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61 years ago...

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Ride Lonesome (1959)
Director: Budd Boetticher
Country: United States
Length: 73 minutes
Type: Western

Director Budd Boetticher made a run of seven Westerns with star Randolph Scott, 'Ride Lonesome' seems to be regarded as their best. The CinemaScope compositions are quite nice, the characters are well written and likeable, the script wraps it all up cleverly at the end and the cast boasts James Coburn and Lee Van Cleef in supporting roles. However, I thought Scott was terribly wooden and the significance of the story only becomes clear when it's over. Still, at a brisk 73 minutes, you'd have to have a very short attention span to not enjoy yourself.





A Brazilian film next.
61 years ago...

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Black Orpheus (1959)
Director: Marcel Camus
Country: Brazil
Length: 107 minutes
Type: Romance, Drama

In 'Black Orpheus' (Portuguese: 'Orfeu Negro') French Director Marcel Camus cleverly transposes the legend of 'Orpheus and Eurydice' to a Favela in Rio during the Carnival. Camus is careful to never make events overtly supernatural, so it might really be death stalking Eurydice, or it may just be some creep in a skeleton costume. Films rarely look better than this, the golden light and rich colour burst off the screen on the Criterion blu-ray. The Bossa Nova music and joyful dancing of the carnival make this the kind of film you want to dance to, as much as watch. It's going on my favourites list for sure. I was torn between the Portuguese soundtrack with subtitles, or the English language Dub (because it's pretty good) but I went for the original in the end.





President Barack Obama on 'Black Orpheus'.

A John Cassavetes film next.



60 years ago...

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Shadows (1959)
Director: John Cassavetes
Country: United States
Length: 87 minutes
Type: Drama

Director John Cassavetes' debut is a rough improvisational 16mm Beat-Generation film about three African-American siblings. A street-level glimpse into the underground art/music scene of late 50s New York was welcome but the improv acting, lo-fi sound and random editing wasn't for me. At 87-minutes, at least it wasn't long.





Another Satyajit Ray/Apu film next.
(11-28-2017, 01:40 PM)TM2YC Wrote: [ -> ]82 years ago...

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Triumph of the Will (1935)
Director: Leni Riefenstahl
Country: Germany
Length: 114 minutes
Type: Documentary, Propaganda

I was expecting to be offended by the content of this film but there is nothing here to betray what the Nazis where really about. It's all vaguely positive stuff about strength, unity, faith etc with each speaker shouting "Deutschland!" 400 times. I'm not sure if this was a case of the Nazis being careful to present a clean image to Riefenstahl, or if Riefenstahl was carefully editing out the odious parts to present a clean image to us the viewer. I watched parts of the last GOP Convention and that had way more offensive hate-filled speech than 'Triumph of the Will'... but a comparable amount of flags and eagles. The inventive camera-work and the fascinating political-context made this a much less tedious watch than I feared. The endless marching footage towards the end got extremely tedious though.

Probably part of why this is regarded as arguably the best propaganda film in history.  The truly great propaganda seems to rally people behind values that you'd be crazy not to support.  "You want to keep your family safe, don't you?" -The NRA.  "You don't want to kill babies, do you?" - Anti-Abortionists.  Etc.  Few at the GOP would like the comparison, but they aspire to be as good at propaganda as the Nazis were.
I've only seen Triumph of the Will once, maybe 15 or 20 years ago, and I remember thinking the same thing. It's clearly propaganda, but it doesn't really seem to be about anything in particular except that Germany is great.
(05-10-2020, 10:29 AM)TM2YC Wrote: [ -> ]It's the way film can move around in time and place without any explanation that interests me, rather than the actual shift. Presumably a book like that actually has to have at least a note or a sentence to tell you what it's doing and to describe the effect of the change in some detail. Where as for example, cross-fading from a person sitting in a chair, to a child sitting in a chair without dialogue, text, voiceover, sound, or music, is all you need for an audience to understand. Further, cross-fading from a sad person, to a happy child tells you even more, without actually needing to tell you anything more.

I think you're describing the power of the Kuleshov effect. The idea that the order of shots contains information that isn't actually present in any given shot. Instead it creates a context and a relationship within which both shots exist. An active viewer will pick up that context and recognize that relationship between shots. It is amazing and the main reason film editing "works".
(07-23-2020, 09:56 AM)addiesin Wrote: [ -> ]
(05-10-2020, 10:29 AM)TM2YC Wrote: [ -> ]It's the way film can move around in time and place without any explanation that interests me, rather than the actual shift. Presumably a book like that actually has to have at least a note or a sentence to tell you what it's doing and to describe the effect of the change in some detail. Where as for example, cross-fading from a person sitting in a chair, to a child sitting in a chair without dialogue, text, voiceover, sound, or music, is all you need for an audience to understand. Further, cross-fading from a sad person, to a happy child tells you even more, without actually needing to tell you anything more.

