mandag 26. oktober 2009

My favorite movies pre 1930

So diskuterfilm has had a new poll of the best movies pre 1930. The final list had this top ten:

1. La Passion De Jeanne D'arc (Dreyer)
2. Metropolis (Lang)
3. The General (Keaton, Bruckman)
4. Sunrise; a song of two humans (Murnau)
5. Nosferatu, eine symphonie das grauens (Murnau)
6. Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (Wiene)
7. The Phantom Carriage (Seastrom)
8. Un Chien Andalou (Bunuel)
9. Faust, eine Deutsche volkssage (Murnau)
10. The Kid (Chaplin)

Here is my personal top 20 of pre 1930 films:

20. The Birth of a Nation (Griffith)

19. Faust, eine Deutsche volkssage (Murnau)

18. Un Chien Andalou (Bunuel)

17. Blackmail (Hitchcock)

16. Nanook of the North (Flaherty)

15. The Gold Rush (Chaplin)

14. Metropolis (Lang)

13. Der Letzte Mann aka The Last Laugh (Murnau)

12. La Voyage dans la Lune (Melies)

11. Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (Wiene)

10. The Man with the Movie Camera (Vertov)

9. The Crowd (Vidor)

8. Sherlock Jr. (Keaton)

7. Battleship Potemkin (Eisenstein)

6. Menilmontant (Kirsanoff)

5. La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc (Dreyer)

4. Häxan (Christensen)

3. Nosferatu, eine symphonie das Grauens (Murnau)

2. Der Müde Tod aka Destiny (Lang)

1. Sunrise; a song of two humans (Murnau)

fredag 23. oktober 2009

Presumably lost Alfred Hitchcock interview discovered

Someone recently discovered an interview of Alfred Hitchcock from 1974 which was presumed lost.

My favorite part:
In clip 4, the interviewer speaks of the modern movie and how "morally corrupt" it has become, and tries to get Hitchcock to express similar sentiments by asking him; "What would you not show in your pictures?" and Hitchcock, instead of talking of low morality and exploitation, answers that he would never show the old cliched "wrestling match" in bed with the camera angle over ones shoulder! There are some great moments in the following clips, where Hitchcock tells several macabre stories and the interviewer is apalled and seems uncomfortable.

fredag 16. oktober 2009

Review of The Cameraman

Note: This is an essay I wrote for filmclass at school, so it's a bit different than my other reviews, but I thought it would be interesting to post it here. I did some research and found some old newspapers from the 20's, reviewing the movie. The sources are not available online (except for the New York Times review) and were found on microfilm at my school's library.

By the time The Cameraman was released in 1928, Buster Keaton was an established and popular silent movie comic, having been in the business since 1917. The Cameraman was Keaton’s first movie under a contract with MGM, a two-year deal including a clause giving the producer the final say. Keaton himself later called it the biggest mistake of his life (McPherson, 206-207). Even though The Cameraman was his biggest hit in three years, his career went downhill afterwards. How was The Cameraman received by the press at the time of release? Three reviews from The New York Herald Tribune, The New York Times and Variety Magazine all states that it is an enjoyable movie, but they also have some complaints.

In the movie, Buster plays a photographer who falls in love with a girl. The girl (Sally, played by Marceline Day) works as a secretary at a news desk. In order to impress her and be closer to her, Buster (as he is also called in the movie) buys a movie camera to get a job shooting newsreels. While trying to woo the girl, he finds himself in several funny situations; losing his oversized swimsuit while swimming in the public pool, photographing in the midst of a shootout between Chinese gangsters, and finally rescuing Sally from drowning after a boating mishap.

