Siren Song – Ladies of Film Noir, Part 1: Priscilla Lane in Blues in the Night (1941)

One of the hallmarks of film noir is the presence of a lovely lady singing an American musical standard, often a torch song. Blues in the Night (1941, dir. Anatole Litvak) is not exactly film noir, made just before Hollywood began to produce the first classics of that cinematic style, but as Priscilla Lane sings “This Time the Dream’s on Me” (written by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer especially for this film), the dimly lit interior of the nightclub exhibits the same atmosphere as similar scenes in other examples of noir. Like in many other entries in the genre, jazz is an essential element that heroes, antiheroes and villains cannot do without. Jazz is necessary, as is jealousy, an emotion which is written all over Betty Field’s face during and after her conversation with film noir fixture Wallace Ford at the beginning of the clip.

Go See This: The Third Man (1949) at the Film Forum

When I first saw the Carol Reed film The Third Man (1949) on TCM, however many years ago that was, I was definitely disappointed. It was a film spoken of so highly by so many eminent film critics and I just didn’t get it, whatever that “it” was. Earlier tonight I had the chance to see The Third Man again in a new restoration at the Film Forum, where the film is playing through July 9, and I am happy to say that my opinion has done a 180.

Contrary to what the IMDb and Wikipedia say, The Third Man is not film noir – not from my perspective, anyway. It is such a clever film, always winking and nodding at the audience, particularly in the unsettling, jaunty tone of Anton Karas’s zither score. While doing some searching for reviews of the film, I see that a lot of people can’t stand Karas’s music, which is a shame because it creates such a large part of the film’s atmosphere, along with Robert Krasker’s cinematography (I had forgotten those wonderfully canted angles…) and the ruins of postwar Vienna. The Third Man is not really about trying to solve a mystery; it’s not a whodunit, or even a whydunit. It is an observation of human nature, though not necessarily an explanation. Characters do things, usually to save their own skin, and not because it makes sense or is moral. I think that’s why I like Alida Valli’s performance so much better now; the “Anna Schmidt” character is a complex woman, not easily understood. You can imagine different reasons for why she yet does what she does, yet she is not (pardon the pun) black-and-white. There are exquisite subtleties that I never noticed before.

Now more than ever I also appreciate Joseph Cotten’s performance. I love how he interacts with Valli, with Trevor Howard and especially with Orson Welles. The relationship between Cotten’s Holly Martins and Welles’ Harry Lime is so striking because the contrast in their individual senses of principle is so jarring. Watching these two actors play against each other in the famous scene in the Ferris wheel in the “Prater” amusement park is an exchange as perfectly balanced as the interplay of light and shadow in the film’s cinematography.

I think that sometimes you need to see movies more than once, or maybe the difference is growing older and having more film experiences that deepen your appreciation of the medium. That was true for me with another great British film, Brief Encounter (1945), which was coincidentally also photographed by Robert Krasker. Perhaps the issue was that when I was younger I had the mentality that films needed happy endings, and if they did not have that expected conclusion, the result was dissatisfaction. (I felt the same kind of letdown at the end of Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love (2000) too, come to think of it. It’s essentially Brief Encounter set in early 1960s Hong Kong.) Now I am able to recognize the value of The Third Man, not because the hero gets the girl or because all of the details in the various characters’ alibis check out, but because now I am aware of the depth and nuance in the filmmaking technique and in the performances. I don’t know if I have precisely or accurately described my reaction to The Third Man, but I know I feel something new when I see the leaves gently falling from the trees that line the road next to the Zentralfriedhof cemetery.

2015: Part 1

Avengers: Age of Ultron. Directed by Joss Whedon. I waited until a month and a half after the Avengers sequel opened before I finally saw it. The latest mega-Marvel extravaganza is a necessary theater experience, but not because it’s a masterpiece; there are enough explosions and quick cuts to keep your eyes and ears well-occupied, even as your brain scrambles to piece together the absolutely ridiculous plot, so it’s undoubtedly more enjoyable on the big screen than on TV. None of the characters seems tremendously bothered by the fact that the film’s robot supervillain, Ultron (voiced by the luxuriously sarcastic baritone of James Spader), was created by Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), two of the main Avengers, although it is particularly fun to watch Stark’s and Banner’s mad-scientist montage if you hum the Wayne’s World theme in your head with new lyrics: “White guys! White guys! Bein’ cool! Buildin’ stuff!” The film does not bother to explain many of its most crucial elements, like who Baron von Strucker is or why he poses a threat to the Avengers at the beginning of the film (also: it’s a shame that an actor as good as Thomas Kretschmann was cast in that role since he is dispatched rather quickly). The most effective acting in this overblown, big-budget adventure is done by Linda Cardellini, who plays the wife we never knew Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) had until now, and Andy Serkis as a South African-accented baddie whose purpose is not clearly explained, but you don’t care as long as you can watch Serkis leave his fellow actors in the dust just by sharing the same space with them.

