Friday, April 22, 2011

Remembering the Movies, Apr. 22 - 28


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

Some weeks are busier than others. This week sees three hugely popular films, any of which could take the top picture spot. Amelie is probably the most popular among the general public, while Yojimbo would have the lead among cinephiles, but my personal pick would be the iconic screen-cap from The Public Enemy. Ultimately the Amelie image, with its heroine sitting engrossed in front of the silver screen, proved too apt to resist yet I couldn't bear to part with the rain-soaked gangster's grin, so Cagney appears below. Yojimbo, along with the other seven other films (including Oliver Stone's first movie, and the recently deceased Elizabeth Taylor playing a young mother), appears after the jump.

On another note, the visual tribute has returned this week, though from now on it will be on Wednesdays rather than Thursdays. Next week's is one of my more imaginative ones, so stay tuned. On with the show...




10 years ago (April 25, 2001)
"I first began hearing about Amelie last May at the Cannes Film Festival, where there was a scandale when Amelie was not chosen for the Official Selection. "Not serious," sniffed the Very Serious authorities who decide these matters. The movie played in the commercial theaters of the back streets, where audiences vibrated with pleasure. It went on to win the audience awards at the Edinburgh, Toronto and Chicago film festivals, and I note on the Internet Movie Database that it is currently voted the 54th best film of all time, and hasn't even opened in America yet.

I am not sure Amelie is better than Fargo (No. 63) or The General (No. 87), but I know what the vote reflects: Immediate satisfaction with a film that is all goodness and cheer--sassy, bright and whimsical, filmed with dazzling virtuosity, and set in Paris, the city we love when it sizzles and when it drizzles. Of course this is not a realistic modern Paris, and some critics have sniffed about that, too: It is clean, orderly, safe, colorful, has no social problems, and is peopled entirely by citizens who look like extras from An American in Paris. This is the same Paris that produced Gigi and Inspector Clouseau. It never existed, but that's OK."
- Roger Ebert

"Panning "Amélie" is probably the quickest way for a critic to get himself thought of as cynical and unfeeling. But "Amélie" can make you feel divided against yourself: admiring of all the inventiveness that's gone into it even as the calculation of that charm holds you at arm's length. It's not that I don't want to be charmed by a movie (right now, a slice of genuine charm would be manna from heaven). I just don't want to be worked over, prodded into being charmed. It's possible to make a movie about an innocent do-gooder that doesn't drown in sugary goodness. The 1935 "The Good Fairy," an adaptation of the Molnár play written by Preston Sturges, directed by William Wyler and starring the heavenly Margaret Sullavan managed it (and I would bet that Jeunet and his co-screenwriter Guillame Laurant had that movie in mind as one of their models). "Amélie" has the weird effect of people who come up to you at a party and insist that you should have a good time. You might actually enjoy yourself if it just gave you some space." - Charles Taylor, Salon


Amélie (2001)

20 years ago (April 22, 1991)
"Set at the turn of the century, a passionate young woman, also an aspiring poet, attempts to emancipate herself from the limitations of village life in her home region of Lower Bavaria." - Yahoo! Movies

"Baier studied theater arts, Germanic and American studies and earned a doctorate in theater arts Phil. Together with Hubertus Meckel Baier turned more than 60 documentaries for the BR series under our skies . He made ​​his debut in 1983 his first short feature film with rough night." - Wikipedia

Wildfeuer (1991)

30 years ago (April 24, 1981)


"The Hand isn't what I expected- what I expected was kooky, silly fun. It is kooky, silly fun, I suppose, but in a very serious way. I couldn't help but imagine what a remake of this film would be like; I doubt there would be as much time spent with the characters, building an actual story. Here, the 'action', so to speak, is a long-time coming. I think in an updated version the hand would get down to business much quicker. There'd also be a scene with some guy and some girl making out...she isn't ready to go 'all the way' and so the dude would take off in a huff. After she falls asleep, the hand would crawl under her shirt and she'd be all 'Jeff, I told you I didn't want to. Jeff, stop it. Jeff...?' and then she'd see the severed hand grabbing her boob and she'd be like 'Ahhh!' and then the hand would kill her.

