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Der Schatz (1923)
Like a 17th century Germanic 'Kiss Me Deadly'
This is very different from Pabst's later and more famous films, Pandora's Box and Diary of a Lost Girl. It's more in line with the other German Expressionist stuff of the period: gothic, shadowy, sort of ponderous, and with a simple moral message. But there's also some humor, so it's not as totally downbeat as some of the other German silents. The acting's stylized, mildly hysterical, but in a good sort of way--plenty of maniacal laughter and such. I saw it without English intertitles (and with very limited, maybe 20-30%, comprehension of German), and it was still quite understandable and quite watchable.
Le tournoi dans la cité (1928)
Exists in part
This isn't really a Jean Renoir-originated film. It was commissioned by a historical society to commemorate 500 years of history in whichever French city it was that this was made. Portions of the film are apparently lost, and what I saw was a three-reel reconstruction made much later, probably by the BBC. It runs about 30 minutes. It kind of tells a complete story.
It's a fairly large-budget, swashbuckling costume drama set in the 16th century in the court of Catherine de Medici. She, at the time, was trying to reconcile Catholic and Protestant factions in France. She promises to marry one of her ladies-in-waiting to a prominent Protestant nobleman (who's portrayed as the bad guy in the piece), in exchange for his promoting peace. But the lady has already promised herself to a Catholic nobleman, whom she loves, and who is a good buddy of her brother's. The Protestant taunts the brother about how he's going to have his sister; they fight a secret, illegal duel, and the brother gets killed. Finally, there's a big tournament between the rival lovers, the Catholic and the Protestant, with jousting and swordplay and whatnot. The Protestant is winning. But while this is going on, the he is betrayed by a former lover, and revealed as the murderer of the brother. Catherine de Medici orders a group of her men-at-arms to arrest him, but he refuses to be taken alive. He fights to the death. As he lays dying, he asks his mother--the so-called 'Queen of the Protestants'--to forgive. But she has a vengeful look on her face... The Catholic nobleman and the lady are back together, smiling. Some dust blows in the wind. The end.
I'd be curious to know how long this film originally ran, and whether there were additional sub-plots that are now missing. What remains feels kind of skeletal in the way of those very early silent dramas of the 1900s and early 1910s--it just hits the main points of the plot and leaves the rest up to your imagination. It's not terribly engaging drama, as in scenes aren't really developed or built up to; they just sort of happen. But I guess that's to be expected if really significant portions of the film are missing. The costumes and the sets seem nice, as is some of Renoir's camera work, but the print I saw was incredibly shoddy and non-restored, barely watchable.
It's hard to judge something like this fairly, but I give it a 6/10. It's probably only of interest to Renoir completists, and maybe some history buffs.
Sur un air de Charleston (1927)
Just for Fun
Shot in three days on a practically zero budget, using film stock left over from Nana, Jean Renoir made this strange curio just for fun. He never edited it. It was never released. He later gave the footage to the Cinémathèque Française, who pieced the film together.
The story: it's the year 2028. An explorer from Central Africa (Johnny Huggins, a jazz dancer of the 1920s, who appears here in minstrel makeup; he actually was black) arrives in a post-apocalyptic Paris in a flying sphere. He encounters a scantily-clad wild girl and her monkey friend. The girl dances the Charleston to try to seduce him. He thinks she's threatening him and he runs away. She chases after him, dancing ever more aggressively and seductively. The explorer begins to watch, hesitantly, but curiously. The girl draws a telephone on the wall, which turns into a real telephone, and she calls some kind of disembodied human head with wings. Some other winged disembodied heads appear. The girl hands the phone to the explorer, and one of the heads speaks to him--apparently letting him know that the girl's OK. Then the explorer and the girl dance the Charleston together. The girl leaves with the explorer in his flying sphere, her tearful monkey friend waving goodbye.
La legge (1959)
flawed, but highly enjoyable
The Law exists somewhere in the realm between a Hollywood soap opera and a European art film, with a dash of sexploitation.
This film is all about power--how one gets power, how one can use power (to lay down The Law, or lose power, and how power relates to sex. This film is all about sex. Sometimes, it feels like it's all about Gina Lollobrigida's boobs.
The all-star European cast are all good, especially Lollobrigida and Yves Montand, who has the meatiest role in the film, as a complicated local hoodlum who wants his son to become a lawyer, who wants to be the one to lay down The Law, and who very badly wants Gina Lollobrigida, who doesn't want him in the slightest.
