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Moving pictures, #4

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Yet more movies. What I have watched. I’ve been averaging two a night, due to the fact there’s been nothing worth watching on the terrestrial channels or cable television.

sierramadreThe Treasure of the Sierra Madre*, John Huston (1948, USA). Humph is stuck in Mexico, too poor to leave and look elsewhere for work. He’s offered a job, which he accepts, but when the job finishes, his employer doesn’t pay. Apparently, he’s known for doing this. That’s capitalism for you, folks. One man gets rich while others do the work; and all the better if he can get away without actually paying for it. Humph and a friend from the job hook up with an old prospector – played by the director’s father – and go looking for gold in them thar titular mountains. Which they find. But the prospect of great riches turns Humph all paranoid. And then bandidos turn up, bandidos with no stinking badges. Things go from bad to worse, Humph totally loses it, and it all ends badly. Not bad, although I thought Humph’s paranoia was a bit overdone. Huston senior was a complete star, however.

the_wind_risesThe Wind Rises, Hayao Miyazaki (2013, Japan). This is the Studio Ghibli one based on the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the designer of the Mitsubishi Zero, Japan’s most successful fighter plane of WWII. It apparently caused a bit of a fuss when it was released on the grounds it celebrated the life of a man who had designed a highly efficient killing machine. Despite all that, the film is well, a bit dull. Miyazaki livens things up a little by throwing in some weird dream sequences, featuring Italian aircraft designer Giovanni Batista Caproni. He also chucks in a doomed romance – the woman Horikoshi loves has tuberculosis, and dies shortly after they’re married. Horikoshi’s real wife was perfectly healthy. This element of the story was apparently adapted from a completely unrelated novel (and to which the film’s title is a reference). Incidentally, Werner Herzog provides the voice for a German character (in the English-language version), and it’s really quite strange hearing him in a Ghibli movie.

mononcleMon Oncle*, Jacques Tati (1958, France). This is how karma bites you on the ass. My rental agreement with Amazon involves them sending me 3 DVDs at a time, I watch them, return them, they send me 3 more. Except the copy of The Great Gatsby (see here) they sent me wouldn’t play. I reported it as faulty and returned it. They said they’d send me a replacement and it wouldn’t affect my agreement. Except they sent the replacement as one of my next lot of 3 DVDs. I complained, they apologised, and sent me an immediate fourth disc (The Virgin And The Gypsy, in fact). Situation resolved. And then they send Mon Oncle in my next 3, even though I’d bought the Jacques Tati box set only a week before – I’d forgotten to take it off my rental list. Argh. Anyway, this is definitely the next best Tati after Playtime, and it riffs off a similar conceit – but rather than city life being impersonal and oppressive, here it’s a single gadget-filled house, in which live Hulot’s sister and brother-in-law. There’s more of an actual plot than in Playtime, but again the film is built around a series of well-observed and cleverly executed set-pieces. More, please.

arriettyArrietty, Hiromasa Yonebayashi (2010, Japan). And this is the Studio Ghibli film based on The Borrowers, about a group of tiny little people who live behind the skirtingboard in a house. And, er, that’s it. Boy spots Borrower protagonist, who then reveals existence of Borrowers to him. Boy is ill and due to go into hospital for a risky operation. Parents discover evidence of Borrowers, and rings up a pest removal company. Boy helps Borrowers escape from pest removal experts. If I thought The Wind Rises was dull, this one has it beat. It didn’t even seem much like a Ghibli film.

