Thursday, 15 March 2018

Marnie (1964)

As far as I can see “Marnie” is the last Alfred Hitchcock movie on the list. A recurrent theme on this blog has therefore reached its last chapter. Hitchcock is the single most prevalent director on the List and I have lost count on the number of times I have reviewed a Hitch movie. Usually they are good, even very good. This time… it is okay, but not great.

The Hitchcock catalogue is so large and so glorious that it is a tall order to find a place in that collection and “Marnie” barely makes it. In my opinion at least. Undoubtedly there are big fans of this movie as well.

“Marnie” is the story about a woman, Marnie (Tippi Hedren), who has a scheme going. She will work in a company for a few months under an assumed identity and then rob the place and leave town. In between heists she will visit her mother, Bernice (Louise Latham), give her some money and spin her some tale of what she is doing. As we are entering the story Marnie has just done a tax consultant office and is moving on to the Rutland company.

The Rutland company is headed by James Bond… eh… Mark Rutland (Sean Connery). He was a client at the tax consultancy and recognized Marnie. This makes him insist on hiring her and he takes her under his wing. Exactly why is never quite clear, but the more messed up Marnie turns out to be, the more insistent he is. Marnie is afraid of the color red, she is afraid of thunder and she abhors men. She also eventually robs the Rutland company and tries to walk away with a fortune. Caught between Mark and a crime charge Marnie is forced to marry Mark and go on a lengthy honeymoon with him, all for him to play psychiatrist on her.

It is a strange couple. Marnie is seriously messed up and Mark is obsessive, even sadistic, in his insistence on getting her “solved”. No wonder Marks former sister-in-law Lil (Diane Baker) finds it weird and suspicious and tries to stop this charade.

It does of course come to a climax where the psycho analysis goes full throttle.

“Marnie” seems like a composite of previous Hitchcock movies. There is a lot of “Spellbound” in it. The man frantically trying to solve a woman mystery from “Vertigo” and the lead as a thief from “Psycho”. It all feels like we have been here before and those elements were not the best from those movies. Sure, Hitch is a genius at building up suspense and editing his movies, but it feels old here. Not just because we have seen it before, but in 1964 cinema has moved on and a Hitch movie still looks like something from the fifties.

There is a lot hanging on Tippi Hedren and Sean Connery. Their chemistry is quite decisive. Fortunately they are up to the task, but only barely. Sean Connery is James Bond and that air of uber-man he also brings into his role as Mark. Super confident, strong, assertive and resourceful. But also manic in his insistence of fixing Marnie. His character is not the gentle hero but something darker and we never learn why. I had hoped that something would explode in the climactic scenes due to his flaws, but instead he steps down and becomes a more ordinary gentleman hero. Disappointing. Tippi Hedren has to be this seriously troubled girl. A thief and a liar, she is not the person you would normally root for and in clashing with the dark insistence of Mark Rutland she is like a wild animal caught in the headlights. She does that well. That she as a character is quite a bit out there in unbelievable territory is not her fault.

Beside the nice editing what I really liked about the movie was the score. As usual it is Bernard Herrmann and this time it is very haunting, but also the kind of music that buries itself in your skull. It is still there and I am humming the Marnie theme while I am writing.

“Marine” is okay. It is not a bad movie, merely a tired movie. It marks a natural end to the big Hitchcock productions. He did continue to make a few more movies but as I understand it they are considered lesser movies in his filmography. Ultimately “Marnie” was a bit disappointing, but I think that is mostly when comparing it to his great movies.


Saturday, 10 March 2018

A Fistful of Dollars (1964)

Off-List: A Fistful of Dollars
The first off-list movie of 1964 is “A Fistful of Dollars”.

“A Fistful of Dollars” is a low-budget western made by Italians on a location in Spain. It features a previously unknown American actor, who insisted his lines should be reduced, suspect Hong Kong style dubbing and a plot that is almost a complete rip-off of a Japanese Samurai movie.