Sometimes, the film approaches high camp, such as a couple of odd and unexpected musical numbers, and when Marcello Mastroianni and Gina Lollobrigida romp in the surf amidst a flock of sheep, or when Gina Lollobrigida is strapped to a table by her mother and a couple of jealous maids and whipped (and with a bowl of hot chilis behind her head that's photographed to look like a halo).
It's a gorgeous film to look at. There's Gina Lollobrigida's boobs. And then there's the quaint, crumbling little backwater Italian fishing village, sumptuously photographed in that deep, saturated mid-century black and white. And there's the sea. It looks straight out of a Fellini film.
Jules Dassin's direction is lively and stylish, and keeps the film eminently enjoyable throughout. He veers effortlessly between the comedic and the sinister and the sexy, often in the same scene.
But, although I found the films very enjoyable to watch, I do have some problems with it. It felt sometimes that Dassin was trying to cram in as much of the material from the novel as possible, even when it didn't best serve the film. There were multiple storylines unfolding, but the film's two-hour running time was not enough to accommodate them in any depth. And so the film meandered back and forth between characters and situations without a great deal of focus. I think Dassin would have done well to trim a couple of the storylines entirely, which weren't fleshed out enough anyway.
Still, though, this was solid entertainment. 8/10
The Squaw Man (1914)
The first Hollywood feature?
History seems to consider The Squaw Man to be Hollywood's first feature-length film. However, Custer's Last Fight (Francis Ford, 1912*) runs at just under an hour. I'd consider that feature-length. And it was made in Hollywood. So, I dunno.
In any event, this is a really important film, historically, and Cecil B. DeMille's first feature--and his first film, period. Supposedly, he hadn't even seen a film until shortly before he made this. It totally shows.
It's kind of a clumsy jumble of scenes taken from a book. There's no real cinematic logic or flow. There are lots of scenes of people just standing around talking--which doesn't really work in a silent film, especially without many intertitles. Characters were hard to tell apart, because they were mostly filmed in long shot. I found it all somewhat difficult to follow, although I guess I got the gist.
Still, some of the individual scenes are interesting. I suppose the theme of interracial marriage was probably notable for the time (and its outcome predictable). And the film ws mostly filmed on location, which made it a bit easier to watch. I don't imagine I'll ever feel a burning desire to see this again, but it was worthwhile seeing once as an historical document.
C. B. DeMille did learn his craft quickly. By 1915, he was doing vastly better work than this (Carmen, The Cheat).
* Although the version I saw was a 1920s reissue, and it's possible it had some footage added, but it seems unlikely, because that almost certainly would have been jarringly obvious.
Jersey Girl (2004)
Kevin Smith for the pre-teen female demographic.
So I walked into the multiplex on a Sunday afternoon and sat down and began to notice, geez, there're a lot of young girls in here. Tweens. Odd, I thought, for a Kevin Smith movie. Maybe they're here for J-Lo, I reasoned. And then the previews, and the first preview was for some fantasy movie with horses and castles, and obviously aimed at the pre-teen girl demographic. Puzzled, I picked up my popcorn and Pepsi and headed out to the hall to check the marquee and make sure I hadn't wandered into Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen by mistake. I hadn't. This was Jersey Girl.
I hadn't read anything about Jersey Girl before going in, and I just assumed it was a typical Kevin Smith movie. It totally is not. Oh, sure, there're a few dick jokes and some poop and Ben Affleck, but Jersey Girl is far, far away from the Kevin Smith I've come to know and sort of moderately like.
For me, the experience of watching this film felt a lot like a time in college when I was at a Halloween party, and my one tubby, bearded, video-game-playing, football-watching stoner friend showed up dressed as Princess Jasmine from the Disney movie Aladdin (1992). And it turned out he was serious. I was sort of touched and horrified at the same time.
This movie confused me as well. At first, I thought maybe Kevin Smith was making fun of all those awful, cynically-calculated tween-targeted movies like Uptown Girls, The Lizzie McGuire Movie, and Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen. And I thought maybe he was packing the movie full of clichés and mawkish sentimentality as a weird sort of joke. But then as the movie wore on, I grew increasingly uncomfortable as I began to realize that he probably meant it, or at least was trying to mean it.
