15 items from 2014
1929 was the end of silent cinema in France, the process of conversion beginning in earnest for the following year's releases. So what height of expressiveness had the French movies reached?
Quite a bit, if Henri Fescourt's epic three-and-a-half-hour-and-change adaptation of Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo is anything to go by. The novel is a cracking yarn, a bit of a warhorse perhaps but always reliable and dramatic, full of crimes, revenges, outrageous coincidences and spectacular reversals in the best nineteenth-century tradition. One would expect a movie to be, at best, bold and operatic, at worst, staid and stagey. But Fescourt, who had already made a vast version of Les misérables (1925), manages to combine the best of commercial cinema's dramatics with the innovations of the impressionist filmmakers, to create something strikingly modern.
Stop me if you've heard this before: hero Edmond Dantès is maligned by a fellow sailor, snitched on by a romantic rival, »
- David Cairns
Sidney And The Sixties: Real-time 1957-1966
Throughout the 1950s, Hollywood’s relationship with television was fraught: TV was a hated rival but also a source of cheap talent and material, as in the case of the small-scale Marty (1955), which won the Best Picture Oscar. These contradictions were well represented by the apparently “televisual” 12 Angry Men (1957), which began life as a teleplay concerning a jury with a lone holdout who must, and eventually does, convince his fellow jurors of the defendant’s innocence. Its writer, Reginald Rose, persuaded one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, Henry Fonda, to become a first-time producer of the film version. Fonda and Rose took basement-low salaries in favor of future points, and hired a TV director, Sidney Lumet, for next to nothing because Lumet wanted a first feature credit. Technically, there’s an opening bit on the courtroom steps that keeps this from being a true real-time film, »
- Daniel Smith-Rowsey
Directed by Jean Epstein
It’s hard to imagine that the house of Usher actually acts as a “house”. There’s very little in terms of warm, domestic quality about it: the halls are long and foreboding, the rooms are empty and grand, and it doesn’t seem accustomed to guests. Rather, its ornate decorations and intense lighting suggest something more of an Arthurian castle, full of fairy-tale supernatural qualities lurking in its grounds. Villagers shy away and whisper to themselves when someone utters the name “Usher”; a lone dog runs away at the property’s perimeter — the house’s haunted aura pervades anything that even dares think about it.
An unnamed visitor rides to this doomed estate of the demented Usher for little explained reason (not uncommon for the actions from »
- Zach Lewis
10. Altered States (1980)
Directed by: Ken Russell
Is it a horror film? Many of Ken Russell’s films could be argued as such, but there’s enough in Altered States that makes it less horror and more science fiction/psychological thriller. Based on the novel by Paddy Chayefsky, Altered States introduced the world to William Hurt (and also featured the film debut of Drew Barrymore). Edward Jessup (Hurt) is studying schizophrenia, but branches out into sensory deprivation experimentation with a floating tank. Eventually, he travels to Mexico to visit a tribe that provides him with an extract which he begins to take before his trips into the flotation tank, resulting in bizarre imagery and eventual physical devolution, once to a primitive man and to a near primordial blob. Side effects start to occur, causing Edward to suffer from episodes of partial regression even without the hallucinogenic drug. Russell’s direction shifts »
- Joshua Gaul
(The Criterion Collection)
Everything Ugly Is Beautiful
One of the many excellent supplements that appear on this disc is a rare video interview from 1979 with David Lynch (and cinematographer Frederick Elmes). For those of us who have aged along with the director, it is a striking glimpse at a young artist at the beginning of his strange and wonderful career. In it, he explains that he is attracted to sometimes harsh, oppressive settings, such as the nightmarish industrial cityscape in Eraserhead. “What everyone else finds ugly, I find beautiful,” he says proudly. And the director has pretty much remained true to his word, hasn’t he?
Eraserhead is a landmark picture, but its original release in 1977 was slow to reach an audience. It gained its must-see reputation only after the film was picked up to run on the midnight movie circuit that »
- firstname.lastname@example.org (Cinema Retro)
Throughout the summer, an admin on the r/movies subreddit has been leading Reddit users in a poll of the best movies from every year for the last 100 years called 100 Years of Yearly Cinema. The poll concluded three days ago, and the list of every movie from 1914 to 2013 has been published today.
Users were asked to nominate films from a given year and up-vote their favorite nominees. The full list includes the outright winner along with the first two runners-up from each year. The list is mostly a predictable assortment of IMDb favorites and certified classics, but a few surprise gems have also risen to the top of the crust, including the early experimental documentary Man With a Movie Camera in 1929, Abel Gance’s J’Accuse! in 1919, the Fred Astaire film Top Hat over Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps in 1935, and Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing over John Ford’s »
- Brian Welk
A Woman in Trouble and a Man in Need: Forzani & Cattet Return Prove a Force to Reckon With
Directing duo Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani follow-up up their 2009 debut Amer with another hit from the giallo pipe, The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears, a visual masterpiece that will confuse, confound, and hypnotize you as it’s one of the most visually extravagant explorations of the gaudy and grotesque ever committed to film. Certain to be rejected by mainstream sensibilities, Cattet and Forzani go beyond just another stylistic homage to create a creepshow that actually surpasses its predecessors with its expert level of artistic and technical prowess.
The plot seems to be transparently simple, yet spurts into a labyrinthine odyssey of revolving tangents and alternate perspectives that make it seem anything but. Dan Kristensen (Klaus Tange), a Danish man living in Brussels, returns to his art nouveau apartment from »
- Nicholas Bell
Surrealism as a cinematic genre goes further back in time than some people may realise. Although many contemporary films are described as ‘being Surreal’ or as having ‘Surrealist qualities’, the original films go back to the early 1900s and peaked during the 1920s. This was the era when the movement was at its peak and artists including Salvador Dalí and directors like Luis Buñuel were at their most active. The films made during this time have infiltrated popular culture in a variety of ways and, although you may not have seen the originals, you will have likely seen them homaged in works by Alfred Hitchcock, episodes of The Simpsons and films by David Lynch. Surrealism is all around us.
