1. Bend It Like Beckham (Gurinder Chadha, 2002) 21stCENTURY
2. Ocean's Eleven (Steven Soderbergh, 2001) 21stCENTURY
3. Wutei jiemei / Two Stage Sisters (Jin Xie, 1964) 1001-2000
4. Bamboozled (Spike Lee, 2000) 21stCENTURY
5. Holy Motors (Leos Carax, 2012) 21stCENTURY, Top 1000
6. Angst essen Seele auf / Ali: Fear Eats the Soul
(Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1974) Top 1000
I've wanted to see this for a long time, in significant part because of writings by Jonathan Rosenbaum and others, comparing it with both Sirk, who I've really grown to love, in particular All That Heaven Allows
, and Todd Haynes' Far From Heaven
, another close variation on the theme. In fact I had planned to watch them all in a row while my mom was still alive - we had watched the Sirk film years ago and she loved that - but it never happened. But the other two films are still pretty strong in memory, so reflections on them and on the theme in general were inevitable.
And what is the theme? On the surface, an illicit - or at least highly disapproved of - love relationship; in the Sirk film, it's an older wealthy woman and a younger man, in the Haynes film it's an older wealthy woman and a similarly-aged black man; and here it's an older working-class woman and a black African immigrant. So a combination of race, age, and class figures into all of these films in some way, and we cannot leave out sexuality - Rock Hudson, who played the younger man in All That Heaven Allows
, was a closeted gay man; there is a secondary gay relationship in Haynes' film, and Haynes is gay himself, and Fassbinder's film stars El Hedi Ben Salam, with whom the director was having a relationship. A potent mix of all kinds of "outsider" characters and attitudes then is at work in all three films, and taken together they present a complex portrait of what it is like to have to face societal pressures and narrow-mindedness, and how much "fear eats the soul" even in the strongest of wills when the world is against you. I didn't know any real details about this film apart from the basics, and I have to say I was rather surprised that it is ultimately somewhat optimistic and has what might almost be called a happy ending - surprised both because this is rare in Fassbinder, and because Haynes' later film is much more dour overall. I though Haynes probably got the gloom from Fassbinder (the Sirk film, being made during the height of the Production Code, is of course not as pessimistic on it's surface as a later film could be), but now I think it comes from somewhere else. In any case this is a beautiful film - full of rich, saturated colors and great music and two great performances (Brigitte Mira as the middle-aged cleaning woman) at it's center, and I suspect that it's the humaneness of the film - in comparison with the often very dark and cynical tone of much of the director's other work - that has propelled it into being his most popular and well-loved work. I loved it myself, though in the end it felt just a tiny bit thin to me - I would have liked an ending that was a bit...more? I'm not sure exactly how to put it. The rather quick wrap-up was a bit disconcerting, I guess. Still great, just not, on one viewing anyway, as great as a couple of the director's other films.
7. Le fantôme de la liberté / The Phantom of Liberty
(Luis Buñuel, 1974) Top 1000
Buñuel in high surrealism mode, with elements that get into full-on farce at times, though the weirdness is never far away. The narrative is one of my favorite types, the rondelay - the most notable example being Ophüs' La ronde
- where one story leads into the next unrelated bit through the actions of one character; in this case it's usually just one character sort of running off from whatever group or story he's been part of and getting involved with something else. I only dimly remember Slacker
but that might be a closer example. In any Buñuel certainly doesn't have any of the particular philosophical musings of either Ophüls or Linklater in mind here, he is as usual more interested in pure anarchy and absurdist comedy. We may all be connected, but we are such a crazy species that it takes a God's eye view to see it, and even then it's not really possible to understand. My favorite bits are probably the sniper/poet, and the absolutely wonderful sequence with the family whose daughter has disappeared - except that she hasn't. This was enormous fun, probably the most purely delightful film I've seen in weeks or months, and certainly one of my 3-4 favorite films from the director - maybe at the top right now, give that I haven't seen a lot of his other classics for decades.
8. Phantom of the Paradise
(Brian De Palma, 1974) Top 1000
Typical De Palma flash, with all the "substance" being it's many nods to previous films and stories in the horror genre, most obviously of course "The Phantom of the Opera" but also "Frankenstein", "The Picture of Dorian Gray" and "Faust". Oh, and it's a musical comedy - predating The Rocky Horror Picture Show
by a year. I do have to give it to the film that, for all the homages to other works (there's also a bit of set painting that looks a lot like similar pieces in the original Caligari
), it does have a certain personal nature to it - that of the struggling artist being destroyed by a thieving producer - and the acting and some of the songs do help make it fairly enjoyable, and it never really wore out it's welcome. But at the end, like most of the director's films, it went down like a nice bar of chocolate with just a slightly stale and dull center.
