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A magnificent film
I have just seen this film again via DVD after first seeing it in a cinema 40 years ago, and it remains in my view a staggering masterpiece of world cinema. It is a film that should be compulsory viewing by all aspiring film-makers since it is, unlike so many of today's movies which really are over influenced by television, so cinematic it makes one positively nostalgic for concepts like film grammar and form. Cunningly, it is almost a silent movie with a wonderful soundtrack, and the acting, (outstanding by all concerned), shows the great value of body language, and how good film editing, the use of a superb musical score, and excellent black and white cinematography can convey such powerful and poignant emotions. The play on which it is based has of course the soundest of psychological under-pinnings; guilt is an emotion and state of mind that can ONLY be experienced once one has done something horrendous enough to make it possess you. It cannot be imagined or anticipated, and, even when "rational" thought seems to justify the act, as Elektra and Orestes find to their cost, this evaporates instantly once that rage has been quenched. The final sequence of this film, after the mother has been murdered, and when these realisations manifest themselves is so overwhelming and powerful that only the hardest of heart could not be profoundly moved. But, like all good psycho-therapy, it is ultimately sanctifying, even if at the same time it is heart-breaking and almost unbearably poignant. Certainly one of the best films I have ever seen in my life, and every department deserves the highest praise and congratulations. One of the very few films to which I have awarded a 10/10 vote.
L'oeil de Vichy (1993)
Do we learn from the past?
Film is the closest to a time-machine that we yet know, and this remarkable compilation of authentic newsreels from the Vichy period, (and let's not forget, the Vichy regime was officially recognised as the legitimate government of France by the USA, the USSR and the Vatican), are particularly chilling since so much of what the politicians and official spokesmen of those times said is unsettlingly close to much of today's political rhetoric. We hear of a United States of Europe, "a New World Order" that is "all" Hitler is seeking to achieve, and how `patriotism' is always free of dissent or criticism. That people constantly fall for this jingoistic rubbish is a cause for mourning rather than celebration, and these films clearly illustrate the overlooked historic fact that France was not `occupied' but had reached an armistice with Germany under the terms of which Germans were allowed to operate in the Northern sector of France. It also shows that Vichy needed no prompting from the Nazis to implement anti-Jewish legislation and eventual persecution and relied on good old French anti-Semitism to get away with it. This film also makes one wonder just how France was deemed `qualified' to administer a zone in post-war Germany, and how truly dangerous it was to be heroic enough to be a member of the Resistance. History is always written by the victors, but the uncomfortable gaps in their given version are exposed when you can see these shadows from the frontline experience. A vital and exceptionally important document.
Jane Eyre (1943)
Magnificent is the only word that can be applied to this remarkable film. It represents Hollywood's ability to make the occasional brilliant movie when all aspects of the film-making craft come together in such talented union. JANE EYRE can hardly be faulted in any single department; the outstanding acting performances; not only of the principle characters, but right down the line to even the smallest part; the superlative score by Bernard Herrmann; splendid photography and art direction; but above all, a script that sparkles with literate dialogue and which unfolds the narrative with such consummate skill. I first saw this film as a very young child, and it gripped and enthralled me then as it still does all these years later. Romantic, gothic and mesmerising, it is as near faultless as it is possible for any movie to be.
Play for Today: Spend Spend Spend (1977)
A remarkable glimpse of working-class reality
It is perhaps surprising that a drama based on true facts, and which therefore can hardly be manipulated to make didactic points, should in effect prove to be so powerful, so convincing and so heart- breaking.
This story of a working-class British couple's win on the football pools, is in effect one of the most political films I have ever seen in my life, and goes to the very heart of the rotten malaise that festers within British life; the class system. Adapted from Viv Nicholson's own autobiographical account, Jack Rosenthal has fashioned a script that is almost awe inspiring in its ability to capture the nuances, petty meannesses, and grinding, soul destroying poverty that was the lot of working-class people in Britain in the 50s. The constant struggle to make a shilling do the work of a pound; the puny pleasures which were the only thing on offer; and an all powerful dominant ideology that made sure these same people were brain washed into accepting and never questioning the same phoney sham of the class structure. The alternatives were the status quo, or the authoritarian horrors of state Communism as represented by the USSR. Small wonder people settled for what they knew, and that was how the powers retained their power. I sometimes wonder if the USSR wasn't created purposely to sustain Capitalism in the West.
The late Susan Littler and John Duttine both give brilliant, first rate performances as Viv and her husband Keith, as this unexpected fortune, because they have had no training or experience in handling real money, in effect ruins their lives. Prior to the win, they are desperately poor but vibrant personalities, but, cast adrift with great wealth, they are shell-shocked and troubled, and whilst they still remain in love with each other, tragedy plays a part in their destiny as if to punish them for their `effrontery' in trying to rise above their station, and eventually Viv ends up flat broke.
It is a film that makes one seethe with anger at the perpetual social injustice there is the world over, and makes one yearn for just ONE film, one day, maybe, in which working-class people win and come out on top.
Entertaining and valuable
Not only is TWIST a remarkable documentary film, it is also an invaluable social document, charting not only the various dance crazes that swept the USA in the 60s, but reflecting too the social attitudes of the dominant ideology of those times.
As a European, it is amazing to me that on a cultural level, white and black American seemed in those days to inhabit two separate planets, and equally amazing that when white folks finally came to embrace `Rock 'n' Roll', so few of them were aware that this indigenous music of black America had been on their doorsteps, (those of the back porch, sadly) for many years already, only it was known as `Rhythm & Blues'.
To some extent, this documentary goes some way in redressing this cultural injustice, and had more footage of R&B performers been made at the time, no doubt they could have done it even more cogently. But time and again, this documentary shows that white folks repeatedly appropriated black culture as if it were their own invention, and even to the bitter end of the era, seemed to prefer the diluted over the authentic and the real. This was well demonstrated by the well chosen recordings used which were performed by black artists - not only were the rhythmic patterns more complex, seductive and compelling, but the sheer musicality was nearly always vastly superior to the ersatz white versions.
Apart from illustrative clips of the many dances that first sprang from the streets and then from the executive offices (which of course spelt the beginning of the end), the comments from those who lived to dance and who made the records, are always revealing and lucid. Although these dances were called decadent and immoral, towards the end of the film we see glimpses of Nixon, Kruschev, missile launches and other decadent and immoral items, until finally we see the ultimate appropriation and theft of black American musical culture, the British musical invasion.
Although in the main the film is a glorious celebration of dance culture, it also left me saddened, because beneath the smooth surface of American Bandstand and The Peppermint Lounge, it seemed to suggest that no matter what black folks do in America, they're never going to get the real credit all the while others can leach off their creativity and musical genius. For revealing this truth alone, this film deserves the highest possible praise. And to this day, what a great record The Marvelettes' `Please, Mr. Postman' is!
Dead or Alive 2: Tôbôsha (2000)
Boring and pretentious
I'd be hard pressed to cite a more achingly boring and pretentious movie that this one, and for the life of me, I fail to see how or why Miike Takashi seems to have garnered such a cult reputation in some quarters. Full of ponderous longeurs which no doubt are meant to register as pregnant with meaning; characters that are maudlin when they are not just plain wooden, and the constant use of `symbolism' that is about as subtle as a sledge-hammer blow to the head, it is one of those films that has you asking yourself `when will it ever end?'.
No doubt the `heroes' in these films are the macho role-models that armchair nerds wish they had become, which perhaps gives a clue as to why these films seem to appeal to the `intelligentsia', but suffice to say when these guys aren't setting their faces into masks of grimness or wallowing in self-pitying nostalgia, they just strut around wearing shades, and walking as if they have pin cushions in their underpants.
Mercifully, apart from a very brief glimpse of necrophilia, this film is, in the main, bereft of the cruelty and calculated shock values of Takashi's other movies, so hopefully he has by now perhaps exhausted this apparent obsession with continually upping the stakes and `going further than any film-maker before has dared to go', although advance reports of his latest film would perhaps suggest otherwise.
Overall, this film has all the intense, eager, over-earnestness, (and yes, calculated `naughtiness'), of something made on a Boy Scouts' camp as part of a vocational work project. Witless, charmless and pretentious nonsense, masquerading as quality, heavy-weight, head stuff.
It puzzles me why this film appears to have been so forgotten and neglected because I find it richly entertaining and, like so much of Wilder's work, it shows an abiding, (although not uncritical), love / hate of Hollywood and all it represented. Wilder has no illusions about the Monster Hollywood could be in its heyday when it created an almost parallel universe which consisted of those on the inside the industry, and the rest of us who paid homage at the box-office. Both parties were almost entirely oblivious of the reality of life as experienced by each other.
FEDORA is much more bitter-sweet than SUNSET BLVD., (his other film with which it is natural to compare it, and of course the presence of William Holden in both makes this even more compelling), but here we see people who, having made a pact with the devil of Hollywood fame and fortune, find it is a two edged sword that keeps them in the service of its mores and values forever, even though the effort of doing so nearly makes them die from exhaustion. Death or permanent seclusion is the only way to preserve a legend's immortality.
Beautifully structured, and with some excellent dialogue, all the cast acquit themselves with credit, and I find it a fascinating and valuable glimpse into a world that has now gone forever and which is never, ever likely to return. Perhaps more reflective and introspective than we expect a Billy Wilder film to be, but all the more richly satisfying for it. Highly recommended.
