By Natalie Jones
Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962) epitomizes the “ticking-clock” film, but, unlike most of these films that accelerate toward their narrative destinations, you’d never know from this film’s leisurely pace that time is quickly running out for the protagonist. Shots linger until the characters are eventually instigated into motion, a drive in a taxi extends for several minutes, and a character makes unwavering eye contact with the camera while she sings a song in its entirety. Rather than bluntly reminding the audience of quicksand funneling through an hourglass, Agnès Varda’s steady direction causes the presence of death to eventually loom in the background of both Cléo Victoire’s (Corinne Marchand) and the viewer’s mind. Over the course of ninety minutes, Cléo undergoes a slow transformation from hopeless stasis to renewed optimism as she allows herself to live with the recognition of her impending death.
By Selin Sevinc
Influential French filmmaker Agnes Varda’s debut film La Pointe Courte (1956) is a great reminder to modern cinephiles what film-viewing experience can be. Following the footsteps of Italian Neorealism and in the wake of the French New Wave, La Pointe Courte serves as an amalgam of the kind of films that transformed our understanding and appreciation of film language and aesthetics. It not only represents a major step in cinema history, but is also a refreshing viewing experience for the modern moviegoer who is accustomed to conventional plot and character development and an easily discernable protagonist.
By Greg Mucci
When director Charles Laughton’s first and sadly final film, The Night of the Hunter, was released back in the summer of 1955, it marked an irrevocable burden on the mind of one of Britain’s most applauded stage and screen actors. Laughton, who trained in London at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, starred in more than 50 works of film, both short and theatrical, before stepping behind the camera to adapt Davis Grubb’s novel of the same name. The burden that caused Laughton to abandon the director’s chair came in the form of critical disdain and audience dismissal upon release of his debut, an outcome that many believed to be caused by little to no marketing. Given the subject matter, themes and tones stalking every frame, marketing it to a wide audience in 1955 would have been a difficult and daunting task, even if we weren’t judging its history through decades of reflection. Though no matter how many lobby cards filled theaters, television spots small screens, or write-ups newspapers, the new Christianity of the Eisenhower era wasn’t ready for such a film.
By Juan Ramirez
Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) dir. Elia Kazan
1947’s other “message film” to also deal with antisemitism was Elia Kazan’s Gentleman’s Agreement, which took home Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actress. Adapted by Kazan and Moss Hart from Laura Z. Hobson’s best-selling novel of the same name – which she wrote after learning a congressman’s racist tirade against Walter Winchell was met with applause by the House – the film concerns a journalist (Gregory Peck) who spends six months living as a Jew to expose antisemitism in New York for his liberal newsmagazine.
There’s a fleeting moment in Agnes Varda’s 2008 documentary The Beaches of Agnes where the filmmaker returns home sees her family of cats and bluntly states “I’m home. The cats are here.” And that moment summarizes the film as a whole – as a film that chronicles Varda’s life in cinema, as a woman and as a person aging – while staying as honest and playful as its subject and creator.
The Beaches of Agnes came at a point in Varda’s career where she had all but abandoned narrative cinema – her prior feature length narrative film, One Hundred and One Nights, was released in 1995 – and had spent the past two decades building a body of documentary work, something she had worked with in years prior leading to films like Mur murs and Daguerreotypes. But 2000’s The Gleaners & I brought forth a sea change for Varda, establishing herself as a subject worthy of the same attention she gave to anything or anyone else in front of her camera with the advent of small digital cameras allowing for an intimacy that she was unable to achieve until the new millennium.
By Eric Shoag
Wild, loud, ridiculous, over-the-top in every conceivable way, Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element (1997) is a feast for the senses, a one-of-a-kind thrill ride, a candy-colored cacophony of comic book logic and madcap mayhem taken to the absolute extreme, and beyond. With its vividly imagined universe full of outrageous characters, ancient prophecies, magical relics, and its unapologetically simplistic take on Good versus Evil, it is some sort of acid-drenched mashup of Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Though upon release it divided audiences and critics alike, it remained for years the world’s highest grossing French film, vindicating Besson and his pet project, which he conceived in his youth and finally managed to bring to the silver screen after years of struggle and at a cost which at the time made it the most expensive European film ever made.
By Leo Racicot
From the very first jungle beats and howls, you are shaking, gyrating, moving to the instant explosions of sounds and rhythms. Director D.A. Pennebaker isn’t fooling around; he dunks your ears–and eyes–deep into the Monterey “happening” of 1967’s Summer of Love and happy you are to be there, whether again or for the first time.
Only a select few concert documentaries can lay claim to greatness: The Last Waltz, Gimme Shelter, Stop Making Sense, Don’t Look Back. Monterey Pop stands proudly alongside them.
Editor’s Notes: The classic imagination of the Western is decidedly masculine, with an iconography pretty much dominated by the male presence. Yet, women directors made and are still making Westerns. As we celebrate the classics and the lesser-knowns of the genre in our repertory series A Fistful of Spaghetti Westerns, we also wanna talk about women directors and their Westerns.
Text by Juan Ramirez
The Belle Starr Story (1968) dir. Lina Wertmüller
The only Spaghetti Western ever directed by a woman (who would later go on to become the first woman ever nominated for the Best Director Oscar), The Belle Starr Story is a sordid revision of the life of the infamous outlaw. More preoccupied with her usual battles of the sexes and themes of memory and trauma than with historical accuracy, Wertmüller casts fashion model Elsa Martinelli as a glamorous sharpshooter with winged eyeliner and black leather suits.
By Greg Mucci
Guilio Petroni’s Death Rides a Horse marks Lee Van Cleef’s fifth outing as a beady-eyed gunslinger in a Spaghetti Western, a sub-genre of the outlaw-ridden world that would come to represent the sort of villainy inherent in such a gaze. While five isn’t a glaring amount of films to have under his holster, it’s a heavy number when taking into account the level of hollowness mixed with stern stoicism that accompanies each role. Black brimmed hat sitting low atop a dusty brow, its face carved with an expression of grim desire. It’s a look Cleef has owned, and rightfully so, engraining himself into a world made grand in scope by Italian maestro Sergio Leone. Though Leone is a director who creates worlds, life cast behind Cleef, who for better or worse, needs no set-piece to do the devils work. What separates Petroni’s Western from others aren’t the plumes of smoke that drift across the sand after a shootout, but the outlaws journey who carry a redemptive factor unseen in previous Westerns.
By Tara Zdancewicz
With a simple Google search of the film Once Upon a Time in the West thousands of results pop up detailing the Western’s magnificence. Coming in at #5 on Rotten Tomatoes’ Top Westerns List and #30 on IMDB’s Top Rated Movies list, this film has indisputably made an impact on cinema. However, along with those glowing marks comes a multitude of blogs where viewers vent their frustrations about the blatant misogyny found in the film. Despite being distinguished, as a Western, Once Upon a Time in the West inherently has some problematic connotations.