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post #1021 of 2226 Old 08-10-2013, 05:19 AM - Thread Starter
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Rear Window (1954), directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
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New York State sentence for a Peeping Tom is six months in the workhouse. And they got no windows in the workhouse. You know, in the old days they used to put out your eyes with a red-hot poker. -- Stella

Some familiar bits of life rarely make it into the movies. Did you ever sit on a porch or next to an open window all night long and just listen to the neighborhood as the hours pass? We get that in Rear Window. It's the night of the murder, but set that aside.

Just as I don't feel obligated to keep top-10 or "best" or "worst" lists, I don't have to have a favorite Hitchcock picture. Vertigo is spookier and more intricate, but Rear Window is endlessly rewatchable Fun. I never stop marveling over its meticulous construction and rich layers.

We know that all the characters of the courtyard are in some way alternates for Jeff and Lisa, particularly Miss Lonelyhearts and Miss Torso, the Songwriter, the Newlyweds and the Thorwalds. We also understand that:

  • Jeff = voyeur = director = movie watcher
  • window = movie screen = theater of the mind in the viewer's head

That last part has intriguing implications. We don't mind believing that books and movies play out in our psyches with all their subconscious symbols and influences, but what about substantial Reality? Doesn't the same mechanism project and process the real world on that interior screen? I suppose everyone has been involved in arguments where "what you heard" was not "what I said". It might be the same for all our sensory experiences.

Miscellaneous notes after a first viewing of the Blu-ray:

  • Watch the street background and the reflections in open windows. Just an extra bit of life.
  • Note which courtyard window is behind our main characters in every shot. Nothing is framed without purpose.
  • We see Hitchcock's love of silent film, but the sound design is also carefully crafted. Sometimes it introduces or accompanies the visual scene, but is sometimes ironic contrast.
  • I always forget: all those vivid blue eyes.
  • We'll never know the name of that place across the street. Is it a diner or just a bar? The right part of the sign is "B[?]-A-R".
  • I never noticed before: during the very first pan of the courtyard, there is a photo-flash in a top floor apartment, above the couple with the dog in the basket. Is this where the two sunbathers live? Do we see them more than once? (On the Blu-ray the flash is at 2:20).
  • Jeff seems unreasonably sour towards Lisa, who is passionately devoted to him. Stewart was 46 and Kelley 25, although it seems she really did like older men.
  • The joke is on Jeff, though. With Lisa and Stella ganging up on him, he doesn't have a chance. His fantasy of being an independent man of action: ha!
  • Lisa is very proper but within those standards she is sexually aggressive. Since Jeff is rendered harmless by his cast she can safely stay overnight and taunt him with lingerie and heavy kissing.
  • Jeff is more interested in the little stories of the courtyard, particularly the murder. To get his attention Lisa has to enter that story so he can spy on her with his "portable keyhole". It works: he really warms up to her when she becomes a sleuth. This is a common pattern: women are more willing to enter men's fantasies than the reverse.
  • Cleverness: while Jeff sleeps we see a mystery woman leaving with Thorwald. Maybe it's the wife and Jeff is wrong. Flip that later when we know the killer is coming for him before he does.
  • The courtyard is pretty shabby. Only the killer tries to fix it up with his flowers. I wouldn't count Miss Hearing Aid's sculptures.
  • The Dog Who Knew Too Much.
  • I never noticed before: the Songwriter is unhappy and out of place at his own party.
  • Hitchcock was unconcerned with plausibility and neither are we the first time through. That a body could be dismembered and carted out piece by piece without leaving a blood trail? That the killer could bury his wife's head in the garden (and why would he?), dig it up again and kill the dog all without being observed -- especially by Jeff?
  • I never noticed before: Miss Lonelyhearts has a Bible after she lays out the pills.
  • Lisa and the cat walk the same path up the steps. She is a poised, graceful cat burglar. Sexual metaphor, of course.
  • When Thorwald sees the ring on Lisa's finger and looks right at Jeff -- and us -- we jump guiltily, as if being caught looking were the crime. Well, and also because we figure that Jeff is next.
  • Thelma Ritter Fan Club!
  • The movie and the Songwriter's composition -- "Lisa" -- develop in parallel and are completed at the same time.

Franz Waxman score, Edith Head costumes.

Available on Blu-ray with a light but informative commentary track, mostly on the visual and sound design.



-Bill

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post #1022 of 2226 Old 08-10-2013, 02:41 PM
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The 1970s being what they were I actually saw The Telephone Book in a mainstream theater. It's a New York art underground film with Sarah Kennedy (supposedly of the Kennedy family) and early Jill Clayburgh. Though rated X at the time it's NR on Netflix. I thought this film had been lost to a studio fire or something but it had some pretty funny bits in it.
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0067839/
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post #1023 of 2226 Old 08-14-2013, 08:44 AM - Thread Starter
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Dawn of the Dead (1978), written and directed by George A. Romero.

The last time I saw this must have been on VHS with a small boxy TV. That may have made it more effective; I remember it as an raw, edgy look at the end of the world, with wry social commentary thrown in. Now, on Blu-ray and a larger screen, the shoestring budget and semi-pro production values show. Mind you: cheap can be good in a horror film, but it wasn't doing it for me this time.

What struck me most from the very first scene was how closely Romero must have been studying Dario Argento. The camera work and colors are very much like his 1970s films, particularly The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970) and Deep Red (1975). Looking up the influences I found that Argento helped arrange financing, invited Romero to Rome while he was writing the screenplay, and has several credits on the film in the IMDB. His favorite 1970s soundtrack group, "Goblin", provides some of the music.

This is nothing like Night of the Living Dead (1968), which is the foundation of my zombie apocalypse nightmares: always black-and-white, in isolated locations, outnumbered and with no chance of survival. The zombies are only intermittently horrific here; most often they are objects of contempt, which does add sadness to the scenario. I think the comic addition of the biker gang -- a terrible apocalyptic cliche -- is unfortunate.

A worthy addition to the horror is the recognition that not all of our survivors have a proper survivalist attitude. Poor manic Roger. Once he started going crazy and getting careless: they didn't have a chance.

Available on Blu-ray.



