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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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?'.
Refreshingly too, a film that is actually filmic and which understands the grammar and language of cinema, and, (as is always the case with David Lynch), one that knows how to use the soundtrack as an artistic adjunct rather than merely as a means of carrying dialogue and playing music.
I have always yearned to see a film that captures the truly dark, downside of Hollywood and this is almost it, but how stunningly it reminds us that this City of Angels has probably broken far more hearts than it has ever made happy.
To have set it all in the 50s (that most under-rated of decades which in many ways, was far more revolutionary and potentially subversive than any subsequent ones) was a master-stroke - from the adroit, neat, sexy skill of the opening jitterbug dancers to the rag-doll parody of a Mick Jagger in less than two decades - the road map is all here; in heart-breaking Technicolor and bright Max Factor lipstick and nail varnish.
I'd eagerly welcome a movie that shocked me with its radicalism and ideas, but take away the studied and carefully stage-managed attempts to `outrage' us, and one is left with... what? Vacuous nonsense about two dysfunctional misfits who don't even have enough wit or soul to strike up a lesbian relationship to fill their otherwise empty and boring hours.
A trivial, pretentious and quite unimportant film which has aspirations way, way above the capabilities of the directors and script-writers. It is perhaps worth noting in passing that although the British film censors insisted on just one brief cut of a shot of an erect penis entering a vagina, they allowed a scene in which a revolver is placed in a man's anus and fired. There must be something we can learn from this telling fact, and this at least provided me with the only `idea' this film conveyed to me!
The frantic coach ride, when Karamazov pursues Grushenka when she has abandoned him, must rank, even today, as one of the most dynamic scenes in world cinema. With its rapid cross cutting and editing, allied with Rathaus' incredible score, which uses frantic drumming, Chinese blocks and assorted percussion instruments, it perfectly conveys the desperation and mad love we are confronted with, and, although probably only lasting less than a minute in screen time, leaves one stunned and breathless with excitement.
Then, when Karamazov arrives at the bordello to which Grushenka has fled, can you believe, in a film shot in 1930, (when sound cameras weighed a ton), Otsep introduces an uninterrupted tracking shot, as Karmazov wanders from room to room, trailed and proceeded by the camera in real time, as he seeks to find her, which is every bit as dynamic and fascinating as the opening shot of `A Touch of Evil'?
I am convinced that Orson Welles had already seen this film before setting out to make `Citizen Kane', since so many of the innovations in that for which he was hailed, actually first appeared in Otsep's film. It is a perfect marriage of silent film montage and editing, with all the new potential that sound unleashed fully realised, and Otsep combines the two with incredible skill and mastery.
Full of atmosphere and a Slavonic expressionistic fatalism, it is in many ways much more of a `Russian' film than a German one, (it is interesting to note that a French speaking version was simultaneously filmed alongside this). Although there is a slight narrative blurring and overlap between Dostoyevsky's `Karamazov' and Tolstoy's `Resurrection', (both often filmed in any case), this does at least provide the ending of the film with a slight modicum of hope.
Set within baroque interiors which hardly ever leave any surface uncovered, unpatterned, or not seducing the eye to gain its attention, and contrasted with bleak and hostile exteriors, the inner and outer worlds of human experience are constantly juxtaposed and shown to be in perpetual conflict. If only modern film-makers would study and learn from the sheer economy of space and time used in pre-50s cinema!
As befits writers of the calibre of Dostoyevsky, (and, perhaps even more so, the borrowing from Tolstoy), a wild anarchic spirit animates the characters as they act out their fatalistic drama, (the amour fou that Otsep was later to explore in `Amok'), but, all through, and in part heightened by Rathaus' music, there is a fearful melancholy that pervades it all; a sense of impending doom. These are what we would today call dysfunctional characters, but they are imprisoned in the manners and mores of their time; trying to claw some small space in which they can be free, but in their innermost heart of hearts knowing that it is unlikely to be.
When Grushenka decides to join Karamazov in his exile in Siberia, the train which takes them away, (that constant and valuable cinematic metaphor of inevitability and mechanistic fatalism, and with hindsight, so similar to the transportations used by the Nazis ten years later), is seen vanishing into oblivion, with the camera astride the track, against which backdrop Rathaus added a musical chord sequence that borders on heartbreak, poignancy and pain.
A masterpiece of world cinema that must one day be rediscovered and given its rightful respect and critical admiration.
(A sinister footnote should perhaps mention that out-of-context sequences from this film were strung together as part of the Nazi anti-Semitic film `Der Ewige Jude', (together with scenes similarly lifted from Fritz Lang's `M'), to illustrate what were termed `degenerate Jewish influences in German cinema'. It is fortunate that Otsep and his wife were able to leave Paris where they were then living, just days before the Germans arrived during WW2, since they immediately closed all cinemas and then, after a week or so, allowed a few to re-open which were forced to show `Der Ewige Jude'. Unfortunately, Otsep's career was never able to recover and find the opportunities through which to re-establish himself as a master film craftsman in the USA, and he died in 1949).