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

Hou Hsiao-hsien 11: Contexts 2 – King Hu, Dragon Inn (1967) & A Touch of Zen (1971)

 

In this podcast we discuss the recent MUBI showings of King Hu’s Dragon Inn (967) and A Touch of Zen (1971), its relationship to the Wuxia genre and its influence on films such Crouching Tiger/ Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee, 2000), Hero (Zhang Yimou, 2002) and House of Flying Daggers (Zhang Yimou, 2004,) its later influence on more recent Taiwanese cinema, so obvious in Tsai Ming Liang’s Goodbye, Dragon Inn (2003) and Hou’s own The Assassin (2015). We discuss the beauty of its widescreen images, try to relate it to the work of Sergio Leone in relation to its use of landscape, and ruminate on the filming of action as ‘pure cinema’. We also discuss the distinctiveness of its use of female action heroines, particularly in relation to Western Cinema.

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

 

Listeners might be interested in the following reviews:

A Touch of Zen

José Arroyo

Hou Hsia-Hsien 10: Contexts A – The Husband’s Secret/ Zhang fu de mi mi (Lin Tuan-qiu, Taiwan, 1960)

 

A treat. Part of a new series of mid-century Taiwanese films made available in wonderful restorations through the Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute. We are discussing the film as a context for, as a way of better understanding the cinema of Hou Hsiao-hsien. But we can’t help but discuss other elements that crop up: the career of Lin Tuan-qiu, the uses of melodrama, the extraordinary cinematography by Chen Cheng-fan and equally amazing lighting by Chen Tian-rong; we discuss how the film is a critique of patriarchy whilst also exploiting the visual aspects of women sinning; the films seems both visually sophisticated but also an example of what many will see as crude stereotypical melodrama, and fascinating for that. It’s a plot-laden film, full of twists, and totally engrossing. We discuss the uses of flashbacks and flashbacks within flashbacks; the voice-over elements by a narrator that seems omniscient and can’t quite be placed; we critique the choppiness of the editing whilst praising some of the on-location shooting. We see clear roots in theatre and theatrical forms of acting and delight in the uses of on-location shooting. A weird and fascinating combination of cine-literate sophistication with a kind of crudity of acting and mode which we highly recommend not only to those interested in Taiwanese Cinema but also those interested in melodrama. The podcast can 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

 

Melodramatic Mode: I have captured images which lovers of melodrama will see as archetypal to the genre in terms of image, situation, dialogue, plot. It’s like a primer and worth looking through for the sub-titles alone:

 

We have also included the following clips that are referred to in the podcast:

Rape and Misfortune:

Pimping and Memory:

Memory of Bliss:

Melodramatic Revelations 1:

Melodramatic Revelations2:

Arrangements for the baby:

Baby 2 -Epilogue

In addition to the above:

Richard has found this wonderful link by By Ming-yeh & T. Rawnsley on ‘An Introduction to a Taiyupian Filmmaker, Lin Tuanqiu’: Lin-Tuanqiu-article

-This is the review he mentions in the podcast. 

-This one discusses the cinematography and also the Japanese and Western influences on the film

-Detailed article on Lin Tuan Qiu https://taiyupian.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Lin-Tuanqiu-article.pdf

-The overview Richard  mentions from the Taiwan Film Festival

…and we did find the names of the cinematographer and lighting designer (in the credits, duh!).

 

José Arroyo

My Life With Cleopatra: The Making of a Hollywood Classic by Walter Wanger and Joe Hyams

 

 

An Oxfam find. I think I first read this forty years ago or so. This editions was re-published to coincide with the 50th anniversary blu-ray release in 2013. It’s a book that’s useful for many reasons, the first being that it’s a producer’s account so one’s allowed in from the very first stages of planning, casting decisions (Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Burt Lancaster, Joan Collins, Noel Coward — all were discussed seriously), the hiring of key personnel and the production planning. We get to see why it was decided to film in the UK (the Edy plan) and Egypt (free use of military as extras) and why the eventual move to Rome and Cinecittà. We eventually understand why Rouben Mamoulian was hired and why he was eventually replaced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. There are lots of pages about getting Sidney Guilaroff to do Taylor’s hair, how the British unions were against this, and the bribes involved to get them to aquiesce. Taylor comes across as supremely sane, intelligent, and helpful. Wanger, married to Joan Bennet for many years, and a distinguished independent producer since the thirties knew how to deal with stars, what to expect, how to make things comfortable. It’s the other producers who come off badly here, power-hungry, indecisive, incompetent. In a line that’s become a commonplace recently, ‘I don’t care what the facts and figures say, just make it happen’. Well something did happen: the most expensive film ever to that time. We get a complete budget breakdown of the final version, and we’re also told — that contrary to its legend — the film went into profit in 1966 with its $5 million dollar sale to ABC. According to Kenneth Turan in the afterword, ‘Cleopatra became one of the highest grossing films of 1963, ended up playing in New York for sixty three weeks, and went into profit in 1966′ (p.224) .

