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Modern Disillusion Confronts Medieval Reality, 24 August 2014

Ingmar Bergman's world acclaimed 'masterpiece' as a "self written and self directed allegorical film" (Bosley Crowther, New York Times) is among the most discussed movies that provokes controversies. Although more than half a century has passed since its premiere, we can bravely quote Peter Bradshaw (The Guardian) that it is still "an untarnished gold standard of artistic and moral seriousness." THE SEVENTH SEAL turns out to speak to the minds of modern viewers even more powerfully than it did in the late 1950s.

MEDIEVAL? Set in the Middle Ages, it seems that the film has much to do with the spirit of the period. Yet...this "piercing and powerful contemplation of the passage of man" (Crowther), "Bergman's spiritual quest" (Roger Ebert), "a new dramatic idiom of its own" (Bradshaw), "Bergman's medieval drama of the soul" (Steven D Greydanus), "magnificent and compelling, brutal and beautiful examination of mankind's strengths and weaknesses" (Carter B Horsley) is not at all a movie about the Middle Ages but, what remains 'medieval' are two supreme concepts the film is built upon: image and contrast. Let me develop these two aspects before I move to performances because most of its power and charm is, indeed, hidden therein.

Three concepts prevail in the image of the film: people, nature and death. Actually, all of them are embodied in the characters and stand for their feelings, emotions and varieties. However, all of them are made vibrant by unpredictable, surprising depiction. People carry a wide range of psychological sophistication; nature evokes symbols, manifests the interlocked circle, provokes impressions of different kinds; death is, perhaps, the weirdest incarnate. It is not the Christian 'Mors Porta Vitae Aeternae' (Death as a Gate to Eternal Life) nor the hero of medieval danse macabre but "an enigmatic emissary of the unknown" (Greydanus), a gloomy character of certain demonic features, the only real representative of the supernatural world that is, anyway, never made accessible to humanity. Nevertheless, Death in SEVENTH SEAL is the only character personified that leads the movie to the "uncompromising subject" that defines in "Bergman's spiritual quest" (Roger Ebert). But what would it all be without certain contradictions.

Contrast, a basis of medieval thought and reality, seems to be predominantly present in many aspects from the protagonist through the modern vs. medieval (sometimes on the cost of historical accurateness) to the very autobiographical traces of the director, Ingmar Bergman himself. Foremost, however, this contrast is inside of man, outside of man and among men.

CHARACTERS: Bosley Crowther basically called the movie "provocative" and it occurs to reveal itself most in the protagonist, Antonius Block (played marvelously by Max Von Sydow), an excellent, almost model embodiment of a disillusioned, modern character set in the Middle Ages who embodies the contrast inside of man. He asks questions that could practically never be asked, even thought of in a crusader's mind simply because his vision of the world, of faith, of the afterlife was deeply affected by creed. His character addresses the very silence of God developed in the Greydanus' essay; he is on his way to catharsis but also on the way to the state of absolute nothingness that Bergman himself believed in at a later phase of his career. He is a man of seeming decadence searching for meaning. Here lies his curiosity. He is a man losing his religion because he tries to grasp the supernatural with pure intellect. Here lies his vanity. He is a man locked within the four walls of his 'ghosts and dreams' Here lies his selfishness. Reminds me of Marcello in Fellini's LA DOLCE VITA who cannot fully understand the genuine and cannot communicate with the world of innocence and simplicity (note the aspect of an Umbrian girl in Fellini's movie). And where is this world of innocence in Block's life?

BERGMAN'S 'HOLY FAMILY'? Jof (Nils Poppe) and Mia (Bibi Andersson) with their baby son Mikael have inspired a variety of interpretation from many film scholars. Some found the allegories to daring religious manifestations. The meal they are having together as the 'eucharist of natural products' or the family as the Holy Family of Nazareth. I think that the point is elsewhere. Jof and Mia manifest simplicity, common life, austere joys, pure humanity, heart over intellect. That embodies the contrast among men and, along with other characters like a troubadour Skat (Erik Strandmark), contrast outside of man Antonius Block confronts.

THE SEVENTH SEAL with its impressive symbols, outstanding imagery and greatly versatile characters leaves many questions unanswered, many dreams unfulfilled, yet many hopes disillusioned in its doom. Nevertheless...

it is an important movie significant in its appeal and rarely understood. Believers will find it, perhaps, too daring; atheists will find it thought provoking; cinema freaks will love its atmosphere and Bergman fans consider it the essence of the director's world. With the unforgettable finale open for interpretations, THE SEVENTH SEAL provokes modern disillusion and its pessimistic silence confront the medieval reality and its mysterious dance.

Rendezvous and Kiss of French Poetic Realism, 17 August 2014

Pauline Kael labeled Marcel Carne's work in the 1930s as the "definite example of sensuous, atmospheric movie making" and it seems that this characteristic emerges most powerfully here.

The opening sequence of PORT OF SHADOWS, thanks to the memorable tracking shot and stylized mise en scene - a typical hallmark of the director, set the tone for the story and provide the feeling to it: we see a road and a man fleeing his past. What preceded and what follows is of no significance, what counts is here and now. Jean (Jean Gabin) is heading for a new haven of his life. He stops at spots which he had not intended to set foot in and meets people who he had not planned to know. Yet, nothing and nobody coincide with the doomed fatality of his situations. Even if there is hope, it is doomed... Yet, in all this hopelessness, the viewer is struck by truly great surprises not likely to be skipped.

