Saturday, January 03, 2009

Go Ahead, Make My Year

Lucifer Rising (1981), dir. Kenneth Anger; image © Fantoma Films

One thing I'd like to do more of in the new year is fill some gaps with directors whose work I haven't explored much, or only in a skewed way, or not at all. Without leaving myself entirely to my own devices, I'd love to solicit your opinions. I'll (mostly) name the directors, and you tell me what to rent. I'll see where consensus starts to build, and hopefully I'll get around to these titles sometime in the next twelve months. What do you say?

KENNETH ANGER - I saw lots of his stuff, but quite a while ago, and I missed a few of the later, purportedly even crazier films. What should I revisit or look at next?

SHARUNAS BARTAS - Has anyone run into the work of this Lithuanian endurance-tester? Got any tips?

YOUSSEF CHAHINE - The Siskel Film Center is showing a lot of the late Egyptian master's work this month. Besides the Alexandra films, what's essential?

CARL-THEODOR DREYER - If we set aside Vampyr and Joan of Arc, what impresses you most in his filmography?

CLINT EASTWOOD - Are Bird, White Hunter, Black Heart, and A Perfect World as great as they say? Are any of those late '90s and early '00s policiers worth catching up with? How about Pale Rider or Heartbreak Ridge? I've got holes to fill and a mind to make up.

BARBARA HAMMER - A pioneer of feminist and queer filmmaking, but I haven't paid her the full attention she deserves. Guide me!

EMIR KUSTURICA - Haven't even dipped a toe, and he's a major world figure. Who's got a favorite?

ANTHONY MANN - Revered by many, but I haven't seen a frame. Where to start? Is Winchester '73 too obvious?

JEAN-PIERRE MELVILLE - I've been sitting out of the whole recent resurgence in his work, but the shame and the curiosity are building. Tell me what I have to see first, or what I can put off till later. Will it matter if I'm not a huge noir guy?

VINCENTE MINNELLI - Every time I see one of his, it changes my impression of him, and I love the generic diversity. I've seen: Meet Me in St. Louis, Yolanda and the Thief, An American in Paris, The Band Wagon, Tea and Sympathy, Gigi, Some Came Running, and On a Clear Day... I'm most curious about The Bad and the Beautiful and Two Weeks in Another Town, but am happy to take other cues.

KENJI MIZOGUCHI - Where to go next if I was floored by Sanshô?

YASUJIRO OZU - I'm embarrassed to say that I've only seen Tokyo Story, and I have missed two public presentations of The Story of the Late Chrysanthemums. Where should I start bettering myself?

MICHAEL POWELL (and EMERIC PRESSBURGER) - Tilda will never date me if I don't get my act together a little better. Fans seem to have different favorites. What's yours? I've seen The Edge of the World, Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes, and Peeping Tom, and I liked them all. I Know Where I'm Going, A Matter of Life and Death, and Colonel Blimp are screaming for attention, but is there a preferred order here?

SATYAJIT RAY - I need to finish the Apu trilogy, but then, where next? I'm tempted by The Music Room.

ROBERTO ROSSELLINI - Some great stuff bowing soon on DVD from Criterion and Eclipse, but what's your favorite Rossellini film?

OUSMANE SEMBENE - I am gaga for Xala and quite wild about Mandabi. Who has a favorite Sembene film?

FRANÇOIS TRUFFAUT - Sometimes I get it (400 Blows, Shoot the Piano Player, Stolen Kisses), sometimes I totally don't (Jules et Jim). Day for Night is pleasant, but I almost prefer the choked and flawed but kind of bravely cold The Green Room. I saw Adèle H. a hundred years ago. Is this helping you pick a next title for me to screen?

FREDERICK WISEMAN - Not fabulously treated by DVD, but I'll grab what I can find. What's most essential here?

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Blogger CanadianKen said...

Happy New Year, Nick! And may your 2009 viewing include:

Above all, THE PIRATE(1948) and
the two Fred Astaire-Lucille Bremer sequences in ZIEGFELD FOLLIES(1946)
The earlier poverty row
(1945) with Erich von
Stroheim, Mary Beth Hughes
& Dan Duryea is also fun
which is sans Pressburger
which is with
(1949) is my favorite
but you don't want to miss

may be tough to track down but the others are all pretty easy to find on DVD.
As always, looking forward to
another year of your amazing

11:35 PM, January 03, 2009  
Blogger tim r said...

