OLDIES!

Older films seen in 2022, continued from the 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021 editions. Most of these are really quick comments - typically scribbled down in 10-15 minutes without benefit of notes - and any resulting wit or insight should be viewed as an accidental by-product. Slightly more thoughtful capsules may be found on the now-defunct old reviews page.

All films, both from this year and the 19 previous ones, can be accessed alphabetically. Most can be viewed ranked by rating as well, though I'm still not sure what that's all about.

[Addendum, February 2009: I've now stopped doing reviews of new movies, but I'll continue to update this page; however, this is purely for my own benefit - since I can't always remember when I watched an oldie, so it's handy being able to find them here - and I won't be going any deeper or writing any more than I used to (probably the opposite). I am not reinventing this as a classic-movie site, nor do I set myself up as an expert on oldies. Or anything, really...]


BATTLES WITHOUT HONOUR AND HUMANITY: PROXY WAR (69) (Kinji Fukasaku, 1973): The series takes another turn, veering into comedy with two buffoonish crybaby bosses - standing for the US and USSR, per the stated metaphor for the proxy wars being fought during the Cold War - and the gangsters as gossips and tattletales. Violence erupts in short bursts but is mostly held in abeyance, partly because the bosses (not our hero Hirono, who's old-school) are consciously trying to change: "These days you've got to have a wide circle of friends. It's the age of international relations". ("He's a yakuza," Hirono tries to explain, "but he's also a businessman.") Another boss wonders how this can be squared with loyalty oaths and the notion of 'sworn brothers' - and it's true, the old ways are taking a drubbing, veering into comedy again with the useless flunkey who does the yakuza penance of cutting off a finger (a series trademark) but overdoes the penance, cutting off his whole hand which of course makes him useless. The plot grows increasingly complex though purposely shallow and unsatisfying, one scene after another of gangsters talking pointlessly about other gangsters, making and breaking alliances, thinking about a proxy war - and the ending remains unsatisfying, presumably to be consummated in Part 4, yet it feels appropriate. Random fun: a scene of carnage, with blood everywhere, is immediately followed by a communal snack, with blood-red watermelons everywhere.

BATTLES WITHOUT HONOUR AND HUMANITY: DEADLY FIGHT IN HIROSHIMA (66) (Kinji Fukasaku, 1973): The first BATTLES was GODFATHER-like in its sprawl, this is more explosive and direct (it reminded me of Takashi Miike). "The age of violence is over," warns a cop - and of course it's not (far from it), but the fine line between the world of yakuza and the world of business is a recurring theme, ditto the way violence acts as a kind of cathartic protest against Japan's WW2 defeat, the hitman hero having been denied a chance to become a kamikaze pilot during the war. Fukasaku's verve is incredible - the whole series is incredible, really - the close-quarters camerawork, dynamic editing and frequent humorous touches (the gangsters trying to hide that the mystery-meat treat they've cooked for their boss is in fact dog; the getaway car going into reverse by mistake, turning the chase into farce); only held back slightly by the structural issue of Sonny Chiba's strand ending abruptly, plus a certain basic quality compared to the first one.

ON THE WATERFRONT (59) (Elia Kazan, 1954)

SENSO (75) (Luchino Visconti, 1954)

THE IPCRESS FILE (71) (Sidney J. Furie, 1965): We've had the obligatory murder-in-the-prologue - and now here's Michael Caine as Harry Palmer, rising watchfully into frame like a cocky cockney 007; but the world he sees is out-of-focus, and everything's blurry till he puts on his specs. A grand entrance that's a bit of a cheat (he's OK without glasses for most of the final act) but makes the point of a softer de-macho'd Bond, a gourmet who actually cooks - Bond just likes the good life - and a ladies' man who actually charms the birds, not just manhandles them, also part of the snarky insubordinate 60s yoof that also included The Beatles. First viewing in about 30 years, renewed love for Caine, the John Barry score and the satire of the tea-drinking bosses ("Good bit of lunch at your club, is it?"), newfound appreciation for Nigel Green's absolute coiled-snake ferocity, the regimental-major type wound up so tight he keeps exploding in hilarious snaps and crackles (it's his timing that does it, the way he seems to steel himself at every encounter as if what's coming may just prove too much for him). Old England threatened not just by interloper Harry but also American agents, "American shopping methods" (the supermarket) and a Canadian director, obviously a loose cannon - he apparently burned a copy of the script on the first day of shooting, to show what he thought of it - but crafting some terrific images in baroque show-off style: the shot from behind the grill of a prison cell, with a dead prisoner's head lining up with one of the holes in the grill - and the camera's moving, at the end of a long tracking shot, but there's also someone blocking the hole who then steps away to reveal the corpse, so it all seems insanely difficult unless there's an invisible cut and the reveal actually comes on a static shot - anyway, chef's kiss. Second half gets a bit choppy, also recalled the ending as being cleverer but oh well.

