A few days after Rashomon, we took a whole class to the Alamo for this one, all of our first times seeing it. A version of Macbeth that is plenty enjoyable on its own, through its great atmosphere and unique variations on the story, and even more so after reading about some of the design elements and historical context.

From Stephen Prince’s Criterion essay:

Noh shows up everywhere in Throne of Blood, making the project a real fusion of cinema and theater… Noh elements include the music (that assertive flute, for example), the bare sets, and especially the stylized performances by Mifune and Isuzu Yamada … Actors in Noh use masks, and while Kurosawa doesn’t do anything so blatantly artificial here, he does have Mifune and Yamada model facial expressions that resemble popular Noh masks (a strategy he extended in Yamada’s makeup) … Kurosawa strips all the psychology out of Macbeth and gives us a film whose characters are Noh types and where emotions — the province of character in the drama of the West — are formally embodied in landscape and weather. The bleached skies, the fog, the barren plains, and characters going adrift against and within these spaces — this is where the emotion of the film resides … Kurosawa wants us to grasp the lesson, to see the folly of human behavior, rather than to identify or empathize with the characters.

Toshiro Mifune’s ninth Kurosawa film, with Isuzu Yamada (landlady of The Lower Depths) as his Lady, and Minoru Chiaki (the priest in Rashomon, also Hidden Fortress and The Face of Another) as his friend-turned-rival. The three witches are replaced by a single spinning-wheel ghost, with a neat single take when the spirit house vanishes while the warriors (and camera) are distracted.

I love the performances even more than the multiple-perspective conceit, how Mifune goes from devil-may-care trickster thief to pathetic coward, the wife from tormented crying victim to cold duel instigator. Three points of view including the dead husband’s through a medium, then a fourth version from a witness woodcutter, then he’s also revealed to be a liar/thief, having stolen a valuable dagger from the crime scene, and all this causes the local priest to despair until his faith is restored by the woodcutter adopting a baby that was apparently abandoned at the temple while they were telling crime stories. The priest’s bit is overdone, rest of the movie is perfect. Watched on the big screen at Alamo with my Katy.

Won top prize at Venice against Diary of a Country Priest, Renoir’s The River, Ace in the Hole, Born Yesterday, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, and won different oscars in two consecutive years, since their rules used to be even stupider than they are now. This was Toshiro Mifune’s fifth Kurosawa film, and his breakout role to the Western world. The wife Machiko Kyô starred in Gate of Hell, the dead husband Masayuki Mori in Ugetsu, and the medium Noriko Honma in each of Kurosawa’s final three films.

If anyone’s reading, there is a short-term Situation over here… fewer movies are being watched, and fewer words written about them. Gonna burn through the backlog with some half-assed posts!

Katy says this is considered Jimmy Stewart’s worst movie, which seems farfetched – A Tale of Africa, anyone? Sure it’s no Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, but it’s fine. Stewart is scooping salt after dropping off supplies when local drunken bully Dave (Alex Nicol of Bloody Mama and The Screaming Skull) comes by and steals/destroys all his stuff. Stewart gets revenge, of a sort, by hanging out with Dave’s dad’s love-interest/nemesis Aline MacMahon (The Flame and the Arrow) and refusing to leave town, not letting on that he’s tracking some rifles stolen from his late brother. So Jimmy gets tangled up in all the townfolk’s affairs until he figures out who’s trading rifles to the sinister Indians (it’s Dave, of course), almost getting himself killed a bunch of times in the process.

Dusty, enraged Stewart with defeated Dave:

The town is supposedly dominated by a very large ranch plus Aline’s smaller one, though we never see workers at either place except when they ride out in groups to start fights. The rancho grande is run by ailing Donald Crisp (Ulysses Grant in Birth of a Nation forty years earlier) who wishes his son wasn’t such a fuckup, and foreman Arthur Kennedy (who we just saw in The Lusty Men), who’s in on the rifle scheme with Dave. Combo of the gun deal, the vengeful Stewart, and Crisp’s failed power plays all lead to downfall and death, though somehow Crisp is given a happyish ending, engaged to Aline, while Stewart has to ride off but tells his own love interest (Cathy O’Donnell, girlfriend of handless Harold in The Best Years of Our Lives) to look him up if she ever rides east.