What delights you have in store. I can't help with all of these, but here are a few personal notes:


Make a bee-line for the tremendous Day of Wrath.


I have some time for White Hunter, Black Heart, not much for A Perfect World, almost none for Heartbreak Ridge, but these are all fairly distant viewing experiences. I'd suggest going back further, actually, to High Plains Drifter, Play Misty for Me, and The Outlaw Josey Wales, even though none of them generically seem to scream out their credentials as Films Nick Will Flip For.

Among the late-nineties stuff, I wouldn't bother with True Crime, or with Absolute Power unless you're in a Judy Davis kind of mood. Blood Work is minor, but not bad, and does show signs of him gearing up for that serious Mystic River comeback. I enjoyed Space Cowboys more than any of these, mainly for the ensemble.


I'm a huge fan as you may know. I'd actually bypass Winchester for the time being and pick The Naked Spur as your first port of call. If you don't like that, you won't like his movies, period. Man of the West is the real masterpiece, though I appreciate we may be heading into forbidding Searchers-ish territory here. I haven't seen the 40s noirs like T-Men, but I'm dying to.


It may matter that you're not a noir devotee, but plunge right in with Le cercle rouge, then Le Samuraï. Both pretty awesome if you ask me -- though I'm not the world's biggest Delon fan, the former has an amazing performance from Yves Montand, which should get you hooked.


You're doing much better than me. The Bad and the Beautiful is fun, if a little obvious.


I can only help with The Life of Oharu, but it's pretty unbeatable.


Please see them all and tell me which to see. I've tried with Floating Weeds and Early Summer (I think), though it may have been Late Spring or Floating Crysanthemums or Very Early Autumn with Other Flowers, I'm not sure. Yes, I have a serious Ozu blind spot, and not even Tokyo Story has yet fixed it -- it's in the Règle de jeu category of sublime masterpieces that just don't do it for me.


Matter then Blimp then IKWIG!. Or switch the last two if you want to break up the biggies with the (lovely) curio.


Not seen enough, but I did like Days and Nights in the Forest. It's like a good, Indian Règle de jeu! Kind of.


We're on the same page with Jules et Jim vs your other picks. I have a proper leftfield recommendation with Anne and Muriel, if you can possibly find it. You may remember it from my top 100 -- it's quite wonderful, and the video cover alone is guaranteed to make you want to see it:


Not seen nothing -- pass on your recommendations!

4:05 AM, January 04, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Floating Weeds!!! That is one of my absolutely favorites. Definitely check that one out, along with Ugetsu for Mizoguchi (although I just realized that CanadianKen beat me to the punch with both of these so...I guess this post is pretty much pointless).

I'll be interested to see what you think of Eastwood's work. After hearing multiple major critics laud Eastwood as the greatest working American director, I looked on IMDB at all the things he'd done in the past and wondered, "Did they all completely forget the endless films they thought were just OK?" Perhaps Eastwood was just asleep at the wheel. Hm... I'm so lost on that guy.

5:30 AM, January 04, 2009  
Blogger Philip Concannon said...

Hi Nick

Here are a few tips, I hope they're helpful.

Dreyer – Both Day of Wrath and Ordet are utterly magnificent, although nothing quite matches the transcendental power of Joan of Arc.

Eastwood – I think Bird and A Perfect World are both fine films, but his much of his mid-to-late 90's work was pretty conventional, and his greatest work as a director was done in the Western genre. Unforgiven is a masterpiece, but first you should check out his complex, gripping 70's films like High Plains Drifter or The Outlaw Josey Wales. Play Misty for Me is also a strong debut.

Anthony Mann – Yep, Winchester 73 is a good place to start. The Furies, Bend of the River and The Naked Spur should be high on your list too.

Melville – I envy you having the opportunity to experience Melville for the first time! A love of noir might help you have a lot of fun with Le Cercle rouge or Bob le flambeur, but it's by no means essential for most of Melville's films. Army of Shadows is one of the greatest films ever made, Le Samouraï is masterful, and his first film as a director, Le Silence de la Mer, is excellent.

Mizoguchi – I'd recommend Gion bayashi, Ugetsu monogatari, The Lady from Musashino and The Life of Oharu. To be honest, I've loved all of the Mizoguchi films I've seen, and if you really like his work, then I can also recommend the films of Mikio Naruse, a number of whose films have recently been released on DVD for the first time.

