Sunday, 22 April 2018

The Red Desert (Il Deserto Rosso) (1964)



Den røde ørken
”The Red Desert” (“Il Deserto Rosso”) is the fourth Antonioni movie following “L'Avventura” (1960), “La Notte” (1961), and “L'Eclisse” (1962). I have been on the fence with these three movie, slowly growing to accept them when considering them on their own terms. With “The Red Desert” Antonioni stretches those term to the extent that I have a hard time keeping up.

I get the impression that Antonioni got so excited working with colors that this became the theme of the movie. To use colors actively to reflect the moods of a woman. Antonioni went into this with a lot of zeal, painted fields and what-not and the result is very beautiful. The colors and color compositions are truly magnificent and very central in this movie. Not just saturated colors, that is an old trick dating back to “The Wizard of Oz”, but a subtle use that is both understated and very powerful, if that makes any sense.

The problem is that I think Antonioni got so absorbed in his use of colors that he forgot there is more to a movie.

When you watch an Antonioni movie you have to understand that it is a tableau, a mental state or a feeling he tries to convey, not an actual story. If you look for a story you will get disappointed. In “The Red Desert” there are truly no story at all. No plot what so ever. The Book sums it up very nicely: A neurotic woman (Monica Vitti) is looking for love but finds sex. Except Vitti’s character Giuliana is far beyond neurotic. I am no psychiatrist, but to me she seems to be schizophrenic.

So, Giuliana goes around being afraid of everything to the sound of disturbing electronic noises. Her surroundings are post-apocalyptic industrial landscapes with steam and pollution, mud and fog. Deeply unpleasant. I learned that this was filmed in Ravenna, which is disappointing as I always wanted to visit that place only now to learn that it looks like this. Yicks. Anyway, Giuliani had some sort of accident and now she is a mental case. She is looking for love or understanding and feeling very alone. Her husband Ugo (Carlo Chionetti) is often not present and quite busy at work. Though, to my mind, he is trying to be accommodating, but there is not to do. A business contact, Corrado (Richard Harris) is fascinated by Giuliana and wants to bed her. Giuliana thinks he may help her, but ends up being disappointed. Giuliana is pretty much trapped in her mind and her’s is not a case for amateurs. She needs professional help and a lot of it.

Seriously, that is all that happens over it’s two hours running time.

I found it a lot less engaging than the first three movies. Of course, Antonioni is all about making us feel all her anxiety, but it is so far outside the normal range of feelings that all I feel is pity. The emotional situations, typically alienation, of the characters in the other three movies were all belonging to normal, modern people. I can relate to them. Giuliana is not normal, she is ill and pretty badly. Without that connection two hours feel very long.

The one thing going for the movie is as mentioned photography, particularly the use of colors. The highlight here is a story Giuliana tells her son about a girl swimming on a beach where she can hear the rocks sing. That water looks so inviting I immediately felt like booking a ticket to wherever I could find such a beach.

In the final analysis, unless you are an Antonioni aficionado, you watch this movie for the use of colors and little else. It is not a favorite of mine.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

The Naked Kiss (1964)



Off-List: The Naked Kiss
The second off-list movie of 1964 is “The Naked Kiss”. It is not a movie I knew up front, but one that has been recommended. It was therefore not a given thing that I would like it. Ultimately I did, so thank you for the recommendation.

Samuel Fuller, the director, producer and writer of the movie, had made a name for himself as a somewhat controversial filmmaker, in that he picked and, enthusiastically, delved into the seedier and lurid parts of life. In “Shock Corridor” it was mental illness or outright insanity. In “The Naked Kiss” it is prostitution and pedophilia. I bet that got your attention.

Kelly (Constance Towers) is a prostitute who apparently is pretty sick of her profession. When she arrives in a small town she does one job and then makes a career change and starts working with handicapped children. Unfortunately, the one job she does take is with the local police chief, Griff (Anthony Eisley), and now he wants her out of town. Prostitutes do not belong in his town. Talk about hypocrisy.

However, Kelly is hugely successful in her new job and she meets a nice guy and they fall in love. His name is Grant (Michael Dante), he is the richest man in town and Griff’s best friend. Griff is strongly against a marriage, convinced Kelly is a gold-digger. Shortly before the wedding Kelly’s world come crashing down as (SPOILER) she finds out Grant is a pedophile and wants to marry her because she is also flawed, her being a prostitute. Kelly grabs a phone, knocks him in the head and kills hem (careful with those phones…) For Griff the case is clear. Kelly deliberately went after Grant’s money and killed him in the process. How will Kelly get out of that pinch?

For the first half hour I had some trouble paying attention to this movie. I suppose the filming felt like a throwback to the fifties and the story did not appeal much to me. But at that crucial moment where Kelly kills Grant, Fuller changed gear and this becomes a lot more interesting. The plot is piling up against Kelly and it gets quite exciting. In these passages “The Naked Kiss” is very much a film noir and a good one at that.

Constance Towers is by far the best actor on the set and giving her as much screen time as possible was a good choice. Her quiet despair is subtle and convincing, and her full steam misery is pretty good too. The rest are more B crew types, but they suit the movie.

There are flaws though. Not big enough to sabotage the movie, but odd enough that I cannot help thinking about them. They are, however, typical of Samuel Fuller.

First off Griff is a prick. His hypocrisy in the opening, his reluctance to recognize her change, his wild accusations and the vitriol he pours at her in the prison. But, alas, when he realizes she did not kill Grant for his money, but because he was a pedophile there are no apologies or remorse. In fact it would appear Griff and Kelly were lovers all along. Ehh, why is she kissing him instead of punching his face?

Secondly, Kelly did actually kill the guy violently. He may be a pedophile, but he did not attack her. She cannot claim self-defense. In most places that is not enough to kill a guy. Instead you go to the police. So, as I understand it she is actually guilty of murder. Something I have misunderstood?

A last item is the interrogation of the little girl at the police station. That made me cringe. Can you really rough up a child witness like that? And where are her parents? Maybe it is the age showing, but it felt wrong.

