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Author Topic: Hold On To Your Butts: Junior Watches All the Things  (Read 5870 times)

Junior

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Re: Hold On To Your Butts: Junior Watches All the Things
« Reply #50 on: March 19, 2018, 12:26:35 PM »
Germany Year Zero (https://benefitsofaclassicaleducation.wordpress.com/2018/03/19/back-catalog-review-germany-year-zero/)

The last film in Roberto Rossellini’s War Trilogy is a lot like the first, Rome, Open City. Germany Year Zero also uses a few days in the lives of some citizens to tell the story of a city’s relationship to the war. It, too, becomes a study of how the vicissitudes of life in wartime can provide momentary respite from suffering that just makes the rest of the characters’ lives seem even worse in comparison. But this time there’s a pretty drastic change from Rome, Open City and Paisan. German Year Zero is set in post-war Berlin. It’s Rossellini’s change of subject from his people to those who oppressed them that makes this a remarkable movie. He doesn’t hate the Germans, at least not most of them. Indeed, the young protagonist, Edmund (Edmund Moeschke) is given the same treatment as Don Pietro Pelligrini was in R,OC, an understanding, empathetic portrayal. It’s only the Nazi-affiliated characters that Rossellini clearly disapproves of, disappointingly recreating the gay depiction seen in the first film of the trilogy and adding in pedophilia for good measure.

Germany Year Zero is only 73 minutes long but it packs a lot of incident into its short length. Rossellini proves that European art-house cinema doesn’t necessitate slow-burn movies with a lot of quiet scenes with abstract meanings. I love Bergman and Resnais as much as the next guy, but Rossellini makes a case for quickly-paced movies that still retain a depth of character, emotion, and meaning. He sketches out almost a dozen characters and, though Edmund is clearly the most developed, the rest get enough characterization to make me feel for them and understand what they’re going through. That makes for a complex and layered movie that also hits at the gut level. The story, generally speaking, is Edmund’s descent into a hell of starvation, illness, and vice. It’s not his fault, entirely. Everybody he encounters is out for themselves or looking for ways to use him for their own ends. The regrettable Nazi characters all leer at him while they bring him into their perverted worlds. The other kids are too worldly for their age. The families he is packed into a small apartment with all jealously guard their few possessions and think poorly of the young boy looking for a way to survive. Only when Edmund is alone does he seem at all like a boy you or I would know. Even then, his playground is the rubble and ruins of a bombed-out Berlin. Every little scene matters, every setting–whether outdoors in the real city or in the apartment that was filmed on a stage in Italy–adds to the feelings of despair and moral decay that pervade the film.

Rossellini’s use of non-professional actors, this time from Berlin and just as starving as the characters they’re portraying, never once backfires. Each of the characters feels like the real deal, from the former Nazi soldier afraid to turn himself into the police to his old, ailing father who hates the Nazi and hates himself even more for not standing up to them, each actor hits every character note perfectly. But it is little Edmund who makes the whole thing work. His angelic look belies his mercenary will to survive, up to and including murder. His vacillations between cutting up a dead horse on the street for some meat and trying to get in on an impromptu game of soccer feel within his character. But he is a young kid and easily swayed by those who seem to know more than he does. His former schoolteacher, also a former Nazi, uses him to sell records with Hitler’s speeches on them and clearly wants to use him for more than that. He espouses the kind of social darwinism that formed the foundation of Nazi thought to Edmund, who uses that backwards thinking to justify the worst of his actions. Even then, Edmund is not fully corrupted. He goes within himself, running away from his family and roaming the war-ravaged streets. Edmund stands in for all of Germany, its people, the nation, and the land itself. What has become of him, of them, of it? Where will it go from here?

The allegorical nature of Germany Year Zero appeals to me–I love a good allegory–but it also works as a character study of Edmund and a city study of a destroyed Berlin. These elements keep it from being one-note and overly didactic, something Rossellini avoids in all three of his War movies. He still has a point of view, of course, and he expresses it clearly and passionately. But his War trilogy reads like an expansive epic and an intimate character work at the same time, a plea for peace in all situations, a prayer for strength, and a call for understanding. Taken separately, each film is great. Taken together, they’re stunning.

