Friday, December 25, 2015

Film #171: Fanny and Alexander

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Just to try something a little different, I offer:

100 Things I Love About Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander (in no particular order): 
  1. It was my big-screen introduction to Bergman’s work. I had caught Cries and Whispers, In the Life of Marionettes, Face to Face, and Autumn Sonata on cable during those heyday years of ’78-’82 HBO. Yet I’d never seen his work in a theater, and lemme tell ya, it blew my socks off. At 15, I immediately considered this a formative movie, one that I placed right next to 2001: A Space Odyssey in the pantheon of works that truly let me in on the immense possibilities of cinema. Seeing it as a kid not much older than those in the movie really made an impression on me. It remains my second favorite film of all time. It will probably stay that way.
  2. The first words we see, printed above the mini-theater set in the film’s first shot: “Not for pleasure only,” referring to the fact that art is NOT just about entertainment.
  3. The opening scene–the beginning of Christmas Day, 1907–with Bertil Guve as Alexander, lazing away the afternoon, trying to find something to get into. I see this scene as a kind of tour through childhood, playing with toys, then trying to find others to play with, then a reliance on pure imagination, with this nearly pubescent boy settling in on the one thing in his grandmother’s home that sparks it: a nude statue of a female, which becomes bathed in light and begins to move on its own. This is a scene of sexual awakening, I think. Alexander stays underneath a table, frozen in fear for what the future will bring, even though his grandmother bids him to join her.
  4. The haunting music over that opening scene: Robert Schumann’s Piano Quintet op. 44 II.
  5. The sets in the film are exquisite, but perhaps none more so than the red-hued, labyrinthine home of the grandmother. I swear, there’s something new to look at in this setting every time I see the film.
  6. That wonderful shot of a carriage passing by vendors of colorful flowers, all set up in the Swedish snow.
  7. The nativity play, with Fanny and Alexander disguised as angels.
  8. That scene, once the curtain falls on the Ekdahl family, of pure celebration, with the lights being lowered into frame, the cast embracing each other, the kids chasing each other in little circles, the opulent food being carted in on a long table, and finally the Christmas tree arriving to obscure it all.
  9. Allan Edwall’s melancholy performance as Oscar Ekdahl, proprietor of the family theater and father to our title characters.
  10. His character’s final (as it turns out to be) year-end speech to his company, where he casts the theater as “the little world,” trying to make audiences learn about or forget about “the big world” outside. It’s one of the film’s major themes, this comparison, and I find Oscar’s overtly downbeat farewell to it to be quite moving.
  11. Jarl Kulle’s boisterous Gustav Ekdahl, the restaurant owner, commanding his team not to look down their noses at the actors they’re about to serve, as they’re not as sophisticated as the restaurant’s usual clientele.
  12. The way Gustav carried the flaming punch bowl, high up, with confidence and skill, careful to see that the fire doesn’t touch his reddened face, as a marching band of musicians play a vivid fanfare behind him.
  13. Borje Ahlstedt’s idiosyncratic turn as the drunken Carl Ekdahl, first seen singing old standards with his carousing buddies, and then being angrily dragged off to supper by his perpetually worried German wife
  14. The fact that it’s a movie about ADULT children as well–the three brothers, each in their own ways, have never really grown up. In fact, the only grown-ups in the movie are the women, and this goes for the female children, too: They are inevitably the most even-keeled and responsible people in the movie, underlying Bergman’s view that a mother never really stops being a mother, even before they become a mother.
  15. Gunn Wahlgren as Helena Ekdahl, perhaps my favorite performance in the movie. Her matriarchal presence is intense and revealing, as are her mercurial moods. It’s easy to see the character was once a lauded stage actress, because she certainly loves the drama. fanny 11
  16. Erland Josephson as Isak Jacobi, the grandmother’s Jewish lover and friend. I always found him an overwhelmingly warm and enchanted force in the film.