ELEVEN P.M. (56) (Richard Maurice, 1928): Starts off like it's going to be a very tight drama, setting up what appear to be three parallel strands all of which have to culminate by 11pm; turns out to be nothing of the sort - the three strands are a red herring, the film being instead a kind of dream "built around the strange imagination of a young writer". Years pass, twists pile up, "a blow to the head" brings further complications; the plot grows generic - shady characters, women in peril - then the final act (it involves reincarnation, and a dog) is memorably nutty, if nothing else. Most impressive (or only impressive) as a kind of outsider art, made independently by an African-American producer-director-star - and, like e.g. in THE EXILES years later, there's endless fascination in the unvarnished faces and obviously real locations, discoloured brick facades and poster-strewn streets and the outside of YMCAs; Orine Johnson, in particular, has an expressive but thick-set, almost mannish face, for a leading lady. Also my first exposure to the word 'hinkty', ikr.

THE WATERMELON WOMAN (52) (Cheryl Dunye, 1996)

NOVEMBER 1, 2022

STAGEFRIGHT: AQUARIUS (63) (Michele Soavi, 1987): Torn between its general uselessness as a slasher movie - the kills are too casually staged, the tension non-existent - and surprising excellence as a work of flair and texture: some of the group shots are amazing, the frame crammed with contrasting energies in artful compositions, the rat-a-tat editing works, the opening scene has exhilarating style. The last 20 minutes (when we're down to just one potential victim and the killer) wisely concentrate on style, with beautiful lighting and Barbara Cupisti's wordless melancholy - and surprisingly end up being tense as well, maybe because we no longer have the distraction of obscure actors trading English-as-a-second-language dialogue. Owl-headed costume is iconic, of course.

IODO (56) (Kim Ki-young, 1977): Feels like a much longer movie, which is a testament both to how packed it is with (frequently wild) stuff and how choppily it all fits together. The jumping-off point is a bit weird, as so often in Korean cinema (it's unclear why our hero imagines a drinking contest will distract the troublesome journalist, or indeed why it does so), then we get to the island with the tribe of female divers - as opposed to the nearby island which claims the souls of dead fishermen - and an odd mix of folklore, romance, eco-message (bizarre to be hearing about climate change and bees disappearing in 1977) and proto-feminism, all interspersed with the urban mannerisms of a pipe-smoking newspaperman who's there to investigate, WICKER MAN-style. The island has rules, an "oath between women" that involves tattooing, a candle ceremony, then it escalates into bondage and fertility rituals; a rape is represented by the camera gazing at the sea, and waves crashing into an inlet. An undoubtedly heady mix of sex, exploitation (men exploiting women, businessmen exploiting Nature), striking colours, 70s zooms, flashbacks cued by the image going out of focus - and a plot that eventually lost me, despite random chuckles. "What's she doing over there?" "She's driving away seagulls."

AND GOD CREATED WOMAN (64) (Roger Vadim, 1956): "You have to love me very hard," pleads Brigitte Bardot, as troubled and emotionally needy as Marilyn Monroe in THE MISFITS - but she's not a victim, she's purer and stronger than that, pointedly uninterested in money and living instead for sex, music and pleasure. There's a touch of misogyny in the concept of the slutty destructive girl (like Eve in the titular reference) but that's not where Vadim is coming from, our heroine's a kind of nature child - she loves kids and animals - and touchingly inured to being ill-treated (she falls in love with the first man who defends her); "It's always as if I'm going to die tomorrow," she says, doing "silly things" as a kind of unconscious gesture against oppression and pointlessness. The visuals are strong, widescreen compositions and Bardot in her blood-red dress; there are splashes of red throughout the frame in the dance scene - then, a little later, she finds herself betrayed at the crossroads, her hair blowing in the wind as she watches the bus drive away, and the colours are all blues and greens, not a red in sight. The relationships are surprisingly strong too - though the film gets less realistic as it goes on, adding melodramatic elements like a burning boat, a gun, then a jazz band turning up just so Bardot can dance for the camera. A misunderstood semi-classic, rather solid despite the va-va-voom coyness and BB's bottom appearing in the first 5 minutes (but only in decorous side view, which is part of what Godard was mocking in CONTEMPT some years later); maybe Vadim was his own worst enemy.

THE GODDESS (67) (Wu Yonggang, 1934): Didn't realise Ruan Lingyu was known as 'China's Greta Garbo', but def. got strong Garbo vibes here (partly from the close bond with the little boy, as in ANNA KARENINA) - though the sexual frankness is leagues beyond what MGM would've allowed, our heroine a very obvious hooker (actually streetwalker), later acquiescing with a saunter and a steely little shrug when the sleazy boss asks her to "stay with me tonight" (she looks to the heavens for a brief moment, then drapes herself on the table and asks for a cigarette). He, the "boss", is also interesting, closer to a big chubby child than a moustache-twirling villain - and, though the contours of the plot are unfortunately trite, it does build to a fascinating tension (probably a mistake in scriptwriting terms, but still) when the girl's entire happiness hinges on the moral character of the "old principal", a character about whom we know absolutely nothing. Ruan is both graceful and expressive, and meanwhile Wu keeps doing little bits of style - a mirror shot, a shot from between someone's legs; more than Clarence Brown ever did for Garbo, anyway.

