The Youssef Chahine Podcast No. 29: Dawn of a New Day (Youssef Chahine, 1964)

 

Richard Layne and I return with a discussion of Dawn of a New Day, one of Chahine’s best. It echoes Sirk once more and has traces of An Affair to Remember and European Art Cinema like Antonioni’s La notte (1961) or Fellini’s La dolce vita (1960) whilst remaining very much a popular melodrama about love which is also a commentary on the state of the nation and its future. A very beautiful film and so accessible it’s a real pity it’s not part of the current Netflix package.

Richard and I discuss the very beautiful cinematography by Abdel Aziz Fahmy, and I’ve provided some image capture below to give you a taste of it:

We also discuss the extent to which Chahine deploys Sirk, his style is a kind of vernacular through which Chahine expresses himself whilst also offering a visual analysis which would not be made in prose criticism until a decade later.

Richard and I also discuss melodrama, and how the abandonment of the child lingers over the last part and offers a critique which would be absent had the focus been solely on the love affair. I include it below though sadly without sub-titles.

 

 

Richard has also provided the following links which some of you may want to pursue and which I will add to as i come across them:

Colour in Silk Stockings

The palette and colour scheme of Silk Stockings laid out from the very beginning of the film, in the credits: subtle, muted, original, gorgeous. The opposite of the use of primaries in the vibrant ‘glorious’ technicolour then prevalent. Shown to every advantage in the new Warners Archive video.

Followed the screening with Catherine Grant’s great ‘Fated to be Mated: An Architectural Promenade’, which everyone loved. You can see it here:

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 277 – News of the World

Why this film was made… is rather beyond us. News of the World invokes the era of fake news in name only, its premise – following the Civil War, a former Confederate captain travels the American south reading out newspapers for a living – interesting in principle but almost entirely ignored in favour of a by-the-numbers, surrogate father-daughter road movie. Paul Greengrass’ direction, eschewing the style and energy that made him famous, is barely an impersonation of that of classic Westerns, full of landscapes and sunsets, signifying nothing; Tom Hanks is as tediously noble and upstanding as ever, his character’s supposedly shady past alluded to rather than detailed, allowing us to feel pleased for his redemption without ever having to dislike him for what he needs to be redeemed for. Helena Zengel, the German youngster who plays Hanks’ mysterious companion, is a highlight, a presence you can’t take your eyes off – though her character is as thinly sketched as everything else.

News of the World is bad, but not offensively so. It’s an unending stampede of clichés and tropes, unthinkingly employed and uncreatively executed. We don’t like to advise people stay away from films, but if this is next on your list, we assume you have already seen every other film ever made.

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 276 – The Birdcage

Mike Nichols and Elaine May, whose partnership in the 50s and 60s helped define American comedy, collaborate on a film for the first time in 1996, as director and screenwriter respectively, giving us a comedy so sharp and outrageous that José’s laughter made Mike miss half the dialogue. An adaptation of the French farce, La Cage aux FollesThe Birdcage sees Robin Williams’ South Beach drag club owner, Armand, attempt to force his life into the closet for one night, for the sake of his son, Val, whose deeply conservative in-laws are set to visit for dinner. But Nathan Lane’s flamboyant Albert, Armand’s longtime partner, is unable, and at first unwilling, to participate in the subterfuge as requested, and chaos ensues.

The Birdcage relies heavily on stereotypes – it’s not only theatrical but a farce, in which everything is heightened – and though they’re enjoyably insane in themselves, the film’s brilliance is in how it reveals the real people within them, people whose love and pain are rendered sensitively and richly, through the truly genius performances from Williams and Lane, which work together beautifully while in two different registers, the former internal, the latter external. José suggests that the film’s outlook, despite embodying so vividly a pro-gay message, is nonetheless normative of a certain kind of structure of love, the only difference between the film’s two families being that the mother in one is male – and even then, Albert is occasionally referred to as Armand’s wife and Val’s mother. He even, at one particularly stressful moment early on, claims that he is a woman. (“You’re not a woman”, replies Armand, to which Albert cries, “You bastard!”) But although this could be suggestive of a trans identity, and the drag club certainly houses trans people, 1996 is a little early for such complexity – publicly coming out as gay, never mind trans, was still rare, shocking, and even dangerous.

