The whole reading books instead of watching films thing isn’t quite working out as planned – well, inasmuch as it’s not really working out at all. Having said that, of late I’ve been binge-watching The Killing season one – unfortunately, like most television series, it didn’t quite survive the experience. About two-thirds into the season, it completely lost the plot, dragging suspects back and forth in front of the viewer, and missing out so many logical steps for the investigation to take, that it no longer mattered who actually committed the original murder, it was all about Lund and keeping her centre of whatever mad theory she was spinning that episode. Which is not to say I didn’t enjoy it, and would like to watch later seasons. Anyway, I did watch some films as well, and here they are…
Gold Diggers of 1935, Busby Berkeley (1935, USA). I think this is the final film in the Busby Berkeley Collection, although there was a second collection released which seems to be deleted, which includes Gold Diggers of 1937, Hollywood Hotel, Varsity Show and Gold Diggers in Paris. Anyway, Gold Diggers of 1935 shares only the term “gold diggers” with Gold Diggers of 1933, and the only cast member to appear in both is Dick Powell – but then he appeared in pretty much every musical film made in the 1930s, or so it seems. The plot is also more of a comedy, and takes place almost entirely in a resort hotel for the rich. A rich old woman wants her daughter to marry a rich old man, but she falls for Powell, who has been paid to escort her. There’s a charity show in which they’re all involved – the rich old woman wants it done on the cheap, but those making the show want it to be as expensive as possible so they can skim some off the top. Gold Diggers of 1935 is perhaps best-known as the film which contains the Berkeley routine ‘Lullaby of Broadway’. Not the best film in the collection, but still a lot of fun.
Enter the Dragon*, Robert Clouse (1973, Hong Kong). I have a feeling I may have seen this many years ago: bits of it seemed familiar – although it’s just as likely I’ve seen parts of its on various telly programmes or something. Anyway, I’ve seen the entire film now… because it was on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before you Die list… and it was pretty much a cheap 1970s action movie that appears to be held in much higher regard than it actually deserves. But when an actor becomes a cult figure, as Bruce Lee has done, then by definition their movies assume an importance out of all proportion to what they deserve. I’m not entirely sure why Lee became the cult figure he did – according to Wikipedia, it’s because of his role as Kato in The Green Hornet TV show, which lasted for a single season. In Enter the Dragon, he certainly proves himself… well, muscular, and a good martial artist (cinematically, at least; I’ve no way of judging his actual martial arts skills); and, of course, there’s that weird shrieking he does when he fights. But Enter the Dragon is a relatively ordinary and cheap 1970s Hong Kong/USA action movie, and in no way deserves to be on a 1001 Movies You Must See Before you Die list.
The Pied Piper, Jacques Demy (1972, UK). One thing to be said for the Intégrale Jacques Demy collection is that its contents are varied. If I’d imagined Demy’s oeuvre consisted solely of films like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg or Lola, I’ve certainly learnt otherwise from this box set. The Pied Piper is a case in point. It was filmed in the UK and features a lot of familiar faces (to someone of my age, at least). The title role – it’s the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, as should be clear from the title – is played by Donovan, of ‘Mellow Yellow’ fame. The first time the Pied Piper, a travelling minstrel, performed, and it was a modern folk song, I thought, oh that works, it works really well. The contrast between modern music and period set dressing I thought an interesting approach. Admittedly, it’s probably the only thing that is interesting about the film. There’s a sense throughout the UK cast were enjoying themselves a little too much, at the film’s expense; and, true, Donovan is not much of a thespian – but in his defence, he can actually play his guitar, and there’s nothing more annoying in films than actors badly faking playing musical instruments. Overall, enjoyable, but not an especially good film.
Gods of the Plague, Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1970, Germany). This first volume of Fassbinder’s movies has been, I admit, more of a chore to watch than the second volume. Possibly because Fassbinder seems to have spent much of his early years recycling ideas picked magpie-like from US noir and gangster films. The protagonist of Gods of the Plague is a gangster. Recently released from prison, he gets involved with two women, hooks up with the gangster who kills his brother, and eventally participates in a robbery of a supermarket. However, unlike the noir films which Fassbinder clearly loved, Gods of the Plague is far from snappy. The dialogue is much more reflective, often self-reflective, and the pace frequently slows to a crawl – those beloved pauses between question and answer, used so often to suggest an atmosphere of angst. I’m sympathetic to the idea of exploring themes and concepts using genres of milieu with which they’re not normally associated, and from what I’ve seen so far it’s something Fassbinder spent a lot of time doing – not always to good effect. Gods of the Plague is also apparently the second in a loose trilogy, preceded by Love is Colder than Death and followed by The American Soldier. All three were shot in black and white. They likely need rewatching, and the collection was a good investment, but at first blush, their appeal is not immediately obvious.
