A classy (but under-90-minute) bio-pic, which gratefully provides a smiling Charles Laughton plenty of time for speechifying. The story goes that Rembrandt started painting a commissioned portrait of some rich officers, but the painting turned dark after his wife Saskia died of illness, hence “The Night Watch.” Much criticism follows, Rem falls in with housekeeper Geertje and goes through dark times, loses all his possessions, then ten years later dumps her for newer, younger housekeeper Hendrickje. Together they creatively avoid Rem’s debts by saying he has no personal wealth and works for a dealership run by Hendrickje and Rem’s son Titus, thus all paintings belong to the dealer and can be sold. Hen eventually dies just like Rem’s first wife, and Rem lives out his days in poverty, begging on the street for money to buy paints but, being Charles Laughton, still looks awfully pleased with himself.

Roger Livesey, recognizable by his distinctive voice, gets a prime role as a beggar whom Rem wants to paint as a faded old king. Laughton, the year after Ruggles of Red Gap, and three after winning the oscar for Korda’s The Private Life of Henry VIII plays opposite stage actress Gertrude Lawrence (Geertje) and Elsa Lanchester (Hendrickje), who was the Bride of Frankenstein just the previous year.

Wikipedia, the source of all truths, says Night Watch was never criticized, that Rembrandt was paid in full and the subjects were pleased, but confirms the story of the art dealership owned by Rembrandt’s son and girlfriend.

It’s a mid-career work by Korda, who was turning to production over direction – this was one of the last he’d direct himself – with help from writer Carl Zuckmayer (The Blue Angel), cinematographer Georges P√©rinal (some Ren√© Clair films, Blood of a Poet, Colonel Blimp) and art director Vincent Korda (who’d work with Ernst Lubitsch, Carol Reed and David Lean).

Filmed like a stage play with tableau shots and intricate lighting, and performed to the rafters, with driving music, a thousand pages of dialogue and a million times more profanity than the Korda movie.

Rembrandt is portrayed by a playful Martin Freeman. Saskia is alive until halfway through the movie, and Geertje and Hendrickje show up too, perverse and unrecognizable from the other movie (Geertje in particular is less forbidding, almost jolly in this one). Respectively, PG cast Eva Birthistle (Ae Fond Kiss, Breakfast on Pluto), Jodhi May (House of Mirth) and Emily Holmes (Snakes on a Plane) as Rem’s women.

Possibly there’s an angel on the roof, or perhaps it’s just Bob Kemp’s daughter. Maybe her name is Marieke. I get that there’s a huge conspiracy, that everyone in the movie knows about some sordid goings-on, that the cover-ups are ineffective and that Rembrandt is said to be exposing the misdeeds within details in his painting (definite shades of The Draughtsman’s Contract), but I have a hard time following all the specifics. There’s a flood of explanation at the end: one man is burning down houses for insurance, one runs an orphanage as a child brothel, one is manipulating tobacco prices, and one shot Hasselburg. The picture is usually dark around the edges, almost definitely in sympathy with The Night Watch, but I didn’t get any other art or history or story references because I am not cultured enough to appreciate Greenaway. It’s a common complaint, but I don’t hold it against P.G. – that he can make such a talky yet visually interesting film which actually makes me want to learn more about Rembrandt and 1600’s Dutch society is good enough.

“Do you think that we Hollanders who threw the sea out of our country will let the Germans have it? Better the sea.”

Pressburger’s first producer/director credit after a decade of writing in the movies – including Powell’s 49th Parallel, The Spy In Black and Contraband. Shot by Ronald Neame and edited (as was 49th Parallel) by David Lean. Early on were some wondrous airborne shots of the city below lit up by bombs and anti-aircraft fire – I couldn’t tell if it was stock footage or superior special effects.

A pip of a war thriller, more exciting than 49th Parallel. After a British bomber is shot down over Holland, the soldiers (who all parachuted to safety) have to find their stray comrade, contact the resistance and make their way to the border, nearly getting caught a bunch of times.

Note nazi officer silhouette in the organist’s mirror:

Sure, all the guys have different jobs and hobbies and personalities, but the movie is pretty story-driven, so I didn’t get strong enough individual impressions to tell them all apart and remember who was who – figuring most of this out from IMDB. Older guy George, rear gunner, was the villain in The 39 Steps. I recognized Eric Portman from A Canterbury Tale. Hugh Williams (who later starred in Pressburger’s solo film Twice Upon a Time) was an actor in civilian life, so gets dressed as a woman when they hide out in church with the villagers. Front gunner Bernard Miles was in The Man Who Knew Too Much remake. Pilot Hugh Burden played in Ghost Ship and Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb, and Emrys Jones (the stray Bob, a soccer player) appeared in The Small Back Room.

