Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Authorship in Kazuo Hara's Films

[Cross Posted from the Film of the Month Club blog - added here for archival purposes.]

Thinking about The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On made me curious about Kazuo Hara's other films. Earlier this month I watched his two earlier films, Sayonara CP and Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974, hoping to get a better idea of Hara as a filmmaker. I posted some notes on his style and themes at my blog - but now I'd like to address another characteristic of these films I put off from that post. This emerges, specifically, from some of Harrytuttle's comments here, that Okuzaki seems to be more important to the film than Hara. It's an interesting point - in fact, I think it is characteristic of Hara's approach.

His films are definitely about strong personalities: the poet and photographer in Sayonara CP, Miyuki Takeda in Extreme Private Eros, and Okuzaki, are all assertive individuals with their own agendas. But usually even documentaries about strong characters retain a fairly clear hierarchy of "authorship": the subjects (Bob Dylan or Mark Borchardt or the Crumbs) do their thing - the filmmakers (Pennebaker, Smith, Zwigoff) film it and shape it. The subject of the films may control their discourse - but the filmmakers retain control of the discourse of the film. But Hara cedes more control of the films to his subjects - he allows them to shape what is in the film, to comment on the film more directly. Okuzaki's crusade is a good example - along with his tendency to perform, to stage manage confrontations, to act violently (though always photogenically). And his control of what will be in the film - inviting Hara to film him killing Koshimizu is probably the extreme example, but there are others. Several posts and comments here have explored Okuzaki's "shtick", so I will concentrate a bit more on the earlier films.

In Sayonara CP, the Greenlawn group (an organization of cerebral palsy sufferers) has significant input into the film, shaping its content, and its purposes. When the film is endangered (the wife of one of the main characters, the poet, Hiroshi Yokota, demands he stop filming), the Greenlawn people are as adamant about continuing as Hara. (And a good deal more vocal - he just keeps shooting; they yell at Yokota, nearly get into fight with him.) Beyond this, both Yokota and the other main character, a photographer, are given extended scenes, and explain their ideas and hopes at length. Hara has spoken of his desire to show things that are hidden - the CP sufferers share this desire. The photographer says he began taking pictures because other people took pictures of him - "we can only be passive" he says - he wants to reverse that, to look, as well as be looked at. He implicates Hara in this - Hara was always photographing him, he says - now he wants to be the one with the camera. Yokota, the poet, has similar goals - to read his poetry in public, to make people look at him, listen to him, acknowledge him. He has a major speech at the end of the film - describing his hopes for the film, for a different kind of film, only to have those hopes shattered. He will always be helpless, he says - while Hara cuts between shots of Yokota sitting nude in the street and repeatedly trying and failing to stand. Whose idea was that? Hara's? Yokota's? Either way, it pits the image against the words in a way that, I think, that underlines the authority of the character in the film. Both of these men resist their appropriation by the film, at least by speaking about it directly.

Hara's second film, Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974, contains perhaps the most extreme example of this shared authorship. The film is a portrait of Hara's ex-lover, Miyuki Takeda - an extraordinary woman in her own right. The first half of the film is fairly conventional, as far as the relationship between Hara and Takeda, as filmmaker and subject, go - he shoots her, she talks, goes about her business - but the film is basically his. But in the second half the relationship changes. He films her giving birth - but this was her idea. We heard her plans earlier - she wants to give birth completely alone, with no help from anyone: and wants Hara to film it. That is what happens. She has the baby, while Hara films and his current lover records the sound. This scene is hers by any standards - she plans it, does the work (to say the least), and Hara just records.... This also tends to recast her activity in the earlier scenes - Hara tagging along as she went through the Okinawa underworld, trying to help the women there. Only at the end do we learn what she was doing there: by the end, seeing her efforts to create a model community, we see her as a far more active character than before.

Now - I don't think this in any way diminishes Hara's contributions to the films, and I certainly don't think it makes them less interesting formally than other documentaries. On the contrary - I think it makes the tension between the subject of the documentary and the maker of the documentary more explicit. It plays into the broader issues of control and independence found in these films, and often into their themes of revelation and repression - as all these characters in many ways seek to say and show things that have been suppressed. In this they are partners with Hara - though as well, as a filmmaker, he is appropriating their words and their images for his own purposes. They often, fairly explicitly, try to take control of those words and images back. It makes for a fascinating interplay.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Observations on Style and Theme for Kazuo Hara

At the Film of the Month Club, the conversation about Kazuo Hara's The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On is going apace. It is a rich and strange film, lending itself to a world of consideration - politics, history, Japanese society - the psychology of the protagonist, Kenzo Okuzaki - moral and ethical considerations, both for Okuzaki and the filmmakers - as well as being a fascinating piece of filmmaking. The conversation there so far has bent more toward the politcal, ethical, psychological elements of the film - I want to wrote about the formal elements of the film, and about Hara's style and themes as a filmmaker. I took a look at his earlier films as well, themselves quite extraordinary works: Sayonara CP is about a group of cerebral palsy sufferers; Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974about an Miyuki Takeda, Hara's ex-lover who has gone to Okinawa to try to help the bar girls there... These are some notes, some continuities among these films, and some of the devices used by Hara in The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On...