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post #1024 of 2226 Old 08-23-2013, 08:17 AM - Thread Starter
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The Birds (1963), directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

I was pretty young when I first saw The Birds and I remember the shocking realization -- both a sinking sensation and one of exultation -- that the mystery is not going to be solved! I'd been trying to puzzle it out: is it the love-birds? Are they some sort of avian royalty that the other birds are trying to rescue? (Tell me you aren't yelling "Don't take the love-birds!" in the final scene). Or is it as the hysterical woman in the diner says: Melanie Daniels is evil! Or is Mother Nature responding to the unstable mother-lover-daughter structures we find in Bodega Bay?

We are not to know. Some thrillers shock us by showing us shocking things; Hitchcock moves off our safe center by not giving us what we expect. My father used to complain about his TV shows: "They don't end, they just quit!" It's true; it doesn't end... My best example of another good film that doesn't solve the mystery is Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975).

This is Hitchcock's last great film. I keep it with the best of his post-1954 work: Rear Window (1954), Vertigo, and Psycho (1960). It's not that I don't enjoy To Catch a Thief (1955) and North by Northwest (1959), but those are Hitchcock-genre romantic-comedy-action pictures. The other four are unique, nothing like each other.

I can see how people might not like it as well as I do, even apart from the non-ending ending. It's slow-starting, although this gives us time to study the characters, each mysterious in their own way. This is Tippi Hedren's first film and she doesn't seem like a pro actress yet, although that cool demeanor concealing hidden depths is appropriate for the character. Rod Taylor is manly and stalwart, a good survivalist, but sometimes wooden and impenetrable, perhaps just a male figurehead surrounded by all that female energy?

We have a rich supporting cast, often more fun to watch than the leads. (Suzanne Pleshette Fan Club). And when the action begins (the phone booth, the upper bedroom) it is tremendously well done.

Misc notes:

  • Melanie employs "reverse voyeurism" when she sneaks the love-birds into Mitch's house. It is erotic play without being seen. But Mitch brings out the binoculars: you know how men are.
  • At one time I was sure that using the love-birds as a prank was the cause of the whole disaster.
  • That long scene in the playground where Melanie smokes and the birds are assembling off screen: she doesn't turn around and we can't see. Do we want to or don't we?
  • I've seen Charles McGraw in many films, but each time my first thought is: "Gruff-voiced fisherman in The Birds diner!" What happened to that character during the attack?
  • I love, just love, the silent aerial shot of the burning gas station.
  • The mother-daughter/rival-lover tension between Melanie and Lydia is very mysterious. It is not at all clear what either is thinking.
  • Hitchcock's monster movie: he chose the eco-apocalypse genre. With a siege, just like a zombie apocalypse.
  • Look at that beautifully eerie dawn shot in the second to the last pane below. It looks like an engraving for Bible art. The End Times? Or the Eden of the birds?
  • Good Boedega Bay locations, although we have even more than the usual number of process shots.
  • No musical score to speak of.
  • This is Hitchcock's third film based on a Daphne Du Maurier story. Just coincidence: they didn't have a working relationship.
  • Screenplay by Evan Hunter, well known for his Ed McBain "87th Precinct" series.

Available on Blu-ray.



-Bill

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post #1025 of 2226 Old 08-23-2013, 11:45 AM
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Originally Posted by wmcclain View Post

The Birds (1963), directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

[*]At one time I was sure that using the love-birds as a prank was the cause of the whole disaster.

-Bill

I'm not so sure you were not on the right track with that assessment, Bill. I'm talking about the "cause" in terms of the movie's thematic implications, that is, not the supposed sci-fi or horror movie cause. After all, it is at the victorious conclusion of that prank, the very instant that Melanie drops an open and obvious expression of pleasure in seeing Mitch again and instead is poised to continue the confrontational and somewhat dishonest smart ass tone they established at the pet shop that the first bird attack occurs, drawing blood. Hitchcock clearly wanted you to associate the bird attacks at some level, at least those first attacks, on the behavior of those two characters with regard to the twisty, indirect and complicated prank Melanie plays in order to get closer to a man for whom she has obvious romantic intentions. Perhaps if she had been more "natural" and direct in her attraction toward Mitch instead of telling him so by way of such a complicated prank involving those love-birds ("not too...demonstrative" love-birds, as Mitch requested for the sake of his little sister, Cathy), Hitchcock would not have directed that bird to get things going by pecking a bloody wound in Melanie's noggin.

By contrast, despite the famous scenes of bird attacks on children in this movie (at the birthday party and outside the school house), little Cathy survives to the final fade-out without so much as a scratch while Melanie is practically pecked to death...and Cathy is the most disarmingly direct, natural, sincere, and uncomplicated character in the movie, the virtual opposite of Melanie Daniels and her smart ass, complicated love-bird pranks. wink.gif
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post #1026 of 2226 Old 08-23-2013, 12:26 PM
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Originally Posted by wmcclain View Post

The Birds (1963), directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

[*]Good Boedega Bay locations, although we have even more than the usual number of process shots.


-Bill

Sorry to chime in again so soon on this one, but your observations re this great film are chock-full of fun stuff to consider and reconsider.

Isn't it interesting that, despite the process shots of those locations in this movie and in so many other Hitchcock movies, often arguably intentionally obvious process shots...not to mention the supposed distaste Hitchcock had for shooting on location and preference for working in the studio instead...we are more haunted and emotionally tied to memorable Hitchcock movie locations than those of just about any other film director with the possible exceptions of David Lean and John Ford? And isn't it further interesting that for all the high praise for how "real" modern CG images of locations are vs those 'primitive" and obvious process shots of yesteryear, there is virtually NO comparable emotional tie or haunting attraction for any of those modern CG location images equal to what even the most "primitive" and obvious Hitchcock process shot provides?

No CG image of San Francisco, Morocco, New York City, Mount Rushmore, Bodega Bay, or Highway 99 between Fresno and Bakersfield, no matter how much more "real" it looks, will effect me emotionally or remain as "real" in my mind and dreams as even the most obvious process shots of those same locations when incorporated into a movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
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post #1027 of 2226 Old 08-26-2013, 01:57 PM - Thread Starter
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The Seven Year Itch (1955), directed by Billy Wilder.
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The Girl: You know what? We can do this all summer. Hmm?

