Middle of R.R.’s war trilogy, six episodes about different wartime encounters with (mostly?) Americans. The movie’s subject is that “war is an epidemic that sweeps up everyone in its path,” sayeth the TV narrator. A pretty active and mobile camera, and big noisy music by brother Renzo. Fellini was co-writer and assistant director. A whole bunch of writers, including Alfred Hayes (later Clash By Night and Human Desire) who might account for the surprisingly not-bad English dialogue.

A couple of misunderstandings. U.S. soldiers come to town, recruit a local girl to lead them over the mine-laced lava path. Joe stays in a building with her while the others go ahead. Nazis wander in as Joe is connecting with the girl despite their language barrier, shoot Joe then toss her off the cliff. When the Americans return, they assume the traitorous Italian girl killed their friend then ran off.

Black American soldier hangs out with kid, drunkenly assaults a puppet show, gets his shoes stolen, later comes after the kid to reclaim his shoes but leaves empty-handed, shocked to realize that the kids live in rubble, their parents dead from the bombings. It’s practically a Germany Year Zero prequel.

This and the previous episode give the impression that there were about 200 people in wartime Italy. Very easy to find someone you’re looking for in the streets, or to run into an old acquaintance. Kind of a cheesy episode, a soldier sleeping with some lowlife whore (Maria Michi, the drug-addled turncoat in Rome Open City), telling her dreamily about this perfect upright Italian girl he met before the war, wishing he could meet her again and marry her – of course they are the same girl. Interesting, the Allies shown as liberating heroes, then as witnesses to (or, more likely, causers of) Italy’s immediate post-liberation decline into poverty and desperation.

Nurse Harriet Medin (later in Blood and Black Lace and The Horrible Dr. Hichcock) enlists headstrong dude named Massimo (Renzo Avanzo, later a co-writer of The Golden Coach) trying to get into zone the rebels (partisans) control, only for her to find out her man, now leader of the locals, died that morning. The most action-packed fighting scenes of the movie.

This was a favorite. Three American chaplains visit a monastery, are welcomed happily until the monks find out one is a protestant and one a jew, then commence praying and fasting in hopes that the two can be saved.

The most typically propagandistic of the episodes, showing Italian partisans, British and American soldiers helping each other and fighting together, while Nazis kill peaceful villagers then capture our heroes and murder them all. A downbeat, defeated finale, ending in death like the other two movies in the War Trilogy.

It’s the five-year anniversary of the movie journal! Since that first short post on a Seijun Suzuki movie which Katy so hated, I’ve chalked up over 1100 features and over 800 shorts, many of which Katy has hated. She married me anyway.

In celebration of five years of movies, I’ve rescued a pile of must-see lists from my email archive. After all, the blog was started partly because of my obsession with movie lists, and it has happily coincided with them ever since (via the sortable list of entries and various other must-see lists posted every few months, all collected here). So these are project or theme-month lists left uncompleted, with titles I actually watched removed, and overlaps kept to a minimum.

Musicals Month

In October (and November) 2007, Katy and I watched a bunch of musicals. I even made a musicals-month soundtrack CD. There were some rocky selections – Katy walked out on Pennies From Heaven and declared that Red Garters was not a proper musical, but she got to pick Grease and Fiddler on the Roof. This looks like a list of my own leftover picks, with a few Katy-concession titles and a couple recommended by Joanna.

New York, New York
A Star Is Born
Topsy Turvy
On the Town
Funny Face
42nd Street
Top Hat
A Night at the Opera
I Love Melvin
Dangerous When Wet
Annie Get Your Gun
Bells Are Ringing
High Society
The Muppet Movie
Hello Dolly
Les Girls
Blackfly / The Cat Came Back
Rhapsody Rabbit
Dixieland Droopy

Documentary Month

From June 2008. One of the more successful theme months – we watched nine.

anything by Ross McElwee
The War Room
Lessons of Darkness (Herzog)
White Diamond (Herzog)
The Big One
The House Is Black
Forgotten Silver
The Power of Nightmares
Salesman (Maysles)
Sorrow and the Pity
Darwin’s Nightmare
The Devil and Daniel Johnston
My Kid Could Paint That
Taxi to the Dark Side
Nanook of the North
One Day in September
In the Shadow of the Moon
The Decline of Western Civilization (1981 punk)
The Filth and the Fury
No Direction Home
Thin Blue Line (Morris)
God’s Country (Malle)
Calcutta (Malle)

Documentary Month 2

This January Katy said she wanted to do another doc month, so I made this list of movies I’ve already got which we could watch, but then we ended up doing a political-films month instead, during which we only watched two movies (the three-part The Trap, and Standard Operating Procedure).