- Form and Style - the film follows a relatively common documentary form: Hara and crew follow their subject around, generally not interfering or overtly shaping the material. Hara doesn't add a lot of explanation - no voiceover, fairly minimal titles, and only a couple interviews of people other than Okuzaki to give context to the story. This is similar to his other films - even when there are more conventional interviews (as in Sayonara CP), they aren't presented as ways to fill in a broader kind of story - they are filmed and presented as monologues by the characters in the film. They don't provide context for the film's subject - they are the film's subject.

- Style - looking more closely at some of Hara's techniques: his preference for fly on the wall observation; his manipulation of sound and image (which is less radical in this film than the earlier ones - probably because he had enough budget to shoot real synch sound); his occasionally jarring use of text - these elements have thematic implications as well, that we will return to.

- Structure - in the interview cited by Girish, Hara mentions trying to show Okuzaki as an action hero. The film, in fact, is structured as a mystery - as a detective story. It is structured around a literal murder mystery - why were 2 private killed 23 days after the war ended in 1945? Who ordered them killed, who did the deed, and why? Okuzaki tracks down this mystery, interviewing all the surviving witnesses - but he does it like a detective - he doesn't just seek the truth about what happened 40 odd years before, he seeks to inflict justice in the present as well. (And yes, "inflict" seems to be the right word there.)

- Narration - while Hara does avoid conventional documentary construction - voiceover and explanations and background information and so on, he maintains a good deal of control over the narration of the film, the flow of information. The Emperor's Naked Army... begins with somewhat random seeming clips of Okuzaki - at a wedding, visiting the police, mounting a couple protests, visiting a man in the hospital - these scenes introduce him without explicitly stating who he is or what he is doing. But in fact, a good deal of information is revealed: we learn about his past, his records, from his own accounts (and eventually from Hara); we get some glimpses of his character, that might come clearer later (his remark that nations and families are walls between people - at a wedding! - should give us a hint as to his iconoclasm); we learn about his goals, his obsessions, and get some hints of his methods. Hara sets up later scenes: the first old comrade he meets is Yamada, in the hospital - who will also be the final, most significant encounter (shown) in the film.

- Themes - the dominant theme throughout Hara's work is one of revealing what is hidden - more than hidden, what is repressed. In the Iris interview, he mentions this, specifically about Sayonara CP - to show handicapped bodies because they are difficult to look at. "What I wanted to do with the film is show exactly what people did not want to see, to expose the hidden." Its a theme running throughout his films: in Extreme Private Eros, showing his private life and that of Takeda, as well as showing two explicit births; in The Emperor's Naked Army, he exposes the secrets - shameful, evil - from the war.

In fact, he goes beyond showing what is hidden. It's more that he explores the acts of revealing and hiding, and the mechanisms of repression. All three films contain moments that hide as well as show: obviously the things people don't want to tell, but also the people who resist being on film; acts of direct censorship and repression, and so on. So in Sayonara CP we see: the wife of the main character (Yokota, the poet) trying to stop the film, demanding that Hara stop filming in her home, which he ignores; police breaking up Yokota's poetry reading, calling it a freak show. In Extreme Private Eros: there is a similar scene - Takeda is distributing pamphlets to bar girls in Okinawa, with Hara filming - some men approach and the screen goes black and a title informs us that "Hara was assaulted by gangsters." It's similar to the end of Naked Army - where the trip to New Guinea yields nothing but a title saying the footage was confiscated by the Indonesian government. Even without elisions of this sort, the hiding/revealing dynamic appears: the quintessential example may be Takeda's birthing scene in Extreme Private Eros. Hara shoots the birth in one take - and presents the take in the film - even though the camera went out of focus early in the shot. He's showing something as intimate as it is possible to show - but showing it out of focus, blurred and ambiguous.

These scenes seem to me to come close to the core of Hara's ideas. They occur throughout his films - he emphasizes them, with titles explaining what's missing, or with a voiceover running over the out of focus shot of the birth of Tekeda's child - or just through their placement. They tend to come near the climax of the films, as when the police break up Yokota's poetry reading, at the end of the climax of the poem itself, for instance. They tend to come between moments of great power: in Sayonara CP, Hara draws out the moment hen Yokota reads his poem - the police arrive - and immediately after the scene, there is a shot of Yokota naked, in the middle of street, talking about his hopes for the film, and their let down. The end of Naked Army is similar - the emotional peak of the film is probably the long ocnfrontation between Okuzaki (and Oshima the anarchist) and Yamada - after this, comes the (invisible) trip to New Guinea and Okuzaki's attempted murder of Koshimizu's son. The latter especially, is the climax of the film - it's what the story has been building toward: the solution of the mystery (who killed the men and why? by that timem Koshimizu has emerged as the clear villain of the piece), and Okuzaki's imposition of justice (or vengeance.) And it happens offscreen, told in titles and an interview with Okuzaki's wife. Which is probably all the more appropriate given that Okuzaki's vengeance goes awry - he doesn't shoot the perpetrator of the old crimes - he shoots his son.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Production Design Screen Shots

As the Production Design blogathon approaches its end (though there's still tomorrow), I am moved to put up another post. As before - I am not sure I have much to say - so I will just post some pictures of things that caught my eye. I will start by noting two of the films I usually go to when I want to say something about the use of space and decor in films: Imamura's The Pornographers, with it's clutter and squalor:

and Billy Wilder's The Apartment, with its deep spaces and carefully arranged bric a brac:

