Sunday, November 24, 2013

Black Beauty

1994, US/UK, directed by Caroline Thompson

My wife takes my son to the library every week, and he's in the habit of picking up a DVD on most visits. He generally picks the boxes at random and rarely asks to actually watch the DVD once he gets home so we often return them unopened. I'm not sure if the thought process here was any more considered, though the striking cover image of a rearing horse may have caught his eye, but we did end up watching the film on this occasion. He seemed to enjoy it quite a good deal, even if he had some questions about the progression of the story: it's not that easy to explain to a nearly-three-year-old that the horse is speaking in voiceover, even with the imaginative capacity of the young child. He was alarmed, however, by a scene of fire, and very uncharacteristically jumped into my arms, and has commented on the scene a number of times since then.

Somewhere online, I came across a review that suggested this is a rather Dickensian telling of the tale -- true enough for the scenes in the city, but the opening segment is rather more in the benevolent gentry mode, with horses and grooms alike grateful to their master, even if the film does subsequently point out that this was by no means the only experience one might have in the employ of a large country house. The scenes focused exclusively on the horses at play are quite beautiful, all other critique aside: they are indeed gorgeous animals.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The World's Greatest Sinner

1962, US, directed by Timothy Carey

The average film maudit is a pretty personal affair for the director at least, but Timothy Carey takes things to a whole new level by starring, writing, directing, producing, and probably a whole host of other things that don't make it into the credits. That seems entirely apposite for a portrait of an ordinary insurance salesman who suddenly develops such delusions of grandeur that he styles himself God, above the rules that apply to the ordinary person. As cinema, it's often amateurish, though that is likely much to do with lack of resources than lack of vision, for there's a ferocious if bizarre energy at work here -- it reminded me at times of the frenzy at the heart of a film like Cy Endfield's hypnotic Try and Get Me/The Sound of Fury, another film that comes off like a crazed report from its particular moment in history, albeit one with a good deal more polish.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Singin' in the Rain

1952, US, directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly

Or, the continued effort to introduce my nearly-three-year-old son to the classics. This went down a treat: I doubt he understood much about the silent-to-sound storyline but there are so few breaks in the song and dance action that he rarely had time to think about the plot (and he loved every single second that Donald O'Connor was onscreen). The longest number did try his patience somewhat: it's more abstract and considerably less amusing than the vaudeville-esque earlier pieces, and while stunningly beautiful I can see how it might lose a small child. As with most films we show him, we broke this up into chunks. We lost track of the overall running time which meant that we inadvertently ended with a twelve- or fifteen-minute section. I'd never noticed before how the film concludes on one of its quietest notes: there's a huge amount of energy in the first hour, followed by the artistic climax before it sort of peters out, an effect that's far more pronounced when you're not recovering from the wonders that come immediately before. Of course, it deserves to be watched in a single setting, and we'll get there...

Friday, November 15, 2013

Sbatti il mostro in prima pagina

1972, Italy, directed by Marco Bellocchio (Slap the Monster on Page One)

A terrific portrait of media malfeasance, with grubby ties between newspaper editors and political barons exploited to the maximum to drive the news agenda -- whether it's the out and out fabrication of inflammatory material on political opponents or the canny manipulation of a handy murder case to distract readers from weightier national matters. Gian Maria Volonté is (predictably) wonderful as the most self-serving of the newspapermen, smoothly crafting alternative realities (there's an amusing scene when he has to trash a headline as things don't quite work as he had planned).

For the first hour or so, Bellocchio generally allows the viewer to connect the dots without much assistance, before becoming a little more obvious near the conclusion -- it's a shame, because the film doesn't seem to need the dose of pedagogical assistance, particularly given that one of the film's themes is the idea of a media that might treat viewers and readers as adults. The critique of the giallo genre is equally pointed without getting the same over-emphatic treatment: Bellocchio leaves the viewer in no doubt that the giallo's tendency to exploit (female) suffering for entertainment, without paying much attention to the ugly, messy brutality of violence, does its own disservice to the mass media.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

L'Amico di famiglia

2006, Italy, directed by Paolo Sorrentino (The Family Friend)

I'm starting to sense a theme in Paolo Sorrentino's films -- the first three films I've seen are all portraits of isolated or solitary men, twisted by circumstance and unable to pursue conventional lives and friendships. Women are certainly present in these tales, but almost always on the periphery: even where, as here, they take an active role in shaping the action, it's mostly as seen from the male perspective, with Sorrentino taking a greater interest in the consequences for his central characters (The Consequences of Love...). As stylishly constructed as Sorrentino's other films, L'Amico di famiglia is also somewhat more insistently oddball, from the opening shot (though that is, eventually, explained in fairly logical terms). That may reflect the worldview of the titular friend, Geremia De Geremei, played by Giacomo Rizzo -- a sort of Italian Ron Perlman -- in a performance that's devoid of vanity; Geremia, a moneylender, an unattractive man, both mentally and physically, and Rizzo never looks for the audience's sympathy, with every minor shot at redemption quickly turned around by a man constitutionally unable to avoid the temptation to take
his pound of flesh.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

God Speed You! Black Emperor

1978, US, directed by Mitsuo Yanamigachi

Surely one of the key films in any discussion of the documentarist's bond of trust with his or her subjects, for Yanamigachi appears to have been fully accepted into the Japanese biker gangs that he depicts for us, whether they are shown engaging in strikingly extended internal debates or engaging in (generally fairly mild) disobedience. As with another unusual Japanese documentary, The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On, that position of trust creates some dilemmas: at times, the gang leaders hit more junior members, or otherwise attempt to control them, and while it's not quite at the level of the physical assaults in the later film, you do wonder whether the filmmaker had thoughts about when to intervene and when to keep filming. As a depiction of group dynamics, it's absolutely fascinating, with extended debates on the gang's self-regulation, while the cultural differences highlighted by the almost collegial relationship with the police give the film great anthropological interest for the non-Japanese viewer (and again recall The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On, where the protagonist calls the police on himself, and treats the officers with the utmost respect).


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Most of the images here are either studio publicity stills or screen captures I've made myself; if I've taken your image without giving you credit, please let me know.

About Me

Boston, Massachusetts, United States