Archive for June, 2008

You Only Live Once (1937)

“You Only Live Once” (1937)


a german in Hollywood

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This is from a time in which Fritz Lang still wanted (or thought he could) to go on making American films as he was doing them in Germany. We have a theme with social concerns, a useless attack on the morality of the system and prejudice. It’s vapid, and it’s superficial. Lang was good with manipulating images, with creating powerful scenery that could, by itself, pass a mood, usually an oppressive mood, maybe an advance of what nazism would become and symbolize to western civilization.

But here he has to submit to his new environment. In this moment in cinema history the differences Lang might have found were probably in the kind of effective control he lost over the choices in his films. This is an American film, more than an auteur film, and watching this means understanding this fact. The outcome, in this case, is a total mess, i think. There are only a few things worth watching, but even those can be found much better integrated, and thus much more powerful, in other films:

– one of those things is when we feel Lang was able to create visually. Here we have two particularly interesting moments: one is when Fonda is in a cage waiting for his execution moment to come. The cage is designed for the light to go through and produce the light we see. This is enhanced by the upper position Lang gives to his camera, as he liked to do, in order to give us the sensation of some outer/superior force controlling what’s beneath. The other moment is the fog with vultures walking undefined in the prison escape scene. As with the cage, it’s a moment of tension and importance in the unimportant plot. I suppose Lang, not being able to cover the whole film with his vision at least tried to hold these moments. These clips are worthwhile, but i’ve seen them in better contexts.

– the other thing worth watching is Fonda. Before Marlon Brando, he is one of the few who understood what was necessary for an actor to do in order to make a film work. He is very contained, but he walks, talks, and expresses in a way which is made for the camera, for the film. It’s a pleasure to watch him but again, there are better sources for us to understand his qualities

My opinion: 1/5

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The Woman in the Window (1944)

“The Woman in the Window” (1944)


weak image

*** This comment may contain spoilers ***

I’ve been spending time with Fritz Lang. Good time. I like him. But he disturbs me sometimes. He’s something of an incomplete master. While he was working in Germany, he was attached to expressionism. That meant he worried about creating images, or sequences that were so powerful they could get the viewer in touch with his own consciousness. In those German films he did that practically every film, rarely with an integrated vision, rarely with a perfect assembly of all the powerful elements he could convey. But he always created moments that lasted.

He had a social critic supporting his vision, and he explored characters, trying to bring out their depths. And he would hang all that in a powerful imagery, a vision. Images, basically. Here he does exactly the opposite. Here we have an image that generates a story. That could have been interesting, and indeed, as a concept, it is beautiful. But not well solved here.

This is made when Lang is already fully immersed in the American production context and more than that it is made in a time when the noir has already established most of its rules (the noir which was visually forged in the German 20’/30′ expressionism). This noticeable. Here he discards the social commentary (which was many times vapid, and only an excuse for the images). We do have some exploration of the limits/definitions of morality, but it’s secondary. Instead, the focus here is (tries to be) in the plot. We have the woman, the man, the detective and the body. We are raised all sorts of questions about the crime, and we analyse, first with the inapt murderer and than with the police all the possibilities, all the clues. But this is a failure. We don’t have doubts cast on the intentions of any of the characters. We know what happened, and except for how all will end, we know everything about every character. The woman has no secrets, she shows mysteriously under covered by an enigmatic image, but she really is what she says she is. The protagonist is a pawn in the game, but only due to his clumsiness, not because there’s a bigger game he doesn’t control. So, 3 years after ‘the Maltese falcon’, this narrative kind of construction was well studied.

And the image of the woman, or the context in which it shows, is not powerful enough… it doesn’t move us to another dimension as it should. it doesn’t take us to the dream, like it took Robinson…

My opinion: 2/5

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Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” (2008 )


sweet memories

It’s interesting to watch this kind of sequels, or prequels, of old, past heroes, classic films. It’s interesting, because we can make a balance of changes, what was and what is, changes in who created the films, in the viewers, and in myself.

I grew up watching over and over certain films (and certain types of films) which molded, to a larger or shorter extent, the film taste of my generation, generally speaking. These films included the old Indy films. They were new, they must have positively shocked the audiences of those days – i was born the year of the second film so i can’t evaluate how were things before; in fact i’m excessively attached to those films to be able to comment fairly on them, as films, just as my personal memory of them. But while than we had novel ideas, fresh creators getting into a new mood, new cinematic entertainment, now we have nothing of that, of course. Now we have the same group of creators, but without new things to give us. So they use their own personal memories of what they’ve done, and they use the tender relation between the audiences and the films – the target young public of the 80′ is still going to the movies this days, plus the younger generations, such as my own.

– So the product we have here is interesting to watch, despite its relatively poor value as a film or even as entertainment: in the last 20 years new things happened in cinema, new codes were implemented and accepted by the regular audiences. Die Hard, Lethal weapon, the influence of Bruce Lee’s fighting style in the occidental action films, or more recently the Bourne franchising, were all series that progressively changed what audiences expect from new films coming out. If you watch the whole Bond films, chronologically, you’ll find how those expectations changed throughout the years. This means that the fresh Indy films from the 80′ are classic films, extremely well done, but meanwhile, things were added to what was done there, and a ‘new’ Indy film cannot be as pleasant to current audiences than the old ones. Audiences changed.

