Lost in the Movies: Remembering the Movies, Nov. 19 - 25

Remembering the Movies, Nov. 19 - 25

Every Friday, we look back at films released 10-100 years ago this week.

Today marks the debut of a new format for Remembering the Movies. As promised, the focus is on the visuals - bigger pictures and posters, and more of them. There will also be some embedded videos instead of links, while extensive quotations, highlighted in red, are replacing my usual write-ups (usually the quotes will be from contemporaneous reviews or published histories; this week, for whatever reason, they are mostly from film blogs). There's one exception to the outside references: each week I will provide a capsule review of one of the films discussed. This week it's the novelty release Just Imagine (1930), which perfectly suits our theme of traveling through time in ten-year increments. Just Imagine is a sci-fi projection of what the world will look like in the remote, distant future (i.e. the year 1980). Meanwhile, the image above comes from Heaven's Gate, the much-maligned and lately championed epic from the actual year 1980. An early Fenimore Cooper adaptation, a buddy/kid comedy, a Bette Davis classic, and an Irish silent join Cimino's folly below. If you want to learn more about any of these movies, click on the hyperlinked title after the entry; it will take you to IMDb for further explorations.

10 years ago (November 25, 2000; Moroccan release)
"Like the trigger-happy City of God, Ali Zaoua focuses on a gang of street children and features a cast of largely nonprofessional actors (an exception, Saïd Taghmaoui from Three Kings and The Good Thief, plays the kids' abusive mute ringleader). But where City settled for jumped-up nihilism, Ayouch's film finds quiet hope among its down-and-out preadolescent glue-sniffers. Equal parts Los Olvidados, Pixote, and As I Lay Dying, Ali Zaoua chronicles the efforts of a trio of friends to give their murdered companion (the titular Ali) a decent burial. Ayouch captures the squalid Casablanca settings in breathtaking wide-screen, and his fluid, inquisitive camera subtly exposes the longing and desperation harbored by his characters—and, presumably, his actors. It's an oblique, heartbreaking film that bravely, if precariously, gives lie to the gang's rally cry that "life is a pile of shit.'"  - Mark Holcomb, Village Voice
The film is available on Instant Netflix.

20 years ago (November 21, 1990)

30 years ago (November 19, 1980)

Pigs flew last autumn, when ever-contentious bloggers Allan Fish and Bob Clark found a rare and rather eccentric point of agreement: Heaven's Gate, long regarded as the bomb to end all bombs, was in fact the very best film of the 1980s. Each wrote an essay defending their decision. "It’s true that Cimino’s film is not for everyone," Allan confessed in a short explanation of his #1 choice in the 80s countdown, "and the history is undoubtedly dubious, but it operates on such a massive canvas that few could dream of. ... Few films have such a mixture of fatalism and nostalgia, while whole set pieces deserve their place amongst the very best yet filmed." Bob's essay rivaled the film in epic length and scope, concluding with this tribute"Any film that can break hearts like this can surely please crowds in equal measure ... I can think of no other single film that better encapsulates the cycle of life, with all its triumphs, pleasures and disappointments ... than this. If at times it feels like a movie made on another world, then perhaps it is because it belongs to another world, one where it is given the appreciation it deserves. Forever looking back upon itself as a wistful, romantic rewriting of a savage history and a luxuriously sentimental piece of five-star, truly superhuman filmmaking, Heaven’s Gate is a choice vintage of cinema that cannot be recommended too strenuously."

These two write-ups encouraged me to finally seek out the film. While I didn't see it as a masterpiece, I was nonetheless impressed and (after a shaky first two hours) engrossed. And oh, Isabelle Huppert...
Heaven's Gate (1980)

40 years ago (November 19, 1970)
"In The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion (1970) the beautiful Dagmar Lassander plays a repressed newly married woman named Minou who’s traumatized by a sexual assault as well as obsessed with her attacker. Passions turn deadly and soon Minou finds herself being blackmailed. Genre favorite Nieves Navarro shows up in a memorable supporting role and really spices up the film. Ercoli’s directing is impressive and it’s complimented by Ennio Morricone’s fantastic score, which is easily one of his best. The film is presented in widescreen and looks fabulous. The DVD also includes the theatrical trailer and a nice featurette called Forbidden Screenplays which contains an interview with co-writer Ernesto Gastaldi. The basic premise of The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion is bound to offend some, but if you enjoy erotic films from the 60s & 70s that are more concerned with eroticism & aesthetics then political correctness, you might enjoy the film as much as I did." - Kimberly Lindbergs, Cinebeats