Richard: (moans softly)

As a kid I used to laugh hysterically at this when it was on TV. Somehow boys (at least) get sexual humor long before they have serious interest in sex itself. In this case I think it is not the presence of the Goddess, but rather Tom Ewell's homely, fantasy-prone clowning, the Everyman who will never know how ridiculous he is.

The character is truer than I suspected at the time (I say now from the other side of the hill). Men have rich sexual fantasy lives where they imagine themselves to be super studs, God's gift to women. We all beseech Marilyn that it may be true, to some extent, from time to time, at least a little...but if you take such egomania too seriously: you are a clown. Listen to the laughter from the audience.

As always, watching Marilyn Monroe suggests the "mystery of celebrity". A person has X because everyone agrees they have X. And they do, even if you've decided not to play that game. She is a Sex Goddess, whatever you think of her looks, which are often lovely, but not always. I keep trying to penetrate the glamor, appreciating her comic talent but still wishing she could have done more non-goddess work.

Adapted from a play about adultery and transformed into a comedy about guilty fantasies of adultery, which never actually occurs! Just a few kisses. Tom Ewell did the Broadway version over 700 times.

I might have trimmed some material that seems like comic filler. Do we need the kayak paddle?

Bits I probably wouldn't have noticed as a kid:

  • "Two guys on the top floor; interior decorators or something."
  • The "From Here to Eternity" beach scene.
  • Self-reference: his fantasy wife accuses him of dreaming in "CinemaScope with stereophonic sound."
  • "Remember me? The tomato from upstairs."
  • Her favorite word is "elegant". She dips potato chips in champagne.
  • Richard, after making a grab for her, causing both to fall off the piano bench: "I'm so sorry, that's never happened to me before!" The Girl: "That's funny, it happens to me all the time!"
  • Self-reference: "The blond in the kitchen? It might be Marilyn Monroe!"
  • I would suspect she is entirely his fantasy, except that Kruhulik the janitor meets her.
  • He mentions "coaxial cable" service for TV. Cable TV first appeared in the US in the late 1940s and this is the first reference I can recall. A lot of the details of ordinary life are never mentioned in the movies, or even appear if the set dressers have been too busy. In the computer graphics age: forget it.

That iconic image of Marilyn's skirts blown up:



...doesn't appear in the movie; we see only her legs.

Available on Blu-ray with an aspect ratio of 2.55:1. The black levels could be better.



-Bill

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post #1028 of 2226 Old 08-27-2013, 12:53 PM
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I loved The Seven Year Itch. The wonderful Tom Ewell played the role in the film he had created on Broadway. He was an appealing, funny guy.

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post #1029 of 2226 Old 09-01-2013, 01:17 PM - Thread Starter
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Vertigo (1958), directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

A study of guilt and obsession in three acts:

Act One lasts 1h29m and I'll call it Scottie Fooled.

  • This is a complete film in itself with a downbeat ending, but we wouldn't know the whole plot is a hoax if we missed the rest of the movie.
  • Madeleine breaks character once toward the end, giving us our first clue that all is not as it seems, saying things like "It wasn't supposed to happen this way. I love you, it's too late."
  • In that same scene Scottie says "No one possesses you". He's suggesting a ghost, but those words would make her think of Elster.
  • Her first words in the movie: "What am I doing here?"
  • Gavin Elster says he misses the "power and freedom" a man could have in the old San Francisco. The bookstore owner uses the same words about the man who "threw away" Carlotta Valdez: "a man could do that in those days."
  • If Scottie had any sense he'd marry Midge, but she doesn't do it for him. He wants the sexy haunted suicidal woman who he undressed while she was unconscious. (But: she wasn't actually unconscious, was she? Well, well).
  • Rear projection or not, those are great San Francisco driving scenes, richly evoking the look of the times.
  • The score suggests mystery, romance and obsession, but also possible insanity or even the supernatural. We have intimations of the uncanny: when Madeleine vanishes from the little hotel, and when she disappears briefly among the sequoia.
  • Things we don't know: where does Scottie's money come from? Was it really Midge who broke off their engagement? Did he really black out after the death?
  • Whenever I see Henry Jones my first thought is: the nasty, sarcastic accusing coroner in Vertigo.
  • The first act ends with Midge's last scene: at the mental hospital, she walks down the corridor alone, Scottie a nearly catatonic wreck after the death of Madeleine.

Act Two lasts 29m: Scottie Fooled Again

  • Scottie wanders the old places, morbidly fantasizing that she's not really dead, seeing her everywhere. He develops almost clairvoyant powers to find and recreate her.
  • James Stewart always had an "aw shucks" surface demeanor over a deeper strata of violence. He gives his most unpleasant performance here as he tries to remake Judy. The movie becomes hard to watch during these scenes, it is so cruel and pitiable.
  • Our sympathy switches to Judy and it becomes, in part, her story now. For the first time we see from her point of view, without Scottie present. (We get just a bit of that with Midge, too).
  • How did shop girl Judy from Salinas become such a convincing actress that she could live such a role?
  • Who is she apart from her role? She's hurting, wanting to be cherished and loved for her own sake. She'll do what he wants to satisfy his obsession, degrading as it is.
  • I never noticed before: Judy was Elster's woman for a while, before he threw her away. Just like Carlotta. Is that why she stays in town?
  • Act two ends when he sees the necklace.

Act Three lasts just 10m: Scottie Undeceived.

  • What does he intend for Judy at the mission? He's looking unbalanced, actually murderous. Quoting her: "One last thing I have to do".
  • Our grief at the end: who is it for? Madeleine has died twice, but we never actually knew her: she wasn't real, she was just a performance.
  • Who mourns for Judy?

Is there anything I can say about Bernard Herrmann's score, one of the most famous in film history? Sure it gets lampooned, and I heard it in The Artist a while ago. Who cares? Seldom has a director been more fortunate in his composer.

Edith Head costumes.

Available on Blu-ray.

Of all the film scholars eager to talk about Vertigo, why would anyone pick William Friedkin for the commentary track? He never has anything new or valuable to say, just narrating what we see on the screen, and even then descends into gibberish sometimes. I listened to the whole damned thing; a waste of time.