A+
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Junior

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Re: Hold On To Your Butts: Junior Watches All the Things
« Reply #51 on: March 19, 2018, 02:28:46 PM »
First post updated with newly added movies and links to all reviews I've done so far.
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Junior

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Re: Hold On To Your Butts: Junior Watches All the Things
« Reply #52 on: March 20, 2018, 01:54:05 PM »
Godzilla (https://benefitsofaclassicaleducation.wordpress.com/2018/03/20/back-catalog-review-godzilla/)

How do you film something that’s real, that exists in physical reality, but is too small to see? Stalker uses color to indicate the irradiated Zone. Geiger counters have long been an aural signal that there are dangerous, invisible particles flying through the air. Onibaba turns to an uncanny mask to cover the devastating effect of nuclear radiation on the body. None of these quite captures the sense of havoc that the little buggers can wreak on our cells. Enter Godzilla (or Gojira, if you want). A monster awakened by the H-Bomb tests carried out by the United States after WWII, the giant, kinda cuddly-looking lizard is a walking, roaring, crunching embodiment of atomic power. He’s got breath that’ll melt everything in sight and he’s nigh unstoppable by conventional weapons. Here is the definitive depiction of radiation on screen, too bad it’s full of other stuff that is pretty darn boring.

There’s a really great story about weapon escalation in the film, if you’ve got the patience to get there. A scientist studying oxygen makes a device that turns all of the O in H2O into liquid (it doesn’t make much sense) and wants to hide it from the government that is looking for a solution to the giant-monster-destroying-a-bunch-of-towns-and-cities-and-killing-a-lot-of-people problem they’re having. He shows it to a woman he has a crush on, but she’s interested in this other guy. That subplot takes up more of the movie than the Oxygen Destroyer (yes, that’s the name of it, at least in the Criterion subtitles). So instead of mad scientist doing horrible things to fish with the help of crazy machines, we get a bunch of conversations about when to tell who that the woman is interested in man B instead of man A. It’s not optimal storytelling. Oh, these people also only show up about halfway through the movie. I guess they have one scene earlier in the film to introduce them, but it doesn’t really matter to the story. What’s cool is the Oxygen Destroyer and the ethical dilemma of using another superweapon to stop the monster created–or at least unleashed–by nuclear superweapons. That gets solved in the span of a scene, then there’s a really nifty underwater sequence and then the movie is over. Godzilla is pretty bad on a story level. The good news is that even over 60 years after this monster first hit the cinema it can still pack a punch.

So if the story is poor and the characters so thin you can only see them with an electron microscope, it’s probably a good thing that the design of the monster and the filming tricks used to bring it to life are still cool to see. Godzilla‘s use of miniatures and blended scenes is fantastic.  Ishirō Honda and Eiji Tsuburaya collaborate to turn idyllic seaside towns and big, sprawling cities into tiny versions of themselves so that the big lug can walk all over them, or they give him the top 3/4ths of the frame while the bottom is a plate of actors running away from him. While nearly every miniature is obvious, it never pulled me out of enjoying the effect, probably because I wasn’t super enthralled in the story or the characters. Godzilla is a triumph of process shots and monster design, not drama. Those techniques do work to bring Godzilla to life and turn the so-small-you-can’t-see-it threat of radiation into a so-big-you-can’t-ignore-it phenomenon. It’s no wonder that Godzilla became a hero eventually. Once the serious work of creating a story about weapons escalation was done, he could take center stage and fight for the people he once terrorized. I’m not sure how that fits into the very basic allegory this film sets up but I also don’t really care. When Godzilla roars, it’s hard to care about anything else.

B-
« Last Edit: March 20, 2018, 01:56:10 PM by Junior »
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Junior

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Junior

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Re: Hold On To Your Butts: Junior Watches All the Things
« Reply #54 on: March 25, 2018, 02:45:58 PM »
Back to WWII!

Le Silence de la Mer (benefitsofaclassicaleducation.wordpress.com/2018/03/25/back-catalog-review-le-silence-de-la-mer/)

This was Jean-Pierre Melville’s first film and it’s a far cry from the other Melville movie I’ve seen, his penultimate Le Cercle Rouge. Where that was a film that oozed cool out of every frame, Le Silence de la Mer‘s primary feeling is seething rage. It’s funny, there’s not a moment of conflict here. Not a shot taken, not a single injury on screen. The only hint of violence we get is the German Lieutenant’s limp. Only a few words are spoken in anger, and they come at the end of the film. But still, it’s full of rage, of the anger of the occupied and the disillusioned. Melville constructs an enthralling tale of resistance out of silence, monologues, and narration. To these three aural modes of discourse Melville adds beautiful images to round out the package. It’s a wonderful little movie that demonstrates the power of resistance even when that resistance is as passive as can be.