Does not sound very promising, does it?

Ah, but this is in fact the birth of the Spaghetti-western, the movement, spearheaded by Sergio Leone, that would revitalize the western genre, adding that mythological element to the western that made it even more “western” than reality. The subgenre that gave us such legendary movies as “Once Upon a Time in the West” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and “A Fistful of Dollars” is its glorious beginning.

The obscure American actor happened to be Clint Eastwood and I think that is enough introduction. These were the movies that made him famous. When you think of Clint Eastwood as an actor, you think of the characters he played in the Leone westerns.

And the Japanese Samurai movie is “Yojimbo” by Kurusawa. If I should think of a movie suited to be remade into a western, that would be the one and, amazingly, “A Fistful of Dollars” is one of the best remakes ever made. It is in fact so good that it holds up even when you know it is a remake.

That begs the question, which of the two is the better movie? And who is coolest: Toshiro Mifune or Clint Eastwood?

The crazy thing is that I do not know, both movies are great. Kurusawa created a perfect western and Leone did not just copy it, but reformatted it using his very own style that brought so many new things, not just to this story but to the western genre and cinema in general.

That is in fact the first thing you notice when you watch “A Fistful of Dollars”. This movie looks different from anything that went before. The super close-up of faces on the wide-screen format is obvious and effective, but also the tension is created with only minimal dialogue, but mainly though using the canvas of those faces, how the camera moves from face to face, not to watch them speak or react, but just observe them. Combine that with layer upon layer of sounds with exaggerated clarity and that amazing Ennio Morricone soundtrack and tension builds up to the bursting point. Shots feels like release, violence comes from pent up tension and we are on the edge of our seats.

The setting is Mexico and so the Spanish/Latin connection does not look awkward, but quite authentic.

Yes, I enjoyed “A Fistful of Dollars” immensely. It is extremely watchable, both because the story is as good as it is and because this is a stylistic feast for the eyes and the ears. Ennio Morricone is a legend. Sergio Leone is a legend and Clint Eastwood… well, do I need to repeat myself?

A “Fistful of Dollars” belongs on the List ahead of most of the movies there. The fact that neither “Yojimbo”, nor “A Fistful of Dollars” have earned a spot is a crime.

So, who is cooler, Mifune or Eastwood? Go watch the ending of “Yojiimbo” and tell me that he is not the most awesome lonesome hero ever. Clint is a solid second. Or wait… ahhh…. I don’t know…


Tuesday, 6 March 2018

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Les Parapluies de Cherbourg) (1964)

Pigen med paraplyerne
I went into “Les Parapluies de Cherbourg” or “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” knowing that this is a movie that is loved by many people and is praised by many critics. This is supposed to be really awesome, yet my immediate reaction to the movie was disappointment and disinterest.

What I discovered early on was that this is a very banal story about young love and a love triangle where all dialogue is replaced by singing. Not by songs per se, but singing conversations. It was weird and sentimental and oh so melodramatic. I felt that I was definitely in the wrong target group for this movie and wondered how I would get through it.

This was not how I expected this movie to be.

However, something happened along the way and certainly in the aftermath of watching it. I am not sure I am going to actually like it, but I am definitely going to respect it and value it a lot higher than that initial impression.

It is a very banal story. Genevieve (Catherine Deneuve) and Guy (Nino Castelnuovo) are young, very young, and madly in love. Guy works at a petrol station and Genevieve helps her mother with her umbrella shop. Yeah, apparently back then you could have a shop selling only umbrellas, but maybe that is why the shop was in trouble. On the last night before Guy has to leave for two years of military service (with no leave to go home) the two of them consummate their relationship and soon after Genevieve is pregnant, voila.

Being without Guy is hard, especially with a child, and so it is lucky that Monsieur Cassard (March Michel) shows up to court Genevieve. He is also rich, sincere and want to raise the child as his own.

