I think I might start posting DVD haul posts as well as book haul ones. Admittedly, many of the films I watch are rental DVDs, but those I can’t find at either LoveFilm or Cinema Paradiso, and are not recent releases, I generally have to hunt down, so perhaps it’s worthwhile recording that. Except, well, of the six movies below, only the first and last are from my collection. Nazar is the third of three films from the box set, and the other two have appeared in previous Moving pictures posts; while The Bad and the Beautiful is a Korean release I bought on eBay as the film is apparently not available in either the UK or the US. Go figure.
Anyway, time to start doing the bap-bap-baa bap-bap-baa bap-bap-baa from the Pearl & Dean theme tune as the main feature is about to begin…
Nazar, Mani Kaul (1991, India). After three movies by Kaul, I still have no idea what to make of him. Nazar, a later film than the other two, and apparently based on a Dostoevsky short story, as was the movie he made following this one, is, well, is pretty much Kaul channelling Godard. I like many of the Godard films I’ve seen – not that I’ve watched anywhere close to half of his total output – but he is pretty much a mixed bag. Some of his films, for me, work much better than others – and not for obviously discernible reasons: I love, for example, 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her, but was mostly left cold by Made in USA (I have the Criterion editions of both), and yet Godard shot both films simultaneously, one in the morning, the other in the afternoon, during the same month. However, one thing that is true of all of Godard’s films is that they bear, and sometimes demand, repeated watchings. I get that same sense from the three films in this Mani Kaul box set, but Nazar still strikes me as much more consciously Godard-esque than Uski Roti or Duvidha. And for that reason… it also seemed to me less successful. The well-off owner of an antiques shop in Mumbai marries a seventeen-year-old orphan. The film opens with her suicide, then flashes back to describe the events that may or may not have prompted the suicide. There are a lot of close-ups and pullbacks, with voiceover by the male lead Shekhar Kapur, but also some dialogue too. Much of the film consists of slowly moving shots with only music and sound effects. Kaul also does something interesting where he sits the camera in one spot, has the actors approach it, perhaps by crossing a room, and although the camera follows them it does not always pull back, and so an actor, or a part of them, fills the frame. Another Godard-esque aspect is that the dialogue sometimes feels like a series of non sequiturs. Certainly real-life conversations skip about, but the staginess of Nazar‘s dialogue, and the long silences in between, break the continuity. This box set was a good buy, and I’ll certainly watch the three films in it again, indeed I’d like to see more by Kaul… but I’m still not entirely sure what I’m watching.
Behave Yourself!, George Beck (1951, USA). My mother gave me a bunch of DVDs recently to watch, mostly classic Hollywood movies and recent UK TV mini-series. This was the first one I watched and, well, the cover art does over-sell it somewhat. There’s no Shelley Winters reclining lasciviously in lingerie in it, for one thing. According to Wikipedia, the script was written in four days, and they’ve not done a bad job given the time they took. Winters and Granger are happily married, but it’s their wedding anniversary and he’s forgotten it – until Winters drops heavy hints, at which point he does the usual and claims to have arranged a surprise… Meanwhile, two groups of villains are attempting to exchange, I think, counterfeiting plates, for cash, and are using a trained dog to do it. One group has trained the dog to lead the other group to the wanted goods. Except the dog takes a liking to Granger, screws up his attempt to buy his wife some lingerie by trashing the store, follows him home… and is immediately assumed by Winters to be the surprise present Granger had hinted at. Except now one gang of villains wants the dog back, another have figured out the dog’s role and want it for themselves, and the other gang think whoever has the dog is their contact from the first gang… The one-liners come thick and fast, there’s plentiful slapstick, and the plot manages not to collapse into a heap. But. It’s all a bit, well, corny, the characters are stereotyped, and Granger is far too smiley and amiable for his role (it was apparently written for Cary Grant). It’s an entertaining 81 minutes, but it’s no surprise it was quickly forgotten.
Grey Gardens, Albert and David Maylses (1975, USA). This movie is on one of the iterations of the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list, or perhaps another best of list, but it’s not on the list I’ve been using. But I watched it anyway. The title refers to a mansion in East Hampton, New York, USA, a property owned by members of the Bouvier family, relatives of Jackie Kennedy (as was). By the time the film was made, the mansion and its garden had fallen into disrepair, and the two women who lived there, the aunt and first cousin of Jackie Kennedy, both called Edith – Little Edie and Big Edie – were living in squalour. They were also quite eccentric. Grey Gardens is pretty much pure fly-on-the-wall, with some prompting by an off-screen interviewer. There’s an extensive look at the two Bouviers’ past, especially Little Edie’s career as a model and socialite in 1920s and 1930s New York. However, the problem with Grey Gardens, especially given its direct cinema approach, is that its worth depends entirely on its subjects. It handles the two women well, but I honestly don’t think they’re interesting enough in and of themselves, or because of how they’ve let the house fall into wrack and ruin, to justify the reputation this film has. Little Edie and Big Edie are not particularly interesting people. Odd, certainly. But not fascinating or admirable or important or even representational. Their only real claim to fame – because there are plenty of women, and men, who have let their homes fall into total disrepair – is the family connection to Jackie Kennedy and JFK. But, and I’m sorry I have to break the news to the US, the Kennedy family were not royalty and, more than that, actual royalty is not all that fucking interesting anyway. I suppose in some ways it’s the antithesis of the American Dream, ie, riches to rags, but in a world where, as Noam Chomsky has said, debt is little more than slavery (but hardly equivalent to it, because slavery is an abomination), and poverty is increasing massively thanks to the actions of the one-percenters, the two Edies’ downward trajectory is neither entertaining nor edifying. In other words, I don’t pity the Bouviers, I pity the people who pity the Bouviers. And that includes the Maysles.
