Mittwoch, 11. Juli 2012

A Woman's Face (Cukor, 1941) #DTC 1407

A criminal woman with a disfigured face is restored to beauty and (some sort of) innocence.


Not too many details stick to the mind from this one. There are a lot of interesting close-up shots of Crawford, hiding the disfigured side of her face under a hat. The story seems to be concerned with the new magic of the times of applied psychology and restoration surgery.

There is one fantastic scene where Crawford rides on a cable car, with a little boy she is supposed to kill. Her back and forth, until she decides that she cannot do it, are quite remarkable. Another  memorable moment was the horse sled chase. Nothing compared to modern chase sequences, but the idea struck me as very original.

The film might have been quite enjoyable at the time, but has not aged too well in my opinion. It might be a good example of a highly structured screenplay, I think:
  1. Setting up the blackmail and the operation
  2. At the new home
    1. A new life at the farmhouse
    2. She has to kill the boy and will get arrested at one point
  3. Hunting down the real killer and showdown in court

Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows (Ritchie, 2011)

The genial sleuth mutates into a spectacular superhero to save the world from another evil crimelord.


There is an interesting trend to superheroize anything - spearheaded by the deadly avalanche of more or less cleverly made or marketed comic adaptations, the box office has started to execute power on the neighboring genre, such as the classical detective story.

It was a smart move to choose Downey as the slightly crazy sleuth, given his real-life experience with drugs, his relentless sarcasm and him having just the right age for this role. Jude Law also gets his moments, but they are few and their numbers quite possibly related to some kind of co-production contract. So - this leaves practically the whole cake for Downey. And he gets it and he eats it. (at least as Holmes)

Some of the more spectacular jokes didn't quite work for me and sometimes the video-game style editing takes you completely out of the movie and places you on the sidewalk outside the theatre. I remember at least two occasions, where there were edit sequences just to show off. But the rest is fantastically put together.

Great scene: restaurant scene in the beginning. Nice idea, good execution.


Freitag, 15. Juni 2012

The Goat (Keaton, Cline, 1921)

A young man is taken for the escaped criminal and hunted all over town.

I still can't remember if the title has any specific meaning there are definitively no animals harmed, ridden, or otherwise made fun during the whole course of this small slapstick shtick. Somewhere it says "funny" on a wall, but the irony is superfluous - the film is just as funny, as all the other Keatons I have come to really like. The slapstick ideas are numerous, and even after a hundred years still really enjoyable and surprising to watch.

I'm starting to wonder if there has been no physical comedy at all in the last 30 years? And I don't mean police academy which I vividly remember being extremely predictable humor.

Cops (Cline, Keaton, 1922) #DTC 95

A man gets into the trouble with police men that seem to multiply faster than rabbits.

I can't really remember the original incident that sets off this wonderful chain of mishaps and myriads of slapstick action. It's been a while since I watched it, and what definitively remains is the image of Keaton being chased by an enormous army of increasingly disgruntled police men. This one didn't have the melancholy of the other Keatons that I enjoyed so much. But in terms of physical action there is so much going on, that it got even hard to follow sometimes.

Maybe I need a re-watch of this one sometimes.

The Shanghai Gesture (Sternberg, 1941) #TSPDT #790


The daughter of a businessman in Shanghai is lured into the swamp of booze and gambling by the owner of a troubled casino.

This movie caught me on the wrong foot. Largely, I didn't know what to make of it WHILE I was watching. It seems to me, that this is the much better *after* you've seen it, than during the course of its run. There is a bizarre quality in how Sternberg has framed his shots. Sometimes it felt that he just recorded close-ups of every actor, added some stunning total shots and then tried to figure out the script after the fact.

Obviously, this is totally untrue, but those amazing close-ups only came to life in my head after the film was over. Huston as the brooding father with the dark past has amazing images and looks like somebody with a seemingly very dark past. The hairstyles have not to be commented on - an image is more than enough and Tierney looks breathtaking.

There is one jaw-dropping sequence where the camera enters the casino for the first time. The image is simply amazing and the architecture of the room works great for the camera. I've never seen this in a newer film, but I'm sure people must have tried to copy it here and there.


Donnerstag, 14. Juni 2012

Kampf der Königinnen (Steiner, 2011)

The yearly cow battles in the canton Valais of Switzerland to crown the queen of cows is a spectacle.

I've missed this movie twice at festivals and was looking forward to see it now. Steiner tried to weave a documentary-style story around the actual event, trying to bring the characters closer together. He didn't manage that on all accounts and once in a while I dropped out of the narrative, wondering where he was going with that. I really liked the genuine farmers that breed those cows for fun (they don't give milk or meat) and let them fight each other in a increasingly popular competition once a year.

