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Thread: 2008 REPERTORY: Oldies but Goodies

  1. #16
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    MIRACLE IN MILAN (ITALY/1951)

    One of several memorable collaborations between director Vittorio De Sica and screenwriter Cesare Zavattini (Bicycle Thieves, Shoe-Shine, The Gold of Naples, Umberto D). It was named Best Foreign Film of 1951 by the New York Critics Circle and won the top prize at the 5th Cannes Film Festival (tied with Alf Sjoberg's Miss Julie). A thoroughly charming neorealist mix of satire and fantasy. Toto was abandoned as a baby and found by a kind, old lady in her cabbage patch. She raised him until age 7 when she died and he was placed in an orphanage. Released at 16, he joins Milan's homeless and becomes the leader of a shantytown community built on unused land on the outskirts of the city. The community is a model of democracy and egalitarianism. Then the owner of the land wants to develop it and orders the police to evict them. The poor and destitute living there resist as much as they can. Then the old lady who raised Toto descends from heaven to give him a magical, wish-fulfilling dove. Miracle in Milan comes across like a mix of Chaplin, Tati, and early Fellini. Inexplicably, it's not available on dvd in North America.

  2. #17
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    I saw this when I was quite young in the theater with my parents and some of their very good friends, one of whom proclaimed it "Charlie Chaplin with a Tuscan accent." It's wonderful, as I remember it. I remember that scene when the man and woman are of different races and each makes a wish....and the little skinny man who wins a whole chicken and is so hungry he devours it on the spot in a few minutes. And the music... and the big fat rich men in big overcoats. A good memory. Zavatini and De Sica--wonderful combination. Still using many non actors and "doppiaggio."

  3. #18
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    Yes. Yes. I think it's remarkable how well you remember it (assuming you haven't seen it since then). The old man who wins the raffle for the chicken has one of those wonderfully fleshy, malleable faces, like Dominique Pinon (Amelie) but much older. Francesco Golisano is great in the lead. They used to call him "Geppa", the name of the recurring character he played in Sotto il sole di Roma (1948) and Vent'anni. He stopped acting in 1952 and died before 30 (auto accident). Perhaps the most Chaplinesque aspect of the film is the casting of and performance by Brunella Bovo as Toto's girl. She had a much longer acting career than Geppa, appearing in Fellini's The White Sheik (the Criterion dvd includes a recent interview with her) and a couple of low-budget American movies under the name "Barbara Hudson".
    The would-be romance between an English-speaking black man and a Milanese girl is sketched in a few brief, silent scenes. Nicely done. The main speaking parts are apparently, as you say, dubbed as part of postproduction. Alessandro Cicognini composed the music for most of De Sica's best films.
    Last edited by oscar jubis; 03-20-2008 at 09:46 AM.

  4. #19
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    Of course I remember. I like movies! I think I once re-watched it on a videotape but my memory of the first viewing is much more vivid than my memory of that time, which is vague.

    Definitely dubbed. Pretty nearly all Italian movies have been dubbed even up to now, but now I think they're starting to record live a lot, but not all. "Il doppiaggio" was a a major element in "neorealismo" and the ability to use non-actors--something I've learned since seeing "Miracolo a Milano." I didn't know that when I was a kid. But Italian was sort of part of my life because my mother loved Italian and studied it most of her life, lived in Rome for a while with my sister, and co-founded in Baltimore, our home town, the Circolo Culturale Italiano di Baltimora.

    Here's a guy making fun of Italian dubbing especially of a film dubbed from Japanese into English and then into Italian: http://www.revver.com/video/320518/d...-di-sandokan/.

  5. #20
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    Funny guy this Dario Bandiera.

  6. #21
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    Indeed. Amazing schtick.

