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Archive for the ‘Year’ Category

Morality and the New Woman

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

Last semester was one that was both heaven and hell. I was taking classes that I enjoyed (for the most part) and the one that I was truly excited about was my independent study. My independent study was a research paper on Asta Nielsen and Mary Pickford and how both women portrayed the idea of the new woman overtly or subversively. Overall, I was pretty satisfied with my paper although I was worried about some of the holes I had in my argument, and the biggest hole is what I’m about to address.

I received my paper back from my professor and she brought up the same question that I had about my own paper: Is agency a good thing if one’s act is selfish and not moral?
I was using Nielsen’s film Hamlet as an example of how film portrayed a woman who embodied the idea of a new woman — the important part being what I considered to be a new woman. For me, the ideas of a new woman were ones tied to independence, intelligence, and worldliness, and the character of Gertrude was one that encapsulated all of them. Gertrude was just doing her thing throughout the whole film! She’d cheat on her husband, lie to her country, and kill her son/daughter and husband as a way to satisfy herself. In other words: she knew what she wanted and she’d do anything to get it.
To have such a character is refreshing because in cinema, many women are pushed around or are just “decorations” in a film (e.g. pretty girl being tied down onto a train track just to be saved, such as in Barney Oldfield’s Race for a Life, 1913) but It reminded me of something that I think I read awhile back (things are getting a bit murky in my head, I admit!) about how strong female characters in cinema are shown in somewhat an antagonistic light, for example, femme fatales.
Femme fatales are intriguing in that I personally find those characters to be absolutely amazing (They’re completely the opposite of me in character that I guess I want to live vicariously through them. But enough with the pseudo-Freudian analysis…) but it is true that people can see these characters as symbols of corruption. Instead of women being picturesque Victorian “ladies”, the shift in gender norms led to the creation of the vamp/femme fatale. Just think about what “vamp” means. Like a vampire, these women are ones that suck the life out of men and make them putty in their hands.

Coming back to Gertrude and my paper, I am honestly struggling with the notion of independence and morality in female characters in film. I don’t believe that one has the choose one or the other, heck, I used Mary Pickford as an example of a woman who used the patriarchal system to her advantage. But when it comes to independent women in early-1960s cinema, where and how do we (I?) draw the line?
Am I severely obscuring the term “new woman” to fit my own arguments? Probably.
Are there strong female characters in early cinema? Sure.
But how are these strong female characters shown? Usually with a flaw or something that appeals to the male audience to placate them.
At the top of my head, I can’t think of a woman who is good and strong. Katharine Hepburn in Holiday (1938) is the closest I can come to.
But then I wonder why is it so good to be good? Or am I on the verge of becoming amoral? And I wonder if I would be stuck with this big headache if these characters were male. Would I brush off their actions or would I be ruminating over this?

When I come up with some form of conclusion, it will be time for another blog post.

Stella Dallas ; 1937

Sunday, March 25th, 2012

Director: King Vidor
Actors: Barbara Stanwyck, John Boles, Anne Shirley, Barbara O’Neil
Country: U.S.A.

Film adaptations of Olive Higgins Prouty’s novels seem to have a way of making me into an emotional wreck. Now, Voyager gets me every time and has me clutching onto napkins and wringing them while watching the film but Stella Dallas made me emotional to the extent that I could not even watch the film straight through. I don’t know what I would have done if I watched it in a theatre because the emotions that I felt were much too great to handle. I am a sucker for melodramas and usually cry through most of them but there was something about Stella Dallas that was almost painful for me to watch and it reminded me of an essay I had to read for class about female spectatorship in regards to melodramas. If I remember correctly, it was about the masochistic relationship that women have and how they enjoy seeing other women in pain (disclaimer: I could be remembering this all wrong), and the reason I thought this was because I continued watching the film when at times I almost became physically ill from watching this film. Even though I paused the film at times to catch my breath, I kept on watching it until the end. Why did I do this? The answer could be as simple as “Because I wanted to know the ending.” but somehow I don’t think it’s quite that.

