Saturday, December 18, 2021

Favorite (four), seventy-seven

Just like in my other seventy-six 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 a 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.

Charles Burnett's to Sleep with Anger
It only makes sense that because African-Americans have their own history and culture their story should be told using a style that is different and unique.  Burnett might be the first African-American filmmaker to bring that style to cinema.  I do not claim to have seen work by all of the African-American directors, but I can say that neither Melvin Van Peebles, Gordon Parks Jr., Spike Lee, John Singleton, Carl Franklin, Antoine Fuqua, Barry Jenkins nor any of the other films directed by African-American filmmakers that I have seen to date bear a style as tailored and seemingly conceived to fit African-American stories as the work of Burnett.  

A broad statement but it can be seen in the way the sets look and the way that the characters move, sweat and speak.  Burnett's style is naturalistic but mannered and accented in ways that make it feel even more capable of capturing the plight of the black experience in America.

Leos Carax's Annette
There is real exuberance and a supercharge in Carax's last two films.  Partly I attribute it to the fact that I cannot think of anyone else in film right now where the work feels as much in an ongoing discourse with the history of cinema.  In his latest, David Lynch looms large.  You feel his influence on the way the young girl Annette looks, who can't help but make you think about the baby in Eraserhead.  You also see it in the way Carax stutters the lights in the beginning and the stylistic device he uses several times that is pure Lynch - the visual separation of body shots that I know you find in Twin Peaks but that I also seem to recall in Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr.

Carax's cinema could always be looked at as a love letter to the medium and its endless beauty and possibilities.  So it only makes sense that Carax is channeling Lynch, one of the most liberated of filmmakers who continues to defy any claims of cinema's boundaries or imminent death.

I settled on the phrase above "an ongoing discourse with the history of cinema" because Carax's rear view has always gone farther back than most of his peers who have a hard time citing anything film-wise released before Kubrick's 2001.  Carax in his latest is in a dialogue with the musical, the early Disney films, and as much with the first 50 years of cinema as the last 76.

Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts
One of the strongest qualities of Lee's work is the way he repeatedly uses the medium to talk about his anger with the treatment of African-American people in this country.  He sometimes finds dramatic ways to do it and he also often does it by having a strong comedic voice.  And regardless of the type of story Lee is telling, he gives it a flashy cinematic style that makes it all go down a little more easily.  

They say the flip side of anger is sadness.  This doc made for HBO might be the first Lee film I have seen (there are many and I can't claim to have seen them all) that embraces the sadness rather than the anger.  It is also the first Lee film that seems to background style and let the people and events stand for themselves.  As a result, it packs a weighty punch and stands with the greatest achievements of his career so far.  
Jean Gremillon's Le ciel est a vous
More than any film I can recall, it explores the settled and normal every day person's desire to chase fame, even at the risk of losing everything in the process.  Gremillion has a keen eye and feel for French provincial which gives the arc of the story real feeling and depth.  

Friday, December 10, 2021

Favorite (four), seventy-six

Just like in my other seventy-five 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 a 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.

Mitchell Leisen's Remember the Night
The first of what I believe were three films that Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray made together, all of which are excellent.  Preston Sturges wrote the script for this one.  Leisen impresses with the amount of emotional depth he is able to create, producing greater feeling by repeatedly choosing complex character moments over entertaining turns of plot.  He shows such restraint, and willingness to defy typical Hollywood narratives, that by the end he is able to deliver a final moment of Bressonian gravity and weight. 

Dennis Hopper's Out of the Blue
I should have seen this way before now.  It is a key film in the American New Wave and makes a case for being the final film of the cycle as much as any.  I never thought of Easy Rider, Hopper's first feature as director, as being much from an aesthetic point of view.  But this film possesses an incredible style - specifically its location work,  its graceful movements of the camera, its complex editing rhythms, and its sensitive use of sound.  Dark and disturbing like a David Lynch film but also with echoes of some of the seventies' stronger character work like Five Easy Pieces.     

Claire Denis' US Go Home
A medium-length film by Denis that ranks with the best of our work.  It shows her ability with mood, young actors, cinematic music, romance from the female perspective and the richness that comes when people from different languages and cultures interact and spend time together.  

Buster Keaton and Edward F Cline's Cops
One of the strongest Keaton shorts I have seen.  As usual when he is at his very best, the gags are inventive, free-wheeling, incredibly well-timed and bordering on dangerous.  Clocking in around twenty minutes, it does not have much variation of pace but is pretty much a sprint from the time the opening credits conclude.