The movie starts out with a series of scenes focusing on establishing the relationship between Buster and Sally. Variety (09/19/1928) states: “The familiar pattern has been dressed up with some bright gags and several sequences where the laughter comes thick and fast.” The review calls the movie a “good laugh picture” and states that “Production, direction and photography all first rate”. Even at that time, the story was perceived as a “familiar pattern”, which tells us that maybe Keaton and MGM did not want to take a lot of risks creating an original and challenging story, and instead focus on good craftsmanship and funny sequences. The “competing against another wooer in order to get the girl”-plot seems to be a comfortable backdrop to incorporate gags into. The reviewer for Variety also writes that “All in all, it will probably deliver general satisfaction”. In other words, this is not a rave review, although it acknowledges the fact that there are several funny sequences. The review rightfully addresses the lackluster love story that takes up a lot of run-time. Variety remarks: “Apparently some attempt to inject more romance into the yarn than customary in Buster Keaton films. Keaton is a problem on love interest. In the present case, his cow-like adoration of the heroine (Marceline Day) is used to build up sympathy as a counter irritant to his abysmal stupidity in most respects”. One could speculate that this was added to cater for the traditional Hollywood audience.

The New York Herald Tribune (09/18/1927) was a bit more skeptical than Variety:

”Buster Keaton gives a performance brightened only here and there by downright comedy, but they are funny enough, perhaps, to justify going to see him”. It goes on with a somewhat bleak conclusion:

“Needless to say, the picture, relating the adventures of a cameraman in love, is a string of gags. The “frozen faced” hero contributed little new in the way of characterization. Marceline Day, as the telephone girl, considerably decorated the scene, although her acting was negligible. The direction was straight, conservative work, letting its hopes rest in Keaton’s talent as a comic”.

Although the directing is for the most part “straight, conservative work”, there are some inventive sequences. One example of this is the scene where Keaton runs down all the stairs in his building to answer the telephone. A crane shot follows Keaton as he descends the stairs in a long and well rehearsed scene. Also credit should be given to the long take in the dressing room, which is a combination of complex performances and a daringly lengthy take for a commercial movie. To address the other points of the critique, Marceline Day’s acting is a bit anonymous, relying more on her good looks than trying to be inventive or funny and Keaton’s character is really nothing new besides being dumber and more naïve then we are used to.

The New York Times (09/16/1928) is a bit more positive, claiming that it is: “…filled with guffaws and grins, the sort of thing with many original and adroitly worked-out gags. But whether they belong to the story is immaterial”. The review has a point. There are several good and unforgettable comedic sequences in the film including: the long take in the dressing room, the sequence in which Buster imagines himself playing a baseball game at Yankee stadium and, last but not least, the spectacular Chinese tong war sequence where Keaton’s naïve and clumsy character is contrasted with and in the midst of brutes fighting with guns and knives. But there are also some forgettable gags; Buster trying to photograph Sally while fumbling with his camera builds on a cliché and lacks the timing Keaton usually mastered to perfection. The window-breaking gag is also trite and repetitious without being any funnier the second and third time around.

In an article featured in The New York Herald September 18th, 1928 entitled “Buster Keaton on the timing of the laugh”, Buster Keaton told the paper that:

“…the scene where I come into the newsreel office and Harold Goodwin follows and breaks the glass door with his camera was slated for an earlier part of the picture. But it found that the laugh at this point hindered the forward movement of the story which plants the beginning of my romance with Marceline Day. So we had the romance planting all run off first, then worked the glass door gag where the laugh wouldn’t slow up the action of the story”.

The philosophy behind Keaton’s reasoning really explains why the picture failed in this respect; the love story is not interesting or original enough to keep the viewer engaged. And when delaying his gags for the sake of the story, the beginning of the picture gets slow and uninteresting. In the article, Keaton also talks about how he and Edward Sedgewick (the director of the movie) worked out timed intervals for the sequences even before they were filmed, and made a rule that “a good commercial laugh is worth $600”. So if it would cost more, they would probably not do it. Such rigid rules can undermine creativity and seems like rules imposed by MGM, or stems from the responsibility of working for MGM, rather than Keaton’s own.

