and Death.  I love Steven Spielberg's Jaws, Akira Kurosawa's Dersu Uzala, John Cassavetes' The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, and John Huston's The Man Who Would Be King.  And my closest runner-up is Hal Ashby's Shampoo.

7/14/11 I watched Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger. Antonioni's incredible talents are all over -- his meticulous framing, his daring yet languid camerawork, and his feel for spaces that the medium has yet to capture.  Still very slow and cerebral like almost all his work, but The Passenger gains some warmth from its summer exteriors and more rustic locations.  One of the cinema's great road movies, and in the same family as Wenders' Alice in the Cities and Kings of the Road

8/14/11 I watched Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon.  Artful and careful. But also distancing and painfully boring for me.  Plus Kubrick's almost wall-to-wall music wore on me quickly.     

8/17/11 I watched Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Fox and His Friends. Decadent and defeatist as it seems most of Fassbinder's films are.  This one feels slightly more intimate though with Fassbinder himself playing the lead.

4/13/12 I watched Robert Aldrich's Hustle.  There's something ambitious about the emotional scope that doesn't quite click or fully come together.  But this Aldrich remains of interest by refusing to steer clear of the personal, no matter how uncomfortable or how telling.  An interesting role for Reynolds while a questionable choice for Deneuve.  
9/15/14 I watched Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles.  An art film with a capital A that is extraordinarily admirable in its restraint, patience, and incredible rigor.  But for me the effort ultimately felt more nihilistic than transcendent in any way and it is probably not something I would ever seek out again.  

2/6/16 I watched John Frankenheimer's French Connection II.  Less artful than the first one, Renoir's cinematography lacks the aesthetic pleasures of Roizman's work.  And though it does a good job at capturing Marseilles, the location work also does not quite match what Friedkin did with New York.  The real pleasure of this one lies with the final 20-30 minutes.  Hackman's pursuit is visceral and Frankenheimer's direction taut, alive, and relentlessly involving. 

3/9/17 I watched Michael Schultz's Cooley High.  Even though it was an AIP production, it feels more like an American New Wave film or a 1970's Shadows.  I have heard it referenced in rap songs and as an important entry in that decade's pop culture but now finally seeing it, it exceeded expectations in the way it captures the clothes, the music, the feel of the times.  Required viewing for anyone that wants a link from Shadows to Burnett to Spike. 

9/25/18 I watched 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.  

4/18/20 I watched Abbas Kiarostami's Two Solutions for One Problem.  Kiarostami's early films for the Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults are his own set of morality tales.  I have always admired Kiarostami's simplicity and his ability to reduce without losing warmth or wisdom.  Less than five minutes long, this early short is yet another testament to Kiarostami's poetry and ability to construct his own very particular cinematic style.  

2/5/22 I watched Sidney J Furie's Sheila Levine Is Dead and Living in New York.  Someone close to me when they were in their early thirties made the comment that they had already seen and read almost every great work and so there was no longer much of a need to seek out undiscovered movies or albums.  The seeking muscle had been quenched.  

I don't think the above statement is all that uncommon of a sentiment for people coming out of the rich discovery phase of their teens and twenties.  But I also feel it inhibits many rewarding future discoveries, particularly of works that are a bit more hidden and unknown.

Take Furie's 1975 film Sheila Levine Is Dead and Living in New York.  It was made during the period that is arguably the group of movies I have seen the most of and know the most about.  Yet not only had I never seen Sheila, I hadn't even heard about it.  

What grabbed me the most while watching Sheila is the freedom of the acting.  Furie frames the three leads at a generous distance and leaves many of their moments with unadorned direction and unbroken takes.  The acting felt brave, as though Furie was giving them an unusual amount of support and space to express themselves.   

4/2/22 I watched Frederick Wiseman's Welfare.  A film often considered among Wiseman's best.  It certainly is admirable in the footage it captures and the fact he is able to capture in close proximity so much dysfunction at work in our welfare system.  But it does not seem quite as even handed as some of his other work.  

3/27/24 I watched Wim Wenders' The Wrong Move.  One of those Wenders' films that I'm not sure if I'd ever seen or not.  It's a bit of a slog too with not near the lyrical effect of Alice or Kings.

Friday, March 26, 2010

1974: Chinatown (Roman Polanski)

1974: Chinatown (Roman Polanski)
I'm not a writer.  I probably will never be a writer.  But if I were, I would want my movies to sound like Robert Towne.  During his run from Bonnie and Clyde to Shampoo, Towne operated in a zone of moviespeak nirvana.  Working somewhere between the literary and spoken word, his dialogue was sharper than the way we speak yet close enough to our rhythms and words as to be utterly recognizable.   

Don't get me wrong, I think Roman Polanski is an extraordinary filmmaker.  But when I'm honest about why I like Chinatown so much, I have to give just as much credit to Towne.  Not only does he manage to create one of the very best of all the noir stories, but somehow he's able to work in a history of Los Angeles at the same time.  

