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Thread: 2006 Repertory

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    2006 Repertory

    This thread is the equivalent of the journal I kept last year. This year, I will only write about selected older movies. Thus, it's not a journal but a repository for a few movies that impressed me particularly. A storehouse for movies I discovered this year, some of which I had seen before and not fully appreciated. I decided against placing this thread under DVD Releases because a few titles are not available in that format (I will point them out). I decided against placing them under Classic Film because the designation is too arbitrary. Not all these are "classics" but every title is now a personal favorite I would like to remember and recommend. Getting you to rent a film or post a comment about it would be special. I already have over 20 films to briefly note, so there'll be many opportunities for you to jump in.

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    THE GREAT DICTATOR (Charlie Chaplin/USA/1940)

    America was still neutral towards the war in Europe in 1940. Jack Warner, the powerful producer, was still hiding his political views behind period adventures like The Sea Hawk. Chaplin's political opinions were not disguised as subtext. He plays both a Jewish barber and dictator Adenoid Hynkel in this biting satire of fascism. Comedy and pathos mingle harmoniously here. Perhaps Chaplin's most touching act of solidarity towards the Jews was not making The Great Dictator but how he let stand false and widespread rumours that he was Jewish.

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    THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (Korda-Powell-Berger/UK/1940)

    The best film ever made based on Scheherazade's "Arabian Nights" tales was producer Alexander Korda's dream project. Most scenes in this wildly entertaining fantasy were directed by either Ludwig Berger or the great Michael Powell, but the visionary auteur was the Hungarian-born producer. Dethroned Prince Ahmad (Conrad Veidt) regains power thanks to a young vagabond (Sabu), a genie, a flying horse, and a magic carpet. Winner of Oscars for Art Direction, Cinematography, and Special Effects. Regarding the technicolor process used, the New York Times read: "no motion picture to date has been so richly and eloquently hued".

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    COLD WATER (Olivier Assayas/France/1994)

    Part of a commissioned series of films inspired or based on the experiences of each director as a 16 year old, which include Claire Denis' US Go Home and Andre Techine's Wild Reeds. Assayas' film is set on the outskirts of Paris in 1972. Gilles and Christine (Virginie Ledoyen's breakthrough performance) are troubled children-of-divorce. Their acting-out gets Gilles expelled from school and Christine relegated to a psychiatric facility. She escapes and reunites with Gilles at an abandoned chateau in the woods, where a huge party takes place. Gilles proposes they run away together but Christine doubts Gilles is sufficiently strong and resourceful. Assayas glides his new Super 16 mm over the proceedings with smooth assurance, as he conveys the dislocation, desperation and efervescence of youth. Assayas, the master matchmaker of arresting image and pop tune, features Roxy Music's "Virginia Plain", Leonard Cohen's "Avalanche" and Nico's "Janitor of Lunacy" here, among other more popular titles. The ending is both understated and devastating.

    *Cold Water got great reviews when it played at the selective New York Film Festival. It was never released commercially in the USA. The French finally released it on dvd last year but without subtitles. The Sundance Channel shows it periodically.

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    AMERICAN DREAM (Barbara Kopple/USA/1991)

    The Hormel meat-packing company declared 1984 profits at $29 million when it offered a new contract to its Austin, Minn. workers. It would cut both their hourly wage and benefits by about 30%. Not long after president Reagan fired all the striking air traffic controllers, the meatpackers of local P-9 went on strike. The repercussions of that decision is the subject of this absorbing and instructive film by veteran documentarian Barbara Kopple.The plot thickens when the local union decides to go against the recommendations of the Washington-based parent union and acts independently. The story is too complex and multi-faceted to be adequately told within the confines of network TV programs. American Dream depicts the breakdown of key aspects of the American tradition of collective bargaining. It's riveting drama and essential viewing.

    *American Dream won every award slated for documentaries, including the Oscar. It was made at a time when even notorious docs received extremely limited runs at only a handful of large markets.We should feel lucky that the film is available on dvd since many of the best docs of the 90s have never been released on any home video format (The Farm: Angola,USA, Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter, Public Housing, Vietnam: Long Time Coming and many others).

