Dedicated to classics and hits.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Shock Corridor (1963) d. Samuel Fuller

The Criterion Collection revised edition had artwork by Daniel Clowes, which makes perfect sense.

Movie Review
Shock Corridor
d. Samuel Fuller
Criterion Collection #19

  This is the second Samuel Fuller film in a row I've watched.  The other was The Naked Kiss.  Both have Constance Garnett as the female lead.  In The Naked Kiss she plays a reformed prostitute who murders here pedophile fiance.  In Shock Corridor she plays the cabaret singer fiance of the newspaper reporter who goes undercover into an insane asylum to solve a murder and pays... with his sanity.

Shock Corridor

  Seeing the two films back to back in the their glorious Criterion Collection editions it is easy to see what contemporary critics saw in his movies.  First of all, there is his outre treatment of mental illness- Shock Corridor has a black character who thinks he is white and repeatedly talks about lynching "niggers."   The Naked Kiss was the first movie to directly discuss pedophilia as a mental illness.  Fuller was clearly interested in the subject as a hook to sell movie tickets in the 1960s.  This psychological angle is something that has lasting interest to the film scholar community, but these are not dry, academic films, they are pulpy b movies and rewarding for reasons outside of their long term value- in the same way that you can watch a Quentin Tarantino or Richard Rodriguez film as a genre exercise or a film that plays with the conventions of genre.
Shock Corridor with the black character who thinks he's a white racist

 Same thing with Fuller, in fact it seems like Samuel Fuller was likely an inspiration to Tarantino.  I could probably look that up.  It certainly feels right.  There is a sort of studied artificality that surrounds Fuller's films that recalls the work of David Lynch, as well.  Think of Kyle McLaughlin in Blue Velvet.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Naked Kiss (1964) d. Samuel Fuller

The Naked Kiss (1964)
d. Samuel Fuller
Criterion Collection #18

   Wow so the Criterion Collection on Hulu Plus is really showing me how g-d- ignorant I am about film as an art form.  Really though I blame the distribution system for movies, which is not well adapted to the internet age.  I guess before last night I might have been able to identify Samuel Fuller as a film maker but I'd never seen one of his films and wouldn't be able to name any.  Fuller made B-movies but with a certain panache and identifiable stlyle that led to his identification as an auteur by French film critics in the 60s.  His peak is generally regarded to be the two Fuller movies that are part of the Criterion Collection: The Naked Kiss and Shock Corridor.

Samuel Fuller director The Naked Kiss

  The Naked Kiss is a weird wacky combination of noir and melodrama with a healthy side order of pedophilia.  The pedophilia angle is what gives The Naked Kiss, which is, prior to the emergence of the pedophilia angle, a standard issue prostitute with a heart of gold type narrative.

  Aspects of The Naked Kiss which stand out to a casual viewer are the cinemtography by Stanley Cortez (who shot the Magnificent Ambersons for Orson Welles) and the lead performace from Constance Garnett as Kelly, who comes across as as a uniquely "Fuller-esque" heroine.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Summertime d. David Lean w/ Katharine Hepburn

Katherine Hepburn in Summertime by David Lean

Movie Review
 d. David Lean w/ Katharine Hepburn
Criterion Collection #22

  One of the attributes of people I've learned about from the internet is that it is easier to get people to like another person then a thing.  People are more likely to "like" a band/artist then a record label.  People are more likely to "like" Jesus then Christianity. People like to like other people.  When you apply that principle to works of Art that are group efforts, it means that inevitably the Audience will be more interested in the specific people involved: the star Actor/Direction then the craft of an extremely complicated production.  In music, when a new record comes out, people are interested in the novelty of it and what it tells the Audience about the Artist.  Audience members do not care about how the record was produced and distributed.

Sad Katharine Hepburn from Summertime

 Summertime presents two obvious focal points:  the director David Lean and the star actress Katherine Hepburn. I should say it now: I have nothing but contempt for actors and their so-called "art."  I can recognize and affirm great Actors but I don't think it's a worthwhile avocation for an amateur artist, specifically that it's inferior to being an author, musician or studio artist. I have more respect for Directors and the most for the system of movie production itself, but of course, no one wants to hear about that last one.
David Lean shooting Summertime in Venice.

  David Lean is most known for his epics: Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, but the Britiish director had a "long and eclectic career" and this vintage 1950s  Rom with a dash of Com is a good example of his eclecticisim. Katharine Hepburn stars as Jane Hudson, a "fancy secretary" from Akron Ohio who is on a once of a lifetime trip to Venice...solo.  While there she befriends an orphan and has a brief love affair with Renato De Rossi a (married) antiques dealer who may or may not have defrauded her when she bought an "antique" vase from him.

