27
Jul
15

Thirst

thirst_image1_original

Call me a philistine but Thirst (1949) is the first Ingmar Berman film I’ve seen. Hmm. I can’t say I liked it, though there were shots that were captivating like when two young dancers are seen in a dressing room mirror and their grouchy teacher’s seen in the mirror beside it.

However, this film about a married couple and their previous lovers didn’t do much for me. I was put off by their intense “go for the throat” arguments. The heroine, a young dancer who’s career’s ended, was egotistical, selfish and mean. No doubt Bergman wanted to show intense feeling when you want to kill or tell your partner to go to hell, but do we need 100 minutes of this? All the characters seemed both sadistic and masochistic. I suppose the raw emotion and language was modern for the 1940s, but it didn’t do anything for me, except make me not want to visit Sweden.

Seeing that last week I saw and enjoyed Passing Fancy, which I grant is a comedy so not comparable, it was perhaps harder to appreciate Thirst. In Passing Fancy we also see characters who’ve had it with each other, who tell each other they hate them, but the storm passes and other emotions exist. In Thirst when a couple reconciles a bit you believe they still want their partner to die and go to hell. Lovely. Charming.

Actually, Thirst seemed like a bit of hell on earth.

I won’t swear off Bergman, but I’m not in a hurry to see more.

I think I need to see more Poldark and Ozu to counteract the Bergman effect.

24
Jul
15

Passing Fancy

Kahichi and son Tomio

Kahichi and son Tomio

Yasujiro Ozu’s Passing Fancy (1933) takes us into the shitamachi, i.e. tenement neighborhood of Tokyo where factory worker Kihachi, a widower, lives with his young son, Tomio. The film opens with Kihachi watching a storyteller with his neighbors. The scene with Kihachi battling a fly are comedic. After the show, Kihachi meets Harue, a young, pretty woman who’s just last her job and has no where to go.

Not only is Kihachi moved, he’s smitten. His young neighbor Jiro kids Kihachi urging him not to get his hopes up. A lazy, uneducated jokester, Kihachi’s amusing, but you know he’ll never get ahead. Moreover, you know he’ll never get the girl. His hopes die hard. He’s unaware of Harue’s soft spot for Jiro, who rebuffs her advances. Still her continued love for Jiro means she’s never going to fall for Kihachi.

Tomio’s a good student and impudent son. His classmates taunt him and in turn, Tomio puts down his father for his illiteracy and lazy ways. The argument escalates, but Kihachi realizes his son’s situation and gives a lot of money to spend as he wishes. He hopes the windfall will alleviate the pains of their poverty however briefly. But Tomio, who’s about 9 or 10, gorges himself on sweets, which results in a critical illness. With Tomio in the hospital Kihachi, Jiro, Harue and another neighbor are brought together.

It's never explained why Tomio's got the eye patch

It’s never explained why Tomio’s got the eye patch

The silent film moves slowly by modern standards, but is full of touching scenes that will reward patient viewers. Ozu’s characters are engaging. I particularly liked that the boy was sometimes the model son, who has to make his drunken father get up for work, sometimes a victim and sometimes a brat. It isn’t often that children are so multi-dimensional in film.

Here’s an essay on the film on Criterion Collection.

20
Jul
15

Poldark

poldark-2

At first glance from my PBS emails, I didn’t think much of this summer’s Poldark. However, last week there wasn’t much to do in the evenings and I needed to keep awake to overcome my jet lag, so I watched an episode a night. While it’s not a top tier Masterpiece, it has grabbed me.

Poldark, Ross Poldark, had to fight for the red coats because he got in trouble gambling. In Virginia most of his company is killed. Ross survives but it takes him years to return home. When he’s back, he learns that his love, who though him dead, is about to marry his cousin, his richer cousin. Also, his father’s died and the family home and estate is in ruins. Poldark sets to regaining his wealth by reopening a mine and tending to his farm.

Unlike many in the town, Poldark is fair-minded and not blinded by status. He pays his workers well and lends a hand to those who fall on hard times. When he sees Demelza, a young village woman abused by her father, he hires her as a housemaid to work with his two unkempt, often drunk servants.

It’s tough seeing his love married to his weak, insipid cousin and the local society women do nothing but annoy Poldark. As time goes by he’s aware that Delmelza’s more than just a decent housekeeper. Under her rough manners, she’s wise, kind and beautiful. Rashly, he marries her upsetting all social proprieties.

I like that the show presents an era we rarely see on Masterpiece. Poldark’s house is dark and run down, unlike Downtown Abbey or The Paradise. It’s a rougher time, especially for the lower class. There’s a lot about borrowing money and wrangling to gain financial advantage. Even those draped in silk with their walls lined with ancestral portraits aren’t free from worry. It shows how the Crawley’s financial woes were more common throughout time.

The program can get a bit far fetched or descend to the bodice ripper conventions, but that’s easily forgiven. Overall, Poldark entertains and sheds light on 18th century Britain.