  17. Helena and Isak stealing a kiss after he gives her a Christmas gift, and reminiscing about the time her husband caught them fooling around–“It was like a farce by Feydeau.” I also love how she breaks down, sad about old age and the arrival of “the horrible, dirty life.” Isak tries to kiss away her tears, and she quickly comes to her senses.
  18. Helena: “Are you sad you’ve grown old?” Isak: “I’m certainly not. Everything’s getting worse. Worse people, worse machines, worse wars… and worse weather. I’m glad I’ll soon be dead.” Right on.
  19. That superb shot of the grandmother, stepping out on the balcony with Isak, donned in her fur coat, saying with all the love in the world: “There is my family,” as she watches them in the midst of a snowball fight. It’s one of the movie’s richest moments of quiet joy.
  20. Dinner is served, and the kids bring up the rear of the procession to the dinner table. Alexander surreptitiously sticks a mini Swedish flag into the hair of a favorite aunt, to many giggles.
  21. The energetic line-dance that the family does around the grandmother’s apartment. The song being sung by the family–a Swedish traditional piece–is extremely catchy and you might leave the theater singing it. I always found it amusing, too, that Don Herzfeldt used a version of it in one of his cartoons.
  22. Gustav breaking out of the dance to canoodle with Maj, a comely maid he has designs on, and then breaking back into the line with a big laugh, right next to his wife Alma (Mona Malm). Another scene of childlike male shenanigans.
  23. More adult childishness: Uncle Carl treating the kids to a show of scatological “fireworks,” and that big zoom-in to his cigar-smoking face as he lets one rip.
  24. The alternately bored and enthralled looks on the family’s faces as they listen to Oscar read from the Bible.
  25. The pillow fight, filled with screams and feathers, and the tinkly sounds of a music box.fannyochalexander
  26. Alma offering Maj (whom she knows is messing around with her husband) a Christmas box, and then slapping her. Maj silently accepts this “box.”
  27. The mothers kiss their kids goodnight, and Emilie Ekdahl confesses to Alma an impression she has of Alma’s son; “Putte kisses like a real man.” They both find this uproarious.
  28. As this is an autobiographical memory piece by Bergman, of course we have a scene where (presumed) future filmmaker Alexander treats his sister and cousins to a show of shadows on the wall, as slides in a kerosene lamp tell the prophetic story of a woman being visited by a white ghost. The family will soon have a “white ghost” of their own. The scene ends in spirited screams, and a bemused admonition from Emilie for the kids to hit the sack.
  29. Maj’s midnight visitation to Alexander, confessing that he can’t sleep in her bed tonight, to which he angrily shuts down. I’d be mad, too: Pernilla August is ravishing as this slightly plump but very sexy maid.
  30. That goofy sex scene between Gustav and Maj, with the bed collapsing from underneath them.
  31. Gustav arriving home to chilly stares from his daughter and wife; of course, that doesn’t stop him from trying to get a little more sex in. Another hilarious scene, filled with a rainbow of emotions.
  32. Carl’s near nervous breakdown at being destitute and beholden to his mother, wondering about the moment where his fortunes turned and his reputation was ruined, culminating in a crippling scene of depression, with Carl clutching his own face in abject despair.
  33. Bertil Guve’s blacker-than-black eyes and hair, and Pernilla Alwin’s perfectly blonde, blue-eyed Fanny.
  34. Oscar playing the White Ghost in Hamlet, with his elderly producer (Bergman veteran Gunnar Bjornstrand) looking down at an enraptured Alexander, perhaps spotting the artist the child will eventually become.
  35. After Oscar collapses, Alexander is again paralyzed with fear for the future, even after his father’s stricken body has been carted out of the theater. Only Maj can rouse him to face the inevitable. fanny 7
  36. Even at home, Alexander is beset by depression–almost collapsed with grief. Talk of getting a puppy can’t raise his spirits, and neither can molasses sandwiches. Fanny–always steadfast–pokes at him, and he simply says “Leave me alone.”  This is his first real experience with death–a subject that would obsess Bergman as a filmmaker for decades to come.
