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falderal : a moving images blog

Archive for March, 2009

Balletdanserinden (The Ballet Dancer) ; 1911

Monday, March 30th, 2009

Director: August Blom
Actors: Valdemar Møller, Asta Nielsen, Johannes Poulsen, Valdemar Psilander
Country: Denmark

I am getting a bit skeptical of Danish silents, but I suppose I am being quick to judge since I’ve only watched two. I should look for early Carl Theodor Dreyer works and see if they are in a similar style as the ones I’m watching, but sadly Dreyer directed after the films I’m watching, so maybe his films won’t be a good way to compare.
Anyway, Balletdanserinden, I found out, is directed by a famous director during the Danish golden age in cinema, and despite all this, I was disappointed. I wasn’t disappointed in the sense that I was with Ball of Fire, but this film felt so trivial and that it was a film that wasn’t worth my time. That was a bit harsh and maybe I do take that back, but this film was something that one could POSSIBLY call cute (seeing Asta Nielsen in a tutu of sorts was adorable [ref. Picture 1]), maybe this film can be called a (melo)drama, and well, in the end I was like, “Well now! That’s that?!”

The music ended abruptly and so did the scene, and it completely did not help that Nielsen’s character, Camille, is looking at her old boyfriend Jean (portrayed by Johannes Poulsen)with longing eyes and then she sees her new (?!) boyfriend and then they are in a passionate embrace and then the intertitle “SLUT” comes up and ends all the music and the scene. Being a typical college student and being immature, I can’t help but laugh every time I think about that scene and then the “SLUT”. I guess that I will be a terrible student once I learn Danish and go to Denmark to watch Nielsen’s films.
Ok, I’m digressing, but the whole film was rather confusing. Camille falls in love with Jean and Jean supposedly loves only her yet he cheats on her with Mrs. Simon (who I assume is a very wealthy woman). Mr. Simon finds out about his cheating wife and is about to beat her with a whip (you go Mr. Simon!) *ahem* when Mrs. Simon, I assume, says that she’ll stop and all is forgiven. Alas, Mrs. Simon can’t help her urges and Camille finds out that Jean is still cheating on her with Mrs. Simon, thus Camille, in a fit of jealousy, tells Mr. Simon about everything and when Mr. Simon decides to either kill Jean or Mrs. Simon (it’s a bit unclear), Camille regrets telling Mr. Simon about the whole affair and finds Jean and Mrs. Simon, who are not-so surprisingly together, and warns them about Mr. Simon. Camille exchange clothes with Mrs. Simon so that when Mr. Simon sees Camille walk out of the house with Jean in Mrs. Simon’s clothes, he’ll think that he caught her in the act, but it’s really another woman. Camille covers her face with a veil so that her identity is not discovered by Mr. Simon. Mrs. Simon walks out when her husband is still outside and when Mr. Simon sees his wife, he chases her and kills her with a gun. When Camille finds out about this, she becomes ill, but her friend, Paul (Valdemar Psilander) takes her away to his house (sound familiar? Reference Afgrunden) and all is good since Camille gets along with his parents. The final scene confused me at first because the two male characters looked the same, but I figured it all out thanks to the BFI website. Camille is alone when she sees Jean. Jean is glad to see her and he kisses her hand when Paul sees them, but Camille all too easily leaves Jean for Paul and the film ends.

Nielsen’s performance was below-par and I thought she over-acted in some parts. I felt as if she was nothing special especially since the other actors were pretty naturalistic. The death scene with Mrs. Simon wasn’t as bad as the one in Afgrunden and overall, nothing too spectacular in the acting department.

I adored the clothes and Nielsen had THE BEST HAT EVER! That is why I screencapped it for you. Also, I screencapped the room so that you can see the beautiful furnishings yet there is the flimsy door with the painted on decoration like the one I described in Afgrunden. I am still upset with Nielsen’s performance because I felt as if she got worse in comparision to her performance in Afgrunden, which I thought was pretty good. She acted more with her body than with her eyes and face, which is probably why I am thinking this, but still, it was disappointing. And that last scene! Really! There wasn’t even a moment when Camille thought for a second before she made a choice with which man she’ll be with, but she just went from one guy to another.

Maaike commented on my other Nielsen related post saying

I’m really curious to see the film now, though what you’ve written pretty much corresponds with the other Gad films that I’ve seen, in that he is basically a crummy director who chooses stories that are kind of odd and where you can’t really tell whether there’s supposed to be a ‘message’ or not, and whose only saving grace is basically that he employed Asta and let her do whatever she wanted.

and her thoughts on Gad films reflect this film as well. Sure it’s not directed by Gad, but I didn’t think Blom was anything special and there didn’t seem to be much of a difference between the the style of Gad or Blom. I was happy that it shows Camille in a positive light since she got over her jealously and “for the sake of love” (I think that is what the intertitle said. How corny.), she tried to save Mrs. Simon and Jean and she stayed with the nicer guy. After watching one too many Korean soap operas, I do get skeptical over situations when women have to choose between the nice guy and the jerk because they always pick the jerk, but this film didn’t disappoint me in that aspect.

