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Week End (1967)
A Landmark European Film and essential viewing for cineasts
Weekend is a very very important film in two major ways. It is both a comment on the degredation of compassion and warmth in a selfish, loveless, bourgeois society run by ugly, trashy consumerism and also an overwhelmingly stylish exercise in visual artistry from the complete film maker.
Where Hitchcock gave us the complete entertainment package, Tarkovsky the spiritual and dreamlike dimension and Fellini the episodic brightly coloured painting, Godard gives us all of these and adds generous amounts of vulgar humour and disturbing visuals.
The couples flight from the bourgeois home into a turbulent and apocalyptic countryside where all compassion, humour and warmth is missing is very pessimistic indeed. It seems to have been replaced by self interest, boredom and materialism. This film is a disturbing, cold vision of an Orwellian future where one loses hope in the decency of humanity and instead ponders hope in nature which is the only redeeming aspect in this otherwise brutal landscape.
Weekend is quite simply a masterpiece, a film in which its powerful imagery is matched by its very strong and disturbing message that hope in humanity can only be found in renouncing material possessions and appreciating the true essence of nature.
Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
Yawn, gasp, sigh and repeat.
This film is amazing because it takes you through a whole gamet of emotions. It is also one of the very few movies you can watch and re watch again and again.
Yawn - At times it is excruciatingly slow. Everything from De Niro's walking pace to the unfolding of little episodes of drama is unravelled extremely precisely and slowly. With most directors you get a quick close up of an actors face and then a cut back to the drama. With Leone each close up is a self portrait with the camera fixed on the face and recording even the subtlest gesture or expression. I'm not knocking this but it is occasionally demanding especially to a modern audience used to fast technology and instant messages. Fortunately the wonderful score relieves the boredom.
Gasp - Gasp at the absolutely beautiful cinematography. The street scenes are really brought to life by the width and depth of the shot and further enhanced by that majestic, sweeping score. Gasp at some of the many standout stylistic touches that Leone includes, which include the high pull back shot of a room full of babies crying accompanied by that exhilarating score and the the head on shot of the boy running in slow mo towards the camera with the pan flute cranked up, so unbelievably stylish.
Sigh - at the general confusion of a narrative which is about as linear and straightforward as a triangular road with large holes in it. The out of sequence time-frame means you're pulled in one direction and then another and leaves you afterwards with the feeling that the "Usual Suspects" was a simple tale which your hard of hearing Granny could understand in a late night viewing. I mean one minute you've got an ever changing suitcase the next you've got a frisbee being thrown. I'm surprised that Leone didn't then cut to a dog barking in an open field as a metaphor for confusion and randomness.
Repeat - Its amazing that despite the muddy plot line and slowness of the unfolding drama you become almost addicted to it and go back for repeated viewings. There are 4 main reasons I feel for this:
The beautiful poignant score The charismatic performance of James Woods Those stylish, amazing standout shots Unravelling the mystery that is OUATIA.
The Birds (1963)
Master of the visual medium
So much has been written about this movie, its hard to know what angle to approach it.
The story concerns an attractive, blonde socialite/High society woman who visits a pet shop and bumps into a dashing Dan dare type Lawyer with a biting wit and acid tongue. They flirt and tease and she decides to buy a pair of lovebirds for his baby sister. She makes a surprise visit to his apartment to deliver the birds, finds out that he is on vacation and decides to visit him in Bodega Bay, lovebirds in toe.
Calm before the storm.
From the moment Melanie arrives in Bodega Bay right up until the inscrutable ending, the landscape is brutalized by a succession of random bird attacks.
Volumes have been written on the possible causes.
Are the attacks freudian in their revenge? Do they come at times of sexual tension or indifference between the star players? Are the towns folk being divinely punished for their mistreatment of these feathered friends. "Back in your gilded cage Melanie Daniels", says Mitch, "Two southern fried chickens", an order from the waitress, the birds pov shot above the town looking down on the devastation. These moments could all be nature's revenge, after all there are many references to caging and eating birds in the film.
Have we been too complacent about life for too long and have we taken these birds for granted? Is it man's wake up call to treat nature with more respect? Is this all a manifestation of Mitch's sexual frustration and annoyance at his clinging mother who can't let go? Who knows but too wallow and psychoanalyse in this is largely missing the point. The true strength of this picture is in its visual power and assembly of shots. Hitchcock employs so much trickery and gimmickry that you are left feeling that you have just watched a lesson in montage and composition. Static shots are interrupted by movement and the process is repeated. Its like watching an eerie photograph punctuated by forward zooms and then back to the freeze frame. Many angles and points of view are shown. This not only disorientates the viewer but makes for great action sequences and startling imagery.
The technical stunt works brilliantly.
8 out of 10.
Reservoir Dogs (1992)
The reasons I hold this film so dear to my heart are numerous.
I should firstly say that all of Tino's films are brilliantly entertaining, but even more importantly shot in a visual style that arguably no modern director with the possible exceptions of Fincher and Mann can rival.
Heat was a great movie, Fight club even better, Reservoir dogs better still.
I can compare Reservoir Dogs to good Theatre seen through the eyes of a great camera.
The film is very witty, but in a banal everyday sort of way. The camera watches but never judges. Masden sits down instead of stands because he can't be bothered to get up. Keitel closes the door in the background because it opens by accident.
References to Lee Marvin (extremely funny in Paint your Wagon)are made, Buscemi shines, Roth is truly believable as the cop/amateur thief. Keital well Keital is just a movie icon and Masden is truly frightening/but never amusing. Who have I left out.
The opening is possibly like no other. Funny, brave and truly original. The opening theme is just so cool you want to stop it play it back and then write an essay on the beauty of image and soundtrack.
Who designed the set? It works brilliantly, so simple yet the perfect hiding place for a bungled heist. The only crime (pun intended) is that this movie doesn't beat other opposition to land itself in the top 10.
Incidentally this is not even my favourite Tino film.
That's Jackie Brown.
Could Fincher have done as good a job? perhaps.
Some Like It Hot (1959)
Still very funny
What is rare and special about this movie is that it is still very funny and stylish to look at. What it also provides us with is a comedy chemistry on film between Curtis and Lemmon which probably can only be rivalled by Lemmon and Matthau( the old black and white partnerships have badly dated in style and content). The story is slow to get going but once it starts there is no flagging as the two stars belt out oneliners with a coolness and sharpness which done today would look tiresome and tacky. There are just so many memorable lines like "nobody's perfect", "Shell Oil" and "absolutely nothing" which taken in context of the film and depending on your mood can really make you laugh. In terms of Marilyn's performance though, the film is oddly moving in a strange sort of way. She cuts a charming, beautiful figure due to her looks, vulnerability and naivety. She just wants someone un- complicated and descent to love and marry her but can not find this as her beauty and sultriness makes her too intimidating for these men.