Thursday, January 26, 2012

My Quest To See the 1000 Greatest: #700 Thru #719

Here is a look at the latest batch of twenty films in my Quest to See the 1000 Greatest Films.  A complete look at my quest can be viewed HERE.

#700 - L'Age d'Or (1930) - (#106 on TSPDT)  Have I ever mentioned how much I dislike experimental film?  How about how much disdain I have for most of Surrealism?  Put these facts together with my hit or miss outlook on Buñuel, and you get a film I just could not stand.  Yeah yeah, a great artist and all that, and many other times he is just that, but here - no way in hell.

#701 - Antonio das Mortes - (1969) - (#544 on TSPDT)  I first came across the work of Glauber Rocha because of My Quest.  This is the third of his films I have seen (Black God White Devil and Terra em Transe being the first two) and the third one I loved.  Audacious and full of cinematic chutzpah, Antonio das Mortes, a sequel of sorts to Black God, is one of those pure cinema kind of films.  If one had the need to label the Brazilian auteur-cum-L'enfant terrible, one could easily construe Rocha as being the Godard of Brazil.  And of course I mean the good 1960's Godard, not the ridiculous modern day Godard.

#702 - Ceddo (1977) - (#774 on TSPDT) Western African cinema has a uniquely fairytale like quality to it and Ousmane Sembene, considered the Father of African Cinema, is the best at that fairytale filmmaking.  Influenced by French cinema of course, Sembene brings the ancient traditions and mythologies of his native Senegal into play and creates the most entertaining of modern day fairytales - and Ceddo may well be his best.

#703 - The River (1951) - (#212 on TSPDT)  Damn do I love Jean Renoir!!  Before taking on the quest before me, I had seen just two Renoir films - they of course being Grand Illusion and The Rules of the Game.  Both brilliant films (the latter is in my all-time top twenty) but still I was but a novice when it came to the cinema of the man I now would place firmly in my five favourite directors of all-time.  Now having seen Boudu Saved From Drowning, The Crime of Monsieur Lange and others...well, like I said, damn do I love Jean Renoir.   Now comes one of the French auteur's Hollywood mad films, The River.  Scorsese calls it one of the two most beautiful Technicolor films ever made (The Red Shoes of course being the other) and though I would not go quite that far, it is surely a stunning film - simply magnificent to look at.  Have I mentioned that I love Jean Renoir?  Damn!

#704 - Salesman (1970) - (#550 on TSPDT)  I am usually not a fan of documentaries in general but sometimes I find them quite fascinating.  Be it the subject matter or how the director sets the matter forth.  Salesman is definitely one of those films.  Subtly provocative, this simply set black and white doc by the Maysles brothers unexpectedly sucks you in and will not let go.

#705 - Les Maitres fous (1955) and #706 - Chronicle of a Summer (1960) - (#841 and 811 on TSPDT)  These two films, French director Jean Rouch's only films on the list, are thought of, apparently, as intriguing looks into different societies.  I found both of them dreadfully boring, the first was nearly incomprehensible bullshit while the second merely drab and dragging, and I see no appeal in either one.  Maybe that is just me though.   Hey, at least they were short.

#707 - Johnny Got His Gun (1970) - (#776 on TSPDT)  A fascinating, almost experimental (but not in that annoying Stan Brakhage way) look at a WWI soldier who has had most of his body - arms, legs, face, chest cavity etc. - blown away by a bomb and is being kept alive in some sort of mad scientist way by the government.  Macabre and with notions of Grand Guignol, Dalton Trumbo's film (adapted from his own novel) takes us into a warped world of fantasy and tragedy with the most ringing and unforgettable of final shots.

#708 - Eyes Without a Face (1959) - (#358 on TSPDT)  Can a film be both horrifying and beautiful?  Of course it can, and Georges Franju's psychological horror film is just that.  I know the term is cliché and way way way overused, but there is no way I can describe this film without using the term haunting - because that is just what it is.  It is the story of a genius, and very possibly mad surgeon who kidnaps girls and steals their faces in order to heal his daughter's mangled, hideous face.  Incidentally, this film is a direct influence on (no, not Face-Off!) Almodóvar's recent The Skin I Live In.

