The Good, The Bad and The Critic

Established on March 19th, 2012 and pioneered by film fanatic Michael J. Carlisle. The Good, The Bad and The Critic will analyze classic and contemporary films from all corners of the globe. This title references Sergei Leone's influential spaghetti western The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Review #1005: Bananas (1971)

Title: Bananas
Year: 1971

Director: Woody Allen
Country: US
Language: English

The first Woody Allen Picture I viewed was Annie Hall in high school. There was something about the man's comedy melodrama that left me in awe and inspired me to keep watching the rest of his filmography. Since then I have viewed the vast majority of his work, but somehow missed much of his pre Annie Hall works. This year I corrected that mistake, most recently viewing the outlandish Bananas

When a bumbling New Yorker (Woody Allen) is dumped by his activist girlfriend, he travels to a tiny Latin American nation and becomes involved in its latest rebellion.

Released in 1971 Bananas is Woody Allen's second movie as writer, director, star. One of his earliest films, it is infused with his trademark wit and his absurd film-making style. Bananas demonstrates what an inventive and nimble physical comic he is and is funny enough to overcome the fact that every character except Allen's and Lasser's is completely one dimensional.

Some scenes feel like they would be straight out of a silent comedy & one scene is directly a parody of the USSR picture Battleship Potemkin (1925). Granted, in addition to physical comedy, Allen's writing is suberb as his lines are quite memorable. "I object, your honor! This trial is a travesty. It's a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham." It mocks the politics of the time, but gets away with it due to being so charming. 

Many television shows, most notably American Dad, have paid homage to this wonderful Woody Allen picture. Though it's less sophisticated and far more crude than his later endeavors (Annie Hall is miles better than Bananas) I like this film and would certainly re-visit it in the future. 

Review #1004: Earth (1930)

Title: Earth
Year: 1930

Director: Alexsander Dovzhenko
Country: USSR
Language: N/A

Alexsander Dovzhenko's Earth has been hailed as a masterpiece of silent cinema since long before I was born. Dovzhenko, cinema’s “poet of the Ukraine,” made this film in response to another film, Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein’s The Old and the New. Like F.W Murnau's City Girl, this picture inspired many others after it, most notably Terrence Malick's deeply poet and remarkably lyrical Days of Heaven.  

In the peaceful countryside, Vassily (Semyon Svashenko) opposes the rich kulaks over the coming of collective farming.

One main problem people have with Earth is that it can be viewed as communist propaganda. At the same time that Dovzhenko was making his film, Stalin’s 1929 collectivization policy, which would lead to the death of millions of citizens, had just begun. He did not protest Stalin's grip on the Russian film industry, yet Soviet authorities were still fairly suspicious of his work. Some felt it was "counter-revolutionary" and were opposed to the realistic onscreen images, as well as its ambiguous political message on such a controversial topic at the time. 

I'm not entirely sure what Earth is trying to say about this political issue, as more than one viewing is required in order to grasp the full context of the images. I must admit that is serene, meditative and more visually breathtaking than any other silent picture I've come across. Beautiful shots of oceanic wheat fields, a vast sky, resistant farmers and budding flowers take up the screen in remarkable visual poetry. Earth is full of lyrical rhythm.

Dovzhenko's picture is striking, one of the best silent movies I have ever come across. I foresee myself watching this over a dozen times to get a good sense of what this film is trying to convey. I think this picture ought to be viewed by potential film-makers to get a good sense of the unlimited ways the camera can tell a story. Certainly makes my top 20. 


Review #1003: City Girl (1930)

Title: City Girl
Year: 1930
Director: F.W Murnau
Country: US
Language: N/A

Director F.W Murnau (Nosferatu) made three movies for Fox Film Corporation near the end of his life; of them, Sunrise (1927) is best-known today, while 4 Devils (1928) is presumed lost. The last, City Girl, is rarely seen compared to the rest of his filmography. This fact is unfortunate, as City Girl has been the inspiration of a vast amount of films that came after it, most notably Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven (1978).

In this, a Chicago waitress (Mary Duncan) falls in love with a Minnesota farmer (Charles Farrell), and decides to face a life in the country.

