Director: James B. Clark
Writer: Ted Sherdeman, Jane Klove, and Joanna Crawford; My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
Cinematographer: Denys N. Coop
Producer: Robert B. Radnitz
by Jon Cvack
This is the type of kids movie I would’ve grown up seeing if I was alive about fifteen years earlier, leaving you wondering if Christopher McCandless (of Into the Wild fame) might have seen this movie, as it was released just a year before he was born and has an eerily similar plot, minus the tragic ending, though it’s creepy how close the two endings are. Basically, a twelve year old boy Sam Gribley (Teddy Eccles) runs away and off into the wilderness in order to try and learn how to grow algae and survive off the land. This is the kinds of kids film that they don’t make today, in which the child is very much treated like an adult, with exceptional intelligence and judge of character. Nowadays you could see a gratuitous fight between the son and parents, likely due to some juvenile problem the kid caused or brought up, leaving him to run away into the woods. Instead, it’s as though you could easily insert a young adult into the position. He’s fed up with society, he read some Thoreau, grew inspired, and decided to run off into the woods. With so little information provided I just assumed he told his parents where he was going, only to later discover they thought he ran away or was kidnapped. This isn’t a spoiler so much as a tip. The story will play better knowing this fact.
Sam heads out into the woods with his pet Raccoon, who I didn’t know could be domesticated or trained, leaving me anxious over how many times he was bitten or scratched, as when I was in high school, one got trapped in one of our basement window wells, and when I tapped on the glass it went absolutely berserk, scaring me as though I was in a scary movie when a seemingly dead monster rises up after being touched to confirm it's dead. So Sam has this awesome raccoon pet, who follows him around at times, and other times is off fishing or doing its own thing. They end up at this idyllic pond, just what you’d picture from Walden, then finding a fallen tree whose bole is hollowed out and becomes his cabin. It’s at this point that I think anybody would have wished to see this movie when they were kids, knowing that just as Stand By Me inspired me to go explore train tracks or It inspired me to explore our sewers this would have made me want to go off and start my own campsite.
Stealing the Falcon is a point of contention, with my friend saying the action was cruel, as Sam kidnaps the baby while the mom is screaming. The best I could defend it was, just as I discussed about Urban Cowboy and Can’t Buy Me Love, this plot device was a victim of the times. Currently I’m watching The Greatest Show on Earth, as the elephants are herded into tight train cars, shipping off to the next circus where humans will hang all over them. It’s not so much that this would never be shown today so much as how the animals are treated and displayed with such ill-regard that could never be shown; not in an age where we’re now discussing the ethics of zoos, Seaworld is under constant fire, and chimpanzees have been granted human rights. Animals were seen as inferior, and so being set in 1969 and with the book having been written in 1959, given how much respect is shown toward the animal, both by Sam and the filmmakers, this kidnapping of an animal seems more shocking now, simply because animal rights awareness has had such a positive impact. Keep in mind that this isn’t about kidnapping and killing an Falcon, but rather to train and care for the Falcon, using it for both companionship and to hunt. That’s what makes the Falcon’s death such a great scene, as the hunter allows Sam to understand that his use for the bird was not all that different from a gun, and that ultimately by enslaving it, treated however well, the bird in some ways died because of him.
I particularly love that Sam’s algae experience never really works out. For all he tried to make provisional food, always failing, even with pancakes, he learned so much else. It’s shortly after the Falcon dies and when he knew his algae experiment was a failure, that his tree fort gets buried in snow. As the fire was still burning, oxygen had been sucked out of the room. Again it was an exceptionally dark scene for a child’s film, as Sam attempts to garner every last bit of energy he’s got, able only to scrape the snow out from the entrance with a few attempts before returning to his bed, that - although knowing the trope - I still grew nervous he would die. Of course he’s rescued by the one friend he made, proving another moral lesson in the responsibility of friendship, as if you think about, had he not befriend Brando (Theodore Bikel), he could very have likely died. Worse is when he finally gets out and Brando shows him the newspaper clippings of his parents searching for him, eventually giving up, thinking he was gone.
