Archive for The Human Condition

12 Angry Films

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 23, 2008 by dcairns

There’s a mutating meme coursing across the interweb — bloggers challenging each other to name twelve films they haven’t seen. The task varies from blog to blog, sometimes amounting to a confession of what well-known or important movies the author hasn’t caught up with, sometimes tending towards a list of extreme rarities that nobody can find.

I think both lists have value. Maybe somebody out there will be able to help me out with the films I want to get my mitts on. And maybe naming the films I haven’t seen will shame me into watching them. I also like the Self-Styled Siren’s approach, which involves listing twelve films in her collection which she hasn’t gotten around to running yet (including LA FIN DU JOUR!).

So my first list will be twelve rare films that I went to considerable effort to get, then didn’t watch.

1. THE POWER AND THE GLORY. An early Preston Sturges screenplay. Looked for this for AGES, finally got it a couple months ago. Haven’t even peeked at it. What a maroon!

2. Early Hitchcock. I’ve seen most of the thrillers, but odd things like RICH AND STRANGE are sitting neglected. Nice quality, from the recent box set of early Hitch… I’m contemplating spending a whole week running all the Hitch I haven’t seen. Yep, I’m CONTEMPLATING it…

3. Murnau’s TARTUFFE. Bought the Kino edition from America. I keep putting it on, then getting distracted. It may not be major Murnau, but it certainly has inspired bits (I love the style of the modern framing story more than the actual Moliere adaptation), and if I watched it properly who knows what I’d get out of it?

4. Michael Powell’s quota quickies. A fascinating glimpse into the creative process: watch Powell slowly spread his wings and try things out and gain confidence, on threadbare budgets and schedules so brief the Kleig lights barely have time to warm up. I have a number of these, all more or less unwatched. Let CROWN VS STEVENS stand for them all.

5. UN REVENANT. A fog-bound Parisian gangster film in the poetic realist vein, directed by Christian-Jaque and starring the mighty Louis Jouvet. I paid good money for a fine copy of this. So why haven’t I watched it, two years later? BECAUSE I AM AN ARSE.

6. Resnais’s MURIEL. Got very excited about seeing this, bought it, watched ten minutes, was intrigued, got interrupted, never went back. I’m dreadful. A failure as a man, and as an assemblage of molecules.

7. LES ORGEILLEUX. Gerard Philipe gives an astonishing performance (I peeked) in Yves Allegret and Rafael E Portas’ sensational drama. An unusually articulate IMDb reviewer calls it “one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen”. It may be one of the greatest films I haven’t seen. How would I know?

8. THE HUMAN CONDITION. Masaki Kobayashi’s nine-hour three-film extravaganza, released by Criterion but now out of print. Miraculously got a copy via Mark Cousins, then failed to watch it. Kobayashi is one Fiona’s very favourite filmmakers, but I think the phrase “nine hours” is putting her off.

9. MARILYN. Wolf Rilla (VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED) directs this British B-movie answer to THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE. Got a surprise TV airing this year, I recorded it. Then kind of set it to one side. We met Wolf Rilla’s son once, Nico Rilla. He recommended a Rilla movie with a terrific title: THE WORLD TEN TIMES OVER.

10. THE HONEYMOON KILLERS. Perfectly nice pre-record boxed DVD of this lying on the living room floor amid a heap. And yes, I know Scorsese directed part of it, I know the story behind his firing, and I was able to use that information to work out which bits he directed. And I’ve watched those bits. But I need to watch the whole thing!

11. LE TROU. I have this Jacques Becker crime yarn in a beautiful Criterion Collection edition, (and TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI too). I loan it to people. They watch it. I don’t. And yet I liked CASQUE D’OR quite a bit.

12. UNDERWORLD BEAUTY. I do like a Seijun Suzuki yakuza flick. I’ve watched BRANDED TO KILL numerous times (I still get utterly confused). And yet this one remains unwatched. I am an idiot!

Of course, I’ve barely scratched the surface…

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One cappuccino, one latte, one black

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 5, 2008 by dcairns

MC Charmer

Coffee with Fiona and the ever-charming Mark Cousins. He was fresh from prostrating himself at the feet of Terence Davies in Cannes, where Davies’ new documentary, OF TIME AND THE CITY, had reduced him to tears. He says he’s found himself tearing up almost every time he’s tried to discuss the film since. He and Guardian film critic Peter Bradshaw were chatting about it after the screening and neither could hold back their tears. That must have been quite a scene. But I bet it has the same effect when it plays Edinburgh.

Apparently both Davies’ unmade drama projects now have a bit of heat again, after his Cannes success. Even French critics who were not overly familiar with Davies were blown away by it.

I’m reminded of Mitchell Leisen’s TO EACH HIS OWN. It ends abruptly at its emotional peak, and audiences were staggering from the cinema, blinded with tears, crashing into the walls and each other and generally gashing their heads and knees. Cinema proprietors contacted Leisen and begged him to add thirty seconds of nothingness, chatter or additional end credits to the film just to allow patrons to compose themselves. His response: “No.”

