Movie Diary 2/27/2018

faceofanotherThe Face of Another (Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1966). This is the film Teshigahara made after his haunting international success Woman in the Dunes, which, amazingly, got him an Oscar nomination for Best Director. It’s about a man, played by Tatsuya Nakadai, whose face is completely destroyed in an industrial accident. After trying out the Claude Rains bandaged-head approach for a while, he accepts an artificial face, and ponders the possibility that his new mask may be changing his personality. In the largest narrative idea, he decides to seduce his wife with the new face, after she had recoiled from his post-accident advances. Kobo Abe’s script doesn’t always know when to cut off the discussions about how the new face will change the man, and a side story (about a young woman with a facial disfigurement) is allowed to puzzlingly play out on its parallel track. Teshigahara’s visual approach is busy and eye-filling, especially the doctor’s mod, see-through office, where technicians take pieces of artificial skin and stretch them like Silly Putty. There’s also a magnificent early scene: the hero explaining his situation, seen entirely as an X-ray, his skull chattering away like a high-tech gargoyle.

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Movie Diary 2/26/2018

Shooting Stars (Anthony Asquith, A.V. Bramble, 1928). This British silent explores a love triangle in a movie studio. Star player Mae (Annette Benson) is married to hunky cowboy actor Julian (Brian Aherne), but is carrying on with the studio’s slapstick star (Donald Calthrop), who wears a brushy mustache and checked pants for his comic on-screen character. Putting aside the idea that Mae has interesting preferences in her men, this leads to some melodrama played out during the actual shooting (in both senses) of a suspense film on the set. This is a remarkable film, with a collection of expansive shots covering the entirety of the two-tiered studio, shots that are stunning on their own but also set up a long, expressive final sequence that seems to draw from a combination of Murnau and Chaplin. Just a terrific film, seen courtesy of Edinburgh’s Film Guild, founded in 1929.

The Party (Sally Potter, 2017). To say that I haven’t always liked Potter’s films is an understatement, but this comedy is a welcome dash of vinegar: the political and the personal, served up by a razor-sharp cast (among them Kristin Scott Thomas, Timothy Spall, Cherry Jones, and Patricia Clarkson). (full review 2/28)

Fantastic (This Week’s Movies)

fantasticwoman

Daniela Vega: A Fantastic Woman (courtesy Sony Pictures Classics)

Links to my reviews published in the Herald and Seattle Weekly, and etc.

A Fantastic Woman. “Every contradiction furthers the movie’s argument that what we have here is a densely complicated human being.”

Here’s another interview I did for Film Comment at the Camerimage Film Festival in Bydgoszcz, Poland, in November: A talk with cinematographer Denis Lenoir, who helped develop Olivier Assayas’s distinctive style and also photographed Mia Hansen-Love’s Things to Come. Read it here.

In a slightly different mode of writing for me, here’s a paper I delivered at the 2016 international Shakespeare conference in Iasi, Romania, now collected in the academic journal LINGUACULTURE, published at Alexandru Ioan Cuza University in Iasi. I got to visit Romania for three weeks, thanks to the Fulbright Specialist Program. Here’s the issue; my piece, on Orson Welles and Chimes at Midnight, is clickable.

Movie Diary 2/21/2018

House of Strangers (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1949) and Broken Lance (Edward Dmytryk, 1954). Same story: A father’s domineering hold of the family business makes life miserable for his four sons. In the Mankiewicz, the talk is virtually non-stop, but it’s punchy and snappish and superbly delivered by Edward G. Robinson and Richard Conte, both on their game here. Nice role for Luther Adler as the eldest son, who gets passed over in his father’s affection because Conte is obviously the dynamo (Adler’s got the Fredo Corleone role, always a beat behind the action). The Dmytryk picture is a Western with Spencer Tracy as a rather more likable patriarch; it’s got much less dialogue and a lot more action, as befits the genre. Robert Wagner is no Richard Conte, let’s just say that. The film adds quite a bit of psychology and an entire layer of racial tension (Wagner is the “half-breed” son of Tracy and his second wife, an Indian played by Katy Jurado). CinemaScope was in its early blush and the movie looks very handsome. Richard Widmark plays the Luther Adler role and, of course, nails it.

Movie Diary 2/20/2018

Underground (Anthony Asquith, 1928). Fascinating British silent, Asquith’s second film as director. At first it comes on like a “symphony of a city”-style visual ode, mixed with some gentle observations about ordinary people going about their daily lives. About 20 minutes into it, the action begins to get purple, as an overbearing power-station laborer (Cyril McLaglen, Victor’s brother) tries too hard to woo the girl who works at the flower shop (Elissa Landi, an exceptional presence here); she prefers nice-guy Tube attendant Brian Aherne. Meanwhile, a humble seamstress (Norah Baring) becomes McLaglen’s pawn. Incredible faces on these four actors, and Asquith directs with a vigor that clearly comes with having studied a lot of Euro-silents of the era. The escalation into melodrama, which includes some wild scenes at the power station, is perhaps over the top, but it’s all rendered with amazing elan.

The Last Journey (Bernard Vorhaus, 1936). A rapid-fire British quota quickie, about a train engineer, already disgruntled about being retired from his job, who turns his final trip into a nightmare when he suspects his wife of having an affair with his assistant. Daft plotline, but the film quickly sketches a half-dozen passengers to care about (39 Steps villain Godfrey Teale is a heroic doctor). Director Vorhaus is sometimes bandied about as an auteur in need of re-discovery; he gave David Lean a professional break, and was later blacklisted after he’d established a Hollywood career.

Movie Diary 2/19/2018

The Long Memory (Robert Hamer, 1953). A film made just after Hamer’s impressive period, which included It Never Rains on Sunday and Kind Hearts and Coronets. It’s not up with those movies, but is exceptionally well-made, full of urban shadows and riverside mudflats. John Mills plays a man released from jail after 12 years of wrongful imprisonment; he now seeks the people who testified against him. The theme is intriguing even if the behavior doesn’t always match up with logic. His then-girlfriend (Elizabeth Sellars), after providing false testimony, married the police inspector (John McCullum), who has no idea of her perjury. So that will get interesting. There’s a subplot about Mills meeting a woman (Eva Bergh) who instantly falls in love with him despite his telling her to get lost so he can go about the business of taking his revenge. This part is very French, somehow, in its quicksilver passion and its doomy sympathy for people on the margins (except of course Mills isn’t going to summon up any Gallic tragic-acceptance-of-fate, because he’s John Mills). Another of Mills’ targets is a shady businessman (John Chandos), who appears to have a gay thing going on with his flunkie. Not top-tier by any standards, but consistently engaging, and worthy of slotting in the Brit-noir category.

Election

A note for anyone who reads this blog regularly, if such a person exists: I’ve been elected to membership in the National Society of Film Critics. The NSFC has sixty-some members, and they don’t often look to the Pacific Northwest to add to their ranks – in following in the footsteps of Seattle’s estimable Richard T. Jameson, I am treading in formidable shoes. I always admired the NSFC for their amazingly bold awards choices – they gave the 1980 Best Picture nod to Melvin and Howard, not Raging Bull or Ordinary People. This is the kind of thinking I like.

Their website is trim, and the membership is listed here. I am honored and humbled to be voted in by my peers, and I’ll try to live up to the standard they have set. As Ruth Gordon said when she won her Oscar at a somewhat mature age, “I can’t tell you how encouragin’ a thing like this is.”