This is the post excerpt.
Hello. Thank you for reading my blog. I am a 55 year old man who has a passion for movies. As a child I would watch the late show on TV with my mother and as a college student in Toronto I belonged to a cinema club that screened two different movies every night at 6 different theatres in the city. I would see the early film at one theatre and then jump on the subway to see the film of my preference at a different theatre in the city. Movies helped me on my happy and sad days. Movies helped me live.
Almost five years ago on my 50th birthday I received as a gift the book “1001 Movies you Must see Before you Die”. This is a chronological book edited by Steven Jay Schneider. It lists along with a short intelligent critique 1001 Movies from 1902 to 2015 (in the last edition). The book is not actually a best of list but a list of movies that were influential in the big picture history of the art of making movies. The films depicted were trend setters In Technology or style and sometimes both. They are films that reflect the art and times around them. The social space, historic time as well as the psychi of society that existed at the time of their making. Well needless to say, as I consider myself being a ravid film fan I was curious in finding out how many of these 1001 films I have actually seen. I was shocked to find out that while I have seen many of them there was still quite a few that I had never even heard of. Almost all the silent films as an example. I decided right then and there to start from the beginning (the 1905 French silent trend setter which was the first filmed story “A trip to the moon”). Since I was not sure how long I had left to live and since 1001 is no small number I decided to only see those movies I had never seen before or not having remembered seeing. After each view, I would read the history of the film on wikopedia and read a critical review I would find on the WEB. It is now five years since I started and I have reached the year 1951. The experience has been illuminating and has enriched my life. I feel as if I am taking a university degree on the history of film. I have noticed influences to my favorite films and how certain ganre were developed. I have now decided to start this blog to give me an avenue of expressing my experience watching these films. I will make group posts of retain early sections until such time as I will be caught up to where I am in the viewing process. Then I will post each film as I see them. Some will be short blurbs and some will be major reviews. I hope they will be found interesting to a few. Again thank you for reading. To be continued…
While watching Kim KI-Young’s harsh and chilling South Korean domestic horror film, “The Housemaid”, I became slowly aware that I was viewing the creation of an acute student of the great Hitchcock. The films first hand viewpoints, ominous staircase and deadly close up of inanimate objects (the bottle of rat poison) are straight out of the visual flair that Hitch was so famous for. Yet, this is a Korean film and as such very tuned into its background. In 1960 South Korea, the Post War citizens were desperate to prove that their Western life style choice was the better and more fulfilling life than those of their Northern communist brethren. The film focuses on a middle class, four member family consisting of the handsome music teacher husband, his hard working wife and their two children (one being semi handicapped). They just purchased an expensive two story home (with the aforementioned staircase) and the wife needs to work long hours sewing in order to make ends meet. It is made very clear at the beginning of the film that this higher lifestyle represented by the house is very important to them. Strangely, they have a semi-handicapped daughter who needs leg braces and crutches to get around, which makes it very difficult and impractical to even live in a house with a staircase. Still a two storied home means success and this feeling of success is very important to the family. The teacher, teaches in an all-girl school, and holds private piano lessons with one of the girls. This girl is one of two girls who have a crush on him and his complaint about the other one causes that girl to commit suicide. It is the remaining girl, from whom her advances he also rejects, who suggests that the teacher hires her roommate to work as a live in housemaid for the family, when the wife’s workload becomes too much for her to handle. To me, this was revenge sent to the family from the spurned girl. From that point on the film reverts to what could aptly be re-titled, “The Housemaid from Hell”. As played by the spectacular Lee Eun-shim, the new housemaid almost slithers into their home. She has a cruel sharp look and watches the family with creepy side glances. Without an ounce of compassion in her look and feel, it was amazing to me that only the two children felt unease at her initial introduction. Even after she immediately went about killing a rat with her bare hands. From the moment she enters the home, the whole feel of the film changes into an erotic horror that seeks to destroy the family. The housemaid is jealous of this middle class success and seeks to possess it for herself. K-Young has a keen visual eye and keeps the vast majority of his film within the claustrophobic interiors of the home. The movie develops through sex, despair and deep vengeance. There is an omnipresent bottle of rat poisoning that K-Young’s camera keeps coming back to and plays an important role in the family’s destruction. The upstairs bedroom is where the housemaid lives and the creepy stairs leading up to it serve as a ladder to destruction and horror. Characters either climb them slowly and fearfully or descend swiftly and with suddenness. Like all great horror movies, if they work, they carry a true message of warning. This is a great horror film and it tells us to beware of whom we allow into our homes. Great advice indeed.
