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Sunday, 26 September 2021

Every Little Thing I Adore About 'The Innocents'...

This post was inspired by (and warmly stolen from) Alex Withrow at the wonderful ‘And So It Begins’. Check out his takes here.

As we’re about to see- from the moment I hit play on The Innocents I knew it would creep up into my heart. Truthfully I’ve failed to really hunt down director Jack Clayton’s other work which is criminal considering this is the finest directed ghost story ever told- and I’d put that above ‘The Shining’ too.

There’s a subtle psyology that elevates Clayton’s tale beyond so many other similar films- but it’s his daring, innovative and fiendishly intoxicating creative risks that take it from top-tier spook to one of the finest films in what might be the cinema’s greatest decade so far.

Sunday, 8 August 2021

Every Little Thing I Adore About 'High & Low'...

This post was inspired by (and warmly stolen from) Alex Withrow at the wonderful ‘And So It Begins’. Check out his takes here.

When I first saw it, High & Low is one of the few films in my life that has genuinely knocked the life out of me. Back at the tail-end of High School I’d done some work experience at the BFI Southbank and, in all honesty, used and abused their staff discounts to pick up as many must-sees as possible.

In spite of my blossoming love for Kurosawa at the time, High & Low must have sat on my shelf unopened for almost two years before it finally clicked one hazy afternoon. Back then nobody I knew had seen it and the director’s fans oft dismissed it in favour of his more famous works. As of today, I think this sleeping giant is his masterpiece...

Saturday, 31 July 2021

Every Little Thing I Adore About 'Pale Flower'...

This post was inspired by (and warmly stolen from) Alex Withrow at the wonderful ‘And So It Begins’. Check out his takes here.

I first saw Masahiro Shinoda’s ‘Pale Flower’ while I was writing for a website called The Cinemaholic, after I’d finally been given carte-blanche to choose whatever topic I wanted and boldly (and incredibly foolishly) decided to tackle the ‘100 Greatest Japanese Films of All Time’.

There’s not a country on this planet as richly blessed in the cinematic arts as Japan. Not even France, or America. In the ashes of the Second World War a nation rocked to the core (perhaps by its own actions as much as anyone else’s) spiralled into a cinematic renaissance that is, frankly, still yet to cease.

And from the murky depths of early 60s malaise, entrenched in the blossoming wonder of their own New Wave Movement, a genre picture maker named Masahiro Shinoda with more of an eye than most and more to him that anyone’s ever properly given credit for pre-dated the American crime film explosion of the 1970s in one film alone. If they only knew.

Monday, 26 July 2021

Every Little Thing I Adore About 'Woman in the Dunes'...

This post was inspired by (and warmly stolen from) Alex Withrow at the wonderful ‘And So It Begins’. Check out his takes here.

I first saw Hiroshi Teshigahara’s ‘Woman in the Dunes’ early into my first year of college, buried somewhere amidst the treasure trove of world cinema classics YouTube were (knowingly or not) hawking at that time. It immediately struck me as something special but similar to Harakiri I actually found finishing the picture a real challenge. It’s a Gordian knot of Sisyphean black magic I found exhausting on the first few attempts.

Flash forward to now and there’s sometimes a saying between artists, painfully amateur or immortally profound, that they wish they’d made someone else’s work. ‘Woman in the Dunes’ is my movie.

 

Sunday, 18 July 2021

Every Little Thing I Adore About 'Letter Never Sent'...

This post was inspired by (and warmly stolen from) Alex Withrow at the wonderful ‘And So It Begins’. Check out his takes here.

I first saw Letter Never Sent as I’m sure many people have: As the afterthought sandwiched between director Mikhail Kalatozov’s infinitely more lauded ‘The Cranes are Flying’ and ‘I Am Cuba’.

