Nippon Noir: Snow Trail (1947)

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Senkichi Taniguchi’s Show Trail aka Ginrei no hate (1947) begins with a bang. A montage of shadowy figures and fragmented images bombards viewers during the film’s opening credits while guns fire, alarms ring, windows break, trains whistle and sirens scream. We soon discover that three desperate men (Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura and Yoshio Kosugi) have just robbed a bank and in a bold attempt to dodge authorities they make a dangerous trip to Northern Japan where they hope to lose their pursuers in the snow covered Alps. None of the men are prepared for the hard climb ahead of them and they sorely lack the survival skills needed to endure a harsh winter outdoors. When they’re forced to seek shelter at isolated ski lodges and in abandoned ranger stations, it only complicates their dire situation. As the stress of their predicament begins to overwhelm them, tensions grow and soon the three outlaws are bickering among themselves. Their shaky solidarity gives way to fear, distrust and unrepentant greed but one man will eventually find bitter redemption amidst the demanding mountains.

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FANTOMAS
December 5, 2015
David Kalat
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Claude Chabrol vs. Fantomas

It was a little over 100 years ago that the writing team of Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre first began cranking out Fantômas mystery novels for a voracious European public. To keep apace with the relentless publication schedule, Souvestre and Allain traded writing duties. They would playfully build impossible cliffhangers before handing off to one another, daring the other to concoct a solution. It was perhaps the first commercial application of the Surrealists’ famous “exquisite corpse” game.

Over the years, the Fantômas character has appeared in a frenzied array of movie adaptations of differing degrees of quality. Arguably the most faithful adaptation to date is the 1979 TV miniseries–not necessarily the best, mind you, but the truest to the books. And as it happened, the authenticity extended behind the scenes: the producers decided to hire two visionary filmmakers to direct alternating episodes, in the spirit of Allain and Souvestre’s gonzo writing habits.

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KEYWORDS: Claude Chabrol, Fantomas, Jean-Luis Bunuel
COMMENTS: 8
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king-kong-vs-godzilla
November 28, 2015
David Kalat
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Giving Thanks for King Kong vs. Godzilla (You’re Welcome)

For me, Thanksgiving and Godzilla go hand in hand as much as turkey and stuffing do. Back when I was a small child, Superstation WTBS consistently aired Godzilla movies—sometimes in double features or marathons—on Thanksgiving Day. I have very vivid memories of seeing King Kong vs. Godzilla for the first time on Thanksgiving, at my grandparents’ house in Charlotte.

I’ve heard that there is a reboot/remake/revisit of King Kong vs. Godzilla in the works, from the team behind Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla. I’m not quite sure what to make of that—cautious optimism, I suppose? As I’ve written about before, as good as Edwards’ version was, it was not silly. And the thing that made the 1962 King Kong vs. Godzilla such a groundbreaking blockbuster iconic hit was its steadfast refusal to take itself, or anything else, seriously. And for all y’all who like your Godzilla dark and brooding and grim, just bear in mind that the somber version of Godzilla isn’t what launched the franchise. We have Godzilla movies today for one reason only: because there was King Kong vs. Godzilla, and it was bonkers.

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KEYWORDS: Eiji Tsuburaya, Godzilla, Ishiro Honda, King Kong vs. Godzilla, Rankin-Bass, Tomoyuki Tanaka
COMMENTS: 11
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November 14, 2015
David Kalat
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The Story of Chabrol

They called Claude Chabrol “the French Hitchcock,” but this was always more a marketing hook than a meaningful comparison. Alfred Hitchcock made crowd-pleasing suspense thrillers; Chabrol made vicious satires disguised as suspense thrillers. For decades, Chabrol had been crafting spiky, embittered dramas simmering with disgust for humanity in general and the French bourgeoisie in specific.

And in 1988, he took aim at Nazi-occupied France. That was impressive enough, but the bullet he fired was a tangled, M.C. Escher-like self-referential puzzle surfing waves he’d set in motion two decades earlier.

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KEYWORDS: Claude Chabrol, Isabelle Huppert, Landru, Story of Women, Violette Noziere
COMMENTS: 5
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Federico Fellini: The Cartoonist

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Federico Fellini is one of my favorite filmmakers so I was delighted to discover that TCM Imports is showcasing the movie maestro’s work every Sunday night throughout the month of November. In the next three weeks you can catch Nights of Cabiria (1957) on Nov. 15, Juliet of the Spirits (1965) on Nov. 22 and Satyricon (1969) on Nov. 29.

I’m particularly fond of the last two films scheduled and generally prefer Fellini’s work in the sixties due to its baroque artistry and avant-garde sensibilities. During that transformative decade the Italian director disregarded conventional storytelling technique in favor of a unique dream language, which emerged from his life experience and was filtered through his vivid imagination and esoteric interests. The results were a series of innovative, provocative and unapologetically sensual films that can still shock and surprise audiences. Fellini also had a wonderful sense of humor that was patently apparent throughout his career as a celebrated director and talented cartoonist.