Then - I was thinking about production design on a budget, as per Ed Wood - using the same lamp, say, in two different sets:

Meanwhile, rooting around my Ed Wood collection, I came upon this shot, which reminds us what even a hack can come up with once in a while (in fairness, Wood came up with more decent shots than he gets credit for - that's not where the problem lies, usually):

It also calls to mind another do it yourself film, though with a somewhat higher level of accomplishment - I will leave you then with some of the lamps in Inland Empire. And add - if you have the DVD, or have seen the Lynch One documentary that circulated last year - you might have noticed how much of the extra material is devoted to production design. Lynch building sets - building objects - choosing locations. The strong sense you get from the extras is of the pleasures of the physical work of building a film... so I think this is a good place to end my rather bland contributions to this project.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Production Design Blogathon upon us, at Jeremy Bushnell's Too Many Projects Film Club.

I don't know how much I can contribute to this - other than admiring the work done by production designers, I don't know enough to say much. I tend to subsume their work into the general design of the film, the cinematography and mise-en-scene, the use of space in the broader sense. But that is central to the art of film, and production design is where it starts...

But for now - whether I have anything to say or not, I can post some pictures. Starting with a few screen captures from the most eye-popping films I've seen in a while, Princess Raccoon. (You will probably want to click on these, to get something like a real idea of what they look like).

As those shots show - it's a very stagy film. Frontal, artificial, performative, all the way through. Moving back and forth between opulence and sparseness, but always pushing the design forward, emphasizing the flatness, the sense of the world as a screen:

- the screen as a surface, on which to trace shapes and patterns:

- so that even the simplest, starkest shots can be just as extravagant as the full set pieces:

Though the full set pieces are pretty spectacular:

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Quick Links

I don't have much to say here today - just a few links and such.

Start with a blogathon I somehow managed to miss - Indiana Jones! run by Ali Arikan.

And coming up beginning of next week - the Production Design blogathon at Too Many Projects Film Club... And Girish kicks off the Film of the Month Club's discussion of The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On.

Then - plenty more Whither Criticism?/Why Blog? type posts - Tucker - Culture Snob - and Andy Horbal does his part to make blogs and criticism work better together, by means of a custom search engine.

Meanwhile, the great cartoonist Will Elder has died - Quiet Bubble has an appreciation.

And, somewhat to my surprise, the movie that seems to be generating the most conversation on the blogs right now - Speed Racer. It's got Jim Emerson's attention - he's been circling it, rounding up other comments and looking into what it reveals about criticism... All the talk got me to go see it myself - and maybe more surprising than the amount of discussion is how much I liked it: what a great looking film! yeah -it's all surface, all motion, all craft - but damned if it isn't a treat. And not just to look at - the story may be tried and true, but it's done straight, with wit all through - the story-telling (jumping around in time and all) is both slick and effective and formally entertaining on its own... oddly enough - even the dialogue seems to be clever and well written... A treat, to my complete surprise.

And oh yeah - something's happening over in France. Greencine can explain.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Blogs and Criticism

Another blogger weighing in on the role of criticism on the internet, on blogs, specifically - David Bordwell, no less. As one would hope, he takes the broad view, asking what criticism is and offering a description before moving into the specifics of blogging. Or more accurately - he asks what criticism does, what critics do: well - describe art - analyze art - interpret art - and evaluate art. And what forms does it take? reviews - critical essays - academic writing. And how do these functions and formats interact? And after exploring these questions, he returns to the web - what do we find on the web What could we use more of? Critical essays! That is - he notes that while the web tends to encourage and be dominated by shorter, evaluative pieces, it is also well suited to longer pieces. A good many exist - his site is a prime example, but he cites other examples - Jim Emerson, Senses of Cinema, Rouge - that use longer forms. There are others beside - Ted Pigeon, say; the Self-Styled Siren.

I'm all for it. I like longer pieces: I like posts that take a couple reads to go through. And I like that these kinds of essays on the web can use the internet's rather easy multimedia capabilities. Pictures, video, sound - as well as words - and interacting with words. (And sometimes without words. Or the words integrated into the pictures, as with Kevin Lee's video essays.)

But another thing I like about the web, that plays in the middle between the short, fast posts (reviews, news, gossip, links, little bits of nonsense like video clips or lists) and the (potential for) longer essay-like posts is its cumulative nature. And its collaborative nature, for for this purpose, collaboration is a form of accumulation. Take, for example, most of Girish's posts: he starts with a topic - a book, a film, a group of films, a topic like blogging - and sketches in some thoughts about it. Then opens the floor, basically: and the comments take the subject(s) and explore it (them), work through the possibilities. It becomes a group essay, in a way - trying on ideas, working through the various perspectives... Blogathons work like that as well - a bunch of people, pooling their ideas and information and arguments, creating a cloud of information about a subject...

But this can happen even without the collaboration. Take David Cairns' site - this week he's writing about Joseph Losey - a one man blogathon! The posts are longer than simple reviews or comments - but maybe not, individually, full on critical essays - but together, with their illustrations, and a video clip or two - they add up. (To something damned great...)

