All posts by NotesonFilm1

About NotesonFilm1

Spanish Canadian working in the UK. Former film journalist. Lecturer in Film Studies. Podcast with Michael Glass on cinema at https://eavesdroppingatthemovies.com/ and also a series of conversations with artists and intellectuals on their work at https://josearroyoinconversationwith.com/

A note and reminder on/of You Only Live Once (Fritz Lang, 1937)

You Only Live Once is surely one of the great works of cinema. I had a discussion with a friend on Facebook about whether Fury was superior but I haven’t seen that for a decade. I remember I  liked this more not for its sentimentality but for its sentiment. The thank you for loving me line is so beautiful, and frankly doesn’t seem excessive at all considering the circumstances.

Visually, it’s astonishing. The play with sound and silence in last dinner scene, so suspenseful and expressive. The frog scene is a superb instance of how editing functions with images and rhythm to allegorise feeling: that gorgeous bit with the water rippling and then concretising the moment as it stops, and then cutting at precise moments to evoke what the characters feel for each other. Gorgeous. And the performances by Silvia Sydney and Henry Fonda are of great power and delicacy.

I wondered why with all its shadows, it’s darkness, the expressionist lighting etc. it isn’t counted amongst noir, and my conclusion — apart from it being 30s –is that the couple here — surely two of the greatest performances in American cinema — are in love in an almost ideal way, no kink or deviancy — though theirs is clearly a relationship of the body as well as the mind. Heat of body as well as soul, but all in a socially-sanctified way. Also their ejection from the mainstream is a tragedy, not a chosen pathway due to confusion or trauma.

I enclose the’ thank you for loving me ‘ scene here only because it’s so unusual. If I was only looking for great, I might have chosen the frog scene, or Fonda’s rejection of Sidney in jail. It’s a film of brilliant scenes, nothing is off. It’s a film I shall return to. In the meantime:

 

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 280 – A Sun

We explore a wonderful Taiwanese film that Netflix forgot it had, A Sun. An intimate yet epic drama about the effects of a single mistake that reverberate through a family and down the years, it’s gorgeously lit and shot, and although it feels as long as it is, every moment is earned and valuable. It asks fundamental questions of its characters and of us, the most important of which is: What does it mean to be a good person?

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.

 

The Youssef Chahine Podcast No. 30: Encounter With The Unknown (موعد مع المجهول), 1959

 

A discussion of Atef Salem’s 1959 Encounter with the Unknown, part of a cycle of films we will be covering as a way of setting a context for better understanding the work of Youssef Chahine. We discuss the very glamorous pairing of Omar Shariff and Samia Gamal, the superb mise-en-scène and visuals, what such skill brings to a rickety script and what it cannot, the relative lack of conceptual and thematic richness in comparison to Chahine and much else.

We also discuss how Shariff is often undressed and displayed for viewing pleasure, and how he, like Cary Grant, is the one that gets chased.:

Credits, a brief plot description, and a bio of director can be found

here:

Richard has also provided the following links:

A BBC news story on Salem’s Death: 

A BBC clip of a Salem in ‘Six Decades of Egyptian Ciinema:

This is an article on Samia Gamal

Here’s another more detailed article with more about her film career. Its interesting that other than Sharif she’s one of the performers in Chahine’s films about which there’s the most information in English available

 

I’ve made a selection of clips so that you can follow the discussion:

Omar at the Beach: Encounter with the Unknown:

Circus Encounter With the Unknown:

Dance number in Encounter With the Unknown:

At the factory:

Another factory setting with very inventive editing Encounter With the Unknown:

In the river Encounter With the Unknown:

Dancing hands in Encounter With the Unknown:

 

 

José Arroyo

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 279 – Rocky – Part II: The Rocky series

 

Our two-part discussion of Rocky concludes with a look at the entire series of eight films, including the two Creed movies. It’s a series that’s deeply interested in its own history, regularly referring to it in montages of characters’ memories, journeys back to iconic locations, and the reintroduction of one particular character in Creed II. The series rewards its audience for its investment, although despite featuring a soap opera-like series of melodramatic plot developments over its many films, almost everything that refers to a previous film refers to the first one. Other than the events of 1976’s Rocky, which laid the foundation for the series, only Apollo Creed’s death and Ivan Drago’s defeat in Rocky IV have lasting impact on later films.

We discuss how, following his superhero-like physicality in the Eighties, the character of Rocky is brought back down to Earth in his old age, his body ravaged by time, his life broken by loss. And we think about how the milieu evolves over time, the music, for instance, changing from barbershop/a capella singing in the Seventies, through power ballads in the Eighties, to rap and hip-hop in the 2010s. And we discuss much more besides.

You can track significant changes in cinema and culture over the last fifty years through the Rocky films. Each one feels like a snapshot of American life at its time. We can’t recommend most of the films as examples of great film art, but the last three, Rocky BalboaCreed and Creed II, stand above the first five, the Creeds especially feeling like a breath of fresh air with the directorial talent on display. But it’s a fascinating series to work through, earnest and open-hearted throughout, and immensely likeable.

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.

 

Two Great Moments from The Day of the Locust (John Schlesinger, 1975

Eavesdropping at the Movies will be podcasting on John Schlesinger’s fascinating The Day of the Locust, so an evaluation of the film in greater depth will follow. For now, I just want to signal two moments in the film that I found beautiful and that I’d like to go back to:

 

The first: Faye Greener’s wishes, shot through with darkness and gorgeously back-lit by Conrad Hall. By the end, Karen Black appears with a halo as her face falls into shadow; Greener a saintly character clearly already lost and headed to murkier pastures:

 

The second: the glorious little tap-dance Burgess Meredith chooses for  his ex-vaudevillian character, now reduced to selling door-to-door but giving the day a bit of uplift with his heels:

 

José Arroyo

Balmain in Minnelli’s The Reluctant Debutante (1958)

A record of the wardrobe for Kay Kendall, Angela Lansbury and Diane Clare by Balmain for Minnelli’s The Reluctant Debutante. Sandra Dee is also very prettily dressed by Helen Rose but her outfits lack the excitement provided by Balmain. Each outfit is sometimes represented by several screen grabs so that the ensemble may be seen to better advantage. In chronological order . Balmain, with his philosophy of clothes as ‘architecture of movement,’ was ideally suited for cinema and  Minnelli would once again use him to dress Cyd Charisse in Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 278 – Rocky – Part I: Rocky

In this first of our two-part discussion of the Rocky films, we look at the film that began the series almost 50 years ago. There’s a lot about 1976’s Rocky that… isn’t that good. John G. Avildsen’s direction is drab, the story basic, the themes rudimentary – but with that comes a roughness and a sincerity to the whole affair that might be just what makes it work after all. Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky is a physical brute, softened by his unusual – and unusually pretty – features, his inability to avoid trying to befriend any animal that crosses his path, his demeanour that’s at once confident and shy, and his intellectual simplicity. José argues that the boxing is a diversion, a Trojan horse within which to sneak Rocky and Adrian’s love story. And we think about the character of Apollo Creed, his use as a substitute for Muhammad Ali, and why he couldn’t have been white.

Rocky was a phenomenon upon its release, an immediate cultural touchstone that contains images and scenes so iconic that, five decades on, we continue to attach the same emotions to them and draw the same pleasure from recalling them. Well, we say “we”, but, as is typical, Mike has never seen it before. So while José revisits, Mike joins the party for the first time, and we discuss the quality, significance and impact of this iconic film.

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.

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