Archive for the ‘Cinema Classics’ Category

  • 2014 TCM Film Festival: Touch of Evil




    I knew this TCM Film Festival was going to be a brief one for me, as having a one-year-old daughter lessens ones flexibility considerably, even with a very considerate husband. My major goal was to find one thing that he and I could go to together since he was going to spend a lot of the rest of the time alone with our daughter while I galavanted off to watch movies. As soon as I looked at the schedule, it was clear which film that would be. We both name Touch of Evil as likely our favorite Orson Welles film (yes, over Citizen Kane), and have done so long before we even knew each other. The chance to see it at the TCL Chinese (no, I’m still not used to calling it that) in the version cut according to Orson Welles’ notes – it was just meant to be.

    Going to a movie at the TCM Film Festival when one of you has a pass and the other is depending on the standby line is something of a stressful situation, but thankfully we got there early and he got in fine. It was the first time I had been in the Chinese theatre since TCL bought and remodeled it, and I’m a bit ambivalent on the new look. The decor is as resplendent as ever, but it’s all stadium seating now, which results in some 230 fewer seats (though 900 seats is still a lot) and generally makes it feel much less communal than it did before. It’s still a great way to see a movie, but it didn’t feel as much like a classic movie palace experience. But I’m being nostalgic for a time I never knew.

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  • Friday One Sheet: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind @ 10


    The intelligent, romantic, weird and astonishingly emotional film from Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was released 10 years ago this week. We shall celebrate with many inspired posters for the film below, but first, a brief love letter to the film:

    The experience of following Lacuna Inc. a loose small-business that specializes in erasing memories, and two patients, former lovers, who submit themselves to treatment spans is delightfully unclassifiable by any sort of movie genre yardstick. A fascinating take on the first blush of falling in love (twice) is surely one of the best films of the Aughts. It is a bitter romance nevertheless full of hopeful possibility. It is a piece of science fiction par excellence. You can be swept up in the pure entertainment of the movie, or you can dive down the moral rabbit hole. How much right to do have to exert over your own body? Is it illegal to chop off your own arm? Commit Suicide? Erase significant portions of your memory? Should an easy way of absolving oneself of guilt and conscience exist as a business venture (some would argue that most commercial ventures do this to one extent or another!)? Emotion to trump morality, perhaps the ultimate statement on both the cinema, and the human condition. Well done sirs.

    Tucked under the seat are many inspired posters for the film.

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  • Friday One Sheet: 4K Re-Release of The General


    Because it is a weak week for key art, and it is really, really welcome news that Buster Keaton’s The General is getting a 2014 re-release in UHD (aka 4K) in the cinema next January, I offer you the minimalist quad-style poster celebrating this fact. Like many, this remains my favourite Buster Keaton film, and that pretty much makes it my favourite silent era comedy.

  • The Story of Film on TCM: Chapter Nine


    [Turner Classic Movies is airing Mark Cousins' epic documentary The Story of Film, playing one episode a week accompanied by films discussed in that week's episode. I'm writing up my thoughts on each episode. I got behind four weeks ago, but rather than give up, I'm going to just post catch-up posts over the next four days, and I should be up to date for next week's episode.]

    New Hollywood was full of mockery and stylistically bold. Old school laced with new truths.

    We’re back on more familiar ground this week as Cousins moves into the New Hollywood films of the 1970s. After the upheaval of the 1960s and the tragedies that seemed to mark the end of the revolutionary spirit of the decade – the deaths of Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, etc. – you’d think that the 1970s would be a rather deflated time in American filmmaking, but instead it’s exactly the opposite. The studios were floundering toward the end of the ’60s, desperate to attract a younger crowd of people – their solution was to give bright young film-school trained directors a shot, and the result was New Hollywood, which is considered one of the liveliest and most inventive periods in American movie history.

    New Hollywood directors knew their cinema history, both American and European, and they respected and in many cases loved it, but they wanted to test the waters, to bend and break the rules. Cousins identifies three types of approaches common in American film of the 1970s – satirical, dissident, and assimilationist. I don’t think the distinctions are quite as cut and dried as he implies, but it’s a decent enough set of classifications to start. Satirical films look askance at society, believing that it’s too late to save it, so let’s poke fun at it. Cousins does point out that satire is hardly new to cinema, and gives some great scenes from the Marx Brothers to show it (he skipped them in his 1930s episode, so I guess he figured to sneak them in here), as well as some Frank Tashlin from the 1950s.

