Dedicated to classics and hits.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Branded to Kill (1967) d. Seijun Suzuki

Annu Mari as Misako Nakajo in Branded to Kill (1967)l d. Siejun Suzuki

Movie Review
Branded to Kill (1967)
d. Seijun Suzuki
Criterion Collection #38

  It's clear six movies in that one of the primary purposes of the Criterion Collection is to canonize films that are, at time of publication, outside the canon of generally recognized classics.  This is a well established tactic of the marketing of cultural products, whether it be anthologies with critical notes or reissues of out of print records, the resuscitation of a product that has either a minimal market or is currently unavailable in the the market is always attractive because the acquisition costs are low relative to the production of a new art product in the same format.

Annu Mari as Misako Nakajo in Branded to Kill (1967)l d. Siejun Suzuki

  It makes sense that so many of the Criterion Collection films are either foreign or from "B-Movie" genres, because these are the films that are most often going to be ignored by the American critical/popular Audience for movies.  One characteristic foreign and b-movies have in common is less-then-perfect distribution, including, frequently,  lags of years between production and distribution.  If an art product is produced in year 1, and not shown to any Audience until year 3, there is less of a chance of the work connecting with that initial Audience.
Joe Shishido as Goro Hanada, #3 hitman in Japan.

 But one of the things I've learned already is that I've actually seen many/most of the Criterion Collection films already:  Grand Illusion, Seven Samurai, The Lady Vanishes, 400 Blows, The Killer, Hard Boiled, Spinal Tap, Silence of the Lambs, Sid and Nancy, Dead Ringers, Robocop,Alphaville, M, Nanook of the North, Time Bandits, Armageddon, Fishing With John (TV Show.)   That takes me up to this movie, Branded To Kill, Criterion Collection #38.
Annu Mari as Misako Nakajo in Branded to Kill (1967)l d. Siejun Suzuki

  Anyone can see from that very partial list that there are a bunch of films that are hardly traditional classics: two John Woo movies, Spinal Tap, Silence of the Lambs, Sid and Nancy, Dead Ringers, Time Bandits- and... AND- Armageddon- directed by Michael Bay- in the first 50 titles.  Clearly what we're dealing with here is what the Criterion Collection could get the rights for.

Koji Nanbara as Number One Killer: Best role ever???

 That set, Branded to Kill, directed by Seijun Suzuki is a solid Criterion Collection gem, one of two Seijun Suzuki films that appear back-to-back 38-39 in the Criterion Collection.  Seijun Suzuki is known as a great rebel of Japanese cinema and kind of seems like the Japanese equivalent of the New Wave bad boys of French Film or more recent Auteurs like Quentin Tarantino or perhaps even Eli Roth.  Suzuki is so well known that I think it's warranted to quote the Criterion Collection biography of Seijun Suzuki itself:

According to critic Manohla Dargis, “To experience a film by Japanese B-movie visionary Seijun Suzuki is to experience Japanese cinema in all its frenzied, voluptuous excess.” Suzuki played chaos like jazz in his movies, from the anything-goes yakuza thrillers Tokyo Drifter and Branded to Kill to the daring postwar dramas of human frailty Gate of Flesh and Story of a Prostitute to the twisted coming-of-age story Fighting Elegy; he never concerned himself with moderation, cramming boundless invention into his beautifully composed frames, both color and black-and-white.

  Accurate description. One of the most interesting aspects of Suzuki, besides the cinematography of this purportedly "B" movies, is their status AS B-Movies.  Film makers are almost always working as employees of a film producing company, and this can lead to artistic disputes and outre behavior on the part of the Artists.  For example, Suzuki was famously fired after Branded to Kill came out because the movie "made no sense."  That is pretty epic.

  Watching Branded to Kill is a sequence of "gee whiz" moments as you recognize the enormous influence that Suzuki has had on a generation of Hollywood directors.  As it turns out I've already seen Tokyo Drifters, but I would also write an amazing review of that film as well, if asked.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Diabolique (1955) d. Henri Georges Clouzot

Simone Signoret as Nicole Horner in Diabloique (1955) d. Henri Georges Clouzot

Movie Review
Diabolique (1955)
d. Henri Georges Clouzot
Criterion Collection #35

  OMG this movie is so good, but unfortunately it's got a plot twist that makes talking about it almost impossible without ruining the film for someone who hasn't seen it.  Henri Georges Clouzot is a good example of a film maker who benefits from Criterion Collection editions of his work.  I realized while reading an article Terrence Rafferty wrote about this release that I had see another of his films, La corbeau, about the impact of anonymous gossip in a small town, in a non Criterion Collection version and it was scratchy and unrestored.

This is Vera Clouzot as Christina Delasalle

   The tag to get you to watch this movie is that this was a story that Hitchcock wanted to film and "got away."  It has elements of film noir, suspense and horror that are characteristic of what would become "Hitchcockian" film making, but was made before Hitchcock himself had rounded into full, mature, artistic form.

  The plot of Diabolique: A spurned wife and beat-up mistress conspire to murder the brutal man they share in common, if classic film noir but as Diabolique moves through it's nearly two hour run time, elements of the supernatural begin to creep in, leading to the blow up ending.  It is quite a ride, and the performances of the lead characters: Paul Meurisse as the brutal husband/love Michel Delassalle, Simone Signoret as the scheming blond mistress Nicole Horner & Vera Clouzot as Christina the spurned wife- are all top notch.
She wears these sun glasses in the opening scene to disguise a black eye inflicted by her lover- should a solid look!