Turan writes, ‘On one level the limited success Cleopatra achieved in the face of ungodly obstacles can be seen as a triumph of the system, the victory of industry worker bees over snarky gossipistas. But from another point of view the lesson of this film fifty years down the road is how little remembered that triumph is and the recognition of how often perception becomes reality in this town ‘(224-225).

An entertaining and useful read.

José Arroyo

Wear and Tear: The Threads of My Life by Tracy Tynan

 

A lovely book about growing up as the daughter of famous writers (Kenneth Tynan and Elaine Dundy). Lots of celebrity friends crop up amongst the relative neglect. Each chapter is structured around an item of clothing (a Pucci dress, a Muji T-shirt) that acts as a Proustian madeleine to go back to the past, to provide a fulcrum to that particular story, and also ties the threads of the book together. Tracy Tynan would go on to marry director James McBride so the ‘incidents on the fringes of celebrity culture’ – feel to the book continues to the end. It’s well-written, sophisticated in its acceptance of various foibles and entertaining, at least until the end where the yoga retreats and the Starbucks coffee orders got a bit much for me. Tynan would go on to costume several famous films (Breathless, Choose Me) and it is these aspects that I found most interesting and useful. She recounts what a costume designer does beyond designing for the stars and, in enumerating the various challenges she faced, she offers a clear breakdown of the various tasks involved. I recommend.

José Arroyo

Hou Hsiao-hsien 9: Daughter of the Nile (1987)

 

We discuss Daughter of the Nile as a transitional film for Hou, the relatively few  locations (the house, KFC, the nightclub, the beach etc) in which the film is set, the now typical Hou way of filming from repeating fixed camera positions with little or no movement; the way the protagonist remains relatively unknowable, the fractured family on the edges of criminality across generations, the lack of judgment on that, the continued use of fart jokes, the context in which the film was made (end of Martial law, ongoing relationship with American consumer culture etc). A film José didn’t quite like as much as Richard but which nonetheless rewarded a second viewing. The podcast 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

 

Listeners might be interested in this wonderful introductory lecture to Hou Hsiao-hsien’s cinema by the great Tony Rayns:

Andrew Chan in the November-December 1917 issue of Film Comment calls Daughter of the Nile a ‘ a scabbed wound of a film whose identification with disaffected city youth paved the way for the harsher provocations of Tsai Ming-liang a half-decade later’.

 

The New York Times Review compares the film to OZU, Bresson, Rebel Without a Cause 

In Slant Magazine: ‘Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien’s compositions arrange walls, doors, and windows as frames within a frame, visually trapping characters under the weight of their relationships and responsibilities. …

‘Sandwiched as it is between the two major trilogies in Hou’s canon—the first (A Summer at Grandpa’sA Time to Live and a Time to Die, and Dust in the Wind) focused on the filmmaker’s personal memories, and the second (A City of SadnessThe Puppetmaster and Good Men, Good Women) on Taiwan’s fraught history—Daughter of the Nile is often overlooked. Yet in its elegiac, ambivalent view of neon-streaked city streets and youth floundering in a unfathomably huge cultural transition, it points the way toward Hou’s later films like Goodbye South, Goodbye and Millennium Mambo. The film is also one of Hou’s most accessible works, its depiction of angst-ridden, Westernizing youth fitting well within contemporaneous Taiwanese New Wave cinema while showcasing the director’s formal idiosyncrasy.

