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Thread: 2008 REPERTORY: Oldies but Goodies

  1. #46
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    I'll try to be brief to avoid boring readers. Indeed Chris, regarding "film studies taking the fun out of movies", there was an academic movement that emerged circa 1980 as a rather extreme reaction against auterism. It applied to film existing structuralist and post-structuralist theories that followed the linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure and extended it to other forms of communication. It was, as applied to film studies, an extremely theoretical approach often divorced from the experience of watching movies and largely detached from criticism. My conversations with film academics and my readings indicate the pendulum has swung back and film studies is undergoing a corrective period. There's much to be gained from studying the works of Lacan, Barthes, Derrida, Foucault,etc. but much to be lost when embraced dogmatically.

    Last night I watched Lorna Doone (1922), widely regarded as the best of many adaptations of the Richard Doddridge Blackmore's novel about the romance between a farmer and an aristocratic woman in 17th century Devon, England. The film is quite faithful to the novel. It was one of the films directed by Maurice Tourneur (Father of Jacques) during his years in America (1914-1926) and very much in the French tradition of pictorial naturalism that stressed the integrity of the shot, location shooting, visual authenticity, and the effects of social and physical environments on the individual. It was associated with the political Left in France. The tradition stands in direct opposition with the more widely studied Cinematic Impressionism which focused on optical experimentation and the rendering of the characters' psychological states. Lorna Doone is a consistently beautiful film, shot mostly outdoors during early morning and late afternoon, and concerned with barriers that keep apart those belonging to different social classes. The titular character was played by the extremely cute Madge Bellamy who was cast memorably in John Ford's debut The Iron Horse before gradually fading from the spotlight. Tourneur returned to France and made a number of well-regarded but (now) little-seen films during the 30s and 40s.
    Last edited by oscar jubis; 07-07-2008 at 10:22 AM.

  2. #47
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    TCM ran its first Elvis Mitchell interview with Bill Murray, who stated that while living in Paris, he started going to a theater showing silent movies. "I completely rediscovered cinema," Murray told Mitchell, during the somewhat somber interview.

    This Sunday night features silent classic Keaton in "Sherlock, Jr."

    "Lorna Doone" has had at least five reincarnations, starting in 1912, the last being in 1994 (six if you count the made-for-TV movie in 2001). Eye, it takes place in Scotland! It was also a cookie! ("I'd go to the moon, for a Lorna Doone!")

    Tourneur was once a student of Auguste Rodin... started out as an actor in Eclair Studios; immigrated to the US in 1914, signed a contract with Paramount in 1919; he moved from Paramount to Universal and ended up as director on "Mysterious Island" at MGM; he quit MGM studios in 1926 after being demoted to Production supervisor from director. He returned to Europe and directed his last silent film in Germany, starring Marlene Dietrich. Ben Johnson's "Volpone" (1940) is considered his best work. He died Aug 8, 1961.

    His son, Jacques "Jack" Tourneur directed such hits as "Cat People" and "Out of the past" for RKO.
    Last edited by cinemabon; 07-19-2008 at 12:57 AM.
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  3. #48
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    I have to check out those Elvis Mitchell interviews. Love TCM, simply love it.. Tomorrow is a great night for comedy lovers. The classic Keaton opens and "Fatty" Arbuckle closes a night of excellent programming.

    Tourneur pere got in trouble in France because many felt he came to America to avoid enlisting during WWI. I really like Lorna Doone and even more, The Last of the Mohicans, but his French movies are unavailable as far as I know. Jacques was a giant, as far as I'm concerned. Two of his very best are very hard to access: Wichita and Nightfall. Faves? Probably I Walked with a Zombie and Stars in my Crown. But the two you mention and The Leopard Man are just as great.

  4. #49
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    I don't know what happened to the planned Keaton shorts. However, I was supremely disappointed in the four Fatty Arbuckle 'feature' and three shorts. While I understand the importance of "speech cards" between takes, Arbuckle's film was overloaded. In the feature film version, we saw extremely brief moments of film shots, followed by long shots of the word cards, making the film seem so broken as to make it unwatchable. I had difficulty concentrating on which characters were which players as the re-made cards also contained biographical information that seem superfluous, very confusing.
    Colige suspectos semper habitos

  5. #50
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    I don't think Keaton shorts were on the schedule. I never tire of Sherlock Jr.. A clear, indisputable influence on many films, especially Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo. I noticed the excessive use of title cards, especially one with Fatty and Melba.

