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Month: February 2023

Fanny (1961)

Fanny (1961)

“You’re dense, or hopeless — or both!”

Synopsis:
In 1920s Marseilles, the daughter (Leslie Caron) of a fishmonger (Georgette Anys) is courted by an elderly widow (Maurice Chevalier), but longs for romance with the sea-loving son (Horst Buchholz) of a barkeeper (Charles Boyer).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Charles Boyer Films
  • Joshua Logan Films
  • Leslie Caron Films
  • Love Triangle
  • Maurice Chevalier Films
  • Play Adaptation
  • Star-Crossed Lovers

Review:
Joshua Logan directed this Technicolor romantic drama based on a number of adaptations: Marcel Pagnol originally wrote two plays (Fanny and Marius) in 1929 and 1931, and turned them into films in 1931 and 1932, along with directing a third entry in the series, Cesar. A stage musical was created from all three in 1954 (with music and lyrics by Harold Rome), upon which this non-musical cinematic adaptation is based. (Whew!). The resulting film is lengthy, lush, and suitably melodramatic.

Critical reception was mixed: Bosley Crowther of the New York Times raved:

Whether fan of the Pagnol films or stage show, whether partial to music or no, you can’t help but derive joy from this picture if you have a sense of humor and a heart. For Mr. Logan, with the aid of expert craftsmen and a cast of principals that we do not believe an act of divine cooperation could have greatly improved upon, has given the charming Marseilles folk play a stunning pictorial sweep, a deliciously atmospheric flavor and a flesh-touching intimacy.

… but others were less happy, either complaining about how this film fared in comparison with Pagnol’s original trilogy, and/or lamenting the lack of songs. The film remains notable for Jack Cardiff’s beautiful cinematography:

… and for featuring movie veterans Charles Boyer and Maurice Chevalier together on screen for the first time.

While it’s not must-see viewing, fans of Logan or any of the stars — particularly Caron — will likely be curious to check it out.

Note: According to TCM’s Trivia page:

The running times of the original films in the trilogy are Marius, 121 minutes; Fanny, 125 minutes; and CĂ©sar, 124 minutes. By contrast, the remake runs 133 minutes, with less than an hour spent on the plots of the first two films and less than half an hour on the third.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Leslie Caron as Fanny
  • Jack Cardiff’s cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s a must for Caron fans.

Links:

Raven’s End (1963)

Raven’s End (1963)

“It wasn’t good enough.”

Synopsis:
An aspiring writer (Thommy Berggren) navigates life in a small Swedish town with his alcoholic dad (Keve Hjelm), his hard-working mom (Emy Storm), and his girlfriend (Christina Framback), all while dreaming of success in the big city.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Coming of Age
  • Scandinavian Films
  • Writers

Review:
This Academy Award-nominated foreign film by Swedish writer-director Bo Widerberg — perhaps best known for helming Elvira Madigan (1967) — showcases Widerberg’s more naturalistic, less scripted style in contrast with the biggest name in Swedish cinema at the time (Ingmar Bergman, who nonetheless apparently loved this film). We’re introduced to the main character, Anders (Berggren), through both panning shots of the town he lives in (Widerberk employed plenty of local extras), and views of his troubled homelife, where his alcoholic father fails to provide even minimally for his family.

Meanwhile, Anders’ mom tries her best to get her husband to work, but seems to know she’s defeated and will always have to provide.

A significant turning point in the narrative comes when Anders, an aspiring writer, receives a letter from a publisher indicating interest in a book he’s submitted:

… which leads to the second portion of the film, and a series of challenging choices. This lyrical tale is beautifully filmed — and while it’s not must-see viewing, it’s certainly worth a one-time look.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Thommy Berggren as Anders
  • Jan Lindeström’s cinematography

Must See?
No, though anyone with an interest in Scandinavian cinema will certainly want to check it out.

Links:

Raisin in the Sun, A (1961)

Raisin in the Sun, A (1961)

“I’m lookin’ in the mirror this morning and I’m thinkin’, I’m 35 years old, I’m married 11 years, and I got a boy who’s got to sleep
in the living room because I got nothin’ — nothin’ to give him but stories like on how rich white people live.”

Synopsis:
A Black matriarch (Claudia McNeil) in 1940s Chicago is torn between wanting to help her daughter (Diana Sands) go to medical school, buy a house for her family, and/or support her son (Sidney Poitier) and his pregnant wife (Ruby Dee) and child (Steven Perry) in her son’s dream to own a liquor store.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • African-Americans
  • Grown Children
  • Play Adaptations
  • Ruby Dee Films
  • Race Relations and Racism
  • Sidney Poitier Films

Review:
All of the leading stars of Lorraine Hansberry’s original 1959 Broadway play production were cast in this cinematic adaptation, written by Hansberry and directed by Daniel Petrie. The story and performances remain powerful, with Petrie and DP Charles Lawton, Jr. effectively opening up the sets to show both the claustrophobia of the family’s cramped apartment, and the space and freedom they long to move to.

