Author Topic: A Filmspotter's Marathon of Filmspotting Marathons  (Read 23890 times)

smirnoff

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Re: A Filmspotter's Marathon of Filmspotting Marathons
« Reply #570 on: September 29, 2018, 11:32:16 PM »
A Damn Movie Podcast just wrapped up a Wilder marathon if you're looking to hear other perspectives while it's still fresh. :)

Teproc

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Re: A Filmspotter's Marathon of Filmspotting Marathons
« Reply #571 on: September 30, 2018, 04:53:00 AM »
Great read, Teproc.  :)

If you'd like to see another great performance by Shirley Maclaine, I recommend Some Came Running. She holds nothing back.

I have that to look forward to then, as it's literally the last film scheduled in this marathon... for now.  ;D

A Damn Movie Podcast just wrapped up a Wilder marathon if you're looking to hear other perspectives while it's still fresh. :)

I'll have to check that out, thanks for the recommendation.
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Teproc

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Re: A Filmspotter's Marathon of Filmspotting Marathons
« Reply #572 on: October 01, 2018, 11:55:26 AM »
Stalag 17 (Billy Wilder, 1953)



Adam & Matty's takes (starts at 36:29)

A Tale of Two Wilders. One of them is trying to do Hogan's Heroes... wait, I now see that this actually predates Hogan's Heroes, but you get the idea: broad comedy about prison camps, because those are fun, right ? I suppose the obvious point of reference here would be Renoir's La grande illusion, but you can't make La grande illusion with nazis: the existence of nazis undercuts the whole point of La grande illusion in fact. Wilder of all people certainly knows that so I'm not sure why he applies the same light approach, but it doesn't really work here, at first. It's not just about the German soldiers being nazis and therefore hard to take lightly, it's also that the main comic relief character (Animal) is hamming it up like it's 1925 while William Holden is over there giving an Oscar-winning performance in the Hitchcockian thriller that is the other half of the film. That juxtaposition doesn't really work and the film gets much better as it sidelines the more broadly comedic aspects.

Part of that is William Holden's performance, which is one of those few examples of the Academy getting it right (he says, not having seen any of the other nominees's films). Much like in Sunset Blvd. he's playing a selfish and amoral character, but because he's put in the classic "wrong man" situation (have I mentioned Hitchcock yet ?), his sense of humour and casual cynicism make him endearing and even sympathetic. He might be the most sympathetic among Wilder characters who are out for themselves and nothing else and haven't changed by the end of the film. Really, he could be the same guy as in Sunset Blvd. but that's the power of a plot in which the main character is falsely accused - that and Holden's performance, which is sligthly gentler than in Boulevard.

It's also just a pretty great thriller, and this is where I come back to Wilder-as-Hitchcock, because there is a scene here in which Wilder shows you the way the informant communicates with the German officer that would feel right at home in something like Strangers on a Train. Wilder doesn't milk the informant situation quite as much as I would have liked, but it does make me wonder if there are other films of his with this quality, because I find most of the execution here to be quite satisfying and it feesl very different from Wilder's other films I've seen. I don't see as much commentary in it as Adam does, but as entertainment, it's quite succesful despite some rough comedic scenes in the first half.

7/10
« Last Edit: October 01, 2018, 12:01:31 PM by Teproc »
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Teproc

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Re: A Filmspotter's Marathon of Filmspotting Marathons
« Reply #573 on: October 02, 2018, 05:20:18 AM »
The Sheldrakes (Billy Wilder Awards)

In the same order as the podcast (starts at 27:09)

Best Supporting Performance: Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot



Best Actor: William Holden in Stalag 17



Best Actress: Shirley MacLaine in The Apartment



Best Scene or Moment: Norma Desmond descending the stairs (Sunset Blvd.)