The bailed-out men are found immediately by children who report them to Pamela Brown (I Know Where I’m Going, Tales of Hoffmann). She surprisingly makes them prove their identities to make sure they’re not nazi spies trying to entrap the resistance leaders, then smuggles them (via the costumes and the church) on to priest Peter Ustinov (voice of Prince John) then on to Googie Withers (of Night and the City) who gets them to a boat at great personal risk – in fact, I’m not sure how she gets out alive at the end. Somewhere along the way they come across Bob at a soccer game, natch, and Ustinov squares off against nazi sympathizer Robert Helpmann (Red Shoes, Tales of Hoffmann). During their boat escape, one (George?) is shot, but in the epilogue they’re all alive, well and flying missions again – target: Berlin.

Also watched:
An Airman’s Letter to His Mother (1941, Michael Powell)

…which was exactly that – a letter written to be delivered in case of his death, then delivered when he died. One of those super-patriotic messages, which was published in all the papers and filmed by Powell, I guess in order to reach cinemagoers who don’t read the papers.

Three Little Pigs (1933, Burt Gillett)
Musical short feat. “Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf” song. Great sound work by Carl Stalling. Uncle Walt did the voice of the brickhouse pig, one of only a couple credited non-Mickey voice roles. OMG, inside the brick house there’s a framed picture of sausage links on the wall with the caption “father”.
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Mirror of Holland (1951, Bert Haanstra)
Greeeeat movie. He shoots reflections of Holland on the river, then flips the camera so they’re rightside-up. Looks for cool subjects and cool effects off the water. All woodwind and harp music, no narration, gorgeous. Didn’t know there was a golden palm for shorts at Cannes, but this won it.
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Quiet As Kept (2007, Charles Burnett)
“That little-ass FEMA check sure don’t go very far”
Actors are real actorly, especially the kid (he’s in Ned’s Declassified). Video is real videoey. Script is real good, a sketch about a family of black New Orleans ex-residents post-Katrina, but the movie is ehhh. Oops, All Movie Guide calls it a documentary – bozos. Can’t find anyone talking about this online, probably because when Killer of Sheep came out on DVD, everyone got in line to praise it and didn’t want to look out-of-touch by talking about the not-great shorts it was packaged with.
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Mr. Frenhofer and the Minotaur (1949, Sidney Peterson)
Distorted film of actors, string music, and voiceover, none of which has anything to do with the other. “To pose, or not to? I love him, I love him not? Or rather, since I love him less already, why not? An old man mad about paint, Frenhofer…” Yep, definitely from the same source as La Belle Noiseuse. “Once upon a time there was an old man who had been painting one painting for ten years. His name was Frenho… for what? … He started looking for a model to compare. All he wanted was the most beautiful woman in the world to prove to himself that his painting was more beautiful than any possible woman.” It’s all in here: Marianne’s man (also a painter) offering up her modeling services, Porbus the art dealer.

The script/narration is pretty swell but I wouldn’t be following if not for having seen the Rivette, and the visual is just nothing to me… a clock, a fencing match, cats, blurry nonsense, movie would be just as good with a black screen. Sorry, Sidney Peterson. Hmmm, at the end a fencer stabs the painter.
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Eurydice – She, So Beloved (2007, Bros. Quay)
Very underlit ballet. Kinda dull. I preferred The Phantom Museum (and Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary).
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Victory Over The Sun (2007, Michael Robinson)
Weirdly shaped monuments and the whispering wind. Would probably help if I could understand what the chanting people are saying. There’s some abstract 3D Animation thrown in. Towards the end goes into sound from some cartoon… Transformers? Some very familiar symphonic music. Pretty nice… I didn’t love it by any means, but I like it better than the disappointing Light Is Waiting.

Waaait, I looked this up online and found all sorts of stuff about it, something about being shot on the former sites of Worlds Fairs, but now I can’t find where I wrote that down.
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The Wizard of Speed and Time (1979, Mike Jittlov)
Oh My God. This is three minutes of pure joy. Now that I have found this movie, I will watch it always. It’s my new The Heart of the World, using jaw-dropping stop-motion to express pure cinema love. The look is dated, but the music is swell, and Mike is a grinning god.
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