Author: Caitlin

September 14, 2007 / / Film Notes

By Jessica Singer

The Great Dictator is Charlie Chaplin’s overtly anti-Fascist, anti-Nazi opus. Written, acted, directed, and produced by Chaplin, the film tells the story of a Jewish barber who gets mistaken for a dictator. The dictator, Adenoid Hynkel, is of course a very thinly veiled version of the similarly named Adolph Hitler. The film–and its famous pantomine scene where the dictator dances around the room with a balloon globe of the world–has made an indelible mark in film history and popular culture, and is fondly remembered today for its rich political satire as well as its delicate blend of pathos and comedy. What is not always remembered, however, is just how daring it was for Chaplin to produce this film in the context of his times.

September 14, 2007 / / Film Notes

By Andy Dimond

Says Marianne to Ferdinand: “We’ve played Jules Verne long enough; let’s go back to our gangster movie.”

For his 10th feature film, Jean-Luc Godard chose to follow the sci-fi noir Alphaville with a return to the genre of his 1st: the crime romance. Jean-Paul Belmondo, the lovable pug whom Breathless had made an unlikely star, and Anna Karina, the most compelling of Godard’s many screen muses, are paired in Pierrot le fou.

June 8, 2007 / / Film Notes

By Christine Bamberger

Silk Stockings has often been cited as one of the last great MGM musicals, and indeed it was the last to emerge from the prestigious Arthur Freed unit at the studio. It was the final romantic lead role for Fred Astaire (age 58 when it was released), and the last time Cyd Charisse, 36, would dance in a movie musical. It does not possess the dynamism of Astaire’s work of the thirties or even The Band Wagon, made only four years before, and is sometimes described as reflecting the tiredness of the genre. Still, it exhibits plenty of verve thanks to the distinctive direction of Rouben Mamoulian, whose last film this was. The director began work on a film version of Porgy and Bess and on Cleopatra, but was replaced on both projects, whereupon he returned exclusively to stage work.

May 24, 2007 / / Film Notes

By Sean Rogers

B-movie king Roger Corman’s original vision of Cockfighter (1974) must have differed immensely from the finished film. Corman’s version, one imagines, would have involved a proudly vulgar depiction of an illegal, bloody activity tended to by cartoonishly ignorant southerners, blending vicarious thrills, brutality, and condescension in a sure recipe for success. Imagine Corman’s surprise, then, when he discovered that one of his productions, seemingly destined for cheap and sleazy profitability like so many others, turned out to be something of an art film. Roger Corman has directed and produced some 137 films, notes screenwriter Charles Willeford in his on-set memoir; “and Cockfighter, he said, was the only movie he ever lost any money on.

May 18, 2007 / / Film Notes

By Julie Lavelle

For fans of the horror/exploitation genre, Wes Craven’s early films are required viewing. For newcomers to the genre they are a great starting point; the films genuinely terrify despite their lack of production value, experienced actors, or special effects. In his second film, 1977’s The Hills Have Eyes, Craven revisits themes from his profoundly disturbing directorial debut, Last House on the Left (1973). The film initially asks us to identify with the Carters, a white-bread, gun-toting, RV-driving, blonde haired archetypal American family. When they set out on their ill-conceived search for a defunct silver mine in the southwest, you want them to listen to the old gas station attendant (and progenitor of the evil breed who will ravage the Carters) who sagely warns them to “stay on the main road, you hear?”. Soon the unwitting family is terrorized by a family of cannibals who live in the barren hills of the desert. Craven locates monstrosity or “otherness” within the family by setting up a mirror image between the “normal” family and the “monstrous” cannibal family. However, the lines that divide these two families blur as the narrative progresses, and the viewer is left unsure where (if anywhere) their sympathy lies.

May 17, 2007 / / Film Notes

By Peg Aloi

Remember when Romero’s Night of the Living Dead was remade in color? To be fair, its chromatic transformation was the least of its problems: the heroic protagonist of Ben, played by African American actor Duane Jones, was replaced with, um, a white woman, thereby completely altering the original film’s wonderful undertones of racial unrest. Hello, it was released in 1968! But it was Romero’s choice to work in black and white (prompted by lack of money, and we should be thankful for this, otherwise we’d have had a Blood Feast-like gore-fest on our hands) that helped elevate this strange and deeply-layered film to both classic and cult status. It was the prototype of flesh-eating ghoul films that later spawned many imitators and led Romero to engage in some delightful self-referential parody in later years.

May 11, 2007 / / Film Notes

By Sean Rogers

After the decline of the studio system, Hollywood would often struggle to find fresh ways of generating sure-fire hits. 1969, for instance, saw the release and surprise success of Easy Rider, whereupon the studios, the story goes, decided the “youth picture” was where the money was. Universal, however, discovered otherwise in 1971 when both The Hired Hand and The Last Movie, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider follow-up projects, flopped spectacularly (as did Monte Hellman’s Two-Lane Blacktop, among the first films released by Universal’s youth-oriented division). In the early 1980s, John Carpenter’s films provide a similar object lesson in industry obtuseness, this time with regard to the profitable corner of the market carved out by exploitation films in the 1970s. These genre picture’s inherent transgressive qualities may simply have proved too unseemly for the larger, blander platform of multiplexes and PR campaigns the studios would present to them.

April 23, 2007 / / Film Notes

By Robert Farley

In a March 3 American Prospect article, Charles Taylor did a fine job of debunking the myth of Clint Eastwood. While Eastwood is a talented filmmaker, his catalogue is uneven, and the worst work nearly unwatchable. Unfortunately, in the process of criticizing Eastwood, Taylor gets his latest work, Letters from Iwo Jima, badly wrong.

April 23, 2007 / / Film Notes

By Stuart Kurtz

We’ve come to have certain expectations of World War II films over the years. We expect to see bloodshed, of course. We know there will be sacrifices, as well as displays bravery and heroism. We know we will see men put to the reaches of endurance and conquer their fears. These are givens. World War II films, as opposed to those about Vietnam, have usually conveyed these principles. There are exceptions: George C. Scott barking and slapping his way to immortality in Patton, and the problem of what’s worth sacrificing oneself for in Saving Private Ryan. Clint Eastwood has one of the handful of alternate views of what they call “The Good War.” The film’s tagline, “a single shot can save the war,” signals Eastwood’s intention, as it points up the difference between publicity, one photo, and reality, the actuality of fighting on that island.

April 6, 2007 / / Film Notes

By Peg Aloi

Released in 1975, this film put Australia on the world cinematic map. Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout (1971) intrigued audiences plenty, but it was an English production. With Picnic at Hanging Rock, director Peter Weir, cinematographer Russell Boyd and producers Patricia Lovell and Jim and Hal McElroy created a production that demonstrated what is possible when a nation decides to fund filmmaking as an art form: schools, production companies and theatres aspired to a high level of achievement and professionalism in this golden era. Sadly many Australian filmmakers and stars have strayed to the golden California coast, including Weir, as well as Phil Noyce, Bruce Beresford, Rachel Griffiths, Naomi Watts, Russell Crowe and others. But it was this subtle, eerily beautiful arthouse period piece that built a rich proving ground for them to get their start.