Monday, February 18, 2013

The Criterion-Hulu Marathon (live-blogging)


In which the author watches as many Criterion uploads on Hulu (free for the last day) as possible in twelve hours, and logs his viewing as he goes. Read more here.

6am. It begins. After each film, I will upload a screen cap and compose a quick capsule at this spot. I will update this post accordingly, and retitle it each time until at the end of the day it assumes its final form. I'll also be tweeting. First up...


7:45am. A documentary on the screen "love goddesses" (flexibly defined to include Shirley Temple and Hayley Mills, but generally focused on vamps, ice queens, and sundry sex kittens) created just before the floodgates opened in the late sixties. There's a certain irony to the fact that only in 1965 could the cinema's historic sexuality be flaunted so openly. Full of many great clips - I was especially enticed by the hard-to-see Griffith Faust adaptation The Sorrows of Satan and the seductive ingenue Bette Davis in Cabin in the Cotton - the film has some chronological head-scratchers (somehow it's implied that the Depression occurred after the pre-Code talkies) and odd omissions (nice to see Brooks in Diary, but no Pandora's Box?!), yet it is generally enjoyable, and a great reminder that even in the sixties, screen sex was nothing new.

10:10am. "I am fascinated by people who do not succeed in life," says one character. "So I'm interested in everyone." I like a lot of things about this movie: I like that the English translation of the title, rather than the brave Everyday Courage, is the more grueling Courage for Every Day. Of course I love the mid-sixties aesthetic (thought: if one general image could capture all of the European New Waves in a nutshell, it would be a girl looking over her shoulder as she crosses a busy street, captured by a handheld camera with a telephoto lens, in black-and-white of course). And I like the ties to the Angry Young Man films of the recently crested British New Wave, which are very noticeable here, much more so than in later Czech New Wave films, even Evald Schorm's subsequent Return of the Prodigal Son, which shares many of the same cast members and themes but follows an engineer suffering a nervous breakdown rather than a educated factory worker troubled as much by social stagnation as inner turmoil. Really, this film deserves a longer review so maybe I'll return to it at some point. An excellent slice of kitchen sink with Kafkaesque touches, before Czechoslovakia had thawed into the Prague Spring, but with premonitions that even that brief flowering would not last very long.

11:55am. Looking for something short (after taking a long time figuring out just what was only on Hulu), I continued the Czechoslovakian New Wave theme with this 30-minute romp. If the previous entry represents one extreme of that movement, its naturalistic look at everyday life, than The Junk Shop represents the other extreme: Czechoslovakian penchant for fantastical surrealism. There may be a social message of sorts implied in the film's imagery, which includes sawed-up statues of saints, children buried in scraps of paper and locked in compressors, and mustachioed old women waving pictures of themselves as circus dancers. Nonetheless the film feels more like a lark, a burst of liberation which the regime may have regarded as subversive enough on its own terms. Certainly this is about as far from social realism as one can get, and The Junk Shop often plays like a live-action cartoon (at times incorporating actual animation, as in the Svankmajeresque dance of chopped-out statues, or when the saint's eyes roll in the screen-cap above). The junk shop assistant, with his beady little eyes, bulbous nose, and missing teeth, looks and acts like a comic-strip character, and director Juraj Herz shares his anarchic glee in playing with the dialogue, the set, and the picture itself.

1:50pm. And now for something completely different. The last three films were all from the exact some time, 1964-65, and centered on a male viewpoint. Emporte-Moi is a Jewish Quebecois 13-year-old girl's coming-of-age, and it was released in 1999. It does, however, have a connection to the mid-sixties, because the young adolescent Hanna idolizes Anna Karina in Vivre sa vie, and models her looks, philosophy, and behavior on the iconic Godard film, with troublesome results. As is usually the case with such films, the story is episodic and the style impressionistic (warm but not particularly distinctive, until the final minutes when we ostensibly see the world through Hanna's new 8mm camera, all wobbly framing and oversaturated colors). What works for the film is its humanistic investment in the characters (not knowing anything about director Lea Pool, except that she would have been the same age as Hanna in 1962, I would guess many of Emporte-Moi's story elements are autobiographical) as well as its unsensationalistic approach to teen sexuality, dysfunctional families, and growing pains. I'll definitely seek out more of Pool's and lead actress Karine Vanasse's films.