City Girl’s true message is that conflicts are between people, not places or lifestyles. Transplanted into her new world, Kate remains a waitress, serving food to the farmhands who leer at her. Her future father-in-law's disapproval is so severe that she must live alone in the tiniest of rooms. Remarkably enough Kate is a rather strong female character, especially for 1930. The main conflict is that her man isn't as emotionally tough as her and is reluctant to stand up for his woman. 

Every aspect of this story is expressed through visual details, as the sweaty, chaotic bustle of the city lunchroom is captured with tremendous verve. Once the picture moves to the country, the symbolism of wheat becomes the heart of the film. In one beautiful scene the newlyweds run through a glistening wheat field, with no fear of the future in mind. It's a very well shot film, perhaps the best shot in all the silents.

Bold and innovative, F.W Murnau's picture is a worthwhile endeavor that ought to be viewed as the near masterpiece that it is. Though I thought the ending was fairly rushed, I was impressed by the dissection of traditional gender roles and family relationships. One of the last silent pictures in Hollywood, many scenes are breathtaking. 

Review #1002: Bay of Angels (1963)

Title: Bay of Angels
Year: 1963

Director: Jacques Demy
Country: France
Language: French

A while ago I had bought The Essential Jacques Demy set from The Criterion Collection in hopes that my wife and I would enjoy each of the six pictures that came with it. We love Young Girls of Rocheforte (1967), as well as Umbrellas of Cherbourgh (1964). I think Donkey Skin (1970) is a great film whereas my wife thinks it's just "good". I also am quite fond of Lola (1961) whereas she is so-so on it. Most recently we viewed Bay of Angels (1963), and boy was it...meh? 

Jean (Claude Mann) is a clerk in a bank. His colleague Caron is a gambler and gives him the virus. In the casinos, Jean meets Jackie (Jeanne Moreau). Their love affair will follow their luck at the roulette wheel.

I "get" the themes that Demy is trying to display. Love is a gamble; you can lose it all or win it all depending on how the tide turns. Love can also be a bad addiction; we often fall in love with characters we shouldn't and our bad habits often get the best of us. Michel Legrand’s swelling, desperately romantic piano notes associate gambling with love; we hear it in the casino as well as the bedroom. There's no denying it's a well made picture.

The problem I have with Bay of Angels is that it does not represent the Demy I've come to love. His pictures are fairy-tale like; transporting us to a world that is full of romance and passion. His films are wonderfully escapist in the best way imaginable. This picture is dark and dreary, full of characters that are downright despicable. There is no doubt Jeanne Moreau, who is at the height of her career, plays her part well, but it's fairly hard to care about the hopelessly addicted woman who has no redeeming qualities. 

Sure Umbrellas of Cherbourgh (1964) and Lola (1961) had scenes of great melancholy, but they also had vibrant charismatic characters. There were elements of sweetness and style that just isn't present in Bay of Angels. Though I have yet to see Une Chambre En Ville, I have no doubt that this picture will be the weakest of the bunch. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Review #1001: Days of Heaven (1978)

Title: Days of Heaven
Year: 1978

Director: Terrence Malick
Country: US
Language: English

I must admit that due to Tree of Life (2011) and Terrence Malick's most recent releases I've tried to avoid most of the Director's work in fear that his earlier films would be just as displeasing to my own subjective taste. I'm pleasantly surprised to find out I've been wrong to deny myself of Malick! His debut Badlands  (1973) was a shock to the system, Thin Red Line (1998)is an incredibly moving war story and The New World (2005) is absolutely breathtaking. Did I fall in love with Days of Heaven (1978) as well? YES!

A hot-tempered farm laborer (Richard Gere) convinces the woman (Brooke Adams)  he loves to marry their rich but dying boss so that they can have a claim to his fortune.

Days of Heaven is a remarkable picture with panoramic cinematography. It is mesmerizing and hypnotic as not a shot is wasted; all flowing with constant motion in an attempt to show poetry visualized onscreen. I'd imagine this was a more loosely scripted film than his Badlands debut, as much of the picture relies on his freedom to shoot the environment as is, and a tremendous amount of editing. 