The Cameraman is ultimately a film with some great comedic sequences bogged down by a trite story and a lot of standardized work. Rudy Blesh, in his book Keaton (1966), sums up my sentiments: A friend of Buster Keaton tells Keaton that the print of The Cameraman is worn out because MGM used it as a “training picture” for future MGM comedians to study. Blesh adds:

“The MGM man spoke with evident pride. But it was equally evident that he was not thinking of Buster Keaton, a man whom MGM had already long since forgotten. He was thinking, MGM story, MGM direction, MGM production. The Machine, not the man. That sounds like the story of Buster Keaton, and so it is. At MGM the real history of The Cameraman is not remembered: the man, Keaton, fighting The Machine, MGM” (302).


Blesh, Rudi (1966) Keaton. 1st printing. New York, The MacMillian Company

McPherson, Edward (2005) Buster Keaton, Tempest in a flat hat. 1st ed. New York, Newmarket Press


I: The New York Times, 16th September, 1928: Review

II: Variety Magazine, 19th September, 1928: Review

III: The New York Herald Tribune, 18th September, 1928: Review

IV: The New York Herald Tribune, 18th September, 1928: Buster Keaton on the timing of the laugh

lørdag 11. juli 2009

My favorite DVDs

There are a lot of great DVDs out there, and getting that perfect edition really adds to your movie-watching experience. Reading an informative booklet adds to your understanding of the movie and often helps to put it in a historical and cinematic context. Documentaries, interviews and not to forget the packaging itself helps making watching movies a multi faceted experience. The Criterion Collection has always been a favorite of mine, as well as BFI and Masters of Cinema and are duly represented here. Here are my favorite DVDs:

Videodrome (criterion collection)

My favorite Cronenberg-movie also has one of the best releases from Criterion. Fantastic coverart, booklet, a cover that simulates a VHS-Cassette, fantastic image-quality, sound and bonus features (a 26 minute clip from a tv-show where Cronenberg, Carpenter John Landis and Mick Garris discusses movies. GREAT!). Some really interesting documentaries and two audio commentaries (One with Cronenberg and Mark Irwin, and another with Deborah Harry and James Woods). This is a fantastic DVD!

Mr Arkadin (Criterion Collection)

Another fabulous Criterion DVD; Mr Arkadin by Orson Welles. Welles had much trouble with releasing his movies uncut. Studios involved themselves, often "butchering" his films beyond recognition. Criterion has done a fantastic job by recreating the movie the way its supposed to be (a lot of research and a lot of hunting down various versions with different sequences in them). The result is a stunning 3-disc set with three versions of the movie: The Corinth version, Confidential Report and the new version done by Criterion. The last version is hands down the best of them. It also features a book of the film, audio commentary by Jonathan Rosenbaum and James Naremore, documentaries, interviews with the main actor and an interview with Simon Callow.

Salo, 120 days of sodom (BFI)
The BFI-version of Pasolini's Salo is the most complete version, featuring a sequence not available elsewhere. It has a great packaging, and informative booklet and some great extras. Very good documentaries on Pasolini's life, two documentaries on the making of the film and a short movie by Julian Cole about the last days of Pasolini.

F for Fake
(Criterion Collection)

A fantastic documentary about art and forgery by Welles has gotten a stunning treatment from Criterion. Great packaging, great extras and a good booklet. The extras are: A documentary about Orson's unfinished projects, a documentary on a famous art forger, a 2000 60 Minutes interview with Clifford Irving about his Howard Hughes autobiography hoax, a 1972 Hughes press conference exposing Irving’s hoax and an introduction by Peter Bogdanovich.

(Masters of Cinema)

This edition from Masters of Cinema features no extras. BUT, it has a stunning transfer, great artwork and a glorious 72-page booklet that really makes it worth the extra money.

