Sunday, August 22, 2010

Lost Island of VHS...

Wife! Be Like A Rose - Mikio Naruse - 1935

This is a terrific film from what many call the fourth master of the classic Japanese cinema: Mikio Naruse. Naruse, no doubt, stands on his own in film history but having never seen any of his films this one felt like a fusion both in style and content of two of those other great masters Yasujirō Ozu and Kenji Mizoguchi. Like the films those two filmmakers made this film deals with domestic issues in 1930's Japan as well as the plight and/or roll of women in the society. In this film a young woman (Sachiko Chiba), soon to be married, goes to the country to bring back her father who left his wife and kids for a geisha twenty years before. What she does not know is that he has fathered two other children and is quite happy in his present life.

Despite the built-in drama and serious themes Wife! Be Like A Rose is on the lighter side and almost comedic at times. In part, this is due to the actress Sachiko Chiba who charms and smiles in each scene. Nothing much seems to phase her as she comes to accept the fact that reuniting her mother and father in not in the cards. [The Japanese title is Kimiko, which is the main characters' name].

Stylistically, the film also incorporates the "tatami shot" - used notably by Ozu - in which the camera is placed at a low height, along with distant framing shots and smooth camera movement which were utilized so well by Mizoguchi.

I'm am not sure why only one Naruse film is available in the US on DVD. I can only guess there are rights issues. Perhaps Criterion will eventually unspool a few of them in an Eclipse set. One can only hope.

A longer review of the film can be found here.

An interesting piece of history on the film when it opened and closed in New York in 1937 is here.

There are good notes on Naruse retrospectives at Filmforum and Harvard Film Archive.

Also a good piece over at The Evening Class.

It's time for Naruse to be re-discovered...or maybe just discovered.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Cameron punk'd?

In the dept of "he doesn't get it" director James Cameron has said he will now reconsider making a sequel to Avatar based on the experience he had after showing the film to the Achuar - an Amazonian community who want to keep oil companies from drilling near their homelands.

From the interview:

These are people who had never been in a movie theater. They’re wearing feathers and paint. And they put on the glasses and watch Avatar, the first movie they’ve ever seen. And when they came out, the BBC interviewed them. This one woman, a tribal elder, says, 'In this movie, they solved their problems by fighting. We are not afraid to fight, but we have decided to try to solve our problems through dialogue. So this movie needs a better message.' I felt like I’d been punk’d. But it made me think."

He felt like he had been punk'd? What? Is it possible he has gotten so close to his own movie that he can't see a major message in it is using violence to solve problems? I mean, sure the way the story unfolds the Na'avi characters have no choice, but to people in the real world who have never seen a movie I would think the action would be pretty tough to look past.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Moon Gutter

Moon in the Gutter is a film I have wanted to see since I first read about it in the winter 1989/90 issue of Sight & Sound magazine. Despite the fact that it was a monumental failure and one that had apparently sunk the French company Gaumont I was intrigued enough to seek it out. How could one not be? But I could never find it on VHS and it didn't seem to come around even to the many venues in Los Angeles.

But just recently it was released on DVD by Cinema Libre.

Starring Gérard Depardieu, Nastassja Kinski, Victoria Abril and Dominique Pinon the film is about a dock worker named Gerard (Depardieu) who becomes obsessed with finding the man who killed his younger sister. Hitting an emotional snag in his life he falls for a photographer (Kinski) and attempts to leave his girlfriend (Abril) and the dingy docks where he lives and works. But that proves impossible.

The film succeeds mostly in the production design and cinematography departments. The sets are big and colorful and even though they feel like set pieces each scene has just the right aesthetic - at once claustrophobic and wide open. The DP was Philippe Rousselot who employs beautiful tracking shots and an almost too glossy look to what is otherwise a dark setting.

To be sure, Moon in the Gutter can only really be judged by the criticisms stacked against it. And after now viewing it I can see why the critics were disappointed. Coming off of the success of Diva Beineix was expected to be the next big French director. And as critics are wont to do they sunk their teeth into an artist whom they had previously placed on a pedestal. Adding insult to injury Gaumont trashed the extra footage negatives thus making it impossible for Beineix to ever create a definitive version like he did for Betty Blue.

The film is a tad long and considering Beineix's original length was around 4 or 5 hours I can't imagine the film being better or even more fleshed out. I can only imagine more beautiful shots and perhaps more intrigue. If anything there is a lesson here about studios giving a director too big a budget and a director who thought he could fulfill the promise of that budget.

Moon in the Gutter
is a film worth seeing but an asterisk will always hang above it.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Nuclear or Magnetic

Anyone else confuse Margot and the Nuclear So and So's with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros? Looking for the song 'Home' [a title I had forgotten] I kept looking for songs by Margot and the Nuclear So and So's. Finally found the song - but it is by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Now I know.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Black Magic Woman

'Black Magic Woman' was written and performed by Peter Green & Fleetwood Mac before Santana made it famous.