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/

Thinking Aloud About Film: Hou Hsiao-hsien 4 – The Sandwich Man (1983)

A discussion of The Sandwich Man, an omnibus film based on the short stories of Hwang Chun-ming, with episodes from Hou Hsiao-hsien (His Son’s Big Doll aka The Sandwich Man), Tseng Shuan-hsiang (Hsiao-ch’i’s Hat/Vick’s Hat) and Wan Jen (The Taste of Apples), that is said to have helped launch New Taiwanese Cinema. We talk about the three different episodes, how so many New Waves incorporated omnibus or portmanteau films as a form of self advertisement, the relationship to The Bicycle Thief, the way it allegorises and comments on conflicts and changes in Taiwanese cinema and society….and much more. It can be listened to below:

Jose’s part of the discussion drew on:

David Scott Diffrient’s, ‘The Sandwich Man: History, episodicity and serial conditioning in a Taiwanese omnibus film’, Asian Cinema, vol 25, no., pp. 71-92,

and:  Wen Tien-Hsiang (Trans .by Gan Sheuo Hui), ‘Hou Hsiao-Hsien: a standard for evaluating Taiwan’s cinema’, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, vol.9, No. 2, 2008, pp. 211-238.

Readers might also be interested in hearing the programmer of the Venice Film Festival talk about his discovery of this cinema, an excerpt from Chinlin Hsieh’s Flowers of Taipei: Taiwanese New Wave Cinema, 2014.

According to Diffrient, these films were ‘Made for a ‘younger, more educated audience’ than their predecessors of the previous decades, and foregrounding aspects of ‘indigenous Taiwanese life’ that were becoming increasingly visible in ‘language, literature, and rural subjects’, these films are touchstones in contemporary Taiwanese cinema, together representing ‘major changes in style, theme, and audience’ that reflected larger social and political transformations at the time of their release (Yeh and Davis 2005: 56).

The Sandwich Man is a foundational text in the history of New Taiwanese Cinema, which launched in 1982, and which ended four years later with the 1986 signing of the Taiwan Cinema Manifesto.

Diffrient argues that Hou’s cinema, shares with the mainland’s Fifth Generation, ‘

‘a penchant for long takes, long shots, composition-in-depth, self-reflexivity, sparse dialogue, subtle gestures, and a suppression of the shot- reverse-shot, utilizes a quasi-episodic, elliptical editing style that recalls Frantz Fanon’s emphasis on mobilizing the discontinuous, fragmentary and image-based history of the colonized to enunciate a postcolonial imaginary’.

Richard adds:

Note, we should clarify that there’s some confusion regarding the names on the titles. The ones given on screen were Hou Hsiao-hsien – “His Son’s Big Doll” (some sources refer to this story as “The Sandwich Man”), Tseng Shuan-hsiang – “Vick’s Hat” (I can see references to “Hsiao-ch’i’s Hat” in a couple of articles and also “Xiao qi’s Hat” and “Vicki’s Hat” – perhaps Vicki is an anglicisation of Xiao qi).  I suspect some of this comes from the English translation of the book. To add to the confusion the book of short stories is called “The Taste of Apples” and in that one the story is called “Xiaoqi’s Cap”

We will continue these discussions in further episodes.

The book is available in English from Columbia University Press

a couple of reviews Richard enjoyed from a screening at the UK Taiwan Film Festival online last year
All these reviews call the first segment “The Sandwich Man” so Richard  wonders if that is how it is named on screen in current English sub-titiled prints.
José did a trailer for the podcast which can be seen below:

We will continue to add links as we find them.

José Arroyo

Saboteur (Alfred Hitchcock, 1942) and Foul Play (Colin Higgins, 1978): A Connection

Watching Saboteur, I also observed that the whole concept of the scene at Radio City Music Hall is pretty much lifted whole-hog but played more for laughs in Foul Play. I’ve put the scenes one after the other here, for those who might be interested:

 

 

Two quick observations on Hitchcock’s Saboteur (1942)

Two observations on Hitchcock’s Saboteur: it seems a main root of much 80s Action/Spectacle cinema: stereotypical characters in one high concept set-piece after another, the main purpose of each to convey humour, suspense, excitement and/or surprise. One is left without much at the end but has had great fun getting there. I loved the theatricality of the opening doors at the factory, like a curtain at the start of a play. My other observation is that Robert Cummings’ eyelashes are filmed so as to rival Tyrone Power’s.