I think this is one of the genuine advantages of the web in general and blogging in particular: it allows you to work on things over time, to build an argument, to work toward an essay. Bordwell's crack about "idlers, hobbyists, obsessives, and retirees" isn't far off: blogging doesn't pay - we all have to pay the bills somehow, and if we aren't paid writers or academics, we have to find the time to write about films after we pay the rent. Which works against long, well researched, carefully reasoned work. But blogging, in particular, allows us to move toward more substantive work if we want to. It allows us to be part of the exploration of films - and it allows us to present ideas in pieces. Posts can act as notes for an essay that might pass muster in school or print - drafts of an essay... And at its best - these drafts are critiqued and considered by other people, who can build on them, react to them...

Sunday, May 11, 2008

After the Dance...

Though Marilyn Ferdinand's Dance Movie blogathon ended yesterday, I can't resist posting one last clip, having just seen this film this afternoon. I dont have much to sa about it - I will let the clip do the talking. Rita Moreno and George Chikiris, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, and Jerome Robbins, bring you America.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Best of the 1990s (By Year)

You can probably blame Joseph B. for this - though I've been planning to do it for a while. Let's take the list-making business, back a decade: let's do the 1990s. I haven't revisited those films in any detail in a while - I'm seeing names I've completely forgotten - films that have been completely erased from any collective memory I'm aware of. An interesting process...

Top 25 of the Decade:

1. Rushmore - USA - Wes Anderson
2. Breaking the Waves - Denmark - Lars von Trier
3. Fallen Angels - Hong Kong - Wong Kar-wei
4. Goodbye South, Goodbye - Taiwan - Hou Hsiao Hsien
5. Satantango - Hungary - Bela Tarr
6. Flowers of Shanghai - Taiwan - Hou
7. Beijing Bastards - China - Zhang Yuan
8. White - France/Poland - Krystof Kieslowski
9. Through the Olive Trees - Iran - Abbas Kiarostami
10.Hapy Together - Hong Kong - Wong Kar-wei
11. Once Upon a Time in China - Hong Kong - Tsui Hark
12. The Sweet Hereafter - Canada - Atom Egoyan
13. Naked - UK - Mike Leigh
14.A Moment of Innocence - Iran - Mohsen Makhmalbaf
15. Dead Man - USA - Jim Jarmusch
16. The River - Taiwan - Tsai Ming-liang
17. Thirty-two Short Films About Glenn Gould - Canada - Francois Girard
18. To Sleep With Anger - USA - Charles Burnett
19. The Puppetmaster - Taiwan - Hou Hsiao Hsien
20. Slacker - USA - Richard Linklater
21. Cure - Japan - Kiyoshi Kurosawa
22. Pulp Fiction - USA - Quentin Tarantino
23. Swordsman II - Hong Kong - Ching Siu-tung/Raymond Lee (?)
24. Jeanne la Poucelle - France - Jacques Rivette
25. Groundhog Day - USA - Harold Ramis

1. Charisma - Japan - Kiyoshi Kurosawa
2. L'Humanite - France - Bruno Dumont
3. Rosetta - Belgium - Dardenne brothers
4. Lies - South Korea - Jang Sun-woo
5. Straight Story - US - David Lynch
6. American Movie - USA - Chris Smith & Sara Price
7. Audition - Japan - Takashi Miike
8. The Little Girl Who Sold the Sun - Senegal - Djibril Membety
9. Sicilia! - France - Straub & Huillet
10. Office Space - USA - Mike Judge

1. Rushmore - US - Wes Anderson
2. Flowers of Shanghai - Taiwan - Hou
3. Babe Pig in the City - US/Australia - George Mller
4. After Life - Japan - Kirokazu Kore-eda
5. The Big Lebowski -USA - Coen Brothers
6. The Silence - Iran - Mohsen Makhmalbaf
7. Henry Fool - USA - Hal Hartley
8. Tren de Sombres - Spain - Jose Luis Guerin
9. Freaksand Men - Russia - Alexei Balabanov
10. Expect the Unexpected - Hong Kong - Patrick Yau

1. Happy Together - Hong Kong - Wong Kar-wei
2. The Sweet Hereafter - Canada - Atom Egoyan
3. The River - Taiwan - Tsai Ming-liang
4. Cure - Japan - Kiyoshi Kurosawa
5. Xiao Wu - China - Jia Jiang-ke
6. Taste of Cherry - Iran - Abbas Kiarostami
7. Too Many Ways to be Number One - Hong Kong - Wai Ka-fei
8. Without Memory - Japan - Hirokazu Kore-eda
9. Kingdom II - Denmark - Lars Von Trier (mostly)
10. Ossos - Portugal - Pedro Costa

1. Breking the Waves - Denmark - Lars von Trier
2. Goodbye, South, Goodbye - Taiwan - Hou Hsiao Hsien
3. Dead Man - USA - Jim Jarmusch
4. My Sex Life or How I Got into an Argument - France - Arnaud Desplechins
5. Portrait of a Lady - USA - Jane Campion
6. Fargo - USA - Coen brothers
7. Drifting Clouds - Finland - Aki Kaurismaki
8. The Delta - USA - Ira Sachs
9. A True Story - Iran - Abolfazi Jalili
10. Comrades Almost a Love Story - Hong Kong - Peter Chan