The story of the movie is its most simple element. An old man and his adult niece house an injured Nazi officer, Werner Von Ebrennac, in their quaint French house during the occupation in WWII. Von Ebrennac seems as genial as a Nazi can be. He compliments them for their hospitality, praises French literature for being full of amazing authors and maybe falls for the niece (neither she nor her uncle is given a name, perhaps as a way to have them stand in for all French citizens while Von Ebrennac stands out as a unique Nazi in some ways). The uncle and niece’s response is silence during the Nazi’s nightly visits to their fireside gathering. So Melville gives us variations on a theme, the routine never changes but the content varies. We can sense Von Ebrennac’s frustration with the French as he exhorts them to welcome him and the rest of the Nazis to suckle at their country’s nourishing bosom (a real request in the film) in order to turn the Nazis into even better people. Rather than the outraged response you or I might give to that, the uncle and niece remain stoic, trying to act as if there’s not a person they hate living in their house and an army occupying their country. The only hints of what’s going on in their heads come from the pairing of the uncle’s narration and the visuals that accompany them. His narration often drowns out the Nazi’s endless talking as the uncle describes exactly how he resists Von Ebrennac’s narratives and even feels some kind of admiration for his choice to not demand that the French family engage in his conversation. He also notes his niece’s changing reactions to the Nazi in her house. He points out her shaking hands at her needlework and the camera cuts to a close-up of them. The same happens when he notices Von Ebrennac’s ability to see only her profile, a condition matched by the audience’s perspective, though the profiles are opposites of each other.

In one of the most uncomfortable of these one-sided “exchanges,” the Nazi talks about one of his favorite fables, Beauty and the Beast. He gives a pretty fair accounting of the story but extends it further than I’ve ever heard as he imagines the children of the restored knight and the beautiful woman who share the best of both their parents qualities. It’s clear he’s coming on to the niece character with this bit of storytelling and, given how weird the Beauty and the Beast fable is even without the implications of his extended ending, the scene takes on a sense of menace that had been absent. Not only does the story reveal his intentions to hold the niece “hostage” in her own house until she falls for him and they make the perfect children from their mix of his Germanness and her Frenchness but Melville also underlines the domineering nature of the story by having the Nazi walk behind the niece, a place he hasn’t been before. The movie is full of examples like this one where the visuals match and enhance the words being spoken. It makes the relatively mundane events taking place into the emotionally charged film I wrote of in the first paragraph of this review.

The ending of the film continues this marriage of storytelling and visuals as Von Ebrennac’s naïve illusions about the nature of his country’s invasion and the intentions it has for the French people are shattered by his fellow Nazi officers. In a powerful bit of moviemaking, Melville zooms in on a portrait of Hitler as another Nazi officer tells Von Ebrennac about what was happening at the concentration camps until the famous face fills the screen just as the other Nazi details how many people could be killed in a day. This scene occurs during a trip Von Ebrennac takes into Paris on leave and the next version of the fireside scene is the last in the film. In it, both speaker and listeners break out of the pattern that has continued for the majority of the movie. When the structure of the film has been so consistent throughout its length the disruption of that structure is monumental. Here we learn about the niece’s feelings toward the Nazi and we understand his final decision in light of all that he has learned. Melville has set up a good Nazi, or at least a Nazi who doesn’t fully grasp what his views mean for everybody else and then torn the veil from his eyes. The film is based on a short story written during the occupation and published clandestinely so perhaps the full credit cannot go to Melville for inventing such a remarkably simple story that accomplishes a lot with a little, but he does get the credit for the visuals, which serve the story and the characters at every turn while also telling a story of their own. It’s a movie about talking and not-talking, about seeing and not-seeing, and about occupation and resistance. It’s movie about anger and rage with almost no yelling or violence and it’s a movie about nations that takes place primarily in a living room. It’s a fantastic movie.

A
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Junior

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Re: Hold On To Your Butts: Junior Watches All the Things
« Reply #55 on: April 19, 2018, 02:57:12 PM »
Blow Up (benefitsofaclassicaleducation.wordpress.com/2018/04/19/back-catalog-review-blow-up/)

Movies are all, in one way or another, about looking. Even experimental stuff like Stan Brakhage’s Mothlight is about looking and seeing. But movies about photographers are perhaps the kind most likely to bring looking to the forefront of the movie-watching experience. The photographer protagonist will have an eye out for compelling compositions and the film camera will often emulate those compositions so that the film audience can experience some version of the act of photographing that the protagonist is partaking in. Movies about musicians have to go to great lengths to make you feel like you have an understanding of what it means to write or play music, but with a simple camera placement and a meaningful cut, audiences can be transported into the mind (or at least the eye) of the on-screen photographer. That ease of experiential transference makes movies about photographers particularly suited to the study of looking. Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966) is one such film, a beautiful movie about what happens when you look too closely.

