Dedicated to classics and hits.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

A Man Escaped (1956) d. Robert Bresson

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Movie Review
A Man Escaped (1956)
 d. Robert Bresson
Criterion Collection #650
Criterion Collection edition released March 26th, 2013

  Man it has been a boundary blurring few days in terms of this Criterion Collection project, what with the Criterion Collection uploading all these non-Collection titles to the Hulu Plus channel.  I even found one film, the recently released Hitler comedy To Be Or Not To Be, that is uploaded to Hulu Plus but not listed as such on the website, a kind of hidden new release.  The labyrinth gets deeper and deeper.   I don't want to even talk about the fact that they seem to have uploaded all 26 "Zatochi the Blind Swordsman" films at once.  I get anxious just thinking about the prospect of watching those Zatochi films.

  I also think it is the proper time to abandon the conceit that I'm only watching three films a week.  Who am I kidding with that?  Summer is over anyways, so it's not like I have some need to pretend that I'm out on vacation enjoying myself somewhere, as was the case for the last eight August's in a row.  Let's get real.

  Robert Bresson is interesting because he is the French filmmaker that Truffaut first cited in support of his theory of Auteur cinema.  A Man Escaped (1956) was based on a real incident involving the imprisonment of a member of the resistance and his escape from a Gestapo prison in the France of 1943.  the film is only indirectly about the war and occupation, however; directly, as with so many of Bresson's films, it is about a human being in isolation, physical as well as spiritual in this case.  The inner experience of the protagonist is refined to a pure, concentrated, intense expression. (1)

   A Man Escaped is actually the first of the six Bresson films within the Criterion Collection.  I enjoyed the solid rigor of the prison escape plot.  Throughout the entire film you do not see a single thing that the characters do not, giving A Man Escaped a near theatrical feel.  This is good for developing narrative tension, but bad in terms of mise  en scene and just general watchability.

Notes

(1)  This paragraph is a paraphrase/citation from Ellis History of Film, page 297.

Friday, September 06, 2013

The Ruling Class (1972) d. Peter Medak

Peter O'Toole as the right-mad 14th Earl of Gurnsey(sp?) in Peter Medak's surreal 1972 film The Rulling Class.

Movie Review
The Ruling Class (1972)
 d. Peter Medak
Criterion Collection #132

  The Ruling Class is so strange that it is hard to even describe properly.  It's clearly "from the 70s," it's British... Peter O'Toole plays the main character, there are elements of both musicals and horror films but the objective of The Ruling Class is clearly satirizing the landed aristocracy of England circa the late 1960s early 1970s.  So.... if you go in for 70s era class conscious satire with elements of music and horror The Ruling Class will almost certainly appeal to you.

 On the other hand, if you are a normal American who doesn't give a f*** about the UK let alone the UK in the 1970s,  The Ruling Class will leave you scratching your head.  The strange mix of elements reminds me of little else besides the Rocky Horror Picture Show.  The accompanying Criterion Collection write up is correct in calling Peter O'Toole's performance a :"tour de force."

  I gather from Ian Christie's article on The Ruling Class found on the Criterion Collection website that there is a whole bunch of stuff going on inside of The Ruling Class that I just don't have the background to appreciate.  My knowledge of 70s British culture is limited to the "rise of punk," "Monty Python," and sociologists of the Birmingham school and their pioneering studies of youth sub-cultures. (1)

   The Christie article references the "theatricality" of The Ruling Class and I can see that.  You could also call it "campy."   Either way it is a particular stylistic chracteristic of The Ruling Class that is kind of make or break in terms of a subjective appreciation of the film.  In other words, you either love it or hate it.


NOTES

(1)  I don't think I've ever referenced the Birmingham School but when I was in college I did a thesis on punk/straight edge culture and I think a lot of that stuff really seeped into my brain:

Birmingham School refers to the work of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS), which operated as a research center at the University of Birmingham (UK) between 1964 and 1988. The Birmingham School represents a decisive moment in the creation of the intellectual and institutional project of cultural studies, as well as a “cultural turn” in sociology. The substantive focus of the Birmingham School was popular culture as explored through the concepts of ideology and hegemony. Indeed, the work of CCCS contributed to the legitimization of popular culture as a field of academic inquiry. Among the substantive topics of research undertaken by CCCS were the mass media, youth subcultures, education, gender, race, and the authoritarian state. The media were of special significance insofar as the texts of popular culture in the contemporary world are forged within their framework. CCCS was founded in 1964 as a postgraduate center by Richard Hoggart and developed further under the leadership of Stuart Hall. It is during the period of Hall's directorship (1968–79) that one can first speak of the formation of an identifiable and distinct domain called cultural studies.