(Masters of Cinema)

Murnau's American masterpiece has gotten a great treatment from Masters of Cinema. The dvd features
  • Restored high-definition transfer
  • Original English intertitles
  • Original Movietone score (Mono) or alternative Olympic Chamber Orchestra score (Stereo)
  • Audio commentary from cinematographer John Bailey
  • Outtakes with optional John Bailey audio commentary or intertitles
  • 'Murnau's 4 Devils - Traces Of A Lost Film': Janet Bergstrom's documentary about the film Murnau made after 'Sunrise' (40 mins)
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Original 'photoplay' script (150 pages in pdf format)
  • Booklet containing essays (by Robin Wood, Lotte H. Eisner, R. Dixon Smith, Lucy Fischer and David Pierce), reprints and rare production stills
A great buy!

Roman Polanski Collection
(Anchor Bay)

Anchor Bay has collected three brilliant films by Polanski in this great boxset: Knife in the Water, Repulsion and Cul-de-Sac. It has great image quality and features a bonus disc with many early shorts by Polanski. A booklet is also included.

(Criterion Collection)

Hitchcock's haunting Hollywood debut, Rebecca, is currently a Criterion out-of-print edition. It's pricey, but this DVD includes:

  • Glorious new digital film and sound restoration
  • Commentary by film scholar Leonard J. Leff, author of Hitchcock and Selznick: The Rich and Strange Collaboration of Alfred Hitchcock and David O. Selznick in Hollywood
  • Isolated music and effects track
  • Rare screen, hair, makeup and costume tests including Vivien Leigh, Anne Baxter, Loretta Young, Margaret Sullavan, and Joan Fontaine
  • Hitchcock on Rebecca, excerpts from his conversations with François Truffaut
  • Phone interviews with stars Joan Fontaine and Judith Anderson from 1986
  • Hundreds of behind-the-scenes photos chronicling the film’s production from location scouting, set photos, and wardrobe continuity to ads, posters, and promotional memorabilia
  • Production correspondence and casting notes
  • Deleted scene script excerpts
  • 1939 test screening questionnaire
  • Essay on Rebecca author Daphne du Maurier
  • Footage from the 1940 13th Annual Academy Awards™ ceremony
  • Re-issue trailer
  • Three hours of complete radio show adaptations:
  • 1938 Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre broadcast, including an interview with Daphne du Maurier
  • 1941 Lux Radio Theatre broadcast starring Ronald Colman and Ida Lupino, including an interview with David O. Selznick
  • 1950 Lux Radio Theatre broadcast starring Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh
  • English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired
  • Optimal image quality: RSDL dual-layer edition
  • PLUS: A 22-page booklet, including liner notes by Robin Wood, author of Hitchcock’s Films and Hitchcock’s Films Rev
Comprehensive? I think so! Brilliant DVD!

torsdag 2. juli 2009

Lars von Trier's "Antichrist"

I wrote earlier in my blog about how I feared Von Trier had "jumped the bandwagon" in terms of shockingly violent movies. I wrote:

"But Von Trier has in a way jumped the bandwagon. In the past, Von Trier always made highly original movies that were not occupied with trends (like Dancer in the Dark , Dogville and The Idiots). Of course, I have not seen Antichrist and this is just based on the controversy surrounding the movie, but it seems like he's taken shortcuts, instead of making highly original movies. I hope I'm wrong here, and that Antichrist is the deeply disturbing piece of art I want it to be."

I was wrong. Antichrist was a deeply disturbing piece of art. Von Trier clearly creates his own unique universe, not copying European directors like Noe and Haneke. Von Trier blends the present with a mythological past, and successfully comments on humans, man and woman, in an abstract way. He's not just portraying the man and woman on screen, but calling them "He" and "She" he clearly adresses the sexes, and humans in a more abstract way. It is a deep and thoughtful study of the good and bad qualities inherent in man and womens nature.

Nature is a key word. Von Trier uses animals and a rural setting to further underline his point; man is a part of nature. We cannot be completely rational, we have urges, instincts, an inner animal. For Von Trier, the woman is more in touch with these feelings or instincts, and the man tries to bury it with rational thinking. Von Trier paints the man as just as animalistic as the woman, but worse: he justifies it with rational thinking. The ending showing the smug Willem Defoe thinking he has done human kind a favor or something, being really satisfied with himself.

This post will not read well if you haven't seen the movie, but my aim has been to involve people who have seen it and not promoting it to people that has not seen it. But it is really brilliant. Fantastic photography, subjectmatter, script, acting, directing. Maybe Von Trier's best movie.

fredag 12. juni 2009

Woody Allen's ten best movies

10. Match Point

Match Point has a fitting slow pace, unusually slow for an Allen film. Match Point's plot bears resemblance to 1989's "Crimes and misdemeanours", but it has a different style and a different feel. Match Point is expertly crafted editing-, pacing and directing-wise. It is also a return to form after 15 years of lacklustre light comedies (except The Sweet and Lowdown, Deconstructing Harry, Manhattan Murder Mystery and Husbands and Wives).

9. Broadway Danny Rose

Woody Allen in light comedic mood succeeds well in this charming movie about a manager and his hopeless adultering and drinking client. At the core, Allen employs a melancholic tale of a bygone era replaced by stronger capitalism and artists forgetting about where they came from. Allen's homage to the French New Wave climaxes in one of the final scenes when he runs after Mia Farrow in the rain, with a camera tracking shot from across the street. A deeply charming movie, with some great comedy.

8. Husbands and Wives

Allen's take on Ingmar Bergman's "Scenes from a marriage" is ultimately a fascinating movie where Allen employs his talent for writing intellectual and poignant lines. The handheld-camera and Woody's Cassavettes-like empathy for the characters suits this movie very well. One of his most successful "serious" movies.

7. Radio Days

I love the way Allen gets inspired by other directors and makes his own versions of their movies. Radio Days is clearly inspired by Fellini, but because of Allen's use of his own life and memories it is distinctly Allenesque. I love Radio Days period details, music and its romanticizing of the American 1940's childhood.

6. Zelig

This movie is incredibly well-done and probably Allen's greatest creative output. Zelig is a playful "mockumentary" that really cemented Woody's artistic talent. He really makes the audience believe his cooky kafkaesque story of a human cameleon always changing into different personalities. It really is a profound statement of human's tendency to adapt to other people.

5. Hannah and Her Sisters

This movie's got Sven Nykvist, Max Von Sydow, Mia Farrow, Diane West and Michael Caine all in good form. And it has Woody as Mickey Sachs, one of his funniest and most neurotic characters. This movie succeeds both with the funny parts, and the more serious and dramatic parts.

4. Manhattan

The images is what makes "Manhattan" stand out. Nykvist's exquisite photography of New York City really sticks in your head. Allen's script is also very good, featuring a romance with a very young girl and his problems with intellectual people. This ambiguity is very interesting and Woody employs it in several of his movies. Allen's character hates the intellectual type and at the same time is one himself. He is pushed and pulled between "simple" people and more "intellectual" people not able to define what he prefers.

3. Love and Death

This is Woody's funniest movie, where he pokes fun at the russian culture and its writers. Love and Death showcases Allen's fascination with the Marx Brothers and it works brilliantly.

2. Annie Hall

"Annie Hall" seems fresh even today. It's hilariously funny, intelligent, creative and very entertaining. Woody comments on nearly everything in popular culture and is very laconic and sarcastic all the way through.

1. Crimes and Misdemeanours

This movie has always struck me as quite perfect. The plot is simple: A man contemplates killing his mistress because she threatens to destroy his carreer and family. It shows a man riddled with guilt and moral dillemmas, a human being not percieving himself as evil, but somehow finds himself in a situation where he has to break his own moral codes to keep up his perfect appearance within society. Its Woody at his most nihilistic and it brings up alot of questions. What is morally right or wrong? Could and should we trust other people and listen to what they say? Are we ultimately on our own?