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  • The Story of Film on TCM: Chapter Eight


    Film wasn’t just a window through which you saw characters and stories, it was a language and a way of thinking in itself.

    Just about every episode, I’ve lamented that Cousins had to rush through some things or wished that there had been a whole episode devoted to something he covered well, but briefly. Holy cannoli, this one is the ultimate example of that, at least so far. In the introductory interview, Robert Osborne asked him how you cut this topic down to an hour and still get everything in. Short answer: you don’t. Turns out Cousins’ original cut of this episode was three hours long. I bet even that was pretty hectic. As it stands, this episode is one of the least satisfying so far, simply because you barely get acclimated to each new place/filmmaker/situation before he jets off to the next one. It’s simply information overload, and almost none of it sticks. I will concede that perhaps some of it is my own ignorance of a lot of the cinema covered here – I can’t fill in the gaps mentally like I’ve been able to in some of the earlier chapters.

    After covering the French New Wave and the spread of new wave thinking into Italy last episode, Cousins shows how new waves spread across the world in this one, starting with Eastern Europe. Behind the Iron Curtain, film industries were closely monitored, and making the kind of personal films that the French New Wave advocated was in itself a political statement – many Eastern Bloc filmmakers faced political persecution for their films, which were seen as radical.

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  • The Story of Film on TCM: Chapter Seven


    Cinema didn’t tell the story, it was the story.

    Two episodes back I said how much I enjoyed the 1940s episode, especially since I love film noir so much. Well, my second favorite movement or faux genre might just be the French New Wave, so I’m definitely biased to enjoy Chapter 7 as well. If the 1950s were a cinematic pressure cooker bursting at the seams, constrained by the studio system and the mores of the time, then the ’60s were the explosion. The world had been in upheaval in the ’50s, but it became even more tumultuous in the ’60s, with the rise of the Berlin Wall, the Cold War, increasing nuclear fears, the hippie generation, free love, revolution, etc. Times were changing, and cinema, somewhat conservative in the ’50s, was now ready to change with them.

    Before getting to the New Wave itself, though, Cousins looks at some of the highly individual directors who laid the groundwork for the more personal cinema that the New Wave celebrated. We’re in well-worn cinephile territory here (and really throughout this episode), with Ingmar Bergman, Robert Bresson, Jacques Tati, and Federico Fellini, but Cousins still manages to bring out insights into their films and relation to the larger Story of Film that I hadn’t really noticed. These are all directors who started their careers in the 1950s or earlier and thus were an inspiration to New Wave filmmakers, even as they continued their own careers throughout the 1960s and beyond.

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  • The Story of Film on TCM: Chapter Five


    Movies had to get this raw because life had become this raw.

    I’m running behind, as Chapter Six aired last night on TCM. I’m hoping to get caught up tomorrow.

    The world changed in the 1940s, a world war casting its presence over half the decade and its shadow over the rest. Nothing would ever be the same, and neither would cinema. In his intro interview with Robert Osborne, Marc Cousins states that prior to the 1940s, movies had focused on fantasy and escapism, but in the ’40s, movies darken visually and morally. Obviously, this is an oversimplification (and to some degree Hollywood-centric), but Cousins knows that. In the episode, he gives the escapist cinema of the 1940s a passing mention with a Betty Grable musical, but quickly affirms that the essential cinema of the ’40s is neo-realism and film noir, a claim that’s not particularly unreasonable.

    But before he goes into the development of neo-realism in Italy and film noir in the United States, he goes back to look at the development of deep staging and deep focus in Stagecoach and Citizen Kane. The Hollywood romantic tradition preferred long lenses which threw the background out of focus, drawing attention to and flattering the star. Deep focus democratized the frame, allowing the viewers’ eyes to wander at will, while encouraging deep staging to emphasize spatial relationships between people and things. Cousins shows shots from Stagecoach that use deep focus and deep staging, including a wide shot of a room including ceilings, something that Citizen Kane is often credited with doing first (Robert Osborne even mentioned the ceilings as revolutionary in Citizen Kane in the intro, but Cousins didn’t challenge him).

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  • The Story of Film on TCM: Chapter Four


    It’s a common understanding among silent film fans that something beautiful and inherently cinematic was lost when sound took over at the end of the 1920s. Silent film had reached great heights of visual splendor, highly complex ways of conveying story, psychology, and mood by visual means, and innovative ways to use the camera, editing, and actors within the frame.

