This week’s film is Jim Jarmusch’s Permanent Vacation. Shot in 1980, this is the director’s debut film, marking the birth of his signature style.
The story takes place in 2 and a half days, following an unemployed young man who wonders around New York, meeting intriguing characters and searching for the meaning of life.
To be honest I had high expectations for this film, having seen the other Jarmusch masterpieces. Permanent Vacation is not Down By Law, but it’s a great debut film. You can distinguish the later on Jarmusch characteristics: music plays a great role (in fact Jarmusch co-wrote the film’s music), the characters are quite unique and corky and the story is being through monologues and random encounters, all in an urban set.
Casting wise, Chris Parker as Allie Parker stands out and the rest of the cast might not be that impressive, yet is supporting the story and the main character in an effective way.
After this first experiment with film, Jarmusch gained acceptance with films such as Stranger than Paradise, Down By Law, Dead Man, Coffee & Cigarettes and Broken Flowers and became one of the most influential artists of the last 30 years.
I have no desire to make films for any kind of specific audience. What I want to do is make films that... tell stories, but somehow in an new way, not in a predictable form, not in the usual manipulative way that films seem to on their audiences.
My Film Club
After studying Jarmusch’s debut, next week it's time for another great American filmmaker: David Lynch
Next week’s film: Inland Empire (2006)
Before the Walking Dead, 28 Days After and Zombieland, there was the film that started it all: The night of the living dead.
Released in 1968, it is considered one of the most influential horror films of its time. This film defined the horror genre and became an inspiration and influence for many horror film directors.
Shot in black and white in just seven months and with a really small budget, George Romero’s iconic film, managed to become a huge box office hit and start a whole new era in horror film making. Apart from the apparent shock that the film brought to the audience, it stood out for another reason: It was one of the first films where an African American actor was casted for the leading part, without that being a prerequisite on the script. Quite revolutionary for the time, especially given that the civil rights movement was at its peak.
The story starts with two siblings, Johnny and Barbra visiting their father’s grave. There, the attacks of the living dead begin. After Barbra is attacked and her brother is killed by the “ghoul”, she finds refuge in a farmhouse, where she meets Ben, also hiding from the creatures and another 5 people. They all hide there and try to defeat the mortal creatures.
The film’s effects might seem childish today, but the direction, montage and music of the film helps enhance the sense of danger, fear and agony.
It is very interesting, that despite the fact that the term “zombie” had already been introduced in cinema, Romero decides to refer to the creatures as "ghouls" or "living dead" or "those things".
In their previous appearances in cinema history (I Walked with a Zombie, 1943), zombies were never defined as flesh eating. It was this film that first established human flesh being the primary diet of zombies.
George A. Romero saw very little profit from the film when thanks to his lack of knowledge regarding distribution deals, the distributors walked away with practically all of the profits.
My Film Club
While this week we discovered a classic horror film, next week it's all about the American Independent Cinema and the great Jim Jarmusch
Next Week's film: Permanent Vacation (1980)
This week’s film selection is Ingmar Bergman’s 1966 film Persona.
Let’s be honest: Bergman is not an easy director. I will be frank and say that apart from The Seventh Seal, I hadn’t really watched any of his other films. Until Persona.
It’s not easy to review such a film. The story, the direction, the cinematography, all of this film’s elements have a story of their own. Even from the opening credits – which are to my opinion homage to Bunuel’s cinematic Surrealism- you are sucked into Bergman’s world…
The story is about a young nurse named Alma (Bibi Andersson) and her patient, a famous actress named Elisabet Vogler (Liv Ullman), who has suffered a mental crisis and refuses to speak. The nurse takes care of the actress and develops a strange relationship with her that is between dream and reality and seems to merge her identity with Elisabeth’s.
It seems though that there is more to than just their identities merging. As I interpreted the film, Alma and Elisabet are two versions of the same character and the film captures this mental straggle. Of course one can interpret the story in many ways. Apart from the complex story and its many meanings, Bergman offers an amazing cinematography that is enhanced by the lack of colors, the intense editing and the overall direction, that seem to match the mental alterations of the two leading ladies.
Persona is considered one of the major works of the 20th century by essayists and critics. In Sight and Sound’s 2012 Greatest Films Poll it comes in at 17th in the critics poll (tied with Akira Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai") and 13th in the directors poll. It won the award for Best Film at the 4th Guldbagge Awards and it was Sweden's entry to the 39th Academy Award category for Best Foreign Film.
