2/27/09

Harlan County, USA.

Watched a great documentary tonight called Harlan County, USA. It's about the coal miner's strike in KY back in the early 70s. After watching a film like this, I can't believe there are still some people who are anti-union.

These people worked for pennies, no benefits, no indoor plumbing, no medical or dental insurance (most of their teeth are rotting and falling out) and their homes would be considered condemned in any "normal" city.


Basically all these people are fighting for are their basic, human rights. Coal mining is definitely one of the most dangerous and toughest jobs imaginable. The working conditions are unsafe, atrocious, filthy and miserable.

The film comes with a great homemade soundtrack that incorporates these people and their struggles. It's also good that the film speaks for itself--there is no PC forced dumbed down mawkishness like you'd find today. Check out the trailer here:



"If I get shot, they can't shoot the union outta me."

2/26/09

Pather Panchali

A little while ago I watched this film by Satyajit Ray for the first time, though I’d known about it for years. I read about it in this memoir I had to read while at school. I was also reminded of this film when I reviewed a book on a Bollywood film star a while back, as the book mentioned Ray when summarizing Indian film history. This film was very good, with some excellent characterization and acting. It has aged quite well, and The Harvard Crimson was certainly wrong when they said: "...Pather Panchali, remarkable as it may be, is something of a chore to sit through." This is not a film with extra fat, but is concise and engaging throughout.

Here’s part of Dan’s review where he analyzes a scene from the end of the film. The final sentence also captures how this film is unique considering the time in which it was made.

“While packing up the family’s belongings, Apu comes across a bowl with a large spider spinning a web, and is repulsed. Then, in the next bowl he finds the necklace that the other girl claimed Durga stole. He takes it, runs to a pond of algaed water, and plops the necklace through the scum which recoalesces around the spot left by the necklace- a great touch, visually, but also it shows the brother’s love and loyalty to his flawed sister, to save her reputation in death, as well as his emergence from under the influence of the three women who have dominated his life until then. Whether he realized it or not, Ray adds an incidental poesy to the scene by having a definitively masculine act (throwing) end up with the past (the necklace) being consumed by the feminine (the water), to which Apu, the man in waiting, turns his back forever on. Yet, this all occurs in the famously masculine dominated society of the subcontinent, showing Ray well ahead of his time by having the film so effectively and wonderfully focus on the three main female characters.”

Here is a little taste of the film. Though Dan describes the camera work as ‘pedestrian’, there are some nice visuals, such as in scenes like this one:

Taste Of Cherry

Abbas Kiarostami is an Iranian filmmaker I've only seen a few films of. Jess calls him the auto man, because the few films we've seen seem to all feature driving prominently.

Taste Of Cherry is his best known film in the West and it's a good one.

Here is its trailer:



It's ending is weak, but I look forward to seeing more of his work, from the past and in the future.

2/22/09

V.Eris' THE SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE (1973)








I just finished it yesterday, should be easily placed as one of the best first works ever made in European Cinema. Eris was only 33 when he made this feature, overall he made three works over thirty years (with a hiatus of 10 years b/w each !).

The story is simple yet very well executed, almost perfectly. A six-year-old girl is perturbed by watching the movie Frakenstein in the village with her older sister, and with her supra-imposed accidental friendship with a strange fugitive that added to the experience. The movie exposed beautifully her PTSD (post-traumatic Stress disorder) in a nice blend of reality and nightmarish fantasy.
Beside the superb acting (the two sisters) and the story telling, Luis Cuadrado's cinematography is haunting. His landscapes added a ghostly aspect to the movie, but most importantly his interiors were shocking for their surreal sepia-like lighting, even only when one candle is flickering.
Few years later, the reason for this lighting was known, since Cuadrado was going blind slowly (he officially retired only three later).
I couldn't escape the resemblance between Nykvist's interiors (like in Winter Light) and Cuadrado's here... the sepia here substituting for the grey in Bergman's, but very similar close-ups and framing.

For All Mankind

Here is Part One of a terrific documentary, For All Mankind, on the Apollo missions. Unlike other docs on space exploration, this film mixes and matches all the missions, and treats them as a single ongoing event.

