Sunday, July 17, 2011

My Quest To See the 1000 Greatest: Playing Catch-Up, 584 - 619

Dear oh dear, my film watching has gotten well ahead of my film writing.  Not really a shock mind you, just a rather obvious observation on my part. You see, on my determined Quest to Watch the 1000 Greatest Films, as collected and categorized by the fine folks over at They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?, I have gotten way ahead of my self.  

Making it to 619 films seen from "THE LIST" (as we here in my neck of the woods have taken to ominously calling it) I have alas, only reached #583 in my attempt to write about each film as I see them.  This of course means there are 36 films seen but not written about.  Egads, however will I catch up I asked myself (and yes, I actually said egads to myself).  The only real answer of course, other than pulling several all-nighters and working my fingers to the proverbial bones (and really, who wants to do that!?), is to write up one big post about all 36 films in question and write just small blurbs on each one.  Well by golly that is just what I will do (I said to myself) and here that said post is - in all its squishy goodness.

After this catch-up post, I will post similar pieces every ten films (as in 620-629, 630-639, 640...well you get the picture, you're not a bunch of idiots).   As far as full reviews/critiques/what have you on each individual film, I will still write extended pieces on some of the films on the list (or THE LIST!!) as I progress along my quest (and add links at the proper places).   Anyway, let us get on with the show.

#584 - Red Desert (64)
When asked to describe Antonioni's industrial masterpiece (and first film in colour) in just one line, a close friend of mine said "A woman, disassociated with her surroundings, attempts in vain to FEEL" (the capitalization is his not mine).  There are so many things going on in Antonioni's film(s) (his use of colour here is remarkable) but this feeling of emotional disassociation is first and foremost among them.

#585 - The Big Heat (54)
Usually considered the best of Lang's Hollywood noirs, this Glenn Ford/Gloria Grahame thriller doesn't really live up to the reputation it has so often received.  A fun ride but less daring than other noirs as well as other Fritz Langs.  Still, it is always fun to watch the super-alluring Grahame go at it with fangs blaring.

#586/87 - Bienvenido Mr. Marshall/Placido
These two hilarious social satires were my first looks at Spanish auteur Luis Garcia Berlanga.  The first made in 1953 (Berlanga's debut feature) and the second in 1961, Berlanga's films play near-perfectly with overlapping dialogue and screwball comedy ideas while also showing the stupidity of how bureaucracy works (or doesn't work as the case may be).

#588 - Memories of Underdevelopment (68)
Part of the political propaganda that invariably goes along with communism (from both political directions), this Cuban film works as both a satiric political diatribe as well as a deeper social thesis.  The film is done in a matter-of-factly manner which makes it seem tired at times, but there are specks of Godardian cinematic ideas (if one can call them such) that make the film periodically sparkle as pure cinema.

#589/90 - Woman in the Window/Scarlet Street
A pair of Fritz Lang's, made back-to-back and both starring Edward G. Robinson and Joan Bennett and co-starring the great Dan Duryea.  Both films are fun film noirs and both are somewhat similar - which I suppose should not come as a surprise.  Robinson is great in both and Bennett is appropriately alluring as the femme fatale, but it is Duryea who steals the show in both films (even though his role is much smaller in the former than it is in the latter).

#591 - The End of St. Petersburg (27)
Part of the Soviet montage school, Pudovkin's pro-proletariat paean may not be in the same power range as Eisenstein or Dovzhenko, but it is still an intriguing film full of the vim and vigor one would expect from early Soviet cinema - even if it never quite reaches the heights it should have..

#592 - Rose Hobart (36)
Experimental filmmaker Joseph Cornell was so obsessed with B-actress Rose Hobart that he took scenes from her film East of Borneo and cut, peeled, layered, recut, manipulated and manhandled them until he had this experimental short - a love letter (albeit in a kinda creepy stalker way) to the lovely but sadly almost completely forgotten Rose Hobart.

#593 - Night Moves (75)
In the same sinister vein as its contemporary Chinatown, Arthur Penn's Night Moves is a film of its time.  This seventies-centric neo-noir is a fun film in the way noir films should be fun.  Gene Hackman, as the appropriately Sam Spade-esque private dick is always fun to watch, and that is no different here.

