1. Yaaba / Granny (Idrissa Ouedraogo, 1989) (re-watch)
2. Grass: A Nation's Battle for Life (Merian C. Cooper/Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1925)
3. Shorts (36+30 m)
a - Nieuwe gronden / New Earth (Joris Ivens, 1933) -
b - Museum Highlights (Andrea Fraser, 1989)
4. Muna Moto / Somebody Else's Child (Jean-Pierre Diknogue-Papa, 1975)
5. Lady Windermere's Fan (Ernst Lubitsch, 1925)
6. Air Force (Howard Hawks, 1943)
7. One Way Passage (Tay Garnett, 1932)
8. Die freudlose Gasse / The Joyless Street (G.W. Pabst, 1925)
9. The Breaking Point (Michael Curtiz, 1950)
10. Long men kezhan / Dragon Inn
(King Hu, 1967)
My second King Hu, after the 1966 Da zui xia
, a Shaw Brothers production and looking like their other films from the era, though certainly superior. This, his first film after moving to Taiwan, is a different kettle of fish, with lots of location work and a sense of visual and perhaps to a certain extent narrative freedom that would never fly at Shaw. The way Hu films landscapes... Anthony Mann comes to mind, and that's as high a complement as I can give. And the "classical" editing also strikes me as reminiscent of American classic cinema, in this case John Ford. Everything seems just so, the movement between action, stillness and dialogue is so well judged. As to the story, it's familiar enough, with a couple of kids sent to the frontier after their father has been murdered by the area warlord, only to have the warlord's men come after them, and a motley band assembles to defend them. The way the group comes together seems both random and fate-appointed, and the characterizations though not deep are nicely drawn; I particularly liked the contrast between the rather serious Lingfeng Shangguan, whose art is both graceful, perfectly timed and strong, and Chun Shih, a rather comical figure here but almost Man With No Name-like in his casual deadliness - and the hints of romance between the two are delicious and not at all overdone. The fight sequences and wire-work are a bit primitive I suppose but all in all it's exciting enough and the battles around the inn and the final conflict are perfect in scale and length.
11. Ye mei gui zhi lian / The Wild, Wild Rose
(Tian-Lin Wang, 1960)
Carmen comes to Hong Kong in the form of a noirish nightclub-set rendition in smoky black and white, beautifully shot and put together well enough that it would be a memorable version of the story... but then we have Grace Chang's terawatt performance in the central role, which kicks this up to masterpiece level. Seductive and slinky and bitchy yet ultimately sympathetic, all the things a Carmen needs to be, and singing a half-dozen songs taken from various operas but given contemporary Chinese lyrics, she dominates this film on a level I don't recall seeing for quite a while, absolutely riveting. The melodramatic tones of the story can seem a little much - the cold-hearted bitch that Chang's Deng Sijia, a nightclub singer and maneater, seems to be are undercut by her selfless care for her coworker and ultimately the loser she comes to love - but Chang lives this part and never feels less that wholly convincing. Just great and easily the best film I've seen for this challenge - or any of this month's challenges - so far.
12. Pool of London
(Basil Dearden, 1951)
Excellent British crime film (or Brit-noir for us pretentious noiristas) about a couple of friends, sailors on a merchant ship docked in London who get involved with a quartet of thieves planning a big heist who need somebody to move the spoils out of Britain. One of the sailors, Dan, is always in money trouble and involved with too many women, too much drink and gambling; his buddy Johnny is a black Jamaican and just the opposite, not knowing anybody, not having anywhere to spend his money, feeling isolated, and the contrast between the two and how it inflects the crime plot is really beautifully handled, with a budding interracial romance (the first in British cinema according to the trivia) one of several plot strands interworked in this 85-minute tight little film. The location work is wonderful and the couple of chase/action sequences masterfully done; Dearden is one of those names who probably deserves more recognition, he's known best for Victim
but his career was pretty consistently good from what I've seen.
13. It's Always Fair Weather
(Gene Kelly/Stanley Donen, 1955)
It's still hard for me to believe that Kelly/Donen only made three films as co-directors, but On the Town
and especially Singin' in the Rain
loom so large in the musical firmament that even a dozen more good films would probably not have increased their reputations any further. As it is this was their last, and their feuding on the set apparently soured their friendship and working relationship forever after. The fact that the film didn't receive a great reception or do boffo box office probably didn't help, but now decades later it's as easy to see the virtues as the reasons why it failed at the time. As Jonathan Rosenbaum has written, this is one of the most depressing, negative and sometimes cynical musicals made in a decade where ever there were as many dark criticisms of the Eisenhower sunshine as their were affirmations of it. Kelly, Dan Dailey and Michael Kidd are three army buddies who vow to meet again after 10 years in the same bar and find out that life doesn't work out for any of them - even the very successful Dailey - as they hoped it would. The musical numbers and the use of the full Cinemascope frame are quite impressive, but it's the dour vision of success and the American Dream that will stick with me.
14. From Hell to Texas
(Henry Hathaway, 1958)
A man-on-the-run western from old pro Hathaway, this lacks a big-name cast, apart from eventual star Dennis Hopper, and Hathaway remains outside the first tier of western directors from the era, which has probably contributed to it's relative obscurity and lack of reputation. Too bad, because this ended up being a pretty top-notch example from the genre's best decade, with plenty of suspense and more real character development, particularly with regards to "bad guy" R.G. Armstrong and "good guy"/mentor Chill Wills, than we usually see in this kind of story. Don Murray is Todd Lohman, on the run from Armstrong's Hunter Boyd, the biggest rancher in the area and a man hated and feared by everybody outside his own family; Wills is the man Murray eventually turns to for shelter, and the contrast between the garrulous, ebullient Wills with his large Mexican family of girls, and the dour and pigheaded Armstrong with his three loser sons couldn't be more obvious - in the end it's in some ways another "women made the west" film, and men's role is really to learn from their wives or mothers, rather than fight and kill each other - something the world is still in dire need of learning. Too bad the one daughter who happens to really get involved in the story is his white adopted daughter (Diane Varsi); that strikes me as Hollywood fears of miscegenation though it's not all that overt I suppose. This was shot in scope but the copy I saw was 1.78; here's hoping this makes it's way to a quality commercial DVD/Blu release one of these days.
15. 10 Rillington Place
(Richard Fleischer, 1971)
Fleischer's second film about a strangler-serial killer after 1968's The Boston Strangler
- coincidence or some kind of weird fascination? Anyway, this is also based on a real-life murderer, John Christie (Richard Attenborough in another great performance that as always makes me grieve that he stepped away from his brilliant acting career to become a mediocre and ponderous second-rate David Lean as director), who gassed and strangled about 8 women over a decade or so starting near the end of World War II. John Hurt and Judy Geeson are on hand as a young couple more or less lured into the flat that Christie and his (totally oblivious) wife live in, perhaps to their doom. It's a really solid film, and given that I didn't know the story at all, some real suspense as I had no idea how (or if) the killer would be caught or what would happen, but I think the last act with it's courtroom stretches is a bit less interesting than Christie digging holes in his garden, and sweet-talking young women to have a cup of tea, and relax, and just breathe through this little mask...