My Film Club
Week #8’s film was a bit… heavy, so next week we are going to keep it simple with the film that started a whole genre of horror films…
Next week’s film: Night of the Living Dead (1968)
The story behind the film
One flew over the cuckoo’s nest is based on a Broadway play, which is based on the same titled book. The story about making this film starts 12 years before it was shot, in 1963 when Kirk Douglas was starring at the Broadway play. Douglas bought the film rights and intended to also star in the film. While touring in Eastern European countries on behalf of the state department, he met Milos Forman who he found ideal to direct the film. He gained Forman’s attention to the project and promised to send him the book, once returning to the States, which he did. But the director never received the novel. Ten years passed and the two men met again. Meanwhile, Forman had become famous worldwide with films such as “Black Peter”, “Loves of a Blonde” and “The Firemen’s Ball” and Douglas had continued his efforts to produce the film, but with no luck. As Douglas was no longer young enough to play the part, in 1971 he turned over the project to his eldest son, Michael. Without Michael knowing that his father had shown interest to Milos Forman directing the film, he later on approached him to take over the job. So, the project was back on and one of the greatest American films went into production.
Apart from Nicholson, who had already made a name in Hollywood and had already gained an Academy Award nomination and William Redfield who had already an active career, most of the cast are actors first appearing on the screen. Also, many of the extras are actual mental patients. In this film, we get to see Danny DeVito in his first major feature role, Christopher Lloyd and Brad Dourif in their first ever feature roles. Louise Fletcher might have had a series of roles before this film, but it was One flew over the cuckoo’s nest that built her career.
The film follows the admittance of R.P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), a small time criminal to a mental institution, and his influence to the patients’ daily life, as well as the relationship with the oppressive head nurse (Louise Fletcher).
One flew over the cuckoo’s nest deals with issues such as mental health, the health system, power and authority and human relationships. The actors’ magnificent performances and the director’s focus on detail make this film a historical treasure worthy of being studied in film schools.
Things you might not know
Things were not so great though during shooting. Legend has it that Nicholson and Forman had completely opposite opinions on how the narrative should play out and during production, they spoke to each other through the cinematographer, but faked a friendly relationship when the media and studio personnel would show up to the set.
Author Ken Kesey was so bitter about the way the filmmakers were "butchering" his story that he vowed never to watch the completed film and even sued the movie's producers because it wasn't shown from Chief Bromden's perspective (as the novel is). Years later, he claimed to be lying in bed flipping through TV channels when he settled onto a late-night movie that looked sort of interesting, only to realize after a few minutes that it was this film. He then changed channels.
The film won 5 Academy Awards in all 5 major categories: Best Film, Best Direction, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Adopted Screenplay. It broke a record that Capra’s film “It Happened one night” was holding since 1934. It also received 6 Golden Globes, 6 BAFTAs and another 13 awards.
My Film Club
Next week we will look into a film by one of the greatest directors: Ingmar Bergman’s Persona (1966)
Sources: IMDb, Universal (DVD extras) & HerDudeness-pedia
The Great Escape is a 1963 film, about the escape of Allied prisoners of war from a German camp during World War II, based on the true story of the mass escape, as narrated at the book The Great Escape by Paul Brickhill.
The film features many stars of the time: Steve McQueen, James Coburn, James Garner, Charles Bronson and Richard Attenborough among others.
What happens when you imprison several masters of escape and forgery at the same camp? Well, what anyone would expect: they try to escape. What is extraordinary about this (true) story is that the prisoners will attempt to escape all at the same time - all 250 of them.
The film follows the planning, the preparation and the attempt itself.
Despite the fact that this is a war film, the focus is mainly on the characters and how its individual skill and psychology, affect the progress of the plan.
Even though (spoiler alert) the attempt was not successful (at least not 100%), the feeling that the film brings out is that it’s all about spirit and hope. When Steve McQueen’s character is lead once more to the cooler (the camp’s prison), he immediately starts to play catch and throw inside his prison cell, as he did each time he was locked there, making the guard wonder how can he keep his cool after having his escape dreams crashed so many times. And this is how the film ends, showing us that it doesn’t matter if you lose a battle. You have to keep trying to win the war.