These are not your vachequirit cows, they are more sinister, they seem dangerous, they're heavily built and they look very powerful. I have been told that the cows are obliged to be pregnant to able to fight, because otherwise they might prove too aggressive. I was a little disappointed that they've let this pretty bizarre fact out of the movie, it might have added to that final fight. Those approximately 12-15 minutes of pure fighting accompanied by a pretty driving interpretation of the Bolero are really amazing to watch.

If I'm doing a fight scene, I'm absolutely going back to this part of the movie. Pure cowdrenalin!

Montag, 11. Juni 2012

The more, the merrier (Stevens, 1943) #DTC 124

A housing shortage in Washington leads to a bizarre flat share of McCrea, Arthur and Coburn.

The film is one of those romantic comedy prototypes. Which means you can guess the ending pretty early, the exchanges are witty and there is a big breakup somewhere in the middle. But with Coburn thrown into the mix the whole thing became way more unpredictable and for me way more enjoyable.

The demeanor with which Coburn sets up the whole affair between McCrea and Arthur is just amazing. And I have to admit that I loved that little scene with the trousers. Totally silly, but in its harmless way a great deal of fun. There were a couple of other scenes like that, but this one just stuck to my mind.

Some of the jokes are a little "stagey" - woman is in one room, man in the other, they meet in the hallway, walk back into their respective rooms, come out again, act surprised. This is run-of-the-mill fun, not very clever. But many other little visual jokes are. Like what happens with the wall between their respective bedrooms.

Leave Her to Heaven (Stahl, 1945) #TSPDT 899

A writer marries a beautiful woman, who turns out to be a controlling sociopath.

I really liked the story idea, and how the layers of "acceptable" behaviour are peeled one by one from the beautiful wife. Maybe if I had a harder time accepting that she really is that kind of self-indulging, egocentric and jealous woman, she turns out to be might have made the film way more exciting.

The film uses flashback technique to brace the actual story, but that didn't work quite well for me. Also, I think that the murder of the little boy in the lake could have been more haunting. Maybe Hitchcock should have treated this script - it would have made great sense within his own oeuvre.

Still there remain myriads of things in this film that I love. Foremost, the absolutely stunning photography, the colors, the nature, the sea. Everything looks really beautiful and the colors are breathtaking. Tierney is a must see, possibly one of the most authentic 40s beauty ideal  I can think of. I remember hearing somewhere that she detested her high voice and took a lot of training to improve it - maybe that does show a bit.

Although the lake scene is more of a "casual" murder, its images still linger in my mind. Great rewatch just for that scene.

Dance, Girl, Dance (Arzner, 1940) #DTC 322

A ballet danseuse is forced to look for a job as a Hula dancer, when the head of the New York ballet falls in love with her.

For me this seemed quite a convoluted story a bit in the Cinderella style. Going through the script was quite amusing though. Especially those remarks in the style of "inappropriate movement, discuss with the office of Dr. Blah" were hilarious to read. Apart from that I felt that O'Hara's character somehow came off way too saintly. She is danseuse, all right, but there was a certain lofty idealism about her character. On the other hand, I really thought it was fascinating how she told off her casual pursuer.

Another thing that was striking about the movie was Lucille Ball. Her rambunctious attitude is quite refreshing and I thought that she stole quite a lot of the scenes from O'Hara. I think it says on imdb that the two actresses became extremely close friends after the film.

Another little gem is Maria Ouspenskaja, appearing (after Waterloo Bridge) in a similar role as the head of the ballet, but in this film she is open-minded and supportive of her best dancer. She also "dies" when she tries to help her. Comparing the two films gives one the rather somber conclusion that those who are helpful and unselfish pay the highest price possible.

Another interesting fact is the direction by a woman. Haven't read anything about her, but that might prove interesting to research. 

Samstag, 9. Juni 2012

Tobacco Road (Ford, 1941) #TSPDT 841

A poor farmer has to raise 50 dollar before the weekend to keep his little farm on Tobacco Road.

Although highly stagey, both in idea and execution, this was a fabulously funny film to watch (although I went through some problems until I could understand the characters). Also, the ending is quite amazing with the beautiful realization that it's not so easy to really change. I was quite touched by it and it also was a big surprise for what I expected to become a really run-of-the-mill happy end.