Bye Bye Africa
The Living Dead (Adam Curtis)
The Way of All Flesh (Adam Curtis)
Showman (Maysles)
Disgraced Monuments
Listen To Britain
Monitor: Elgar
Canal Zone (Wiseman)
High School (Wiseman)
VHS Kahloucha
Sisters In Law
The End of Suburbia
Kestrel’s Eye
Winged Migration
Antonio Gaudi

2007 Movies

At the end of 2009 I thought I hadn’t seen enough 2009 movies to make any sort of best-of-year list, so I made a best-of-2006 list instead. At the end of 2010 I figured I’d do the same for 2007 movies and make it a tradition, but then decided that was boring and obsessive. This was my must-see list of ’07 movies to watch in ’10.

The Mourning Forest
Silent Light
The Last Mistress
Secret of the Grain
Christopher Columbus, The Enigma
Go Go Tales
You, The Living
Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Gone Baby Gone
Trapped in the Closet
Aqua Teen Hunger Force Movie
Dr. Plonk
In the City of Sylvia

2005 Movies

Apparently I’d had the same idea in 2008, to watch a bunch of movies I’d missed from three years before. Looks like a list of stuff I thought I’d like, stuff I thought I’d hate, and critical favorites.

Piano Tuner of Earthquakes
The Sun
The Wild Blue Yonder
The Bow
The Constant Gardener
Alone in the Dark / Bloodrayne
Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World
La Moustache
Me and You and Everyone We Know
Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
Thank You For Smoking
The Baxter
Don’t Come Knocking
Fearless Freaks

1930’s Month (August 2008)

Between Trouble In Paradise and Rules of the Game, Katy and I watched seven 1930’s movies, and I watched one more when she wasn’t around. These are the others I tried getting her to watch, along with my brief descriptions. I hardly ever give descriptions… must have been trying especially hard that summer.

Enthusiasm (groundbreaking russian experimental drama)
Gabriel Over The White House (angel-as-president drama)
Daybreak (french romantic tragedy, dir. of children of paradise)
Land Without Bread (bunuel’s mountain documentary)
L’Idee (30-min pioneering animated film)
À Nous la liberté (french left-wing satirical comedy)
Movie Crazy (harold lloyd wants to be in the movies)
Man’s Castle (pre-code spencer tracy romance)
The Milky Way (harold lloyd talkie, milkman becomes a boxing star)
Edge of the World (ahead-of-its-time british drama, scenic, tragic)
Grand Illusion (french war drama often voted a top-ten-ever film)
The Blue Angel (the musical that made marlene dietrich a star)
Boudu Saved From Drowning (renoir comedy w one of my fave french actors)
Sylvia Scarlett (cukor/grant/hepburn romantic comedy!)
Story of the Late Chrysanthemums (some kinda japanese masterpiece)
Threepenny Opera (musical from director of pandora’s box)
Scarface (howard hawks’ original gangster drama)

Christmas Movies

Christmas Movie Week comes every December – this is the 2010 list, in descending order by how much I thought Katy would enjoy watching them.

The Bells of St. Mary’s
Comfort and Joy
I’ll Be Seeing You
Nestor, The Long-Eared Christmas Donkey
A Midwinter’s Tale
Christmas Holiday
‘Til We Meet Again
Bad Santa
Jesus of Montreal
In Search of a Midnight Kiss
Blackadder’s Christmas Carol
A Tale of Winter
The Ref
Frozen River
‘R Xmas
A Midnight Clear

Westerns Month (Dec. 2010)

A very enjoyable six-movie theme month with Katy. And eighteen left on the list I made, so we only got to a quarter of it, which still seems an unusually high ratio. Other lists I make (things to fix around the house, albums to buy, restaurants to try) are just as unrealistic and unrealized as my way-too-long movie lists. Westerns are tough because all their titles sound the same to me.