Set in mod-era London, Blow-Up follows a photographer, Thomas (David Hemmings) who shoots women to pay the bills as he tries to build a book of street photography. The film takes place over the course of a day or so, and it spends a lot of time on things that technically fall outside of the basic plot of the film. The dramatic thrust starts when he goes to a park and happens across a man and woman who seem to be reveling in their aloneness in such an open space. He shoots their tryst from afar at first but then gets closer and closer, scooting from behind a fence to a perch behind a tree out in the open. Eventually the woman, Jane (Vanessa Redgrave), spots him and approaches him angrily, asking him to give her his pictures of them. But he refuses and she runs away. After some other excursions during the day, she finds him at his studio and obliquely offers sex in return for the pictures. He resists, kinda, and after some mild seduction, she leaves. Wondering why these pictures mean so much to her, he develops them and discovers a dead body and a man with a gun hiding in the bushes. The rest of the film follows Thomas as he tries to figure out what was going on in the park and what it means for him.

Thomas is a bit of a misogynist jerk. Well, he’s a jerk and a misogynist and those two categories collide with his job in unfortunate ways. He sees women almost exclusively as bodies, objects for his lens. He does have a long term relationship, but he soon finds out that his wife/girlfriend (it’s unclear even to him, it seems) is her own person and exists outside the bounds of his possession. There is certainly a sense that his behavior is not exactly endorsed by the film, communicated via the camera’s attention to the women’s discomfort in his presence and plot details like Jane’s (correct-ish) assumption that he would like to sleep with her even though she’s only expressed anger at him. But movies can portray misogyny without being misogynist, right? Well, unfortunately the movie doesn’t treat its women much better, even when they aren’t being portrayed through Thomas’ sexist point-of-view. We see an antiques store dealer who doesn’t have a very good understanding of the world, two women who desperately want to be shot by Thomas and lure him into a maybe-consensual orgy as payment for his services in which it is ambiguous as to whether he goes too far in his treatment of them, and Jane’s mercenary motives and methods are her only real character traits. And those are just the women who aren’t his clients, whom he treats terribly in the name of art. Not all women in films need to be positive portrayals of morally good characters, but when there isn’t one such example in a film full of women and about a man whose job is to look at women, it becomes hard to ignore just how poorly they’re all portrayed.

As such, the movie Blow-Up becomes perhaps the best example of the idea it puts forth. Part of the process of discovering what he shot in the park has Thomas blowing up certain sections of the generally wide-angle pictures he took. This act of zooming in is perhaps the most important act in the film, it forms the centerpiece of the movie and after he zooms so far in on the dead body in one picture it becomes impossible to distinguish what the black-and-white blotches actually are. This intense zooming to the point of abstraction shifts Thomas’ vision for the remainder of the film. We see him wander around the city looking at things and people differently than he did earlier in the film, and in one famous scene, he takes the neck of a guitar smashed in an underground concert put on by The Yardbirds. He’s become focused so intently on the shape of parts of things–not the whole of them–that he becomes alienated from reality. This is not-seeing-the-forest-for-the-trees writ large. The trauma he witnessed registered only after the fact and through an intense process of diving too far into the world he made it his duty to capture. Like the photographer at the center of his film, Antonioni has captured something disturbing on film, a troubling sexism that, once glimpsed, becomes difficult to ignore. It’s too bad, the movie is gorgeous to look at and well-acted. I’m even more curious now to check out Blow-Out to see what Brian De Palma does with his remake of this film.

C
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Re: Hold On To Your Butts: Junior Watches All the Things
« Reply #56 on: April 19, 2018, 07:08:18 PM »
Blow Out isn't a remake... at most it's a riff on a similar plot.
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Junior

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Re: Hold On To Your Butts: Junior Watches All the Things
« Reply #57 on: April 19, 2018, 08:35:23 PM »
I'm very loose in my definition of a remake. We'll see soon enough.
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oldkid

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Re: Hold On To Your Butts: Junior Watches All the Things
« Reply #58 on: April 22, 2018, 02:50:20 PM »
Although it's been some years since I've seen Blow Out, I appreciated it more than the original.
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Junior

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Re: Hold On To Your Butts: Junior Watches All the Things
« Reply #59 on: April 23, 2018, 08:17:17 PM »
Cool. I'll have some time off of work soon and I hope to get to a few more in this marathon, including that one. I think the technology shift will be really interesting and I hope it'll be a little better about the sexual politics, though with DePalma that might be asking too much.
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