I appreciate this honesty, maturity, and darkness that seems so rare now. I think of shows and movies like Are You Afraid of the Dark?, It, Stand by Me, Hocus Pocus, The Goonies, and then I watch Stranger Things, Super 8, or It and I always feel like it’s not showing that darker side of childhood. It’s as though they’re all playing it safe as possible, not wanting to offend any parents or children by coloring up the characters, showing their more mature motivations, ways of speaking, or failures. My Side of the Mountain is the type of film I’d be happy to show my son or daughter whenever I have one. And while I’m sure they’d be bored by the old-fashioned looked, I think they’d enjoy and find inspiration in the character. Even I thought about running off into the woods, having had the same feeling after Walden, trying to survive away from the world and on my own. It’s not a film of great acting or technical prowess. It’s a moral tale, and it works pretty well,
BELOW: Slim pickings on the YouTube front so here's an abridged cartoon version
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Director: François Truffaut
Writer: François Truffaut and Marcel Berbert
Cinematography: Denys Clerval
by Jon Cvack
I couldn’t recall a Truffaut film I didn’t like until I saw this one. I had really enjoyed Bed and Board, then discovering that it was part of Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel series, which expands across five films, starting with The 400 Blows, moving onto the thirty minute and change short Antoine and Collette (which I haven’t seen), to Stolen Kisses, Bed and Board, and ending with Love on the Run twenty years later. They all involve the actor Antoine Doinel (the main boy from The 400 Blows - played by the same actor, Jean-Pierre Léaud, which I had my doubts about being true, as I recalled they didn’t look at all similar, leaving me to think that maybe it’s time to revisit The 400 Blows, and I now that I know I can get a double feature deal between this and Antoine and Collette via the Criterion Double Feature it’s all looking on the up and up).
So being on the fourth film in the series and with the previous one being the only one I’ve seen within the last ten years, I was expecting another tale that would continue the more colorful approach I saw in Bed and Board, in which Doinel played a recently married man with a child on the way, suddenly tempted by other women. It was an easy and accessible story of a man struggling to move into adulthood, yet had that unique Truffaut palette.
Antoine is discharged from the Army because he’s useless. He becomes a night clerk at a motel, until he’s fire when a woman’s husband trashes the place upon discovering his wife’s infidelity. Antoine’s then fired and becomes a Private Investigator, acting as a double agent at an expensive shoe store while he researches why everyone hates the owner who hired the Private Detectives. Antoine is seeing a nice and beautiful girl, whose dad is helping him find work, but he then gets involved with the Shoe Store Owner’s beautiful wife, losing the job, moving him to television repair. And that’s about it.
The problem is that the narrative in Stolen Kisses revolves Antoine Doinel's inability to find and keep a job. Just out of curiosity, but not all that interested, I checked out the supplements and came across a short three minute French essay on the film. It mentioned how Truffaut was dealing with a lot beyond the film, with the Cahiers du Cinema’s president resigning, forcing Truffaut into the middle of a leadership change, which led him to eventually call for a boycott of Cannes and other major film festivals. I didn’t really understand all of the politics, and while I’m interested in the history, it made Stolen Kisses loose narrative make a bit more sense. The essayist mentioned how given the 1968 release, with revolution piping through the streets, Stolen Kisses was a very much a protest film, about Antoine’s alienation and inability to find a job where he can excel. It was an interesting perspective, but at the end of the day the movie was boring, and this Marxist analysis just makes me think it’s attempt at depth was superficial on account of Truffaut’s public distractions.
Allegedly Truffaut’s public turmoil led him to lean more on improvisation and it shows. The scenes felt much more exploratory, as though gambling on something interesting getting discovered during the edit rather than trying to construct a solid narrative. It functions very much as an “...and then” film, with Collette hopping from one imbroglio to another. It felt more dependent on strange and odd situations, with Antoine not feeling as real as in Bed and Board (and what I remember of The 400 Blows). I was surprised to see it gathered an Oscar Nomination compared to his far stronger and other films that were often overlooked. It’s too quirky - the type of the film that wants more a feel than a meaning. It’s worth checking out for the Doinel Series, but falls on the lower end of the Truffaut’s filmography.
BELOW: A pretty boring scene, but given that this is how most of the film plays, offers a taste
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Director: Brian G. Hutton
Writer: Alistair MacLea
Cinematographer: Arthur Ibbetson
by Jon Cvack
I had this film in my Netflix queue for quite some time, waiting for the summer blockbuster season when big films have that extra kick, no matter how old or how many times I’ve seen them. It had been grabbed from seeing on at least half a dozen “Best World War II” film lists I’ve seen. I was expecting something along the lines of The Longest Day or A Bridge Too Far, and while the second half meets these expectations, the first is a bit slow and even a little hokie.