Sound is a remarkably important part of the picture, not because of the character's lines (of which there are few) but because of Ennio Morricone's haunting- almost biblical- score iterally inverts the melody of Saint-SaĆ«ns’s Carnival of the Animals. The wind, birds, machinery, locusts and flaming fire are also noises that evoke great emotion in the film. I love how deliberately paced Days of Heaven is, adding greatly in letting his audience understand how each character thinks. 

Days of Heaven is a masterpiece that is heavy on themes, metaphors and biblical content. It has some of the best camera work I've seen in the history of Cinema. This is mainly because Malick set many of its shots at the "golden hours'' near dawn and dusk, when shadows are muted and the sky is all the same tone. His focus on nature, making the background a part of the story, is absolutely inspiring. 

Review #1000: Mister Johnson (1990)

Title: Mister Johnson
Year: 1990
Director: Bruce Beresford

Country: US/Nigeria
Language: English

Mister Johnson is the first picture Director Bruce Beresford made after his critically acclaimed Driving Miss Daisy (1989). The film is adapted from the acclaimed 1939 novel by the British author Joyce Cary, who had served in Africa during and after the First World War. Prior to his directing career in Australia, Beresford had spent two years in the mid-1960s as an editor in the Nigerian Film Unit, so he was very familiar with the shooting location. Like his previous picture, this one also deals with race relations, perhaps in a far more serious way.

In 1923 British Colonial Nigeria, Mister Johnson is an oddity -- an educated black man who doesn't really fit in with the natives or the British. He is always scheming, trying to get ahead, which lands him in a lot of hot water.

Mister Johnson is a picture that is very familiar to me, even though I have never stepped foot in West Africa. It reminds me of Jules Dassin's Night and the City. Similar to Mister Johnson, the main character, Harry Fabian, searches for a life of "ease and plenty", but does so in entirely the wrong location. The tragic character arc, as well as Johnson's friendship with Harry Rudbeck (Pierce Brosnan), reminds me of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. 

Much of Mister Johnson's downfall is due to his devotion to his colonial master, Harry Rudbeck. They are at odds; Johnson desires to bend the rules of colonialism to make the maximum amount of profit, whereas Rudbeck is rigid and far more subservient to the status quo. Despite being complicit in some of Johnson's schemes, which tend to always benefit Rudbeck, the man avoids responsibility & treats his friend as if he were dispensable. The cultural clash is as dramatic as it is memorable; both actors play their parts very well. 

Poor Mister Johnson is willing to play by the Englishman's rules, even if they don't see him as one of them. His delusions and desires make for a rather interesting character. I found this film a remarkable feature that I will certainly re-visit many times throughout my lifetime. 

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Chaplin 1914-1918: A Tramp at War (Essay)

Title: A Tramp at War
Year(s): 1914-1918

Charles Spencer “Charlie” Chaplin was born on April 16, 1889 in South London. At the time of his birth his parents were both music hall entertainers. Unfortunately by 1891 his parents were estranged and the following year, after the birth of Chaplin’s brother, he was taken from his father into his mother’s custody. 

Chaplin’s childhood was filled with poverty and hardship, mainly due to his mother’s ongoing mental illness and his estranged father refusing to give any support. Having no means of income, Chaplin was sent to Lambeth Workhouse where he was housed at the Central London District School for Paupers. It was a miserable existence which would get worse when his father died from alcohol abuse and his mother would be committed to the Cane Hill Mental Asylum. 

By age 13 Chaplin had abandoned a formal education. He supported himself with a variety of jobs while struggling to become an actor. He toured with the Eight Lancashire Lads and, when the manager finally saw some potential in the boy, he had earned a role in Sherlock Holmes. 

This was the humble beginning of his vaudeville and stage career, and by 1910 (when Chaplin was 21 years old) he began to receive considerable press for his roles. Reviewers began to praise him, on a North American tour they claimed that he was "one of the best pantomime artists ever seen here".  A representative at Keystone Studios was particularly overjoyed by his performance and intended to sign him to the studio. On Sept 1913, Chaplin signed for $150-per-week ($3,635 adjusting inflation) 

It was here, specifically in Kid Auto at the Races that Chaplin debuted his iconic Tramp Character. The Tramp was a well-dressed vagrant with a funny moustache and a funny penguin-like walk who would often find himself in a troublesome yet hilarious situation. The Tramp stood up for the little man whenever necessary and was always adamantly anti-authority. 