#709 - Law of Desire (1987) - (#825 on TSPDT)  Speaking of Almodóvar (as I just was in the entry above for those of you not playing along at home), here is one of his earlier works - a typically gay-themed, neo-noirish fractured fairytale.  Definitely not one of the auteur's better works, it still shows many of the ideas that would flavour the director's films for years to come.

#710 - Le Bonheur (1934) - (#879 on TSPDT) A strange little French-Russian hybrid, this is a fun, but far from great little silent film.  Comedies from early Soviet cinema are a lot lesser known than their dramatic counterparts, but still that stern Soviet block filmmaking is intact.  As I said, fun, but not on par with either its Nationalist comrades Eisenstein and Pudovkin nor its silent comedy brethren Chaplin and Keaton.

#711 - Ivan's Childhood (1962) - (#602 on TSPDT)  Early Tarkovsky, this film about war and death and sacrifice and loyalty, is, in my not-so-humble opinion, the director's most stunningly beautiful work of art.  Perhaps it is not the Russian's best film overall (that would be Stalker probably - not a typical choice I know) but the beauty of the images is just masterful, and the final few shots, though predictable, are simply devastating to behold.  Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think that perhaps this is Tarkovsky's best film after all.  Yeah, let's go with that.

#712 - The Mirror (1975) - (#67 on TSPDT)  Tarkovsky's second highest ranked film on the list (after Rublev), but do not colour me impressed quite yet.  As much as I liked (and praised) Ivan's Childhood above, that is how disappointed I was in The Mirror.  Granted, there are some rather gorgeous shots, and certain sequences are enough to put some wiggle in your walk, but overall, the film fell rather flat for me.  I have never been a huge Tarkovsky fan - never hating one of the director's films but never truly loving one either - so I suppose my disappointment was not too shocking, but it was still a somewhat surprising blow considering the double digit ranking of the film.  Oh well.

#713 - The Story of a Cheat (1936) - (#594 on TSPDT)  I had never seen a Sacha Guitry film before, having only heard of the director/writer/actor in the most peripheral of ways, but the list has offered my the opportunity to remedy that.  Purchasing Criterion's Eclipse box set, Presenting Sacha Guitry, I went to town and was suitably impressed by this first of four films in the set.  Sort of Lubitschy in its mannerisms but a bit more Sturgesy in its undertaking, Guitry's first film (after years of disdaining cinema from his perch trodding the boards) is a fun little romp.  Never too deep but always very wry and often witty.  To be honest, I was just as thrilled by the second film in the set, The Pearls of the Crown, but alas, that is not on the list.

#714 - Two For the Road (1967) - (#958 on TSPDT) A few weeks after watching this surprisingly delightful (and I mean that in the most subversive manner) film from Stanley Donan, the list had its annual update and the film was (gasp!) knocked off the list.  Well dammit, I don't care, I am including it here anyway (after the update, my count stays then same anyway).  A very witty, dare I say brilliantly conceived film that plays mind games with any sense of linear structure.  Predating Annie Hall, a film with obvious influence taken (though with more bite), Donan's film is an acerbic, daring movie way ahead of its time - and a film that should not have been kicked of the list dammit!  I think I would count it in my top 200, so a list of 1000 should be enough to contain such a film.

#715 - Sawdust and Tinsel (1953) - (#647 on TSPDT)  I like opening the year with a strong start, and watching this early Bergman on New Year's Day is definitely the way to do such a thing.  Quickly skyrocketing into the number two spot of my ranking of Bergman's films (Seventh Seal is still number one) this crisply shot circus film is a remarkably powerful film - both visually and emotionally.  Part of that more humanistic, less religious early Bergman style, Sawdust and Tinsel is a film that rarely gets mentioned in talks of the Swedish auteur, but its recent restoration and DVD/BD release over at the house of Criterion, should remedy that.  At least I would hope it does.

#716 - Hour of the Wolf (1968) - (#749 on TSPDT)  Back-to-back Bergmans in just a few day span, I cannot say I was as pleased with this one as I was with the previous.  As with many of the great Swede's late sixties work (Shame and Persona) this is a rather pretentious work, filled with unrequited bravado (a thing the other two aforementioned films, especially the quite brilliantly conceived Persona, manage to overcome much easier than this) and even though it is far from a bad movie, it is a lesser Bergman indeed.