I remember many beautiful details of the film: the dog, running to the mans lap to be stroked, the naughtily innocent Gene Tierney (in her first role?), the insolent husband of the other daughter and the obnoxious little boy. His incessant rambling is simply hilarious, and the blazing stupidity of his character are of such, as I cannot remember from any other film I have seen.

This might be very worth re-watching, maybe with focus on the dialogue.  There is a lot of it, a bit hard to understand for me, but from what I gather, extremely funny and witty.



Flavor of green tea over rice (Ozu, 1952) #DTC 469

A married couple goes through a difficult time, even contemplating a break-up.

It's really hard to find something in the storyline - it sounds transparently thin and boring when compressed to one sentence. Nevertheless, as always Ozu has managed to create a whole universe with not much else in it than that very unspectacular married couple. The biggest event/crisis in their lives is, when he is supposed to go to work in South America and she doesn't let him tell her the news.

There are also some highly interesting observations about Japanese marriage culture. As the couples get wed by recommendation, not by love there is a potential generational conflict, plus a high social acceptance for adultery or having a mistress.

The strange calmness of Ozu's films is gripping so strongly anytime - and I'm still trying to figure out how he did it. His beautiful shots of empty corridors, hallways, and other living spaces evoke strong emotions. At the beginning of the film those pictures don't have too much weight, but once the characters have imbued them with their emotions, the walls continue to emanate those feelings, long after their source has left. And all of this manages to transcend through the screen.

Ozu still moves the camera in this one, but it's only very slow tracking shots - if at all. Many visual elements are present also here: the train and the office hallway.  The plane shot seems quite an exception for Ozu.

Not in this film, but in a couple of others there was a "sad" picture of a mirror in an abandoned bedroom that makes your heart stop, it's so full of feeling.

Remember the Night (Leisen, 1940) #DTC 461

A shoplifter ends up spending christmas eve with the district attorney and - obviously - falling in love with him.

My favorite scene is definitively when the car ends up on the meadow and a cow sticks her head into the car, trying to lick Barbara Stanwyck. Cows are funny creatures, as people have known long before Preston Sturges, but they still work - at least for me. Quite possibly it is their balancing on the tightrope between curiosity and fear, combined with their large, brown eyes that makes them so relentlessly funny. Maybe a character like that might prove interesting.

The film as a whole didn't work so good for me, although it has some very funny scenes: the scene with the small town judge/sheriff and some of the exchanges of the couple. It gets a bit too sentimental at the actual xmas ceremony and fails to pick up over that.

I did like the ending which was kept at least slightly ambiguous: will he still be there when she comes out? A script analysis would maybe state that it is HER story told from HIS perspective, but the balance doesn't hold up the interest of the viewer well enough.


Freitag, 8. Juni 2012

Fort Apache (Ford, 1948) #TSPDT #981

The grandiloquent Gen. Custer (with a wrong name) tries to bring glory to the forlorn military outpost he is delegated to, but brings war and death.

I've made the great mistake of watching this film, before I've watched "They died with their boots on". Not being familiar with the grand story and glorified legend of Gen. Custer I viewed this as a rather weird stand-off between Fonda and Wayne. Many of Honda's actions don't make the least sense, but compared to the 1940 antecedent this is obviously the much more insightful movie.

Henry Fonda really manages to get across as a stuck-up, yesteryear's hero and I deeply disliked the character. That was best achieved by showing the bizarre pedantry for protocol and the total absence of humor. That the man is also safe-guarding his daughter (ineffectively, in the end) illustrates a humane side which makes him all the more real.

There are some amazing scenes and the battle scenes are fast and breathtaking. I thought the sense of space and geography in the final scenes quite interesting. I'm not quite sure, how Wayne could get to Custer and release him in battle again, but the editing somehow made it work.


Galaxy Quest (Parisot, 1999)

A former sci-fi TV series cast is tossed into a real world/galaxy/universe saving adventure and end up living up to their screen persona.

Considering my movie watching habits at the moment, this is absolutely not the type of film I would watch otherwise, and also being deeply disappointed in popcorn and sci-fi genre flicks. Through the gointethestory monthly viewing series I got involved in reading and somewhat studying the script and also watching the online tweet session with the film.

Although I did enjoy the move, I've caught myself finding it difficult to see past the not too ambivalent characters on screen. I understand from the discussions that they all have the "minimum" depth required for a good sreenplay, but somehow I felt that their inner life was too much simplified. Since the plot was not very twisted, it felt like I didn't have too much to hold on.  So when the movie was over I thought: "OK, now what?" - which means that I wouldn't recommend it to a friend over a beer.

