Friday, March 4, 2011

Remembering the Movies, Mar. 4 - 10

Every Friday, we look back at films released 10-100 years ago this week.
Visit Remembering the Movies to further peruse the past

Rudolph Valentino makes his breakthrough in a week mostly filled with interesting obscurities. An acclaimed Catherine Breillat film and a Swedish epic are the other relatively well-known films on display; otherwise we have a two-person political psychodrama, a feminist documentary,  a Finnish policier, and an orangutan - which I only just learned how to spell correctly - dubbed the "Charlie Chaplin of the Jungle." Happy March...

Note: The Friday @ 8am schedule remains in force, despite this week's 12-hour delay, an inadvertent mishap. Apologies for the inconsistency; expect "Remembering the Movies" at the usual time next week and every week thereafter.

10 years ago (March 7, 2001 - French release)
"Essentially comic in its mixture of brutal frankness and philosophical bemusement, Fat Girl amply demonstrates Breillat's brilliance as a director—even as it raises, without settling, the question of whether she may be exploiting her young actresses. (To judge from the response the film received at the Berlin Film Festival, as well as those few French reviews I've seen, the issue, at least in Europe, is a nonstarter.) Reboux, only 13 when she made the movie, gives an astonishingly unselfconscious performance, whether lost in contemplation of her body or swimming—happily and literally—in an amniotic fantasy. The strange and creepy song she sings throughout will ultimately be revealed as the movie's authentic theme." - J. Hoberman, The Village Voice


"Breillat has described herself as a puritan, and she's got that right. She's not interested in the warmth and tenderness of sex -- only in exploring its ability to cut and confound. There are ways, though, in which her detachment is refreshing: She refuses to get hung up on movie-sex conventions, which means we get to see a sex scene in which a male character is shown fully erect and putting on a condom, instead of doing the coy conceal-and-cover bit. Breillat knows that when an actor turns his or her back to the camera, we're not getting the complete view, and sometimes you need a full frontal to tell the story." - Stephanie Zacharek, Salon

Fat Girl (2001)

20 years ago (March 6, 1991)
"All it requires to make Closet Land complete is a pious screen note at the end of this story, assuring us that the torture of political prisoners continues all over our world today. The movie does not disappoint: The slogan appears right on schedule. What is the politically correct response? To cry out with horror? To rush from the theater and devote my life to ending injustice? What are the makers of films like this hoping for? Their movies are never seen by the torturers, and bring no fresh news for the good of heart, who are already well aware of the corrupted world we inhabit. The movie seems intended for the already converted, as an exercise in self-congratulation. They can refresh their outrage. The evil torturer in this movie is of course a white Western male, perhaps because he is a politically correct enemy, although most officially sanctioned torture today takes place in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and South America. The victim is of course a woman, although most political prisoners are men (in many of the countries where official torture prevails, women are not permitted sufficient freedom of movement to become politically dangerous). I am of course opposed to torture, but I preserve sufficient irony to be offended by the smugness of this film." - Roger Ebert

"'My stories are cheerful pieces of fluff with no more depth than cotton candy,' says The Woman, who insists there must be some mistake. The Man, actually three characters in one, offers her a chance to leave, but she hesitates and the door to the Kafkaesque cell slams. "Why didn't you leave when you could?" asks The Man, who blames her for forcing him to torture her in a variety of horrific ways, such as pulling out her toenails. Despite all manner of psychological as well as physical torments, the victim retains her dignity while The Man falters. Sexually abused as a child, she learned to escape into a fantasy realm of magical animal friends, a defense that now enables her to overcome the cruelties of her interrogator. Or is he really a doctor and she a patient in a mental hospital? The subtext, richly mysterious, promises a fascinating denouement between the two characters, but director Radha Bharadwaj comes to the most banal of conclusions. The Indian-born, American-educated filmmaker was inspired by her husband, a member of Amnesty International, and unfortunately allows the politics of that human rights organization to co-opt the story. No matter how worthy her gesture, she has ultimately sacrificed art and its greater truths to the smallness of propaganda." - Rita Kempsey, The Washington Post

Closet Land (1991)

30 years ago (March 4, 1981)
"Sois belle et tais-toi (Be Pretty and Shut Up) is a documentary film by French actress and director Delphine Seyrig, shot in 1976 and released in 1981. It is available at the Centre audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir in Paris. The film is a series of interviews with various well-known film actresses, including Jenny Agutter, Maria Schneider, and Jane Fonda. The title, which is borrowed from a 1958 film with the same name by Marc Allegret, refers to the sense the actresses have of what is expected of them by the film industry." - Wikipedia

40 years ago (March 8, 1971)

"A major focus of the film is that huge gulf between expectations and reality. Robert has a silly book that informs them how great America is: it's a place where even slaves are better off than European peasants, leading Arvid to exclaim that he'll sell himself as a slave as soon as they land. The book talks about the Carolinas and the rice barons' plantations, without explaining that most people don't get to be rice barons. Danjel, especially once the trip is underway, is a font of ridiculous pronouncements about what it's like in the United States. During many of these scenes, I couldn't help but chuckle and recall the animated film An American Tail, with its recurring lyrics "There are no cats in America and the streets are paved with cheese." While nobody in this film thinks the streets of America will be paved with gold, they believe a lot of things along those lines.


