Brattle Theatre Film Notes Posts

August 7, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Jessica Wilton

USA, 1985. 114 min. Amblin Entertainment/ Warners Bros. Pictures. Cast: Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Jeff Cohen, Corey Feldman, Kerri Green, Martha Plimpton, Jonathan Ke Quan, Joe Pantoliano; Cinematography: Nick McLean; Editing: Michael Kahn, Steven Spielberg; Written by: Steven Spielberg, Chris Columbus; Directed by: Richard Donner

To truly appreciate The Goonies, you must imagine yourself transported back to 1985. Pediatric asthma was on the rise, shoulder pads were in, and pirhana-like business execs were poised to devour whatever survived of the sixties and seventies. The collective anxiety of Americans was overwhelming—we were afraid of terrorists, Russians, and stockbrokers. We were nervous about computers and robots. AIDS had just been identified, and Reagan reelected. It was a nerve-wracking time in a prosperous nation, a time when we needed Stephen Spielberg. He knew just what was needed to soothe our collective angst: pirate treasure, booby traps, ethnic jokes, and three stooges gags.

July 31, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Sean Rogers

USA, 1954. 115 min. Paramount. Cast: Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey, Thelma Ritter with Raymond Burr; Music: Franz Waxman; Cinematography: Robert Burks; Produced by: Alfred Hitchcock; Based on a Story by: Cornell Woolrich; Written by: John Michael Hayes; Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock

Rear Window was Alfred Hitchcock’s first film at Paramount following a stint at Warner Brothers that had ended only months prior with the 3-D chamber piece Dial M for Murder. For this new project, the director returned not only to Dial’s confined setting and control over its viewers’ vision, but also to its female lead, Grace Kelly. Some few years removed from both her career’s commencement and its premature end, and scant months away from an Oscar win, the future princess would share the screen with Hollywood’s favorite everyman, Jimmy Stewart. While Kelly’s star was about to go supernova, Stewart’s had been shining more darkly since his return from the war. We remember him now, of course, for his role as the thwarted, suicidal George Bailey, but he further complicated his onscreen persona in those years through collaborations with Anthony Mann – in whose westerns he played troubled, vulnerable, and sometimes quite bitter heroes – and Hitchcock. In Rope, Hitchcock’s first picture with both Stewart and Warners, and another chamber drama concerned with visual tricks (the film seems to be one continuous take), the actor portrays an intellectual who espouses the righteousness of murder. Few other Hollywood stars could depict such moral confusion so convincingly and so genially.

July 31, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Christine Bamberger

U.S.A, 1959. 136 min. MGM / Loew’s Inc. Cast: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Jessie Royce Landis, Martin Landau; Music: Bernard Herrmann; Cinematography: Robert Burks; Produced by: Alfred Hitchcock; Written by: Ernest Lehman; Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock

During the 1950s and early 1960s there arose a type of film that I nebulously think of as the “cheerful Technicolor sex comedy.” Including such points on the spectrum as Daddy Long Legs, the Doris Day-Rock Hudson vehicles, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, Bell Book and Candle, and I’d Rather Be Rich, these films have dated noticeably, but that’s part of the fun of watching them. Their particular brand of romance, especially if it had a cat-and-mouse quality, was found to blend nicely with an element of adventure. If you imagine a tale of such ilk crossed with an ultra-stylish suspensor of the noir mien, you get North by Northwest.

July 28, 2006 / / Film Notes

USA, 1963, 119 min. Cast: Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Plushette, Veronica Cartwright; Produced by: Alfred Hitchcock; Original Music: Bernard Herrmann; Written by: Daphne Du Maurier; Screenplay by: Evan Hunter; Cinematography: Robert Burks; Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock.

One of the most striking reoccurring figures in the films of Alfred Hitchcock is that of the overbearing mother who seeks to control her grown son. Overbearing mothers appear as supporting characters in both Notorious and North by Northwest, while Psycho takes the characterization to a shocking extreme. Another Hitchcock horror film, The Birds, also features a conflict between mother and son that should not be overlooked. There is a good reason why discussion of mother Lydia Brenner’s possessiveness regarding her son Mitch dominates as much of the film’s dialogue as the titular birds do. A close examination of the mother-son relationship in The Birds reveals Lydia’s fear of abandonment as a central source of conflict in the film; one that lends even the mysterious behavior of the birds a greater meaning.

July 28, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Jess Wilton

Japan, 2005. 90 min. Fever Dreams/ Media Suits Ltd. Cast: Tak Sakaguchi, Yôko Fujita, Kentaro Seagal, Takamasa Suga, Yûki Takeuchi; Music: Dir en Grey, Rui Ogawa; Cinematography: Shinichi Fujita; Action Director: Go Ohara, Tak Sakaguchi; Written by: Seiji Chiba, Shinichi Fujita, Junya Kato; Directed by: Yuji Shimomura

It seems almost counter-intuitive to try to lend depth to Death Trance. It is, as indicated in its promotional materials, a movie about “an unknown time, an unknown place, [a man] without reasons, with no future.” Whatever meaning we might glean from its ninety minutes of dizzying camera angles, extravagant choreography, and outrageous costumes, it only detracts from the film’s ultimate purpose—destruction. Which is not to say that director Yuji Shimomura and his team are after exactly the same sort of destruction as Grave, the film’s ‘hero’ (using the word loosely). Grave is after a good fight, and if that means the end of the world, he’s ok with that. Similarly, the filmmakers are largely concerned with making the coolest-looking movie they can. If, as an afterthought, they dismantle a few traditional notions of narrative and identification, well—they’re ok with that too.