It’s heartbreaking to watch each of these characters grappling with challenging constraints, and see the pressures that inevitably arise within a landscape of limited funds and diverse ideas of how to achieve success and happiness. The toxicity of societal racism comes through loud and clear, with John Fiedler’s representative from the “Clybourne Park Improvement Association” (in the family’s intended new neighborhood) embodying the sniveling “new” format through which racial intolerance is communicated.

Authentic tension abounds through each of the interwoven narrative sub-strands, ranging from Poitier’s desperate desire to finally break free from his job as a chauffeur and work for himself, to Dee’s angst over bringing a new child into their family, to McNeil’s determination to provide a home for her family, to Sands’ indecision around who to date: her well-to-do suitor George (Louis Gossett Jr.) or a Nigerian classmate (Ivan Dixon) who entices her with visions of exploring her cultural heritage.

This engrossing, finely-acted film — which was selected by the Library of Congress in 2005 for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” — remains well worth a look.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Ruby Dee as Ruth
  • Sidney Poitier as Walter Lee
  • Claudia McNeil as Lena
  • Diana Sands as Beneatha
  • Charles Lawton, Jr.’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as a still-powerful screen adaptation of an enduring American play.

Categories

  • Good Show

Links:

Morgan the Pirate (1961)

Morgan the Pirate (1961)

“Captain Morgan – we will follow you anywhere and be proud to serve you!”

Synopsis:
Shortly after enslaved Englishman Henry Morgan (Steve Reeves) falls in love with his mistress (Valérie Lagrange), he and his fellow slaves commit mutiny, become pirates, and accidentally kidnap Doña Inez (Lagrange), whose angry father (Ivo Garrani) offers a huge reward to anyone able to capture and kill Morgan.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Historical Drama
  • Italian Films
  • Pirates

Review:
André de Toth co-directed this historical adventure flick loosely based on the life of Sir Henry Morgan, a Welsh pirate who was also the inspiration for the novel upon which Captain Blood (1935) was based. This iteration is pure Italian costume spectacle, primarily notable for featuring Hercules (1958) star and former Mr. Universe Steve Reeves in another bare-chested adventure.

Indeed, the film’s most amusing moment comes when Morgan faces his nemesis, a rival pirate (Armand Mestral) who reconsiders taking his own shirt off after seeing who he’s contending with.

There really isn’t much more to this swashbuckler than what meets the eye — but fans of swordplay, action-at-sea, and/or Steve Reeves will likely enjoy passing time with this one.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Fine cinematography and historical sets

Must See?
No; this one isn’t must-see unless you happen to be a Steve Reeves fanatic.

Links:

Signal 7 (1984)

Signal 7 (1984)

“Driving a hack now is just like it was in ’35 – I mean, we have the same problems.”

Synopsis:
A pair of middle-aged taxi drivers in San Francisco — Marty (Dan Leegant) and Speed (Bill Ackridge) — take fares, hang out with their buddies, and navigate existential dilemmas.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Masculinity
  • Workplace Drama

Review:
Director Rob Nilsson — whose debut feature, Northern Lights (1978), is also listed in GFTFF — dedicated this cinĂ©ma vĂ©ritĂ© indie film (“Story by Ron Nilsson, written by the cast”) to John Cassavetes, which makes sense given his clear influence on the style. Signal 7 (the title refers to a radio distress call) unfolds in a leisurely, seemingly improvised fashion which nonetheless coheres thematically; we watch as these working class men navigate their world by sharing stories:

… dreaming of more for themselves (one extended sequence shows them unsuccessfully auditioning for parts in a play):

discussing formation of a union, dealing with the murder of one of their colleagues, and interacting with their fares.

This low-budget movie received glowing notices by the New York Times upon its release, with reviewer Nina Darnton describing it as an “unusual, touching, intelligent film” about “pride, loneliness, friendship, ambition, failure, fear and hope,” with a story that “slowly draws the audience in, building with a cumulative power.” I would essentially agree: while it’s not must-see viewing, I became surprisingly caught up in this well-crafted tale about 24 hours in the lives of men who don’t usually get to shine on-screen.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Fine cinĂ©ma vĂ©ritĂ© directing and cinematography

Must See?
No, but it’s worth a one-time look if you happen to catch it.

Links:

Electra (1962)

Electra (1962)

“The oracle has spoken; I must avenge my father.”

