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Thread: 2007 Repertory: Oldies but Goodies

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    2007 Repertory: Oldies but Goodies

    In this thread, I will briefly note films from the past I particularly admire (I'd rather forget mediocre movies and those that are merely "worth a look"). Most but not all of them are films I'm watching for the first time in 2007. Some are rather obscure but others are well-known and popular (movies I should have seen by now). Any type of response regarding any of these titles is highly appreciated.

    ACE IN THE HOLE aka The Big Carnival (1951)

    "Fuck them all! It's the best picture I ever made." (Billy Wilder)

    The fact that Ace in the Hole was directed by the man who had made Double Indemnity, The Lost Weekend and Sunset Boulevard was inconsequential to American filmgoers. It was perhaps Billy Wilder's biggest box office flop. "The question is whether you have the right to get people into the theatre, and they expect a cocktail and they get a shot of acid. People don't want to hear that they stink", said Wilder in retrospect. In Ace in the Hole, a cynical reporter (Kirk Douglas) delays the rescue of a man trapped in a mine shaft to create a media frenzy. Wilder reserves his most searing contempt for the growing crowd, a microcosm of America, that gathers around the cave; a bunch of thrill-seekers, voyeurs, entrepreneurs, and opportunists who feed off the disaster. Douglas and Jan Sterling, as the bitter and conspiring wife of the victim, are outstanding. Ace in the Hole is a masterpiece. It has never been released on video.

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    THE SEASONS (USSR, 1975)

    Artavazd Pelechian, born in Armenia in 1938, is regarded as the last master of montage to emerge from "the Soviet school". Pelechian is a documentarian who has made a dozen films of short to medium length that combine visuals and music. Like the American Frederick Wiseman, Pelechian "comments" through the editing of his films as there is no voice-over or narration. The Seasons is set in an Armenian village and concerns the clash of man and nature. The main activity of the village is sheep herding. The sheep must be taken to the other side of the river before winter arrives. This requires each sheep to be carried down a steep mountain and across the rapids one by one. It's odd, and quite spectacular to witness. Pelechian use of slow motion and Vivaldi's The Four Seasons during these sequences renders them otherworldly and sublime. This b&w film is 29 minutes long. It's not available on video.

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    THE HOLLYWOOD TEN (USA/1950)

    Before they served their year in jail for contempt of Congress after refusing to give testimony to the House Committee on Un-American Activities, the ten filmmakers known as the Hollywood Ten participated in this filmed manifesto. It's a 15 minute documentary that explains why the committee was formed and the hearings that took place in 1947, provides brief biographies, then each of the ten face the camera and explains how this type of inquiry goes against American values and the Constitution, and the consequences and ramifications of several possible reactions to the inquiry. The filmmakers were of course blacklisted and had great difficulty finding employment. The Hollywood Ten was directed by John Berry, who was blacklisted for his involvement in this film. It's a particularly clear-headed, direct, concise and powerful political film. It's included as an extra on the Criterion dvd of Spartacus (1960), one of the first films to "break the blacklist" when it gave a writing credit to Dalton Trumbo.

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    TWENTY FOUR EYES (Japan/1954)

    Kenji Mizoguchi's Sansho the Bailiff, Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai and Mikio Naruse's Late Chrysanthemums were released in Japan in 1954. None of these masterpieces won the Japanese Academy award for Best Film that year. The winner was Keisuke Kinoshita's Twenty Four Eyes, an epic melodrama that follows the lives of a dedicated young teacher (Hideko Takamine) and her 12 pupils for two decades beginning in 1928 (when the kids enter 1st grade). The film is set in a fishing village on the Inland Sea island of Shodoshima. At first, Twenty Four Eyes concerns the clash between the young teacher's western-influenced city ways and the tradition-bound parents. Then the economy takes a downturn and Japan invades Manchuria with serious consequences for all, especially the poor villagers in the island. The film depicts with awesome eloquence and clarity the deprivations experienced by the villagers during the 1930s and 1940s, as they were victimized by Japan's imperialist aspirations. Kinoshita's film is engaging and masterfully paced, feeling much shorter than its 155-minute duration. The plight of the pacifist, idealist teacher, who watches her students beaten by poverty, disease and war, is deeply moving.
    Twenty Four Eyes is available in two dvd formats: a low-priced, NTSC All-region, Hong Kong version and an expensive, PAL Region 2, UK version featuring a slightly better transfer.

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    LIMELIGHT (USA/1952)

    While in London to promote Limelight, the film was banned from American theaters and the great Charles Chaplin was denied re-entry to his adopted country. How ironic, in that Limelight is apolitical, a film devoid of the jabs at freewheeling capitalism one finds in his previous movie Monsieur Verdoux ("The saddest thing I can imagine is to get used to luxury"). I don't think Chaplin was completely surprised at this turn of events, given the postwar climate in the US and the activities of the HUAC and the FBI towards liberal filmmakers. Moreover, watching Limelight one senses that Chaplin knew this would become his last American film, and perhaps simply his last film. The story of the washed-up, formerly famous, still brilliant, vaudeville clown Calvero and the much younger, broken-hearted ballerina is a highly personal career summation. Limelight incorporates references to the young Chaplin (and his tramp persona) via Calvero's dreamed flashbacks. Chaplin views on art, fame, aging and death are neatly built into the plot. Limelight is sentimental, nostalgic, witty, funny and sad. Buster Keaton appears in a cameo role. Chaplin won an Oscar for Best Original Score in 1972, when Limelight finally premiered in Los Angeles.

