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.

Neighbors (Keaton, Cline, 1920) #DTC 799

Keaton's interpretation of Romeo and Juliet - fences are there to be crossed.

The antics around the fence mentioned above are simply awesome. I can only be stunned at the level of creativity and great ideas that Keaton has put into those little slapstick parades. Funnily enough, I have a very hard time remembering anything similar from a newer film. The level of ingenuity and the sheer quantity of fresh ideas have never been matched since, except maybe some of the Avery or Tom&Jerry animations.

The choking amount of superhero franchise tries to do this to some extent, that Nicolas Cage hero film comes to mind - unfortunately, that was infested with the story-killing highschool-nerd-turns-superhero übercliché.

Maybe it is time for a new physically intensive comedy - VFX galore.