Sunday 31 December 2017

Happy New Year 2018

Happy New Year 2018
Here we are again, the last day of the year. Another year went by and that one went super fast. It feels like yesterday I was sitting here writing a New Year post.

In any case, Happy New Year to all readers of this blog. May 2018 bring happiness and joy to all.

So, what happened in that split second that was 2017?

My movie project is continuing more or less as planned. I went from movie no. 368 on the List to no. 422. That makes 54 movies, exactly the same as last year. This has brought me from 1959 to 1963.

I cannot say that I am overjoyed with the List in the sixties, though. My apprehension at all the experimental and obscure films I saw on the horizon was not unfounded. It seems more the rule than not when my reviews take a negative slant, especially when you add the massive amount of French new wave films of which only a few have struck a chord with me. There are highlights of course, and I live and breathe for those, but all that junk taking up space on the List has also encouraged be to introduce a new feature on my blog: two to three movies each year that should have been on the List. It turns out that these years are not actually as terrible as they look on the List, that there are several movies out there that ought to be there instead of some of that dross I am committed to watch.  

I get some help from Bea at Flickers in Time to pick my off-list movies (thank you for that, Bea!) and while I may still be missing some truly wonderful movies, at least I get to pick up some obvious mistakes of the editors. Adding the off-List movies to my count makes it almost respectable too.

On the movie side I also keep discovering new 1001 blogs, which I add to my blog roll. It is great to see there are still people who take on this project and I love reading what other people have to say about the movies I have watched.

On my book blog things are happening in a far more sedate pace. 2017 saw me adding 6 books to my list, which certainly does not sound like much, but is actually better than my stated goal of 5 books per year. It becomes a little better when I add that two of the books completed were 1000 pages bricks, Gargantua and Pantagruel, which I hated and Don Quixote, which I loved. I am in full swing with the next one and expect to review it in January.  Maybe my count sounds better if I add that those 6 books cover a 50 year period. Yeah, now I feel I can hold my head high…

Sadly, I have found very few book blogs doing this project. If anybody knows of such sites, do let me know and I will add them to my blog roll.

Again, I wish everybody a great 2018. May you all enjoy the movies you watch and the books you read and all the things that matter a lot more than movies and books.

Thomas Sørensen




Monday 25 December 2017

Flaming Creatures (1963)

Flaming Creatures
The 1001 List is made up of entries provided by a group of editors. I do not know what the exact procedure is, but I am fairly certain that the editor who writes about a movie has had a big say in including it on the List. One of these editors has a weird affinity for trash and I believe he is responsible for including some of the worst movies on the List. He must also be an influential editor for despite the obvious lack of anything resembling quality these movies survive from edition to edition, even the big culling a few years back that replaced some fifty movies from the List. The perverse thing is that this editor consistently writes enthusiastically about these movies, hyping them far above what a normal movie can meet, much less the garbage he is writing about. I have come to mistrust this editor on principle.

A case in particular is movies by Jack Smith. Already here among the 63 movies I have reviewed his “Blonde Cobra” and that was not a happy occasion. This time it is “Flaming Creatures” and it is not better. If this is the glorious peak of experimental cinema then there is really no need to spend any more time with that.

This is another case of a movie I just did not get. It can be roughly divided into three segments.

1.       Women or drags or both are putting on lipstick, posing next to dicks. (yup, in your face!)

2.       An orgy with a group of men and women screwing and masturbating. More dicks and breasts.

3.       Drags dancing


It does not really make any sense. The most noteworthy about these scenes is the abysmally poor production value. It looks like something out of the silent era that has not been preserved well. Sometimes you cannot see what is happening and thank you for that. Other times the acting is so amateurish it looks more like home video.

In its day it caused a lot of scandal, obviously because of the amount of flaunting nudity, and maybe that is why this movie has earned a place on the List. Had I watched it at a venue back then I would have been angry, true, but not because of the sex. This piece of garbage is simply so crappy and pointless that charging money for it should be considered theft.

So, which is worse: “Blonde Cobra” or “Flaming Creatures”? Well, “Flaming Creatures” is 15 minutes longer, so there is your answer.