COLLABORATIVE EFFORT: The author of the article in Senses of Cinema does not deny the powerful influence of the director on various people of cinema, including Visconti, Reed and Bergman. What, however, seems to be most striking is the fact that PORT OF SHADOWS is simultaneously an individual vision and a common work --- the director's "most coldly formal work," and "the very DNA of French classical film-making" where "a confused soul" and "an obstinate cineaste" (Carne according to Francois Truffaut) makes his "romantic and fatalist mode of address" (Senses of Cinema) particularly clear. It is achieved thanks to great collaborative effort, the director's production designers, composers, actors and cinematographers. But there is one primordial strength that seems to emerge almost throughout the movie, the very product of the period: ATMOSPHERE

STIMULUS ON SENSES: No wonder Frank S Nugent, a New York Times reviewer observed that "there is a bitterness even in its humor." That is best revealed in the supporting character of the painter who says one of the lines that the greatest 'nostalgic prophets of doom' would probably most agree with: "When I paint a tree, I make everybody ill at ease. That's because there is something or someone hidden behind that tree. I paint these things hidden behind things. For me a swimmer has already drowned." That feeling resembles the very essence of provoking cinema we are all much more used to at present. As a result, PORT OF SHADOWS creates a unique atmosphere and is still one of these movies that are forever stamped in viewers' memories.

ITS FOGGY ECHOES: Within the restored DVD version, Ginette Vincendau rightly points that Carne's film is heavily influenced by German Expressonism and serves as a gateway to the noir genre so widespread in American cinema since the 1940s. The obvious echoes of the predecessor are noticeable throughout in the cinematography by Eugen Schueffen and the aspects hidden within the portrayals of characters. Fog is the predominant concept of the movie and serves as a clear allegory of the characters and their lives. Yet, despite all the uncertainty, all the disappointments, all the confusions they experience, it is far in spirit from older Bergman or dramatic Visconti. The idea of loving one's life predominates. Certain predictability in the action (we actually feel from the very start that the protagonist is doomed to fail get on board a ship to Venezuela) does not interrupt this very crucial concept. And the PERFORMANCES?

JEAN GABIN gives a brilliant portrayal of the protagonist, a deserter heading for a more stable life. In his role, what appears pretty obvious is the fact that he is already disillusioned with life in need of some dramatic change. However, there is a certain duality in his character that makes him particularly humane. He is skeptical of true love and yet, never stops searching it. He doubts success in escaping and yet, he does not resign from attempting. Within the context of other male characters that appear in the movie, he is easily to be identified with and quite likable for viewers who are truly not content with some less 'sophisticated' depictions of a human being.

As a centerpiece of his and our attention comes Nelly played memorably by beautiful MICHELE MORGAN. A very pretty and skillful actress makes her 17 year-old character unforgettable (mind you her age must have prompted objections from 'perfectly moral audiences' at the time). A young woman torn apart between two men: one is a miserable villain Zabel (Michel Simon), her stepfather clearly lusting for her, the other is Jean (Jean Gabin). While the growing chemistry between the two occurs to evoke powerfully with excellent closeups and perfect romantic atmosphere, her first conversation with Jean is filled with some excellent lines. Kudos to screenwriter Jacques Prevert! One of their best lines highlights the quintessential concept of sexes' relations: "men and women do not understand one another and yet love one another." Much due to the wonderful collaboration with the camera, Ms Morgan is truly an unforgettable female character. She combines the dramatize of Garbo with eroticism of Dietrich in a performance of her own.

SUPPORTING: Pierre Brasseur does a fine job combining the cruel and ridiculous aspects of Lucien, such a predictable villain of romantic stories who, naturally, spoils everything. A little dog that makes friends with the protagonist is also worth mentioning.

A strength of the movie not to be skipped is its pace. The action really keeps you awake, curious, attentive. Scenes are finely paced and action develops in a right manner. That is something that makes PORT OF SHADOWS stand out among many other films of its period.

PORT OF SHADOWS, no matter if you like its content or not, is a significant production and an interesting glimpse into a true French classic. In spite of being a rendezvous of sorrows, it is a passionate kiss of French Poetic Realism. 8/10

Cabiria (1914)
Happy Centenary!, 20 July 2014

Orson Welles once said that "sound is the first human sense of the theater" and while this may accurately refer to majority of movies, it is not the sound but image that appears to be the first sense of the epic.

When dealing with the history of cinema, sooner or later, one is bound to encounter the epic in the purest sense of the word, the mother of all spectacles, the inspiration that lies behind the greatest showmanship of D.W. Griffith and Cecil B DeMille. At the dawn of the medium, people were interested in showing antiquity but the thought was not born in Hollywood but where it actually has its historical roots, the Mediterranean. Yes, this time all roads lead to Italy. Apart from the greatest masterpieces of art throughout the centuries, it is also Italy that gave birth to the most stupendous, elaborate, stunning visuals that have awed the imagination of viewers for the last century.

CABIRIA by Giovanni Pastrone with the restored music piano score by Jacques Gauthiers was made at a very significant point of history: Italy had been victorious after the Lybian War and, similarly to the role greatest epics of Hollywood served, the film with the setting of its story appeared to be a manifestation of power centered again, after all these, in Rome ---not the Imperial Rome but the Rome the Republic, at a very interesting period: the Punic Wars in the 3rd century before Christ. The story of Cabiria is nicely incorporated into the motives of a marvelous visual display of powerful nature and army. Its mixture of attraction and repulsion, mighty volcanoes and delicate doves, well built giants and delicious women, cruel army leaders and clever inventors lead to all hallmarks of an epic/drama. It's all in CABIRIA starting with hatred destined to be conquered and concluding with love always destined to be the conqueror. AMOR VINCIT OMNIA But let me highlight a few points about the visuals now.

