And so I descend once more into the mysterious depths of 3 Women, a film that was imagined in a dream. Robert Altman's 1977 masterpiece tells the story of three women whose identities blur, shift and merge until finally, in an enigmatic last scene, they have formed a family, or perhaps have become one person. I have seen it many times, been through it twice in shot-by-shot analysis, and yet it always seems to be happening as I watch it. - Roger Ebert [more inside]
I got an e-mail from a friend asking if I wanted to attend a screening on the Fox lot of Peter Bogdanovich's original cut of At Long Last Love. And the answer in a case like should always be yes. [more inside]
Many films are called “classic,” but few qualify as turning points in the evolution of cinematic language, films that opened the way to a more mature art form. Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura is such a work. It divided film history into that which came before and that which was possible after its epochal appearance. It expanded our knowledge of what a film could be and do. It is more than a classic, it’s an historical milestone. ... Antonioni’s great achievement was to put the burden of narration almost entirely on the image itself, that is, on the characters’ actions and on the visual surface of their environment. He uses natural or manmade settings to evoke his characters’ state of mind, their emotions, their life circumstances. We learn more about them by watching what they do than by hearing what they say. We follow the story more by reading images than we do by listening to dialogue. The settings are not symbolic or metaphoric—they are extensions, manifestations, of the characters’ psyches. Physical landscape and mental landscape become one. - Gene Youngblood
What you see here is a prime example of what happens to film that is neglected and improperly stored. This is an original reel from It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World that is now untouchable. The film has turned acidic, sporting the strongest and most foul vinegar-like odor I have ever smelled. In fact, Robert Harris told me a story of how his contact lenses were singed by the fumes the film produced, causing temporary retinal damage to his eye. [more inside]
Beanplating on The Fifth Element from architecture students at the University of Waterloo. [more inside]
We shrugged when friends told us Prince's Sign "O" the Times was the greatest rock concert movie ever. There are limits to how great a rock concert movie can be, and we figured Jonathan Demme's--and Talking Heads'--Stop Making Sense had stretched them as far as they were liable to go. But even though Sign "O" the Times was directed by the artiste, whose previous cinematic exploits haven't exactly put him in Demme's class, Prince has come up with a contender. Where Demme goes for a sinuous, almost elegant clarity, Prince's movie is all murk, scuzz, steam, and, oh yeah, sex. With all due respect, which one sounds more like a real rock concert to you? - Robert Christgau [more inside]
Those Americans who are familiar with the name Claude Lanzmann most likely know him as the director of “Shoah,” his monumental 1985 documentary about the extermination of the European Jews in the Nazi gas chambers. As it turns out, though, the story of Lanzmann’s eventful life would have been well worth telling even if he had never come to direct “Shoah.” In addition to film director, Lanzmann’s roles have included those of journalist, editor, public intellectual, member of the French Resistance, long-term lover of Simone de Beauvoir and close friend of Jean-Paul Sartre, world traveler, political activist, ghostwriter for Jacques Cousteau — I could go on, but it’s a good deal more entertaining to hear Lanzmann himself go on, and thanks to the publication in English of his memoir, “The Patagonian Hare,” we now have the opportunity to do so. (previously)
"A Movie Marked Danger" - a Vanity Fair article on Sweet Smell of Success (1957), directed by Alexander Mackendrick, screenplay by Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman, cinematography by James Wong Howe, soundtrack by Elmer Bernstein. (previously) [more inside]
As brutally stylish as it is when the fists and baseball bats are flying, the underlying themes of family and perseverance are what make The Warriors stand out from the rest of the "grim future" epics of the period. - Celluloid Dreams
The Big Sleep is a film I have found a very intense love for. The rotating cast of shadowy crooks and deceptive dames coupled with the roller-coaster plotting makes this classic movie endlessly entertaining. Bogart and Bacall are electrifying together and the supporting cast is equally captivating. Considering it’s over 60 years old, The Big Sleep still works in a big bad way and feels fantastically modern. It’s as if the film is simply too fast and too entertaining to age. It was crafted by the hands of some of Hollywood’s finest artists at the time and oozes quality as a result. Most of all though, this movie is just pulpy, fearless, fun and really, really cool. - Pictures and Noise [more inside]
Roger Spottiswoode looks back on his 1983 film Under Fire.