Ex Machina. Directed by Alex Garland. I’m glad that I saw Ex Machina less than a week after seeing Under the Skin because I think they would make a perfect double bill: nonhuman characters inhabit human skin and assume heterosexual female characteristics to different degrees. The protagonists in both films operate within our world by learning that most human of traits, manipulation. I’m glad that I came to Ex Machina with relatively fresh eyes since I never watched a trailer and had only recently watched part of a scene (from early in the film) when Alicia Vikander was interviewed by Conan O’Brien back in early May. (Apparently the trailer gives away quite a bit, so I dodged a bullet.) Vikander’s performance is certainly the best of the three main characters in the film, making you believe 100% that she is a robot who is beyond capable of artificial intelligence; Oscar Isaac has quite a lot of humor and a certain enigmatic darkness as the genius creator of the android, while Domhnall Gleeson’s character functions in the same way that his protagonist from last year’s film Frank did: a starstruck young guy in awe of the brilliance that he is witnessing… and always one step behind what is going on. Ouch. It is Vikander who is the most intriguing of Ex Machina’s main trio as Isaac’s A.I. creation. As with Under the Skin, Ex Machina forces the viewer to question what it means to be mortal, what it means for a facsimile to appropriate human characteristics and whether those beings can ever truly understand and replicate human emotions within their own selves. The score composed by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury is the nerve center of the narrative, providing much of the agitation and thrill, while Rob Hardy’s cinematography is striking in the red-soaked power-cut scenes. Ex Machina does not affect me emotionally in the same way that Under the Skin did (and still does), nor do I have any burning desire to see Ex Machina again any time soon, but I would be glad to continue discussing Ex Machina to work out some of the kinks in the plot and figure out some answers to the questions I have.

Pitch Perfect 2. Directed by Elizabeth Banks. The only rule that a movie has to follow is that it must be entertaining, and contrary to what most film scholars probably assume without having any knowledge of the franchise, this follow-up to Pitch Perfect has a lot going for it as glossy Hollywood spectacle. In this sequel the surprise hit of 2012, American a cappella singing group the Barden Bellas struggle to get back on top after a disastrous performance costs them their championship title. Elizabeth Banks (who has played commentator Gail Abernathy-McKadden in both Pitch Perfect films) does a decent job in her feature film debut as a director, doing her best work in the climactic World Championships scenes set in Copenhagen. Those scenes, which includes hundreds of extras, are impressive because of the effort that must have gone into controlling the huge number of people in the audience and also in coordinating the choreographed music and dance happening on the gigantic concert stage. Another of the film’s bright spots is the casting of DJ, YouTube personality and all-around treasure Flula Borg as one of the co-captains of Das Sound Machine, the German a cappella team that threatens to take the spotlight and the world championship away from the Bellas. Otherwise the film falls prey to sophomore slump and there are only so many US-can-beat-Germany jokes (not to mention other cringeworthy racist and sexist stereotypes) that a film can utilize before the tired humor fades.