-Bill
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post #1030 of 2226 Old 09-01-2013, 01:51 PM
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Of all the film scholars eager to talk about Vertigo, why would anyone pick William Friedkin for the commentary track? He never has anything new or valuable to say, just narrating what we see on the screen, and even then descends into gibberish sometimes. I listened to the whole damned thing; a waste of time.

Friedkin's commentaries for his own movies are the same way. Totally worthless. Plus, he sounds just like Donald Trump, which is annoying.

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post #1031 of 2226 Old 09-01-2013, 02:34 PM
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Friedkin's commentaries for his own movies are the same way. Totally worthless. Plus, he sounds just like Donald Trump, which is annoying.

I wish you hadn't posted that. Now, for the rest of the day, I'm going to have a mental image of the obnoxious Trump saying, "You're fired!" smile.gif

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post #1032 of 2226 Old 09-01-2013, 02:58 PM
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Friedkin's commentaries for his own movies are the same way. Totally worthless. Plus, he sounds just like Donald Trump, which is annoying.

I disagree when it comes to his commentary for the Exorcist, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The same can't be said for his commentary for The Exorcist: The Version You've Never Seen which is one of the worst I've ever heard.

The one for the French Connection isn't really that bad either.
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post #1033 of 2226 Old 09-01-2013, 10:18 PM
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Originally Posted by wmcclain View Post

Vertigo (1958), directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

...Act One lasts 1h29m and I'll call it Scottie Fooled.

  • ...
  • Madeleine breaks character once toward the end, giving us our first clue that all is not as it seems, saying things like "It wasn't supposed to happen this way. I love you, it's too late."

    ...
  • In that same scene Scottie says "No one possesses you". He's suggesting a ghost, but those words would make her think of Elster.

Act Two lasts 29m: Scottie Fooled Again

  • ...
  • How did shop girl Judy from Salinas become such a convincing actress that she could live such a role?

    ...
  • I never noticed before: Judy was Elster's woman for a while, before he threw her away. Just like Carlotta. Is that why she stays in town?

    .

-Bill

I think Novak's trickiest acting challenge here was to portray Madeleine as shop girl Judy might do so, not as a "brilliant actress" might do so, and do it without giving away too much too soon about the truth of it. We hear it in the first scene between her and Stewart in his living room. She's pushing the manner royal a little too much, over enunciating a word here and there, sounds a bit phony already. I believe critics of Novak's performance are misreading the "phoniness" as bad acting on Novak's part. But I see it as exactly what you suggest; it is a shop girl's idea of how someone like Madeleine sounds and that is the way Novak is playing it. We are aware of it in the most subtle way, too, as indicated by your comment about her "breaking character" at the first bell tower scene. We hear, for the first time, a certain reality in her voice when she speaks the lines you quoted, know even without understanding why just yet, that we are hearing a real person behind those "phony trances", the "words, the manner, the dress" for the first time.

And the critics usually repeat this error about Novak's supposed "bad acting" when criticizing her scene as Judy at the door after Scottie has followed her to her apartment. They often slam her for sounding phony there, too. But the moment calls for Judy to "play it up", push the tough girl response to Scottie having followed her because, despite the fact that I believe it is clear she has maneuvered him into following her to the exact right apartment in order for them to meet again, she isn't yet certain he hasn't figured out the Elster scam already (or will soon after seeing and hearing her up close) and is ready to have her arrested. Therefore, she finds it necessary to "act" outraged by his following her until she can get her bearings on why he did so...and, again in this case, she is "acting" in the limited way an untrained actress, a shop girl, might do so.

And there is another element at work that makes VERTIGO so special. There is an element of Madeleine IN Judy as much as there is an element of Elster in Scottie. Scottie knows it and is bedeviled by it, (to Judy, when she laments her inability to make him love her, for herself), "No, there's something in YOU..."

On why she stays in town, there is no baby for her to wander the streets searching for but there is still the man she fell in love with even though it wasn't supposed to happen that way, shouldn't have happened. For instance, I think there are clear signs and indicators placed by Hitchcock that Judy was hoping Scottie would some day see her passing by any one of the same Scottie/Madeleine haunts he is also drawn to time and again in order to possibly meet him for the first time as Judy and have a "second chance" at their love affair.
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post #1034 of 2226 Old 09-02-2013, 05:54 AM - Thread Starter
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On why she stays in town, there is no baby for her to wander the streets searching for but there is still the man she fell in love with even though it wasn't supposed to happen that way, shouldn't have happened. For instance, I think there are clear signs and indicators placed by Hitchcock that Judy was hoping Scottie would some day see her passing by any one of the same Scottie/Madeleine haunts he is also drawn to time and again in order to possibly meet him for the first time as Judy and have a "second chance" at their love affair.

Many fine points, and I particularly want to elaborate on the above.

Both Judy and Scottie have second chances at love. Her first attempt was as an artificial dream-woman created specifically for him, but now she wants to be loved for herself. Scottie simply wants the same thing again.

In this dark vision of love and sexual fascination, men want the "power and freedom" to do what they want with the dream-women who exist mostly in their own minds. But of course the women are real and they must go along and comply with male desires if they are to have any chance at being loved. And the erotic glamor is not just one way: the need to be desired, to be the "object", can be overpowering in a woman.

In some ways our pity for Judy is curious: she is an accessory to murder, after all. She claims she changed her mind at the end but she knew what was going to happen. She was an active participant: that's why she disappeared for a while on the last day, so she could give Elster the location and arrange matching clothes.

From the Truffaut interviews I gather that Hitchcock was not entirely pleased with Kim Novak, although that may have had to do with arguments they had at the beginning. FT assures him she is brilliant on the screen, although he seems most interested in a sort of animal sexuality she projects.

I agree with you: in a way she has to carry the weight of the film even more than Stewart. Her Judy knows about the layers of deception while Scottie is oblivious, living in his fantasy world they have built for him. Judy is good at it, but as you say, not perfect. And that is great Hitchcock and a great job by Novak.

It seems to switch in the last act, when Scottie knows and she doesn't realize it. At least she seems honestly surprised when he tells her in the tower that the necklace was the tip-off. But she must have known she could never wear that for him. Was it intentional, or maybe a subconscious desire to be caught (exposed?), perhaps a desire to be punished for her part in the deception and murder?