There’s a lot more to discuss, including the portrayals of Gene Hackman’s conservative, scandal-embroiled senator, Hank Azaria’s Guatemalan houseboy, and Val, who Mike thinks is a bit mean and smug, and Mike Nichols’ overall filmography, which José has been considering of late, having been reading his recently released biography by Mark Harris. The Birdcage sits high among his oeuvre, for José, and it’s not hard to see why – he’s literally never laughed as much in his life.

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Rocky changes outfits in Rocky IV

Rocky IV is almost ten years after the original Rocky. But it could be world apart. The style of filmmaking is completely different. The High Concept pitch might well have been: Rocky IV High Concept pitch: America smashes the Soviet Union in five high-energy MTV montages plus lots of flesh on display, a little bit of heart, and lots and lots of room for product placement. There’s much to say, not least in relation to the nod to Gorbachov in the final bout. But I will here limit myself to noting that Sylvester Stallone is at least as narcissistic as any old-fashioned Hollywood diva, and since he directs himself, has more scope to reveal it. Certainly, as you can see below, he changes clothes or ‘looks’ more often than even Marlene Dietrich at her dressiest, though perhaps to lesser effect. The product placement is sometimes in your face, sometimes more subliminal:

Rocky III gifs

Boxing might be mistaken for disco dancing:

 

Sly, full 80s, as if styled by Olivia Newton-John ,in full-on Let’s Get Physical gear, also from Rocky III

 I made the disco comments because the whole thing is so much about the celebration of the built up body, about power too, but mainly about looks. This is boxing under a glitter ball with the main celebration being the body built body rather than the fight.

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 275 – The Garment Jungle

A pro-union, pulpy noir in 1957, not long after the House Un-American Activities Committee was at its height, is nothing to be sniffed at, even if its stance is to align union interests with business, and blame most of the bad things that happen on organised crime. The Garment Jungle dramatises the infiltration of the mob into New York’s Garment District with arguably surprising elegance, particularly considering its shaky production in which the first director, Robert Aldrich, was fired and replaced with Vincent Sherman. We discuss its significant use of location filming, implied – or otherwise – moral failings of its characters, Robert Loggia’s driven union organiser, the lack of quality of its dialogue and acting, and what appeal there is in it today, beyond an academic interest in the period. It has, after all, been lovingly restored as part of Columbia Noir #1, a six-film boxset – but we’re glad it has.

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 274 – Citadel

John Smith’s 16-minute short, Citadel, gives voice to the City of London – Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s voice, specifically. Filmed during the first few months of lockdown in 2020, it builds an oppositional portrait of British life under Johnson’s blustery leadership – it’s Boris Johnson vs. the British people, and the City vs. the British people.

But in tying Johnson to the City, it ignores his shockingly unsympathetic stance, for a Tory leader, towards business – summed up succinctly in his overheard comment June 2018: “Fuck business“. Late on, it depicts the British public as lambs to the slaughter as Johnson decrees they must return to work, but while Smith employs a soundtrack of outdoor construction, the homes he is able to show us are suggestive of the middle class, their inhabitants likely able to work from home.

Still, Smith only has so much to work with, stuck at home as he is, and Citadel is an evocative and concise film, cleverly conceived, shot, and edited. Its simplifications are small in comparison to the pleasures of its imagery, wit and tone. A treat.

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

A note on ‘Two Weeks in Another Town’

I’ve just seen Vincente Minnelli’s Two Weeks in Another Town (1962) in the lovely Warner Archive version. The film is an adaptation of Irwin Shaw’s novel, produced by John Houseman and filmed by Milton Krasner. There is much to enjoy: it’s knowing look at filmmakers and filmmaking; at the industry and the art; its connection of art to orgies; it’s melodramatic excesses; it’s self-referentiality , particularly in relation to Minnelli’s The Bad and The Beautiful (1952); its documentation of Cineccita and the Via Veneto in the Hollywood-on-the Tiber period. But all of this has been much written about already and I here just want to point out a few things that caught my eye:

To a cinephile, one of the most enticing aspects of the film is to see how films were made in the period: the cranes, the lights, the creation of rain, the script, the screening rooms, the editing rooms, the Steenbeks, the way cameras were hooded to protect them against the rain (see Gallery below).

