Thursday, February 09, 2017

The Children Are Watching Us (Vittorio De Sica, 1944)

The beginning of De Sica's voyage towards neorealism features some remarkable performances (the young boy is extraordinary) and splendid photography. It's hard not to be struck by what today seems the misogyny of the narrative, but the story is undoubtedly engrossing, a beautiful balance between the understated and the excessive. There is a remarkable moment early on when we first see the lovers meet - the change of register (from realism into heightened melodrama), the change of framing (to traditional two shots and reverse shots) and the interruption of the music meant I genuinely thought the sequence was going to be revealed as taking place on a cinema screen (the wife has turned down the chance to go to the cinema in order to meet her lover in the park), until I recognised the wife (I'm slow on faces!). Sophisticated reflexivity or overreading?

Monday, January 23, 2017

La La Land (Damien Chazelle, 2016)

Rather expected to hate this, but didn't. It's certainly full of clichés (somewhat knowingly), but it can't really do anything with them other than inhabit them. Hence when it's charming - which it certainly is, not infrequently - the clichés don't matter. When it isn't charming, I found it tedious more than irritating. Could certainly have done with better tunes and better lyrics, and none of the dances really won me over: the best I think was the two of them by the bench after the party at which she requests "I Ran". (Quite why to be asked to play Flock of Seagulls is an insult, when he's apparently happy to wear a ludicrous outfit and play A-Ha escaped me...)

Lincoln (Steven Spielberg, 2012)

A film that could have been worthy but a little tedious is actually rather better than that. Spielberg can't hold off the sentimental over-obviousness for an entire film, but it's not all pervasive. Historical credibility, from what I've read, is a little shaky in places but certainly far from egregious. But what really holds it together are Day-Lewis's over-the-top understatement and an excellent script. (Tommy Lee Jones is also fine and could have done even better if given more to work with.)

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Emigrants (Jan Troell, 1971)

Stupendous. Astonishing work from Troell as director, cinematographer and editor. Fantastic performances from all involved, and gorgeous use of light, tone and hue. Very delicate but completely unprecious - the editing is much more rapid and unostentatious than I had been led to expect. An emotionally engaging story told without self-indulgence, the narrative featuring plenty of ellipses but never becoming elliptical.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (Lewis Milestone, 1946)

Terrific film noir, probably best known as a trivia question (Kirk Douglas's first film appearance), but much more interesting than that. Excellent performances, a plot that keeps you guessing, some fine photography (though perhaps not quite consistently so?). Deserves to be much more talked about, I'd say.

Ingmar Bergman Makes a Movie (Vilgot Sjöman, 1963)

Follows Bergman through the making of Winter Light, and easily one of the most fascinating films about filmmaking I have ever seen. Excellent interviews with Bergman, revealing rehearsal segments, a fascinating example of a short sequence at different stages in the editing process... All good!

Mary (Abel Ferrara, 2005)

Far from Ferrara's best film, but still has much that is intriguing about it. It strikes me that the way Ferrara risks both seeming excessively obvious, and merely muddled - when in fact he's something much more subtle, but not in a way that one can demonstrate, QED - is really rather brave filmmaking.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Edvard Munch (Peter Watkins, 1974)

Certainly a remarkable piece of work. Claustrophobically close framing for the full three and a half hours, and the quasi-fly-on-the-wall conceit, with supposedly late nineteenth century Norwegians constantly catching sight of the camera works very well indeed to get us close to Munch but also keep us at a distance from him. My reservations are that it certainly does seem rather long (though I think watching it in three parts on TV might have diminished its cumulative logic), that it so insists on the opprobrium that was constantly heaped on Munch's work that we get little sense of how he was able to carry on working, and that it doesn't make any serious attempt to explore the possibility, desipte all the undoubted agony that made up and surrounded Munch's life, that he was also perhaps a tiny bit given to indulge himself in his misery.

Winter Light (Ingmar Bergman, 1963)

Absolute stone cold masterpiece. Everything is remarkable - performances, photography, lighting, editing, pacing. Sure it's bleak, but it's not without lightness of touch (of a kind!) and even a little bit of humour. The only thing I wondered about was how much the pastor's misogyny could be separated from Bergman's own, but Bergman himself probably didn't know that. I expect there are books on it - and trying to decide is as good an excuse as any to watch it again.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Silence (Martin Scorsese, 2016)

Curious one, this. Certainly seems to be cinematic subject matter, and nothing here is actually bad, but it's rather plodding. Not much impact in the cinematography, a curious fondness for whip pans that don't seem to add anything, and what seems to be some rather bafflingly hamfisted editing (is Andrew Garfield standing up? no, he's sitting down...) Neeson is rather good - his first scene with Garfield throws up some genuinely interesting ideas, but it's a long way in getting there, and the final image flattens out the possible interpretations a little too much. Adam Driver woefully underused as well - others have said this, but I'd have like to see him have Garfield's part (which is to say, to play the lead).

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Une femme est une femme (Jean-Luc Godard, 1961)

Full of invention and humour (all the puns giving the subtitle writers a hard time for sure), but not sure if it really is one of Godard's most accessible films, as is sometimes claimed - the relentless turning of conventions against themselves without some sort of formal cathartic explosion (it actually keeps playing by its own rules throughout) means it is also one of his oddest films. And also probably one of the principle exhibits in the feminist case against him.

Endless Poetry (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 2016)

Extremely entertaining indeed, and with some remarkable sequences. I'd say the opening is more wholly successful than the film as a whole, but still, Jodorowsky handles his self-obsession with aplomb, partly with some surprising delicacy, and partly by not attempting to disguise it in the slightest. All of which has the effect of making the film's narcissism much more digestible than something like Alan Bennett's The Lady in the Van, a film whose pretence that is about Alan Bennett and Mary Shepherd makes the fact that it is really all about Alan Bennett all the more objectionable.