  7. #22
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    SECRETS OF A SOUL (Germany/1926)

    Sigmund Freud refused to collaborate in film production because he didn't believe "satisfactory plastic representation of our abstractions was possible". He turned down offers from Hollywood's Samuel Goldwyn and Berlin's UFA. Two of Freud's close associates, Hanns Sachs and Karl Abraham, did agree to serve as consultants of the first film about psychoanalysis: Secrets of a Soul by G. W. Pabst. The film was very well received. It was instrumental in spreading psychoanalysis throughout the world. It is, in my opinion a notch below Pabst's masterpieces like Pandora's Box because the source material has obviously dated. It is a case history, based on an actual patient, about a man who develops a knife phobia and homicidal desires as a consequence of unresolved child trauma, frustrated desire to father a child, and intense feelings of jealousy towards the handsome cousin of his wife, whom he considers a rival. Secrets of a Soul (to call it "Secrets of a Psyche" would have confused the uninitiated) is basically a mystery which illustrates the use of free association and dream interpretation to locate the source of a patient's neurosis and facilitate his personal growth. As far as psychological mysteries goes, I like Pabst's film better than Spellbound, Hitchcock's stab at making a psychoanalytic film. What makes Secrets of a Soul special is the use of photography and art direction to convey interior processes like dreams, memories and fantasies. However, the important relationship between patient and doctor in psychoanalysis cannot possibly be dramatized with the necessary nuance within the limitations of the silent film.

  8. #23
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    COLORADO TERRITORY (USA/1949)

    Raoul Walsh, the archetypal action director, transposed his High Sierra to the western genre with excellent results. Dave Kehr points out that " the added emphasis on landscape makes it a more personal and more effective film" than its predecessor. Joel McCrea stars as a bandit sprung out of jail by his aged partner who convinces him to do one last heist before retiring. McCrea must deal with his partner's envious new associates, lawmen in pursuit, and juggle two romantic interests played to perfection by Dorothy Malone and Virginia Mayo (in a more complex part than she played in Walsh's masterpiece White Heat). Very fast moving like most Warners films of the period with breathtakingly dynamic action sequences and Walsh's keen eye for image composition clearly evident. Not on dvd. Thanks TCM.

  9. #24
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    GRASS: A NATION'S BATTLE FOR LIFE (USA/1925)

    Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, the guys who wrote and directed the original King Kong in 1933, debuted with this fascinating documentary about the 48-day yearly migration of the nomadic Bakhtiari tribe of Persia in search for pasture for their herd. Fifty thousand men, women and children cross a wide river in rafts that float on inflated goat skins and cross the steep, snow-covered Taurus mountains until they reach the grassy plains of southern Iran. It's a most perilous journey and a most exhilarating experience for the viewer. Grass: A Nation's Battle for Life was made originally for the University lecture circuit but was such a hit with audiences that Paramount Pictures decided to release it in commercial theaters. I watched a TV broadcast of the film, now available on a dvd said to include commentary from Mr. Cooper himself.

  10. #25
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    LOVE (HUNGARY/1971)

    Karoly Makk has remained in the shadow of Miklos Jancso among world-renowned Hungarian directors of his generation. At least in this country, Jancso's masterpieces like Red Psalm, The Red and the White and The Round Up are more frequently screened and discussed. My first viewing of this Cannes Jury Prize winner suggests Makk deserves more exposure. Love is based on a novel by Tibor Dery set in the early 60s. A school teacher named Luca (Mari Torocsik) manages to make her ailing mother-in-law (Lili Darvas) believe that her husband is making a film in New York when actually he's been incarcerated for months. The mother receives letters signed by her son which are actually written by Luca herself. Luca hasn't received any news about Janos, her filmmaker husband, for months and fears he might be dead. He was charged with vague "crimes against the state" and, as a result, Luca loses her job and the authorities move new tenants into her 2-bedroom apartment.

    Half of Love takes place in the old woman's apartment but the film never feels stagy because of the frequent use of brief flashbacks to bring to life the characters' memories and fantasies. Makk's film is a miracle of succinct storytelling. Montages of images, each lasting no more than a second, are used to depict significant events from the past with great economy. Darvas and Torocsik are wonderfully restrained in their lead performances. Janos Toth's black & white cinematography reminded me of the work of Raoul Coutard in many of the films of the French New Wave. Makk and Toth collaborated on a second film, Cat's Play, which received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film in 1975. I will be watching it soon, as both Love and Cat's Play were released on dvd by Facets Video in 2005 and largely ignored by the press.