1. Fallen Angels - Hong Kong - Wong Kar-wei
2. A Moment of Innocence - Iran - Mohsen Makhmalbaf
3. Good Man, Good Woman - Taiwan - Hou Hsiao-hsien
4. Gate of Heavenly Peace - USA - Carma Hinton & RichardGordon
5. Sons - China - Zhang Yuan
6. Hau/Bas/Fragile - France - Jacques Rvette
7. Crumb - USA - Terry Zqigoff
8. Forgotten Silver - New Zealand - Peter Jackson
9. Safe - USA - Todd Haynes
10. Red Cherry - China - Ye Ying

1. Satantango - Hungary - Bela Tarr
2. Through the live Trees - Iran - Abbas Kiarostami
3. white - France/Poland - Krystof Kieslowski
4. Pulp Fiction - USA - Tarantino
5. Jeanne la Poucell - France - Rivette
6. Viva L'Amour - Taiwan - Tsai Ming-liang
7. Blue LKite - China - Tian Zhuang-zhuang
8. Cold Water - France - Olivier Assayas
9. Chungking Express- Hong Kong - Wong Kar-wei
10. The Kingdom Denmark - Lars von Trier

1. Beijing Bastards - China Zhang Yuan
2. Naked - UK - Mike Leigh
3. The Puppetmaster - Taiwan - Hou Hsiao Hsien
4. Thirty-two Short films About Glen Gould - Canada - Francois Girard
5. Groundhog Day - USA - Harold Ramis
6. Short Cuts - USA - Robert Altman
7. The East is Red [Swordsman III] - Hong Kong - Ching Siu-tung & Raymond Lee
8. Nightmare before Christmas - USA - Henry Selick (not Tim Burton)
9. Lessons of Darkness - Germany - Werner Herzog
10. Abraham's Valley - Portugal - Manoel de Oliveira

1. One False Move USA - Carl Franklin
2. Careful - Canada - Guy Maddin
3. Actress - Hong Kong - Stanley Kwan
4. And Life Goes On - Iran - Abbas Kiarostami
5. Glengarry Glen Ross - USA - James Foley
6. Benny's Video - Austria - Michael Haneke
7. Autumn Moon - Hong Kong - Clara Law
8. Hard Boiled - Hong Kong - John Woo
9. Dragon Inn - Hong Kong - Raymond Lee (Ching Siu-tung in there somewhere)
10. My New Gun - Stacey Cochran [I wonder if this would hold up? I've seen it a couple times after it came out, though not in ages - no one else seems to remember it exists.]

1. Once Upon a Time in China - Hong Kong - Tsui Hark
2. Slacker - USA - Richard Linklater
3. Swordsman II - Hong Kong - Ching Siu-tung (at least)
4. Days of Being Wild - Hong Kong - Wong Kar-wei
5. Belle Noiseuse - France - Rivette
6. Rebels of a Neon God - Taiwan - Tsai Ming-liang
7. Life of the Dead - France - Arnaud Desplechins
8. Reservoir Dogs - USA - Taratino
9. Bullet in the Head - Hong Kong - John Woo
10. Europa Europa - Agnieska Holland

1990: [I find back here I am guessing about a lot of these films: it's been a long time since I have seen them. The 80s and early 90s are something of a dead zone for me...]
1. To Sleep With Anger - USA - Charles Burnett
2. Goodfellas - USA - Scorsese
3. Match Factory Girl - Finland - Kaurismaki
4. Life is Sweet - UK - Mike Leigh
5. Swordsman - Hong Kong - IMDB credits 5 directors: King Hu, Ann Hui, Andrew Kam, Tsui Hark and Ching Siu-tung. I don't think that is a complete list...
6. Superstar - USA - Todd Haynes
7. Sure Fire - USA - Jon Jost
8. Metropolitan - USA - Whit Stillman
9. Trust - USA - Hal Hartley
10. Vincent and Theo - USA - Robert Altman

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Best of the 2000s Revised

Here's another list I posted last year, and the year before that - turning into a tradition. There's probably some point in it, as we near the end of the decade, and prepare for the stock taking that usually accompanies the change in the tens digit... First, something new - the overall top 25 of the 2000s:

1. Inland Empire - USA - David Lynch
2. Yi Yi - Taiwan - Edward Yang
3. Vanda's Room - Portugal - Pedro Costa
4. Kings and Queen - France - Arnaud Desplechins
5. 2046 - China - Wong Kar-wei
6. Death of Mr. Lazarescu - Romania - Christi Puiu
7. Colossal Youth - Portugal - Pedro Costa
8. L'Intrus - France - Claire Denis
9. O Brother Where Art Thou? - US - Coen Brothers
10. Los Angeles Plays Itself - USA - Thom Anderson
11. Mulholland Drive USA - Lynch
12. Secret Sunshine - South Korea - Lee Chang dong
13. Goodbye, Dragon Inn - Taiwan - Tsai Ming-liang
14. The Son - Belgium - Dardennes Brothers
15. Platform - Chain - Jia Jiang-ke
16. House of Flying Daggers - China - Zhang Yimou
17. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance - South Korea - Park Chan-wook
18. Memories of Murder - South Korea - Bong Joon-ho
19. There Will Be Blood - USA - Paul Thomas Anderson
20. Ichi the Killer - Japan - Takashi Miike
21. Regular Lovers - France - Philippe Garrel
22. Syndromes and a Century - Thailand - Apichatpong Weerasethakul
23. En Construccion - Spain - Jose Luis Guerin
24. Songs from the Second Floor - Sweden - Roy Anderson
25. Virgin Stripped Bare by her Bachelors - South Korea - Hong Sang-soo

And by Years, revised with 2007 added, and new films noted. This may not actually align with the lists above - there is a limit to my nerdishness, believe it or not. And all of it is approximate enough,a nd context sensitive enough....