In a lovely review for The Monthly Film Bulletin, Tony Rayns writes, ‘In a curious way, Hou’s cinema seems to e edging closer and closer to Bresson. His preference for long, fixed-angle takes in which his characters simply go about their business increasingly succeeds in rhyming exterior gesture with unspoken, interior thoughts. In a word, his cinema is becoming more spiritual’. It can be accessed here: rayns

Richard tells me, ‘info on the KFC Japan Christmas celebration discussed in the podcast…’: https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20161216-why-japan-celebrates-christmas-with-kfc

The New York Times one I talk about: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/24/movies/daughter-of-the-nile-hou-hsiao-hsien-quad-cinema.html

A perceptive review of a cinema screening, from the period when the film was still hard to see http://www.reverseshot.org/symposiums/entry/616/daughter_nile

-Review from Film Comment of the restoration, which draws attention to the fart joke: https://www.filmcomment.com/article/review-daughter-of-the-nile-hou-hsiao-hsien/

-This covers the different reception of the film on original release and rerelease (including quotes from the Vincent Canby New York Times review, and Tony Rayns more recent commments) https://asianmoviepulse.com/2018/09/film-analysis-daughter-of-the-nile-1987-by-hou-hsiao-hsien/

…and with thanks to Richard’s super research skills, the theme tune for the video

—  Josés increasing Scholarly Bibliography on Hou which we will add to after every episode:

 

-Andres, Nigel, ‘A Camera Trained on Eternal Truths, Financial Times,  London: 07 June 2005: 13.

-Assayas, Olivier, Modern Time, Film Comment; Jan/Feb 2008; 44, p. 48

-Combs, Geoffrey, ‘ Dust in the Wind/ Lianlian Feng Chen’, Monthly Film Bulletin, April 1, 1990;57, 675, pg.111.

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

-Cheshire, Godgrey, ‘Time span: The cinema of Hou Hsio-hsien’, Film Comment; Nov 1993;29, 6, pg. 56.

-Ellickson , Lee and Hou Hsiao-hsien, Preparing to Live in the Present; An interview with Hou Hsiao-hsien, Cineaste, Fall 2002, vol 27, no. 4 (Fall 2002), pp. 13-19

 

-Hastie, Amelie, ‘Watching Carefully: Hou Hsiao-Hsien and His Audience’, Film Quarterly, vol. 69, no. 3 (Spring 2016), pp. 72-78

-Kenigsberg, Ben . ‘Looking for an Introduction to Taiwan’s Greatest Filmmaker? Start Here’. New York Times (Online) , New York: New York Times Company. May 28, 2020.

-Lupke, Christopher (The Sinophone Cinea of Hou Shiao-hsien: Culture, Stuyle, Voice and Motion, amherst: Cambria Press.

-Rayns, Tony, Esprit de corp, Film Comment; Nov. Dec. 2007, 43, 6, p. 14

-Rayns, Tony, ‘Tongnian Wangshi (The Time To Live and The Tine to Die), Monthly Film Bulletin; Jun 1, 1988; 55, 653

-Rayns, Tony, ‘Daughter of the Nile’ Monthly Film Bulletin, April 1, 989, 56, 663.

-Stanbrook, Alan, The Worlds of Hou Hsiao-hsien’, Sight and Sound, Spring 1990; 59, 2, Rayns, Tony, ‘Auteur in the Making’, Sight and Sound; July 2016;26, 9; p. 98

-Sklar, Robert, ‘Hidden History, Modern Hedeonism; The films of Hou Hsia-hsien’,  Cineaste, Fall 2002; 27, 4, pg. 11.

-Udden, James, ‘Taiwanese Popular Cinema and the Strage Apprenticeship of Hou Hsiao-hsien, Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, Spring, 2003, vol. 15, no. Special Issue on Taiwan Film Spring, 2003), pp. 120-145.

-Udden, James, ‘Dust in the Wind: A Definite Hou/ New Cinema  Work’, The Cupola, 08-2014 (This book chapter is available at The Cupola: Scholarship at Gettysburg College: https://cupola.gettysburg.edu/idsfac/21)

-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

-Yueh-yu, Yeh. Post Script – Essays in Film and the Humanities; Commerce, Tex, Vol 20, Iss 2-3 (Winter 2000) 61-76.

Y-ip, June, ‘Taiwanese New Cinema’ in The Oxford History of World Cinema, Geoffrey Nowell-Smith ed. New York, United States, Oxford University Press, 1996)

 

-Wen, Tien-Hsiang (trans by GAN Sheuo Hui), ‘Hou Hsiao-Hsien: a standard for evaluating Taiwan’s cinema), Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, vol 9, number 2, 2008.