It is important to keep in mind that CABIRIA is heavily influenced by operatic feeling. All this grandeur is the pure essence of what we find in opera. Its strength lies in visuals. Naturally, however, we treat them absolutely differently from today's standpoint. It seems that only a very in-depth eye may capture certain details. The film is divided into 5 episodes which a little bit distract the holistic viewing of the story. Nevertheless, each one has something to offer, if not the costumes, then the great sets, marvelous for the time and still awe inspiring after a century. The eruption of Etna, Hannibal crossing the Italian Alps, the huge temple of Moloch sequence, the war with Carthage, the assault on Syracuse in Sicily (consider the mention of the 'sea of Aretusa'), the interiors of palaces and outstanding costumes. It is significant that the story begins in Sicily, the source of food in ancient Rome and, at the same time, the island that has for ages frightened people with Europe's biggest volcano. While the beginning of the movie is a pure spectacle of nature, it slowly turns to the spectacle of army in order to reach a rather poetic conclusion. American showmen used to say and still many keep saying: "It's all BIG!" We might say the roar of crater turns into roar of war and jealousy. And the characters?

The title Cabiria (Lidia Quaranta) is rather shadowed by other characters who either help her keeping in mind the motto: "Help you give, Help you will receive" or do not seem to have much in common with her but serve as emotional resonance of historical period. Although they are not much developed and seen as if through the curtain of spectacle, we get quite a variety: Croessa (Gina Maragnoni), Cabiria's nurse, Fulvius the Roman (Umberto Mozzato) who may draw parallels to plenty of noble Roman characters in various epics; Maciste (Bartolomeo Pagano) who bears resemblance with Hellenic Hercules, Sienkiewicz Ursus and biblical Samson; queen Sophonisba (Italia Almirante-Manzini) who reveals certain features of ancient femme fatale, Poppaea-like character with a pet leopard (not only Patricia Laffan echoes the image in 1951 QUO VADIS but also Claudette Colbert in 1932 THE SIGN OF THE CROSS) but appears to redeem herself ostentatiously, operatically and dramatically at the end; the elderly Carthaginian architect Archimede (Enrico Gernelli) who creates a terrific machine of war; the funny Bodastoret, the innkeeper; the villainous Massinissa (Vitale Di Stefano), the Numidian impostor of the throne; Syphax (Alessandro Bernard), the old, powerful man who marries a beauty as his loveless political toy; the High Priest Karthalo (Dante Testa), a devil-incarnate who demands human sacrifices to a god (consider the clever representation of a belief/religion that may be of some help but may also resort to most disgusting systematic cruelty). All of the characters contribute to the various strong points of CABIRIA.

Almost half a century later, Federico Fellini made a parallel to the character' name, Cabiria, in his 1957 Oscar winning achievement.

Strangely, I had a feeling that if the people of yore, the people of ancient times would have any link with modern times, CABIRIA would be one of those films which would occur to capture the gist within the recreation of antiquity. Perhaps, it is because of the test of time it has undeniably stood. No matter what emotions, feelings, imagination it evokes, this silent gem should be more known today. It might serve modern epic as an old tutor full of novelty what to change, what to get rid of in order to come back to the roots again.

Surely worth seeking out! HAPPY CENTENARY, CABIRIA!

Shane (1953)
Solid Gem of its Genre, 13 July 2014

Along with its obvious echoes of the specific period in Hollywood, SHANE stands out as one of the most enduring western classics. George Stevens, the California-born director who invented his own approach, brought something powerful and captivating in this work. Clearly, the movie reveals typical western landmarks, including the uncomplicated nature of the plot, certain idealization, no sophistication of characters, no duality of human nature and the geographical context as the backdrop. The centerpiece, however, are the characters that George Stevens and screenwriter A.B. Guthrie, the Professor at the University of Kentucky, supply with a 'western flair.' The most appealing one is, of course, the protagonist, Shane - a rider from wilderness heading for wilderness.

In George Stevens' notes, as the director's son points out in the disc commentary, he wrote: "You have to feel that Shane is on his way somewhere." The word 'way' sets the tone for the entire movie. Therefore, a viewer cannot ignore the obvious link between the geographical background and the characters who are incorporated into the context of the magnificent Teton Mountains. In this idyll, recalling the opening scene of simplicity, the story of genuine, good hearted homesteaders struggling against the cruel cattlemen takes place. In between comes Shane, he is not exactly the Shane of the book, there is liberty taken with the original literary source (he is not a man worn all in black) but he is, undeniably the courage incarnate and the embodiment of all values.

Initially, Montgomery Clift had been considered for the role but, at the moment, we might say FORTUNATELY, Alan Ladd was finally cast for the lead. Thanks to him, we have a straight and strong protagonist supplied with necessary vitality. Combining the energetic interpretation of a brave man of honor and the flamboyant portrayal of a temperamental man of choice, Alan Ladd leaves barely any viewer indifferent to his screen achievement. Equally skillful at fighting at Grafton's as supporting the homesteaders, his scenes are filled with vital action and increasing tension.

