Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Twelve movies

[No spoilers, one caution.]

The Other Side (dir. Roberto Minervini, 2015). A documentary shot in West Monroe, Louisiana (the home of Duck Dynasty). Meth, alcohol, petty crime, economic exploitation ($20 for how many hours work?), illness, squalor, racism, paranoia, and a militia in training. As William Carlos Williams wrote, “The pure products of American / go crazy.” A caution: there are scenes that are difficult to watch, of addicts having sex, of Kelley shooting up a pregnant stripper. What I found most revealing: a scene of meth-making, with nothing but a welder’s mask and bandana for protection. It’s a long way from Breaking Bad.

*

The Suspect (dir. Robert Siodmark, 1944). It’s 1902. Philip (Charles Laughton) is a tobacco-store manager, a model of propriety, a husband in a loveless marriage. He befriends Mary (Ella Raines), a young unemployed typist. Their ambiguous (and surprisingly plausible) relationship becomes less ambiguous, and Philip’s life becomes much more complicated. A YouTube find.

*

The Naked Edge (dir. Michael Anderson, 1961). Gary Cooper plays George Radcliffe, a suddenly successful businessman who may have committed a murder. Deborah Kerr plays his increasingly suspicious wife Martha. A variation on Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt and Suspicion, with great suspense and some shocking scenes. This was Cooper’s last film, made when he was already suffering from the cancer that would take his life. His preoccupied look must have owed something to those circumstances. Another YouTube find.

*

The Strange One (dir. Jack Garfein, 1957). Something Wild (1961), Garfein’s second (and last) film, is strange and brilliant. This film is merely strange: a stagey overwrought drama set at a southern military school. Jocko De Paris (Ben Gazzara) is a cadet who bosses around and humiliates his peers. An allegory of fascism, with heaps and heaps of the Method.

*

Blonde Ice (dir. Jack Bernhard, 1948). Fatal attractions: a society columnist kills her husband to be with her lover, and then kills the lover when a better prospect comes her way. My favorite line: “You’re not a normal woman.” Yet another YouTube find.

*

The Rabbit Trap (dir. Philip Leacock, 1959). Ernest Borgnine as Ever Ready, Steady Eddie Colt, underpaid (no college degree) and overworked, a draftsman and family man whose boss sees human resources as endlessly exploitable. Like The Apartment, this film is about standing up to executive power. My favorite line: “The company doesn’t own you.” The most unnverving moment: the boss calls Eddie’s co-worker and downstairs neighbor Judy (June Blair) back to work one night. You can guess why. “You don’t have to go,” everyone tells her. But she does.

*

Call Northside 777 (dir. Henry Hathwaway, 1948). Jimmy Stewart plays P.J. McNeal, a Chicago reporter looking into the guilt or innocence of Frank Wiecek (Richard Conte), who is serving a ninety-nine-year sentence for killing a cop. I hadn’t seen this movie in years, and I watched it with a much greater appreciation of McNeal’s investigative journalism, which at one point calls for tricking the police into taking him for a detective. Based on a true story and shot on location in Chicago.

*

Faust (dir. F.W. Murnau, 1926). Faust is the fourth Murnau silent I’ve seen. It has great special effects and dizzying scenes of flight, but the real stars of the film are the faces of Gösta Ekman (Faust old and young), Emil Jannings (Mephisto), and Camilla Horn (Gretchen). Mephisto’s kabuki costume is a strange and inspired bit of orientalism.

*

Action in the North Atlantic (dir. Lloyd Bacon, 1943). Merchant marines at sea and on land, but mostly at sea. It’s odd to see Humphrey Bogart in a film among so many other manly man, among them Raymond Massey (as Bogart’s captain) and Alan Hale. Great action sequences, lots of colloquial American English (“Sure, sure”), a healthy, irreverent contempt for fascism, and an idiosyncratic belief system: “I got faith in God, President Roosevelt, and the Brooklyn Dodgers, in the order of their importance.”

*

The Big Lebowski (dir. Joel Coen, 1998). All I can say is that this movie is much funnier and much more enjoyable when one stays awake, which I did. And I am happy to have figured out for myself the connections to The Big Sleep. My favorite line: “These men are nihilists — there’s nothing to be afraid of.”

*

Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (dir. Walter Ruttmann, 1927). A montage of day and night in the life of Weimar Berlin: empty streets at first; then trains, trolleys, buses, men and women walking to work, children walking to school, window-shoppers, streetsweepers, produce sellers, typists, a wedding, a funeral procession, and café life; and then on into the night. Juxtapositions: well-dressed men in their cars and carriages, then beggars and cigarette-butt scavengers. What’s on the screen is often modern technology reduced to beautiful abstractions: electrical wires against the sky, a single part of a machine revolving. For Ruttmann, a great city is a matter of motion. With a 1993 score by the composer Timothy Brock.

As with People on Sunday (dir. Robert Siodmark and Edgar G. Ulmer, 1930), it’s impossible to watch this film without wondering: what became of all these people post-Weimar?

*

Lichtspiel Opus I (dir. Walter Ruttmann, 1921). Light-play: the movement of swirls, blobs, fields, and pointed forms. It’s easy to see this short film as a preparation for the grand montage of Berlin. One moment seems to presage Mark Rothko. All of it seems to point to light shows and screensavers. Available at Vimeo.


[From Lichtspiel Opus 1.]


[From Berlin: Symphony of a Great City. A train in motion.]

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)
Fourteen films : Thirteen more : Twelve more : Another thirteen more : Another dozen : Yet another dozen : Another twelve : And another twelve : Still another twelve : Oh wait, twelve more : Twelve or thirteen more : Nine, ten, eleven — and that makes twelve : Another twelve : And twelve more : Is there no end? No, there’s another twelve : Wait, there’s another twelve

comments: 0