What is interesting to note is that the script left a bigger impression on me than the film. 


All Quiet on the Western Front (Milestone, 1930) #TSPDT 296

The first World War experienced through the eyes of an innocent school boy as he becomes a battle-hardened veteran.

The film is not only visually impressive and graphically violent, but has some really beautiful poetic moments, and even a few of them a bit racy, at least in implication. According to imdb it was filmed before production code came into effect and it makes it somehow possible to get a glimpse of how cinema could have developed in later years, hadn't the bizarre moral rules been put into gear - although the hand-cuffing led to those extremely witty double/triple and quadruple entendres in later years which I love (when I get them)

The scenes in the war trenches feel absolutely believable and what impressed me the most was the fact that the film actually shows what soldiers really do all day long: They wait. They wait to kill. The chit-chat in between fights and battles does let every soldier tell his post-war plans, but it does so in a very unsentimental way. The soldiers, their dreams, their problems are much smaller than the "grand scale of things" and it becomes quickly rather clear that they've never really understood what exactly they are fighting for.

I like that the "political" dialogues were not woven into any subtexts. An exchange on politics (not only sex and ambitions) would rather be expected, especially in the tight-knitted social group of a platoon.

The battle imagery is grandiose and just for that is worth a re-watch.





Dienstag, 5. Juni 2012

Black Ice (Brakhage, 1994)

Mostly dark with strong colors.

Black Ice is harder for me to interpret than Mothlight, especially I have absolutely no idea on the process of making, or any kind of hint to what Brakhage explored with this one. There is an overwhelming quantity of black, with some kind colored patches that are revealed by the "melting" of the black mass - quite possibly, this is where the title comes from.

The whole piece is in continuous zooming motion, or at least this is the impression I've had. Nothing new after sitting for hours in front of screensavers, but in a way it evokes just the same kind of feeling. I really liked the very intense colors but the perceived forward motion that is endless made it more difficult to focus on the actual structures and there form. There was a sense of a black center and a more vivid outer region, where the colored patches form. (In memory anyway)

Too early, to get a good interpretation - maybe some more re-viewing.

Montag, 4. Juni 2012

Mothlight (Brakhage, 1963)

Experimental film exploring the physical medium of film.

I will not even try to claim that I even halfway understand the film, if "understanding" is anything that was intended by Brakhage. Although there is a small pile of books on Brakhages work staring at me from the unread shelf, I still allow myself to interpret the film in my own limited way.

For me it is an exploration into the world of certain subjects like light, attraction to light and transparency. This might be a premise to end up sticking moths onto transparent films. There are some interesting related thoughts: the attraction of people to the movie and the watching of a lightened screen in a darkened room. The dissimulation of a real world existing inside the pictures projected is destroyed in this film by moths who do have reached their ultimate goal - to become part of the very thing they are attracted to.  But it also has the aspect of a collection of pinned insects.

Maybe I could nice little tale about the drawing power of stardom in movies - and how it ultimately kills you once you've made it to the silver screen. But there have been many of these, I guess.

Definitively worth rewatching many times, food for thought.

Cat People (Tourneur, 1942) #TSPDT #471

An unsuspecting architect falls in love with a Serbian woman who is cursed to become a man-slaying cat.

The famous scene in the swimming pool still haunts me from time to time. I've rewatched it and there is really nothing in the picture that would make you scare. It's the simple economy of Tourneur to push us into the pool with the poor lady and become witness and part of her (not so) imagined terror. Even though the woman is not the leading lady, and she doesn't come off as meek and devout as the typical victims in newer horror flicks usually seem to be, especially of the female kind.

I was very fascinated by the scene in the restaurant where the other "cat" immediately identifies the suspecting, but unbelieving girl. The short exchange is great, and the crowd's ignorant reaction was quite realistic, as the scene did much more for the viewer than anybody else. The woman already knew of her condition in a way and the others remained unknowing, therefore the scene was only for building up suspicion.

There is a notion of "saved by the bus" somewhere - defined by Wikipedia the following: " Any scene in which tension is dissipated by a mere moment of startlement, a boo!, is a 'Lewton Bus'". Well now I know.

There are some amazing shots again in this one. The first thing I liked was the darkened apartment on their first meeting, and, obviously, the swimming pool.

Waterloo Bridge (LeRoy, 1940) #DTC 421

A chance meeting of an officer and a dancer protracts into a romance, a series of misunderstandings, and multiple heartbreak.

It took me quite a while to get into this film, but towards the end it was a very enjoyable and touching experience. It starts off maybe just a bit too slow, with the flashback in the beginning being just a touch too campy. Maybe the over-the-top start was putting me off.