1. Secret Sunshine - South Korea - Lee Chang-dong
2. There Will be Blood - US - Paul Thomas Anderson
3. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days - Romania - Christian Mungiu
4. The Flight of the Red Balloon - Taiwan/France - Hou Hsiao Hsien
5. Zodiac - US - David Fincher
6. California Dreamin' (Endless) - Romania - Christian Remescu
7. No Country for Old Men - US - Coen Brothers
8. In the City of Sylvia - Spain - Jose Luis Guerin
9. Darjeeling Limited - US - Wes Anderson
10. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford - US - Andrew Domenik

1. Inland Empire - US - David Lynch
2. Colossal Youth - Portugal - Pedro Costa
3. *Syndromes and a Century - Thailand - Apichatpong Weerasethakul - new add, saw it last year.
4. The Woman on the Beach - South Korea - Hong Sang-soo
5. *Still Life - China - Jia Jiang ke - another new one: saw it this year
6. *Brand Upon the Brain - Canada - Guy Maddin - another new one
7. Children of Men - UK - Alfonso Cauron
8. *I Don't Want to Sleep Alone - Taiwan - Tsai Ming-liang - and another one
9. *Triad Election - China - Johnny To - also new
10. Honor de Cavelaria - Spain - Albert Serra

1. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu - Romania - Christi Puiu
2. Regular Lovers - France - Philippe Garrel
3. The Squid and the Whale - USA - Noah Baumbach
4. Three Times - Taiwan - Hou Hsiao Hsien
5. Grizzly Man - US - Werner Herzog
6. L'Enfant - Belgium - Luc & Jean Pierre Dardennes
7. Cache - France/Austria - Michael Haneke
8. The President's Last Bang - South Korea - Im Sang-soo
9. *Magic Mirror - Portugal - Manoel de Oliveira - just saw this this year
10. Mutual Appreciation - US - Andrew Bujalski

1. Kings and Queen - France - Arnaud Desplechins
2. 2046 - China - Wong Kar-wei
3. L'Intrus - France - Claire Denis
4. The House of Flying Daggers - China - Zhang Yimou
5. The World - China - Jia Jiang-ke
6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - US - Michel Gondry
7. Nobody Knows - Japan - Kore-eda Hirokazu
8. Innocence - France - Lucille Hadzihalilovic
9. The Holy Girl - Argentina - Lucrecia Martel
10. Clean - France - Olivier Assayas

1. Los Angeles Plays Itself - USA - Thom Anderson
2. Goodbye Dragon Inn - Taiwan - Tsai Ming-liang
3. Memories of Murder - South Korea - Bong Joon-ho
4. Doppelganger - Japan - Kiyoshi Kurosawa
5. Dracula, Pages from a Virgin's Diary - Canada - Guy Maddin
6. Cafe Lumiere - Taiwan - Hou Hsiao Hsien
7. Elephant - USA - Gus Van Sant
8. Gerry - USA - Gus Van Sant
9. Blind Shaft - China - Li Yang
10. Crimson Gold - Iran - Jafar Panahi

1. The Son - Belgium - Luc & Jean Pierre Dardennes
2. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance - South Korea - Park Chan wook
3. Man Without a Past - Finland - Aki Kaurismaki
4. The Pianist - USA - Roman Polanski
5. *Blissfully Yours - Thailand - Apitchipong Weerasthukal - just saw this one this year
6. Unknown Pleasures - China - Jia Jiang Ke
7. Millenium Mambo - Taiwan - Hou Hsiao Hsien
8. Devils on the Doorstep - China - Jiang Wen
9. Springtime in a Small Town - China - Tian Zhuang Zhuang
10. Talk to Her - Spain - Pedro Almodovar

1. Mulholland Drive - USA - David Lynch
2. Ichi the Killer - Japan - Takashi Miike
3. *En Construccion - Spain - Jose Luis Guerin - recently seen
4. Donnie Darko - USA - Richard Kelly
5. Va Savoir - France - Jacques Rivette
6. The Royal Tenenbaums - USA - Wes Anderson
7. Distance - Japan - Hirokazu Kore-eda
8. Pistol Opera - Japan - Seijun Suzuki
9. Waking Life - USA - Richard Linklater
10. Pulse - Japan - Kiyoshi Kurosawa

1. Yi Yi - Taiwan - Edward Yang
2. *Vanda's Room - Portugal - Pedro Costa - a great one, saw it last fall
3. O Brother Where Art Thou - USA - Joel and Ethan Coen - this film has been rising pretty steadily ever since I saw it. Last year, heard Stanley Cavell give a talk about it, complete with questions and answers... it seems light, but it contains multitudes.
4. Platform - China - Jia Jiang Ke
5. Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors - South Korea - Hong Sang-soo
6. Songs from the Second Floor - Sweden - Roy Andersson
7. *Peppermint Candy - South Korea - Lee Chang Dong - just saw it last weekend: very impressive
8. The Circle - Iran - Jafar Panahi
9. Eureka - Japan - Shinji Aoyama
10. In the Mood for Love - China - Wong Kar-wei

And there it is. If I get ambitious, I might try this for the 90s next.