“The Cloud-Capped Star”, is the premier film of one of India’s most eccentric directors. Ritwik Chatak was an artist and social advocate who developed his vision through film. In, “The cloud-capped star”, he used the Indian love of melodrama to tell his tale of the suffering of the good. As its main protagonist the film introduces us to one of cinema’s beautiful people. Her name is Nita (the sublimely beautiful Supriya Choudhury), who is the eldest daughter of a formally middle classed Bengal family living in the outskirts of Calcutta. The family has fallen into poverty during the Bengal Partition that separated Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. She takes after her intellectual school teacher father and is studying at the Calcutta University. Tutoring students in her spare time she is the only other member of the household who brings in a salary to compensate for the pittance her Father earns as a teacher. She has an older brother who has a saintly voice and wants to be a singer, refusing to work, so that he can concentrate on his singing. Another younger sister and brother also do not work, while living in the household. Each one of the Siblings wants part of Nita’s earnings for themselves. She never has any money left for herself. Her Mother is the worse of the bunch, because Nita believes that she cares and loves her, when all she cares about is Nita’s ability to earn money. The father does love her but, while educated, is weak and helpless. When he injures his leg, he has to stop working and Nita is forced to stop her studies so that she can support the household full time. This is a fascinating movie that begins with a happy almost care free feel of a Disney family film and then slowly and deliberately gets darker and darker as the film progresses. We see the characters interact and live their lives in a simple way that comes across as almost romantic. Nita is engaged to be married to one of her Fathers old students, who writes beautiful love letters to her allowing her to dream of a happiness that gives her the strength to help everyone else. It is however not Chatak’s intent on portraying a happy struggle of a good family. As the film advances, I became slowly aware as to the extent Nita was being exploited by her Family and how this oppression tore at her living soul bit by bit. She alleviated the suffering of others and by so doing suffered for them all. Chatak uses spectacular black and white photographic scenes with this tragic rendering of a lost angel. The only sibling who truly loves her is the singing brother, and his desertion at the midpoint section of the film is one of the pinnacles of pain that starts our heroine’s painful downfall. The brother’s mournful singing accompanies the tragic fate of his sister. By the time he realizes what has occurred it is too late. Chatak never gets overly melodramatic and displays his story and message in subtle almost normal fashion. Only at certain points in the film, he allows his camera to show shock and high emotion. Nita’s realization of her Sister’s betrayal is one such scene of power. The bittersweet end that Chatak portrays not only informs us of what is to become of Nita, but it also allows her to scream out her pain and suffering and points to a more wide spread social problem with Indian society and its use or misuse of women. This is one powerful film.
Luis Buneul, the Spaniard, started his career as a vanguard of surrealism in the 1930s (Un Chien Andalou, L’Age d’Or and Las Hurdes), whose left wing politics screamed off of the, at the time, shocking scenes those films contained. He moved to Mexico in the 1940’s and was accepted by the Mexican film industry with open arms. It was in this period that he abandoned his surrealistic style to make commercial and artistic films. It was during this long period, in 1960, that he filmed a small English Language film. A movie that was based in the US, having a cast of Americans, but actually funded and filmed in Mexico. “The Young One”, is this film and it continued the glaring social conscience of its creator. Based in a small almost deserted Island off of the coast of southern United States, the movie deals with harsh, tough subjects such as pedophilia, rape, racism and murder. None of the films characters are particularly pleasant, but pleasantness was not what Buneul had in mind. The Island is inhabited by a beekeeper, and the granddaughter of his partner who had just passed away. His passing is treated as a relief by the beekeeper Miller (Zachary Scott), who is now free to do what he wants. What he wants includes keeping the 12 to 14 year old Evelyn (Key Meersman) as a sex slave on the desolate Island. Ruining his plans is the arrival of a petrified black man named Traver (Bernie Hamilton). Traver arrives at the Island in order to hide, as he is being sought after for raping a white women. Whether or not he is actually guilty of this accusation is never really developed in the movie. He is a musician who plays a clarinet and the music of his playing enthralls Evelyn. She mistakenly believes that the music means good and trustful. The script includes various excuses that require Traver to stay on the Island, until the arrival of the final characters, that being a local priest and a redneck racist. These characters serve as polar opposites in the morality play happening on the Island. There are some strong and disturbing scenes in the movie that pointed to the social bravery that Buneul was known for. As in the scene where Miller rapes Evelyn. The Priest preaches constant morality and understanding but, Buneul, always an atheist, hints at his hypocrisy (He has to turn over the mattress before he allows himself to lie on a mattress previously used by the black Traver). The racist on the other hand is true to himself, however loathing and despicable this self is. Another interesting element is the way Miller is seen as trying to justify his sickening actions by faking affection and supposed good will. The core of the story is Evelyn, which is why I felt the movie was not as effective as it could have been. Meesman is just not a good actress and appeared aloof and non-feeling throughout her suffering and desperate predicament. Her lack of even a small ability to act ruined for me the power and effect of the otherwise direct and stirring enactment of horrors man does to himself and others. “The Young One”, is not boring, but it is hard to watch and ultimately disappointing.
