Friday, December 10, 2010

Remembering the Movies, Dec. 10 - 16

Every Friday, we look back at films released 10-100 years ago this week.
Visit Remembering the Movies to further peruse the past

As the man above taught us, simplicity is a virtue. With this excuse in mind, there's no personal review this week, even though that's a feature I intend to continue down the line (truthfully, I was unexpectedly busy, and I did not have as much time as usual to prepare the post). As always, plenty of pictures, several videos, some quotes, and a wide variety of choices: everything from a saintly pacifist to a squadron of bloodthirsty teenagers - with room for a spinach-guzzling muscleman, an Israeli freedom fighter, and Cher. As for the biggest hit of this week's history - contra the man from Assisi, who probably would have said love meant humility and a recognition of simple virtues and submergence in the divine glow of God, Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw tell us what love really means. (Cue the hankies and/or barf bags, though I'll diplomatically forswear both, never having seen Love Story...)


10 years ago (December 16, 2000)

"Pop quiz: What would happen if someone, say a Japanese filmmaker named Kinji Fukasaku, threw TV’s 'Survivor,' cinema’s The Running Man, and literature’s Lord of the Flies into a big cinematic pot and stirred? Yup, you’d have Battle Royale, a Japanese film about a class of ninth graders who, according to a newly passed law called the BR (Battle Royale), must go to an obscure island and participate in an decidedly sick and deadly game." - Gary Tooze, DVD Beaver

"Japanese cinema has recently given us some brilliant violent parables of cultural malaise - from the survivors of a bus hi-jacking in Shinji Aoyama's Eureka, to the sadistic fetish-princess of Takashi Miike's Audition. But neither has the effrontery and the sheer outrageousness of this extraordinary machine-tooled piece of provocation from veteran yakuza director Kinji Fukasaku. It's a futuristic nightmare; it's a satirical vision of Japan's fear and horror of its recalcitrant, disorderly younger generation; it's a pulp-sploitation shocker with guns, knives, blood and kinky school uniforms. But what it is most of all is violent: very, very violent, the kind of violence which is not ironised in the manner we have become accustomed to in the past 10 years, but presented in an eerily formal melodrama complete with stately, Kubrickian passages of pop classics on the soundtrack." - Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian



20 years ago (December 14, 1990)
"I had the feeling, watching Mermaids, that it was originally headed in another direction. The material is 'funny' instead of funny, and we don't laugh so much as we squirm with recognition and sympathy. It's a story told by a teenage girl whose mother avoids becoming known as the town tramp only because she changes towns so often. In the movies, eccentric parents can be palmed off as colorful originals. In life, especially to an adolescent, they can be excruciating embarrassments... This story is told by the director, Richard Benjamin, within a veritable thicket of art direction, which creates an odd world in which the realistic and the bizarre exist side by side. The movie makes a comparatively sedate companion piece for Edward Scissorhands, which also creates a fantasy universe out of exaggerated details of recent popular culture. The central pop culture detail here is Cher, who, like Bette Midler in the somewhat similar Stella, does not entirely suffer her famous persona to disappear inside the role." - Roger Ebert

(That's my dad in the sombrero.)
Mermaids (1990)

30 years ago (December 13, 1980)

"Sometime the components of a picture seem miraculously right and you go to it expecting a magical interaction... But [Popeye] comes off a little like some of the Jacques Tati comedies, where you can see the intelligence and skill that went into the gags yet you don’t hear yourself laughing. Altman may have been trying too hard, taking the task of creating a live-action musical version of a comic strip (the screenplay was based on Elzie Segar’s Thimble Theatre) too literally... In cartoons, the creatures can do anything; their bodies don’t get in the way and can’t be hurt. But when you watch the actors in Popeye doing cartoon stunts, you’re aware of gravity and how difficult what they’re doing is. When you see an actor lifted up and put on a hot stove, the literalness is dumb and oddly unpleasant. Maybe certain kinds of jokes—especially the ones involving transformations and mayhem, and the ones that derive from the absence of gravity—need the shift in imagination that we make at a cartoon." - Pauline Kael
"…. [Altman’s] casting is good. If I say that Shelley Duvall was born to play Olive Oyl, I confirm my past reservations about her, I think; but since she is playing it here, she’s good in it." - Stanley Kauffmann
Popeye (1980)

40 years ago (December 16, 1970)
"The ersatz score put together by Francis Lai is so perfectly schmaltzy that one suspects the film was set to music first and then written... Love Story is very much [an] exploitation movie, cashing in on crying the way other movies cash in on sex." - Newsweek