Rid the List of Jack Smith movies and grant the space to worthier movies. Actually, take a hard look at movies presented by this particular editor and I believe most of it could go.

Do yourself a favor and skip this movie.


Saturday 23 December 2017

High and Low (1963)

Off-List: High and Low
I am a big fan of Kurosawa movies and so as one of the off-list movies for 1963 I have chosen Kurosawa’s “High and Low”. When I reviewed the 1962 movie “Sanjuro” I made the statement that there is always a place on the List for Kurosawa films. That is a statement I stand by, but in the case of “High and Low” I have a weaker case. To put it straight, “High and Low” is in my opinion not up to the very high standard I have come to expect from Kurosawa and in a better year I would not have added this one to the List. 63 however is turning out to be a miserable year for the List and this movie is better than at least half I have watched so far.

“High and Low” is a departure from the period dramas featuring samurai that made Kurosawa famous. Instead it is a contemporary crime thriller, emulating similar American ones. In fact it is based on a novel by Ed McBain and transplanted to Japan.

The wealthy executive Mr. Gondo (Tohiro Mifune) is about to embark on the gamble of his professional life. A group of managers is about to coup the current president of National Shoes and in return Gondo will do a counter coup, ousting the rebels and putting himself in charge of the company. To that effect he has mobilized the staggering sum of 50 million yen, his entire fortune, which just need to be paid in Osaka. At this point Gondo receives a fateful phone call. A kidnapper has taken his son and demands 30 million yen to return him. Even though it soon turns out the kidnapper got the wrong boy, he actually got his play-mate, the driver’s boy, Gondo is still facing the dilemma of losing a boy or his company.

The police get involved, headed by Chief Detective Tokura (Tatsuya Nakadai), and a hunt starts for the kidnappers. Gondo decides to pay up and once the boy is back the police is let loose to track down the culprit.

“High and Low” refers to the two sides of the story. First half of the movie is focused on the wealthy Gondo in his villa on top of the hill, whereas the second part takes place down in the town below among the bottom of society. This also means that the first half is about the dilemma of Gondo, the decision and the consequences of that decision, whereas the second half is a manhunt.

It is interesting to see Tokyo anno 1963 and it is interesting to see something else than samurai from Kurosawa. The idea of the movie is interesting and there is a lot of potential in the story. Ironically, considering Kurosawa is here much closer to western themes, there are cultural barriers (I suppose) in place here, which detracts from my viewing experience.

The acting appears staged and wooden, something I did not expect from Kurosawa. It looks amateurish, though I suspect it is simply Japanese culture. This is unfortunate because it detracts from the realism.

Secondly the pacing is off. Every scene is about 20% too long, at least, and the whole movie drags. This is particularly so in the beginning, we never seem to get out of Gondo’s living room, but even the climactic ending is far too long and as a thriller this is disastrous.

How much this is just being Japanese and how much this is a failing of the movie I do not know. In fact it could simply be me having very high expectations. This is not a bad movie by any right, there is a lot that works here, but to me, this is just not Kurosawa at his best. He took the western genre and improved on it. His attempt to do the same for the thriller was not as magnificent.


Sunday 17 December 2017

Winter Light (Nattvardsgasterna) (1963)

Lys i mørket
There is something very intense about Bergman’s movies in general. Characters are fighting internal battles with themselves, with their Gods or demons or, well whatever else that troubles them. When you get that inner struggle his movies are great. When you don’t, well, then you are in for a hard time. That is why Bergman is hit or miss.

This is particularly true for Winter Light (odd English title for what translates as “participants in the communion”) as there is little else in this movie than those internal battles.

I may understand the worries the characters in “Winter Light” have on an intellectual level, but they also feel alien enough that I have to strain to comprehend them. That makes “Winter Light” a difficult movie.

Central to “ Winter Light” is the priest Tomas Ericsson (Gunnar Björnstrand). He is the gloomy and serious looking priest of two small congregations in the Swedish outback. Behind the façade however, Tomas is a troubled man. He feels left by God and is rather bitter about it. For a priest that is pretty bad and Tomas does take it badly.