The Exiles*, Kent MacKenzie (1961, USA). I saw this film discussed on Twitter, and a day or two later I was sent it as a rental DVD. It’s a documentary, one of several on the 1001 Movies you Must See Before You Die list. Most of which, it has to be said, have been a bit of a mixed bag. The problem with documentaries – and I say this as a fan of Sokurov’s films – is that they’re often judged on their subject more than they are their approach to that subject. Admittedly, when a topic is worth documenting, should be documented, it’s hard not to think kindly on the documentary. The topics of some of Sokurov’s documentaries may be somewhat esoteric, or perhaps not even immediately obvious, but the manner in which the film unfolds is fascinating and impressive. The Exiles, however, is one of those documentaries that tells an important story in an unadorned style, and so appears to be celebrated chiefly for its topic. The exiles of the title are members of American Indian Nations who live working-class lives in Los Angeles, and The Exiles is an unadorned look at their existence. The subjects show no self-consciousness before the camera – and equally no self-editing: they behave precisely as they would had no camera been present. It’s clearly not confidence, but lack of self-awareness… which only makes the topic of The Exiles even more heartbreaking and sad than its subject would suggest. This is a film that has only recently been released on DVD, and it definitely deserves to be seen.
Dil Chahta Hai, Farhan Akhtar (2001, India). Bollywood films have now become part of my rental list, but there are rather a lot of them so I have to be a bit picky… but this one seemed to have good reviews and be held in high regard… Three young men, all close friends, each have their own experience with love. The film is mostly told in flashback, which seems to be a Bollywood thing. Akash is a total prat and in a nightclub tries chatting up a woman only to be thumped by her fiancé. Later, he’s sent to Australia to run a branch of his parents’ business, and finds himself sitting next to the same woman on the plane. They get chatting become friends, and he falls in loive… eventually manages to steal her from her fiancé… at the actual wedding. Sameer’s parents have arranged a marriage for him – he’s get against the idea… until he meets his intended. But she’s in a relationship, so he has to be content with being friends only. But then she and her boyfriend split, so Sameer proposes. And Sid is an artist who falls in love with a neighbour, an older woman and an alcholic – much to the horror of his friends and family. In fact, the film opens in the hospital where the woman is dying of cirrohsis of the liver. Of course, there’s the usual Bollywood singing and dancing. But… well, it all seemed a bit yuppie. Everyone drives Lexuses. They’re all well-off. Even the part of the film set in Australia is more Darling Point than Muriel’s Wedding. It sort of spoiled it all a bit – everyone was so well-off, you pretty much expected they would come out of it all okay. The World Of Apu this was not.
Rio das Morte, Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1971, Germany). The title refers to a region in Brazil, which contains treasure according to a map found by a pair of dimwitted young men in Munich (and they also think it’s in Peru). So they try to drum up cash for the journey to South America, and make plans to fly there and put their map to good use. Their girlfriends are less keen on the project. Rio das Morte is plainly more an an examination of idle youth in 1970s Munich, than it is of the power of dreams to distort lives – if, sadly, only because the two young men are plainly out of their depth right from the start. There is a cringe-inducing conversation with a travel agent in which the dreams of one of the two young men is shown to be complete nonsense – and yet he does not seem to notice. In fact, when the pair approach a business man for funding ,and he demands cash flow projections and the like, they see it merely as a series of hoops they must jump through before they will be gifted the cash – and they seem equally mystified when the cash fails to present itself because their plan is rubbish (a situation Fassbinder mocks by having the secretary laugh mockingly at each element of their plan). Fassbinder did not, as a rule, to my mind make mean films, but Rio das Morte does feel uncharacteristically like one. As I said earlier, the films in this first volume DVD box set have proven less immeduately likeable than those in Volume 2, but I suspect that means they will also weather repeated watchings more robustly.
1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die count: 739