After two years Guy is back in Cherbourg and Genevieve is long gone and married. Guy is pretty disappointed, but hooks up with his cousin (!?) Madeleine (Ellen Famer), gets married and they have a child of their own.

Pretty straight forward, right? But then there are all the small twists. In a standard melodrama Genevieve would have somehow held out, or as Guy returns, they would be reunited, but that is not how reality works. Life moves on and two years is a very long time when you are 17 years old. When Guy and Genevieve finally meet 4 years later they are both in a different place that is also fine and they have very little to say to each other. That could be very cynical, but it is not. It is actually very beautiful and reminded me of the conclusion of “Cast-Away”. You cannot reset the clock, but you can move on and come to terms with what has happened.

The singing that so annoyed me also ended up actually working. The characters are not suddenly bursting out into song, nor do they start dancing with a whole chorus behind them, this is just regular dialogue that is song instead of spoken, and somehow the impact is larger for it. No dancing gangsters or cowboys. The music itself is also pretty incredible. It is a mishmash of styles, but each fitting perfectly to the situation and the theme of the lovers is so catchy that is has been stuck in my head ever since finishing the movie and that is a few days ago by now.

On the other hand this is not entirely working class realism either. There is an element of magic, emphasized by the music and the saturated colors. A fairy tale element that strangely work together with the stark realism.

Oh, and the weirdest thing: Monsieur Cassard is actually Rolland Cassard in “Lola”. Back then he got burned and moved out of Nantes. Now he made a fortune and this time he gets the girl. C’est la Vie.

In the final analysis “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” ends on the positive side, despite my initial grumblings. It probably helps to be a lover of musicals or French melodrama, but if even a cynic like me can get something out of this, then it cannot be all bad.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Scorpio Rising (1964)

Scorpio Rising
It has become almost routine for me by now to watch experimental movies. I cannot say that I am entirely inured to them, it is more a sort of apathy I am feeling. Whatever, another round of useless junk.

This time it is “Scorpio Rising” by Kenneth Anger.

“Scorpio Rising” is a 30 minute film in which we see some dude fixing his bike. There is also some guy (same guy?) dressing up in a biker outfit better suited for rough gay sex. There is a group of revelers waving their dicks (yeah, dicks again…), the biker dude is waving a nazi flag and some clips from an old movie about the life of Christ.

In terms of point, I think I get it. This is about breaking as many taboos as possible in 30 minutes and Kenneth Anger tries really hard. Does he succeed? Maybe by 1964 standard. In 2018 it just looks comical and pathetic. In glimpses I would even say it is funny, because it is so over the top, but I doubt that was the intention.

The most (maybe the only) interesting thing about the movie is that it uses a soundtrack of contemporary pop music. This was apparently the first time such a sound track was used in this way and it worked quite well, if for no other reason than that the music was good.

An interesting fact about the movie is that, according to Wikipedia, the American Nazi party was protesting about the use of their flag. I will just let that stand for a moment…

When this movie arrived in the mail it turned out that I had bought a dual format, three disk box set of Kenneth anger stuff. Essentially his entire catalogue! Ugh. I tried to watch a few of them, but, ah… it did not really do it for me. However, the box set also included a 70 minute interview with Kenneth Anger and that was actually interesting. I was surprised how sympathetic and interesting this guy actually is. Such a difference to the movies he made. I almost felt like watching them after all. Almost.

The bottom line is that unless you are a nazi gay, or a devoted rebel against anything, this is another movie one can easily skip, and so I move on to the next movie on the List.


Thursday, 22 February 2018

Goldfinger (1964)

Welcome to 1964.

Another year and a new batch of movies. Again, I will garnish the salad of List movies with a few of my own List candidates, but much more on that a I proceed through the year.

