The Men Who Weren’t There: Seconds and The Face of Another (1966)

FACE OF ANOTHER, THE (1966)

In 1966, two films with remarkably similar themes but completely different approaches hit the screens around the world and neither was given the credit it deserved.  The first, released a few months ahead of the other, is The Face of Another, directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara, a film that explores the life of a man whose face has been horribly disfigured in an industrial accident and will now get a new face to replace the old one. The second, released three months later and starring Rock Hudson, is Seconds, directed by John Frankenheimer, a film that explores one man’s decision to destroy his old self, and life, and begin again with a completely new face and body. In both movies, the lead characters have trouble adapting to their new life, to the point where they begin to question what their existence even means. It’s an identity crisis, literally, and how each character handles the crisis results in two conclusions, both shocking and emotionally gutting all at once.

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Surveying the Red Desert (1964)

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“There’s something terrible about reality and I don’t know what it is.” – Giuliana (Monica Vitti)

Modern malaise and alienation are two themes that Michelangelo Antonioni (L’Avventura [1960], La notte [1961], L’eclisse [1962]) returned to repeatedly throughout the 1960s. In Red Desert (1964), which is currently streaming on FilmStruck and available on DVD and Blu-ray from Criterion, these ideas find expression in Italy’s postwar industrial landscape and in Monica Vitti’s large eyes. Vitti was Antonioni’s muse throughout much of the decade and Red Desert provided the Roman beauty with one of her best and most iconic roles in the form of Giuliana, a woman who is desperately and deeply alone. Giuliana is married to a wealthy and providing man; they have a lovely child, many friends and even more acquaintances. Despite this, she is unable to connect with people and her surroundings. Giuliana’s isolation has plunged her into an all-consuming depression triggering bouts of paranoia that she cannot express in words so she has retreated inward. Her eyes are her only voice and they are dark, bottomless pools of emotion pleading for warmth and sympathy in a world that is often cold and incredulous.

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Truffaut’s Waltz into Darkness

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Though he still doesn’t quite enjoy household name status, Cornell Woolrich might be the most influential American mystery writer of the past century. The adaptations are an obvious place to start with Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954) leading the pack, but his real legacy is the way he permanently embedded modern thrillers with recurring themes of the unreliability of memory, the pitfalls of falling in love with someone you think you know and the inescapable darkness that can claim even the most virtuous of souls. If you want to find out where films like Memento (2000) and The Usual Suspects (1995) came from, look no further than this master storyteller.

Hollywood really jumped on the Woolrich bandwagon in the ‘40s with a slew of radio adaptations as well as fascinating films like The Leopard Man (1943), Phantom Lady (1944), The Chase (1946), and Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1948). The big screen took less of an interest in him the following decades as television honed in on him instead, churning out numerous versions of his novels and short stories for home viewers on such programs as Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Thriller. The 1960s would prove to be Woolrich’s last decade on earth with his passing in 1968, but he had another resurgence from a most unlikely source: acclaimed French filmmaker François Truffaut.

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Dirty Pool: La Cienaga (2001)

CIENEGA, LA (2001)

La Ciénaga (2001) translates as “The Swamp”, and it is a fetid, decaying film—its forests overgrown and its characters unwashed. For her feature debut, Lucrecia Martel depicts the dissolution of a middle-class Argentine family through sound and set design. To escape the humid city during the summer, they retreat to their country home, a rotting edifice with a filthy leaf-choked pool. With nothing to do, the adults check out on iced red wine while the children tote rifles through an overgrown forest literally shooting their eyes out. The soundtrack is thick with clinking ice, chairs dragging on cement and distant thunder. Martel emphasizes the moments and sounds in-between actions since her characters have very little interest in performing any actions themselves. Instead, they sit, drink and complain. La Ciénaga is a blackly funny portrayal of middle-class self-absorption—of a people so wrapped up in themselves they cannot see that their clothes are dirty, the walls are peeling and the pool is a bacterial broth. It is now streaming on FilmStruck and available on DVD and Blu-ray from Criterion.

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Robert Mitchum as The Face of Film Noir

blogeddie5A tough week for America. After a long, bitter election year, the end game is a divided and angry country. Disillusioned with both sides, I find escape—and solace—in a pair of moody film noirs in which a cynical, jaded Robert Mitchum encapsulates how I feel.