Thinking Aloud About Film: Hou Hsiao-hsien 3 – The Green, Green Grass of Home (1982)

 

In this podcast, Richard and I discuss how much we both like this film, an early one of Hou’s that we argue continues to be largely dismissed in accounts of his work. Here we admire what we see as his growth as a filmmaker: the increasing use of expressive long-takes, the filming from the inside of trains, the imaginative compositions, the handling of many people in the frame whilst still keeping dramatic focus, the deft control over various narrative threads. We notice that this is the third time in three fllms that we get scatalogical jokes but how now they’re not used as superficial toppers but instead evoke character and feeling as well as laughs. There are songs and there is romance but we discuss how there is also much more than that: a highly skilled and enjoyable work. The podcast can be listened to below:

 

Some of the shots or filmic practices we detected in the film are illustrated below:

THE IMAGINATIVE AND EXPRESSIVE FRAMINGS AND COMPOSITIONS:

Interesting, never quite head-on and always at a slight angle:

The centering of the children in their environment:

The elegant use of foregrounds in relation to backgrounds, carefully framed so as to enable us to see

A still from the magnificent shot where the child starts at the top of the stair on the bottom right of the frame, he disappears from view…and then rejoins the rest of the schoolchildren on the bottom left of the frame.

THE HANDLING OF CONSIDERABLE NUMBER OF PEOPLE WITHIN THE FRAME:

…always attentive to the relationship between foreground and background but also elegantly visualised such as below;

in this riverside frolic all of the protagonists, each with their own particular problem is on view, as is their relationship to each other:

note again the relationship between foreground and background here: the children are bearing witness:

note here he door ajar on the left hand of the frame, brining the outside in (as well as the reverse)

The poetic letter to mom:

Kaosiung Station is appearing in many of his films, the destination point to the city from the country:

the emphasis on the green and the rural:

 

and lastly, the brilliant last shots:

The following quotes, cited in the podcast, are from:

Xia Cai, Chapter 1: Hou Hisao-Hsien Films and Readings, The Ethics of Witness: Dailiness and History in Hou Hsia-hsien’s Films, Springer: Singapore, 2019, pp. 1-3

“Hou Hsiao-Hsien was born in Mei County, Guangdong province (China) in 1947.He and his family fled the Chinese Civil War to Taiwan in the following year. Houis a waishengren and his family is Hakka, the peripatetic Chinese minority whowere often persecuted by the Han majority in Taiwan before 1895. Hou, whose father died when he was young, grew up in southern Taiwan where, without a father,he wandered outside more than was the norm for children of the time. These self-guided wanderings, at a young age, brought him into contact with many of the realities of everyday life, especially the underground gangs, which proved to be definitive influences on his films.

In 1973, Hou started as a continuity person, but soon became an assistant director, and finally a screenwriter, first writing three works with his closest associate during the 1970s, the director Lai Cheng-ying. In Taiwan, directors rarely did the actual directing; it was the assistant directors who actually faced the day-to-day problems on the set, and they were in charge of keeping film stock use to a bare minimum. Hou is listed as the assistant director for at least 11 films in the 1970s, and that experience drove home for him the limitations of current filmmaking practices. All of these limiting practices – functional editing, functional lighting, compositional gimmicks, minimal shooting ratios, start and stop performance and so on – Hou would one day reject, arguing that these stifled creativity and the freedom of art, although for years

Hou would bear some responsibility for perpetuating these practices (it was his
livelihood after all). Yet as strange as it may seem, his experience with these practices would have a profound and lasting impact on him even after he would no longer rely on them in his work. He would learn many things from this largely negative experience, but two invaluable lessons stand out: the importance of lighting and the importance of performance, two areas today that form the cornerstones of his own aesthetic (see Udden 45).

1983 was a turning point for Hou, when The Boys from Fengkuei (1983) (also known as All the Youthful Days) won the “Best Film Award” in the Festival of the Three Continents. This is Hou’s beginning in the making of new films, as he said – after The Boys from Fengkuei, “I re-think film and consider it is another language” (8). Since then, he abandoned the pattern of early commercial films, and began a kind of move which was personally-oriented, using the narrative of daily life as the main language for his work. Hou’s process of new cinema can be divided into two stages occurring before and after “A City of Sadness” (1989). There are five films before 1989 – The Boys rom Fengkuei (1983), A Summer at Grandpa’s (1984), A Time to Live, A Time to Die (1985), Dust in the Wind (1986) and Daughter of the Nile (1987) While thestories are different, they have an internal consistency all about the growing experiences and memories of youth, as well as the collision between rural and urban life”.

