Thursday, 4 September 2008

Fantastic Film Posters #3

Designed by Luigi Martinati

Released post-war in Italy, and somehow this shows in the faces of Bogart and Bergman.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Parallel Programming #2 - David and Bathsheba / The Lady is Willing

David and Bathsheba

And immediately the endeavour is thrown into jeopardy, even though Bazin had warned us already. Critically Bazin explains 'Apparently they [Hollywood 'super-productions'] belong to series whose general mediocrity has been noted once and for all.' It is true that Hollywood product is often maligned and that a great amount of snobbery existed (when this was written) and still exists now. But to choose David and Bathsheba as an example of one of the exceptions is to me, mind-boggling. Not even the Technicolor was pretty or the sets grand. The two saving graces for films of this ilk. There were some unusual 'neo-realist' type outdoor scenes, but they were short and not particularly important. Perhaps these were what endeared Bazin so much. I shouldn't have chosen the most aesthetically pleasing screenshot from the film, as it's really not characteristic.

He explained that films like these, 'juggernauts', were too overburdened by their publicity to receive their deserved dues from critics. But it is absurd to praise a film simply because other critics do not, even if they are prejudiced against it from the outset. It has to stand on its own terms as a good film. It is easy to see where Truffaut got his inspiration from, to become such an antagonistic polemicist, courting controversy. But I do not have Bazin's review of the film, so I cannot say what he found so good about it, I can only be suspicious that he found anything good about it! He says it is a production reminiscent of those pre-war Hollywood masterpieces (presumably Wyler) in terms of technique, and character.


Supposedly a filmmaker comparable to Preston Sturges, it is probably a bad film to introduce someone to as a first Leisen production. I haven't seen a single good review for it and I found it dreadfully dull, but unfortunately it is the only Leisen film available on dvd. Marlene Dietrich kidnaps a baby (yes, really, and no, there are no legal or moral ramifications) and gets MacMurray, a paediatrician(!), to marry him, so that she can somehow adopt the baby (I don't know how either...), bribing him with a rabbit laboratory, he falls in love with her, the baby gets ill and he performs the life saving operation. PUUUUUKE!!! It really is quite a vile film.


I'd already seen Senso -- not a fan of Visconti at all, not sure why yet, I think I detest his characters. And L'Atalante of course (Vigo, the most sublimely sensuous of all directors, maybe), both screened the day before. I've also seen Rossellini's Voyage in Italy, which I'm not a fan of either (God, I deserve to be shot by cinephile shooting squad!), I swear there are films I like I swear it! Just not Rossellini's proto-Antonioni wandering film. At least it inspired films I do like.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Fantastic Film Posters #2

Designed by Anselmo Ballester.

For my money, the best Classical Hollywood era posters came out of Italy. And here's a great example, for On the Waterfront. Needless to say, I don't need to extoll the virtues of this film, or more particularly, Brando's performance. That cab scene was probably the first time that acting ever moved me.

These posters are so vastly different to what is produced today and so much more compelling. It's easy to see how they could work as advertising (whilst still being artfully made), but it is unimaginable these days, that anyone would be compelled to see a film by a poster.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Parallel Programming #1 - I Vitelloni


It is Fellini's 1953 film that inaugurates this series of "parallel programming", a concept which partly inspired this blog. These posts should be short and will be like little informal diary entries, to serve as mementos and digestifs, to help mull over the respective films. Added to this the "parallel programming" will introduce me to films that I may not have otherwise watched, and in cases where I have already seen one of the films scheduled (Bazin's champions or otherwise) I will make note of it, although most films scheduled will be unobtainable, as the Cinematheque is good at giving retrospectives and screenings of neglected films and filmmakers.

To the film at hand. This post coincides with the reopening of the Cinematheque, if not my viewing of the film.

Much has been made of this film being the prototype for the "slacker" film, but I'm not sure there is much of a lineage between it and the loosely defined genre. What is of course striking is Fellini breaking away from neo-realism, concentrating on a frivolous middle class milieu, with very slight hints of his more zany style to come and eventual dispensing of realism altogether. This is Amarcord without the range of characters and the extravagant style, his fascination with small town life is quite compelling and at this point, not populated by grotesques, at least not physically.

So if parallels with American slacker films are exaggerated, what is it similar to? With the recent talk of dream double bills, I started to think and then it hit me. Billy Liar (and the British new-wave, certainly the attitude towards women). Billy Liar, Tom Courtenay's character, is so eerily similar to Fausto Moretti (the main character along with Moraldo, who is also the narrator; I think that's right....) and some of the plot elements are strikingly similar too. I simply couldn't believe that the writer hasn't seen it. Billy Fisher is a composite of Fausto the womaniser, Moraldo the dreamer, and the playwright, yet it is with Fausto whom Billy truly shares his characteristics. Small town life is envisioned well in both, both characters have no respect for their bosses and lose/quit their jobs (although there is no great Shadrack! scene in Vitelloni). For the Italians, as with the British, railways are very important and provide a link to The City. Where Billy half-heartedly tries to go to
London, Moraldo succeeds in catching his train to Somewhere.