Chaplin’s star would grow and, as any sensible star would do, Chaplin would ask for an increase in pay. When Keystone couldn’t give him the $1,000/wk he wanted Chaplin went with Essanay Film Manufacturing Company. There he would have more control over his pictures and would slowly tweak the tramp into a more gentle and romantic character. Serious film critics began to notice and appreciate his work. Film scholar Simon Louvish would claim that at Essanay Chaplin "found the themes and the settings that would define the Tramp's world."

Though Chaplin was not an important figure at the start of World War One, he would become a cultural phenomenon in 1915. He was featured in cartoons, comic strips, songs and had his own line of toys, which would stock shelves across the world. He became the film industry’s first international star and thus, like every star ought to do, he asked for more money when his contract ran out. His signing at Mutual Films would earn him $10,000/wk, making him one of the highest paid people in the world. 

The Great War was the first of its kind to be fought as Motion Picture Cinema was reaching maturity. In the field, reconnaissance became airborne and cinematic; at home, propaganda leapt from the page to the screen. On the front, perceptions became accelerated, discontinuous,mechanized, as if the soldiers' eyes had turned into cameras.

Praised as a miracle cure in the first world war, Chaplin’s films were even shown to injured soldiers. Film projectors were specially fitted to project onto the ceilings of field and base hospitals. This way, bedridden soldiers who were unable to sit up could enjoy the films flickering above them. Laughing at the Tramp’s gags helped soldiers forget the emotional and physical pain of the war. 

Chaplin himself said of his films at the time “Laughter is the tonic, the relief, the surcease for pain”

His silent films crossed language barriers and thus he could reach armies of all  nationalities. Infact, the Universal accessibility of his language-free films would be the main reason Chaplin would be so hesitant to adapt to sound in his later career.  Speaking for Chaplin wouldn’t come until 1940’s The Great Dictator.  

British soldiers in the trenches held up cardboard cutouts of Chaplin’s Tramp, hoping the enemy would die laughing. In 1915 a writer to the Oamuru Mail wrote: “The Scottish regiment was marching through a seaport town somewhere in the South of England on its way to the front when several members of the battalion noticed the cutout, and decided to have it. Some time later the owner of the establishment was visited by two swarthy Highlanders who begged to be allowed to take the figure of the cinema favorite with them. The proprietor of the house could not resist, and the cutout is now in the trenches, and possibly before now has attracted a few German bullets.”

Chaplin himself did not enlist in the war, which made for quite a bit of controversy both at the time and later in his career when he was questioned by the FBI. The unusual timing of his popularity and the onset of the war made him an easy target for pundits. For instance, one Spanish cartoon depicts Chaplin and the Kaiser as buddies, with The Tramp wearing a German helmet instead of his trademark bowler cap. 

Chaplin would defend himself against these accusations, stating that he would fight for Britain if called and had registered for the American draft, but he was not summoned by either country. Northcliffe’s Daily Mail would attack Chaplin for the war risks bond in his contract with Mutual Films. Essentially it stated that as long as the war was going on, Chaplin was to not return to Britain. 

The British Press continued attacking Chaplin, by July 1917 article demanded that Chaplin fight stating “It is Charlie’s duty to offer himself as a recruit and thus show himself proud of his British origin. It is his example which will count so very much, rather than the difference to the war that his joining up will make.” 

Northcliffe’s bullying tactics were aggressive, but unsuccessful. Chaplin was known to have invested 25,000 pounds towards the war and gave another $25,000 to US and British activities in the war. The British embassy itself stated that “We would not consider Chaplin a slacker unless we received instructions to put the compulsory services law into effect…”

Other newspapers, like the Charlie Ward would claim that Charlie’s use was better served in the film studio, creating films that would ease the pain of soldiers on the battlefield. Reports would come out that Chaplin had been rejected for the draft due to being undersized and underweight. This stopped much of its harsh critics in the press, though years afterwards he would receive white feathers. 