In The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973), Mitchum plays Eddie “Fingers” Coyle, a small-time gunrunner who is barely making ends meet on the margins of the underworld. The last of his luck runs out when he finds himself facing another long stint in prison. He weighs his loyalty to his criminal associates against snitching on them to the cops, which would keep him out of prison.

TV writer Paul Monash adapted the screenplay from a novel by George V. Higgins, a real-life assistant DA. Higgins captured a detailed, intimate view of the lifestyle of street criminals. The corrupt, dog-eat-dog world of the novel easily translated to film noir. Gloomy, with only a minimal amount of action, The Friends of Eddie Coyle wraps itself in melancholy, a tone that Mitchum could so easily express in his baritone voice, somnolent expression and minimalist acting style.

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Take a Trip off the Beaten Path with Arturo Ripstein

IMPERIO DE LA FORTUNA, EL (1986)   FilmStruck subscribers should take special note of the opportunity to acquaint themselves with one of the masters of Mexican cinema: Arturo Ripstein. Chances are that even ardent supporters of local arthouse cinemas are only familiar with Deep Crimson (1996), as that film got decent press and a solid release by New Yorker Films here in the U.S. back in the mid-nineties. Otherwise, and unless you happened to luck into a retrospective at the Harvard Film Archive three years ago or similar special event, only a handful of his films have gotten the circulation they deserve. This is an incredible oversight for a director with over 30 features under his belt and who can easily claim to be the cinematic heir of Luis Buñuel.

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A Queen Too Many

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Mary of Scotland (1936), released by RKO, is an interesting historical drama with a touch of romance directed by John Ford. In 1936, Ford was hardly a novice; he had directed over eighty productions, including Academy Award nominated films Arrowsmith (1931), The Lost Patrol (1934) and The Informer (1935). Although he had success in some of his early films, Ford had yet to hit his creative stride, which arguably didn’t begin until the 1939 masterpiece, Stagecoach. In Mary of Scotland, we only catch but a glimpse of Ford’s genius.

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The Light in the Darkness: Directed by Pedro Almodóvar

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On November 20th, 1975, the dictator of Spain, Francisco Franco died.  It could be said that on that day the director Pedro Almodóvar was born. Almodóvar, who had wanted to study film in school but couldn’t because Franco had shut down the National School of Cinema in Madrid, spent several years studying on his own, any way he could.  When Franco died, a new revolution took hold, a cultural one. Almodóvar was an important part of it. The movement, known as La Movida Madrileña, was an explosion of artistic expression long suppressed, in which artists like Almodóvar could finally do what they had longed to for so long: create.  Almodóvar was pulled towards the perverse, a need to explore the underbelly of life that had so long been ignored and actively resisted. From this would spring a film canon unlike any other. A canon in which relationships often walk hand in hand with violence, in which the dead still haunt the living, in which suspense, terror and dread can pop up at any moment right in the middle of a romantic comedy. He doesn’t always succeed, but when he does, he creates some of the best movies the cinema has yet seen. 

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The Devil Made Me Do It: La main du diable (1943)

CARNIVAL OF SINNERS (1947)

Cinephiles and film aficionados come in all stripes. Some of us are drawn to the star quality of performers while others may obsess over scriptwriting, set designs or a director’s unique skill set. We’re often fond of particular genres and may gravitate to specific eras that we find especially rewarding. One of the many things that compel me is the thrill of discovery and the sheer delight I get from encountering an extraordinary older film that is new to me. This can be challenging but FilmStruck’s impressive library is introducing me to some marvelous movies that have managed to elude me in the past. My latest FilmStruck find is La main du diable (1943), also known as Carnival of Sinners or The Devil’s Hand, a fascinating and incredibly stylish French horror film involving an ambitious artist who makes an ill-fated deal with the devil.

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Mad for Tchaikovsky: Glenda Jackson and The Music Lovers (1970)

THE MUSIC LOVERS

The online theater community practically exploded this past weekend when reviews started hitting for the great Glenda Jackson’s return to the stage with a landmark production of King Lear at the Old Vic, her first time in the footlights in twenty-five years. Jackson hasn’t exactly been in hiding in the meantime; she became a member of Parliament since 1992, standing down in 2015 after an outspoken career including several fiery speeches that became worldwide sensations.

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