#594 - An Autumn Afternoon (62)
Yasujiro Ozo's final film, An Autumn Afternoon is also one of the Japanese master's greatest works - and that is saying a lot considering the director's overall oeuvre.  Taking on his usual themes of family and marriage and tradition, this dramatic film (with flares of comedy as is typical of Ozu) mesmerizes the viewer from opening shot to closing.  Shot in colour (one of just three Ozu films to have been done so) and given a vivid palette and a surprisingly flexible camera (at least by the stoic standard of Ozu) this is a fitting finale to one of the finest and most celebrated careers in film history.

#595 - Zero For Conduct (33)
Jean Vigo died at just 29, leaving behind him three shorts and just one feature film (the stunning L'Atalante).  Zero for Conduct is the best known of those aforementioned shorts.  Taking a somewhat surreal look at life in a boarding school, Vigo's poetic filmmaking style comes out in every minute of this enjoyable bon mot of early sound cinema.

#596 - Detour (45)
A quick B-picture from the hey day of the film noir, this Edgar G. Ulmer classic is a perfect example of how they used to make them in the day (for better and for worse).  Concise and never straying from the plot (again, for better and for worse) the film is designed to work at the basest level while still managing to find an artistic bent to wrap itself around.  I do so love these forties quickie noirs - they are so much fun.

#597 - Shoah (85)
My wife, a friend and myself decided on a plan to watch the 9 1/2 hour holocaust documentary in one sitting. So we put it up on the big screen at Midtown Cinema (the arthouse cinema my wife and I run, for those not acquainted with daily life here at The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World) and began watching it after hours.  Through a blizzard raging outside we finally made it through a little after sunrise (probably around 8ish) and then all went home to bed (having to be back by 2pm to open the cinema for a new day).  What did I think of the film?  Oh yeah, I suppose you want to know that.  Well, it was long (which I never have any qualms over) but it was rather fascinating to see (even in its repetitiveness).  There are still two films on the list that are longer - substantially longer - and they will come in due time.

#598 - While the City Sleeps (56)
Another one of those slightly demented Fritz Lang Hollywood noirs of the fifties, and one of the more underrated ones.  With Dana Andrews, Thomas Mitchell and Vincent Price (in one of his best non-horror sleazeball roles), this take on the world of media and sensationalism is one of Lang's best Hollywood era films - and both George Sanders and Ida Lupino are fantastic (as always).

#599 - Arsenic and Old Lace (44)
A heee-larious screwball comedy with the exasperated Cary Grant playing the straight man (irony?) amongst a bin of loonies.  From the two sweet old elderly aunties who kill men and bury them in the basement to an uncle who believes he is Teddy Roosevelt and loudly charges the San Juan Hill of the staircase to Raymond Massey as the evil brother (with henchman Peter Lorre in homoerotic tow) come back to seek revenge on the family that abandoned him to some of the most inept policemen ever put on film.  It may not be up to the level of Hawks or Sturges when it comes to the great pacing of classic screwball, but the film is still fun fun fun.

#600 - Yesterday Girl (66)
Directed by German auteur Alexander Kluge, and starring the director's sister in the title role, Yesterday Girl is a film about a young East German woman who emigrates to West Germany.  Influenced by the French New Wave going on next door, this work of what was called the New German Cinema is quite fascinating in its make-up.  Using experimental techniques (including montage) Kluge imbues his film with a sense of youthful exuberance (just like in fellow European new waves such as the Czechs and the aforementioned French) and subversive politics (again, just like those other new wavers) and it makes for a thoroughly enjoyable film - especially considering I had very little knowledge of Kluge and his cinema beforehand.

#601 - The Shanghai Gesture (41)
It's von Sternberg so of course it has that strangely alluring blend of regal elegance and lurid sexuality that the director made his trademark signature.  The film stars the drop dead gorgeous Gene Tierney, who has an equally strangely alluring regal elegance and lurid sexuality.  Toss in Walter Huston, Ona Munson and the snarky, shinola-like grin of Victor Mature and you've got yourself one fine motion picture.