The former is the only Soviet film to have ever won the Palme d’Or- and one of mother Russia’s most cherished pieces of cinema. The latter is loved the world over for its revelatory camerawork and incensed celebration (and criticism) of life in the buzzing heart of the New World. Then there’s Letter Never Sent, a comparably miniscule tale of four researchers sent out into the Siberian tundra to hunt for diamond deposits. And frankly: Films this fucking good sometimes they feel like they were custom-built to be forgotten…


Sunday, 11 July 2021

Every Little Thing I Adore About 'La Jetée'...

This post was inspired by (and warmly stolen from) Alex Withrow at the wonderful ‘And So It Begins’. Check out his takes here.

Seeing La Jetée for the first time is one of a select few film-watching experiences I’ll never forget. I blind bought a DVD knowing the plot, the photomontage schtick- young and green enough to let my expectations drive (and usually ruin) a lot of movies.

Frankly I was a hell of a lot more excited to flick over to the other side of the DVD- which had Marker’s sublime ‘Sans Soleil’ just waiting to go- so I did what I never do and emerged from the inky recesses of a teenage room that seriously needed airing to watch it out in the open on the family TV. And for almost thirty minutes it felt like I’d left my fucking body.

There are no words for how much this film ever so quietly means to me, as you’ll see below, but I promise to try…

Monday, 5 July 2021

Every Little Thing I Adore About 'Yellow Sky'...

This post was inspired by (and warmly stolen from) Alex Withrow at the wonderful ‘And So It Begins’. Check out his takes here.

Yellow Sky is a film I discovered, fell in love with, and was then quickly heartbroken by when I found out how few had also experienced its black-hearted treasures.

Director William A Wellman has slipped into the sand of time, with only the C-list ‘Classic’ status of his magnum opus, ‘The Ox-Bow Incident’, curling a finger from the dark- and anyone familiar with the bitterly iconoclastic gems lurking in the bleak corners of his oeuvre knows that simply will not do…

Saturday, 26 June 2021

Every Little Thing I Adore About 'Johnny Guitar'...

This post was inspired by (and warmly stolen from) Alex Withrow at the wonderful ‘And So It Begins’. Check out his takes here.

From the first moment I saw Johnny Guitar, in the early hours of some abandoned night out in my second year of university, it had me. Its one-liner fusillade of a screenplay that’s cleverer than it seem- its gloriously lengthy opening sequence totally comfortable in its own sense of time- and its larger-than-life characters all feeling smaller than we could possibly know.

Johnny Guitar was rejected by its native audience but adored across the pond in Europe, particularly by the French film critics who would go on to be the vanguard of the Nouvelle Vague- and while the film’s subtle cocktail of film poetry with a pulp punch was clearly influential, one of the things the New Wave-ers missed was its cracked, unshakable and utterly sincere heart…


Sunday, 20 June 2021

Every Little Thing I Adore About 'Wings of Desire'...

This post was inspired by (and warmly stolen from) Alex Withrow at the wonderful ‘And So It Begins’. Check out his takes here.

I first saw Wim Wenders’ wonderful film in my first semester of university, on the hunt through the Sight & Sound and They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They?’s best-of lists. In spite of its revolutionary style and irresistible sincerity, it took me watching it with my best friends a few years later to really get on the level with its magical flow.

Now- I’m almost certain this will bloom into one of my favourite films someday.

Every Little Thing I Adore About 'Harakiri'...

This post was inspired by (and warmly stolen from) Alex Withrow at the wonderful ‘And So It Begins’. Check out his takes here.

I first saw Harakiri in the early hours of the morning on YouTube, during my first term of college. A little like another contemporary Japanese classic, ‘Woman in the Dunes’, I fell under the spell of its meticulous direction but kept getting dragged out by the glacial grind of its pace.

It’s taken a few years to fall head over heels for this justly adored marvel- and I hope anyone seeing it for the first time can take some confidence in knowing the wait is worth it.

Sunday, 13 June 2021

Every Little Thing I Adore About 'The Texas Chain Saw Massacre'...

This post was inspired by (and warmly stolen from) Alex Withrow at the wonderful ‘And So It Begins’. Check out his takes here.