What? I'm not a perv- you know that would happen." - Final Girl



The Hand (1981)

40 years ago (April 22, 1971)

"Allegory of the suppression of the 1919 revolution and the advent of fascism in Hungary; in the countryside, a unit of the revolutionary army spares the life of father Vargha, a fanatical priest. He comes back and leads massacres. A new force, represented by Feher, apparently avanges the people, but only to impose a different, more refined and effective kind of repression." - Francisco Baez, IMDb


Égi bárány (1971)

50 years ago (April 25, 1961)


"Yojimbo is not a film that needs much critical analysis; its boisterous power and good spirits are right there on the surface. Lechery, avarice, cowardice, animality, are rendered by fire; they become joy in life, in even the lowest forms of human life. (Kurosawa’s grotesque variants of the John Ford stock company include a giant—a bit mentally retarded, perhaps.) The whimpering, maimed and cringing are so vivid they seem joyful; what in life might be pathetic, loathsome, offensive is made comic and beautiful. Kurosawa makes us accept even the most brutish of his creatures as more alive than the man who doesn’t yield to temptation.
There is so much displacement that we don’t have time or inclination to ask why we are enjoying the action; we respond kinesthetically. It’s hard to believe that others don’t share this response. Still, I should remember Bosley Crowther with his 'the dramatic penetratioin is not deep, and the plot complications are many and hard to follow in Japanese.' And John Macdonald, who writes, 'It is a dark, neurotic, claustrophobic film…' and, 'The Japanese have long been noted for their clever mimicry of the West. Yojimbo is the cinematic equivalent of their ten-cent ball-point pens and their ninety-eight-cent mini-cameras. But one expects more of Kurosawa.'
  
More? Kurosawa, one of the few great new masters of the medium, has had one weakness: he has often failed to find themes that were commensurate with the surge and energy of his images…. Now, in Yojimbo, Kurosawa has made a farce of force. And now that he has done it, we can remember how good his comic scenes always were and that he frequently tended toward parody." - Pauline Kael

Yojimbo (1961)

60 years ago (April 27, 1951 - wide release)
"While this film (and its' predecessor) give Tracy a chance to show his lighter side, he's not a true comedian and his gruff manner, though sometimes appropriate, spoils the playful tone of the film. If at all possible, the plot is even thinner than the first with Tracy having nothing to do but mope and grumble. ... The real heart of this movie is the relationship between Tracy and Taylor and they make a loving and sweet father/daughter pair. Their connection is palpable and it's too bad they don't have more scenes together." - Crazy for Cinema


"Father's Little Dividend shows the newlyweds trying to get their own place to live. First, both parents propose that the couple move in with them. Joan Bennett's proposal is unusually detailed, in her dialogue: it spells out all the needed architectural changes in the house. But the in-laws' plan is even more elaborate: it contains blueprints. Next we see work-in-progress on decorating the young couple's own home. Ladders are everywhere. Walls are still blank, awaiting pictures and decor, that will appear later in the movie. New glass doors have big labels on them reading 'GLASS'. Most extreme: the conversation between Taylor and Tracy in her bedroom is filmed against a blank wall. This is strikingly minimalist. It is highly unusual for the decor-rich Minnelli. The young couple's house has features of Modernism that are lacking in the 'cozy' homes of their parents. Its striking carport is perhaps related to the pavilions on thin pillars that run through Minnelli." - Michael E. Grost, The Films of Vincente Minnelli


70 years ago (April 24, 1941)
"The segment of the film set in Japan really took me by surprise for two reasons: there was no suggestion of it on the DVD cover and it was a remarkably positive portrayal of Japan given that the precarious international situation at the time. Penny Serenade was released in April 1941, just 9 months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, and it portrays Japan as a quaint, exotic local with cute children, lovely clothes, fancy gardens, and elegant homes. Par for the course for this time period everything has clearly been shot in a Hollywood studio. Also, all the 'Japanese' look and sound like the actors may be of Chinese or other Asian backgrounds, and great liberties have been taken with the costume and set design, but I would imagine the audience would leave with a very positive impression of Japan as a travel destination." - Nishikata Film Review

"It was the first time Cary Grant was nominated for an Oscar, mainly because of the one scene where he goes before the judge to plead his case, and he starts to cry. Why nominate Cary Grant for something like His Girl Friday when he was just playing himself? (Like 'playing yourself' is easy. I love it when people who aren’t actors say 'Bah, he was just playing himself' as though that’s easy, first of all. Or as though it’s some kind of a criticism. Huh? How on earth is 'he just played himself' a criticism? John Wayne 'just played himself'. You gonna tell me that guy wasn’t a superior actor?)

Penny Serenade is, in its own way, ahead of its time. It presents serious issues: miscarriage, infertility, adoption, financial difficulties and the effect it has on marriage, what it’s like to adopt a baby – the angst, the nerves – the scariness of parenting, in general, feeling totally unprepared to take care of this little creature. It treats these matters seriously, sensitively, openly. It’s not coy at all. It’s a real grown-up movie." - Sheila O'Malley, The Sheila Variations

80 years ago (April 23, 1931)

"Director at an executive meeting: "I've got an inspiration. Well make an African picture. Something new. Go right into the interior and use natives for actors. Nothing like Trader Horn. This one's going to be different. Now what will we call it. Trader what?"

