Friday 30 August 2019

The Lion in Winter (1968)

Off-List: The Lion in Winter
The third off-List movie of 1968 is “The Lion in Winter”. This movie was recommended to me by Bea of “Flickers in Time” and a lot of thanks for that.

“The Lion in Winter” is a historic drama taking place in the twelfth century where King Henry II has invited his entire family to his castle for Christmas. The large majority of the takes place over a few days in this castle where all members of the family is plotting and scheming against each other. Henry (Peter O’Toole) has released his wife Queen Eleanor (Katherine Hepburn) from her house arrest for the duration of the holidays and also attending are three of their sons Richard (Anthony Hopkins), Geoffrey (John Castle) and John (Nigel Terry) as well as the king of France, King Philip (Timothy Dalton) and his half sister Alais (Jane Merrow), currently the concubine of King Henry, but promised to the heir of England whoever that may be. And that is the target for all the plotting and scheming. Which of the three sons should be the next king.

Interestingly, all of them despise each other with the possible exception of Alais. 

Over the course of the film we see them clash. Henry is trying, for unclear reasons, to promote the younger and half retarded son, John, while Eleanor is promoting Richard, who dislikes her. All three of the sons want to be king and so form alliances against each other or try to make them with Philip.

“The Lion in Winter” was adapted from a stage play and it shows. It is very dialogue heavy and relies on long scenes in a very few sets. My copy did not have subtitles which turned out to be a problem as you need to catch every sentence for this movie to make sense (Turning the volume very loud solved that problem) and for a while I was confused what the conflicts were actually about. In this sense it has a lot in common with “Who is Afraid of Virginia Wolf” (with a dash of “Games of Thrones”) in that the movie is a jousting match on words, especially between Henry and Eleanor with politics, personal emotions, rage, bitterness and affection thrown around with abandon. In fact, I could see this being an attempt of redoing “Who is Afraid of Virginia Wolf?” in a medieval setting, but, I think with less success. “The Lion in Winter” feels more staged and the arguments more contrived. I often had a difficult time understanding why the pendulum is swinging in a certain direction and why it swings back again. People would come out from behind a curtain and nobody would be surprised they were there. Henry and Eleanor are supposed to appear smug with their intrigues, but it often appears like the schemes never really materialize or are less impressive when carried out.

What largely saves the movie is the stellar cast. This is a lot more than Katherine Hepburn. Peter O’Toole is good and Anthony Hopkins and Timothy Dalton (the later James Bond) both had their breakthrough with this movie. Of the lead characters only Hepburn were not British and I think that lent authenticity to the story.

The story itself is an odd mix of actual history and free fantasy. All the characters were actual people and the contention was indeed real, but a Christmas party like the one described here apparently never took place, though it could have, given the conflicts brewing. As the story, as it unfolds, does not resolve anything, everybody ends up just as pitted against each other as in the beginning, so these events could have been shoehorned in without changing the actual, later events.

Richard would later become King Richard the Lionheart and John, we all know king John from Robin Hood.

I think it was a good movie, but not as satisfying as I would have hoped. Filmed theater can be problematic. I would recommend it though for the rare collection of stellar actors.

Thursday 22 August 2019

David Holzman's Diary (1968)

David Holzman's Diary
“David Holzman’s Diary” is a small movie that is more interesting than it is good and that I respect more than I like.

David Holzman is a young man in New York who got fired from his job and instead sets out to do a movie diary of his life, filming the minutiae of his world with his 16 mm camera and tape recorder. Problem is that David is not a very interesting person and his life is, well, pretty empty. He films his girlfriend, which is by far his greatest asset, and she does not like it. No wonder. He films her when she is private, when naked or sleeping and who wants to be exposed like that? Soon she leaves him and then he starts to stalk her.

He also stalks his neighbors, whom he takes a tremendous interest in, and he films random people on the street, usually without asking them first. Most of his shot are uninteresting, underscoring the fact that he has nothing really to film, and sometimes it is just David himself, raving in front of the camera about nothing.

