The Last Picture Show – 1971 – dir. Peter Bogdanovich
The Last Picture Show (dir. Peter Bogdanovich, 1971) presents the enigma of the old western wrapped in the mystery of the new. Set in the early 1960s in a windswept Texas town — the kind of small town that springs up on the way from somewhere to somewhere else — the story focuses on two high school seniors, Sonny and Duane, co-captains of a football team so monumentally inept that at one point they manage to lose 121 – 14. The future they face seems as bleak as the empty streets in the town and the endless flat plains of the surrounding land. They sense it as they stumble through the paces of late adolescence: girlfriends, jobs, uncertainty.
So will you be at the meeting on Tuesday? The first rule of Fight Club is, you don’t talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is, you don’t talk about Fight Club. The third rule of Fight Club is . . .
I’m going to talk about Fight Club. Based on the Chuck Palahniuk book by the same name, the film concerns a disaffected white-collar worker who can sum up his life with the three C’s: Catalogs, Condo, Condiments. Not surprisingly, for his efforts he’s got insomnia, ennui, and anhedonia. He starts going to support groups for diseases he does not have, to jump-start his atrophied connection to life. But then he meets a woman doing the same thing; recognizing her as a fellow “tourist,” all his ennui and insomnia come racing back. Then his house explodes. Then the movie starts.
There are many characters in David Lean’s Dr. Zhivago (1965), the sprawling, epic portrayal of people caught up in the Russian Revolution, the least of which is, surprisingly, Dr. Zhivago himself. In addition to Zhivago, Lara, Komorovsky, Pasha, and a host of others, there is the land, the weather, the first World War, the mountains, the interminable train ride, the tide of political events, the Five-Year Plans, even the giant posters of Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin, all playing their parts and threatening to upstage the action. Beside all these a small story about love and betrayal should pale; as Strelnikov claims in the film, “the personal life is dead in Russia.” But it is Lean’s achievement that it is not: it more than holds its own, and forms the core around which the rest crash and swirl.
Some films need to be seen on the big screen. I first saw Lawrence of Arabia (dir. by David Lean, 1962) on one of the biggest, the UC Theatre in Berkeley, California. A giant screen is not only the appropriate frame for the stunning cinematography in this film, it is the only canvas large enough for its title subject. T. E. Lawrence was one of those rare people whose life comprised a perfect storm of circumstance and talent, creating a man worthy of a 70mm, almost 4-hour film; a figure truly larger than life.
Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence – dir. Nagisa Oshima – 1983
Prisoner of war films offer an eye-of-the-storm perspective from which to contemplate the chaos of war. In the tradition of Jean Renoir’s The Grand Illusion (1937), and David Lean’s Bridge Over the River Kwai (1957), Nagisa Oshima’s Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence investigates the psyches of men from very different cultures in this tale of British captives in a Japanese POW camp. Co-written by Oshima and Paul Mayersberg from an Afrikaner’s published memoirs, Oshima uses the perspective of the non-Japanese to turn his lens on WWII Japan.
In the Realm of the Senses – dir. Nagisa Oshima – 1976
Nagisa Oshima’s tale of sexual obsession, In the Realm of the Senses, retains the power to shock despite being over 30 years old. Based on a true story, the film concerns one Sada Abe, found wandering the streets of 1936 Tokyo with her lover’s severed penis in her hand, who upon her arrest became a media sensation and folk heroine. Realm features non-simulated sex between the actors, BDSM, graphic violence, and other controversial elements that may or may not appear depending on what version you’re viewing, and where you’re viewing it. Widely banned upon release, it is perhaps Oshima’s best-known film.