Directed by Al Reinert, and culled from thousands of hours of unused footage, it's a great documentary, and an important human document.

Enjoy (and watch the whole thing for free online):

2/21/09

Ulysses' Gaze

Since I've posted on Antonioni and Tarr, recently, I might as well go whole hog on that other great master of the long take, Theo Angelopoulos. This snippet is from the above titled film- not his best, but still a damned good film that I reviewed here.

This is a collage of scenes:

2/18/09

Tati's Playtime

I recently re-watched Jacques Tati's Play Time.
Tati is simply one of the best directors (like Keaton, Chaplin...) that ever mastered the "visual comedy", based on an absent or a limited dialogue.
Play Time belongs to those films (like Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Lean's Lawrence of Arabia) that can never be given justice on DVD, simply because they’re prestigiously shot in 70 mm (unlike the usual 35 mm), they have to be seen on wide screens.
In Play Time, Tati's cynical view of the European urban impersonal civilization is extreme, and is wonderfully translated on the screen (dysfunctional huge machines, similar variations of skyscrapers, cars....), Paris is turned into a giant cube of steel and glass (ironically the only time the Eiffel Tower would show in the movie is through a quick reflection while a glass door is opened, hilarious!!). He acts in his famous persona Mr Hulot.

Tati put all of his wealth into Play Time's production, the city he constructed for the setting was called Tativille, still the movie failed to have any success when released... It was the film he always longed to make, yet it is the very film that practically ended his carrier (after filing bankruptcy).

This is the trailer and a scene from the city at night

L'Eclisse

Another great Antonioni film I reviewed.

Here is a clip- apparently, if you are willing to watch in installments, you can get the whole film.

Here it starts:



And here is its memorable end:



Go see the between things.

2/16/09

L'Avventura.

L’Avventura is a film I recently rewatched. It is one of those with stunning visuals but script wise, isn't as strong. Though the 1st hour and fifteen mins are great, I remember it turning a bit dull once the story switched to the love story.

Dan gave a review of it where he stated: "L’Avventura, despite its reputation for being innovative, fails for the exact same reasons that most less supposedly innovative films do- it has cardboard characters, does not follow through on an intriguing premise, throws in an unneeded romance that never convinces a viewer of its participants’ sparks, goes on far too long, and is far too pretentious."

I do agree that the film feels long, as compared to Antonioni's other films, but I don't know if I would agree that it is 'pretentious' per se, as compared to Goddard's Contempt. That was far more pretentious.



Fellow Cinemension blogger Anthony said: "It's visually beautiful, but not a great film. There were many parts that I'd totally forgotten about, and for good reason. There were some parts where I felt like I was watching a soap opera (the exchanges between Sandro and Claudia)."

Here is the trailer:



And I might add that I like the music. Duh, duh, duh, duh, duh duh... give it a listen.

2/15/09

Subtitles vs. Dubbing

I have had a debate with some people over the years vs. the merits of subtitling vs. dubbing- see here for a representative sample of the way pro-subtitlists feel.

To me, the argument isn't even close, and one has to wonder what reality the pro-subtitlists are living in. Subtitles, to me, are akin to graffiti. There's simply no way that someone can not enjoy a foreign film less because a few lip movements are misaligned vs. a third of the film screen being gobbled up by subtitles. And when poorly done- as in white subtitles for black and white films, or poor translations, or up to 20% of speech going untranslated, or poorly written, misspelled, etc., is there really ANY argument? I don't think so.

Look at this dubbed version of a Bergman clip, from Fanny And Alexander:



Now, is there any way, if one did not know this was a Swedish film, that you can tell me this is inferior?

Many Bergman films were dubbed- especially 1960s classics. Winter Light, one of his greatest films, was dubbed, but here's a subtitled clip:



About 6 1/2 minutes in, Gunnar Bjornstrand berates Ingrid Thulin. Now, if you read the words, you may miss many of Thulin's subtleties. Here, even in a very static moment, you will miss an essential part of the tale- her character's fragility and, frankly, annoyingness being revealed to herself. In the dubbed version you can hear what is said as you peer at Thulin's face, but the subtitles make you choose one or the other.