IMDb link: Balletdanserinden
Where to buy: Danish Film Institute Net Shop, Edition Filmmuseum

Ball of Fire ; 1941

Monday, March 30th, 2009

Director: Howard Hawks
Actors: Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck
Country: U.S.A.

I expected this film to be really good and had high expectations since I adore films written by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder and films directed by Howard Hawks, but I was a tad bored with this film. Something about it felt really dry and even in scenes that I would have usually been amused by, such as the scene when the professors are trying to figure out the conga, I wasn’t. I was almost amused, but in the end, I felt indifferent about it just like I felt with the rest of the film. The gangster sub-plot was not interesting to me at all, and on top of that, the main story between Sugarpuss (Stanwyck) and Professor Bertram Potts/”Pottsie” (Cooper) was… well… boring! I watch old comedies even if I know how it’s going to end because they’re fun and the dialogue is good, but I didn’t think there was anything redeemable about Ball of Fire. I admit that I was extremely tired when I watched it (and still am), and when I was looking forward to a good laugh and didn’t get any, I was disappointed. I thought Stanwyck was a great actress like always (I’m sure that you’ve picked up by now that I adore her), but there was something just lacking. I felt that the film had potential when I read the intertitle that introduces the film, but in the film, there wasn’t that extra “oomph” that made it funny or anything special. The dialogue was good at times, but I felt as if Cooper just didn’t match up to Stanwyck’s caliber, which is probably why I felt that something was missing.

Now that I look at the screencap I took of it, it does look like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which is mentioned, except that Prince Charming is actually one of the dwarfs. Or maybe not since Pottsie is the youngest one among the group of professors and there are eight of them, thus I guess Pottsie isn’t a dwarf. I wonder if this film is like a remake of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs because I did watch another film called Midnight, which was a remake of Cinderella.

Perhaps I just need to rewatch it when I’m not tired, but when I finished the film, my response was, “Oh… okay.” and just drank a cup of tea without much thought about it.

IMDb Link: Ball of Fire
Where to buy: Amazon.com

The Lady Eve ; 1941

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

Director: Preston Sturges
Actors: Barbara Stanwyck, Henry Fonda, Charles Coburn, Eugene Pallette, William Demarest
Country: U.S.A.

The Lady Eve is the first film I watched that Sturges directed, and can I say that I adore this film? Really. While watching it the first time around, I was a bit bored in the beginning, but it was the little things that kept me going and the second half of the film was great beyond words. In retrospect, I think the pace of the film in the first half and then the second half reflects what is going on. I HIGHLY recommend this film to anyone! Barbara Stanwyck is as lovable as she could be in this film and is intelligent and beautiful, and Henry Fonda plays the role of naïve Charles “Hopsie” Pike perfectly.

I’m not going to give away much of the story and I’m not going to analyze this film because it’s so enjoyable that I want people to watch it for at least that one reason. Sure, I can analyze it, but I simply don’t want to! Even after doing a plot segmentation of this film for a class, I still like it; actually, the plot segmentation made me appreciate this film even more, particularly the script. I am definitely in the boat with The Lady Eve fans.

It’s the little things that make the film great and I’m going to just point out some of my favourite parts of this film.
Starting with the credits, can you deny the cuteness of that? I’ve never seen an animation for credits in old films and I did read that it was because the real snake in the film was uncooperative thus Sturges settled for the cartoon. I thought it was a cute and whimsical touch to the film, especially at the end of the credits when the snake weaves through the O in Preston Sturges’ name and then gets stuck. I wondered why the snake had a maraca on its tail, but maybe it is to reflect Charles studying at the Amazon? I have no idea.

When Jean (Barbara Stanwyck) is using her mirror to spy on Charles, the way she talks, the way the whole scene is filmed, and how her monologue fits in with the scene is, for the lack of better words, perfect. The whole scene was incredibly amusing to watch and it was one of the moments in the beginning of the film that made me keep watching it. I can say that without a doubt, it is one of my favourite scenes in this film. It is scenes like these that make me love old films because the lines she says are great. If you get to watch this film, look forward to the section of the scene when she makes up a dialogue, which made me giggle because it worked with what the viewer was seeing.
How can I ever forget that look on Henry Fonda’s face? Oh Barbara, if you were doing that to me, I would be all hot and bothered too! I have to say that I was on the verge of fanning myself because it sure was getting steamy between the two character. While watching this scene, I was completely falling for Jean/Barbara. The chemistry between the two characters and actors was perfect; it was overwhelming to just watch them together! The way Jean was toying with Charles and wrapping him under her finger, just like she was twirling/playing with his hair, was unbelievable, and when she is done with him, his response to the moment they had had me burst out laughing. I am surprised how these scenes were able to pass the Hays Code. The ending also shocked me, but then I understood why they were able to do what they did in the end. I’m sorry for the ambiguous sentences, but you must watch it! The lines about marriage made me chuckle and explained their final action.
Oh and HOW COULD I LEAVE OUT BARBARA STANWYCK’S DRESS IN THE PARTY SCENE!!! Edith Head did a wonderful job with Barbara’s wardrobe because I was drooling over one outfit after another.
And as a fan of classical music, I have to note the wonderful use of Suppé’s Poet and Peasant Overture when Jean is telling her adventures to Charles in the train scene. You just HAVE to watch the film to see how great the train scene is when they are off to their honeymoon because the editing, sound, and the visuals work well together to fit the mood and feel of what is going on between Charles and Jean.