I HIRED A CONTRACT KILLER (58) (Aki Kaurismaki, 1990): Kaurismaki's unerring control over texture - the clear creamy lighting, primary colours, spare dialogue, hangdog faces, austere compositions; you couldn't watch two minutes of this film and think it the work of any other director - mostly redeems a very flimsy, borderline-tedious narrative. Also: Jean-Pierre Leaud's wonderfully cryptic reaction to having a drink for the first time, Joe Strummer turning up to sing for no good reason (not that he needs one), various Bressonian touches like not showing - or rather, showing in a very indirect way - our hero's failed attempt to hang himself, plus a marvellous irony at the very end, the filmmaker essentially trumping the story arc with a reminder of his life-or-death powers, only to then generously forego them. The many shots of dingy-looking London in the very early 90s also hit hard, for personal reasons.

OCTOBER 1, 2022

1982 REVISITED: Repeat viewings:

THE STATE OF THINGS (76) (Wim Wenders, 1982): No surprise that Wenders deteriorated so soon after, this already feels like a summation. B&w, moody ennui, the lure of Cinema, the lure of America - in talk of cowboys and Westerns but also the place itself, most of the film set in Portugal on the very edge of the ocean - a curious little girl (two of them, in fact) out of ALICE IN THE CITIES, plus a foretaste (at the very end) of the over-explicit navel-gazing that later made him so insufferable, with the American producer saying "Gotta have a story!" while the European director mutters about "the space between the characters". Thing is, Wenders can still walk the walk at this stage - the 'space between the characters' is indeed lovely, not just the compositions and Jurgen Knieper's piercing score but also e.g. Sam Fuller's barroom scene and his advice to a young actor, Isabelle Weingarten making a big impression in a small role (no surprise that she was, or soon became, Mrs. Wenders) esp. when she laments a post-coital descent into deja vu with her new lover, the various undulating dynamics between the crew in general. Echoes of BEWARE OF A HOLY WHORE in the film being stalled - but that film also stalled whereas this one, unexpectedly, takes flight in its final stages, with a certain sleazy character actor adding a rude burst of energy; ends up undeniably pretentious but distinct and heartfelt, a nod to the State of Things at the tail-end of analogue - the producers have an early-80s computer, crunching the film-within-a-film into numbers - and a valentine to everyone making movies, "the courage of those who simply keep on and on, doing the next thing". I'd forgotten this Wenders existed, tbh.

SMASH PALACE (75) (Roger Donaldson, 1981): I love SHOOT THE MOON, but didn't know there was also a near-contemporaneous, arguably better (certainly subtler) Kiwi version. Takes some surprisingly wild swings - making the hero a former racing-car driver (and owner of the titular wrecking yard) is one thing, but breaking up the drama with an entire motor-racing sequence is unexpected; the scene where he's 'punished' by the cop is gratuitously intense, and gratuitous in general - but this is basically a relationship drama about two people (three when you include the young daughter) and superbly weighted, so much so that it's not even clear who we're supposed to be identifying with. The wife gets her own scenes, her wistfulness and ambivalence, the daughter has a rather lovely interlude with Dad out in "the bush" together - though of course by that time he's abducted her (Bruno Lawrence, with his monklike tonsure, is a great, glowering presence), and indeed the promise of murderous violence tugs at the movie's placid surface, right from the opening credits. (We follow a car as a song plays; the car suddenly loses control, crashes and overturns; the song keeps playing.) A tremendous balancing act by Donaldson, building tension almost in genre ways while also patiently showing the distance between the couple, suggesting heroes and villains while making his characters a bit of both (the child's fixated on winning - e.g. when Dad wins the race - but of course she's a child; there are no winners here), throwing constant curveballs ("J'aime tes jambes"), deflating genre elements - what you might call a BIRDY Ending - to reveal something deeper and thornier. Also an excellent depiction of "the kind of angry sex that ends an argument but resolves nothing and tends to make a woman furious, because of her feeling that the man's superior strength and his potency are his answer to everything," to quote Pauline Kael. What happens next should surprise no-one but our hero.

THE STORY OF THE LAST CHRYSANTHEMUM (63) (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1939): Hard to say if the more outlandish detail - the woman seems to have little sexual interest in the actor, being entirely committed to supporting his art; he himself becomes famous for playing women - suggests a queer subtext, then again the romance is rather laborious anyway. The main attraction is Mizoguchi's artistry and just how beautiful it all is, with deep foreground/background shots, unexpected angles (the pivotal scene, where she wins his heart by being honest about his acting, is played in an oddly memorable low-angle wide shot), pans and dollies (often away from the action, as if to suggest a discreet ellipsis), etc. The suggestion that art is improved by suffering is intriguing, esp. in conjunction with the female masochism (a genre staple) of the self-sacrificing woman - and the suggestion that the man is unworthy is also a genre staple, but the final bit where he's reluctant to go see his dying wife till he gets permission from the patriarchy (his father essentially forgiving him, and magnanimously saying he's free to go) doesn't seem to strike the film as especially craven, nor indeed does the wife think it's bad when he mentions it. Maybe it's a cultural thing.

