OLDIES!

Older films seen in 2024, continued from the 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023 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 21 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...]


THE FAN (72) (Eckhart Schmidt, 1982): In the year of E.T., another alien! Desiree Nosbusch's dreamy teenage ardour makes this rather basic drama unforgettable, esp. in combination with the Kraftwerk-ish synth score - but she's inhuman too, lost in her inchoate fixation, and essentially solipsistic, passionately kissing her own reflection in the mirror. The object of her fandom is just that, an object, and it seems at first a mistake to grant her wish so extravagantly (I'd have easily watched 90 minutes of her mooning dreamily around West Germany, with double exposures and extreme close-ups of eyes and lips), but as the film spirals into cheap exploitation it achieves a new, vivid dissonance, the girl both angelic and monstrous, her passion literally all-consuming. (The last lines of 'Ziggy Stardust' also come to mind.) As with DECODER, not much to say, the early-80s vibe hits me for personal reasons; that it couldn't be made today (for other reasons) only adds to the time-travel.

CROSS OF IRON (57) (Sam Peckinpah, 1977)

ARTISTS UNDER THE BIG TOP: PERPLEXED (60) (Alexander Kluge, 1968): Proto-Herzogian but mostly Godardian, a jumble of aphorisms and vaguely political snippets in the larky style that was everywhere in the late 60s (from Oshima to Zelimir Zilnik, and beyond). The collage is eye-catching but a little static, the only momentum supplied by Leni Peickert (our heroine, always referred to by her full name, 'Leni Peickert') trying to start a circus but scuppered by capitalism. Utopia vs. cold hard reality is one dichotomy, the romance of the circus vs. TV (where Leni ends up) is another; the general sense of resignation is very strong - and peculiar to the period, because it also has to do with being a German artist "after Auschwitz", wondering if anything can be morally justified anymore. The anarchism (it's too chirpy to be called nihilism) is a governing philosophy, but also tends to lead to random imaginative bits for their own sake. A man eats cake messily (intercut with Leni Peickert reading in the bathtub). An elephant balances on its front paws. A group perform the execution of the Emperor Maximilien, wearing animal masks. We open with footage of the Nazis, to the strains of 'Yesterday'. Repeated truism: "Hard work is useless in itself".

THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (66) (Tay Garnett, 1946)

THE YEARLING (74) (Clarence Brown, 1946): Like THE HUMAN COMEDY, a case where the overall vibe is so stylised, the dialogue so ornate and artificial, that the self-important MGM house style - a music score "utilizing themes from Frederick Delius", etc - can't find much purchase. A 'boy becomes a man' story, though Gregory Peck as the dad (not unlike his dad in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD) offers a surprising model of masculinity: he has a girl's name (Penny), wears a dress at one point - and is almost too embarrassed about it - and acts submissive both to his macho neighbours and (especially) his wife, whose sad angry energy casts a constant shadow, though it ultimately does turn out to be just an act. The titular fawn is also surprisingly dark, despite a few Disney-type frolicking shots; it's found amid death (when our heroes murder its mother), later christened amid death, and is also quite a passive, inexpressive 'character', mostly a repository for the boy's feelings; it's a wild (and destructive) animal, can't be trained or tamed or do tricks, it reflects Jody's last boyish freedom and precipitates his shift to manhood. Claude Jarman Jr is miraculous, a case of an actor who doesn't even fit the role (he's too young, surely) and never did anything of note again, but is so full of joy and excitement here (Jane Wyman is a little one-note, but gets a pass for the bit where she tells a shaggy-dog story; per Pauline Kael, "she's so pleased at her dumb joke that you find yourself staring in disbelief - and laughing"). Yes it's a tearjerker with bits of old-movie phoniness, and an MGM prestige picture and a family film - but it goes to some very bleak places and would surely upset today's families, belonging very much to the post-war moment of gritty sobriety: "Ain't much of a world left for us, but it's all we got. Let's be thankful we got any world at all".

STATE SECRET (53) (Sidney Gilliat, 1950): Hitchcock without the spark, basically. A fair premise - similar to CRISIS from exactly the same year, oddly enough - a fair bit of politics, taking a dig behind the Iron Curtain, and scrupulously fair about our fugitive-abroad hero not finding anyone he can communicate with. The way he discovers practically the one person who can speak English (he ducks into a music hall, and hears her singing) is clever, in fact a lot of things are clever - if also implausible, like getting out of a car without being noticed by the driver - yet they all seem to lack that extra touch, the sense of inspired inevitability in e.g. (the Gilliat-scripted) THE LADY VANISHES; the subjective-camera sequence early on seems superfluous, the furtive glances over surgery are a neat idea but not done brilliantly, the deus ex machina at the end feels unlikely, the rock-climbing climax is exciting but mountain climbing is so dangerous in itself it overshadows the narrative. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood, though I did appreciate Herbert Lom as a venal sleazeball, scoffing when our hero says it's not a question of money: "Don't tell me it's the principle of the thing. That always turns out to be so much more expensive".

FEBRUARY 1, 2024

JANUARY 1, 2024