And that takes me back to elements of the film I've never been able to untangle. At the beginning, Scottie hangs from the roof edge and we never see him get down. In a sense he is always there. Vertigo is not just a fear of falling and of death, but a phobia of being "exposed", which is losing the "power and freedom" to do anything. Somehow it is wrapped up in his guilt over the death of the other policeman. He can never make it right, but he is restored at the end and it is all very sad.

-Bill
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post #1035 of 2226 Old 09-02-2013, 08:44 AM
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I disagree when it comes to his commentary for the Exorcist, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The same can't be said for his commentary for The Exorcist: The Version You've Never Seen which is one of the worst I've ever heard.

The one for the French Connection isn't really that bad either.

His commentary on the theatrical cut of The Exorcist is probably the best he's recorded, since he tries to talk about the history of the production rather than just narrating what's happening on screen, but I still found it pretty dry. The "Version You've Never Seen" commentary is terrible, as you say.

I didn't think his French Connection commentary was very good at all. It's almost entirely just describing what you can see on screen.

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post #1036 of 2226 Old 09-02-2013, 12:04 PM
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Many fine points, and I particularly want to elaborate on the above.

Both Judy and Scottie have second chances at love. Her first attempt was as an artificial dream-woman created specifically for him, but now she wants to be loved for herself. Scottie simply wants the same thing again.

In this dark vision of love and sexual fascination, men want the "power and freedom" to do what they want with the dream-women who exist mostly in their own minds. But of course the women are real and they must go along and comply with male desires if they are to have any chance at being loved. And the erotic glamor is not just one way: the need to be desired, to be the "object", can be overpowering in a woman.

In some ways our pity for Judy is curious: she is an accessory to murder, after all. She claims she changed her mind at the end but she knew what was going to happen. She was an active participant: that's why she disappeared for a while on the last day, so she could give Elster the location and arrange matching clothes.

From the Truffaut interviews I gather that Hitchcock was not entirely pleased with Kim Novak, although that may have had to do with arguments they had at the beginning. FT assures him she is brilliant on the screen, although he seems most interested in a sort of animal sexuality she projects.

I agree with you: in a way she has to carry the weight of the film even more than Stewart. Her Judy knows about the layers of deception while Scottie is oblivious, living in his fantasy world they have built for him. Judy is good at it, but as you say, not perfect. And that is great Hitchcock and a great job by Novak.

It seems to switch in the last act, when Scottie knows and she doesn't realize it. At least she seems honestly surprised when he tells her in the tower that the necklace was the tip-off. But she must have known she could never wear that for him. Was it intentional, or maybe a subconscious desire to be caught (exposed?), perhaps a desire to be punished for her part in the deception and murder?

And that takes me back to elements of the film I've never been able to untangle. At the beginning, Scottie hangs from the roof edge and we never see him get down. In a sense he is always there. Vertigo is not just a fear of falling and of death, but a phobia of being "exposed", which is losing the "power and freedom" to do anything. Somehow it is wrapped up in his guilt over the death of the other policeman. He can never make it right, but he is restored at the end and it is all very sad.

-Bill

There just seems to be no end to the layers that can be peeled away to discover more and more in this movie, right? smile.gif

Yes, it is at once insulting and so very, very insightful the way Hitchcock understood and brilliantly exploited our callous nature with regard to what we expect to happen, indeed want to happen in our movie-going wish fulfillment that he knew very well we'd care more about what happens to Judy and barely give a damn about what happened to the real Madeleine. hehe. Like when we were rooting for Bruno Antony to retrieve that cigarette lighter from the drain trap or worried that Tony Wendice would miss wiping off one of those finger prints Swann had left on the furniture.

After learning the "secret" of VERTIGO's plot, I have always been amazed in subsequent viewings by how much of that first section of the movie is Judy's story, although we don't know it the first time through. We can then pay so much more attention to when and why Judy goes in and out of her performance as Madeleine. I can't imagine loving VERTIGO as much as I do had any other actress played the role of Judy. I, too, sensed Hitchcock's ambivalence toward her performance and working with her in those Truffaut interviews but chalk that up to the disappointment he must have felt that Vera Miles cancelled out at the last minute due to pregnancy. But I am more impressed by Novak's performance than I am of Stewart's, save for the last scene, which is almost all Stewart and he is undeniably great in it. Notice her silent performance in the famous 360 degree camera turn scene (I know the couple was actually on a rotating platform) after Judy has been transformed into "Madeleine" when, for a moment, Judy's face is obscured during the embrace. Kim Novak's "acting" with her hands on Stewart's back as a momentary proxy for reading love in her face is more tender and affecting (and camera smart) than dozens of other actresses in full face closeup.

Judy's seeming obliviousness to the implications of putting on the necklace, asking Scottie to help her put it on no less, is, I believe, further indication that there was a Madeleine persona inside her, aching to be developed and brought to bloom by her association with a man like John Scott Ferguson. Or even Gavin Elster. You know, in the same way Alfred Hitchcock developed and brought to bloom the star quality and elegant inner personas of his leading ladies...Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman, Tippi Hedren, et al. In this case, too, had the ghost (wishful inner persona) of "Madeleine" really taken over, possessing Judy after the culmination of the unseen love-making that must have taken place after the fade-out of the transformation scene? She is already talking more like Madeleine, moving in her dress more confidently and posing for him the way her "Madeleine" role had no trouble doing when he followed her around town earlier, chooses Ernie's as their dinner destination and Scottie says she "has a thing for Ernie's", despite the fact that Judy had never looked so miserable than when she was sitting with Scottie at Ernie's while her "Madeleine" looked as though she were born to have dinner there every night, and on and on. Was she so much more "Madeleine" than Judy by then that she didn't give a second thought about the necklace?

All of this discussion only prompts me to see this great movie AGAIN and, this time, watch for clues to either support or destroy the new theories. What an amazing masterpiece!
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post #1037 of 2226 Old 09-08-2013, 11:48 AM - Thread Starter
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Boxcar Bertha (1972), directed by Martin Scorsese.

A poor young woman falls in with gamblers, labor organizers and bandits. The movie has light and whimsical bits, but also brutal scenes, culminating in a rail-car crucifixion and bloody shotgun revenge.

It's a small, pretty inconsequential film, but often nicely photographed. The plot and editing seem rough by today's standards when everything is super-smooth and more formulaic.

