Dedicated to classics and hits.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Criterion Collection Reviews: 2014

   I'm ready to call it on the Criterion Collection project.  It's simply impossible to acquire the titles and devote the time it would require to watch the films.  The reviews I have posted are often my least inspired work, and I would say that there is little audience for mid 20th century foreign film.  That audience that does exist is a specialist audience, and these movie reviews were never particularly sophisticated, let alone well written.

Movie Review
Night and Fog (1955)
d. Alain Resnais
Criterion Collection #197

  Just clearing out my Hulu Plus Criterion Collection queue here at the end of the year while everyone is off on holiday!  Night and Fog positive: It's only 30 minutes long!  Night and Fog negative: It is super about the Holocaust and has much contemporaneous newsreel footage (including, I think pro-Nazi German and French footage) depicting the actual Holocaust: Jews being loaded onto trains, arriving at the camps, their suffering at the camps and of course a bunch of emaciated corpses.  I don't have any Holocaust survivors or victims in my family but I grew up going to Sunday school and at my Reform synagogue in Northern California Holocaust education was maybe the most important component.  Holocaust and Israel.  I've been to Holocaust museums in Washington and Berlin.  I've been to the Anne Frank house.  I've done everything BUT go to a concentration camp, but Night and Fog seems to be a sufficient replacement for the actual experience.

  Personally, I don't find "the" Holocaust to be particularly unique, Genocide seems to be endemic to the human species, it just so happens that the Germans chose a target and a means that left them holding the moral bag.

Stray Dog (1949)
d. Akira Kurosawa
Criterion Collection #233

  Stray Dog is a police procedural Kurosawa released the year before his 1950 break-out Rashomon.  His other major contemporary crime films were from the 1960s: High and Low (1960) and The Bad Sleep Well (1963).  I think you can make the case that Kurosawa's crime films are easier to watch than the period/Samurai stuff that he is famous for.  One of the major achievements of the Criterion Collection period is to keep almost Akira Kurosawa's entire output "in print" and available to stream on Hulu Plus.

  I think the argument that you make for Kurosawa is that he is the Japanese equivalent to Shakespeare: the single Artist the reader must understand to understand the art of the Artists nation. In this way, the crime thrillers are significant since they show Kurosawa working in the present.  The present is very close to the surface in Stray Dog, set in the immediate aftermath of World War II. Rice ration cards are used as currency, and Police Detective Murakami (played by a young Toshiro Mifune) is a solder freshly returned from the end of World War II.

  The story is set in motion when Murakami has his gun lifted from his jacket pocket on the bus coming home from target practice. Its loss sets off a frenzied search by the distraught Detective to find his missing weapon.  Murakami is paired up with the older sage Sato (Takashi Shimura).  The pairing of Shimura with Mifune was a delight, but the real star of the movie is Tokyo in a pre-boom state that provides an unfamiliar perspective on Japan's largest city.

 The scene most often referenced comes when Murakami goes undercover to try and find his gun.  The panoply of misery approaches anything in Italian neo-realism.  The Criterion Collection essay by critic Terrence Rafferty calls Stray Dog Kurosawa's "neo realist" crime drama and that is largely true.

Movie Review
The Golden Coach (1953)
 d. Jean Renoir
Criterion Collection #242

  Sometimes I'm watching a Criterion Collection title and I'm like, "OK, I guess so."  Such is the case with Jean Renoir's "Spectacle Trilogy;" it's not really a trilogy, but the designation of The Golden Coach, Elena and Her Men and French Cancan as such makes sense, since all three are colorful comedies with quality female leads and not much plot. This films- all three of them- are comedies in the Shakespearean/ Elizabeathan/Classical sense in that they are stories that have a happy ending, they are comedies not tragedies, but they are not "comedies" in the sense that we use the term today.

  For The Golden Coach, based on a French play which debuted in 1829, this classical, theatrical source material is key to understanding the film.  If you watch this movie applying film genre standards of the 1950s and 60s, you will be disappointed and likely think The Golden Coach artistically worthless.  On the other hand, if you regard The Golden Coach as kind of a meta-fictional take on performance, taking into account the play-like mise en scene and glorious technicolor costumes and locales, you might pass an agreeable hour and forty five minutes on the couch.