#602 - The Life & Death of Colonel Blimp (43)
God I love this film!!  Seriously, with each and every new film I see of Powell & Pressburger I fall more and more in love with the filmmaking team known affectionately as The Archers.  Blimp, the story of war and the way a friendship between a German and an Englishman evolves through the trials of WWI and WWII and everything around them, is simply (and gushingly) spectacular.  Did I say I love this film?  Well, I do dammit!!!   In the end it is my second favourite P&P film (The Red Shoes will always remain highest in my heart).

#603 - 12 Angry Men (57)
A stark, amazing film.  Brilliantly choreographed, this directorial debut by Sidney Lumet, takes place (save for a final sixty second or so coda) inside the close confines of an overheated jury deliberation room.  It is in this room where twelve actors get to showcase their individual talents - and surprisingly so, all twelve of these actors (top among them being star Henry Fonda, E.G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Jack Warden and an incredible Lee J. Cobb - what no Oscar!!?) do just that.  I honestly did not think I would like this film as much as I did.  Colour me surprised.

#604 - Stray Dog (49)
An early Kurosawa concerning a police detective who has his gun stolen, and his search for who did it.  An intensely driven film, this is classic early Kurosawa (after Drunken Angel, just the second film to really "be" a Kurosawa film) and stars Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura five years before they would be two of a certain group of seven samurais.  Though it does seem a bit dry at times, the film is surely driving toward what Kurosawa would eventually become - a Master.

#605 - Yojimbo (61)
As I said above, Stray Dog shows what Kurosawa would eventually become. With Yojimbo, twelve years later, we see just what that is - a Master.  The story of a samurai for hire (and of course starring Kurosawa muse Toshiro Mifune), Yojimbo is what a samurai film should be (and for that matter what a Western should be - and Sergio Leone knew that as he remade it as A Fistful of Dollars just three years later and helped to usher in the Spaghetti Western age) and this striking (and often surprisingly funny) film now stands as my third favourite AK work (after Seven Samurai and Throne of Blood).

#606 - Portrait of Jennie (48)
Directed by one of my favourite under appreciated directors, William Dieterle, this strangely alluring and quite mysterious film is probably one of the least known American films on this list.  I must admit to never having heard of it before finding it on the list (even with my ever-growing adoration of its director).  With that said though, Portrait of Jennie is a fabulous film and well deserves to be on such a list as this.

#607 - Revenge of a Kabuki Actor (63)
An experimental Japanese film in many ways, this new wave era film plays out as if it were indeed a Kabuki play from long long ago.  Fascinating to watch, if only for its unique visual style and oddly out-of-time performances (in ways it seems a cheap imitation of Keisuke Kinoshita though - and no one messes with the under appreciated Kinoshita while I'm around dammit!!), Kon Ichikawa's film is perhaps style over substance in many ways (the story is indeed quite intriguing even though it gets downplayed by the visualness of the film) and perhaps too has more going for its pieces rather than its whole, but is well worth the time to watch.

#608 - Night and Fog (55)
A short and quite succinct pre-New Wave, New Wavish documentary on the Holocaust.  Playing as sort of a truncated companion piece to the epic Shoah screening I talk about above.  Quite jarring actually.  The images Resnais shows in this film are among the most disturbing images I have ever seen - anywhere.  And I suppose that is what the director was going for.

#609 - Early Summer (51)
In my attempt to get caught up as it were with certain directors I have been woefully lacking in knowledge of, this is another in a semi-slew of Ozu films I have been watching lately.  Granted, many of Ozu's films seem to blend in together (similar themes, same actors, same style) but some do stand out more than others and Early Summer is one of those.  Plus, this could easily be the always wonderful and infinitely lovely Setsuko Hara's best performance - even moreso than Ozu's Tokyo Story.

#610 - El Sur (83)
Spanish auteur Victor Erice's moody, antagonistic yet quite sublime film is probably one of the most melancholy films on this list.  The story of a young girl who becomes fascinated with her father's past (in the titular south of Spain), El Sur is beautifully shot and seems very out of time as it was made in the eighties but seems as if it could be of the art cinema uprising of the 1950's and/or 1960's.