San Andreas. Directed by Brad Peyton. If your city or town has a good IMAX screen, then San Andreas is definitely worth seeing in that capacity. Steve Yedlin‘s cinematography is one of the true stars of the show, along with the numerous special effects artists (including 3D) who create the unbelievably terrifying imagery of California and the Hoover Dam going haywire. For the most part the cast isn’t bad: Dwayne Johnson (who will always be The Rock to me) is likeable as both a nice dude and a great action hero, as well as some surprisingly tender emotional moments. The best performances in the film are by Carla Gugino as the Rock’s wife; she has some super awesome moments, like essentially saving herself from a crumbling building and also driving a speedboat into another building. (Way better than the usual worried-wife/damsel in distress roles for actresses over 40.) Paul Giamatti is also excellent – as any fan of his should guess – as the seismologist whose predictions and other knowledge help save way more people than anyone could have hoped. Young Irish actor Art Parkinson is also very good in the film, not at all cloying like most child actors; Hugo Johnstone-Burt is a little too Hugh Grant-lite as Parkinson’s older brother, but he’s decent enough. This brings us to Alexandra Daddario, who plays the college-age daughter of the Rock and Gugino. The shots of her in a bikini at the beginning of the film were totally unnecessary, but at least there was a point to her taking her shirt off later in the film (to fashion a tourniquet that saves Johnstone-Burt‘s life). It’s nice to see a woman being the smart, sensible character and a male damsel in distress – is there a masculine equivalent for that? – for a change. I’m miffed that Archie Panjabi didn’t get to do much more than ask questions in her role as a reporter who helps Giamatti get his warnings out to the world, but a little visibility for a woman of color playing an intelligent, dignified character is better than nothing for a Hollywood blockbuster, I guess (and the director could just as easily have cast a white woman). Speaking of color: why was San Francisco so white? Would it have killed San Andreas to have more than one Asian character with a speaking part? (Will Yun Lee, who plays Giamatti’s ill-fated research partner, deserves better.) And then there’s Kylie Minogue’s cameo as Gugino’s boyfriend’s sister, casting which is random and strange but also highly entertaining. Interesting casting choices aside, you’re not going to get good dialogue out of San Andreas, nor does the science probably make sense, but the film is entertaining enough (especially in IMAX) to make it worth the ticket purchase. It’s not great cinema, but if you love disaster movies like I do, it’s got everything: a little Towering Inferno, a lot of Earthquake and just a touch of The Poseidon Adventure. And Sia’s cover of “California Dreamin’“ is the icing on the cake. (P.S. Part of the PG-13 rating is for “mayhem.” Yes! So much mayhem!)

The Wolfpack. Directed by Crystal Moselle. Director Crystal Moselle lucked out by finding such interesting subjects for her first feature film, but it is evident that the film is constantly looking for a voice that it doesn’t quite have. At times very funny but also often heartbreaking, The Wolfpack is bursting with a combination of love, conflict and oppression in the Angulo brothers’ home situation, the relationship they have with each of their parents (as well as the relationship between the parents themselves) and how movies shaped the boys’ lives as they grew into young men is all worthy material, but I think it needed a surer hand to guide the story. Obviously Moselle could make the film because she discovered the guys and had a connection with them that no one else could get, but when I heard her talk about how she had hundreds of hours of footage and it took six months to figure out how to edit it all into a coherent story (and first to figure out what that story would be), I felt that it made sense given how I felt while watching the movie. You feel for these characters, who are real people and deserve to have the chance to get out there in the world and learn about everything that culture and art and whatever else have to offer. The nice thing about New York is that just when you think you’ve heard or seen it all, you discover a person or people who have a different way of growing up or living and that can change your perspective of (and/or appreciation of) life too. The three brothers who attended the Lincoln Center screening that I went to and they were articulate and eager to share their passion for filmmaking with the audience (they hung around in the Walter Reade Theater lobby afterwards, chatting with people who came up to them). If anything, I’m glad that I got the chance to learn about the brothers’ collective story and I look forward to their projects in the future. The Wolfpack is definitely worth seeing for the extraordinary and unusual protagonists, but I can’t call the film amazing if the storytelling is not on par with its inspiration.

The High Tide of World Cinema: Satyajit Ray

Internationally renowned director Akira Kurosawa once stated that “not to have seen the cinema of [Satyajit] Ray means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon.” I would not have understood the magnitude of that quote at this time a year ago; until eight months ago, in October 2014, I had never seen a film directed by Satyajit Ray (pictured above, left in the foreground, with Kurosawa during a visit to the Taj Mahal in 1977). From the moment I became curious about in film studies I was probably aware of Ray’s importance in world cinema history, but it was not until my first year in graduate school that I discovered firsthand the virtuosity of Ray’s filmmaking.

My first encounter with a Ray film was when I watched The Music Room (1958) for a film studies class last semester. Unfortunately, due to time constraints and the high price of the Criterion Collection DVD, I had to watch The Music Room on YouTube. The quality of the video’s resolution was pretty good, but I knew it wasn’t the optimum viewing experience. Even so, I recognized the skill of Subrata Mitra’s cinematography and the nuance in star Chhabi Biswas’s performance as an affluent landowner whose desire to impress guests with India’s most talented (and expensive) musicians and dancers in recitals in his mansion’s music room drains the character of his wealth and causes tragedy to strike his family.