Decades - Revised

I posted this last year: this is revision. No huge changes, but plenty of tweaks here and there - including some plain cheating in the 50s and 60s so it's not just the Godard and Imamura greatest hits...

1. Inland Empire - USA - David Lynch
2. Yi Yi - Taiwan - Edward Yang
3. Vanda's Room - Portugal - Pedro Costa
4. Kings and Queen - France - Arnaud Desplechins
5. 2046 - China - Wong Kar-wei
6. Death of Mr. Lazarescu - Romania - Christi Puiu
7. Colossal Youth - Portugal - Pedro Costa
8. L'Intrus - France - Claire Denis
9. O Brother Where Art Thou? - US - Coen Brothers
10. Los Angeles Plays Itself - USA - Thom Anderson

1990s: [nothing new - reflection of what I've seen this year, I guess]
1. Rushmore - USA - Wes Anderson
2. Breaking the Waves - Denmark/UK - Lars Van Trier
3. Goodbye, South, Goodbye - Taiwan - Hou Hsiao Hsien
4. Satantango - Hungary - Bela Tarr
5. Fallen Angels - Hong Kong - Wong Kar-wei
6. Flowers of Shanghai - Taiwan - Hou Hsiao Hsien
7. Beijing Bastards - PRC - Zhang Yuan
8. Through the Olive Trees - Iran - Abbas Kiarostami
9. Happy Together - Hong Kong - Wong Kar-wei
10. White - France/Poland - Krysztof Kieslowski

1. City of Sadness - Taiwan - Hou Hsiao Hsien
2. Blue Velvet - USA - David Lynch
3. Fitzcarraldo - Germany - Werner Herzog
4. The Elephant Man - USA - David Lynch
5. Do the Right Thing - USA - Spike Lee
6. Peking Opera Blues - Hong Kong - Tsui Hark
7. Brazil - UK/USA - Terry Gilliam
8. Blind Chance - Poland - Krysztof Kieslowski
9. Full Metal Jacket - USA - Stanley Kubrick
10. Blade Runner- USA - Ridley Scott [yet another rerelease, and it's back up here again]

1970s: [no real changes: a strong decade, of films I've seen many times...]
1.McCabe and Mrs Miller - USA - Robert Altman
2. Aguirre Wrath of God - Germany - Werner Herzog
3. A Woman Under the Influence - USA - John Cassavetes
4. Nashville - USA - Altman
5. Celine and Julie Go Boating - France - Jacques Rivette
6. Mystery of Kasper Hauser (Every Man for Himself and God Against All) - Germany - Werner Herzog
7. Killer of Sheep - USA - Charles Burnett
8. Killing of a Chinese Bookie - USA - John Cassavetes
9. The Long Goodbye - USA - Altman
10. Camera Buff - Poland - Krysztof Kieslowski

1960s: [the 50s and 60s are impossible to rank fairly. And Godard and Imamura especially hog the spots on these lists. So they get one each, though I'll list all the films that would make it on their own, roughly inthe order or preference.]
1. Vivre Sa Vie/Pierrot Le Fou/Alphaville/Breathless/Two or Three Things I Know About Her/etc. - France - Jean Luc Godard
2. The Pornographers/Insect Woman/Pigs and Battleships/A Man Vanishes/Intentions of Murder - Japan - Shohei Imamura
3. Gospel According to Matthew - Italy - Pier Paolo Pasolini
4. High and Low - Japan - Akira Kurosawa
5. Playtime - France - Jacques Tati
6. The Sun's Burial - Japan - Nagisa Oshima
7. Doctor Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb - US - Stanley Kubrick
8. Mouchette- France - Robert Breson
9. When a Woman Ascends the Stairs - Japan - Michio Naruse
10. A Touch of Zen - Hong Kong - King Hu

1950s: [Same story here: one per director again, with possible multiples noted.]
1. Early Summer/Tokyo Story - Japan - Yasujiro Ozu
2. Vertigo/Rear Window - USA - Alfred Hitchcock
3. Seven Samurai - Japan - Akira Kurosawa
4. Ugetsu Monogatari/Life of Oharu/Sansho the Bailiff - Japan - Kenji Mizoguchi
5. Touch of Evil - USA - Orson Welles
6. Pather Panchali - India - Satyajit Ray
7. The Searchers - USA - John Ford
8. Late Chrysanthemums - Japan - Mikio Naruse
9. Rebel Without a Cause - US - Nicholas Ray
10. Imitation of Life - US - Douglas Sirk

1. It's a Wonderful Life - USA - Frank Capra
2. The Maltese Falcon - USA - John Huston
3. Late Spring - Japan - Yasujiro Ozu
4. His Girl Friday - USA - Howard Hawks
5. Ivan the Terrible - USSR - Sergei Eisenstein
6. The Big Sleep - USA - Howard Hawks
7. Fort Apache - USA - John Ford
8. Citizen Kane - USA - Orson Welles
9. Germany Year Zero - Italy - Roberto Rosselini
10. Stray Dog - Japan - Akira Kurosawa