In fact, a good thing about dubbing is that it often accentuates the uniqueness of the role an actor is playing. As example, different actors were used to dub the voice of Max Von Sydow in Bergman's 1960s films, and this makes his differing characters all the more clearly NOT Sydow than he and his own voice could do.

Here is a clip from Federico Fellini's Nights Of Cabiria:



In this subtitled version, we hear Giulieta Masina's real voice, and, compared to the dubbed version- a different actress, it is softer, which aids in the drama, but also makes the many humorous scenes less effective. I.e.- the dubbing is a wash, and the film (the script, really) rides not on Cabiria's voice, but Cabiria's mannerisms and the tale it tells.

Of course, as I wrote in the other post's argument, 'while a bad dub is worse than good subtitles, your typical dubbing is better than your typical subtitling, and a good dub job- see Bergman and Fellini, is FAR superior to the best subtitles.'

So, while one can certainly LIKE subtitling over dubbing, from an artistic standpoint, there really is no argument for subtitling's superiority.

Case closed.

2/12/09

Satantango

Yesterday I finished watching Bela Tarr's 7 hour film Satantango (it took 2 days), and it's a great achievement. I will write a long essay on it over the next few days, but it really changes the perspective one has on time. Like the poetry of Walt Whitman, there are some demonstrably bad features to it, and some self-indulgence; but, like the Good Gray Poet, if one shortened the scenes, one would lose pacing, character development (yes, even in the excess there is a purpose- see the scenes with the obese drunken Doctor or psychotic little girl), and some other positives. Thus, while a shorter version would gain some, it would also lose some, but it would, essentially be a different film.

Here is a video of the great opening sequence. The music choices in this film are marvelous, and, despite this being a realistic drama, one can see the influence of horror films, from the silents through the Universal films of the 30s through the Hammer films of the 60s and 70s in this one sequence.



That all said, the one thing this film is NOT, is an epic, for it is a highly intimate and cozy little seven hour marathon.

2/11/09

Laurel and Hardy

I've written of some comedy teams before, but Laurel and Hardy are amongst the biggest names. Fact is, they were never as good as Abbott and Costello, and were not equal to the great silent trio of comedians- Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd. Their bridge between silent and early talkie comedy is an important one, but much of their comedy was predictable- more so than Abbott and Costello, and far less zany than The Marx Brothers or The Three Stooges.

One of my post popular pieces on Cosmoetica is a review of probably Laurel and Hardy's best film, Babes In Toyland. Read it here.



And, thanks to the Internet, you can also watch it above. Enjoy!

2/8/09

Nashville.


I finally got around to watching the Altman film Nashville this weekend. It's an excellent movie, one that does not play to standard or convention, yet it runs nearly 3 hours long. I thought it felt a bit on the long side, but overall the film was well done.


Another bonus the film has is Shelley Duvall playing a loser groupie. It never fails. Shelley always seems to be cast as the same homely, loser, desperate character that is oblivious to her homeliness, loser-ness and desperation. Altman used her for a similar role in 3 Women. And Kubrick cast her in The Shining because despite the book (where King had the wife made out to be like she was some sex-goddess) Kubrick actually said the wife needed to be a bit of an insecure loser herself, in order to be married to such an abusive loser as that of Jack's character.

Nashville has some hilarious scenes, like this one woman who cannot sing, and she reminded me of all those typical wannabe singers on American Idol who likewise, suck ass. Though the film gave some good insight into what people (men especially) are really into, because when she is singing they are all booing her and it's not till she strips down naked that she finally receives cheers.

And then you have the skanky British reporter who sleeps with all the guys, and she's annoyingly PC and one of these faux artsy types. I thought the film did a good job of capturing all these characters and how in the end everything is not neatly tied up as it would be in films today. Some ends are left hanging, and characters go in and out of the film as they would in real life.