I will leave you with this (as if I didn’t say so already), The Lady Eve is a film that is worth a watch whether you will like it or not. There are so many parts that are cute and the script is so well-written that even if you end up disliking the film, I’m sure that you will at least say, “Well, I did like that one incident when…” or something along those lines. Any film with the line “And I hope he’s got a big, fat wife so I don’t have to dance in the moonlight with him” is good in my books!

IMDb Link: The Lady Eve
Where to buy: Amazon.com

Afgrunden (The Abyss) ; 1910

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

Director: Urban Gad
Actors: Asta Nielsen, Robert Dinesen, Poul Reumert
Country: Denmark

Disclaimer: After reading Neko’s post on W., I was completely blown away by how beautifully it was written and how well she laid out her points. Sorry that my post won’t be like hers, but instead, you’ll get the usual Stephany-like post with the lost-winded falderal, synopsis, thoughts, whatever. I am sorry in advance for the rather long post.

SYNOPSIS
The story is of Magda (Asta Nielsen), who is a piano teacher and meets her fiancé, Knud (Robert Dinesen), on a trolley. Knud instantly falls in love with Magda when she steps onto the trolley and when she gets off, he follows her to a little café. They both fall in love and later on when Magda is teaching a little girl, she gets a letter from Knud that him and his parents would love to have her come to his house during summer. Magda is excited and finishes the lesson early and responds to his letter enthusiastically. At the summer home, Magda is seen as a quiet type of girl, preferring to read a book rather than go on a walk/go out with her fiancé and his family, and finally she is persuaded to at least walk with him to the gate entrance of the house. After she waves him goodbye, she sees a circus and she immediately becomes intrigued and is handed a flier. When Knud comes back, she tells him that she wants to go, but Knud brushes it off and does not want to go, but in the end, he agrees to take her to the circus. After the circus, Magda wants to see the animals and the reluctant Knud follows her and Magda wants to learn a dance she saw. One of the circus ladies teaches her the steps and one of the male performers, Rudolf (Poul Reumert), becomes attracted to Magda right away. When he tries to talk to her, Knud takes Magda away, but Rudolf follows Magda and Knud all the way to their house, possibly in hopes of recruiting her. Knud and Rudolf get into a fight and in the end, Knud and Magda just go into the house with Rudolf being angry outside. Later when Magda is in her room, alone, Rudolf sneaks into her room through the window and while Magda is surprised, they kiss after he stifles her screams. Magda runs away with him and leaves a note for Knud, telling him that she has run away with the love of her life and that Knud should forget her. Then we see Magda as an unhappy woman and Rudolf giving his attention to other women. Magda is jealous and whenever she throws a fit, Rudolf puts her in place. By coincidence, Knud finds the unhappy Magda and they decide to be together, but when Magda packs and is about to leave, Rudolf finds her and charms her again. While they are embracing, Knud walks in and then leaves, knowing that Magda won’t leave Rudolf. Then it goes to a scene where the circus troupe is performing and Magda and Rudolf do a sensual act with them as cowboys (I think) and Magda performs a highly sensual dance. It is well received by the audience, but when they go back to the wings, Rudolf goes straight for one of the other female performers and flirts. Magda is jealous and tries to come between Rudolf and the other female performer, but Rudolf pushes her away and isn’t ashamed of his actions and goes on flirting. When the girl goes on stage and performs her cancan-like routine, Magda cannot control her jealously and lashes at the girl with a stick. Rudolf and Magda are fired and eventually Magda finds a job as a piano player at an outdoor café. When her and Rudolf come to the café, she doesn’t want to work, but he forces her to play the piano while he is smoking with some buddies. By coincidence (again), Knud also comes to the café and sees Magda performing. He leaves a note with the waiter saying that “a friend” wants to meet her. When she gets the note, she is reluctant to go and is dragged by her husband to go into the private room to meet the “friend”. When she sees Knud, she is shocked and looks upset to see him, and when he talks to her, she cries. When her husband eventually walks in, he recognizes Knud and a fight ensues, and Magda pushes Knud out of the room and fights with Rudolf. Rudolf pushes her and pulls her hair and in desperation, she gets a knife and stabs him. Rudolf dies and Magda is upset and cries over his body. She won’t let go and when Knud sees what happens, he leaves. The film ends with Magda being taken away by the police and Knud being by himself.

THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS (?!)
I was really excited to see one of Asta Nielsen’s first films, and at that, it was my first Danish silent! Was I disappointed? Not really. It was worth a watch, but I have to say that the film was nothing special. I’m not sure if I’ve actually watched a film created earlier than this one or around this time, so it is hard for me to put this film in perspective in relation to what was going on at the time in Denmark and in cinema. Maybe some cinematic techniques were new, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there weren’t any. There were many long shots (typical of older films) and I couldn’t find anything that was innovative. On top of that, it was Urban Gad’s first film, thus as an “amateur”, I wouldn’t/don’t expect much.
In my Weimar cinema class, I learned that the lack of funds led to creative sets using unconventional materials, such as the use of canvases for Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, and while the sets weren’t made of canvases for Afgrunden, it was quite obvious in some scenes that a set was built using as little materials as possible. I’m not sure about the economy in pre-war Denmark (and of course its economy wouldn’t be as terrible as post-WWI Germany), but I highly doubt that Gad would have gotten much funding for his first film. The flimsy walls of the private room are noticeable, and the doors are thin with painted on decoration to make it look as if it had some carvings. Despite the almost cheap looking sets indoors (the furnishings were nice though), the outdoor shots were rather beautiful.
The acting was incredibly realistic and the only time over-acting was seen was when Rudolf dies. I was so amused by Reumert’s exaggerated acting that I almost giggled until Asta ran and hugged his body, in which it made me a bit sad. He grabs his chest, twirls around, and sticks his leg out before he falls. It was almost cartoony, in my honest opinion. Nielsen is known for her subtle acting, such as a look telling it all, and I can definitely see the beginnings of this in Afgrunden; when she does the sensual dance; that look on her face is more erotic than her gyrating hips.
While on the topic of the “famous” sensual/erotic dance, what I noticed to be a bit odd was that the audience is on the right of the frame, yet it seems as if both the actors acknowledge the camera as if it was the audience and not the people who are not seen on the right.
It was fun to see clothes pre-1920s and the hats were FABULOUS. Asta’s clothes were beautiful as well and she looks great with a corseted waist and a long dress. Another fun thing for me to see was when she would dry the ink on letters by pressing them against some block. Since these are things that I’ve never seen (not the corseted waist, but Asta in such a dress and the ink blotter), it was all very exciting for me.
Now stepping away from the superficial aspect of this film, at first, I wasn’t even sure what I thought. It took a second for me to take it all in, and the “SLUT” intertitle at the end of the film made me confused. I was thinking, “WHAT?! Magda’s a slut?! What kind of intertitle is this? This beats Die freudlose Gasse‘s intertitle with ‘Orgy.’!” It was so odd and didn’t seem to fit with the story that I used a Danish online translator and found out it meant “Finished”, which made sense. So after I got over that confusion, I saw this film as a tale of a simple woman who has her emotions unleashed, which leads her to her ruin. Although the film starts all happy with Knud and Magda, with the intertitle to fit them “Young hearts”, everything seems all lovey-dovey and nice. But at the same time, the intertitle is like a foreshadow, implying (this is COMPLETELY my interpretation by the way so I’m not getting this from any scholarly material so take it with a grain of salt) that the relationship is like the one of young people: fleeting. The intertitle can mean that the scene is of two young people meeting and falling in love, but as the rest of the film shows, Magda’s love for Knud pretty much ends. Magda cannot exactly be called a rational woman, but she was probably a normal woman of the times, but she is also easily excited, as the viewer can see with her reaction to the invitation to her fiancé’s home. At the fiancé’s home, I saw it as a way for the viewer to see how mismatched the couple was. Magda wants to read but her fiancé wants to go for a walk; Magda wants to go to the circus and Knud goes unwillingly; Magda is interested in the circus dance and Knud is a tad disapproving of it. It already sets up for what is to happen and Rudolf sweeps her off her feet when he comes in through her window. Knud is the complete opposite of Rudolf: he is steadfast and is a “moral” person.
In the beginning of the film, Magda is seen only wearing corseted dresses, and although she is seen wearing corseted dresses later on as well, Magda’s emotions are completely released when she does her sensual dance and her non-corseted dress reflects this. She is letting go of everything and in that very scene, she also unleashes her emotions when she lashes out at the other female performer. Perhaps this can mean that a woman’s sensuality and emotions leads to a decline in character, a moral downfall, but while this is what the viewer may first think, it is also important to remember that Rudolf is a philanderer. I would be jealous and angry too if I saw my lover flirting with every other woman. I read on IMDb that eventually Magda goes into prostitution, but I did not interpret the last sequence like that at all. To me, I saw it as Magda being the breadwinner and she is forced to work by her boyfriend while he just chats with his friends. I can also see the prostitute argument because Magda does not want to see the “friend” in the private room and her boyfriend drags her there, which can imply that he is willing to sell his girlfriend’s body for money. It can go both ways and since I have not read anything about Afgrunden, I am not sure what Gad’s original intention was. In the end, Magda kills Rudolf and although this might add to the whole “SEE WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A WOMAN IS NOT RIGHTEOUS!” argument, it was completely out of self-defense, and I hope that contemporary audience sided with Magda. She doesn’t deserve to get arrested at all, but she is taken away by the police.
Knud is uneasy by what has happened and walks in and out of the room and out of the building. I interpreted his action of walking out of the room as him realizing that he could never have Magda. In the last shot, he looks at Magda and tries to reach out to her, but she is in a trance-like state and does not acknowledge him and with glazed eyes, she is led away from the building by the police. This final scene reaffirms his severed ties with Magda as she does not even look at him and perhaps he realizes that their relationship is over since he only reaches out, but never directly approaches her. Even through physical space there is a separation between the two characters.