#611 - Touki Bouki (73)
I am deeply intrigued by the cinema of West Africa.  Done in an almost cinema verite kind of way (seemingly influenced by the French New Wave - which makes sense since these are former French colonies) these directors are creating an artistic fingerprint that is not often seen in other parts of the world (outside of festivals and/or cinephilia).  Touki Bouki is one of these fascinating works.  It reminds me greatly of Godard and Breathless and I suppose that is a good thing as long as the filmmaker (the wonderfully named Djibril Diop Mambety) keeps his own essence.  He does.

#612 - Maedchen in Uniform (31)
This proto-lesbian story of pedogogical love in a Prussian boarding school made quite the stir in Germany when it came out.  Becoming a quick cult favourite it was eventually banned when the Nazi's came to power.  It is a very very intense story and immediately became one of my favourites I have seen from the list so far this year. For a longer take on the film, read my piece on Maedchen in Uniform I did in conjunction with Garbo Laugh's Queer Film Blogathon. 

#613 - Rocker (72)
An odd and quite uneasy low-budget made-for-television melodrama by Klaus Lemke, one of Germany’s self-proclaimed bad boys of filmmaking, is a social realism take on the rock and roll ethos and anti-authoritarian ideals.  A strange little picture indeed, but just as strangely intriguing to watch.  In fact it is almost mesmerizing in a "watching the windshield wipers" kinda way - and I mean that in the most complimentary way. 

#614 - Blow Out (81)
I was never much of a De Palma fan in my younger days, but as I grow older (and I'm only 44, so let's not get carried away with the older talk) I am beginning to have a certain admiration for the director.  After watching this homage/remake of Antonioni's Blow-Up starring John Travolta and the director's wife Nancy Allen, that admiration has gone from begrudging (which it probably was in the beginning) to all-out auteurial respect.  In fact I would say this is my favourite De Palma film.  Fellow fan Quentin Tarantino calls this one of the ten best films ever made.

#615 - Il Sorpasso (62)
Yet another director I had not seen any film by.  The Italian mondo director Dino Risi is indeed a fun one to watch.  Reminding one of a more hip Fellini, Risi's Il Sorpasso is considered one of the best Commedie all'Italiana ever and a poignant portrait of Italy in the early 60s when the so-called economic miracle was beginning to transform the country from a traditionally family-centered society into an individualistic, consumeristic one.  Another great find amongst the list.

#616 - Seven Chances (25)
As far as Buster Keaton comedies go, out of the eight or so I have seen, this one is probably my least favourite so far.  Though with moments of Keatonesque comedy, it never lives up to things like The General or Sherlock Jr. or The Navigator.  

#617/18 - The Thing (51) and The Thing (82)
A perfect double feature, we get the Christian Nyby directed, Howard Hawks' produced original, actually titled The Thing From Another World, and the John Carpenter remake.  I suppose the inevitable comparison would lead one to choose the remake over the original (wow!  How often does a thing like that happen!?) but both films have their moments.  The original has the typically Hawksian male camaraderie (and though listed as producer we know Hawks had more than a hand in directing this film) while the remake took the story and created a movie about suspicion and paranoia for a modern time (even though the original was done in a much more paranoia-fueled period).  And the remake also has that grossly delightful scene involving a man's head transforming into some sort of space spider thingee.

#619 - Duel (71)
Steven Spielberg's first film (made for TV originally but later extended and released theatrically) is the story of a man being terrorized by a tractor trailer.  With great chase scenes through the desert highways of California (as close as Spielberg would ever get to a Grindhouse mentality), this is still Spielberg when he was young an unabashed - not afraid to let his cinematic freak flag fly.  Over the years the director has grown more cloying and more emotionally manipulative, but back in these days - well the film is just a blast to watch.   

Well there!  I am finally caught up and where I should be in my Quest to Watch the 1000 Greatest Films.  As I said at the beginning of this post, from now on I will be posting updates like this every ten films (620-629 is next of course) with occasional longer pieces on various films from THE LIST.  To keep up to date you can always check out this page over at The Cinematheque.  So until then.......

1 comment:

Duke said...

Bough "Blow Out" on Criterion yesterday ... amazing film.

Writing my review today, actually.

Keep up the good work.