Seven Samurai is no longer just a film. Similar to Rashomon and Yojimbo, this…
Brattle Theatre Film Notes Posts
Written by Paul Monticone
Although not programmed together in this series, Japanese master Kenji Mizoguchi and citoyen du monde Max Ophuls share much in common. Both filmmakers were born at the turn of the century, and each died before he turned sixty, just as the international art cinema was entering its heyday. Each often worked in genres associated with womenâ€”Ophuls in the melodrama and Mizoguchi in its Japanese analogue, adaptations from shinpa theatre. Both filmmakers are regarded as mature, baroque artists, probably because they are known primarily through their late period films (in Mizoguchiâ€™s case, the majority of his early work is lost), but both were active during the transition to talking pictures, making films when the vagaries of early synchronized sound briefly made the long take the artâ€™s norm. Perhaps it was at this time that Mizoguchi and Ophuls developed an affinity for the device, which became a cornerstone in the distinctive and renowned style of each master. A series celebrating high-brow cinephiliaâ€”which Janus Films undeniably representsâ€”is certainly occasion for a note that is purely formalist in its concerns, so, at the exclusion of their complex themes and fascinating biographies, I offer some notes on how we might value the contribution of Mizoguchi and Ophuls to the art form today.
In the late 1930s, director Jean Renoir had reached an artistic peak he may not have predicted at the dawn of his career. Many early critics viewed the elaborate star vehicles he concocted for his first wife, Catherine Hessling, saw his famous surname, and wrote him off as a dilettante papa’s boy. Instead of retreating to the mediums he worked with before he picked up a film camera, however, Renoir persevered, and the public greeted his work with both acclaim and controversy.
Written by David Kociemba
USA, 1941. 101 min. Warner Bros. Pictures. Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Elisha Cook, Jr., Ward Bond. Music: Adolph Deutsch; Cinematography: Arthur Edeson; Production Design: Robert Haas; Produced by: Henry Blanke, Hal B. Wallis; Based on a Novel by: Dashiell Hammett; Written by: John Huston; Directed by: John Huston.
The pleasure of films noirs is in the active reading of them. We make our own way through these confusing, baroque worlds filled with existential crises. In navigating these rich swathes of word and shadow, we become like the private detective so often found in them: bewildered, besieged, and maybe even a bit enamored with the glorious crassness of it all. Those pleasures show up in the tradition of criticism around thisâ€¦ Well, thatâ€™s where the problems begin, really. What is this thing we call film noir?
Written by Christine Bamberger USA, 1950. 112 min. MGM/ Loew’s Inc. Cast: Sterling Hayden, Louis…
Written by Kristoffer Tronerud
Italy, 1971. 130 min. Alfa Cinematografica/ Warner Bros. Cast: Dirk Bogarde, BjÃ¸rn Andresen, Marisa Berenson, Mark Burns. Music: Gustav Mahler; Cinematography: Pasqualino De Santis; Produced by: Luchino Visconti; Based on a Novella by: Thomas Mann; Written by: Luchino Visconti, Nicola Badalucco; Directed by: Luchino Visconti
“The artist is like a hunter in the darkâ€, bemoans Gustav, the tormented hero of Luchino Viscontiâ€™s Death in Venice, â€œthey know what their target is, but they donâ€™t know if theyâ€™ve hit it!â€ While this is certainly true of Gustav, nothing could be less true of Luchino Visconti, a masterful commanding artist who knew exactly what he wanted, and, most often, got it. In the contemporaneous promotional short Viscontiâ€™s Venice, Dirk Bogarde, (who plays Gustav with a brave and ego-free poignancy) notes with amusement that â€œI provide the tracks, but Visconti brings the train.â€ Another, very different, Italian master, Sergio Leone, was speaking of himself, but might as well have been describing Visconti, when he said â€œIt is essential that all the details seem right, never invented. A fairy tale captures the imagination most when the setting is as realistic as possibleâ€. Visconti was the master of detail; engineering every visual touch, every texture, every last element of costuming, set design and prop placement (indeed, on Death, he seems even to have controlled the weather itself), so that by the time the shot is played out, his languid camera need only pass over the proceedings in a final masterful brush stroke to bring home the powerful truth of each passage of this magnificent fairy tale.