Powell and Pressburger – I'd say Colonel Blimp is the film on your list that you really should see next, although you won't go far wrong with either of those three – they are all close to perfect. Afterwards, why not try their visually dazzling 1951 opera The Tales of Hoffman?

5:57 AM, January 04, 2009  
Blogger goatdog said...

Eastwood: I agree that you should head further back into his 1970s stuff; The Outlaw Josey Wales is one of my favorites. But A Perfect World is great.

Mann: You don't like Westerns or noirs, so I can't imagine you'll find much to love here, but next weekend at Bank of America Cinema I'm told they're showing one of his weirder films, The Black Book (aka Reign of Terror), a sort of noirish costume drama set during the French Revolution. Otherwise, Winchester '73 is the place to go for Westerns and Border Incident or Raw Deal is a good place for the noirs.

Melville: I haven't been as impressed as I'm told I should be.

Minnelli: The Pirate! I thought The Bad and the Beautiful was pretty blah, although Gloria Grahame is as great as you've heard.

Ozu: I'm similarly lost; they're doing a prewar Ozu series on Sundays at Doc this semester. Care to join me for some?

Truffaut: Why am I the only person who loves Jules et Jim?

9:12 AM, January 04, 2009  
Blogger Guy Lodge said...

So many treats ahead! I wish I could see some of these for the first time again… I can’t wait to become old and demented, whereupon I can visit everything anew.

YOUSSEF CHAHINE: I recommend “Destiny,” which sags and creaks in many places, but there’s an awful lot of beauty and eccentricity between the cracks. It’s part MGM musical, part De Mille cornfest, part glacial third-world art film … surely you want to see it?

CLINT EASTWOOD: “A Perfect World” is actually my favourite Eastwood film, though I wouldn’t necessarily submit it as his best. It has a truly great lost performance from Kevin Costner which really has to be seen to be believed. I rather like “Pale Rider” too. (After “Gran Torino,” however, I’m declaring a moratorium on Clint Eastwood in general for about a year, or however long it takes until his Mandela film has disappeared too.)

KUSTURICA: Easy… “When Father Went Away On Business.” (For the love of God, don’t start with “Underground” -- is there a more forgotten Palme d’Or winner in recent history? -- or “Black Cat, White Cat.”)

ANTHONY MANN: “The Fall of the Roman Empire” may look ghastly, but it’s actually terribly underrated. (It’s also worth seeing to compare Christopher Plummer’s take on Commodus with that of Joaquin Phoenix … Plummer wins.)

MINNELLI: Your instincts are right on “The Bad and the Beautiful,” but “Lust for Life” is one of the small handful of artist-biopics that actually make an effort to reflect the beauty of the art in question. It’s lovely. In a minor key, “The Clock” and “The Reluctant Debutante” merit a look too.

POWELL AND PRESSBURGER: Of the three you list, “A Matter of Life and Death” is, I think, the most essential, but I have more affection for “The Thief of Baghdad.” There’s also “The Small Back Room,” but really, any P&P film is worth the time.

SATYAJIT RAY: I’m partial to “The Chess Players.”

ROSSELLINI: I love “Paisan” most, though I’m not sure whether my affection is increased or diminished by my smug satisfaction in having called the obvious influence of the film on “Gomorrah” -- which Matteo Garrone promptly confirmed in our interview. Anyway, great film.

TRUFFAUT: Difficult to tell which ones you’ve seen, but away from the over-exposed, I particularly like two glassy films that no one else does, “Fahrenheit 451” and “The Last Metro”.

6:24 PM, January 04, 2009  
Blogger Glenn Dunks said...

I thought I was the only one who didn't like Jules et Jim!

7:27 AM, January 05, 2009  
Blogger Ed Howard said...

ANGER: Everything is great, but Scorpio Rising is the best and most substantial, while Eaux d'artifice, Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, Puce Moment, and Lucifer Rising are fantastic eye/brain candy.

KUSTURICA: I love the epic, sprawling, totally batshit crazy Underworld.

MANN: Probably my favorite director of Westerns, so obviously I'd say that his entire Western cycle is worthwhile (and his noirs are cool too, particularly Raw Deal). But The Man From Laramie is the pinnacle of his achievement, followed closely by Naked Spur and Man of the West.