Synopsis:
In ancient Greece, the grown daughter (Irene Pappas) and son (Yannis Fertis) of Queen Clytemnestra (Aleka Catselli) seek revenge when she kills their father and marries her lover (Fivos Razi).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Greek Films
  • Grown Children
  • Play Adaptations
  • Revenge
  • Royalty and Nobility
  • Siblings

Review:
This Oscar-nominated foreign language film by Greek director Michael Cacoyannis — probably best known for helming Zorba the Greek (1964) — takes Euripides’ classic tragedy into a primarily outdoor setting, showcasing the rocky landscape of Mycenae and Argos.

Most notable of all is the lead performance by Papas, whose soulful eyes dominate the screen:

… though she’s nearly out-staged whenever evil Catselli comes glowering around.

This film is very slow-moving, with rapid activity only seeming to occur during book-ended death sequences, so viewers should be forewarned; but it’s a fine example of a film made during the Golden Age of Greek cinema.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Irene Papas as Electra
  • Aleka Catselli as Clytemnestra
  • Walter Lassaly’s cinematography

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended for one time viewing.

Links:

Gai Savoir, Le (1969)

Gai Savoir, Le (1969)

“Yes, learn. All we wanted was to learn.”

Synopsis:
A young woman (Juliet Berto) and man (Jean-Pierre LĂ©aud) come together in a dark room to discuss the nature of language and learning.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • French Films
  • Jean-Luc Godard Films
  • Revolutionaries

Review:
Shot just before and after the French civil unrest of 1968, this riff on Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Emile (1762) was a sort of sequel to Godard’s La Chinoise (1967), and a clear exception to the “end of cinema” he proclaimed in the final shot of Weekend (1967). Interestingly, it received a reasonably decent review in The New York Times, with Vincent Canby noting that “Godard is still communicating with us by means of beautiful, comparatively conventional, if fragmented, images and sounds”:

… as his two characters “hav[e] a discourse on language” while “the camera is constantly cutting to points of visual references—Paris streets, cartoon strips, pop posters—images, which, though fragmented, make complete sense.”

“Complete sense” is a bit of a stretch; indeed, this is an intensely heady, academic affair — one which will only appeal to those ready to dive into assertions like, “We can say all we want about what we see, but what we see is never lodged in what we say.” and “The conflicts of a child, I said, are not conflicts with reality but originate from the subject’s inability to identify himself — so what is being questioned is the image of oneself.” Not exactly clear as day, but at least it’s all photographed beautifully by Georges Leclerc.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Georges Leclerc’s cinematography

Must See?
No — unless, of course, you’re a Godard completist (and you know who you are).

Links:

Weekend (1967)

Weekend (1967)

“Are you in a film or reality?”

Synopsis:
A homicidal bourgeois couple (Mireille Darc and Jean Yanne) taking a road trip to the country encounter increasingly violent and surreal scenarios.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Bourgeois Society
  • Cannibalism
  • French Films
  • Jean-Luc Godard Films
  • Living Nightmare
  • Revolutionaries
  • Road Trip
  • Satires and Spoofs

Response to Peary’s Review:
In what he describes as “one of Jean-Luc Godard’s most astonishing films,” Peary notes that Godard “mixes Bunuel and Mao, slapstick and polemics” in a tale of a “bickering bourgeois couple… who both have secret lovers and plan to kill their spouses [and] drive into the country for a weekend visit with Darc’s mother,” and find that “on every road are crashed cars, Godard’s symbols for bourgeois materialism.”

In what is “meant to represent bourgeois hell, fires devour the wrecked autos, dead bodies line the roads, and irritating leftwingers of all types come up to our insensitive traveler to spout their radical philosophies;” eventually the annoying couple’s “madcap adventure” includes kidnapping and cannibalism.

Peary notes that while “Godard includes moments of political discourse, as well as references to favorite films (Johnny Guitar, The Searchers, Gosta Berling, etc.) and quips about the relation of art to reality,” his “main goal was to make his arrogant, cruel bourgeois couple literally go through hell.” He points out that “in the film’s most famous scene [DP] Raoul Coutard pans his camera left to right for 10 minutes as our couple drives around a traffic jam that’s as ridiculous as the ones Laurel and Hardy used to get stuck in, but just when we’re most amused we see the horrendous accident and dead bodies (the first we’ve come across) that caused the jam and are shocked out of our smiles.”

Peary argues that while the “film was most impressive when it was released,” “today the humor still has punch and the visuals are startling” — however, he finds “that the picture peters out once the guerrillas turn up.”

I was disappointed, but not surprised, to find that this culmination of Godard’s initial narrative output — before his formal turn to radical revolutionary politics — remains as challenging to sit through as many of his other ’60s titles. It’s not easy to watch, nor was it meant to be — so it’s difficult to judge the film on anything other than Godard’s integrity to his own vision (which one could argue — may have to argue — is spot on). It’s likely that all film fanatics will want to have seen Weekend at least once (Peary refers to it as “essential Godard”), but be forewarned that it’s pretty relentless.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • The legendary “long pan” traffic jam
  • Raoul Coutard’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, once, but only for its historical relevance.