The most interesting shot is one of his friend Pepe, who explains to him that this film is a very bad idea, that David’s life in not the basis for anything interesting and as an art project it is doomed. This comes up fairly early in the film and turns out to be prophetic.

The film ends, not with some climactic resolution or clarity or anything like that, but because David’s camera gets stolen. Yeah, that is the end to that movie. No camera, no movie.

The kicker here is that this is NOT the movie diary of a looser guy in New York, but an acted film. The guy is not David Holzman, but an actor called L.M. Kit Carson and the film was directed by an artist called Jim McBride. It’s a surprise when you learn this because everything screams an amateur with a camera and then it turns out that this is just made to look like that, a mockumentary thirty years before that became cool. In that sense it is hugely successful and brilliantly crafted. I was actually convinced this was for real until I read the synopsis.

The question then is why? Why make a movie about a guy making a movie about his worthless life. A movie that itself says that this is a stupid and useless idea in the first place? It is it just meta gone bananas?

From the snippets I have caught it is a criticism of the cinema-verité concept. That the objective is to film reality because only in reality you can find truth. This is not reality but pretending to be reality and truth it uncovers is that there is nothing there. The truth is an empty and uninteresting ideal and it does it so successful that that in itself becomes interesting.


I think “David Holzman’s Diary” works very well as an art project, but not as well as an entertaining movie. It is dull and pointless-seeming and David himself is the kind of guy I feel like kicking. Pretentious and entitled, but nothing to show for it, he is just a jerk. As a concept though and the point it tries to drive home is so far ahead of its time. I cannot help thinking of how many people use Facebook or Instagram for similar purposes and what about this blog? Am I not trying to share with the world my not particularly interesting project of watching a ton of old movies?

Food for thought…

I do appreciate you reading this though. If you got this far it cannot be that bad.


Monday 19 August 2019

The Producers (1968)

Forår for Hitler
“The Producers” is a movie I have been looking forward to re-watch for a long time. It must have been more than 20, probably more like 30, years since I saw it last and, as these things go, it had grown to a level that it could really only disappoint me. I hate to say it, but I was not as impressed with this movie as I thought I would be.

The idea is marvelous though. A dilatant of a theater producer raises money for his productions by courting little old ladies when he get the brilliant idea, through his accountant, that if he raises a lot of money and set up disaster show, he could shut it down right away and leave with the money since nobody would expect to see any of them again. So, he sets up a terrible show by a Nazi called “Springtime for Hitler”, directed by a prima-donna disaster director. This could not go wrong except it does.

I chuckle just writing this synopsis. It is so ridiculously funny a plot.

The trouble is the execution. It is just a bit over the top. The jokes are just a bit too drawn out. The acting is just a bit too much towards the camera. Ahh, but it is so close!

The producer is Max Bialystock played by Zero Mostel, who having been blacklisted made most on his career on the theater. That is quite evident in the film as his acting is always very theatrical and very vocal. The accountant is Leo Bloom, Gene Wilder’s breakthrough as a comedian. He is, well, the same character he played throughout his career, the hysterically scared geek. Neither of them really hit it with me.

I know I am a bit hard on the movie and probably it deserves better. Its just that the first time I actually laughed was when Max and Leo went to visit Roger De Bris (great name!, played by Christopher Hewett) and are received by the priceless Carmen Ghia (Andreas Voutsinas). That is pretty much halfway through the movie. From here however the movie does pick up and the show itself is exactly as outrageous as we could have imagined. There is a very nice reference to the old Busby Berkeley musicals when we see the dancers from above forming a giant rotating swastika.

What of course “saves” the show (and condemns Leo and Max) is that Hitler is played by the acidhead L.S.D. (Dick Shawn) who makes Hitler a laughable hippie. That is ridiculously funny. In fact I would much rather like to watch the actual show “Springtime for Hitler”, I just love the idea, but I am given so very little of it. It is the best part of the movie.