 

Last Call by Elon Green

A real page-turner, in the ‘true murder’ investigative genre, but so much more than that. It’s told like a detective mystery where a character — usually a lonely middle-aged gay man, often married, — goes into a bar only to be picked up by a younger man who turns out to be a serial killer, then meticulously dismembered and dumped in bin bags. As Elon Green gives a face and a history to each of these quasi-forgotten victims, the full force of homophobia –social, institutional, familial — as well as self-hatred, all comes to the fore. Almost nobody cared as man after man gets killed. As the mystery gets somewhat resolved, the full force of the culture’s homophobia gets revealed. Initially people didn’t care about AIDS because it seemed to affect predominantly gay men. Likewise few cared about these men and these murders — which as far as we know took place at the height of the pandemic; there might have been others subsequently — for the same reason. And this wasn’t a century ago. The last murders date to the nineties and the killer was not arrested until 2001. A riveting book that elicits a mix of sadness and rage.

José Arroyo

Hou Hsiao-hsien 8: Dust in the Wind (1986)

A beautiful film, a continuation of a cycle of autobiographical films (The Boys From Fengkuei, A Summer at Grandpa’s). We continue our discussion of framing, ellipses, cinema, letters, the country and the city, heartbreak and exploitation, and all those other formal and thematic elements that make Hou’s cinema so great. James Udden’s wonderful article (see below) has been very useful in the discussion:

Dust in the Wind: A Definite Hou/ New Cinema  Work’, The Cupola, 08-2014 (This book chapter is available at The Cupola: Scholarship at Gettysburg College: https://cupola.gettysburg.edu/idsfac/21)

 

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

 

José made a trailer:

 

Richard tells me: found this very good article from mubi’ https://mubi.com/notebook/posts/taiwan-stories-the-new-cinema-of-the-1980s

a good article although I disagree on some things https://seattlescreenscene.com/2015/03/22/dust-in-the-wind-hou-hsiao-hsien-1986/

 

— The beginnings of Josés Scholarly Bibliography on Hou which we will add to after every episode:

 

-Andres, Nigel, ‘A Camera Trained on Eternal Truths, Financial Times,  London: 07 June 2005: 13.

-Assayas, Olivier, Modern Time, Film Comment; Jan/Feb 2008; 44, p. 48

-Combs, Geoffrey, ‘ Dust in the Wind/ Lianlian Feng Chen’, Monthly Film Bulletin, April 1, 1990;57, 675, pg.111.

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

-Cheshire, Godgrey, ‘Time span: The cinema of Hou Hsio-hsien’, Film Comment; Nov 1993;29, 6, pg. 56.

-Ellickson , Lee and Hou Hsiao-hsien, Preparing to Live in the Present; An interview with Hou Hsiao-hsien, Cineaste, Fall 2002, vol 27, no. 4 (Fall 2002), pp. 13-19

 

-Hastie, Amelie, ‘Watching Carefully: Hou Hsiao-Hsien and His Audience’, Film Quarterly, vol. 69, no. 3 (Spring 2016), pp. 72-78

-Kenigsberg, Ben . ‘Looking for an Introduction to Taiwan’s Greatest Filmmaker? Start Here’. New York Times (Online) , New York: New York Times Company. May 28, 2020.

-Lupke, Christopher (The Sinophone Cinea of Hou Shiao-hsien: Culture, Stuyle, Voice and Motion, amherst: Cambria Press.

-Rayns, Tony, Esprit de corp, Film Comment; Nov. Dec. 2007, 43, 6, p. 14

-Rayns, Tony, ‘Tongnian Wangshi (The Time To Live and The Tine to Die), Monthly Film Bulletin; Jun 1, 1988; 55, 653

-Stanbrook, Alan, The Worlds of Hou Hsiao-hsien’, Sight and Sound, Spring 1990; 59, 2, Rayns, Tony, ‘Auteur in the Making’, Sight and Sound; July 2016;26, 9; p. 98

-Sklar, Robert, ‘Hidden History, Modern Hedeonism; The films of Hou Hsia-hsien’,  Cineaste, Fall 2002; 27, 4, pg. 11.

-Udden, James, ‘Taiwanese Popular Cinema and the Strage Apprenticeship of Hou Hsiao-hsien, Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, Spring, 2003, vol. 15, no. Special Issue on Taiwan Film Spring, 2003), pp. 120-145.

-Udden, James, ‘Dust in the Wind: A Definite Hou/ New Cinema  Work’, The Cupola, 08-2014 (This book chapter is available at The Cupola: Scholarship at Gettysburg College: https://cupola.gettysburg.edu/idsfac/21)

-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

-Yueh-yu, Yeh. Post Script – Essays in Film and the Humanities; Commerce, Tex, Vol 20, Iss 2-3 (Winter 2000) 61-76.