 Originally produced simultaneously in three different languages, the Criterion Collection version is in English, so you don't have to read it.  The underlying play and this film is set in colonial Peru.  A touring troupe of actors plays for the Viceroy, who becomes enraptured by Camilla (played by Anna Magnani) the lead singer/actress in the troupe.  He decides to gift her a solid gold coach he's had imported from Europe to Peru, but he is not alone in his affections, having to compete with a local bullfighter and one of the other troupe members.  This competition for Camilla's attention sets the plot in motion, and your enjoyment of the machinations will likely be tied to your appreciation of 19th century theater pieces.

Movie Review
La commare secca (1962)
 d. Bernardo Bertolucci
Criterion Collection #272

  Bernardo Bertolucci is an Italian film maker better known for this work within the Hollywood system.  His best known films are the multiple Academy Award winning epic, The Last Emperor (1987) and the racy Last Tango in Paris (1972).   He's also had a host of box office duds: Stealing BeautyLittle BuddhaThe Dreamers (from 2012?)   His later success and foreign citizenship makes him a virtual lock for the early, lesser known films, of major directors category within The Criterion Collection, at La commare secca is especially worthy because the story is by another giant of Italian cinema, Pier Pasolini.

  What stands out about La commare secca compared to other Italian films of the same time is the vivaciousness of the camera work.  Unlike other early 60s directors from Italy, the viewer is not bored to tears sitting through tedious, carefully framed scenes of existentialist dialogue.  Although Bertolucci and Pasolini denied ever seeing it, you can't watch La commare secca and not thing of Rashomon, by Akira Kurosawa.

  In Rashomon,  the story of a murder is told through the varying viewpoints of several witnesses, all of whom tell a different story about the same sequence of events.  So to in La commare secca, the strangulation murder of a prostitute is told from the varying viewpoints of several witnesses, all of whom, it seems, have something to hide or a reason not to be forthcoming.  Unlike Rashomon, La commare secca ends with the audience seeing what really happened and the apprehension of the murderer, putting this movie more in the category of police procedural.

  Movie Review
Boudo Saved from Drowning (1932)
d. Jean Renoir
Criterion Collection #305

  This is the third Jean Renoir film from the Criterion Collection I've watched.  The other two: The Grand Illusion (1937) and Elena and Her Men (1956) are "classic" Renoir and "late" Renoir respectively, so that would make Boudo Saved from Drowning "early" Renoir. Renoir is one of those Artist who is known but not watched, a denizen of film studies courses and one night revivals at repertory theaters in places like New York, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area.  Jean Renoir is not riding a recent wave of interest for any reason, there are no A-list Hollywood actresses set to star in reboots of his old films, he's not a particularly cool guy beloved by cineastes.

  Jean Renoir's light touch is fully on display in Boudo, shot in 1931, when film cameras, sound equipment and principles of films creation made keeping a light touch difficult. If you look at Boudo's immediate contemporaries in The Criterion Collection, all you see is German Expressionism and silent American comedies by Chaplin and Harold Lloyd.  Perhaps the most appropriate comparison is Chaplin, since Boudo, played by Michel Simon is a quasi-lovable tramp who turns the staid and predictable world of bourgeois book seller Lestingois up-side down with his irascible behavior.

  The central incident of Boudo Saved from Drowning is in the title of the film.  Lestingois, looking at the river through his telescope, sees Boudo try to kill himself by jumping off a bridge.  He runs across the street, saves Boudo, and brings him back to his book shop for an attempt at rehabilitation.   In its original version as a play in Paris, Boudo was perceived as a kind of satire on the comedy of manners that would have been well familiar to early 20th century audiences.  Boudo is a wacky outsider written to stir the pot (and plot.)

The Sword of Doom (1966)
 d. Kihachi Okamato
Criterion Collection #280

I took about a month off of the Criterion Collection project because I was roughly half way through the 400ish titles that they make available to Hulu Plus subscribers. One of my insights from this off period is that you can't seriously watch the Criterion Collection without appreciating each constituent element, Japanese cinema and Italian cinema to name two consitutent elements that give me trouble.  In the past, I've deluded myself into thinking that readers don't care, but when I actually go back and check the page views for the Japanese Literature and Italian Literature (which both includes films) I see that there multiple posts between the two with more than 100 page views, and a few with 500 or more.

