For the forseeable future, this blog will likely contain more posts about films than books – if only because I watch more films than I read books (it being a time thing, and a bad-organisation-of-time thing – although I remain committed to books as my favourite transport vector for culture). Anyway, I’ve got behind on these Moving pictures posts so I need to catch up a bit. So there might be a few of these in quick succession, beginning with…
Gåten Ragnarok, Mikael Brænne Sandemose (2013, Norway). On Amazon Prime, this looked like some terrible Viking-themed action movie, so I’ve know idea why I bothered watching it (particularly given its English retitling… Ragnarok – The Viking Apocalypse). Happily, it proved to be anything but. Maybe it was just the fact it was Scandinavian. Anyway, an archaeologist in Norway believes a tribe of Vikings travelled to the far north of the country and the legend of Ragnarok was a consequence of their trip. But he has no real proof. But then an assistant, sent north to Finnmark, returns with a piece of stone on which some runes have been carved… and despite having no museum backing, the archaeologist sets off to find more evidence for his pet theory, taking his two kids along with him (he’s widowed, and his late wife did much of the work toward the theory). They find a remote lake, and centred in it a small island which contains Viking artefacts… because a bunch of them went there and were slaughtered by… a monster. This was actually pretty good – perhaps not up there with Troll Hunter, but nonetheless and interesting mix of Norse mythology and modern monster movie. Worth seeing.
The Masque Of The Red Death*, Roger Corman (1964, USA). I admit it, one or two of the films produced by Corman’s New World Pictures are among my favourites. This is not one of them, It is, in fact, precisely the sort of film you’d expect Corman and American International Pictures to churn out. Based on the Edgar Allen Poe story of the same name, it’s little more than a US version of a Hammer Horror film, right down to the kitschy lead, the over-colourful production design, and the terrible over-acting. And perhaps it’s weirdly parochial of me, but I’ve always preferred it when Brits do it. Vincent Price plays your typical evil lordling, who discovers evidence of the titular plague on his land, and so offers his castle as a sanctuary to neighbouring nobility, who duly turn up, behave like everyone’s favourite cliché of decadent aristocracy, before themselves succumbing to the “red death”. It tries for the colour of The Adventures Of Robin Hood, but falls well short; I suspect that’s the only area in which it tried for anything. The louring mediaeval feudalism was done better, and earlier, by Mario Bava in 1960’s Black Sunday, and the effete nobles partying away the end days has been done better in several Hammer films. I have no idea with this film is on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list, but if they had to absolutely pick one from American International Pictures’ catalogue, then why not Queen Of Blood from 1966, or, from Corman’s own New World Pictures, 1981’s Galaxy of Terror?
Fellini Satyricon*, Federico Fellini (1969, Italy). I have a somewhat conflicted view of many of the great directors whose films I have watched – and there’s no denying Fellini is one of them – inasmuch as I love some of their films but can see little of note in their others. I do love Fellini’s 8½ but a lot of his others films have felt all a bit meh. And Fellini Satyricon seemed to be going the same way when I first started watching it – it felt like a weird cross between Derek Jarman’s Caravaggio and the sword-and-sandal epic Hercules and the Tyrants of Babylon (which are apparently also called “peplum fantasies”, as I learned from Aliette de Bodard; a phrase new to me). Anyway, so the film initially looked like Caravaggio… and then it put to sea in the most bizarre ships ever designed and I decided, for no good reason, that I actually really loved this film. And that, I suspect, is the mark of a movie that belongs on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list. The more I watched it, the more I wanted my own copy of Fellini Satyricon, preferably a nice high-rez Blu-ray version with lots of features. I still have no idea why I went from not liking it to thinking it was a work of genius, but the only way to discover that is to own and rewatch it. It was self-indulgent and over-the-top, but it was also, as it progressed, increasingly beautifully shot and weirdly fascinating.
The Sorrow and the Pity*, Marcel Ophüls (1969, France). Some films, it’s easy to see why they made the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list, even if they don’t seem of sufficient quality, or historical importance, to be there. But The Sorrow and the Pity is historically important, and its presence on the list is pretty much incontestable… even if I found it somewhat dull and uninteresting. It covers the Occupation of France during WWII, first from the point of view of those who fought against the Nazis, and then from those who fought with the Nazis. So it essentially consists of series of talking heads. It was banned from TV broadcast in France, and wasn’t shown until 1981. I can understand how defeat and collaboration are seen as nationally shameful, but I’d have thought it more shameful for politicians, and the press, to be spouting the same rhetoric as the Nazis, as they seem to be doing in the twenty-first century. And with films like this one around you’d think they’d know better. But, as they say, those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it – and those who do are doomed to suffer as the others repeat it.
Chariots of Fire*, Hugh Hudson (1981, UK). Everyone knows the theme tune, right? By Vangelis? I mean, it doesn’t sound at all appropriate for the 1920s, which is when this film is set, but it’s pretty damn memorable. Unlike the actual movie. Which purports to tell the story of the rivalry between Bible-bashing Calivinist Eric Liddle and upper-crust Jew Harold Abrahams, both runners who competed in the 1924 Olympic Games. It takes a few liberties, apparently, in pursuit of drama, as the silver screen is wont to do – particularly in regard to Liddell’s refusal to run at the Olympics on a Sunday. In the film, he learns on his way to Paris that the race is scheduled for a Sunday, but in reality he knew months beforehand and the British Olympic Committee had made plain their unhappiness about it. Having said all that, my overriding memory of the film is of a bunch of over-entitled toffs at Oxford or Cambridge (they’re interchangeable, after all) – as if that were in any way representative of the UK at that time (but hey, our current lords and masters are working hard to return us to those days of an over-privileged elite living off the backs of a working class trapped below the poverty line in slums). A boring film, and if the makers of the 1001 Movies you Must See Before You Die list were determined to include some British movies, they could have picked far better than this.
Babette’s Feast*, Gabriel Axel (1987, Denmark). Three pieces of fiction by Karen Blixen (AKA Isak Dinesen) have been made into films, which is not a bad record. Out Of Africa, of course, everyone knows. The Immortal Story by Orson Welles is perhaps less well-known (and Blixen’s novella is superior to Welles’s movie). But Babette’s Feast is reasonably well-known, as is the fact it’s based on something by Blixen. At least, I think it’s reasonably well-known. And while it’s not the best novella from the collection in which it appears – that would be, for me, ‘The Tempest’ – it’s a good story and worth filming. I suspect I may have in the past avoided the film under the mistaken impression it involves a feast much like that in The Cook, The Thief, His Wife And Her Lover. It doesn’t. Amusingly, the story is set in Norway but was filmed in Denmark, because the Norwegian village in the story didn’t look dour and miserable enough. An excellent film.
1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die count: 744