There are few real flaws. The music, which occurs only occasionally, is off-putting and ill-fitting, more music for a horror film than for a drama like this. Perhaps Troell and company wanted to emphasize the frankly terrifying idea of leaving your home and everything you know, getting on the first boat you've ever been on, seeing sickness and death and misery and terror, and coming to a land where nobody understands you, only to realize that your trip is only half over.

This is the first film that brought that home to me, so I guess I can excuse the use of horror-film music. "I'm afraid of America," Robert confides in his friend Arvid, and over the course of this three-hour-plus film, I started to feel that fear a little too. It made me think of a lot of things that I hadn't considered: what would it be like to see, say, a train for the first time? But it's not all misery. There are fine, human moments, snatches of conversation, and quiet scenes that keep it from becoming a biblical slog through a catalog of misery. Liv Ullmann and Max von Sydow, known to the world through Ingmar Bergman's films, are capable of lighting up the screen; they're probably among the greatest actors of any generation, and this film gives them plenty to work with. The supporting cast is perfect, too: I found myself identifying a lot with Eddie Axberg, as Robert, because Robert embodies so many of the reasons that young men came to America, and because Axberg so perfectly balances the impetuous confidence and self-doubt that is inherent in the character." - goatdog


 
The Emigrants (1971)

50 years ago (March 10, 1961)

"Kassila is a masterly director who you can very well compare to Alfred Hitchcock. ... Tauno Palo is just amazing in the lead. You can feel the anxiety he's feeling. This was his last film role. What a great way to end a career." - Petri Pelkonen, IMDb


60 years ago (March 6, 1951)

"Paul Douglas is the traffic policeman who becomes a hero when his routine duties are interrupted one morning by the sight of Richard Basehart perched on a 14-storey high window ledge. Tension reaches the screaming point often as Douglas and the others try to talk Basehart back into the building, while the citizens of New York make a Roman holiday of the event. Douglas wallops his policeman role by sound underplaying. Basehart comes over solidly. Barbara Bel Geddes is his girlfriend, adding worth to the character. Agnes Moorehead scores as the selfish mother, and Robert Keith matches her excellence in his playing of the father. A romance with a nice fresh touch is born in the chance meeting of Debra Paget and Jeffrey Hunter in the crowd. Grace Kelly, drawing a divorce property settlement in a nearby building, decides to make another try at marriage." - Variety


70 years ago (March 8, 1941)

"Although the screen has become alarmingly overcrowded with amateur detectives operating in series—fellows like Ellery Queens, the Lone Wolf, the Saint, et al.—we hardly expected to see the day when the situation would be so acute that the boys would have to turn to catching one another. 

Yet that is substantially what happens in the Warners' Footsteps in the Dark, the first of a series, we are told, which introduces Errol Flynn as a sly sleuth, Yessir, Mr. Flynn actually puts the finger on Ellery Queen—or, that is to say, on Ralph Bellamy, who was Queen the last time we saw him. And if they think that's honor among sleuths (or honor among casting directors), then—But, wait a minute! Haven't we gone to work and given the whole thing away? Naughty, naughty—yes, we have!" - Bosley Crowther, New York Times


80 years ago (March 7, 1931)
"Rango was one of several quasi-documentaries produced by future King Kong maven Ernest B. Schoedsack. ... Though Schoedsack dismissed Rango as 'just a little picture -- a trifle,' Paramount had other ideas, ballyhooing the film as "the greatest entertainment in the history of the screen." - Hal Erickson, Rovi
Rango (1931)

90 years ago (March 6, 1921)
 


















"As far as the story goes, it’s a fairly standard overblown saga of forbidden romance, family feuds, and the inevitable tragedy of war — with Germans emerging as the definite baddies of the bunch (it was released, after all, just three years after the end of World War I, when sentiments were still raw). Meanwhile, the integration of a 'mystical' element into the story — embodied by a wacky neighbor (Nigel De Brulier) who foretells the coming of the 'four horsemen of the Apocalypse' (hence the film’s title) — is simply silly and heavy-handed. But Ingram has a fine directorial hand, framing his scenes carefully and adding unique visual touches — many of which are quite memorable (see stills below); and the 'DeMille'-ian amounts of money spent on the production seem to have been put to good use, given Ingram’s ability to effectively present the devastation of war (see also stills below)." - Film Fanatic

100 years ago (March 7, 1911)
"An electric current accidentally brings a female mummy back to life with decidedly romantic inclinations, much to the surprise of a young Egyptologist and his less than understanding fiancée." - IMDb

"In November 1909, [William] Garwood joined Thanhouser and was seen in his first Thanhouser film by 1910. He departed from Thanhouser in the autumn of 1911, by which time he was one of the studio's most popular actors." - Wikipedia

The Mummy (1911)




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