In the last three weeks I have renewed my interest in Ray’s filmography when I had the opportunity to see the “Apu trilogy” – Pather Panchali (1955), Aparajito (1956) and The World of Apu (1959) – at the Film Forum, where the recently restored films will be playing through Tuesday, June 30. These three classics, which established Ray as a leading voice in Indian cinema, are among the finest films that I have seen in a long time. Pather Panchali, which is my favorite film of the three, is powerful not only because of young Apu, played by Subir Banerjee, but also because of the three main female characters in the film: Apu’s mother, Sarbojaya (played by Karuna Bannerjee), Apu’s headstrong older sister Durga (Uma Das Gupta) and Aunt Indir (Chunibala Devi). Karuna Bannerjee in particular has a quality about her that is similar to Setsuko Hara’s best performances in Ozu’s films: when Bannerjee smiles, her whole faces lights up with joy and we love her for it, but when the smile falls it is like a curtain of darkness has fallen and we weep along with her. I would also bet that the scene in the wheat field next to the train tracks (see the second photo above) inspired similar shots in Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven (1978). An additional note: Pather Panchali and the other two films in the trilogy were scored by the legendary Ravi Shankar.

Aparajito (1956) is a worthy follow-up to Pather Panchali, showing Apu’s growth from age ten to age seventeen and the heartache of Apu’s mother, Sarbojaya, after her husband dies and, later, when teenage Apu wants to go to school in faraway Calcutta. The film was a hit with international film festivals and organizations, capturing the coveted Golden Lion, the FIPRESCI (International Federation of Film Critics) Prize and the New Cinema Award at the Venice Film Festival as well as being deemed one of the five best foreign films of the year by the National Board of Review (USA) and being nominated for the Best Foreign Film (then the “Best Film from Any Source” category) and Best Foreign Actress (for Karuna Bannerjee) honors at the BAFTA Awards (UK). Bannerjee’s work in the first two “Apu” films is revelatory.

While watching the final film in the trilogy, The World of Apu (1959), it occurred to me that I was suddenly cognizant of Ray as his own director rather than his style in relationship to another auteur (I had previously linked Pather Panchali and Aparajito to Ozu in terms of pacing, the beauty of images and the aforementioned connection I perceive between Setsuko Hara and Karuna Bannerjee). As we watch adult Apu (played wonderfully by Soumitra Chatterjee) endure more highs and lows in his marriage to Aparna (Sharmila Tagore) and in his complicated relationship with his young son Kajal (Alok Chakravarty), we know just how much we as an audience have grown to care about Apu.

Last night I finally got my hands on the Criterion DVD of The Music Room and saw the film a bit more properly on a television screen (although admittedly not as “proper” as in a theater). The film was so much more engaging, perhaps in part because I already knew the plot but I believe also because I could better appreciate the style of the film – directing, acting, music, cinematography, editing and otherwise. I paid closer attention to individual shots, especially the first one of the three above (showing the statues) and the third shot that reflects the image of the music room’s ornate chandelier on a glass surface.

You can learn some more about Ray’s career in this clip from a 1989 interview with Pierre Andre Boutang.

Ray was the recipient of an Honorary Academy Award in 1992, which he received only twenty-four days before he passed away. At the ceremony in Los Angeles, presenter Audrey Hepburn told the audience of Ray’s “rare mastery of the art of motion pictures” and of his “profound humanism, which has had an indelible influence on filmmakers and audiences throughout the world.”

I look forward to seeing many more of Satyajit Ray’s films, particularly The Goddess (1960), Kanchenjungha (1962), The Big City (1963) and Charulata (1964), which star some of my favorite actors who appeared in his work, like Karuna Bannerjee, Chhabi Biswas, Soumitra Chatterjee and Sharmila Tagore. The films are undoubtedly expertly crafted and from what I have read of their plots, they provide thought-provoking portraits of women and girls in the narratives. It took me far too long to wade into these cinematic waters, but it feels like the right time to immerse myself. The tide is high!

Saturday Night Spotlight #26: Randa Haines

Randa Haines (b. 1945) has the distinction of being the first American woman director to have been nominated for “Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures” by the Directors Guild of America. The nomination was for her work on the film Children of a Lesser God (1986), her feature film debut after having worked for years in television. Haines directed TV movies and also episodes of shows including “Knots Landing,” “Hill Street Blues” and the pilot of the 1980s reboot of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” Her first big break was the TV movie Something About Amelia (1984), a drama starring Ted Danson and Glenn Close that won two Golden Globes, three Emmys and received many other nominations, including Emmy and DGA nods for Haines’ direction. This success led to Haines’ Hollywood career. She directed four feature-length films between 1986 and 1998, and nothing else for the big screen since then, but the impact of her body of work continues to be felt by film fans everywhere. As Haines said about her DGA nomination for Children of a Lesser God in a 1991 interview with Movieline, “I was really happy to be nominated and to have the film and my work recognized. As far as the first woman, yeah, it’s sad but it’s true. It’s sad that it’s still such a big deal that we’re still having these women in film articles. I’m so sick of these articles, already! But it’s fun to be a milestone, though I really look forward to the day of getting past that, when it’s just individual achievement.”