9. Mädchen in Uniform / Girls in Uniform
(Leontine Sagan, 1931) 1001-2000
TCM. Another film I've known about forever, and probably came close to watching back when I was more interested in German Expressionism than anything else - but that was in the late 80s and it may not have been available then. This is a really fine work about life in a repressive girls' school, and the passion that a new girl develops for one of her teachers. It does have certain Expressionist elements - a few moments of lighting in the night sequences, and that big open stairway that figures quite prominently - but overall this is certainly more naturalistic than most of the famous German films that immediately precede it, and of course it's a film of social consciousness, as much about the brutal nature of the Prussian attitudes towards conformity and discipline as it is about "the love that dare not speak it's name". I'm not entirely sure I liked the ending but the fact that I was expecting a different one - and B. Ruby Rich, who was the guest host, comments about how the original play from which this was adapted had that ending that I thought would be there. I liked what she said, and perhaps it's good that in this case
suicide by the girl was replaced with defeat for the brutal headmistress
. I don't know, still thinking about it.
10. Den-en ni shishu / Pastoral: To Die in the Country
(Shûji Terayama, 1974) 1001-2000
Another work of surrealism - a surreal re-imagining of the director's childhood, with Felliniesque carnival elements; one (negative) review I read also compares it unfavorably with Jodorowsky, which I can sort of see. It's a 30something film director's analysis of and close approach to the dream-world of his youth, with naturally sex and death heavily involved as they probably are for all teenagers in the world. Hard for me to say much more about this one right now - this was my first film from Terayama and while it was very impressive, and very beautiful - lots of heavily saturated colors, and interesting use of color filters - I really don't know what to make of it. I did like the way, towards the end, the current-day 30-something director (well, an actor playing him) essentially enters the past-dream-world to interrogate his younger self, and possibly to kill his mother so that he won't exist anymore. A popular science fiction concept but one I don't recall seeing in this kind of more down-to-earth fantasy (if that's a meaningful phrase) before.
11. Edvard Munch
(Peter Watkins, 1974) Top 1000
210 minute 2-part version; actually my copy ran closer to 220 minutes but that is probably just a PAL/NTSC difference. Several years in the life of the great Norwegian painter, between roughly 1882-95, with flashbacks to childhood. Well, not flashbacks, exactly; Watkins' technique is pretty far from conventional "well this is how I remember it" storytelling, and in fact this film probably comes closer to the Proustian ideal of capturing the past and present at the same time, of memories and the modern thought interlocking seamlessly, than any other film I've seen (including two actual Proust adaptations). We see Munch's growth from a deeply self-doubting artist into one who has the strength to fend off the severe and often insulting criticism regularly hurled at him, and we simultaneously live with a man who cannot get over a rejection from a woman he only knew for a short while, who keeps recurring regularly, at any moment, all the time; who cannot get over the rejection from his father, the severity and brutality of his father, the religious conservatism and obstinacy of his father, which keeps recurring, regularly, at any moment, all the time. And we see this not only in Munch but in friends like August Strindberg, and we see how these deep, never-healed scars are slathered over with the paint of drinking and smoking and drugs, with how rejection from women - often because of unhealthy obsession, as is certainly obvious in Munch - leads to scars slathered over with sexism, misogyny, cynicism. And we see all this in Munch's work, from early realistic sketches through flirtations with impressionism and finally an expressionism or symbolism which he is known for today. And we see the restlessness of this man who cannot let go of his past, and how the work, and the drinking, and the brief affairs keep him going, keep him moving, keep him alive but never let him rest.
This is likely the greatest portrait of an artist I've ever seen, and one of the greatest films I've ever seen, period. If I haven't said anything about Watkins's style, it's really because it's not much different from that in his other films (and I've seen most of them now and really can't wait to go through the rest), and because that style - English narration (by the director), non-professional actors speaking in their own languages (mostly Norwegian, Swedish and German), scenes that have a documentary quality, with characters looking straight into the camera while answering questions about the artist, or his family, or friends - became rapidly invisible to me, as I felt myself pulled into the world of this exceptional artist and deeply tortured human in a way that almost never happens. I was with Edvard Munch for almost four hours, and I am much the better for it, and I will miss him now that he is only part of my memory.