You may have heard that they made a movie of the The Hunger Games. While others discuss its dystopian vision of a barbaric future America, we will concern ourselves with something more important: the clothes. [more inside]
Michael Mann's "Thief" is a film of style, substance, and violently felt emotion, all wrapped up in one of the most intelligent thrillers I've seen. - Roger Ebert [more inside]
Pennies from Heaven is the most emotional movie musical I've ever seen. It's a stylized mythology* of the Depression which uses the popular songs of the period as expressions of people's deepest longings - for sex, for romance, for money, for a high good time...there was never a second when I wasn't fascinated* by what was happening on the screen. - Pauline Kael (* SPOILERS)
... it’s no exaggeration to say that LIFEFORCE tosses everything in but the kitchen in an attempt to entertain you. Actually, scratch that, it tosses everything including the kitchen sink. By the time the movie is complete, you may have to watch it again just to verify that you actually saw what you just saw. The movie is a mess of enormous proportions which I absolutely loved.
* (previously) [more inside]
An ever increasing accumulation of film stills from Sergei Bondarchuk's 8-hour long epic film adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace [more inside]
Seconds (John Frankenheimer, 1966) is a disturbing film to watch. With its unresolved, horrific ending, it’s possibly one of the most depressing films ever made [SPOILER]. [more inside]
Both an ingeniously choreographed crime film and a moral drama influenced by Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Pickpocket marks the apotheosis of Bresson's stripped-down style. There’s little or no psychological realism or conventional drama at work in Martin La Salle’s portrayal of a master thief who plies his trade at the Gare de Lyon and easily outwits the cops who seek to ensnare him. See it once to appreciate the spare elegance of the pickpocketing scenes, and then a second time to appreciate how subtly Bresson accomplishes the story of a man’s self-willed corruption, his liberation through imprisonment and his redemption through love, all in less than 80 minutes.
Welcome to the testing room of the Parallax Corporation's Division of Human Engineering. [more inside]
One of the more famous suppressed films of recent years is Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, an early work by writer/director Todd Haynes (Safe, Velvet Goldmine, Far from Heaven). Filmed in 1987, the short film -- which relates the rise and fall of Karen Carpenter with a cast of Barbie dolls -- barely got a year's worth of festival time in 1989 before the twin iron boots of A&M Records and Richard Carpenter came down on Haynes.
* [more inside]
The concept of Used Cars originated with writer-director-producer John Milius, who pitched the idea to scribes Zemeckis and Gale while they were still hard at work on what would become 1941. ... Zemeckis shot Cars in a breakneck 28 days at a Chrysler-Plymouth dealership in Mesa, Ariz. ... Despite its low profile, the film received a great deal of critical acclaim, including the notoriously finicky Pauline Kael…who described Cars as “a classic screwball fantasy — a neglected modern comedy that’s like a more restless and visually high-spirited version of the W.C. Fields pictures.”
* [more inside]
In Do the Right Thing, the subject is not simply a race riot, but the tragic dynamic of racism, racial tension, and miscommunication, seen in microcosm. The film is a virtuoso act of creation, a movie at once realistic and symbolic, lighthearted and tragic, funny and savage... I have written here more about Lee’s ideas than about his style. To an unusual degree, you could not have one without the other: style is the magician’s left hand, distracting and entertaining us while the right hand produces the rabbit from the hat. It’s not what Lee does that makes his film so devastating, but how he does it. Do the Right Thing is one of the best-directed, best-made films of our time, a film in which the technical credits, the acting, and Lee’s brazenly fresh visual style all work together to make a statement about race in America that is all the more powerful because it blindsides us. - Roger Ebert (SPOILER) [more inside]
No one living can say whether the original, ten-hour version of Erich von Stroheim's most famous movie was the epic masterpiece it was touted to be. The 140-minute version is all that remains, and while it's only a quarter of the film it was meant to be, it's still one of the greatest accomplishments (SPOILER) of the silent film era. [more inside]
[Absolute Beginners] has a glossy immediacy, and you can feel the flash and determination that went into it. What you don't feel is the tormented romanticism that made English adolescents in the 70s swear by the novel the way American kids had earlier sworn by The Catcher in the Rye. - Pauline Kael [more inside]
Until the End of the World was conceived over most of the ’80s, filmed on four continents (including video smuggled out of China), and foresaw a future abetted by such diversions as mobile viewing devices, proto-GPS and a highly sought-after contraption that records images for the blind. Starring William Hurt, Sam Neill, Solveig Dommartin, Jeanne Moreau and Max von Sydow among an international ensemble of actors, the film also skyrocketed to a $23 million budget and found its distributors — including Warner Bros. in the United States — requiring cuts that reduced it to barely a quarter of Wenders’s original vision. Later locked in at just under five hours, it’s the type of material that today would be a shoo-in for a cable miniseries that could probably win Emmys for everyone involved. Twenty years on, however, it’s relatively lost to the mainstream, with Wenders’s directors cut as yet unreleased outside two territories in Europe.
