In May, On the Ice director, Andrew Okpeaha MacLean agreed to share his thoughts on Inuit culture, climate change, his love of Sergio Leone and Kurosawa. One of the interesting insights was the fact that he incorporates the structure of westerns in his work. He was kind enough to bear my lengthy questioning. On The
Like karukan cake’s faint flavor, the film’s quiet pace may be an acquired taste, but the rewards are plentiful. Koreeda captures children at their best, eager to learn, to believe, to nurture each other, to explore the world around them. Brotherhood, family, and friendship are concepts deconstructed and reshaped at the hands of the protagonists.
The Black Cat is remarkable by being the very first on-screen collaboration of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. I find it only appropriate that the biggest stars of 1930s American horror were both immigrants. If you wonder just how connected they were to the history not just of the genre, but of Hollywood itself, the remark of Sara Karloff (the actor’s daughter) that her father’s car was numbered 9, is illuminating.
The director mimics the coverage of the crime beat: gender and age should be everything one needs to know about a victim or a perpetrator. When the group of survivors (don’t ask) from the yakuza captives seeks out the foreign gunman, yelling friend-o to indicate they want to join him, rather than help the police, and they finally ask him why, he also gives only his age as a reason to explain the killing spree. They nod in understanding. Being twenty years old, off course he would want to kill everyone. This is not a celebration of youthful naïveté, rather an elaborate spoof of the young rebel genre.
The rare 35mm print is in possession of The Museum of Modern Art, and the opportunities to attend a screening are scattered, the gaps between them spanning decades. The film is the equivalent of tabloid print and its values (or lack thereof to be precise) on the big screen. While it is quite imperative to judge any type of work (and I am reluctant to preface this word by “art” here) within its historical context, there is nothing naïve about the film that would warrant perceiving it merely as a “product of its time.” The movie is quite obviously exploitative, even vile, the dialogue often unnatural, the acting theatrical, and yet I would encourage people to see it – if they get a chance, that is.
Fairbanks definitely transformed every adult in attendance of the screening into a child. The audience was awed, joyous, clapping, laughing with relief as the hero miraculously overcame obstacles and got his princess, defeating schemers and monsters alike, and even resisting temptation, always self-assured, brave, with no option but victory. That is perhaps the achievement of the film: nearly a century after it was created, it charms the audiences just the same. It allows all age categories to simply enjoy themselves; so lighthearted, it feels like a Christmas present.
Glamorization of flappers has its merits and its drawbacks, very much like the movement itself. Our Dancing Daughters manages to capture some of the contradictions inherent in the subculture. It is fun to watch, and the film was designed to be a visual pleasure. The glittering dresses, the crazy eyebrows, Crawford’s rouged lips in the pale face, leg-baring attires – all of this makes it a feast, for the mankind never tires of its simplest, perpetual, and universal sport of people watching.
Wings is notable as the very first film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, or as the category was then titled: “most outstanding production.” Also recognized for Engineering Effects, the aerial fights and battleground scenes were unparalleled at the time. Some think of Wings as the film that launched Gary Cooper’s career, albeit his appearance was very brief.
The many layers of the film reveal themselves gradually. Subdued realism unexpectedly takes a turn towards the surreal. Yet because the surreal stems solely from dialogue and action, the audience is sure to be shocked more by how thinly the line is drawn between reality, unreality, and fantasy. It is placed down as a drawing in water, wet finger dragged over the surface: sit and watch it evaporate.
If the film were satiric, I could sing it praises. Unfortunately, the intention is for us to take it at face value. If this were an elaborate visually stunning joke at the expense of privileged miserable hipster wannabe artistes, who even under the imminent threat of destruction fail to create a meaningful human bond, I would be applauding. Sadly, the scene where Leigh’s Skye patronizingly embraces the delivery boy, is quite sincerely meant to display the character’s level of enlightenment. In reality, it is a somewhat shameful display of what the upper class understands under compassion and charity. We are expected to believe that TV commentators abandon their posts to be with their families, yet delivery boys will keep running errands, quietly and obediently live out their purpose of serving the rich until their bodies disintegrate.
Damon Gough’s Being Flynn score is well crafted, thoughtful but unfortunately a bit flat. It’s a job well done, but within self-imposed constraints. I think the limitations we place on ourselves are the most difficult to overcome. It seems Gough approached the project with a very specific idea of what a music score is, and what its attributes should be. Badly Drawn Boy does a great job of reviving retro influences that are worth exploring. He appropriates with skill, and spits out extremely pleasant arrangements. His musicianship is uncontested. But, there is little incentive to seek out the compositions from the Being Flynn score outside the theatre. The music’s role in this case is restricted to being complementary to the film.
More than anything, Boy is about failures. Adults are failing children, New Zealand’s government is failing the Maori population. Unfortunately, the film never takes a real political stand, and the redemption and reconciliation come all too easily: all the difficulty is glossed over with camp. Hell, there is a Bollywood style ending. While it might be cute and all, the cast dancing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller video choreography, it’s beyond derivative. Regardless of whether it’s homage to Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle, 2008) or a five a.m. wouldn’t-this-be-neat idea, it adds very little to the movie. Everything that has gravitas is turned into a joke, because audiences surely wouldn’t want to be bothered with any uncomfortable topics.
Despite its feverish pace and claustrophobic oppressive feel, it documents with precision an obscure portion of a WWII history: the typhus vaccine invention and production. Rudolf Weigl’s research institute was located Lwow – Zulawski’s birthplace. The main character becomes one of the human subjects that feed the infected lice with their blood. Capsules with live swarms strapped onto their skin, so the insects may imbibe through a screen. It is after all the best job he could have. It absolves from deportations.
The key to viewing this film perhaps lies in the most neglected, marginal element. Bob. Bob is the child, that is left alone in an empty flat for days, while his mother is visiting a lover, and his father is recovering from a delirium. Bob is hungry, skinny, and filthy; the place is a mess. His home is turned into a battleground, his tiny clothes are strewn about, and everything is piling up: the anger, the anxiety, and the dirty dishes. Bob is trying to set the record in holding his breath underwater, like many children do. But, at the very least, when he throws himself into a tub fully clothed, one must understand this is his safe place. Where sounds are distorted, where arguments don’t sound real. This is the real terror that is taking place. Maybe this whole time we were watching from the perspective of a child, whose parents are replaced by monsters and strangers. They look like his family but are not really them.