Since his wife died four years earlier he has struggled to find a meaning with his existence and he has found none. God is not helping him at all and God’s silence is making Tomas bitter. In fact his internal struggle dominates everything he says or does. He seems blind to the people who seek his help, and instead of assistance or understanding he lashes out in bitterness. His eye is turned inward instead of outward. In the movie this is exemplified by Jonas Persson (Max von Sydow in an uncharacteristic minor role), who is terribly afraid that the Chinese will nuke Sweden, and by Märta Lundberg (Ingrid Thulin), who genuinely cares for him and wants a bit of attention in return.

In the case of Jonas, Tomas should have been listening and supporting Jonas. Instead he is telling him that life is pointless and without hope, based on his own misery. Jonas subsequently shoots himself, thank you for nothing. For Märta Tomas has no room in his life. Märta’s attention is unwanted and oppressive to him. If his mind is 100% filled with himself, how can she demand a piece of his attention and care as well? How can she demand that he should receive and return her love?

Frankly the egomanic Tomas is not very sympathetic and it is frustrating to see that the meaning he is looking for, the divine element is right before him, yet his egomaniac obsession prevents him from recognizing it. I felt like screaming at him, but it would have been to no avail. No amount of imploring could have opened his mind. He was too far gone in his self-pity.

Near the end Tomas has a conversation with Algot Frövik (Allan Edwall), a sexton, which I suspect is key to the movie. Algot says that Jesus greatest suffering was that he though God had left him, there on the cross. This, I suppose, would compare Tomas suffering to that of Jesus’ and in Christianity it just does not get bigger than that. Exactly what effect that has on Tomas is not clear to me. He simply proceeds to give service to an empty church. It makes the story feel unresolved, but I am probably missing something as usual.

Those heavy stone churches, grave priests and empty churches are very familiar to me. Except for the snow this could have been in Denmark. I was surprised to note that this was already the case in 1963. It could easily have played out in 2017 and I guess that makes the story relevant today. It just does not feel that relevant to me, but that has more to do with me not being religious. The neurotic worries of religious people are always difficult for me to grasp. For somebody more religiously connected I can imagine this movie will resonate quite well.

Still, I do like the idea of cutting this deep, to the bare bones in a story. It gives movies a focus rather than distractions and Bergman was a master of that exercise. I do not recall watching a movie as naked as this one, though. The black and white photography helps a lot, but this is really all about communicating internal turmoil, which in turn means acting and direction.

This is a movie I admire more than I enjoyed. I did not connect sufficiently with the subject matter and it feels unresolved, but I would still recommend it. It is very much Bergman.

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Hud (1963)

Everything is bigger in Texas. That includes the assholes.

“Hud” is one of the big movies of 1963. It was nominated for seven Oscars and won three, including Best Actress (Patricia Neal), Best Supporting Actor (Melvyn Douglas) and Best Cinematography. It also has a reputation that walks well ahead of it and it was one of the movies I was looking forward to, going into 1963.

It is a movie that in many ways delivers. It is exactly the A-movie you would expect. Acting, photography, direction and gravity are all of a very high standard. Add to that a beautiful score by Elmer Bernstein and the best black and white cinematography imaginable and it all starts to sound very promising.

Why is it then that this felt like a difficult movie to watch?

That is a personal question of course. Another person might have an entirely different experience. To me the answer is two things. First, this is essentially a portrait of a jerk, a Texas size asshole, in the shape of Paul Newman as Hud Bannon, the son of old rancher Homer Bannon (Melvyn Douglas). Hud does not care shit about anything or anyone but himself and his own gratification. He picks fight, drinks too much, sleeps with other men’s wives and treats everybody and everything in an underhand and selfish manner. He is a nihilist and an egoist and he is charming as hell. He is the central character of the movie and it is bloody difficult to have any sympathy for him or to root for him in any way.

Secondly, this is not a happy movie. On the contrary, it is a movie with a slow-moving doom that creeps in from the horizon and tramples everything underfoot. You can see it coming right from the start and you just know this will not end well. It is depressive as hell. Beautiful, important, intelligent and depressive. In many ways it reminded me of “The Grapes of Wrath” with that nostalgic pang of an era gone.