Kenneth Mars’ Franz Liebkind, the crazy, Nazi writer of the play is another example of a very funny idea that just gets a notch too much. Going around in his coal scuttle helmet he looks the part, but I just do not entirely buy him as a mentally disturbed Nazi. He is a little too sweet…

Mel Brooks went on to make a lot of movies and some of them I do remember fondly. I just hope, as they appear on the List, I will not again have too high expectations for them. Maybe I should sit down and watch “The Producers” again and just take it for what it is.



Wednesday 14 August 2019

Memories of Underdevelopment (Memorias de Subdesarollo) (1968)

Minder fra underudviklingen
“Memorias del Subdesarrollo” (Memories of Underdevelopment) is a very difficult movie to describe, mostly because I still have not entirely found out what the point of the movie is. That is not necessarily a bad thing, it is an interesting movie to watch, but I am still contemplating what it is I have been watching.

Central to the movie is Sergio (Sergio Corrieri), a 38-year-old business man turned writer. When the revolutionaries took control in Cuba his wife and friends went to America, but Sergio for some reason stayed in Havana. I am not entirely certain why and I get the feeling that neither is he. Now alone he pursues a bohemian life, tries to write something, lives off the rent and spends a lot of time thinking about women and Cuba. Cuban women. Politics and underdevelopment. Underdevelopment women…

These are parallel tracks that mingle with each other, always with Sergio as narrator. Sometimes arrogant, commenting from an aloof position, even physically from his penthouse apartment, sometime more sympathetic in attempts to actually understand women and his country. Is he contributing in either area or is he just a passive observer, a tourist?

I feel the movie tries to tell the story of Cuba after the revolution with the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the missile crisis and in between the struggle of this new system, but from his point of with the portrait becoming detached and less patriotic than would have been expected, as if he is not real Cuban.

There is also this strange fascination with underdevelopment as if Cuba is an infirm and retarded patient, an inherent state that haunts the country. To me though, it is a way for Sergio to distance himself from the world around him, allowing him to be cynical.

Sergio’s relation to women is entirely parallel to this. He finds Elena (Daisy Granados), a young and naïve girl, that he feels vastly superior to. He tries to school her and model her into something “better”. This she resists and when he realizes that he is not getting anywhere with her he ditches he. She is hopeless. To the underdeveloped there is no progress. In the case of Elena there is the backlash that he gets charged with rape and ruin of a minor, which is also how the country reacts to him.

So, I guess this is the point, somewhere in those relations.

Technically the movie consists of documentary clips and fiction. There is no clear chronology and a lot of jumps and monologues. This ensures that the movie is never boring, but it can also get confusing to be without a clear narrative.

I would not say that the topics were super interesting. It gets very academic and theoretical at times as communist dialectic is an odd and confusing set of arguments, but something about the scenery and the filming kept me interested throughout and I think I got a lot more out of it than I honestly thought I would.

I am not sure “Memories of Underdevelopment” is for everybody and it takes some time to settle, but I am still glad to have watched it.


Saturday 10 August 2019

Olsen-banden (1968)

Off-List: Olsen-banden
The second off-List movie of 1968 is a classic Danish movie. This was the year where one of the most successful Danish franchises got started, the Olsen-banden franchise (The Olsen Gang) and the first installment was simply called Olsen-banden. I suppose at that time the producers had no idea this would become a major franchise.

I do not know if these movies were ever released in any form in English speaking countries, but in Scandinavia and Germany they found a very large audience, so large that a total of 14 movies were made. Legend has it that these were some of the only western movies allowed in Eastern Germany because the authorities there thought there was an inherent critique of the capitalistic system in them.

In this first movie a lot of the standard tropes are established. The gang consists of three members. Egon Olsen (Ove Sprogøe) is the leader and master mind. Egon always has a plan and it is always brilliant and ridiculously complicated. Benny (Morten Grunwald) is the fixer. The lanky man always has a trick or two up his sleeve, though not always thought through. Finally, Keld (Poul Bundgaard) is a heavyset, small man, prone to crying and always placed in difficult situations. He is also heavily under the thumb of Yvonne (Kirsten Walther), a very vocal and not too smart woman.