While watching it, I wondered why I had such a violent reaction while watching this film to the extent that I had to get away from it at times and why I started feeling sick and couldn’t breathe properly. After thinking a bit after watching this film, I think that my fear (of sorts) with maternal melodramas stem from Mildred Pierce. While Mildred Pierce is a film that I like a lot, sometimes I have a hard time watching it due to how hateful Veda is and another melodrama that I have a hard time watching is Imitation of Life because of how Peola acts towards her mother. In both these films, the daughter character has traits that can be seen as despicable (why they act this way can be analyzed and be a wholeeeee ‘nother entry) yet in Stella Dallas, the daughter: Laurel, is not a character to be hated. She is a likable character and quite noble as can be seen in the scene when she finds out that her friends are making fun of her mother. Even though in the beginning she was embarrassed by her mother, she realizes that she loves her mother very much and does not want to leave her mother’s side, even for the chance of being seen as an upper-class, respectable young woman. I was so terrified that Laurel would hate her mother and had to pause the film and take a break for a few minutes before watching the scene when Laurel finds out that it is her mother that her friends are ridiculing. To be honest, I didn’t even really watch it and closed my eyes and ears and looked sporadically to see what happened but I couldn’t take the scene in fully. I didn’t want to because Veda from Mildred Pierce haunted me and I was frightened that Laurel would turn out to be just like Veda.
This was why the ending was particularly hard to watch and why I cried through the whole end sequence. There was no blame to be put on a specific character as to why the ending happened the way it did and the excess emotions that I felt weren’t filtered into how I felt towards various characters. Instead, all I felt was pity and frustration throughout the whole film and there was no cathartic moment or an outlet for these emotions. In Mildred Pierce, I felt anger towards Veda and pity towards Mildred but in Stella Dallas, there wasn’t any division or displacement of my emotions and my feelings just kept on rolling into a ball. Maybe after a few months, I should do a “Stella Dallas Revisited” sort of blog entry and analyze WHY I felt as if there wasn’t an outlet for emotion, at least for me.
While some people may view Stella’s actions to be annoying and that Stella was “asking for it”, she did the ultimate sacrifice by giving up her daughter so that her daughter could have a life that is different from her own. What perturbed me though was Stella’s smile as she watches her daughter get married and then walks away. Sure she is happy that her daughter was able to marry the man she loved but why is it necessary for Stella to be out of the picture? It was obvious that Laurel loved her mother very much and that Laurel would have found a way to have her man and keep her mother close to her. What was the force that drove Laurel and Stella apart? Is it because social image is so important that a mother has to give up her daughter in order for the daughter to be happy? Is image that important that Laurel’s father and stepmother would support Stella’s decision even though they are aware of Stella’s ulterior motives? Would Laurel truly be happy without her mother? I think that there is a very bittersweet undertone to the wedding scene because Laurel still remembers her mother and I don’t think that Laurel will ever forget her even as years pass by despite how they ended their communication with each other. Both characters are trapped within circumstances that they couldn’t fully control as can be seen with both Laurel and Stella being behind bars and I strongly believe that neither character will truly be happy by the trappings that society made for them and the trappings that they themselves made for themselves by accepting the pressures of society.

Finally, I just wanted to say how surprised I was by this film in regards to King Vidor. While I do associate King Vidor with Show People, somehow I expected this film to use the film medium more effectively than the traditional classic Hollywood style. I know of King Vidor’s potential and his interest in cinematography and somehow I expected something a little more from Stella Dallas. Although I DO admit that this film did remind me of the Neue Sachlichkeit movement in Germany because of the film didn’t look glamourous like Now, Voyager, but at the same time, many Hollywood films had this look of even lighting. Also, Stella Dallas didn’t really call for glamour like Now, Voyager did. I guess what did most of the legwork in this film for its emotional intensity was Barbara Stanwyck, but I’m not surprised by that. She is an amazing actress, no doubt about it!

