Tuesday, May 8, 2012

1938 response

Jason M. Poole (right) in an early starring role in Eisenstein's ALEXANDER NEVSKY.

I'm so stoked that you're doing these 30s lists, Brandon, as it gives me a chance to talk about a lot of the movies I've been seeing over the last year. The 30s are a lot of fun, and I think the films from this era have a real distinctive feel that I like revisiting. As I've been trying to fill in all my 40s and 50s gaps (which has been a cinematic blessing), I've still been trying to sneak in as many 30s movies merely out of the simplest enjoyment I get from them. I truly believe that from 1936 on, filmmaking hit at least a 25 year period of pure artistic genius that will never be repeated and is worth cherishing. Not that the years leading up to 1936 are any slouches (as there are many, many great films in there) but I think that that is the first year where the stars of sound filmmaking started to immaculately align and everything seemed to be working like magic. The 30s are more than worth digging through.

1938 is a great for film. I'm really happy to see your list finally, and I definitely dig the hell out of it. Great job! Let's talk a little bit, homie.

Wow, now I'm REALLY excited to see HOLIDAY. I originally intended to watch it on TCM back in August, but that was back when the power went off in my house for a week and I completely missed it. I've got it finally arriving in the mail later this week though, so I'll definitely give you some better thoughts on it then. I'm sure I'll love it. Cukor's got some real gems in that vast filmography of his. No doubt.

THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD is definitive childhood glee that only grows more beloved in your estimation as an adult. It's an essential adventure film, and you're absolutely right, a perfect Hollywood adaptation. I think you know you've done an amazing job adapting source material when your film is as canonical as the very legend itself.

THE LADY VANISHES is one of Hitch's very best films. I think you're right that a lot of what draws us to it is this immediate sense of friendship and adventure between the two leads. I think the relationship between them is as charming as most any great rom-com pairing. Michael Redgrave deserves a lot credit here for being so suave and fearless. And I've said it many times before, but one of my favorite things about the film is its offbeat sense of humor. It works completely as a thriller, but it also has those laugh-out-loud dry moments like the final shootout that add a welcome air of levity to an otherwise sinister situation. There's brooding on the horizon in this picture, but also enough spirit to give you real hope–maybe like Europe itself at the time.

PORT OF SHADOWS is very beautiful and heartbreaking, indeed. I'm glad it cracked your top 5, as I was really hoping you'd be drawn to it in a similar way that I was. I was floored by it the first time I saw it. For some reason, I really respond to that noir trope of the down-and-out drifter trying to find a sanctuary, looking for love and meaning in such a crazy world. Not I can 100% relate to that, I just find it beautiful and poetic in a way that really nourishes my imagination. Jean Gabin (a serious contender for the coolest man who ever lived title), all alone, finds companionship with a dog and a love that is worth giving himself over to. It's an inescapably doomed love, but somehow it seems just about more real than anything else one could put his faith in. Maybe it's because our (anti-)hero has nothing left to lose, and he just gives everything he has to this one final act of spiritual/emotional redemption that we feel comforted despite our sadness. It's almost the film reminding us: A lot shit goes down in life and it may all end bad, but there are some things that make the craziness all worthwhile.

The film is maybe the definitive work of the poetic realism genre. It definitely fits into the sense of fear that was growing in Europe at the time, as you pointed it. It's a mix between escapist romanticism and a sense of pervading doom. To me, poetic realism is one of the best and most timely subgenres in the history of film, and this little gem is about as good as it gets. I love everything about it. Also, can we just sit back and admire for a second how absolutely astonishing this film looks? All sea-drenched in fog and haze, it's a real beauty.

I don't know how VIVACIOUS LADY completely flew under my radar. I gotta see it now, asap, especially after what you wrote. I would give up everything I owned to have Ginger Rogers shoot off wise-cracks at me all day.

ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES, like with the similar-themed DEAD END, goes a long way towards deconstructing the male gangster anti-hero that had risen in the 30s. At the end, Rocky Sullivan's legacy is reduced to the ultimate shame of cowardice, all for the sake of saving these at-risk kids from the gutter. It's the most necessary case of the the fallen idol. The second great film Curtiz made this year. Plus, it's James fucking Cagney. He made everything he touched great, or at the very least, worth gluing your eyes to.