Children of a Lesser God (1986) – One of the noteworthy films of the award season when it was released, this romantic drama was nominated for five Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor (William Hurt), Best Supporting Actress (Piper Laurie), Best Adapted Screenplay (Hesper Anderson and Mark Medoff) and the prize which was won, Best Actress (Marlee Matlin). Matlin made her film debut here, playing Sarah Norman, a deaf woman who works at a school for the hearing-impaired. Her relationship with a hearing man who teaches there (Hurt) is fraught with difficulty, but each learns to understand and respect the other, finding a place to meet in between that is “not in silence and not in sound.” The film’s beautiful cinematography by John Seale and the lush score by Michael Convertino (conducted and co-orchestrated by Shirley Walker) create much of the wonderful atmosphere, but it should also be noted that many women worked behind the scenes besides Randa Haines and co-scripter Hesper Anderson: to name just a few, Candace Koethe (associate producer), Gretchen Rennell (casting director), Lisa Fruchtman (editor), Mary Bauer (associate editor), Barbara Matis (art direction), Rose Marie McSherry (set decoration), Renée April (costume design), Pauline Heaton (underwater cinematographer), Dody Dorn (one of the sound editors), Ruth Bird and Stephanie Lowry (two assistant sound editors). In addition to success at the Oscars, Children won the Silver Berlin Bear at the 1987 Berlin International Film Festival, cited for being “a movie which brings an extraordinary theme to public attention in a sensible way.”

The Doctor (1991) – Haines’ second film is another collaboration with actor William Hurt, who plays a surgeon diagnosed with throat cancer, a turn of events that forces him to reevaluate the important things in life. He realizes that there is more to his profession than keeping appointments; thoughtfulness and empathy are crucial when Hurt experiences medical care from the patient’s viewpoint. Besides Hurt, the talented cast includes Christine Lahti, Elizabeth Perkins (pictured above), Mandy Patinkin, Adam Arkin, Wendy Crewson, Bill Macy, Kyle Secor and child actor Charlie Korsmo. The film, which was produced by Laura Ziskin (who later became the first-ever solo woman producer of an Academy Awards telecast in 2002), also marks renewed collaborations with cinematographer John Seale, composer Michael Convertino and editor Lisa Fruchtman (who co-edited with Bruce Green). As film critic Kenneth Turan wrote in the Los Angeles Times in 1991: “Believability is… the keynote of the work of Randa Haines. In her hands The Doctor (rated PG-13) becomes a study in even-handed assurance, largely because by all appearances she has not only insisted on but achieved a high standard of believability from all her actors, not just Hurt. Scenes that would have come off as saccharine or pretentious in the hands of another director have a welcome integrity. There is a lot to forgive about The Doctor, but acting and directing make it easy to do.”

Wrestling Ernest Hemingway (1993) – Haines assembled a great cast for this romantic drama about lonely people in a seaside Florida town who find love and friendship amongst themselves: Robert Duvall, Richard Harris, Shirley MacLaine, Sandra Bullock, Micole Mercurio, Marty Belafsky, Harold Bergman and Piper Laurie (who had earlier played Marlee Matlin’s mother in an Oscar-nominated role in Children of a Lesser God). Of the colleagues from Haines’ previous two films, only composer Michael Convertino returned to write Wrestling’s score, but the film also features the efforts of skilled women like Danna Blesser (associate producer), Lora Kennedy (casting director), Florence Fellman (set decoration), Princess Stabile (second assistant director), Alisa Statman (second second assistant director) and Karen Baker Landers (assistant sound editor), Donah Bassett (negative cutter) and Mellissa Bretherton (first assistant editor).

Dance with Me (1998) – The art of Cuban dancing is brought to life in this opposites-attract romantic drama starring Vanessa Williams and Chayanne as partners hoping to win a dance competition à la Strictly Ballroom. The supporting cast features such veterans as Kris Kristofferson, Joan Plowright and Beth Grant, as well as relative youngster Jane Krakowski (who found fame with the shows “Ally McBeal” and “30 Rock”). For a fourth time Michael Convertino composed a score for Haines, as well as Lisa Fruchtman returning as editor (working with William S. Scharf), Lora Kennedy casting the film and Florence Fellman contributing as set decorator. Other ladies worked on the film too: Haines herself was one of the producers, along with Lauren Weissman; set dresser Beth Emerson; negative cutter Theresa Repola Mohammed; associate editor Marta Evry; additional editor Fabienne Rawley; assistant music editor Christine Cholvin; sound effects designer Kyrsten Mate; ADR mixer Charleen Richards. Although the film received mixed reviews upon its reviews, Variety film critic Leonard Klady observed that “the strength of the piece largely comes from the adroit direction of Randa Haines, a professed off-camera dance freak. She uses the serviceable script to move the picture from one dance sequence to the next, creating inventive ways of capturing the elegant and sexually charged movements.” Since Dance with Me, Haines’ only other works have been two TV movies, The Outsider (2002) and The Ron Clark Story (2006). I don’t know if this means that Haines, who is now 70 years old, has retired from the industry, but perhaps her inactivity is indicative of Hollywood’s overwhelming attitude towards women directors, especially those of a certain age.