  6. #51
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    THE LONG VOYAGE HOME (1940)

    John Ford was never as happy as during long sea voyages aboard his ship, the Araner, in the company of family and friends. This feature concerns merchant seamen sailing from South America to England with a stop in the US to pick up some TNT. It's based on four one-act Eugene O'Neill plays and it's a labor of love for Ford and many among the cast. John Wayne, who plays a Swede yearning to return home, Ward Bond, Ian Hunter, and other cast and crew members were regulars aboard the Araner. The ensemble acting is absolutely riveting. A kind of male counterpart to the outstanding showcase of acting skills one finds in All About Eve or The Women. No other film dramatizes the lives of sailors with such realism and passion. And the cinematographer was the great Gregg Toland, at the top of his game here and reportedly given a great deal of leeway by Mr. Ford. The Long Voyage Home received six Oscar nominations.

  7. #52
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    MANDINGO (1975)

    Mandingo was produced towards the end of a 10-year span in which the Hollywood studios bankrolled a slate of original and provocative films. Some of these films were made by emerging young directors like Scorsese, Altman, Coppola, and Malick. Others by older directors taking advantage of the relaxed censorship and Hollywood's aim to appeal to the counterculture, mainly young America. The latter group includes Sam Peckinpah, Arthur Penn, and Richard Fleischer (son of Max, the creator of those classic Betty Boop and Popeye cartoons). A central theme in Richard Fleischer's films is the decay of American society, whether in the near-future (Soylent Green) or in the South circa 1840 (Mandingo).

    Mandingo is loosely based on a novel by Kyle Onstott and scripted by Norman Wexler (Oscar-nominee for Joe and Serpico). The ailing owner of a slave-breeding plantation (James Mason) finds a bride (Susan George) for his only son and a "Mandingo stud" (boxer-turned-actor Ken Norton) to breed and prizefight. This is a magnificently mounted, high-budget production of a film that deals with slavery and its implications more incisively and thoroughly than any other film before or since (only the relatively recent and sanitized Nightjohn and Manderlay come close). Mandingo is bound to make a lot of viewers of all races uncomfortable for a number of reasons. Many seemingly feel that slavery is something better left unexamined. They should stay away from a film that takes an unflinching look at the most lamentable time in American history.

    By far, the best analysis of the film I could find was written by Robert Keser for The Film Journal: The Eye We Cannot Shut: Robert Fleischer's Mandingo. Here's an excerpt:

    "Nor has time blunted the critical edge of this remarkable and deeply political film, long championed by Robin Wood as “the greatest film about race ever made in Hollywood” (2). Without sentimentality or official pieties, Fleischer uses an unbridled and passionate melodrama to lay bare how slavery, the economic enterprise that turns humans into commodities, could not but distort the entire web of human relationships enabling it. To appropriate a phrase by John Berger from another context, Mandingo uniquely serves as “the eye we cannot shut”, the persistent vision of competing powers – the slave’s physical strength (and by extension sexual potency) against the master’s sovereign power to define reality and decide life or death.

    Widespread audience acceptance at the box office surprised even its makers (the director himself said that “I was really not prepared for the great success of the film”). (3) Contrary to popular formulas in Hollywood, Mandingo provided no conventional heroics or even moral growth and made no attempt to manage audience reactions with distancing irony or historical panaceas. It also remains an unashamedly secular vision through the lens of 1975, joining such key films of that year as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Barry Lyndon and Dog Day Afternoon, and social critiques from the year before like Chinatown and The Conversation. The fall of Saigon, the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war, and the Khmer Rouge seizure of a U.S. ship, made a heady political backdrop, as did the (still unsolved) murder of Pier Paolo Pasolini and the Manson family’s attempts to assassinate the U.S. president. At that year’s Oscar ceremonies, Bert Schneider, producer of Peter Davis’s Vietnam critique Hearts and Minds which won for Best Documentary, took the opportunity to read a telegram from the Viet Cong (the contemporary equivalent of congratulations from Osama bin Laden). Clearly, movies were offering no easy escape hatches, and Mandingo firmly refuses any reassurances that the system works. If the film points toward liberation, it is simply by exposing the social mechanisms that supported racial and patriarchal domination."
    Last edited by oscar jubis; 07-31-2008 at 11:17 AM.