Boy (1969) d. Nagisa Oshima

The Boy, of Nagisa Oshima's Boy (1969)

Movie Review
Boy (1969)
d.  Nagisa Oshima
Streaming on Hulu Plus in Criterion Collection section, not Criterion Collection or Eclipse title.
(Not Available on Amazon)

  Boy directed by Japanese maverick Nagisa Oshima, went up on Hulu Plus streaming last week in the Criterion Collection section.  It's not actually a Criterion Collection release, nor is it part of an Eclipse DVD set.  But it is a classic Japanese film by the most interesting Japanese director I've seen beside Seijun Suzuki.  It's akin to a 60s Gus Van Sant film, focusing on a nuclear family of con artists who work there way from city to city pulling fake car accident scams.

 The Ellis History of Film has high praise for Oshima which I would echo, "Using narrative structures and techniques reminiscent of the French Jean-Luc Godard, Oshima is yet profoundly Japanese in his sensibility."  Boy was the most watchable Japanese film I've yet seen- it was like seeing a parallel universe of indie film making.  Oshima uses all the Godardian tricks, but he tells a compelling, tragic story rooted in human emotion and ideas about family.

  It was previously unavailable on streaming or DVD I believe (based on its absence on Amazon.com) so this is a big score for Criterion Collection on Hulu Plus, and hopefully it signifies a proper Criterion Collection release.  Oshima has some legitimate Criterion Collection/Hulu Plus hits.  In the Realm of the Senses is the number one popular streaming title within the collection (because it has sex in it?) and Double Suicide has a really low Spine number.  And there are six others- but Boy is new.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

News from Nowhere by William Morris

William Morris, age 36.




































Book Review
News from Nowhere 
by William Morris
p. 1890

  William Morris is best known today for his association with the Craftsman design movement.  For example, the home that I live in here in San Diego was built in 1913 and bears "Craftsman" type design features, like wooden floors and slatted wood walls on the exterior.  When we redid our fireplace, we used Craftsman inspired tiles for the design and at various times we had different kinds of "Craftsman" style furniture.  But Morris was simply a design theoretician- he actually made stuff and he also wrote a bunch, including News from Nowhere, his utopian/sci-fi novel about a Communist future which is nowhere near as interesting as that description just made it sound.

  I don't know what it is about utopian literature that makes it so deathly dull, but it's probably the same principle that lessens the power of films which require a voice over narrator to explain the plot points: exposition is boring/show don't tell.  News from Nowhere is essentially a 150 page dialogue/travelogue between the Rip Van Winkle protagonists and the happy residents of 21st century England, which resembles the kind of Utopia that Mao was shooting for during the Cultural Revolution:  A peasant heavy agricultural society with emptied out cities.

 Woo woo doesn't that sound like a BLAST?  We're not that far removed from the days when Communism was a powerful global force, but even now there is faint smell of ridiculousness to the more intellectual attempts to explain how a successful Communist society would function.  In News from Nowhere Morris describes a world without economy or industry, where everyone is (basically) happy and the Government has withered away (remember how that was supposed to happen after the end of the dictatorship of the proletariat?)

  The England of the imagined Communist future is a mirror of the England of the Medieval past that Morris found so intriguing: minus all the unpleasantness.  If you combine the backward looking novels of Thomas Hardy with Morris' past-is-future Utopia it is clear that at the turn of the 1880s/90s Nostalgia was already an established force in the market for literature.  Perhaps it always was.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

The Vanishing (1988) d. George Sluizer

Raymond Lemorne as played by Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu




































Movie Review
The Vanishing (1988)
d. George Sluizer
Spine #133


   There is nothing as sweet as a one hit wonder.  To think that an Artist could labor lifetime in their chosen field or fields and have their memory reduced to a single work in the collective consciousness of posterity.  And yet, most Artists never even have that one "hit," so cruel is the marketplace for art products and so short is the memory of critics and scholars.  The Vanishing is the one hit for director George Sluzier.  He had an entire career, with films made in Europe and America, but this is his legacy.

  The Vanishing is maybe not the scariest movie in the world, but it is among the creepiest.  The description typically is "Obsessed man searches for wife who disappears from French rest stop."  But the film itself depicts the viewpoint of the distraught husbands AND the kidnapper.  Thus, it is quite clear almost from the jump who the kidnapper is.  Instead, the focus of the film turns towards the inevitable meet up between kidnapper and husband.