SEPTEMBER 1, 2022

DETECTIVE (70) (Rudolf Thome, 1969): Young people larking about, 60s style, playing at being detective, living for pleasure and snark - then an actual detective plot kicks in, and gets deconstructed into an increasingly pointless series of mini-twists and double crosses. The guys could be secret agents, like the Men From U.N.C.L.E. (same callous energy), but Thome's wide-angle compositions are elegant and there's something more, from the start. "I dreamt this last night," says the girl, stricken with deja vu, but Sam Spade is weary: "That's happened to me before; it means nothing. It all stays the same". Both the guys have tragic back stories, violence throbs in the background, we actually open with a violation (the girl indignant at being stalked by the shamus: "You have no right!"), each of the main characters is violent at some point towards one of the others - but they also keep changing allegiance, and eventually all sit down to play Monopoly. The boys have a homoerotic tinge, whispering together on the sofa then subsequently splitting up and working against each other ("I want to hurt him"), the girls include Uschi Obermaier, the epitome of knowing 60s cool. A jazzy, nicely modulated movie.

THE BRAINIAC (48) (Chano Urueta, 1962): Opens promisingly, with the Baron of Terror (the original title) being tried by Inquisitioners in pointy hoods and smirking merrily, completely unbothered, as the charges of dabbling in the occult also include seducing maidens and married women (the judges are also irked that he laughed and made fun of them while being tortured). Alas, this entirely badass hero turns out to be the villain, coming back circa 1962 to take revenge on the judges' descendants, mostly by hypnotising them - which involves light flickering on his face and his victims looking dazed, then back to him and back to them in a kind of drawn-out back-and-forth - then turning into a cheesy monster with a pulsating head, crab-like pincers and a darting tongue which looks floppy and plastic but apparently works like a drill, piercing the backs of their heads and also extracting their brains. The Baron keeps the brains in a large cup, and feasts on them later for sustenance - but alas the film sounds better than it is, done in by inert plotting (it repeats the same schtick over and over) and the kind of staging where everyone stands in a line. Waited for the significance of our hero also being a descendant, in his case of the one good man who tried to defend the Baron back in the 17th century, but guess what? It's utterly irrelevant.

CLUNY BROWN (74) (Ernst Lubitsch, 1946)

IVAN VASILYEVICH CHANGES HIS PROFESSION (68) (Leonid Gaidai, 1973): Pleasantly taken aback by the unmotivated wackiness. Opens with a nerdy guy napping, then he shakes himself awake, spots something offscreen and cries out in shock, cue opening credits - and it's irrelevant to the plot (we don't even know what he's looking at), except in fostering an expect-the-unexpected vibe. There's speeded-up motion, a man talking on the phone in a woman's voice (dubbed by an actual woman) and some business with a disappearing cat, even before we get to the Time-travel premise - filmed in a low-tech way, a few out-of-focus shots and double exposures standing in for the space-time continuum - after which the plotting remains rather shoddy but the wackiness only grows with the arrival of Ivan the Terrible in 70s Moscow (albeit mostly a single small apartment) and the dispatch of a building superintendent to 16th-century Russia. The superintendent is a pedantic, pettifogging type, outshone by a cheerful thief which perhaps explains the film's huge popularity at the time (and later) - though there isn't much social comment, except perhaps the bit where the nerdy inventor goes looking for new transistors and finds all the shops shut or sold out, except a black-market dude with a whole inventory concealed under his jacket. Mostly montages, comical chases, constant skewering of pomposity and a pause for song by soldiers on horseback (a horse sings too); deep-dive needed on the Eastern Bloc sci-fi comedies of the late 60s and 70s (incl. those made by Lipsky and Polak in Czechoslovakia), not to mention that evocative Soviet colour.

AUGUST 1, 2022

THE OAK (61) (Lucian Pintilie, 1992): Headlong pace, tangents, transitions often missing (rapists appear out of nowhere, assaulting the heroine); a hamster, a prophet, "super kids", a priest with a jealous wife, a gypsy boy singing 'The Hemorrhage Song'. The obvious comparison is Kusturica, though it also recalls/anticipates Alexei German (and even Alexei German Jr, in the sense of drift); not what I expected, based on what I'd seen of Pintilie (the title also hints at a more stolid movie) - but this was his first film back in Romania after years abroad, and it feels like the work of a relative outsider who's content to describe post-Communist society in terms of absurdist comedy, as 'a farce' or 'a madhouse', using surreal detail and rather blunt, broad relationships. "If they talk politics, don't say yes or no. Be ambiguous," counsels a priest's wife (not the same priest) as he heads off to a meeting - but our hero is very political, a manic doctor with a rabbity Dustin Hoffman grin, fighting the corruption around him with gleeful, giggly violence (the girl, meanwhile, is brisk and unsentimental, and walks around with her dad's ashes in a Nescafe jar). All good fun but a bit contrived and theatrical, with that washed-out early-90s look, though check out the people rushing to get home because there's "a Korean film on TV". In 1992? No wonder Romania is so cinephile-friendly.