    The coming of sound meant learning how to make cinema all over again. Technological limitations meant that the camera was no longer free to roam about the frame – that would have interfered with the sound recording. Similarly, shooting on location became difficult, because ambient sounds were difficult to avoid, so filming moved back onto studio sets (where they would largely stay for the next twenty to thirty years). Cousins points out things that I’d never really thought of or seen mentioned before in his clip of Bing Crosby singing – a two camera shoot ran live, like live television eventually would, to record the sound unbroken. This meant framing was limited; shots couldn’t be restaged for different angles, nor could lighting be reset for different shots, lending everything a flatness. These were all challenges that filmmakers had to learn to overcome to figure out how to use sound cinematically.

    But creatively thrives on challenges, and as Cousins mentioned in his introductory interview with Robert Osborne, filmmakers quickly learned to use sound creatively, using it to help set mood, or even undercut the visual for ironic purposes. As early as 1932, Rouben Mamoulian used the everyday morning sounds of Paris waking up as a kind of symphonic overture to his film Love Me Tonight, and used tricks like substituting yapping dogs in for society ladies chattering. Sonic trickery becomes possible, and sometimes even more effective than the visual trickery of the silent era. It’s interesting that I tend to forget Mamoulian directed Love Me Tonight, because it reminds me so much of the Lubitsch films of the same era (several of which start Love Me Tonight‘s Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald), but with Cousins’ praise for Mamoulian’s innovation, I’m excited to rewatch it with Mamoulian in mind.

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  • The Story of Film on TCM: Chapter Three


    It was a time of fantasy cinema and its brilliant alternatives. Movies were on a high. This sublime tension should have lasted forever.

    Chapter 3 of The Story of Film follows pretty closely on the heels of Chapter 2. The way Cousins transitions from one chapter to the next makes the whole thing surprisingly palatable to marathon as one very long documentary, and in this case, Chapters 2 and 3 seem incomplete without each other. In Chapter 2, Cousins laid out the foundations of Hollywood romantic cinema, as codified by the studio system in the 1920s, and began looking at the rebel filmmakers who challenged it. In Chapter 3, we find out that the realist filmmakers he discussed in Chapter 2 were actually the first of eight challenges to romantic cinema. What is a rebel filmmaker? It’s not difficult to figure out from the documentary, but Cousins helpfully defined it in his interview with Robert Osborne before TCM’s airing of Chapter 3. Paraphrasing a bit, a rebel filmmaker is someone who looks at the way we do things and knows there’s another way to do it. They want to annoy people on one level, but they also want to innovate – to explore other ways to use cinema to tell stories.

    Challenges #2-8 to romantic cinema take up the entirety of this episode. First, Ernst Lubitsch. Yep, just Lubitsch all by himself. Lubitsch took the still-Victorian way that sex and love were depicted in the movies and mocked it, making some of the most urbane, witty, and slyly naughty films of the twenties. And the thirties, to be honest. Interestingly, this is maybe the only one of the challenges Cousins identifies that is primarily content-related rather than stylistic. On the other hand, style is content and of course the stylistic things that make up the rest of the challenges also have an ideological element.

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  • The Story of Film on TCM: Chapter Two


    Turner Classic Movies is airing the US premiere of The Story of Film: An Odyssey one episode per week from September through December, accompanying it with selected films discussed in each week’s episode. It’s a film history eduction in and of itself. I’ll be presenting my thoughts on the documentary and whatever films I have time to watch from TCM’s programming, but I don’t have much time these days, so fair warning, I may be saying “I didn’t have time to see this” a lot.

    In the hills of Los Angeles, the myth of Hollywood had just begun.

    It was a dictatorship, but some say there was genius in it.

    In some ways, though they’re often overlooked by classic film fans now because bridging the gap between sound and silence takes a leap even for us, the 1920s were the true heyday of Hollywood filmmaking. Coming out of World War I, the United States was relatively unburdened financially, while much of Europe was devastated, their film industries languishing while they struggled to recover from the war. This led to Hollywood staking its claim as the center of the international movie industry, a status it has enjoyed to one degree or another ever since.

    But Mark Cousins doesn’t go into the business side of things very much – for that, check out the TCM-produced series Moguls and Movie Stars, which documents the creation and demise of the classic studio system. Instead, Cousins is interested in what the studios produced, and he starts this chapter (entitled “The Triumph of American Film and the First of Its Rebels”) by showing the look and feel of Hollywood films throughout the studio era, from 1920 through the 1950s. Obviously styles changed during that time, but he points out the relatively constant throughline of what he calls “romantic cinema” and how that played out in different studio styles (the prestige of MGM, the vitality of Warner, the opulence of Paramount, etc.).

