It Doesn't Have To Be Right…

… it just has to sound plausible

Moving pictures 2018, #36

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Managed to knock three films off 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list, and they weren’t bad films either.

Genghis: The Legend of the Ten, Zolbayar Dorj & U Shagdarsuren (2012, Mongolia). I found this on Amazon Prime. Incidentally, when I refer to Amazon Prime, I mean the free movies it offers… and it’s an odd mix: straight-to-video crap, poor transfers of early twentieth-century films, occasional blockbusters available for a limited time, forgotten films from the seventies and eighties and nineties… and some very recent films from further afield, such as the Chinese and Taiwanese films mentioned in previous Moving picture posts, and like this Mongolian historical epic and the Russian comedy below. Genghis: The Legend of the Ten is the sort of nonsense title given to foreign movies for the US market. The actual title is Aravt, which is the term for the groups of ten into which the Mongol warriors of Genghis Khan’s time would organise themselves, as helpfully explained by an opening voiceover. The movie is about one such aravt, or group of ten. It is, unsurprisingly, historically accurate – as far as my limited knowledge can tell, but this is no Hollywood re-imagining of history. It’s also quite brutal. The battle scenes are well-staged, but the back-stabbing does get a bit complicated in places. It’s a polished piece of work, and if Mongolia has to mine the better-known elements of its history to make foreign currency, then they did a good job with this and I wish them the best of luck in their industry. It’s only the second Mongolian film I’ve seen – the other was Joy, and it did not live up to its title (see here) – but both are very good. A cinema to keep an eye on, so to speak.

Hold Me While I’m Naked*, George Kuchar (1966, USA). I’d not realised until I started watching this that it was a short, only 15 minutes long. Kuchar was an underground film-maker in New York and San Francisco, active from the late 1950s through until his death in 2011. He made over 200 films, including video diaries. Hold Me While I’m Naked is generally reckoned to be the best of them – certainly it was the only one to appear in the Village Voice’s Critics’ Poll of the 100 best films of the twentieth century. I’m not sure I understand the appeal. There’s a distinct Woody Allen-ish tone to the piece, not helped by Kuchar’s voiceover with its NY accent, and I loathe Woody Allen’s films. The whole thing is resolutely cheap, shot on 16 mm in real locations, with much of the “story” (and I use the term loosely) carried by Kuchar’s voiceover lament in which he complains about his two stars as they perform a steamy shower scene for him (it’s implied the scene is for another film, but it’s not of course; it only only appears in this film). As a commentary on film-making, the meta-narrative is quite effective but seems naive to modern eyes , and it’s hard to see how it could have been all that innovative in 1966 given that Modernism had been around for half a century.

Gun Crazy*, Joseph H Lewis (1950, USA). From the title and poster, I had thought this was a cowboy film, although a closer look at the poster would have clearly shown it was a gangster film. Except it isn’t that either. A boy is fascinated with guns, steals one from a store, is caught and sent to reform school. Later he joins the army. The story picks up after he’s left the army. He’s now a crack shot and, at a travelling fair, takes up a challenge to a shootout against the fair’s resident trick shooter. He wins. The fair owner offers him a job, and he teams up with the trick shooter. They also enter into a relationship (it’s her on the poster). But she’s a bad sort and persuades him to help her rob stores and banks. They go on a Bonnie and Clyde style crime spree. The film is presented all very matter-of-fact, and I especially liked the back-seat camera during the car chases – I’d not seen that used before, and I don’t recall any films using it since. For a film of its time and type, it was a superior example, but I don’t know if that’s enough to warrant a spot on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list. It wasn’t noir, more like a 1950s spin on a 1930s gangster movie, much like The Phenix City Story, although without the latter’s true story to fall back on. Worth seeing, but not one, I suspect, that belongs on the list.

