Thursday, October 1, 2009

Taking Inventory as of October 1

Rialto's Best of British Noir at the Castro
The Third Man starring Joseph Cotten & Orson Welles; directed by Carol Reed; written by Graham Greene; (1949)
Brighton Rock starring Richard Attenborough; written by Graham Greene; (1947)
It Always Rains on Sunday directed Robert Hamer; (1947)
Peeping Tom directed Michael Powell; (1960)
The Fallen Idol directed Carol Reed; (1948)

A bit trivial but I saw It Always Rains on Sunday on Sunday, September 13. It rained that day in San Francisco which is rare for that time of year.


Tea and Larceny: British Crime Films at PFA
The Snorkel starring Peter van Eyck; (1958)
So Evil My Love starring Ray Milland; (1948)
Noose starring Carole Landis; (1948)
The Long Haul starring Victor Mature & Diana Dors; (1957)
No Orchids for Miss Blandish; (1958)

Even though prior to No Orchids for Miss Blandish, Steve Seid said it was the final film in the Tea & Larceny series, The Krays is schedule for Halloween. It's kind of rump session for the series since the film was made in 1990 and only depicts the gangsters from the postwar period. Indeed, Diana Dors' father was a known associate of the Brothers Kray.

The Snorkel was based on a stroy by Antonio Margheriti, an Italian director and writer (1930-2002). In Inglourious Basterds, Eli Roth's character, Sgt. Donowitz (the Bear Jew), used the alias Antonio Margheriti during the scene at the movie theater in the end.


Best of Columbia Noir at the Roxie
Blind Spot; (1947)
Johnny O'Clock starring Dick Powell, Lee J. Cobb & Evelyn Keyes; (1947)
The Whistler directed by William Castle; (1944)
The Soul of a Monster starring George Macready; (1944)
Convicted starring Glenn Ford, Broderick Crawford & Dorothy Malone; (1950)
Knock On Any Door starring Humphrey Bogart, John Derek & George Macready; directed by Nicholas Ray; (1949)
Pushover starring Fred MacMurray, Kim Novak & E.G. Marshall; (1954)
Drive a Crooked Road starring Mickey Rooney; written by Blake Edwards; (1954)
My Name is Julia Ross starring Nina Foch & George Macready; (1945)
So Dark the Night; (1946)
Human Desire starring Glenn Ford, Broderick Crawford & Gloria Grahame; directed by Fritz Lang; (1954)
The Sniper starring Adolphe Menjou, Arthur Franz & Marie Windsor; directed by Edward Dmytryk; (1952)
The Lineup starring Eli Wallach; directed by Don Siegel; (1958)
Between Midnight and Dawn starring dmond O’Brien; (1950)
The Killer That Stalked New York starring Evelyn Keyes; (1950)
Screaming Mimi starring Anita Ekberg & Gypsy Rose Lee; (1958)
Murder By Contract starring Vince Edwards; (1958)


Amongst all the noir, I was able to catch two outstanding Japanese films. Modern Japanese films (at least the one that receive critical acclaim in the US) seem to focus on two themes - family and death. Actually, those themes have been at the forefront of Japanese cinema since at least Ozu.

Still Walking; Japanese with subtitles; (2008) - Official Website
Departures; Japanese with subtitles; (2008) - Official Website

Still Walking's Japanese title is Aruitemo Aruitemo.

Departures' Japanese title is Okuribito. Departures won the 2009 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Of the two, I preferred Still Walking by a skosh. It dealt with a family that lives with the specter of the oldest son's drowning. The son died 12 years earlier but the parents and surviving children can't or won't let him go. In particular, the parents have elevated their deceased son to saintly heights at emotional expense of their #2 son.

Like many Japanese films, Still Walking takes a quiet and understated approach to the family conflicts. There are no fireworks but rather condemnations and recriminations spoken privately and in hushed tones (or left unspoken). The father & son are barely on speaking terms but are more alike than they realize. The overall effect is one of gentling nudging the viewer along as the plot works itself towards its conclusion.

I missed Departures during its ~2 month run at the Landmark Theaters due to procrastination. I was lucky that Departures screened at the PFA on September 27. The screening was not a PFA sponsored event. Rather, it was part of the Tracing the Study of Japanese Buddhism conference which was hosted by the Center for Japanese Studies which is under the aegis of Institute of East Asian Studies at Cal. The cost as free but the suggested donation was $5 to $10. I guess I'm not as cheap as I like to portray because I had just gone to the ATM as I didn't know in advance that it was free admission. I only had $20 bills and I actually asked for change so that I could donate $10.