Part of the media’s severe attack against Chaplin was due to The Immigrant (1917). This short film portrays the immigrant’s time as, well, difficult at best and that is partly due to figures of authority. When the US declared war on Germany they were particularly hard on German Immigrants. Anti-German and anti-immigrant sentiment rose across the nation. Though attacks were rare, they were incredibly violent. Immigrant homes and businesses were vandalized and education of other countries and languages was boycotted. President Widrow Wilson flamed the fuel by claiming that “Every citizen must declare himself American- or traitor.” 

The Immigration Act of 1917 was the most sweeping immigration act that America had  passed. It was the first bill to restrict, instead of regulate, immigrants. IT imposed literacy tests on immigrants, created new categories of inadmissible persons, and barred immigration from the Asia-Pacific Zone. The law banned everyone from “criminals and convicts” to the “physically ill” and “homosexuals”. Needless to say, immigration would slow because of this act, but it was to the detriment of Europe.

Due to the immigration act of 1917, Hollywood also felt a tremendous amount of pressure because much of the studio chiefs were immigrants. It is likely they felt they had to toe the line and agree with the President’s vision of Hollywood as a propaganda vehicle or else risk being deported to a hellish landscape. These fears were justified in the fall of 1915 after several British newspapers accused  Hollywood films of being backed by German capital.

The German Carl Laemmle, president of Universal Film Manufacturing Company (later Universal Studios) felt the most heat, but quickly distanced himself from any perceived German alliances. Once Woodrow Wilson declared war on Germany Universal produced a slew of films including Uncle Sam at Work, The War Waif, The Birth of Patriotism and Uncle Sam’s Gun Shops. They also produced The Kaiser, The Beast of Berlin (1918) and a satire, The Geezer of Berlin (1918).

Taking aim at businesses and individuals who demonstrated any “pro-German” sensibilities was forefront in Woodrow Wilson’s war effort. Any non-American (and thus pro-German) war sentiment would be immediately censored, as was the case of the war challenging Spirit of 76’ produced by Robert Goldstein. William Fox, the Hungarian who ran Fox Corp, threatened to fire any employee who wasn’t 100% American. Branch managers were instructed to submit confidential reports “as to anybody whom they even suspected of not being true Americans,”

Chaplin would star in a number of Propaganda films designed to show the importance of the United States entering into the war would be. When the United States entered the war in the spring of 1917, Chaplin became a spokesman for Liberty Bonds with his close friends, and later co-owners, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford.

It was during this period that Chaplin created at his own expense and starred in ‘The Bond’, a propaganda film for the Liberty Load Committee.  The film was designed to help sell U.S Liberty Bonds for the allied cause of World War One. It was fairly successful in doing so as the rate of which war bonds sold greatly increased because of Chaplin’s film.

In 1918 Chaplin would set his sights in making a comedy set in France during World War One, although he had some doubts. Should such a horrendous and bloody war, the likes of which the world had seen until then, be made into comedy fodder by Chaplin? If the Tramp had been in the trenches, watching his friends slowly die a chemically induced death I doubt he would have agreed. Though like all who were not in the war, he had to be motivated by the pro-American press that had come out. 

Shoulder Arms (1918) had a fair bit of melancholy in the midst of many hilarious gags.Though criticized for looking cheap, the trenches in which Charlie and his gang are held up are impressively claustrophobic and dark. Shoulder Arms provides some of Chaplin’s funniest humour. When Charlie is asked to explain how he captured 13 German soldiers single-handedly, he replies via title card, “I surrounded them!”

Previously British Media had The Tramp chumming with The Kaiser, and in Shoulder Arms Chaplin would have the last word as his beloved character captured The Kaiser disguised as a tree trunk.

