Lost in the Movies: Remembering the Movies, Apr. 1 - 7

Remembering the Movies, Apr. 1 - 7

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

As you may notice, I made a few changes around the blog yesterday. The sidebar is now more visual, and the idea is to encourage new readers to explore the archives. Especially at a time when I am posting lightly (even as the audience share keeps growing) I want to keep the site's backlog alive. More on that tomorrow.

For now, we're highlighting a film that I actually haven't seen; nonetheless, the Powell-Pressburger operatic adaptation is probably the most renowned movie on this list and deserves its picture at the top. The Tales of Hoffmann is joined by two drug movies, two on/offscreen romances, and an early Murnau.

10 years ago (April 6, 2001 - wide release)
"Hopefully ambitious yet hopelessly lightweight, Blow tells the cautionary tale of the real-life master coke smuggler George Jung (Johnny Depp), profiled in Rolling Stone eight years ago as the U.S. embodiment of the Medellín drug cartel. The movie opens with an entire village of Colombian peons picking coca and processing the powder; like Traffic, Blow is looking for the big picture. Unfortunately in this case, the panorama is funneled through the experience of an increasingly dull character." - Village Voice

"When Blow dwells on the domestic squabbles of Depp and Colombian wife Penélope Cruz, it becomes clear just how little has been invested in the characters. Depp's descent from childlike wonder into hardened addiction seems to take place offscreen, while Cruz's harpy makes sense only as a cartoon, her wobbliness embodying a shrill cliché that echoes the unease of a miscast Rachel Griffiths as Depp's mother. Demme's seeming lack of confidence is just as crippling. Refraining from glamorizing coke culture might be admirable, but substituting snapshot freeze-frames and sudden lapses into slow motion with agonized marital confrontations and what-about-our-kid hand-wringing proves disastrous in Blow's dull second act. By the time Depp takes a fall for his fourth or fifth attempt at a last big score, his arrest punctuated by the sad eyes of his disillusioned daughter, Blow takes a turn toward the unintentionally comic. Ray Liotta scores some nice moments as Depp's father, his presence a fitting homage to Demme's most obvious source of inspiration. In fact, Depp even sounds uncannily like Liotta did in his voiceover narration in Goodfellas. If you haven't seen that movie in a while, you might want to check it out. It's a good one." - Keith Phipps, The A.V. Club

Blow (2001)

20 years ago (April 5, 1991)

"The narcissism of the Basinger-Baldwin sex scenes is similarly off-putting. The two preen rather than act. Director Rees, a former Disney animator, seems happier working outside the bedroom. So does Baldwin, whose comic gifts emerge only in the scenes with his four bachelor buddies — Phil (Paul Reiser), Sammy (Fisher Stevens), Tony (Peter Dobson) and George (Steve Hytner). The Marrying Man isn't awful; it's something much less fun — conspicuously mediocre." - Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

30 years ago (April 2, 1981)
"As teen-agers packed theaters last week to see the cinematic Christiane F., played by Natja Brunckhorst, 14, experts on drug abuse feared that despite the film's realistic scenes of drug withdrawal, West German youths might be turning the former addict into a cult heroine and possibly a role model. Many teen-age girls have begun to imitate Christiane's style of dress and make pilgrimages to her former haunts. 

Complains Wolf Heckmann, West Berlin's drug commissioner: 'The book and film have increased interest in drugs in this city. Kids who come to visit used to ask to see the Berlin Wall. Now they want to see the Zoo Station.' - Time Magazine 

"This is one of the most horrifying movies I have ever seen. The fact that it's based on actual events makes it heartbreaking. CHRISTIANE F. is the portrait of a young girl who between her thirteenth and fifteenth years went from a fairly average childhood into the horrors of drug addiction, prostitution, and life on the brink of death. 

 The movie has become notorious in Europe, where both the film and book versions of Christiane's adventures have been bestsellers. The real Christiane first came to light as a witness in the trial of a man accused of having sex with minors. 

A reporter at the trial was intrigued by her appearance on the witness stand and tracked her down. His tape-recorded interviews with her became the basis for a twelve-part series in Stern, the German news magazine, which inspired the movie." - Roger Ebert

Christiane F (1981)

40 years ago (April 2, 1971)

"One thing I would have loved to have seen included in 'The Model as Muse' show, instead of cliched Funny Face, is clips from Rubartelli's beautiful, haunting 1971 film Veruschka. I obtained a video copy of it years ago and find it frustrating that this wonderful film hasn't been exhibited publicly. (Readers of A Shaded View may know better--let me know if you ever been to a screening of the film). One standout of the film is the gorgeously languid soundtrack by Ennio Morricone." - Diane Pernet, A Shaded View of Fashion

Veruschka (1971)

50 years ago (April 4, 1961)
"A trifle? Of course! But there's more. First, there is the aroma of an older, almost idyllic age. Athens (and Piraeus) are beautiful, spotless, people are genteel and smartly dressed, they smile and laugh, and their manners are impeccable. They radiate the feeling that bad times are gone forever, and the best is yet to come. The script by Alekos Sakellarios is so simple, it almost winks at the viewer as to what's coming next. Beach balls are no longer in fashion, but any Greek girl knows that the best pickup line she can use on a guy is Alice's fake threat: "Hey, you pirate, (that's) my beach ball!" In other words, I'm Alice, you are Dimitri Papamichail, we just met by the sea, then we'll go donkey-riding and singing under the pine trees, and then we'll be all dressed in white, holding hands under an arch of silver swords. 

