Monday, January 23, 2012

Film roundup Part 2

I'll post on Brother Born Again soon, I just wanted to get out another film roundup while I could.

Thanks, Ben, for your nice words. I appreciate them very much. I hope that my lists can be helpful for you and anyone else who is interested in checking out some 30s films. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on some of them, and I hope I don't steer you wrong. I dig the new look to the site, and am excited about you starting your own project into the classics. Should be awesome. Good luck with it!

So, I was thinking that I should avoid roundup posts like this, but I watch too many films in a short period of time, so all my posts have to be like this if I want to talk about anything:

Odd Man Out (Reed, 1947) - I forgot to include this in my last roundup. Is there anything more beautiful than snow shot in black-and-white? I really can’t imagine so. The last 30 minutes or so with James Mason wandering through the snowy streets of Belfast are dazzling. A film partly about what one man’s body can signify and how compassion for others can be obfuscated by politics and fear. Much of the film is Mason’s character being passed around like a live grenade, and it’s always compelling to see how characters react to his wounded body once they found out he’s the wanted leader of an IRA-like group. Great moribund performance by Mason, and a dark, but essential ending reminiscent of Italian Neorealism.

There Was a Father (Ozu, 1942) and Good Morning (Ozu, 1959) - At this point, I just can’t stop watching Ozu films. Every time I sit down to watch something on Hulu I look at the list of various films I want to see or should see, and I only want to watch Ozu. He’s easily in my top five favorite directors now after only 6 films, and I can only imagine my adoration for him growing the more I see. Anyway, I’ve been saying how much I love Ozu lately, but I’ve yet to really express why that is. I'm gonna use Roger Ebert to help me

I’m a big fan of Ebert’s Great Movies series, and I love reading his write-ups for films after I’ve seen them. Ebert’s a great Ozu admirer and has several of his films in said Great Movies series. In one of his reviews he called Ozu’s films “serene,” which I think is the best adjective one could use to describe his work. His films are serene, calm, assured, gentle, bittersweet, humorous, poetic, lovely, and human. In his write-up for Ozu’s An Autumn Afternoon, Ebert has a great little summary on what makes Ozu so unique, something I agree with completely:

“Ozu is one of the greatest artists to ever make a film. This was his last one. He never married. He lived for 60 years with his mother, and when she died, he was dead a few months later. Over and over again, in almost all of his films, he turned to the same central themes, of loneliness, of family, of dependence, of marriage, of parents and children. He holds these themes to the light and their prisms cast variations on each screenplay. His films are all made within the emotional space of his life, in which he finds not melodramatic joy or tragedy, but mono no aware, which is how the Japanese refer to the bittersweet transience of all things.

From time to time I return to Ozu feeling a need to be calmed and restored. He is a man with a profound understanding of human nature, about which he makes no dramatic statements. We are here, we hope to be happy, we want to do well, we are locked within our aloneness, life goes on. He embodies this vision in a cinematic style so distinctive that you can tell an Ozu film almost from a single shot. He films mostly indoors. His camera is at the eye level of a person seated on a tatami mat. The camera never moves. His shots often begin before anyone enters the frame, and end after the frame is empty again. There is foreground framing, from doors or walls or objects. There is meticulous attention to the things within the shot.”

Well said, sir. Ozu’s style is, of course, unmistakable. As Ebert points out, you see one low-angled long shot looking through a door frame and you instantly know it’s him. I love everything about his style, particularly his use of matching images, his notorious “pillow shots,” his completely static camera, and the way he captures his actors within walls or various parallel lines to create these beautiful frames for the eye to focus on. He has one of the most visually assured styles of any filmmaker in history. He knew exactly what he was doing and what he wanted every time he stepped behind a camera.

