Virtual Bourgeois

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Archive for August 4th, 2017

2017 Summer Movies #5

Posted by Gerald on August 4, 2017

2017 Summer Movie #41 – Tom Jones (Tony Richardson, 1963): Despite some elements that are a bit problematic, this film is well worth seeing if you love good movie making.  Richardson was making a literary adaptation in 1963 for a major studio, yet he threw the rule-book about how one did that (serious tone, reverence for the material, …) out the window.  He made a comedy – but not just a comedy.  He plays with everything here – film speeds, use of stills, abrupt shifts of tone, breaking the fourth wall (in a time when that was unheard of rather than almost cliche), an opening scene done in the style of an old silent movie etc…  What is even more amazing is that audiences loved this.  This is almost as difficult to consider as the idea that “Twin Peaks” was once a ratings hit on a major TV network in the US.  You can see bits of what Richardson did here in everything from Monty Python to John Hughes.  Like the best examples of film, this is about creating images – painting with light, if you will – not just using images to support a narrative.  If anything, the narrative here is just a framework to hold the images together  It is part of that sensibility that came to dominate films in the late 60s and 70s, and which died in major releases with the “blockbusters” of 1977.  Watch this!

2017 Summer Movie #42 – Pool of London (Basil Dearden, 1951): Another workmanlike Dearden film with a hint of a social conscience.  In this case we have a pretty stock crime drama – there is a heist, there are chase scenes, the two leads are decent enough guys who get drawn into all of it almost by accident… This would almost qualify as noir, but it doesn’t have the visual style.  What makes this unusual is that one of the two lead characters is played by a black actor (Earl Cameron) and this is the first time a black actor had a starring role in a British film.  His character has a sort of interracial relationship with a white woman – light dating, but with overtones of possible romance; and even that was enough to cause some controversy in England.  The film touches on racial prejudice, but it isn’t the major plot element that homophobia is in “Victim”.  Frankly, you could have cast a white actor in the role and made a couple changes to some dialogue, and you would have had the same story.  Still, that it addresses the issue at all makes it stand out – and puts it into this set of Dearden films that address social issues.

2017 Summer Movie #43 – Battles Without Honor and Humanity (Kenji Fukasaku, 1974): The last of the five films rounds out the story of the yakuza who featured in the other four movies and shows an attempt to take some of the Hiroshima families “legitimate” (to borrow Michael Corleone’s phrase).  As with the Godfather saga, there is no escaping the criminal past and the violence continues.

2017 Summer Movie #44 – The Importance of Being Earnest (Anthony Asquith, 1952): This is generally considered the definitive film adaptation of the Oscar Wilde play.  This sort of thing was Asquith’s forte and he worked here from his own fairly faithful screenplay.  If you like the play, you will probably like the movie.  In a nice round of irony, the director of this movie originally went into film to escape his family reputation.  His father was H.H. Asquith, a Liberal politician who served as Prime Minister up through the first two years of World War II.  Prior to being Prime Minister, he had served as Home Secretary.  While he was Home Secretary, Oscar Wilde was tried, convicted, and imprisoned on charges of “gross indecency” (homosexuality).  At that time, both the police and the prisons were under Asquith’s ministry.  The guy who did a comps field on modern British social and political history loves this sort of thing.

2017 Summer Movie #45 – The Smallest Show on Earth (Basil Dearden, 1957): No social message this time, just a comedy about a young couple inheriting a run-down movie theater and its staff of eccentric characters (including an old drunken projectionist played by Peter Sellers).  This is in the style of the Ealing Studio comedies, where Dearden had made films for years, although Ealing had just closed before this film was made.  While looking up stuff about this film, I discovered it became the basis for a 2015 stage musical that also uses a lot of Irving Berlin songs.  Not really outstanding, but fun.

2017 Summer Movie #46 – The Boy with Green Hair (Joseph Losey, 1948): Dean Stockwell plays the eponymous boy; a war orphan whose hair suddenly turns green.  This movie is almost Wes Anderson-like in having this twee coating over a dark center.  It’s message, that war is bad and should be avoided, went a long way toward convincing America, embodied in HUAC, that Losey was a threat to all that was good and decent.  This led to his being blacklisted and then leaving the country to make better movies with the likes of Howard Pinter in Europe.

2017 Summer Movie #47 – Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan, 2017): Excellent.  Nolan managed to avoid most of the cliches used in making this sort of film.  Instead we get a series of converging stories that allow the drama of this epic event to be felt in small and personal brushes with war.  No jingoism, no empty celebration of military glory – instead we see how the glory of war is in surviving and being a human at the end.  Nolan, as always, knows how to create a fantastic shot and uses the channel and the beaches to great effect.  If there is no other Oscar here, one should go to Hans Zimmer for the score.  It is unrelenting, it NEVER stops, and it carries much of the emotional impact of the film – yet does so without the usual orchestral flourishes that epic movies usually have.  This is a great one.

2017 Summer Movie #48 – Sapphire (Basil Dearden, 1959): Another workman-like film from Dearden, this is a crime procedural.  Where it joins these other Dearden films is that the murder at the core is of a young “colored” woman who was “passing for white”.  With this, the film looks at racism of many different types.  It has that twinge of early “progressive” films where a no doubt well-meaning white guy rather clumsily addresses racism.  Still, there is some really interesting stuff here, especially about the lives of black Londoners in the 1950s.  Be prepared for a couple of unintentional but still pretty racist scenes in the midst of this film that is trying to say racism is bad.

2017 Summer Movie #49 – All Night Long (Basil Dearden, 1963): This is my favorite of the Dearden movies on Filmstruck thus far.  It is an adaptation of Othello set in an all night jazz party in 1960s London.  The script was written by “Paul Achilles” – a pseudonym used by American screenwriter Paul Jarrico when he was working in Europe while under the blacklist back home.  The movie features cameos by a LOT of jazz musicians, most notably Dave Brubeck and Charles Minges.  As with any version of Othello, the big question is the performance of Iago.  In this case we have Patrick McGoohan as a pot-smoking drummer setting up band leader Paul Harris and his retired singer wife Marti Stevens (McGoohan played the drums well enough that the shots of his playing show both his face and his hands, which are hitting the right drums at the right time).  His big move involves his skill editing audio tape.  Rounding out the major cast is Dearden regular Richard Attenborough as the host of the party.  Watch this one.

2017 Summer Movie #50 – A Place to Go (Basil Dearden, 1963): Dearden made films in several genres, this is an example of a British “kitchen sink” film.  These focused on very realistic depictions of working-class life.  This film stars Michael Sarne (who was a pop star in England for about five minutes and then went on to a career as an actor and director) as a somewhat rootless working-class Londoner who, in a frequent theme in Dearden’s films, gets pulled into a crime.  Still, this is less a crime drama than a depiction of how the lives of the English working class were being uprooted in the 1960s.  One major theme is the London version of “urban renewal” which, like in US cities in the 1960s, tore apart existing working class neighborhoods sending the more successful into suburbia and the less so into anonymous government subsidized apartment blocks.  The most interesting thing in this film is watching this transition happen to the family.  Despite the grim nature of this, the film is also full of moments of romance and comedy.  I liked it.

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