Homer, his son Hud and his grandson, through a now dead second son, Lonnie  (Brandon deWilde), lives on a ranch with house keeper Alma (Patricia Neal) and a few hands. One day a cow falls sick and dies and the veterinarian soon has the entire herd in quarantine under suspicion of foot-and-mouth disease. That is a serious illness, even today. I remember outbreaks in Denmark where loads of cattle got killed on the slightest suspicion of mund-og-klov-syge, as it is called in Danish. It is no joke (my sister’s husbond is a cattle farmer) and for the Bannons it is complete disaster. Their entire life is based on ranching and without cattle there is nothing left. Homer is of the old school and he is watching his entire life’s achievement getting flushed down the toilet. Hud wants to sell the herd before it gets quarantined to get the money and then lease the land to oil drilling. Essentially he shits on all the honor and principles of Homer, which is perfectly in his character. Lonnie admires his granddad, but he also thinks uncle Hud is pretty cool. For him this is a life deciding moment: Does he want the life of the principled and honorable, but doomed grandfather or the cool, rebellious, but ultimately empty life of his uncle?

The doom of the ranch may be the backdrop, but the real drama is the rift between Homer and Hud, each representing opposing worldviews, with Lonnie as the observer in the middle. It is a mean and bitter conflict, all the more so because it is family. It actually hurts to watch, and I suppose that is a quality of the movie.

This may be a western, but it is a modern one. Modern not just in the time it takes place in, but also for the realism. These are not gun slinging cowboys robbing the bank, or a lonesome cowboy on the frontier. No, these are just ordinary people trying to make a living in dusty, dry Texas. In that sense it is a movie that points forward to the realism of the seventies and as such feels well ahead of its time.

Watching “Hud” is not sitting down for a good time, this is not Sunday afternoon watching, but it a rewarding movie with gravity that will make you want to kick Paul Newman and taste the dust of West Texas. It is not my favorite movie, but it is a quality movie and worth watching, definitely.

Friday 8 December 2017

Contempt (Le Mepris) (1963)

Jeg elskede dig igår
Even dealt the best cards imaginable, Godard can still mess up a movie.

The Book always promises me heaven when presenting Godard movies, but I have learned the hard way to mistrust it. In the case of “Le Mepris” (Contempt) the factual elements are so promising though, that I dared a little hope. Could it finally be that Godard would give me a movie to make me understand his fame and why movie critics wet themselves over his movies?

This time Godard gives us Brigitte Bardot as his lead actress. That counts for a lot, if for no other reason but the massive sex appeal surrounding her. For those unfamiliar with Bardot, she was the hottest girl of the period. Even in my childhood, in the eighties, when Bardot had turned into a strange cat woman, people talked about her with awe and in the “Le Mepris” we see why. Godard miss no opportunity to show her off to her best advantage, with or without cloth.

We also get a movie, ostensibly, about making movies, with Fritz Lang as himself and lots of references to other, famous movies. There are plenty of shots and talk about the movie making process and even some jokes about the pretentiousness of making art movies. This should be good.

Colors are beautiful, music is great. Actually better than just great. What could go wrong?

Well, incredible as it sounds it all comes to nothing.

First of all there is no plot and hardly a narrative. Paul Javal (Michel Piccoli) is a French writer who has moved to Italy with his pretty wife Camille Javal (Bardot), a typist, to write screenplays. He is meeting with an American producer, Jeremy Prokosch (Jack Palance), who wants him to rewrite a script for his new movie, a movie on the Odyssey, directed by Fritz Lang as himself. Jeremy is an arrogant womanizer and Paul casually throws Camille into his arms. Camille is hurt by this and for the major part of the movie they have an ongoing slow-burn argument going on about it.

The argument is largely pointless, based on (deliberate) misunderstanding and selfishness, throwing in some clichés about men not understanding women and vice versa. Finally, they go to Capri where the discussion continues and ends with Camille walking out on Paul together with Jeremy.