Y-ip, June, ‘Taiwanese New Cinema’ in The Oxford History of World Cinema, Geoffrey Nowell-Smith ed. New York, United States, Oxford University Press, 1996)

 

-Wen, Tien-Hsiang (trans by GAN Sheuo Hui), ‘Hou Hsiao-Hsien: a standard for evaluating Taiwan’s cinema), Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, vol 9, number 2, 2008.

 

Hou Hsiao-hsien 7: A Time To Live and a Time to Die

 

We continue our discussion of the work of Hou Hsiao-hsien, this time with a focus on The Time to Live and The Time to Die, the second in his cycle of autobiographical films after The Boys from Fenkuei.

In the podcast below, we discuss what is depth in this film and talk about Hou’s consideration of ‘traces ‘in the surfaces of his films, how depth is often inextricable from surface in his work. We note the structuring of this film, a bildungsroman, around a series of deaths. We talk of how often the key narrative points are obscured, and make sense only in the connections the viewers can make subsequently; how Hou often films in fixed positions, so we return to the same scene but across time, and we think about how this might affect all those spaces without faces, the anticipatory space, and the remains after characters have left the scene. We also explore the dual perspective in the film, the filmmaker’s and the protagonist’s, often intersecting, rarely interchangeable. We mention how Hou narrates the beginning of the film and how the drama is filmed in the real places and spaces he grew up in, and the effect of dramatising fictionally, on our speculation of the effects of spaces across time in this narrative….and much more. The podcast can 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

 

José did a supercut of places without faces in Hou Hsiao-hsien’s A Time to Live and a Time to Die‘(with added atmosphere by Duke Ellington) that is referred to in the podcast and can be seen below:

 

The clip of the conversation between mother and daughter referred to in the podcast can be seen here:

 

José also did a trailer for the film, which may be found here:

 

Richard has provided the following links:

A fascinating review raising many of the same points we do, and many others:

The source of the “17 fixed camera positions” quote – http://thecinemaarchives.com/2019/07/31/a-time-to-live-and-a-time-to-die-1985-hsiao-hsien-hou/

and he adds an extended interview with Hou Hsiao-hsien and Chu T’ien-wen. Time to Live is not mentioned but they talk about how he became a filmmaker and also the birth of the New Taiwanese Cinema:

A PDF of the Hou Interview:

houHsiao-hsin_zhuTianwen_interview

-Another interesting article, with a focus on the shooting style http://www.reverseshot.org/symposiums/entry/601/time_live_and_time_die

-A good overview of the autobiographical and historical context, and the source of the quote about the ending (“The making of the movie is the happy ending the film itself so crushingly lacks, if a happy ending is even possible.”

https://seattlescreenscene.com/2015/03/21/the-time-to-live-the-time-to-die-hou-hsiao-hsien-1985/

The Time to Live and The Time to Die  was one of Derek Malcolm’s 100 greatest films in a series he did in 2000. He talks about how comparatively little known Hou was in the UK at that point, and also was the initial source for the discussion on the title https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2000/aug/03/artsfeatures1

 

and here’s the Air France commercial Richard mentions https://vimeo.com/24194114

More Reviews (from Wiki):

  1.  “Review: ‘Tongnian WangshiVariety. December 31, 1984. Retrieved February 23, 2015.
  2. ^ Malcolm, Derek. “Hou Hsiao-hsien: The Time to Live and the Time to Die”The Guardian. Retrieved February 23, 2015.
  3. ^ Rosenbaum, Jonathan (2013). “A Time to Live and a Time to Die”Chicago Reader. Retrieved February 23, 2015.
  4. ^ Andrew, Geoff. “The Time to Live and the Time to Die”Time Out London. Retrieved February 23, 2015.

— The beginnings of Josés Scholarly Bibliography on Hou which we will add to after every episode:

 

Andres, Nigel, ‘A Camera Trained on Eternal Truths, Financial Times,  London: 07 June 2005: 13.

Assayas, Olivier, Modern Time, Film Comment; Jan/Feb 2008; 44, p. 48

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,

Cheshire, Godgrey, ‘Time span: The cinema of Hou Hsio-hsien’, Film Comment; Nov 1993;29, 6, pg. 56.

Ellickson , Lee and Hou Hsiao-hsien, Preparing to Live in the Present; An interview with Hou Hsiao-hsien, Cineaste, Fall 2002, vol 27, no. 4 (Fall 2002), pp. 13-19

 

Hastie, Amelie, ‘Watching Carefully: Hou Hsiao-Hsien and His Audience’, Film Quarterly, vol. 69, no. 3 (Spring 2016), pp. 72-78

Kenigsberg, Ben . ‘Looking for an Introduction to Taiwan’s Greatest Filmmaker? Start Here’. New York Times (Online) , New York: New York Times Company. May 28, 2020.