It ought to be easy to fix these details and the result would be a wonderfully lurid tale. I think I preferred “Shock Corridor”, but there is enough in the “The Naked Kiss” to make it worthy of watching. Whether I think it deserves a place on the List I am doubtful. At least I need to get a more complete view of 1964 first.

 

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

A Hard Day's Night (1964)



En hård dags nat
How many songs do you know by The Beatles? 5? 10, maybe? 50? Personally I haven’t got a clue. Say a number and it is probably more. I grew up in the eighties, long after The Beatles broke up, but still I can say I grew up with The Beatles. They were everywhere. In the radio, in the song books, in television, on the record shelves of friend’s parents and as teenagers we would re-discover their music and share its youthfulness as had we been our parents generation. No other band has had that sort of longevity, at least not with me. But it goes beyond that. I keep discovering songs I like only to find out that this song is also a Beatles song.  I hear Beatles songs I feel certain I have never heard before and yet they sound familiar because in all likelihood I did hear it many, many years ago.

And I am pretty sure I am not the only one.

Strangely enough I never saw “A Hard Day’s Night” before, at least not in its entirety, but the songs are quite familiar. So, watching this I could combine the joy of a first viewing with the comfort of familiarity. I felt spoiled.

Obviously “A Hard Day’s Night” is a vehicle for The Beatles. The storyline is about the thinnest possible. It is basically a day in the life of the band. They are taking the train to London to appear in a televised show. To get there they have to escape a horde of screaming girls and deal with inane questions from journalists (Journalist: How did you find America? Lennon: Turn left after Greenland). The producers of the show are going nuts because of the antics of the band and finally they get to play. That is not really a lot, but sprinkled throughout are a number of zany subplots. Paul’s grandfather (a very clean man) is constantly causing mischief. The manager and the road manager have an ongoing argument abut being taller than each other and the band members tend to wander off.  George ends up with a marketing dude who is very impressed with himself and Ringo, encouraged by Paul’s grandfather, deserts the band to find the real life in the streets. This happens to end in a Keaton-scale police chase.

It is sweet and fun and very light and helped a lot by the four Beatles members being very sympathetic characters. There are also threads to a Monty Python style sort of comedy that is quite appealing. But at the end of the day, what really matters is the music. Rather than spontaneously braking into song, the music bits slide almost naturally into the action, basically by the band taking every opportunity to sing a song or as backing music to the action on the screen. It works very well and rather than being a musical this is a movie about a band playing music.

The music is great. In fact the rest does not matter, having the music is easily enough. Of the twelve songs used in the movie six of them were new material made specifically for this movie to be used as a soundtrack album. Normally I would think that such songs mainly would be filler compared to the “greatest hits” that would make up the rest, especially given the very short time Lennon and McCartney had to come up with them, but that is not the case at all. Every single one of them is a classic and are in my opinion better than their previous material. Especially the title song which is one of my all-time favorite Beatles songs.

The second disc of the Criterion edition I got contains a wealth of information and anecdotes of the movie. Somewhat repetitive though, by the third behind the scenes feature I felt I knew everything worth knowing about this particular movie. The historic account of the Beatles up to the point of the movie is very interesting though and well worth visiting for its own sake.

Rather than saying this was a good movie I would say that this was a movie I greatly enjoyed watching and I could easily see it again. Highly recommended. Very highly.

And now to something completely different… I have just returned from The States with my family and want to share with you the launch of the Falcon rocket last week as seen from Kennedy Space Center. I hope this works…
ups... Blogger has a maximum size of 100 MB so instead you may have to download it from here instead:
 
 

      

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Woman in the Dunes (Suna no Onna) (1964)



Sunna No Onna
”Woman of the Dunes” is an odd movie. It is one of those stories you cannot place in a single category as it seems to contain many elements or aspects.

On the face of it it lands somewhere between a prison escape movie and a robinsonade. Schoolteacher Niki Junpei (Eiji Okada) has ventured into an area of sand dunes to collect bugs for his collection. He misses the last bus home and the locals offer that he can stay with one of them, a woman that lives alone. She lives in a hut at the bottom of a sandpit, accessible only with a rope ladder. Soon enough however Junpei finds out that there is nowhere out and he will not make it back to school in time.

It turns out that the woman (Kyoko Kishida), who is never given a name, lost husband and child and needs a new man and the villagers has decided that Junpei is the one. He is of course upset by this turn of events, but no matter what he tries he cannot get out of the pit. In the beginning he tries brute force, but over time his schemes become more cunning. Meanwhile the woman seems bent on trying to make it comfortable for him and to make him accept his fate. When Junpei finally succeeds to get out of the pit he ends up in quicksand and is brought back to the woman. That seems to make him give up.

The sandpit is obviously a prison with Junpei the prisoner constantly trying to escape. The sandpit is also a deserted island with very limited, and certainly no visual, contact with the outside world and Junpei has to learn how the island works if he is to survive. Grudgingly at first, but with more enthusiasm as time wears on.

These, the surface themes, work well, albeit a bit slow and the ending is quite surprising. It is however on the deeper levels that “Woman of the Dunes” stands out. There is something very surreal about people living at the bottom of a sandpit. In reality it would never work. Sand is incredibly mobile and for all their shoveling the pit would be covered soon enough. I should know, I took my masters in sand dunes. There is simply no point to placing a hut at the bottom of a sand pit. The real story therefore is one of metaphors and that is where it gets interesting.

Junpei is getting caught in a marriage and he cannot get out of. Or more to the point, the life of a woman in Japan in the 1960’ies (and probably today as well) is a life at the bottom of a sandpit. Chained to a life with no outlook. Work is a Sisyphean affair that has to be done but never takes you anywhere and being together with a man is like being a spider capturing prey, dragging them into her sandpit. From this perspective the movie works very well. The woman who knows no other life and no other destiny is fatalistic and accepting about her life. The man, seeing this life from the male, outside, point of view, sees it as a despairing prison, an end to all he wanted to be.

This storyline is underscored by the soundtrack which is haunting and brooding and otherworldly and the sand is a perfect metaphor for the inevitable. The villagers with their googles and shrill laughter are like small demons tormenting the man and the woman, with the difference that the woman is accepting their treatment of her.