July 28, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Jess Wilton

Italy, 1950. 75 min. Rizzoli Film and Cineriz.
Cast: Brother Nazario Gerardi, Arabella Lemaitre, Aldo Fabrizi; Music: Enrico Buondonno, Renzo Rossellini; Cinematography: Otello Martelli; Produced by: Giuseppe Amato; Written by: Roberto Rossellini, Frederico Fellini, Father Antonio Lisandrini, Father Felix Morlion; Directed by: Roberto Rossellini

The Flowers of St. Francis (1950) initially doesn’t seem to fit in with Rossellini’s best-known films. Set in the Italian countryside of the thirteenth century, it details the exploits of a dozen or so medieval monks rather than a handful of war-weary contemporary Europeans, and at first glance, there doesn’t appear to be much at stake, or much direction to the narrative. St. Francis himself doesn’t even eat up much screen time, nor does he drive the relaxed, whimsical stories adapted by Rossellini and Frederico Fellini from “The Little Flowers of St. Francis,” a collection of stories written in the 14th century about the jocular saint and his followers. All in all, it’s a far cry from films like Rome, Open City, that deal with the problems of post-WWII Italy.

July 28, 2006 / / Film Notes

U.S.A., 1960. 109 min. Shamley Productions. Cast: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam, John McIntire; Music: Bernard Herrmann; Cinematography: John L. Russell; Produced by: Alfred Hitchcock; Written by: Robert Bloch and Joseph Stefano; Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock

The steamy shower, the shadow behind the shower curtain, the raised, knife-wielding hand, that shrieking soundtrack and a screaming Janet Leigh have not only become legend in film, but also legend in parody. The scene has become so recognizable in modern times that when it is parodied I can sense young people nodding their heads in recognition even when they have no idea about its origins.

July 28, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Jason Haas

Italy, 1945. 100 min. Excelsa Films.
Cast: Aldo Fabrizi, Anna Magnani, Marcello Pagliero, Vito Annichiarico; Cinematography: Ubaldo Arata; Produced by: Giuseppe Amato, Ferruccio De Martino, Roberto Rossellini; Written by: Sergio Amidei, Federico Fellini, Roberto Rossellini; Directed by: Roberto Rossellini

Roberto Rossellini is commonly regarded as one of the true masters of Italian neo-realism, and Rome is often—though erroneously—pointed to as the first neorealist film.  While Rossellini was certainly working towards an aesthetic of realism, Rome is not his most representative neorealist work—melodramatic and propagandistic in places, it undermines its ability to depict the life of the average person.  Nevertheless, with Rome, Open City, Rossellini paved the way for the more immediate, raw aesthetic that has come to define the field of independent cinema.

July 26, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Chris Kriofske

USA, 1975. 94 min Cast: Edith Bouvier Beale, Edie Beale; Cinematographer: Albert & David Maysles; Producers: Susan Frömke, Albert & David Maysles; Directors: Ellen Hovde, Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Muffie Meyer

Despite the current ubiquity of tabloid and reality-based television, if you’re viewing Grey Gardens for the first time, you really haven’t seen anything quite like it. Even if you’re familiar with the Maysles Brothers’ other “direct cinema” (cinema verite) documentaries, arguably none of their subjects are as memorably eccentric as 79 year-old Edith Bouvier Beale and her fiftysomething daughter, Edie.

July 21, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Sasha HuzsvaiÂ

Japan, 1988. 86 min. Tokuma Japan Communications Co., Studio Ghibli. Voices: Dakota Fanning, Timothy Daly, Elle Fanning, Pat Carroll; Music: Joe Hisaishi; Produced by: Toru Hara, Yasoyoshi Tokuma, Rick Dempsey; Written by: Hayao Miyazaki, Cindy Davis Hewitt, Donald H. Hewitt; Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki

During my childhood, I must have watched My Neighbor Totoro a hundred times, and it has never lost its magic for me, even until this day. It’s strange sitting down and trying to put the essence of this film into words, because even now, when I’m grown up and expected to be able to analyze, to break down into pieces and build up again, to self-examine, My Neighbor Totoro remains intact, impenetrable, like a vision half-glimpsed but never quite within reach. For me, at least, it’s synonymous with my own childhood, and it can’t be separated from myself and broken down into categories of good or bad, exciting or dull. Now, when I think of the details burned into my memory when I was seven – the Cat Bus, Mei running through the rice fields, the impish dust bunnies floating through the air – it’s hard to separate those memories from myself, because they shaped who I have become.