Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Favorite (four), part forty-one

Just like in my other forty 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 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 you as well.

Josef von Sternberg's Anatahan
It has only been 20+ years since I first heard of the film and have been wanting to see it ever since.  It belongs in that special category of master director's final films and it has that same odd tone of finality of Dreyer's Gertrud and perhaps even Bresson's L'argent.  It is a mood film dripping with atmosphere and style and succeeds in throwing the viewer into its exotic land and bringing the strangeness terrifically alive. Sternberg excelled at this type of cinema that also includes Macao and Morocco.  

James Gray's The Lost City of Z
The film of Gray that has impressed the most so far is also the most revealing.  Treading in this territory is dangerous stuff.  How do you not immediately beg comparison to Apocalypse Now and Aguirre You don't.  What Gray does though is blend the epic and the chamber and in that way it feels different.  Herzog and Coppola's film were both always operating on a large canvas and their egos and talents had no problem sustaining an epic scope for their duration.  Gray's film fits what is seemingly his personality, something that is more cerebral and more measured than Herzog and Coppola.  What is most striking is that I have long known that Gray reveres the work of Coppola but never have I noticed their differences more than now.  Not only is Gray far more humble but he also struggles to reach the emotional shape of Coppola's best work.  I felt watching The Lost City that everything was of one piece - Ravel's music could not have been more perfect, sophisticated, difficult themes were borne out, Khondji's work seemed right (even if I have never been a huge fan of his) but Gray has trouble reaching the emotional heights of Coppola.  Lost City is an unusually ambitious and well executed American film in this current environment but without the emotional resonance of the films he most admires, it is difficult to call it great.  

Nicholas Ray's Wind Across the Everglades
Ray made numerous films that were haunted with very dark characters spiraling deep, and almost uncontrollably, into their own obsessions and struggles.  His visual sense of abstraction was among the greatest the medium has ever seen and his diseased tone potentially more unique and consistent than that of any auteur.  I have now seen early Christopher Plummer twice (here and in The Silent Partner).  His ability to tap the hysteria within his own compulsion is a perfect match for the sensibility of Ray and his talent simply remarkable.  It is a shame more people do not discuss this work as it is the rawest, most uncompromising Ray film I have seen to date.    

Warren Beatty's Reds
I was deeply impressed by Beatty's ability to handle a story of this size with such directorial grace and skill.  I found his performance to be as good or close to as good as his typical level but it was Keaton's acting that really got me.  I have never found her as affecting and as deep as she is here.  I could do without the Greek chorus device as I found it took me out of the story more than further embedding me.  But the rest of the style is quite beautiful from Storaro's cinematography to Sondheim's music. 


  1. well, Jeffrey, you did beat me to the punch on LOST CITY OF Z, which I am seeing this coming weekend after I return from my school's three day Washington D.C. trip. I must appreciate that splendid report. I do like that Von Sternberg and adore REDS, though I see you have some issues with it. The Nick Ray here isn't one of his great films, but I'd say it is fine enough. Wonderful round-up here.

  2. Sam, thanks so much. It is great to hear from you. I will be curious to hear your impressions of the new James Gray. It is a film that continues to haunt me, weeks after having seen it.