– People involved also changed. Oh we have Spielberg, Lucas and Harrison Ford in the adventure. We even have Karen Allen, the original Indy lover, who closes the circle, and links generations, and the films. But they are no longer young. By now i think they were amusing themselves, and giving themselves the opportunity to revive old days, more than they were really trying to bring the best possible film out of the experience. That’s why we have all the references to the old Indy films: the initial warehouse, the Arc, Marion Ravenwood, indy’s father, marcus, the bike scene in the library (indy says exactly the opposite about how to be an archaeologist that what he had said in ‘last crusade’) and so on… Indy buffs will fill this list for you in detail. Apart from those, we have outer film references. This is interesting. Spielberg references the head of his 82 ET, the alien dead body looks for just a second really like the other. An interesting one is the Brando link: Mutt Williams is, of course, Brando from ‘the wild one’ the first time he shows on screen. That film is from 1953, this is supposed to take place in 1957. Also the café fighting took the fighting factions from 1984’s Coppola’s The Outsiders. So, instead of having a research on those days outfits, etc taken from reliable sources, we have the visual historical aspects taken from other films. It is well known that Indiana Jones, in its origin, was supposed to be an old fashioned hero, based on old adventure stories. So it was never rooted on life, rather on fantasy. I appreciated the coherence.

– For last, something that did change in the last 19 years was myself. I was ready Not to question certain things than that i may question now. Indiana Jones’ adventures were always about self sublimation, rooted in rather unreal stories, fictional, not historically supported. That was OK. I accepted that. Here i questioned things, i think i lost part of my innocence (faith?).

I should just mention that one thing really impressed me here, which was the camera work. Spielberg was also very skillful in the way he moves it and makes us find/follow/feel what he wants us to. Here I think he has moments of brilliance, some of them better than in the old films. The nuclear explosion bit was great in this, and the warehouse initial sequence as well.

My opinion: 3/5

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Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (1988)

“Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios” (1988 )


Dubbed intentions

Every true artist trusts, to more or less extent, in his intuition. There are those whose magic lies almost entirely in the choices they make out of intuition. It’s marvelous to be able to trust someone’s intuition (even more when our own intuition works). Than we have those who start over a rational basis, and only after creating a safe net on which they can trust do they put something of their deep feelings over it. I think this second definition suits the vast majority of creative minds. For a long time i thought Almodóvar belonged to the first kind of director. After seeing this film i definitely place him in the second kind. For an uninformed viewer, such as i was when i got into the world of Almodóvar’s films, he can look as if there was no specially recognizable structure underneath what you get. My recent viewings of some of his films convinced me otherwise, this one specially. This is a film in which (unlike his other films) the mechanics of the story has to do with how facts unfold. It’s comedy alright, and it builds a world of linked coincidences and facts that always come to be important, further in the story.

So we have a narrative made of coincidences, circular stories, and intersections. The first 5 or 6 minutes of the film (including the initial credits) are specially marvelous in the way we get to see this. We have a pop montage of magazine cuts, pieces of lives, faces, coloured bits. This introduces us to the pace of the film, which is frantic in comedy sense (this shows through the story, not the editing). Than we have an introduction to our central character, around which everything revolves: she dubs films, which means she lends her voice to other bodies. She was (we come to understand) the lover of a man who does the same. And we get a marvelous piece of film, in which we follow our voice off dubbing, and the film she is dubbing, already with the translated line. She is dubbing alone, the male voice is silent. This is exquisite work. A fantastic scene. It got me into the mood, i thought. This because we are deceived by this first scene. Next to this, it turns to a comedy environment (tracking American screwball comedies, this is assumed by Almodóvar).

The major cinematic concerns in every film by Pedro Almodóvar is on working narrative in ways that are new, seductive, and visual. All his films (specially those of the 80′) were pure experiments, completely different from the previous one. There, Pedro was more attached to a certain mood, a certain psychedelic way of living, certainly derived to his experience inside the Movida, Madrid’s underground of the 70′. Nevertheless he was already trying build new cinematic narrative forms. There is a certain aspect that happens in all of his films, despite the differences between them: he likes the idea of having actors whose characters perform. Actresses playing actresses, characters pretending to be something else. His narrative mood has really much to do with this. Here he is very intelligent in the depiction of this aspect. The first scene i mentioned establishes this, the mad mother who pretends to be sane in order to fulfill her madness does it, and the film has an unfolding moment in a scene where everybody is acting and lying to the police. Near the beginning, the mad woman (who pretends to live 20 years before her time) says to her father: “You lie so well, dad! That’s why i like you”. Almodóvar wrote the script…

The flaw here is that everything is mechanic. This development through circular coincidences, and a hidden plot that comes to unfold and reveal us the truth is not exactly in line with the best visual efforts of Almodóvar. I think he knows that, he even stated that this script was a lot easier to write than that of, for example, Kika (a lot more implicit in its narrative content). So, narratively, this IS Almodóvar, but not his best. But it has beautiful strokes, underlined intentions, and i will take those first minutes with me wherever i go.

My opinion: 4/5

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