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Ung flukt (1959)
A scorching performance from Liv Ullmann!
The somewhat familiar story of a well-to-do "good" boy who gets involved with a "bad" girl from the poor side of town. The story of Anders, a promising student and the apple of his parent's eye, and Gerd, a "wayward" girl who is the bane of her single mother's existence, "You little whore!" . . . "Whore's do it for money. I do it for pleasure!" Sound a bit like a bad "B" movie? It's not. At it's heart "Ung Flukt" is about the unnatural corrupting influence that "civilization" has on human beings, especially the young, rudderless, and in Gerd's case, fatherless. Anders, having had the benefit of a stable family life, has direction and purpose and it is his idealism that provides the source of conflict between him and his parents. He believes that if he could remove Gerd from her hazardous environment, he could save her. Is he motivated by love? Moral duty? A sense of righteousness? Gerd is in love with Anders but is frightened that he'll turn out like her other lovers, "You'll just use me while it's fun." In a bold move, Anders takes Gerd by surprise on a long trip into the forest, first by car and then by foot, to a cabin that he had visited with his Father. At first this environment seems harsh and unforgiving, "Is there no end to this forest of yours?" Gerd complains while finally getting rid of her cumbersome city shoes. "Soon you'll get used to it and will no longer need clothes." Soon the two lovers are running through the forest barefoot, swimming naked in the lake, happy and carefree under the warm sun. But clouds will eventually turn the sky gray and Gerd, like an addict, will be torn between the Good healthy life and a craving for the pleasures and conveniences of the city. Soon their parents will come looking for them. Soon a mysterious and dangerous stranger will enter their orbit and Anders will undergo a "rite of passage" for his manhood with Gerd hanging in the balance. A beautifully photographed and extremely well paced story that showcases the talents of a phenomenal actress, even at such an early stage in her career. Liv Ullmann delivers a positively scintillating and sexy performance as Gerd, one that would be emulated a year later, wittingly or unwittingly, by Lee Remick in Elia Kazan's "Wild River" in which Nature would also play a crucial role.
One Day in September (1999)
This documentary is a revelation for all of us who witnessed on our television sets the hi-jacking of the 1972 Olympics Games by Palestinian terrorists. The ineptness of the German's in every aspect of this tragedy is almost incomprehensible and certainly reprehensible. To hear the interviews with those Germans involved, one would be inclined to share in their obvious amusement at such incompetence were it not for the murder of 11 Israeli athletes. And so one watches this film in three stages, with sadness, disbelief and then anger. For those not yet initiated to the most tragic event in Olympic history, on September 5, 1972, a week into the Olympic Games in Munich, Palestinian terrorists entered the Olympic compound and held hostage 9 members of the Israeli Olympic team, after already killing two who attempted resistance. Their demands were the release of 200 terrorists held primarily by Israel. Israel maintained its policy of "no negotiations with terrorist" while the Germans, anxious to get on with the games, attempted to negotiate a settlement that was never possible. In the end they bungled a rescue operation and all the hostages were murdered. ONE DAY IN September takes a much closer look at the facts, which should be a revelation for those ignorant of the European history of appeasement and the current crisis between radical Islamists and the West. In their desire not to be a target for terrorism, after having three of the Munich terrorists in custody, Germany arranged for the hijacking of a commercial airliner as a means to release their captives with a fictional hostage exchange scheme. One of them still lives to "proudly" tell his tale. The other two were hunted down and killed by Israel, acts that no doubt sparked condemnation from Germany and the UN.
Le mystère Picasso (1956)
A priceless document for anyone seriously interested in art
One of the greatest filmmakers of France, Henri-Georges Clouzot, makes a film about his friend Pablo Picasso, perhaps the 20th Century's most renown artist. Clouzot begins with a proposition: if one were present at the conception of a great artistic masterpiece such as Mozart's Jupiter Symphony, and could peek inside the mind of the artist, what would one see? Fortunately, the visual art of painting offers a filmmaker that insight, and so Clouzot begins with Picasso in a dark room with white light directed at an empty canvas. The artist, like a bullfighter, confronts and ultimately displaces the empty space with drama and suspense. Clouzot takes a minimalist approach which chooses to focus on the art rather than the artist, and he achieves this objective by having Picasso sit on one side of a translucent canvas, and the camera on the other capturing only the ink or paint that has been administered, without the distraction or impediment of the artist - pure creation. A window into the mind of the artist! Twenty artworks are created in this manner, each being overlayed with the often suspenseful sounds of Georges Auric's excellent score. With THE MYSTERY OF PICASSO, art becomes exhilarating as one attempts to anticipate what Picasso will do next. "How will he resolve this problem?" Clouzot has created a priceless document for anyone seriously interested in art.
