Finally a moment to get these challenge writeups going...
All films on the main TSP list and all first-time viewings unless otherwise noted -
1. The Last Temptation of Christ (Martin Scorsese, 1988) (8th viewing or so)
Last watched this at Easter time four years ago; first saw it in the cinema new and had to walk through a (small) crowd of protesters in front of Chicago's Biograph (the theater where John Dillinger was gunned down). That was a memorable experience - it was the first film I ever saw at the Biograph and also I think the first Scorsese film I saw first-run or perhaps in the cinema at all (I may have seen Taxi Driver in a revival before, can't possibly remember). And it remains my favorite film from the director and favorite film about a specific religious figure, and were I the kind of person who could believe in God or superstition, this would probably be a key work to getting me there. This is the kind of Jesus I can care about, the kind who seems to care about us, the flawed being that I think would be necessary to "save" the human race if we needed this kind of spiritual salvation (and perhaps we do, but I don't think it comes through mythology). I noticed more this time through just how much importance Scorsese attaches to the women in Jesus' life, particularly Mary Magdalene, and just how real and palpable he makes the ancient desert society of 2000 years ago. There really isn't anything I dislike in this film, and my only significant criticism would be that I wish it were longer. Peter Gabriel's score remains one of my favorites in film, and the "It Is Accomplished" ending is one of the most powerful moments in cinema.
2. Xiao cheng zhi chun / Spring in a Small Town (Mu Fei, 1948)
A beautiful, lyrical and very gentle film about a married woman inhabiting a rundown old house in a small town, dreaming of a better past and future than the one she shares with her sick husband and younger sister-in-law, and whose dream appears one day in the form of an old love who also happens to have been a friend of her husband. Several romantic twists and turns occur and there are underlying regrets and anger that periodically bubble up (the lack of children being an obvious but unstated one) along with a lot of subtle sexual repression but the overall mood is generally lyrical and poetic right through to a not-unexpected ending. This was really good but I probably watched it too tired, and with the battered condition that the currently-available print is in I feel like I didn't get as much here as I should have. Very good certainly but I'd need to see it again under better circumstances to have an understanding of why this is often named as the greatest of all Chinese films.
3. Ruggles of Red Gap (Leo McCarey, 1935)
TCM. Not sure how I missed this all these years but sure glad I caught up to it. I assume this was probably an influence on "The Beverly Hillbillies" as well perhaps as "Keeping Up Appearances". Very proper English butler Charles Laughton has his services transferred by his master (and a Lord) Roland Young to rich American hillbilly Charlie Ruggles, and many antics ensue, quite a few of them involving drinking. Not just a charming and wacky screwball-type comedy but also a pretty moving treatise on what the idea of American individualism means, and the differences between doing what you were born to do and striking out on your own. Laughton's reading of "The Gettysburg Address" ought to put a tear in the eye of all Americans, and a lot of furriners as well.
4. Louisiana Story (Robert Flaherty, 1948))
A mixture of documentary and fiction much like the director's earlier famed works Nanook of the North and Man of Aran, but not IMO anywhere close to the same level, in part because the film seems aimed squarely at the emerging "Disney" type audience - much of the film is cloyingly cutesy as we follow the every-smiling adolescent boy and his cute pet raccoon around on his little boat, and while there's something of an environmental or anti-capitalistic message there in the story of the oil well disrupting the area, it's never treated very specifically or clearly and all boils down to "dem oilmen is a problem, mebbe". Richard Leacock's photography is really stunning though and Virgil Thompson's music is nice if a bit overbearing in some of the early scenes. Very mixed overall on this.
Here's to the fools who dream.