Sunday, October 17, 2010

Favorite (four), part five

Just like in my other four posts thus far in this series, I want to take a second to single out the highlights of my recent film viewing.  I'm trying right now to take in almost a film a day.  Most have been first-time viewings.  And most I have been glad to finally see, but only very few have stayed with me.  This series is my filter for those (and hopefully one or two of these will be good to someone else, too).

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's A Matter of Life and Death

The most ambitious of the lot and the one that consistently made me in absolute awe of its sheer technical accomplishment.  Reminded me of some of Kubrick's more mind-blowing art direction and kept me repeatedly saying to myself, "I can't believe they just did that."  Probably not the most emotionally satisfying of the Powell/Pressburger films, but the formal accomplishment needs to be seen.  

David Lean's Great Expectations

I've never read the novel so the twists and turns of the story were particularly affecting.  Lean demonstrates his acute visual sense and his wonderful ability with actors.  I felt this one, I admired this one, and I thought it not only underrated, but completely satisfying.  

Abraham Polonsky's Force of Evil

A real masterpiece in my book.  I've long known it to be one of Scorsese's favorite films, but I just got around to seeing it for the first time.  Its visual naturalism is stunning and its raw power quite special. Seems to be a key link to The Godfather.  (In fact, McCluskey's death and the way that Coppola handles it seem to come almost verbatim from this earlier film.)  Also seems to have influenced Mean Streets and the noir texture of some of the early Nouvelle Vague films.  It's tragic that Polonsky didn't have the opportunity to direct more for with this one he left us a real gem.  

Lewis Milestone's The Strange Love of Martha Ivers
Milestone might not do anything particularly flashy.  But he captures the noir spirit and keeps this one plowing ahead, always in sync with the dark, complex, and rough noir tradition.  One of the great noir endings and certainly one of its better cast.  A noir that deserves to be a part of the dialogue and history.  


  1. Oh, man. I love Lean's Great Expectations. Although the original book will always be incomparable (and I speak as a beginner with Dickens--it's been taking me over a year to read David Copperfield and I'm only through the first 300 of 800 pages, so I've forced myself recently to read along with an audio book and wrap it up!), Lean's film adaptation may be the best cinematic treatment of the novel there is--maybe even better than we'll ever see. A Matter of Life and Death is one of those Powell/Pressburgers that has eluded me. Big fan of Lewis Milestone so I'll have to look into Martha Ivers. Unfortunately I'm not familiar with Polonsky, but I can at least claim that I first heard about him from you. Hehe

  2. Hey Adam, great to hear from you. No worries, I'm a total beginner with Dickens, too. I highly recommend the Powell/Pressburger and the Polonsky. I expect you'll enjoy both of them very much. Good to see you here, and always a treat to hear from you.

  3. GREAT EXPECTATIONS is arguably Lean's masterpiece. This poetic version about a young country blacksmith who becomes a gentleman in London society through the generosity of an unknown benefactor contains what may be the most celebrated opening scene in all of British cinema (i.e. the meeting of the boy Pip with the convict in the churchyard.) Some much deft craftsmanship figured in the film's magnificent vision, including Guy Green's monochrome photography, John Bryan's exquisite art direction and a bevy of superlative performances by John Mills, Valerie Hobson, Martita Hunt, Francis L. Sullivan, Finlay Currie, Bernard Miles, Alec Guiness ahd Jean Simmons. It's one of those films you can watch anytime, anywhere and repeatedly.

    A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH is certainly the most elaborate of Britain's early postwar films, with some of the great Jack Cardiff's most celebrated lensing and some brilliant set design by Alfred Junge (which includes a stratospheric escalator. David Niven, Rayond Massey and Roger Livesay were extraordinary.

    FORCE OF EVIL'S script is the film's main strength although there are also several sequences of great visual power (especially the murder of a bookkeeper in a NYC basement)

    You had a fantastic indulgence this week Jeffrey, viewing some of teh cinema's greatest achievements, and not surprisingly penned a glorious report!

  4. Sam, what a tremendous addition to this post. I agree with EVERYTHING you say above. The performances are wonderful in the Lean film. The set design is extraordinary in the Powell/Pressburger. And the murder of the bookkeeper you mention in FORCE OF EVIL is the rawest moment of all and seems to have had a great influence on Hayden's death in the first GODFATHER.

    Thanks so much for the incredible insight and the wonderful perspective above. Always such a treat to have you here.