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Ritrovato 2021 with Richard Layne & José Arroyo: Digital Offerings

We thank the Cineteca di Bologna for the 2021 digital offerings and return for the third year in a row to discuss their programme. This year we reflect on the digital absence of major strands such as the Romy Schneider or George Stevens films which were only shown in situ. We discuss difficulties with translation and sub-titling, note how the digital offerings were quite US and Eurocentric, atypical for this festival, and discuss some of the highlights of Richard’s viewing: silent cinema, Wolfgang Staudte films, the only film on the Algerian War made as it was happening (Les oliviers de la justice, 1961), André Dalvaux’ Man Who Had His Hair Cut Short (1965), Lionel Rogosin’s Arab Israeli Dialogue (1974), Govindan Aravindan’s Kummatty (1979) and classics such as I Wake Up Screaming (H. Bruce Humberstone, 1941), Esa pareja feliz (Berlanga/Bardem ,1959) and Nightmare Alley (Edmund Goulding, 1947).

The podcast may be listened to here below:

 

 

The podcast above can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546

A nice clip from the Cineteca summarising the 2021 festival, including clips from some of the films we talk about may be seen here:

José Arroyo

Hou Hsiao-hsien 22: Contexts 12 – Our Time, Our Story (Hsiao Chu-chen, 2002)

A discussion of OUR TIME, OUR STORY, a more traditional documentary than FLOWERS OF TAIPEI but all the better for it. A film that offers various kinds of contexts (production, distribution, exhibition, reception),  historicises well, finds extraordinary archival footage, interviews many of the leading people involved in Taiwan’s New Cinema and really enhances our knowledge of the period, the movement, and the films themselves. The film boasts many clips often in a lamentably degraded state but one that really make us appreciate the value of the new restorations . The video may be listened to below:

 

The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546

The clip Richard refers to may be seen below:

Listeners may also be interested in the screen -grabs below:

 

The film comes as an extra on the Criterion edition of Edward Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day and is worth the price of the blu-ray on its own.

José Arroyo

Hou Hsiao-hsien 21: A City of Sadness (1989)

After all our contextualising, we return to Hou Hsiao-hsien films proper, focussing on the masterpiece that is a City of Sadness. We are able now to discuss not only what the film feels like to watch or what it is about in formal terms but can now add various kinds of contexts: historical, political, social, aesthetic, industrial, and even how our own personal histories find echo in the film and how those echoes add a layer of insight and understanding into the film and perhaps also into ourselves. It makes for a rich but still — as is proper with all great works — initial and tentative discussion.

The podcast above can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546

The following clips are discussed in the podcast:
Framing of shots and movement within frame

The movement over the mountain at the beginning

Different planes of action

Muteness as metaphor:

photographing the end:

Inter-titles:

 

Perfect camera placement:

 

Hou Hsiao-hsien 20: Contexts 11 – The Terrorizers (Edward Yang, 1986)

We continue with our discussion of Edward Yang films in relation to Hou Hsiao-hsien’s work. We discuss the film in relation to Postmodernism, Existentialism, contingency, nausea, chance. We note that Fredric Jameson wrote on Sartre, Postmodernism, and this film. We discuss, Yang’s characteristic visuals, his distinctive way of filming, narrating, and style of characterisation; a kind of mosaic  sights, sounds, scenes which the viewer is left to piece together. We continue to be entranced.

The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546

Images referred to in the film:

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf

Characteristically Yang

Images of books and shots through a curtain are characteristic of The Terrorizers. This condenses them both.

José Arroyo

Hou Hsiao-hsien 19: Context 10 (Edward Yang, 1985)

Richard and I discuss our admiration of Edward Yang’s Taipei Story. It’s connection to Hou Hsiao-hsien, who stars and co-wrote the screenplay. It’s a mosaic of a film in which a relationship between two people, childhood sweethearts who care for each other, falls apart and as it does so we get to see stories of a people and of a city in transition in a country situated within two imperial cultures, Japanese and American, with mainland China always hovering on the background. It’s a beautiful film, with really striking, original and beautiful imagery: Yang’s flat face-on camera, uses of screens, reflections, the city always ever present in what is ultimately a chamber piece focussing on a couple and their immediate relations, the couple caught between a longed for past (on his part) and an uncertain future in hers. A truly great film.