20
Jul
15

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold

The-Spy-Who-Came-in-From-the-Cold-1965-2

Based on John le Carré’s novel, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold stars Richard Burton as a jaded, used, alcoholic spy, who’s seemingly put out to pasture then pulled back in when the blue bloods running MI-6 need him. It’s a trip back to the cold war. Michael Sragow’s essay for the Criterion Collection aptly captures the essence of the film:

Martin Ritt’s 1965 movie of John le Carré’s first great novel (and first best seller), The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, declares “a plague on all your houses” to capitalists, Communists, and ruthless intelligence operatives. It’s one espionage movie that neither comes on like gangbusters nor sneaks up on you like a cat burglar. Instead, it creates an atmosphere of anguish, fear, and rage that intensifies each pause in the action and gesture of the actors, leaving viewers hanging on every word of the sometimes cryptic, sometimes eloquent dialogue.

Alec Leamas (Burton) is a middle-aged, run down spy. His boss called “Control” offers him a desk job, which he refuses leading to a scheme whereby Leamas is to take a boring, low paying clerk job at a library, where he meets the fetching Nan Perry (Claire Bloom, who at one time was romantically linked to Burton). The romance redeems Leamas, but that doesn’t matter to MI-6. They propose that Leamas return to the service posing as a double agent with East Germany.

l_espion_qui_venait_du_froid_the_spy_who_came_in_from_the_cold_1965_portrait_w858

He goes along with the plan to be taken by the East Germans and cosy up to Fiedler, an East German Jewish intelligence officer who seeks to convict Mundt, a double agent who’s leaked secrets to the west. The counterpoint of the tender relationship with Nan and the sordid world of espionage add a compelling tension.  The plot twists and turns while engaging in incisive repartee. The unexpected ending chills to the bone.

The Criterion Collection extras include a candid interview with le Carré, who while he didn’t hate the film, didn’t think it was that great and a short documentary on le Carré’s biography focussing on the influence his duplicitous father had on his joining MI-6, illuminate the film.

18
Jul
15

Ricky Jay & His 52 Assistants

Directed by David Mamet, Rick Jay & His 52 Assistants astounds and entertains as Jay displays his card magic. Though he’s been around for decades, I’d never heard of Jay. In my rare books class we covered magic books and learned about Jay as he’d visit the antiquarian book store where my professor taught.

The film has a definite Mamet imprint in the setting and the rhythm. Just watch for a couple minutes. You’ll be amazed.

20
Jun
15

Red River

red_river1

I usually don’t care for Westerns, but Red River (1948) with John Wayne is a new exception. In Red River, Wayne goes against type and plays a character who’s hard to like. Tom Dunson goes out west to seek a fortune from ranching. Early on he splits from his wagon train and leaves behind his lady love. To no avail, she pleads for him to take her with him.

Nope, she’ll be safer with the group and Tom’ll send for her. Unfortunately, Comanches attack the wagon train killing everyone but Matt, a boy who manages to escape with a cow. Tom adopts Matt and apparently sent him to school.

red_river2

Fourteen years later, after the Civil War, the 10,000 cattle, Tom’s raised are worthless since Southerners can’t afford beef. He must get his cattle to Missouri in spite of danger from Indians and terrible trail conditions. He lays down the law with the men who agree to go with him. If you start, you must finish. You’ll get $100, big money for going.

As they proceed, times are tough. They must fight Indians, put up with meagre rations and with Tom, who grows more obsessed and stubborn refusing to change his route when it’s clear that his plan is too dangerous. Men rebel and Matt’s caught in the middle against his adoptive father. Wayne plays a complex man and with most actors he’d be completely unlikeable. Clift’s Matt is natural and every move is simple, yet absorbing. According to the Criterion supplements, Clift, who’s films I hadn’t seen, was the first “Method” actor to become a star.

02
Jun
15

Made for Each Other

made for each other

With Carole Lombard and Jimmy Stewart, Made for Each other has been described as the “serious side of the screwball comedy.” I saw it on YouTube for the MOOC I’m taking on Marriage and Movies. We’re only in week 2 so if you’re interested, sigh up.

Young attorney, John Mason (Stewart) meets Jane (Lombard) by chance on a business trip to Boston. He surprises everyone by returning to New York with a new wife. Most surprised of all is his mother, with whom he lives (which wasn’t as unusual as it is today). Both the mother and John’s boss, a crotchety, hard of hearing lawyer played by Charles Coburn (later known as Uncle Joe on Pettycoat Junction) think such haste is insanity, yet both Jane and John are so sensible and good looking that the audience buys their union. Surely, love will prevail. Or will it

The only problem I had with the film was the continual use of “the baby” rather than the child’s name, Johnny. It’s a bit of a deus ex machina ending, but I bought it.

Yet as the first years of their marriage progress, life hits them hard. John is passed over at work and money is tight, extremely tight after their baby is born. John’s mother and wife bicker as they share a small apartment. Everyone seems to be pulled to the brink and despite their sensibility and earnest attempts to persevere, the marriage is in jeopardy.

Made for Each Other held my interest because it was so original, so different from the screwball fare of couples meeting and bickering until they make it to the altar. It’s a rare look at what happens after people say, “I do.”




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