I found “Woman of the Dunes” a clever movie and captivating, literally, but it was also a tad too long. My version was an uncut version and I understand the need to trim it. It could easily loose about half an hour. When the scenes drag out I found myself drifting a bit. Overall, though, I would say “Woman of the Dunes” come out positive.     

There will be a short break now on this blog as I will be going for the next two weeks to The States.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

My Fair Lady (1964)



My Fair Lady
Oh dear, oh dear…

I am at a loss for words, where do I even start?

You know you are in for a rough ride when the praise in the Book is lackluster and rarely have the editors been this hesitant in their endorsement, yet somehow my hope were pretty high going in to “My Fair Lady”. Not sure why, though. Maybe because it is as famous as it is, maybe because it has been there, present as long as I can remember. In any case this is the first time I watch it for real and, well, now I know.

For the very few who are entirely unfamiliar with the story, this is an adaption of a stage production of a novel (“Pygmalion”) by Bernard Shaw. The language professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) makes it his goal to make a lady out of the street vendor Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn). He succeeds, she becomes a lady and they get each other. The end. Oh wait, somewhere in between 178 minutes passes.

At the heart of it this is such a classic story and I have seen countless versions of it. The ugly duckling taken out of its pond and transformed into a swan. The problem here is that this movie is probably the worst version of this story, ever.

The characters are just awful. Henry Higgins in particular is obnoxious in the extreme. Full of venom and spite, he mocks everybody around him with a superior attitude. That could be funny, but it is not. Just annoying. Eliza as the street vendor is only marginally less annoying. Her screaming and ranting almost deserves the mockery being served by Henry. Then of course in a split-second she turns into a lady with pleasant language, intelligence and understanding, which was granted her simply be learning a language.

The pervading idea is that language is a reflection of who you are. Refined language gives you by default a number of desirable qualities including wealth and intelligence, whereas dialects are a menace, speaking a dialect means that you are simple and borderline criminal. Needless to say that this idea is ridiculous in the extreme and not a little insulting.

That Henry teaches the girl as part of a bet and only uses her to show off his own brilliance is just part of his character. What is far more objectionable is that Eliza is supposed to fall in love with him. The last five minutes of the movie are just completely unbelievable given what has happened up to that point.

Then of course there are all the things that are happening or rather not happening over the very long running time of the movie. There is a lot of singing naturally, it is a musical. In fact according to Wikipedia there a 25 musical numbers we have to get through, during which not much is happening. I am wrecking my brain trying to remember what actually happens, but really, very little is actually happening. Quite a lot of shouting though and that is another thing. This is not just a stage adaption. It is filmed, acted and vocalized as if it is on a stage. Filmed theater so to speak. Just plain weird. And loud.

Some of the songs were quite familiar. I know “The Rain in Spain” and “Get Me to Church on Time”, but curiously only in a Danish adaption. See, this fantastic musical was so successful that it was translated to stage and film versions all over the world.

I cannot help thinking that I am missing something. When you are watching a movie and regularly mutter to yourself that that this is really bad and the world at large thinks this is amazing then you have to wonder if you are watching the same movie. I generally do not love musicals, but this is way beyond that. If not even Audrey Hepburn can save a movie then we are in trouble.   

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Marnie (1964)



Marnie
As far as I can see “Marnie” is the last Alfred Hitchcock movie on the list. A recurrent theme on this blog has therefore reached its last chapter. Hitchcock is the single most prevalent director on the List and I have lost count on the number of times I have reviewed a Hitch movie. Usually they are good, even very good. This time… it is okay, but not great.

The Hitchcock catalogue is so large and so glorious that it is a tall order to find a place in that collection and “Marnie” barely makes it. In my opinion at least. Undoubtedly there are big fans of this movie as well.

“Marnie” is the story about a woman, Marnie (Tippi Hedren), who has a scheme going. She will work in a company for a few months under an assumed identity and then rob the place and leave town. In between heists she will visit her mother, Bernice (Louise Latham), give her some money and spin her some tale of what she is doing. As we are entering the story Marnie has just done a tax consultant office and is moving on to the Rutland company.

The Rutland company is headed by James Bond… eh… Mark Rutland (Sean Connery). He was a client at the tax consultancy and recognized Marnie. This makes him insist on hiring her and he takes her under his wing. Exactly why is never quite clear, but the more messed up Marnie turns out to be, the more insistent he is. Marnie is afraid of the color red, she is afraid of thunder and she abhors men. She also eventually robs the Rutland company and tries to walk away with a fortune. Caught between Mark and a crime charge Marnie is forced to marry Mark and go on a lengthy honeymoon with him, all for him to play psychiatrist on her.

It is a strange couple. Marnie is seriously messed up and Mark is obsessive, even sadistic, in his insistence on getting her “solved”. No wonder Marks former sister-in-law Lil (Diane Baker) finds it weird and suspicious and tries to stop this charade.

It does of course come to a climax where the psycho analysis goes full throttle.

“Marnie” seems like a composite of previous Hitchcock movies. There is a lot of “Spellbound” in it. The man frantically trying to solve a woman mystery from “Vertigo” and the lead as a thief from “Psycho”. It all feels like we have been here before and those elements were not the best from those movies. Sure, Hitch is a genius at building up suspense and editing his movies, but it feels old here. Not just because we have seen it before, but in 1964 cinema has moved on and a Hitch movie still looks like something from the fifties.

There is a lot hanging on Tippi Hedren and Sean Connery. Their chemistry is quite decisive. Fortunately they are up to the task, but only barely. Sean Connery is James Bond and that air of uber-man he also brings into his role as Mark. Super confident, strong, assertive and resourceful. But also manic in his insistence of fixing Marnie. His character is not the gentle hero but something darker and we never learn why. I had hoped that something would explode in the climactic scenes due to his flaws, but instead he steps down and becomes a more ordinary gentleman hero. Disappointing. Tippi Hedren has to be this seriously troubled girl. A thief and a liar, she is not the person you would normally root for and in clashing with the dark insistence of Mark Rutland she is like a wild animal caught in the headlights. She does that well. That she as a character is quite a bit out there in unbelievable territory is not her fault.