IMDb Link: Stella Dallas
Where to buy: Amazon.com

Pride and Prejudice ; 1940

Sunday, July 10th, 2011

Director: Robert Z. Leonard
Actors: Greer Garson, Laurence Olivier, Maureen O’Sullivan, Ann Rutherford, Marsha Hunt, Heather Angel, Mary Boland, Edmund Gwen, Edna May Oliver
Country: U.S.A.

I haven’t finished reading Jane Austen’s famous Pride and Prejudice because I couldn’t get past the first few pages and always dreaded even glancing at the book or anything related to Austen. I came across this film while my mom was on her old film spree and thought, “Heck, I’m never going to read that bloody book so I might as well watch the movie!” I never regretted that decision.

I have no idea how this film compares to the book but I could care less since I want to look at this film as a film, not a copy of the book. I loved the story, dialogue, costumes, the actors, EVERYTHING! I couldn’t help but relate to Elizabeth, although I think that I’m much less intelligent and witty as her, but I’ve been in the whole Darcy/Elizabeth situation before. Although the ending is predictable, the film is still enjoyable, especially to see Laurence Olivier, as Mr. Darcy, kiss Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Oliver). Even though I didn’t find Greer Garson to be attractive (I guess that’s suiting since Elizabeth isn’t supposed to be pretty? But wasn’t Garson seen as a beauty in Hollywood? She’s definitely grown on me like Irene Dunne so I guess she does have something to her. Now I’m going off on a tangent), I thought she performed her part to perfection and so did Olivier. I can’t imagine anyone else playing Mr. Darcy the way Olivier did… well, except Colin Firth, but he did anyway (I should watch that adaptation). You could just hate Darcy despite his good looks in the beginning, but eventually you see him the way Elizabeth sees him and your hatred for him slowly melts away. I don’t know if I should credit that to the script writers or Olivier’s acting or Leonard’s directing: I’ll give the point to Olivier. I loved the way Garson spoke, walked around as if she was gliding across the floor, and well, she was just charming. I fell in love with Laurence Olivier the first time I saw him in this film and thought he has got to be one of the most handsome men to have graced this planet. Not only is he handsome, but he is a talented actor as well. The way he held himself in a haughty manner but then he had to portray Mr. Darcy’s vulnerable moments and he did so to such perfection that I was smitten by him and the character of Mr. Darcy. It’s hard not to admire an actor who portrays emotions and change so well with just a simple glance, a raise eyebrow, or a gesture. If people thought that Olivier was a hammy actor, all one needs to do is turn on Pride and Prejudice; actually, I think that Olivier was good in all of his performances in the now classic films — it’s just Fire Over England that didn’t strike a chord with me (I’ll blame it on being a British production. I KID!). I think he has a certain charm that makes him able to pull off anything and make it look easy and natural. I don’t know how to put how much I loved the acting of both Garson and Olivier so you must watch this film to see it for yourself!

I can find no flaws in this film and it’s something that I would probably come back to quite often to watch. I had to wait seven months to re-watch it and I loved it just as much as I did the first time I watch it. I wouldn’t be surprised if I want to watch it again in the near future.

IMDb Link: Pride and Prejudice
Where to buy: Amazon.com

Fire Over England ; 1937

Saturday, July 9th, 2011

Director: William K. Howard
Actors: Flora Robson, Raymond Massey, Leslie Banks, Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Morton Selten, Tamara Desni, James Mason
Country: United Kingdom

This entry is for the Viv and Larry Blogathon.

I have been meaning to watch Fire Over England because it stars both Olivier and Leigh so I thought that it would be perfect that I watch it and blog about it for the marathon. To be honest though, I was a little disappointed by it. There were so many big names behind it, specifically Erich Pommer, Alexander Korda, and James Wong Howe and it was obvious that it was a huge production, but it felt like a bit lacking. It reminded me of the large historical films that Hollywood made, for example the 1938 Marie Antoinette where there were great costumes and sets, but that was it. Even the actors seem like nothing and the beautiful costumes just overpower them.