The film was nominated for Best film Editing at the 1964 Academy Awards, as well as for Best Picture-Drama at the same year’s Golden Globes.
It was one of the highest grossing films of 1963, earning $11,7M at the Box Office, having a budget of $4M.
My Film Club
Week #6 featured a great war film that had received an Academy Award nomination. Week #7, given it’s going to be the Oscar weekend, will feature a film that gained 5 Academy Awards
Next week’s film: One flew over the cuckoo’s nest (1975)
This week’s film is actually last week’s film…
Sorry for not posting last weekend, I hope I can make it up this weekend!
This film is Woman in the Dunes, a 1964 Japanese film by Hiroshi Teshigahara.
An insect collector from Tokyo, searches for insects living in sand dunes and finds himself in a strange situation. When missing the bus, he is invited to spend the night at a young widow’s house, which is located at the bottom of a sand quarry. The next morning he discovers that the ladder leading up has disappeared and that he is in fact kept captive, forced to help the widow every day, to the endless task of collecting the sand and give it to the other villagers sell to factories. The story is a clear reference to the myth of Sisiphus, the Greek king who the gods punished by torturing him to spend eternity rolling a rock to the top of a hill, only to see it roll back down.
One of the finest moments in Japanese cinema, Teshigahara does an amazing job in putting the viewers in the hero’s shoes and make them feel his frustration and anger. Apart from the great direction and cinematography, the amazing music by Tōru Takemitsu, acts as a character itself and makes the film even more imposing.
The film was very well accepted and awarded the Special Jury Prize in the 1964 Cannes Film Festival. It was also nominated for two Academy awards, Best Foreign Film and Best Director.
My Film Club
Week #5 was about a great Japanese film nominated for two Academy awards. Week #6 will feature another Academy award nominated film - how appropriate since we are getting closer to the big Oscar night!
Next week’s film: The Great Escape (1963)
This week’s film is Hitchcock’s The Birds, the 1963 thriller.
Well, no introductions needed for Sir Alfred Hitchcock. The Birds is the project that the director worked on right after his most famous film, Psycho.
It is based on the 1952 story "The Birds" by Daphne du Maurier and it was originally purchased for use on Alfred Hitchcock's television series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
The story is set in Bodega Bay, California, where suddenly and for unexplained reasons, a series of widespread and violent bird attacks occur. Tippi Hedren stars in her first feature role, along with Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Pleshette and a young Veronica Cartwright.
Before watching the film, I figured that decades of watching horror movies with serial killers, dead Japanese girls and a whole other bunch of supernatural forces, would have made me insensible enough to watch a 1963 film where the enemy is a flock of birds. Little did I know.
Well, the film is as thrilling as it was back in the day - Hitchcock has done such a remarkable work in scaring the bejesus out of his viewers!
Adding to the suspense and the horror, the film has no musical score - just the sounds of the birds and the children singing in the school. Also, the film has no ending credits, to make the film (and the terror) non ending. Hitchcock even went more far than that: When audiences left the film's UK premiere at the Odeon, Leicester Square, London, they were greeted by the sound of screeching and flapping birds from loudspeakers hidden in the trees to scare them further. Yikes...
The film turned out to be rather terrifying not only to viewers, but also to the cast and crew. For instance, the schoolhouse, in Bodega Bay, California, has also been known to be haunted, even back during the filming. According to Tippi Hedren, the entire cast was spooked to be there. She also mentioned how she had the feeling, while there, that "the building was immensely populated... but there was nobody there." When Hitchcock was told about the schoolhouse being haunted, according to Hedren, he was even more encouraged to film there.
Also, the leading lady suffered a lot, especially during shooting of the scene of the attack in the bedroom. She was shooting that particular scene for almost a week and after finishing, she ended up in the hospital out of exhaustion and with many cuts…
Overall, the film is superb, with amazing direction, cinematography and –yes- special effects (for the time). It takes you by surprise, how easily you can get caught up in the suspense and the agony that the characters experience! No wonder why he got the title “The master of suspense”…
My Film Club
Week #4 was about a beautiful old Hollywood thriller. Week #5, will be featuring another thriller, that was actually released a year after The Birds, yet is so utterly different…
Next week’s film: Woman in the Dunes (Suna no Onna)
This week’s film is La Strada (The Road), is a 1954 Italian drama directed by Federico Fellini.