 

The trailer for the podcast should evoke the flavour of the film:

Richard has provided links you might also find interesting and useful:

trailer for a Taiwanese TV showing of the film:

Full version of the Coca Cola song:

José Arroyo in Conversation with…. Ehsan Khoshbakht on Filmfarsi (2019)

One of the great surprises and pleasures of the Wales One World Film Festival was the opportunity to see Filmfarsi, a great documentary film on the significance of popular Iranian cinema from 1953-1979. Richard Layne and I were so fascinated by the film that we podcast on it . The viewing also encouraged us to see and podcast on other Iranian films in the festival, which, it turned out, were programmed by Ehsan Khoshbakht , the director of Filmfarsi. We managed to see Downpour (Bahram Beyzaie, Iran, 1979) and The Deer/ Gavaznha (Masoud Kimiai, 1974). These films were related to but significantly different from the more art-house Iranian cinema we had experienced before in places like Bologna’s Cinema Ritrovato, e.g. Abbas Kiarostami’s First Case, Second Case/ Ghazieh Shekle Aval Shekle Dovom (1979) and Mohammed Rezia Asiani’s Chess of the Wind/ Shatranj-e-Baad (1976).

Aram Reza and Beik Imanverdi

 

This all resulted in many interesting conversations and led me to seek out Ehsan Khoshbakht, the director of Filmfarsi, to find out more about the film and the cinema that is its subject. We discuss the  process that led to the film; the Iranian film industry in this period, the extent to which it is transnational, co-productions, the importance of film festivals such as the Moscow Film Festival to Iranian Cinema; the relationship of Filmfarsi  to the Iranian New Wave; the melodramatic mode of much of this cinema that crosses across various genres (crime films, musicals, domestic melodrama); we discuss how much of this cinema was lost in the aftermath of the revolution and why this was so. We also discuss  the process of recovering the films, which are collectively also a history of Iran and Iranian people in this period. The podcast can be listened to below:

 

The Cinema had its own star system:

Nasser Malek-Motii + Fardin + Behrouz Voussoughi

 

Behrooz Voussoughi & Googoosh

 

that crossed over into other areas of popular culture:

Googoosh was also a pop music superstar

had its own magazines and cinematic cultures:

 

 

Fardin and Pouri Banai in a scene from Hell + Me (on the cover of Film & Art magazine)

…was often highly sexualised in ways that would not be acceptable post-Revoultion:

Aram Reza and Beik Imanverdi

..usually urban:

Dancer of the City (d: Shapour Gharib, 1970)

 

José Arroyo

Thinking Aloud About Film: Hou Hsiao-hsien 2 – Cheerful Wind (aka) Play While You Play

Thinking Aloud About Film continues it’s exploration of the cinema of Hou Hsiao-hsien with a discussion of Cheerful Wind aka Play While you Play, a charming musical romantic comedy, an exploration of filmmaking itself, and a re-teeming of the cast that made the previous Cute Girl such a success.

I made a trailer for the podcast which showcases a funny if crude opening scene and begins to demonstrate how self-reflexive the film is about cinema:

In the podcast we also refer to the following, which will give you a visual idea of what we’re talking about

Blind Man With Camera
What’s with the hand holding
Grey mountains

 

Artistry of shots

We have an extended discussion of Kenny Bee’s camping:

Kenny camps it up

 

Kenny speed-walks:

José Arroyo

A moment from All I Desire (Douglas Sirk, 1953)

Saw All I Desire with a friend last night and moved once again by the story, the grace with which it’s told, and Stanwyck’s magnificent performance. It spurred me to re-read Victor Perkins’s wonderful analysis of the moment where Naomie Murdoch (Stanwyck) returns to the home and family she deserted ten years before and finds the key still hidden in the same hanging pot. It’s a wonderful analysis of a beautiful scene. I am fascinated by the opening shots of that sequence. As you can see below, we are shown Naomie entering the shot by the elongated shadow she casts before she enters the frame, then the camera moves up to show us her looking at the home that was once hers and then the cut and move into an increasingly large close-up of Stanwyck expressing the mixed emotions she’s feeling at the re-encounter. How will her past affect her present? Will she be welcome, does she deserve to be there, what has she lost? It’s so beautiful. A great director and a great actress co-creating (with others) an unforgettable moment.

Jose Arroyo

PS It occurs to me that this bit of film can be read as almost an inverse rhyme to the great ending of the earlier Stella Dallas (King Vidor, 1937) , with all  that it implies of self-sacrifice, a job well done, a moment of triumphalist virtue.