  8. #53
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    This was presented by the FSLC in February at the Walter Reade Theater as part of Film Comment Selects and I saw the trailer and it was news to me. I thought the title was of a sexploitation kind of pulp novel rather than this kind of thing
    (see below: it was taken as such originally when shown). I didn't get to see it. It would have been interesting perhaps to have your own review of it since presumably you've just seen it in some form, whether in a theater of on home video isn't exactly clear. Since we're quoting I'll quote the FSLC program blurb:
    Based on Kyle Onstott's bestselling 1957 novel, this incendiary and deeply disturbing melodrama about the way slavery debases and destroys both slaves and owners on a Louisiana slave breeding plantation in decline was dismissed in its day as tasteless exploitation or camp - "Like Gone with the Wind with all the characters in heat," as Leslie Halliwell put it. Only Time Out's David Pirie got it right: "The stereotype of the Deep South, with its stoical slaves and demure belles is effectively exploded here. Fleischer utilizes the real sexuality and violence behind slavery to mount a compelling slice of American Gothic, which analyzes in appropriately lurid terms, the twists and turns of a distorted society." With James Mason as the tyrannical patriarch, Perry King as the frustrated son and heir, Susan George as his flighty and less than virginal bride, and Ken Norton as the pure-bred Mandingo slave who become the center of the action.
    https://tickets.filmlinc.com/php/cal...=&cmode=0&org=

  9. #54
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    Well, I doubt that ONLY Pirie got it right. I was not quite 14 years old when Mandingo came out and reading film criticism exclusively in Spanish. I began to read film criticism in English when my command of the language improved significantly, after the summer of '76 spent in San Diego living with my college-age aunt and studying at Berlitz. So others are in better position to qualify the type of critical reception Mandingo received in the United States. I notice that Rosenbaum described it as "one of the most neglected and underrated Hollywood films of its era". I know that Kael neglected to review it. Keser's essay addresses some of the negativity from a number of critics including Vincent Camby.

    Any film that makes people uncomfortable because of its images or the way the content forces them to think about what they wish to supress is bound to be met with derision (as a psychologically-natural response to the inherent anxiety). I think that is what accounts partly for the film's dismissal by a group of critics. I am, however, willing to admit that the film's often-inappropriate music score (and perhaps aspects of Susan George's performance) effectively confounds the tone of the film.

  10. #55
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    No doubt there was someone besides Pirie who "got it right"--but who? Have you a candidate? Blurb statements are necessarily oversimplifications or they'd be useless. What they surely mean is he was the only prominent New York critic who did. The only person with a voice.

    I think the film has kitsch aspects but probably people and critics misread it as something tacky when it was serious, due to its link with blaxploitation and the way in which it was marketed. There was moreover already a whole "Mandingo" pulp novel series (Mandingo, Son of Mandingo, etc.) that was extremely tacky, lurid, and without redeeming social value. (Or was it?) . The bursting bodices type of thing, but with big black bucks. Really, really junk. That is, judging a (paperback pulp) book by its cover: I didn't read them. So the confusion seems pretty easy to understand--if people didn't watch the movie or paid little attention to it when watching it. I can't comment further on the film. As I mentioned I only saw the trailer, though I saw that several times before Film Comments Selects presentations at Lincoln Center this February. I don't think we can assume that the critics met the film with "derision" because it made them uncomfortable. My guess is that they either didn't see it or didn't perceive it accurately at all. I don't agree with you that being made uncomfortable automatically arouses a response of derision. It can get other responses such as silence--an even better way to cover up.. This whole episode bears looking into but the details may be hard to come by. Kael may not have seen it. She may not have known about it. It sounds like one many avoided. I would have. I did. Or maybe Kael saw it and "got it wrong." It wouldn't be the only time. I think she got A Clockwork Orange wrong, very wrong.

    P.s. Some guys did see it when they were fifteen. Here's one who did, and has a lot to say about it:

    http://sergioleoneifr.blogspot.com/2...-mandingo.html

    It’s my hope that one day Mandingo will take its place beside universally recognized, socially trenchant and provocative films as Deliverance, Dog Day Afternoon and, yes, even The Godfather as among the best the decade had to offer.
    --Dennis Cozzalio of the blog, "Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule."

  11. #56
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    Good piece by Dennis Cozzalio.