First movie of 1964 is “Goldfinger”, the third James Bond movie in the still active franchise. Back in the autumn when I looked for the movie I found a box set with the entire franchise at bargain price, so I started watching them all as a little side project (currently at “The Spy Who Loved Me”). As a consequence, the current watch is actually a re-watch only three months after the last time I saw it. That is okay, I do not mind. The James Bond movies are fun to watch and this one more so than many of them.

“Goldfinger” is described as the movie that settled the franchise and it is quite fitting that this should be the one representative the franchise on the List. All subsequent James Bond movies borrow from this one as does the spoof franchise of “Austin Powers”. James Bond (Sean Connery) is a super hero character that moves in a cartoonish world of technical gadgets, super villains and threats of world shattering scale. His super powers are not demonic strength or the ability to fly. No, James Bond’s special abilities are his irresistible charm, his cleverness and ability to always come out on top no matter how bad things look. In short, he is any boys dream of a heroic character. Who wouldn’t want to be James Bond? As unrealistic as it is I find this sort of super hero far more palatable then the typical Marvel fare.

In this third installment the super villain is a fellow called Auric Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe), who is obsessed with gold. He is about to execute his cunning plan, “Operation Grand Slam”, when James Bond gets involved. To begin with Goldfinger is merely a suspicious character, who destroys people who gets in his way. To this end he has a very efficient bodyguard “Oddjob” (Harold Sakata), who can kill with his bowler hat. Eventually however the details of the operation are revealed. The Fort Knox gold reserves are to be irradiated, increasing the value of his own gold manifold and throwing the western world into chaos.

To execute this plan Goldfinger uses squadron of flying girls led by a woman with the unlikely name Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman). She also happens to be a stunning looking woman and we know what Mr. Bond can do…

The whole thing takes place on several continents and involves numerous technical gadgets, including the most awesome grey Aston Martin filled with everything a secret agent might need in a pinch. I had one of those as a toy when I was a little boy and it was pretty awesome. Goldfinger also has a horde of henchmen conveniently wearing a yellow sash whose main function is to die. Honestly, if it had not been for the charm and tongue in cheek humor pervading the movie it could easily have become too much, but these are exactly the properties that makes it work so well. James Bond makes me smile, especially when Sean Connery is James Bond.

Another element that the better James Bond movies does well is to bring just the right level of darkness into the movies. People do die. There are true atrocities and James Bond sometimes must admit defeat, even getting beaten up pretty badly. It sounds bad, but it is necessary in order to ground the movies. There is really nothing worse than an all-powerful super hero. Bond feels guilt, anger, vanity. Human feelings that makes him human and sometimes he makes terrible mistakes, but never fear, Bond is no anti-hero. He is the real deal and a lot more of most things than most people and in the end Bond always wins.

I have a lot of fun watching James Bond. It is iconic and familiar and very entertaining. It is Sunday afternoon TV and I can kick back and take my Bond movies shaken, not stirred.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Mediteranee (1963)

The last movie of 1963 is “Méditerranée”. It is excluded from the Danish edition in favor of the Swedish “Kvarteret Korpen” and thus by the Danish edition editors considered dispensable.

In my frank opinion there were a number of movies on the list in 1963 that were dispensable, but alas, this was the one that got booted out.

“Méditerranée” is an experimental film by a fellow called Jean-Daniel Pollet. It consists of beautiful pictures of, lets see… some ancient ruins, a garden, a sea (probably the Mediterranean), a bull fight, a Greek wedding, some Egyptian statues and pyramids, a fisherman, a girl getting dressed, some hot iron being processed and picked up by a machine and a girl on an operation table. Probably a few more items. Each scene is nice to look at, the colors are great, and we return to each scene again and again in the course of the 42 minutes of the movie.

There is a wonderful score that fits the pictures very well. It is the kind of music I do not mind listening to and it is even a bit hypnotic.