Thinking Aloud About Film: The Cinema of Hou Hsiao-hsien 1 – Cute Girl (1980)

 

Richard and I turn our attention to the early cinema of Hou Hsiao-hsien. Four of his films are now on MUBI and at least the first one is delightful: a romantic comedy not too different from those characteristic of American Cinema in the 1930s, but with broader humour and more pop songs. A delightful first work, very commercial …. and very different from what was to follow.

You can listen to another of Fong Fei Fei’s songs from the film here:

And here’s a  fab clip of Kenny Bee performing with his band “Wynners” in 1975:

Kenny now:

A report of Fong Fei-Fei’s death:

and you can follow up with a nice review of the film from Eastern Kicks: 

We found this comment by Robert Beeson on Twitter to be both amusing and true:

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 293 – Promising Young Woman

We’re joined by returning guest Celia, on the phone from Canada, to discuss writer-director Emerald Fennell’s unusual revenge thriller, Promising Young Woman. Following the rape and – implied – suicide of her friend Nina, which goes unpunished, Carey Mulligan’s Cassie drops out of medical school, and now spends her nights feigning drunkenness, allowing men to pick her up and take her home, alarming them with her sobriety as they begin to sexually assault her. When a chance reunion with a former classmate reveals that Nina’s rapist is engaged, Cassie embarks upon a campaign of vengeance against those she considers responsible for and involved in committing and allowing her friend’s rape and its cover-up.

Celia loves it, finding that it invokes and brings to life many subtle and important observations about life for women in the patriarchy, enjoying the various forms Cassie’s revenge takes – particularly the “exercises in forced empathy”, in her words – and feeling a call to arms; José decidedly doesn’t, decrying those observations and revenges as cinematically unrealised in what is merely a filmed essay, albeit one that admirably exhibits a style, an aesthetic and a point of view. Mike bravely sits in the middle, pretending to be superior to the other two by virtue of not exhibiting an extreme response to the film. The discussion is varied and passionate – and full of spoilers. Love it or hate it, Promising Young Woman is a thought-provoking, vital film, and well worth watching.

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

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

I made a trailer for the podcast which can be seen below:

 

Inside Man (Spike Lee, 2006)

 Spike Lee in slick mode, working with different textures, the camera gliding, hand-held, in constant motion but controlled with particular effects in mind. A heist film where what’s at stake is not only will the crooks get caught but what are they after? What secrets are hidden in those bank vaults? Will the wealthy be held to account if the origin of their wealth accumulation involves crimes  against humanity.  Jodie Foster steals every moment she’s in, and this from Denzel Washington and Christopher Plummer. Smarter and better educated than anyone else in the room; elegant, charming, threatening, vaguely asexual; it occurred to me the role was an old-fashioned lesbian stereotype that her casting underlined but that her performance was embodying with particular charm and vibrancy, including that odd duck walk on vertiginously high heels. I liked it much more than I expected but at the end I also had a vague twinge that I had seen it before and forgotten, or maybe just skimmed though parts of it on Netflix…..

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 292 – Affair in Trinidad

 

Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford star in Gild– sorry, Affair in Trinidad, Hayworth’s first film upon her return to Hollywood after four years away, and a blatant rip-off of a certain classic film noir from 1946. (There’s also a chunk of Notorious thrown in for good measure.) Expensively cobbled together at Columbia boss Harry Cohn’s instruction, its production was rushed, with its script barely presentable and Vincent Sherman’s direction lazy, but audiences weren’t put off – it made $7m domestically, blockbuster box office in 1952.

Now featured as part of Columbia Noir #2, a box-set from the same series that includes The Garment Jungle, we take the opportunity to see what Affair in Trinidad has to offer – for José, the answer is, “not much, besides Rita Hayworth, gorgeous gowns and rich cinematography” – and discuss more besides, including Hayworth’s name and image, and how and why they were changed. Affair in Trinidad is far from a good film, but one of historical interest, and certainly worth seeing for any fan of Rita Hayworth.

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

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

A quick note on ‘La Imaginería Eterna de Bigas luna’

This very interesting talk taught me that Bigas Luna was so concerned with the increasing immersion of individuals into a visual culture for which they had received no visual education that he developed a ‘visual alphabet’ of 32 symbols, garnered chronologically from Muybridge to Keaton (He thought that sufficient), with which to teach children visual literacy. I’m only sorry the panelists didn’t say what those symbols were. I’m dying to find out.

I was also interested to learn that his scripts were often a series of paintings — not just a storyboard. And that he often spent most of the pre-shooting prep time doing a series of experiments to arrive at a film’s tone; interests that coincide with mine and that I think are some of the most complex elements in cinema to articulate.
That one can be in Birmingham and be attending these seminars in Madrid is something I’m still finding thrilling.
José Arroyo