50 years ago (November 23, 1960)

"The film reminded me of Tati, if Tati had made something dramatic. There’s a great deal of metaphor in the film and its entire treatment of the people removes their humanity, instead turning them into animals with a routine. It’s kind of like a Natural Geographic film about people actually. The film’s beautifully made, beautifully scored (the music is incredibly important), but the director likes foreshadowing a lot. It’s well-done foreshadowing–I’d never seen 8 minutes of visual foreshadowing kept up before–but it puts the audience on its guard. Still, the film is effective in very human ways, but it’s the director’s inflexibility–his adherence to his initial idea–that ultimately hurts the film. Instead of being about the struggle of the human heart, it’s a more generalized struggle of living things." - The Stop Button

"It is within this recurring thematic framework of the unforeseen residual legacy of the atomic bombing and the cultural (and societal) toll of the Pacific War that The Naked Island can be regarded as an oblique representation of hibakusha cinema in the endless toiling of a seemingly inutile, barren land: a bittersweet, poetic elegy for Shindo’s dying ancestral vocation on a rural, isolated island. In essence, the film serves as an allegory for a humble way of life irrevocably transformed by a landscape poisoned by nuclear exposure – a naked island – the uncalculated, indirect fallout of a seemingly distant and alien war. Chronicling the silent, daily ritual of a small family of farmers living alone on a remote island in the Inland Sea as they row their boat to the main island, fetch water, prepare meals, take their children to school, and tend to their meagre crops from dawn to dusk, the film serves as a broader existential parable for the cyclicality of human experience where eruptions of violence and unexpected tragedy are momentarily revealed through de-dramatized, imperceptibly transient perturbations within the eternal performance of a Sisyphean ritual." - Acquarello, Masters of Cinema

Naked Island (1960)

60 years ago (November 21, 1950)

70 years ago (November 22, 1940)

"We all know the brilliant tracking shot that opens The Letter--how it finally comes to rest on a cockatoo, which flies off, startled, at the sound of the first shot from Bette Davis's gun. Another shot, the workers stir, then the camera moves in toward the plantation house and shows a man who clutches himself as he staggers down the steps, Bette Davis in pursuit as she empties her revolver into him, her face an impassive executioner's mask that each viewer must spend the rest of the movie interpreting.

But that's the socko finale to the sequence. The meat comes earlier, establishing the symbolic vocabulary and the themes of the movie with incredible elegance and economy. It begins with the full moon, the ancient image of another world gazing dispassionately at us, from a distance. The camera moves to a tree and down to where the bark has been cut open and a shunt stabbed into the trunk, as the white rubber drip, drip, drips into a bucket--more than just sexually suggestive, the image tells us the life of the plantation is steady, monotonous, wearing away at the residents like the proverbial water torture. The sound of the dripping carries over the music played by the workers, then fades as the camera moves steadily to their open-sided hut. And the camera begins to ascend back toward the trees, showing the Malayan workers playing mah-jongg, talking quietly, sweat still gleaming on their bodies, their clothes still dirty from the day's labors. They try to sleep in their hammocks despite the mosquitos and the still, heavy air, a sense of suffocation that will echo throughout the film. Up to the thatched roof of the quarters, and only then back down, through the bamboo sides of the quarters and the latticework in the garden (the first of innumerable "cage" images) over to the bird. Then the gunshot, and a cut to the workers, then the owners' house, the white man dying in his proper jacket, Davis in correct at-home evening attire as she shoots him, again and again. And the workers running to the house, stopping and staring at the dead man, and then at Davis with mingled apprehension and revulsion. She drops the gun, the first of many shots that will connect the ground to death, either past or future. Finally, the camera moves in for a close-up on Davis, establishing the suspense for the audience, the whydunit." - Faran Nehme, Self Styled Siren (if you still haven't visited the Siren's by-now famous site, please do so. Among other attractions, right now she's got maybe the most eye-catching banner I've seen up there, and that's saying something)
The Letter (1940)

80 years ago (November 23, 1930)
The shaggy dog story as sci-fi musical: many films have employed the same plot devices as Just Imagine - but none that I can think of employ them all within the same film! There are multiple sci-fi concepts on display - the man reawakened from death in the future (like Woody Allen's Sleeper or Fry on "Futurama"), the lovers separated by a Brave New World-like bureaucracy, the trip through outer space to a bizarre planet. Yet there's also room for comedic banter with a Lithuanian Swedish-accented sidekick, sexual innuendos galore, duets and dance numbers, pagan rituals, vaudeville routines (halfway through the film, apropos of nothing, the comic relief launches into a farcical song about a farmer's daughter in which he switches hats every two seconds.) The plot's so wacky it needs to be recited: in the future, planes have replaced cars, pills have replaced food and drink (though Prohibition is still in effect, it's easier to subvert), everyone has a number rather than a name, and marriage partners are determined by a court rather than true love.