 The value of the Criterion Collection Edition here is that Clouzot was a filmmaker who was very much a victim of the rise of the Nouvelle Vague- it was unfortunate, he was targeted mostly because he was on top vs. being an embodiment of the film culture that Truffaut, Godard etc despised.   Making a Criterion Collection of Diabolique cements his proper place in the canon of film.  Fun movie- worth a watch on Hulu Plus for sure

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Hand of Ethelberta by Thomas Hardy

Nothing generates pageviews like a painting of English Novelist Thomas Hardy.  He is a real panty dropper.

The Hand of Etherberta
by Thomas Hardy
p. 1876

  This is just a grim, depressing slog through a literary hellscape.  I've still got like, three more Thomas Hardy novels to go, and I'm really not sure why this one made it.  Actually, that's not true... I get it.  Hardy's Ethelberta is a more interesting than usual Victorian heroine.  The details of her biography should be enough to raise eyebrows:


1.  Daughter of a butler, she eloped with the young son of the family who employed her as a governess   That son soon died, leaving her a widow as a child.
2.  Placed under the protection of her mother in law, she authors a book of light verse which becomes all the rage in London, giving her a literary career, but alienating the mother in law.
3.  In London, she schemes to marry a wealthy husband while purposefully obscuring her humble origins... with great success

  Hardy is of course most well known for his depiction of rural settings, but this book is almost full blown London, down to a fashionable Bloomsbury address.  Hardy's London in The Hand of Etherlberta is recognizable as Victorian London: descriptions of room interiors and fashion make this book very contemporary (for 1876.)  Again, this is a far cry from the usual when it comes to Hardy.

  The marriage centered plot with a healthy dose of inheritance and class distinctions is classic Victorian Novel.  It's hard to think of an English novel from this time period that doesn't implicate all THREE themes between the covers.   It's clear to me that this consistency is evidence and perhaps proof that the AUDIENCE for these novels was mostly young women who were looking to marry up: the literate daughters of the working and middle classes in England in the 1870s.   Hardy succeeds in The Hand of Ethelberta because he addresses the concerns of this Audience in a convincing and sympathetic manner.

  It's worth noting that Hardy is perhaps the first novelist to use the old "private marriage" move, where a gentleman "privately" marries a woman from a lower class and the marriage is either entirely a ruse with no legal merit, or unproveable as a matter of law.  This was a fairly common motif in the 18th century, and it got so bad that the British Government actually outlawed the traditional private marriage and required open publication of all marriages.  Thus, the culmination of The Hand of Ethelberta, with relatives of both bride and groom racing to forestall the marriage between Ethelberta and Lord Mountclere, involves actually getting to the Church in question and finding out they are too late because the marriage information has been published.

 So it's not really a private marriage per se, but a late 19th century reboot of an old theme. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Andrei Rublev (1969) d. Andrei Tarkovsky

Andrei Rublev d. Andrei Tarkovsky

Andrei Rublev (1969)
d. Andrei Tarkovsky
Criterion Collection #34
185 minutes/Russian subtitles

  From  one perspective, watching a 3 hour film with Russian subtitles seems totally insane, but is it any more insane then watching six episodes of "Cheers" back-to-back on Netflix?  Andrei Rublev is a quality example of a work of art I would literally have never seen were it not for its inclusion within the Criterion Collection. Director Andrei Tarkovsky is best known in the west for his sci-fi epic Solaris, but this is has to be his masterwork.

Andrei Rublev d. Andrei Tarkovsky

  Andrei Rublev is theoretically the biography of Russian Icon Painter Andrei Rublev, who lived in the 14th and 15th century.  Little is actually known about the guy, and his biography is simply a cover for sweeping- SWEEPING- historical drama about Russian life in the Middle Ages. The black and white film used to shoot Andrei Rublev makes you think it was shot in the 1920s, and then Tarkovsky pulls away for an epic crane shot with hundreds of Russians and Tartars on horses and you're like, "Ah- no- not made in the 1920s."

Andrei Rublev d. Andrei Tarkovsky

  Watching Andrei Rublev is like watching a film from another universe- only a Communist country would both fund such a work AND ruthlessly suppress it prior to release.  One of the benefits of state funded art I suppose.  Over the three hours I spent watching Rublev- and you have to actually watch it because it is in Russian, with English subtitles, I was trying to imagine what it must have been like being an Artist in Communist Russia- there must have been pros and cons.

  The stand out moments in the epic are the scenes of wanton cruelty of the Czar and Tartars alike towards the peasants.  The cruelty is depicted so matter of factly that it can reach even people who have been desentizied to depictions of cruelty and violence.  It's like seeing Birth of a Nation only the troops are raping people and gouging their eyes out before the heroic Klan arrives to save the day.

   The final chapter of Andrei Rublev tells the story of Fyodor, who is drafted by the Czar to make an enormous bell for a church based on his representation that his dead father, the bellmaker, had imparted his secrets to Fyodor before death.  Then you watch this kid make this enormous church bell- essentially on pain of death- and then when it works, he breaks down and confesses that his father never told him the secret of making large bells, and he basically made it up as he went.  It's a rare cinematic moment, equal to anything that Hollywood has thrown out there, and the fact that it comes at the end of this dark, savage movie about life in the Russian Middle Ages makes it all the more exceptional.

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