 

Cyd Charisse, aside from wearing a diamond ring as big as the Ritz and a rivière of diamonds like nothing you’ve ever seen except on British royalty, wears Balenciaga throughout. Balenciaga also dressed Kay Kendall in The Reluctant Debutante for Minnelli in 1958 and it made me wonder if there was a special connection between the director and the couturier.

Cyd Charisse’s nightgown matches her bedding. How standard was this practice in Hollywood filmmaking of the period? Was there a house style and a period practice that made this a dominant or is this exceptional and Minnellian?

The orgy scene in the film is very understated, only suggested but absolutely clear. It would make for an interesting comparison between Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960), which it is clearly referencing, and the opening sequence of Paolo Sorrentino’s La Grande Bellezza (2013)

The film has very subtle use of Mirrors to enhance space but also to symbolise:

Minnelli creates beautiful compositions:

that break up the Cinemascope frame, often through a central focus, like the coffee pot in the dubbing studio here:

he attempts to create depth of field through staging in space as in here:

Milton Krasner, who had previously photographed Home from the Hill (1960), Bells Are Ringing(1960), The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse (1962) for Minnelli, does a superbly varied job here bringing in a whole array of lighting strategies, including, as you can see below, noir:

The film contains archetypal Minnelli themes: the connection between fantasy and reality, internal turmoil and external expression, the value of art in release and communication, form leading to and creating human connection:

or the connection of the half-human/ half-mythological creature to the character played by Cyd Charisse, her destructive allure rendered mythological through the Griffin-type statue.

I was quite struck with the technology, as in this image, where in the background the waves, clearly back projected are in constant movement, where the fisherman, although they occasionally do move, are still for so long they seem a 19th century shadow play:

the film is marred by the constant referencing of Minnelli’s previous The Bad and the Beautiful, also produced by John Houseman and starring Kirk Douglas, as a work of art. It seems arrogant and self-congratulatory.

and it is cited not only directly as here, but also with a rhyming nervous breakdown in a car as you can see here:

 

this is the sequence with Lana Turner in The Bad and the Beautiful that it is clearly referencing:

Lastly,

I wonder if Lillian Burns, MGM acting teacher and wife of George Sidney, taught Cyd Charisse how to pull back her head and laugh. In other words is this a tick common in all the MGM female stars of this period or is Ava Gardner being referenced in Cyd’s performance. I wager on the latter. Though on second thought, isn’t this a signature gesture for Rita Hayworth in Gilda also?

José Arroyo

A note on ‘Good News’ (Charles Walters, 1947)

 

Last night’s viewing: eye-popping colour; leads who can neither sing nor dance but who nonetheless imbue the whole show with verve and charm;June Allyson at her prettiest; The film that made Mel Tormé — billed as The Velvet Fog of Radio and Recording Fame in the trailer — a teen idol; Big Band 40s doing Roaring Twenties in a college setting is its own particular delight and Chuck Walters brings joyous movement to the choreography AND to the mise-en-scene. Not the Freed Unit’s best but after the Varsity Drag Number and the film’s ending, I felt like applauding. Gorgeous Warners Archive print.

Here’ a clip of Mel Tormé singing ‘The Best Things in Live Are Free’ and giving them ideas during their French Lesson:

José Arroyo

José Arroyo in Conversation with Fiona Cox on ‘It’s a Sin’

 

A discussion between friends, informed but informal, eager for exchange and hoping to contribute to a discussion, practically unedited. We probably missed many reference points but as soon as we stopped talking I realised the most obvious one is 120 BPM. You can nonetheless follow up discussions on that truly great film here:

A Conversation with Adam Carver on 120 BPM

and here:

Eavesdropping at the Movies 62 – 120 BPM

 

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 273 – Suzaki Paradise: Akashingō

A young, destitute couple seek survival and stability in Yuzo Kawashima’s 1956 drama, Suzaki Paradise: Akashingō (in English, this subtitle is given as Red Light, or Red Light District). Tsutae and Yoshiji spend their last few yen on a bus to anywhere, ending up on the outskirts of Tokyo’s red light district, separated from it only by an ominous bridge that is spoken of by the locals as though fearful, dreaded, even mythical. They take to their new home differently: Tsutae easily finds work as a waitress at a bar, comfortable for reasons that become clear; Yoshiji, a former office worker, has trouble adjusting, and, though it’s not put into words as such, spends much of the film depressed.

