Archive for the 'Classic' Category

15
Sep
14

Modern times

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I loved Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times with Paulette Goddard. A year ago, I wouldn’t have bothered to watch, but I’ve gotten intrigued, if not hooked on silent films from the Criterion Collection.

Released in 1936, in a time when the Marx Bros. and W.C. Field’s films were full of jokes and dialog, Modern Times isn’t completely silent. A distant boss speaks in broadcasts to alienated factory workers and Chaplin himself sings. Still there’s no dialog and remarks are conveyed with cards. That seems risky for a studio in the 1930s. I hadn’t realized there was such an overlap between silent films and talkies.

As some experts have pointed out, the film is more like a series of short films (2 reelers) rather than a story with one arc. We see Chaplin as his famous Tramp for the last time he’ll play that character. He gets a job in a factory and in scenes that are similar to À Nous la Liberté ecomically exposes the system as dehumanizing as the Tramp gets caught in the gears of the machinery. In another scene the Tramp tests out an eating machine with disastrous effects. (Since workers have taken to grabbing lunch at their desk there’s little need for this machine.) Inadvertently, the tramp gets arrested and mixed up in labor disputes. The cops’ violence against the workers shows us how times were back then. It’s a part of history rarely taught.

Along the way the Tramp meets a “gamine” played by Goddard, who’s stunning and joyful, yet ever bit an outsider. I can’t think of an actress today who could play this role. The gamine has two siblings, who’re rounded up by the police and put into an orphanage, she barely escapes their clutches. There’s a sweetness and affinity between the Tramp and the Gamine, the only two who are on each other’s wave.

The Criterion Collection DVD’s contain lots of extras: a home movie made on a boat during the shooting of the film trailers, commentary and a separate film commentary with more background on the making of Modern Times. Watching that I saw how dapper the gray haired actor was without his Tramp suit. While I expected a certain élan from Chaplain in his real life, I also expected dark hair. Nope he was gray and distinguished in real life.

All in all, it’s a delightful thoughtful film. hard to imagine that Chaplin still entertains.

02
Sep
14

The Keys of the Kingdom

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In Keys of the Kingdom, Gregory Peck plays Father Chisolm, a young, humble, authentic priest who is sent to China after a lack of success in his home of Scotland. His mentor, a bishop feels Fr. Chisolm will thrive in China.

The story’s told in flashback. It begins with an old Fr. Chisolm getting reprimanded and told his unorthodox teachings are forcing him to be removed from his hometown parish. The bishop who makes this threat is staying at Chisolm’s rectory. Before he goes to sleep, he picks up Fr. Chisolm’s memoirs and reads of his extraordinary life.

Chisolm’s father and mother were killed in a riot against Catholics. He’s brought up by and aunt and almost marries as a young adult but circumstances lead him to stick with his choice of the priesthood. As a young priest, his parishioners don’t appreciate his questioning and some of his theology. His mentor has a hunch that Fr. Chisolm would be right for a deserted mission in China.

When Fr. Chisolm arrives in rural China, every believer has left as they really only came for the free rice. The church is in ruins. Slowly, Fr. Chisolm rebuilds and stays true to his principles and beliefs even if it means losing the church or being treated like an inferior by a haughty former classmate.

At one point the political climate in China shifts and warlords threaten the mission.

I found the movie compelling and was better than average for avoiding the stereotypes so common in the 1940s. His performance is carries the film and I would never have guessed it was Peck’s second film. It seemed like a biography, but apparently it’s based on a novel, not a real life.

My only complaint is I wish they hadn’t skipped through the years of turmoil and war in China. They show early 20th century violence, but explain and show little of the revolution that erupted. The film jumps from one attack when Fr. Chisolm was probably in his late 30s to Chisolm as an old man. By weaving in Fr. Chisolm’s ecumenical beliefs and his strong friendship with an atheist, the film feels modern.

02
Sep
14

all about eve

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Starring Bette Davis, All About Eve is a classic, yet I’d never seen it — till now. It’s a captivating film about Margo Channin, a veteran actress and her circle of theater friends. They’re a jaunty bunch, witty and rather insular. I doubt they know anyone who isn’t in the theater. It’s a happy group though till Eve, a young fan of Margo Channing, the big star, is spotted near the stage door. Margo’s friend is struck by Eve’s persistence and apparent innocence. Before you know it, the group takes Eve into their circle as an adoring fan cum servant.

The problem is Eve’s rather obsessive and driven, she plots to take Margo’s place in the stars, to supplant her favorite actress both professionally and romantically by stealing Margo’s boyfriend. Eve’s psychopathic and manipulative managing for a time to fool everyone but Margo. Eve was wooden and scary. It’s troubling that she got the success she got. The dialog’s snappy and the acting good. Thus even though there weren’t any characters I’d like to know, the film kept my attention from start to finish.