Beside the nice editing what I really liked about the movie was the score. As usual it is Bernard Herrmann and this time it is very haunting, but also the kind of music that buries itself in your skull. It is still there and I am humming the Marnie theme while I am writing.

“Marine” is okay. It is not a bad movie, merely a tired movie. It marks a natural end to the big Hitchcock productions. He did continue to make a few more movies but as I understand it they are considered lesser movies in his filmography. Ultimately “Marnie” was a bit disappointing, but I think that is mostly when comparing it to his great movies.

    

Saturday, 10 March 2018

A Fistful of Dollars (1964)



Off-List: A Fistful of Dollars
The first off-list movie of 1964 is “A Fistful of Dollars”.

“A Fistful of Dollars” is a low-budget western made by Italians on a location in Spain. It features a previously unknown American actor, who insisted his lines should be reduced, suspect Hong Kong style dubbing and a plot that is almost a complete rip-off of a Japanese Samurai movie.

Does not sound very promising, does it?

Ah, but this is in fact the birth of the Spaghetti-western, the movement, spearheaded by Sergio Leone, that would revitalize the western genre, adding that mythological element to the western that made it even more “western” than reality. The subgenre that gave us such legendary movies as “Once Upon a Time in the West” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and “A Fistful of Dollars” is its glorious beginning.

The obscure American actor happened to be Clint Eastwood and I think that is enough introduction. These were the movies that made him famous. When you think of Clint Eastwood as an actor, you think of the characters he played in the Leone westerns.

And the Japanese Samurai movie is “Yojimbo” by Kurusawa. If I should think of a movie suited to be remade into a western, that would be the one and, amazingly, “A Fistful of Dollars” is one of the best remakes ever made. It is in fact so good that it holds up even when you know it is a remake.

That begs the question, which of the two is the better movie? And who is coolest: Toshiro Mifune or Clint Eastwood?

The crazy thing is that I do not know, both movies are great. Kurusawa created a perfect western and Leone did not just copy it, but reformatted it using his very own style that brought so many new things, not just to this story but to the western genre and cinema in general.

That is in fact the first thing you notice when you watch “A Fistful of Dollars”. This movie looks different from anything that went before. The super close-up of faces on the wide-screen format is obvious and effective, but also the tension is created with only minimal dialogue, but mainly though using the canvas of those faces, how the camera moves from face to face, not to watch them speak or react, but just observe them. Combine that with layer upon layer of sounds with exaggerated clarity and that amazing Ennio Morricone soundtrack and tension builds up to the bursting point. Shots feels like release, violence comes from pent up tension and we are on the edge of our seats.

The setting is Mexico and so the Spanish/Latin connection does not look awkward, but quite authentic.

Yes, I enjoyed “A Fistful of Dollars” immensely. It is extremely watchable, both because the story is as good as it is and because this is a stylistic feast for the eyes and the ears. Ennio Morricone is a legend. Sergio Leone is a legend and Clint Eastwood… well, do I need to repeat myself?

A “Fistful of Dollars” belongs on the List ahead of most of the movies there. The fact that neither “Yojimbo”, nor “A Fistful of Dollars” have earned a spot is a crime.

So, who is cooler, Mifune or Eastwood? Go watch the ending of “Yojiimbo” and tell me that he is not the most awesome lonesome hero ever. Clint is a solid second. Or wait… ahhh…. I don’t know…

  

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Les Parapluies de Cherbourg) (1964)



Pigen med paraplyerne
I went into “Les Parapluies de Cherbourg” or “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” knowing that this is a movie that is loved by many people and is praised by many critics. This is supposed to be really awesome, yet my immediate reaction to the movie was disappointment and disinterest.

What I discovered early on was that this is a very banal story about young love and a love triangle where all dialogue is replaced by singing. Not by songs per se, but singing conversations. It was weird and sentimental and oh so melodramatic. I felt that I was definitely in the wrong target group for this movie and wondered how I would get through it.

This was not how I expected this movie to be.

However, something happened along the way and certainly in the aftermath of watching it. I am not sure I am going to actually like it, but I am definitely going to respect it and value it a lot higher than that initial impression.

It is a very banal story. Genevieve (Catherine Deneuve) and Guy (Nino Castelnuovo) are young, very young, and madly in love. Guy works at a petrol station and Genevieve helps her mother with her umbrella shop. Yeah, apparently back then you could have a shop selling only umbrellas, but maybe that is why the shop was in trouble. On the last night before Guy has to leave for two years of military service (with no leave to go home) the two of them consummate their relationship and soon after Genevieve is pregnant, voila.

Being without Guy is hard, especially with a child, and so it is lucky that Monsieur Cassard (March Michel) shows up to court Genevieve. He is also rich, sincere and want to raise the child as his own.

After two years Guy is back in Cherbourg and Genevieve is long gone and married. Guy is pretty disappointed, but hooks up with his cousin (!?) Madeleine (Ellen Famer), gets married and they have a child of their own.

Pretty straight forward, right? But then there are all the small twists. In a standard melodrama Genevieve would have somehow held out, or as Guy returns, they would be reunited, but that is not how reality works. Life moves on and two years is a very long time when you are 17 years old. When Guy and Genevieve finally meet 4 years later they are both in a different place that is also fine and they have very little to say to each other. That could be very cynical, but it is not. It is actually very beautiful and reminded me of the conclusion of “Cast-Away”. You cannot reset the clock, but you can move on and come to terms with what has happened.

The singing that so annoyed me also ended up actually working. The characters are not suddenly bursting out into song, nor do they start dancing with a whole chorus behind them, this is just regular dialogue that is song instead of spoken, and somehow the impact is larger for it. No dancing gangsters or cowboys. The music itself is also pretty incredible. It is a mishmash of styles, but each fitting perfectly to the situation and the theme of the lovers is so catchy that is has been stuck in my head ever since finishing the movie and that is a few days ago by now.

On the other hand this is not entirely working class realism either. There is an element of magic, emphasized by the music and the saturated colors. A fairy tale element that strangely work together with the stark realism.