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    20th CENTURY (Howard Hawks/USA/1934)

    The career of egomaniac Broadway producer Oscar Jaffe takes a slide after Lily, his star actress, tires of his antics and heeds the call of Hollywood. A few years later, Oscar and Lily are both passengers on the titular train. He vows to do anything to re-sign his temperamental, former star. John Barrymore and Carole Lombard were at the top of their game in this hilarious screwball farce based on a brilliant Hecht/MacArthur play. Howard Hawks was the most versatile director in the history of cinema; he made masterpieces in just about every movie genre. 20th Century is as memorable as the better-known comedies that followed, such as His Girl Friday and Bringing Up Baby.

    -"Is Oscar on this train? You'd better tell me."
    -"Right in there. The Little Corporal is returning from another Moscow, his head bloodied but still unbowed."

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    CASQUE D'OR (Jacques Becker/France/1952)

    This tale of doomed romance is based on a Parisian underworld incident that took place in 1898 (during "la belle epoque"). The title translates to "golden helmet", the nickname of the protagonist, a blonde gangster's moll named Marie. Francois Truffaut wrote: "Becker works outside all styles, and we shall place him therefore at the opposite pole from the major tendencies of cinema. His best film is Casque D'Or, which has unfortunately never been understood in France_ a rapid, tragic, powerful film, every instant filled with strength and intelligence. Simone Signoret and Serge Reggiani had their best roles ever in it, even if the French public was cool to this paradoxical coupling, so beautiful precisely because of its contrasts: a little man and a large woman, the little alley cat made of nothing but nerves, and the gorgeous carnivorous plant who doesn't turn her nose up at any morsel".

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    SEVEN MEN FROM NOW (Budd Boetticher/USA/1957)

    One of the highly praised but relatively obscure cycle of westerns made by Budd Boetticher in collaboration with writer Burt Kennedy and Randolph Scott. The latter plays an ex-sheriff trailing the men who murdered his wife during a robbery. This fast-paced, color western paved the way for Leone and Peckinpah. French critic Andre Bazin called it "one of the most intelligent westerns but also the least intellectual". Indeed, masterfully staged action sequences predominate over dialogue, yet somehow there's nuance and shading to the characterizations. Lee Marvin is particularly effective as Scott's old nemesis.

    Boetticher, an orphan adopted into a wealthy family he despised, was a very colorful character who had a most interesting life. Fresh out of Ohio State, he moved to Mexico and became a professional matador. This man's man suffered from a number of illnesses, incarceration, and commitment to an insane asylum. He always bounced back though. Boetticher was particularly attracted and suited to the western and film-noir genres. The release of Seven Men From Now on dvd (good transfer,worthy extra features) is reason to rejoice.

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    MOLOKH (Aleksandr Sokurov/Russia-Germany/1999)

    The first of Sokurov's quartet of films about 20th century dictators (Taurus, about the last days of Lenin, and The Sun, about Emperor Hirohito, were released subsequently) won the Best Screenplay award at the Cannes Film Festival. It's a day-in-the-life of Hitler from the vantage point of his beloved Eva Braun. Molokh is set at the Kelsteinhaus, his alpine retreat, during the spring of 1942. The dictator arrives accompanied by members of his inner circle to the fog-shrouded castle. There's a bodoir scene in which Eva's behavior alternates from mocking and demanding to fawning and obsequious. Attention to trivia and seemingly banal moments help demystify the Hitler persona. A dinner scene illustrates the animosity between Goebbels and Martin Bormann and their reverence towards their leader. A conversation between Hitler and a priest who visits to advocate leniency towards clergy is thought-provoking. Sokurov's visual feasts can only be properly appreciated in a theatre but I'm glad I can pop this disc into the player whenever I want.