1930s: [Again with the one per director]
1. M - Germany - Fritz Lang
2. Rules of the Game/Crimes of M. Lange - France - Jean Renoir
3. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington - USA - Frank Capra
4. Duck Soup - USA - Leo McCarey
5. I Was Born But.../Passing Fancy/Inn in Tokyo - Japan - Yasujiro Ozu
6. Bride of Frankenstein/Frankenstein - USA - James Whale
7. Osaka Elegy - Japan - Kenji Mizoguchi
8. Love Me Tonight - USA - Reuben Mamoulian
9. Wife! Be Like a Rose! - Japan - Michio Naruse
10. Blue Angel - Germany - Joseph von Sternberg

1920s: [nothing new - haven't seen that many real old films since last year. Bunch of Douglas Fairbanks, mostly, all excellent but not top 10 quite.]
1. The General - USA - Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman
2. Nosferatu - Germany - FW Murnau
3.The Gold Rush - USA - Charles Chaplin
4. Our Hospitality - USA - Buster Keaton and John G Blystone
5. Man With the Movie Camera - USSR - Dziga Vertov
6. Earth - USSR - Aleksander Dovzhenko
7. Battleship Potemkin - USSR - Sergei Eisenstein
8. Sherlock Jr. - USA - Buster Keaton
9. October - USSR - Eisenstein
10. Greed - USA - Erich Von Stroheim

1. Birth of a Nation - USA - DW Griffith
2. Les Vampires - Louis Feuillade
3. Broken Blossoms - USA - Griffith
4. The Tramp - USA - Charlie Chaplin
5. Intolerance - USA - Griffith
6. Regeneration - USA - Raoul Walsh
7. True Heart Susie - USA - Griffith
8. South - UK - Frank Hurley [this is the footage shot on the Shackleton expedition]
9. Cabinet of Dr. Caligari - Germany - Robert Weine
10. The Champion - USA - Chaplin

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Best of 2007 - Better Represented

Like last year, I am going to revisit the previous year's best of list, now that a better sample of the world's films have made it to town. (Though there are plenty more to come: I notice that the 2006 film I singled out last year - Jia Jiang-ke's Still Life - only made it here in the last couple months, this year...) The list I made in January (here) has been significantly augmented... I don't obsess over lists and ranks like I used to - but it's fun and to go back, think about what I thought about films, think about what's held up and so on; see which filmmakers have risen in my estimation, who's built on promise, etc.... Like last year, I may take also rework some older lists in the next week or so. List-o-phobes may need to look away....

But here it is - best of 2007, from 1/3 of the way into 2008.

1. Secret Sunshine - South Korea - Lee Chang-dong
2. There Will be Blood - US - Paul Thomas Anderson
3. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days - Romania - Christian Mungiu
4. The Flight of the Red Balloon - Taiwan/France - Hou Hsiao Hsien
5. Zodiac - US - David Fincher
6. California Dreamin' (Endless) - Romania - Christian Remescu
7. No Country for Old Men - US - Coen Brothers
8. In the City of Sylvia - Spain - Jose Luis Guerin
9. Darjeeling Limited - US - Wes Anderson
10. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford - US - Andrew Domenik
11. Some Photos from the City of Sylvia - Spain - Guerin
12. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly - France - Julian Schnabel
13. Don't Touch the Axe - France - Jacques Rivette
14. Paranoid Park - US - Gus Van Sant
15. Persepolis - France - Marjane Satrapi & Vincent Parronaud
16. Away From Her - Canada - Sarah Polley
17. Married Life - US - Ira Sachs
18. Michael Clayton - US - Tony Gilroy
19. Grindhouse - US - Quinten Tarantino & Robert Rodriguez
20. Eastern Promises - Canada - David Cronenberg
21. Taxi to the Dark Side - USA - Alex Gibney
22. Sweeney Todd: Demon Barber of Fleet Street - US - Tim Burton
23. Vanaja - India - Rajnesh Domalpalli
24. Witnesses - France - Andre Techine
25. Bourne Ultimatum - US - Paul Greengrass

(Quick reference: my January 1 top 10:

1. California Dreamin' (Endless)
2. No Country for Old Men
3. Zodiac
4. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
5. Darjeeling Limited
6. Eastern Promises
7. Away From Her
8. Grindhouse
9. Margot at the Wedding
10. Vanaja

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Blogathons, Lists and Coming Attractions

A couple quick blogathonic notes, and some links this Sunday night:

Ferdy on Film's Invitation to the Dance blogathon is underway. I suppose this is an excuse to post a link to my Busby Berkeley notes from a couple years ago, though I hope I can come up with some more. This should certainly bring some fine reading...

And coming up later this month, Jeremy Bushnell will host a Production Design blogathon, which looks like a very interesting project. A chance to post more Princess Raccoon screen captures anyway.


Don't forget the Film of the Month Club - Pacze Moj posts links to access May's movie, The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On. I confess to having one of Netflix's copies at this moment, but will return it as soon as possible...

And the Self-Styled Siren takes on Joseph Breen, via Thomas Doherty's biography.

And so on. Hopefully this week I will manage to write up some more reactions to Secret Sunshine, and Lee Chang-dong's films; I'm thinking as well it might be time for a more definitive version of my Best of 2007 list. 1/3 of the way through the new year - a reasonable number of last year's films have made it to Boston, so the list is something closer to fair. We'll see.