Best Picture: The Apartment



Summary/ranking:

The Apartment
Sunset Blvd.
Stalag 17
The Lost Weekend
Some Like It Hot


One might quibble with Lemmon as Supporting in Some Like It Hot, but he really gets sidelined in favor of Curtis and Monroe in the second half, and there weren't any other supporting performances I felt very strongly about. I like von Stroheim fine in Sunset Blvd. but I don't quite see what all the fuss is about.

Up next (in about a month I think): Powell & Pressburger, which will start with one of the rare rewatches in this marathon (Colonel Blimp).
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Teproc

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Re: A Filmspotter's Marathon of Filmspotting Marathons
« Reply #574 on: December 09, 2018, 10:53:04 AM »
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 1943)



Adam & Matty's takes (starts at 38:38)

As always when revisiting a favorite, I was worried it wouldn't live up, especially for a film I've seen in the theater (with the screen two meters away from me at most, but still) and am rewatching at home. In this case, I wasn't worried I wouldn't like it, but there's something hard to define which makes a film something you love rather than something you like a lot, and I wasn't sure which way it would go.

The first thing that struck me is how entertaining a film this is. The first two acts (the "War starts at midnight" part and the Berlin flashback) are as fun as anything Hollywood was putting out at the time, with delightful wit and a very winning performance from Roger Livesey as the young Candy. It's a pretty bold move from Powell & Pressburger to move from the ridiculous Blimp character incredulously bellowing that "War starts at midnight !" to the young dashing hero of yesteryear. It's one of the film's main points really: to show Blimp as the avatar of the British Empire, which does make him obsolete in some ways (the Empire would not last a decade after this film) but also imbues the character with a certain sense of nostalgia, of a dignitiy and even a romanticism lost in the dark world of post-1914 Europe. That they transition from one to another in a beautiful tracking shot over the pool is the icing on the cake, because what really matters here is that they never let Blimp/Candy be too much one or the other. He's undeniably sympathetic, but he's never perfect, and Powell & Pressburger never let the film become a pure nostalgia fest. There is a fair bit of that in the first flashback, with characters talking about Sherlock Holmes and David Livingstone, but both the script and the direction undercut it. The duel is a nice example of that: the script highlight how pompous and preposterous it all is while the direction underlines how removed it is from current reality by pulling away and showing us this snowy Berlin as something out of a fairytale. And of course it's all tremendously entertaining too.

The second part of the flashback taking place in and after WWI, is a bit weaker but a very necessary transition, setting up the stakes of the WWII part. It's also a change of tone, perhaps not as striking as it would have been had the France part taken place in, say, early 1917, but still. Candy is shown as a bit of a hypocrit too, though Powell & Pressburger don't put too fine of a point on it. They're never telling you what to feel (well, I suppose they are with the Wolbrook character but that's a bit different), which is key, but it also lets you recontextualize some of the plot points about the Boer War earlier on (let's just say the British did not behave particularly nobly in that one). I have to get to the Deborah Kerr thing though, because this is the only thing that makes me feel slightly queasy about the film. It appears that Powell was madly in love with Kerr at the time, and that's all well and good, but it's a testament to Livesey's performance that Candy does't come off as a grade-A creep here.

That second part is also where Anton Wolbrook's character becomes much more important to the story, and I must admit that I had forgotten about his two scenes here, but they're excellent. The first one has more to do with the use of Schubert and the direction than his performance really, but his monologue in the train back home is an incredible scene, and apparently the biggest factor in making Churchil want to ban the film. Wolbrook is almost villainous in it, which is again incredibly bold given both the context (1943 Britain) and the fact that Powell & Pressburger are just minutes away from making him the most sympathetic character of the film. It also lets the viewer reflect on what's being said about the changing nature of the world in the early 20th century without forcing any particular feeling on you. Wolbrook is prescient in some ways, but does that make him smart and pragmatic, or pessimistic and weak ? It's very hard to say which way Powell & Pressburger stand here, and that's the greatest thing about this film. It's deeply humanistic (Wolbrook's refugee speech is so powerful) and melancholy but in a way that's open-ended, which is so remarkable for a film made while London was literally under German bombs.