Big Sky
Duel in the Sun
Annie Get Your Gun
The Gunfighter
Wagon Master
The Lusty Men
Silver Lode
Man of the West
Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Fort Apache
Red River
Bend of the River
The Far Country
The Misfits
Ride the High Country

Late Films (Dec. 2010)

For the Shadowplay Late Films Blogathon I watched a week’s worth of final or near-final films by writers, directors and in one case, actors. These are others that I considered:

Lang: The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse
Franju: Shadowman
Chaplin: A King In New York
Nick Ray: Lightning Over Water
Walerian Borowczyk
Demy: Trois places pour le 26 or Varda’s Demy double-feature
Corman: Frankenstein Unbound
Jarman: Blue
John Hubley: The Cosmic Eye
Lubitsch: Cluny Brown, That Lady In Ermine
Melville: Un Flic
Oshima: Taboo
Satyajit Ray: The Visitor, Branches of the Tree
Sturges: Beautiful Blonde From Bashful Bend, The French are a Funny Race
Borzage: The Big Fisherman
Borzage/Ulmer: Journey Beneath the Desert/Siren of Atlantis
Jerry Lewis: Hardly Working, Cracking Up

Russian Movies

Just last month I decided I need to see all the silent Russian masterpieces, and a bunch more Russian movies for that matter. I only watched one feature and a short. Anyway, I’ll get to it later.

Starewicz 1912 Cameraman’s Revenge :13
Bauer 1914 Child of the Big City :37
Bauer 1915 After Death :46
Protazanov 1924 Aelita 1:51
Eisenstein 1925 Potemkin
Vertov 1926 A Sixth Part of the World 1:14
Vertov 1926 Man with the Movie Camera
Kuleshov 1926 Dura Lex 1:18
Eisenstein 1927 October
Dovzhenko 1929 Arsenal
Dovzhenko 1930 Earth
Vertov 1931 Enthusiasm
Dovzhenko 1932 Ivan
Kuleshov 1933 The Great Consoler
Pudovkin 1933 Deserter
Medvedkin 1938 New Moscow 1:16
Eisenstein 1945 Ivan the Terrible
Kalatozov 1959 Letter Never Sent 1:32
1967 Viy, Spirit of Evil 1:12
Protazanov 1969 The Queen of Spades 1:03
Tarkovsky 1975 Mirror 1:48
Sokurov 1979 Sonata For Hitler :43
Parajanov 1984 Legend of Suram Fortress 1:28
Klimov 1985 Come and See 1:13
Sokurov 1988 Days of Eclipse 1:06
Muratova 1990 Asthenic Syndrome
Petrov 1992 The Cow :10
Mikhalkov 1994 Burnt by the Sun 2:15
Sokurov 1994 Whispering Pages 1:17
Petrov 1999 Old Man and the Sea :20
Iosseliani 1999 Adieu Plancher 1:52
Fokin 2002 Metamorphosis 1:24
Muratova 2004 The Tuner 2:35
Sokurov 2007 Aleksandra 1:31
Zvyagintsev 2007 The Banishment 2:30

SHOCKtober 2010

Going along with my plan to watch some of the “best films of the decade“, I thought for SHOCKtober last year I’d confine myself to horror movies from 2000-2010. But I didn’t end up doing that at all. So here’s the list I’d planned to use:

Fear(s) of the Dark
In My Skin
The Orphanage
The Last Winter
Mother of Tears
Mysterious Skin
The End of Suburbia / Darwin’s Nightmare
Demons (Mario O’Hara)
Memories of Murder (bong)
Anatomy of Hell
They Came Back
K Kurosawa: Seance, Bright Future, Doppelganger
The Devil’s Backbone
Twentynine Palms
13 Tzamedi
Demon Pond

SHOCKtober 2009

Told myself I’d watch stuff that I’d bought and rented, but of course that never happens – I just rent new ones. I think this is a mash of lists from 2007-2009.

Dr. Caligari 80min
Organ 104min
Vampyres 88min
The Baby’s Room (2006) 76min
Crawlspace 80min
To Sir With Love (2006) 93min
The Old Dark House 72min
Death Bed (1977) 78min
2000 Maniacs 84min
Mansion of Madness
Midori 49min anime
Atrocity Exhibition 102min
Haxan Witchcraft 76min
Rubber’s Lover 91min
Fear Itself episodes
Possession by zulawski
The Woods (2006)
Wizard of Gore
The Hunger
Necronomicon (1993)
Curse of Frankenstein 1957
The Mummy 1959
Strange Circus
Season of the Witch

Shorts Month

November 2009 was Shorts Month, when I watched so many shorts that I’m still kind of sick of them. Here are some (not counting the ones that ended up on the auteur list) I’d intended to watch that month before I took a less focused approach and just devoured all the ones on my laptop.