52 Tuesdays, Sophie Hyde (2014, Australia). No idea how this one ended up on my rental list – I don’t think it’s the sort of film David Tallerman would have recommended, so perhaps I saw a trailer or something. Billie is sixteen, her parents are divorced, and her mother is now transitioning from Jane to James. Because of this, Billie goes to live with her father, and visits James every Tuesday after school. For a year. Hence, 52 Tuesdays. Unfortunately, James’s body rejects the male hormones, so his treatment stalls. Meanwhile, Billie has hooked up with Josh and Jasmine, two older kids from her school, and while the three experiment sexually, so Billie films them… leading to her sending a nude photograph of herself to Jasmine, which the school learns about and goes mental because it’s technically paedophilia as Billie is under the age of consent or something… I remember taking this out of the LoveFilm envelope, reading the précis on the DVD sleeve and thinking it didn’t sound too bad, but getting pulled into the story as I watched it… because Tilda Cobham-Hervey is really good in the role of Billie, the film iss played as a low-key drama, and it touched enough points out of the ordinary, in a nicely sensitive fashion, to give the story added interest. I’m guessing that adding it to my rental list was pure whim, but I really enjoyed 52 Tuesdays. A well-played uplifting drama about something personal, and a perfect antidote to Grey Gardens. Worth seeing.
Tropical Malady, Apichatpong Weerasethakul (2004, Thailand). Weerasethakul’s name is not unknown to me, although this was the first film by him I’ve watched. I seem to recall seeing a trailer of it on another rental DVD. But it was released by Second Run, and their catalogue is generally pretty damn good. So, despite not really knowing what to expect, I had reasonably high hopes when I slid Tropical Malady into the DVD player… And it both met them and failed them. The film tells two stories. In the first, a soldier is assigned to a provincial village, falls in love with a local villager, and the two spend time together. In the second, a soldier – not necessarily the one from the first story, but played by the same actor – follows a lost villager into the jungle and meets a tiger spirit – played by the love-interest of the soldier from the first story – who haunts and taunts him. Unfortunately, the links between the two stories – despite the shared cast, despite the shared setting – aren’t strong enough, although the individual stories themselves are very good. Had it been two separate films, I’ve have thought them much better – but as a conjoined work, and this despite my own experiments in literary structure – it didn’t to me seem as if it quite hung together. Despite that, I want to watch more Weeraserthakul, and perhaps I may later have cause to re-evaluate Tropical Malady. It’s nonetheless worth seeing – I enjoyed it, but it never quite gelled for me.
The Bad and the Beautiful*, Vincente Minnelli (1952, USA). As the asterisk indicates, this film is on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list and, while Minnelli has made some classic Hollywood films, I think putting six of them on the 1001 list is over-doing it. By quite a bit. Particularly with this one. The Bad and the Beautiful opens with a person telephoning a famous director, a famous actress and a famous writer, all of whom refuse to talk to the caller. They’re then called to the office of a top Hollywood producer, who explains they have good reason to refuse to speak to the caller, ex-producer Jonathan Shields but… The film flashes back to each of the three’s history, explaining how they came to know Shields (played by Kirk Douglas) and how he shafted them, before returning to the producer’s office… It’s a clumsy-as-hell narrative structure, the characters are all archetypes, and Minnelli was never more than ordinary in his framing… but it’s a Hollywood film about Hollywood and… yawn. Seriously, this is on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list? It’s a clichéd melodrama, in which the prize goes to who chews the most scenery. And yet… it was nominated for six Oscars and won five of them – and still holds the record for the most Oscars for a film not nominated for Best Picture or Best Director. For the, er, record, it won Best Supporting Actress, Best Art Direction (Black and White), Best Cinematography (Black and White), Best Costume Design (Black and White), Best Adapted Screenplay… but lost Best Actor. Incidentally, awards for black and white films were dropped in 1967, and both colour and B&W films competed in the same categories thereafter. It’s possible 1952 was a bad year, Oscar-wise, to prompt so many nominations – and wins – for this ordinary melodrama… Um, I see Best Picture went to The Greatest Show on Earth, Best Director to John Ford for The Quiet Man, Best Actor to Gary Cooper for High Noon and Best Actress to Shirley Booth for Come Back, Little Sheba… So, yes, a shit year. Seriously, this film does not belong on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list, and I seriously doubt Minnelli deserves so many places on it either.
1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die count: 871