    Originally posted by Chris Knipp
    I think the film has kitsch aspects but probably people and critics misread it as something tacky when it was serious, due to its link with blaxploitation and the way in which it was marketed.
    Well, subtle it ain't. It's in-your-face and never "politically correct". It's practically impossible to misinterpret what the film reveals about the nature and implications of slavery for all involved. No other film I've seen had the courage to display it with such clarity. It was marketed as a piece of populist entertainment and it worked. The film did well at the box office despite many critics not reviewing it or having a generally unfavorable opinion of it. Kitsch aspects? Definitely the overemphatic, often incongruent music score by Maurice Jarre.

    I don't think we can assume that the critics met the film with "derision" because it made them uncomfortable. My guess is that they either didn't see it or didn't perceive it accurately at all. I don't agree with you that being made uncomfortable automatically arouses a response of derision.
    I don't either. To clarify my position. I think the content and presentation would make a significant number of people uncomfortable or anxious. A common response (but not an automatic response and not the only response) to something that makes people uncomfortable/anxious is to treat it as an object of derision or ridicule.

  12. #57
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    CHAIN (USA-Germany/2005)

    Jem Cohen's acclaimed film is a radical mix of documentary and fiction. The documentary portion is a photographic montage of shopping malls, industrial parks, roads, construction sites and public areas shot over the course of 6 years in several US and Canadian cities, Dusseldorf, Belin, Paris, Melbourne, Warsaw, and the Netherlands. The fact that you cannot identify whether a given shot corresponds to Paris, Warsaw, or Orlando, FL illustrates the advance of globalization and cultural homogenization. "Chain's formidable power rests on the notion that these unlovely incrustations of worldwide anti-regionalism bespeak a fundamentally dehumanizing global economy, a concept that is immanent rather than argued." (Ed Halter/Village Voice). There is a brief monologue by an unseen currency trader and a soundtrack consisting of messages left on an answering machine offering help with credit-card debt. The overlaying of this soundtracks over images of failed banks and slavish consumerism leave a very strong impression.

    Cohen also creates two fictional characters followed separately who provide subjective voice-over narrations. Tamiko is a 31 year-old executive for a Japanese company planning to open a theme park in the US. She's been sent on an extended trip to present a proposal to potential American partners and to study the leisure and entertainment habits of Americans. Her observations are often quite interesting. She marvels at the waste of space, and explains that Japanese companies have opened factories in small cities with racially homogeneous populations because a diverse workforce is potentially problematic. The other story concerns Amanda, a white woman about the same age as Tamiko who's left the home where she lived with her mother and half-sister. She spends her nights in an abandoned construction site or a condemned apartment building and her days at a shopping mall nearby. She finds a DV camera and becomes a sort of amateur cultural anthropologist. She also documents her day-to-day existence as she attempts to rejoin mainstream society.

    This most compelling, thought-provoking film had a brief and limited run in 2005. It's not available of home video, but it's regularly broadcast on the Sundance Channel. Mr. Cohen won the Someone to Watch award at the 2005 Independent Spirit Awards.

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    MAN'S CASTLE (USA/1933)

    This Depression romance features Spencer Tracy and Loretta Young as a couple living in a shantytown in NYC. Tracy's Bill is a rather complex young man. He is crafty, resourceful, and carries himself with confidence, but beneath the surface he is insecure and anxious about his future prospects. One theme of the film concerns what people will or won't do to find food and shelter. But gradually the issue of whether Bill will supress his rootlessness and aimlessness in order to love his girl the way she obviously deserves takes hold. Being a pre-code film, co-habitation, sex, and pre-marital pregnancy are handled much more realistically than they would until the 1960s. Man's Castle includes some sublimely lyrical passages. This is Hollywood cinema at its best. Andrew Sarris wrote in the most influential book about film written in English ("The American Cinema: Directors and Directors 1929-1968): director "Frank Borzage was that rarity of rarities, an uncompromising romanticist. He plunged into the real world of poverty and oppression to impart an aura to his characters, not merely through soft focus and a fluid camera, but through a genuine concern with the wondrous inner life of lovers in the midst of adversity".

  14. #59
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    Wow! Quite a teaser. Not available on Netflix. Frank Borzage also directed A FAREWELL TO ARMS.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-02-2008 at 12:05 PM.

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    The last two films I featured on this thread have never been released on any home video format. That's what's so great about Sundance Channel and Turner Classic Movies. A Farewell to Arms is also very good. TCM is showing Borzage's Living on Velvet on Friday and I just can't wait. Borzage is the most neglected major Hollywood director bar none. His films are totally devoid of the cynicism and sarcasm so prevalent nowadays.

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