A contemporary New York Times review said of the film (and Chaplin) “There have been learned discussions as to whether Chaplin’s comedy is low or high, artistic or crude, but no one can deny that when he impersonates a screen fool he is funny.”  Ultimately Chaplin thought very highly of the film, the doubts that plagued him during production had left his conscience as he claimed “Saying something is too terrible to joke about is like saying a disease is to terrible to try to cure,”

Perhaps Shoulder Arms was so well received because; unknown to Chaplin at the time, the film was released within weeks of the first war being over with the armistice signed by German officials.  At the end of the war America, Britain and the Tramp were triumphant. Chaplin proved to the world that his comedy was the best medicine against a brutal, bloody, lengthy war. 

After the war Chaplin would co-found United Artists along with Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and D.W Griffith. The arrangement was revolutionary in the film industry, as it enabled the four partners – all creative artists – to personally fund their pictures and have complete control. Chaplin’s Tramp would continue being a mischievous character that was adamantly for the proletariat.

Even though this essay is about Chaplin, it would be difficult to tell the story of Chaplin and Hollywood without mentioning D.W Griffith’s Hearts of the World.  Made two years after his pacifist film Intolerance, Griffith’s pro-war film was about young lovers (Lilian Gish and Robert Harron) in a French village are torn apart with the coming of the Great War.

The fact that Griffith could go from making a film centering on peace to a picture glorifying war says a lot about the pressure Hollywood was facing from financial backers at the time. The US film industry suffered losses by the closing off of certain European territories, war shortages, regulations and war-related disasters. 

The war changed the conditions of filmmaking. Before the war, French Cinematic giants Pathe and Gaumant had enjoyed considerable success. After the war the studios all but ceased production, struggling to find any market recognition outside their borders. 

Much of the world’s Cinema had become stagnant until the 20’s, with exception of the cinema of the United States. One immediate consequence of World War One to American Cinema was Hollywood's domination of screens around the world. It took over the markets from which France had withdrawn; it hired away (or provided refuge to) the best talent that Germany had to offer. 

Hollywood and Charles Chaplin had grown significantly since the start of the war, mainly due to not having had battles on North American soil. Without this war, the biggest Cinema distributing country in the world right now might very well be France & the biggest star of the 20's could've been a French mime. 

This would not be the last war Chaplin would have a part in. When World War Two and the Nazi menace took Europe by storm the formerly silent Tramp would speak loudly even when America would attempt to be neutral. It's a grand story that will be saved for another time. 

Book Review Special #2 (of 2) :Michael Boyce's The Lasting Influence of the War on Postwar British Film

Title: The Lasting Influence of the War on Postwar British Film
Year: 2012
Author: Michael W. Boyce
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

My first exposure to post-war British film was in 2010 in Michael W. Boyce's Introduction to Film class wherein we viewed Jules Dassin's film noir Night and the City. The lead character Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark) searches for the American Dream "A life of ease and plenty", but unfortunately does so in a tattered Britain. A year later, in his National Cinema class, we would explore this time in history further with discussions of Hue and Cry, Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, and In Which We Serve, just to name a few. 

The Lasting Influence of the War on Postwar British Film examines how the anxieties of a post World War Two British society is reflected upon the movies made during the time. 

Michael Boyce's extensive reading of postwar British Film hits many interesting subjects and themes. In his first chapter he wisely explores David Lean's Brief Encounter as it relates to the national feminine identity during the period. He then explores masculine identity, Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and even the importance of crumbling British architecture as it relates to that culture's mood. While exploring Boyce's book you'll gets a solid idea of the sensibilities at the time and a real feel for the devastating impact the war had on the "stiff upper lip". 

Such deep readings of David Lean's pictures put a novice like me to shame, as Boyce can shape out a solid commentary about important societal issues from just a few key scenes. He uses Oliver Twist and Great Expectations to talk about generational displacement. With his book he has many discussions with his readers, all argued well with thorough research involved. We never feel like he is grasping at straws and we are consistently engaged with the author every step of the way. 