The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546

Images referred to in the film

blue backgrounds

Hou Hsiao-hsien framed between screens

Neon City

Reflected on screens. Also see other images below:

clip of Pepsi imagery:

Yang & Hockney

Richard also recommends this article:

This is a great article although it ignores the Hokkien-language films! This artistic conservatism was partly the result of the Kuomintang government’s thirty-eight-year imposition of martial law, and while the New Taiwan Cinema did not become explicitly political until the late eighties, when the law was lifted, Yang’s and Hou’s early films were among the first to depict Taiwan as a place with a burgeoning sense of its own social and historical integrity, independent of a mainland China that had long considered it a mere repository.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 299 – Cruella

Listen on the players above, Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcasts, or Spotify.

Disney’s latest update of its back catalogue sees Emma Stone bring punk rock to Sixties London in Cruella, a beautiful, stylish, but clunky affair. Like Maleficent before it, Cruella offers an origin story to a key Disney villain: Estella, as she’s named when we meet her, takes a circuitous route to her destiny as a star fashion designer, grifting with friends to make ends meet, and waging war on the leading fashionista of the day, Baroness von Hellman – played by a fabulously wicked Emma Thompson. Oh, and there are some Dalmatians involved.

We discuss the quality and intentions of Cruella’s characterisation and Stone’s performance, the conspicuously expensive soundtrack, the use of CGI animals, whether the film is as queer as some of the hype has suggested, the role of men and masculinity, and why it is that fashion movies are one of very few areas in cinema where women get to play fun villains like the Baroness. Cruella is an imperfect film, less than the sum of its parts – but at their best, those parts are worth it for their own sake.

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

 

Hou Hsiao-hsien 17: Contexts 8 – The Rice Dumpling Vendors (Hsin Chi, 1969)

A discussion of Hsin Chi’s THE RICE DUMPLING VENDORS (1969), a rare male melodrama. The protagonist kicks his wife out of the house for perceived infidelity; as soon as he does the whole family falls apart and is plunged in a spiral of poverty, the father at one point abandoning his baby even as his two minor children take on jobs in order to buy milk. The film documents a society on the cusp of modernity and suffering the effects of the social and economic effects produced by it. Stylistically, the film is highly skilled and gorgeous to look at. Character’s thoughts are offered in voice-over or through song. There is a mix of genres: noir/action/family-melodrama/documentary. It’s a cinephile’s film, with references to PSYCHO (1960) and other films. The music borrows from CINDERELLA (1950) as well as then current pop-hits as Sinatra’s version of ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’. We also discuss the extent to which this film is an influence on Hou Hsiao-hsien’s THE SANDWICH MAN (1983). The more Hsin Chi films we see, the more we like and value them.

If you haven’t yet seen the film, this trailer will hopefully entice you to:

We were delighted to see Su Chu (The People’s Grandmother), Chin Tu (Veteran Thespian), and especially Chin Mei (Tragic Goddess).

The podcast may be listened below:

The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546

Paternal Melodrama:

Interesting choices regarding camera placement:

Imaginative Compositions:

Expressive imagery, beautifully lit:

 

Frames within frames:

Similarities to Hou Hsiao-hsien:

Some of you might also be interested in the following clips:

First song and aftermath:

Editing:

Psycho, editing, music:

 

Moral lessons through ending pop song:

 

Click to access The-Rice-Dumpling-Vendors.pdf

José Arroyo

 

Hou Hsiao-hsien 16: Contexts 7 – Dangerous Youth (Hsin Chi, 1969)

Continuing with our discussion of Hsin Chi films generously made available in wonderful versions by the Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute. This time the focus is on DANGEROUS YOUTH. We offer a bit of background on Hsin Chi; discuss how the film is similar to Nagisa Oshima’s CRUEL STORY OF YOUTH, Godard’s BREATHLESS, BEAT GIRL, and all the motorcycle gang Roger Corman films of the mid-sixties. The film has the thematics and energy of pre-code sex melodramas but surrounded by a rock-pop soundtrack stylised and transformed by foregrounding the sax. DANGEROUS YOUTH is visually inventive, with fascinating compositions, interesting intimations of nudity through shadows, compositions that make the most of the architecture to suggest interior states and external perspectives. The story of a young girl groomed into prostitution for money by the pimp she loves and the richer woman who is pulling his strings, is given sexy, noirish form and fascinating gender politics. Does anyone believe the end?