So what is this film trying to say? Well, I don’t know. Is it a moral story? Maybe. Is it a tragic love story? Maybe. I’m not sure about the “message” of the film, but all I can do is speculate about what the scenes mean. For now, I see it as a story of a woman who goes with her passions that leads to her “downfall” (financially and emotionally). I would rather prefer not to attach any moral judgment on Magda, because is it a sin to run away with a man? To be angry at him for being a flirt? I don’t think so. I don’t see Magda as a bad person and is more upset with her staying with Rudolf. But there is no explanations for a person’s feelings, especially when it comes to “love” (or so I believe) and even though Magda may know that Knud is better for her, she still loves Rudolf nonetheless.

IMDb link: Afgrunden
Where to buy: Danish Film Institute Net Shop, Edition Filmmuseum

W. ; 2008

Saturday, March 21st, 2009

Post by Neko

Director: Oliver Stone
Actors: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Banks, James Cromwell, Jeffrey Wright, Richard Dreyfuss, Scott Glenn, Thandie Newton
Country: U.S.A.

First up, my review is not as complete, detailed and poignant as those by Steph, so my formal apologies – sadly, I ain’t a film student. Despite that, I did take a trip to the cinema a few weeks ago and paid my dues to see W., which, as the title sort of suggests, is a George Bush biopic. W. chronicles the life of the eldest Bush son (Josh Brolin), the most unlikely successor to his father’s throne; his past is shown in a series of flashbacks to the ‘present’ of the film, set during his presidential reign, particularly the early years. Scenes of as far back as the mid 60′s are shown, with Pledge Week at Yale, meeting and courting his first love and subsequently asking his daddy to bail him out of said first love, Harvard, his wife-to-be, Laura (Elizabeth Banks), his stroll/race to the top of the political ladder and of course, what he did when he got there. Even Bush’s infamous ‘pretzel choking’ incident is given some exposure, amusement ensues.

I’d say W. is a film worth seeing for any American or otherwise who cursed the 2000-2008 Bush/Cheney era, the War on Terror that spilled into the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and those who watched as everything collapsed into pieces. Despite that, it is also very much worth seeing for everyone who voted for and supported Bush, and to Oliver Stone’s credit (particularly for someone with such a political background) he didn’t direct this film to be a slam-fest for the liberals or a celebration for the conservatives. I wouldn’t even describe it as inherently political, despite the fact that the second scene is a cabinet meeting decision to use ‘axis of evil’ or ‘axis of terror’. The thing is, W. is less concerned with making a political statement and more concerned with the human side of Bush’s successes and his failures, touching on long-term factors in Bush life which occurred long before he even toyed with the idea of running for Presidency, but which influenced his actions nonetheless – the bond, or lack thereof, between him and his father being a prime example and important subtlety of this film.

There are some general criticisms of the film that I have heard, one being that most of the film is common knowledge for anyone who voted in the elections. To this, I have to point to the very obvious and, to me, deeply disappointing, fact that only around half of the U.S. population voted in both 2000 and 2004. Furthermore, this film didn’t set out to justify the decisions of the Bush era, or even explain them, thus in my opinion, however knowledgeable or not the audience may be on the political life of Bush is largely irrelevant. A cursory interest, I would say, is a necessary precursor to enjoying this film, as is some firm common sense and the ever-nagging reminder that it is, indeed, a work of speculative fiction as much as it is ‘fact’.