Oh, and the weirdest thing: Monsieur Cassard is actually Rolland Cassard in “Lola”. Back then he got burned and moved out of Nantes. Now he made a fortune and this time he gets the girl. C’est la Vie.

In the final analysis “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” ends on the positive side, despite my initial grumblings. It probably helps to be a lover of musicals or French melodrama, but if even a cynic like me can get something out of this, then it cannot be all bad.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Scorpio Rising (1964)



Scorpio Rising
It has become almost routine for me by now to watch experimental movies. I cannot say that I am entirely inured to them, it is more a sort of apathy I am feeling. Whatever, another round of useless junk.

This time it is “Scorpio Rising” by Kenneth Anger.

“Scorpio Rising” is a 30 minute film in which we see some dude fixing his bike. There is also some guy (same guy?) dressing up in a biker outfit better suited for rough gay sex. There is a group of revelers waving their dicks (yeah, dicks again…), the biker dude is waving a nazi flag and some clips from an old movie about the life of Christ.

In terms of point, I think I get it. This is about breaking as many taboos as possible in 30 minutes and Kenneth Anger tries really hard. Does he succeed? Maybe by 1964 standard. In 2018 it just looks comical and pathetic. In glimpses I would even say it is funny, because it is so over the top, but I doubt that was the intention.

The most (maybe the only) interesting thing about the movie is that it uses a soundtrack of contemporary pop music. This was apparently the first time such a sound track was used in this way and it worked quite well, if for no other reason than that the music was good.

An interesting fact about the movie is that, according to Wikipedia, the American Nazi party was protesting about the use of their flag. I will just let that stand for a moment…

When this movie arrived in the mail it turned out that I had bought a dual format, three disk box set of Kenneth anger stuff. Essentially his entire catalogue! Ugh. I tried to watch a few of them, but, ah… it did not really do it for me. However, the box set also included a 70 minute interview with Kenneth Anger and that was actually interesting. I was surprised how sympathetic and interesting this guy actually is. Such a difference to the movies he made. I almost felt like watching them after all. Almost.

The bottom line is that unless you are a nazi gay, or a devoted rebel against anything, this is another movie one can easily skip, and so I move on to the next movie on the List.

 

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Goldfinger (1964)



Goldfinger
Welcome to 1964.

Another year and a new batch of movies. Again, I will garnish the salad of List movies with a few of my own List candidates, but much more on that a I proceed through the year.

First movie of 1964 is “Goldfinger”, the third James Bond movie in the still active franchise. Back in the autumn when I looked for the movie I found a box set with the entire franchise at bargain price, so I started watching them all as a little side project (currently at “The Spy Who Loved Me”). As a consequence, the current watch is actually a re-watch only three months after the last time I saw it. That is okay, I do not mind. The James Bond movies are fun to watch and this one more so than many of them.

“Goldfinger” is described as the movie that settled the franchise and it is quite fitting that this should be the one representative the franchise on the List. All subsequent James Bond movies borrow from this one as does the spoof franchise of “Austin Powers”. James Bond (Sean Connery) is a super hero character that moves in a cartoonish world of technical gadgets, super villains and threats of world shattering scale. His super powers are not demonic strength or the ability to fly. No, James Bond’s special abilities are his irresistible charm, his cleverness and ability to always come out on top no matter how bad things look. In short, he is any boys dream of a heroic character. Who wouldn’t want to be James Bond? As unrealistic as it is I find this sort of super hero far more palatable then the typical Marvel fare.

In this third installment the super villain is a fellow called Auric Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe), who is obsessed with gold. He is about to execute his cunning plan, “Operation Grand Slam”, when James Bond gets involved. To begin with Goldfinger is merely a suspicious character, who destroys people who gets in his way. To this end he has a very efficient bodyguard “Oddjob” (Harold Sakata), who can kill with his bowler hat. Eventually however the details of the operation are revealed. The Fort Knox gold reserves are to be irradiated, increasing the value of his own gold manifold and throwing the western world into chaos.

To execute this plan Goldfinger uses squadron of flying girls led by a woman with the unlikely name Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman). She also happens to be a stunning looking woman and we know what Mr. Bond can do…

The whole thing takes place on several continents and involves numerous technical gadgets, including the most awesome grey Aston Martin filled with everything a secret agent might need in a pinch. I had one of those as a toy when I was a little boy and it was pretty awesome. Goldfinger also has a horde of henchmen conveniently wearing a yellow sash whose main function is to die. Honestly, if it had not been for the charm and tongue in cheek humor pervading the movie it could easily have become too much, but these are exactly the properties that makes it work so well. James Bond makes me smile, especially when Sean Connery is James Bond.

Another element that the better James Bond movies does well is to bring just the right level of darkness into the movies. People do die. There are true atrocities and James Bond sometimes must admit defeat, even getting beaten up pretty badly. It sounds bad, but it is necessary in order to ground the movies. There is really nothing worse than an all-powerful super hero. Bond feels guilt, anger, vanity. Human feelings that makes him human and sometimes he makes terrible mistakes, but never fear, Bond is no anti-hero. He is the real deal and a lot more of most things than most people and in the end Bond always wins.

I have a lot of fun watching James Bond. It is iconic and familiar and very entertaining. It is Sunday afternoon TV and I can kick back and take my Bond movies shaken, not stirred.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Mediteranee (1963)



Méditerranée
The last movie of 1963 is “Méditerranée”. It is excluded from the Danish edition in favor of the Swedish “Kvarteret Korpen” and thus by the Danish edition editors considered dispensable.

In my frank opinion there were a number of movies on the list in 1963 that were dispensable, but alas, this was the one that got booted out.

“Méditerranée” is an experimental film by a fellow called Jean-Daniel Pollet. It consists of beautiful pictures of, lets see… some ancient ruins, a garden, a sea (probably the Mediterranean), a bull fight, a Greek wedding, some Egyptian statues and pyramids, a fisherman, a girl getting dressed, some hot iron being processed and picked up by a machine and a girl on an operation table. Probably a few more items. Each scene is nice to look at, the colors are great, and we return to each scene again and again in the course of the 42 minutes of the movie.