There Was a Father has the distinctive Ozu look and as a story is incredibly touching. It’s about the relationship between a father and son and how it has to be severed through time. As Ebert mentioned, Ozu’s films are marked by the Japanese philosophy of mono no aware. There is a bittersweetness in the film (like with all Ozu films) for the impermanence of human life and the fleeting time we get to spend together. The film is completely tender and moving without being sentimental at all. There is a calm acceptance for everything that changes, a gentle sadness for its passing, and a warm appreciation for its very existence. It is a film that is indeed serene and purely blissful.

Good Morning is a much more comedic affair. It’s actually pretty hilarious and endearing. Apparently, Aki Kaurismaki is a huge Ozu fan as well. I could sense the sort of offbeat warmth of Le Havre in this. It’s about a small Japanese community with one television among its close-knit denizens. Several of the children in the community sneak to their neighbor's house to watch sumo wrestling on the tv instead of doing their studies. This causes an uproar with the parents. A pair of siblings explain to their parents that if they got them a tv they wouldn’t need to sneak about. The parents won’t concede to getting a tv so the siblings take a vow of silence in protest. A wonderful comedy with some great themes about communication and the gap between adults and children. One of the siblings, Isamu, is particularly adorable and hilarious. Also, the film has the best fart jokes in any art-house film you’re likely to ever see; I kid you not. A must watch.

Lola Montes (Ophüls, 1955) - Ophüls’ constant pirouetting camera movements are a complete 180 from Ozu, but it’s amazing to see the marked contrast between the two and appreciate both. This is Ophüls last film and his only film in color. Obviously, it’s insanely beautiful. I’m sure I sound redundant ever time I mention Ophüls, but if you are a lover of cinematography, how could you not be blown away by his impeccable camera movements and lush compositions? While the camera seems less busy in this film, the use of color and the detailed set design take over and catch the eye immediately. It reminded me a lot of Visconti’s Senso or The Leopard or even Lean’s Doctor Zhivago; incredibly ornate and detailed sets with lush contrast of colors and a visual predilection for the breathtaking. Ophüls’ films aren’t gentle or reserved like Ozu's but flamboyant and hyperactive, yet both are simply astonishing.

The Quiet Man (Ford, 1952) - I need to stop watching directors who create such beautiful compositions because all I do is repeat myself. This is one of the very few great John Ford films that has alluded me over the years. I guess I’ve just been waiting for the right time to be blown away by that verdant Irish countryside. It doesn’t disappoint. I guess I can skip mentioning how amazing it is to look at because it’s John Ford so of course it’s amazing to look at. Love the story about a man looking for refuge in a small Irish village (the land of his ancestors), coming to terms with his past, falling in love, and getting acquainted with a whole new culture. Love John Wayne in it; it’s definitely one of his most sympathetic and likable characters. Love the often hilarious Victor MacLaglen and the beautiful and feisty Maureen O’hara. Ford essentially idealizes a pastoral, antiquated, and united Ireland, but who can blame him? Watching the film, I couldn’t help but want to do the same as John Wayne’s character and go live in some time-warped Ireland stuck in the 1800s. The ending is perhaps Fords greatest idealization of Ireland where a long, drunken fistfight takes place. It made me insanely proud to be Irish. It’s an awesome sequence, and it reminds of the great fistfight in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon that Brandon was mentioning recently. Great film.

The Double Life of Veronique (Kieslowski, 1991) - Re-watched it thanks to Chris. The last time I saw it was when I was 17 and rented it on VHS from a video store near me (I miss those days). I loved it when I saw it, but couldn’t remember it for the life of me. Seeing it again, it’s definitely a masterpiece along with The Decalogue and The Three Colors Trilogy. Kieslowski’s use of images as motifs, his constant ability to make us question what we are seeing, and his use of reflections and double images makes the film a profound and enigmatic meditation on existence and how we look at everything around us. It asks us to look at things every which way; it ties us to the heavens and the earth and makes us aware of the vicissitudes of chance and fate. It’s beautiful, strange, and the work of a master.

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