Philips-Radio (Joris Ivens)
Un Chant D’Amour
more Chaplin
Borzage: Nugget Jim / Pilgrim
Free Cinema DVDs
Entr’acte (René Clair)
La Villa Santo-Sospir (by Cocteau)
Paris du par (anthology)
Godard/Mieville DVD
Greenaway: 26 Bathrooms, Fear of Drowning, Writing on Water
Herzog: Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner, Unprecedented Defence of Deutschkreuz, Nobody Wants to Play with Me, Handicapped Future
Hubleys: The Hat, Moonbird, Whither Weather
Kiarostami: Breaktime, The Chorus
Rohmer: Changing Landscapes
Ken Russell: From Spain to Streatham, London Moods, Shelagh Delaney’s Salford, Prokofiev, Variations on a Mechanical Theme, Antonio Gaudí
various by Terayama Shuji

TCM Essentials Month (Feb. 2011)

This was short-lived because Katy didn’t have much time to waste on movies, but we’ll come back to it. She missed having cable, so I looked up lists of Turner Classic’s “essentials”, then after each movie we’d read their online article explaining why it was so essential.

A Face in the Crowd
A Place in the Sun
A Star is Born (’54)
An Affair to Remember
An American in Paris
Black Orpheus
Bonnie and Clyde (’67)
Brief Encounter
Doctor Zhivago (1965)
Duck Soup
Fort Apache
Grand Illusion
Gunga Din
I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang
Imitation of Life
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Kind Hearts and Coronets
Lawrence of Arabia (’67)
Leave Her to Heaven (’46)
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Now, Voyager
Out of the Past
Paper Moon
Paths of Glory
Ride the High Country
Seven Samurai
Some Came Running
Stalag 17
Strangers on a Train (’51)
Sweet Smell of Success
The Bad and the Beautiful
The Big Sleep
The Four Feathers
The Grapes of Wrath
The Great Escape
The Hustler
The Letter
The Maltese Falcon
The Manchurian Candidate
The Merry Widow
The Misfits
The Mouse that Roared
The Quiet Man
The Sea Hawk (’40)
The Snake Pit (’48)
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
They Were Expendable
To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)
Tom Jones
Tootsie (1982)
White Heat
Winchester ’73
Witness for the Prosecution
Wuthering Heights

Bonus List: Criterion Laserdiscs

I found a list of movies Criterion released before the DVD era, made note of the 80-ish I’ve never seen. I have an ongoing urge to watch everything the company puts out (as do many cinephile/collectors, I’m sure), but between their main label and Eclipse, I’ll never actually catch up to the point that I need to worry myself over these. It’s still an interesting group of films, though.

High Noon
Secret Agent
Young and Innocent
The Asphalt Jungle
Scaramouche (george sidney)
Show Boat (whale)
Forbidden Planet
Darling (john schlesinger)
West Side Story
Miracle in Milan (de sica)
Burn! (gillo pontecorvo)
The Lacemaker (claude goretta)
King of Hearts (philippe de broca)
Last Tango in Paris
Dr. No
From Russia with Love
Bad Day at Black Rock
Lady for a Day (capra)
Carnal Knowledge (mike nichols)
The Prince of Tides
Jason and the Argonauts
A River Runs Through It
Damage (malle)
City of Hope (sayles)
Confidentially Yours
Edward II (jarman)
The Bridge on the River Kwai
Get Out Your Handkerchiefs (bertrand blier)
Evergreen (victor saville)
Salt of the Earth (berbert biberman)
Bodies, Rest & Motion (michael steinberg)
Menace II Society
Two English Girls
The Prince of Tides
Woman Next Door
Dersu Uzala
Three Cases of Murder (david eady)
Once Were Warriors (lee tamahori)
The Atomic Cafe
Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East?
Waltz of the Torreadors (john guillermin)
El Cid (anthony mann)
The Entertainer (tony richardson)
Swept Away (lina wertmuller)
The Return of Martin Guerre (daniel vigne)
Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song
Montenegro (makavejev)
A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies
Olympia I and II
Pink Flamingos
Five Corners (tony bill)
Godzilla, King of the Monsters!
Godzilla vs. Mothra
Godzilla vs. Monster Zero
Godzilla’s Revenge
Terror of Mechagodzilla
Switchblade Sisters

A tiny film for Rivette, near the end of his career, with his old collaborators. Centers around two people – Jane Birkin (not as great as she was in La Belle Noiseuse) and Sergio Castellitto (greater than he was in Va Savoir) – who meet at a tiny circus, near the end of its life.