The look of the film actually doesn't blow me away.  The magic for me, aside from Towne's work, is in the casting (the choice of John Huston has to rival the genius of Brando in The Godfather), the locations, Jerry Goldsmith's incredible score, and Nicholson's dead-on performance. And the ending.  Probably my favorite in the history of the medium.

As someone who loves noir and will probably make more of them in his career, this one is a bit of a thorn.  I just feel like no matter what I or anyone else does, you can't really top it.  

Other contenders for 1974:  I still have quite a few titles to see.  These include: Robert Altman's Thieves Like Us, Jean Eustache's Mes Petites Amoureuses, Werner Herzog's The Mystery of Kasper Hauser, Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, Maurice Pialat's La gueule ouverte, Robert Bresson's Lancelot du Lac, John Cassavetes' A Woman Under the Influence, Monte Hellman's Cockfighter, Louis Malle's Lacombe, Lucien, Abbas Kiarostami's The Traveller, Alain Resnais' Stavisky..., Joseph Sargent's The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, and Peter Watkins' Edvard Munch.  I need to revisit both Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein and Jacques Rivette's Celine and Julie Go Boating as it's been too long since I've seen either of them to know where they'd place on this list.  From this year though, I really like Martin Scorsese's Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Orson Welles' F for Fake, and Karel Reisz's The Gambler.  I love Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation and The Godfather: Part II, as well as Robert Altman's California Split and Brian De Palma's Phantom of the Paradise.  And my closest runner-up is Wim Wenders' Alice in the Cities.  

6/12/11 I watched Robert Altman's Thieves Like Us. At times, the most sexual of all the Altman pics I've seen and certainly one of the most interesting. Feels like a movie that Altman really cares about; it's extremely unconventional stylistically, just like McCabe, and in a strange way it almost feels like a precursor to the free-form style Michael Mann would take on with Collateral, Miami Vice, and especially Public Enemies. An Altman film I would need to re-visit as it feels extraordinarily complex. And if it's such a cliche at this point that Hollywood doesn't make 'em like they once did during that special period in the seventies then this film is as much an example as any.

10/16/11 I watched Maurice Pialat's La gueule ouverte.  Who is Maurice Pialat and what makes him special as a filmmaker?  Some have called him the French Cassavetes.  But I think that tag is a bit misleading.  Pialat, like Bresson, was a painter first before trying his hand at film, and his work is much more visually striking than that of Cassavetes.  Where their paths converge is in their raw approach, lack of music, and predilection for loose, extremely natural performances.  Pialat only made ten features in his career, and this is the sixth that I have seen.  It's the one time he collaborated with the masterful cameraman, Nestor Almendros, and the partnership lends poetry and lyricism to Pialat's heavy, uncompromising cinema.  I think this is one of (if not) the strongest film(s) of Pialat that I have seen.  And I hardly ever throw the word out there, but I think this film is a masterpiece.  

7/3/17 I watched Richard Rush's Freebie and the Bean.  A movie that had never hit my radar until about a week ago even though it stars James Caan and Alan Arkin and was made during my favorite period of American film, the Seventies.  The Stunt Man was the only movie I had seen by Rush, and though it had a huge reputation, it never meant very much to me.  Freebie is a bit of a challenge, a loose, messy installment in the buddy cop movie that cares less for plot and narrative logic and more for feel and character.  It has great feel, for instance, for San Francisco and shows us areas of the city I don't feel I have ever seen before on film.  And it has great feel for character.  The bond between Freebie and Bean is deep and most remarkable is that Rush makes us feel the bond simply by having us hang out with them for a couple of hours.  

7/8/17 I watched Peter Hyams' Busting.  Another installment in the 70's buddy cop movie that is mostly noteworthy in how far it pushes the nudity in certain scenes and as a spin-off on the formula that worked so well for The French Connection.  

7/21/17 I watched Joseph Sargent's The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.  Shire's music swings and Matthau pitted against Robert Shaw is never a terrible thing but it never fully grabbed hold of me in any way.  

10/1/17 I watched John Sturges' McQ.  A decently interesting noir with a good Elmer Bernstein theme.  It feels like a moderately achieved hybrid of Bullitt and The French Connection.  

10/7/17 I watched Jean Eustache's Mes Petites Amoureuses.  I have long been a fan of Eustache's The Mother and the Whore but have had some difficulty tracking down the rest of his work.  And I just took a quick peek at Wikipedia and had no idea this was his only other feature.  I knew he had committed suicide young but never knew he only ever made just two features (and a good number of shorts).   This film is extraordinary, capturing a thing that I never before seen captured on film.  The best way I can describe it is the very early awakening of the male interest in females.  It gets into the awkwardness but more than that it gets into the deep yearning and romantic creation that goes in the head of many young boys.  There are a number of flat out brilliant sequences including Daniel's first imaginings while on a train and his encounter with the young girl Francoise in the neighboring town.  