A baser criticism, which I happen to agree with, is that the acting wasn’t as fantastic, particularly Brolin, who in my opinion, couldn’t quite mask his disdain for the character he portrayed. Having said that, Thandie Newton does one hell of an uncanny Condoleeza Rice impression and James Cromwell was magnificently dignified as Bush Senior. I was most disappointed that Bill Clinton didn’t make an appearance…

I hesitate to use a ’5 star’ sort of system, as standard, for it can be so misleading. Instead, I’ll leave with this; W. did quite the number on my expectations, and though I wouldn’t put it in a hall of fame next to the ‘greats’ (even in comparison to Stone’s other films; JFK outshines them all!), I certainly enjoyed the spectacle. To be reminded that Bush is a human, and to think about this for a moment, is a highly conflicting epiphany regardless of any personal bias — whether you think he’s lovable but hapless and harmless, or the next bright and shining, Reagan-esque beacon of conservative hope, or simply and crudely, the malicious downfall of humanity.

One film that did spring to mind after I left the cinema was the 2006 faux-documentary, Death of a President, if only for an interesting contrast of Bush’s rather accidental rise as opposed to his inescapable legacy, and of the way such a sensitive subject matter can be explored – in your face, or out.

IMDb link: W.
Where to buy: Amazon.com

Judgment at Nuremberg ; 1961

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

Director: Stanley Kramer
Actors: Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Marlene Dietrich, Maximilian Schell, Judy Garland, Montgomery Clift
Country: U.S.A.

All I can say about this film is WOW. Never have I watched a film where everything worked so perfectly (I lie, there is Amadeus) but my God! This film was just… breathtaking? Perfection? I can’t describe in words how I felt when I watched this film; it captivated me from the credits until the end. Each shot, each camera movement, each scene was so perfectly in place, so exact, so precise, that I can’t even say which scene was my favourite or which scene should even be cut or moved around. The whole film as a whole just worked perfectly together like a Beethoven symphony: if one part is missing or if one part messes up, the whole thing is gone. Every actor was amazing in their roles and each character represented different facets of the situation that I can’t even pick out which character I thought was the most important. Sometimes all-star casts are a letdown, but this film was the completely opposite of one.

One scene that particularly caught my eye though was the sound and editing when there is a transition from Rolfe (Maximilian Schell) speaking German to Rolfe speaking English. The editing was something that I’ve never seen before. It first started with seeing the back of the translator’s heads in the foreground and Rolfe in the background speaking German and then the camera slowly moves up at an angle, looking over the glass that separates the translators and then there is a fast zoom and the transition from German to English is made. One knows that Rolfe is still speaking German, but it is as if that slow move away from the translators and going over the glass is putting the audience into the same plane as the Germans and being able to understand what he is saying. The language barrier is broken and that quick zoom brings us to the location of the setting as if we’re part of the scene. The transition was seamless and perfectly executed, thus I had to point out that scene.
I read that the role of Ernst Janning, played by Burt Lancaster, was for Laurence Olivier. I adore Olivier, but for some reason, I can’t see anyone else playing Janning the way Lancaster did; he played the role to perfection. It’s funny because my Italian cinema professor said that Lancaster is known for being in Westerns, and the only film I saw him in was Il gattopardo (The Leopard), and the role he played was originally for Olivier as well. Once again, I thought that Lancaster was superb in Il gattopardo, just like I felt when I watched Judgment at Nuremberg. I wonder if the name “Ernst Janning” was a nod to the famous German director Ernst Lubitsch and the famous Swiss/German actor Emil Jannings. I know that Janning and Jannings are different, but nonetheless it could be a reference like in Double Indemnity with “Dietrichson” being a nod to Marlene Dietrich.

I am still in a moment of awe with this film. Maybe when I rewatch it, I’ll be able to write something better and make thorough analyses , but right now, I’m going to sleep, thinking about what a great film this is.

PS: On a less serious note, I was happy to see Marlene Dietrich with real eyebrows! I adore Dietrich, but I hated her drawn-on super-arched eyebrows during her early Hollywood years.

IMDb link: Judgment at Nuremberg
Where to buy: Amazon.com

His Girl Friday ; 1940

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

Director: Howard Hawks
Actors: Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy
Country: U.S.A.

While being sick in bed during spring break, I decided to be productive and watch this film for my screwball comedy class. I was trying to decide which film to watch (this or The Lady Eve) and I decided that I would watch His Girl Friday because I know that Barbara Stanwyck would never let me down with her performance, thus I wanted to give Rosalind Russell a chance. I’ve seen her before in The Women and found her quite charming, but I wanted to see her in other films as well. She was great in The Women but she COMPLETELY stole the show with this film. So here I am, sniffling away and listening to Velvet Eden, posting on this site.