HELLO, SISTER! (66) (Erich von Stroheim, Raoul Walsh & Alfred L. Werker [no director credited], 1933): It's too bad Von Stroheim didn't make more movies in the pre-Code era, given his delight in sleazy relationships - thus, for instance, the heel buying sex from the gold-digging tramp, then the two of them getting in a huge fight, grappling and slapping and falling down the stairs, when she discovers that his diamond ring is glass (he's gone upstairs in the interim, to rape our heroine who's already slapped his face to make clear she's not that kind of girl). Terrance Ray (as the slimeball) should be added to the gallery of obscure players who turned out to have one (1) indelible performance in them - but the film is even greater as a fond tribute to the oddness of Zasu Pitts ("Do you like funerals?" is her opening salvo when trying to attract a guy); turning her briefly, for the sake of the plot, into an embittered wallflower spouting malicious gossip is a bad mistake and the main thing holding this back from 70+ status - though the main couple aren't too distinctive, with Coney Island echoes of the couple from LONESOME (at one point they rescue a puppy, and actually name it 'Lonesome'), the apartment-fire climax is a bit much, and I've no idea which of the many uncredited directors decided on the weird DeMille-ish moment when a folksy doctor reassures our unwed-and-pregnant heroine who's afraid of social stigma ("Let him who is without sin cast the first stone"), and the camera slowly moves into an extreme close-up of Jesus in 'The Last Supper'. Throwaway of note (not inspired, just kind of cute), opening a scene with the tail-end of a conversation between the tramp and Zasu: "And the travelling salesman said..." "Don't, Mona. I don't like those kinds of stories."

THE BLACK SWAN (68) (Henry King, 1942): 'Gusto', I believe is the word. Second viewing, first in decades; a tale of the Spanish Main, "when villainy wore a sash" says the opening caption - cue Technicolor and glorious costumes (even the Spanish honcho - a nothing character who gets disposed of in about five minutes - rolls up in a splendid purple tunic). Above all, as in THE MARK OF ZORRO, dramatic tension comes from a sense of moral ambiguity, the other characters never entirely sure of Power's allegiance - though we know better - thinking him a coward in ZORRO and a scoundrel here, complemented in this case by Laird Cregar as Sir Henry Morgan, a pirate turned governor who's constantly on the brink of turning back into pirate. Also a terrific heroine in Maureen O'Hara, primly indignant and unimpressed by our hero's piratical penchant for "seizing women and hugging and squeezing them into submission". Sea battles, sword fights, all wrapped up in <90 minutes. Gusto!

I WAKE UP SCREAMING (65) (Bruce Humberstone, 1941): Second viewing, first in >25 years, down from 8 (out of 10, in those days). Proto-noir but largely lacking the genre's oppressive feel, actually quite brassy and diffuse (the frequent use of 'Over the Rainbow' as background noise is a bit distracting); there's a telling moment when Betty Grable turns the radio off after her sister's murder, the sudden silence revealing how incongruously chirpy the film is otherwise. Actually it's a mix, the rather bland Grable offset by Elisha Cook's creepy concierge asking "Was the funeral nice?" and Laird Cregar as the even more creepy cop/stalker (the sister's exploitation - given extra edge by Carole Landis' real-life fate - has a tinge of systemic misogyny, see also the three friends commiserating that all women are alike but what can you do, they're "standard equipment"). Cregar has a tragic air and some great morbid lines, not to mention an apparent crush on Victor Mature - playfully inviting Vic to frisk him, as well as turning up in his bedroom at night just to see if he talks in his sleep - but the general vibe is more early-40s sophisticated mystery, with larks in nightclubs and snappy exchanges ("Mind marrying a hunted man?"; "I don't mind. Most married men have a hunted look anyway"), less mid-to-late-40s despair and cynicism. At least the DP knows what's coming.

1963 REVISITED, second viewings after approx. 30 years:

JULY 1, 2022

BLACK SABBATH (70) (Mario Bava, 1963): Literary origins, supposedly - but who cares, check out those colours! The first story (the weakest) is a proto-giallo, the second anticipates KILL, BABY... KILL! (complete with zombie child), the third has properly ghoulish detail and a touch of 'The Tell-Tale Heart'. It's also the only one with any real tension - a pretty glaring flaw, then again Bava treats the whole thing as a jape and an excuse for visual delirium: psychedelic Boris Karloff in the prologue (he also stars, bug-eyed, in one of the stories), a red telephone sparking echoes of 'Telefoni Bianchi' from the 1930s, copious close-ups of eyes, a figure crossing a rickety bridge (the day-for-night is a bit iffy in that one), the ruins of a convent with the arches separating the frame into wildly different lighting schemes... Sheer virtuosity and imagination, right down to the marvellous (but playful!) meta-ending.

NOTES TOWARDS AN AFRICAN ORESTES (49) (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1970): Wish I knew how self-aware Pasolini is being here. The scenes with the African students in Rome - who politely tell him they "don't see the connection" between Africa and Aeschylus - seem to hint that he knows the project is quixotic (not to say half-baked); his whole attitude to the Africans is arguably condescending, marvelling at how a simple villager has the bearing of an Agamemnon or a Clytemnestra - but does he know that he comes across a bit superior, as if adjudging these weathered faces and bloated-bellied toddlers worthy of entry through the portals of classical art? And what to make of the fact that the movie opens with the filmmaker looking at a reflection of himself? And what about the 'free jazz' interlude, which is frankly cacophonous and seems intended to be cacophonous - the instruments too high in the sound mix, losing the singers' voices, one shot in particular (the sax poking into frame, as if intruding on the singers) hinting at discord rather than harmony? Is any of this on purpose? In itself, an interesting artefact, though the changes in Africa in 1970 (which seemed to echo the "Oresteia"'s progression from tribal ritual to organised law) haven't really kept going in the decades since; also fascinating for Biafra war footage, war being the great leveller - yet in fact that's the one aspect that makes Pasolini doubt himself, wondering if real tragedy can compare with the classical Greek kind. All a bit superficial, tbh.