It is dull, pointless and stupid. I lost interest after 10 minutes and it never picked up. Yes, Bardot has a pretty butt and yes, it is nice to see Fritz Lang, but, really, what is the point? Watching people have silly arguments over whether they love each other is neither profound nor interesting, it is not even dramatic, just immensely juvenile.

Godard is also wading around in stereotypes. Jeremy Prokosch is maybe the worst as an arrogant, self-indulgent American producer, the image a European would have of a such. He is totally disconnected from his surroundings if it wasn’t for his translator Francesca (Giorgia Moll), yet he acts as the man in charge. Paul has to be the quintessential screenwriter, always wearing a hat and with ambitions of something else and Lang has to be the auteur with disdain for his script and his producer. It makes me wonder If I have been watching a satire, ironizing over the world of moviemaking, but if so, it is a wry and dull satire and certainly not a fun one.

The ending, I was told, would be shocking. I could not wait for that jolt to shake me out of my stupor, but alas, it was entirely as pointless as the rest of the movie.

As such, Godard managed to take all those promising elements and flush them down the toilet, giving us something as pretentious and empty as what he seems to be criticizing. Pretty girls and luscious colors can never save such a mess. Godard, je n’ai que du mépris pour toi.

Monday 4 December 2017

8 1/2 (1963)

It is time for yet another Fellini movie, this time “8½” from 1963.

I have been lackluster at best when it comes to Fellini’s movies, so it may not say much, but I think “8½” is the best of his movies so far. Or maybe I have just gotten used to these Italian movies and lowered my tolerance threshold.

“8½” is a strange movie. One of those that are impossible to describe, you just have to see it. It sounds like a comedy: A director is trying to make a movie, but it is all a big mess. Actors and particularly actresses crowd around him asking him what their parts are, a monstrous spaceship set is being built on a beach, producers, critics and journalists are all jabbering for a attention and in the middle of all this both the mistress and the wife of the director shows up on set. Meanwhile the director has no idea what movie he is going to make, instead he is simply stalling.

This sounds familiar, as if at least parts have been used in other comedies, and it sounds hilariously funny, but in “8½” the angle is different, sort of. It is undeniable that there is a bitter humor to this, but Fellini tries to play it a lot deeper. His director, Guido, (Marcello Mastroianni) wants to make a movie about himself (with a spaceship!) and it seems as if Fellini wanted to make a movie about himself, making a movie about himself. Yet, Guido is more lost than we must hope Fellini ever was. He is constantly searching and in doubt. He seeks out women and cannot let them go again, something to do with his childhood supposedly, and that is both causing him endless trouble, but also make him look sad. Except that most of these women are phenomenally beautiful: Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimée, Sandra Milo, Barbara Steele just to mention some of them. To me he reminds me of a child who ate too many cookies and got a bad stomach pain.

Guido is clearly stranded in his life, groping for meaning and answers. In his mind his dreams play out as surrealist movies, but they rarely provide any answers. The opening sequence with a man trapped in a car in a giant traffic jam only to finally break out and fly away, seems symptomatic for Guido. He is trapped in his life and in his role as a successful director.

So we have this odd combination of a setting that is clearly, outrageously so, comedic, and a story that is a lot more profound and even sad. It is both somewhat confusing and rewarding as if Fellini is using comedy to tell a serious story, or is making fun of his own problems.

Without revealing too much I think it is safe to say that the situation spirals out of control and when Guido finally finds release he has all the characters dance in a chain resembling the divine comedy, a fatalistic surrender to life as it is, accepting it instead of fighting it. Supposedly the right morale to draw from this.

The mix of normality and surreal dream sequences is inspired. They work very well to give us glimpses of Guido’s thoughts and they are all hilarious to watch, especially the harem scene. Ironically Guido’s reality is catching up with his dreams and is getting even more surreal than what his mind can concoct. I have more trouble with all the Italian craziness, of everybody shouting and throwing up their arms, but that is what you are in for, watching Italian movies.

Wikipedia writes that “8½” is now considered to be one of the greatest films of all time. I doubt I would go that far. Let me stick to “one of the greatest Fellini films of all time”.