A team of British commandos, led by Major John Smith (Richard Burton), is joined by Army Ranger Lieutenant Morris Schaffer (Clint Eastwood), assigned to a highly dangerous and covert mission in the swiss alps in order to retrieve American General Carnaby (Robert Beatty), with the ridiculously gorgeous MI6 agent Mary Ellison (Mary Ure) hidden away on the plane and following a separate mission that we’ll learn about shortly.
Not knowing a single thing about the plot, I was a bit disappointed at first, especially once Smith meets for a lustful rendezvous with Ellison in an old cabin in the Alps, telling her to then meet him at a particular place in the village, and the whole thing was starting to feel like an hackneyed 007 plot placed against a Nazi backdrop; especially when Smith later discovers that one of the operatives had his neck broken after landing, making it clear that there’s some double dealings going on within the operation.
When the brigand finally arrives in town, sneaking past the guard while speaking in their native accents, I was a bit perturbed. Maybe the Nazis didn’t hear them. Then the remaining five soldiers hit up a crowded bar, with Richard Burton’s character openly engaging with the Nazi leadership with his trademark English accent and no one’s any wiser. While at first I hated it, I then kind of appreciated the gesture. Obviously the best they could have done was speak in German, but given how hard that’d be for these Hollywood bad boys, I’m not sure that a German accent would have been believable, leaving us to assume that while they’re speaking no differently, they’re actually speaking German. In other words, director Brian G. Hutton figures we'll just roll with the logic, which I did, and in many ways I was thankful, as I’m not sure I could have properly handled Eastwood’s German accented stoicism, or Burton’s similarly styled sarcasm.
However, even with Wikipedia’s help, it was here that I was bit confused over what occurs at this moment, as suddenly German police enter the bar, possibly saying something about the five troops that might have entered the city, but seemed more like Military Police pissed off about something else, but essentially causes the three other Allied operatives Thomas (William Squire), Berkeley (Peter Barksworth), and Christiansen (Donald Houston) to turn themselves in, with Schaffer and Smith later doing the same. I’m not sure if this was simply a convenient plot device or what, but it seemed like the only purpose of this scene was to kickstart the action and get the men into the castle, as without having apprehended the men it would have been difficult to advance the plot. So maybe they deliberately set themselves up to be captured? Given how complex this moment is, I’m not so sure it was simply a victim of lazy writing, but I was still confused.
Schaffer and Smith then kill their captors on the way to castle, and thus we get our first taste of what kind of action this movie contains, as an actual Nazi jeep falls about five hundred feet down a mountain and into a small creek, making you wonder if there are still pieces of the thing somewhere down there to this day. Schaffer and Smith then make it up to the castle, finding an interrogation between the Nazi leadership and General Carnaby inside a massive dining room. The three Allied operatives (Berkeley, Christiansen, and Thomas) are brought it, and so begins an absolutely incredible dialogue sequence, as Schaffer swings back and forth between presenting himself as a double agent and revealing the double dealing between his team and the General. I’m not even positive as to what exactly went on, so much as enjoyed Clint Eastwood’s unflinching reaction, culminating in an incredible Tarantino-esque guns blazing finale. And now they have to get out of the castle.
What begins involves incredible tight hallway gun battles, countless plantings of dynamite, climbing down the castle, a car chase that might be one of the coolest I’ve seen ever, and enough explosions to impress the most diehard of Michael Bay fans. With the most impressive thing being - it’s all provided through practical and highly realistic effects, as even some of the most dangerous stunts look like they actually happened.
When I was a kid my dad would put on an action movie, and once the shoot outs began I’d get overwhelmingly motivated to ditch the movie, grab my toy guns and run around, acting like I was in the film. This movie made want me to find that old bag of toy guns. It’s such a fun story, functioning exactly how an action movie should. I kept thinking of Enemy at the Gates, and how it was one of the last films that looked like it actually took place in a leveled city rather than a mega-expansive computer generated landscape. In 2001 when Enemy at the Gates was filmed, CGI wasn’t yet good enough to compete with practical effects, and it felt like you were watching a massive production, requiring hundreds of people building and destroying sets In the behind the scenes documentary, you see pyrotechnics, with countless amounts of fuel and bombs, with everything looking like it’s on fire. Imagine visiting that set as a kid and how much it’d inspire you to get involved with films and to see the magic in creating them. Now compare that to a kid entering a dark computer lab where hundreds of people are working in silence via a heavy division of labor and there’s no comparison.