J-21, in order to prove his marital worthiness to the judge, embarks on a voyage to Mars in a vacuum-proof dirigible, taking along his wisecracking pal and the stowaway man-from-1930. They wind up on the Red Planet, which is inhabited by scantily-clad giant headpiece-wearing women eager to strip off their clothes, bizarre pig/goat creatures that are only glimpsed before they scamper off the set, and lumbering bodybuilders in thongs, spiked shoulder pads and afros. During some sort of musical revue during which all the Martian gals are dressed up as monkeys, the malicious doppelgangers invade (every Martian has an evil twin) - the Earthlings must escape the planet if J-21 is going to get back to his bride before the judge's deadline is reached. The film concludes with the true lovers reunited, while the man from the past meets his son, now an old man with a white beard. Shocked at first, he invites the "Sonny Boy" to sit on his lap and rocks him back and forth.

The movie's as wacky as it sounds, and what begins as a trivial curiosity, with several tedious songs and corny jokes, becomes a giddy guilty pleasure long before the final reel. My favorite gag? 1930 Man asks about the manufacturers of the airplanes, and one of his guides tells him they're all "Rosenblatts" and "Goldfarbs." He scratches his head, repeats the name, and laughs: "It looks like someone got even with Henry Ford..." The film is also quite frisky as one would expect from a pre-Code talkie, and a sequence in which Martian women writhe and slither around a giant idol (whose eyes and hands can move) seems to fuse the Ziegfeld Girls with "The Rite of Spring." A completely random (what else would you expect from this film?) number finds J-21's friends sending him off with a drinking song - the composition and the rippling movements of the arms lifting and slamming down the tiny bottles seem to prefigure Busby Berkeley's later extravaganzas, though as of yet the camera is not engaged in the action.

Just Imagine (1930)
The film is available on You Tube.

90 years ago (November 21, 1920)
"It is odd that this epic of American history and early pioneers should be left to a Frenchman to bring to the screen, but nothing of the wonderful love story has been lost, nothing in the stirring historical scenes has suffered. Through the Tourneur artistry The Last of the Mohicans has been made to rank, it is said, with the big achievements of the screen." - Los Angeles Times, 1920

"Two words I never thought would come up in a review of The Last of the Mohicans (1920, directed by Clarence Brown and Maurice Tourneur): Onscreen infanticide! What a surprising movie.

I was all set for 70 minutes of Boy Scout action, with lots of tramping through the woods and maybe some close-ups of moccasin prints. But the movie is both lavishly romantic and over-the-top violent. It’s even got Boris Karloff in it, of all people. (Its Wikipedia page claims that Bela Lugosi is in it also, but the good writers there seem to have confused this film with a German version – released the same year – in which Lugosi stars as Chingachgook.) [...]

The scenery and composition are gorgeous. I particularly love a sequence when the heroes are hiding in a cave from Magua, and the cave mouth frames a series of beautiful shots: Uncas lounging in the doorway as Cora (Barbara Bedford, as still and beautiful as a sculpture) watches him yearningly; the sunset outside; Magua’s warriors creeping by; the terrified group hiding within.

Also fantastic is a later scene when Magua’s lethal band (mad with fire-water from the French, we’re told) overruns the abandoned Ft. William Henry, swarming into a hospital room full of wounded British soldiers too weak to leave the fort. Their shadowy figures gradually fill the confined space, and the silence makes it tremendously eerie. I just loved it." - Anne Elisabeth Dillon, From the Vaults (L.A. Times blog)

100 years ago (November 23, 1910)
"The Lad From Old Ireland was a typical emigration narrative, telling the story of a young man forced to flee his native land by economic circumstance who achieves success in America and then returns home at the end to save his girlfriend’s family from eviction. The dream of wealth on the far-flung shore was a familiar one, but the fantasy of the return was what really appealed to the Irish abroad, and they flocked to see it." - Harvey O'Brien, "The Identity of an Irish Cinema"

(h/t Culch.ie)

The film is available on You Tube (see above).


Jaime Grijalba said...