Movies are mediums used to tell us stories in a short span of time. The stories may be realistic, fantastical, sad or funny. But they tell a story. At least it was that way in 1960, when Michelangelo Antonioni released to the world his very different Movie, “L’avventura”. Novels while also for the most part told stories, were able to take their time and our time in relaying the plot and feel of their tales. For this reason some of the greatest books were famous for their ability in relaying a state of mind, emotion and feeling to their characters and sometimes their locations. I believe, that Antonioni wanted to do the same thing when he made, “L’avventura”. He was more interested in expressing a philosophical tone of living life without purpose. For this he introduced us to a group of wealthy people doing what they do quite often. Attempting to entertain themselves. He then threw an unpredictable and seemingly tragic event in the middle of their going through the motions life of bored leisure. A small group of these people are off on a typical spoiled jaunt on a boat to an isolated Island off the coast of Northern Italy. The group includes the couple Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti) and Anna (Lea Massari), Anna’s best friend Claudia (the stunning Monica Vitti), a young gold digger and her sugar daddy (Dominque Blanchar and James Addams), as well as another couple who may not actually be a couple (Lelio Luttazzi and Esmeralda Ruspoli). While on the Island, Anna goes missing and the group immediately start searching the Island. While on the next day and still in the middle of their search, Sandro (who is supposed to be devastated for the loss of his love), attempts to kiss Claudia, whose reaction feigns surprise but not quite disgust. It is impossible to describe the rest of the film without explaining what occurs and the nonchalant reaction to the events by the characters. The search goes on once everyone returns to the main land. Our grieving fiance continues to seduce his missing loves girlfriend, who is the supposed grieving friend who enjoys and envelopes his advances with open arms. There are other characters that play important roles in what is shown. The gold digger is abused by her rich and older spouse and she in turn keeps looking for sexual outlets elsewhere. Even Anna’s Father seems more concerned about the bother, rather than heartache when informed about his missing daughter. The movie is chock full of fascinating surrealistic scenes that riveted my attention. The whole Island search scenes with its dark hued images of the searchers spread-out over the white barren rock of the island, gave me the feeling of an alien landscape which perfectly matched the world and lifestyle of the people shown. There is another character who is introduced first as a famous American writer and who later turns out to be a prostitute. When we think she is famous we watch as she is lustily stared at by every male she passes in the street. Her discovery as a whore adds a complex element to that previous scene and when you add the fact that Claudia at another later point also draws the threatening stares of the supposed lower class men, I knew that Antonioni was making a statement about how easy it is for the a meaningless wealthy life to prostitute itself. By the end of the film, none of the characters cares about what actually happened to Anna, and neither did I. That is actually the point Antonioni was making in showing us with clarity that a life lived without meaning or purpose is the worse type of life there is. Not a happy thought, but any work of art that succeeds in relaying philosophical meaning to any aspects of life in our world needs to be cheered and respected.