As mentioned elsewhere, this is a rather tame remake of an earlier film, which itself is a rather tamed version of a racy stage play. The film has two scenes I remember fondly, the dance scene of the two lovers - which was beautiful to watch. According to imdb LeRoy decided to do this without dialogue and it is a deeply touching scene. The scenes on the bridge were maybe not as memorable, but I liked how they used the location quite effectively as a place of the highest and lowest moments in the script. No doubt a leftover from the play.

It's interesting how difficult it must have been to hint at prostitution without showing it. I imagine a spate of meetings arguing about how this and that should be cut and edited. Luckily, it still is clear enough and the picture doesn't suffer too much from it.

Mittwoch, 30. Mai 2012

Heaven Can Wait (Lubitsch, 1943) #TSPDT 944

A philandering man has to go to heaven to fully grasp his wife's loyalty.

It's quite a bizarre piece of advocacy - in heaven a man comes to his senses when he realizes that his wife was his only true love (despite many other attempts by him to court others), and they sort of live happily ever after. Although smart in execution I feel that this premise makes for a rather one sided view of things. And the longer I think about it, the more depressing it actually gets. It's not so much the anti-morality I object, but simply that it's not funny enough. Quite possibly it is sort of a WW2 Vegas-weekend movie version, and the undertones simply don't work anymore these days.

Other than that, this is Technicolor at its fullest glory (especially RED) and quite an amazing picture to watch. But maybe expectation for this Lubitsch were light years, so I could have only come out disappointed. Still looking forward to Trouble in Paradise, though.


Dienstag, 29. Mai 2012

The Chronicle History of King Henry the Fift with His Battell Fought at Agincourt in France (Olivier, 1944) #TSPDT 395

Laurence Olivier's  rendering of Shakespeare's Henry V is a fascinating experience of "just acting"

As I am still plodding through the works of the master and having still a couple of the historical plays before me (the "Richards" and one "Henry") I have found out that only multiple viewings/listenings and readings will give some satisfaction and reward. Not being fully at ease with the intricate history of the Lancaster and Plantagenet families it took me forever to figure out which is which in the back and forth of those laborious intrigues.

Luckily, Henry V is a bit simpler. Family feuds are at a minimum during this period and good ol' Hal sweeps over to France, kills pretty much everything that moves, marries the kings daughter and even lets his sinister buddy Falstaff die of more or less natural causes. Olivier's version of the imperial entrepreneur is not as ambivalent as in the play (just by leaving out some crucial scenes) and mostly the good fellow that every soldier in the bloody trenches of 44 must have wished be his commander.

The colors are glorious, the opening marvelous and some of the scenes hilarious (they left in the sexual content in the fake french scene - not many people understand it today). Not everything holds up perfectly, for example the French Court feels too stagey. But the battle scenes are pretty cool and left me ruminating: how did they manage to pay for all that?

Titanic 3D (Cameron, 1997)

Boy and girl from different social classes fall in love on the doomed maiden voyage of the biggest ship in the world.

Titanic has a very uneventful story construction, apart from using a standard flashback technique everything is pretty much by the rule - I wasn't surprised by any of the story turns. Billy Zane's character could have been a bit more ambivalent, but in the 90s the one-dimensional character of the major opponent might still be OK. I strongly believe that audiences (also the young ones) have matured thanks to information technology, and are quite aware of the conflicting motivations that make somebody "evil" in the moral sense.

The most interesting part was the audience reaction. There was quite a bit of laughter at some scenes that were not intended to produce any, or worse, were meant to feel solemn. Most of the people in the cinema felt a bit bored at the lengthy middle part, and there was quite a bit of muttering. (Sat night couples crowd). The experience should have been sped up and more opportunities to showcase the 3D might have come in handy - maybe even a re-editing for some of the smaller subplots might have helped enormously.

DiCaprio drew most of the giggles. Looking back from now, his "lover" character seems way too childish and young for the more mature Winslet. If he'd acted this role today, DiCaprio might not only have the right looks, but also the right "dark" side to his backstory that might lend more credibility to the romance.

Beauty and the Beast (Trousdale, Wise, 1991)

An enchanted beast falls in love with the youngest daughter of a hapless inventor.

The Disney version of the original Cocteau version is delightful to watch, but obviously lacks the political allusions of the earlier rendering. I cannot really decide which one reverberates more in my mind, but I am confident in assuming that the black-and-white version will stand the test of time much better.