Departures had more drama as in melodrama. It deals with Kobayashi, a cellist that loses his job at the orchestra. He finds works (initially distasteful) as a undertaker's subcontractor. Specifically, he ritually prepares the corpse for cremation. This involves cleaning the body and dressing it in burial robes and accessories. By repeating this process and seeing the effect it has on the families of the departed, Kobayashi finds his true calling, infuses his cello playing with a previously missing passion and achieves inner peace. That's good because the rest of society looks down upon his profession. His wife leaves him because of it and his childhood friend refuses to be seen in public with him. Despite this, Kobayashi chooses the job over all else. One demon he can't shake is the pain and resentment directed at his father who abandoned he and his mother when he was a child.


I also watched The Baader Meinhof Complex (German with subtitles; 2008). It was very entertaining - suspenseful, funny, tragic and the adjectives could keep going. Slightly familiar with the Red Army Faction in West Germany, I was not aware of the specific events in the rise and fall of the first generation of the RAF. Johanna Wokalek as Gudrun Ensslin delivers a tremendous performance - frightening, pathetic and sexy. I could wonder if the real Gudrun Ensslin was as charismatic as Wokalek's portrayal. The only nit I could pick is that the motivation of these people was difficult to ascertain. Ensslin and Baader seemed to verge on sociopathic. Meinhof's actions were even more puzzling. The mother of twin girls and respected (albeit left-leaning) journalist, Meinhof seemed become a terrorist and go underground because she was bored, goaded by Ensslin and perhaps to spite her husband.


I was able to see one William Klein film at the PFA.

Muhamamd Ali, the Greatest; documentary; (1974)

It would be difficult to make an uninteresting documentary about Muhammad Ali so I wasn't overly impressed but Klein did a good job of highlighting Ali's dichotomies. I heard the phrase "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee" but that wasn't the entire mantra. "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, rumble young man rumble, aaaahhhhh!!" Also, it was recited in unison with his assistant trainer Drew Bundini Brown. They yelled it at the top of their lungs and the effect was to make Ali look like a teenager in need of Ritalin. Also, I learned that Ali had originally been given a draft deferment because he couldn't spell. I found that surprising for a man who was principled enough to refuse induction into the Army and convert to Islam. Not versed in Ali's life, apparently Ali was an uneducated man who was backed by a Memphis syndicate at the beginning of his career. It was clear how he broke free although he eventually aligned himself with Don King. It only adds to Ali's amazing life story as depicted in the film - upset win of champion Sonny Liston, the "phantom" punch in the rematch, his conversion to Islam, being stripped of his title and regaining the title from George Foreman in Zaire. That doesn't even include the Thrilla in Manila fight with Joe Frazier which took place after the film was released.

Muhamamd Ali, the Greatest was a solid documentary although I prefer When We Were King. There was a great scene in the Klein film where Mobutu staged an audience with Ali & Foreman (separately) while a phalanx of news photographers snapped photos. Also, I found a scene with Foreman after he lost the fight (with a mouse under his eye) to show a lot of class. Foreman spoke with reporters and children and was quite humble. Big Bad George didn't sneak out of the country, make excuses or react with a surly disposition; instead he took the loss with more dignity than most could have summoned.


Tonight, I watched Dario Argento's Suspiria (1977) at the YBCA. The film's most striking feature was the use of vibrant colors. Set in a ballet academy, the red painted walls would make the most wanton bordello madam blush. Argento shines light off the walls to give a disquieting red glow to the proceedings. The plot was forgettable; some of the performances was painfully stitled and the film looked dated; I can't believe this is one of the the all-time great horror films. Perhaps it was trailblazing - what was new and unique in 1977 is cliche in 2009. Frankly, as I was watching the film, I kept wondering if I had seen it on an episode of Elvira's Movie Macabre in the 80's.

Earlier in the month, I saw Bigger Than Life (1956) with James Mason & Walter Matthau and directed by Nicholas Ray. This film was also dated but interesting in a kitschy sort of way. Mason's mousy schoolteacher overdoses on cortisone and the result is a psychotic episode where he thunders "God was wrong!" as he prepares to sacrifice his son...literal sacrifice as in the Old Testament of the Bible. Generally thought to be an indictment of conformist American society in the 1950s and the miracles of modern science; I thought it was an allegory for postwar US foreign policy. Bulked up on nuclear weaponry, the formerly isolationist US engages in muscular and interventionist foreign policy like our protagonist behaves under the influence of cortisone. Cortisone?

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