Francois Truffaut’s, “shoot the Piano Player”, is based on an American Pulp novel written by David Goodis, but other than the essential plot and characters does not resemble a Hollywood gangster film in either its feel or tone. It is a haphazard collection of styles and cute language that created the cinematic version of pulp fiction and is without a doubt the major influence for Tarantino on his trend setting, “Pulp Fiction”, film of the 90’s. I knew I was watching something different as soon as the opening scene came to its conclusion. A man is frantically running away from someone, bumps his head on a lamp post and then bumps into a stranger carrying a bouquet of flowers for his wife. They walk together for a few meters, as the stranger tells this man about how he married his wife and the meaning of true love. There is no connection to the plot with this conversation, except maybe the idea of love. From there this same running man storms into a small Parisian bar, where his brother Charlie (The great singer Charles Aznavour) is playing for an excited and active crowd. Charlie used to be a famous concert Pianist who descended into artist poverty because of personal tragedy. The brother is a mobster running away from other mobsters from whom he and a still different older brother stole from, during a recent robbery. Charlie will help him because he is family. The Plot in this film however is not the point. It is just a vehicle Truffaut uses to show off his varied cinematic styles that permeate throughout this fascinating film. The opening scene is a great example of this as the brothers desperate run is action based which then reverts to intellectual drama during the aforementioned conversation he has with the married man, finally turning into comedy, as he barges into the bar and starts dancing with willing single women, who have come to this bar in order to meet somebody interesting. These sudden changes in tone occur throughout the film as Charlie is at the same time a shy, timid introvert, a controlling married man and a cold hearted lover of whores. The movie makes use of constant flashbacks that further knocked my off balance as each switch to a different time through these flashbacks resulted in a different feel and personality for our piano man. Aznavour is surprisingly good in the role and his deadpan portrayal reminded me of a young French DeNiro. Filled with interesting and quirky characters, this is a movie that is delightfully unpredictable. Watching it, I did not know what to expect from one scene to the next. For example, there is one scene where Charlie refuses to take advantage of a bar waitress, showing off his shy demeanor, to then immediately jump into bed with his prostitute neighbor, which gives him the aura of a conquering stud. He also has a kid brother for whom he is the guardian of and serves as one of the more humorous characters in the film. Everybody loves a poverty to riches story of success. With, “Shoot the Piano Player”, Truffaut brings us a Poverty to Riches story of ambiguity. In getting there the movie effortlessly moves between so many mainstays of cinema such as romanticism, suspense and slapstick. It is almost as if the Director was trying to include all elements of traditional films that he loved into one jam packed 81 minutes. The beauty of it, is that he succeeds brilliantly.
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning”, is a small gem of a movie from the British Isles that works in conveying the frustrations of the young working class Brits at the beginning of the roaring and explosive 60s. Knowing now how that decade evolved into the rebellious rock n roll protest and hippie movements only adds to the real incisiveness of the film. The movie centers its story on a young Arthur Seaton, (an explosive and dynamic performance by Albert Finney), who works as a repetitive mechanist at a drab bicycle factory. He works and lives in the concrete and pollution filled city of Nottingham, working in order to live for the weekends were he consumes copious amounts of alcoholic and has a sexual based affair with his co-workers older wife. Meanwhile he meets and is smitten by a sweet headstrong pretty girl his own age, who he meets in one of his visits to a pub. Arthur is handsome, loud, strong, physical and aggressive. A style of living that allows him to stand out in a crowd. His aggressive style is also not for everyone and he has his fair share of enemies. Finney is superb as the charismatic rebellious youth and carries the film on his broad shoulders effortlessly. Tackling issues of extra marital sex and abortion, this is a movie, while tame by today’s standards, created quite a stir when it first came out. The greatness of the film is its ability to propagate its content with striking images that relay a precise time and location. Watching it is like going back in time and feeling what it was really like to be a working class blue color Brit in Nottingham. Directed by the underrated Karl Reisz the film is based on a 1958 novel by Alan Sillitoe, who also wrote the screenplay. A lot of the language is extremely literal rather than down to earth like the characters, but the excellent cast succeeds in breathing life into each word. When Finney blurts out theatrical lines such as, “Don’t let the bastards ground you down” and, “What I want is a good time, the rest is all propaganda”, I not only believed he meant it, I felt it was his natural tongue. Finney was one of Britain’s great actors, whose rugged macho look contrasted stylishly with his expressive sensitive eyes. His performance here is mesmerizing with his deep Cockney accent and high strung emotions. The supporting cast are also first rate. Rachelle Roberts as the adulteress married women stands out with her complex character who feels enslaved in a conformist and loveless marriage. Her affair with Arthur is the only fun she has in her life. Filmed on location, Reisz’s camera, while sweeping over the grayish and drab city that is Nottingham, uses a sweeping style that always hints at the color of the people underneath. When his camera points onto the people, they place their emotions on their sleeves. The scenes where Arthur is alone with either Roberts’s housewife or the young girl he falls for are the truest scenes in the movie. While the story is set in a very real place and time long gone, its themes and issues are relevant even today. Every generation has its angry youth protesting about their seemingly pre-determined path, which this movie so eloquently portrays onto the screen. It is a fine slice of life from Great Britain and highly recommended.