I'm generally all in favor of a filmmaker branching out and trying new and different things, but I'm very much un-in favor of an independent and formerly semi-interesting filmmaker branching out into the worst sort of hackneyed Hollywood filmmaking, without any of the wit, observation, and conversation that formerly made Kevin Smith semi-interesting.
This film felt like a film made by a filmmaker who felt he had to make a film because he's a filmmaker, and filmmakers make films, though he had nothing he felt strongly about making a film about, and so he just made a film about this crap. Is Kevin Smith washed up?
Mademoiselle Strip-tease (1957)
It's worth watching, barely.
This film's not quite as trashy as its title might suggest. There's no more nudity than you'd seen in a typical Brigitte Bardot film from the period, only most of BB's movies were a lot better than this. There are no sex scenes at all.
There's about 10-15 minutes worth of good cinema here, mostly where the movie's just kind of noodling along, showing us scenery. There are some cool shots of the characters zipping around Paris in a funny little Eurocar. And then there's the nightclub, with some cool late 50s jazz and the associated dancing. I liked that. At times it felt like a low-rent Fellini film, La Dolce Vita-era. And then there are the several stripteases. The stripteases aren't overly explicit, but they're nice. There's an innocence to them. It's about the art of striptease; it doesn't feel exploitative. Some of the scenes are quite creatively choreographed, although not particularly creatively filmed. The camera just kind of stands and stares. But I guess if you've got something inherently beautiful and interesting on screen, there's no reason to overcomplicate it.
Unfortunately, the rest of the movie insists on having a plot, and not a very interesting one. It was hard to sit through.
But overall, this film was worth a rental. I like the late 50s style. And I like vintage nudity. I'm probably being overly generous, but I'll give this a 6/10.
BTW, the DVD version I saw had, I think, the original 1950s dubbing to English. It was among the worst I've ever heard. All the male voices sounded like they'd been tape recorded and then played back at 2/3 speed. Everyone sounded like James Earl Jones. And some of the female voices sounded exactly like Monty Pythonesque female impersonations. I wonder what my neighbors were thinking; they must have been able to hear this through the wall.
Fucking Åmål (1998)
Arnie Munn's simple grammatical error cost the Swedish navy a crucial victory at Lungstown.
One of the rarest things-a really good teen movie. I've never been to Sweden, and I've never been a lesbian, but this film rang incredibly true to me. I've been a teen, and I've felt that heartbreak, and that frustration, and the boredom. And I've felt uncool, and I've had that impossible crush on the cool girl who barely knew my name. And I had some really amazing times, too. And this movie captured it all.
The writing was dead-on, even subtitled; only once, very briefly, did it feel slightly contrived. The performances were fantastic, especially that of Alexandra Dahlström--I fell in love with her, too. The grainy look and the slightly awkward camera work were perfect for the mood of this film.
I have the feeling that Fucking Åmål was a major influence on someone involved with the production of American Beauty. Some of the conversations between Thora Birch and Mena Suvari in AB were strikingly similar to conversations in FA. Mena Suvari even looks a lot like Alexandra Dahlström, and has a very similar sort of appeal (and they're both Aquarius girls). But Fucking Åmål was a much better, and far less schmaltzy, movie than American Beauty, in my opinion. A small masterpiece.
Torn Curtain (1966)
In many ways, Hitchcock often wore the same pants.
Hitchcock made a few clunkers in his day, but this isn't one of them, despite its reputation. I don't know if I could get away with saying it's one of Hitchcock's ten best features, but I found it to be easily one of his top ten most entertaining. I enjoyed watching Torn Curtain a lot more than some of his established classics, like Notorious and the Birds, even if it's not quite as psychologically complex as those films.
The main thing about Torn Curtain is the photography. It's full of pretty pictures--one of the most beautifully filmed of all Hitchcock's films, with lots bold swaths of primary colors and attractive and constantly changing locations--some scenes look like they were shot on location, while others are wonderfully artificial studio creations, and they're blended together perfectly. Another cool thing about Torn Curtain is that it's constantly on the move. It never stagnates. The pacing is deliberate, but engaging. It's well-plotted and suspenseful.
It's full of fantastic little directorial touches, like the scene where Paul Newman ducks into a bathroom to read his secret spy message. Hitchcock never shows us the room. He keeps the camera tight on Paul Newman, so we can't tell who or what might be in that room with us, just out of frame. It's totally simple, but it creates a highly effective feeling of uneasiness and paranoia. This movie also features one of the strangest and best-filmed death scenes I've ever seen. Hitchcock was still on top of his game here.