It's worth seeing if:

  • You like the actors.
  • You want to see early Scorcese.
  • You are a student of quick, low budget film-making as managed by producer Roger Corman.
  • You are exploring that strangely effective 70s genre: the grubby, realistic Great Depression picture.

Barbara Hershey and David Carradine perform their own nudity; neither has a butt to speak of. They were a couple at the time and I see they staged a reenactment of the love scenes for Playboy.

Inspired by a real character, they say.



-Bill

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post #1038 of 2226 Old 09-12-2013, 10:56 AM - Thread Starter
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The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976), directed by Nicolas Gessner.

This quiet, low-key thriller gets to it right away: Jodie Foster (age 13) lives alone, telling visitors her father is "unavailable". She is exceedingly bright and has an independent attitude, both of which are difficult to conceal from the nosy villagers. Her biggest problems are the neighborhood pervert (Martin Sheen) and his dragon-lady mother (Alexis Smith).

It is a nifty result; we're rooting for her whatever she has to do. She gets a pal in the form of amateur stage magician Scott Jacoby (last seen in Bad Ronald (1974)). Together the young people have an honesty and purity that contrasts with the lies and smutty lusts of the adults.

Martin Sheen is genuinely scary as the slimy child molester. We can't wait to see what happens to him. Alexis Smith was a film star of the 1940s and she is nicely contemporary here, not a grand dame of the past at all. That streak of antisemitism adds a perfect touch to her blue-blood snobbery.

The young people are sometimes natural and sometimes "act" a bit, but young people do "act" as part of their nature, so maybe it is all realistic.

I must not have seen the uncensored version before because I was startled at Foster's quick nude scene when slipping into bed with the boyfriend. She's 13! They can't do that in movies, can they? A closer look (so to speak) shows it is a body double and googling reveals that it was Foster's big sister. In the movie magic world actors cannot enact certain things which they can portray. Scott Jacoby is 20 here; do you know what sort of trouble he would be in? But the plot itself wasn't a censorship issue.

The score is a mix of classical, 70s funk and synthesizer. Filmed in Maine and Quebec.



-Bill
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post #1039 of 2226 Old 09-19-2013, 12:45 PM - Thread Starter
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Niagara (1953), directed by Henry Hathaway.
Quote:
I met her in a big beer hall. She was the most popular waitress they had. I guess it was the way she put the beer on the tables.

A wholesome happy couple on their second honeymoon meet another couple at a lodge overlooking Niagara Falls: they are neither wholesome nor happy. Excruciatingly hot Marilyn Monroe is tired of her mentally distressed husband, Joseph Cotton. He is subject to moods and rages and she winds him up at every opportunity. She has a new boyfriend and they have a cunning plan to make her a widow.

The trouble with a murder plot: that gate swings both ways.

Jean Peters, last seen in Captain from Castile (1947) and Pickup on South Street (1953) is the "normal" wife who gets wrapped up in the murder plot.

This is a great vehicle for Monroe: she gets to be sultry, duplicitous and conniving, then finally terrified when her efforts go awry. As a thriller it is mild but gorgeous, the gimmick being the fine location shooting at the Falls and an action sequence on the river at the end.

We have a foot in two genres: the adventures of the sunny couple when they encounter a mystery, and a more noirish and sordid tale of murder by the odd couple.

The film makes a gesture to Code compliance in sexual matters (the twin beds at the honeymoon lodge) but I have to wonder how the rules were applied in this case. The normal husband has his wife turn so he can photograph her boobs at the best angle. (And why not? What could be more wholesome than that?) But Cotton and Monroe talk bluntly of makeup sex after fighting, and the way she nakedly writhes, covered only by a sheet -- good grief. The studio must have gotten the censors drunk.

Sol Kaplan's score reminds me of Miklos Rozsa.

Available on a rather fine Blu-ray with gorgeous Technicolor -- maybe just a bit too saturated.



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post #1040 of 2226 Old 09-25-2013, 04:38 AM - Thread Starter
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Drums Along the Mohawk (1939), directed by John Ford.

Town-born Claudette Colbert, newly married to pioneer Henry Fonda, has a hard time adjusting to the frontier of upstate New York in 1776. After a period of shrieking she settles in just in time for the Revolutionary War with it's depredations by hostile Indians incited by Tory agents. Deaths, battles, birth, and a climactic siege.

It has been so long since I had seen this that I did not realize it was in color. I remember one scene from seeing it as a kid: a woman searches a long line of soldiers slogging through the rain. The last man tells her: "There's nobody back of me alive". She lifts her lantern and continues into the darkness. (Military wives waiting for their men is a common image in Ford; this time it was particularly moving, maybe because she's not just waiting).

It has the customary Ford realism, within the allowed standards of the time. (He can't prevent penciled eyebrows on the leading lady). Homely, witty Edna May Oliver is always a hoot. Impossibly thin John Carradine is reliably sinister. Patriotic finale.

Filmed in Pennsylvania and Utah. The echoing gunshots are much better than in your average western, actually sounding like real events in open spaces. Alfred Newman score.

Twilight Time limited edition Blu-ray. The commentary track with two film scholars is deadly dull, with lots of "umm...you know..." from the woman. It seems to be for viewers who've never heard of 1776 or pioneering. Maybe it gets better after the first 15 minutes.

The image is pretty good; I saw some vertical striping in a couple of night scenes. Unusually, the contrast in the sunlit scenes is not as good as slightly darker sections.

Includes a 1h33m standard definition extra: Becoming John Ford.



-Bill

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post #1041 of 2226 Old 09-27-2013, 11:08 AM - Thread Starter
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Bullitt (1968), directed by Peter Yates.

(A revision of an earlier review).

Ah: jazz flute was big that year.

This moody action thriller -- if that makes sense -- is one of everyone's favorites from the period. The famous car chase is still raw and exciting, looking less standardized and choreographed than later attempts. The rollercoaster point-of-view during chases is still impressive.

The cops and crooks are all serious people. I like that there is relatively little handholding in the plot; you have to pick up who's who and what's happening without much explanation. It relies on a trick beginning: a thug we see briefly in Chicago is not necessarily the same thug in San Francisco.

