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Archive for June, 2009

The Divorcee ; 1930

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Director: Robert Z. Leonard
Actors: Norma Shearer, Chester Morris, Conrad Nagel, Robert Montgomery
Country: U.S.A.

I immediately fell in love with Norma Shearer the instant I saw her in The Women and was delighted to find that Shearer’s pre-code films were in the Forbidden Hollywood Collection. This film is the first Shearer film I’ve watched outside of The Women and I’m both disappointed yet somewhat satisfied with the film and Shearer’s performance.

I haven’t seen many pre-code films and the ones I’ve seen, I could see the difference between pre-code films and post-code films right away. But with The Divorcee, I couldn’t see anything scandalous about it for some time until Ted (Morris) said something like, “I want to make love to you until you scream for help.” and I thought, “Oh my!” I’m such a prude. I had my ups and downs with the film because I was watching this film with my modern day goggles on. I was happy that Jerry (Shearer) brought up the whole “it doesn’t mean a thing” to Ted about having an affair but I did wish that she blatantly pointed out the double standard of wives cheating on husbands versus husbands cheating on their wives. It angered me to see how lightly Ted saw cheating while he was outraged when he found out about what Jerry did. I saw Ted as a total prick because Jerry was willing to “humiliate” herself and “beg for forgiveness” but he couldn’t stand that Jerry wasn’t “proper”. While Jerry was willing to sacrifice her pride and do those things, Ted didn’t see anything wrong with his own actions thus there was nothing to apologize for. I have always been angry about the double standard for cheating and this film grated on my nerves to an extent because of that.

As for Norma Shearer’s performance, I thought that it was mediocre at first, but then her talent really came out when she tells Ted “Vanity, I’ll never forget that! And I thought your heart was breaking like mine, but instead you tell me your man’s pride can’t stand the gaffe. I don’t want to listen. I’m glad I discovered there’s more than one man in the world while I’m young and they want me. Believe me I’m not missing anything from now on.” I was disappointed at first because I was taken aback by Shearer’s twangy, unnaturally high voice that was completely different than her classy voice and accent in The Women. To me, she sounded like any other female actress during the early sound films but then again, people probably just talked like that back in the days. In the beginning scenes, I thought her acting wasn’t very convincing but as the film progressed, Shearer’s performance got better and better. It is as if the more emotion Shearer has to show, the better her acting is. Although her acting wasn’t all too terrible, I don’t think she deserved an Oscar for this performance.
While writing about actors, this was my first Conrad Nagel film! I could see his appeal although I didn’t find him to be anything special in this film. Although I do admit that I was impressed by how well he transitioned into talkies just like Shearer did.

I’m really not sure how I feel about this film. I think I’m just getting personally invested in it because I’m angry about the double standard. I also thought that this film was a B-movie rather than a MGM production despite the extravagant art deco sets and lovely clothes (by Adrian, of course). Editing is sometimes odd due to abruptness at times but at the same time, some parts of it are beautifully edited, such as the scenes of just a voiceover and Jerry’s hand.

Final decree: worth a watch for pre-code film fans!

IMDb Link: The Divorcee
Where to buy: Amazon.com (Forbidden Hollywood Collection Vol. 2 DVD set), Amazon.com (VHS)

La Habanera ; 1937

Friday, June 26th, 2009

Director: Detlef Sierck (Douglas Sirk)
Actors: Zarah Leander, Ferdinand Marian, Karl Martell, Julia Serda, Boris Alekin, Paul Bildt
Country: Germany

My “first” Detlef Sierck/Douglas Sirk was La Habanera (first is in quotes because I only watched 10 minutes of it in total in class because I ditched the screening. Bad Stephany, bad), but when I saw Zarah Leander with her Princess Leia hairdo, it was love at first sight. Everyone needs a little bit of Zarah Leander’s singing (and awesomeness in general) in life.