HESTER STREET (75) (Joan Micklin Silver, 1975): Carol Kane is the secret weapon here, one of those astonishingly pure young-girl performances (Sissy Spacek in CARRIE is another, imo) that seem to have shed all protective cover and become emotionally transparent - though the presence of a female director (as opposed to Brian De Palma) surely played a role in making her a deceptively strong person. The acting takes a certain delight in broadness, sometimes becoming stylised (e.g. the ritualistic movements in the fight between the two men); the opening dance scene suggests Silent comedy - yet the film is also very attentive to language, with evocative detail like Gitl welcoming the other woman (just a friend of her husband's, supposedly) with a Yiddish formulation that's polite but a little vulgar, friendly but a little disrespectful: "Why should you stand? You may be seated for the same money". The actual plot is already strong enough, the new country where peddlers have become capitalists and scholars work at sewing machines, the husband's well-meant - but short-sighted - obsession with becoming American, his flicker of doubt at the end, already sensing dimly what he's thrown away in the name of choosing self-advancement - and pleasure - over tradition (he's a jerk, but the film is generous enough to sense his frustration); some of the details are amateurish, but the setting is rich, the tone beguiling. Quirky humanism in the style of Olmi, Forman, etc.

CAMILLE (59) (George Cukor, 1936): Garbo has her work cut out, but does succeed in making something poignant and complex of Marguerite - the self-conscious coquettishness ("But I want them!"), the insistence on living life lightly, the mercenary instincts, the maudlin side ("I always look good when I'm near death"), above all the cynicism and mistrust of love. Richly romantic for a while, our heroine both seduced and a little nonplussed by this starry-eyed admirer who's so noble he even objects to her dinner guests telling dirty stories "at your table"; things unravel slightly in the second half, mainly due to the plot being necessarily rushed - it takes one scene for Marguerite to be convinced (by hammy Lionel Barrymore, alas) that the romance is doomed, then one scene for her to sabotage the relationship, pending the inevitable deathbed reconciliation (even Garbo can't do much with the story's inherent masochism). Worth it for the one hysterically great scene she and Henry Daniell share at the piano, kept woman and wealthy cuckold covering up seething rage and hatred with manic high spirits - a glimpse of the more perverse film it might've been if made by, say, Paramount as opposed to MGM.

JUNE 1, 2022

1932 REVISITED: Doing maintenance work on my 1932 list, so I re-watched a few contenders (all second viewings):

PALOMBELLA ROSSA (62) (Nanni Moretti, 1989): "I have too many thoughts in my head. But that's healthy." Fellini and Woody Allen come to mind, the former for the 8 1/2-ish framework - incl. childhood flashbacks - the latter for a director-star crafting comedy out of being beleaguered. APRILE, nine years later, had a film about a Trotskyist pastry chef - but this is a film about a Communist water-polo player, assailed from all sides during the course of a match (which provides dramatic structure), bewailing the decline of the Party while also struggling with amnesia. Lines are repeated obsessively, people recur like motifs in a symphony - the governing principle is indeed symphonic - from his old comrades to his teenage daughter (Asia Argento!) to a clingy little Catholic who insists that "we're alike" despite being repeatedly pushed away; the polo match is 'like life', life is like a movie (our hero asks if certain scenes can be 'cut' from his story), then a movie (DOCTOR ZHIVAGO) is watched like a polo match, the audience willing Zhivago on; then Bruce Springsteen rumbles into town, and the whole film is stilled for a minute. Mildly surreal yet very heartfelt, the tale of a crisis of conscience (the 80s have been bad for the Party, it's lost its social project and become "like a ritual"), though it's also very staged and controlled and Moretti himself is a mixed blessing: Woody's hang-ups are querulous to the point of absurdity - but Moretti is more like a child (the opening scene makes the link explicit), having tantrums, shouting for his mama and yelling at people for using the wrong language (either reflecting or anticipating the Left's slide into speech policing and political correctness, which appeared around the same time); he's more like Albert Brooks but the films don't interrogate his narcissism as sharply as Brooks's do, indeed the style of this one - the fact that it's a symphony built around one man's neuroses - only accentuates it. Still feel I'm underrating slightly, esp. since the poignant Left/Right analogy of the final penalty shot - he tries to trick the goalie by aiming right, but can't help himself from aiming left - didn't click till hours later. Duh.