#717 - Salvatore Giuliano (1961) - (#318 on TSPDT)  For a film so high up on the list, I thought this was a pretty drab affair.  Then again, it is not alone in that respect. - just check out the even higher placed first entry in this segment.  Seeming like the kind of film I would normally enjoy, this subtly disarming gangster movie ends up being nothing more than a dragging experience interspersed with flashes of cinematic bravura.  Unfortunately these moments of intensity are not enough to keep the film going for its entirety.  And this is coming from someone who actually enjoys slow moving cinema.

#718 - Triumph of the Will (1935) -  (#315 on TSPDT)  We can put aside all the stories of Leni Riefenstahl's supposed Nazi sympathies (okay, even with her undying denial, these are probably more than supposed stories) because this film transcends any of the ugliness that is associated with Nazi Germany.  Friends with Hitler (and supposedly enemies with Goebbels - she would not listen to his cultural demands) Riefenstahl was asked to film the 1934 National Socialist rallies.  Using groundbreaking techniques, Riefenstahl, who had been favourably compared to the likes of Welles and Hitchcock in her day (Pauline Kael called this and her epic-length Olympia, the two greatest films ever directed by a woman), created a gorgeous work of cinematic art.  We watch as Nazi soldiers goosestep, Hitler youth romp around in the most homoerotic manner and parades and speeches are glorified.  If one can forget the atrocities that would come in the next few years, this is a beautiful film full of classic romantic cadence.  As pure cinema, this is a great film - even with its rather sinister leanings. 

#719 - Murder By Contract (1958) -  (#873 on TSPDT)   This is a fun movie.  A giddy movie about a hired gun who runs into trouble with his latest target.  Even though it is not technically in the genre, this film plays out in the same frame of mind, and has many of the same tropes as the more famed heist movies of the time like Rififi and The Killing.  Perhaps it is not up to those film's levels, but it is quite fun indeed.

6 comments:

Ed Howard said...

Agreed about Eyes Without a Face, "haunting" is the only word for it. The ending especially. Franju is a really great director, Nuits rouges and especially Judex are also fantastic, and totally different from the ethereal horror of this one.

Les maitres fou is the only Rouch I've seen, it had some interesting ideas but on the whole it didn't do a lot for me either.

Law of Desire is nuts, so wacky and weird, except when it's being melodramatically intense. Loved the character of Tina.

I can't agree at all about The Mirror, though considering your antipathy for experimental film, it's not at all surprising that you didn't like it. I think it's enthralling from beginning to end, and might even be Tarkovsky's best film.

I also love Hour of the Wolf - I mean, Bergman making a horror film? Who can resist that? It's been years since I've seen it, but I've never forgotten those images of people literally climbing the walls. So creepy.

Dave Enkosky said...

So many great movies here (obviously). I'll just comment on a few. Definitely agree with you on Eyes Without a Face and Ivan's Childhood. Definitely disagree, however, on L'Age d'Or. Of course, I love surrealism and I'm a huge fanboy for Bunuel, so take that for what it's worth.

Kevyn Knox said...

I know so many that praise The Mirror (one of my best friends adores the thing) but for one reason or another I just can't get behind it. Some quite stunning imagery but nothing (IMHO) that Tarkovsky has not done at least as good or if not better elsewhere.

Hour of the Wolf I probably like a bit more than what I seem to in my tiny blurb about it, but it is still one of my least favourite Bergmans.

As for the Bunuel film - the Spaniard is definitely a hit and miss with me. Loved Viridiana and Nazarine and Exterminating Angel. I obviously love that period of Bunuel. Quite like some of his later French work as well. I just do not like the man's early surreal duo he did with Dali.

As a preview: My next batch of films will include some great 1950's Renoir which I will praise to the high heavens.

Michaël Parent said...

You are keeping a good pace with your quest Kevyn!
The River is a personal favourite from Renoir's work and I loved almost every movie I've seen from him. I would agree with Scorsese that it is one of the most beautiful Technicolor films of all time!
The Mirror isn't a Tarkovsky favorite for me either. Solaris and Nostalghia are my preference but I haven't seen The Sacrifice!
Eyes Without A Face is a very interesting French film that didn't aged at all!

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