Although I watched this film for Olivier and Leigh, the actress that stood out was Flora Robson. She had so much presence as Queen Elizabeth and was absolutely perfect. She WAS queenly and it was as if you were watching the real Queen Elizabeth (or how I imagined Queen Elizabeth was like). I was a disappointed by Olivier’s performance and I thought that his performance in this film supported the arguments that people made about how he was not a screen actor but a stage actor. He was so lovely in Pride and Prejudice and to see him less than perfect in this film made me a bit sad. I felt that he was a bit hammy, and not the good kind like John Barrymore, but from what I understand, this film was made earlier in his career before he reached the zenith of his career. I didn’t see any potential in him as a film actor solely based on this film but on the other hand, Vivien Leigh showed the potential that she had. Despite being a newcomer compared to Olivier when it came to acting, she showed energy and passion. Even though she had a minor role with a rather flat character, there was just something in her face and the movement of her body that just screamed out POTENTIAL TO BE A BIG MOVIE STAR. I cannot put my finger on it but there was just something about Leigh that I liked in this film. It was fun to watch an early film that she starred in and I think it’s the energy that I felt in her performance that made her performance in Gone With the Wind so great. That bubbly energy and drive that showed through in her performance in Fire Over England made me think that it was the right choice to choose Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara. I guess what I love so much about Vivien Leigh is that you feel this energetic drive every time you watch a film with her in it — you feel something that makes you drawn to her and she seems to be so open, vulnerable, and raw as if she exposes and gives everything in her film performance. I felt a bit of that in Fire Over England and that energy really shows through in Leigh’s future great performances such as Gone With the Wind, Waterloo Bridge, and A Streetcar Named Desire. It’s such a shame that I wasn’t able to write something nice about Laurence Olivier because I admire him as a film director and actor. I guess his talent just didn’t shine through in this film or I just wasn’t feeling his performance but it’s ok because I’ll be blogging about my all-time favourite Olivier film performance tomorrow!

IMDb Link: Fire Over England
Where to buy: Amazon.com

Playmates ; 1941

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

Director: David Butler
Actors: Kay Kyser, John Barrymore, Lupe Velez, Ginny Simms, May Robson, Patsy Kelly
Country: U.S.A.

Playmates gets a bad rep from film buffs and John Barrymore fans alike but I think that if you separate yourself from your admiration for Barrymore and get off your high horse, this film isn’t all that bad! It certainly isn’t a masterpiece but a cute little film to watch if you want a few laughs such as Ish Kabibble’s cute hairdo, Kay Kyser reciting Shakespeare, Patsy Kelly’s hilarious performance as Barrymore’s agent, and Barrymore covering Shakespeare’s ears from Kyser’s humourously awful recitation. There isn’t much to say about the film since it just felt like one of those films without much substance, but I still think it’s fun to see the film in a more positive light rather than boo-hooing and throwing tomatoes at it.

As a Barrymore fan myself, it’s a shame that he had to stoop down to the level of making fun of himself and have that performance as his last rather than some adaptation of Hamlet or Richard III, but this film still shows that Barrymore has his talent intact. Moments of greatness shows when he’s reciting Shakespeare (I could swear that those tears are real when he’s reciting Hamlet’s famous soliloquy) and his comic timing is ALWAYS perfect. I admire actors who are great in comedy and the reason I admire Barrymore so much is that he is AMAZING in comedic roles. I’m not putting down his talents for dramatic acting (he’s very good at that too), but as a fan of comedies, I love Barrymore’s comedic roles. I love how hammy he was in some parts of this film (very Oscar Jaffe-ish) and the way he contorts his face is just adorable. Yes, I called Barrymore adorable.