This can't happen. None.

Joel Bocko said...

Hey, Jaime. Do you mean "none" as in you haven't seen any of these movies? My sympathies. ;)

Actually, at the start of the day I had only seen one of them, and that one virtually only because of an act of God (ie Bob & Allan agreeing) - I almost certainly would not have seen Heaven's Gate yet if not for the write-ups on Wonders. Before I finished this, I had watched Just Imagine & An Old Lad from Ireland as well.

In a way "None" is good news - it means you get to check many of these out for the first time! The wacked-out Just Imagine is a treat though you may just want to jump ahead to the last half-hour, when they're on Mars.

Joe Thompson said...

I like the new format. It's like an artist's collage. Sorry I didn't comment last week -- things have been hectic. I think you need to do what you need to do to maintain a life.

My whole family loves "The Letter." That is an excellent quote from the Siren.

I saw Just Imagine in the Richelieu Theater in San Francisco in 1980. This was appropriate since it was set in 1880-1930-1980. After seeing the rocket ships and the city of the future in the movie, it was a shock to step out onto Geary Street and catch a 38 Geary bus home. BTW, El Brendel's accent is Swedish.

The Irish locations were nice in "A Lad from Old Ireland." Gene Gauntier was one of several women who wrote screenplays in the early days.

Sam Juliano said...

The agreement of Bob and Allan on HEAVEN'S GATE was one of those inexplicable but happy coincidences, and it certainly was partially fueled by their mutual hope to mold some opinions, and to mitigate what they felt was a critical slight by the establishment. The film did inspire some of the duo's finest work to date.

In any case I haven't yet seen THE LAD FROM OLD IRELAND (1910) but am a huge fan of both Shindo's THE NAKED ISLAND and the Bette Davis classic THE LETTER. You have brought both to life magnificently, and I highlight this awesome analysis of the former:

"The Naked Island can be regarded as an oblique representation of hibakusha cinema in the endless toiling of a seemingly inutile, barren land: a bittersweet, poetic elegy for Shindo’s dying ancestral vocation on a rural, isolated island. In essence, the film serves as an allegory for a humble way of life irrevocably transformed by a landscape poisoned by nuclear exposure – a naked island – the uncalculated, indirect fallout of a seemingly distant and alien war."

Joel Bocko said...

Thanks, Joe - I was actually very satisfied with the final result too, though I have to say it didn't save as much time as I thought it would! (I think now that I've got it done, though, it will go more smoothly week to week). Swedish - of course, at least I had the geographical/ethnic ballpark somewhat close (not same region, mind you, but same ballpark...)

Sam, glad you enjoyed the layout and Acquarillo's and the Siren's words on Naked Island and The Letter, which I've not yet seen. Their celebrations of both definitely make me curious.

Troy Olson said...

Love the use of the larger images. Glad to see people not limited by Blogger's stingy column width (though finding appropriately sized images for the older movies will often be difficult, I'm guessing).

Sadly, the only movie I've seen on here is the sequel, THREE MEN AND A LITTLE LADY and that doesn't even have the excitement of seeing a "ghost" captured on film that the first one does ;)

Joel Bocko said...

Yeah, at least the original 3 Men & Wizard of Oz have 1 thing in common!

I totally agree about the larger pictures; one thing that bugged me for the first two years of my blogging was that you could only import pictures files at a certain size and then once you blew them up they lost resolution. That's a case with a few here, but only because the originals themselves were smaller. Where a picture's big you can restore it to extra-large size and not lose anything in quality. One of the best changes Blogger made when they revamped everything back in June.

Plus, when I redid the whole blog's design I expanded the main column width, at the expense of the sidebar, which I didn't feel needed to be as big as it was. I'd love to see more bloggers do this; film being a visual medium it makes sense to give the pictures as much room to breathe as possible.

Thanks for dropping by!

Joel Bocko said...

Correction alert: I checked over the whole post before I'd written my capsule of Just Imagine, and the latter had a number of spelling errors (my favorite? "worthubness") just fixed. Plus, as Joe correctly noted, that's a Swede not a Lithuanian. Apologies to all slighted Scandanavians.

Also replaced the anachronistic intro reference to a "Gene Autry oater", The Blazing Sun which was replaced by Counterspy vs. Scotland Yard (better title, more images, and a video clip to boot).

Gordon Pasha said...

Movie Man: I have seen four of these, two recently, but will only comment on one at any length. And that comment is of a peripheral nature, as one might make notes on a book’s endpapers about the purchase place and binding of that book.