From the commentary: “One of the things that attracts Vittorio to the circus troupe is his sense that they have no director. He sees an opportunity, a possible role for himself.”

The first scene is magic: Jane is broken down on the road en route to re-joining the circus after many years away (due to the on-stage death of her boyfriend) when non-circus-performer Sergio, acting more like he belongs in the circus than anybody, stops and fixes her car, with no dialogue at all. After that, Sergio remains somewhat magical, but Jane’s story becomes something more scripted and typically movie-like than usually found in a Rivette film. Apparently it’s all full of interesting metaphors, and after reading Sam’s comments I’m sure I should give it another shot, but it didn’t strike me as hard as Don’t Touch the Axe, or practically any of his others, for that matter. It’s not like I understood his intentions in making Joan the Maid or the symbolic meaning behind Va Savoir, but I loved them nonetheless, and this one lacked that immediate power. It was, however, his funniest movie since Le Pont du Nord (not counting Up, Down, Fragile, which I haven’t seen), and that’s more than I can say for Rohmer’s final film, to which Sam admiringly compared this.

Anyway, I enjoyed the movie, just not as much as I expected to. Some great non-naturalistic lighting, some good awkward stage scenes (a bizarre clown bit that revolves around broken dishes), and my second favorite moment after the wordless open, Jane Birkin walking the tightrope, first towards the camera with the tightrope at bottom of frame, so we can see she’s truly performing the stunt, then it pans up slightly as she turns around, so she walks back with the rope itself out of the shot, the titular mountain (the French title is roughly 36 views of Saint Loup Peak) in the distance.

Kwan has made 15 movies in the last 25 years, only three of which I’ve heard of, nominated for whole piles of awards. Shot by Hang-Sang Poon (Kung Fu Hustle, Zu Warriors) and produced by none other than Jackie Chan.

I’ve had access to a high-quality director’s-cut DVD of this, a movie on Rosenbaum’s top-100 list, for some time now. Never got around to watching it because the idea of a 2.5-hour bio-pic on a Chinese silent film actress I’ve never heard of wasn’t too appealing, however highly recommended the film. But I finally, reluctantly watched it, and of course found it brilliant and beautiful.

True, it’s a bio-pic about Ruan Ling-yu, played by Maggie Cheung (between Days of Being Wild and Ashes of Time) and filmed in sensuous color. And it’s probably as full of invented details and dialogue as most bio-pics, but it also seems to take an approach of serious study interwoven with the fiction, for instance showing clips from Ruan’s actual films when available, recreating scenes with Maggie from the Ruan films that are now lost, and always distinguishing between the real and fictional film clips with subtitles. Sometimes it backs up from the fiction completely, interviewing Maggie and the other actors as themselves, commenting on the characters and the story, and sometimes the making of this film itself. Somehow this distance doesn’t detract from the drama of the story, but adds to it in a creative and informative way that makes me wonder why all bio-pics don’t use this approach.

My favorite sequence:
color: Maggie and Tony in character shooting a scene in New Woman
b/w: the film crew surrounding Maggie and Tony, now as themselves
b/w: that scene of the actual film New Woman
color: Maggie/Tony in character watching the scene

It would’ve helped if I’d known more Chinese film history, or history in general (the Japanese are bombing Shanghai?), but otherwise I enjoyed it an awful lot. Maggie Cheung always seems smarter and more aware than other actors (not others in this movie, but actors in general). This movie uses some of the same songs as her Wong Kar-Wai movies, making it feel like Maggie is in some kind of 1930’s color-cinema time-loop.

Maggie/Ruan is friends with actress Lily Li (Carina Lau, Mimi/Lulu in 2046), and married to Ta-Min (Lawrence Ng of New Dragon Gate Inn), but falls in love with Chu-Sheng (Tony 2 of Ashes of Time/Eagle Shooting Heroes), which leads to scandal and suicide. Her funeral is staged with the actors recreating poses from still photos taken at Ruan’s funeral sixty years earlier.