The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546

Those of you interested in the trailer (always fascinating to see what a trailer promises a film to be versus what it ends up being):

The following scenes are referred to in the podcast:

Opening Scene:

60s Brit Pop

Motorcycle and Stairwell:

Attempted Rape 1:

Third Motorcycle Ride:

Modernity in Taiwan:

Attempted Rape Two:

Sex in and out of focus:

Predatory Males:

Gender Trouble:

Unconvincing Ending:

King’s College Programme Notes for Film:

Click to access Dangerous-Youth.pdf

Richard has also provided this very interesting link on Hsin Chi: 

Hou Hsiao-hsien 15: Contexts 6 – Foolish Bride Naive Bridegroom (Hsin Chi, 1967)

We continue our discussion of the films kindly made available in wonderful versions by the Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute. This time we discuss the second Hsin Chi film on view, FOOLISH BRIDE, NAIVE BRIDEGROOM, a wonderfully inventive screwball comedy displaying a wide array of cinematic devices for humorous effect (stop-motion, music, fluid camera), anchoring it in solid structure, set on the cusp of modernity, and wittily putting all the major decisions in the hands of the female protagonists. Great fun

 

The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546

Richard has recommended the TFAI trailer for it which gives a good taste of what the film is like, and also the captions perhaps indicate the elements which would surprise Taiwanese viewers

Some scenes referred to in the discussion may be seen below:

Bandages:

Camera move onto kiss:

Adaptation of pop songs – Besame Mucho:

Park Scene:

Song Interlude

 

Wedding/ documentary:

Some of you might also find this commentary from King’s College interesting and useful:

Click to access Foolish-Bride.pdf

 

José Arroyo

Hou Hsiao-hsien 14: Contexts 5 – The Bride Who Returned From Hell (Hsin Chi, 1965)

In this new podcast we discuss The Bride Who Returned From Hell, from a cycle of Hsin Chi films the Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute is currently providing free on You Tube and in excellent restorations. The film is based on Victoria Holt’s Mistress of Mellin (1960). We discuss its debt to Rebecca, Strangers on a Train, The Innocents, the Bond films, melodrama and the Gothic. We talk about its formal inventiveness in its use of a rotating camera and split screen. We also explore how its interspersed with musical numbers that often take place amongst a recognisable landscape. It’s a Taiwanese film where one can’t help but note its transnational dimension. It’s a film we both liked and recommend.

The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546

Some images we refer to include:

The use of widescreen:

The centrality of the house (like Manderley)

Listeners might also find the following clips and interesting and useful:

This is the first song that establishes the centrality of the child and of the house (note the length of the last shot)

The experiment with the rotating camera:

Melodrama through use of music and acting:

American jazz (Gershwin?) as setting for love and murder:

Ghosts:

Song Interlude With Landscape:

Happy Family-to-be in Typical Landscape

Flashback:

Bond Music:

Musical finale in landscape

 

Richard has also provided the following links, which might be of interest:

-interesting overview of Hsin Chi’s career: https://taiyupian.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Xin-Qi.pdf

-Richard notes that the director’s name is sometimes anglicised as Xin Qi rather than Hsin Chi, I found more info by searching for Xin Qi.

-Article on “Bride …” which has the info on the producer’s daughter and the road trip to scout locations https://taiyupian.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/The-Bride-Who-Has-Returned-from-Hell.pdf

José Arroyo

Hou Hsiao Hsien 13: Contexts 4 – May 13, Day of Sorrows, Lin-Tuan Chiu (1965)

We once more thank the Taiwan Film and Audio-Visual Institute for the opportunity to see these marvellous copies of Lin Tuan-Chiu films. In the podcast we discuss the combination of genres in the film — melodrama, court-room drama, documentary, murder-mystery, musical. We discuss the acting in relation to revue theatre. We wonder if a scene from Hou’s Cute Girl finds its inspiration here….and much more.

The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546

We refer to some images concretely: The Newspaper Headlines

The allusion to politics:

The possible inspiration for a similar moment in Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Cute Girl

The framings and compositions:

The countryside:

Listeners might also be interested in the following illustrative clips:

The melodramatic framings of the opening scene

revue acting:

Musical number – Love and threat:

Documentary Sequence:

The reveal:

Court-room flash-back:

Taiwanese Widescreen Process:

Other telling images (or sub-titles) from the film:

The Taiwan Film & Audio-visual Institute’s You Tube page may be found here:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCv9cNssVud_2AtBVzykUieg

and the next films its made available for the next few days are:

The Bride Who Has Returned From Hell, 1965

Foolish Bride, Naive Bridegroom (1967)

and

Dangerous Youth (1969)

all by Hsin Chi, so that’s what we will be exploring in the next few podcasts.