These movies are becoming increasingly rare to discover. I’ve seen so many of them, and can revisit some, but I definitely spend more time looking than finding them. It’s the type of movie that makes you nostalgic for those summer action flicks.. They’re not really around this year - Independence Day, sure, but I’m not hearing anyone talking about it. It’s that void that makes you excited. When I hear of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk and his demands for close to fully practical production design and effects, I’m beyond excited, in a way that popular films rarely provide these days. He’s one of the few filmmakers working who can immerse us within that Big Summer Movie World, with The Dark Knight Trilogy now something I turn to every season, as they’re the most recent films to capture that feel. Where Eagles Dare is like Die Hard, where anyone who likes a good action film would be glued to the last hour of this; where if they were at a bar, diner, or laundromat, they’d sit in their chair until the credits rolled. It’s incredible.
BELOW: The first action piece - an actual Jeep being pushed over a cliff, falling hundreds of feet
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Director: Luis Buñuel
Writer: Luis Buñuel and Jean-Claude Carrière
Cinematographer: Christian Matras
by Jon Cvack
I’m now about halfway through Buñuel's good films (anything above a 3.7 on Netflix) and anticipate that most of the remaining films will fall into solid ⅘’s. He’s a type of filmmaker that makes you thankful for Criterion’s rich collection of supplemental materials. In these, we again meet co-writer Jeane-Claude Carriere who discusses that the idea came from Buñuel's interest in heretics, specifically the idea of believing contradictory ideas - such as, per Carriere’s example, that Jesus was both man and God, not just the son of God, or embodying God, but simultaneously just a man and also the supreme being.
Problem is I don’t really have a good enough understanding of heretics to really grasp why most of these issues are relevant. As usual, I get lost in some of the more bizarre and surreal moments. According to the other Criterion Supplement that explored this film at length, we learn that Buñuel didn’t care for psychology or deconstructing his film’s symbolism, which similar to Carriere’s point, is both infuriating and interesting, in that I don’t have to put too much stock into trying to find a meaning because there isn’t one, or if I do understand or have a strong insight into what something means (which is rare) I can be confident that it’s not necessarily wrong. Before the closing credits, a card pops up stating how accurate everything in the film is regarding heresy, stating, “Everything in this film concerning the Catholic religion and the heresies it has provoked, especially from the dogmatic point of view, is rigorously exact. The texts and citations are taken either direct from Scripture, or modern and ancient works on theology and ecclesiastical history.” Problem being that for anyone who’s unfamiliar with these events or points of view, it really doesn’t mean anything. You’re left thinking you might have seen something interesting, but not really confident enough to defend it either way.
The story involves two transients Pierre (Paul Frankeur) and Jean (Laurent Terzieff) as they travel along an ancient pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, who get involved with various surrealistic events along the way, often involving characters who discuss the contradictions of various religious principles - such as during a fencing match that I didn’t understand (it might be easier if I highlight what I did understand), Jean talks about the contradiction in being able to commit an evil act if God has designed you, knowing your fate before you’re born. Pierre responds that God provides each human free will, to which Jean responds that even if that’s true, you can’t also believe that God has a plan for each of us - for if he had a plan then all of our decisions, good or evil, were predetermined, rendering free will pointless, and hell as a destination pre-assigned from before we’re sentient. In another scene, a police officer and priest engage in another debate about belief versus non-belief, before the priest is taken away to a mental institution. Jesus makes periodic appearances in the film, with Mary telling him to keep his beard, as he gallivants with his disciples, eventually meeting two blind men in the end who he appears to have cured but really hasn’t, rather lying to them. Writing this only days later, I have images of little girls reciting a creepy speech, when a flashback cuts in with Communist Revolutionaries killing the Pope by Gun Fire. There’s some type of tribunal involving the heavily orthodox church deliberating over a heretic’s punishment.
I suppose if I read the books that Buñuel and Carriere cited I might have a greater understanding of these references (one book being the "Historia de Los Heterodoxos Espanoles" by Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo according to IMDb). I just don’t think it’s going to make any of this all that much more interesting. It’s clear that Buñuel was an atheist who was raised catholic, seeking to point all the contradictions and how humorous they actually are. I’m starting to buy these worlds from the get go, but I still struggle to understand the point of any of it, especially knowing that there isn’t necessarily one to be found. A person is in the room alone, then another person is there with no rhyme or reason, and that’s fine given the style, I just don’t know what it’s doing for me. Released after the tumultuous protests in Europe and the United States just a year earlier, this film was meant to subvert the established dogma, whether religious or political. It’s an interesting point - that essentially all ideologies have inherent contradictions and can’t operate without them. Too many times scenes went on for too long, or for not long enough. Taken in bits and pieces it’s a cool film, sure, especially given when it was made. Taken as a whole, though, it will make you kind of want to pull your hair out, as experimental films often do.