Categories

  • Historically Relevant
  • Important Director

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Links:

2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (1967)

2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (1967)

“What I say with words is never what I’m really saying.”

Synopsis:
An urban housewife (Marina Vlady) with two young kids turns to prostitution to support her family’s middle-class budget.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • French Films
  • Housewives
  • Jean-Luc Godard Films
  • Prostitutes and Gigolos

Review:
Continuing with the theme of prostitution as a metaphor for modern capitalist existence — as shown in his earlier Vivre Sa Vie (1962) — Jean-Luc Godard’s 13th feature-length film remains generally critically lauded, and is included in the book 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. In her essay for Criterion, Amy Taubin describes it as “the greatest film by the greatest post-1950s filmmaker,” arguing it presents “as a machine that morphs the colliding meanings of words and objects with dazzling speed, and generates an astonishing array of metaphors, paradoxes, digressions, and, above all, dialectical relationships, between idea and action, word and image, sound and picture, interior and exterior, microcosm and macrocosm.”

DVD Savant offers a more measured analysis, referring to it as “an attractive slide-show lecture and poetry recital” which “minimizes the contribution of conventional acting” (!!) and is simultaneously “engaging, titillating and frequently frustrating.”

I’m more in alignment with Savant’s assessment. Having just finished watching and reviewing the two films Godard made before (or alongside) this one — Masculin-Feminin (1966) and Made in U.S.A. (1966) — it’s easy to see this cinematic essay as both a culmination of his continuing obsessions, and a clear marker of his shift into more overtly political films. Its lack of likable characters is a challenge, as is the fact that Godard was feeding lines to his actors (he was apparently angry at Vlady for refusing to marry him in real life, though he had just met Anne Wiazemsky and was moving on).

Of note stylistically-speaking is Godard’s frequent juxtaposition of red, white, and blue within the frame:



… his typically avant-garde use of sound and music; and, of course, an ongoing emphasis on pop culture, advertising, and consumerism.

Note: The film’s most devastating scene shows Vlady emotionlessly dropping off her crying young daughter at a daycare (which also functions as an armed brothel):

… then walking outside to become part of the anonymous masses. Ouch.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Raoul Coutard’s cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look if you’re interested in the idea of cinema-as-collage. Listed as a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Links:

Made in U.S.A. (1966)

Made in U.S.A. (1966)

“You just throw words around. Do something with them!”

Synopsis:
A private eye (Anna Karina) investigates the mysterious death of her former lover, found in the apartment of a writer (David Goodis).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Detectives and Private Eyes
  • French Films
  • Jean-Luc Godard Films

Review:
Shot simultaneously with 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (1967), this semi-improvised, genre-adjacent quickie by Jean-Luc Godard was nominally based on a novel called The Jugger by Richard Stark (a.k.a. Donald E. Westlake), but in reality does its own thing at every turn, intentionally messing with the audience’s sense of narrative or linear logic; indeed, as Jonathan Hoberman describes it in his illuminating essay for the Criterion Collection, it “represents Godard’s most sustained derangement of narrative convention.” Hoberman adds that it is “at least nominally, a political noir in the tradition of Godard’s second film, Le Petit Soldat (1960) [while] at the same time, it resembles Band of Outsiders (1964) in being a thriller about people who are acting as if they’re living in a movie.” Also useful is Hoberman’s explanation that:

“Part of Godard’s inspiration was Howard Hawks’ The Big Sleep (1946), whose mystery plot is infamously complicated and ultimately unsolvable, and in typical Godardian fashion he reworks it to the nth degree, not just gender-recasting the Bogart role with Karina (who in voice-over says she feels like Bogart in a Disney film), but taking the idea of an inscrutable plot and stringing it out to its logical ends.”

Perhaps most notable are the film’s endless references to filmmakers, writers, actors, and political figures of the time — starting with an homage to Nicholas Ray and Sam Fuller in an opening slide:

… and including characters with names like Richard Widmark, [Doris] Mizoguchi, and Donald Siegel, as well as mentioning the disappearance of Moroccan revolutionary Medhi Ben Barka. (All of this is explained in a 20-minute visual-essay supplement and a short documentary entitled “On the Cusp,” both included on the DVD.)

While this was all likely fascinating once upon a time to Godard enthusiasts, the irony is that a film made in reference to American pop culture was only shown here once (at a NY film festival in 1967) before it finally (re-)premiered in 2009, after Westlake’s passing. Godard enthusiasts will obviously want to check this one out, but it’s skippable by all others.

Note: Watch for a cameo by Marianne Faithfull singing The Rolling Stones’ “As Tears Go By” a capella in a cafe.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Colorful sets, costumes, and cinematography

Must See?
No. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.

Links: