Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on June 4, 2013
The history of Japanese cinema can never completely be told. It is estimated that 90 percent of its pre-1945 film output was lost or destroyed, the silent era razed in the 1923 Kanto earthquake, and Allied firebombing in WWII incinerating the rest. One of the most tragic casualties of this cultural obliteration are the films of Sadao Yamanaka, of whose 27 features only 3 survive. A galvanizing figure in the 1930s, he was a passionate cinephile and member of the Narutaki Group of Kyoto that sought to modernize the jidai-geki, or period drama. His films bring the heroes of pulp novels and kabuki theater down to earth, into sake bottle level views of the everyday lives of the working poor. They speak in modern Japanese, in dialogues modeled after his drunken late night conversations with the Narutaki Group. He wrote, “If what drinkers say is lively when utilised in a film, I may insist that drinking is part of my profession.”
He took flak for turning the popular nihilistic samurai Tange Sazen into an irritable layabout, but he gained fans and friends from peers like Yasujiro Ozu. He died at the age of 28 as a military conscript in Manchuria, from an intestinal disease. The scrupulous Masters of Cinema label (the Criterion Collection of the UK) has released his surviving works in an essential two-DVD set (make sure you have an all-region player): Tange Sazen: The Million Ryo Pot (1935), Kochiyama Soshun (1936) and Humanity and Paper Balloons (1937).
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on May 16, 2013
I’m fond of mysteries that evolve through conversation and unravel in small spaces such as Alfred Hitchcock’s ROPE (1948) and Robert Hosseins DOUBLE AGENTS (1959). The claustrophobia they evoke seems directly linked to our primal fears and primitive suspicions. One of the most interesting films in this vein is Giuseppe Tornatore’s A PURE FORMALITY aka Una Pura Formalita (1994). I recently revisited this opaque thriller after almost 20 years and was surprised by how effective it still was. Even though I was well aware of the surprise twist ending I was mesmerized from start to finish thanks to Tornatore’s deft directing choices, Pascal Quignard’s brilliant dialogue and the masterful performances etched out by two powerhouses of European cinema; Gérard Depardieu and Roman Polanski.
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on April 4, 2013
If you tuned into TCM Underground on March 15th you may have had the pleasure of seeing Jesús “Jess” Franco’s eerie and atmospheric horror film THE AWFUL DOCTOR ORLOF (1964). When the movie aired I noticed a surprising number of classic film fans discussing the movie on social media sites such as Twitter and I was thrilled that one of my favorite directors was gaining new fans thanks to TCM Underground’s eclectic programming choices. I had no idea that I’d soon be mourning the man who had given me so many moving images to contemplate and enjoy. Jess Franco passed away on April 2 following complications from a stroke. He was 82 years old and still making movies.
Instead of writing another obituary I decided to approach fellow Franco fans and many of his most stalwart supporters who have often championed his work against a tide of indifference. I asked them to simply share their favorite Franco films with Movie Morlock readers in an attempt to introduce you, as well as TCM viewers, to more of the director’s films but what I received was some of the most impassioned and insightful Franco commentaries that I’ve ever come across. I hope you’ll enjoy the results. This is more than just a simple roundtable or survey. This is a lengthy love letter to one of Spain’s most prolific directors and a celebration of everything that made his movies so special.
Posted by Pablo Kjolseth on March 3, 2013
F.W. Murnau was a German director with some 20 titles to to his credit who moved to the U.S. in 1926 and is known to most cinephiles for Nosferatu (1922), The Last Laugh (1924), Faust (1926), Sunrise (1927), and – maybe, just maybe – the last film he directed before his life was tragically cut short at the age of 42 by an automobile accident, Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (1931). Miguel Gomes is the young Portuguese filmmaker (born 1972) that – maybe, just maybe – is known for The Face You Deserve (2004), Our Beloved Month of August (2008), The Portuguese Nun (2009), but now is definitely known to discerning cinephiles for Tabu (2012). Or he should be, at least, as his latest film made the “Best of 2012″ list in Film Comment and also won top awards at the Berlin International Film Festival. As a fan of the aforementioned films by Murnau I was curious: how would Gomes’ film play off of Murnau’s Tabu? Would it be shtick, or would it be true to the legacy left to us by one of cinemas greatest pioneers? The short answer is that Gomes is doing his own thing, but the new Tabu is real to the reels of older film and acts, in part, as a swan song to that wonderful treasure-trove of images that unspooled frame-by-frame in front of innumerable audiences throughout the last century. [...MORE]
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on February 12, 2013
While the first quarter of the year has generally been a quiet time for Hollywood’s coffers, the rest of the world has been packing them in to their local multiplexes. Two of the bigger recent international successes are receiving limited U.S. releases, China’s Lost in Thailand (2012) and Korea’s The Berlin File (2013). Lost in Thailand has already become the highest grossing film in China’s history after only two months in release. An amiable odd couple road movie made for a reported $4.8 million, it has made an astounding $215 million domestically, and snuck into a NYC theater in time for the Chinese New Year. The Berlin File was more groomed for success, with a relatively large $10 million funding four big stars in an international spy thriller, with the talented director Ryoo Seung-wan (The Unjust) at the helm. It had the third highest opening weekend on record in Korea (from 2/1 – 2/3), and arrives stateside in a limited release this Friday.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on January 8, 2013