Crisp and Kennedy:

Jack Elam (Once Upon a Time in the West) plays a would-be assassin:

Robert Mitchum is a washed-up rodeo legend who runs into Wes (Arthur Kennedy of Rancho Notorious, traitor of Bend of the River) and Susan Hayward (Canyon Passage). Wes gets the idea to make quick money by getting Mitchum to train him for the rodeo life, soon becomes a conceited gambler going out with hot chicks and abandoning Susan at home, and Mitchum gets a complex about it, goes back out to prove himself and gets thrashed to death by a bull.

“I got a special callin’ for handling horses like some folks get the call to be a preacher.” Just a couple days later, we saw The Rider, which had the unfortunate side effect of making this movie seem somewhat phony by comparison. It’s overall fine though, if not up to the very high standards of Ray’s next few pictures. Arthur Hunnicutt (The Big Sky) is a highlight as a cripped ex-bullrider with a teenage daughter named Rusty… never seen the bad girl who tries to steal Wes (Eleanor Todd) or the bitter widow (Lorna Thayer) before.

One week in 1953, things went very badly for military scientist Frank Olson (played by Peter Saarsgard in reenactment footage). After he’s given LSD at a cabin getaway, he does something wrong (“they laughed at me”) then asks to be fired from his job. Instead he’s escorted to NYC, taken to see a psychiatrist (actually an allergist) and a magician, and one night he goes out the window of his hotel room and falls to his death. Few specifics are known for sure – what happened in the cabin, who else was in the hotel room, what the NYC trip was even for – but Frank’s son Eric has spent six decades learning all he can, trying to piece it together. So the film follows his investigation, fleshing out the story more and more as he learns details over the decades from court cases and document searches and unofficial visits.

Eric’s collage art must have inspired some of Morris’s compositions:

Dr. Balaban… I thought this was Morris and his interrotron when I first saw it:

Saarsgard is lost in the reenactment scenes, dazed or drugged or having a breakdown, and we barely see or discuss him behaving normally before the fateful week. Other actors hover about, such as Tim Blake Nelson as sinister boss Gottlieb (who once tried to assassinate Lumumba) and Bob Balaban as the allergist, but these scenes never quite come together, because the investigation doesn’t. We get close enough to make assumptions – that Frank was dropped out the window, staged as a suicide – but it all leads up to the terrible final moments of the Eric Olson interview:
“I remembered my father but I forgot who I was… you become lost in a sea of questions, all of which pertain to the other, none of which pertain to yourself… Because the value of the lost one is infinite, the sacrifice becomes infinite.”

It’s a powerful ending, and I love some of the editing tricks, echoing and split-screening the interview images. But something is off with the big-picture editing – the episodes were either meant to be watched a week apart (watching two in one sitting yields too little progress, too much repetition) or they had enough material for four good episodes and extended it to six when they got the netflix deal.

The Tabloid television setup:

chemist Robert Lashbrook:

Lawrence Garcia in the new Cinema Scope:

Uncertainty, unknowability, and the nature of truth are subjects that Morris has revisited throughout his career, specifically in relation to (American) structures and systems of authority. And despite its overt epistemological explorations, conspiratorial tone, and more unconventional trappings, Wormwood still bears the hallmarks of traditional journalistic reportage. But there’s been a marked change as well: the relative certainty of something like the Randall Dale Adams case — built around a clear miscarriage of justice, with a self-evident corrective goal — has been traded in for McNamara’s fog, Rumsfeld’s flurry of memos (nicknamed “snowflakes”), or the recurring image of the sea in The Unknown Known. It’s a shift from thin blue line to churning, Rorschachian haze.

Uptight fashion designer is spellbound by a young waitress and pulls her into his wondrous world, then loses interest and goes back to his old bitchy, needy ways. She resents her treatment and finds a way to make herself needed once again. Retired movie star Daniel Day-Lewis appears with upcoming movie star Vicky Krieps (Gutland, The Young Karl Marx) and, as the designer’s sister who runs the business while he stomps around being a fragile genius, Lesley Manville (of most Mike Leigh movies). Katy did not like it. Apparently the third movie of the year in which men are poisoned by mushrooms (I haven’t caught Lady Macbeth yet).