BELOW: What does it all mean, Basil?
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Director: Sidney Lumet
Writer: Tennessee Williams (play and screenplay) and Meade Roberts (screenplay)
Cinematographer: Boris Kaufman
by Jon Cvack
I know I’m watching a Tennessee Williams play when there’s an erratic and mentally unstable woman, struggling against a world that seems to despise her. In this case that woman is Carol Cutrere, played by the sexy and frightening Joanne Woodward, as a drifter who bounces from bar to bar, always looking for the next man, and always returning back to her small hometown when the night and dates expire.
The film opens with Marlon Brandon as Valentine “Snakeskin” Xavier sitting in a jail cell, preparing to go before the court after getting into a brawl. The camera enters into a long take close up of Valentine as the judge inquires offscreen about how he arrived in Louisiana. Brando searches for the words, delivering them with his soft cadence, swearing that the entire situation only had to do with his guitar and he never meant to get in any trouble. The judge orders him to leave Louisiana immediately and never return. He takes off in a beat up car and heads to a small Mississippi town, before the deluge of rain soon forces him to seek refuge in a sheriff’s office, where a painter shows him her awful illustrations while the sheriff and his deputies go out searching for a fugitive, who they soon shoot and kill - possibly without need - then returning back to greet Valentine with suspicion.
Needing work, Valentine is invited to take a clerkship at a small store in town on the other side of the border, breaking his vow to leave Louisiana. There he meets the owner Lady Torrance (Anna Magnani) who’s pushing middle age, yet has retained every ounce of her sexuality, which has gone unfulfilled as her husband Jabe (Victor Jory) lies ill on his deathbed, suspicious of his wife’s “needs”, especially with Valentine as the new recruit. He’s an angry man, with a lot of muscle in town, especially with the sheriff.
The sexual tension between Valentine and Lady Torrance is one of the most intense in all of cinema. We can feel how discouraged Lady is and for who knows how long, heightened by Brando’s physical perfection and brooding sexuality. Her desire and limited self control opposite Valentine’s absolute command is a phenomenal exercise in words unspoken, perpetuated by her envy of the younger and more attractive Carol Cutrere, who seems cursed to follow in Lady's footsteps.
In the film’s great monologue, Valentine says, “There’s many kinds of people in this world. There’s only two kinds - the buyers and the one’s who get bought…. No, there’s another kind…. It’s a kind that don’t belong no place at all... There’s a kind of bird that don’t have any legs, so it can’t land on nothing, so it has to spend its whole life on its wings in the air. I seen one once. It died and fell to earth.” Unable to find a place where he belongs and can stay out of trouble, Valentine understands his curse - in which is simple looks pull in women, driving the men around them mad with jealousy and envy. And yet the curse seems to infect many of these individuals, all struggling to break free of their own physical and mental limitations.
Rarely does a performance demand such a large persona; in which the character doesn't only demand a tough and attractive man, but a larger-than-life individual that only an A-list actor could bestow. It’s not that Valentine does anything specifically offensive, so much as that those who encounter him develop such overbearing feelings of desire and/or resentment that it pulls him into their personal maelstroms, no matter how much he tries to resist. Men find him a serious threat, while women find him irresistible. His indifference makes it all the more infuriating. He’s aware of this effect and knows he can’t escape it, no matter how much he tries.
The story captures the terror of loneliness. And although dragging at moments, the performances are so electrifying, quickly making us aware that it’s all building up to something big, that when the second half begins we are completely enraptured. We know there is no escape for Valentine. We understand his curse. His snakeskin jacket and guitar are all he will leave and all he’ll arrive with at the next town. He is doomed to enter and exit for flashes of time, forever and ever, struggling with all the loneliness it demands. Sidney Lumet body of work provided us some of the greatest performances in all of cinematic history. Here’s another handful for the pile, abandoning the urban underbelly he often explores, and examining the work of one of the great playwrights of all time.