4pm. This is a coming-of-age film too, in a sense, or a coming-into-age... When the movie begins Taro is a newborn and we shift back and forth between his thoughts and his parents' responses. By the end of Being Two Isn't Easy, they have gone from a family in theory to a family in fact, united by accidents, moves, sickness, arguments, and death. Little by little, the mother and father come to see their boy as something other than an object to be looked after, realizing he is a little person in his own right. Director Kon Ichikawa (presumably following the film's screenplay) details all the chores and traumas of childrearing with at-times tedious rigor, and initially the movie seemed too much like a higher-budgeted information film. Ultimately, however, the languors and weariness are a part of the mosiac, along with the inventive, delightful moments like the animated banana-moon or the zoo-animal montage, painting a portrait of family life that remains remarkably identifiable over fifty years and across half the world.

6:05pm. Roberto Rossellini was known as a simple filmmaker and yet this film has a wildly inventive premise (with myriad social and cinematic implications) and wry execution. A village photographer is given the ability to kill people by taking pictures of their pictures (they will die in the same pose as the captured photo: for example, to kill one person the photographer duplicates a snapshot of the victim as an infant and the man expires with his thumb in his mouth). The Machine That Kills Bad People is at once a humorous exaggeration of media's soul-crushing power (something Rossellini would have experienced himself in the negative publicity surrounding his romance with Ingrid Bergman), a parable about good intentions gone wrong (wonder what the Italian Communists made of this movie?), and a metatextual winking take on cinema's awe-inspiring and dangerous abilities. The film seems to be winding toward an uncharacteristically cynical conclusion but, Rossellini being Rossellini, the director ends up finding the good in everyone...even the devil himself.

7:30pm. If all you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun, Emotion is all set: it's got two girls, and two guns, and a hell of a lot more all squeezed into 40 minutes. A wild experiment shot while director Nobuhiko Obayashi was also filming a TV commercial, the movie fuses A Hard Day's Night with Dracula, climaxes like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and is dedicated to Roger Vadim. A million tangents of thought and feeling enter into the picture, but ultimately this is an exercise is stylistic energy above all - a celebration of youth, filmmaking, sex, and violence on a "mystical afternoon" as one of the mile-a-minute titles has it. This makes me want to grab whatever I can and rush out onto the street to shoot something myself. Which is a great way to end this whole exercise.

At the end, Obayashi quotes Vadim: "You can't live in dreams forever." Goodnight, and thanks for following.


This piece was re-ordered from earliest to latest, with some minor edits made, after midnight.

16 comments:

Jon said...

I'm sort of doing the same thing and only caught on last night. Watched Bitter Rice, Voyage to Italy....next is 21 Days....tonight I think I'm watching The Ear. All new for me.

Joel Bocko said...

Yeah, isn't it great? :) I think you might like the one I just watched, btw. If Shubhajit's lurking out there I know he'd be curious...

Incidentally, I guess I have more than a day since, misunderstanding the offer, I actually signed up for a free trial week (which means I am watching without commercials, whoopee!). So unless a lot of this content is only available for the holiday weekend (which I think might actually be the case) there isn't so much of a rush. I'll keep pretending I'm under the gun though, to give it more urgency haha.

Sam Juliano said...

I haven't yet tuned in to this wonderful gesture for serious cineastes, but I have been given notice by several fellow bloggers. I've only seen two of these, and once wrote a capsule on THE LOVE GODDESSES. I'll keep watching for new developments here Joel!

Joel Bocko said...