Outside of my huge crush on Zarah Leander, I found this film to be more interesting to watch as a film that was produced in the Third Reich and also as an early melodrama in Sierck’s oeuvre. Maybe because I saw this film with the mindset of “it’s a Nazi film!” that I couldn’t help but interpret it as propaganda. With its veneer as an entertainment film, one could pick out things that reflect Nazi ideology. The idea of “heimat” struck me in the beginning of the film when I saw how uncomfortable Astrée’s aunt was. Already it was a sign that she does not belong in the world of Puerto Rico, thus Astrée (Leander) doesn’t as well. Eventually Puerto Rico’s charm fades and Astrée longs for Sweden. On top of this, her child with Don Pedro (Marian) has light blonde hair and has an affinity for things related to Sweden. Spanish guy + Swedish woman = perfect Aryan child: a bit weird, isn’t it? Also note that Juan Jr. seems to get along with Dr. Nagel (Martell) more than his own father. Interesting… Everything in this film has implications that people belong where they are from and also casts a bad light on anyone who isn’t Swedish. Don Pedro’s death is his own fault, the Americans are mentioned consistently and seen as incompetent while the Swedish doctor comes and finds a cure for the “Puerto Rico fever” in just a few days. If this film was produced outside of Germany, would I have thought these things? Is it because I know that this film was made in Nazi Germany that I have these thoughts? I could probably find the idea of “heimat” in American films as well and give any film a Nazi slant if I wanted to thus is it right to assume that every film from Nazi Germany is propaganda? It’s hard for me to come to terms with the idea that every Nazi film is propaganda, but it’s also hard for me to believe that some or not all weren’t. In the end, I can probably argue for either point. Perhaps watching this film as pure entertainment can bring us a little closer to what the contemporary German audiences thought of this film. I am so conflicted because on one hand, I believe that it is important to put context and history together with films but at the same time when I get attached to films like La Habanera, I want to believe that it’s not Nazi propaganda as if somehow the Nazi Germany part leaves a stain on the film.

Anyway, going on…

I really adore Sierck’s works for some reason and La Habanera is really a gem. Not only can viewers see Sierck’s beginnings in Germany, but the lush imagery that I loved about Sierck’s Technicolor works is all in La Habanera just without the colour. Anyone who is interested in Sierck’s works should definitely put this film on their list. I really wonder what Sierck’s connection with Ufa and the Nazis were. Just how much was he in charge of the story? Nothing about the imagery shouts out “NAZI PROPAGANDA!”, but each scene seduces the viewer with its beautiful scenery and the viewer becomes a part of this film thus being seduced like Astrée was with its charm. FASCIST AESTHETICS?! I don’t know…

Acting on Leander and Marian’s part is A++. I ADORE Marian and it’s such a shame that his career, in current times, is tainted by Jüd Suß. Funny that they’re making a film about his role in Jüd Suß and the title of the upcoming film is also called the same name as the film. I really don’t think Marian would appreciate that since he didn’t want to take part in the wretched film at all. Anyway, Marian is just perfect as Don Pedro, especially in the final scenes when you can tell that he is suffering from the disease, yet he looks so delighted in the fact that Astrée is singing “La Habanera”. He tells her that he loves her and while she shuns him, I think that deep down, he does love her in his own way. Leander is great from start to finish, especially when you see the difference in her demeanor in the beginning and in the middle of the film. The change is drastic and so real that I really believed that time did take its toll on Leander herself rather than this character of Astrée. And if you’re really not a fan of dramas and love stories, at least watch the film up to the wedding scene; Astrée’s wedding dress is to die for, in a bad way.

Overall I give this film a 7.5/10. Not too bad, not all that great, but definitely worth a watch for Leander and Marian’s performance and for Sierck’s work in Germany.