The insubordinate cop, doing whatever it takes, has become a cliche, but it was less so when this was made and Steve McQueen just owns it: speaking as little as possible, expressing with his eyes, stoic but still human. As much as I like Dirty Harry (same studio, same city, another Lalo Schifrin soundtrack!) this film outclasses it in many ways.

Real, before the formula became worn out. The congested crowds do not behave like movie extras. Watch and listen to the doctors and nurses in the surgery: none of the phony polish of later films. Watch the police procedures: this is no fantasy land where rules and command structure don't count. The law has to be obeyed, reports filed and everything made right on Monday morning.

Jacqueline Bisset, age 24, is awfully pretty, like a late 60s dream of the perfect girlfriend. Her one extended speech is a preachy little lecture that I would have omitted. The writers did well at not reciting the plot aloud apart from that bit.

Realistic and gritty but still cool with gorgeous SF locations. Love the music.

I wonder if early exposure to this influenced my work habits. I've always thought Bullitt's "You work your side of the street and I'll work mine" comeback to be good advice, but others -- like his ambitious prosecutor and various bosses of mine -- may not agree.

My wife had not seen this before and she immediately started asking about other McQueen pictures.

Available on Blu-ray.



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post #1042 of 2226 Old 09-27-2013, 02:17 PM
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My wife had not seen this before and she immediately started asking about other McQueen pictures.

-Bill

Tom Horn and The Hunter, arguably just extensions of the same character. Papillon is the one instance where you actually get to watch him act. The list does go on.
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post #1043 of 2226 Old 09-27-2013, 09:48 PM
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Bullitt (1968), directed by Peter Yates.

My wife had not seen this before and she immediately started asking about other McQueen pictures.

-Bill

There is a moment in Bullitt that comes and goes in a flash but I will always remember it getting a sizable smattering of applause in the theater when it occurred. McQueen is getting dressed for the day, looks into a mirror and does nothing more with his hair than brush a couple of fingers through the front and move on. Seriously, that tiny, seemingly unconscious gesture got a round of applause from both men and women in the 1968 theater audience. And McQueen's genius was I am absolutely positive he knew that it would and why it would. He was always coming up with gestures and body language, ways of walking, handling props, relating to and moving through the environment that at once commented on and made cool in a whole new way those elements of our daily life. Didn't matter if it was patting down his hair, adjusting a cowboy hat, loading a gun with bullets, his way of getting into and out of an automobile, his profile while riding a motorcycle, whatever, he made it look new and cool. We couldn't wait for the opportunity to hop into a convertible or adjust the fit of a hat the way we'd just seen Steve McQueen do it.

Here we were as men in the late 60s, tentatively moving away from the Brylcreem era, having just gotten comfortable with the Kennedy-influenced dry hair look, some of us beginning to wonder if we ought to start going to a "salon" to make a statement with our hair instead of the local hot lather and buzz cut barber shop...and McQueen taps into that moment to show us how cool it is not to give a damn at all about how our hair looks and move on. Of course, it helps if you've got hair like Steve McQueen and look as cool as Steve McQueen did when he was riding a motorcycle or hopping into a convertible automobile. Sadly, none of us did. cool.gif
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post #1044 of 2226 Old 09-29-2013, 10:35 AM - Thread Starter
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The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

Secrets, spies, kidnapping, the love and wit of British parents, and a big gun battle.

This is not as deft as his later efforts, but here we see Hitchcock developing the genre he would quickly master: the semi-comic action thriller. He told Truffaut it was the work of a "gifted amateur", although I am never sure how much to believe of what he says at such times. I doubt if he felt obligated to bare his soul to interviewers. He later said the first version was more spontaneous, less logical than the second, but also that "logic is boring".

Peter Lorre is magnetic whenever he is on screen, simultaneously jolly and loathsome His character was originally meant to escape but the censors wouldn't allow that. Lorre is said to have memorized his English at this stage, but I wonder.

Two things make me uneasy about the story: kidnapping a teen girl is more harrowing than entertaining. Maybe we're supposed to understand that nothing bad will happen to her, but the threats are seriously murderous. Second: we have an unusually high body count at the end when they replicate the Siege of Sidney Street.

Many good bits:

  • During the opening shooting competition, Mom's aim is spoiled by noise from the villains. She returns the favor during the concert.
  • In the end it is good to have a sharpshooting action Mom!
  • The yarn breaks when the man is shot, snapping the thread of life. (Hitchcock: "You could be pretentious in those days").
  • The daughter, Nova Pilbeam, was the leading lady in Young and Innocent (1937) three years later, and was only 17 even then!
  • Poor Uncle Clive takes one for the team at the dentist.
  • The turnabout struggle with the nitrous oxide.
  • The great church furniture fight.

Criterion Blu-ray with a much better image than I have seen before. The commentary track gives background on the production and actors. He doesn't like the remake at all, but says the 1950s Albert Hall sequence was very good.



-Bill

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post #1045 of 2226 Old 09-30-2013, 11:18 AM - Thread Starter
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Across 110th Street (1972), directed by Barry Shear.

In Harlem, two men dressed as cops rob a Mob bank. It goes bad and we have a massacre. Now the Italian and Black mobs as well as the police are after them. It doesn't look good. There will be blood and torture and death.

I had never seen this before and it is remarkably intense and gritty filmmaking. Excessively violent but nostalgically appealing.

It has problems: it looks like some scenes were chopped out, and it loses focus, for example in Anthony Quinn's pointless blustering with the black mob boss. We sometimes lose contact with our most interesting characters:

  • Paul Benjamin as the tormented brains behind the heist. He's got nothing but a machine gun and he has to go for the big score. Well, he has a woman who loves him, and that's sad in the end.
  • Anthony Franciosa as the made man who married into the Family. He has to prove himself tough enough, which he does with sadistic brutality.
  • Marlene Warfield has only one scene as the widow of one of the thieves, but I wanted to give special mention to a sensitive, anguished performance. (I hope I have the actress correct: "Mrs Jackson" in the IMDB).

Anthony Quinn also produced the picture. His aging detective is a good character: too tough and on the take ("I only take gambling money," he says pathetically), accused of racism, but on the other hand he knows everyone in the precinct and tries to help people he likes. Honestly: he doesn't quite fit into the movie.

Yaphet Kotto is his up and coming replacement: squeaky clean and by the book, but naive.