Most of the bad reviews for Torn Curtain seem to focus on the acting. I don't know why.
A lot of people bash Julie Andrews just for being Julie Andrews, and that hardly seems fair. Typecasting sucks. And while I wouldn't say she turned in one of the most memorable and overpowering performances of all time, her role didn't call for that. Torn Curtain wasn't a complex character study, it was a plot-based thriller. And Julie Andrews was perfectly adequate for that, even pretty good when she was given a chance to be.
Paul Newman was perfect. He wasn't his usual charming self here. He was grim and tight-lipped and stiff--as would be appropriate for a scientist feeling out of his league, playing a spy in a hostile country, having to pretend to be a traitor--a role which he found objectionable--all with his girlfriend annoyingly tagging along and complicating everything.
I understand that Paul Newman found working for Hitchcock objectionable. It makes me wonder if Hitch deliberately made life unpleasant for Paul just to get this kind of tooth-gritting performance from him. Whatever, Hitch and Paul were both great.
And so was this film.
One of the great joys of prohibition-era gangster films is the colorful dialogue spat out by the likes of James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson. As that element would, obviously, be missing from a silent film, I wasn't sure how I would react to Underworld.
Not to worry. This is a great film, one of the best prohibition-era gangster films I've seen, ranking slightly ahead of Little Caesar and the Public Enemy, and maybe only slightly below Scarface (1932). Tough, tense, tightly written--interestingly, Howard Hawks is credited for the scenario--and with gorgeous DARK cinematography and Josef von Sternberg's usual excellence in direction. I barely missed the lack of gangster-speak.
I suppose this film was a template upon which a lot of gangster films were based. It struck me while watching it how much it had in common with the Coen brothers' Miller's Crossing (1990)--a love triangle between a mob boss, his moll, and his right hand man. And it's all about the gangsters' peculiar code of ethics.
I'd rate it a perfect 10, but for a muddled and badly-handled prison break sequence, which I watched three times and still couldn't figure out. Maybe I'm just dense; maybe it was actually a genius bit of filmmaking and it just flew over my head, but for now, 9/10.
tedium interspersed with moments of brilliance
I should point out from the outset that I was probably in the wrong frame of mind for a movie like this. Today was a pretty extreme example of "one of those days" for me. I sat down to watch this, definitely wanting a laugh. But any movie was going to have to work extra hard to get a laugh out of me on this crappy day, and this one didn't really do the job. I should have probably gone with something simple and sure-fire, like a Buster Keaton movie, or a Woody Allen, or a Monty Python. Or maybe I should have just gone for a long bike ride. But I watched this instead.
This is one of those society comedies, with a large cast of characters, and various complicated goings on. Most of the humor derives from people trying to put a normal happy face on for the benefit of society, while meanwhile things are spinning out of control beneath the surface. It reminded me a little bit of Fawlty Towers, with John Cleese, for some reason. It's the same kind of humor. You've probably seen a lot of the gags in 10,000 TV sitcoms by now, but I suppose this stuff was a lot fresher in 1927. And most of it was pretty well done, I'll admit.
The story itself is simple, but you have to pay a lot of attention to keep track of all the moment-to-moment details. And I guess that's where the movie failed for me today. My mind kept wandering, and I'd have to rewind the tape to figure out what was going on, and I'd get annoyed. I was really feeling the lack of dialogue in this one. I watch a lot of silent films. They appeal to me for some reason I can't explain. But this movie felt incomplete to me. I felt it would have worked better as a talkie. But maybe it was just the mood I was in.
Anyway, there were several individual scenes that I thought were brilliant, and definitely made me sit up and take notice. One was worthy of a Seinfeld episode: it's a wedding scene; a woman notices her husband's necktie is undone, and she repeatedly nudges him and fiddles with her neck. The husband takes no notice. He sits there like a lump. But another character instinctively reaches to check his tie. This starts a chain reaction, and pretty soon everyone in the church is checking their ties, except for the husband, who's still sitting there oblivious. Another great scene is when the groom at the wedding imagines the angry military man back at his house, vandalizing everything, tossing all his possessions out the windows, tearing down walls--the film lapses into total surrealism; this is Rene Clair at his visual best. I love this scene.
For now, I'm going to rate this a 7/10. But I'll try to catch it again some day, when I'm in a better and more attentive mood, and I think I'll like it a lot better.