IMDb Link: La Habanera
Where to buy: Amazon.com, Kino Video

Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera) ; 1931

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

Director: Georg Wilhelm Pabst (G.W. Pabst)
Actors: Rudolf Forster, Carola Neher, Reinhold Schünzel, Fritz Rasp, Valeska Gert, Lotte Lenya, Hermann Thimig, Ernst Busch
Country: Germany

Aw, this entry is the final one for the Pabst marathon, boo~ I hope that I’ll be able to get my hands on his other films and post about them because he is amazing beyond words. If anyone has Pabst films they would like to write about, please read the “contribute” section on the sidebar! It would be great to have more entries on Pabst films.

This film is probably the oddest Pabst film I have watched. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy it because I think that it’s a highly enjoyable and likable film, but it’s quite quirky. Even the beginning starts with a black screen with only Ernst Busch singing. When the film starts, it still confuses the viewer because it’s a shot of a man and a woman (who we later find out is Mackie Messer/Mack the Knife and Jenny) and then he wants to distance himself from her after he sees another woman walk by and then there is this whole scene for about 7 minutes or so when you have no idea who is who and what in the world is going on. Sorry for the run-on sentence! Maybe it was just me being dumb, but I was consistently thinking, “What is going on? Why is the screen black? Why do I only hear music? IS THIS DVD DEFUNCT?! Who is that man? WHAT IS THE CONNECTION BETWEEN HIM AND HER? IS HE GOING TO KILL HER?!” But in the end, I was content.

The film made me very confused because I liked Mackie Messer, but at the same time, I really wanted to hate him. I was amazed at Polly’s courageousness, wit, and calmness in every scene. If I knew that my husband was cheating on me only after a few days of marriage, I would be the raging psycho. But then again, Polly does have that song she sings on her wedding day so… (by the way, her wedding dress is beautiful. I was jealous.) Also, the song about Mackie Messer mentions all these horrible things that he did but it’s hard to imagine him doing such things. And what’s the whole thing with him and Jenny. I was very, very confused even after the second time watching it.

I absolutely ADORE all the songs in this film. I read that most songs from the actual play aren’t in the film and the context of the songs changed as well, but nonetheless, I think this film did a great job with the script and the placement of songs. I haven’t read or watched the play but I really enjoyed this film. I think it’s crucial for Brecht or Weill fans to embrace the film for what it is and not just as something that Brecht didn’t approve of or something that follows Brecht’s vision. Separate Brecht from this film and I think everyone would like it. While Brecht wanted a film that was more politically charged and a biting satire, I felt that Pabst’s film had a critique of everyone shown in the film. Whether you are poor, the petty bourgeois, or even in a high ranked position, everyone is corrupt. Even the whole idea of Peachum’s company is absolutely absurd and a satire within itself.

The actors of this film were great and the editing and direction of this film was perfect; I have no complaints about this film whatsoever. I love the way Mackie says, “Hello Jackie!” and Tiger Brown says, “Hello. Mackie.” Ah and the final shot! This film is so full of awesomeness that I can compile a huge list of things I like about it. I even liked Fritz Rasp as Peachum and I hated him in silent films! Two thumbs up and I would definitely put it on a list of films to watch before you die. Pabst, homeboy, you did me proud.

I just have to add as a side note that I’m incredibly sad that Carola Neher, who played Polly Peachum, wasn’t in more films and died prematurely BECAUSE OF MY PSEUDO-LOVER GUSTAV VON WANGENHEIM. She was amazing as Polly and I loved her to bits. For those who are like, “Huh?” about who Gustav von Wangenheim is, he’s mostly known to the general public as Hutter in F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu. DAMN YOU GUSTAV!!! And while I’m at this, Lotte Lenya, who played Jenny, is amazing as well. And, and, HOW CAN I FORGET HERMANN THIMIG! I have a silly crush on him because he is so adorable.