"[Love Story is] another rare breath of fresh air in the smog of contemporary cinema psychoneurosis." - Variety

"Ali MacGraw's Disease: ...[A] movie illness in which [the] only symptom is that the sufferer grows more beautiful as death approaches." - Roger Ebert's Glossary of Movie Terms

(h/t The Hollywood Reporter Book of Box Office Hits)

Love Story (1970)

50 years ago (December 15, 1960)

"If this rapid-fire estimation of Mr. Preminger's effort to pack the guts of Mr. Uris' corpulent novel into a three-hour-and-thirty-two-minute film seems ambiguous and perhaps indecisive, it is because the film itself is an ambiguous piece of work, and the decisions that might have rendered it more cohesive and dramatically compelling were not made by the people who should have made them-namely, Mr. Preminger and Dalton Trumbo, who wrote the script. Obviously, these two craftsmen, in all sincerity, wanted to embrace as much as they could of the three main phases of the popular novel. That is to say, they wanted to tell, first, the important story of the truly Odyssean transport of a shipload of European Jews from British blockaded Cyprus to forbidden Palestine. That is a full-scale social drama and a saga of resolution in itself, with its many vignettes of individual courage weaving into a large—well, mosaic is the word." - Bosley Crowther, New York Times

"[Preminger's] enemies have never forgiven him for being a director with the personality of a producer. Perhaps they subconsciously resent him for not ruining himself with the excesses of a creative folly. Culture heroes like Sternberg and Stroheim and Ophuls and Welles have acquired, rightly or wrongly, a legendary reputation for profligacy. Preminger's legend is that of the cosmic cost accountant, a ruthless creature who will mangle the muse for the sake of a shooting schedule. The story is told in the trade of the day Preminger shot the Saint-Newman hilltop scene in Exodus. During the last take, the shadow of the boom fell across the couple. It wsa too late to retake it because the sun had gone. Preminger decided to let the shadow stand rather than return to the location the next day for a retake that would disrupt his shooting schedule. Some finicky aesthetes might write this decision off as sloppy craftsmanship, but for Preminger it is a question of survival. The fact is that he has not enjoyed a major success since Anatomy of a Murder in 1959. His frugality, and his frugality alone, has kept him from drowning in a sea of red ink. Almost alone of the new tribe of producer-directors, Preminger has accepted the responsibility of freedom, as well as the lesson of a shrinking market." -Andrew Sarris, "The American Cinema"
Exodus (1960)

60 years ago (December 14, 1950)

"One of the most interesting things about the film is that it seems to occupy the same kind of ambivalent, complicated medieval space, simultaneously realistic and stylized, that is the hallmark of Dante’s Divine Comedy (and that Ingmar Bergman was also to capture seven years later, in The Seventh Seal). On the one hand, the film is imbued with the rough graininess of neorealism, which allows us to feel the monks’ scratchy tunics and the drenching rain. Yet, at the same time, The Flowers of St. Francis flaunts its visual stylization. Rossellini used the art of the period as a kind of model or template to teach us how to watch the film, very consciously shooting it with the severe simplicity of medieval art. For example, at one point, Francis lies down in the mud so that the friars can walk on him and thus humiliate him; the arrangement of the bodies and the overall composition of the frame seem clearly taken from Giotto’s depiction of Saint Francis’s death, in the Arena Chapel, in Padua. Throughout, we see the monks in almost total isolation from any “real” world, functioning, like medieval art, symbolically, as an emblematic community of the possible. The shots are continually flattened to eliminate perspective, thus putting man and nature on the same level and suggesting the two-dimensionality of the highly symbolic space of medieval art, before the conquest of “realistic” Renaissance perspective, which entails an entirely different worldview. This pictorial flattening creates a kind of minimalist paysage moralisé out of the monks’ simple community, a stylized, antirealistic locus of genuine Christian kindness and joy." - Peter Brunette, "The Flowers of St. Francis: God's Jester" for the Criterion Collection

70 years ago (December 13, 1940)
 

"Comrade X does have King Vidor's direction and a  bright performance from Hedy Lamarr, the best the Siren has seen from Lamarr outside of H.M. Pulham Esq. (also, and not coincidentally, a Vidor film). It has Clark Gable mouthing phony platitudes about the proletariat, a concept that Gable understands is so inherently funny it should be underplayed. It has Felix Bressart and some great lines, including a couple of sideswipes at Communism that are even more explicit than Ninotchka. (Bressart: 'The communists have ideas. But they found out you can't run a government with everybody going around having ideas. So what is happening, the communists are being executed so that Communism should succeed.')" - Self Styled Siren