LA BETE HUMAINE is easily the darkest picture Jean Renoir ever made. It's a grim world he depicts here. Not that it isn't without its little touches of sympathy and humanism, but it just feels caught within a matrix of inveterate cruelty, unlike anything else he ever did. This is a big time dark early noir, from one of cinema's foremost visionaries. A man, who in my opinion, was one of the first to help films reach the heights of great literature. I stand by that shit.

I don't think I'll ever understand YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU's detractors. It's a lot of fun, and to me, it does have important things to say about family and personal happiness over wealth and soulless conformity. Even if it's outlook is too rose-colored, it's always good to cheer yourself up with. I dig it.

I really should watch JEZEBEL again. I watched it late at night maybe back in July, and I was really sleepy. It definitely has its cringe-worthy moments, but I think you're right–ultimately, it provides redemption and a moment of real moral growth for a previously spoiled and selfish rich girl (eat shit GIRLS). That attempt to even salvage the soul from the abyss is definitely rare nowadays. The Dardenne's THE SON (will someone else watch that already!) is one of those rare cases–just had to plug it again.

BRINGING UP BABY is such dizzy pandemonium, for sure. Hawks' rapid-fire screwball comedies are a treasure and a staple within the genre. I was actually watching some of this the other day on TCM. Still a lot of fun.

PYGMALION is the best film adaptation of G.B. Shaw's great play about modern dehumanization, male chauvinism, and class deconstructionism. Shaw wrote the script, which is why it's so good, and I think Asquith and Howard do a wonderful job giving the work a visual language that can only be captured on film. It's a good one, though maybe it didn't crack the top 10 just because I like the play a little better.

Ahh, the great thing about you posting these lists is that I can return the favor and re-post mine. He's the most recent incarnation of my 30s list. HOLIDAY will likely shake things up soon, but for now:

1. Port of Shadows (Carné)
2. The Lady Vanishes (Hitchcock)
3. The Adventures of Robin Hood (Curtiz)
4. La Bête humaine (Renoir)
5. Angels With Dirty Faces (Curtiz)
6. Hotel Du Nord (Carné)
7. You Can’t Take it With You (Capra)
8. Alexander Nevsky (Eisenstein)
9. Bringing Up Baby (Hawks)
10. Jezebel (Wyler)

Pygmalion (Asquaith, Howard), The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (Litvak), Carefree (Sandrich), Boy Meets Girl (Bacon), Room Service (Seiter), A Christmas Carol (Marin)

I was impressed enough by ALEXANDER NEVSKY's awesome ice-battles to make it crack the list and I'm still keeping it in there for now. It's not a great or even good narrative to follow, but its visuals are really weird and cool.

HOTEL DU NORD, I love because of how great Carné is at representing locations and communities. The playful scenes around the hotel with all its denizens are just really joyful. And its doomed and romantic love story really speaks to me, as I mentioned above.

Just a heads up, Frank Borzage's THREE COMRADES from 1938 is on TCM at the end of May. It'll be worth checking out I'm sure. Scorsese, in his monthly column on TCM, says this about TCM's Borzage night:

"FRANK BORZAGE (May 25, 8:00pm)--TCM is running three Frank Borzage pictures this month, all made during the same period. Three Comrades, adapted from Erich Maria Remarque's novel, The Mortal Storm and the mystical Strange Cargo. I like to draw attention to Borzage's pictures. I started looking at them in the '90s, and the more closely I studied them the more powerful they became. The studio era is known for its romances, but Borzage really believed in the communion of two souls, and the romantic bonds between the couples in his pictures have an intensity that you just don't find in other people's movies. James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan in The Mortal Storm are one of the most moving couples in his entire body of work, which began in 1913 and ended in 1959. If you don't know Borzage's work, this trio of pictures is an excellent place to start."

I'm just getting into Borzage (just watched MOONRISE–more on that later), so I'm following Scorsese's advice and starting with the rest of these.

Anyway, dude–awesome list! Thanks for doing it. There needs to be more 30s love around here. I look forward to more of it.

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