My history with ‘TCM’ stretches back to the end of high school, when I was a pussycat in more ways that one. Scared stiff of a smooth breeze, I wanted to gut-up and face my horror demons. So one night after school I lined up Halloween, The Exorcist and, finally, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

All of which are some of the finest-directed films in history, and since I’ve kept it so low-brow on this inaugural day of these kind of posts- why don’t we sit down and tackle one of the straight-up greatest films ever made?

Every Little Thing I Adore About 'Persona'...

This post was inspired by (and warmly stolen from) Alex Withrow at the wonderful ‘And So It Begins’. Check out his takes here.

I saw Persona early into my formative film years, likely the first December I was in college when I (foolishly) sat and watched about six Bergman films in one night. A little like 2001 back then my feelings towards it were very academic: I understood there was a lot to unpack, and relished the details- but there was no real emotional connection.

Where Kubrick’s film has only faded in my estimation into superficial cerebral guff, Persona plugs the depths of the human experience in a way few pieces of art could ever hope to match. Born of writer/director Ingmar Bergman’s own desperate depression, as well as isolation, it’s a work all too prescient for this state of lockdown…

Every Little Thing I Adore About 'Ugetsu Monogatari'...

This post was inspired by (and warmly stolen from) Alex Withrow at the wonderful ‘And So It Begins’. Check out his takes here.

My ‘journey’ with Ugetsu started when I was 16, just after the start of college. After a steady diet of classic British & American film since my parents sparked my love for cinema a few years earlier I’d dove headfirst into movies like ‘Bicycle Thieves’ and ‘The Seventh Seal’ thanks to their easy access on YouTube.

And it was Ugetsu that brought that giddy wave of magic crashing down. Back when I was still young enough to justify using the word ‘overrated’ it fronted the bill second to note- I never got it. And once every other year I’d go back to it and continue to wonder why.

Recently I saw it again, and perhaps out of the context of my own fresh pain it all clicked. I sprung into a love affair with its director, Kenji Mizoguchi, and hunted down all of his surviving films. He was a prolific artist, remains one of film’s greatest feminists and will always be the undisputed master of pain- and not in a Cenobite sense. See what I mean here…

Every Little Thing I Adore About 'Hiroshima, mon amour'...

This post, and what I hope will be a long line to follow it, are directly inspired by (and warmly stolen from) Alex Withrow of ‘And So It Begins’, which I’ve been reading for years and has been absolutely formative for my love of film. Here is a link of his own series of posts, which detail the tiny little loves in every great film perfectly.

On my own front, Hiroshima mon amour is a film I’ve had a little trouble tracing. I think I first saw it in 2017, my first year at university, as I was working through Sight & Sound’s Top 250 Films. It immediately struck me, and has stayed like a splinter in my heart ever since.

Years later, I can’t think of another film which inspires my own process more. I hope this helps explain why…


How sparing Resnais is with the opening credits. The man was a vibrant editor, as well as director, but here he chooses to show us just one image throughout.


Resnais directed one of the first, best documentaries about the holocaust in 1956, ‘Night & Fog’, so its little surprise his debut fiction film begins so fucking brutally: Two lovers entwined in one last embrace as nuclear ash slowly suffocates them.


I’ve long felt the best way to cut to the heart of how a character is feeling is to leave the audience alone with everything except their face.


The way all the adults are decapitated, or otherwise faceless, in these tracking shots in the museum detailing the destruction of the blast. We only see the faces of the children, and some of them look right at us.


The brutal circuity in Resnais’ imagery: This is the scalp of a victim caught in the blast- burnt almost down to bone. Notice how the scars trace away across his head, a little like the fragmented piece we saw in the opening credits. Resnais and his crew come back to this time and again, as if to show the force of nuclear trauma is scarred into the skin of the world all around the blast site.


The miniscule person walking through the scorched flat plain where a city use to be.


How unafraid the crew were to sew Marguerite Duras’ poetic ramblings into the seams of real footage from the aftermath of the blast. Her jagged, impressionistic dialogue makes perfect sense because really- what the fuck kind of sentence could you string together in the face of this?


Friendly reminder that Hiroshima mon amour is a ‘love story’.