Lupke, Christopher (The Sinophone Cinea of Hou Shiao-hsien: Culture, Stuyle, Voice and Motion, amherst: Cambria Press.

Rayns, Tony, Esprit de corp, Film Comment; Nov. Dec. 2007, 43, 6, p. 14

Rayns, Tony, ‘Tongnian Wangshi (The Time To Live and The Tine to Die), Monthly Film Bulletin; Jun 1, 1988; 55, 653

Stanbrook, Alan, The Worlds of Hou Hsiao-hsien’, Sight and Sound, Spring 1990; 59, 2, Rayns, Tony, ‘Auteur in the Making’, Sight and Sound; July 2016;26, 9; p. 98

Sklar, Robert, ‘Hidden History, Modern Hedeonism; The films of Hou Hsia-hsien’,  Cineaste, Fall 2002; 27, 4, pg. 11.

Udden, James, ‘Taiwanese Popular Cinema and the Strage Apprenticeship of Hou Hsiao-hsien, Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, Spring, 2003, vol. 15, no. Special Issue on Taiwan Film Spring, 2003), pp. 120-145.

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

Yueh-yu, Yeh. Post Script – Essays in Film and the Humanities; Commerce, Tex, Vol 20, Iss 2-3 (Winter 2000) 61-76.

Yip, June, \the Oxford History of World Cinema, Geoffrey Nowell-Smith ed. New York, United States, Oxford University Press, 1996)

 

Wen, Tien-Hsiang (trans by GAN Sheuo Hui), ‘Hou Hsiao-Hsien: a standard for evaluating Taiwan’s cinema), Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, vol 9, number 2, 2008.

 

Trailer for podcast on Hou Hsiao-hsien’s The Time to Live and The Time to Die (1985)

Our next podcast will be on THE TIME TO LIVE AND THE TIME TO DIE. The trailer below will hopefully give a taster of the film for those who might not yet have seen it:
<iframe src=”https://player.vimeo.com/video/549874059&#8243; width=”640″ height=”346″ frameborder=”0″ allow=”autoplay; fullscreen; picture-in-picture” allowfullscreen></iframe>

There’s Always Tomorrow (Douglas Sirk, 1955)

I re-watched There’s Always Tomorrow again last night and was left with a renewed appreciation:

The mise-en-scene is as expressive as you’d expect, the themes an inverse of the typical representation of the family in films of the time. Here family life is lit as a noir, with all the trauma, blockages, frustrated desires evoked by the lighting (the cinematography is by the great Russell Metty)>

The house is a prison

Screens, mesh, darkness, depth. Longing in the depths, out of reach, but framed for us.

Family gets in the way:

Children are frightful:

..and there are so many barriers to the fulfilment of one’s hopes even the light cries:

William Reynolds basically plays the same role he will do later in All That Heaven Allows: the stuffy, priggish, selfish, son who can’t conceive of a parent having an interest other than their children and makes sure to block it.

It was wonderful.

José Arroyo

Hou Hsiao-hsien 6: A Summer at Grandpa’s (1983)

 

 

We delve further into the cinema of Hou Hsiao-hsien. We discuss the narrative structure, how various plots unfold and deepen what seems initially a light story where not much seems to happen. We discuss the continuing interest in differences between the country and the city, the use of trains, how the kids develop an understanding of the adult world by what happens on the margins of the story, and how the story itself is told in long takes, in the middle plane of the frame, with elegant compositions that reframe our view through character placement and movement. We discuss the context of production, the connection with Hong Kong, the limitations of government policy, how little film filmmakers were allowed to use, and how this affected the films’ aesthetic. We also discuss the improvisational style of acting and the performances Hou manages to extract from the children, who are wonderful. We talk of how he uses corridors and stairs to create depth, how light and oblique angles create the feeling of a child hearing things they might not be understanding. We also discuss Hou’s use of empty space (which is what most likely lead to comparisons with Ozu). We end with a discussion of the music, very different this time, and composed by Edward Yang, who also plays the father in the film, appearing briefly at the beginning and the end….oh and the continuing use of toilet gags.

