Pather Panchali (1955, Satyajit Ray)

Silent World by Jacques Cousteau and Louis Malle beat it for the golden palm at cannes, but it took the “human document” award. The film print said “grand prix” but it doesn’t even look like that award was handed out in ’56. The print also calls Ray “Roy”, but those two seem interchangeable by the IMDB. Supposed to be India’s Rashomon, the one that brought Indian film to the world’s attention.

Daunting to watch a movie known for 50 years as a masterpiece… well-illustrated when I walked into the room early and saw a bunch of freshman watching the end of Citizen Kane.

Oooh, my fourth 50’s film in a week. This came out less than a decade after Bicycle Thief, its inspiration, and the year after Senso, La Strada, Seven Samurai and Saga of Anatahan.

Ray’s first film, with great music by then-unknown Ravi Shankar. Rich drama, very moving and awesomely shot. I kind of expected to be underwhelmed, but I loved it (probably more than the film students around me who sighed a lot and started fidgeting and text-messaging towards the end) and maybe even cried a little. Some of the students did too, so there’s hope for them.

Little Apu is born to overburdened mom, underemployed dad, always-in-trouble sister and elderly aunt. Sis’s friend is getting married. Apu goes to school. Dad gets work with the landlord but isn’t paid for months. Sis steals a necklace. Mom fights with aunt while trying to make sure kids are fed and staying out of trouble. One horribly powerful fight scene when, after the necklace dispute, mom drags sis out of the yard by her hair, collapses against the inside of the door while through the wall we can see Sis crying on the other side.

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The scene is edited and scored with such force, seems like it couldn’t be the work of a first-time film director working before his country even had a proper film industry. Anyway, Sis gets sick and dies right before father comes home from the big city (he’s barely in the film) bearing money and gifts. Death scene (during a horrid rain storm) is at least double what the hair-pull fight scene was, with the music peaking into the scream that we never hear from the mother. In the finale, the family is moving to a new town to start again, Apu finds the necklace and throws it in a lake.

Movie feels like a masterpiece despite my pedestrian plot description.

When looking for screenshots I found this scene that wasn’t in the print we watched. The parents have a rare conversation about their lives and bring up moving out of town for the first time.
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Ray: “The cinematic material dictated a style to me, a very slow rhythm determined by nature, the landscape, the country. The script had to retain some of the rambling quality of the novel because that in itself contained a clue to the authenticity: life in a poor Bengali village does ramble.”

Ray in ’82: “All artists owe a debt to innovators and profit by such innovation. Godard gave me the courage to dispense largely with fades and dissolves, Truffaut to use the freeze.”

Truffaut walking out in ’56: “I don’t want to see a film about Indian peasants.”

Apu:
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His sister in the rain, celebrating a short-lived freedom:
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Outcast auntie:
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Sad parents:
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Update, Jan 2010: Katy liked it, but says she saw the sister’s death coming.

Mr. Freedom (1969, William Klein)

“I’m very happy to announce that we’ve destroyed at least half of the country. I hope now they’ll understand that aggression does not pay.”

That sums up the whole movie. It’s so obvious and loud and obnoxious and garish and that’s probably just what it intends to be. But it makes for an unpleasant viewing experience. I can’t imagine this movie screening in theaters without walkouts by exasperated viewers saying “I GET it already” (but probably saying that in french).

All-American titular superhero is introduced blithely massacring a black family in the middle of their dinner. Then Dr. Freedom (Donald Pleasence) calls to tell him that his French equivalent Captain Formidable has been killed and commies are invading France from neutral Switzerland. It’s up to Mr. Freedom to save the ungrateful French, not for any love of the country but to stop the dreaded domino effect and protect the world from communism.

Doesn’t play like a proper movie at all. Sometimes it feels like an advertisement (America’s priorities are more Capitalist than Democratic), and sometimes like a bunch of people goofing around and pretending to make a movie. The dubbing ain’t great, either.

Some funny touches: the american embassy in France is a wal-mart full of dancing girls. And sometimes the cheapness of the project turns into a lo-fi charm. Superfrenchman is played by a balloon with easily confused henchmen, and the also-inflatable Red China Man breathes frozen fog that settles on the ground.