The film, I think, also shows how much time has passed from the days Barrymore was great to the days when Barrymore was a revered actor from the ye old days. Many Barrymore fans moan about how this film makes fun of Barrymore, but for the most part, I don’t think the jokes are that cruel. When Kyser mentions that Barrymore was a great actor, he didn’t say it with scorn but it sounded sincere. Even though Barrymore has dropped considerably from the top due to his boozing, I don’t think anyone can deny that he was once GREAT (not just good) and that he still had his stuff if he wasn’t drunk. In many ways, I felt like the film portrayed the real Barrymore (ha! How should I know right? I’m just musing from what I’ve read of him) with his reverence for Shakespeare, his occasionally big ego, and the way dramatic way he spoke. His weariness is apparent in his face and when he says sleepily that his life was dedicated to the theatre, it almost seemed like he was a tad bitter about it due to him not wanting to be an actor in the first place and also because that career path has led him to the top but also to the bottom. The cast billing is also proof of how Barrymore was no longer a box office draw. Kyser’s name is what’s presented in big letters and Barrymore comes after the title with the other supporting cast members. That’s not to say that Barrymore’s role is minor, quite on the contrary he’s in the film just as much as Kyser, but he’s no longer the main reason people would come to see this film.

Although it’s a shame that Barrymore passed away so quickly, Playmates isn’t as bad as most people would think it would be. It certainly isn’t painful to watch and isn’t cruel in the way The Great Profile was so if you ever catch it on TV, give it a chance! In all honesty, how can you resist a film where Barrymore wears tights?!

IMDb Link: Playmates
Where to buy: Not available

The Lady Is Willing ; 1942

Saturday, March 5th, 2011

Director: Mitchell Leisen
Actors: Marlene Dietrich, Fred MacMurray, Aline MacMahon, Stanley Ridges, Arline Judge
Country: U.S.A.

The Lady Is Willing is a lovely little screwball comedy featuring Marlene Dietrich and Fred MacMurray. For some reason I thought that this was a drama film but I was surprised to see that it was a comedy and was directed by the same director as Midnight. For the most part, the dialogue wasn’t fast paced like most screwballs but there were some really great lines such as “Go sterilize yourself. With all the money you handle and everything…” and the combination of facial expressions, timing, and movement of all the actors were really great! I never really saw Dietrich as a comedic actress but my god, she blew me away with her performance. Even from the beginning, she had me cracking up and the way she talked and her facial expressions were GOLDEN. This is probably my favourite Dietrich film of all time (I guess the von Sternberg x Dietrich OTP that I always supported just went down the drain) because I think it showcased her acting talents on top of her good looks. I’ve admired Dietrich mostly for her presence on the screen (and her crazy life) and for the most part, I saw her acting talents in the shadows except for the few moments when they really came out (e.g. Judgment at Nuremberg and Witness for the Prosecution). In The Lady Is Willing, Dietrich was lovely to look at but the way she acted had me enthralled every moment that she was on the screen. It’s really a shame that she wasn’t in more comedies because I think The Lady Is Willing proved that she’s a capable comedienne who has great timing in regards to the way she delivered her lines and the way she changed her facial expressions. I knew that Dietrich was fluent in English, but the way she delivered some of the lines really shocked me. Even as an American, I don’t think I would be able to say that long speedy ramble she did. It is most definite that Dietrich totally stole the spotlight in this film and it’s hard to even think of anything else about this film except for her.
My favourite scene has to be the beginning when Dietrich’s character, Liza Madden, walks in with a baby. The events that ensue inside her apartment are rather hilarious, but it is Dietrich’s performance that had me in stitches. The AMAZING hat that she wore (which the other characters in the film call “screwy”) added a comedic effect and complimented the way Dietrich moved and talked. The way those feathers swished around when she was calling the doctor (MacMurray) had me laughing so hard that I had to pause the film to laugh.

Do I recommend this film? YES! I recommend it to all fans of comedy and Dietrich. Trust me, dear Marlene will not let you down.

IMDb Link: The Lady Is Willing
Where to buy: Amazon.com

Stage Door ; 1937

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

Director: Gregory La Cava
Actors: Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers , Adolphe Menjou, Gail Patrick, Andrea Leeds, Lucille Ball
Country: U.S.A

Stage Door… Where to even begin? Terrific directing, terrific script, terrific acting and cast, terrific everything! I enjoyed this film from beginning to end despite having one of my least favourite actresses, Katharine Hepburn.