  Ah, Italy. Besides Hepburn doing her thing as a lonely, over-educated white lady from the 50s, Venice takes center stage.  Having been to Venice during the off season, I can only contemplate with horror what a nightmare it must have been to shoot this film, in Venice, during the high season for tourism.  It seems literally insane/impossible not to mention like literally the most expensive undertaking outside of shooting a feature film on the Moon or at the bottom of the ocean- just my impressions from a visit to Venice during the dead of winter in 2010.
David Lean

 I wasn't a huge fan of Venice at the time, but it's hard not to like how Lean shows her off: the bridges, the canals, the plazas, the Churches, the other plazas.   Honestly, it seems like not much has changed in Venice since the mid 1950s.  Once again, the restored Criterion Collection edition was a sheer delight to behold.  Also, this is not a Criterion Collection edition where you need the special features, which are listed on the web page as "Original Theatrical Trailer" END OF LIST- so this is a good title to knock out without regard to missing the DVD only features.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Spring Torrents by Ivan Turgenev

Book Review
Spring Torrents
 by Ivan Turgenev
p. 1872
The Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading
Translated by Constance Garnett
with an Introduction by Mary Albon

   Really, the history of the reception of Russian literature in the English speaking world begins and ends with a single person, translator Constance Garnett.  Between the 1890s and 1930s Garnett translated dozens of Russian novels into English.  The list of Garnett translated works includes all of the hits of Russian lit:  Anna Karenina, Crime and Punishment, Fathers and Sons, The Possessed etc., etc.  Thus, when you rsead a Russian novel in English today, you are most likely reading a public domain edition of a Constance Garnett translation.  It's a testament both to her skill and the market for public domain translations of foreign language novels that her versions are still read today.

  Spring Torrents is yet another Russian novella from the 1870s.  Turgenev wrote Torrents about a love affair between a young Russian nobleman and the daughter of an Italian confectioner living in Germany.  The Russian seeks a buyer who his estate- to finance his marriage- and is seduced by the prospective buyer- a decadent and wealthy Russian noblewoman of peasant parentage.  Unlike the bigger hits of 19th century Russian lit, Spring Torrents is a mere one hundred and fifty pages, and the breezy tone is closer to an English novel from the middle part of the 19th century then other heavy Russian novels in the same time period.

 It's nice to read a breezy Russian novel from the 1870s because, let's face it, War & Peace, Anna Karenina,  Crime & Punishment and the Brothers Karamozov are some heavy fucking lifting, from a readers perspective.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Dirty Beaches - Casino Lisboa (Official Video)

 So proud to be a part of this!  Dirty Beaches Drifters/Love Is The Devil is in stores today in the EU/UK, tomorrow in the US.  US tour this fall.

Walkabout (1971) d. Nicolas Roeg

The Australian desert is a lead character in Nicolas Roeg's Walkabout (1971)

Movie Review
Walkabout (1971)
 d. Nicolas Roeg
Criterion Collection #10

  The more Criterion Collection films I watch the more I realize that my interest lies just as much with the Criterion Collection itself as the individual films in the collection.  I'm interested in the order of release, why they chose the films they released as well as the business side of the Criterion Collection.  At the same time, though having all these Criterion Collection titles available via streaming on Hulu plus is almost like a relief, particularly since I only need to invest a couple hours in a film (vs. 2-20 hours on a book depending on the length.)

Jenny Agutter plays the unnamed "girl" in Walkabout by Nicolas Roeg.

  Walkabout is a stunning outing by director/cinematographer Nicolas Roeg (Australia), produced by the guy who made Clockwork Orange.  It tells the story of a teenage girl and her kid brother, who are abandoned in the outback when there Father commits suicide on a after school outing.  After they are abandoned, they come across an Aborigine who is actually on a real Walkabout- an Aboriginal coming of age ritual that involves the young Aborigine roughing it in the desert for six months.
Lucien John plays the unnamed "boy"- the younger brother of the girl in Walkabout (1971) by Nicolas Roeg
      The source material is a short story that is a kind of Australian analogue to Swiss Family Robinson.  In the original story, they are the sole survivors of a plane crash, here Roeg chose the suicide of the father as the catalyst, making the film a good deal darker then the book in the very first act.  The desert functions as an additional character- and a striking one at that- Roeg intersperses the story of the two children with beautiful shots of the sky and desert wild life.  It makes Walkabout an unforgettable journey, and a journey I would highly recommend, especially if you are wasting your life binge watching network television on Netflix.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Enchanted Wanderer by Nickolai Leskov

Book Review
The Enchanted Wanderer
by Nickolai Leskov
p. 1873
Russian Classics Series Progress Publishers p. 1958

  Here's a good example of an author I would have never read were it not for the 1001 Books To Read Before You Die (2006 ed.) list.   The Enchanted Wanderer was a tough get: no Kindle edition, no Oxford World's Classics edition, doesn't exist as a stand-alone volume, etc.

  There are several Russian entries on the list that are Novellas and not full fledged Novels.  Many of these Russian hits were initially published not as serials but rather in a single printed journal/magazine.   These publications were small editions and rarely repressed.  The initial press of The Enchanted Wanderer was unusual in that the first run of the Journal it was printed in sold out, requiring a second pressing.

  Leskov is closer to the works of Gogol vs. the Tolstoy/Dostoevsky end of the spectrum of Russian novelists of the mid 19th century.  Like Gogol, Leskov's The Enchanted Wanderer harkens back to an earlier mode of storytelling rather then mirroring the developments taking place in England during the early to mid part of the 19th century.

   Leskov's Enchanted Wanderer character, the narrator of the story, tells his listeners about his crazy-ass life: his start as an indentured serf, hitting the road with gypsies, working as a horse conisseur working for the Russian army, being kidnapped into slavery by Tartars, escaping from that slavery, working for a nobleman again as a horse picker... and... that is basically it.  You get a pretty rich picture of the Russian scene outside the major capital.  In particular his depiction of the vast Russian steppe is unique in Russian literature to this point, as far as I have read/know.

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