WAY OF A GAUCHO (65) (Jacques Tourneur, 1952): Choppy plotting is the fatal flaw of this otherwise strong, visually beautiful Western (not even a Western but a Southern, set on the pampas of Argentina); it's like the script just gives up in the second half, taking off in half-assed directions - the most intriguing being that our hero was wrong all along, having ruined everything he loves in the name of "freedom", but in fact that's never even hinted before that point and Rory Calhoun isn't the type to suggest unhinged obsession anyway. Still a career-best performance (Tourneur's way with actors is underrated), the ambiguous relationship with Richard Boone's army martinet - later Javert-like pursuer - being especially strong; Boone wants his orders obeyed "like the word of God" but God looms large in the way of a gaucho, a conflation of God and freedom harking back to the early Christians (the gaucho is indeed pre-modern, a prologue informing us that the wide unfenced spaces have now been fenced). "The law is the law," says the 'brother' who's abandoned the old individualism, later killed - appropriately enough - by stampeding cattle; the gaucho rejects such bovine obedience, turning outlaw - though the script again misses a trick, neglecting to question the nuance between freedom and outlaw anarchy. Best line, mostly for having been included despite being so obviously goofy: "He is a fool, but he's very gaucho".

JEWEL ROBBERY (72) (William Dieterle, 1932): What are you doing? yelps Kay Francis as William Powell literally - but lovingly - picks her up and plops her down on the bed. "Using force," he replies, half-smug, half-tender. Must we be in such a rush? asks Kay, after all "there are so many pleasant intervening steps" - and this is indeed a glamorous tease, keeping sex on the horizon while enjoying all the many intervening steps, though it also keeps danger (and potentially violence) on the horizon, debonair Powell being the titular robber and certainly capable of violence, let alone 'using force' (though he actually prefers handing out wacky-tobacky cigarettes to fuddle witnesses); Kay's sexual excitement comes with an edge. Dieterle isn't Lubitsch, being more floridly stylish - there's a show-offy pan from (what turns out to be) an image in a mirror, which Lubitsch would probably have rejected as self-conscious - and the elegance is a little self-conscious too, aristos trading quips ("I've noticed that women keep their word only to men they'll never see again") and comporting themselves with elaborate finesse; even the robber explains that he studied in Paris and doesn't subscribe to "the American school of banditry". Kept alive by the aforementioned edge, plus a sense of silly fun - see e.g. Kay's wink at the audience at the very end - and the lovely silvery 30s look; esp. with glittering jewels in the mix.

MAY 1, 2022

VIOLENCE AT NOON (64) (Nagisa Oshima, 1966): Watched this twice (second time was a part-viewing), found myself getting sleepy both times; the first time I assumed I was tired, the second time I realised that the editing style was preventing the usual immersion in coherent visual narrative, leaving me with an overload of images. That's deliberate, of course, the relentlessly busy cutting - an incredible job by Oshima, just logistically - constantly changing the perspective, telling a tale of emotional vacillation ("I can't decide whether I love him or hate him. But I'm linked to him") and also a tale of amour fou, irrational and/or self-destructive love that "seeks no reward". Intriguing concept, technical brilliance, even a political subtext - the collective falling into disrepair - but the characters' dilemmas are slippery and alienating even beyond the style (amour fou is hard to make dramatic, tbh, though 60s Oshima also seems generally cold in my experience), and the casual Japanese way with suicide and double suicide is borderline-comical: "A good girl like you mustn't consider suicide". Opening sequence is superb, and suggests that a hard-boiled nihilistic drama à la VENGEANCE IS MINE might've worked better; "Hamlet" might also fit the style, alternatively.

EARLY SUMMER (71) (Yasujiro Ozu, 1951)

WHAT SCOUNDRELS MEN ARE! (71) (Mario Camerini, 1932): All about movement, and velocity: a sweet, standard tale of young love - but the people drive along on bicycles, then trams, then cars (the hero upgrading from bike to car is actually a plot point), and don't just drive but hurtle at top speed, Camerini turning one ride into a thrilling high-speed montage. The style hurtles generally, hence e.g. a thrown-away two-second cutaway to a listening waiter when the couple stop for a quick Fernet in a bar, making the on-off romantic attraction - an elusive still point amid the bustle - rather touching (shy, big-eyed Lia Franca also helps), and meanwhile it's also a working-class romance in the open air (Franca bristles when told she's the kind of girl who's only available to "signori", i.e. rich men), showing off the streets and crowds of Milan at the time. One of those fleet-footed early-30s entertainments that feels totally pure.

THE FRENCH CONNECTION (68) (William Friedkin, 1971): Second viewing, first in >20 years. Friedkin's style is thrilling in the early scenes, cut and staged for a constant jagged simmer of sensation, and the fuzzy grainy look is extraordinary, but action takes over from policework - and characters - in the second half. Even Gene Hackman does most of his acting in the first half-hour (his Oscar was presumably a matter of timing, not to mention that George C. Scott had already won the previous year), though the elevated-train chase is more than just action - Doyle isn't really chasing the Frenchman, he's going hell-for-leather just to try and keep up, tying in with the stark class angle (blue-collar cops, high-class crook) that runs throughout. The ending is great, and deserved an (even) stronger movie.