I won’t talk much about the story since I think everyone should watch this so I’ll focus on my favourite subject: acting! Despite my lack of knowledge about acting and anything related to it, I really do put much emphasis on it with my own scale of what’s good or bad. If the person’s acting really hits home with my emotions, I know it’s good (for me). I was slightly disappointed with the top-billed actresses (Hepburn and Rogers) because I thought that it was Andrea Leeds’ performance that stood out. Hepburn was perfect for the role as Terry since I always imagine Hepburn to be intelligent and witty, but I was surprised to see Ginger Rogers playing a serious role. I’ve only seen her in her early Warner Pictures and the Astaire x Rogers films and have been annoyed by her for the most part, but I liked her in this role. Despite liking her performance and her character, she was nothing compared to Leeds as the tragic Kay. Oh how I cried every time I watched this film when I saw what happened to Kay in the end because of Leeds’ performance. When Terry mentions something along the lines that it was Kay’s spirit that was doing the acting, I almost felt as if somehow the character of Kay was playing the role that Terry played in the play. I guess that also means Hepburn’s acting was great… well, only in that scene! (I’m always reluctant to praise Hepburn.) La Cava directed Kay’s last scene so perfectly that everything about it was effective in adding to the tragedy.
Also, I have to add that Gail Patrick is definitely looking regal in this film! She’s the epitome of patrician beauty… *happy sigh*

The dialogue is fast-paced, which makes watching this film multiple times a must. I was surprised to find out that much of the dialogue was improvised in the scenes when the girls are in the boarding house. It just added to my little idea in my head that everyone was funnier, smarter, wittier, and knew how to talk fast back in the days.

Great film and I’ll definitely give it a 10/10. I usually hate watching sad films over and over, but this film is one that I could watch any time because it is so enjoyable.

IMDb Link: Stage Door
Where to buy: Amazon.com

Krótki film o zabijaniu (A Short Film About Killing) ; 1988

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

Post by Neko

Director: Krzysztof Kieślowski
Actors: Mirosłav Baka, Krzysztof Globisz, Jan Tesarz
Country: Poland

Guiltily, I shall admit that I haven’t watched a serious, good movie in a l-o-n-g time, and I don’t feel right devoting my time to writing reviews of the sort of tripe I see often at the movies, not here anyway. I associate this film blog with… elegance, and hence, I bring you a short review of A Short Film About Killing.

This short by one of Poland’s most important and internationally-renowned directors has been on my to-watch list for years, and not just because Kieślowski is a personal favourite. Widely accredited as one of the last straws that pushed to Poland’s abolition of the death penalty, this film, as the title implies, is simply a short film about killing – not death, but killing – and the fine distinction between murder and capital punishment, or whether such distinction exists at all.

Running at 81 minutes, the film revolves around the lives of a drifter (Baka), the taxi driver he randomly murders (Tesarz) and the advocate who so passionately argues his case (Globisz). I watched the film with the original Polish audio-track as well as English subtitles which I glanced to now and then, for comparison’s sake. I do have to admit that something is, as almost always, lost in the translation. This isn’t a particular criticism of whoever provided the subtitles, as they are relatively true to the spoken word and translated neatly for the English-speaking viewer… however, the Polish audio isn’t always neat itself, purposely so. The Polish language is a complex one in terms of structure, and the English subtitles let it down a bit.

With that out of the way, I haven’t a lot to nitpick. I have a special fondness for Kieślowski as a director too because I always find myself mesmerized by his depiction of the Polish people – not individual characters, but a wider setting. They are marked by a subtle sadness, a slow but persistent coldness signature to the era of one war after another. Kieślowski interferes with the observations of the three interwoven lives here very little – indeed, a bit too little for my liking at times, almost clinically so.

The taxi driver has a small role, but it suggests him to be a spiteful, weak man. The drifter, and Baka playing him, is forceful and calm and cold even as he wavers – he appears to have no reason for killing the taxi driver, nor is he particularly regretful of the act itself. Although there is some tragedy in his past, which accounts for his terrible detachment, his life up to then had not been especially unfortunate considering the times and the location. He is a curious figure, not differentiating at all between his act of killing and himself as a man, an ironic perspective considering the implied comparison between individual and state killings. His back-story, however, does slant the viewer towards him more so than to either his victim or his killer – the taxi driver, and the state – perhaps unfairly, as neither of these have revealed stories of their own.