  For example, Yojimbo (1961), directed by Akira Kurosawa, has 506 page views. Amarcord (1973), directed by Federico Fellini has 516 page views.  Salo/120 Days of Sodom (1975) by Pier Pasolini isn't far behind, with 461 page views.  The multiple posts with 100-200 pages views include L'Avventura(I), Kwaidan(J), Boy(J), The Night Porter(I), L'eclisse(I, Branded to KillDouble SuicideSamurai III: Duel at Granyju Island and In the Realm of the Senses (400 page views).  The average number of page views for a run of the mill Criterion Collection review is between 15 and 40, so all of these films are at least twice as interesting to the Audience for this blog as a normal post.

  The Sword of Doom is a Jidaigeki film, one of two genres in mid 20th century Japanese film.  A loose translation of Jidaigeki is "period drama" or "historical drama" and it is a genre that precedes the medium of film, with antecedents in theater.   Most of the classic Japanese films familiar to Western viewers are from this genre, and they include the entire sub-genre of Samurai films.  The Sword of Doom is set at the very end of the timer period typically covered by a Jidaigeki film, with action between 1860 and 1865.  It is late enough in history that a handgun plays a part in the story, and the Samurais it depicts seem to just be barely hanging on to relevance.

   The lead in The Sword of Doom is the masterless Samurai Ryunosuke Tsukue(played by Tatsuya Nakadai.)  Ryunosuke is a bad dude, the first scene has him killing an elderly man for little or no reason.  The first major incident involves him banging the wife of an opponent he is facing in a fencing match.  He finds out about it, divorces the wife, then kills the dude.  It gets darker from there, and ends up with Ryunosuke going mad, plagued by the spirits of all the people he's killed.

 Did I mention The Sword of Doom is two hours long?  Yeah.  The Criterion Collection product page description emphasizes the role of director Kihachi Okamato as the Sam Fuller to Kurosawa's John Ford. I haven't seen enough of the films of any of the directors involved that comparison except Kurosawa, but I would agree that the composition/mise en scene is extraordinary and agree with the observation that Okamato makes the most of the extra wide 2.35/1 aspect ratio used in Japanese film at the time.

Movie Review
Scanners (1981)
 d. David Cronenberg
Criterion Collection #712

  CLASSIC Cronenberg movie, came out in July 0n the Criterion Collection, fucking LOVE IT.  I've seen Scanners maybe a half dozen times at this point.  I am a BIG David Cronenberg fan, and I've seen many of his other films multiple times.  I've seen: Eastern Promises, in Cincinnati, eXistenz, in Washington DC, Crash I watched on the Left Bank in Paris, Naked LunchDead RingersVideodrome, The Fly.  They are all more or less great movies, and any characterization of Cronenberg as a "horror" or genre director really misses the genius of his films.

  For any serious Cronenberg watcher the early work of The BroodVideodrome and Scanners is vital. All three are independent films with "B-movie" type descriptions, but all three transcend their budgetary limitations to create enduring works of art, which bear multiple re-watchings.  Scanners is, in terms of plot mechanics, a kind of espionage thriller with an overlay of the now familiar mixture of psychology and horror that now defines much of his work.

   The wooden performance of Stephen Lack as Cameron Lake, the main "Scanner" of the film, might at first be taken as a poor performance, but is later explained by plot details.  The plot involving a nefarious conspiracy between a quasi-governmental private corporation and evil Scanners is classic Cronenberg- even at the earliest stages.

El Hedi ben Salem plays Ali, in Rainer Werner Fassbinder's 1974 film, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul

Movie Review
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974)
d. Rainer Werner Fassbinder

  This is a fairly conventional Hollywood style melodrama about an interracial couple in 70s Germany, he is a Moroccan (read "Black") Berber immigrant, she is a much older German woman. They experience the kind of super racist prejudice you would expect in 1970s Germany, overcome that racism, drift apart and then get back together. There's nothing overly creative in terms of the script, the cinematography or the construction of the narrative but the relationship at the center of the film is worth watching and the sensitive treatment of an older woman/younger man dynamic on top of the interracial aspect is emotionally compelling.

