Brattle Theatre Film Notes Posts

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.

July 21, 2006 / / Film Notes

USA, 1987. 85 min. De Laurentiis Entertainment Group/ Renaissance Pictures. Cast: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks, Kassie DePaiva, Ted Raimi, Denise Bixler; Music: Joseph LoDuca; Cinematography: Peter Deming; Edited by: Kaye Davis; Produced by: Robert Tapert & Bruce Campbell; Written by: Sam Raimi & Scott Spiegel; Directed by: Sam Raimi

The Evil Dead was a film that beat the odds. It was helmed by a nineteen year-old working on his first feature, starred a bunch of unknown and largely untested kids, and financed mainly by Michigan dentists who believed in the young director and his friends when they pitched their movie. It was years after principal photography ended that The Evil Dead was finally completed and given theatrical distribution. It took still more time for this flick about five kids getting possessed by demons and most disgustingly destroyed while staying at an isolated cabin in the woods to gain popularity (and notoriety) on the video rental market. Word-of-mouth finally spread about this weird piece of work – a torrent of blood and gore made up of wild camera angles, arch surrealism, and oftentimes unintended humor.

July 21, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Kris Tronerud

“(The Zombies) are alienated creatures who live on the fringes of society… the revenge of those defeated in life.”
– Lucio Fulci

As the crunching sound of slow, shambling footsteps and ominous musical cues are heard, he (or she) lurches onto the screen, slow, rotting, dangerous and… dead. It’s that favourite cinematic baddie of eighties film, the only movie monster that’s easier to get away from than the Mummy: the Zombie! Briefly popular in the 30’s in such films as White Zombie and Val Lewton’s I Walked with a Zombie, the zombie has made a roaring (shuffling?) comeback in such recent hommages and remakes as 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead, Dawn of the Dead and zombie pioneer George Romero’s long awaited sequel Land of the Dead; and while the general filmgoing public probably thinks of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead as the start of the World-wide Zombie film craze of the 80’s, that scurrilous honor actually belongs to another film, the still-notorious Zombie, directed by the late, lamented Lucio Fulci.