The Lasting Influence of the War on Postwar British Film is a critical text worth engaging with. View the many titles Boyce hits upon first though, especially Black Narcissus & Brief Encounter. The argument I found most impressive is when he claims that these pictures are rebellious feminist films designed to challenge the domestic ideals after the war. Certainly a "must demand" for your local library. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Book Review Special #1 (of 2) : George Toles' Paul Thomas Anderson

Title: Paul Thomas Anderson
Year: 2016
Author: George Toles

Publisher: University of Illinois Press

My first exposure to Paul Thomas Anderson was on late night television, when I was probably far too young to be watching. Boogie Nights (1997) made my young mind awe-struck at what the Cinema could behold, as before then the most sex I had seen was Kate Winslet's tits in Titanic & I had seen very little in the way of violence. It wouldn't be until 2010 when I saw my next PTA There Will Be Blood as part of an essay assignment by my film prof Michael W. Boyce. Since then I have become a great admirer of the Director, as is George Toles, author of a fascinating book about the man. 

Chair of Film Studies at the University of Manitoba, George Toles remarks about the work of Paul Thomas Anderson through a psychoanalytic lens. It discusses almost all of his work, with the exception of Inherent Vice (2014)

George Toles hits on a few key notes that one would expect to find in a book about the dissection of film; diving into editing, framing, pacing and performance. The real core of his work is character and feelings however. A great deal of attention is paid towards Anderson's troubled characters and his desire to get to the root of their disharmony, whether the troubles be Freudian or otherwise. One wonders if Toles consulted with a psychologist as he wrote the book, as the author seems to have a strong understanding of the psychoanalytical. 

Tole's main view that Anderson's films are primarily about an absent mother and a loss of maternal impulse can seem like a direct affront to critics that view his pictures as about the loss of an absent father. The writer has me intrigued; I really want to re-watch those pictures with his criticism in mind. Having heard a staggering amount of dissections of There Will Be Blood's Daniel Plainview, Toles' interpretation of the man feels refreshingly new; his diligent research and keen eye brings forth insights that less experienced viewers would easily miss. 

Personally, considering I've seen Boogie Nights more than 20 times, I am a bit disappointed that he doesn't spend a ridiculous amount of time on the character of Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) from Boogie Nights. Judging from the shot-by-shot analysis in this book, I know Toles could write hundreds upon hundreds of pages just on that character if he wanted. Overall George Toles' Paul Thomas Anderson is a worthwhile read, even if you aren't as familiar with the work of PTA. 

Note: I haven't written a book review in about three years, so I apologize if I have some ring rust. Enjoy this attempt! 

Monday, September 4, 2017

Review #999: Sunrise (1927)

Title: Sunrise
Year: 1927

Director: F.W Murnau
Country: US
Language; N/A

F.W Murnau  originated from the expressionist Weimar cinema of 1920’s Germany.  Murnau’s early films, like Nosferatu (1922), are seen today as being aesthetically, “almost exclusively” expressionistic. Murnau surpassed the cinema of pure expressionism to that of the Kammerspeilfilme (essentially a mix of realism and expressionism) To “enhance the prestige” of the Fox studio F.W. Murnau was brought to Hollywood by William Fox and given total access to the Fox studio. This meeting of German and Hollywood mentality produced one of the greatest silent pictures of all time; Sunrise

In this fable-morality subtitled "A Song of Two Humans", the "evil" temptress is a city woman who bewitches farmer Anses and tries to convince him to murder his neglected wife.

With Sunrise Murnau takes us from an evocative set shrouded in fog and mud to a wild expressionist city rocking with tuba-honking bands and frenzied dancers. We journey through an emotional arc that starts with a Hitchcock-like attempted murder to an an unlikely melodramatic renewal of a couple's love. Many genres, including romantic comedy and film noir, are hit here and yet, despite the perilous blending, Sunrise comes out a Cinematic masterpiece. 

Sunrise is a beautiful, atmospheric, lyrical and poetic work of art that won the Best Unique and Artistic Picture award at the first ever Academy Awards in 1927. Exquisitely visualized and sensually photographed, breakthrough camera tracking movements fluidly and sophisticatedly move through space creating an illusion of depth and vastness. With sophisticated use of light and shadows, we get a great understanding of tone despite very little use of title cards. 

Murnau's picture deserves being called a "masterpiece" as there are very few pictures- in the history of cinema- that can match it in quality. I would certainly say that Sunrise is in my "Top Ten" of films ever made. It is a "must see" for anybody that has ever seen a movie.