CAGED HEAT (50) (Jonathan Demme, 1974): A collision - like SILENCE OF THE LAMBS two decades later - of material and a director wholly unsuited to that material, though the rough analogy might be hippies 'colliding' with a tank by covering it with flowers; it's amusing but rather limited, and the tank is just going to sit there unless someone gets behind the wheel (which LAMBS did, for better or worse). Demme's style is clear early on, when the chase by the cops (which results in our heroine ending up in the slammer) is punctuated by a random woman hanging up clothes as cops and robbers race through her backyard, then the prison itself is a curiously quaint place. The good-natured inmates crack jokes, play craps and put on variety shows, the film stressing high spirits over girl-on-girl violence - though making up the difference with T&A, so you couldn't really call it un-exploitative - then veering into fantasy, both literally with a couple of dream scenes and figuratively with outlandish elements like a mad doctor doing electroshock therapy and a bitter, paraplegic warden casting yearning looks at a photo on the wall (herself, able-bodied, in happier times). Jaunty cornpone music, Disney characters showing up in a bank heist, fast, messy editing - sometimes cutting before a scene is even done - but the film feels thrown-together and a little facile, with gags like a sign on the wall of the cafeteria - 'No Food Throwing' - instantly capped by the splat of food being thrown. Glad I saw it, appreciate what it's trying to do, didn't really enjoy it much.

APRIL 1, 2022

THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (56) (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1973): What kind of budget - and creative freedom - did Jodorowsky have here? The kind where you rent and wrangle a mountain lion so it can appear for literally two seconds in a single shot. The first half-hour is wordless and contains some spectacular moments - the psychedelic anteroom with its concentric multi-coloured semi-circles, or the camera zooming out from a close-up of Christ to a room full of plaster Christs, are probably among the most striking images in any movie - yet even the anteroom is spoiled slightly by the addition of a Bactrian camel; AJ's taste for quirky visual clutter marks him as a specialist in decorative tableaux in the vein of Greenaway or Paradjanov (though with a different sensibility), a general sense of image-making for its own sake. The middle section is borderline-painful, with some tedious satire, the last part - the ascent to nirvana, and the Holy Mountain - offers a fairly generic spiritual journey (predicated on asceticism and stripping away the bodily self) punctuated by more of those striking images. Revellers in multi-coloured garb - in a graveyard - with a string quartet playing. A naked man covered in tarantulas. The same man suckling at the teat of an ancient Tiresias with breasts and a penis - and half a beard, shorn down the middle - then the breasts turn to tiger cubs and the old man squirts milk through their mouths, cackling maniacally. You gotta love it.

WILD TARGET (53) (Pierre Salvadori, 1993): Never saw the British remake from 2010 - but I'm guessing the first thing it does is streamline the ragged structure which is actually the most interesting thing about it, e.g. cutting straight from the middle-aged hitman discovering the young witness and threatening him with violence to explaining what the terms of his apprenticeship will be, leaving out the bit where he says 'Actually, rather than kill you I've decided to make you my apprentice'. (An English-language remake also has to work around the fact that the plot is kicked off by the hitman practising his English.) Humour is occasionally slapstick, mostly deadpan black farce - violence played very casually - but the rhythm is odd sometimes, e.g. it's a suitably zany joke that the villain has his own mariachi band to play soothing music (it sounds like the radio or something, then the camera pulls back to reveal the musicians) but then they keep playing for about a minute, deliberately slowing down the pace. Jean Rochefort as the prissy, mother-dominated hitman (subject of coy homosexual jokes) is a highlight, also liked incidental gags like the trio checking in to the hotel as "Morand, Moret and Morin" (presumably the French equivalent of 'Smith, Smyth and Smythe'); generally struck me as disorganised and not very funny, then again I watched with a French person who laughed pretty much throughout so ymmv.

MARCH 1, 2022

NANAMI: THE INFERNO OF FIRST LOVE (67) (Susumu Hani, 1968): Startled by the subject-matter here: a shy young man visits Nanami at the brothel where she works, can't get it up, then turns out to be a child molester (!) then turns out to have been abused himself as a child (!!) - all in the first half-hour. Part of the radical fringe also including Terayama (who co-wrote the script) and Masao Adachi, though the socio-political asides - brief interviews with university students; a man disrobing in the street and observed with a hidden camera (till the cops arrive) as a kind of social experiment - are outnumbered by exploitation elements like a lengthy catfight and whipping session for the benefit of leering customers, then again Hani also adds choral music and talk of Nazi warden Ilse Koch so it's not just exploitation. (Pretentious? Possibly.) High-contrast look, goofy randomness (shy citizens taking "laugh lessons"), a hypnosis montage, a certain feeling for youthful romance despite it all; overall a stylish, very late-60s provocation, though the ending goes from vaguely icky to just underwhelming.

CHAINS (57) (Raffaello Matarazzo, 1949): "Go away, wicked woman!" A woman's virtue - or the perception of her virtue - is her greatest asset here, and indeed the glimpses of a bustling Neapolitan society with everyone in each other's business, the details of family life, the fair with its crowds and fireworks (all the neo-realist elements, in other words), are probably the best of it. The virtuous woman gets waylaid by a cad from the past, who pesters and badgers her - but in fact it would only be interesting if she were visibly tempted (and aroused) as well as virtuously resisting, and Yvonne Sanson isn't expressive enough to make it happen. Matarazzo, too, isn't much of a stylist, but we do get a restaurant polka-dotted with bits of sunlight and a stray glimpse of a cigarette-puffing hooker at the police station (more neo-realism) - then the courtroom climax hinges on a woman's virtue again. Big on working-class spunk, slightly low on perversity.

PRIME CUT (69) (Michael Ritchie, 1972)

FEBRUARY 1, 2022

JANUARY 1, 2022