BELOW: Valentine's great monologue, beautifully shot by Boris Kaufman
Director: Luis Buñuel
Writer: Luis Buñuel and Julio Alejandro
Cinematographer: Gabriel Figueora
by Jon Cvack
Here’s a short film from Luis Buñuel, accompanied on the Criterion Collection copy with a feature length documentary about the director’s life, which is a bit more interesting than the film. For anyone frustrated about where their career is going, Luis Buñuel was on the precipice of failure by his mid-40s, struggling to make another film, and even then, the opportunities he received were ultra low budgeted 10-day shoot, Corman-esque hispanic comedies.
As with other Buñuel films, the surrealistic narrative gets confusing, and I struggle to even interpret what’s being explored. Simon (Claudio Brook) has spent six years, six months, and six days upon a short, ten foot pillar, about to graduate to a much larger one. He is harassed by The Devil, played by frequent collaborator Silvia Pinal who takes many forms, including a bearded shepherd and a girl in a miniskirt in a New York dance club.
I suppose it’s due to the fact that movie lost half its budget and had to shut down production, leaving Buñuel with only half a film that leads to such a fuzzy conclusion. And yet having gone through The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeois, The Obscure Object of Desire, The Exterminating Angel, and The Phantom of Liberty, I’m not too sure an additional half would have cleared things up any more.
Learning in the accompanying documentary that Buñuel was an atheist, I assume the story is dealing with the idolatry of false prophets. We’re not really sure what Simon has accomplished, or if he’s even led anyone to salvation. The graduation from one pillar to another is a decent metaphor for the Catholic faith, in which increasing one’s hardships gets one closer to God, quite literally in this instance. Simon is tempted by the gorgeous Silvia Pinal, who takes on various characters with her ever present sexuality oozing out no matter the costume. Simon remains strong and in the final sequence, which is quite interesting, he's now part of the beatnik New York culture, dancing in a club as the earliest days of rock ‘n roll are getting the kids all hot and bothered. I’m not sure whether it was all a dream or a fantasy, and given the budgetary shortfalls, I’m not sure Buñuel knew either. It does produce an interesting foil against the stoic lifestyle presented throughout the film. Some worship God, and new generations seem to worship sex, drugs, and rock and roll. One’s not necessarily presented as superior to the other. Just different. Temptations arise no matter the pursuit.
Possibly better than the film itself is the pillar’s construction, which was abandoned by the production crew and left as an obstacle in the peasant’s field, forcing them to farm around it. When a truck comes in with a crane to dig it out, the crew can’t make it budget. It’s far too heavy. It’s quite poetic knowing that the pillar was a representation of the Christian faith, and that it must remain where it is and for the lowest class citizens to work around. Most have probably never seen the film, and I’m sure that they wouldn’t understand what it’s about more than anyone else. I was hoping for a bit more of the false prophet angle, or a heavier allegory for Jesus. Instead, the film ended, I immediately put on the documentary, and didn’t really find myself meditating on what it all meant, until I had to write this. Onto the next one, though.
BELOW: For English speakers, don't worry about the lack of subtitles; it still doesn't make sense
Director: Ken Annakin (British and French exteriors), Andrew Marton (American exteriors), Bernhard Wicki (German episodes)
Writer: Cornelius Ryan, Romain Gary, James Jones, David Pursall, and Jack Seddon
Cinematographer: Jean Bourgoin and Walter Wottitz
by Tory Maddox
The further along in life I go, and therefore my love of film, the more I regard the 90s as one of the greatest decades of cinema. For awhile I believed it was the classic syndrome of thinking today’s films are comparably worse to the ones I grew up with, just as Woody Allen said the same about the 30s and 40s, and Ebert and most baby boomer filmmakers feel about the 70s. Beyond the vast amount of transformative Cinema that occurred during the period, I’m nostalgic for the popular fair - Little Giants, Armageddon, Independence Day, and Saving Private Ryan - which either doesn't exist anymore, or are so overwhelmingly dominated by CGI that the stories feel more like knock offs than additions to their respective genres.
I hadn’t seen or known much about Saving Private Ryan when it arrived in theaters. It was one of the few movies that my parents took me to. I wasn’t yet in love with film, but I will never forget the day we went for as long as I live. I had heard about the righteous fight against Nazis during WW2, in which my grandfather flew B52 Bombers. It wasn’t until I saw SPR and its jaw-dropping opening scene that I truly grasped the horrors of war.