Which is the other one, out of curiosity?

Sam Juliano said...

I saw Bette Davis in CABIN IN THE COTTON Joel, but admittedly with your update I am more than intrigued with THE JUNK SHOP, EMPORTE-MOI and THE MACHINE THAT KILLS BAD PEOPLE.

Anthony said...

That's pretty impressive...I'm not sure I could do such a marathon...I would get sidetracked by other things.

Joel Bocko said...

Sam,

I actually only saw that one clip from Cabin in the Love Goddesses doc, and don't think I'd even heard of of before. In fact, I didn't even recognize the young Davis at first! That's one reason it was great to start with that documentary - even though I watched 7 films yesterday, it feels like I watched even more because I saw all those clips.

I think you would like all those films, the Rossellini especially.

Joel Bocko said...

Thanks, Anthony. It helps that I watched so few movies leading up to the marathon (this was as many feature films in a single day as I had watched in all of January, although last week I began picking up the pace again). So my palate had basically been cleansed for such an effort.

Mike said...

Saw 9 films this past weekend via Hulu. Still feel like there's a lot I should have seen and am mad for not getting around to. Anyways, the only real obscure film I watched was Parris Belongs to Us which I found tedious. I read your wonderful essay on it, which swayed me a little bit, but overall I didn’t care for it. Hopefully Criterion will work on restoring more Rivette since at the moment none of his films are available, as far as I know.

Joel Bocko said...

Yes, Paris can be hit-and-miss but I'm glad you have it a shot and hope it grows in you. Rivette as a filmmaker depends very much on the mood you watch his films in which can be a liability (drawing accusations of 'emperor without clothes if the viewer is required to fill TOO many gaps) but also a unique strength (the sensation I get from a Rivette when I'm on the right wavelength is unlike anything else). This debut film is trickiest of all in that regard since he's stumbling in the dark himself somewhat, inventing his own form of filmmaking unconsciously in many years. I've gone back and forth on what he does right in the film (the review was written in the wake of a more ambivalent viewing than my initial, rapturous one) but I find the experience fascinating regardless. At any rate I sound a bit like a stoner advising on the right 'set' lol and I'd imagine the film goes with cannibas although I've never tested that theory.

As for Criterion-Hulu, which 9 did you see? I'd love to hear your own reactions.

Mike said...

Here’s what I saw with brief reactions-

L'avventura- I’ve heard/read so much about this film prior to my viewing that I had an idea in my head of what it was going to be like. Well, my pre-conceived notions proved to be completely wrong. I liked the film, but I feel like I need to see it again to really appreciate it.

Knife in the Water- Very tense film whose hour and a half runtime flew by. My only complaint is the ending was a bit of a letdown, but a minor flaw in an otherwise great film.

A Woman Under the Influence- Totally floored me. The performances were so great and authentic across the board. In some scenes you literally feel like you’re in the room with these people, which makes it all the more awkward and painful to watch. Harrowing and unforgettable.

Walkabout- This film and Paris Belongs to Us were the only two I didn’t really care for. My main problem with this one was that the main girl seemed completely unfazed at the fact her father flipped shit and killed himself. Why should I root for this mundane, emotionless little twat and her annoying (but admittedly adorable) little brother to survive? I like the whole ‘nature vs. society’ thing but I couldn’t get over the lack of emotional connection to the characters.

Shoot the Piano Player- A very entertaining French new wave noir thriller/comedy. That’s all I got.

2 Or Three Things I Know About Her- This rapid fire intellectual exercise dares you to keep up with the plethora of ideas about modern society, film sound and language tossed at you. A lot of it probably went over my head but I found it utterly compelling nonetheless.