Mind Game, Masaaki Yuasa (2004, Japan). When this dropped through the letterbox from Cinema Paradiso, I should have guessed it had been recommended by David Tallerman. Not just because it’s anime, but because it’s weird anime. And, to be honest, a week or two after I watched it, I can remember almost nothing of it. Reading the plot summary on Wikipedia doesn’t help, because all I can remember is a really unappealing style of animation, realistic and so not the exaggerated features of much anime, but sketchily drawn. I remember a section set inside a whale, and some of the film took place inside a moving vehicle, but I’m otherwise completely blank. In such cases, I normally watch the film again before writing about it in a Moving pictures post, but this was a rental and I sent it back before I could rewatch it. I wanted to get the DVDs set back before I left for Sweden, so I put them in my bag to post at the railway station… but couldn’t find a post box… or at Manchester Airport… but couldn’t find a post box… and so ended up carrying them to Sweden and back, and posting them in the post box opposite my house the day after I got home. Sigh. Not that it made any difference as I wouldn’t have been able to watch and return any new DVDs before the weekend anyway. None of which is especially relevant, and I suspect I will have to watch this film again although what I do remember of it doesn’t exactly tempt me to do so. Oh well.

The Spider’s Stratagem*, Bernardo Bertolucci (1970, Italy). When you look at non-Anglophone directors, and which particular films from their oeuvres are available on UK sell-through DVDs or Blu-rays… not including films they might have made for Anglophone studios such as, in Bertolucci’s case, Last Tango in Paris, The Sheltering Sky and The Last Emperor… especially a director as highly-regarded as Bertolucci… Well, besides the aforementioned three, there’s Before the Revolution, The Conformist and 1900, although not a couple of English-language international co-productions, Stealing Beauty and Little Buddha (both currently deleted)… And certainly not The Spider’s Stratagem, the third of four films by Bertolucci to make the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list (and the other three are readily available). Why is this? If those other films have found a market, then surely this one would. These days, however, it could be some streaming service hanging on to the rights in order to attract customers. For £9.99 a month, you can have access to the exclusive library of films they’ve managed to prevent being made available on sell-through… I know of a film from 1966 that’s never been released on DVD or Blu-ray, but a restored version is available from a streaming service. Anyway, that’s all by the bye. In this film, a young man returns to his hometown, where his father died a hero of the resistance. But as he asks people about what they remember of his father, so he hears different stories, and eventually realises his father had bottled out of his plan to assassinate Mussolini on his visit to the town and informed on himself to the authorities. But, the son comes to realise, the town needs its hero, so he says nothing, and so is caught up in the mythology they have created around his father. There are half a dozen or so world-class Italian directors, and I’ve watched films by all of them: Bertolucci, Fellini, Rossellini, De Sica, Visconti, Pasolini, … but I’m not sure I could call one out above the others. I love Fellini at his most self-indulgent, I’m a big fan of Pasolini, and both Visconti and De Sica made some excellent dramas… Rossellini never really worked for me, and Bertolucci I find too variable to admire that much – I loved The Sheltering Sky but Last Tango in Paris was awful. I think I’m starting to like Bertolucci’s films more, and I did like this one, but I’m not there yet.

O Lucky Man!, Edouard Parri (2017, Russia). This is not the Malcolm McDowell British film, obviously, which I have not seen and so cannot compare. It is instead a polished piece of Russian action/comedy/drama about a young man who is talked back from jumping off a bridge by a mysterious camp couple, who tell him they can give him the life he feels he deserves. Which they do. He is hired into some ill-defined high management position at a prestigious company the next day. He has a platinum credit card to use. But things start to go wrong, and when his fairy godfathers (a reference only to their role) try to fix things, it ends up worse. So when he misses an important business meeting and is fired, they arrange for him to save a woman from a pair of violent muggers and become a popular hero. Only it then turns out the woman had just ripped off a gangster and the muggers were his enforcers. And now he wants his money back. Then a British secret service agent, in an Aston Martin, turns up, and it’s a bit weird having James Bond speak Russian but there you go. I enjoyed this. It was a pretty obvious comedy, but it rang a few small changes, and I can’t say if they’re down to the Russian worldview or the scriptwriter, but it was enough to make it different. Even the spoof 007 was fun.

1001 Movies You Must see Before You Die count: 921

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