My indie film-loving cousin use to bash Stephen Spielberg’s ‘largeness’, assuming it was more art by committee than individual. Having failed to discover another filmmaker who uses cinema with the same level ‘show don’t tell’ erudition, I now have to balk at anyone assuming Spielberg is in any way a pop filmmaker. He’s is one of the greatest of all time, with the rare gift of being able to secure massive budgets to actualize his imagination that reflects the epitome of filmmaking. The closest any modern filmmaker comes to this is Christopher Nolan, though this is like comparing a High School Varsity Baseball Player to Nolan Ryan, which isn’t to say Christopher Nolan has the talent of a high schooler as much as no one has come even close to Spielberg’s mastery. They are truly works of the finest art; the type of craft that’s only appreciable after studying film for a long enough time and seeing how ingenious his language is. After watching The Longest Day, I now realize how inspired Saving Private Ryan was by these films (and others - Guns of Navarone, A Bridge Too Far, The Dirty Dozen, etc.); the type of films that use practical effects, sets, and vehicles in ways that leaves you gaping.
The Longest Day was made for $10 million, which even when adjusted for inflation, only equals about $80 million, and if you think that’s a lot money, keep in mind that this is about the same budget as David Fincher’s Zodiac. The Longest Day has one of the most incredible casts you’ll ever find in a film with everyone from John Wayne to Robert Mitchum, following the Allied land attack and German response as D-Day commences. It is shot in cinemascope, opening up each scene to fully realize the extent of machinery that was included in the picture. It’s the type of movie that looks and feels expensive, from the length of three hours to the cast to the amount of ships, tanks, and extras that were hired. In two distinct aerial long takes, we follow what seems like at least fifty and maybe a hundred soldiers on the attack, both on Normandy beach, and another through a small German town. Just when you think it’ll cut it continues to follow the Americans running along the river, the image keeps on going and we drift past a giant mansion where the German’s are stationed up top on the roof, to a road on the left where dozens of German reinforcements come rushing down.
4,500 people died during the D-Day Invasion out of 160,000 Allied troops. I imagine receiving the probability that 5% of soldiers would be killed; that no matter the preparation some will die. For instance, as the Allies overshot their drop zone and landed in a German town, hanging from the telephone poles or church steeples, like fish in a barrel for the German’s to shoot down - there was nothing to do. To know that you as an individual have just as much of a chance for a mortar to strike near you, or a bullet to catch you as any other soldier is an idea that can overwhelm the mind. I’ve said it before, I am in absolute awe that anyone had the courage to jump out of the plane or exit the boat.
If they were to try and make this movie today it’d be dominated by CGI. There is just no way that, with even $80 million, they could come remotely close to replicating this film. You can just feel how determined they were to get it accurate, accomplished practically, in order to capture the battle’s scope and respect this infamous day in history. The problem today is CGI wants to add more to the image than might have existed - capturing more how the situation might have felt than how it actually was. This film shows you how it use to be done, and as mentioned in thoughts on Enemy at the Gates, it’s understanding that it wasn’t designed on a computer or in a dark room, but required the work of thousands of people, building, performing, enhancing. You can feel it each scene.
BELOW: An aerial long take that rivals any Scorsese/Cuaron/PTA steadicam
Director: Roman Polanski
Writer: Roman Polasnki and Gerard Brach
Cinematographer: Douglas Slocombe
by Tory Maddox
As with Cronenberg, you can spot Polanski’s style from the first scene. I’m not sure why I held off on watching this film for so long. I think I just assumed it was going to be a sophomoric film by a soon-to-be master, even though Knife in the Water (1962) demonstrated that Polanski was a master from his first feature, along with Cul-De-Sac (1966) and Repulsion (1965) coming out a few years before. I think it was the awful title and cover art that conveys a slapstick or cheesy comedy. Either way I was wrong. This movie contains some of the most interesting faces and characters in all of Polanski’s work. It’s a movie that immerses you with these two main characters as they navigate through a surrealistic Transylvanian winter, hunting for the vampires, trying to stay warm. It’s not so much what’s going on in the immediate so much as the background. The Inn’s patrons, owners, and employees all mix together to create such a unique and original destination that we never worry about plausibility. Similar to The Ninth Gate (1999), the movie plays in a cartoon style. It's not scary it’s just fun. We witness the early stages of Polanski’s uncanny ability to create and cast such memorable characters. It’s not his finest film, but it’s one of his his most fun. The film also features Sharon Tate before she met her tragic, and far more terrifying end.