I must add that Nino Rota's score was quite wonderful, not amazing, but better than most scores. Also, Fellini's use of Rimini, his home town, makes it more personal and he would get better and better at this as he went on, culminating in the wonderful Amarcord. None of that horrible Cinema Paradiso nonsense.


The rest of the
27/08/08 --- Needless to say, the Leisen and the Becker are unavailable and amazingly, there remains no dvd at all of Stroheim's Greed. There was a screening on Arte of the 4 hour version; along with Napoleon, are there any more anticipated releases? Perhaps the next few years will see their belated re-release. I suppose we shouldn't hold our breath. Rashomon, of course I have seen, but I'm afraid it's narrative innovation did little for me I have to be added to the few who are immune to its wonders (is Rivette among them, or did I imagine that?).

I must stop using parenthesis so much....

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Fantastic Film Posters #1

Designed by Leopoldo Metlicovitz (1868-1944)
Here is a wonderful Art Nouveau style poster for the awe-inducing epic of 1914, Cabiria.
It's available on dvd from Kino, so if you haven't seen it, get a copy and be amazed by the moving camera, and just generally sublime pre Griffith epicness of it all.

It was great when posters didn't carry slogans, quotes, and cast and crew lists. So much more effective and beautiful. It's interesting to note that the screenwriter Gabriele D'Annunzio is given top and sole billing.

The Irony of The Endeavour.

The Conundrum of Choosing What to Watch

It recently occurred to me to start using this blog again. And in doing so I've decided to use it primarily for a type of game, gimmick and play on the blog's name. I have decided to do some "parallel programming", where I watch films that have recently been screened at the Cinematheque Francaise.

I have already watched one for this endeavour, Fellini's I Vitelloni, which I shall make a post for. I also have a copy of David and Bathsheba waiting to be watched. Both of these films form part of the cycle 'Histoire Permanente du Cinema: Le Regard de Bazin' and the latter is talked about in an article in this months (Reflections for an Interval, discussing what type of films deserve to be talked about and why).

Bazin ends the article by explaining that 'We should like readers not to expect us to provide spiritual direction, nor a catalogue of films that must be seen, but simply to offer thoughts on film events, which it then remains to them to situate in relation to the diversity of film genres and, of course, their personal tastes. Thank you in advance.'

I wonder what Bazin would think of my endeavour then? And all the people flocking to the CF to see films because of his stamp (and their greatness too, but a lot of them are now unknown).

It's especially funny that the film I should choose to watch next is David and Bathsheba, the very film the end of the article concerns itself with and a film that a priori I do not like.

Saying that, there have been a great many films that I thought I wouldn't like and that I loved when I saw them. So Bazin probably knows my taste as well as I do. And as long as I don't hold him accountable for watching a 'dud' (a la his L'Observateur readers) then I don't think he'll mind that we're using his 50-60 year old reviews to decide what films to watch.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Filling the gap(s). The new British labels.

So, if Artificial Eye and Tartan genuinely are facing problems and a possible decline in the quality of films they distribute, who's filling their shoes?

The newest of these companies is Mr Bongo Films, a music label that has branched into film. They describe their ethos as 'digging up lost classics from across the world.' Sounds nice and ambitious and their initial releases are exactly that. Filling the gaps is precisely what they are doing, with each release so far having a big auteur name to sell it.

Available now are The Adversary (Satyajit Ray), Story of a Love Affair (Antonioni) and I Am Cuba (Kalatazov). The films announced are equally pedigreed; Identification of a Woman, L'Avventura (Antonioni), Saragosa Manuscript (Has) and Black God White Devil (Rocha). Where labels like Artificial Eye and Tartan have largely shied away from canonical releases recently, focusing on contemporary films, it is pleasing to have a label so intent on plugging the holes that desperately need to be plugged. Considering the severe lack of Ray, Antonioni and Cinema Novo in the UK, releases like these are gratefully received.

Another ambitious world-cinema label that has emerged is Soda pictures. Soda seem to be concerned primarily with contemporary cinema (big name auteurs again) and thank God, because nobody was picking up these films before they came along. Recent releases include Close-Up, which was previously only available from Facets in one of the worst transfers ever produced (Facets really are Satanic, they go out of their way to make their films look like shit). There is also the R2 debut of Little Dieter Needs to Fly. Other recent releases include the extremely welcome Klimt, After Life (Koreeda), and Matthew Barney's Drawing Restraint 9, giving those of us who don't live near a major art gallery a chance to see some of his much talked about work. Another example of a label releasing films from under-represented filmmakers. The fact that Ruiz doesn't have more films available is mind-boggling and it's infuriating to think that if a label like this didn't exist, Klimt would probably go unreleased for a stupid lenght of time.