Still there was a lot to like in the Disney version: the playfulness of the supporting cast and the very original animation is always a delight to watch - the overly cautious butler and the stupid happy stable master make a great team, and although their dialogue might have been wittier in a more "adult" script, it still made me grin here and there.

The ballroom sequence which - if I remember correctly - was the first foray into the realm of 3D for Disney is still beautiful to watch. The camera movement seems a bit unmotivated, maybe because the vocabulary for the weightless rig imagery hadn't been established yet.

Montag, 28. Mai 2012

The strange love of Martha Ivers (Milestone, 1946) #DTC 979

A man has a car breakdown in his hometown and visits the love of his youth, just to stir up a whole lot of murderous trouble.

Although an accident sets the story in motion it is the back story that unfolds during the telling of this noir that makes the dire ending  unavoidable. Maybe slightly different from the classical Chandler noir in terms that the protagonist somehow gets away - although not exactly in a good way.

Although some of the scenes felt a bit stagey here and there the film was quite gripping and managed to let me dive into the corrupt world that seems to permeate most of the district, fabulously represented by Kirk Douglas, whose weak nature makes him the perfect nature for a cynic and alcoholic official with a grasp of power.

Motion Painting No. 1 (Fischinger, 1947) #DTC 760

An abstract animation by the painter Oskar Fischinger.

There is an amazing amount of visual and graphic concepts explored in this film. For me this basically represents a treasure of ideas, many of which I felt were developped beautifully to maturity, even though the result only occupies a couple of seconds in the complete film.

In my opinion it also represents a beautiful sample of the color palette in use at the time, obviously strongly influenced by the photographic and filmic processes that were applied to create the film.

Deutschland im Jahre Null (Rossellini, 1948) #TSPDT 236

A boy tries to survive in the ruins of Berlin after the war, and provide support for his family.

The innocence of the boy trying to do the right thing hints that he is the only morally corrupt character in this downcast movie. Although his social structures seem impact considering the circumstances, he takes the attacks of his grown-up peers and family way too seriously. The collection of characters he deals with resonated strongly with me: the strict father, the guilty brother and the sister trying to avoid prostitution. Maybe the elder brother could have been portrayed a little better, as I think that the surgeon in "Die Mörder sind unter uns" portrays the ambivalent nature of guilt better.

Although the ending is sad (and the scene very memorable) the film didn't feel too negative. There is an element of sacrifice of purity in the ending.  If taken as an allegory, the danger is still lurking within the ruins (the teacher and his "boss") and although hidden away, it is powerful and financially potent.


Montag, 14. Mai 2012

Duel In the Sun (Vidor, 1946) #TSPDT #540

The half-blood gypsy orphan is taken in by a family and is wooed by two brothers, one of them a criminal, the other a law-abiding moral man.

The strong moralistic overtone and the rather bizarre depiction of an ethnic majority caught my attention foremost when watching this film. The beautiful Technicolor looks incredibly bizarre with those browned faces and ultra-white teeth. The story in itself meandered a bit and only the showdown was of some minor interest.

If the brother hadn't married the story might have been much more interesting. This way, the woman doesn't have to make the choice herself, everything is plainly laid out for her. The half-baked offer to go with Cotten's character into the city is laughable the moment it is said. But the movie is drenched in morality that much more would have had to be changed for this film to work.

On a side note, Peck seems to have chosen his roles (though not always the scripts) with quite some care, not to come of as a rather one-dimensional handsome leading man, but still reserves more than a hint of ambivalence for his characters. Good choice at this time, I guess.

Detour (Ulmer, 1945) #TSPDT #390

A hitchhiker is picked up by death and then picks up his personal tormenting devil.

The plot looked fairly straightforward, but the magic of this gem is that the story strand convolutes until it tightens into a strangling gordic knot - which is pretty much exactly what happens towards the end. The flashback structure are very noir-ish, so was the plot - everything straight down, right from the beginning. I really rooted for the guy to get out of this situation, but every time he takes a decision it actually gets worse - so in the end I was just hoping he might die and get relieved.

Most striking was the jaw-dropping performance of Ann Savage. She pops out about a mile and her character is rendered so immensely unlikeable that I wondered that she has not been called the godmother of a new type of acting school (maybe she was?)

This is definitively a film worth studying again. Its shortness does nothing to diminish the impact and it is rich on details.

Freitag, 11. Mai 2012

Odd Man Out (Reed, 1947) #TSPDT #469

An underground rebel is wounded during a heist and tries to evade the manhunt in Belfast.