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Julien Duvivier in the Thirties

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“If I was an architect and I had to build a palace to the cinema, I would put at its entrance a statue of Duvivier.” – Jean Renoir

Julien Duvivier is a memorable name, phonetically speaking. It rolls lyrically off the tongue, sounding like a foppish count in a Lubitsch operetta. The memory of his career, though, has faded. Duvivier was a distinguished director for forty years, one who popularized the French poetic realist style in Pepe le Moko (1937), starring Jean Gabin. In his time he was admired by Jean Renoir, Orson Welles and Graham Greene, but was part of the old guard roundly rejected by the Cahiers du Cinema critics in the 1950s, and continued to be dismissed by the American brand of auteurism imported to the U.S. by Andrew Sarris. Outside of Pepe, he was rarely discussed in English until a 2009 retrospective mounted at the Museum of Modern Art, organized by Joshua Siegel. And now the Criterion Collection has released a fascinating DVD box set, in their no-frills Eclipse series, entitled Julien Duvivier in the Thirties, which includes David Golder (1930), Poil de Carotte (1932), La Tete d’un Homme (1933), and Un Carnet de Bal (1937). These films, unknown to me previously, approach four different genres with a dark romanticism expressed through a restless, roaming camera.

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La Strada

La Strada - Poster

(My film-critic friend Michael Casey is both a fan of Fellini and wine, so it seemed appropriate to let him fill in for me today and this post was written by him.) Entry into the world of wine can be a daunting task. With roughly 9,000 grape varietals growing across the globe — as well as regional styles for each varietal — the possible choices of where to begin can boggle the mind. Well, as a wise man once told me, “The French make wine for saving, the Italians make wine for drinking.” And since the idea behind TCM’s Wine Club is to “uncork the fun of movies and wine,” what better place to start than in the country of Italy? Here the wine is as delicious as it is accessible, and the 2013 Pillastro Primitivo is perfect vino to quaff while settling in for Federico Fellini’s seminal La Strada (November 8). [...MORE]

THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD
August 8, 2015
David Kalat
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The Good, the Bad, and the Weird

A couple of weeks ago I posted an article looking back at the 1980s apocalyptic-screwball singularity that was Miracle Mile. One of the comments posted to that thread exhorted TCM to stop showing imports—as non sequitur a remark as you could hope for. I wanted to respond with a list of the kinds of imported films I refuse to live without (Godzilla, Jackie Chan, Hammer Horror, Claude Chabrol, FW Murnau, Fritz Lang’s silent films, Ernst Lubitsch’s silent films, Alfred Hitchcock’s English films, Powell & Pressburger, J-Horror, Akira Kurosawa, Sergio Leone…) or to try to argue what Hollywood would have lost—or never had in the first place—without the influx of foreign-born talent and the need to compete against foreign-made films.

But then I decided it would be more fun to be obstinate. Why not single out an import that hasn’t had the time to become recognized as a classic, and will have few—if any—defenders? An import that has barely been released in the US at all, and which sets itself conspicuously to be compared to a beloved classic?

So, this week, Ji-woon Kim’s The Good, The Bad, The Weird.

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KEYWORDS: Kang-ho Song, The Good The Bad The Weird
COMMENTS: 6
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The Passion of Carl Theodor Dreyer

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The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) is Carl Theodor Dreyer’s first masterpiece. It was critically acclaimed but a disappointment at the box-office. Dryer followed it with a second masterpiece, Vampyr (1932), which also failed to impress its investors, but this time he was criminally overlooked by the critics, probably due to the stigma that hounds the horror genre. Day of Wrath (1943) fared better, but due to its allusions to the tyranny of Nazi Occupation Dryer fled to Sweden and did not return to Denmark until after the war. Dryer grew up in a Danish foster home and was adopted by a newspaper typographer, and this later dovetailed into a career in journalism. In 1912 he got work as a title writer for Nordisk Film and for the next six years wrote many scripts before breaking out as a director. Dryer was influenced by Sergei M. Eisenstein’s work, but his films are in a class all of their own and have left deep imprints on many filmmakers, including Lars von Trier – who sometimes seems to be as haunted by Dryer as were all the people who worked on The Passion of Joan of Arc[...MORE]

Unusual Commentary Tracks

 

Terror of Frankenstein

A few weeks ago I had a conversation with Tim Kirk, producer of Room 237, The Nightmare, and other titles. We talked about commentary tracks because he is releasing something called Director’s Commentary: Terror of Frankenstein. The normal order of business would be to simply re-release Terror of Frankenstein (Calvin Floyd, 1977), and then add a commentary track as a bonus. Sadly, the only existing elements that remain for Terror of Frankenstein are sketchy at best and not worth revisiting in and of themselves. A serendipitous conversation, however, between Kirk and Terror of Frankenstein star Leon Vitali opened the door to a mysterious world behind Floyd’s surprisingly faithful adaption of Mary Shelley’s story. Given Vitali’s work with Stanley Kubrick, he is already the subject of a few conspiracy theories himself, but what Vitali reveals in his commentary track to Terror of Frankenstein suggests that method-acting can go too far. It might even lead to murder. [...MORE]

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