Recently I have watched again “The Letter” on a VCR tape and the silent “Last of the Mohicans” (this time on You Tube). I have seen The Letter” more than fifty times, ‘Mohicans” twice. I revisited “Mohicans” because of a remark by Andrew Sarris in “American Cinema” about Barbara Bedford’s “expressively perverse performance,” which I am still not sure I understand. But I very much liked the film both times and the Anne Dillon remarks seem on target.

“The Letter” has Davis, Sondergaard, Inescort, Marshall and soon to expire James Stephenson. This is a master class in diction, even without Sondergaard speaking.
Rubber plantations by Warner Atmospherics, our greatest actress and a surefire property. All of these elements dancing around that damning letter and a damnable Code.

Am I the only one who after thirty years mixes up (in memory) “Heaven’s Gate” and “Days of Heaven?” I actually liked them both when they opened. In the past year, thanks to Netflix, I watched virtually all their Huppert French holdings. So I thank whatever French diety is in vogue these days that Huppert slipped across the Atlantic only for an occasional foray such as “Heaven’s Gate,” and then returned home where she belongs. She is their Bette Davis and then some. And Huppert’s characters are also comfortable, when necessary, with weaponry: she was ruthless in Chabrol’s "Le Ceremonie.”

Then there is “The Island.” My wife and I very well remember seeing the film at the now defunct Guild Theatre, which was located one block east on 50th Street from the main entrance of Radio City Music Hall. The Guild was “catty-corner” to the skating rink, minuscule by Manhattan movie theatre standards, but located in place that is almost New York impersonating New York. I recalled that we had seen “The Island,” as new, in the early sixties, so I looked up the issue date: September 1962. Perhaps, and likely, we were in midtown a few months later for the Radio City Christmas Tree. (Guild fare would have such lengthy runs.)

Perhaps we went to the Guild to get out of the cold – more likely it was a tip from Andrew Sarris’s weekly column in The Village Voice. He was a filmic John the Baptist to me then, the vestiges of which still remain. My wife and I distinctly remember the film’s title being “The Island.” I realize both titles are now listed on IMDB. For years I thought we were the only two persons who had ever seen this film. As I recall it, some forty eight years later it is as described in your posting and elsewhere.

The Tati allusion intrigues but I suspect “broader existential parable for the cyclicality of human experience” was beyond our range in those years. My wife was newly graduated from college; I had just returned from two years of service in Germany. But we were certainly taken with the film then and remember it more than a half century later. For years, whenever some onerous task at home would overtake us -- one or the other of us might refer to “The Island”: “I’ll get the water today.” The striking visuals, the raw imagery, and the stark existence made for a striking contrast -- particularly when we exited the Guild, almost at the base of the Christmas Tree (perhaps), and merged into the omnipresent crowds of a very magical New York.

A remote Japanese island, rubber plantations in Singapore, Hawkeye in the French and Indian War, and Isabelle Huppert. A nice cinematic reverie -- with end credits rolling at a now defunct theatre that brought light to some in the past. Best. Gerald.

Andrew Wickliffe said...

This is a nice feature. Love the use of the images with the posts.

Joel Bocko said...

Andrew, thanks - and thanks for your thoughts on The Naked Island!

Joel Bocko said...

Gerald, I had a bit of a scare there; for some reason Blogger put your comment in the Spam bin and when I labelled it "Not Spam" it seemed to disappear! I even left a comment on your blog apologizing.

Luckily, it made it here intact after all. Suffice to say, this is exactly my hope, that people will share their own thoughts on these films as well, especially since often I'm just discovering them for the first time (hence the renewed focus on critical or historical insights).

You've really delivered here, and I love these sorts of anecdotes. Thanks again, and I'm glad you made it through!

Gordon Pasha said...

Thank you Movie Man. Often I have nothing to contribute, but occasionally, as in your entries this week, the films light a spark from the past. I do not like to intrude on a poster’s space unless I think it might interest him or her, and their readers. Yours are an enlightened group. Best Gerald.

(I will delete your Removed comment on my Drood posting as it is no longer relevant – thank you for your courtesy.) And I have not forgotten the director tagging but have experienced trouble remembering some films when first seen.

Joel Bocko said...

I myself am re-discovering the charms of lurking, so I sympathize.

No worries about the director's meme. So far only one person I tagged has taken it up, so you're not alone. That said, if you ever do find yourself in the mood (otherwise, why bother?) I'll look forward to it. Thanks again,


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