Aleksandr Sokurov’s Soviet Elegy (1989) begins with a tour of tombstones, the camera floating down rows of Communist phantoms. In the next sequence, Boris Yeltsin is shown stalking down a hallway, another kind of ghost, one aware of his coming obsolescence. Sokurov’s work is a series of elegies, in which ghosts of history mourn for themselves. Cinema Guild has illustrated this development in their three-disc box set of Sokurov: Early Masterworks. It contains the three features Save and Protect (1990, DVD), Stone (1992, DVD) and Whispering Pages (1994, Blu-Ray), plus three of his shorts, including Soviet Elegy. Each displays his increasingly idiosyncratic visual sense, in which he uses distorting lenses to produce stretched figures akin to El Greco saints, yearning for a God who doesn’t respond. Sokurov is often compared to Andrei Tarkovsky, the previous Russian spiritual guide/director. But while Tarkovsky often offers the possibility of transcendence, there is no such hope in Sokurov, just figures circling a void.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on January 1, 2013
The beginning of the New Year means it’s time to catch up with the old. For the second year running the “First Look” series at the Museum of the Moving Image (January 4 – 13) provides an invaluable showcase for undistributed international cinema. Programmers Rachael Rakes, Dennis Lim and David Schwartz pluck adventurous work from festivals around the world, tracking developments in documentary form, the Berlin School, Korean indies and the continuing vibrancy of Portuguese film culture. In a clue as to the series’ disregard of commercial impulses, the series’ opening night film is Hors Satan, the latest by the divisive arthouse provocateur Bruno Dumont. Operating as a relatively youthful version of the New York Film Festival, First Look is an attempt to clue its audiences in to the possible future of the medium.
Posted by David Kalat on December 1, 2012
Having brought up Dr. Mabuse recently, naturally my thoughts also flit to Fantômas. I had promised a while back that I would eventually address Andre Hunebelle’s 1960s Fantômas revival in this blog, and now seems the best time to live up to my word. Along with last week’s visit to Dr. Mabusiana, I’m going to spend the next several weeks exploring the world of pulp mysteries on film—specifically how different filmmakers have approached the task of rendering in cinematic terms a corpus of literature that flourished in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
The Hunebelle Fantômas films are not readily available for viewing. It is the case that anyone with an Amazon account can obtain a DVD box set of the entire trilogy—but this import set will come without English subtitles and will only be playable in a region-free player, so it’ll alienate most casual American viewers. With that in mind, I’m going to be fairly heavy on clips this week, so give you a good sense of what these three films are really like. I’ve added subtitles to these clips from an online source of fan-created subtitles. Given the awkward wording, I’m guessing by “fan-subbed” they really mean “ran the French script through Google Translate and performed no proof-reading at all.”
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on November 15, 2012
The fuzzy line that separates fiction from reality has become increasingly blurred in recent years. Reality television programs promise to provide viewers with an unscripted look at the life of individuals willing to bare all for our entertainment but there is very little reality found in reality television. Inquisitive cameras, altered environments and skillful editors make participants keenly aware of their involvement in an orchestrated production and truth eventually takes a backseat to drama as would-be stars and starlets compete for their moment in the spotlight.
Cinema has also become progressively more self-aware. The current influx of mocumentaries, docudramas, 3D movies and “found footage” films attempt to obscure reality and mimic authenticity while filmmakers such as Werner Herzog, Errol Morris, Michael Haneke and Abbas Kiarostami seem to enjoy encouraging viewer participation in oblique ways. Their films frequently refuse to provide easy answers to the problematic truths they present and directly or indirectly ask audiences to question what they’re seeing on screen. They illustrate how reality is often subjective, transitory and pliable.
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on November 1, 2012
Unlike some of my fellow Morlocks who often express their disappointment in modern horror films (I’m winking at my good pal Greg Ferrara who recently complained about the lack of good ghost movies) I happen to think we’re currently undergoing an impressive horror film renaissance that’s largely being ignored or has gone unappreciated. While Hollywood continues to pummel us all with over-hyped, self-conscious and all too predictable and derivative movies like CABIN IN THE WOODS, Tim Burton’s recent DARK SHADOWS remake or the ongoing SAW and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY series, independent or smaller budgeted films made in Europe, Britain, Asia and Australia as well as the US are exploring new ground and turning the genre on its head.
Unfortunately these films rarely make it into US theaters outside of New York or Los Angeles so horror fans like myself are forced to wait until they’re released on DVD to see them. It can take years for some of these movies to find an appreciative audience and in today’s fast-paced world they all too often get overshadowed by lesser films with larger advertising budgets. A great example of this ongoing problem is the popular TWILIGHT franchise, which has gotten an unprecedented amount of press here in the US while the most interesting and innovative vampire films are being made outside the country and include the highly acclaimed Swedish production LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008) as well as Chan-wook Park’s Korean horror opus THIRST (2009) and Claire Denis’ French thriller TROUBLE EVERY DAY (2001).
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