There is a wonderful score that fits the pictures very well. It is the kind of music I do not mind listening to and it is even a bit hypnotic.

And then there is a narrator. Now, the only place I was able to find this movie was on YouTube and the version was without English subtitles. As the narration is in French and my French is… ah… inadequate, I only got a word here and there. Enough to understand that this is more of a poem than an actual commentary to the pictures and that it has something to do with time and memory. It is probably a nice and poetic, well, poem, but I really cannot comment much more on it than that.

Now, since this is an experimental movie we know that whatever happens here is probably different and does not have to make any sense in regular terms and that is precisely where we are here. I had very little idea of what was going on, but at the same time I got the feeling that I do not really need to know what this is about. The pictures are real pretty and the score is very nice, so it feels quite meditative. After my initial frustration at not understanding what on Earth was happening here, I fell into a quiet acceptance and just enjoyed the state of mind it really is.

I quite agree that this movie was not the highlight of 1963, but it was not the worst either and I would probably have chosen something else to boot off the List. Still you can ask why it is on the List in the first place? Apparently it was very influential. Godard, my old friend, was inspired by this when he made “Le Mepris” although “Méditerranée” was only shown publicly four years later. How exactly that works out I am not sure.

Alas, 1963 is now done and I am looking forward to get started on 1964.

 

Thursday, 15 February 2018

The Servant (1963)



Snylteren
”The Servant” is a movie I very much want to like, but somehow it does note quite make it.

Tony (James Fox), a somewhat foppish upper-class bachelor, has just acquired a London townhouse and hires Hugo Barrett (Dirk Bogarde) as his manservant. They seem to get along quite nicely. Barrett takes care of Tony’s every need at home and is every bit the deferential servant. Tony’s girlfriend Susan (Wendy Craig), however, takes an instant dislike to Barrett. She wants him out of the way and does not see the need for a servant to take care of everything in the house.

This seems unnecessarily cruel and while the idea of a manservant may well seem exaggerated there is no need to take it out on the poor servant. Little do we know at this time that Susan is more right than even she could guess. See, Barrett has a cunning plan to make Tony his obedient slave…

Over the next part Barrett continues to be the attentive servant, while behind the scene he is plotting the downfall of his master. He hires his sister Vera (Sarah Miles) as maid in the house. Only, Vera is apparently (perhaps) Barrett’s fiancé and an instrument in his plan. Vera’s task is to insinuate herself on Tony, which should not be too hard, Vera is very attractive. The plan succeeds, and Tony gets so infatuated with Vera that he stops paying attention to Susan.

Eventually Tony and Susan discover that Vera is in fact not Barrett’s sister and he fires the both of them. Susan sees how besotted Tony is with Vera and walks out on him an Tony is all alone. Now that Tony sorely misses Barrett he takes him back, but now Barrett is on top and Tony is a broken man.

The acting here is very interesting as is the cinematography. It is a mixture of ultra-realism and weirded out surrealism. This is in particular the case in the very intense scenes such as when Tony is captured by Vera or the wandering camera on the restaurant. The end sequence most of all has the feel of an acid trip, worthy of Trainspotting.

Yet I cannot come to terms with this movie. I do not understand the motivation of Hugo Barrett. Of course he may have a deep hatred for the upper class, but his transformation from servile waiter to manipulating mastermind seems so unmotivated. I seriously doubt that Susan’s dislike for him has anything to do with it. Secondly, what motivates Tony to sink so deep? It is true that Tony has very little content in his life. Except for some rambling about a project in the jungle we never see him do actual work. We also never see him in contact with anybody but Susan. Still he seems too willing to be manipulated and too weak to separate himself from Barrett. It is this complete lack of self-respect that I find difficult to understand.

Therefore the scheming of Barrett and the decent of Tony feel, to me, oddly contrived and unreal and that is preventing me from entirely buying into the story. I would love to get just a hint of motivation for either of them, but it is strangely absent. The closest thing is Barrett’s arrogance towards some incredibly annoying women at a phone booth and that anger was quite understandable.

Still, I did enjoy the movie even if I did not quite understand it. It does ensnare the viewer with its captivating cinematography and interesting camera angles. That I suppose is good enough.

 

Saturday, 10 February 2018

An Actor's Revenge (Yukinojo Henge) (1963)



Skuespillerens hævn
When my wife and I went to Japan in 2013 one of our objectives was to see an actual Kabuki show. We never got to see one unfortunately, but it remains very high on our list of things to do. The Kabuki theater is a Japanese specialty, going back hundreds of years. It is heavily stylized and only performed by men. Female roles are performed by men in drag specialized in impersonating women, but (as I understand it) without any sexual implications. It still bothers me that we missed a show.

The setting for “An Actor’s Revenge” (Yukinojo Henge) is exactly the Kabuki theater. Yukinojo (Kazuo Hasegawa) is a Kabuki actor specialized in female roles back in 1836. It would seem that Kabuki actors back then practiced method acting, certainly Yukinojo stays in the role and is also wearing a woman’s outfit, makeup and mannerisms off-stage. Today you might call him a transvestite, but that sort of modern labels does not apply. Yukinojo is considered, also by himself, a male and an actor.

Yukinojo is on a dark mission. As a small boy he witnessed his father hanging himself, ruined by three men, who since then has become rich and powerful. Taken in by Kikunojo (Chūsha Ichikawa), the manager of a Kabuki theater troupe, he was trained as a Kabuki actor, as well as a swordsman, and has nurtured a desire for revenge, fueled by Kikunojo. Now the troupe is in Edo and it is time for revenge.

Yukinojo is a very unlikely avenger and it is difficult to see if he is accomplishing his revenge by design or by accident. He gets romantically involved with the beautiful Namiji (Ayako Wakao), daughter of one of his enemies and through fate she becomes instrumental in the revenge. A revenge that loses much of its sweetness.

Meanwhile the whole affair is witnessed and commented upon by a group of rivaling thieves. They are hovering on the edge of the story with limited influence on the actual happening, but serves rather like a Shakespearian choir.

There are in fact a lot of theatrical elements to this movie. Many of the scenes look indeed as if they are filmed on a stage, the actors are talking to the audience, sharing their thoughts with the viewer in the way a stage actor would and as mentioned, the role of the thieves seems an obvious theater reference. So, this is the story of the revenge of a theater actor, played out as theater. A very interesting, almost stylized choice of cinematography and rather fitting for a Kabuki story.

I was quite excited about this movie. Beside the very interesting style of the movie it is also visually a stunning movie, taking its historical setting serious with sets and costumes and great colors. The story, as in the case of Kurosawa’s movies, is also one that has reference to the western genre. A single, unlikely, guy avenging his father’s death against overwhelming odds. I believe I have seen this plot a number of times in American movies and could imagine Charles Bronson doing something similar, though probably not in drag. So, Kon Ichikawa also went into this territory.

There is something very curious about taking a very well know theme, a man avenging his father’s death, and transplanting it into a very different setting than what we are used to. I love this idea and in this case Ichikawa gets away with it completely. In “Harakiri” by Kobayahi the revenge motive is played out by samurai, trained warriors. Giving this role to a female impersonating Kabuki actor gives the story a very different angle.

Highly recommended.

   

Monday, 5 February 2018

The Haunting (1963)



Spøgeriet på Hill House
I remember that one of the scariest things you could do as a child was to enter a “haunted” house. A house that we children would talk about as being haunted. There were the remains of an ancient mill that I could not look at for fear of the ghosts who were supposed to rest there and when we went to explore the crypt of an old church I was stiff from fear at the thought of the ghosts down there.

I also had a very hard time with horror movies back then, something I have only overcome in later years and frankly I was worried if “The Haunting” would challenge that old fear. The answer to that question is both yes and no. I am fortunately jaded enough and, yes, mature enough that I can digest a haunted house. Indeed watching this movie gave those delightful shivers that I assume is what is the general attraction of horror movies. In fact this movie worked a lot better than I had hoped.

The story is about an old (well, as old as they get in New England), gothic house, Hill House, that is reputed to be haunted. A number of women has died there under mysterious circumstances and it is certainly mysterious enough to make such stories believable. Dr. John Markway (Richard Johnson) investigates supernatural phenomena and intends to prove or disprove their existence by running an experiment. He invites a number of very susceptible guests to stay on Hill House and to monitor them for any contact with supernatural phenomena. Only two guests show up: Eleanor “Nell” (Julie Harris) and Theodora “Theo”.

Theo is equipped with an uncanny ability to know what other people are thinking. She is also a modern, elegant and self-contained woman. Nell on the other hand is a bit of a mystery. There is some mumbling that she has been exposed to a poltergeist, but she does not recognize that story herself. Even though we frequently are witnesses to her thoughts her mind is so confused that it is difficult to make sense of. It is clear that she is escaping from her relatives, that she feels guilty for her mother’s death and that she has a crush on Dr. Markway. The rest, well, let’s just say she is very unstable.

The fourth person is Luke, the young heir to Hill House who is accompanying this little expedition.

It is clear right from their arrival that something is very off with this house. There are banging sounds at night, doors that open and close and weird cold spots and soon the two women are utterly terrified. Dr. Markway is getting exactly what he came for and more. Yet I cannot escape the thought that the real mystery is not with this house but with these four people. Something is very off about all of them. Maybe it is just the influence of the house, but there are nasty secrets here. Whether this is intentional or not I do not know. In the end the movie decides to focus on the house itself, so it may just be my wild imagination, but there is definitely a plotline there that could have been pursued.

In any case, things spin out of control as they typically do in this sort of movie, leading up to a finale that may come as a surprise, so no spoilers here.

This kind of movie can go two ways. One is to reveal or at least hint that there is a perfectly natural explanation. Another is for the movie to accept that supernatural things are real and as such let the supernatural run amok. The later is the more difficult because we also have to be led to accept this criteria. “The Haunting” does this rather elegantly. Theo is obviously a psychic. She literally plucks the thoughts out of Nell’s head and that means that the door is open, if people can be psychics, ghosts can be real, anything may happen and there is plenty reason to be afraid.     

Somehow “The Haunting” felt a lot older than it is, like something out of the thirties. It is the way they look and talk and the shadowy black and white photography, as if the cinematographers were inspired by Val Lewton movies or Frankenstein. I suppose it is part of the magic of this house.

“The Haunting” was very entertaining and a lot better than I thought it would be. It goes interesting places, but perhaps misses the chance to go to even more interesting places. Still, I am happy with what I got.

 

Saturday, 27 January 2018

The Day of the Triffids (1963)

 
 
Off-list: The Day of the Triffids
As the third extra movie of 1963 I have been watching “The Day of the Triffids”. Technically it is a 1962 movie, but I suppose with a US release in 1963 it is close enough to qualify.

“The Day of the Triffids” is not a movie I would argue very hard for deserving a place on the List, it is not exactly what you would consider a quality movie, but something like this movie is desperately needed on the 1963 selection. I am literally drowning in depressing movies and the “Triffids” movie was exactly the right medicine to get me out of my funk. It was a lot of fun to watch.

During a major meteor shower two terrible things happen: Everybody who has been looking at it turns blind (!) and an until then dormant plant called the Triffid turns into a murdering beast (!!).

Only those very few people who ignored the show or was prevented from watching can still see. Bill Masen (Howard Keel) is one such person. He has been undergoing an eye operation and on the morning after the shower he takes off his bandages and finds himself all alone. Everything is a mess and devoid of people. Straight out of “28 days” or “The Walking Dead” (guess who was first…) When he finally meets other people, they are all blind. His eye doctor is so desperate about loosing his sight that he jumps out the window (!). Eventually Bill finds a little girl, Susan (Janina Faye), who has been sleeping on a train, and together they go to France (!).

On the way there they discover the Triffids. Monstrous plants, 4 meters tall, who creep along with a strange swooshing sound and munch on people. Naturally Bill and Susan are disturbed. In France they meet some people who has set up a hospital. In between a Triffid and a convict assault they escape and decide to go to Spain (!).