  37. Oscar’s last words to Emilie, telling her that in death, they will become even closer than they were in life.
  38. Alexander and Fanny being led to their father’s bedroom, heads bowed down. Alexander gives an almost contemptuous look to the rest of the family as he enters the room; he hates having his emotions on display.
  39. At the death bed, Fanny dutifully pays tribute to her father, but Alexander tries to hide under the bed. He’s dragged out and, in a horrifying moment, his father clutches his hand, hard, and struggles to speak, his tongue roiling to find the right words before he expires.
  40. Fanny and Alexander, awoken in the middle of the night to the sounds of their mother screaming in misery. Bergman and his cinematographer Sven Nykvist frame this so cleverly, through barely open doors that reveal only Oscar’s dead body and Emilie walking slowly to and fro, across the room, screaming and screaming, with the camera cutting back to the terrified look on the children’s faces.fanny 13
  41. A stunning funeral procession–the most opulent scene in the movie (filmed without Bergman’s participation, as he was sick at the time–he was beset by hypochondria during the film’s production, a sign that he REALLY cared about it). The scene is spectacularly set to Benjamin Britten’s ominous Funeral March for Queen Victoria.
  42. And Alexander, walking in the procession, reciting obscenities quietly to himself. Fanny gives him a quick and understanding glance.
  43. At the post-funeral dinner, Alexander glances at the Bishop offering condolences to his mother. You can see the disgust on his face (Bertil Guve is great at conveying emotions without uttering a sound; for a movie with two children as lead characters, Bergman gives them very few words to say, instead relying mostly on their expressive eyes to tell the story.)
  44. A great shot concludes this segment: Fanny leads Alexander outside their room, having heard something–three ominous notes being played on a harpsichord. Sitting at the instrument, in a white suit: their now-ghostly father. Edwall’s silent peer into the camera is chilling.
  45. At the beginning of the second act, a scene where Alexander arrives home to a cold reception, and the other kids are gossiping to each other, presumably about how he’s now in big trouble.
  46. The introduction of this piece’s villain: Jan Malmsjo as the Bishop Vergerus, who’s been charged with getting the truth out of Alexander. This first battle of wills between the boy and the Bishop is fairly striking–a portent of things to come, and one of my favorite scenes in the film, as it talks about the difference between a lie and the truth. As we come to see, some lies lead TO the truth–that, after all, is the meaning of art. Malmsjo is pretty thrilling in the film–immensely despicable, despite being more famous in Sweden as a song-and-dance man.
  47. The revelation of the Bishop’s austere home–a stark change from the abundance of the Ekdahl residences, and more superb art direction from set designer Anna Asp.
  48. And then there’s his ghastly mother and sisters, including one very obese one, shut away in her room, living life as a freakish pariah. Bergman’s commentary on such disingenuous religious figures could not be more clear, or more damning. fanny 2
  49. Ewa Froling as Emilie. Her performance really comes into full flower here as she faces more challenges once she makes the fateful decision to marry the Bishop. Utterly powerful is the scene where she argues quietly with him about having to ask the children if they approve of his plan to have them shed their past life completely.
  50. The wedding scene where, as the vows are being recited, Alexander departs and throws himself dispiritedly upon a full kitchen table, gave me the biggest laugh in the movie. Ridiculously creative!
  51. Emilie asking her children to include the Bishop in their nightly prayers. Only Fanny complies and the Bishop notices this. He takes this opportunity to needle Alexander some more, finally discovering that he’s also disobeyed the Bishop’s order to leave everything behind. The one thing Alexander brings: his teddy bear. Childhood cannot be denied such small comforts.
  52. A nearly unrecognizable Harriett Andersson–a long way from Summer With Monika–as the Bishop’s nervous, superstitious maid Justina, with her bandaged hand.