Rather than posting a bit of the synopsis, although I might reference some scenes and such, I just want to say: ANYONE WHO ADORES COMEDIES, PARTICULARLY SCREWBALLS SHOULD WATCH THIS. I really loved it although I’m not sure if there was much chemistry between Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. Like most screwballs I’ve watched, this one also sets place in a newspaper publisher (The Morning Post), which already sets up the stage for people talking over each other and quick dialogue. Russell is Hildegaard (Hildy), the ex-wife of Walter Burns (Grant), the editor of The Morning Post, and of course, it’s obvious that Walter is going to try to get Hildy back. And like most screwballs, Hildy already has another man! While the story is quite predictable, it’s the acting on Russell’s end and sometimes Grant’s that makes this film great. I knew what was going to happen, but the quick dialogue is what kept me watching. I could have cared less about the whole newspaper story, but I couldn’t keep my eyes off of Russell. Grant had some great moments when he would make these weird groaning/moaning noises that were perfect for the scene. Ralph Bellamy plays Bruce, and of course, he is the guy Hildy is going to marry, but if you’ve watched some screwballs, you probably know what happens to Bruce in the end. There was a great line when Walter tells one of his assistants to find Bruce and when he describes Bruce, he says, “He looks like that fellow in the movies – Ralph Bellamy.” I should be on the look out for more movie references in screwballs since I noticed one in Bringing Up Baby as well. It was nice to see Ralph Bellamy again since I saw him in The Awful Truth as well and he pretty much played the same character, which made me chuckle a bit.

And how could I not mention Howard Hawks in this post, right? For those who don’t know, Hawks is a well-known director by film buffs and has directed numerous famous films. Maybe you know him as the director of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (you know, the film with Marilyn Monroe singing “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend”!) but let me tell you, he has never disappointed me with any of his films. I loved how he used some subtleties like in a scene when Hildy, Bruce, and Walter are at a restaurant and with the things they ordered and their actions, it was as if it was foreshadowing the ending of this film. First it starts with Walter deciding what he’ll get and Hildy simply saying that she’ll get the same, and Bruce kind of goes with it as well. Then both Hildy and Walter take out cigarettes and when Hildy lights a match, Walter simply drags Hildy’s match over to his cigarette and Hildy gives him a look of annoyance and then lights her own cigarette. I noticed that Bruce didn’t smoke in the scene and then Walter orders coffee with rum and Hildy gets the same thing, but Bruce says that he doesn’t want it. After watching the film, I realized that the scene (the one I just mentioned) was the film in a nutshell. At the beginning, it all appears to be that the three characters are on an equal plane, yet it is Walter who orders first in a forceful voice and when Hildy orders the same in a simple manner, it was as if ordering the roast beef sandwich was something they usually did and was nothing new to her. Then when they both start smoking and Walter doing the thing he does with the match, it’s like bringing Walter and Hildy together and finally with the coffee, it is solidifying the bond between Walter and Hildy while Bruce is in the outskirts. Well, that’s just my interpretations of things, but I thought that Hawks directed that scene and the rest of the film incredibly well.
I probably gave away most of the story by just rambling about it, but really, I highly suggest that you watch this film if you’re up for a good laugh. The DVD I had was by some company called D3K or something and the transfer was HORRIBLE so I hope that the link I posted below will lead you to a better quality DVD. I’m also sorry for namedropping a bunch of films, but hopefully you will watch those in the future as well (since they are all worth a watch) or maybe I’ll post about them in the future.

EDIT (5/17/09): I posted about The Awful Truth, if you are interested in reading about it.

IMDb link: His Girl Friday
Where to buy: Amazon.com

Clash by Night ; 1952

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

Director: Fritz Lang
Actors: Barbara Stanwyck, Marilyn Monroe
Country: U.S.A.