- Sabina Stent
As obsessed with bodily fluids as it is with social awkwardness, The Inbetweeners, be it on TV or the big screen, determinedly sets out to make viewers laugh until a bit of lung comes out. And with The Inbetweeners 2 now taking the boys, ahem, down under for more sexual shenanigans in Australia, the gross-out levels are set to soar (or plummet, depending on your viewpoint).
But making audiences squint, wince and fight their gag reflexes has always been a part of cinema. Sometimes it's done for belly laughs (Cameron Diaz styling her hair with Ben Stiller's homemade gel in There's Something About Mary), sometimes to elicit feelings of shock or revulsion (Ray Liotta forced to dine on his own brain in Hannibal). And sometimes it does all of the above at once (an army of zombies being cut to dripping ribbons with a lawnmower in Peter Jackson's splatstick horror »
Pauline Kael may have dubbed David Lynch “the first popular surrealist,” but the honor is more accurately bestowed upon Spanish maestro Luis Buñuel. Though his Salvador Dalí collaboration, Un chien andalou (1929), is regarded as a touchstone of the movement, it was not until later in his career that Buñuel would exploit the very meaning of the surreal, brashly straying from his contemporaries’ aesthetically driven impulses. With the respectively never-ending and never-beginning dinner parties of his elliptical masterpieces The Exterminating Angel (1962) and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972), Buñuel’s breed of Surrealism drew itself so close to the upper middle-class quotidian, it became far more subversive than any old melting clock. The conceptual hysteria of his films is in turn grounded by a simplified mise-en-scène; the surroundings are such that any outlandish yarn appears rooted in reality. »
- Sarah Salovaara
I love a good quest. There’s nothing that drives a plot quite like it, from Jason setting out to find the Golden Fleece to Indiana Jones’ determination to track down the Ark of the Covenant. Along the way there is always action, and adventure, and some friends to meet and enemies to defeat. Because that’s how a quest works.
Quests don’t have to be about objects. They can also be about finding your place in the world, and Nothing Lasts Forever tells the story of Adam Beckett, a young man who wants to be an artist, even though he has no idea of what an artist actually is. His quest takes him to a strange, totalitarian Manhattan where wannabe artists must sit a practical exam, and eventually to some very surprising places, »
The world is all out of whack: multiple Dutch tilts are on display in Voyage sans espoir (1943), an unbelievably glossy poetic realist proto-noir from Christian-Jaque: the film actually begins with railway tracks viewed from the front of a speeding train, upside down, as the camera drunkenly rolls upright and titles come flying towards us, slapping flat across the frame like flies hitting a windshield.
The plot is convoluted but crisp—chance encounters tie together Jean Marais, fleeing his job at a bank to see life and settle in Argentina, with an escaped jailbird of psychopathic demeanor (Paul Bernard) and his girlfriend, the radiant Simone Renant. There's also a likably crooked ship's captain carrying a torch for Renant, a sinister ethnic-type sailor (Ky Duyen), and a pair of hard-drinking but eternally sober detectives who resemble nothing more than the Thompson Twins from Tintin. The French had a nifty way with »
- David Cairns
It is one of Beckett's most famous – and most startling – images. But what inspired the half-buried woman in Happy Days? His friend and biographer James Knowlson tracks down the first Winnies
Samuel Beckett was a passionate lover of art and a friend of many painters and sculptors. He loved Dutch and Flemish painting in particular – and art almost certainly inspired some of his most memorable theatrical images. Even his earliest plays, such as Waiting for Godot or Endgame, recall the old masters: the character Lucky in Godot may well remind you of a Brueghel grotesque; Estragon and Vladimir's physical antics echo scenes in Adriaen Brouwer's paintings ("Dear, dear Brouwer", Beckett called him); Hamm in Endgame appears to share genes with some portraits by Rembrandt, staring out at the viewer – Jacob Trip in his armchair, perhaps.
As for Beckett's late miniature works – recently revived by the Royal Court with a tour »
We all have predisposed notions about the infamous “romantic comedy.” As with other genres, there’s a large subsection of offerings, giving it a bad name. But, for every tired, cliché-driven comedy, there is another impressive offering that redefines the genre, garners plenty of laughs, and tells an honest story about love and relationships, however warped they may be. In the coming weeks, we’ll take a look at the fifty romantic comedy films that should be seen. These may not all be classic films, but they certainly put a stamp on the industry and the genre we affectionately call “rom-coms.”
#50. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Most of Wes Anderson’s films could be described as romantic comedies, but his 2012 effort stands out, as its central story focuses on young love and the need to find acceptance. In Anderson’s world, while quirks abound, true connections between characters are commonplace. With Moonrise Kingdom, »
- Joshua Gaul
Morbid movies have been a feature of cinema from its earliest days, with films such as Nosferatu, Un Chien Andalou, L’age d’or and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. They were frowned upon by our moral guardians for being unwholesome, but it didn’t stop their proliferation down the decades. By the 1960s, many taboos of cinema – like nudity, gore and graphic sex – had been busted wide open, leaving filmmakers all over the world free to engage in an all manner of previously off-limits subjects.
The 1970s were flooded with morbid films, though – Straw Dogs, The Devils, Last Tango in Paris, Last House on the Left, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (just to name a few). These films gave the censors the run around, but they set a precedent for subsequent writers and directors to attain new heights of ghoulishness. There are no sacred cows left today »
- Clare Simpson
15 items from 2014
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