So yeah, two great performances (I haven't talked about Livesey's versatility and sublety here), flawless direction and a complex script all wrapped in an film that's at once entertaining, deeply moving and stimulating to engage with. If only I wasn't so creeped out by the Deborah Kerr thing (in no small part due to the fact that the characters she plays keep dying offscreen), I might call it perfect.

9/10
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Junior

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Re: A Filmspotter's Marathon of Filmspotting Marathons
« Reply #575 on: December 09, 2018, 10:55:39 AM »
Yeah, it's pretty spectacular. Great writing on the Walbrook character in particular, you expressed why it's so magical really well.
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Teproc

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Re: A Filmspotter's Marathon of Filmspotting Marathons
« Reply #576 on: December 10, 2018, 10:45:27 AM »
Yeah, it's pretty spectacular. Great writing on the Walbrook character in particular, you expressed why it's so magical really well.

Thank you.  :)

I see Walbrook is in The Red Shoes, and I've seen Livesey in I Know Where I'm Going, but I find it... I don't know, notable ? that they're relatively little-known, as are Powell & Pressburger really, at least among a non-cinephile crowd. I was recommending Colonel Blimp to my parents yesterday, and they had never heard of anyone involved in it aside from Deborah Kerr. They're not cinephiles, but they're not ignorant of classic cinema at all, and would at least recognize the names of most directors that are as prominently featured as Powell & Pressburger in "best of all time" lists. I guess this may have to do with them being British and their works only being properly restored in the 80s it seems like ?
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Teproc

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Re: A Filmspotter's Marathon of Filmspotting Marathons
« Reply #577 on: December 10, 2018, 02:48:29 PM »
Black Narcissus (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 1947)



Adam & Matty's takes (starts at 36:51)

All I knew about this film was the poster (well, that and the directors and main star), which was quite enough to make me excited for it. Black Narcissus delivered in the most obvious promise of that poster, which is the landscape and the way Jack Cardiff shoots it. As I expected, the mystical quality of such a place is a central part of the film, but the Archers don't quite succeed at creating quite the atmosphere they're going for I think, or at least to make the film as entrancing an experience as it ought to be.

In some ways, this film feels ahead of its time. I don't mean that in the sense that it feels modern or somehow better than other films of its time, but more literally: in order for it to fully work, it would have needed the relaxed censorship (and general attitude towards what could be depicted in films) of the 60s. They're trying to do Repulsion but they can't be as explicit as they want to, and there probably is a way to do it without that, but the form tends so much towards what would become one of my favorite subgenres (see also: Perfect Blue, Black Swan) that I'm very disappointed that it didn't quite get there for me. Part of it is the way in which the mysticism I mentioned earlier unfortunately reeks of orientalism. The setting makes that inevitable in some ways, and the main characters attitude towards the place, its inhabitants and its traditions are obviously pretty terrible... but that all could work if the native characters weren't themselves such an afterthought.

* It now occurs to me that the 20s would also offer that, and that this would have made for quite the fascinating silent film, and some of the performances here (Kathleen Byron in particular) would feel quite at home in a silent film.

The other issue is the eroticism that the Archers are quite clearly striving for but really never materializes for me. I can tell that it's supposed to be there, especially in Deborah Kerr's performance, but the characters who are supposed to be the vessel for it all fail for various reasons. On the female side, Jean Simmons in brownface - even if we look past that part of it - is just too ridiculously stereotypical of "oriental seduction" to work without an actual character to back it up. On the male side, the main attraction is supposed to be David Farrar as Mr. Dean, but nothing regarding him works. I don't know if it's the writing, the acting or the directing, but it completely falls flat. The scenes surrounding him were the ones that made me suspect this was a literary adaptation: you know when you can tell there is somehing missing from a film because it's an adaptation of a book and there's clearly supposed to be something going on but it just isn't there ? Well, Black Narcissus has quite a bit of that hard-to-define feeling, and most of it features his character. In the end, the young general is the most effective character in that category, but lacks a bit of depth too, and the ending of his story also feels more literary than cinematic.

