Tag: Drama

August 18, 2006 / / Film Notes

THE BIRDS

Donald Spoto, in The Art of Alfred Hitchcock, traces the director’s long bird fixation, culminating in 1960’s Psycho (“You eat like a bird,” Norman tells future prey Marion Crane as they sit in a room full of taxidermized owls): that film marked the Master of Suspense’s first venture into outright horror, and his greatest popular success. Add to that two previous Daphne du Maurier adaptations–Jamaica Inn and his first American film (and only Best Picture Oscar) Rebecca–and it is hardly surprising that he would base his next project on du Maurier’s nightmarish short story “The Birds.” What is remarkable is that out of these familiar elements, Hitchcock would come up with the most experimental film of his career, both artistically and technically.

August 14, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Kris Tronerud

Italy, 1960. 115 min. Gray- Film, Pathe, Riama Film. Cast: Marcello Mastroianni, Anita Ekberg, Anouk Aimee, Yvonne Furneaux, Alain Cuny; Music: Nino Rota; Cinematography: Otello Martelli; Produced by: Giuseppe Amato, Angelo Rizzoli; Written by: Federico Fellini, Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli; Directed by: Federico Fellini

Okay, let’s get it out of the way, right off the bat. I think La Dolce Vita is the greatest film ever made— in fact, a perfect film. A perfect film is one that has no missteps, no awkward moments, no bad performances, nothing to take us ‘out’ of the film; a film that flows seamlessly and of a single piece, sound and vision working as one, transporting us to the world of the filmmaker for the duration, and making that world a part of who we are for the rest of our lives. There aren’t many of them: Vertigo, The Searchers, Jules and Jim, Blow- Up, The Rules of the Game come to mind. You probably have a nomination of your own. Let me tell you why I think La Dolce Vita is such a film. Or, rather, let’s let one of the characters tell us.

August 14, 2006 / / Film Notes

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 ‘aficionados’, 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 maché lairs. Every so often, however, a film re-appears 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 Losey’s The Big Night on TMC (and now in theaters) was just such a happy reunion.

August 9, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Stuart Kurtz

Italy, 1960. 168 min. Titanus. Cast: Alain Delon, Renato Salvatori, Annie Girardot, Katina Paxinou; Music: Nino Rota; Cinematography: Giusseppe Rotunno; Produced by: Goffredo Lombardo; Written by: Luchino Visconti, Suso Cecchi d’Amico, Vasco Pratolini; Directed by: Luchino Visconti

Coming out of the Neo-Realist tradition which he founded (Ossesione being the first, La Terra Trema, Senso), Visconti found a way to turn the inexorable defeat of characters in this form into heroic action that might help them out of poverty and despair. Neo-Realist heros traveled hopefully, but they were at one with the world and so at its mercy. The Valostra family in La Terra Trema might gird themselves for battle against the wholesalers and the sea, but their hope was not enough up against the social and climatic forces that inevitably win against the little person.

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

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

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.

June 26, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Jeremy Quist

US, 1956. 120 min. Cast: James Stewart, Doris Day, Brenda de Banzie, Bernard Miles, Ralph Truman; Music: Bernard Herrmann, Ray Evans, Jay Livingston; Cinematography: Robert Burks; Written by John Michael Hayes; Directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

One of the most curious aspects of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much is that the man the title refers to spends most of the film not knowing much at all. What he does know is that a statesman is soon to be assassinated in London. But the reasons for this are not important; this is merely the MacGuffin – Hitchcock’s famously irrelevant plot device that serves simply to get the story going. All that really matters is getting the boy back.

June 19, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Andy Dimond

US, 1986. Rated R. 120 min. Cast: Isabella Rossellini, Kyle MacLachlan, Dennis Hopper, Laura Dern, Hope Lange, Dean Stockwell; Music: Angelo Badalamenti, Chris Isaak, Roy Orbison; Cinematographer: Frederick Elmes; Produced by: Fred Caruso, Richard Roth; Written and directed by David Lynch.

One word appears with remarkable consistency alongside the name David Lynch. “Weird.” Granted, his subject matter and narrative style do often fall willfully outside the Hollywood norm, but that should not be allowed to overshadow his natural brilliance as a Hollywood craftsman. His first feature, Eraserhead – which does still strike me as an overdone slice of student-film surrealism – nevertheless rode to glory on Lynch’s uncanny instinct for the feel and flow of film imagery.

June 7, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Andy Dimond

US, 1980. Rated R. 102 min. Cast: William Hurt, Blair Brown, Bob Balaban, Charles Haid, Thaao Penghlis,Charles White-Eagle, Drew Barrymore, John Laroquette; Music: John Corigliano; Cinematography: Jordan Cronenweth; Written by Paddy Chayefsky (as Sidney Aaron); Directed by Ken Russell.

Like most of Ken Russell’s movies, Altered States is a strange, phantasmagoric spectacle, and like many of them, it’s a (very loose) biopic. Not of a classical musician this time, but of John C. Lilly, a government neurophysician who became one of the first, and freakiest, pioneers of consciousness research.