Many other familiar faces in small roles:

Discussion boards debate whether this is properly Blaxploitation or not. Categorization is pretty unimportant, but the film does have elements of the genre: action plot, score and low budget, violence and bitterly rude language. I think of Blaxploitation as having a jive vs cool fantasy slant, but this one is all fear and sweat. We're also missing the awkward comedy: when Antonio ("Huggy Bear") Fargas begins pimping up and clowning, we're not laughing because we know the setup will deliver horrific results.

The title song was featured in Jackie Brown and other films.



-Bill

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post #1046 of 2226 Old 10-03-2013, 04:42 AM - Thread Starter
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Things to Come (1936), directed by William Cameron Menzies.

To call this ambitious exercise in futurism "flawed" does not capture the epic scope of the disaster: an expensive, painful experience for everyone involved, and a critical and commercial flop. It is best remembered for its score, which, unusually for that period, was written for the movie and developed simultaneously with the filming.

Don't blame the actors for their wooden, stagey declamations: they were frustrated at receiving no direction and the script had no character development. Ralph Richardson decided to do "the Boss" as Mussolini.

HG Wells had intimate control over all aspects of the production. He didn't care about the actors or even the dramatic quality of the story. For him this was an extended preachy lecture. He was both predicting the future and trying to shape it. He knew a world war was coming and wanted a new scientific and engineering elite to run things after. Much like Stalin's Russia, with dictatorship of the smart guys instead of the proletariat.

He was trying to make an anti-Metropolis movie. He hated Fritz Lang's film because he thought it such an implausible vision of the future. That Lang might not have been trying to make predictions did not seem to occur to him. See Metropolis (1927) and Giorgio Moroder Presents Metropolis (1984).

And yet, despite all the problems, it retains much that is fascinating: the intensity of the vision, the seriousness of purpose, the music, and above all, a wonderful artistic presentation of the world from rubble to utopia. They built a large city set and destroyed it bit by bit as the war continued.

The future as predicted by HG Wells. Remember: the film was made in 1936. WW2 began in 1939, with the intensive bombing of Britain following in 1940.

1940

  • Christmas joy and bustle, with war looming in the background.
  • Total war, complete mobilization of the population, blackouts, people sheltering in the subway tunnels.
  • Massive bombing turns the cities into rubble. Mass tank attacks.
  • Poison gas.
  • Government announcements are just propaganda.
  • Aerial dogfights (with biplanes!)

1966

  • The War did not end. Ragged people living in the rubble.
  • The "wandering sickness", an epidemic that killed half the population.

1970

  • War and plague over, the people have returned to the pomp and squalor of a feudal age in the ruins.
  • A local warlord, "the Boss", is at war with the hill tribes.
  • A new scientific elite is reclaiming and ordering the survivors under a world-wide benevolent dictatorship.
  • They use a "gas of peace" to subdue savage regions.

2036

  • Titanic machines of obscure purpose build gigantic underground cities.
  • Utopia: no war, sickness or poverty. People dress as if they are on Planet Krypton.
  • Some are still discontented.
  • A race to get the first two volunteers to the Space Gun before a mob of disaffected utopians can destroy it.

Criterion Blu-ray, 97m long, which is all they can find of the original 130m cut. The film was chopped up in various ways from the beginning; the missing bits are more talky lectures. It fell into the public domain and then was taken out, and last I heard is in back in again.

The busy commentary track is an excellent essay on the production and people involved. Fact-filled and with much good analysis.



-Bill

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post #1047 of 2226 Old 10-03-2013, 04:58 AM - Thread Starter
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By the way: I'm going to post a series of thumbnails to The Official BD Wishlist and "When or will this movie come out on BD? thread.

The theme is "classic color films that might look really fine on Blu-ray".

Commences here.

-Bill

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post #1048 of 2226 Old 10-03-2013, 08:50 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wmcclain View Post

Things to Come (1936), directed by William Cameron Menzies.

HG Wells had intimate control over all aspects of the production. He didn't care about the actors or even the dramatic quality of the story. For him this was an extended preachy lecture. He was both predicting the future and trying to shape it.

-Bill

At least he was visionary enough to know that the world of the big screen HDTV was coming. Although my calculations put the picture size at 14:9 - mid way between 4:3 (12:9) and 16:9.



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post #1049 of 2226 Old 10-03-2013, 12:04 PM - Thread Starter
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Murder à la Mod (1968), written and directed by Brian De Palma.

This early, experimental De Palma film is included on the Criterion Blow Out (1981) Blu-ray. According to the wikipedia is was shown in only one theater and thought lost. Someone took care of the 35mm source because the quaility is excellent.

It is a confusing, non-linear, semi-comic thriller, kind of a spin on Peeping Tom (1960). The murder mystery changes as you watch it. I was thinking "once only for me", but I probably will see it again now that I know his tricks. I know enough to skip the interminable bank skit this time.

Little flashes of nudity, just becoming possible in 1968.

A complete feature film is the best type of extra on a Blu-ray disc. Many thanks to Criterion for this, particularly because the video is high definition and really fine looking.



-Bill

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post #1050 of 2226 Old 10-07-2013, 06:23 AM - Thread Starter
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The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), produced and directed by Martin Ritt.

Control and Smiley -- both with small parts in this one -- have an assignment for field agent Alec Leamas. As is always the case with John le Carré we are not told the details or goal and have to figure it out as we go. Leamas is to quit the secret service, become drunk and dissolute and be recruited by the East Germans as a traitor. And then?

In a deception story we need to know: who are the insiders, the smart guys, and who are the targets, the victims or marks? The dramatic developments, the apparent reversals and disasters: are they all part of the clever plan or is the plan broken, leaving not only the viewer but the participants in unknown territory?

At the end of the trial scene we have the wrenching moment, wonderfully played by Richard Burton, when Leamus realizes the awful truth: he's a mark, not a smart guy. His own people have played him.

Control explained it to him at the outset with his little lecture on ruthlessness, but neither he nor we understood his meaning at the time. He and Smiley are bastards. They don't totally throw Leamus to the wolves: Smiley tries to get him back over the Wall. Just him: not the woman sacrificed to perfect the plan.

Fine cast, tragic story, melancholy rainy day score by Sol Kaplan.

Criterion Blu-ray.



-Bill

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