La Collectionneuse- I must have been feeling pretty brave after 2 or Three Things.. that I decided to tackle my first Rohmer. And I loved every second. The main dude looked like Anton Chigurh, which I found hilarious. Anyways, I loved the warm, natural aesthetic to this film. So…

Claire’s Knee- … I went in for another Rohmer. Again I loved it, although I can’t really put my finger on it. The main guy was a pervert, the two main girls, while hot, were complete bitches, and the author woman was a snob. But I couldn’t look away! It’s like a lazy, relaxing summer afternoon that you never want to end.

Joel Bocko said...

Great little capsules here. I'm not a huge Walkabout fan, but I tend to find Roeg offputting for reasons I can't quite put my finger on (nonetheless, I harbor some fond memories of Performance & own Don't Look Now).

LOVE Rohmer, and I'm thrilled you warmed to him too. My favorite of his Six Moral Tales (which, despite digging big time, are still the only Rohmers I've viewed) is My Night with Maud. Your assessment reminds me of the Seinfeld episode with Kramer's portrait ("he's a loathesome, offensive brute...")

Though I worship many other '66/'67 Godards - Masculin Feminin, La Chinoise, and Weekend have all been favorites - 2 or 3 Things left me cold when I saw in the theater. I do need to see it again, especially since so many seem to love it (one friend actually told me he watched it a second time without the narration, just soaking in the visual flow, and enjoyed it even more).

L'Avventura, I felt similarly on first viewing I think. Compelled, intrigued, not sure I liked, but sure I didn't dislike it, and wanting to see it again. It's really grown on me with repeats, although I think L'Eclisse is my favorite Antonioni.

"I’ve heard/read so much about this film prior to my viewing that I had an idea in my head of what it was going to be like. Well, my pre-conceived notions proved to be completely wrong."

God, I love that feeling, it's one of my favorite parts of moviegoing...

Mike said...

I’ve read so much about how Rohmer is hit or miss with people. The word ‘pretentious’ gets thrown around a lot when discussing his films. I’ve only seen the two, but to me he seems like the total opposite of pretentious. He lets the human interaction play out without any drama heightening techniques or Hollywood gimmicks that force us to pick one side or the other. I can understand how people find this boring, but I find it fascinating and am looking forward to watching more of his films.

You should re-watch 2 or 3 Things. Based on my first viewing it may be my favorite Godard. Watching it without narration might help- you don’t really need Godard’s verbal cues when he announces he is going to abruptly halt the narrative and film a tree… because he can.

Just curious- what are your thoughts on Cassavetes, particularly A Woman Under the Influence, if you’ve seen it?

Joel Bocko said...

I feel the exact same way about Rohmer. Not only are his uber-talky films as exciting as action movies to me, they also feel in an odd way, really cinematic (which maybe isn't so odd given that Nestor Almendros lensed most of them).

I am bound to give 2 or 3 Things another go at some point. I had certainly anticipated it with excitement before the first viewing. One thing that disappointed me, I think, was that the lead actress was colder and not as engaging as Karina or Wiazemsky or Seberg or Chantal Goya in M/F. If I recall correctly from Brody's book, they didn't really click on the set either.

Cassavetes I respect but don't really love yet. I've seen Shadows, Faces, Killing of a Chinese Bookie, and yes, A Woman Under the Influence. That was the first one, probably before I was ready for him, and I'd love to go back and rewatch it now when I'm more prone to appreciate what he was doing there.

Anonymous said...

Good job Joel. Did you see only these 7 or did you squeeze a few more in lol? Personally I can't watch more than 2 films in one day... at some point my brain rejects celluloid for a 24 hour period...Maurizio Roca

Joel Bocko said...

I think I had de-toxxed enough (as I noted, this was as many feature films in a day as I'd watched in all of January) to OD safely. Although that's an odd narcotic metaphor, as that's not how it actually works haha.

Anyway, another interesting aspect which kept me from excited about it was that not only hadn't I seen any of these films before, I hadn't even heard of most of them (I think only the Czech one, and that only fleetingly in the liner notes for a Criterion I acquired less than six weeks ago). It was definitely an absorbing exploration.