The podcast can be listened to here;

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 Layne found the following links which you might find useful:

 

  • An interview with Hou where he discusses plot

The scenes without humans video Richard mentions in the podcast:

A good review (and another source for the story about improvisation starting with Green Green Grass) http://www.reverseshot.org/archive/entry/450/summer_grandpas

Article on the early films and this trilogy, source for my comment on this being based on the writer’s childhood https://cine-scope.com/2018/02/19/masters-of-modern-world-cinema-hou-hsiao-hsien-part-1/

On sound recording …. “A City of Sadness was the first feature-length movie made in Taiwan to use sound recorded throughout filming instead of relying on the dubbing of actors’ voices and the addition of sound effects in postproduction. ” https://taiwantoday.tw/news.php?unit=20,29,35,45&post=25014

This is probably more for the Boys from Fengkuei blog – an interesting article on the early films that were on Mubi. http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/2016/06/06/hou-hsiao-hsien-film-culture-finally-comes-through/

 

Jose’s Bibliography on Hou:

Andres, Nigel, ‘A Camera Trained on Eternal Truths, Financial Times,  London: 07 June 2005: 13.

Assayas, Olivier, Modern Time, Film Comment; Jan/Feb 2008; 44, p. 48

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,

Cheshire, Godgrey, ‘Time span: The cinema of Hou Hsio-hsien’, Film Comment; Nov 1993;29, 6, pg. 56.

Ellickson , Lee and Hou Hsiao-hsien, Preparing to Live in the Present; An interview with Hou Hsiao-hsien, Cineaste, Fall 2002, vol 27, no. 4 (Fall 2002), pp. 13-19

 

Hastie, Amelie, ‘Watching Carefully: Hou Hsiao-Hsien and His Audience’, Film Quarterly, vol. 69, no. 3 (Spring 2016), pp. 72-78

Kenigsberg, Ben . ‘Looking for an Introduction to Taiwan’s Greatest Filmmaker? Start Here’. New York Times (Online) , New York: New York Times Company. May 28, 2020.

Lupke, Christopher (The Sinophone Cinea of Hou Shiao-hsien: Culture, Stuyle, Voice and Motion, amherst: Cambria Press.

Rayns, Tony, Esprit de corp, Film Comment; Nov. Dec. 2007, 43, 6, p. 14

 

Stanbrook, Alan, The Worlds of Hou Hsiao-hsien’, Sight and Sound, Spring 1990; 59, 2, Rayns, Tony, ‘Auteur in the Making’, Sight and Sound; July 2016;26, 9; p. 98

Sklar, Robert, ‘Hidden History, Modern Hedeonism; The films of Hou Hsia-hsien’,  Cineaste, Fall 2002; 27, 4, pg. 11.

Udden, James, ‘Taiwanese Popular Cinema and the Strage Apprenticeship of Hou Hsiao-hsien, Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, Spring, 2003, vol. 15, no. Special Issue on Taiwan Film Spring, 2003), pp. 120-145.

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

Yueh-yu, Yeh. Post Script – Essays in Film and the Humanities; Commerce, Tex, Vol 20, Iss 2-3 (Winter 2000) 61-76.

Yip, June, \the Oxford History of World Cinema, Geoffrey Nowell-Smith ed. New York, United States, Oxford University Press, 1996)

 

Wen, Tien-Hsiang (trans by GAN Sheuo Hui), ‘Hou Hsiao-Hsien: a standard for evaluating Taiwan’s cinema), Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, vol 9, number 2, 2008.

The trailer José made for the podcast may be seen here:

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 295 – Suspiria (1977) and Suspiria (2018)

We explore Dario Argento’s Suspiria, his 1977 horror classic, and its loose remake by Luca Guadagnino, from 2018. We’ve never seen either, although Argento’s film casts a long shadow – those who’ve seen it never forget it, and it’s easy to see why. Its visual design is bold, imaginative and beautiful, the images it creates extraordinary, its violence heightened and wild. José loves it, literally wowed by it, captivated by its cinematic flair and interesting casting. But, Mike argues, it’s a film that offers nothing beyond the aesthetic, uninterested in its own characters or story, which leaves him cold.

Our responses to Guadagnino’s remake are reversed entirely. For Mike, it’s superior: ambitious, keen to mine the threadbare original for thematic depth, and laudably attempting to weave together generational guilt, dance, institutional corruption and women’s bodies into a complex tapestry, although one which requires too much audience participation to complete. José thinks he’s giving a pretentious work of ego far too much credit, is turned off by the dance scenes, annoyed at the lack of connection he finds between its wider themes and central coven, angered by its grey, wintry colour palette and dry cinematography… in fact, he’s angered by all of it! Now he knows how his friends felt as he valiantly tried to argue them into appreciating Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name, which he loved, but which many of them greeted with similar hostility.