Our attention is also drawn by other characters. Let me start with the goodies...A young boy, Joey, seemingly the other protagonist of the story played by Brandon DeWilde is another great child acting achievement. Awed by the sound of gunshot and inspired by Shane's independence, he entirely holds the gist of the finale, which aids it, simultaneously, in its impact. His father Joe (played by Van Heflin) appears to embody certain combination of decent yet naive attitude, sometimes ridiculously naive. The major 'goodness incarnate' occurs to be Stonewall Torrey (Elisha Cook Jr) whose courageous toast to the sovereign state of Alabama and cruel death along with the touching funeral constitute the movie's major scenes of heartfelt emotions and touching sentimentality. Jean Arthur gives a nice performance as the female character in the story, the one who manifest certain animosity towards gun and an almost idealized mother and wife. Ben Johnson, a famous radio presenter at the time, plays Chris, the only character who undergoes change. Now a little bit about the baddies...

Here, everything might be focused on the performance of one man: Jack Palance as villainous Wilson, one of the Rykers, the cattlemen who become a true nightmare of the homesteaders. He is given considerably short time on the screen, yet, his performance supplies the movie with the essential western depiction of wickedness.

And where is George Stevens noticeable particularly?

On the subject of his concern for the test of time, we can all agree that Mr Stevens succeeded in this respect. SHANE, in spite of its three strip Technicolor, has not dated. The director's style, however, is most clearly revealed in 'observing camera' where action is in the eyesight of a character and a viewer. Consider, for instance, the scene of the fight where little Joey is showed to be observing the scene, actually, the same manner as viewers do. It is nicely observed in the disc commentary that the scene is energized by who is watching it (Ivan Moffat and George Stevens Jr). To the artistic advantage of the movie, it is important to add great music score by Victor Young which heavily relies on folk songs, including "The Call of the Faraway Hills" and the costumes that place the characters within the historical, geographical as well as genre context.

SHANE is an essential classic western very highly recommended and a film where truly great Hollywood echoes. Strong solid ground of reputation and a gem of its genre.

Hitchcock (2012)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Hero Is Genius but Backbone Is Soap Opera, 22 June 2014

Sacha Gervasi's direction HITCHCOCK with the screenplay by John J. McLaughlin appears to have roused quite diverse emotions and viewpoints. Among movie scholars and intellectuals, the opinions tend to display negative undertone: "woman's picture' (Roger Ebert); 'heavily perfumed fertilizer' (Manohla Dargis, New York Times). Good and accurate as it may seem for many movie buffs, the title occurs to be should be titled HITCH, ALMA AND PSYCHO. It is NOT a film about the great man of cinema who left behind the legacy of innovation and uniquely individual trace, but it is a movie that mixes lots of aspects simultanously. Let me, however, begin with the undeniable strengths of the movie that may be considered, apart from all the intellectual, professional eye, a gripping work for a contemporary moviegoer.

The greatest strength of HITCHCOCK does not lie in suspense (it is not a Hitchcock's film by the way) but in the performances of Anthony Hopkins as the hero and Helen Mirren as the heroine, Hitchcock's wife and lifelong companion/assistant/adviser Alma Reville. Mr Hopkins, along with his "transformative makeup" (referring to Roger Ebert's words who 'accepted' the actor in the role anyway) gives a very convincing performance supplying the character with balanced borders of reality and fantasy. He appears to be taken with his work, even obsessed by it; he appears to be a professional director (no doubt of that); he appears to display certain enthusiasm and individual attitude towards vision and reality but, above all, women. But is he alone? Roger Ebert, when referring to the portrayal of Master of Suspense in this movie, nicely points out that the film "adopts the conventional truism that behind every great man there lurks a great woman." Yes, his wife Alma played with considerable charm, intelligence by the versatile actress Helen Mirren. To what extent, it is the accurate depiction, historically, to what extent faithful to the real character does not matter that much at this moment. Simply the acting job and that is stupendous. You may marvel at how skillfully she combines all the feelings in her role, a double role of a wife and a professional.

When it comes to the relationship between Hitchcock and Alma, we may say that it is clearly a borderline between the depiction of a genius and the methods of sheer soap opera. Indeed, the film would not be interesting without some spicy additions of marriage life and the dangers of tempting looks of women/men, but surely it is not the aspect where the suspicion should be placed. Alma feeling free at the villa of a screenwriter Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston) as long as she traps him in bed with a cute chic....come on! Manohla Dargis openly criticizes the film in this respect saying that their marriage is "one unfortunate element in the movie that doesn't merely give creative genius a bad name, but also pathologizes it."

It may occur quite a coincidence or just something deliberate but the director who was particularly fond of Hitchcock's legacy was the New Wave French filmmaker Francois Truffaut. In the interview with Bert Cardullo, the director admitted that, when editing the scenes of his movies, he thought of Hitchcock as his inspiration. He once made a film about movie-making titled DAY FOR NIGHT. Obviously being on the set himself and playing the main role (director is a director) was an absolutely different story than just making a fable about the director making his famous film. Anyway, HITCHCOCK proves quite a resemblance with the classic DAY FOR NIGHT, especially as an insight into movie-making. Yet, here lies another trap...

It seems that the film reads Hitchcock through his work (Dargis). He makes PSYCHO after the most 'general audiences movie' NORTH BY NORTHWEST and before the ultra popular never ending horror on the screen, THE BIRDS (the humorous reference to the movie at the finale is one of the most memorable touches). It is Alfred Hitchcock within the context of his directorial work and Alfred Hitchcock within the context of some fictitious marriage torments. That's where the soap opera evokes even more clearly. A director and his rapport with the stars, particularly a doll-like incarnate of Janet Leigh by Scarlett Johansson, the sarcastic Paramount boss Barney Balaban (Richard Portnow) and his agent. The best one among the supporting actors is as Norman Bates. Indeed, the actors do a splendid job to help viewers pay attention.