Richard has also provided the following links, adding, ‘

nothing particular to add to these but interesting reviews’: https://www.easternkicks.com/reviews/may-13th-night-of-sorrow

 

José Arroyo

Hou Hsiao-hsien 12: Contexts 3 – Six Suspects

We extend our thanks once more to the Taiwan Film & Audio-visual Institute for making these three Lin Tuan-Chiu films available. In this podcast we discuss Six Suspects, a 1965 mystery/noir that was never released. We discuss its peculiar flashback structure, the beauty of the imagery and composition in contrast to the other somewhat clunky aspects of narration, what the film tells us about the culture, its possible relation to Ozu in terms of compositions and to mid 60s Japanese Crime Drama in relation to look and style. A somewhat unsatisfying film that we nonetheless encourage people to see.

 

The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546

You may want to see the trailer for the film below, which gives a good flavour of what the film’s like:

 

We refer to the following images in the podcast:

Shadows

Filmed from Outsisde:

Ways of breaking up the frame:

I also enclose the following clips as illustrations of:

Bad Acting and First Transition

On Location Shooting

Railway Settings

Party Girls

The Following Images may also be of interest:

The Taiwan Film & Audio-visual Institute’s You Tube page may be found here:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCv9cNssVud_2AtBVzykUieg

and the next films its made available for the next few days are:

The Bride Who Has Returned From Hell, 1965

Foolish Bride, Naive Bridegroom (1967)

and

Dangerous Youth (1969)

all by Hsin Chi, so that’s what we will be exploring in the next few podcasts.

José Arroyo

A brief note on The Big Easy (Jim McBride, 1986)

Are Dennis Quaid and Ellen Barkin the sexiest couple in American cinema of the 1980s? Hadn’t seen The Big Easy since it came out and it’s even better than I remembered, even taking into account the low quality of the version available on Amazon Prime. I don’t have time to review the film properly so this is more a listing of thoughts and a file of elements that I might return to at some point and that some of you might find useful. Girlfriends have told me how this is a ‘wallow’ film for them, many of them having seen it more than twenty times, and I think the easy heterosexuality, the sexyness (which felt transgressive when I first saw it), the romanticism, and the playing of the leads has something to do with it.

It’s hard to remember what an enormous impact Dennis Quaid made in this film. But here is Libby Wexman-Glaner to remind you:

I used to follow Libby’s column avidly in Premiere. There was no one who made me laugh so much and so hard about movies. I didn’t know Libby was really a pseudonym for Paul Rudnick, a writer who worked on the screenplays for The Addams Family(1991),, Sister Act (1992), The First Wives Club (1996), and other comedies with a camp bent. He had a big hit off-Broadway with Jeffrey (1993), described as ‘the first comedy about AIDS’. My friend Ben Baglio tells me that reading about The Big Easy, ‘I see that Charles Ludlum has a small role. And that got me to remembering his Ridiculous Theatrical Company in Greenwich Village which he ran with his partner Everett Quinton. I saw them in The Mystery of Irma Vep, which Ludlum wrote. Ludlum succumbed to AIDS shortly after I left New York. Pleased to see Quinton is alive and well. God, it really was a terrible time. This terrible time is not evident in The Big Easy. It’s noir about many things but not about love.

Recently I’ve been reading  Tracy Tynan’s Wear and Tear: The Threads of My Life. Aside from being the daughter of Elaine Dundy and the great Kenneth Tynan, she was an accomplished costume designer, married to Jim McBride, the film’s director, and she designed or put together the clothes for The Big Easy. This is what she has to say about the wedding dress at the end:

A great film, with a great score of zydeca and Bayou music — hearing Aaron Neville in this film singing ‘Tell It Like It Is’ still gives me chills — some of the most charismatic performers of 1980s American cinema — one weeps to see how great Ellen Barkin is here and how little and badly American cinema used her subsequently– and one of the greatest sex scenes ever. Also a film whose direction make it add up to even more than the sum of its great parts. A film to revisit.

 

José Arroyo