moscowMoscow does not Believe in Tears, Vladimir Menshov (1980, USSR). An odd film, this. It won the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 1980, the third Soviet film to do so (the others were War and Peace in 1968 and, er, Akira Kurosawa’s Dersu Uzala in 1975). It opens in the 1950s, with three young women from the country now living in Moscow. One works as a mechanic, but wants to go to university to train as an engineer. Another works in a bakery, but believes in having fun and finding a rich husband. The third has a boyfriend who’s a farmer and they intend to marry. The baker and mechanic are asked to house-sit a rich relative’s apartment. They pretend the place is theirs and throw a party for eligible men (it’s the baker’s plan, the mechanic goes along with it reluctantly). The mechanic’s university plans are then scuppered when she falls for a television engineer, who makes her pregnant but refuses to marry her. The baker meanwhile marries a rich and famous hockey player. The film then jumps ahead to the 1970s. The mechanic is now the director of a successful manufacturing plant and a single mother, the baker’s marriage ended badly when the hockey player became an alcoholic, and the third one has been happily married to her farmer for two decades. And then a tool and die maker at a scientific lab picks up the director woman, not realising she occupies such an important position, and the rest of the film is their romance. While the movie carefully ignores many of the hardships of living under the Soviet system, and presents the USSR as a relatively affluent society, there are a number of details which are peculiar to its setting – in the 1950s, the three women live in a women’s dormitory, for example; or the mechanic is interviewed on television at one point because she is a female mechanic. It’s a well-handled drama, and despite a tendency to soap opera melodramatics in places, gives an interesting glimpse of a society that no longer exists. Worth seeing.

virginThe Virgin And The Gypsy, Christopher Miles (1970, UK). I decided to read the DH Lawrence novella from which this film was adapted before watching it, which was probably a mistake. (The novella is also the source of “inexcusable puddings”, although the expression is not used in the movie.) Two daughters return from their French finishing school to their father’s East Midlands vicarage. Yvette, the virgin of the title, is flighty, but Lucille is made of more sensible stuff. Yvette’s character is blamed upon, and often alluded to, the vicar’s absconded wife (although she was Lucille’s mother too). While out motoring about with some local friends, the sisters come across a gipsy, and Yvette is taken with his macho charm. Even for Lawrence, this is all about as subtle as a black pudding in the face. The film ends with a dam burst which floods the area – and Yvette’s life is saved by the gipsy. The film didn’t quite portray the characters as they were written, if anything it seemed to tone them down a little (it also toned down the 1920s racism, thankfully). And it didn’t look like a very expensive production – although it did actually look like it was filmed on location (which it was; it’s more or less the part of the country I’m from).

michaelMichael, Carl Theodor Dreyer (1924, Germany). I think I’ve come to Dreyer’s films backwards, starting with his Danish (sound) movies and then watching his earlier silent films. I’ve still yet to see Vampyr and The Passion of Joan of Arc, two of his most famous movies. But, Michael. This apparently didn’t do very well on release, likely because it’s centred around a gay relationship between a famous painter and his model. A bankrupt countess approaches the painter for a portrait, but actually plans to seduce him and then take all his money. But the model instead falls for her, and they go off together. The model steals from the painter, which then inspires the painter to paint his masterpiece. Soon after the picture is unveiled, the painter takes ill and dies, without being reconciled with his lost love. This is not much like the Danish films, neither in subject nor presentation. There are similarities, of course – Dreyer’s use of close-up, for example; but the sets more resemble German Expressionism than they do the Scandinavian starkness of Ordet or Day Of Wrath. There are also a lot of intertitles.

gagarinGagarin: First In Space, Pavel Parkhomenko (2013, Russia). The title is probably a bit of a clue to this film’s story. It’s a fairly straightforward biopic of the first man in space. I didn’t spot any glaring inaccuracies, although I’m no great expert on Gagarin’s life. There was quite a bit of emphasis on the camaraderie of the cosmonauts and Titov’s jealousy, but it also really pushed the idea that everyone thought Gagarin should be first right from the start – which I suspect is casting a somewhat rosier glow on history than was the case. Gagarin’s Vostok 1 spacecraft looked surprisingly roomy on the inside, and the film handled its spaceflight well. I enjoyed the film, but then I’m interested in its subject matter.