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    THE PERSONALS (Kuo-fu Chen/Taiwan/1998)

    This rather obscure film had a most limited release stateside three years after its Taipei premiere. The title makes it sound like a romantic comedy but it's a curious blend of ethnography and drama. Du, a 30 year-old eye doctor quits her job to dedicate herself full-time to finding a mate. Hundreds of men respond to her newspaper ad and we witness several of their encounters with the attractive Du at a tearoom. She lets the conversations run beyond the point where she knows a candidate is not suitable, perhaps out of genuine curiosity. As a cross-section of Taiwanese men parade in front of our eyes, we gradually get to know her, if initially only through her reactions. Later the film incorporates voice-over of Du leaving messages for an absent, former boyfriend. These provide a rationale for Du's tactics and the building blocks for a devastating and powerful final act. Rene Liu won a number of festival awards for her mesmerizing performance.

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    MOTHER (Mikio Naruse/Japan/1952)

    First film directed by Naruse I ever watch. I'm not alone. Of the great Japanese masters, Mikio Naruse (1905-1969) remains the one who received the least exposure outside his native country. Naruse was reticent, shy and prolific. But only two of his films were ever available in the US (vhs versions of A Woman Ascends the Stairs and Late Chrysanthemums released over 20 years ago). Like Mizoguchi's, Naruse's films provide a milieu viewed through the eyes of women, but his protagonists consider suffering and hardship a normal aspect of living, thus becoming less tragic than Mizoguchi's wronged heroines. Naruse specialized in the genre called "shomin geki" or family dramas depicting the living conditions of the lower-class, as opposed to Ozu's solidly middle-class family units.

    MOTHER's central protagonist is a wife and mother of four during the tough post-war years. She's played by the wonderful Kinuyo Tanaka (the potter's wife in Ugetsu and, years later, Japan's first woman director) but the narrator and audience surrogate is her observant and cheerful teenage daughter. Despite the presence of illness and death in the plot, it's not surprising that Naruse called MOTHER his "happiest" film. Besides the presence of the youthful and optimistic narrator, there are several instances of humor and amusing vignettes seamlessly incorporated into the narrative. As for the effect the film had one me, perhaps Akira Kurosawa described it most accurately: "a flow of shots that looks calm and ordinary at first glance, reveals itself to be like a deep river with a quiet surface disguising a fast-raging current underneath".
    Last edited by oscar jubis; 08-08-2006 at 07:36 PM.

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    I think there was a Naruse series at the Pacific Film Archive (PFA) not too long ago. I should go to the PFA more often and if you lived around here I'm sure you'd draw me into going. It's a bit of a drive but not really far.

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    This seems to have become another one of your private sites--one I've neglected to check. Since it's more in the order of a personal log book, I'm not sure you aim on stimulating any discussion but I'll be glad to discuss anything with you if you take a stand on anything. This is, after all, a movie discussion website. Not really giving very much in the way of critical evaluations of technique or content of the films makes your entries not particularly stimulating, but I'll do my best when I can.

    I have commented on Molokh elsewhere here (on the site) I believe, on the now moribund "Last Film I've Seen" thread--you may be right that to "pop" it into your machine from time to time would provide a "visual feast" but the fact remains that it is a stultifyingly boring film, without the intense human focus of The Sun that makes the latter so moving. In my comment on IMDb--you may want to see other comments there for reactions of ordinary viewers--http://imdb.com/title/tt0199777/usercomments -- I called it a "snazzy snooze-fest."

    I also watched Casque d'Or recently via Netflix. Simone Signoret is magnificent (I have the sensation of having said this before) in it and Reggiani is, well, "interesting," but there's not much chemistry and I found the film, despite the clarity and precision of its mise-en-scène, rather dated and uninvolving--no doubt one any fan of French cinema would have to watch, though, so it fits on this thread.

    Thanks for the background on Boetticher and the movie and the DVD sound like a find for Western fans.

    Kopple's American Dream tells an extremely important story in the history of the US labor movement.

    I didn't k now that Cold Water and Wild Reeds were commissioned works about sixteen-year-olds. Wild Reeds is a kdy work by Téchiné, one of his best. Cold Water clearly would be one to see but I guess I can't see it.

    Thief of Baghdad -- great Hollywood vintage costume stuff -- love it. But -- not much offered for discussion here in your entries as written, otherwise.