The way we contrast a victim’s birth-deformed hand to the tender flesh of our French character, supposedly enduring all this pain by proxy. This is a film unafraid to reach out across the world, furious, and say: Your empathy will not fix this. Brave, given it was written and directed by the French.


Marguerite Duras was the first non-American woman to be nominated for an Oscar in writing for this screenplay. After HMA she launched her own criminally undersung directorial career, of which the glacial, piercing India Song is an absolute must.


jesus.


Contrasting this tiny little weed in the river to the branches of the city delta.


The first of many gorgeous crossfades; a technique that, along with zooming, seems to have been inexplicably bled of out modern style by clueless film schools.


How modern these shots mounted on the hood of a moving car feel. So fresh. Jean-Luc Goddard, who in my mind was a much more prescient critic than he ever was a director, called HMA “the first film without any cinematic references”. I’ve often felt Goddard got a lot more credit a year later for making a much less original film. ‘Breathless’ might have played around with pulp cinema like a kid with a matchbox, but HMA burnt the bleeding edge of avant-garde technique into a romance grounded in one of the world’s most haunting tragedies. Perhaps Goddard only got so much credit as an influence because Resnais film was simply inimitable…


Case in point: We just cut out of the film’s ground-breaking, documentary-inflected fifteen-minute opening montage to a simple conversation between lovers as naturally as breathing.


I love how openly Duras allows to talk, pulling herself apart and trying to stuff the shards of her own brutal past into the open wounds of the city. She and Resnais find such a gracefully disturbed flow for the melting pot of their memories- as if everything is allowed to exist all at once.


Something her new lover’s twitching hand brings us hurtling into.


For a film known in large part for its intuitive, time-shattering editing- Resnais is also perfectly comfortable sitting in a two-shot for a whole minute without a snip. Holding on something like this can really make you focus on a moment. Trying to save its beauty- or unable to escape its pain.


Again here: This is the last time both these people think they’re going to have with eachother. He tries to convince her to stay, and she tries not to listen. Resnais strands us in this shot for almost 3 minutes- and why not? For them- every second counts.


The way the background sound only slowly fades away as they talk in this scene. So many movies sit two people in a crowded space and turn the mix down on everything except their conversation and it seems like wasted potential when you could start it loud and slowly taper it down as their dialogue inches closer and closer towards intimacy, or vulnerability. Resnais does this profoundly a little later on.


There’s something so stagey about the lighting and angle of this shot that I love. I can almost feel the film crew right there, quietly denying them this fragile moment alone.


The harsh cut into a slow crossfade when we find out her ex-lover was a German soldier.


This gorgeous jump-cut from their conversation to her memory of Nevers, over a decade ago, that works so naturally because of Delerue & Fusco’s luminous score.


The way her memory of love needs no dialogue. It’s a merciful blip of purity in a film so tangled in their messy conversations.

The soft focus on her as he listens.


The way the far-off wide angles lend a paradoxical intimacy to these romantic flashes.

And yet we stand above her sexual experiences, almost perverse.


What I love so much about this fade is how it brutally reveals how she feels even when she’s asleep. What a ghoulish, terrible image.

The dazzling little details in the editing here: First the sky bleeds in above them, then the walls wash out around them. The last thing that fades away are their faces as their heads come together.

These beautiful cutaways setting up the atmosphere of the night that feel like Seurat shooting for Ozu.

The way this parallel tracking shot, from her point of view, mirrors one from his from the start of the movie. Everything- all at once.

How clearly Resnais loves his colleague Robert Bresson’s use of hands.

Even when there’s no crossfading, or multiple exposures, the compositions are so layered and expressive. I love the way the reflections from the glass in front of him sit behind his head.

The way She talks to Him as if he’s her German lover all throughout these memories, and he answers in kind.

What a brilliant piece of lighting.