Meanwhile, off the coast of England the scientist couple Tom and Karen Godwin (Kieron Moore and Janette Scott) are stranded. Tom is a very unsympathetic guy bent on drinking himself to death, but the attack of the Triffids gives him new purpose and he redirects his angry energy into finding a means to destroy them.

This movie has all the elements of a goofy monster movie. The characters are one-dimensional and primitive, the acting… interesting, the special effects hilarious and logic does not really apply. And best of all, it takes itself seriously. It is absolute gold. Whereas a movie like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” works because we actually buy the story, the “Triffids” movie works because it itself buys the story while we… probably do not. The budget was simply not up to the task. A spoofing movie would have been intentionally funny, but “The Day of the Triffids” never tries to be funny. Seeing people crash to their death is never funny. It means it seriously, innocent people in droves are dying in this movie. We are meant to be terrified and at the same time it is just so helpless.    

The rear projections are a hoot and the Triffids themselves are just amazing, but the dialogue… uh, awesome.

I had so much fun watching this movie. This is exactly the kind of 50’ies/60’ies B-movie I love and of which there is way too little on the List. Thanks Bea for recommending it.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

The House is Black (Khaneh Siah Ast) (1963)



Khaneh Siah Ast
Misery again again…

This next movie on the List is a short Iranian poetic documentary about a leper colony in Iran. Its obscure Iranian title “Khaneh Siah Ast” apparently means “The House is Black” and that is actually a very apt title for the lives of the people in this little movie.

The camera films life in the leper colony for better or worse. Some people have lost arms or legs, some have strangely distorted faces, but the prevalent picture is one of people trying to just accept their fate, getting on with life despite suffering a chronic and terminal disease. In fact, many of the scenes look like everyday life anywhere else. Eating, smoking, talking and whatever it is people do. They are even partying.

We also get various details about the disease. All the horrors these people are going through and why they are kept separate from other people. This is a contagious disease. We also get the most shocking piece of information: Leprosy can be cured and with the right treatment even advanced stages has a hope of recovery. Shocking because it means that these people do not need to live a life in misery. It is their poverty and the surrounding world who has condemned them to this life.

This becomes even more poignant when we see children in the colony, all with clear symptoms of leprosy and all trying to live a normal childhood, playing ball and going to school. They are not ignorant of their condition, but they are accepting it. Or taught to accept it. Religion seems to be the tool used to make the children appreciate and accept their lot. As one of the children is asked by the teacher, why it is he should thank God for his father and his mother. He answers that he does not know, he does not have a father or a mother.

Throughout the movie the narrator is reciting poems of religious nature that seems to tell another story, one of mercy and compassion, starkly at odds with the use of religion in the colony. I am not good enough with poetry to appreciate it, but even I can see the point.

The leper colony is an abomination and its existence should trigger a bad conscience with those responsible. This is a long time ago and in an exotic country, but the problem is universal enough to be relevant for us as well. The children do not deserve that fate and they and we should not accept it. That is the message and it is well received.

I have mentioned it before, 1963 must be a year of misery. Children with leprosy just take the cake. If I see one more misery feast I will start screaming.  At least this one was short. But 20 minutes is easily long enough for the subject. It is a window into a world, it is snapshot of the lives of these people, showing us they are just as human as we are, but there is no story as such and there is no need it should be any longer. It manages what it set out to do fine enough.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Kvarteret Korpen (1963)



Ravnekvarteret
The Danish edition of ”1001 movies…” has replaced a number of titles on the international list with local entries. It has been a while since I had one of those come up, but now it is time for a local… Swedish movie to show up (It replaces “Mediteranee”). I am not sure why the Danish editors thought that the List lacked some Swedish titles, but I suppose, as this movie takes place in Malmø, just on the other side of Øresund from Copenhagen, it counts as sort of local.

In any case, “Kvarteret Korpen” is a movie by Bo Widerberg about a family in a poor neighborhood in Malmø. The father, (Keve Hjelm) used to be, and still considers himself to be, a businessman, but he has for many years been drinking his career into ruin. Even small jobs like handing out pamphlets he has difficulty doing and the small money he makes are used on more drink. Of course he refuse to blame himself for his misery. The mother (Emy Storm) is the one keeping the family together with her self sacrifice. In her clinging on she is almost as apathetic as the father and her objective is mainly to survive. The story is told through the eyes on Anders (Thommy Berggren), the son. He watches his father drink himself senseless and his mother waste away and is powerless to do anything about it. He hangs out with his friend, Sixten, and sort of girlfriend, Elsie, but there is not much content to what anybody does. At home he writes about it all. His family, his friends, the neighborhood. This is his way of dealing with his frustrations.

When done, he submits his manuscript and is even called to Stockholm for an interview with a publisher, but nothing comes out of it. It is just not good enough. This throws Anders himself into a stupor. His father calls it “the diving bell”, that allows him to sink into a world, away and isolated from the harsh demands of reality and he invites Anders to join him. For Anders it is a choice between letting himself be dragged into the life in misery or break free.

“Kvarteret Korpen” was, it appears, selected in a vote to be the best Swedish movie ever. That is a bit sad if that is really the case. It is an okay movie and the acting is good. You can also feel the pressure weighing Anders down and the desperate need to shake it, but it is also terribly sad and depressive. Sure, this is not the abject misery of migrant workers in Brazil, but the feeling of being stuck, of throwing away your life is no less palpable. For better or worse this is social realism.

It is a curious detail that the story takes place in 1936, around the time of the Olympic games in Berlin. This may seem odd as I am sure exactly the same problems would be relevant in 1963, but I can make a few guesses. One would be that this might be a story remembered by Anders as a later writer, an autobiography if you will. Another could be that in 1936 the world was on the brink of something big, way bigger than the misery of the Korpen neighborhood. It was time to open the eyes and that is what Anders does, if only to escape his immediate world. Or sometimes you just have to distance yourself to see things more clearly.

I am not sure I expected that much from this movie and as such it did not fail me. There is more to Swedish movies than Bergman, but I could also see Bergman making this movie. It would not be so terribly different. The existentialism is certainly right down his lane.