IMDb Link: Die Dreigroschenoper
Where to buy: Amazon.com

Jakob, der Lügner (Jacob the Liar) ; 1975

Friday, June 19th, 2009

Director: Frank Beyer
Actors: Vlastimil Brodský, Erwin Geschonneck, Henry Hübchen, Blanche Kommerell, Manuela Simon
Country: German Democratic Republic (East Germany)

Jakob, der Lügner is a film that I would have never expected from the GDR, but then again, my view of the GDR is completely skewed. Thank goodness I’m slowly starting to get out of my “EAST GERMANS ARE CRAZY COMMUNISTS” mindset. It’s not the story that was shocking but the way the film was shot seemed a bit experimental to me. I haven’t watched many East German films, but for some reason, the editing of this film made me think of the various European New Waves.

Most people might know this film due to the fact that it was remade into a film starring Robin Williams. I haven’t watched that version yet, but I was rather satisfied with this version. I also read the book, which I highly recommend because I think it adds more to the film and I can see why certain aspects were filmed a certain way and it just gives more depth to the scenes. I didn’t think the acting was all that great, but at the same time, it just felt right for this film. I did have a little crush on Henry Hübchen, who plays Mischa, but that’s not really relevant. I was glad that Vlastimil Brodský was chosen to play the titular character because he was PERFECT. This film was also my first film with Erwin Geschonneck, one of the biggest stars in DEFA films, except I didn’t know it was him until I watched two other films with him. Ok, I’m digressing. I really don’t know what to say because whenever I watch it, I think, “Wow, this is great! I want to post about this, and this, and this…” and then I just forget all that.

An interesting fact is that it’s the only DEFA film that was nominated for an Academy Award. Makes you think a little about why that is so.

One scene that particularly struck me was the scene of Kowalski’s (Geschonneck) suicide because of the way it was shot. Even before you see Kowalski’s body, you know that it is him. Trust me, when you see the shot, it’ll leave an impression

This film also had me thinking a lot because of how the film ends. Although ambiguous, I still think that it is quite certain that all of them are being sent to concentration camps. Whether or not the characters we saw in this film survive, they still go through something that were even more terrible than the ghettos. Then what was the point of Jakob telling all these lies? It’s as if everything was irrelevant such as the actions of the characters in this film and the film itself. Even the film starts with proclamations that imply subjectivity and the uncertainty of things. When I saw them I scoffed and said to myself witheringly, “Oh, how ~*postmodern*~”, but now that I watched it again, I think that it adds more to the film.

And I just have to add, Lina (Simon) WAS THE MOST ANNOYING THING EVER. I just wanted to smack her every time I she came on the screen. Somehow I feel like I’m the only one who thinks this.

IMDb Link: Jakob, der Lügner
Where to buy: Amazon.com, DEFA Film Library

Adam’s Rib ; 1949

Monday, June 15th, 2009

Director: George Cukor
Actors: Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Judy Holliday, Tom Ewell, David Wayne, Jean Hagen
Country: U.S.A.

I was a bit reluctant to watch this film due to my hatred for Katharine Hepburn, but I thought, “Hey, it’s a Cukor film. What can go wrong?” And I was right because I absolutely loved it. I thought Hepburn was perfect for the part and Spencer Tracy was adorable. Although I’m usually sick of hearing about women’s rights and equality, I really enjoyed every single line of this film. The dialogue was witty, Hepburn and Tracy together were charming, and the whole film unfolded perfectly. It’s the little things like the nicknames Adam (Tracy) and Amanda (Hepburn) have for each other that are cute and funny. Judy Holliday as Doris is great, especially in the beginning; I loved how she used her gun as a pointer to read the directions on how to use it. David Wayne as Kip is the annoying neighbor that tries to seduce the oblivious Amanda. The only part I didn’t like about the film was Kip because he is the most obnoxious thing ever. I wish that I could just throttle him every single time he opens his mouth.

Hepburn’s performance in this film was nothing less than perfect. Every line was delivered flawlessly, her movements, face expressions, everything was just so RIGHT. Usually Hepburn’s “Bryn Mawr” accent drives me up the wall, but for this film, it added to her character. I really can’t believe that I’m complimenting her; this never happens!