(MAJOR SPOILERS EVERYWHERE) [Michael Tolkin's The Rapture] is one of the most radical, infuriating, engrossing, challenging movies I've ever seen. There are people who love it and many who hate it, but few who can remain on the sidelines. ... Movies are often so timid. They try so little, and are content with small achievements. "The Rapture" is an imperfect and sometimes enraging film, but it challenges us with the biggest idea it can think of, the notion that our individual human lives do have actual meaning on the plane of the infinite. - Roger Ebert
Peter Greenaway's "Prospero's Books" (NSFW) is not a movie in the sense that we usually employ the word. It's an experiment in form and content. ... The books, their typography, calligraphy and illustrations, are photographed in voluptuous detail. ... "Prospero's Books" really exists outside criticism. ... It is simply a work of original art, which Greenaway asks us to accept or reject on his own terms. - Roger Ebert
Yet by 1944 the IRS named Barbara Stanwyck the highest-paid woman in America. From 1930-57, she did a minimum of two pictures a year, sometimes even four or five. Yet it wasn't workaholism, according to the actress: "I was afraid they'd get somebody better, frankly. I never really thought I had any clout. For a lot of years I was free-lancing, by choice, but I think discipline stays with you. It's this fear that maybe somebody can come in and take over. Maybe a Redford or a Streep can take the luxury of a year off, but I never thought I could. Of course, we were more workable in those days. And they make more money now. Anyway, I never had self-assurance about leaving."
Despite appearing early in his career, Aguirre, the Wrath of God is for me the quintessential Herzog movie. ... It deals with possibly the most obsessed group of people in history, the Spanish conquistadors, and their desperate hunt for the most magic of all Grails, the elusive golden land of El Dorado – leaving destruction and death to millions in their wake. A few lines in an old chronicle is all that remains of the historical facts, thus leaving plenty of room for Herzog to employ his imagination and re-arrange the facts. In short: an ideal topic for a visionary director, tackled with just the right crew, and on a location guaranteed to make the shooting an ordeal in itself.
Although [Michael] Mann has said he was inspired by a true story from Chicago in the late 1960s, the film is no gritty realist number about desperate thievery. Rather, HEAT is a high-gloss creature of its time, utilizing the classic "duel between cop and robber"... to thematize lifestyle issues in the mid-1990s. Specifically I argue that, for all its slickness and emphasis on style and personality, HEAT is a film about work and its increasing personal costs. For the characters in HEAT, work provides excitement* and challenge, but it ultimately excludes any emotional life outside of the demands of the job. *That's the shootout scene
Regardless of the outcomes and foreshadowing, the lethal combination of the sudden musical revival and the roller disco fad that was freshly in the cultural air in the late 70’s was still too good to pass up. It was only inevitable that someone somewhere would make the explosive connection….and at this intersection, Xanadu would happen... [more inside]
Fred Martinez was nádleehí, a male-bodied person with a feminine nature, a special gift according to his ancient Navajo culture. He was one of the youngest hate-crime victims in modern history when he was brutally murdered at 16. Two Spirits explores the life and death of this boy who was also a girl, and the essentially spiritual nature of gender. (previously)
The most vivid figure in Michael Gramaglia and Jim Fields's End of the Century was the least articulate and most archetypal of the Ramones: Johnny, the right-wing prole whose hard-ass sense of style the others nutballed and softened and accelerated and above all imitated. ... Exciting and absolutely right though their '70s sets always were, the film establishes that they kept the faith live till the end, lifted by Joey's goofy dedication and powered by the chords Johnny thrashed out like they were why he was alive. As unyielding in his aesthetic principles as he was in everything else, this reactionary was an avant-gardist in spite of himself. - Robert Christgau
After 25 years I revisited To Live and Die In L.A. (1985), William Friedkin's cynical, fatalistic, hardboiled and high-energy crime noir about corruption and survival in the city of no angels. The script is literate, the characters are believable, the performances are brutally honest, the unpredictable twists keep coming, the action never stops, and the car chase is shot for real without any fake process. (spoilers)
Alex Cox: REPO MAN was made as a "negative pickup" by Universal at the time when Bob Rehme was head of the studio. At the time, the big deal over there was STREETS OF FIRE, and nobody really noticed our film [8 MB PDF] at all. Which was lucky for us, since Bob Rehme had "green-lighted" a film which was quite unusual by studio standards. (previously)
