Thursday, November 7, 2013

Favorite (four), part twenty-one

Just like in my other twenty posts in this series, I want to take a second to single out the highlights of my recent film viewing.  Most of the films I have been glad to finally see but only very few have stayed with me.  This series is my filter for those and my hope is one or two will be good to someone else as well.

Mark Cousins' The Story of Film: An Odyssey: 1895-1918 The World Discovers A New Art Form
The first installment of the fifteen part documentary is far more subjective than I had anticipated and a little quirky.  Cousins does not cover the films we would expect and does not seem interested in re-telling the history of film.  He seems to want to tell the history of film from his perspective rather than an academic and accepted view.  I am excited for the installments to follow and expect to be exposed to some new information (even here the fact that Hollywood was initially dominated by women) and some films hitting my radar for the first time.

Frederick Wiseman's At Berkeley
My first theatrical experience with a Wiseman film is also my best theatrical experience of the year so far.  Wiseman combines Renoir's humanism with Ozu's patience to offer up an exhaustive and meticulously observed look at a contemporary public university.  We take away a great deal from participating in some of the student discussions as well as from our access to a number of administrative cabinet meetings.  Nothing feels put on.  This is demanding, unadorned, naked filmmaking of the highest order that places demands with its style and four hour length but offers reaffirming sentiments on cinema and life for all willing to go along. 

Vincente Minnelli's Two Weeks in Another Town
A mature, daringly dark, modern film full of strong and combative feelings about Hollywood.  Perhaps its tacked-on ending is part of that commentary but it feels unsatisfying when compared to the rest of the work.  Highlights include the incredible elevator shot and a very subtle use of slow motion as Douglas, his ex, and her new man ride up together.  If you have a thing for Contempt like I do, you will likely dig it viewing it as the Godard's long lost mate.  

Alfred Hitchcock's Topaz 
In my opinion a highly underrated film by the master that is of interest first to see what Hitch can do when the Hays code is no longer around.  There's a brutality at work and a graphic punch that feels like new territory for the director.  It also features some fantastic set pieces (including most of what's set in Cuba), some typically expressive Hitch camerawork that De Palma had to have seen, and yet another complex and emotive Hitch score.  The ending admittedly lets the film down a little but that's only because much of what comes before it is so entertaining.  Like Marnie, a Hitch deserving of more eyes and of more people talking about it.  


  1. I definitely agree Jeffrey that TOPAZ is underrated. Not one of the great Hitchcocks, but better than many have declared. Beautiful capsule on TWO WEEKS IN ANOTHER TOWN, which is a film that has gained in reputation during the decades since it released. I am a huge fan of the Cousins documentary and am delighted you are enjoying it. As you are a filmmaker yourself you can see perspectives that others would not. Wow, that is some praise for Wiseman's film there! I have not seen it, but have seen several others including TITTICUT FOLLIES and HIGH SCHOOL, and will watch AT BERKELEY at first chance!

    Wonderful wrap of a distinguished lot!

  2. Sam, as an educator, I think you will find the Wiseman enthralling and of tremendous interest and perhaps even import. I look forward to hearing about your experience with it.

    Thanks for all your excellent words. A great and much appreciated addition to the above post.