We discuss the portrayal of Tokyo’s unfortunates, their attitudes to life and to each other, and the tightrope Kawashima walks between wallowing in poverty porn and sentimentalising the couple’s situation. The motif of the bridge is a potent one, recurring throughout, and we consider how it’s used, what it signifies, and how it combines with the film’s theme of patriarchy and how it oppresses both women and men.

Suzaki Paradise is a concise and potent film, an intelligent dramatisation of social and economic issues in post-war Japan, and an expressive melodrama. It’s worth seeking out.

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 272 – Cool Hand Luke

A key film in Paul Newman’s career that gave us one of cinema’s most iconic lines, Cool Hand Luke is known to both Mike and José – but previously seen by neither. The reasons that it became a cultural touchstone remain crystal clear, despite it failing, to a significant degree, to grab us as it might. We question the authenticity and purpose of Luke’s rebellion, the depiction of prison life, and the flimsy Christian allegory that tirelessly insists upon itself. The brutality perhaps seems unfairly tame today, an unavoidable consequence of coming to the film more than fifty years late, but its comedy still works beautifully and Newman’s charm has gone nowhere. It’s a fantasy, we conclude, for the privileged – an ultimately mortal fight against The Man, the point of which may very well be its lack of focus and clarity of purpose. Jesus was crucified for our sins; will we be recounting the story of Luke in two thousand years? Only time will tell.

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Brando: cruising, masculinity and queer desire in Reflections in a Golden Eye

 

The cruising, the relation between performativity and masculinity, the longing and frustration, the contortions of queer desire in the closet —  I hope this all  comes out in the edit itself.  I’ll eventually put some text in it but not much. I feel the video below speaks for itself.

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 271 – Soul

Occupying some similar thematic terrain to Coco, Pixar’s 2017 masterpiece, Soul uses an afterlife-bound journey with a tight deadline to explore what it is that makes us human, in the context of a life devoted to music. When Joe, a music teacher and passionate jazz pianist, dies in a classic open manhole cover accident, his soul, now separated from his body but desperate to live, escapes an A Matter of Life and Death-inspired travelator to Heaven and ends up in the Great Before, a meadow populated with unborn souls preparing for their upcoming lives. Mistaken for a mentor, he is assigned 22, a cynical, sarcastic soul with no desire to live on Earth, and when he tries to return to his body, she accidentally comes with.

As well as to Coco, Mike finds Soul comparable to another of Pixar’s films: Soul handles philosophical concepts the way Inside Out did psychological ones, rendering them visually imaginative and narratively physical. ‘The zone’, where people describe themselves when feeling that transcendent state of flow when an activity consumes them, is in the Great Beyond a real place that Joe and 22 visit; the unborn souls develop personality traits signified by Boy Scout-style badges. The storytelling is economical and concise, characters’ priorities and attitudes smoothly and legibly changing as their goals and relationships shift. It’s a beautifully told story.

José considers the social and economic setting of Joe’s life, the music he loves and the barber he visits, about whose life he learns – the film humanely understands people and hardship without wallowing in despair, finding space for joy. We wonder how well it will play to kids, thrilled that Pixar refuses to speak down to its audience, if a little unsure about how much will translate to the younger members of its target audience. Predictably, Mike finished the film in tears, despite an ending he found to be overly mechanical and inorganic.

Soul is a beautiful, wonderful film. To José, it’s a masterpiece. To Mike, possibly not, but only because Coco exists. See it.

Andrew Griffith has brought to out attention this article you may also find interesting about rumblings of discontent in relation to the film and why it’s turned out surprisingly polarasing.

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Overview of Burt Lancaster’s Career

An overview of Lancaster’s career that highlights his noir period in the late 40s, his contributions as a producer, and his late-career work in auteur cinema. A version of this was given for Westminster Libraries and updated and expanded for the Film and Television Stardom module at the University of Warwick.