9 items from 2014
One of the great secrets of film studies programs is that you can kinda teach yourself. At least, when it comes to the history of film. The back catalogue is vast, and filled with films that don't require a pamphlet to enjoy them (although some do, and I won't be listing them here). The point is just to watch. The films included in this edition of Streaming Recs show how even movies made 100 years ago (which is about a millennium in cinema time) can still make us laugh, scare us, and engage us with the fantastical. What makes silent films so beautiful is that they are pure cinema -- the acting and the directing mean everything, and words are secondary to the visualizations. Hit the jump for a sampling of some of the silent era's best, and catch up on prior recommendations here: Volume 1: Dysfunctional Families, and Volume 2: Road Trips. »
- Allison Keene
Though The General is the highest ranked comedy in Sight and Sound’s recent poll of ‘The Greatest Films of All-Time’, it is interesting to note how it failed to recoup the costly production in 1927. An expensive bridge-destruction rivalling The Bridge on the River Kwai and casting armies of Union troops and Confederate’s fighting in a raging war clearly took its toll. With the financial success of Battling Butler, Buster Keaton confidently took on a larger budget and made a comedy that, in scale, only Charlie Chaplin could rival. It was only in the 1950’s and beyond that audiences realised how perfectly placed and beautifully balanced The General is. The acclaim it has accumulated and achieved in the last sixty years is not without merit – and now is the time to see Keaton’s masterpiece.
Keaton plays Johnny Gray, »
- Gary Collinson
Inside Llewyn Davis (15)
Bob Dylan hadn't written Like A Rolling Stone when this is set (New York, 1961), but Isaac's eponymous hero could almost be the inspiration. He's the archetypal drifter: a complete unknown with no direction home and little prospect of realising his folk-star dream, despite, or perhaps because of, his artistic integrity. The Coens let us know exactly how it feels. This is their most mature drama to date: subdued, sincere, bleakly funny, and as finely crafted as we've come to expect.
August: Osage County (15)
Heavy acting artillery is positioned for a full-on awards assault, with Streep's malign matriarch marshalling her fractured family for some mourning and bloodletting. »
- Steve Rose
There’s a clip on YouTube in which an elderly Buster Keaton grabs a train as it pulls into the station, making it look as if the veteran silent film actor is physically forcing the train to stop. After a brief moment he grabs the train again and throws it back along the track in the other direction. In this split second, Keaton perfectly demonstrates what made him such a master of his trade. Intensely curious, Keaton had an understanding of his surroundings and a sense of comic timing that few actors have come close to matching over the last century. ’The great stone face’ could make a joke out of seemingly anything, and this was never more evident than in The General, now widely regarded as Keaton’s greatest film, which is rereleased this week following a stunning 4K restoration.
It wasn’t always so highly praised, on its »
- Matt Seton
Buster Keaton's pioneering 1926 film, now rereleased, more or less invented the action movie and looks even more startling than ever
The pioneering genius of Buster Keaton's 1926 silent film The General – now on rerelease – looks even more startling than ever. With his athleticism, precision and comic timing, Keaton more or less invented the action movie here and, despite its modest running time, this has an epic ambition. If remade, like Peter Jackson's King Kong, it would probably be double the length. Keaton is Johnnie Gray, a locomotive driver in the south during the civil war, who has the long hair, dreamy gaze and slight build of a romantic poet. When his engine, "the General", is stolen by northern saboteurs, Johnnie single-handedly journeys behind enemy lines to retrieve it and rescue the woman he loves: Annabelle (Marion Mack). She had in fact declared herself disgusted by his failure to enlist, »
- Peter Bradshaw
Slapstick Festival | The Loco London Comedy Film Festival | Rybczynski: Exploring Space | CarnyVille
Slapstick Festival, Bristol
With Buster Keaton back in cinemas (The General is on reissue and there's a retrospective at London's BFI), it's a good time to brush up on silent comedy, and this festival, celebrating its 10th anniversary, has done much to spread the word, or maybe the subtitle. This year Charlie Chaplin takes his turn in the spotlight and marks the 100th anniversary of his Little Tramp incarnation, with Omid Djalili introducing an orchestra-backed screening of City Lights at Colston Hall on Friday. The seen-it-all crowd will be more intrigued by celebrations of forgotten stars such as Constance Talmadge, Raymond Griffith and Max Davidson. More up to date, Tim Vine explains why he loves Benny Hill (Watershed, 26 Jan), and Phill Jupitus asks Paul McGann and Ralph Brown about the making of Withnail & I (Bristol Old Vic, 26 Jan).
Various venues, »
- Steve Rose
Perhaps Scorsese has more of a right than anyone to make a banking epic in the mould of a crime epic – and sure enough, this is Gordon Gekko, GoodFellas-style: a sprawling, seriocomic, voiceover-tracked rise-and-fall with a morally dubious hero. Excess is the name of the game here, to the point there's actually an excess of excess; endless choreographed tableaux of cash, drugs, cars, naked women, shouting men and celebrity cameos. These regular shots of energy keep the story buzzing, even as they bloat the running time, but Scorsese is aiming for greatness here, and there's no reining him in.
Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus (18)
- Steve Rose
In this latest run-down of the most popular posters on my Movie Poster of the Day Tumblr—covering the last four months of daily posts—I’m not leading off with the number one most liked and reblogged poster (the Hitch-centric Rear Window, below) because that was the main poster in my loquacious posters post a couple of months ago. So I’m starting with the second most popular: a superb retro take on Gravity by artist Peter Stults which was one of a number of alternative takes on the film commissioned by the UK magazine ShortList back in October.
The rest of the top 20, shown in descending order, are a pleasingly eclectic grab bag, with posters from nine different countries and seven different decades. Three of my very favorite recent discoveries appear all in a row: that French La notte, »
- Adrian Curry
Simon Columb kicks off our Buster Keaton month with a short introduction...
In his definitive book on Silent Comedy, Paul Merton, 88-pages in, titles a chapter “Enter Buster - and Others”. Many would imagine Buster Keaton, with Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, are front a centre in a guide on the era. Indeed, while Chaplin is an icon, it is Keaton who holds critical favour. The end of his life was marred by financial struggle and yet now, many consider Keaton superior to Chaplin in his intelligent direction, innovative techniques and everlasting tone of comedy. In 1917, when Charlie Chaplin was well-known, Buster Keaton made his screen debut in the Roscoe Arbuckle short “The Butcher Boy”, hence his late introduction in Merton’s book. If Keaton was told in 1917 that he would be known in the same capacity as Chaplin, he would surely laugh it off as simply ludicrous. Or he’d stare at you blankly. »
- Gary Collinson
9 items from 2014
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