The trailer actually provides a good background about the film, and explains it well. So watch it here:

2/7/09

Persona

A couple of weeks ago I watched the Ingmar Bergman film Persona, which I hadn’t seen in something like 7 years, when it was screened in one of my classes as a student. At the time when I first watched it, I remember the central ‘thing’ that people focused on was whether the two characters were the same person. Now, it is not really the ‘question’ of whether the two characters are the same person, or even the ‘breaking of the fourth wall’ that stick out when watching this film…but the writing, acting, and cinematography, all of which are so well done that they strengthen a film that is maybe not as ‘profound’ as some have claimed. As it has been said with something like poetry, it is the ‘how’ it is done that is more important than the ‘what’ that is said. Dan touches upon this in his review:

Persona is self-conscious, narcissistic, and not too psychologically deep, for there is no real reason offered for Alma’s identification with Elisabet, nor her breakdown, but it is the ultimate style over substance film, and as such attains its true greatness, despite the visual sleight of hand that leads many to be sucked into its hollow posturing as some source of great depth. But, more so, it’s a grandly entertaining film, more than it is a deep one, giving the psychologically na├»ve much to talk about as Bergman deceives the viewer into deep thought over the shallow.”

2/5/09

Shame.

Dan and I rewatched Shame tonight and it's hard to believe it's been almost 3 years since the first time I saw it. This is one of Bergman's best films (he has many so it is one among many) but what is so interesting about it is that the film is set during war time, and you never know who is fighting who, what country we're in, or what war this is. Because none of it matters.


The film approaches war from an eye-level, a personal one--not like a Hollywood piece of crap would, ala Saving Private Ryan trash. There is no score, and all the shots of the people are close up. It deals with the psychology within a marriage and the war is just the background material. So it's still very much something within Bergman's arena.


The end is also very interesting and poetic, with the couple escaping on a boat and Liv Ullman (Eva) telling her husband Jan about a dream she's had. Earlier in the film she makes the point about feeling like she's within someone else's dream--not her own, and what will happen if that person wakes and is ashamed? It's little insights like that that make me such an admirer of Bergman's films. I go back and forth between him and Antonioni when it comes to ranking my fave European director, and so I guess it all depends on whichever one I'm watching at the time.

Dan begins his review of the film stating:

"I should no longer be surprised when critics miss the most obvious things in works of art, because they are human beings, and the vast majority of human beings are lazy by nature. That said, the simplistic notion that Ingmar Bergman’s great 1968 film Shame (or Skammen) is merely an anti-war film does a great deal of damage to the reputation of this very complex, and highly nuanced, film. Compared to its more filmically showoffy predecessors, Persona and Hour Of The Wolf, Shame is seemingly a more classic film, in terms of narrative. But, the key word is seemingly, for while it lacks the bravura pop psychologizing of Persona and the gaudy horror film homages of Hour Of The Wolf, it is one of the best films ever made about war- and not as an anti-war film, nor a pro-war film. As such, it has to rank with Wild Strawberries as one of his greatest films, as well as one of his best screenplays, if not the best."

I definitely think Shame is a great film, but Winter Light and Scenes From a Marriage are really tight competition there.

And here is the trailer:

Henri-Georges Clouzot

Diabolique

The above link takes you to a video clip from a great French film, Diabolique. I also recently reviewed another classic by the man, The Wages Of Fear.

He's one of those directors whose critical reputation has waned, but whose films are still classics, spurring one to ask, since when does greatness go out of style?

I've got to get and see more of his films.

2/2/09

Groundhog Day.

Well today is Groundhog Day. This is one of my favorite funny movies--just something fun when you want something light and entertaining.

If you've not seen this film, Bill Murray is a weatherman who is stuck in time, where he wakes up and it's always February 2nd--Groundhog Day. Eventually he starts to go crazy and this is a hilarious scene where he kidnaps the groundhog, attempting to "put a stop" to all this.



Meanwhile, he's trying to win the affection of Rita, played by Andie MacDowell, so he tries to memorize the things she likes and plan all his lines accordingly, which ultimately does not work. In the end, he's only able to break out of his curse when he's learned to change his attitude and chooses to become a better person.

It has some deeper messages regarding change and how it's something you must create for yourself, you can't just expect things to happen on their own. For it's only when Bill Murray settles on his fate and changes himself that his curse breaks.

It has all that stuff, AND it also happens to be very funny. I never stop laughing. I also think it's aged very well. There is a timelessness (no pun) to it, even though the clothes are outdated (early 90s), the fact that it is set in a small town makes the lack of updated wardrobe believable.

So here is the trailer...