  11. #26
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    PITFALL (Japan/1962)

    Hiroshi Teshigahara's feature debut is an adaptation of a novel by Kobo Abe deemed experimental at the time. It's the saga of an itinerant miner lured to a remote, abandoned town by a mystery man in white. The miner is murdered. The mystery man bribes the candy seller who witnesses the crime. There's an investigation, an innocent is framed for the murder, the miner's son hides while the ghost of his father searches for reasons why he was targeted. He encounters the ghosts of others who met a similar fate. Pitfall is an indictment of capitalism and post-war industrialization in Japan (It goes beyond being an expose of exploitation in the mining industry, implying that the repression affected a whole class) . Pitfall is just a notch below Teshigahara's masterpiece: Woman in the Dunes, which was released two years later. Toru Takemitsu's jazz-inflected modernist score makes quite an impression. It helps create the ominous mood that pervades the film.

  12. #27
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    CHAMELEON STREET (USA/1991)

    This unique film was part of the resurgence of American independent filmmaking of the late 1980s and early 1990s. It won the Grand Jury Prize at the 1990 Sundance Film Festival and was released commercially in 1991. Chameleon Street was hailed by critics and ignored by audiences. Wendell B. Harris, Jr., the writer, editor, director, and star of the film hasn't directed since then. Chameleon Street is based on the real-life exploits of William Douglas Street, a middle-class black man who impersonated a Yale graduate student, a civil rights lawyer, a Harvard-trained surgeon, and a Time magazine journalist. What we have here is a Black indie movie that doesn't take the point of view of youth from the ghetto. A literate, adult, African-American film that mentions the Sex Pistols, includes clips from Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast and Josef von Sternberg's The Shanghai Gesture, and makes brilliant use of voice-over narration. A serious-minded but very funny comedy about a black Zelig that confronts issues of race and class head on. A movie that broaches the existential concerns found in seminal Black novels like Richard Wright's "Native Son" and, especially, Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man". Like Abbas Kiarostami's Close Up, Chameleon Street features some of the impersonator's actual victims (including Detroit major Coleman Young and BKB star Paula McGee). Finally, one of best films released in 1991 is available on dvd.

  13. #28
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    KILLER aka Tueur a Gages (Kasakhstan/1998)

    "Darezhan Omirbaev is one of the most talented filmmakers currently working anywhere but his nationality seems to have doomed him to the margins". (Jonathan Rosenbaum)

    This third feature by Omirbaev (1958) won the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes. "Killer", the film's English title, is inappropriate because it raises the wrong expectations. This is not a thriller or a crime movie although it depicts criminality, with the violence just off screen. The protagonist, Marat, works as a chaffeur for a mathematician (Omirbaev's former profession). He rear-ends a Mercedes while driving home from the hospital where his wife Aijan has just given birth to a son. He's forced to borrow money to pay for the repairs then loses his job when the government stops funding scientific institutions (something that also affected the Kazak film industry following the collapse of the Soviet Union). Marat is forced to get a loan from a guy with organized crime connections and the calamities continue.

    Killer opens with a scene in which the mathematician can't find a building's exit. We watch him wandering the halls and getting contrasting answers as to which way to go. The scene keeps accruing meaning as the strightforward, clean narrative moves along. As a matter of fact, the film seems even more impressive and more significant after a second viewing. Omirbaev depicts a post-communist society that has lost its traditions and its moral compass. The institutional and economic collapse is dramatized with great economy and conviction. Every scene has a clear purpose, a reason for being.

    *I watched Killer on import dvd. Omirbaev first two features, Kairat and Cardiogram are available on UK dvd at a rather steep price. A Region 1 dvd of any of Omirbaev features would definitely be appreciated and quite deserved.

  14. #29
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    I have learned a great deal about many films I would not have ordinarily considered from your posts, Oscar. Your comments and observations are insightful and informative. Thank you for taking the time to do this.
    Colige suspectos semper habitos

  15. #30
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    It's very encouraging to learn you're getting something out of them. Thanks. I'll keep showcasing older titles I find worth mentioning. By the way, unless I say otherwise assume you can rent them on dvd from Netflix or Blockbuster.

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