Mark is now well into the production of his eight-hour television version of The Story of Film. The book comes with a quote from Sean Connery. I remember reading it: “Mark Cousins is incapable of writing anything about cinema -” at which point I thought, “Hang on… That’s not very nice!” but the Great Man goes on, “- without making it fascinating.” I mentioned this to Mark one time and he said that when Connery dictated the quote over the phone, he actually paused at just that point. “The cheeky monkey.”

Hume Condish

My mercenary purpose in dragging Mark across town for this meeting was to extract from him copies of the rare and out-of-print THE HUMAN CONDITION trilogy by Shadowplay favourite Masaki Kobayashi, which I successfully did, so I’ll be writing about those beauties as soon as I’ve watched all nine hours.

Nine hours???!!!

Mark bought the films years ago on the advice of a friend who described them as the greatest film/s ever. The fact that Volumes 2 and 3 of Mark’s set are still shrink-wrapped strongly suggests that Mark did not share this view…

But he very kindly encouraged me to take my blogging skills, whatever they may be, into the more lucrative world of the printed page, and advised me on whom to approach. So, now I need to think about what kind of film book I would write. Any suggestions?

Shadowplay Swordplay

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 8, 2008 by dcairns

Back in December, I wrote very briefly about the opening scene of Masaki Kobayashi’s SAMURAI REBELLION, which I’d sneaked a peak at.

The Edge

Blur

Smile

The Wicker Man

Swing High, Swing Low

The Field

Well, rather belatedly, we finally watched the whole thing.

Fiona: “He’s one of my favourite filmmakers.”

Me: “You’ve seen TWO of his films. And five minutes of this one.”

Fiona: “Yeah.”

I knew just what she meant. Fiona is a huge fan of KWAIDAN (which should really be kaidan — Kobayashi’s films have suffered considerable retitling in the west). I admire it enormously — it’s as beautiful a film as was ever shot and designed — but I don’t find it too dramatically compelling or scary. But I was utterly wowed by SEPPUKU (which Criterion have decided to call HARA KIRI), an excoriating attack on the samurai ethos, and what feels like an incredibly bold film to have come from a film culture like Japan’s. Reading up on how the young Kobayashi did his best to resist his nation’s plunge into militarism in WWII deepened my respect and understanding for him. He’s somebody whose life story really feeds into and illuminates his work.

SAMURAI REBELLION (Jôi-uchi: Hairyô tsuma shimatsu — I don’t know what that means but I doubt it’s been translated literally, and the IMDb lists several alternative English titles) is a Kobayashi from 1967 that confirms the man’s mission: to tell the stories history has omitted to record. In this and SEPPUKU, Kobayashi makes a point of telling us that his characters will be not only defeated but erased from the record. We will inherit the myth of the honourable samurai code simply because all other stories have been bloodily suppressed.

Face / Off

This movie’s ending isn’t quite such a spectacular downer as the earlier film’s, which in a way makes it seem a lesser work. But neither film is actually depressing, despite the bleakness of their message and the violence of their action. Kobayashi’s style is hard, beautiful and incisive, using strikingly modern sharp push-in movements on his characters, Langian cutting to illustrate the cause-and-effect unfolding of the plot, and sometimes wild flourishes like theatrical lighting changes, freeze-frames and jump-cuts. Conversations between sitting or kneeling characters on the floor, an essential feature of Japanese period drama, have unique edge and ZING in Kobayashi’s work, as he holds his edits back until they really count. The intensity and grace of the technique prevents the film from becoming depressing, in the same way Shakespeare’s poetry prevents his tragedies from ever acquiring a deadening gloom (unless Peter Brook is on hand to steamroller them into submission).

The plots of these Samurai tragedies are genuinely Shakespearian, it seems to me. They also relate to the classic western. Unlike any modern action movie, both films build to an inevitable outburst of violent conflict, but tend to avoid decorating the path with action set-pieces. You have to wait for that promised samurai rebellion. While it’s hard to envisage a pacifist action film, what Kobayashi does with his stories almost amounts to that: as he slowly builds the sense of injustice, tension rises to the point where violence comes to seem essential, the only human response to the oppression on view. And at the same time, the violence harms only the underlings and the innocents: in the long term, it achieves nothing, and is destined not even to be remembered.

to the hilt

With Toshiro Mifune AND Tetsuyo Nakadai, the film has plenty of iconic honourable bloodshed stature, but at the same time undercuts its genre superbly, making it simultaneously a samurai film for those who don’t like samurai films, and one for those who do.

*

Surprisingly, script collaborator Shinobu Hashimoto also worked with Kurosawa on projects such as THE SEVEN SAMURAI which, though they include some knocking of the samurai myth, ultimately reinforce it.

*

There doesn’t seem to be any more Kobayashi available in the west for us to groove to. Criterion’s imprint of his epic three-parter THE HUMAN CONDITION is out of print and retails for exhorbitant prices second-hand. If anybody wants to burn me a copy I will love them madly.