Devushka s korobkoy (1927)
a different sort of Russian movie
I'm sure there are probably tons of Russian comedies, but for some reason it seems like most of the Russian movies that have achieved any kind of fame in the US are very heavy and serious, and usually fatalistic. Eisenstein had a great sense of fun, and his films often contain comedic scenes, but they tend to be high-minded and serious overall. I'm pretty sure the Girl with the Hat Box is the first pure Russian comedy I've ever seen. I loved it.
The story and the characters were extremely charming. Anna Sten was beautiful. The baddies were more comical than they were truly evil. And everything turns out happily in the end. It could have almost been a Hollywood movie, except the photography is better.
I'd like to see more Russian comedies.
7th Heaven (1927)
This could have been something awful. It's high schmaltz, really fever-pitched melodrama, and the plot relies on a huge number of coincidences. But it all works beautifully, through a perfect combination of acting, directing, and photography, not to mention the incredible lighting and set design. This is one of the great silent movies, and one of the great screen romances. Janet Gaynor had quite a year in 1927, turning in fantastic performances in this, as well as F. W. Murnau's Sunrise. 10/10
A year later, Buster Keaton in The Cameraman would do a brilliant spoof of the famous staircase crane shot from Seventh Heaven.
The Clown and the Alchemist (1900)
Georges Méliès knock-off
Even as early as 1900, the American filmmakers were stealing from their European contemporaries. This Edison film is very much in the vein of the Georges Méliès trick films popular(?) during that era, including borrowing that sort of medieval fantastical visual style. It lacks something of the creativity and ornateness of the better Méliès films, however. But worth a free download. 6/10
Soigne ton gauche (1936)
Tati doing Chaplin
Not a great short, but worth watching for a glimpse of a very young Jacques Tati, and for an interesting look at a French rural village in 1936. Jacques Tati's mannerisms are funny, but underutilized. He could have gotten a lot more mileage out of some of the situations. I had one really big laugh, but the rest of the film was just pleasantly amusing. The editing is very crude. It kinda felt like the editor held up the strips of film in one hand and scissors in the other and eyeballed it. Either that, or there were some frames lost to decomposition or something. 7/10 is probably being a little too generous as far a pure entertainment value, but that's what I'm going to give it, because it's a fascinating piece of film history.
not so good
This was an Italian movie trying to be an American-style thriller. The blurb in the paper called it an Italian Thelma and Louise, but I wouldn't give it that much credit. It did hold my attention throughout--at no point did I want to get up and walk out of the theater, although quite a few other people did. There were a few non-plot related scenes the director handled nicely. She captured a mood--dark and gloomy. And the two lead actresses were quite good, and quite uniquely attractive. But overall, the film was weak.
I blame the writing. This was a screenplay that should have never gotten made into a movie. Just about everything related to the advancement of the plot was carried off awkwardly. Too many extreme coincidences, unbelievable situations, too many people behaving like no real human would ever behave.
In particular, there were these three wild, psychotic teenagers who appeared out of nowhere, and decided to chase and torment the two leads throughout the movie, with absolutely no motivation, and constantly reappearing at the very most improbable moments. The screenwriter relied almost totally on this for the movie's tension--just plain lazy and stupid writing. I mean, c'mon, the two lead characters were toting around a dead body for most of the movie. There are scads of more natural possibilities to build suspense around that. There's no need for crazed teenagers.
And also, unfortunately, there was no nudity in this movie, and just a couple of very brief and mostly clothed love scenes between the two women. I'm not saying that all movies, or even all lesbian movies, require sex and nudity, but since this was basically an exploitation film, it should have been a bit more exploitative, or else there's nothing much to recommend it.
I don't recommend it. 4.5/10 rounds up to a weak 5/10.
Bord de mer (2002)
a boring movie about boring people in a boring town
Films about the mundane are often the most interesting of all films to me, in the hands of an insightful artist who examines all the twisted little details of the mundane. The French cinema seems to often be very good at this sort of thing, and I love the French cinema.
This film was about the mundane. It didn't have a much of a plot. It was just characters who lived in a town, very normal people, and stuff just happened. But it wasn't very interesting stuff, and it wasn't examined very insightfully. The film did capture a bit of a mood, but it wasn't a particularly captivating mood. And while I can't think of much that the film did specifically wrong, it failed on just about every level to do anything right.