Robert Koehler in Cinema Scope:

Woodcock is reminded more than once of his place in the class system, that he doesn’t own the house in which his House is located; he’s paying rent to a wealthy client landlord. Like an architect, he’s bound to these clients, financially and spiritually: their bodies inspire his designs, and their money allows him to pay the rent. The thematic connection of designers and architects to filmmakers, and thus to the dreaded autobiographical thread, is never too fruitful for critics to follow, and it doesn’t work here at all. But what this project does reveal about Anderson is his interest in turning away from isolated obsessives toward the alchemy of collaboration.

First time rewatching this since 2003.

A warmup for Playtime, toying with modern technology and living/working spaces ill-suited for the decidedly unmodern Mr. Hulot. At his sister’s house, sound is made by electric gizmos, and at Hulot’s, it’s made by aiming a sunbeam at a caged bird.

Sidetracks follow neighborhood dogs and schoolboy pranks. At the end the dad bonds with his son in a small way, at the expense of having Hulot sent away, and the dogs again take over the film.

On of my favorite gags, the women talking to each other but facing the direction the path dictates:

Won the oscar over Big Deal on Madonna Street, and won a jury prize at Cannes the year of big winner The Cranes are Flying. So many blu-ray extras and reviews of this… a good one: Matt Zoller Seitz for Criterion.

Badass bounty hunter Henry Fonda (same year as 12 Angry Men) rolls into town and meets the unqualified local sheriff Anthony Perkins (three years pre-Psycho) who wants to do the right thing and arrest local bad guy Neville Brand (lead of Riot in Cell Block 11) even though it’ll probably get him killed. Meanwhile, Fonda is renting a room from a woman (Betsy Palmer, the killer in Friday the 13th) who has been exiled from town because of her half-breed son (Michel Ray, who would become an Olympic skiier and a beer billionaire). And Lee Van Cleef and his brother are going around murdering people. Fonda, an ex-lawman, says repeatedly that he’s done being a lawman, nuh-uh, never again, so we just know he’ll become acting sheriff and take care of things.

The writers lost the oscar to Designing Woman, but this was a very good Mann western to file with all the others.

Henry Fonda, Mrs. Voorhees and the young owner of Heineken:

Thanks to a well-placed mirror, we can see the bar fight and Perkins’ reaction:

I wondered about the nursing home intro, but in the end felt it was the best framing device of an older woman recalling dead friends since Atonement. Bulk of the movie follows serious-minded, self-assured Marcus as he learns (and ultimately fails) to navigate a college full of distracting human elements – a patronizing dean, a sexy rich girl, noisy roommates and people who want atheist Marcus to define himself as Jewish (and at the same time want him to attend the school-mandated chapel services). After he’s caught buying his way out of church (he’s not wealthy, but felt that getting out of church was morally necessary), he’s expelled, sent to the Korean war, killed.

Marcus’s girl Olivia is Sarah Gadon, Gugu’s white sister-cousin in Belle, Pattinson’s wife in Cosmopolis, the sick celebrity in Antiviral – I should be able to recognize her by now. If I watch this again, need to pay more attention to her character, now that I know more about her emotional instability and tragic end. Marcus is Logan Lerman, who starred as loner high school freshman in Perks of Being a Wallflower, now a loner college freshman. He’s magnetic, and his clash with the equally serious and self-assured dean (Tracy Letts, writer of Bug, also in Homeland and Christine), mostly represented in one extra-long, tense meeting scene, was reason enough to keep watching, though I didn’t get much sense of narrative progression or the movie’s point until it all comes flooding in at the end.

M. D’Angelo:

A chilling illustration of nails that stick out being hammered down, lent additional blunt force by the strangeness of (fairly recent) history … Also rare and exciting to see intellectual ferocity onscreen, even if it’s the annoyingly self-righteous undergrad variety.