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    Indeed, the PFA showed an abbreviated version of the 34-film Naruse retrospective that played at Film Forum last fall. A similar Borzage retro is playing now at PFA, followed by seven Mizoguchis. It's the type of place I'd visit frequently if I lived in the Bay Area. Most of the films involved are hard to view outside institutions like PFA. I viewed this Naruse on a dvd imported from Spain. My "budget cinephile" dilemma is whether to buy expensive, beat-up vhs copies of A Woman Ascends the Stairs and Late Chrysanthemums or patiently wait for dvd releases or retro screenings that may never come. On the one hand, I am barely able to keep up with what's becoming available on dvd. On the other hand, none of it was directed by the great Mikio Naruse.

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    Originally posted by Chris Knipp
    I'll be glad to discuss anything with you if you take a stand on anything.

    Thanks. A pleasure as usual. As the opening post states, these are all films I (re)discovered this year that impress me particularly. Inclusion means I consider the film very good, if not a "classic" or "masterpiece". Few if any of these have flaws that I consider in any way significant. Posts are written as to provide, as succintly as possible, a brief description, reasons why I like the film particularly, and a bit of context. Sufficient, I would think, as a starting point for any potential discussion (you know I appreciate and respond to any query or dissenting point of view).

    I have commented on Molokh elsewhere here--you may be right that to "pop" it into your machine from time to time would provide a "visual feast" but the fact remains that it is a stultifyingly boring film, without the intense human focus of The Sun

    I know The Sun is a must-see. I hope it's shown as part of the Fort Lauderdale FF so I can watch it properly in a theatre. Otherwise, I plan to buy it on import dvd (the Hong Kong version can be had quite cheaply).

    It could very well be better than Molokh as you imply. But I found the latter fascinating and engaging. The opening scenes of Ms. Braun entertaining herself while awaiting the arrival of Hitler from Berlin are highly athmospheric. The rest of the film consists of three long scenes I found highly stimulating in content and presentation: Hitler and Braun alone in their bedroom, a visit to the dictator from a priest, and a dinner scene. All three demistify and reveal facets of the infamous subject (and those closest to him) not accessible through any other film.

    I also watched Casque d'Or recently. Simone Signoret is magnificent in it and Reggiani is, well, "interesting," but there's not much chemistry and I found the film, despite the clarity and precision of its mise-en-scène, rather dated and uninvolving[--no doubt one any fan of French cinema would have to watch, though, so it fits on this thread.

    Well, it fits on this thread because I liked it a lot and I hadn't seen it in over twenty years. Truffaut wrote that the French public was "cool to this paradoxical coupling" upon theatrical release, so you're not alone by saying "not much chemistry". They're certainly an odd couple, I'll grant you that. It's a period film made half a century ago, but that's not why you find the film "rather dated", right? Casque d'Or is closer to "classic" or "masterpiece" than most films I've included in this repertory thread. If I may, "uninvolving" is a term more indicative of one's level of interest in the film's themes/characters, and quite valid as that, than indicative of any flaws in the film itself.

    Thanks for the background on Boetticher and the movie and the DVD sound like a find for Western fans.

    Boetticher is currently being (re)discovered by film buffs, as is Frank Borzage. He was a "Sam Fuller type" who released consistently good Westerns and noirs during the 1950s. Apparently, other titles in his filmography are scheduled for release on dvd.

    I didn't know that Cold Water and Wild Reeds were commissioned works about sixteen-year-olds. Wild Reeds is a kdy work by Téchiné, one of his best. Cold Water clearly would be one to see but I guess I can't see it.

    If I understand your predilections, Cold Water is one you'd certainly enjoy. I like it as much as Wild Reeds. Perhaps it's one of those dvds you'd want to purchase when in Paris.

    Thief of Baghdad -- great Hollywood vintage costume stuff -- love it.

    Tabuno has written before to ask why we usually privilege the director over other crew members like writers and producers. This is one film in which the producer, Alexander Korda, is definitely the auteur, more so than anyone else.

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