There were a lot of characters in this film. A lot of them kind of looked alike, so it was hard to figure out who was who, and what were their relations to one another. I don't mind putting some effort into understanding a film, or even watching an especially complex film more than one time to iron out the details, but this one was a puzzle not worth the solving for me.
The only good thing I can really say about this film is that the cinematography was pleasant--functional, not brilliant, but pleasant. The camera often captured some nice postcard-type shots. But it rarely found the really interesting little details.
I've seen a handful of not-so-good films so far at the Seattle International Film Festival, but this was the only one that failed to get any applause when the credits rolled. I sensed a big collective sigh of relief when the film was finally over. But I suppose there are probably some people out there who would like it.
Wow. Great film.
It's hard to describe this film. It's quite unique. The closest I can compare it to are maybe the Cremaster films of Mathew Barney, but it's really something all of its own.
Hukkle is kind of a symphony of sights and sounds, without any real dialogue. It's just rhythms and patterns and cause and effect, and it's very very cool. Often funny, often disturbing, always fascinating. It's sort of like a nature documentary, with humans as just one of the subjects, just one part of the ecosystem. And underneath it all, there's a strange murder mystery.
I saw this film as part of the Seattle International Film Festival. I hope it gets a wider release, because I'd like to see it again. I want to work out some of the details that I missed the first time through.
Vive la vie de garçon (1908)
Max Linder gets into an argument with his wife. She leaves him. Max is at first thrilled with his new freedom. But then he fails at various domestic tasks and decides single life's not all it's cracked up to be.
This situation's been played a gazillion times by now, and--to me, at least--it's not that funny any more--and it's actually kind of insidious in that it's all about reinforcing the status quo and keeping women in the kitchen and men in control and like that. George W. Bush would maybe get a chuckle.
But this film's worth watching for Max Linder. It's interesting to see the little mannerisms that were later picked up by Charlie Chaplin, and I even saw (or imagined) a little bit of Harold Lloyd. However, people without an interest in film history probably wouldn't find much raw entertainment value in this.
According to IMDb, Max Linder made another movie in 1912 with the same English title as this one, Troubles of a Grasswidower (Max reprend sa liberté) in 1912. A remake?
109 minutes of screaming hate
There were some funny parts, too. And some hackneyed parts. And some awkwardly written parts. And some clumsily edited parts. A few honest, good parts. But lots of parts that tried way, way too hard to push the audience's buttons. There were some astonishing, forehead-slapping, gaps in logic. But the acting was decent--within the confines of the script and the direction--and the cinematography was professional-looking. There were lots of good pictures of Iceland, and that's why I went to see this film. I can only give this film a 4/10, but it was an engaging train-wreckish sort of 4/10. I suppose there was enough I liked about the film that I'd be willing to give the director another try some day.
Polissons et galipettes (2002)
porn was more fun in the 20s
A program of short pornographic films, most from the 1920s, but one from around 1905, made to be shown in the waiting rooms of higher-class French brothels.
Being a fan of silent film and porn, I was really interested to go see this when it screened tonight (to a shockingly large crowd) at the Seattle International Film Festival. Going in, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect--definitely some nudity, probably some posing in long strings of pearls and funny hats, some dancing around, maybe a bit of simulated sex. But no, this was full-on hardcore pornography, with close-ups and money shots and everything. I wouldn't say it was all overly arousing. But it was fascinating, and somewhat informative.
The women were mostly good-looking, but not in that sleek modern way. They had bulges where modern porn stars don't, they had hair growing in places and in amounts that wouldn't be fashionable today. (Although I have to say I'm getting a bit weary of the modern no-hair look.)
But what was cool about most of these films was that the people involved seemed to be having such a good time. There was a weird sort of innocent charm about the films. They didn't feel dirty so much, even though there was lots of perverse goings on--lots of nuns, a bit of bestiality (involving nuns), prostitution, some peeing, etcetera. But there was nothing cynical or ironical about them, and I appreciated that. It was all in good fun. It was almost like watching some of the really early Chaplin films, except with penetration.
I was highly surprised at, and happy about, the amount of lesbianism. Almost every one of these films contained some lesbianism, often involving lesbian nuns. I was surprised because I sorta thought lesbianism was more of a modern fixation. But I guess some things are timeless. There was also a brief, small snippet of male oral homosexuality (and the one dude looked really uncomfortable and unhappy about it, and he practically leaped up and back over to the woman when the gay part of his scene was over).