Freedom of course ends up destroying most of France, his french guide Marie-Madeleine turns out to be a commie traitor, Russian Moujik Man is somewhat of an ally but can’t really be trusted. Freedom, not too fazed by the death of all his compatriots and followers, prevails through violence. Sadly it’s not a dated period piece and what Klein’s saying about American foreign policy applies perfectly well today.

Criterion: “Delightfully crass, Mr. Freedom is a trenchant, rib-tickling takedown of gaudy modern Americana.” It’s funny to think how many Criterion completists will soon own this movie.

Movie plays better in stills. When considering the screen shots I took, it seems almost like a good movie, clever and funny and ramshackle without the loud, boisterous, stagey dialogue to distract. In other words, it’s a much better movie when you’re not actually watching it. And since Klein was renowned in the 50’s as a still photographer and appears in Marker’s still-composed La Jetee, I’ve kept more screenshots than the film might deserve.

The introduction of Marienbad star Delphine Seyrig as Marie-Madeleine, yowza.
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Dr. Freedom:
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Captain Formidable is played by classy French icon Yves Montand:
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“Anti-freedomism is at a new high.” Can’t get enough of that dress. Note Marie-Madeleine’s placement in front of the red portion of the map, foreshadowing the revelation that she is a communist spy. Just kidding.
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Over a temporarily fallen Freedom, L-R: Moujik Man, Red China Man, Jesus & Mary
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Freedom celebrates the defeat of Superfrenchman… I don’t remember exactly what went on here:
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Forcing the maid to taste the poisoned food she brought. Nice shot setup:
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I love this shot so much. The matching hair, the goofy look on Freedom’s face, the unexplained picture of Hitler hanging on Marie-Madeleine’s wall:
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Serge Gainsbourg very nearly survives to the end:
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Freedom! Now available in a convenient spray!
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How To Cook Your Life (2007, Doris Dörrie)

An extremely lame waste of time. Uninteresting doc about uninteresting man who claims to be a zen chef then undermines both parts of that description. I was willing to bet that the director was one of his middle-aged female students so enamored with his personality that she simply had to make this movie to show the rest of the world how fascinating he is… but she turns out to be a professional filmmaker with more than 25 works to her name, most of them fictional. Oops. As for our chef, I think he wants to look cool on camera, but he overdoes the dorky humble shtick and ends up looking like a mixed-up hippie who has gotten where he is by faking it. Either way, Hal Holbrook and Catherine Keener were much more convincing and entertaining as mixed-up hippies in “Into The Wild”.

Earth (1998, Deepa Mehta)

I hate to be so down on the movies Katy picks, but I can’t help myself any more than she can pretend to enjoy watching “ace in the hole” or “pennies from heaven”.

This felt like an obvious and uninteresting adaptation of an alright story about the partitioning of India and creation of Pakistan as symbolized by a conveniently diverse group of friends in Lahore and as seen through the eyes of a young innocent.

The young innocent is rich-girl Lenny-baby (of a neutral parsee family) whose hindu caretaker Ayah (a cover girl from Fire) is one of the friends. Also in there are muslims Hassan The Masseur (guy from Bollywood/Hollywood) and Dil The Ice Candy Man (Lagaan), a sympathetic sikh whose name I can’t find right now, and Lenny’s cousin Adi who has an arranged marriage to a short old man.

I took it as a history/culture lesson, though I had to ask Katy lots of questions because this movie doesn’t spell out as much as Water did for the uninitiated. Had the feeling of a postcard yearning for old peaceful times, so I didn’t see the violent atrocities of the second half coming… turns into a giant bummer.

peaceful days:
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friendly chat:
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an ice-candy betrayal, baby:
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Ace in the Hole (1951, Billy Wilder)

Billy Wilder: “My delight… is ’cause everyone has been looking down on movies as something kind of third-rate until, thank god, the invention of television. Now we have something to look down on.”

Not quite a film noir, I don’t think, but close. Continues the string of 50’s movies I’ve watched lately, but this one’s from back in the year of “Day the Earth Stood Still” / “Thing From Another World” and “Fixed Bayonets” / “The Steel Helmet”.

It’s a damn well-made movie, as the commentary track helpfully illustrates, but Katy didn’t like it because of unlikeable characters (which is why when she asks if she’ll like “there will be blood” I tell her no) and Jimmy fell asleep since we started it at midnight. It’s about a desperate newspaper man whom Sam Fuller would have despised, making the news himself and conspiring to suppress other reporters while building up a sensationalistic story to glorify his own reporting and get himself back on top. At least when it fails, he recognizes what he has done and owns up to his own role in the trapped miner’s death, though by Code rules, the reporter dies too, stabbed by an equally hot-tempered and strong-willed woman.