  The kidnapper is memorably played as a straight bourgeois sociopath by Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu- his sly mannerisms and quiet self confidence inspired a chill in me as I recalled clients who had shared similar characteristics.  It's hard to understand how I could have missed this film before now.  So glad I got to see it, and you should to. DO NOT watch the American remake because it fucking sucks- they change the ending from sad to happy which is just monstrous.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Persona (1966) d. Ingmar Bergman

Bibi Andersson in Persona (1966) d. Ingmar Bergman

Movie Review
Persona (1966)
d. Ingmar Bergman
Criterion Collection #701
Uploaded to Hulu Plus Criterion Collection Channel on August 31st, 2013.
Criterion Collection release March 25th, 2014

ANNOUNCED AS CRITERION COLLECTION TITLE 12/16/13

   So I guess Criterion Collection is sitting on the rights to all these classic movies, because this is yet another film that was just uploaded into the Criterion Collection (onto?) Channel on Hulu Plus last week, but is not a part of the Criterion Collection or a special Eclipse DVD collection. Criterion's penchant for uploading films that are total classics but not part of the Collection itself is really rattling my original mission statement to watch "all the films in the Criterion Collection."  Persona is not in the Criterion Collection but I would feel foolish not writing about it, because Persona is maybe Bergman's best film... certainly the director's own favorite, and a movie that I found deeply compelling.

  The Ellis History of Film text book has this to say about Bergman, "As a film artist Begman tends to appeal most directly and strongly to those who aren't interested primarily in film art but regard film from the vantage point of the other arts, especially literature and drama."

  The plot of Persona is sparse: Liv Ullmann is a famous Actress who is struck dumb during a performance, and refuses to speak thereafter.  Bibi Andersson is the nurse assigned to take care of her at the beach house of Ullmann's treating physician.  While at the beach house, Andersson takes Ullmann into her confidence, only to feel betrayed when she reads a letter written by Ullmann to her Doctor describing Andersson as a specimen worthy of study.  Afterwards, the idyllic retreat turns into a twisted psychological torture session as Andersson seeks revenge.  Also she bangs Ullmann's husband.

  The most common interpretation of Persona is that it is a kind of Modernist horror film where the monster is the protagonist.  That is how I took Persona- both the first time I saw it and then this time.  In his book Images, Bergman wrote that Persona and Cries and Whispers were his two favorite works.  I also think they are the two best of his movies.  Really haunting and sticky resonating imagery.

Show Review: Yacht Rock Revue & Pacific Dimensions at The House of Blues

Yacht Rock Revue is an actual Yacht Rock cover band from Atlanta that exists, and, as it turns out, is incredible.


Show Review:
 Yacht Rock Revue 
& Pacific Dimensions at
The House of Blues HOLLYWOOD, CA.

   Yacht Rock Revue is The Beatles of the Yacht Rock "scene."  If you had to ask me, I would say that "Yacht Rock" as a thing that exists dates to 2005, when the online video series "Yacht Rock" appeared on line for the first time in March 2005. (1)  I would argue that after that series debuted there was an associated Yacht Rock scene that mostly consisted of DJ nights in your basic Top 20 markets in the USA.  Entirely domestic, with no international counterpart.  No original artists came out of it.  Something more then a meme, but less then a scene.  Peaked maybe in July 2007.  I did one post on Yacht Rock- July 2007. (2)

  If you had asked me before Saturday night the current cultural status of Yacht Rock I would have said, "Dead as a door nail!"  But man, did Yacht Rock Revue- an actual band from Atlanta that exists and played to a packed house at the House of Blues in Hollywood Saturday night- prove me wrong.  Turns out: Yacht Rock is not only alive and well, but in fact more popular then ever.  And Yacht Rock Revue fucking nails it.

  This show was both the best show I've seen all year and also the most depressing.  Here are like, hundred of people, Saturday night and what do they get excited about?  Yacht Rock covers from the 70s and 80s .  Wow. Couldn't help but think about the contrast between the reception accorded Yacht Rock Revue and what greets a typical indie band playing the Echo.

 So, so many Captain's hats.  And... this was unexpected... an ethnically diverse crowd?  I mean what? EVERYBODY LOVES YACHT ROCK.  Local DJ duo Pacific Dimensions opened the show with an exclusive set that blended non-duplicated Yacht Rock tunes with a wider selection of 80s party jams.  The crowd also loved that as well.