Written by Stuart Kurtz
USA, 1949. 73 min. RKO Radio Pictures. Cast: Bobby Driscoll, Barbara Hale, Arthur Kennedy, Paul Stewart, Ruth Roman. Music: Roy Webb; Cinematography: William Steiner; Art Direction: Albert D’Agostino; Produced by: Dore Shary; Based on a Story by: Cornell Woolrich; Written by: Mel Dinelli; Directed by: Ted Tetzlaff.
Films depicting children in adult predicaments intensify the sense of danger viewers feel because the idea of a child meeting a terrible end is unacceptable to us. We feel more than the average dread for the child, as we know grown-ups arenâ€™t completely innocent. While children donâ€™t always keep their noses clean either, the supposed innocence of childhood is enough to bring out the protective instinct in adults.
Written by Jason Haas
US, 1995. 129 min. Universal Pictures. Cast: Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, Brad Pitt; Music: Paul Buckmaster; Cinematography: Roger Pratt; Produced by: Charles Roven; Written by: David and Janet Peoples (from a film by Chris Marker); Directed by Terry Gilliam.
Itâ€™s almost precious to say of a time travel movie, but Twelve Monkeys was clearly ahead of its time. When it was released in the US at the tail end of 1995, the country was entering the election year that would lead to President Clintonâ€™s second term and the economy was sky high. All of the problems that now dominate pretty much all of our discourse in this country were around but minor and mostly unnoticed, waiting to spring on the country as a post millennial surprise party of doom. Now, in 2006, right after the 5th anniversary of 9/11, a terrorist attack eliminating the majority of the Earthâ€™s population and driving the rest underground seems a little bit more real. Or maybe it will be Avian Flu. The truth of the matter is that the last five or so years have given our day-to-day reality a much more apocalyptic flavor. So how, in the early days of the Internet boom and a mostly sunny security outlook, did Twelve Monkeys manage to acquire such apocalyptic trappings?
Written by Kristoffer Tronerud
USA, 1982. 129 min. UA/ Dino De Laurentiis Pictures. Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, Max von Sydow, Sandahl Bergman, Mako; Music: Basil Poledouris; Cinematography: Duke Callaghan; Production Design: Ron Cobb; Based on Stories by: Robert Howard; Screenplay: Oliver Stone, John Milius; Directed by: Milius
“Iâ€™m a Zen Fascistâ€ John Milius once famously remarked, and, while his tongue was firmly planted in cheek, that description goes a long way in explaining the unique appeal of this very talented and likable rogue artist. While it may take courage to be left of center in the country at large, in Hollywood, the conservative is the true maverick, and, as a director and screenwriter, Milius has paid a price for his cheerful unwillingness to toe a politically correct line for Tinseltown convenience. Still, it is a big mistake to paint Milius with the broad brush of the political simplemindedness of, say, a John Wayne or a Jack Webb. From the start of his career, Miliusâ€™s projects have evidenced a complexity and thoughtfulness that make such easy classification impossible. His work embraces the reality that men and women are different and that courage and violence are sometimes unavoidable and necessary, in a way that makes knee-jerk liberals uncomfortable, but his work also betrays a tenderness and respect for women and a keen sense of the limits of the macho ideal that give lie to the stereotype that generally accompanies any discussion of his oeuvre.
Written by Kris Tronerud
USA, 1951. 115 min. Philip Waxman Productions. Cast: John Barrymore, Jr., Preston Foster, Joan Lorring, Howard St. John, Dorothy Comingore; Cinematography: Hal Mohr; Produced by: Philip A. Waxman; Based on a Novel by: Stanley Ellin; Written by: Stanley Ellin, Joseph Losey, Ring Lardner, Jr.; Directed by: Joseph Losey
One of the greatest pleasures of being a movie nut is the re-discovery of those long gone, lovingly remembered films which appeared to us in our youth, before we knew we were â€˜aficionadosâ€™, before we even knew why we loved movies, when our reactions were primal and unaffected by critical sensibilities or intellectual preconception. These films take root in our memories with the vivid resonance of a childhood friend. Sometimes, of course, the rediscovery is a painful disappointment, as we realize that our fond recollection was based primarly on the bust size of the heroine or on a fantasy landscape that now reveals itself to be composed of monsters in suits with visible zippers lurking in papier machÃ© lairs. Every so often, however, a film reappears on the cinematic horizon and holds up admirably to viewing by now jaundiced and demanding eyes, revealing that it burrowed into our young psyches for deeper and more substantial reasons. For me, the reappearance of Joseph Loseyâ€™s The Big Night on TMC (and now in theaters) was just such a happy reunion.