Movie Review
Overlord (1975)
d. Stuart Cooper

  File Overlord in the category of "great movies from other countries that didn't get a fair shake in the United States."  Either they weren't distributed at all- a common experience, or they weren't appreciated at the time, were poorly marketed, etc.  You don't normally think that an English language World War II picture shot by Stanley Kubrick's cinematographer a decade before Full Metal Jacket came out would fall into any of those categories, but Overlord wasn't even released in the United States in 1975.  Chalk it up to bad timing?  The "fall of Saigon," when North Vietnamese forces overran our Southern allies, was April 1975, so I would wager American audiences didn't want to hear about war at that period- let alone the people who buy films for American distribution.

  Overlord is an elegant combination of documentary footage of World War II combined with a narrative about a young soldier who faces his premonitions of death as he prepares to be a part of the D-Day invasion.  Criterion Collection re-released their edition in May of this year, and Kent Jones wrote an insightful essay to accompany the product page.  He posits that the animating spirit of the narrative portion about the young soldier facing death recalls the World War I era work of Ford Madox Ford.  A kind of matter of factness and stoicism that have to do with understanding the world is not fair but that there is nothing you can do.

  Jones also discusses the incredible amount of documentary footage that Cooper had access to via the British government.  Apparently, Overlord started as a simple documentary using that footage, and Copper then convinced people to let him make a larger film. 

Movie Review
The Bad Sleep Well (1960)
d. Akira Kurosawa

  I've got 29 posts under the Japanese Literature label.  24 of those are Criterion Collection titles, and two are posts about Japanese film but not movie reviews. Of the Criterion Collection titles, Kurosawa directed eight of them. Of those eight, the most relevant film for comparison is High and Low (1963), a more-or-less police procedural with noir-ish elements.  At two and a half hours, The Bad Sleep Well is more Shakespearean than Genre influenced in terms of pacing and plot.  The inter-generational conflict that extends to murder and certainly includes betrayal pays an obvious debt to the machinations in Hamlet.

  The violence of The Bad Sleep Well is as disturbing as anything else you are likely to see in Kurosawa's body of work. A young-ish Toshiro Mifune stars as the son of a man who killed himself to save his corporate employer a potential set back at the hands of the government.  Mifune, playing Koichi Nishi, is the bastard son of the dead executive.  He switches identities with a friend, manages to marry the crippled daughter of Vice President Iwabuchi, then sets about bringing various parties to justice. Again, the two hours plus run time limits any interest in this film to the margins of those who watch Kurosawa movies or older Japanese films. It's not one of the top 3 Kurosawa films to watch, and probably not in the top 5 either.  Top 10, sure.

 Compared to High and Low the plot moves at a somber pace, and the setting is not as interesting as the regional location in the other film.  Also, the Shakespearean influence inevitably drag down a film.  

Wavy concrete forms with biologically influenced designs are characteristic of Gaudi's work, which combined Gothic cathedrals with William Morris to concrete an utterly unique architecture in Barcelona.

Movie Review
Antonio Gaudi (1984)
 d. Hiroshi Teshigahara

  This is an hour and ten minute (mostly) wordless documentary/visual poem on the subject of Catalan Architect Antonio Gaudi.  Gaudi's work is a major tourist attraction in Barcelona, which itself receives upwards of three million tourists a year, many of which make a visit to one of the major Gaudi sites in Barcelona, the Familia Sagrada Cathedral and Park Guell chief among them.  The camer work is slow and loving and the fact that Teshigahara gets most of his shots without anyone else IN THEM is enough to warrant a viewing even if you've been to Barcelona and seen the buildings/park in the central area.  Another reason to watch this film is that Teshighahara gets footage of Colonia Guell which has a Gaudi designed crypt, and what looked like an actual housing development of single family dwellings- I can't find that anywhere on the internet.