All in all, it is worth seeing HITCHCOCK, anyway. It is no masterpiece of suspense, no masterpiece of biopic or any great tribute but an interesting film of reasonable length, some moments that capture his humor and quite a make-believe soap opera disguised in 'genius' from the very title. 6/10

Flawlessly Stylish and Thrilling, 10 June 2014

A creative and daring photographer with hundreds of ideas flowing in his mind simultaneously is placed in quite an unfortunate situation...Stuck in a wheelchair with his broken leg, he has to endure one more week of this immobile lifestyle. Yet, he does not expect that these 7 days are going to be most captivating, absorbing and peeping moments of his life that will introduce him to the real ethics of a rear window...

Based on a 1942 short story "It Had To Be Murder" by Cornel Woolrich, it is not exactly faithful to all that was penned by the author. Many liberties have been taken with the original source but...taking into account the supreme fact that it is a movie by master, Alfred Hitchcock, any viewer may look forward to wonderful surprises. All liberties or distortions, whatever we call it, should be forgiven. REAR WINDOW is, above all, both a flawlessly stylish and a flawlessly thrilling movie with consideration of the viewpoints of American audiences who saw the Master of Suspense as primarily an 'entertainer' and emphasized 'thrill' and the French New Wave critics, namely Francois Truffaut, Eric Rohmer and Claude Chabrol who perceived his films as 'exceptionally artistic' and emphasized his style above all. Where do the flawless thrill and style manifest themselves?

REAR WINDOW does not display anything stupendous. On the contrary. Its setting is merely an apartment and a garden. It is, of course, the movie that features Hitchcock's favorite leading man, a sort of 'psychological' self-portrait of the director...

JAMES STEWART: the quintessential portrait of a man in his abilities vs. disabilities, his illusions vs. disillusions. Unlike his acrophobia in VERTIFO, Stewart is placed within the unforgettable claustrophobic realms. We might openly admit that he entirely plunges himself to the role in this very much claustrophobic setting (a Greenwich apartment with a view through the rear window). The intense capability to observe others, which at times crosses the hazardous borderlines of hard social relations, magnetizes viewers to such extent that we feel as part of the whole story. In that respect, Charles Ramirez Berg nicely points out that the film "made viewers voyeurs" and "Hitchcock provocatively probed the relationship between the watcher and the watched involving, by extension, the viewer of the film." It is not "Hitchcock's sadistic voyeurism" (Laura Mulvey "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema") but James Stewart's accurate and balanced combination of wit and suspense that creates a memorably a likable and very authentic personality linked to viewers' preferences and assumptions. But no vital character can ever stand on his own, he is surrounded by...TWO WOMEN of course, one who serves and one who loves.

Before getting into the wonders of the major female strength of the movie, Grace Kelly, let me say a few words about THELMA RITTER as Stella. Revealing certain Hitchcock-ian features of the main character's 'mother', she supplies the movie with considerable irony and wit. Being a deeply down-to-earth character, her lines are deliciously edgy and hilariously to the point. Amidst other most hilarious and memorable lines, when it comes to marriage reflections/decision, she 'spreads some common sense on bread' saying: "Nothing has caused humanity so much trouble as intelligence." As an amorous companion and a true center of attention no matter if the viewer is male or female comes...

GRACE KELLY: Hailed as "the quintessential Hitchcock beauty, elegant, strong-willed, witty, sophisticated, very very stylish and sexy" (Carter B. Horsley), she embodies something that may be called magnetism on screen. Her character is shaped by the director's preferences to some extent, her stylish glamor is revealed through her familiarity with New York's "21 Club" (echoing Ingrid Bergman in SPELLBOUND) and yet, she is clearly given considerable freedom to supply her Lisa with charming vitality, delicious sensuality and natural temperament. Being memorable in all of her scenes, one of the lines exceptionally depict her female character alongside Hitchcock's MacGuffin and Stewart's male perfectionism, "a great talent to create difficult situations."

Among the supporting cast, Wendell Corey is worth attention as Lieutenent Thomas Doyle who embodies skepticism and depicts "the right amount of New York casual wit and suspicion." (B.Horsley). Raymond Burr, whose resemblance to producer David Selznick seems uncanny, is convincing as one of Jeffries' neighbors, one of his 'phantoms,' the villain Lars Thorward and helps the climactic moment resist the temptation of cheap thrill and fear. Other of Jeffries' neighbors contribute highly to visual aspect of those who build pretty unique situations and associations.

REAR WINDOW, undeniably less well known masterpiece by Alfred Hitchcock, is truly flawless in its style and thrill memorably delivered by skillful direction, touchy script by John Michael Hayes, catchy tune by Franz Waxman, powerfully claustrophobic mood and marvelous performances. A masterpiece of its genre.

Skating on Pretty Thin Ice, 9 June 2014

"The best way to do it is with scissors." (Alfred Hitchock's 'humorous note...)

Charles Ramirez Berg notably points out that "Alfred Hitchcock deftly blended sex, suspense and humor." Although there are plenty of other, more outstanding productions that prove the skill unquestionable, DIAL M FOR MURDER is no exception from the rule. This film, however, will leave you speechless because of three aspects: confined feeling, improbable MacGuffin and excellent trio of leading stars. Consequently, the movie appears to be skating on pretty thin ice likewise the leading character who too earnestly plans but too easily slips up...