Technicolor Dreams at MoMA This Summer

For two solid months from June 5 to August 5, the Museum of Modern Art will be running a film retrospective titled “Glorious Technicolor: From George Eastman House and Beyond,” showcasing Technicolor movies made between the early 1920s and the mid-50s. Here is a sample of 30 of the feature films, both live-action and animation, that you can see this summer. (Times are subject to change.)

The Toll of the Sea (1922) – dir. Chester M. Franklin – starring Anna May Wong, Kenneth Harlan, Beatrice Bentley – Sunday, June 7 at 2:00 pm and Friday, June 12 at 4:30 pm

Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) – dir. Michael Curtiz – starring Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Glenda Farrell – Wednesday, July 1 at 7:00 pm and Wednesday, July 8 at 4:30 pm

The Garden of Allah (1936) – dir. Richard Boleslawski – starring Marlene Dietrich, Charles Boyer, Basil Rathbone – Friday, June 5 at 4:30 pm and Tuesday, July 21 at 1:30 pm

Nothing Sacred (1937) – dir. William A. Wellman – starring Carole Lombard, Fredric March, Charles Winninger – Tuesday, July 21 at 6:45 pm and Sunday, July 26 at 3:30 pm

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) – dirs. Michael Curtiz and William Keighley – starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone – Sunday, June 7 at 6:00 pm and Monday, June 22 at 4:30 pm

Drums Along the Mohawk (1939) – dir. John Ford – starring Claudette Colbert, Henry Fonda, Edna May Oliver – Monday, July 6 at 4:30 pm and Tuesday, July 7 at 7:15 pm

Gone with the Wind (1939) – dir. Victor Fleming (with others) – starring Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Olivia de Havilland – Saturday, July 4 at 6:30 pm and Saturday, July 11 at 1:00 pm

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939) – dir. Michael Curtiz – starring Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland – Monday, June 22 at 7:00 pm and Wednesday, July 1 at 1:30 pm

The Wizard of Oz (1939) – dir. Victor Fleming (with others) – starring Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Margaret Hamilton – Friday, June 5 at 7:00 pm and Sunday, June 14 at 2:00 pm

Down Argentine Way (1940) – dir. Irving Cummings – starring Don Ameche, Betty Grable, Carmen Miranda – Friday, June 26 at 4:30 pm and Sunday, June 28 at 4:15 pm

Blood and Sand (1941) – dir. Rouben Mamoulian – starring Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell, Rita Hayworth – Friday, July 3 at 7:00 pm and Sunday, July 5 at 6:00 pm

Lassie Come Home (1943) – dir. Fred M. Wilcox – starring Roddy McDowall, Donald Crisp, Elizabeth Taylor – Sunday, July 19 at 3:15 pm and Monday, July 20 at 4:30 pm

Cobra Woman (1944) – dir. Robert Siodmak – starring Maria Montez, Jon Hall, Sabu – Wednesday, July 8 at 1:30 pm and Sunday, July 12 at 3:45 pm

Yolanda and the Thief (1945) – dir. Vincente Minnelli – starring Fred Astaire, Lucille Bremer, Leon Ames – Saturday, June 13 at 2:00 pm and Tuesday, June 23 at 4:30 pm

The Yearling (1946) – dir. Clarence Brown – starring Gregory Peck, Jane Wyman, Claude Jarman Jr. – Wednesday, June 17 at 6:45 pm and Sunday, June 21 at 7:00 pm

Easter Parade (1948) – dir. Charles Walters – starring Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Ann Miller – Sunday, July 12 at 1:00 pm and Monday, July 13 at 4:00 pm

The Pirate (1948) – dir. Vincente Minnelli – starring Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Walter Slezak – Saturday, June 13 at 4:45 pm and Tuesday, June 16 at 7:15 pm