La course de taureaux (1951)
How the "Lords of Creation" amuse themselves
In some ways it is useful that films like this exist, as repellent as they are, since in time I am sure people will look back with horror and alarm to think such vile "pastimes" and "entertainments" as bull-fighting were ever allowed, much less supported, but alas, they do still exist in some parts of the world. However, this documentary is quite rightly dispassionate. You don't know where the film-maker quite stands on the issue, and this perhaps is a good thing since you are presented with the "spectacle" and left to draw your own conclusions about its ethics.
Not only are bulls seen to be tormented and tortured as they are goaded to frenzy by the matadors, but you also see how the horses in the ring are also gored and injured. You don't however see the behind the scene methods and "tricks of the trade" employed to ensure that danger to the matadors is always minimized. There is also a strange sort of macho primping and posturing to be seen in the behaviour of the men who participate, and who presumably think that by doing so they somehow augment their own sense of masculinity. Removed from the blood stained arena, their theatrics are as camp as all hell.
It was indeed a black day for mankind when the Princes of the Church decided that animals do not have souls, thus condemning them to centuries of use and abuse, and for those who feel a flush of self-righteous pomposity about this theological confirmation of their superiority, it is well to remember that at that same Council, it was also debated as to whether or not women had souls, and that decision was affirmed only by the slenderest of majorities!
This film does serve another purpose however - it proves that cruelty depraves and corrupts, which was evidenced by the fact that even I almost stood on my seat and cheered with Sadean frenzy when a bull's horn managed to lance a matador through the thigh, and then ran pell-mell around the arena for several minutes with his body hanging free as if wearing a crazy bonnet! (The impulse I felt was wrong, but, nobody's perfect!).
It is also valuable to demonstrate mankind's fatal propensity for having to constantly "prove" they are The Lords of Creation" by treating practically every other creature that lives and breathes as if it were made solely for their use and pleasure. Count me out on that one, because if animals ain't got souls, then I don't want one neither!
Next time, astonish us!
It's hard to know just what one is supposed to make of DOBERMANN. An exercise in studied and self-conscious decadence might be the best way to describe it, because boy, does this film want to SHOCK! But, alas, each excess and the subsequent glorification of brutality becomes so boringly repetitive when you not only have psychotic crooks, but also a psychotic police force to combat them! Everyone is nuts, so what does the outcome of it all really matter?
Quirky eccentricity (so beloved of French movies) hits us at about 80 miles per hour and 40 years out of date, and the narrative, such as it is, stretches all credulity when the police actually take a baby along with them on a stakeout of a low-life dive!
Cool, cute, laid-back and slick, the criminal fraternity are shown as misunderstood but intensely `real' people just `doing their thing'; the sort of vicarious turn-on tailor-made to delight wet-liberals and self-styled intellectuals. Why, even when one of them defecates in the street, he searches around for paper, and lo!, there's a discarded copy of the ultra-posh `Cahiers du cinéma' in the gutter from which he can tear a page to use..!
And so it goes relentlessly on and on, with trendy little touches slipping in here and there, and everything coolly calculated to evoke a response of `Formidable!' from French teen audiences. Alas, it just doesn't cut the mustard despite all the super-human frenzy that appears to have gone into its making, and when the final credits roll, one is left with the empty feeling of `So what?'.
One thing I really resent about this noxious film is the element of justification it purports to carry which is little more than intellectual blackmail, and which some commentators have alluded to. Because I paid money to see this film, (solely because of the reviews it got), I resent then the implication that by doing so I am either a voyeur or a fellow-traveller in the violence and cruelty depicted. Had I got up and walked out, no doubt I'd have been called a "prude" or my exit regarded as "moral panic", and, by not having seen the whole film to the end it would be argued (with reason) that I would therefore be unqualified to comment... the no-win situation so beloved of those who have an answer for everything! Certainly, there is no question of banning this film for adults, in fact it is a useful artifact to show just how desensitized and decadent Western culture has become in part. And yet, that same society (in Britain at least) bans the depiction on television of abortion procedures, and carefully filters out graphic scenes of real carnage. But when it is claimed to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem, then I have to dissent from the mainstream opinion regarding this movie, and take issue with such arrogrance. What is "funny" about seeing a child murdered, or a woman raped and then disembowelled? Isn't this reaction precisely the mind-set that perpetrates so many war time atrocities? That rather than allow ourselves to be swamped with revulsion and self-loathing at our propensity for barbarism, we have to transmogrify it into some sort of "giggle" - a lark, a bit of fun, or, god help us, sport? If this odious and squalid little piece of artistic pretension HADN'T revolted and nauseated me, then I'd be truly worried. As it is, it has a kind of schoolboyish feverishness about it, like trying to see who can next come up with the most shocking anecdote, or see who can pee the highest up the wall. Crude and cruel, it at least parades its scabs with some sort of attitude. And possibly that's what worries me most. However, just to try and be truly balanced, maybe, just maybe, the film-makers were in fact creating a double bluff just to test and examine how far a parade of unremittingly cruel images might find intellectual champions in today's society! Remember, the "film as auteur" concept originated as a scam!