What does feel cinematic though, is the Suspiria-like developments around Sister Ruth. There is a bit of what I call the Jack Nicholson in Shining problem (not very catchy, I should work on that) of her character seeming like the devil incarnate from the very start, which robs her switch to crazy mode of its power a bit... in theory at least, because in practice, the shot of her emerging from the building is still marvelously chilling, and for those fifteen minutes or so the film finally gets to that atmosphere it was clearly working up to all along. It works despite the failings of that build-up, but the overall feeling I'm left with at the end of the film is of the great film that could've been, and of the really interesting failure that remains.

6/10*

* I enjoyed it a bit more than this all sounds like I think.

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Teproc

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Re: A Filmspotter's Marathon of Filmspotting Marathons
« Reply #578 on: December 25, 2018, 03:48:44 PM »
A Matter of Life and Death (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 1946)



Adam & Matty's takes (starts at 26:47)


aka Stairway to Heaven, which makes me wonder if Led Zeppelin was inspired by it somehow ? I mean, there is a literal stairway to heaven in it.

In any case, this didn't quite work for me. It's charming enough, but I don't share Adam & Matty's awe at Niven's performance here. He's... fine ? I don't know, I'm not sure what I'm supposed to see there really. Livesey is giving a much more dynamic performance and - to use the usual cliché - completely steals the film from Niven anytime he shows up. This makes the way in which the film handles his character's death pretty jarring. I mean yes, death isn't such a big deal in a film in which the afterlife is real and apparently pretty peaceful (though people still very much cling to Earthly grievances it seems), but still. Of course, his death is needed for the plot to advance, and it's somewhat foreshadowed with his reckless driving (those scenes look quite good too), but "the plot needed it" isn't a great reason to do something in a film if it's what you end up thinking about rather than the emotional stakes.

Maybe the issue is that I don't particularly buy the central romance. They have decent chemistry I suppose, but the whole thing is supposed to be all about their Love being so strong that it must supercede the normal order of life and death. The opening scene is quite strong at establishing a connection, but their interactions thereafter really don't live up to what the script needs them to be. The only reason I end up rooting for them at all is Livesey's charisma... well, that and the fact that it's sort of a metaphor about PTSD, possibly ? The problem with that reading, and maybe the problem overall, is that this is such a silly film in many ways that it's hard to take the grandstanding very seriously. I suppose that dynamic is also present in Blimp, but it works much better there, though I'm not sure I can quite define why.

There's also the weirdness of devoting so much runtime (proportionally) to the trial and to make it a US v UK thing. The whole argument feels irrelevant and not as entertaining as it could have been, not to mention pretty reactionary in nature. I suppose there is some value in rehashing what both unites and opposes Americans and Brits at a time like 1946, but nothing here feels particularly insightful or clever. Same goes for everything involving the French aristocrat, which... really, the less said about that guy, the better.

Now, this is still a decently entertaining film, with the standouts being Livesey's performance and the art direction. The art-deco look they went for works quite well, and the semi-eponymous stairway leads to a pretty striking final scene.

6/10
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oldkid

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Re: A Filmspotter's Marathon of Filmspotting Marathons
« Reply #579 on: December 26, 2018, 01:13:40 PM »
I generally agree with you, although i think I like Niven's performance better than you.  It is pretty silly, like 78's Heaven Can Wait, and I would like to say that it would play better for audiences of the 40s than today.  On the other hand, I hear that this is GB's version of The Wizard of Oz, where all the kids watch it when young and it becomes a nostalgia-trip for everyone.  It's a fine film for that, but the attempt to make a balance between reality and fantasy does seem a bit silly.
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