   Towards the end of the film there is actually an interview with someone who narrates the back story the the Familia Cathedral, still unfinished, which must be the only "must-see" Catholic cathedral in the last century. Gaudi was actually deeply Catholic, and lacked the radicalism of the contemporaneous artistic avant garde which launched the career of Pablo Picasso, as well as several lesser known writers and artists in the late 19th and 20th century.

"Ich bin bereit für meine Nahaufnahme."  or "I'm ready for my close-up," Rosel Zech plays the Sunset Boulevard esque Veronica Voss in Fassbinder's excellent 1982 film of the same name.

Movie Review
Veronika Voss(1982)
 d. Rainer Werner Fassbinder

    The Criterion Collection description calls Veronica Voss "satire masquerading as melodrama," but it could equally be described as movie that looks like a take on Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard until the last 20 minutes.  Sunset Boulevard is of course the immortal 1950 film starring Gloria Swanson as faded star Norma Desmond. Sunset Boulevard is a noir that starts with a body floating in a swimming pool and works back to front in time.  Veronica Voss eschews any narrative trickery, saving its surprises for a more conventional plot twist which takes place near the end of the film.

   The story involves a brief affair between Voss, a famous Nazi era film star who is living in post war Germany, mired in obscurity, and as it turns out, madness, and Robert Krohn (acted by Hilmar Thate), a rough and tumble sportswriter (Fassbinder was a soccer fan as it turns out) who takes the place of the private eye character you typically associate with noirish plots.  He already has a live in girlfriend, who participates in his affair with a kind of world weary bemusement.

  Although there are some stylistic touches in the lighting and composition, the story is easy to follow and eminently watchable if you can get over reading the subtitles.  The performances are compelling, and the echo of Sunset Boulevard grounds the watcher in a releateable narrative.  Veronica Voss is worth checking out on Hulu Plus.

Movie Review
Schizopolis (1996)
d. Steven Soderbergh

  So like, lesser films of greater film makers- that is a big Criterion Collection category, presumably because they are available and lack prior DVD editions.  Schizopolis was made during Soderburgh's self imposed Hollywood exile after his break-out film Sex, Lies & Videotape, before he settled into the type of guy who could drop 100,000,000 grossing pictures in back-to-back years.  Schizopolis actually stars Soderburgh himself in a double role.  The phenomenon of doubling is seemingly at the center of 400 years of narrative story telling- the popular "early" example is Doctor Jeckl and Mr. Hyde but there were doubles long before that.

  Soderburgh plays Fletcher Munson, a speech writer for a Scientology type religion/marketing outfit.  his double is a dentist, Dr. Jeffrey Korshek.  There are long periods where one or both of the characters speak in an un subtitled foreign language.  An early scene between Munson and his wife is conducted entirely in generic descriptions of verbal interactions, "Unenthusiastic greeting. Terse description of day at work, etc." spoken by both characters.

    Soderburgh adds extra edge by casting his soon-to-be-ex wife as the love interest of both characters.  Schizopolis is kind of funny the way Godard is kind of funny, not very.

Paul Robeson playing "Bosambo" in the regrettable Sanders of the River

Sanders of the River (1935)
d. Zoltán Korda
From Paul Robeson: Portraits of the Artist boxed set, Criterion Collection #369

  Included in the excellent boxed set, Paul Robeson: Portraits of the Artist, Sanders of the River is not what you would call a career highlight.  In fact, the description on the Criterion Collection site calls Sanders of the River, "deeply embarrassing" to Robeson- as in- he was deeply embarrassed by the resulting film, which can only be called a "glorification of the British Empire" while simultaneously being deeply insulting to Africans.  I suppose there is some value to Sanders of the River as the first film that Robeson made after departing the United States for England, but as a watchable film? Negatory.

What is Fellini-esque? Evil clowns are Fellini esque.

Movie Review
I vitelloni (1953)
d. Federico Fellini

  I vitelloni is an example of one of the big Criterion Collection categories:  Early works by film makers who would late go on to create masterpieces, where the early film has some but not all of characteristic attributes of the later masterpieces. Depending on the number of non-masterpiece early works and the level of interest in the film maker, Criterion Collection may be inclined to relegate non-important early works to the Eclipse collection (see Ingmar Bergman) or not do Criterion Collection editions at all.