11/4/17 I watched Abbas Kiarostami's The Traveler.  In its one track pursuit and its tunnel focus on the young main character, it feels like a black and white predecessor to Where is the Friend's Home.  It is quintessential Kiarostami in its lyricism, its softness, its feel for the land and its rhythms.  A couple of scenes, like the photography session in the schoolyard, rank as Kiarostami at his most inventive and most cinematic.  Kiarostami would later become a little more rigorous with his filmmaking, longer takes, less music but already in this, his first film over an hour, he announces himself as a great, new humanistic force in the medium.

5/27/18 I watched 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 still there - anti-establishment, anti-Catholic church, surrrealistic flights of fancy - but the contemporary setting gives them a lightness and impact that I have rarely felt while watching his other work.  

10/20/19 I watched Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Ali: Fear Eats the Soul.  I still am not all that familiar with Fassbinder's work with this only being the third or fourth of his films that I have seen.  But of what I have seen this one impressed me the most.  It is unusually artful in its framing and exquisitely attuned to the evolving feelings between a new couple.  It is restrained, uncompromising and rigorous in all of the best of ways.

3/31/20 I watched Jacques Tati's Parade.  I will admit - I do not know all that Tati is saying in the last feature of his career.  But there is a magic and an otherness about it (I cannot think of any other movie like it) that give it a power.  The way it is shot, with the performers alone from one angle and the crowd in the background of another, suggests the loneliness of performance and the circus-like world that feeds it.  It feels like a celebration of the entertainer and a moving summation of Tati's unique abilities and perspective.

5/8/21 I watched Gordon Parks Jr's Thomasine & Bushrod.  More interesting than fully involving as an African-American variant of Bonnie and Clyde.  

6/6/21 I watched Mostafa Derkaoui's About Some Meaningless Events.  Interesting in that it might be one of the first Moroccan films I have seen.  It strikes me as this mix between Rouch's Chronicle of a Summer and early Kiarostami but without the esthetic force of either.

11/7/22 I watched Martin Davidson and Stephen Verona's The Lords of Flatbush.  Stallone steals the film with a few remarkable scenes where he lets his guard down and shows that he's got real acting chops.  Overall, a bit meandering and we never feel deeply connected to anyone but fun to see for any Stallone or American New Wave completist.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

1973: The Mother and the Whore (Jean Eustache)

1973: The Mother and the Whore (Jean Eustache)
Seeing this was one of the high points of my cinephile experience so far. I can't remember the name of the theater, but it was right around the corner from the Pantheon, in the 5th arrondissement of Paris.  In other words, the same exact neighborhood where all the action takes place in the film.   

The Mother and the Whore is one of these films that makes its own rules when it comes to time.  The movie is 217 minutes long.  You enter from one world and exit from another.  It manipulates the world that much.  

Aside from its unique temporal relationship, this Eustache film takes a very special approach to drama.  In fact, if the film weren't in black-and-white, it would feel more like a four hour documentary than a narrative film.  The film has no traditional structure and the scenes stubbornly, and somewhat arbitrarily, unfold with no regard for past precedent.

Eustache took his own life in 1981.  But he left us with this incredible achievement, one of the most personal films I have ever seen and my favorite French film, post Pierrot le fou.  Some of Eustache's other work is hard to find, but he has a major reputation in France, and if this one is any indication, I can't wait to fill in the gaps.

Other contenders for 1973: I still have some titles to see.  From this year, these include:  Federico Fellini's Amarcord, Peter Yates' The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Victor Erice's The Spirit of the Beehive, Jacques Rozier's Du cote d'Orouet, Peter Bogdanovich's Paper Moon, Jacques Tati's Parade, Roman Polanski's What?, and Marco Ferreri's La grande bouffe.  I need to revisit Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and George Roy Hill's The Sting.  It's been too long since I've seen either of them to know where they'd place on this list.  From this year, however, I really like Clint Eastwood's High Plains Drifter, Woody Allen's Sleeper, Orson Welles' F for Fake, and William Friedkin's The Exorcist.  I love Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets, Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye, and Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris.  And my closest runner-up is Hal Ashby's The Last Detail.

8/29/10 I watched Peter Bogdanovich's Paper Moon.  It's got tons of heart and is full of intelligence.  Ryan and Tatum have great chemistry on screen, and Tatum really delivers a strong performance.  Bogdanovich imbues it with a nice sense of Fordian nostalgia and melancholy, and the black-and-white imagery gives it all an added dimension.  A very strong outing from Bogdanovich.