  53. The scene where Alexander’s imagination takes flight, as he tells the terrible story of what happened to the Bishop’s former wife and their two daughters. I remember first seeing this in the theater and you could feel the audience being silently enraptured by this tale, just as Fanny and Justina are. fanny 5
  54. Another great scene, this time with the Bishop and Alexander squaring off firmly, with the Bishop angry at Alexander’s tale (which we sense might very well be true). Fanny backs her up her brother’s efforts to deny, but eventually, some punishing whacks with a cane are administered.
  55. That wonderful close-up of the mother’s hand, with a thimble coldly still on a finger, clutching the back of Alexander’s head as he prepares to take his punishment. There’s something so haunting about this shot (it’s the thimble that does it).
  56. After the punishment and the confession, Alexander gets a few swipes in. “Alexander does not wish the Bishop a good night,” he says. After being forced to kiss the Bishop’s ring, he’s told he’ll be sleeping in the attic until morning. Alexander defiantly screams “YES, YOUR GRACE!”
  57. Seeking a bit of understanding from Fanny, the Bishop lovingly holds out his hand, and Fanny indignantly turns her head away. This is my favorite moment from Ms. Allwin–a real emotional victory, from a character that seems immanently forgiving.
  58. The fight for the attic key between Emilie and the Bishop’s bitchy mother is spectacular.
  59. The Bishop owns a fluffy black cat, so he can’t be ALL bad…
  60. On a rainy afternoon at a springtime country estate, the grandmother dozes and awakens to a visit from her dead son. He’s apologetic for everything that has happened to the family since his death; meanwhile, she remembers his beauty as a child. Again, a mother is always a mother, even in old age, and even after a child has passed away.
  61. That great tracking shot as Isak leaves his curiosity shop, dropping a coin into a fiddler’s cup as he heads over to the Bishop’s estate.
  62. Magic is introduced fully into the film, as Uncle Isak attempts to buy a chest from the Bishop, but secretly plans to sneak the children out of the house. Foiled by the Bishop, who slaps the hat of Isak’s head and screams anti-semitic insults, Isak summons all the power of illusion and screams to the heavens in order to make this plan work. This is an extremely memorable moment, and for some viewers new to Bergman, maybe a head-scratching one. fanny 10
  63. I love the scene that has Alexander, under the pretense of looking for a chamber pot, first exploring Isak’s endlessly fascinating house, filled with tons of stuff a kid would love. The smoky photography here is particularly luminous, and I adore that moment where Alexander disappears downstage and then quickly reappears upstage, emphasizing the place’s maze-like features.
  64. Those superbly creepy shots of Oscar, wandering around in the background, framed by Isak’s collection of chandeliers, as Alexander admonishes him to go back to heaven “because there’s nothing that you can do here.” This is the final time we see the father’s ghost, by the way.
  65. Alexander, finding the radically unsettling houseboy Aron (Mats Bergman) sleeping with his eyes open.
  66. A visitation by God, hidden behind a doorway, might be the film’s scariest moment (and this IS a quasi-horror film, in some ways). “Is this the end of me?” The revelation, too, is a hoot.
  67. Another of the film’s superb scenes has Emilie bidding goodbye to the Bishop, having slipped six sleeping pills into his tea. It’s the one scene where we feel some compassion for the Bishop who, after all, is probably the product of an unloving household. Malmsjo is absolutely brilliant here. “I’m horribly awake,” he says, before crying out in agony to a defiant Emilie.
  68. The breathing mummy that Aron shows to Alexander. This is Bergman’s personal favorite image in the movie.
  69. Alexander (to Aron): “If there is a god, then he’s a shit, and I’d like to kick him in the butt.”
  70. The casting of actress Stina Ekblad as Aron’s locked-away brother Ishmael is particularly inspired, and it really throws your brain into loopty-loops.