  Fellini didn't have many non-masterpiece early works.  His first widely acknowledged masterpiece is usually considered to be Nights of Cabiria, and that was released in 1957.  Before Nights, he only released five feature films, and I vitelloni is second.  There is nothing "Fellini-esque" about I vitelloni is as much as that word describes a certain style of film making that equally combines the realistic and the bizarre/grotesque.  There is nothing grotesque about these characters except perhaps the caddish behavior of Fausto, as the cheating husband in a group of 20 something lay abouts in a small Italian town in the years after World War II.  Working a job is anathema for these lot, and their wives, fiances and mothers seem to put up with their loafish behavior with a shrug.

  I vitelloni didn't do a whole lot for me, emotionally.  There was little to distinguish it my mind from other Italian films of the 50s and 60s, though perhaps the fact this was early 1950s makes it somewhat "ahead of its time" in terms of neo-realism, which is avowedly NOT a style that one associates with "Mature Fellini."

  Unlike Michelangelo Antonioni, Fellini is actually concerned with incident.  At his neo-realist "best" the pacing is anything but slow and moody.  He's also not as "real" as Roberto Rossellini, even at this early stage. I vitelloni does not "push the envelope" in terms of limiting camera equipment and using natural, outside lighting.  Roughly speaking if you are trying to assign the apex for each of the big 3 Italian filmmakers you are talking 40s-early 50s for Rossellini,  Antonioni in the early 60s and then Fellini in the mid to late 60s.

Movie Review
Kanal (1957)
d. Andrzej Wadja
Part of Adrzej Wadja: Three War Films #282

  Kanal is part of the thematically linked "Three War Films" trilogy by Polish cinema lion Adrzej Wadja.  Criterion Collection only has four Wadja films in the collection, but if you investigate him with a quick internet search it's easy to see that he is truly the Dean of Polish filmmakers, with four Academy Award Nominations for Best Foreign Films (no wins) and lifetime achievement and specific film awards inside Europe.

  I imagine judging Wadja's career based on the three war films, all released between 1955 and 1958, is similar to judging Martin Scorcese based on Mean Streets (1973), Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974) and Taxi Driver (1976):  You can do it but it will leave out a ton of good work, and really only give you an idea of the starting point of Scorcese or Wadja.

  Wadja's war trilogy takes place both during (Kanal and A Generation) and immediately after (Ashes and Diamonds) the war.  All three concerns acts of resistance with the moral playing field sliding from "clear"(Kanal: Polish resistance fighters, during the Warsaw uprising, struggling to escape via the sewers of Warsaw.) To "somewhat murky" (A Generation: Youths, living in occupied Poland, collaborate with Nazis and joint the resistance.) To "fetid (Ashes and Diamonds: Hit men roam post-Communist Poland for and against the new Polish Communist government.)

  Of the three Kanal is the only film that has the familiar outlines of a "Hollywood" film.  The claustrophobic atmosphere of the Warsaw sewers that envelops the final hour of the film draws the viewer in and makes the story memorable in a way that the other two films do not.   A main difference between Kanal and an analogous Hollywood escape picture is the absence of a happy ending.

Chipmunked cheeked actor Joe Shishedo is the Mifune to Suzuki's Kurosawa.

Movie Review
Youth of the Beast (1963)
 d. Seijun Suzuki

  Japanese cinema, Seijun Suzuki, we are in the heartland of the Criterion Collection with Youth of the Beast (1963.)  Youth of the Beast was off-beat director Suzuki's breakthrough film.  He followed Youth of the Beast with Branded to Kill (1967) and Tokyo Drifter (1966).  Those two films are his generally acknowledged twin masterpieces: anarchic gangster movies infused with the same ethos as the neo-noir of the French New Wave, and an obvious source of inspiration for contemporary directors like, oh, I don't know, Quentin Tarantino.  Youth of the Beat is a direct precursor for Branded/Drifter, with many of the same stylistic flourishes that feature in those films in less extreme/more embryonic forms.