Globisz (who I inappropriately keep referring to in my head as a sort of older, Polish version of Gael García Bernal) is something else entirely. His conflict with his profession makes him the most important character, in my opinion. When the verdict of the death penalty is handed down, he agonizes of what he could have done differently, whether an older, more experienced and prestigious lawyer could have gotten a lesser sentence.

As I said above, Kieślowski does not necessarily disseminate a particular view point, as seen in the ‘observer’ approach of the camera –the two murders, state and individual, are just placed next to each other for comparison. The best example is that the court case is not shown, and vitally so, because the judge sadly praises the lawyer for one of the most persuasive and eloquent anti-death-penalty speeches he had heard in years – this would have heavily biased the viewer, or so it is implied. Globisz’s character takes little comfort in hearing that he made no mistakes, as a lawyer or as a human. In the words of the judge, Globisz’s character is too delicate for this job. He stays with the drifter and watches his death and agonizes over it some more once the deed is done. He isn’t especially amicable to the drifter because he killed, he doesn’t condone the killing itself, but he treats the drifter simply like a man.

The death penalty has since been abolished in Poland, and now exists in far fewer countries than once, long ago – but it does still exist, and this film is a must-see for anyone with a passionate opinion on either side of the debate; not because it is likely to sway your opinion, but because it is juxtaposed so harshly with something we all ‘know’ is wrong. What does that leave it as?

Of course, if you aren’t convinced for my moral fangirling of the film, see it for the visuals, because biased as I am, the cinematography is undeniably beautiful as always. The light muted at the edges and the colours, perhaps not appropriate for the message, are strangely brilliant through a green filter, a constant, comforting reminder that the horror we see is not real. This combination creates a stark picture of incredible depth complimented by rich, bitter piano and orchestra, scored by Zbigniew Preisner, another favourite of my own and a frequent collaborator with Kieślowski.

Ok, I think I’ve verbally fellated Mr. Kieślowski enough for one day, but seriously, go see this film, it is a terrifying wonder.

IMDb link:
Krótki film o zabijaniu (A Short Film About Killing)
Where to buy: Amazon.com

Morocco ; 1930

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

Director: Josef von Sternberg
Actors: Gary Cooper, Marlene Dietrich, Adolphe Menjou
Country: U.S.A.

I was a bit disappointed after I finished Morocco but in retrospect, I am impressed that this melodrama didn’t come off as overly dramatic and cheesy. Instead, the ending made me only think of one word: classy. I don’t know why but I’m assuming it’s the cinematography because everything in this film was beautiful and Marlene Dietrich looked as gorgeous as ever. I didn’t really care much for the story but the images were all so perfect for it. My first Sternberg film was Der blaue Engel and I can see traces of that film in this. The way he uses objects to frame the subject of the scene and bring focus to certain areas were reminiscent of Der blaue Engel. Although each scene was a sight to see, the ending was the most beautiful of all. It almost reminded me of Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’avventura, cinematography-wise, except the film didn’t feel drawn out. The film wrapped up so well, starting with the remark about “suicide passengers”, somewhere in the mid-section talking about the women who follow the men and sometimes dying, and then showing Amy Jolly (Dietrich) following Légionnaire Tom Brown (Cooper) into the desert with no belongings. I usually despise open-ended films (I’m just not pretentious intelligent enough for them), but this film left me with a sense of satisfaction most likely due to the way it was filmed.