A deeply-dimpled Kirk Douglas stars (shortly before doing “Big Sky” and “Bad and the Beautiful”) alongside Jan Sterling (who did “High and the Mighty” with John Wayne before retreating to television) as the miner’s wife who wants out but plays her part as a concerned wife out of greed for tourist cash. Professional villain and Preston Sturges actor Porter Hall is Douglas’s very straight-laced, belt-and-suspenders small-town newsman boss. Corrupt sheriff Ray Teal ended up famous for playing sheriffs, and his unhelpful deputy is Gene Evans, the newspaper man in “Park Row”. Porter Hall was dead in two years, and the guy who played the miner’s dad (John Berkes) died one week after the film’s release.

Our heroes:
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Evans and Berkes:
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Porter Hall:
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I’d pay to see some great S&M amusement:
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Kirk Douglas addresses his “fans” from the mount:
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A sad father surveys the aftermath:
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Tales of Hoffmann (1951, Pressburger & Powell)

First rented this in December 2005, took over two years to finish it. Only movie to top that is The Decalogue (begun in 2001, still unfinished).

Katy didn’t want to watch it, and I’ve got trouble with it myself, not having any experience with opera. Some of the songs (“all in vain”) are lovely, though. The acting is extremely stagy, with huge facial expressions and body movements. Hoffmann himself moves stiffly through the film, maybe the only non-dancer in the cast but with a great voice (if he’s not dubbed). Sumptuous set design and costumes, one large room at a time with not much that is apparently cinematic about it. Even some of the effects (scattered, living doll parts created by actors wearing mostly black) are stagy. But then it can explode into incredible matte-painting sets with killer editing tricks and one very memorable camera-trick perspective shot involving a staircase shot from overhead. Camera is mostly still during dialogue/singing scenes, with some well-parceled sweeping movements… all fits together amazingly. Some of the richest color I’ve seen on my little television and laptop screens. They make great use of height in the frame, all columns and high-ceiling rooms. Since the dance numbers are mostly one or two people at a time, you never wish for widescreen. Only thing that really needs to be said is that it has more amazing bowl-me-over visual moments than almost anything else I’ve ever seen. Need to watch again as many times as possible.

Hoffmann is at the ballet falling for the dancer, whom his rival is also lusting over. He and his friends abandon the show for a bar where Hoff narrates three stories, starring himself, his rival, and Hoff’s nearly silent male companion (played by a female redhead), about three thwarted romances. At the end, the girls all dance together and collapse back into the original girl. And as Hoff falls exhausted to the bar table at the end of his story, the dancer shows up only to be escorted away by the rival.

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The main dancer and the doll in the first story were Moira Shearer from The Red Shoes. The second girl with a jewelry obsession was Ludmilla Tcherina. Third girl, sickly with a dead mother, was Anne Ayars. All are stage dancers best known for this and other Powell films.

Hoffmann was a big opera star, also appeared in Carousel. Rival Robert Helpmann (probably the most facially expressive here) has played sinister characters in a few films. The most prolific was Pamela Brown, Hoff’s silent companion, who had fourth-billed roles in Cleopatra, Lust For Life, Olivier’s Richard III and Powell/Pressburger’s “I Know Where I’m Going”, which is the next one I’ve gotta see.

Also watched a 1956 widescreen Powell solo short of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice with some of the same art crew as Hoffmann. It was an early showoff reel for CinemaScope, only now available in a shortened far-from-pristine print. The voiceover stands out awkwardly, but the costumes and dancing are great – the living broom and dancers representing the water that fills the room. Cool little film. IMDB says the apprentice, Bulgarian born, was the second woman to ever be knighted in Norway.

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There Will Be Blood (2007, PT Anderson)

Wowie-hell, a super awesome movie.

D-D Lewis is Plainview, ruthless oilman and master manipulator who worked hard to get rich and aims to get richer and nobody better get in his way. Paul Sunday Dano (the kid from L.I.E., the vow-of-silence brother in L.M. Sunshine) plans to start a church and get rich off religion and nobody better get in his way. They get plenty in each other’s way but little Sunday is no match for the awesomely awesome awesomeness of fuckin Plainview, the scariest man in the movies. There is, finally, blood, but before it shows up, TWWB has already out-horrored this year’s batch of horrors.

