Sunday, 25 June 2017

Ugetsu Monogatari & Sansho the Bailiff

Of all my cinematic regrets, few measure up to the bitterness I feel in being utterly detached from the filmography of Keji Mizoguchi. Revered as perhaps Japan’s finest master, that title often bearing a sentiment that undermines the ‘over-stylisation’ of Akira Kurosawa in favor of a more disciplined cinematic method- I have failed to find the Greatness in a single one of his films. From main-body classics like The Life of Oharu, Story of the Late Chrysanthemums, 47 Ronin, Street of Shame and many others, I am left lost as to his supposed genius. In a last-ditch effort to grasp the inspiring work of Kenji Mizoguchi, I re-watched his masterpieces. 1953’s Ugetsu Monogatari and ‘54’s Sansho the Bailiff. I saw both for the first time about 3 years ago, the former gentling nestling a place among the latter end of my Favorite movies for its freshness. Ugetsu was one of the very first Japanese movies I ever saw, along with Rashomon, and its magical elements enamored me beyond any bluntness in technique at that time. On the other hand, the hotly anticipated Sansho the Bailiff washed away after 2 hours with only regret in its wake. A film that in theory I should absolutely adore felt devoid of life and ultimately unengaging to the point of tedium.

The question underlying this story of cinematic disappointment is: Has there been a change? Growing personally and critically, do Ugetsu and Sansho click with me now in a way they never could years ago. Is it still too soon, or is this tantalizing event horizon of realization I so desperately aspire to never coming to pass? We shall see…

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

A Separation

The enticing morality play of a husband and wife, Simin and Nader, whom cause the miscarriage of their hired carer and struggle to balance it among a neat little collective of contemporary dramas, A Separation is my first Asghar Farhadi film and will undoubtedly be far from my last; If only because I expect the promise of this man's greatness repaid. As it stands, my first outing with Farhadi rewarded me with a dull, dragging piece of work that I failed to engage with in any way. Jumping into the drama of Simin and Nader, as the opening scene swiftly dives into a heated divorce meeting- only serves to establish their situation and told me very little about the people they were. Farhadi seemed satisfied with that though, as few moments in the remaining 2 hours of screen-time lent any more light on their personalities bar what the plot demanded they say and do. 

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Director Retrospectives: Theo Angelopoulos

Theodorous Angelopoulos' was a cinema of singular moments. His work is quiet, unassuming, tragic and human- not in every moment exciting but always engaging. Where Tarkovsky's films are worldly and Bergman's are human- Angelopoulos' are both; and what's more they manage to tread that fatally fine line between tragedy and comedy with a charming warmth a lot of European cinema simply fails to capture for someone native to that part of the world. 

What also fascinates me about the man's strong 13-film body of work is his distinct playfulness. A lot of people associate breaking the fourth wall with contemporary directors, for which they can be labelled anything from stylish and creative to infantile and irritating. Its been done back as far as The Great Train Robbery in 1903 and famously at the end of The 400 Blows in 1959- but who could have guessed that a frighteningly niche Greek 'art-house' director infamous for laborious long takes and even longer running-times would so consistently and ingeniously decide to shatter the fourth wall- appealing directly to his audience in a far more subtle and subdued way than modern examples seem to prove possible. Its a method that really has to be seen to be appreciated so if you do decide to dive into the man's work keep an eye out for his ever-evolving visual sense of humor. 

At the same time, Angel ranks amidst the likes of David Lynch and Luis Buñuel as one of the screen's finest surrealists. Where this artist differs from his collages, however, is that his style is so understated that many of the strange moments in his movies are able to feel almost entirely organic- truer to the original principle of the surreal than either aforementioned director. Your reading of a scene as normal or ever so slightly bizarre speaks of the effective nuance Angelopoulos is able to fill his images with and makes for a cavalcade of delightfully "surreal?" scenes. 

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Sight & Sound 2012's 250

As of January this year, I vowed to finish off Sight & Sound’s 2012 list of the “Top 250 Films Ever Made”. Today I did- finally watching the last episode of Berlin Alexanderplatz.

For those looking to skim through this selection for only the titles most worthy of their attention- I’ve separated the choices down into the good, the bad and the essential offbeat movies. Enjoy.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

The Travelling Players

Legendary Grecian director Theo Angelopoulos’ The Travelling Players (O Thiassos in its native tongue) is the slice-of-life story of a troupe of travelling musicians on the road around their country from 1939 to 1952. It runs at a whopping 3 hours and 42 minutes and is comprised solely of long takes- all that time spent in just eighty shots. Yet despite this intimidating length and particular style Angelopoulos’ film forges an incomparably compelling visual language through careful shifts of the camera and a near constant flow of movement in both cinematography and action which keeps the eye constantly engaged without ever becoming tiresome. The absence of narrative could also be a problem however, as you shall discover, its endless arsenal of masterful scenes prevent that from ever becoming an issue…

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

70s Reviews: The Godfather Part I + II

In art, there is nothing more vile or regrettable than dispassion. We can fuel the fires of both love and hate as easily as Harry Powell can brand them on his fingers but notice there is no third hand. We can neither throttle or caress the middle ground because it escapes us. It taunts us: Every movie ever made has adoring fans, vehement critics and those who are simply indifferent about it, longing to find a natural avenue into either camp. I’ve seen The Godfather Part I & II three times now; this most recent one yesterday on the big screen in its original 35mm print; in the hopes of finally reversing my distaste for director Francis Ford Coppola’s endlessly acclaimed works. The result…?