BELOW: Should give you a decent taste of the film's surrealistic and bizarre style
Director: Francois Truffaut
Writer: Francois Truffaut and Jean-Louis Richard
Cinematographer: Nicolas Roeg
by Susan Bartley
Truffaut’s attempt at an English adaptation of Bradbury’s novel is wildly disappointing. At no time does it feel like the genius director, but rather a desperate attempt to hurry up and make a movie without any attempt to integrate his own style or philosophy. I am partially forgiving given that the film was made in 1966. Yet it falls into the issues that most sci-fi movies from this era often do - it’s not a movie that tries to envision what life would look like in the future, rather it takes all the elements of the time and creates slight modifications. With the exception of the television that allowed for home broadcast, in which a person can be included within an interview or discussion by simply standing in front of their tv, everything else is aged to the point the hilarity. There are still phone booths, the firemen ride on the truck, the furniture and clothes all have the exact same 1960s look. And this is where I’m most frustrated. Why do people assume that the outfits and clothes people wear at a given period is the culmination of all trends which will never again change, shifting ever so slightly into a futuristic look? I think of the brilliant job Her (2013) did with updating outfits. Not calling attention or making fantastical suggestions, it was subtle, and when noticed, amazing. I couldn’t help watching this film thinking I’m in an alternative world where there are some new technologies, but other than that everything is the exact same as the time it takes place. And that’s where it’s even more shocking given Truffaut’s creative prowess. How could he have had such a limited imagination? In no way did I care all that much about any of the characters, the philosophies or implications.
Could this story ever be adapted properly? I’d assume it’d require an amazing visionary who’s willing to take risks with the base material. As the saying goes - bad books are easy to adapt, great books difficult. Or something like that. There’s no need to stick to the base material since there’s nothing that needs adapting. What it needs is a fresh spin. I’m anxious to see who takes who takes up the challenge.
BELOW: Firefighters riding on the firetruck to go and burn some books
Director: Satyajit Ray
Writer: Satyajit Ray
Cinematographer: Subrata Mitra
By Jon Cvack
Subrata Mazumdar (Anil Chatterjee) is the wife of Aarti (Madhabi Mukherjee) and daughter in law to his father Priyogapai (Haren Chatterjee), two men with very traditional views on family. When Aarti loses his job, Subrata decides to enter into the work force in order to keep them afloat. Jealousies arise and Aarti begins to resent the decision, especially after she quickly moves up the company ladder.
As with Pather Panchali (1955), Ray has an uncanny ability to make the world feel a little bit smaller than before, demonstrating that problems of gender and envy are universal in scope. While there are many elements that separate India from America, Ray is able to blur the line with such ease that it’s as though you’re watching a film that could take place anywhere in the world. Men as breadwinners, skeptical of even the slightest threat to that role, is an issue that has and currently extends across all cultures. In fact, given the plethora of American movies that later dealt with this issue in the 1970s, you could even say that Mahanager was one of the most progressive films of the period.
Watching any of the films that deal with threatened men, we know that it’s not actually the woman’s success that hurts the man. It’s the feeling of impotence. Like any relationship, there is an underlying degree of competition, differing in significance, in which some people take it very much to heart and others don’t care all that much. Yet it’s when a person is completely incapable of removing their insecurities from the equation that the problems grow. It’s not about Aarti, it’s about the fact that he can’t find a job that would allow him to succeed and provide for his family. Subrata’s success is based on a willingness to accept what she can get and give it her all, enjoying the benefits of hard work. She enjoys each and every minute because compared to having to sit inside each and every day, cooking the same meals, doing the same chores, and serving the men in her life, it is a pleasure to utilize her intellect and skills and be properly rewarded.
Regardless, the ending reminds me of Mr. Mom (1983) in it’s return to traditional structures. There’s a capitulation to the husband who urges her to return home and Subrata quits the job because she doesn’t want to hurt him. Some would argue that it’s because the boss was misogynistic or bigoted. I would agree with this. It just seemed too easy and convenient. For a text that’s so realistic I couldn’t buy it. They are dirt poor, just beginning to get their stride, the boss was willing to bring the husband aboard, and yet she was willing to give it all up, facing poverty as a result, and the husband understood and agreed. Subrata might have made the ideal and respectable choice. In the real world, though, I imagine the celebration would be very short. Such an abrupt decision when there’s a hungry child and dying grandfather was extremely selfish for what could have been resolved with twice the take home pay and provide a better life for all.
Thoughts on films, old and new
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