We’ll see how long I can keep this going for. I’m trying to write a little about each new-to-me film and each rewatch I do this year. They are meant to be pretty informal, some may be longer and some may only have a few sentences. But it’s important for me to engage more with each film I see, to not just watch it and move on. I think people in general have gotten into a habit of multitasking while they watch films (actually multitasking is a fabulous and horrible trait of my generation), which can be fine in the right circumstances (live-tweets is one of several examples) or if you just want something for the background, but generally it’s a huge pet peeve of mine. I don’t know where I was going with this since it doesn’t apply to me, but there you go. Once in a while I’ll expand a rewatch or viewing to a full post, but for now, I’ll be pasting in my thoughts on films throughout the week on tumblr and compile them into a weekly posting here.
#17. Whisper of the Heart (1995, Kondo): A
How did it take me so long to see this? As a Studio Ghibli fanatic I have zero excuses. My top three Ghibli films would be Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro and this; no small accomplishment. A wonder and an all-time favorite, it made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Unbeatable as a coming-of-age story. Shizuku’s musters along in life, a little lazy but going about her days consuming books. She transitions into having a willful desperate need to find a creative place for herself in the world so as not to get left behind by Seiji. ‘Country Roads’ has new meaning. The Baron and the clock and the shiny rough stone. I love that she follows the cat because it feels ‘like the beginning of a story’. Like all Ghibli, it’s fucking gorgeous. Rare in its non-fantasy but still finds ways to inject magic. I couldn’t be more in love with this.
#18. Saboteur (1942, Hitchcock): B-
A lesser version of Hitchcock’s other ordinary-man-on-the-run films but still with much to admire. Worth noting what he reworks into his fabric from previous films made in England and what he would use as a blueprint of films made much later in his career. The only major place it suffers is that other perfected versions of this story exist in his filmography (North by Northwest and my favorite Hitch film The 39 Steps to name a couple), casting a pall over what is otherwise a very entertaining feature. Could stand to be a bit tighter. There’s some great stuff here thought; the fire, the sequences at the Statue of Liberty and Radio City Music Hall, etc. The ballroom scene was my personal favorite; the idea that you are in mortal danger despite being surrounded by oblivious people who are both useless and enjoying themselves. Hitch wasn’t happy with the unauthorized casting of his leads. Sure, if you wanted Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck who wouldn’t be disappointed, and I’ll agree that Robert Cummings is merely fine, but I thought Priscilla Lane worked out quite nicely. Lots of supporting players that make their mark more. Norman Lloyd stood out.
Rewatch #1: The Fallen Idol (1948, Reed)
First Seen in: 2009
Macgregor! This is a film I own and its status as a favorite of mine was confirmed. A primary example of a film seen from a child’s perspective. Carol Reed concocts a unique and magnificent performance out of Bobby Henrey. He is always preoccupied, always distracted but aware on a subconscious level the levity of what is happening. It might be my favorite child performance in film and much of this has to do with the fact that it isn’t really a performance. He couldn’t act and apparently had the attention span of a ‘demented flea’ as a Reed colleague puts it. And you can tell. You can see that a performance isn’t exactly taking place but the reward is the kid’s unbelievable natural abilities and how carefully and painstakingly Reed was able to get certain reaction shots and line readings out of him. He’s more like a kid than any kid I’ve seen in the movies and that comes with all of his more obnoxious qualities. How about that 10 minute chunk where he just answers “No!” to everything he is asked? Classic stuff.
Reed uses tilted angles effectively and in all the right moments, usually when pressure is mounting on Phillipe. This is his domestic situation. His parents are absent and so he gets dragged into the indiscretions of his idol Baines the butler. In Mrs. Baines he has the first villain to enter his life, whose treatment of him will surely scar indefinitely. That scene where she pops up at his bedside is terrifying. The set design by Vincent Korda with its heights and spirals is ideal for memorable perspective shots as the boy looks down, so distant are the complicated entanglements of adults. And throughout the film, all of the adults, even the good ones, use Phillipe.
Rewatch #2: Dance, Girl, Dance (1940, Arzner)
First Seen in: 2007
Easily my favorite Lucille Ball film role (although I do love her in Lured). Bubbles has got to be one of the best characters ever and Ball OWNS it. This is an early feminist film filtered through a conventional narrative and told by director Dorothy Arzner in ways that are subtly insightful and ahead of its time. Ball’s Bubbles uses her sexuality and ‘oomph’ to move up in the world while Maureen O’Hara’s Judy has what it takes but her nice girl work ethic just ain’t going to get her ahead. What I love is that while Bubbles takes on the villain role a couple of times, she is really seen as someone who is simply using what she has and the film doesn’t condemn her for that. Among her selfish qualities are smarts and strategy and she’s even willing to throw a bone to her friends when she can. Then put her next to Judy, who can be insufferable at times. Always carrying around Ferdinand? What are we, 2? There’s a surprising complexity with Bubbles. Arzner focuses on the act of looking during the burlesque number and at all other opportunities. That cigar-chomping fella seemingly in a trance in an early scene sticks out as the prime example. And the film is damn entertaining.
Rewatch #3. Cat People (1942, Tourneur)
First Seen in: 2005
So many startling shots in this film, but I expect nothing less from a Lewton/Tourneur collaboration. This is often considered the best of the Lewton produced films at RKO and I’m inclined to agree. Second to this for me would be the woefully underrated The Leopard Man. I didn’t take to I Walked with a Zombie *dodges tomatoes*. I’ve seen all the rest except The Curse of the Cat People and Bedlam. 7/9; not bad!
Rampant with symbolism and psychology, a study of female sexuality, there is a lot going on here worth discussing but my one measly rewatch doesn’t begin to dig into it. But this is a lot about the instilled inseparability between sexuality and shame among much much more. I love that Simone Simon is our monster and victim. We not only feel badly for her, but we feel really badly for her. She’s stunning and erotic but also childlike and innocent, a really difficult combination of traits to embody and not a mix you see often.
Cinematography by Nicholas Musuraca to die for. Other characters are a heap of nincompoops. They start off okay enough but you grow more and more disdainful of Oliver and Alice for not being able to figure their interpersonal shit out in the many years of their friendship. Alice is definitely a bit predatory too. She means well for Oliver but I found her absolutely calculating in moments of self-serving opportunity. And Dr. Judd is the worst psychiatrist ever. Ugh. What a fucking leech.