Dietrich’s performance was impressive for her first film in Hollywood (also hooray to pre-code Dietrich!). Although she did star in an all English film before (The Blue Angel), it was Morocco that impressed me. She didn’t know much English yet I couldn’t even tell because she spoke her lines so well and naturally. When she first appears on the scene, I gasped at her beauty and was blown away by how much presence she has whenever she is in a scene. The scene when she performs at the club for the first time exemplifies how much of a presence she has in a scene. She commands all of one’s attention and her attitude, her strut, and face expression is all so perfect. No movie star has the same effect that Dietrich has on me and I’ve never seen an actress that drew me in. Well, there is Asta Nielsen, but that is a different story. Her character when she first performs reminds me of Dietrich in real life: seducing people of both genders with her looks and charisma. Dietrich smoking and in a suit has got to be one of the sexiest images that one could look at and in Morocco, Sternberg takes full advantage of Dietrich’s sex appeal for both genders. I couldn’t help but thing, “Boy, she sure is a gentleman!” when she kissed the lady as thanks for the flower. Gary Cooper was nothing too exciting as Tom Brown, but I never really liked Cooper so it’s nothing new that I didn’t care much for him in Morocco. He always seems the same to me and bland so I don’t get what the big deal is with Gary Cooper. Adolphe Menjou’s character is nothing exciting in itself and doesn’t allow him to show off his acting, but nonetheless, I thought he did the best he could.

Stephany’s immature anecdote: I TOTALLY ENVY THE WOMAN THAT MARLENE DIETRICH KISSED! If I was that woman, I would have done more than just look shy, I would have fainted on the spot. I JUST LOVE THE WAY THIS WOMAN MOVES, SINGS, AND TALKS!!! I thought that the kissing scene was the cutest thing ever so I had to bring it up. The way the lady giggles and looks at Amy Jolly before the kiss and then covers her face afterwards is so adorable. And Dietrich’s reaction! That is cuteness overload because she has a silly grin on her face and smells the flower as if she was a little boy being mischievous. If anyone did what Dietrich did and reacted that way, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. Ok, I need to stop being so immature, but it’s such a cute scene and well, everyone knows that Dietrich is one of my favourite actresses and also numero uno on my “Most Beautiful People” list, so I guess it’s expected that I would rave about her.

This film has got to be one of the most aesthetically pleasing films that I have ever seen. The lush visuals, Marlene Dietrich, and beautiful lighting… what more can you ask for?

IMDb Link:
Where to buy: Amazon.com (Marlene Dietrich – The Glamour Collection DVD set) ; Amazon.com (VHS)

Suspicion ; 1941

Friday, January 1st, 2010

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Actors: Cary Grant, Joan Fontaine, Cedric Hardwicke, Nigel Bruce, Dame May Whitty
Country: U.S.A.

First of all, happy new year! I hope that everyone had a lovely 2009 and that 2010 will be even better.

Although I am always scared and have a sense of dread before watching a Hitchcock film, I never regret it afterwards. Suspicion is definitely not an exception to this rule and I was at the edge of my seat throughout the whole film. Underneath all the suspense, there were also moments of warm-fuzziness and humour, which I enjoyed immensely. My only problem with it is the rushed feeling at the end, but it sort of makes sense since Hitchcock didn’t want the ending that it is in the final cut. The plot is great, hands down, but what makes this film great in my opinion is the lighting and how that effects the mood of the scene. This may seem trivial but I loved how the milk glowed in the scene where Johnny (Grant) takes it up to give it to Lina (Fontaine) and even when he first enters into the scene, it makes Johnny’s entrance terrifying, thus the audience relates to the fear that Lina feels. I heard in a documentary that Hitchcock actually put a little light in there to make it glow. Although Hitchcock did not want the ending that ended up in the final cut, I thought that because of it, it had the little twist that I always look forward to in Hitchcock films

Even though Joan Fontaine won the Oscar for her performance in this film, I thought that it should have been Cary Grant who got the recognition for his acting. I always saw Grant in romantic comedies so when I saw him in this role, I was surprised by how well he was suited for the part. I never really saw Cary Grant as an amazing actor, but when I saw him in this film, I couldn’t help but think that he was splendid.

I am astounded by how Hitchcock films never fails to disappoint me and I hope that everyone else who watches this film enjoys it as much as I did.

IMDb Link: Suspicion
Where to buy: Amazon.com