Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Movies Seen - Oldies and Foreign

Well, this post comes after another long interval, so long I almost have a number of films to write about. I've been busier than usual this summer, taking regular vacations and the like, as well as spending the first half of the summer watching soccer. Though I can't say how much I've missed - I'll save my complaining for another post (on new, American movies) - but there hasn't been a lot I've wanted to see this summer. There have been some neat old timey films, and a few good foreign releases - but it feels like slim pickings. I hope it picks up in the fall - I hope I pick up in the fall... Anyway - here are some of the one offs and foreign films I've seen... I'll do new American releases in a separate post (not that I've seen all that many of them, either...)

Most recently, a weekend dedicated to Anthony Mann and Jimmy Stewart - 2 I've seen, Winchester 73 and The Man From Laramie - two of the best westerns in existance; 2 I had not seen - Thunder Bay and The Far Country. The latter two are fine films, though not up to the level of the others. Thunder Bay sends Stewart and Dan Duryea wildcatting in the Gulf of Mexico (on Jay C. Flippen's money), feuding with shrimpers and stealing their women, and striking oil at the last possible second, and finding shrimp to boot... The Far Country sends Stewart and Walter Brennan to Alaska with a herd of beef - old Jimmy is a son of a bitch, though charming as always - several character actors try to make him act like a human being, but it takes Foul Murder to get him to do it - and even then, it is more Vengeance than Solidarity... Both these films are characteristically handsome affairs, with first rate acting from the leads and the high end character types (Flippen and John McEntire and the like) - though featuring maybe a bit too much second rate scene chewing from some of the other supporters...

There's nothing whatsoever wrong with the other two. Mann brought noirish stories and morality to westerns, and these two exemplify it. Complex story telling (the way Winchester 73 follows the rifle, not the characters), detailed characters, moral ambiguity, Jimmy Stewart simmering, obsessed and vicious under that folksy charm (an act he maintained through the 50s, and that showed signs earlier - in It's a Wonderful Life - in After the Thin Man...), Stewart surrounded by some of the best supporting actors in Hollywood - and all of it, in both films, beautifully shot, paced, staged... Masterpieces.

Before that, I haven't seen a lot this summer. Last month I managed to catch three releases from the geriatric division, all more or less the same weekend. First - Alain Resnais' Wild Grass (11/15) - A woman's wallet is stolen; a man finds it, takes it to the cops - she calls him and after this he stalks her a bit. This starts getting out of hand, so she calls the cops on him - she regrets something, and starts looking for him - eventually they all meet - him, her, his wife, her friend - and they go for flight in her plane.... A very lovely trifle, made up of imagination - kind of Amalie for adults, by adults.

And Jacques Rivette's 36 Vues du Pic St. Loup (11/15) - a lovely, sometimes slow, sometimes hilarious film about an Italian who helps Jane Birkin when her car breaks down, and gets pulled into her circle, which happens to be a small travelling circus that used to belong to her father. He laughs at the circus, he pursues Jane Birkin, sort of, and he finds her melodramatic backstory and resolves to help. A lovely film, with a very strong valedictory feel to it.

And finally - enough of the whippersnappers - the next to latest film by Manoel de Oliveira (born 3 years after Anthony Mann, by the way) - Eccentricities of a Blonde Haired Girl (11/15) - another doomed love story, an old novel set in the modern day, though with the story unchanged. A boy loves a girl he sees across the street. He wants to marry her but his uncle refuses -he goes to Cape Verde and makes money, but quickly loses it to shady dealers - but - and - but... Ending on a great shot of the girl.... It's a handsome, strange, wonderful movie, as usual from Oliveira - full of strange bits - odd behavior at a poker game (a disappearing chip, enigmatic pronouncements) - a man who has lost his hat - a visit from a strange emissary (offering another trip to Cape Verde) - the ending, or the beginning (the young man telling the story to a stranger on a train...)

Shown along with de Oliveira's first film - Douro Working River, from 1931 - a Soviet influenced city symphony set on the Douro river in Oporto. A very active, athletic film - about work, mostly, men and machines, boats, planes, trains and aeroplanes - neat little piece of work.

And one more film that (like Wild Grass) managed to get a real release (actually, I think it might still be playing somewhere in town...) I am Love (11/15) - an Italian melodrama, directed by Luca Guadagnino, starring Tilda Swinton as a Russian wife of a textile family in Milan... they are rich and full of themselves, and Swinton's Emma herself was brought here like an exotic collectable. Well - she meets a chef - she eats his prawns and has a religious experience. She starts stalking him in San Remo (doing up her hair Kim Novak style), meets him and has an affair, and - continues it. Meanwhile the menfolk are quarreling, as all but son #1 want to sell - then, at dinner, the chef serves Russian fish stew, the mother's special recipe, and son #1 understands all... All this is gorgeous looking, and goes wildly over the top in its sex and food themes - it's a pretty fine film in all. Swinton is Swinton, and absolutely unmissable - she's given her head here, and has a fine character to play - a woman pinned down by the world who seems to be trying to slip out of it, out of the shackles of her clothes and jewels (more or less literally - the way her husband snaps her jewelry on her like handcuffs - Guadagnino is not subtle after all), and taking her destruction as sweet release...

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