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  • The Story of Film on TCM: Chapter One


    [I posted this last week on my own blog, following the premiere of The Story of Film: An Odyssey Chapter One on TCM the first week of September. As I posted about the second chapter this week, I thought it would be fitting to crosspost this series here, especially since The Story of Film is so beloved in the Third Row. I will post the second one shortly, and then be on schedule for the rest of the series. The third episode aired tonight.]

    Turner Classic Movies is airing the US premiere of The Story of Film: An Odyssey one episode per week from September through December, accompanying it with selected films discussed in each week’s episode. It’s a film history eduction in and of itself. I’ll be presenting my thoughts on the documentary and whatever films I have time to watch from TCM’s programming, but I don’t have much time these days, so fair warning, I may be saying “I didn’t have time to see this” a lot.

    Visual ideas are the real things that drive cinema.

    It’s time to redraw the map of movie history that we have in our heads.

    These two quotes taken from Mark Cousins’ narration in the prologue to The Story of Film could well sum up the entire undertaking. Here he lays out his two-part thesis. First, the story of film as far as he’s concerned is preoccupied with seeking out visual ideas, innovation, and cross-pollination throughout film history. Second, he is going to question the accepted story of film, which is Hollywood and Europe-centric. Certainly he covers European and Hollywood cinema and recognizes the advances they made (much of the first episode is devoted to giants like Edison, the Lumieres, and Griffith), but throughout the he’s quick to point out when the established national cinemas fell into complacency and innovation was strongest elsewhere – Japan, or China, or Senegal. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

    The fact that Cousins begins with this prologue is important. Besides giving a hint into Cousins’ breadth of knowledge and eye for visual echoes, it establishes this documentary not as primarily a textbook film history, striving for completeness and objectivity, but as a dissertation that takes a position and argues for it, via exhaustive knowledge and personal passion. Though the film is factual and highly informative, it is also very explicitly “Mark Cousins’ Story of Film,” as opposed to mine or yours or anyone else’s, and the film is stronger for it. Though his modern-day footage sometimes seems out of place, it strives to create a feeling of contemplation, of getting lost in a reverie. Not content to tell the history of cinema, Cousins wants you to get lost in the dream of cinema, and he makes his documentary a part of that cinema as well.

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  • DVD Review: Ozu – Three Melodramas


    Ozu – Three Melodramas is, you guessed it, a DVD collection containing three fine examples of Yasujiro Ozu’s work within the genre he was most synonymous with, melodrama. I use that term lightly, as his subtle touch doesn’t seem to fit the mould, more just the subject matter of much of his work. Included in the set is an early silent film, Woman of Tokyo (1933), and the two films he made after Tokyo Story, Early Spring (1956) and Tokyo Twilight (1957). Below I give brief reviews of each feature and look at the set as a whole.

    Woman of Tokyo

    Director: Yasujiro Ozu
    Screenplay: Kogo Noda & Tadao Ikeda
    Starring: Yoshiko Okada, Ureo Egawa and Kinuyo Tanaka
    Country: Japan
    Running Time: 45 min
    Year: 1933


    Produced not long after Where Now Are the Dreams of Youth, Woman of Tokyo is one of Ozu’s later silent films and, like the former, isn’t quite as refined and perfect as his later, more popular work, but is nonetheless beautifully made and can be recommended to fans of the director.

    Woman of Tokyo tells the story of Ryoichi (Ureo Egawa) and Chikako (Yoshiko Okada) who are brother and sister and share an apartment in Tokyo. Ryoichi is a student and relies on Chikako to pay his way with her office job. Ryoichi’s girlfriend Harue (Kinuyo Tanaka) however, hears a rumour through her policeman brother that Chikako actually moonlights at night as a prostitute to make ends meet. When Ryoichi finds out he doesn’t know how to react to this shocking revelation.

    Being a short ‘semi-feature’ at only 45 minutes and having actually been produced very quickly (in 8 days), Woman of Tokyo does feel quite rushed when compared to Ozu’s more well known work. It has many early examples of his great use of cutaways, but here they are often used over scenes playing out rather than to break things up. There are some wonderful match cuts though, such as when a scene of Chikako heading off on her latest ‘job’ ends on a street lamp then cuts to Ryoichi’s room light to signify that he’s been waiting up all night for her. Of course it looks fantastic too as Ozu had settled into his signature style by this point.

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