The setting of this movie is no great spectacular location, like it would be the case of NORTH BY NORTHWEST or VERTIGO; it does not reach a loud crescendo like in A MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, it is no psychological drama in the mode of PSYCHO or SPELLBOUND nor does it reveal any Hitch's haunting effects like THE BIRDS or REBECCA. DIAL M FOR MURDER, the first movie made in 3D technology (paradoxically, released in the format after Hitchcock's death) with the screenplay by Frederick Knott, can boast of something on its own: striking use of colors, innovative experiments with visuals as well as almost claustrophobic settings that results in a rather confined feeling. The camera-work beautifully corresponds to the perceptions of viewers who are, in a way, involved in the world of the characters. Sometimes, the camera positions itself in such a way that even our perceptions resist the supreme spell of suspense. Consider the image from the top when the murder is being planned. We see the flat suddenly, in a different way, more from the watcher's point of view. For every little step is measured, every movement planned. Yes, we cannot escape being there, feeling the mood of the growing action and awe inspiring magnetism of single details.

The movie's MacGuffin (famous Hitchcock's concept) revolves around the key that requires particular attention absorbing a viewer entirely. Here, as nowhere else, the director's precision and considerable commitment is remarkable. Mainstay thematic concerns, like suspense, wit, obsessive desires, neatly-planned murder are present here along with the director's cameo presence that does not make us wait forever. While tension grows, mistrust appears to place seeds of doubt about the motives. Objects like notes, a latchkey, gloves, watch and telephone create this tension remarkably. Unlike some other films, we know what happens, we seem to know the motives, nothing truly might appear as 'unpredictable' and yet, the viewer's attention is kept throughout in truly impressive tension. You cannot simply allow yourself for skipping even the slightest detail though you know who the villain is and you know that the villain is doomed to be punished (for unlike in real life, movies of the time had to punish the baddies). But this is achieved primarily thanks to wonderful performances.

Although there are many supporting cast who do wonderful jobs and also contribute considerably to the magic of the entire movie, the trio of Grace Kelly, Robert Cunnings and Ray Milland is unforgettable. One of the three films that resulted from Grace Kelly/Hitchcock's great rapport sheds light on some new aspects of this beautiful, talented, highly sophisticated woman that embodied Hitchcock's ideal of beauty. She is captivating as Margot, a woman torn apart between two men, whose feelings are constantly changing, a woman whose relationship with her husband appears to be on pretty thin ice, whose illusion turns into disillusion and trust into mistrust. The entire emotional scheme of the movie is placed in her and delivered perfectly. Ray Milland is another milestone performance of a man who is exact, precise, stylish, decisive, extremely controlled and yet, not thoroughly. Something must break him at last...Robert Cunnings is a typical Hitchcock's positive character who is though very lucky to merely witness all that is going on.

Among the supporting cast, particular attention should be paid to Anthony Dawson as Captain Lesgate, a reflective, rather sympathetic character subverted to a murderous scheme and punished most. John Wyman also does a fine job as police officer Hubbard.

DIAL M FOR MURDER, though not one among Hitchcock's top movies, is a highly entertaining, extremely involving movie that I would recommend to everyone who is bored with fake development of schemes and silly climaxes that we encounter so often nowadays.

Yes, authentic make-believe is something that makes this film so convincing, like Tony who makes everything look authentic since this border between reality and disguise might be placed on pretty thin ice. will never forget these scissors... 9/10

Inspiring, Motivating, Austere, 2 June 2014

There are such special people in our lives that we cherish regarding them as those who left an undeniable trace on our memory lane. These people left a bit of themselves in us not through words but deeds that awed us. Yes, example speaks far more powerfully than words. Such is the theme of this wonderful movie where you cannot see everything if you rely solely on the basic senses. Amidst a lot of reviews on the movie, Roger Ebert's observation occurred most convincing to me: "this movie's theme is trust" while "the most striking element is the intelligence of the language."

Chuck Norstad is a simple youngster, there is nothing unusual about him. Yet, some delicacy of his character and inner conflicts resulting from his upbringing, the absence of a man in the family, some confusion stimulated by female dominance in his house do not allow him to listen to his own inner voice, his male voice. An ambiguous situation in his home truly considers a serious obstacle. His peers, therefore, ignore him and mock him. His destiny, however, grants him with a wondrous gift, a teacher like no one else, one Mr Justin McLeod, misunderstood terribly by the locals, a man seemingly living as a recluse within the walls of his own world, a tutor, a friend, a face that will always be with him from the moment they fist meet. Yet, far is the way from overcoming the fear of "otherness" of this man to friendship of uncommon and unpredictable price...

The movie's major strength, apart from the two wonderful performances that I am going to discuss later, lies in the austere form it takes. That is clearly revealed in the language (somewhere, images speak more than script, elsewhere, the script is clever and very much corresponds to the feelings of particular scenes). It is no preaching, prescriptive picture of human relations, it is no wordy script delivered with considerable pomp, it is just a simple, natural and genuine depiction of growing friendship that does not take into account any borders, like age difference, some background rumors or any other prejudice. Consider, though, that this friendship, which is also tutorship, does not exclude any storms of diverse emotions, torments, confusion. It is no oasis of idyll in the boy's escape world. It is natural, growing under the custody of mutual loyalty and honesty. And performances?

No wonder that all the supporting cast appear in the shadow of the two leading characters, Nick Stahl as Chuch and Mel Gibson as McLeod. What a wonderful duality the two deliver in their roles, what a splendid bunch of diverse human emotions!