The story is of a steady decline towards the unsurprising end of terrible consequences. James Mason is quite astonishing as the soft-spoken hero, whom you just cannot imagine of doing anything as bad as scaring a child, let alone a robbery. Obviously, he does both in the film and much more. His endless odyssey which is much less about him than the various Belfastian characters towards him and - although explicitly denied by the filmmaker in a bizarre opening title card - ultimately about the struggle for independence in Northern Ireland (or any similar situation)

There were two or three moments in the film that didn't hold up for me as well as they should, but the crazy painter and his bizarre co-inhabitant made it all up - a bold selection of outright frightening men from the fringes of society. There is no need to decipher the symbolism (payoff might be even bigger) - it's simply enjoyable through and through.

As mentioned above, Mason is an extremely effective anti-hero, with his light frame, his haunting looks and there seems to be something eating away at him. Even when I watched him on a vintage TV show he radiated a kind of possession. Must be big fun to work with such an actor.

Study this for great character sketches (great film)

Mittwoch, 9. Mai 2012

Scarlett Street (Lang, 1945) #TSPDT #952

An unhappily married cashier and hobby painter is led to support a would-be mistress and her secret lover and resorts to stealing.

This movie still lingers on with many memorable scenes. The awkward rencontre in the cafe with his would-be mistress, the bizarre naivete of Robinson's characters which transcends beautifully to the pictures and the harrowing ending where the poor painter is haunted by a remorseless guilt. I 'm surprised that the 40s would give a director leeway to simply steer pass the obvious happy end into such deep waters as Lang does here pretty effortlessly.

Things that caught my eye were the interesting set-up of the apartment. The "drawing room" is elevated in one part of the flat, where as the bedroom is "way down somewhere" on the other side. Lang went into great lengths to explain the architecture and geography (it is quite important for some of the film's most important scenes)

Robinson is wonderful, but so are all the other actors. Maybe the characters were overly simplified, but it works out great. I'm looking forward to see the original Renoir's "chienne"

The Blue Dahlia (Marshall, 1946) #DTC #1926

An ex-pilot finds his wife being unfaithful to him when he returns from war, and not soon after is accused of having killed her.

There are some great moments in this film, that I still vividly remember: The arrival of the hoodwinked husband at his "welcome" party. The scenes of his brain-injured combat buddy and obviously one or two images of Veronica Lake. The end was a bit of a let-down, feeling a bit staged and contrived. I also got confused by the fact that the police guy suddenly became "in charge of it all" - it sort of became a Poirot shtick. In essence, the ending is completely useless.

I do prefer Gun for Hire to this one, although it wasn't bad or boring. Maybe the Ladd's character was just a bit more poignantly interpreted - here he is just a tad too much of a good guy, although I could easily take to his cause.



Unfaithfully yours (Sturges, 1948) #TSPDT #626

A conductor on tour imagines all the different revenges he should take on his wife's perceived infidelities.

This was another great Sturges film. It basically turns on the premise that revenge is easily imagined, but - as they say - "execution is everything". Unfortunately, or rather luckily, the vaunted conductor of a symphony orchestra does not necessarily bring the right skills to the table to perform a laborious and murderous revenge that he figures out in a fit of jealousy.

The first part of the film I felt was rather slow, but the buildup took me in. And once I got to the point where the audience expects something certain to happen, it got simply amazing. So in a sense a lot of the humor is derived from the audience's expectation. But it wasn't just a one-off joke. The whole thing was carefully enough constructed to combine the man's fantasies and the real-life into something great.

Worth watching again, if not for structure then just for the sheer fun of it.

The Clock (Minelli, 1945) #DTC #745

A soldier from the countryside falls in love with a city girl on his short leave and they try to marry against all odds.

The film is set up as a love-at-plus-minus-first-sight romance with some semi-satirical caveats thrown in. No matter how hard they try, the poor couple just can't get wedded. There are many obstacles, the biggest of them being the various laws of the state of New York.

Although I felt that the story dragged on a bit (the film has a lot to offer from an analytical standpoint), there were some easily enjoyable bits here and there. The drunk in the bar was funny, the actual bizarre wedding ceremony was quite good and the milkman and his wife were quite cute in itself. 

I've read somewhere else that the city and especially its soundscapes are the main character in this film, so maybe this could be something to go back to and approach this film again.


The Play House (Keaton, 1921) #DTC #81

Keaton has a theatre dream where he is everybody - the actors and the audience... and everybody else, too.