The familiar '70s query, "Is it art or porn?," took on a whole new dimension with The Night Porter (NSFW), a stylish and astoundingly seamy fusion of erotica and stark concentration camp trauma. While many subsequent films, mostly Italian, took the Nazi sexploitation route to unbelievably tastless levels, Liliana Cavani's treatment remains more problematic. More concerned with mood and characterization than cheap thrills, the film is nevertheless extremely kinky and shocking enough to prove that its R rating is the product of a ratings system far different than the one we have now. [more inside]
Under the stewardship of Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, Cannon Films was responsible for many of the worst - and a few of the best - movies of the 1980s. Along the way it won an Academy Award and enriched the language. (previously) [more inside]
[Arthur Penn's Night Moves] does belong to a traditional, indeed obsolescent genre, but the distance it keeps from it (not an ironic or critical distance, just a distance) is such that genre-related expectations become irrelevant. Most of the time, the story line seems to meander aimlessly, taking in extraneous material, doubling back, going round in circles (the aimless is deceptive, a smoke screen obfuscating the complex, rigorous organization of an exceptionally well-structured script). The "mystery" aspect of the plot is dealt with in the most peculiar, topsy-turvy manner, withholding not the solution of the problem but the problem itself until the very end, when, in a dazzling visual tour de force, both are conjured up almost simultaneously. - Jean Pierre Coursodon [more inside]
To paraphrase a character in the film, The Black Hole walks "a tightrope;" if not between "genius" and "insanity," then certainly between "genius" and "banality". If you're looking at this movie as a Manichean exercise between darkness and light, then you can -- for at least a few hours -- entertain the "genius" part of that equation.
The French romantic thriller “Diva” dashes along with a pellmell gracefulness, and it doesn’t take long to see that the images and visual gags and homages all fit together and reverberate back and forth. It’s a glittering toy of a movie... This one is by a new director, Jean-Jacques Beineix... who understands the pleasures to be had from a picture that doesn’t take itself very seriously. Every shot seems designed to delight the audience. - Pauline Kael, 1982 [more inside]
Leonard Michaels' "The Zipper": Rita Hayworth is never seen disrobed in the movie, though it is threatened more than once. The atmosphere of dark repression and mysterious forces – the mood or feeling of the movie – might be destroyed by the revelation of her body. It scared me as she began her striptease dance in the nightclub. I didn’t want everybody to see her body, or even to see that Rita Hayworth had a body. [more inside]
Lawrence of Arabia is a 1962 British film based on the life of T. E. Lawrence. It was directed by David Lean... with the screenplay by Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson. The film stars Peter O'Toole in the title role. It is widely considered one of the greatest and most influential films in the history of cinema. The dramatic score by Maurice Jarre and the Super Panavision 70 cinematography by Freddie Young are also highly acclaimed.
Logan's Run is a 1976 science fiction film... It depicts a dystopian future society in which population and the consumption of resources are managed and maintained in equilibrium by the simple expediency of killing everyone who reaches the age of thirty, preventing overpopulation. (related 2004 post worth clicking through for) [more inside]
Hidden away in vaults and out of distribution for over forty years, Herostratus was in its own time largely misunderstood. After only a handful of initial screenings it virtually disappeared from public view altogether, remaining all but forgotten to this day. Yet while admittedly flawed, the film does offer a compelling critique of the failure of 1960s postwar idealism in Britain, an ideal portrayed as having degenerated into neurotic self-gratification. It is also of note as Dame Commander Helen Mirren's first credited screen role. (not safe for those sexually aroused by Helen Mirren) [more inside]
The annotated scores for [*and Filmtracks.com's reviews of] Howard Shore's soundtracks to The Fellowship of the Ring*, The Two Towers*, and The Return of the King*
[Michelangelo Antonioni's Chung Kuo] as a documentary film was one which was draped with fascination for both filmmakers as well as an audience, rather than championing anti-whatever sentiments from either side of the world. Not having seen many movies, either features, shorts or documentaries made during the Cultural Revolution era or about that era in question (propaganda included), I think this Antonioni film has more than made its mark as a definitive documentary that anyone curious about the life of the time, would find it a gem to sit through.
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