Little Women (1949) – dir. Mervyn LeRoy – starring June Allyson, Peter Lawford, Elizabeth Taylor – Sunday, June 14 at 4:30 pm and Sunday, June 21 at 4:15 pm

Neptune’s Daughter (1949) – dir. Edward Buzzell – starring Esther Williams, Red Skelton, Ricardo Montalban – Thursday, July 9 at 7:00 pm and Friday, July 10 at 1:30 pm

Samson and Delilah (1949) – dir. Cecil B. DeMille – starring Hedy Lamarr, Victor Mature, Angela Lansbury – Saturday, July 11 at 8:30 pm and Thursday, July 16 at 7:15 pm

An American in Paris (1951) – dir. Vincente Minnelli – starring Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, Oscar Levant – Saturday, June 20 at 8:00 pm and Tuesday, June 23 at 7:00 pm

The River (1951) – dir. Jean Renoir – starring Nora Swinburne, Esmond Knight, Adrienne Corri – Wednesday, July 8 at 7:00 pm and Friday, July 10 at 4:30 pm

Scaramouche (1952) – dir. George Sidney – starring Stewart Granger, Eleanor Parker, Janet Leigh – Saturday, June 27 at 2:00 pm and Monday, June 29 at 7:00 pm

Singin’ in the Rain (1952) – dirs. Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly – starring Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds – Saturday, June 20 at 5:00 pm and Thursday, June 25 at 4:30 pm

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. (1953) – dir. Roy Rowland – starring Peter Lind Hayes, Hans Conried, Tommy Rettig – Sunday, June 14 at 7:15 pm and Wednesday, June 24 at 4:30 pm

Mogambo (1953) – dir. John Ford – starring Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly – Thursday, July 2 at 1:30 pm and Saturday, July 4 at 3:45 pm

Niagara (1953) – dir. Henry Hathaway – starring Marilyn Monroe, Joseph Cotten, Jean Peters – Sunday, June 7 at 3:45 pm and Tuesday, June 9 at 7:00 pm

Magnificent Obsession (1954) – dir. Douglas Sirk – starring Jane Wyman, Rock Hudson, Otto Kruger – Wednesday, June 10 at 6:45 pm and Friday, June 19 at 4:30 pm

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) – dir. Richard Fleischer – starring Kirk Douglas, James Mason, Peter Lorre – Monday, July 27 at 7:00 pm

The Trouble with Harry (1955) – dir. Alfred Hitchcock – starring Edmund Gwenn, John Forsythe, Shirley MacLaine – Sunday, July 26 at 5:45 pm and Tuesday, July 28 at 4:30 pm

1955: Part 3

The Criminal Life of Archibaldo De La Cruz (aka Ensayo de un crimen – “Rehearsal for a Crime”). Directed by Luis Buñuel. A deliriously funny and disturbing dark comedy about a would-be murderer who never follows through on his plans, Criminal Life would make a perfect double bill with one of the director’s later films, Belle de Jour (1967), since both are about sex, violence, social mores and lacy undergarments. The story is probably one of Buñuel’s most straightforward, although there are still quite a few surreal touches, like the murder of a mannequin by tossing her into a furnace (what an image!). It all makes for a magnificently macabre experience, bolstered by charismatic performances by Ernesto Alonso as the main character, Rita Macedo as slinky, sexy Patricia, José María Linares-Rivas as Patricia’s “guardian,” Ariadna Welter as pure, sweet Carlotta and tragic Czech-Mexican star Miroslava as another alluring beauty, Lavinia. With striking cinematography by Agustín Jiménez and a memorable music box melody by Jorge Pérez, I beg to differ with the other BAM moviegoer who I heard commenting that “this is not what I would call necessary cinema, I would say” when we saw the film there last summer. I consider Criminal Life one of Buñuel’s best films.

Kiss Me Deadly. Directed by Robert Aldrich. This crime film, late in the American noir cycle, is striking if not sensical. (There are some noir stories that do end up making some sense.) Ernest Laszlo’s cinematography is often quite effective, perhaps the true star of the film, maybe never more than in the film’s final scenes. Ralph Meeker, meanwhile, does an excellent job (as usual – but then again I’m a fan), smoldering across the screen the tough-as-nails private eye Mike Hammer. One character describes Hammer as a “bedroom dick,” dialogue which I’m surprised got by the censors! Wesley Addy is also very good as police acquaintance Pat, while the various ladies (Maxine Cooper, Cloris Leachman, Gaby Rodgers, Marian Carr) are memorable, with particular praise going to Cooper as Hammer’s lady love, Velda. Other character actors appear too, including Albert Dekker, Paul Stewart, Juano Hernandez, Mort Marshall, Fortunio Bonanova, Silvio Minciotti, Nick Dennis, Jack Elam and Percy Helton, as well as the singer Mady Comfort. Michael Luciano’s editing is also worth mentioning. I’m not entirely sure how much I love Kiss Me Deadly, or whether I love it at all, but I’m glad that I have seen it. It’s very clear how influential it is as an example of pulp fiction in cinema.