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    THE LAST THEFT (Czechoslovakia/1987)

    This 21-minute vampiric flick is included on a dvd called "Labyrinth of Darkness" which collects the 8 "auteur" films made by Jiri Barta. He is considered one of the world's most important figures in animation although several of his films also use live action and The Last Theft is completely live action. Barta's animations utilize paper cut-outs, drawings, mannequins, puppets, etc. One of his most interesting films, The Vanished World of Gloves, recreates the history of cinema by animating all types of handwear; there's a Chaplinesque chase comedy, a 30s melodrama, a WWII actioner, a sci-fi/monster flick, and homages to Bunuel's L'Age d'Or and Fellini's La Dolce Vita. Barta's most celebrated work is his version of The Pied Piper of Hamelin using wooden puppets and both stuffed rats and live ones. His version is a critique of consumerism and greed with a nifty twist at the end. But my favorite Barta film is the tale of a thief who breaks into a house and gets invited to a game of dice by four creepy ghost-like creatures sitting around a table. They entice him with money, wine and luxurious comforts. The thief ends up becoming their unwilling victim. The Last Theft augments its black & white photography with selectively applied color washes. It has no dialogue but features very effective use of sound and music. It's reminiscent of German Expressionist films like Murnau's Nosferatu and Lang's Mabuse trilogy. Jiri Barta is reportedly trying to obtain financing for a feature-length version of "The Golem".

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    I saw Barta's Pied Piper at the pacific cinematheque during their "Bohemian Gothic' retro but didn't post a review.
    it was quite amazing.

    excellent thread oscar
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

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    That "Bohemian Gothic" thread was quite memorable. You introduced me to the very good Valerie and her Week of Wonders by Jires, which led me to his amazing The Joke. Who Wants to Kill Jessie?, which you reviewed, is finally out on dvd! I'll be renting it soon. Check out the Barta dvd and, in case you haven't seen it, Jan Svankmajer's anarchic Lunacy (2006).
    Last edited by oscar jubis; 04-15-2007 at 11:33 PM.

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    I agree totally about Jires and the Czech films from the 60's.
    They are as good as the "nouvelle vague".
    Absolutely.

    Your post on Jires' The Joke is very informative and I still haven't seen it. Valerie is the only film of his I've seen and it is still held in my highest regard. One of the best screenings I've ever attended. I wish I could get that night back. It was amazing.

    Czech films are astounding. There are few that I can think of that I don't like. Jiri Barta is a legend, like Svankmajer.
    Track those films down.
    You owe it to yourself.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

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    Originally posted by Johann
    I agree totally about Jires and the Czech films from the 60's.
    They are as good as the "nouvelle vague".
    Absolutely.


    You know it man!
    Back in 2004, I posted a list of the Key Films of the Czech New Wave. I have to revise my listing of Milos Forman's Black Peter which after further review fails to measure up to the other eleven films listed. On the other hand, another viewing of Vera Chytilova's Daisies confirms my impression that it's a most freedom-loving, unhinged, brilliant masterpiece. Perhaps my favorite feminist film.

    I also want to point out that the portmanteau film Pearls of the Deep, which collects five shorts based on stories by Bohumil Hrabal (the scribe who had a beer with Clinton during his official visit to Prague) is now available on dvd. Another one on my Netflix Q.

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    THE ODD NUMBER (Argentina/1962)

    There was ample correspondence between Argentinian writers and European film directors in the 1960s. Among the most important examples: Antonioni's Blowup, based on a story by Julio Cortazar; Bertolucci's The Spider's Stratagem, an adaptation of a story by J.L. Borges, and French and Italian versions of Bioy Casares' "La Invencion de Morel". Moreover, Alan Resnais and his screenwriter Alain Robbe-Grillet credit Casares as the inspiration for Last Year at Marienbad. Argentinian director Manuel Artin, who virtually built a career on adaptations of Julio Cortazar's short stories, was inspired to do so by Marienbad and the Resnais/Duras collaboration Hiroshima Mon Amour.

    The Odd Number is a faithful adaptation of Cortazar's "Las Cartas de Mama" (Mother's Letters). It's the story of an Argentinian couple living in Paris who can't get rid of the spectre of his brother and her ex-boyfriend, who died in Buenos Aires two years earlier. The couple lead a comfortable bourgeoise existence but the guilt over the brother's death (from a prolonged illness but shortly after their wedding) torments them. The film moves back and forth between 1962 Paris (filmed on location) and 1960 Buenos Aires with smooth fluidity. The presence of the dead brother in their lives is accentuated by letters sent by his mother, who now senile has come to believe the brother is alive and coming to Paris for a visit. The odd number is, of course, three. The Odd Number carries a strong implication that the love triangle between the brothers and the girl is a recapitulation of an earlier one in which the brothers competed to take the place of the absent father in their mother's heart. It's a film of interiority in which memories and dreams take precedence over action with an excellent lead performance by Lautaro Murua. The soundtrack is strikingly modern, certainly avant-garde when the film was released.