Walter Lassaly's photography is flawless, crisp postcard colors and expert framing, a feast for the eyes. Manos Hadjidakis' music is timelessly joyous, and it's no accident that all three songs Alice sings, The Little Donkey, Full Speed Ahead, and The Seagull, are so well loved to this day. There's hardly a Greek Navy draftee that has not or will not be teased by his friends: "Full speed ahead and come what may/ Full speed ahead, do you own thing/ Full speed ahead before youth flees/ Full speed ahead, for life is short." - kalex2002, IMDb

60 years ago (April 4, 1951)
"Stretches of it are delightful and shine through a rich, inventive use of the motion-picture medium to gain movement, suggestion and grace. Miss Shearer's numbers, for instance, are cinematic gems, combining a rare and thrilling fusion of pantomime, music and dance. And, in them, her several dancing partners, including the Messrs. Helpmann, Ashton and Massine, plus a lively assemblage of puppets, assist in a charming fantasy.
Some bits of the second episode also have an intriguing movement and grace, although the total effect of this episode is tumultuous and confused.

Offenbach's complicated story, symbolic and maddeningly vague, is further obscured by production in a Cocteauish avant-garde style. Hein Heckroth's designs are sleek and tricky, but they are academic, empty and overdone. At the end of this episode, this reviewer felt as though he had been nibbling too long at smorgasbord. And the rest of the picture, including the last long and tedious episode which tells
of the soulful love of Hoffmann for a consumptive singer (Ann Ayars), is essentially photographed opera, done in classical style.The movie camera records it, but does not improve it in any way. The inevitable question about this picture is how close does it come to matching the beauty and excitement of the same producers The Red Shoes? Although the two films are basically different, a comparison is fair to this extent: The Red Shoes had warmth and vitality, Tales of Hoffmann is splendid and cold." - Bosley Crowther, New York Times

70 years ago (April 3, 1941)
"Cables went back and forth between London and Hollywood, where, with the finalities of their respective divorces just coming through, the about to be Mr. and Mrs. Olivier were in temporary quarters. Korda had them both under contract, and Leigh, a huge star now after Gone with the Wind, owed him a picture. Korda offered them bonuses, as well as the opportunity to recoup some of the luster their recent disastrous stage production of Romeo and Juliet had cost them. The urgency of the war situation and the small budget meant the production had to be done quickly, and so it was, in an astonishing five weeks. 

Somehow, though, the speed and patriotic fervor with which the movie was made worked in its favor. Perhaps the sense of a higher cause—whether England’s or Cupid’s—called forth the expression of finer emotions and the subordination of star egos on what everyone later described as an unusually harmonious set. Churchill would claim it as his favorite movie." - Molly Haskell

80 years ago (April 2, 1931)

"I can't say with certainty that Taurog's win for direction was deserved, but there is at least one shot that, while pretty common today, might have been attention getting in 1931. As the Sterling parents are repeatedly calling Skippy down to breakfast, we hear his voice from upstairs asking his mother about which clothes to wear and where certain items are. The camera in one unbroken move goes from the parents at the dining table, up the staircase, turns the corner of the hall and down to the end where it enters Skippy's bedroom, where it finds the boy delivering the lines while still in his bedclothes, tossing and turning, and not having even left his bed yet. The entire sequence, which comes right near the beginning of the film, earns the film affection from the get-go." - Edward Copeland on Film

Skippy (1931)

90 years ago (April 7, 1921)

"If the traditional English-language title (The Haunted Palace) suggests the supernatural, the film itself eschews goblins or golems in favour of the hypnotic unfolding of a moral horror. Although the identity of the murderer can be predicted, what’s unpredictable is the dream-like intensity that Murnau builds from the restrained acting and refined staging, where again and again characters move out of the depths toward the foreground, like profound upwellings from the subconscious. 
Though this counts as Murnau’s ninth film, the first person camera eye and sweeping movements innovated in Der Letzte Mann (1924) still lay in the future. With none of the flashing lights, and extravagant tracking shots of the later films, Schloss Vogelöd offers a different clarity, its subtly unsettling images resonating especially with its immediate successor, Nosferatu (1922), cinema’s definitive vampire film.

Where Nosferatu externalises mortality into a figure of horror, Schloss Vogelöd finds the evil internalised, condensed into disturbing tableaux, and punctuated by reiterated establishing shots of the manor house. Though lacking Nosferatu‘s formal markers of speeded-up time and negative images, the film evokes the same oppressive dread in a powerful shot as a carriage hurtles over a windswept hill." - Rober Keser, Senses of Cinema
100 years ago (April 4, 1911)


Sam Juliano said...

My favorite of all of these is THE TALES OF HOFFMAN, a phantasmagoric interpretation of Offenbach's operatic masterpiece. It's actually an underestimated Powell & Pressberger work that still stands as the finest interpretation of this beloved work.

I also like that very early Murnau and SKIPPY with Jackie Coogan.

Joel Bocko said...

The only one I've seen this week is Blow, which I have a soft spot for, but any rise-and-fall crime story with a rock soundtrack already has me hooked, it doesn't need to do much else to satisfy me haha.

What about Christiane F? That sounds like an Allan film if I ever heard one.

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