Nick Stahl gives a tremendous performers for his age delivering all that is necessary for is role and supplying us with additional assumptions about the boy of his age. The difficult age of puberty is handled in a respectively subtle manner. In one scene, we see him looking at the Playboy magazine and there is a slight indication of the strong connection between the visual and mental stimuli. What this boy sees is deeply carved in his psyche, what he experiences is deeply influenced by his ever-going unpredictability. However, he is most interesting in the relation with Justin McLeod: the growing trust, the growing desire for loyalty, mutual understanding and, foremost, ability to think on his own. He is a good student who has a good teacher, the one who helps him, inspires him to discover the complexities of the world around, including hard, witty, challenging, rewarding moments.

Mel Gibson is impressively captivating as a disfigured character, a man of great inner conflicts and intense abandonment, yet, a man who can beautifully capture the very essence of good vs evil. One of the most memorable moments is when he recites Shakespeare's MERCHANT OF VENICE to little Chuck and focuses on the aspect that, seemingly, refers to his personal situation. Inspiring and touching. His early meetings with Chuck are most interesting, though. The growing confidence endangered from time to time by some vague, even bizarre reactions memorably build up emotional resonance of the relation that is crucial for the story to be rightly interpreted. We do not find out much about his past, that does not matter. We are to conclude as the boy is to conclude who the man is once you get to know him in reality and put aside all you have merely heard of him.

An educational film highly worth seeing! A movie that captures the gist of those few human relations that deserve to be called 'friendships.' Yes, a human being can be far more to another human being than just a sheer stranger, someone who meet and pass by, whose face you easily forget. He can be a unique 'face,' somewhere out beyond the edge of the crowd, which, for some short period perhaps, gives freely and generously moments of grace.

Stupendous Achievement and Highly Satisfactory Entertainment, 21 May 2014

Just after the title sequence designed by Saul Bass, the opening shots immediately bring to mind the hallmarks of the movie's director, the Master of Suspense whose stories memorably imprisoned the characters in a world of wit, suspense, drama, erotic overtones and highly manipulative emotions. Along with the Expressionist influence on his movies and certain bases created within the walls of Hollywood system, the director's highly sophisticated, unique style pursued within a span of a few decades but, foremost, his frankness towards viewers made Hitchcock stand a test of time. And with his "sardonic, mischievous wit" and the "magnetism of his casts" (Carter B. Horsley), including Ernest Lehmann's witty and clever script, NORTH BY NORTHWEST appears to be Hitchcosk's milestone and "perhaps his most fully realized film." (Charles Ramirez Berg).

All seems to be around an old Hollywood saying: "boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl after all." And although this saying appears to find its resemblance within the themes of many movies, when supplied with Hitch's suspense, it results in stupendous achievement and a highly satisfactory entertainment.

To start with, it appears that most of the movie's charm and strength lies in the lead performance by Cary Grant as a "man on Lincoln's nose," likable Roger Thornhill. Unlike James Stewart, Cary Grant, the prototype of the ideal man and a man-bridge of generations at the turn of periods, supplies us with the most crucial aspects of good performance. He is wonderfully witty, outstandingly skilled, almost an athlete on the screen, a perfect leading man as well as the actor capable of bringing about the very best thrills and putting emotional resonance into the story. His performance is so powerful that we, as viewers, simply skip certain flaws in the story. He is never too much overwhelmed by the role, never too easily taken with emotions and by that his role remains one of the most authentic achievements on the screen. Being his fourth role under the direction of Alfred Hitchcock, he proves excellent rapport with the Master of Suspense. The director's sense of humor goes perfectly well with Grant's comic skills, the director's style goes well with Grant's mystique, the director's psychological overtones and hidden meanings go beautifully with the actor's subtle, transcending acting abilities. The best moments include the drunkard's driving (which B Horsley rightly labels as "pure buffoonery") and the art auction, a typical Hitch-like scene of a public event interrupted. No wonder Pauline Kael once pointed out that Grant "appeared before us in his radiantly shallow perfection and that is all we wanted of him."

FEMALE CO-STARS: Hitchock's preferences of beautiful blonds on the screen does not meet any exception in NORTH BY NORTHWEST. It is no Grace Kelly or Ingrid Bergman, but an actress who can perfectly stand a chance against lots of expectations and requirements of the more demanding audiences, Eva Marie Saint as a 26 year-old Eve Kendall. She manages to give a performance that initiates a true clash of senses: radiantly awesome whilst being a stranger on a train so much taken with the man's face, stunningly captivating whilst being a spy within a more organized institutionalized group, undeniably sexy capable of bringing all erotic thoughts to life whilst being totally dressed. The best moments include the train sequence, in my opinion. That sequence brings all to heights of witty intelligence and a great touch of climbing up and proving to him why she has been so good to the man. The two (Eva Marie Saint and Cary Grant) appear to embody contrast themselves, contradiction of loneliness vs togetherness. "Boy gets girl after all and loneliness happily leads to togetherness...

Among the supporting cast, each viewer will surely be stunned by the performance of James Mason, "deliciously pernicious" with "cool elegance and authority" (B. Horsley) drawing parallels to James Bond's villains. His scenes are ostentatiously cold and innately captivating. The theme of a mummy's boy is developed by Jessie Royce Landis who plays the protagonist's mother in some hilarious moments. Martin Landau is also interesting in his early role as Leonard.

Amidst the merits of the movie, two points need a special mention: excellent shots that Alfred Hitchcock was famous for and the score by Bernard Herrman. It's no need to say how beautifully the tunes correspond to the action, the whole storytelling, how balanced the score is and how strongly it teases our imagination, our assumptions, gently caressing our senses. The shots reveal grandeur at Glen Cove estate but reach the pinnacle at Mount Rushmore sequence which has revealed much of the director's haunting flair for Expressionism. So much as the Golden Gate Bridge is a silent character of VERTIGO, Mt Rushmore serves that purpose in NORTH BY NORTHWEST, being even unforgettable crescendo of the finale.

