When seeing a movie again after many years, you might be watching a film different from the one you first experienced. The lingo of the film may be out-of-sync with the current culture, the themes might feel dated, commonplace, the players’ mode of performance old hat, hard to relate to. You, yourself, have probably changed and your reaction to the story might be different from that of your younger self. Some of these concerns were with me as I popped Phillippe de Broca’s King of Hearts (Roi de Coeur) (1966) into my player 50 years after I saw it at The Brattle.
Brattle Theatre Film Notes Posts
Blue Velvet (1986) is in some ways one of David Lynch’s most accessible works: it has a more conventional, linear narrative than many of his other projects, it can be understood as a thriller, and it fits into the film noir tradition. Audiences have a framework for processing the film’s scenes of brutality and perversity. For instance, upon its initial release, Gene Siskel compared it to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960).
To tackle the current social climate through popular art is a delicate task. Any attempt to correctly render the mistrust, uncertainty and helplessness of daily life in a “post-truth” age runs the risk of coming off as too on-the-nose or condescending, content to simply list our woes rather than address them. Ticking off obvious boxes can be satisfying but falls short of being cathartic, and is hardly ever memorable. In times like this, one can get a more authentic view of our times through the works that appear as a result of them rather than attempts to explain them.
There’s no doubt: Shadow of a Doubt (1943) was director Alfred Hitchcock’s favorite of his own films. I was surprised to learn this; I would have assumed it was North by Northwest (1959) because Cary Grant was his favorite actor to work with. But Hitchcock confirmed that Shadow of a Doubt was his favorite in an interview with talk show host Dick Cavett in 1972. But why was this film Hitchcock’s favorite? Hitchcock’s daughter, Pat, said, “this was my father’s favorite movie because he loved the thought of bringing menace into a small town” in the documentary Beyond Doubt: The Making of Hitchcock’s Favorite Film (2000). The film also held sentimental value for Hitchcock, as he injected many personal touches and also enlisted the help of his wife to write the screenplay.
Twenty-five years ago, in 1993, Allen and Albert Hughes (credited as The Hughes Brothers) took the American box office by storm with a jarringly violent urban crime drama set in LA titled Menace II Society. Released two years after John Singleton’s Boyz N the Hood, Menace II Society avoids much of the more familial melodrama of Singleton’s film – instead turning in a ferocious indictment of inner city violence, something that would then permeate the genre in the mid and late 1990s.
As part of the Boston Calling Music Festival in 2018, Natalie Portman curated a special festival of films at the Brattle Theatre. Her program, “The Female Gaze,” ran from May 22-24, 2018 and featured films with similar themes told from the perspective of either a male or female director. The following are her notes on the program in general and the specific films that she chose.
The 1943 Fox musical Stormy Weather is worth seeing not because of its conventional and wafer-thin backstage storyline, but because it offers the opportunity to see great musical numbers with the film’s two leads, Lena Horne and Bill Robinson, as well as other legendary African American artists like Cab Calloway, Katherine Dunham, and Fats Waller. Gifted African American performers were under-utilized and generally poorly served in Hollywood during the studio era, frequently relegated to stereotyped supporting roles or “specialty” numbers that could be excised from prints shipped to racially segregated areas of the United States. And while Stormy Weather is a product of its times and not without its fraught details – including a performance by a pair of comedians in minstrel-style blackface makeup – it also offers an indispensable peek at some extraordinary talents.
In adapting Joseph Kessel’s 1928 novel of the same name, Luis Buñuel’s 1968 classic, Belle de Jour, turned a deeply sexist tale of prostitution in the Parisian upper crust into a nuanced portrait of a woman at odds with her surroundings and herself. The story of Séverine – the quiet, young wife of a handsome doctor who fights her ennui and tests the edges of her sexuality by working part-time at a brothel – is a risky one; one that could benefit from sensitive characterization and detailed imagery or die at the hands of softcore exploitation.
Though Kessel considers it the “most human” of his novels, he fails to deliver the lived-in introspection required for this sort of material. His Séverine is a caricature straight out of Freud’s margin notes, unable to process complex thoughts clearly and whose sexuality exists solely because of a childhood molestation brusquely referenced at the start of the book. Her every action is painfully simple-minded – her constant near-fainting at the mere thought of prostitution, her inadequacy during her early days at the brothel and the catastrophe she causes after starting an affair with a dangerous client – and she is almost always punished for them. One can see Kessel wrote from a place that might’ve seemed to him genuinely human, but his obvious lack of understanding in regards to female sexuality cuts his apparent wisdom down into misguided misogyny.
PETER: I’d like to start by thanking Yangqiao Lu not only for the opportunity to show you all one of my absolute favorite movies, but also for letting me get on the stage of a theatre that I have been visiting since I was a college freshman in 1985.
I chose these two films because I think they go together well – I’ll tell you why and how in a moment. I think I’ll start by giving you some historical background on the film People on Sunday, then some stylistic things to look for and some matters of content, and then I’ll say a little about Jay Leyda and his short film A Bronx Morning.
Stanley Kubrick had never directed a comedy when he adapted Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial novel Lolita for the screen, but its farcical mechanics gave expression to a budding worldview. Nabokov’s protagonist, Humbert Humbert, presents himself as the consummate litterateur—a dandy whose attraction to underage girls is a matter of nonconformist élan. But, for all his preening, the character was born of a baboon: Nabokov was inspired by an ape in captivity that sketched the bars of its own cage.