1/30/11 I watched George Roy Hill's The Sting.  Smart and smooth storytelling from Hollywood in a way that we hardly ever see anymore.  Keeps you guessing, is fun, and never really overstays its welcome.  Artsy, not at all, but a good, entertaining ride. 

7/18/11 I watched Victor Erice's The Spirit of the Beehive.  An elusive, yet lyrical look at childhood and the power of fantasy and the impressionable, young mind.  Beautiful to watch but never really felt for me.  

7/29/11 I watched Peter Yates' The Friends of Eddie Coyle.  Some great, early seventies naturalism and Yates proves once again that he's really skillful at bringing a city to life (this time it's Boston).  But at times it's almost so subdued and cool as to feel a little lacking.  

7/31/11 I watched Marco Ferreri's La grande bouffe.  Death by decadence is the subject here.  And even though there is a droll spirit at work, there's also an aura of melancholy that surrounds everything.  Somewhat amusing but a bit tiresome.  

8/10/11 I watched Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.  A loose, mournful western from one of the late masters.  Peckinpah meanders, ponders loyalty and lost ideals, and delivers what might be the most personal of all his works.  The loss of a lifestyle, the onset of civilization, a western about not fitting in, that doesn't really fit into anything that's come before or since.  

10/16/11 I watched Abel Ferrara's Could This Be Love.  A pretty boring, messy early short from Ferrara, my least favorite of his three shorts.  

12/4/11 I watched Roberto Rossellini's The Age of the Medici.  The clearest and most penetrating expression I've seen of Rossellini's late period.  Difficult, cerebral cinema with a groping, yet elusive style. No one has ever quite made films like this, and Rossellini's late period certainly deserves much greater exposure and discussion, if nothing else for us to know these ramblings of a master into uncharted territories.

8/11/12 I watched Joe Boyd's Jimi Hendrix.  A fairly intimate look at Hendrix with some great performance footage.  I still wish one of these docs would go deeper on him as he was clearly something of a genius and something special.  

12/16/12 I watched Charles Burnett's The Horse.  An early short that feels like a workshop of quirks before Burnett would find the right vehicle in Killer of Sheep.  

4/27/13 I watched Jerry Schatzberg's Scarecrow.  Zsigmond gives it great space and brings a real strength to much of the framing.  Its assets - its looseness, authenticity, and the freewheeling nature Schatzberg is able to capture quite often - also sometimes leave the engine running a little cold.  But there's a depth and heaviness of feeling that put it comfortably in the group of great character studies that came out of the American cinema in the seventies.  

1/3/16 I watched Guy Hamilton's Live and Let Die.  Far from the best of Bond, this one embodies pretty much all that one who is not a fan of Bond would criticize.  

4/14/20 I watched Abbas Kiarostami's The Experience.  The first of Kiarostami's longer form works is already masterful and a great indication of the Iranian filmmaker's career in cinema.  As much documentary as narrative, Kiarostami keeps his camera attached to his main character, a boy in his early teens.  Kiarostami's touch is soft and sensitive, as he would become known to be, and his camera graceful in its pans, zooms, handhelds and tracking shots.  Made for the Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults, I would consider it Kiarostami's first truly great work. 

6/24/20 I watched Charles Burnett's The Horse.  This early short that immediately precedes Killer of Sheep is striking.  It is the first time I can remember seeing so many white people onscreen in a Burnett work.  Whereas the other work of his I have seen captures African-American daily life in ways I have never seen rivaled, this work which shows African-Americans alongside white Americans is the first of his films I have seen overtly dealing with race.  While the most striking image might be a pocketknife lodged in a ceiling which somehow recalls the hanging of African-Americans, the entire mood of the short film is powerful.  

11/7/11 I watched Frederick Wiseman's Juvenile Court.  Because Wiseman likes to leave his films unadorned - long takes, zero non-diegetic music and mostly a static camera - one of the main factors determining a work's impact is the quality of speeches (or conversations) his subjects deliver.  In his works, these speeches tend to be long and his subjects range from being highly intellectual and articulate to having difficulty putting forward coherent sentences.  The interactions Wiseman captures in his exploration of the juvenile court system are powerful and emotionally affecting, and the "speeches" in this work rate alongside his most effective films.

3/9/22 I watched Don Siegel's Charley Varrick.  A couple of scenes have plot twists that surprise and are entertaining but Siegel's style overall is pretty tawdry.

11/12/22 I watched John Flynn's The Outfit.  A few interesting set pieces but overall a film that doesn't go too deep and where we really don't care all that much for any of the characters. 

5/7/24 I watched Neil Young's Journey Through the Past.  Pretty difficult to get through.  Only interesting for the live footage of Young with Buffalo Springfield and CSNY..

6/9/24 I watched John Milius' Dillinger.  I'm a big fan of Milius' film Big Wednesday but I never fully got into this one even if there were a few memorable scenes, such as the final minutes.