    The Odd Number was seen as part of the "Ciclo de Cine Argentino". Lamentably, it's not available on video. It was shown with English subtitles.

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    ALIAS GARDELITO (Argentina/1961)

    In the late 1950s and 1960s, cinema experienced a revolution against established "genre" forms of commercial cinema. In Argentina, the filmmakers involved were known as "la generacion del '60". Lautaro Murua, who was born and raised in Chile, was a key figure of the movement both as an actor and director. In Alias Gardelito, Murua directs a script by Bernardo Kordon and plays a key but secondary character. The protagonist is Toribio, who dreams of a career as a tango singer (hence the title) but engages in extortion and smuggling contraband goods to make a living. Alias Gardelito is a somber and sober look at the underworld in Buenos Aires. The film denounces the corruption at high levels and the lack of opportunities for working class youth to make an honest living. The performance by Alberto Argibay as "Gardelito" is magnificent. The outstanding b&w cinematography (with mostly location shooting) comes courtesy of Oscar Melli, another key figure of the movement.Alias Gardelito was named Best Film of 1961 by the Argentinean Film Critics Association.

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    LA NINA DEL GATO (Argentina/1953)

    I've known journalist/writer Adriana Bianco for about three years. She once mentioned having had an acting career in her native Argentina, which she decided to abandon when she graduated from high school. I wasn't aware until recently that she was once known as "the Shirley Temple of the Southern Cone" and that she received the Silver Condor, Argentina's most prestigious film award, as recognition for her career.

    Ms. Bianco was known simply as Adrianita and the comparison to Shirley Temple is well deserved. She's so charming, cute and expressive in this, her second film. Adrianita plays "The Girl with the Cat", a poor girl trained by her alcoholic dad to pick pockets_"it's ok when they have more than they need", he tells her. The girl gets caught when she steals from a young woman who turns out to be a grifter. Adrianita is pressured to become her accomplice. La Nina del Gato shows evidence of the influence of American film noir and Italian neo-realism on Argentinean commercial cinema in the 1950s. It's quite an entertaining mix.

    The film was shown as part of a retrospective and was introduced by Adrianita herself. She received a standing ovation from the large crowd that came to see her.

    This is the poster for La Nina del Gato

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    ODD MAN OUT (UK/1947)

    At least in America, few of the many admirers of Carol Reed's The Third Man (1949) have seen the British producer/director's magnificent Odd Man Out. It was the first of Reed's films to receive an Oscar nomination and the first to win a BAFTA for Best Film. Both The Third Man and Odd Man Out are set in cities dilapidated by the effects of war, Vienna and Belfast, with stunning location photography by the highly talented Australian DP Robert Krasker. The "odd man out" is an Irish Nationalist wounded during a failed robbery. While hiding and running from the authorities, he comes in contact with a variety of characters. Some attempt to take advantage of him, others lack the courage to help him, others lack the means to do so. Odd Man Out features a superb supporting cast but the film belongs to James Mason in, arguably, his best performance.

    Odd Man Out was re-released in the UK last year in a new print. I was disappointed the print did not cross the Atlantic. The film isn't even available here on dvd (there's an excellent Korean dvd in NTSC format available on-line though). Turner Classic Movies will show it tomorrow at 10 a.m. Catch it if you can.

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    Ryna (Romania/2005)

    Ryna is a 16 year-old girl living in an ugly riverside village far from Bucharest. Ryna's tyrannical, alcoholic father forces her to shave her head, wear boy's clothes, and work at the family's mechanic shop. This feature debut of director Ruxandra Zenide is set at a point in Ryna's life when she is starting to oppose her father's rule. She starts a chaste courtship with the young postman and flirts with a French doctor who arrives to conduct anthropological research. The home environment deteriorates further after Ryna's mother gets fed up and leaves for Bucharest. Ryna has a wonderful sense of place and the rhythm of daily life in the village. The debut performance by Dorotheea Petre as Ryna is a revelation. She creates a very complex character that can't be properly described by stringing along a few adjectives. Overall, a powerful and distinctive drama.

    *I've seen perhaps half a dozen Romanian films, that's all. Most of them quite memorable, including two by Lucian Pintilie: The Oak (#4, 1992 list) and An Unforgettable Summer (#15, 1994), and The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (#2, 2006). I hope to get a chance to watch Dorotheea Petre in Catalin Mitulescu's How I Spent the End of the World (2006), Radu Milhaileanu's Live and Become (2005), and 2007 Palme d'Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.

    Ryna went straight to dvd in the USA in 2006. A trailer is the only extra.

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