 The highlight of the Yacht Rock Revue show were the guest stars: The guy who sings "Brandy" and the principals of the band Player playing "their number one hit" Baby Come Back.  It was pretty special.  The name is so generic that it makes them seem almost more authentic.  Of all the things... Yacht Rock Revue.  But man they just nail every single song.

NOTES

(1) Yacht Rock Wikipedia entry:  Yacht Rock was an online video series following the fictionalized lives and careers of American soft rock stars of the late 1970s and early 1980s. The series debuted onChannel 101 at the June 26, 2005 screening. It placed in the top five at subsequent screenings until the June 25, 2006 screening, where it placed seventh and was canceled. The show remained a popular download on Channel 101, convincing the creators to make two additional episodes independently. The 11th episode, featuring Jason Lee as Kevin Bacon, debuted during a screening at the Knitting Factory in New York City on December 27, 2007 and was later included with the other episodes on Channel 101.[1] On May 5, 2010, the 12th and final episode of Yacht Rock was released onto YouTube and Channel 101.

(2) Vanished Empires July 2007: One of my sources on the 411 on what's hot right now is my "off line" "friend", Nicky Shingles, bassist of fifty on their heels. He's the chatty one! Nicky has turned me onto Aqua Teen Hunger Force- all kinds of shit, really. Anyways, one of the conversation topics over the last several months has been what Nicky calls "Yacht Rock." I'm not really sure what side of the "on the rise/on the fall" trend spectrum but my best guess is that "Yacht Rock" is a "buy". Yacht Rock is also really, really You Tube friendly- as this dope post by Music Snobbery aptly demonstrates. It would be cheesy to steal his vids- but please, go check out Chicago's "If You Leave Me Now", Seals & Croft "Summer Breeze", and of course- "Sailing" by the IMMORTAL Christopher Cross. Mom was a soft rock aficinado, shall we say? Lots of memories involving san francisco and volvos.

Music Snobbery is a NYC based music blog, but don't hold that against it...
and YACHT ROCK!!!

Gösta Berling’s Saga – Selma Lagerlöf


Book Review
Gösta Berling’s Saga
by  Selma Lagerlöf
p. 1890

  Gösta Berling’s Saga by Selma Lagerlöf is another delightful discovery: A magical realist type exploration of the world surrounding a group of Swedish steel mills and their surrounding communities, Gösta Berling’s Saga is an appealing read for any fan of the more established areas of magical realist literature as well as fans of world literature in general.  It's the expansion of the novel from the traditional playing fields of England, France, Russia and America that I find most exciting about moving from the 19th to the 20th century.  When you compare the English novels of the 1890s to the non-English novels from the same time period it's clear that some kind of a torch has already been passed in terms of experimentation and thematic expansions.

   Gösta Berling’s Saga combines the established tradition of the English/French/Russian novel with the mythic echoes of the Scandinavian sage.   Another Scandinavian writer who did the same thing later was Haldor Laxness of Iceland- both authors won the Nobel Prize for Literature.  Isn't that convenient? When a Scandinavian author wins the Nobel Prize for Literature, which is awarded by a Swedish panel.

  Even though the Saga is set in the 1820s the book carries plenty of witches, trolls, devil worship and evil bears that you can only kill with a silver bullet.  In other words, it is an enjoyable, readable romp, and worth taking in.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Closely Watched Trains (1966) d. Jiří Menzel

Jitka Bendová plays the object of affection in the 1966 Czech film Closely Watched Trains.



































Movie Review
Closely Watched Trains (1966)
 d. Jiří Menzel
Criterion Collection #131

  Closely Watched Trains reminded me of a Truffaut film crossed with an early/mid period Woody Allen film. In other words it is delightful.  Closely Watched Trains takes place in occupied Czech Republic during World War II. Milos Hrma is a sexually frustrated assistant station agent at the local train station.  He is buddies with the wily dispatcher Hubicka, and they are both under the thumb of crotchedy Station Master Lanska.

  Milos begins a relationship with the fetching young Conductor(ess?) Masa, but when he suffers an embarrassing set back in the boudoir he tries to take his own life.  I know, it sounds heavy, but everything is done with a light touch and there is plenty of humor.

  Closely Watched Trains is a testament to the existence of a Czech sense humor, which puts them one up on the Germans.  Does anyone have a recommendation for a German language comedy?  Anyone? No?




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