Jazz on a Summer's Day (1959)
A hefty dose of nostalgia for the end of an era of jazz
Bert Stern captures the Newport Jazz festival of 1958 in vivid color and with clarity. While jazz is the primary focus of the film, Stern does meander to the America's Cup race that was being contested off Newport at the time, along with some diversionary local flavor, which gives us a sense of what it was like to actually be there. Continuing along this vein, during the festival itself, Stern spends much of his camera time observing the audience caught unaware reacting to jazz on a summer day; after all, live music does not exist in a vacuum. It's this footage along with the incredible jazz music that makes this documentary really special. As a viewer we get to react to the music, and react to the audience reacting to the music. That girl with the seductively cute smile in the yellow dress, and that gruff man hiding behind the shades with the nervous twitch are people that we can connect to from our own personal experiences at open air summer concerts. The feeling of community one gets as the music breaks down the barriers and the sun begins to set. Stern allows his moving compositions to develop and flesh out the character of his subjects, giving us a nostalgic feeling for a time gone by that may have occurred long before we were even born. It does not matter because we are there! But this particular slice of time has special significance, because jazz would soon be replaced in popularity by Rock & Roll. We watch it happen before our eyes as a young Chuck Berry takes the stage. Backed by some excellent jazz musicians, all looking "amused" but not taking very seriously the music that would knock them off the charts for good within a couple of years. As Berry's classic Rock & Roll riffs project across the audience, young people spontaneously jump to their feet and start moving to the rhythm while their parents watch, perplexed.
A moving documentary told by adults speaking as children
During that relatively small window of time, prior to the beginning of Hitler's conquest of Europe, when exportation rather than extermination was still the prudent solution to the "Jewish Problem", a rescue plan called the Kindertransport was begun which provided for the relocation of Jewish children from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia into Great Britain. INTO THE ARMS OF STRANGERS is a documentary that examines the Kindertransport program through the eyes of the participants. No broad social commentary here, just remembrances of parents that had to send their kids away to a foreign land and into the arms of strangers so that they might survive the Nazi barbarians. The difficulty of having to provide a whole life's worth of instruction to children just before those devastating last goodbyes. A little girl wondering why, just after Hitler annexed Austria, none of her long-time Austrian friends showed up for her eighth birthday party. Parents desperately trying to keep the harsh reality of Nazi occupation from the innocent little people oblivious to the evil of man. And once the children were safe in Britain, their desperate attempts to get sponsors for parents left behind and for those lucky enough to be re-united with family after the war, having to say goodbye once again, only this time to broken hearted foster parents. This documentary is made more effective by snap-shots of the children, archival footage of Nazi Germany during the late 1930's ( a veritable sewer of anti-Jewish destruction and propaganda), and in this context, the painfully frightening sound effects of broken glass, trains and the voices of children singing in German, which seem strangely perverted; an unfortunate consequence which Germans should never forgive the Nazi's.
An opportunity missed for McNamara to come clean
A documentary that is disturbing and compelling in a Koyaanisqatsi "life out of balance" sort of way. Indeed, the haunting score was composed by Philip Glass. Filmmaker Morris takes the interrogation approach in his interview with McNamara, the infamous Foreign Secretary during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and consequentially the guy in charge of the Vietnam War during the 1960's. A kind of "where were you on the night of . . . " that ends up being a forum for the former Secretary to discuss his "Eleven lessons" about warfare, wise advice that is almost surreal coming from the mouth of one who seems oblivious to his personal culpability during a very tragic part of American history. Essentially McNamara says that "we were dead wrong and thousands of people died as a result, but I was not personally responsible". He goes even further, suggesting at one point a commonality between the Vietnam protesters and himself! Very adept at reflecting the negative spotlight on other "notorious" figures of the military establishment (Curtis LeMay in particular), the ease with which he dispenses the difficult questions has the effect of sending that light out into space, essentially leaving the question shrouded in fog. McNamara still appears to be very much the same unrepentant, beaten "faith in numbers" man after Johnson fired him from his post. THE FOG OF WAR was an opportunity for McNamara to repent that was missed. On the plus side, McNamara's reflections on the Cuban missile crisis and his subsequent dialog with Castro are enlightening and scary. We are told during this film that the "FOG OF WAR" is where a leader during wartime finds oneself when the variables are too numerous to enumerate. Unfortunately, this documentary only thickens the fog. McNamara's eleven lessons: (1) empathize with your enemy, (2) rationality will not save us, (3) there's something beyond one's self, (4) maximize efficiency, (5) proportionality should be a guideline in war, (6) get the data, (7) belief and seeing are both often wrong, (8)be prepared to re-examine your reasoning, (9) in order to do good you may have to engage in evil, (10) never say never and (11) you can't change human nature.