C. Jerry Kutner:

There Will Be Blood is a well-shot, well-acted film with epic ambitions, but where it falls shortest is in its attempt to link Plainview to the greed and folly of the Reagan/Bush years. All the obvious elements are there – oil, blood, unfettered dog-eat-dog capitalism, and its unholy alliance with organized religion – but unlike, say, Chinatown or even Citizen Kane, There Will Be Blood never quite connects the dots. Thus, politically speaking, Anderson’s latest film fails to move beyond the specific to the universal. It remains a story about aberrant individuals, setting us up for some great unexpected insight about community and our present-day world that it never delivers.

Manohla Dargis:

It’s an origin story of sorts. The opening images of desert hills and a droning electronic chord allude to the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey, whose murderous apes are part of a Darwinian continuum with Daniel Plainview.

Glenn Kenny:

The “blowing” of this gusher causes H.W.’s deafness (conveyed in one of the few portions of the movie which adopt the subjective point of view, e.g. the dropping out of the soundtrack as Plainview rescues the boy and carries him to safety), and renders him alien to Plainview. H.W. has been the only person Plainview has ever really confided in. Now he can’t communicate with him. Plainview’s exchange with his right hand man Fletcher Hamilton (Cieran Hinds) is telling in a number of ways. “Is H.W. okay?” Fletcher asks. “No, he’s not okay,” Plainview says. Soon, he looks again at Fletcher. “What are you so miserable about? We’ve got an ocean of oil under our feet…and only I can get at it!” Note the use of the first person singular here. Of course it suggests Plainview’s selfishness, callousness…but it also suggests a sundered partnership. Had H.W. been standing with Plainview and Fletcher, uninjured and whole, Plainview would have been speaking to H.W., and he would have said “we.”

Michael Koresky:

For all its measured pacing, exquisitely framed long takes and parched period beauty, There Will Be Blood finally cannot contain the reservoirs of Day-Lewis’s intense melancholy. Not so much a slow burn as a damning accumulation of moments, unforgiving in their spareness, the film seems structured like a two-and-a-half-hour self-denial capped by a horribly therapeutic self-actualization.

The Thing (1982, John Carpenter)

A remake (of the Hawks film which I liked very much) which is about to be remade, ha!

Little did I realize when I watched this right after “Twilight’s Last Gleaming” that it was written by Burt Lancaster’s son. Starred rugged Kurt Russell as an alcoholic helicopter pilot and a buncha people whose names I vaguely know like Wilford Brimley and MST3K fave Richard Dysart.

Ancient alien organisms are dug up by Swedes and escape (within a dog) to American Arctic base. Dog sprouts killer tentacles and wipes out the other dogs, then starts to assimilate the other men… but which men? Turns into a body-snatcher paranoia movie and a “cold” war (ha!) with totally badass makeup effects by Rob Bottin, Stan Winston and a huge team of fangoria-reading dudes. Nice widescreen, with unexceptional music by Ennio Morricone.

I was proud of Carpenter and young Lancaster that the black guy who plays his music too loud was NOT the first one to die, and in fact lived almost to the end. The other suspicious-acting black guy “lives” at the end, along with Kurt, both about to freeze to death having hopefully been successful in eliminating the creature in all of its forms.

Jimmy brought beer. Thanks, Jimmy.

Boo (2007, Joe Dante)

“He was dead before he was killed, which medically makes him a zombie.”

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Fourth-season Halloween episode of “CSI: New York”. Whoa, I’ve never watched this show. Forgot about The Who theme song and star Gary Sinise. Written by staff writers of this show (also of “24” and “Demolition Man”)

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Opens with Bruce Dern telling spooky stories and being attacked by a zombie. Lots of sudden zooms into wounds. The CSI team’s job and hi-tech equipment look fun. There’s a zombie walk, or “zombie flash mob”.

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I am very disappointed that there was no unexplained supernatural activity in this episode. Guy fakes his own death for insurance, only to be whacked by his wife with a cricket bat after crawling out of the coffin. And family murder/suicide turns out to be just murder, ex-resident returned to the house + whacked ‘em all.

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