The original a cult classic, its remake a very different take on the core premise – both are worth watching. But if our responses are anything to go by, your mileage may vary considerably.

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.

Fredric March whips some Christians

C.B. De Mille sure knew how to make everything exciting. The Christians in the area sequence at the end of The Sign of the Cross is extraordinarily fetishistic and exciting. This is Fredric March’s introduction in the film, abridged and in gif form:

Camping it Up as Nero: Charles Laughton in The Sign of the Cross (De Mille, 19320

As you can see  below from the dark muscleman by his side and the peeling of he flower petals, Nero is coded as homosexual in De Mille’s Sign of the Cross.  Charles Laughton gives an extraordinary performance which is at once restrained AND floridly camp. Out of relative stillness blooms just the right ‘too-much’ gesture and then it settles as if in a photograph. It’s quite extraordinary to see.

Some more frame enlargements below:

José Arroyo

Thinking Aloud About Film: Hou Hsiao-hsieng 5 – The Boys From Fengkuei aka All The Youthful Days (1983)

Hou has described this as the favourite amongst his films. Richard and José discuss why this might be so: the compositions; the long takes that allow for action vertically, horizontally, and on different planes of the image. The juxtaposition between the rowdy teenage delinquency we see with the classical musical. The easy ellipsis into memory. The evident influence of Italian neo-realism, particularly Visconti’s Rocco and His Brothers, which is explicitly referenced and Fellini’s I Vitelloni, which has a similar set-up. We discuss the falling into place of a particular style that would come to be associated with the director and why we think the film ends up being so beautiful and moving.

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

I’ve enclosed seven clips which I hope illustrate his style. The camera placed inside to allow for framings within framings, to bring the outside in, the lingering between foreground and background.

 

The scene where they go see a porno and end up watching Rocco and His Brothers:

The incredible composition of this long take  that begins with the camera backtracking, then panning on the man and the boy, then following them u,. The action takes place mid-frame, the fight goes off space only to return. Hou is not afraid to let the frame wait as policemen go in one direction, motorists on the other, and the gang of boys runs towards the camera. It’s brilliant. And typical of this film.

The iconic scene with the boys teasing the girl, the beginning full frame, the re-framing from the inside, the young girl’s acid commentary on it, and then the elegiac long-shot that follows.

The beautiful shot of the first visit to the house, notice the action, the re-framings through windows and corridors. The way it rhymes with all of the scenes in the house.

Note again, the reframing through balconies and windows, the use of corridors, the way these techniques rhyme and when.

Verité CinemaScope below:

José made a trailer for the podcast:

 

…and Richard has provided the following links:

this is the interview where Hou talks about the use of “Rocco and his Brothers” https://lwlies.com/interviews/hou-hsiao-hsien-the-assassin/

A good article which puts it in the context of the first three films – https://seattlescreenscene.com/2015/03/20/the-boys-from-fengkuei-hou-hsiao-hsien-1983/

and another good review: https://www.sensesofcinema.com/2003/cteq/boys_from_fengkuei/

Transcript of the BFI interview with Tony Rayns, he talks about the genesis of the film https://www.thelondontree.com/interviews/hou-hsiao-hsien-a-rare-conversation-at-the-bfi-london/

An interesting article on the early films that were on Mubi. http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/2016/06/06/hou-hsiao-hsien-film-culture-finally-comes-through/

Jose’s suggestions for further reading:

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,

Cheshire, Godgrey, ‘Time span: The cinema of Hou Hsio-hsien’, Film Comment; Nov 1993;29, 6, pg. 56.

Stanbrook, Alan, The Worlds of Hou Hsiao-hsien’, Sight and Sound, Spring 1990; 59, 2, Rayns, Tony, ‘Auteur in the Making’, Sight and Sound; July 2016;26, 9; p. 98

Sklar, Robert, ‘Hidden History, Modern Hedeonism; The films of Hou Hsia-hsien’,  Cineaste, Fall 2002; 27, 4, pg. 11.

Wen, Tien-Hsiang (trans by GAN Sheuo Hui), ‘Hou Hsiao-Hsien: a standard for evaluating Taiwan’s cinema), Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, vol 9, number 2, 2008.

 

Also the original Variety review may be found here: review

 

José Arroyo