bride-of-frankenstein-dvd-001Bride Of Frankenstein*, James Whale (1935, USA). A classic piece of horror that tries to link back to Shelley’s novel with an opening scene set in the Villa Diodati (in which a peculiarly stiff Elsa Lanchester plays Mary Shelley). Other than that, the plot can be pretty much inferred from the title. Karloff’s Monster actually learns to speak in this movie, and it’s really quite silly. “Good … gooood! Bad! Bad!” And so on. Despite a couple of neat set-pieces, this is a film that shows its origins and its age far too plainly. And suffers for it.

traficTrafic, Jacques Tati (1971, France). Apparently, Tati was only meant to co-direct this, but he fell out with his collaborator and ended up going it alone. He plays a car designer who works for a small French company, and is responsible a gadget-filled saloon car-derived caravanette. The company plans to display this at an automobile show in Amsterdam, and so transport it to the Netherlands in the back of a truck. But the journey doesn’t quite go as planned, as the truck keeps on breaking down. Like Playtime, the plot is carried as much by sound effects as it is by dialogue, and there are a number of impressively choreographed set-pieces. The car company’s PR agent, played by American model Maria Kimberley, is impressively high-handed and incompetent. One of the biggest “gags”, a multi-car pile-up, is spoiled a little by a few elements that are a little too intrusively faked. Not as good as Mon Oncle or Playtime, but still bloody good.

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die count: 562

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4 thoughts on “Moving pictures, #4

  1. I quite liked The Wind Rises, perhaps in part because I saw it in Japanese with subtitles (in Bristol). You could say a Zero is a weapons platform than a weapon per se, which bit of wordplay might have got the film-makers of the hook, but anyway no doubt it was the fact it was Japanese that caused the fuss. After all, RJ Mitchell designed a similar killing machine in the Spitfire and I doubt the Leslie Howard film celebrating him (The First of the Few) caused any fuss (especially coming out in the middle of the war)(maybe it caused a fuss in Japan).

    Mon Oncle I remember for the house windows acting like eyes, and the gag with the car cigarette lighter (I am pretty sure it was in that film).

  2. The Gagarin film I have some connection with. My brother Anthony aimed to make a Gagarin feature film, and I wrote a script for it around 1998 (during research for which I met Gherman Titov in his house and shook Alexei Leonov’s hand at Star City, and Anthony witnessed Dennis Tito’s pioneering tourist launch from Baikonur). That film never came off, well, not yet anyway, but my brother did work on this Russian production – supervising effects, second unit directing, and even a cameo as a Russian general (his first feature film, Mute Witness, was set and shot in Moscow, so he had contacts).

    The film as is is not much like our project would have been: this takes what you might call a Slumdog Millionaire angle, in that Yuri is in his capsule reflecting in flashbacks on the events in his life that brought him to where he was. I thought the casting was good visually – Korolev looked like Korolev, and I recognised some of the cosmonauts in early clips purely by what the actors looked like (Andrian Nikolayev in particular; though unfortunately that actor died not long after shooting).

    In November 2013 there was a screening at the Science Museum on the IMAX screen, which was good fun. The Russian ambassador was there, and the then Culture Minister (the later resigning Maria Miller), plus one of Yuri’s daughters, Elena, with whom I shook hands briefly. There was a reception in advance in the exhibition halls, with vodka and Russian nibbles and whatnot being distributed from the caterers’ tables set up alongside the Apollo 10 command module, a future role for their spacecraft that might not have occurred to Stafford and his crew as they went round the moon.

    There was talk of a big Science Museum exhibition of Cosmonautics in the near future; although that still seems to be a plan I am not sure if there is any date on it. Since then the Ukraine situation has ramped up, of course. Still, I hope it comes off, but the museum website is vague.

    Some years ago I made a basic storyboard-cum-animation of a Vostok launch and re-entry and put a lo-res version, it turns out, on youTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hDzZdowDQ1g

    • Yes, I thought Korolev was well-cast too. I don’t know the other cosmonauts well enough to determine how much the actors resembled them. I did think the film treated them all a bit like schoolboys, though – you only really saw them when they joking about, especially during the scene in the bus on the way to the launch pad. The screening sounds like it was quite an event.

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