Pather Panchali. Directed by Satyajit Ray. I’m so glad I got to see this on the big screen at the Film Forum, where I hope to see the following two parts of the Apu Trilogy, Aparajito (1956) and The World of Apu (1959), during this summer’s ongoing restoration of the Ray series. Like the first Ray film I saw last year, The Music Room (1958), the cinematography by Subrata Mitra is exquisite; I can’t believe this was his first film, as with Ray! (Pather Panchali was the first time either of them had stepped onto a film set or, in Mitra’s case, operated a film camera.) The performances by Karuna Bannerjee as Sarbojaya and Uma Dasgupta as her teenage daughter, Durga, are my favorites in the film. The actresses give complex portrayals of women at two stages of life, struggling to make their dreams into realities despite their humble surroundings and the oppression of expected domestic roles for girls and women. Chunibala Devi also leaves a strong impression as ancient “Auntie” Indir, as does Subir Banerjee as wide-eyed Apu, the baby of the family. Young Apu does not have as much to do in the film as does his older sister, Durga, but we often see the actions of the film from Apu’s point of view. Kanu Bannerjee also delivers a good performance as the family’s patriarch, Harihar, although he is in the film for less time than the female characters are. Throughout Pather Panchali there is an Ozu-like style of pacing, especially reminiscent of Tokyo Story (1953) when Ray shows pillow shots of rain, the river, wheat fields (this shot of Apu and Durga in the wheat and this shot of a passing train seem like definite precursors to Terrence Malick’s 1978 magnum opus Days of Heaven) and other elements of nature, as well as in the poor treatment of older characters by the younger generations. Ravi Shankar’s score lends beautiful sounds to the images, and though the film starts off a little slowly, by the end you’ll be totally invested in this world and you’ll feel a real emotional connection to these characters.

La Pointe Courte. Directed by Agnès Varda. I was fortunate enough to see Agnès Varda’s debut film at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center on April 18 with Varda in attendance. She briefly introduced the film, sat and watched it with us and then stayed for a Q&A afterwards. Despite Varda’s insistence that she didn’t know what she was doing and the results weren’t that great, the film has really fantastic cinematography by Louis Soulanes, Paul Soulignac and Louis Stein and the editing was done by none other than soon-to-be-master filmmaker Alain Resnais. Philippe Noiret (always a wonderful actor) and Silvia Monfort play an unnamed couple whose philosophical dialogue about the state of their marriage, coupled with many of the three cinematographers’ excellent shots of them (like this and this), make me believe that Ingmar Bergman must have seen the film since I can see elements that were echoed in Through a Glass Darkly (1961), The Silence (1963) and Persona (1966) and possibly others. The scenes involving the local townspeople who live in the seafaring village of La Pointe Courte are also quite nice, especially the jousting competition and the accompanying festivities that are shown at the end of the film. You get a definite sense of the film’s connection to the Italian neorealism movement, whether Varda intended it or not. (She claims to have only seen a handful of films in the twenty-five years of her life before making La Pointe Courte.) I don’t know if I would have liked the film as much had I been watching it on DVD at home alone, but the experience in the theater was really enjoyable.

Smiles of a Summer Night. Directed by Ingmar Bergman. This Bergman romantic comedy about complicated relationships takes a while to get started, but once it does, it’s wonderful. The cinematography by Gunnar Fischer is absolutely exquisite, especially in the later parts of the film set at the Armfeldt estate. The glow of moonlight and shadows is gorgeous. As I knew would be the case, Gunnar Björnstrand (a veteran of many Bergman films) and Jarl Kulle (who played Don Juan in Bergman’s The Devil’s Eye in 1960) give very good performances, but I was also impressed by the ladies (Ulla Jacobsson, Eva Dahlbeck, Harriet Andersson, Margit Carlqvist, Naima Wifstrand) and by Björn Bjelfvenstam as Björnstrand’s son, Hendrik. As usual, Bergman’s philosophical writing comes across beautifully. By the end, the film picks up its pace and is really quite delightful. I think I still prefer The Devil’s Eye (as Bergman comedies go – and my favorite Bergman drama is The Silence) but Smiles is among Bergman’s finest works too.