While seeing NORTH BY NORTHWEST after a few decades, you have this unusual feeling that you are watching something unique, something that may still entertain you, enthrall you, touch you, amuse you and, foremost, bring all the thrill of suspense to a unique scale of perceptions. Charles Ramirez Berg put it nicely in his article highlighting Hitchock's legacy that "this quintessential chase movie is full of the things for which we remember Alfred Hitchcockl..." What are the things? No need to enumerate them, just see the film and find for yourself/yourselves.

Pope John Paul II (1984) (TV)
Early But Accurate Biopic, 4 May 2014

Unlike Krzysztof Zanussi's FROM A FAR COUNTRY, Herbert Wise's POPE JOHN PAUL II stands out a truly early biopic of the Pope John Paul II. Its storyline deals mostly with Karol Wojtyla, the boy, the young priest, the bishop, the cardinal. That has been beautifully illustrated by another reviewer before me who gives us inspiring facts and vital numbers. In Herbert Wise's movie, there is nothing about John Paul II as the Pope since the film ends with the inauguration of 22 October 1978. In this way, it served as a film which made his person known to the vast audiences in the 1980s. Yet, as another reviewer before me nicely pointed out, the movie serves the purpose to depict more a man than a church leader. In what way?

DON'T MISS THE POINT... Made very much in the mode of a TV production (with its flashbacks and lengthy plots) POPE JOHN PAUL II relies on certain aspects in the life of this great man, not only the spiritual leader of the Catholics around the world but all people of good will. Seemingly, one of the major aspects of his mission that spanned almost three decades was UNITY that set forth a new civilization built upon peace and mutual respect. Hardly anyone of some sense of justice, understanding and tolerance (the last being one of the most fundamental themes of our existence) may pass his person indifferently. If viewers miss that point of unity, it is very hard to resist the temptation of partiality.

WHAT IS 'BEING A POLE?' Herbert Wise's movie's major strength lies in the insight into Polish reality and especially Polish religiosity which the director together with the writer Christopher Knopf memorably developed. Karol Wojtyla, future non-Italian pope John Paul II, was brought up in a country heavily influenced by its history, its sentiments, its customs and rich traditions. However, during his life, Poland was torn apart by two hostile forces, some of the most horrid monsters that arose in the history of mankind. Therefore, we must add one more theme to his upbringing context: fight for freedom amidst the storms of two greatest regimes of the 20th century: Nazism and communism. The former was conquered with the end of WWII while the latter spread its poisons far to the times when Wojtyla was elected pope. The characters, some fictional and some historical, reveal much of the thought and ideology that forced Poland to look the way it was from the 1940s (practically our protagonist's youth) to the 1970s. And young Karol? A noble character of youthful joy and enthusiasm who faces the ruins of his dreams and captivity, even death of his closest family and friends? Does he complain and mourn his plans that, naturally, could not be materialized, dreams that could never be fulfilled in such wretched reality?

No, he cares for others and learns to bring out the best of man. He has a Jewish friend, he helps Jewish people (note the Teitelbaum family) as well as Poles, he organizes a secret theater (his second love except for theology) among the resistance, he works physically in Solvay and, foremost, the voice of God takes over his love for acting. He overcomes every hardship with the rosary, complete confidence in Virgin Mary that he later as Pope manifested through Totus Tuus. It is very important to note that there are several scenes when we see him praying earnestly while the roar of bombs rage outside. Yes, these times made him a man of prayer and confidence. These times made him entirely aware that the last word belongs to God, to Love, to Life and Freedom.

CAST: Some viewers may have doubts whether the right actor/actors were cast for the role. While Michael Crompton is an almost perfect young Karol Wojtyla with the unique charm and gentleness of his face and striking intelligence, Albert Finney does no worse combining humor and seriousness, no fake holiness. Mind you his scenes with the youngsters or the cardinal who wears wrong socks. Unfortunately, he is usually compared to Jon Voight among the international audiences (the actor played John Paul II much later).

The supporting characters, mostly played by internationally well known cast constitute an interesting aspect of the film. While John McEnery portrays one Nicholas, a replacement of cardinal Dziwisz (which is changed historically), others play the eminent figures not only in the biography of the Pope but also in the history of Poland and Polish church. And...Nigel Hawthorne portrays cardinal Stefan Wyszynski - a milestone figure, the Servant of God called the Primate of Millennium; Jonathan Newth gives a convincing portrayal as Adam Sapieha, Malcolm Tierney is an interesting character of a communist sticking to a very subjective concept of dialog (consider the scene about the Corpus Christi procession); Robert Austin is a Nazi, Hans Frank, the governor in Cracow while Lee Montague is a memorable general Konev treading on the ruins, representing the second oppressor of Poland (mind you both appear merely in the meeting with Adam Sapieha). A mention must be made of Alfred Burke as Karol Wojtyla Sr and the first spiritual mentor of Karol.

THE MOVIE'S WHEREABOUTS: Just a note about the filming locations. Interestingly, the film was not filmed in Poland at all. Due to communist regime and some other circumstances that prompted the producers to select other places, it was filmed in Rome, of course, and in Graz, Austria.

Now, when John Paul II is a saint, when all seems to be a matter of past for some, this film constitutes a nice chance to consider this historic person once again in the universal need for a teacher of the significant human values like mercy, unity, peace, dignity, sanctity of life and hope.

An early but accurate biopic about the way of a Man, not merely a way to the heights of the Catholic Church but, foremost, a Way to human hearts.

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