And then there is a narrator. Now, the only place I was able to find this movie was on YouTube and the version was without English subtitles. As the narration is in French and my French is… ah… inadequate, I only got a word here and there. Enough to understand that this is more of a poem than an actual commentary to the pictures and that it has something to do with time and memory. It is probably a nice and poetic, well, poem, but I really cannot comment much more on it than that.

Now, since this is an experimental movie we know that whatever happens here is probably different and does not have to make any sense in regular terms and that is precisely where we are here. I had very little idea of what was going on, but at the same time I got the feeling that I do not really need to know what this is about. The pictures are real pretty and the score is very nice, so it feels quite meditative. After my initial frustration at not understanding what on Earth was happening here, I fell into a quiet acceptance and just enjoyed the state of mind it really is.

I quite agree that this movie was not the highlight of 1963, but it was not the worst either and I would probably have chosen something else to boot off the List. Still you can ask why it is on the List in the first place? Apparently it was very influential. Godard, my old friend, was inspired by this when he made “Le Mepris” although “Méditerranée” was only shown publicly four years later. How exactly that works out I am not sure.

Alas, 1963 is now done and I am looking forward to get started on 1964.


Thursday, 15 February 2018

The Servant (1963)

”The Servant” is a movie I very much want to like, but somehow it does note quite make it.

Tony (James Fox), a somewhat foppish upper-class bachelor, has just acquired a London townhouse and hires Hugo Barrett (Dirk Bogarde) as his manservant. They seem to get along quite nicely. Barrett takes care of Tony’s every need at home and is every bit the deferential servant. Tony’s girlfriend Susan (Wendy Craig), however, takes an instant dislike to Barrett. She wants him out of the way and does not see the need for a servant to take care of everything in the house.

This seems unnecessarily cruel and while the idea of a manservant may well seem exaggerated there is no need to take it out on the poor servant. Little do we know at this time that Susan is more right than even she could guess. See, Barrett has a cunning plan to make Tony his obedient slave…

Over the next part Barrett continues to be the attentive servant, while behind the scene he is plotting the downfall of his master. He hires his sister Vera (Sarah Miles) as maid in the house. Only, Vera is apparently (perhaps) Barrett’s fiancé and an instrument in his plan. Vera’s task is to insinuate herself on Tony, which should not be too hard, Vera is very attractive. The plan succeeds, and Tony gets so infatuated with Vera that he stops paying attention to Susan.

Eventually Tony and Susan discover that Vera is in fact not Barrett’s sister and he fires the both of them. Susan sees how besotted Tony is with Vera and walks out on him an Tony is all alone. Now that Tony sorely misses Barrett he takes him back, but now Barrett is on top and Tony is a broken man.

The acting here is very interesting as is the cinematography. It is a mixture of ultra-realism and weirded out surrealism. This is in particular the case in the very intense scenes such as when Tony is captured by Vera or the wandering camera on the restaurant. The end sequence most of all has the feel of an acid trip, worthy of Trainspotting.

Yet I cannot come to terms with this movie. I do not understand the motivation of Hugo Barrett. Of course he may have a deep hatred for the upper class, but his transformation from servile waiter to manipulating mastermind seems so unmotivated. I seriously doubt that Susan’s dislike for him has anything to do with it. Secondly, what motivates Tony to sink so deep? It is true that Tony has very little content in his life. Except for some rambling about a project in the jungle we never see him do actual work. We also never see him in contact with anybody but Susan. Still he seems too willing to be manipulated and too weak to separate himself from Barrett. It is this complete lack of self-respect that I find difficult to understand.

Therefore the scheming of Barrett and the decent of Tony feel, to me, oddly contrived and unreal and that is preventing me from entirely buying into the story. I would love to get just a hint of motivation for either of them, but it is strangely absent. The closest thing is Barrett’s arrogance towards some incredibly annoying women at a phone booth and that anger was quite understandable.

Still, I did enjoy the movie even if I did not quite understand it. It does ensnare the viewer with its captivating cinematography and interesting camera angles. That I suppose is good enough.