The highlight of the program, the one that got the crowd screaming and clapping, was a sick and twisted and hilarious animated film about a little man with a giant detachable penis running around and sticking it into things, cows, donkeys, etcetera, and sword-fighting. It was way better than the Disney stuff from the 20s.
The films were edited together in a clever way to keep it all from getting repetitive and uninteresting. Definitely worth my $8.50.
Dr. Jack (1922)
This sickly sweet and laboriously paced 5-reeler is definitely not among Harold Lloyd's better films. Gags are sparse and mostly uninspired. Saccharine melodrama is abundant. The setup takes forever, as Lloyd, the unconventional, but impossibly kindly, country doctor makes his rounds, bringing a little sunshine into the lives of children, the elderly, and puppies. It's like a 1922 version of Patch Adams. Ugh. 4/10.
For Heaven's Sake (1926)
My favorite Lloyd so far...
I saw this film at the Silent Movie Theater when I was in Los Angeles last summer. It was my first Lloyd. Three quarters of the film was as funny as any Buster Keaton film I've ever seen, and funnier than any Chaplin. I tend to be more of a smiler than a laugh-out-louder, but the first chase scene in this film gave me abdominal cramps. It brought the house down. I don't think I've ever heard such raucous laughter in a movie theater before. It was a great, great chase scene. And it was a great experience being in a theater packed with people, even little kids, fully enjoying a 75+ year old film.
I've since seen two more Lloyd features, Hot Water and Speedy, but For Heaven's Sake is my favorite so far. If it weren't for a long and kinda unfunny sequence toward the late middle of the film, with Harold herding a pack of drunks, it would probably be my favorite silent comedy, period--my current favorite is Keaton's The Cameraman, incidentally.
The announcer guy at the theater claimed the print of For Heaven's Sake they were screening was the only one in existence. I don't know if it was an original nitrate print or what. I think I remember that it looked fairly pristine. I hope the film makes it to DVD soon, lest something unfortunate happen to the print, especially if they're going to take chances screening it publicly.
Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928)
I wish this would have been better.
I loved Lon Chaney as a masochistic clown in He Who Gets Slapped, a bizarre and wonderful film. Chaney played a different sort of clown in Laugh, Clown, Laugh, a funny one--supposedly. Flik was meant to be the clown who kept all Rome laughing. But the problem was, Chaney wasn't even remotely funny or clown-like. The best clown humor he could muster was to don a foot-long dildo-nose and stroke a stuffed chicken (a cock?). Maybe the studio should have hired a director who knew something about clowns, or hired a clown coach to help Chaney come up with some funny bits. There needed to be some real humor to contrast with the tragic bits, and there wasn't.
The tragic love story part was age-old, but fairly interesting in a pseudo-incestuous kind of way. It reminded me a little of one of the installments of Kieslowski's Dekalog, and also a little of Fellini's Variety Lights. Chaney was generally better when he was out of makeup. And Loretta Young--I can't believe she was 15 when this was filmed. Jeez, talk about precocious. I feel dirty.
Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
Capra and Grant, together, sucking.
I am baffled, BAFFLED, by the high rating of this film. I thought it was awful. I know Cary Grant can do screwball comedy--see Bringing up Baby and the Philadelphia Story--but his performance here was laughable, and unfortunately not in the way intended. He was bad. He was stiff. His timing was five hundred miles off. I blame Frank Capra, who didn't seem to be able to pull this story together. All his characters seemed to be acting in their own separate films, most of them badly. And it was all so forced and so stagy. I felt like I was stuck in that room with a bunch of loud hammy actors running around.
Peter Lorre was good, though, and the two aunts, and I did enjoy the surrealist strangeness of it all. I love laughing at murder, for some reason. I think this film could have worked well with a different director and different lead, and maybe a few re-writes to some of the more ludicrous plot points. Bob Hope was originally supposed to play Cary Grant's part, and I think he would have been way better in the role. Some of the dialogue felt like it was written for him, and I could well picture him delivering it. I could also see this film working really well as an Ealing Studios production, the obnoxiousness turned down a notch, and the strangeness cranked up, and maybe with Alec Guinness playing the villainous brother.
Priscilla Lane had one of the sexiest mouths in cinema history. Saucy lips and a sly tongue. Just a really good, kissable mouth. Always an enjoyable addition to a film.
Overall, probably the worst Capra film I have seen, and a lesser screwball comedy. 5/10.