My favourite scene has got to be when Amanda and Kip are together after the case is finished because of the way the dialogue plays out between the two characters. Despite being intelligent, Amanda is sure oblivious to Kip’s advances. I wonder if the film is subversively trying to say that when a woman is intelligent, she doesn’t know much about romance. But then again, Amanda knows romance especially when she is with Adam, but for some reason with Kip, she has no idea what Kip is up to and sees it as harmless fun. Kip’s reason for loving Amanda is laughable and I actually liked everything about him in this scene. The gun scene that follows is equally as great and it reminded me of one of my favourite scenes from Ernst Lubitsch’s Die Bergkatze. I gasped and then laughed my head off when I saw what happened in Die Bergkatze and my reaction was exactly the same with this scene as well. If it’s a bit hard to see in the screencaptures I provided, pretty much Tracy has a gun pointed towards his mouth and so does the girl from Die Bergkatze. I thought Hepburn and Wayne’s performance was at its best in this scene.

And the ending! All I can say to that is, “Oh my!” Although I suppose people can analyze it and say that while this film is superficially for equality and showing the double standard for women, it is also a film that perpetuates what is “normal”, such as heterosexual relationships. Ok, I’m going to shut up because I really like this film and I don’t want to think TOO much about it and end up losing sleep over it.

IMDb Link: Adam’s Rib
Where to buy: Amazon.com

Vénus beauté (institut) (Venus Beauty Institute) ; 1999

Saturday, June 13th, 2009

Director: Tonie Marshall
Actors: Nathalie Baye, Bulle Ogier, Samuel Le Bihan, Jacques Bonnaffé, Mathilde Seigner, Audrey Tautou
Country: France

This was a film that left me very confused the first time I watched it and I was not sure how I felt. I was a bit reluctant to re-watch it although I’ve been meaning to for some time and I finally did and I don’t regret it. Now I think that this is a beautiful and complex film despite its simple appearance. It’s not the editing that makes it confusing but the protagonist, Angèle (Baye), is such a complicated person. Every scene is essential in this film to understand why Angèle is the way she is. There are so many thoughts going through my head right now that I don’t know how to even start typing about this.

I guess I can start with Angèle because everything in this film revolves around her. She is afraid of love because she is sick of jealousy and the pain that love can bring with it and prefers one night stands. From what I understand, she did love Jacques (Bonnaffé), and because she was jealous and angry at him, she got a gun and shot him. Although they are on good terms, Angèle is torn between what she did to him in the past and her feelings in general towards him. Then she meets Anotine (Le Bihan) who comes out of the blue in her world and he tells her that she moves him and that he loves her. Although at first she does not want to be with him, slowly she does start falling for him and then she realizes that she really does like him when she is jealous of seeing him with his ex-fiancée. Outside of all this stuff revolving around love, Angèle is just… agh, I really don’t know how to articulate my thoughts. She’s a beautician at the titular store and her job is to help people, yet she does everything to not help herself. She puts up a façade with her one night stands, she hurts herself by purposefully washing herself with cold water (or some can see her just caring for her skin, although she does say that she doesn’t care about appearances) and her relationships with men, and she does not want to enjoy Antoine’s company nor accept his love in the beginning. Angèle appears to have the tendency to be clingy as can be seen in the first scene of the film, and although she later on she says that she can see how her relationships will turn out, she didn’t really see it with the guy in the first scene. Or maybe she did but her masochistic tendencies made her ignore all the signals.

Ah and all the stuff about love with each of the three girls working at Vénus beauté… that’s all very beautiful, sad, and moving as well.

The ending is really quite beautiful cinematographically and symbolically that it made me feel all fuzzy inside.

There are so many things I want to say about this film and all my thoughts make sense in my head but I just don’t know how to convey them. I highly recommend watching this film more than once because I think that it’s a film that can’t be fully understood the first time around. I would like to see this film one more time and maybe I’ll be able to post about this film again and have a full entry of my analysis.

IMDb Link: Vénus beauté (institut)
Where to buy: Amazon.com