La Strada, is considered the most personal film of the great maestro of Italian cinema. As Fellini said, it is "a complete catalogue of my entire mythological world, a dangerous representation of my identity that was undertaken with no precedent whatsoever."
A film with great difficulties during shooting, injuries, financial problems and finally, just before shooting was completed, Fellini suffered a nervous breakdown that needed medical treatment in order to complete principal photography.
Shot almost entirely outside, a genuine road movie, La Strada tells the tale of Gelsomina, played by Fellini’s wife Giulietta Masina, a young naïve woman who is forced to live on the road with Zampano (Anthony Quinn) a strongman who performs in villages, in order to make a living. Their encounter with his old rival, the Fool (Richard Basehart) causes their destruction.
Masina gives a fantastic performance, almost overshadowing the great Antony Quinn. She is truly the tragic character of Gelsomina. Funny but sad at the same time. A true comedian.
Fun Fact: A remarkable characteristic of the film, is the fact that two of the stars are non-Italian and actually do not speak a word of Italian! That was no problem though, as it was a common practice at the time to shoot the film with no sound. So the English speaking actors (Quinn and Basehart) were shooting the film speaking English and the rest Italian cast, in Italian.
La Strada is one of the most acknowledged films of all time. It won the first Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1956 and was placed fourth in the 1992 British Film Institute directors' list of cinema's top 10 films.
My Film Club
Week #3 featured the most personal film of the Great Maestro of Italian cinema. Week #4 will be about the master of suspense!
Next week’s film: Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds
This week’s film is a Sergei Eisenstein film. Battleship Potemkin is a 1925 silent film that presents a dramatized version of the mutiny that occurred in 1905 when the crew of the Russian battleship Potemkin rebelled against their officers of the Tsarist regime.
An artistic genius, Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein (1898-1948) is a one of the pioneers that set the way we watch cinema nowadays. His greatest contribution is the use of montage, a specific use of film editing. Believing that the new soviet cinema should be revolutionary in terms of both form and content, he experimented on the expressive potentials of film setting the foundation of cinematographic language, emphasizing on scenes editing. In 30 years (1924-1954) he directed only 8 films, two of them being left unfinished. He is noted in particular for his silent films Strike (1924), Battleship Potemkin (1925) and October: Ten Days That Shook the World (1927), as well as the historical epics Alexander Nevsky (1938) and Ivan the Terrible (1944, 1958).
He was only 28 years old when he shot Battleship Potemkin, his best known creation and the greatest achievement of the time in silent films, with masterly crowd scenes, as well as the infamous scene Odessa steps sequence, that are considered cinema classics.
A few years later and while having filmed “October: Ten Days That Shook the World”, his most experimental film, Eisenstein went to the West where he had the chance to encounter iconic cinematic personas, such as James Joyce, H. G. Wells, event Charlie Chaplin and Bertolt Brecht. In Hollywood, he experienced nothing but disappointment though, with the greatest being “Que Viva Mexico!”, a movie that despite the 70.000m length of film that was shot in Mexico, was never finished.
Returning in Russia in 1932, he faced a new order of things, the maximization of centralized power that was imposing with all means politics in the Art. While he remained active in cinema theoretically, by writing and teaching, as a director he remained silent, facing lots of problems with the country’s regime. His scripts were not approved and he was prohibited to finish his film “Bezhin Meadow”, because the film was about the very current topic at the time, collectivized economy. This is why he later on chose themes from the Russian History (Alexander Nevsky, Ivan The Terrible), that helped him continue his experimenting with cinema - this time, in terms of sound and image. Even so though, his issues with censorship were severe: while Joseph Stalin approved the first part of Ivan The Terrible, he banned the second part, where Eisenstein was portraying political conspiracies to conquer power (the third part was never shot).
He died in 1948, from a heart attack.
Let’s be clear about it: this film is a propaganda film. All the messages aim to promote certain aspects and ideas, leaving no choice to the viewer but accept without question what the film promotes. Regardless from that though, Battleship Potemkin is one of the most influential and pioneer films of all time.
It is remarkable to imagine that this film was shot in 1925, in just the beginning of cinema and features such revolutionary techniques and iconic scenes!
