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.
by Jon Cvack
Director: Erich Rohmer
Writer: Erich Rohmer
Cinematographer: Daniel Lacambre
Two college men play their way across the Parisian single scene. One of them, Guillaume, meets Suzanne, who is traditionally unattractive. He sleeps with her, grows embarrassed, and dumps her. Then the other friend, Bertrand, is approached by Suzanne. A love triangle takes place. Guillaume regrets ditching Suzanne, who is now attracted to his friend.
The film plays like a documentary, with many of the shots stolen on the Parisian streets. Similar to other his immediate predecessors it was pieced together with short ends of film (see Rossellini’s Rome, Open City). They could only afford single takes. The sound was added long after and Rohmer had to essentially lip read the performances in order to add the track since he had no script. Aside from the glimpse into 60s Parisian life, the tale is pretty bland. It feels as though it was made by a graduate student, but Rohmer was in his early 30s at the time. He said he had gotten into film late so perhaps it was excusable.
Many of his films at the time were based on short stories he had written. His philosophy was that short stories make the best feature films. After watching the first tale (The Bakery Girl of Monceau, Presentation, or Charlotte and Her Steak) I can’t help viewing Rohmer as rather misogynistic. In all three of these films there is a man who committed to sexual conquests. He doesn’t care about a connection. He doesn’t care about who these women are. He just wants to get laid and is willing to put on any face or front that will get the job done. I’m all for an author working out his own personal demons through story. I just didn’t see any redemption. He either fails or succeeds, pushes the comfort zone of all these women, and tries to express regret over the decision.
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Writers: Andrei Konchalovsky, Andrei Tarkovsky
Cinematographer: Vadim Yusov
by Jon Cvack
Andrei Rublev opens on a small village where a young painter, Andrei (Anatoly Solonitsvn), wants to head out into the world and make an impact with his art. In pure Tarkovsky fashion there are iconic images that stick within your head long after.
The Mongols invade a small town, attempting to kill every single person, with the exception of a few women who they rape before they slaughter. In this horrific scene, there’s a real live horse that trips and falls down a set of stairs, clearly breaking one, if not multiple legs. There's something about this moment that pushes the scene into a horror that I only could compare to a later Russian film, Come and See (Elem Klimov; 1985) or Blood of Beasts (Georges Franju; 1939). It was a deliberate choice by Tarkovsky to save this animal from the slaughter house, and not just kill the animal, but make him suffer and force us to watch in a long, wide master. In an age of PETA, it's a moment that we will rarely, if ever witness again in narrative filmmaking. It takes a scene that is already terrifying and adds a level of reality that elevates the material beyond fiction. Tarkovsky, like Andrei, transcends the limits of art, creating a moment that will remain with us forever.
And yet Andrei continues to want to paint. Perpetually in doubt of his skill and unwavering in his commitment. Eventually he comes across a young boy whose father taught him the trade of bell making. In one of the most visually breathtaking scenes I’ve ever come across this young man charges up a community of carpenters and blacksmiths four times his age, confident that he can create the perfect bell. He argues over the type of clay, the amount of silver, the moulds, the timing, and so on and so forth. Like Andrei, he is fighting for his art, and faces execution should the bell fail to ring. Knowing this possible fate, we watch with sweaty palms as they break the bell moulds. It looks great. Will it ring? It does. But the boy doesn’t think it’s good enough. He hates himself. After all the effort. After uprooting the ground, accomplishing an extraordinary feat, he still think it’s inferior to his expectations. He falls upon the ground, miserable.
Andrei Rublev is story of the artist’s pursuit; about the unwavering commitment required to make any great work. Beyond the prestige or recognition is the fight for perfection. It is a struggle with oneself. While all might cheer and celebrate the work, unless the craftsman is content it is all for naught. Andrei understands this point, as does Tarkovsky. And so he heads back into the cold, fighting through the snow, destined to discover his next great painting.
by Jon Cvack
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