Thursday, June 7, 2012

1963 Response

Brandon, I haven't seen a lot of the films on your list so this will likely be a weak response post.
Sorry dude. Great list though! Let's chat:

I am really glad to see HIGH AND LOW at the top of your list. It would be right near the top of mine if not first. It's one of Kurosawa's best and most complex works. Definitely "one of the greatest detective thrillers in history" too. Here's some of the stuff I wrote about it back in April while you were on tour:

"The opening 60 minutes of the film take place entirely within Gondo's enormously spacious condo, as he communicates with the kidnapper and contemplates paying the ransom (thereby destroying his social status and economic standing) or letting the boy die. I won't give anything else away. All I'll say is that the first act is riveting, rich, and profound like great theater. The moral crisis is real, and it's impossible to take your eyes off of Toshiro Mifune as Gondo. Plus, the widescreen just makes the condo look massive and Kurosawa's use of blocking within the extended frame is masterful.

I actually thought the entire film would take place in the condo, until it shifted gears and became this wonderfully meticulous police procedural and tense thriller. The film is basically a play in four acts, and each act is as interesting, exciting, and thought-provoking as the next. It's an impressive and ingenious bit of filmmaking from the first second to the last. If you love procedure, detective stories, bold socio-economic and philosophical themes, and the richness of great literature then you will be floored by the film. I know I was."

You think Fincher's a fan of this one? It has ZODIAC inspiration written all over it. Lisa, you'd dig it.

We were just talking about THE GREAT ESCAPE, and I don't know if I have anything more to add on it.
It's great entertainment as well as just one of those quintessential POW stories that speaks to the desire for freedom and redemption in all of us. It'd be high on my list as well. THE SIMPSONS do a great parody of it (and even reference THE BIRDS at the same time):

I haven't seen CHARADE in SOOO long. I don't even really remember it. But, I'm sure it's completely great and, like you said, one of those vestigial remnants of the Golden Age aesthetic that were increasingly rare as the 60s moved onward. I gotta make plans to see this one again soon.

I haven't seen IRMA LA DOUCE, but I really want to. Haven't seen A CHILD IS WAITING either.

THE LEOPARD I have seen, and worship. It's a GORGEOUS film. You were right to bring up Ophüls. Visconti effortlessly evokes the sumptuous and stately visuals of the late German master. Oddly enough, Visconti was originally one of the foremost neo-realists of the 40s. OSSESSIONE and LA TERRA TREMA are two great examples of earthy and unadorned realism. But then, in the 50s and 60s, his style broadened and he started making incredibly ornate, visually detailed, and beautiful period pieces like THE LEOPARD. Visconti is probably the most underappreciated of the great Italian directors, but to me, he was one of the best. THE LEOPARD is a strong testament to his greatness, both as a visual genius, and a classical storyteller. This is old-school filmmaking of the epic kind.

I like THE BIRDS, but don't necessarily love it. I have great disdain for Tippi Hedron's inability to convey any acting talent, but let's put that aside for the moment. THE BIRDS, in terms of pure filmmaking, is terrific. It's great shock and terror cinema. My mother, who doesn't really watch any old movies, still considers it the scariest thing she ever saw. I'm sure it had that impact on a lot of people. I really enjoy THE BIRDS for all its technical achievements and the pure craft involved. The only thing that holds me back from loving it is just not feeling connected to the characters or story. This isn't a huge hang-up, just enough of one to make me prefer a lot of Hitch's earlier films.

You're very right about THE SILENCE. It's pure cinema. It's one of Bergman's more enigmatic and stylish films. He seems to be contemplating space and sound (or lack thereof) in a way he never had before. It's an incredible mood piece, one of doom, like you mentioned, but also of intense pain and the desire for relief and safety. I don't know exactly what is on Bergman's mind with it either, but I know I love trying to guess what it is.

I haven't seen LILIES OF THE FIELD.

I love both SUZANNE'S CAREER and THE BAKERY GIRL OF MONCEAU, and pretty much for the same reasons. Rohmer has an uncanny ability to completely humanize his characters. He grounds them in the barriers of subjective thought, moral and ethical limits, and the vicissitudes of desire. All of the Moral Tales muse on the same theme, but they are each beautiful and unique in terms of characterization. If you loved SUZANNE'S CAREER then you are going to love the rest of the Moral Tales, Brandon. If you were underwhelmed by THE BAKERY GIRL, then watch the rest of the Moral Tales and come back to it. It's a perfectly short and sweet summation of Rohmer's aesthetic.

I haven't seen the rest of your list except for WINTER LIGHT, which you know I'm a fan of. It's alternate title should have been FEAR AND LOATHING IN SWEDEN. It's a dark picture dealing with serious uncertainty, terror, remorse, and emptiness. "The moments before he died, Christ was seized by doubt. Surely that must have been his greatest hardship? God's silence." Mmhmm.

As to your honorable mentions, I definitely would put THE SWORD AND THE STONE on my list, and very high up on it too. It's my favorite Disney movie. If I ever needed something to cheer me up, I'd put that in and bliss out.

I'm a big fan of THE HAUNTING. But a bit surprised that you aren't as well. It's legitimately scary.

One of the films you left off your list I would probably put at first or second on mine, and that's, of course: 8 1/2. The very first foreign classic film I ever saw; it's also one of the best films about filmmaking ever made. Some give it shit for being too discursive and inscrutable, but really I think it's just a beautiful, expressionistic look at how we dream about art, childhood, sex, work, and our weird place in a vast and indifferent universe. I'm glad to hear you say that you mostly love the film. I really think you should give it another chance. Fellini's heart and soul is in it. To me, it's a bit of reverie to get lost in.

For some reason, seeing 8 1/2 off of your list and seeing THE SILENCE on it makes me wonder why you value certain "intellectual" filmmakers but dismiss others. Bergman, Tarkovsky, Passolini, and Bresson are all highly intellectual filmmakers just like Antonioni, Fellini, and Resnais. I'm not trying to be contentious or "get you" over disliking these guys. I understand that there are huge differences between all of these filmmakers. I'm just truthfully curious about why some are deemed pretentious and others are not? You know what I'm saying? Really, I'm just trying to stick up for my homies Fellini and Antonioni.

I saw CONTEMPT a long time ago and don't remember it enough to have any love or...contempt for it. I know Fritz Lang's in it and it's about making a film version of THE ODYSSEY. That's about it.

Anyway, sorry I couldn't be more of a discussion partner this time around. I love the list though. Sorry it gave you such a hard time. 1935 surely will be the cure to all your ills.


Switching gears, I forgot to mention in my May recap that I finally watched X-MEN: FIRST CLASS. I didn't really like it. I thought the best thing about it was Michael Fassbender: Nazi Hunter. Those vengeance scenes with him were cool, but the rest of it was too unnecessarily different from the actual origin story, too corny, too contrived, and all around too dull. I didn't really have high hopes for it, but I was at least hoping it'd be a lot more fun than it was. Oh well.


Y'all have no idea how excited I am to be getting LANCELOT DU LAC from John. I've been going through so much Bresson withdrawal that I re-watched PICKPOCKET and AU HASARD BALTHAZAR within the last two days. I've even started writing emails to Criterion begging them to release THE DEVIL PROBABLY, A GENTLE WOMAN, and FOUR NIGHTS OF A DREAMER either on DVD or Hulu. It's a serious crime that 9 of his 13 films are either unreleased or out of print in this country. Merde!

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