The end of an era
An excellent in your face documentary about 60's rock promoter Bill Graham that chronicles the last days of his Fillmore West which he closed in 1971 along with the Fillmore East a while later. FILLMORE gives us a no nonsense look at the music business after the nirvana of the 1960's had evaporated. The musical groups that flourished in the open San Francisco atmosphere and elsewhere during the mid to late 60's, became "authoritarian", corrupted by power bought with success and money. When love of music became secondary to egos and business interests, Graham decided to get out of the business. And so after watching the daily drudgery of Graham having to deal with prima Donnas, the threat of cancellations and broken agreements, it's easy to see why he wanted out. On the other hand, when talented musicians like Boz Scaggs, Carlos Santana, Elvin Bishop and Jerry Garcia take the stage to do their thing, it's easy to see why he got into the business in the first place.
Psychology/Astrology . . . predators of human weakness?
Part psychological drama, part film-noir. The beautiful wife of the famous psychoanalyst Dr. William Sutton, gets caught stealing an expensive pin from a department store. The infamous astrologer David Korvo comes to her aide but for a price. Through hypnosis, Mrs. Ann Sutton will unconsciously become a party to an elaborate scheme involving murder. What's most interesting about this film is the relationship between psychology and astrology. Are they both pseudo-sciences? Psychological tricksters preying on the weaknesses inherent in the human psyche? Mrs. Sutton suffers from the condition Kleptomania, but is caught between the patriarchal righteousness of her husband, "Stay as you are, as you've always been - healthy and adorable" and the cold cynicism of Mr. Korvo, "A successful marriage is usually based on what a husband and wife don't know about each other." Both Dr. Sutton and Mr. Korvo are bright guys adept at exploiting human weakness in others (especially Ann's), but both fall prey to a shared weakness: wounded vanity. An interesting film that is well worth watching. Jose Ferrer as Korvo is a standout but Gene Tierney seems to have lost her fire and ends up sleepwalking through the film, even when she is not hypnotized.
Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950)
Gritty Noir excellence from Preminger
An excellent opening title sequence starts this gritty Noir off in perfect step with what will follow. The son of a thief who was killed while attempting to shoot himself out of jail, Mark Dixon became a cop in an attempt to atone for the sins of the father, but cannot quite escape the fathers blood surging through his veins every time he strikes out at a hood, and it's his excessive use of force that gets him demoted with the threat of losing his job as detective, the only thing he ever wanted out of life. When he accidentally kills a witness to a murder, panic takes hold of him and he proceeds to cover up the evidence, but fate has a way of meting out cruel justice. Mark will fall in love for his victim's ex, and then her innocent uncle through another freak accident ends up taking the rap for the murder when the body turns up. And now the real moment of truth - atone for his own sins and free an innocent man, but probably lose the girl, or say nothing, keep the girl, but end up being just like his father? A brilliantly executed noir by Preminger and Dana Andrews nails one of the best performances of his career as the tormented detective.
Touch of Evil (1958)
Another touch of brilliance from Welles
Considered by many to be the last "classic" noir film ever made, and perhaps the last masterwork from child prodigy Orson Welles, who looks about sixty in this film, despite his 42 years. In TOUCH OF EVIL the "noirish" dark streets and shadows are darker than ever, practically swallowing up the soft tones like a murky swamp. The action takes place in a nondescript U.S./Mexico border town where the worst that both sides has to offer is most in evidence. The famous opening scene (a 3 1/2-minute continuous shot) where we witness a time bomb being placed in the trunk of a Cadillac is masterful. The camera pulls in and out of the city scene as it follows the motion of the vehicle winding its way through streets littered with pedestrians, thus effectively creating a level of anxiety that could not be duplicated with multiple edits. After the inevitable explosion, the drama dives into a seedy world of corrupt police justice and malevolent decrepitude, which is filmed with such a stylish flair, it is almost weirdly humorous and playful! Mike Vargas, the good guy, is played by Charlton Heston and seems more than a wee bit miscast as a Mexican narcotics officer with his face darkened by makeup. When U.S. Police Captain Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles) first meets him he remarks, "He doesn't look Mexican." Quinlan is the ultimate repugnant cop gone bad and Welles has the camera looking up into his nostrils most of the time making his character look even more monstrous. But Quinlan is also pitifully sad. A man who once had the instincts of a cat and the intelligence of a fox has been reduced to an insignificant mass of tissue, who's "instinct" is having a knack for finding evidence that he himself has planted. And while he may be revered by the local officials in law enforcement, he's acutely aware that he is a fraud and petrified that Vargas, has seen him naked.