MELVILLE: Le samourai, of course, especially if you like Jarmusch's Ghost Dog.

OZU: Another director where nearly everything is great. I'd especially recommend Equinox Flower, Late Spring, and Early Summer.

8:09 AM, January 05, 2009  
Blogger General Urko said...

Ozu - My two absolute favorites are LATE SPRING and THE FLAVOR OF GREEN TEA OVER RICE. Unfortunately I don't think the latter is available on DVD (or even VHS). FLOATING WEEDS and EQUINOX FLOWER are also great, and, while not his best, GOOD MORNING is a lot of fun.

Dreyer - DAY OF WRATH is my favorite but ORDETT and GERTRUDE are also terrific.

Melville - If you're wary of the noir films, watch ARMY OF SHADOWS. Actually, it might be his best film anyway.

Mizoguchi - UGETSU is one of my all time favorite films. LIFE OF OHARU and STREET OF SHAME are also great. LATE CHRYSANTHEMUMS (this is a Mizoguchi film not an Ozu film, FYI) is also interesting although I only saw it once on an unbelievably bad VHS dub.

Rossellini - GERMANY YEAR ZERO floored me. VOYAGE IN ITALY roughed me up pretty good too.

3:57 PM, January 05, 2009  
Blogger Dame James said...

Oh boy, what a joy to head over here and see other people who weren't blown away by Jules et Jim. I consider myself a Truffaut fanatic but I just didn't get the big deal about the film (and here I thought it was just me!). As for recommendations, how about his imitation-Hitchcock Mississippi Mermaid, which I dismissed at first but for some reason really stuck in my head or The Wild Child, his clinical, scientific exploration of a child who was raised by wolves and learns to become a human.

6:56 PM, January 05, 2009  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

i'm not crazy about Jules et Jim either. In fact, it had me wondering what the fuss re: Jeanne Moreau was about until I saw BAY OF ANGELS and then i totally understood.

7:13 AM, January 06, 2009  
Blogger Sid said...

Ray - You should follow up The Apu Trilogy with Charulata -- it's possibly even better than the trilogy and Ray himself considered it his finest work.

1:03 PM, January 06, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eastwood: Those crime dramas (of which he's directed more than westerns) are probably more for the hardcore Eastwood buffs than more casual viewers, especially the ones late 90's/early 00'. They aren't great in the Oscar-bait type of way, but they all have some great moments. True Crime has some supporting actress work that Stinky Lulu would like; Lisa Gay Hamilton would be most obvious, but Diane Venora get a lot of mileage out of the scorned wife, and Hattie Winston has a knockout scene. (One of my favorite things about Eastwood is that you don't always know who give these kinds of scenes to) Unfortunately, she has a second scene that's borderline embarrassing.

As for some of his other work, White Hunter, Black Heart and A Perfect World, are both masterpieces in my opinion. Pale Rider is--in terms of the lead character--an extension of the characters in the Leone Westerns and in High Plains Drifter, as well as a variation on the story in Shane. But I think it's light years ahead of George Stevens's overwrought mess.

Mann: Not extremely well-versed in his work, but I've been trying to catch up. His French-revolution film, Reign of Terror (aka Black Book) lapsed into public domain and as a result the only DVD I've ever seen looked like a fifth generation VHS. Border Incident is a very good noir, a cut above any other film noir I've seen from 1949. Winchester '73 I'm not crazy about, mainly because I saw it around the same time I saw his two other (better) movies from 1950: The Furies and (best of all), Devil's Doorway. The Naked Spur is very good, and very accessible; I agree with whomever said that if you don't like it, you probably won't like his other films. The Man From Laramie is probably his masterpiece, and I also have a lot of affection for those 60's epics.

7:05 PM, January 06, 2009  
Blogger tim r said...

I'm wondering if I should give A Perfect World another try. As I say, it's such a long time since I saw it, and so many people on here seem to revere it. I remember liking Costner but finding it overstretched -- doesn't it make a rather too emphatic case for what a great guy and male role model he is, for a criminal? There seemed to be a lot of standard Eastwood machismo and didactic morality worked in, with some good craft, admittedly. As I say though, this is a rather harsh verdict given that it's 10+ years since I saw it.

I remember White Hunter, Black Heart much more vividly, and I really like the book, also.

Somehow I've never gotten round to seeing The Man From Laramie. Must rectify.

7:18 AM, January 07, 2009  

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