16
Aug
14

The Big Sleep

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In honor of Lauren Bacall, I watched The Big Sleep, a classic from 1946. Based on the Raymond Chandler novel, The Big Sleep involves detective Philip Marlow trying to keep a rich man’s degenerate daughters out of trouble and to find out who killed Sean Ryan, who worked for the rich father. The plot gets quite confusing and even the director and cast had trouble figuring out who killed whom. The snappy dialog and chemistry between Bogart and Bacall make us forgive the film for confusing us and for not following the maxim of providing a hero who undergoes a transformation.

Some favorite quotations:

(Female) Taxi Driver: If you can use me again sometime, call this number.
Philip Marlowe: Day and night?
Taxi Driver: Uh, night’s better. I work during the day.

Vivian: I don’t like your manners.
Marlowe: And I’m not crazy about yours. I didn’t ask to see you. I don’t mind if you don’t like my manners, I don’t like them myself. They are pretty bad. I grieve over them on long winter evenings. I don’t mind your ritzing me drinking your lunch out of a bottle. But don’t waste your time trying to cross-examine me.

IMDB offers some interesting trivia on the film.

12
Aug
14

Obsolete Man

A classmate linked to this on her Library UX blog for a final reflection. It’s fascinating television, well written and acted. Yet, I don’t think you could broadcast this today. There’s no violence, edgy-ness or swearing. ;-)

10
Aug
14

apart from you

apart from you

Directed by Mikio Naruse, Apart from You (1933)  shows two geishas who’re stuck in an ignoble profession they wish they could escape. The film starts with an amusing scene in a geisha house run by an old woman who smokes and gambles. She studies the racing statistics in the paper like a scientist.

While Western books and films Orientalize geishas accenting their musical skill and gorgeous clothes, I’m finding films and books created by Japanese people portray this life as hard and soul killing.

I can’t improve upon Michael Koresky‘s synopsis so I’ll simply quote it:

Apart from You also gives us our first glimpse of Naruse’s careful way of dramatizing geisha life. The film concerns two melancholy working women: the long-suffering Kikue (seen in an early shot plucking out telltale gray hairs) and the younger Terugiku, whose beauty and seeming optimism mask growing disillusionment. Their internal wounds slowly become apparent: Kikue is having difficulty with her teenage son, Yoshio, who, bitterly embarrassed by his mother’s profession, has stopped attending school and fallen in with a pack of delinquents. Terugiku harbors deep resentment toward her family, especially her alcoholic father, for forcing her to become a geisha to help support them. An attraction develops between Terugiku and Yoshio—in the film’s most moving segment, she takes him on a trip to her family’s impoverished village; there, she instructs him that it’s wrong to be ashamed of and mistreat his mother, who works in her profession only to provide for him and his education. The verisimilitude with which Naruse depicts the geisha existence reaches its apex in the film’s frenetic party scenes, startlingly physical, decadent displays based on the director’s observations of a geisha house near Shochiku Studios.

Apart from You is a moving film though there were a few shots that were awkward as if the director was trying to figure out the medium. These were rare, but glaring errors, which given the power of the whole film, are easily overlooked. Similarly, the hoodlums Yoshio joins seemed like caricatures, but they’re not on screen that much. Both actresses who play geishas were quietly compelling and sympathetic.

04
Aug
14

À Nous la Liberté

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Directed by René Clair, À Nous la Liberté (1931) follows the attempt of two convicts to escape. One man succeeds, but his friend is captured. The man who escapes starts a new life selling phonographs on the street. Soon he’s prospered and owns a store. Not much later he owns a huge factory making thousands of phonographs. One memorable scene shows his workers marching in to work, punching in, taking their seats on an assembly line and working like machines, just as the factory owner had when he was in prison. The striking similarity is not accidental.

Later the factory owner’s friend is freed and by chance meets his rich pal. The film is full of such coincidences but they made me smile rather than roll my eyes. At first the prosperous man is leery. Does his old chum want to black mail him?

No. His old friend Emile is far more sincere, more innocent. Despite the soul-killing monotony, Emile wants to continue working at the factory so he can woo a woman he’s infatuated with. As the rich men’s high society friends talk about him behind his back and are stuffy bores, the factory owner opens his life and his wallet to his old pal to help him win this woman’s heart. Then the wheel of fortune turns against this pair of friends.

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The film does use sound, though sparingly. For much of the beginning I thought it was a silent film. It’s a fun, clever film that has an uplifting feel to it. I agree with critic Michael Atkinson who describes as “bouncy with melody, soaked in spring light, wistful about the conflicted relationship between serendipity and love.”

Clair was the first to film a scene where all hell breaks loose when workers can’t keep up with the assembly line. His studio and some critics believe that Chaplin plagiarized À Nous la Liberté when he made Modern Times. Clair didn’t get involved and said since he appreciates so much of what Chaplin’s done, if he did borrow from this film, that’s fine. His studio disagreed and took legal action which dragged on for 10 years. They lost.

À Nous la Liberté has a surprising, positive (or perhaps naive) ending. I can see why the film was on a list of “Most Influential Films” I received at Act One. So glad my library had it.




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