I think you're describing the power of the Kuleshov effect. The idea that the order of shots contains information that isn't actually present in any given shot. Instead it creates a context and a relationship within which both shots exist. An active viewer will pick up that context and recognize that relationship between shots. It is amazing and the main reason film editing "works".

Exactly. It's something you can only really do in films, on an unconscious level anyway.



61 years ago...

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The World of Apu (1959)
Director: Satyajit Ray
Country: India
Length: 107 minutes
Type: Drama

The third, final and best part of Satyajit Ray's "Apu Trilogy" is 'Apur Sansar' ('The World of Apu'). The story picks up with Apu, now a struggling graduate in Calcutta, writing a promising semi-autobiographical novel. A trip back to the village of an old friend leads him into an unexpected marriage, love, happiness and sorrow. Soumitra Chatterjee is incredible in the title role, impressive when it was his first role because he's in almost every shot. The combination of his expressive face, Ray's direction and Ravi Shankar's music create some haunting and beautiful sequences. Some of joy, some of anguish, some dreamlike, some harshly real. I thought the story took a while to get going initially but becomes exponentially more powerful as it goes on, rewarding the viewer with a stirring finale.



The first of many Jean-Luc Godard films in the book next.
60 years ago...

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Breathless (1959)
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Country: France
Length: 87 minutes
Type: Crime, Drama

Jean-Luc Godard's influential film 'Breathless' ('A Bout de Souffle" = "out of breath") seems intended to break all the formal rules of filmmaking which had then been established for about 25-30 years and still tell a perfectly coherent, easy to follow story, with defined characters... and thereby demonstrate that the rules need not apply. It's filmed hand-held, there is no continuity between edits, 'match cuts' don't match, he makes jump-cuts in the middle of shots, there is 4th-wall breaking, dialogue is placed over people who aren't actually speaking (but which is what they were thinking/expressing non-verbally) and there are self-conscious cameos, of Godard himself, a girl selling copies of his film magazine and other directors too. Martial Solal's Jazz score is excellent, Jean Seberg is breathtaking (like the title) and Jean-Paul Belmondo has a great anti-heroic charisma. He plays Michel, a killer, petty thief and womaniser who is trying to evade capture and spend time with various girls. It's got a tone and style that'll be recognisable to anybody who has seen much later films like 'Pulp Fiction'.





Another Charlton Heston epic next.
60 years ago...

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Ben-Hur (1959)
Director: William Wyler
Country: United States
Length: 212 minutes
Type: Biblical-Epic

4-years after 'The Ten Commandments', star Charlton Heston returned to the Biblical-Epic genre, this time as a fictional Prince of AD26 Jerusalem under Roman occupation, who crosses paths with Jesus. WWII can't have been far from the audience's memory in 1959, so Director William Wyler plays on this with many shots of large red Roman banners, columnated marble, golden eagles and straight armed salutes. The chariot arena looks very much like the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The vast detail of the many matte-paintings is breathtaking, you can't see the joins even with the aid of freeze-frame and the scrutiny of 1080p (encoded from a $1 million 8K restoration). The thrilling 10-minute long chariot race scene is justly famous, replicated beat-for-beat in 'The Phantom Menace'. Maybe that's why it's the only scene that really works in TPM because George Lucas just did a carbon copy of Wyler's work. I wasn't aware quite how much of a debt Ridley Scott's 'Gladiator' owed to this movie, it's got a lot of the same "I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next" plot structure. 'Ben-Hur's story is slow paced at times, across nearly 4-hours but there are also huge leaps in the narrative of the sort that make you question if a scene is missing.







Another film by the brilliant Robert Bresson is next on the list but I watched a few more Ben-Hur related things first...

Charlton Heston & Ben-Hur: A Personal Journey (2011)
A lovely feature-length documentary by making-of maestro Laurent Bouzereau, which is included on the 'Ben-Hur' blu-ray. Charlton Heston's family recount the adventure they had with their father, sailing to Italy, living in a villa, playing on the sets and returning to their nearly finished dream house in Hollywood that the film had partly paid for. There are tons of anecdotes, family photos, home movies (in HD) and Heston's son reads passages from his dad's on-set diary (which is poetically written). The movie and the year they spent in Italy is clearly a fond memory for them all, one which changed their lives.



Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925)
The packed blu-ray for the 1959 'Ben-Hur' came with the 1925 silent version as a bonus. Happily it's the 1987 'Thames Silents' version from Kevin Brownlow, with another glorious score by Carl Davis and tints and colour sequences intact. You can see some girls stripped to the waste in 2-strip Technicolor, it never ceases to surprise me what they got away with pre-code! The costumes and sets are lavish, the huge crowd scenes are impressive and the model shots and FX sequences really hold up. It all looks and feels superior to Cecil B. DeMille's 1923 biblical epic 'The Ten Commandments' but then 'Ben-Hur' did have almost three times the budget (making it the most expensive film of the silent era). The chariot race is edited together like the best chase sequences from the decades that followed and almost the equal of the 1959 version, despite having no sound effects. The Jesus subplot isn't as well integrated as the later versions and the acting is a little pantomimic at times but much better than some films of the period. The story is pretty close to the remake, the addition of Ben-Hur raising an army to rescue Jesus was the only major difference I noticed. A more subtle difference is Messala being just a straight-up arrogant villain, compared to the more nuanced treatment in the 1959 film and the redeemable portrayal in the 2016 version.



Ben-Hur (2016)
Trying to remake an old 50s movie into a modern summer blockbuster was pretty much a guaranteed box office bomb (even before you factor in the decision to not cast stars in the main roles, or to hire a big name Director who you could've sold the movie on), losing between $75-150 million, depending on the estimate. It's not actually that bad but it's not great either. You get a bad feeling immediately when it starts with a voiceover plus "sizzle reel" of the action ahead, like they have no faith in their movie's ability to hold an audience's attention. I also took an instant dislike to Director Timur Bekmambetov's shaky-cam and quick cuts. The first chase, shot with a handheld shaky cam, from a shaky camera car, filming shaky actors, on shaky horses, makes you feel unwell. Like a lot of remakes that are based on movies that were carefully perfected, anything they change is probably going to be worse and/or nonsensical. They decide to skip right over the part where the enslaved Ben-Hur originally became a powerful Roman lord, before he returns to confront Messala, so it now makes no sense why Messala doesn't just have him clapped in irons again as soon as he shows back up, end of movie. They also made changes to some smaller plot elements which make the "villain" Messala arguably more sympathetic than our "hero". At first I put that down to unfocused writing and sloppy plot construction but they actually do something really nice with that approach at the end. In fact I preferred it to the way the 1959 Ben-Hur/Messala feud ends. The lack of "star power", or just some really quality actors, is a drag, Toby Kebbell and Jack Huston are total flat-lines, he's definitely no Charlton Heston. Rodrigo Santoro makes an underwhelming Jesus, Morgan Freeman phones it in for the cliched wise-mentor role and Pilou Asbaek does that one dimensional bad guy thing he does in everything. The big chariot race is exciting and well handled but you're never going to top the terrifying real stunts and exhilarating real racing of the 1959 classic, with CGI horses, chariots, sets and blood. Playing an R&B pop track over the last shots was a mistake and the animated end credits, featuring the titlecards racing each other round the arena is unintentionally hilarious.





^ The remake was worth it just because it gave us this hilarious RLM video.
(07-23-2020, 02:34 PM)TM2YC Wrote: [ -> ]61 years ago...

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The World of Apu (1959)
Director: Satyajit Ray
Country: India
Length: 107 minutes
Type: Drama

The third, final and best part of Satyajit Ray's "Apu Trilogy" is 'Apur Sansar' ('The World of Apu'). 

I've heard so much about this film, but I'm incredibly picky about classic films I actually enjoy.  Do you think it's possible to watch this one purely on its own, or do you need to watch the other two films first?
(07-29-2020, 04:48 PM)mnkykungfu Wrote: [ -> ]
(07-23-2020, 02:34 PM)TM2YC Wrote: [ -> ]61 years ago...

[Image: 50091844237_fe53ea1501.jpg]

The World of Apu (1959)
Director: Satyajit Ray
Country: India
Length: 107 minutes
Type: Drama

The third, final and best part of Satyajit Ray's "Apu Trilogy" is 'Apur Sansar' ('The World of Apu'). 

I've heard so much about this film, but I'm incredibly picky about classic films I actually enjoy.  Do you think it's possible to watch this one purely on its own, or do you need to watch the other two films first?

Not really, I watched the trilogy across 12-months, so I had to have a quick read of the synopsis of the last two before watching the third to refresh my memory anyway. The films take place years apart, with different places, characters and actors playing them. The various tragic losses Apu suffers across the 3 phases of his life do add weight though.