  The use of be bop for action sequences, a hall mark of Suzuki, appears here, as does actor Joe Shishedo, the hero of Branded to Kill.  Shishedo is to Suzuki what Toshiro Mifune is to Kurosawa: An actor whose appearances go hand in hand with any discussion of the film maker, or the films.  Here, the plot is baroque in the gun-fighter double crossing two opposing sides over the course of the film with violent results.  Its a plot used by directors from John Ford, to John Huston, to Akira Kurosawa, etc.  Rather it's the style of Youth of the Beast that draws the eye, and considering the end results of Branded/Drifter, Youth of the Beast is worth taking seriously.

Frank Merriwell was a popular pulp fiction character who served as a model for Lloyd's hapless Freshman, Harold Lamb.
The Freshman (1925)
d. Sam Taylor & Fred Newmeyer
starring Harold Llloyd
Released March 25th, 2014

  A couple things to know about The Freshman going in: One- it was Lloyd's biggest box office hit. Two- it references the 20s American College culture very heavily. It was hard for me to watch The Freshman without thinking about the relationship between the explosive growth of college students and the explosive growth of literature itself in the 1920s.  By the end of the 1920s, you had a mainstream literary tradition that was still intact from prior to World War I.  There were active German and French language scenes and works.  There was literary surrealism, already a decade old.  There was experimental modernism- which had a huge decade with both Ulysses and the prime time of Virginia Woolf.  There was the Harlem Renaissance, detective/pulp fiction.  That is seven sub-genres of novel based literature that were creating classics in the 1920s.

 Film, on the other hand, was still largely a popular medium without pretensions towards "high art."  The film most instrumental in creating art-film as a category, The Passion of Joan of Arc by Carl Th. Dreyer, was only released in Europe in 1928.  While D.W. Griffith had made quantum leaps in terms of the presentation of narrative film in the teens, his movies were hardly "art film."   And of course, neither was The Freshman- they were films meant to entertain that just happen to be, in retrospect, masterpieces.  Lloyd was one of the three great silent comedy icons alongside Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.

  The restored edition released by Criterion Collection, with a new soundtrack/score(by Carl Davis,) is a marvel to watch.  Rarely is the before/after difference so great for non-Criterion Collection editions than in the earlier silent era films, where existing copies can be quite bad.  Stephen Winer's accompanying essay- readable at the Criterion Collection site is a must after any watching.

 On balance, The Freshman is a good deal more crucial than a dozen 60s Italian neo-realist masterpieces simply because it documents a crucial transition in American culture (increase in college attendance) albeit in a light hearted and comical way.

Andrzej Wajda.

Movie Review
A Generation (1955)
by Andrzej Wajda

  A Generation is an entertaining World War II resistance picture from the perspective of Communist partisans fighting the Nazi's in Poland.  It's an idealized picture to be sure, as representative of the official ideology of the Polish government in the mid 1950s as a corresponding Hollywood film about World War II would be of the American government.  Despite the non-art film atmosphere and generally laudatory portrayal of the Polish Communist, A Generation still packs a gritty punch, with the female love interest getting hauled off by the Gestapo in the last five minutes of the film.   There is also a highly memorable visual of partisan bodies hanging from electricity transmission polls.

  A Generation is part of Wajda's World War II trilogy- the other films are Ashes and Diamonds (1958)- about post War shenanigans and Kanal (1957.)  Wajda is one of two European film makers to do a post World War II trilogy- the other is Robert Rosselini (Rome Open City(1945), Paisan(1946) and Germany Year Zero(1950) 5/6ths of the way through both of them, I feel confident asserting that World War II was perhaps the first true example of narrative film documenting a world wide current event.  Certainly, World War I was not that event.  Narrative film of the 1920s wasn't sophisticated enough, nor was there a truly global event, aside from the Great Depression.  Likewise, the development of narrative film in the 30s and 40s was still incremental and suffered from technical limitations.

  After World War II, there was a great deal of surplus equipment floating around- Europe, the U.S.  There was also a good deal of industrial capacity that was diverted from war material, and raw materials that were no longer needed for war.  In the area of film, this meant that actual film and the equipment to shoot film (and the people to operate the equipment) suddenly came on the market at the same time that the narrative technique of cinema had evolved to the point where a "War Movie" was plausible and affordable.

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