With that anecdote current last week in the film industry, critics wondered if an executive had asserted that The Public Enemy was not going to be anything like Little Caesar. ... The Public Enemy is well-told and its intensity is relieved by scenes of the central characters slugging bartenders and slapping their women across the face. U. S. audiences, long trained by the Press to glorify thugs, last week laughed loudly at such comedy and sat spellbound through the serious parts. Unlike City Streets (TIME, April 27), this is not a Hugoesque fable of gangsters fighting among themselves, but a documentary drama of the bandit standing against society. It carries to its ultimate absurdity the fashion for romanticizing gangsters, for even in defeat the public enemy is endowed with grandeur." - Time Magazine, 1931



90 years ago (April 25, 1921)
"Taking a dogsled, they found a fantasy world on the icy landscape. Happy days passed with no inkling of the new dangers that lay ahead.Upon return from one of their sledding jaunts, Frank discovers to their horror the ship listing dangerously as a shifting and breaking ice damaged the hull and the ship was taking on water, fast! Frank plunges down into the hold of the ship and finds his drunken crew unaware of the danger and, in reality, too drunk to care nonetheless. Struggling as he made his way, the freezing water rose higher and he looked back in anguish as he knew both his ship and crew were irretrievably lost. Hearing a cry and looking up through the hold, to his horror, he saw Lucretia attempting to come to his aid. (Atta Girl!) Signaling her to remain where she was, he scrambled up to the deck and with alacrity he scooped her up in his arms and leapt off the deck onto a large ice floe. (Shades of Way Down East)" - Rudyfan1926, Strictly Vintage Hollywood


100 years ago (April 21, 1911)
"In 1909 two great men entered flickers: Fatty Arbuckle, and John Bunny. It took until a move to Universal in 1913 for Fatty to really make a name for himself. But by 1913 John Bunny was already a bonafide superstar. By 1915 he would be dead, from a kidney disease then call Bright's Disease. He was 51 and his death was front page news all over the world.

During his short career Bunny made almost 200 shorts, many with a tiny beak nosed woman named Flora Finch. Their films were extremely popular and they were called 'BunnyFinches.' Though eventually forgotten the pair was a huge influence on the new generation of movie goers, apparently Spencer Tracy referred to Katherine Hephburn as a 'Flora Finch'...a joke most kids these days would not get." - Hala Pickford, Forget the Talkies!




6 comments:

Jaime Grijalba said...

The charm of Amelié has always eluded me, and you chose the perfect capsules that actually eclipse what I don't understand from the people who watch it. It's just way too unrealistic for the subject it tries to take care of: a good-doer trying to enmend the wrongs of the world, but those aren't present or just aren't treated with the seriously they should have. Anyway, I give it a positive review based only on the cheer beauty of the images (****).
Yojimbo is just another animal, it's a good samurai flick and little else, but it doesn't need to be anything else, because it's entertaining. It may lack a profound message, but you don't need it when you have that much fun. (****1/2)

MovieMan0283 said...

I'm a bit eh on Amelie myself, charming if a bit forced. I couldn't pan it based on the sheer verve of the filmmaking alone, but I wasn't as nuts about it as everyone else. Then again I also missed the boat, not seeing it till a few years ago on TV.

I liked Yojimbo when I saw it but was a bit overwhelmed maybe because, like the reviewers Kael takes shots at it in her quote, I was expecting something else. I think I'd get more out of it now. But for some reason Kurosawa is one of those directors I'm more impressed with/respectful of than "into". Not sure why that is.

Regardless, Public Enemy is definitely my movie of this week though Scarface is the best of the early Warners gangster flicks.

Judy said...

I quite like Amelie, but The Public Enemy is far more my thing - one of my favourites by Wellman and a wonderful performance by Cagney. A film I could almost watch endlessly.

Penny Serenade is a film I watched on TV while heavily pregnant, wrongly assuming that because it starred Cary Grant it was bound to be a comedy. Instead, it turned out to be a weepie, which in my hormonal state at the time had me in floods of tears. I've never been able to bring myself to watch it again since - I do like Cary Grant in dramatic roles, such as None but the Lonely Heart and Only Angels Have Wings, but I remember this one as being unbearably bleak.

MovieMan0283 said...

For some reason, I never think of Only Angels Have Wings as a dramatic role even though it is, perhaps because hardboiled dramatic Grant is different still from weepie dramatic Grant, and also because the film has such humor in it.

Sam Juliano said...

Cerainly, Wellman's PUBLIC ENEMY is the one here that stands tallest for all kinds of reasons, not the list of which is the historical importance it boasts (a fact that sits at the center of this weekly series) I am another who has never been particularly enamored of AMELIE, though I am most assuredly a fan of the director's A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT. Seems like today is a day I am in agreement with Jaime; YOJIMBO is basically 'just another samurai flick' for me as well, though otherwise I am a huge fan of Kurosawa in a generla sense.

Anonymous said...

A quote from Hala Pickford? Are you serious? Havent you heard she has been successfully sued for attacking film fans in public, and has publicly admitted on her very own blog to having had a mental breakdown and is "armed at all times" Hala Pickford is to be avoided!