Screen interpretations on philosophy and the meaning of life are usually heavy handed surrealistic creations that in the end fail to entertain. The greatness of the Italian film master, Federico Fellini was his ability to paint these ideas with his clear and striking images that always amazed and entertained. At the beginning of his career he used Italian Neo Realism in portraying the harsh poverty stricken life of Post War Italy. When the decade turned to 1960, Fellini turned with it and placed his critical gaze on the aristocratic rich and famous. The poor were gritty and survivalists as their portrayals deserved a stark and realistic brush. On the other hand the privileged lived off of their perceived self-worth, never quite understanding why they were unhappy. In 1960’s, “La Dolce Vita”, Fellini pointed his camera and probing eye directly onto the jet set so called cultural class of Italy. In order to better understand the lives of these people, the great director broke the realistic norm he was used to and used surrealistic exaggerations in his portrayal of the sad and pathetic people with too much money and time on their hands. The results gifts us with some brilliant and sparkling scenes packed into the almost three hours of running time. There is no real Story or plot. Just episodic events that occur to an extremely handsome and charming gossip reporter named Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni in a star turning performance), during 7 days and 7 nights. He is engaged to an alcoholic waif who attempts suicide anytime she feels he is drifting away from her. This happens quite often, as Marcello is a girl chasing charmer who never lacks in an opportunity with the many spoiled debutants he comes across with in his job. Throughout the seven nights we are treated to a night with a promiscuous aristocrat, a tourist romp through St. Stevens church and the Trevi Fountain, a fake Madonna con job sighting, a party at an intellectual’s museum like residence, a night at a noisy nightclub with his visiting father, a night in a spruced up medieval castle and a raucous orgy at a beach house. By the midpoint of the film, I felt I was watching one blurry event representing an empty shallow and worthless life rather than seven separate events. Fellini uses his camera to critique this new Jet set western class that developed in Italy at the time. Marcello as the hero and a journalist is not saved as a watcher or historian. He becomes an active participant in all of what is happening around him. At almost three hours the movie sometimes seems as if it wonders, but each time this happens, Fellini will hit us with a powerful image that jolts it back into focus that served to rivet my attention back to the screen. There is an attempted suicide, café brawl, murder suicide and orgy as just part of some of the occurrences in the movie. Fellini was a cartoonist at the start of his career and the exaggerated visions of a cartoonist have stayed with him throughout his career as, “La Dolce Vita”, has great examples of these cartoons like images. The faces of all the people dwelling in this surreal world are all expressive, loud and comical. There is an emphasis on exaggerated physiques. An example is Anita Ekberg’s Swedish American actress and her tremendous bosom which almost explodes out of the screen. The renowned Trevi Fountain scene perfectly frames Ekberg’s impressive physical attributes. Fellini was trying to tell us that the sweet life of the rich and famous is not something worth seeking. For me the strongest section of the movie is the fake Madonna sighting that ends in a torrential downpour and results in the lame, blind and poor getting trampled on by the curious hordes. Fellini places the Catholic Church together with the jet set and celebrity class, stating that all are fake and empty. At the same time Marcello, the films observer and focal point, can’t seem to pull away from its magnetic attraction. Each time he tries, tragedy pulls him back. Filled with over the top impressive scenes, “La Dolce Vita”, made me thank god that I am not a famous writer and just an ordinary critic in a movie blog.