Sunday, January 18, 2009

Dreams in Celluloid, Part VI


Punishment Park (1971)

Normally I don’t go for the pseudo-documentary thing, sure Spinal Tap was funny, but I couldn’t help being constantly aware of the fact that it’s actually just a script – but with Peter Watkins, the reverse seems to be true. So convincing is the documentary aspect of Punishment Park that rather than being constantly aware of its pseudo nature masquerading as factual, I had to keep telling myself that it’s not actually happening. All well and good you might say, but throw that in along with the powerful, reactionary scenario that involves free-thinking liberals arrested as criminals and forced to cross a desert to attain freedom whilst being chased by trigger-happy guards, things start to get a lot tenser. A highbrow Running Man?


Chinatown (1974)

By 1974 you would have thought that Film Noir-style, detective, crime films were dead and buried, reborn in camp splendour as television dramas with snappy dialogue, fast cars and casual gunplay. But Polanski manages to pull Chinatown out of a heavily moth bitten bag and proves that you can actually do quite a lot with a well constructed plot.


Once Upon A Time In The West (1968)

I love Westerns. I love the desert, the emptiness, the perfect cerulean skies, the idea of riding around as the kind of fictional cowboy the genre seemed to invent – knocking off a few ruffians here, seducing a few dames there – it’s all good. What makes things a whole lot better though is a Western with substance. I’m all for glitzy style if my love of Kill Bill is anything to go by, but style will only go so far and for all its showy grandeur Once Upon a Time in the West also comes with an excellent storyline. And no Clint Eastwood either – Charles Bronson takes the lead, shows off his harmonica skills and proves that yeah, he can shoot too. And in the middle of everything - which certainly helps a film like this – Claudia Cardinale swans about like the love lost dame. Also recommended is Leone’s underappreciated Fistful of Dynamite for revolution on an epic scale – no Eastwood in that one either.


Sans Soleil (1983)

ve watched this film several times now – each time I get a little bit closer to understanding what Marker’s wonderful documentary is actually about. But this is a film with highly protean meanings and depending on what you’re looking for (or expecting) it’s going to throw up something to catch your attention. See-sawing between Japan and Guinea-Bissau, Marker explores trans-continental ways of living, coping, reacting to and fitting in with the modern world. But actually he never really gets away from his own thoughts, his own reactions and responses to the stimulus presented by these polar environments. This is a very personal film-essay – perhaps let down by a lack of structure, but thoughts rarely are structured. Fascinating given the patience.


Le Feu Follet (1963)

After watching several of Malle’s films back to back, I got the impression that he was a bit of a scizophrenic filmmaker unable to decide what genre he really belonged to and trying to cover as much ground as possible from Film Noir (Lift to the Scaffold) to spoof (Zazie on the Metro). What he did do however was approach each film from scratch with intelligence and subtlety. Le Feu Follet was the one that attracted me the most however as Malle’s study of a writer deciding to kill himself has a psychological intensity rarely seen in his others films and Maurice Ronet’s poignant performance is near perfect.


Spirited Away (2001)

I have to say I’m not a big fan of animation. Sure I got my kicks from Disney when I was young, but since then I haven’t really been able to connect with animated films in the same way as non-animated. Akira was OK, but it never really grabbed me. So I was pleasantly surprised when I first a Miyazaki film – Princess Monoke – and was casually drawn in by it. And then I saw Spirited Away at the cinema and I was amazed. The richness of the film, the wonder of his world, the plot, everything about this film was enthralling.


Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne (1945)

Two types of film: those that employ
the resources of the theater (actors, direction, etc.)
and use the camera in order to reproduce;
those that employ the resources of cinematography
and use the camera to create.
Cinematography: a new way of writing, therefore of feeling.

–Bresson, Notes on Cinematography

I suppose that pretty much sums up what Bresson was about. He had a great feel for cinematography. His films practically re-wrote its language. Initially I was turned off by Bresson’s extreme asceticism, for me it took some getting used to, but soon I was absorbed into his fearless world and Les Dames Du Bois Boulogne was the film that did it for me. It’s far from Bresson at his best, the plot is a simple revenge narrative, but the film itself gave me an insight into Bresson’s cinematic style that allowed me to appreciate his later films. And my favourite? Well that would probably be The Trial of Joan of Arc.


Francesco, giullare di Dio (1950)

Simple and striking are two good words to describe Rossellini’s Neo-realist masterpiece – a brief vignette of the life of St. Francis and his fellow monks. It might not be as groundbreaking as Roma, città aperta was from 1945, but Rossellini’s development over those five years gave Francesco, guillare di Dio a much greater naturalism, echoing his maxim that truth was found wholly in reality – an ethos beautifully captured in Francesco through his simplicity, his humility and his grace from the powerful scene with the leper to the light-hearted antics of Giovanni, known as “the Simpleton”.


Orphée (1950)

Like Pasolini, Cocteau’s legacy is a result of his protean shifting from one form of art to another, perhaps never feeling completely at ease with any of them, but ever persistent to innovate and experiment. Drawing upon the Greek myth, Cocteau’s Orphée merges surrealist-inspired symbolism, cinematic poetry and a sprinkling of autobiography with a kind of magical inspiration and quietly ushers the viewer into a dreamlike meditation on life and death – surely a sight to behold.


Alice in the Cities (1974)

If there’s one thing that instantly drew me into Alice in the Cities it’s the fact that it’s shot on 16mm black and white film, so far so good, but what really held my attention on top of this was the charming sequence of chance encounters of gentle humour of the two protagonists – nine year old Alice, suddenly abandoned by her mother and left in the care of disenchanted photojournalist, Philip Winter. So it’s essentially a ‘buddy movie’ – an unlikely pairing of two lost souls travelling across America in the hope of finding something worthwhile, but like Cassavetes’s Gloria, the relationship between the man and the little girl avoids awkward cliché and remains touching and above all believable.


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