The plan Egon has concocted is to steal a very valuable German art artifact, currently being displayed in Denmark. It is very well protected, but with the plan perfectly executed Olsen-banden runs away with it. This is however the point where thing usually goes wrong for the gang. On the way to the airport their getaway car runs out of gas and is taken into custody by the traffic police because there are a million things wrong with it, so the gang now has to break into the police parking lot to steal back the artifact. This happens a few times, they lose the item, win it back and lose it again. Always by ridiculous coincidences and that is part of the fun.

Most of what is fun about watching these movies is already included in this first movie: Yvonne getting her tantrums, Egon going crazy, the police being hopelessly incompetent and Egon’s insane schemes. It also went places that were later abandoned. There are a number of naughty girls, some nudity and using pornography as a joke to make people flustered. This was very modern at the time, pornography having just been legalized in Denmark, but was abandoned already from the second movie, giving those movies the most general rating. I think that was a wise decision. The Olsen-banden movies are for the entire family, but probably not this first movie.

I grew up with these movies, but have mostly watched the later episodes. It was fun watching the first installment (Copenhagen looked so quaint back then), though while I can warmly recommend trying your hands on this franchise, I would suggest starting with a later episode. They can be watched independently and usually do not reference each other.

Last year I managed to get a box-set of all 14 movies, and as a movie was released each following year it is likely I will review more of them later on. In a thin year I can always fall back on Olsen-banden.

Skide godt, Egon!


Tuesday 6 August 2019

If.... (1968)

School rebellion movies was a fixture of the seventies and eighties. I recall watching a ton of them. Usually something about students getting back at their teachers or, more typically, a repressive system. I suppose it worked. When I went to school in the eighties our school system was anything but repressive.

One of the earliest would have been “If…” but that is not actually true. “If…” was a remake of “Zero de Conduite” from the thirties. However, “If…” was triggered by the counter culture movement in the second half of the sixties and initiated a new generation of these movies rooted in this rebellion against the established system.

The concept is simple enough. A group of students do not fit into the rigid school system and instead of making room for them, the system is bent on beating them square to fit in. But youth is irrepressible so instead of bending, the students are pushed into some sort of rebellion.

In the case of “If…” the system is the very traditional British boarding school system and the students are a small group lead by Travis (Malcolm McDowell). The rebellion is a fantasy of what the students would want to do: Stealing a motorcycle, making out with a pretty girl and going on a killing spree against teachers and parents.

I expected this movie to be dull and preachy or alternatively as chaotic as “Zero de Conduite” was, but it was neither. In fact, I had difficulty letting it go. This was in large part because of how real the characters feel. It would be so easy to draw them one-dimensionally but Lindsay Anderson, the director created multidimensional characters that look and feel like real people. It is also a point in favor that this boarding school is so heaped in traditions and patina that it is simply interesting to look at. Everything about it is completely anachronistic and hopelessly unfit to deal with the future, yet, I have this nagging feeling that it is by no means atypical, at least back in ’68.

It is an interesting angle that the rebellion is solely in the boys’ heads, that there is no way they could perform an actual rebellion, except in the small details. Yet, the fantasy blends seamlessly with reality and it often takes a moment or two before I realize that we have just gone into fantasyland.

However, I also feel uncomfortable watching “If…”. The reality today is different from ’68. Today I watch this movie on a backdrop of school shootings, so what may have felt like a fun fantasy of rebellion in ’68 is today a horrific reality. Terrifyingly many young people have taken that step from fantasy to reality and actually gone out to execute their rebellion in the form of mass slaughter. I am quite certain that this would have been too sensitive a scenario to be used today.

Being what it is, though, “If…” is the archetypical school rebellion movie and worth watching for that reason if for nothing else. The other assets are just bonuses to that. It is a shame they had to mix color film with black and white film, apparently for budget reasons, because it gives the movie an unfinished appearance, but I would still recommend watching it.