The most iconic scene of the film is the Odessa steps sequence, where we witness the magnitude of the director while portraying the massacre of civilians in the Odessa steps, introducing new techniques of film editing and montage.
In this dramatic scene, the soldiers march down the endless steps in a rhythmic, machine-like fashion, firing at the crowd. Another detachment of mounted Cossacks charges the crowd at the bottom of the stairs. The victims include an old woman, a young boy with his mother and a mother pushing an infant in a baby carriage that falls to the ground dying and the carriage rolls down the steps to the fleeing crowd.
The massacre on the steps, which never actually took place, was presumably inserted by Eisenstein for dramatic effect and to demonize the Imperial regime. It is, however, based on the fact that there were widespread demonstrations in the area, sparked off by the arrival of the Potemkin in Odessa Harbor.
The scene is perhaps the best example of Eisenstein's theory on montage, and many films pay homage to the scene, such as Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather and Brian De Palma's The Untouchables.
My Film Club
Week #2 featured a truly iconic film that set the ground for many other great films and creators. Week #3 will be.. Italiana!
Next week’s film: Federico Felini’s La Strada
This week’s selection is the classic film noir, Gilda. Gilda, was shot in 1946, in the heart of the film noir period.
Before discussing Gilda, let’s look into the genre of film noirs. Historically the classic film noirs were shot from the early 1940s to 1958 (The Maltese Falcon by John Huston 1941 – Touch of Evil by Orson Welles 1958) and by definition these films dealt with the dark underworld of the American society, crime, betrayal and desire.
In all film noirs, the man is usually detached from the rest of society, while the woman is bizarre, eccentric, but powerful and by default a smoker. She is devious, a femme fatal that captures her victims. She is an obstacle to the man’s desires and ambitions and his success depends on whether he can overcome her scheming.
A characteristic of these films is the claustrophobic environment: the interior scenes are shot in narrow spaces, to emphasize the entrapment that the hero is experiencing. There are bizarre edited scenes (sharp shadows and lights affect the faces and the objects, making them more pompous and compelling) and constant changes from close ups to distant shots. And of course, depth of field, with scenes full of objects, making the viewer unable to chose where to focus: on the objects, the characters or the dialogue - a characteristic that came from Citizen Kane (1941). The outside scenes are shot at night, with rainy weather.
It might seem strange but I had never seen Gilda, at least the entire film. I have had it in my film collection for years but it so happened that I had never watched it. I was really looking forward to finally watching it, as it held a special place in my heart. My late grandmother had actually seen Gilda when it was first screened! It might not seem something to you, but for me, hearing that my quiet grandma, was such a cinema lover and her telling me after so many years about Gilda, it made me think that passion for cinema must have been running in the family for generations.
Gilda is a legendary film, quoted and used in various films: from The Shawshank Redemption to Notting Hill. It is a fine example of a film noir and of the power of a leading lady, as Rita Hayworth, who is undoubtedly the reason that the film is so iconic.
Using most of the techniques of the genre, this is the story of small time American gambler, Johnny, who finds himself in Argentina, only to be rescued by an illegal casino owner who takes him under his “protection” by making him work for him. The boss later on marries the femme fatal Gilda, who as we all understand from the first scene that she appears, apart from the fact that she is deadly gorgeous, she has history with Johnny. That’s when things get complicated. A love triangle similar to that in Casablanca, but to my opinion lacking the chemistry that Bogart and Bergman had – despite the rumors of the time that Hayworth and her co-star Glenn Ford were something more than plain co-stars…
It is funny watching a 1946 film noir and trying to detach yourself from the way you think of cinema in 2014… It is hard not to consider such a film corny or plain, but thinking of the era (right after the second world war), the way society was at the time and the “place” of a woman in the world, you can understand better the characters and the way the environment is portrayed. Given those parameters, we may say that the film was even provocative, especially with such scenes as the iconic clothed striptease…
Gilda was the film that made Rita Hayworth a legend and a sex symbol, although this is a title that she was never comfortable with. After all, she was famously quoted as saying “Men went to bed with Gilda and woke up with me”….
My Film Club
So, that was week and film #1. Starting with a film noir and an iconic leading lady, next week I have scheduled something more… heavy, political and Russian.
Next week’s film: Battleship Potemkin
Ever since I first set foot on a cinema theatre, I knew that something magical was happening there....