I adore Fritz Lang’s work in Germany such as Metropolis, Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse (The Testament of Dr. Mabuse), and M, thus I was excited to watch one of his Hollywood films. I could definitely see why Lang is considered to be one of the biggest contributors of film noir because the story, lighting and editing were very much like one. I adore Barbara Stanwyck and was happy to see her as a femme fatale in this film, but I am just really unsure about how I feel about her character, the story, etc. What I am sure about is that I thought the cinematography, for the most part, was pretty good, but I would say that it isn’t as great as M. The film set the mood of the film pretty well for the most part and the cinematography and acting went hand-in-hand. I sometimes didn’t understand the point of some shots, such as the shots of seals and fish, and there were parts of the story that I didn’t understand. Maybe it’s because I am watching this film through modern day glasses, because I could not understand why Peggy (Marilyn Monroe) stayed with her boyfriend or why Mae (Barbara Stanwyck) would even want to be with Earl (Robert Ryan).
So here is the gist of the film:
Mae comes back from New York after leaving her hometown for years to find a rich man to marry. She ended up falling in love with a married man, who died and left Mae some money, but her lover’s family took her to court and she ended up poor thus she returns home. Mae wants a man who makes her feel confident, and she seems like a woman who has her own thoughts and cares about herself. She marries Jerry (Paul Douglas) because she knows that she’ll have security in her life, but she isn’t happy with her plain life as a mother and housewife. Jerry’s best friend is Earl and Earl is pretty much a misogynist due to suspecting his wife, who is in show business, of cheating on him. Earl has a temper, isn’t nice to Mae at all and even insults her. Despite all this, Mae and Earl fall in love, which is what I don’t get. I’m assuming that Mae likes adventure in her life and security is something she considers drab. In the end, she realizes that she can’t be with Earl because he does not want to have Mae’s child with them, thus she goes back to Jerry.
I’m assuming that the film is saying not to trust women since even Peggy has a wandering eye for a bit, but in the end comes back to her boyfriend, Joe (Keith Andes). Joe is abusive to her, even getting to the point of strangling her, but she stays with him anyway. Mae also returns to her boring life and stays with her husband and child. There are so many mixed messages because Mae leaves a child and adoring husband because of her own wants, yet maybe her actions are excusable since she does tell Jerry that she is not the woman for him. But then both women in the film come back to their husband/fiancé, thus I wonder if the point of the story is that women are meant to be wives and never live the life they want. It was upsetting that Peggy decides to be with a man who is willing to beat her and that Mae returns to her husband. At the beginning of the movie, there are hints that she isn’t a “moral” woman since she did have an affair with a married man, but she seemed like someone who could think on her own. When Earl does an imitation of a Chinese man, Mae seems to be genuinely repulsed by it and it seems like she doesn’t mind being single. But then she ends up with Earl, probably for some fun in her life, but in the end, she returns. I guess it’s nice that she returns since I did feel bad for her husband, but why did she have to marry him anyway? Probably to get the story going.
So I guess I ended up ranting since I’m not too sure what to think about the film in general. I felt that the cinematography wasn’t all that bad and the acting was pretty good by all characters, particularly Barbara Stanwyck, but I felt like something was missing. Maybe I was just irked about some parts of the film, but it had nothing to do with any technical aspects. Maybe I’m just nostalgic for the Thea von Harbou x Fritz Lang films, but something was just weak about this film. I should watch more of Lang’s American films and then decide if I favour towards his earlier works or his later works, but that might not be a good idea either since I should accept that things change due to various reasons. Social reasons, artistic movements of that time, and political reasons could affect films and of course, Lang’s tastes could change based on what is going on in his surroundings. But of course, I’m someone who likes to live in the past, thus most likely, I’ll be partial to Lang’s earlier films (boo on my part).
Conclusion: I have mixed feelings about this work! Nonetheless, I believe that Lang remained a good director, but the script was a tad weak (and had some really bad lines). But then again… WHY DID HE HAVE TO DIRECT THIS FILM?! Maybe under contract? Maybe he wanted to? I don’t know. Nevertheless, I do believe that it is a film one at least give a go, especially for people who are interested in film noir, people who adored Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity, and people who like Fritz Lang’s films.

IMDb link: Clash by Night
Where to buy: Amazon.com

Posting format

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

For any entries, do not forget to do the following:

  • Choose the CATEGORY that your post fits into. If there is a category that doesn’t fit your post, create a new one.
  • Make sure that you put target=_BLANK after links so that they will open in a new window.

For film posts:
For the title of the entry, please use the original title of the film. If the film does not use the Roman alphabet, please romanize it. You can usually find the original title in the romanized format at IMDb. Then put the English title in parenthesis and put the date after a semi-colon.
This is how your title should look like:
Jules et Jim (Jules and Jim) ; 1962

The format of the main entry should be this:

Director: François Truffaut
Actors: Jeanne Moreau, Oskar Werner, Henri Serre
Country: France

YOUR ENTRY

IMDb link: Jules et Jim
Where to buy: Amazon.com (You can list as many places as you want)

You can also add links to other websites, book recommendations (you can link the place to buy the book), and any other information that you find useful, helpful, interesting, etc.


For film movements, do not forget to click the “Movements” category. For the blog entry title, use the romanized name of the movement in its original language and follow the English name for it in parenthesis. Here is what the title should look like:
Neuer Deutscher Film / Junger Deutscher Film / JDF (New German Cinema)
For the entry, please use this format:

Years: Approximately started from the late 1960s and went into the 1980s
Notable directors: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Werner Herzog, Alexander Kluge, Volker Schlöndorff, Margarethe von Trotta

YOUR ENTRY

In the main entry, it would be nice if you could link websites related to the topic, suggest films that you liked, and book recommendations as well. All this can be attached at the end of the blog entry like the film blog posts.


For the “Thespians” section, once again, PLEASE CLICK THE CATEGORIES FOR IT. The title of the blog entry should be of the actor’s stage name and their birth year and yearof death. Example:

Marlene Dietrich (1901~1992)
For the main entry, the format is:

Notable films: Der blaue Engel, Morocco, Shanghai Express, Judgment at Nuremberg

YOUR ENTRY

Of course, it would be nice if you have recommended websites, books, articles, etc as well.