Comrade X (1940)

80 years ago (December 16, 1930)

"The farce is played well and the chemistry between Fritsch and Harvey is, as usual, great. Lilian Harvey looks particularly good in this film in very chic deco-esque costumes. From the historical viewpoint, it's fun to see Harvey driving on the Champs Elysee in Paris in some location shots. Additionally, she and Fritsch are given some good pop songs like 'Let Me Be Your Carmen', 'I'll Go Fiji' and 'An Affair On the Side Isn't For You'. The end takes place in a wild sort of hedonistic nightclub that adds to the curio aspects of this film." - Mark, IMDb


90 years ago (December 11, 1920)




"The only thing remotely interesting about this flimsy drama is the number of gorgeous outfits worn by its star, former serial queen Pearl White. White plays Mary Vantyne, whose husband, Andrew (Charles Waldron), doesn't make a lot of money. Her friend Isabelle (Dorothy Cummings) has married a wealthy man, Richard Lenwright (George Howard) and when the Vantynes attend a party at their home, Mary feels dowdy next to the other women. So she does what many a woman has before and since -- she goes out and buys a load of beautiful clothes.  ... This story, surprisingly, had a fairly long life -- first it was a successful play by Henri Bernstein, and then filmed in 1915 with Dorothy Donnelly before this version was made." - Janiss Garza, Fandango


 

The Thief (1920)

100 years ago (December 10, 1910)

"Though it wasn't made clear in the contemporary reviews, it's very possible that the star of this one-reel Essanay Western was the inimitable 'Broncho Billy' Anderson. Set in Arizona, the story gets under way as a 'good' cowboy argues with his 'bad' brother. The bad one is killed by an unknown assassin's bullet, whereupon the good one vows to avenge his brother's death. In so doing, the good boy clears his family's name (hence the film's title). A Cowboy's Vindication was probably filmed at Essanay's West Coast headquarters in Niles, CA." - Hal Erickson, About.com



6 comments :

Jaime Grijalba said...

"Battle Royale" is one of mys favorite japanese movies of all time, it's similar to a videogame in the best sense one can say, because it's entertaining, amusing and at the same time haunting and very telling of a generation (mine... well, not exactly mine, since in Japan, but I could relate to them somehow) and a society (again, an oriental civilization, but still).
The Saint Francis movie I'm pretty sure I saw when I was very little, so I don't remember much of it.

Joseph said...

Wow; Remembering watching Popeye :) And Flowers of St. Francis is a beautiful film.

JPK said...

I've been making a project this past year of revisiting Altman favorites and catching up on the ones I missed. Popeye was one of the latter. I couldn't imagine that a live-action version directed by Altman starring Robin Williams in 1980 could possible be worth the 114 minutes. But much to my surprise it was really very charming, riffing off of the old Fleischer originals more than anything. Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl is an absolute pleasure.

Judy said...

I remember enjoying 'Mermaids' and thinking Cher was good in it, though my memories of it are a bit hazy. I also liked 'Love Story' when I was younger - not sure if I still would now, though.

Joe Thompson said...

Another interesting group of movies. I saw Popeye at the Balboa Theater in San Francisco, soon after it had been split into two auditoriums. The movie was a mess. My primary memory is how little kid seated behind us dropped a bag of candy, perhaps Skittles. Each piece rolled loudly down the hard wood floor to the screen. It was more entertaining than the movie.

I too have avoided seeing Love Story, but I really enjoyed the Mad Magazine version, Lover's Story. By the way, this post encouraged me to dig around and find that there is a list of Mad movie parodies: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Mad's_movie_spoofs

Exodus was long, but it had its exciting parts, and a great score.

I look forward to seeing The Flowers of Saint Francis soon. I grew up in San Francisco, so Francesco has always been a favorite. I can't say more about the movie because I don't want to tip someone off about a Christmas present.

Comrade X sounds interesting, and it has Oscar Homolka, who was usually good. I have a similar eyebrow.

Thank you for mentioning Broncho Billy Anderson. Chaplin wrote some interesting things about him in his autobiography, and I have visited Niles many times. This movie was probably not shot in Niles. I don't think Essanay arrived till 1912. I'm not sure of the right dates, but it could have been shot in San Rafael (north of San Francisco) or Santa Barbara.

MovieMan0283 said...

Thanks, everyone.

Great find with the Mad spoofs, Joe - I grew up on those!