This is it. My favourite shot in the film, perhaps all film. Its pretty, sure, but that’s not the point. Its easy to confuse beautiful shots with actual emotional impact. For the past few minutes these two have been talking, running deeper and deeper into the rabbithole of her past. The crickets purr, the other patrons in the café drink, talk and move around, the ambience is left to settle for some time. Then we cut out to this, just as her confessions reach their peak- and all the sound is gone. No more crickets- the bar is empty, just for them. Perfection.

Just in time to mention Emmanuelle Riva (who you may recognise from 2012’s Amour) gives an astonishing performance in this film.

This moment of pause Resnais allows the scene as life comes back into the place and a guy picks a record. We don’t know him, to most conventional cinematic ideas he’s a waste of time- but that’s just it. Time. I’ve not mentioned that this scene in the café goes on for 20 minutes. It’s a world unto itself- and this guy fiddling with a jukebox while we think about what we’ve just heard, and get ready for the next wave of emotion to rise from the characters, is exactly what all those conventions are strangling out of cinema: A living sense of time.

The way the light mutates all throughout this scene. The crew are already playing with reality, why not fuck the rules and mess with the moment to create any look you want? And just look at it!

The chilling voyeuristic touch of this shot. We’re crawling around inside her head, now.

How brave it feels for the film to confront the idea of citizens, victorious after the end of the war, torturing one of their own because she was in love with a German soldier. This whole sequence brings me back to the start of the movie- His denial of Her understanding of pain.

Just stunning. Just a quick reminder that neither of these lovers are given a name, which I think makes their time together all the more intimate.

The reflections of the river dancing over her face as she talks.

Friendly reminder this film wasn’t nominated for an Oscar in photography, and that doesn’t mean a fucking thing when it looks this good- over half a century later.

There’s something so dreamy and chilling about us hearing the swooning Japanese love long from the bar over memories of her midnight escape.

Something so bittersweet about this shot. The whole world on the other side of the glass. They’re free and trapped all at once.

Them battling through all that agony for a brief embrace, only for the lights of the bar to go out. Closing time. Such a mundane thing given such devastating context.

The choice to leave us alone with Him (and his city) after a whole scene digging into Her.

This wonderfully ‘Nouvelle Vague’ blocking.

How her features pass from blindingly bright to buried in darkness throughout this simple, otherwise mundane shot…

Then we come closer as she returns, as the light equals out…

The innocent, comfortable glow of her room…

And how clearly her shadow is stencilled when she refuses to go in. It’s such a simple, beautifully detailed moment of indecision we’ve all faced on a long night out when we find ourselves alone.

The way the car’s headlights wash past like a searchlight as she sits back outside the café, waiting for him. Reminds me of the chat Rick & Renault have outside in Casablanca.

The way we trade back and forth between Hiroshima and Nevers, shot for shot. No matter where you are in the world, places can start to feel the same.

This extreme low angle track.

Composition. Composition. Composition.

One day without his eyes and she dies, the young girl from Nevers, shameless young girl from Nevers. One day without his hands and she knows the pain of love. Silly little girl who died of love in Nevers.”

This old lady!

Always warmed my heart to know such a dizzyingly experimental film still had some love to spare for the screen’s definitive romance.

This slimy goon coming to sit with Her, speaking English.

Fun fact: Actor Eji Okada didn’t speak a word of French when the film went into production, so he had to learn the whole script phonetically. First off, his off-kilter delivery adds so much to the bruised atmosphere of the film. Second, what an amazing performance for someone who had no idea what they were saying.

The simplicity of the film’s penultimate scene. They just sit across the way from eachother as the sun comes up. Is this the end?

The way the music synchs with this push-in.

The way we cut to this shot exactly on beat. It’s such a bracing moment of clarity in a film where the music, while beautiful, often runs in its own odd time separate from the equally jarring editing.

And that’s it. After several ten minute scenes and a kaleidoscopic rush of memories with their limbs twisting into the death rattle of a lost city, we come down to a tiny exchange- almost facile. Their flat circle creeps right back to the start. I can think of no film that inspires me more than Hiroshima, mon amour. The freedom of its style, the clarity of its vision, the unapologetically honest dialogue and glowing empathy for both the main characters. A treasure.