Monday, February 28, 2011

Buñuel documentary

Here's a good 30 minute French television documentary from 1964 about Luis Buñuel's and his early career. Lots of good interviews with those who worked with him and knew him as well as a rather enjoyable interview with Buñuel himself.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Avatar to Metropolis

From Avatar [2009] to Metropolis [1927] via directors and cinematographers [and through Fuller and Borzage].

Avatar was directed by James Cameron
James Cameron directed The Terminator
The Terminator was shot by Adam Greenberg
Adam Greenberg shot The Big Red One
The Big Red One was directed by Samuel Fuller
Samuel Fuller directed Merrill's Marauders
Merrill's Marauders was shot by William Clothier
William Clothier shot China Doll
China Doll was directed by Frank Borzage
Frank Borzage directed Three Comrades
Three Comrades was shot by Karl Freund
Karl Freund shot Metropolis

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Lost Island of VHS...X

The Stars Look Down - Carol Reed - 1940

When 'The Stars Look Down' came out in 1940 the British critics [as a whole] voted it the greatest British film ever made, Pauline Kael has called it Carol Reed's best film and Parker Tyler placed it as one of the 75 best foreign films ever made in his 1962 book 'Classics of The Foreign Film'.

So how does a film with such praise not even make Time Out's recent list of 'best British films'? Well, of course, it is partly because Reed went on to make a trio of terrific films that overshadowed this one and cemented his place in film history; Odd Man Out, The Fallen Idol and The Third Man. But it shows you how much time's change too.

History shows that it received a lukewarm reception for political reasons. You see, although Reed made a film [based on a novel by A. J. Cronin] that argues against the private ownership of mines and calls for the rights of the miners it also lays blame at the feet of both mine owners [who are presented as criminally greedy] and unions [who turn a blind eye to the dangers of the mine].

Michael Redgrave plays David an intelligent and conscientious young man who aspires to leave the small Welsh community where his family have lived and worked for generations. While away at a university he falls in love with an uncaring woman [Margaret Lockwood] who uses him to get back at another fellow she loves - who is an old friend of David's but who now happens to be in business with the corrupt mine owners. David leaves the school but finds much dissatisfaction in the unhappy marriage. When Redgrave learns that the owners are considering re-opening a particularly dangerous underground seam he speaks up as eloquently as he can to prevent it from happening. But no one will listen. His wife also leaves him telling him he needs to put all this mine business behind him.

The film pretty much stacks the deck against David [and the poor miners] and I have to admit I found the film a bit heavy-handed at times. But the film successfully fits into the category of realism and completely eschews Hollywood formula at every turn.

The film is not on DVD [in the US] and VHS is tough to find. I found a copy on VHS that someone had made [and was renting] from a PAL copy.

- A little history of the film here.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Clair on editing

René Clair wrote in his book Cinema Yesterday and Today:
- Editing is in fact a procedure peculiar to the cinema which has no equivalent in any other medium of expression or art form.

One day I was in a projection room with a five-year-old child who had never seen a film of any kind. On the screen, a lady was singing in a drawing room, and the succession of images was as follows:

Long Shot: The drawing room; the singer is standing near a piano. A greyhound is lying in front of the fireplace.
Close-up: The singer
Close-up: The dog watching her.
At this last image, the child uttered a cry of surprise: "Oh! Look! The lady has turned into a dog."
For a new eye, one image replacing another in a flash does in fact give the impression of a magical substitution or a lightening-like metamorphosis.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Criterion to Hulu

The news that The Criterion Collection will be available to stream exclusively through Hulu Plus set the movie community into a a bit of a frenzy yesterday. Some love the idea and some hate it. I'm on the fence about it and here's why.

Is such an embarrassment of riches available to us all at once a good thing?

Criterion is a brand name that many of us know and love. With this move - which starts with 150 movie titles and moves to upwards of 800 titles in a short span of time - Criterion will basically be chucking out their successful business model. As someone who collects their DVD's [and now Blu-ray's] I can tell you that one of the appeals of the company is there slow but eventual release of great titles. Every few months they bring out a few titles, which they announce three months [or so] in advance. This helps build excitement for the release and [I would think] boosts sales a bit. By releasing titles in such a manner they can build awareness and anticipation around the title. But by putting up to 800 titles out there so quickly - a good number of which are not yet on DVD or Blu-ray - for us to stream they are essentially burying the unreleased titles.

And so the effect might be that they bury the title and then kill it. Meaning that the excitement for future new releases will be much less exciting because the film will already be available to stream. So, essentially, the consumer would see that some previously unavailable Kenji Mizoguchi or Michael Powell title is coming soon to Blu-ray but then they would see that it is already available on Hulu Plus. So they would hook into Hulu Plus, watch the title and then no longer be interested in buying it.

Maybe they think they are giving the customer the best available option to see the films in their library? They certainly cannot be accused of withholding the titles now. But I am looking out for the future of Criterion as well as the life of these films. By presenting the options like this it would seem that the films will not get the proper [traditional model] release into the marketplace and this would affect both sales and awareness about a title. They must have signed a heck of a deal.

Exclusivity can have its faults

Another problem I find curious is that they are going to only now stream exclusively [by the end of 2011] through Hulu Plus. If a company wants maximum exposure it seems odd [and foolish] to narrow the options of your audience to only one streaming service - especially one that is not as widespread as NetFlix. Part of the deal Criterion found appealing was that Hulu will give them there own section making it easy for consumers to peruse titles. Apparently, NetFlix would not give them this deal.