torsdag 4. juni 2009

Top ten from the 1930's

A poll on a movieforum which I frequent is having a poll of the best movies from the 1930's, so I made a list and thought I should post it here. The 1930's was the decade of sound and the rise of the "talkie" picture, which horrified silent movie lovers who loved the pictorial quality of film and not the aural quality. The free moveabout camera of the 20's was now locked up in soundisolated booths, unable to move around. This represented a major challenge to the directors of the era, who spent several years freeing the camera and recording sound in a more sophisticated way. OK, enought with the context. Here is my personal top ten:

10. My Man Godfrey (1935) directed by Gregory La Cava

This comedy has always struck me as very funny, as well as debating problems associated to class and capitalism. Powell creates a unique and very funny character and La Cava has a good eye for the visuals. The film does little to shy away from its genre, but creates a great energy with a great ensemble and a very funny script.

9. Bringing up Baby (1938) directed by Howard Hawks

Cary Grant has never been funnier than in this role. His comedic timing is spot-on and Hepburn is a great choice for his opinionated partner. Hawks mastered the fine art of the screwball-comedy, and it all comes into perfect fruitition in this movie. Great one-liners and bit-players (the sheriff is hilarious!) makes this movie utterly enjoyable.

8. Stagecoach (1939) directed by John Ford

Stagecoach really captures a special zeitgeist, and its adventure-like structure really appeals to the boy in me. The movie is very close to what I would call "a textbook western", and that is not meant in a negative way. The movie could be seen as simple and crude as opposed to more sophisticated western such as "The Searchers", but this I think is oversimpling things. It's important not to take "Stagecoach" too seriously, and enjoy the visuals, the excitement of the battle against the indians and the great performance of John Wayne.

7. The Mummy (1933) directed by Karl Freund

Karl Freund's "The Mummy" is in my opinion the best of the Universal Horror movies of the era. Freund's style is remarkably visual and he creates an atmosphere which Tod Browning was unable to create with his "Dracula". Freund was an expressionistic director of photography who turned to directing late in his career. Boris Karloff has never been more frightening and compelling as in this movie.

6. Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse (1934) directed by Fritz Lang

Fritz Lang's fable of madness and the alure of power is really worth seeing. Lang succeeds in making a horrifying portraitt of the dangers of organized crime. It's really fascinating to read this as a metaphore for the rising Nazi-movement and it is especially interesting to consider Hitler's own madness and powerlust. The movie is utterly exciting and shows Lang's great ability to make great action/thriller movies and somehow making it seem important and politically potent.

5. Le sang d'un Poete (1930) directed by Jean Cocteau

Jean Cocteau creates a surrealistic world recalling his childhood, and experiments with the movie as a medium. Cocteauian themes such as the parallell world which is entered through a mirror appears here for the first time. Cocteau's use of symbols, editing and false perspective fits perfectly in this compelling short movie. Three words: Poetic, beautiful and compelling

4. Vampyr (1933) directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer

Vampyr transports you to a dream-world of shadows, mysticism and death. It draws upon such primitive fears as watching your own funeral from your coffin. It's visual quality is really hard to put into words, but it uses some expressionistic techniques combined with Dreyer's acute sense of realism.

3. Lady Vanishes (1938) directed by Alfred Hitchcock

The Lady Vanishes is a fun and exiting movie. It's twist and turns are really worth admiring. Hitchcock takes a funny premise and turns it into an engaging story of fun and suspense. Its combination of wacky adventure dreamworld and political reality makes this ultimately interesting and very entertaining.

2. La Grande Illusion (1937) directed by Jean Renoir

Renoir really succeeds in making the perfect anti-war movie, and destroys the illusion of the importance of war. Its humanism and understanding of the human is what makes this such a great movie. The best war-movie ever made.

1. M (1933) directed by Fritz Lang

Fritz Lang's "M" starts out as a "hunt for the killer"-movie but then turns into a harrowing piece showing human madness and mans failed sense of justice. Lorre turns in his best performance ever and etches himself into our minds as the ultimate tragic figure in movie history.