He is also the editor, the director, the writer and the producer on this movie. Never mind the megalomaniac tongue-in-cheek credits: this is a great film. Many of the sequences on the stage are unsurpassed. For reasons unexplainable I loved the parts with the orchestra, maybe orchestra slapstick is something like its own sub-genre.

Definitely go and have another look at that for great slapstick! And although I do prefer the beautiful narratives of the later Keatons, even this one is already on an extremely high level.

Dienstag, 8. Mai 2012

Les dames du bois du Boulogne (Bresson, 1945) #TSPDT #502

A frustrated Parisian lady - Helene - decides to hook up her ex-lover with a "dancer".

This film completely took me in, the simplicity of the set-up was a bit discouraging at first. But when the very resourceful Helene is slowly stripped of her social defenses and comes to display her true, evil personality I was already siding with Agnes. The young dancer represents life, a very interesting version of rebelliousness, and a definitive disregard of the upper social class - which is an obvious consequence of her lifestyle.

That the film still manages to come to a fairy-tale like and beautiful ending is testimony to Bresson's genius. Although the story becomes less and less "realistic", I couldn't care less. After the viewing, I was just happy that everything came out as it should (in a way). And not too many films leave such a warm and satisfying aftertaste.

Worth for studying the character development, "peeling" of the motives.

Dead of Night (diverse, 1945) #DTC #223

A guest in a country house has an overwhelming sense of deja vu in a circular nightmare with a voice-over psychologization nonstop.

The premise of the movie is quite good, unfortunately it descended into on-the-nose analysis by the annoying psychiatrist in the film, they should have gotten rid of him immediately. There seems to be a certain trend in 40s movies to speak out (highly inaccurate) descriptions of "psychological disturbances" and "Freudian analysis". Other examples like the egregious "Snake Pit" come to mind.

Maybe in future years people will scratch their head, when they hear the pseudo-scientific nonsense babble in sci-fi/superhero movies of today. And I hope that this day will come soon.

I think films were still trying to tiptoe their way in new cinematic narrative forms with a mass appeal and this is the biggest credit I can give to this film: Ealing, not a small studio being sort of experimental.  Times are still/only more than a decade away before the emerging of La Jetee.

I Walked with a Zombie (Tourneur, 1943) #TSPDT #488

A nurse arrives on a colony to find her patient in a strange state of waking coma, possibly induced by something more than magic.

There are several very memorable moments in this movie - first of all, the scene in the field with the frightening "zombie-like" native leading the main character to the center of voodoo worship. The images are dream-like and extremely haunting.

The film really is a great study for subtle horror. All the really frightening stuff is in the various subtexts - this fantastic set-up makes an contention of the two brothers over the dinner table at least as chilling as the more "traditional" tricks of the trade to frighten the audience. Another masterpiece from Tourneur, whom I've obviously neglected to admire so far. His salient ability seems to be to swathe ordinary tension with hidden meaning, as far as I've noticed. Definitely worth seeing more of.

Montag, 7. Mai 2012

Steamboat Bill Jr. (Reisner, 1928) #TSPDT 327

An outcast son tries to help his father save his decrepit steamboat company to survive, but falls in love with the feuding company bosses daughter.

Another one from Keaton, which I enjoyed enormously. This one feels definitively more mature than the earlier ones, especially in the storytelling department. Obviously, also the sets and effects were outright enormous, but for me the father-son story prevailed.

As in all the other Keaton films, there are some breathtaking life-size visual effects that still look stunning and quite up to the job even today. I really wondered how they made the storm, but I've read that they used aircraft engines. Must have been a hell of a shoot, I would love to see the making-of!

Take Shelter (Nichols, 2011) #TSP21 #166

A happy family father becomes obsessed by the need to build a shelter for his family.

It is definitively a slow, but pretty intense film. Most of the tension for me came from the fact that I the closeness of the community he lives in became tangible. Interesting is, that this lower middle class family already starts from a quite unrealistic outset: Money is short, but they struggle - and they manage... somehow. Obviously, the main character's illness pushes them below the waterline pretty quickly. A family like that in 2012 would already set out underwater.

The biggest surprise for me was Jessica Chastain. Finding her character at few points a bit annoying in Tree of Life, I felt she really found the perfect balance on her - imho extremely difficult - portrayal of the mother and partner. Most impressed by her work - too bad she's already such a big star. (she still DOES seems to read smaller scripts)

Another perfect moment in the story is the meeting of the husband with his brother. Between brothers - especially if there is a "past" - there is so much subtext that it just bursts at the seams. Loved it.

I would have left out the very last scene. We know what they're looking at - nothing on the screen could have surpassed what I had in my mind just then.