Long time coming

I'm no Luddite. I love the idea that someday every title I want to see will be at my fingertips. And I know that this option is one Criterion feels is moving toward the future of home film viewing. But I can't help but feel they could do a better job of upholding their business model by continuing to whet our appetite and getting us excited for the films in the way that they have for so many years.

I don't have Hulu Plus but I will likely get it because the idea of having access to 800 amazing titles for a mere $7.99 a month is hard to resist. Of course, it also means the future of video stores and DVD and Blu-ray sales is pretty much history. But that is a different argument for a different time.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Melville on Nouvelle

Jean Pierre Melville's relationship with the young turks that became the French New Wave started well but then became a bit frosty. Even though he had a bit part in Godard's À bout de souffle he was always an outsider and more of a paternal figure to the movement. But by the time Cahiers du cinéma magazine savaged Le Samouraï and L' Armée des ombres [which is amazing when you think about it because it is so outrageously political] he had turned on them as much as they had on him.

The Cinema One book Melville on Melville by Rui Nogueira has this exchange:
Q: What do you think of the Nouvelle Vague style?
A: There's no such thing. The Nouvelle Vague was an inexpensive way of making films. That's all.

You have to admit that - as influential as the movement was to world cinema - in France it was indeed a series of lower budget films made by a wave of new directors that managed for a while to get more attention than the directors of the bigger budgeted films.  But eventually some of the Nouvelle Vague directors came into the fold.

It's too bad they had a falling out because in retrospect the cinema of Melville is as good and significant in its own way as the cinema of Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol and Rivette.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

La Dolce Vita boffo box office

Fellini's La Dolce Vita was acquired by Astor Pictures for release in the U.S. in 1961 for a then astonishing sum of $625,000. It went on to make an equally amazing box office gross of $19.5 million.

Most foreign language films released in The United States today are purchased for anywhere from 50K to $1 million depending on the clout the picture carries [an Almodovar film will usually be acquired for more than a million dollars] and don't make anywhere near $10 million. So making close to 20 million in 1961 dollars means that La Dolce Vita essentially would make well over $100 million in today's dollars.

Considering La Dolce Vita was a three hour movie with subtitles [dubbed in some markets] says something about the state of foreign language distribution 50 years ago versus today.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

de Oliveira's Angelica

The latest film by Manoel de Oliveira, The Strange Case of Angelica, is a beguiling film in many ways. I found that it is best described by an answer that Manoel de Oliveira gave to an interviewer.

- Question: What is cinema for you today?
- Answer: It's the same as it was for Lumière, for Méliès and Max Linder. There you have realism, the fantastic and the comic. There's nothing more to add to that, absolutely nothing.

The film rolls this basic idea into one.
I have to say I enjoyed this film more than his previous film Eccentricities of a Blond-haired Girl if only because it is a far more intriguing.
I would argue that the film is more than just a simple fable about a photographer who falls in love with a dead woman. I would say it is - at the very least - a film about a man who dies the moment he has a strange encounter with the dead woman. Only he doesn't literally die. He just slides into a funk that leads to his inevitable death. In the context of the film it is about the way in which his spirit eventually leaves his body.

But why would he want his spirit to leave his body for a woman he never actually met?

In part this can be explained by the way Oliveira employs various anachronistic touches. The photographer -who still uses real film - seems to be a character out of time. He spends some of his time photographing day laborers who work on a hill lined with olive trees [Oliveira means 'olive tree'].  He doesn't seem interested in 'modern' technology or ideas. And so it seems Oliviera is saying something about our contemporary age as well.

However, in part this might be because the film was derived from a project Oliveira had developed in 1952. It should be noted that according to an interview with Oliveira [from the press notes] he says the protagonist of the original idea for the film was a Jewish man who had fled Nazi persecutions and settled in Portugal as a photographer. This bit of information, which is nowhere alluded to in the finished film, is an interesting back story that [would] in part explain why he seems lost, confused out-of-place and and out-of-time.

If this was actually part of the film then the encounter with the dead woman would just be one reason for him to leave - or die. I kind of wish that World War II element was in the film because it would explain much more. It would provide a history to the character and explain his motivations.  But as it is it in the film all the motivations are more puzzling and almost surreal.

Here is the trailer.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Template change

Don't be confused. The template has been changed. Carry on.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

70's vs 80's

Mubi had a forum in which someone asked for people to list the movies that exemplify the difference between the 1970's and the 1980's. Here's a few I came up with [and one I didn't*].

 Obviously, I am being selective to the point that I am highlighting gritty and more independent [70's] vs more glossy and mainstream [80's]. But I'm also sticking with the films that are more memorable for the era in which they were made.

70’s – The Godfather
80’s – The Untouchables

70’s – Nashville
80’s – The Breakfast Club

70’s – Dirty Harry
80’s – Beverly Hills Cop

70’s – The French Connection
80’s – Lethal Weapon

70’s – McCabe and Mrs Miller
80’s- Silverado

70's - Breaking Away
80's - Hoosiers

70’s – Chinatown
80’s – To Live in Die in LA

70’s – Network
80’s – Broadcast News

70’s – The Exorcist
80’s – Nightmare on Elm Street

70's - Two Lane Blacktop
80's - The Cannonball Run

70’s – Taxi Driver
80’s – The Color of Money

70’s – A Clockwork Orange
80’s – Back to the Future

70's - Alien
80's - Aliens

70's – Superfly
80's – Do The Right Thing

70's - Annie Hall
80's - LA Story

70's - The Conformist
80's - Cinema Paradiso

70's - La Maman et la putain
80's - Diva

70's - The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
80's - Matador

* SCI-FI 2