  71. Alexander’s scene with his “guardian angel” is both sublimely comforting and wholly unsettling.
  72. The sight of the Bishop’s obese sister, writhing in slow-motion flames, is unforgettable.
  73. …as are the Bishop’s final moments.
  74. The glorious denouement, where the Eckdahl’s are back together again. Fanny and Alexander feast on desserts as two new babies–born to Gustav and Emilie–lie in frilly bassinets. Clearly moved, Gustav happily regales the guests with a celebration of “the little world, and of love, kindness, and compassion. fanny_jenskronika
  75. Meanwhile, the women in family realize that they, now, are in full control of the Eckdahl’s future, with Emilie offering a part in a play by Strindberg to her mother-in-law, who hasn’t been on stage in years, but who seems to be fully considering a possible return, even though she doesn’t like Strindberg (whom she calls “a misogynist”). This is an inside joke, as Gunn Wallgren began her career as one of the premier stage interpreters of Strindberg.
  76. The extremely eerie re-appearance of our villain, fully underlining Bergman’s film as a kind of horror tale, and a reiteration of the notion that the past is never quite done with us.
  77. The final moment of the movie brings it around to its beginning: As the grandmother retires to read the Strindberg play, Alexander at last curls up in her lap, once again giving himself over to the power of imagination.
  78. I love that Lena Olin and Peter Stormare have early roles in Fanny and Alexander. Upon my last viewing, I finally located Stormare (he’s one of the guys that helps Isak with the Bishop’s chest), but I still cannot spot Olin (who is more in evidence in the longer Swedish TV cut).
  79. The final Bergman touch–those iconic, bright red closing credits, as always, unfolding in silence.
  80. It was Bergman’s first film made in Sweden after the legendary filmmaker’s four-year tax exile in Germany.
  81. It’s great that, as one of Bergman’s last film’s, the movie emerged as a hit, making nearly $7 million at the US box office. (The filmmaker would go on to make a few TV productions, and a true final theatrical film, 2003’s Saraband with Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson reprising their Scenes from a Marriage roles). bergmand and fanny
  82. In 1983, it hit a record at the Oscars as the non-English language film with the most nominations–six. It ended up winning four: Art Direction, Costume Design, Cinematography, and Foreign Language Film. Sadly, it lost out in Best Director (to James L. Brooks’ Terms of Endearment–a travesty–and Best Original Screenplay (to Horton Foote’s Tender Mercies–less of a travesty).
  83. It also won the 1983 Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film.
  84. In the 2012 Sight and Sound poll as to the best films of all time, it placed 84th–way too low.
  85. I adore that, as with many Bergman films, it’s almost completely devoid of music except in key stings and subtle accents.
  86. It was shot in chronological order–a feat nearly unheard of in modern cinema.
  87. The larger Criterion Collection version of it (five discs) includes a one-hour “making of” documentary.
  88. Gorgeous Sven Nykvist photography–absolutely some of his best work.
  89. The costuming, by Marik Vos Lundh, is resolutely exquisite.
  90. The makeup and hairstyling are equally lovely.
  91. Very crisply edited by Sylvia Ingemarsson; despite its length, it speeds by with great haste, and when it’s all over, you feel like you’ve truly been taken on a journey.
  92. I love its Dickensian quality–it’s a Bergman movie that feels like a tribute to another great storyteller (which Bergman admitted was so).fanny 1
  93. The sound of the Swedish language, particularly as delivered so precisely and with verve by these actors, is absolutely musical. It’s a movie that actually makes me want to learn and speak the language.
  94. The quick glimpses of the Swedish city streets, or the countrysides, or the flowing rivers and icy thoroughfares–all are completely delicious.
  95. I even like the film’s elegant movie poster–one of my favorites of all time. I still own and treasure it.
  96. I can watch it again and again, and never be bored with it.
  97. I love that it was actually done for Swedish TV, with 2 hours and 12 minutes added to to its theatrical running time. If I ever get tired of the theatrical cut–the one I’ve kind of imprinted on–I can re-experience the piece again anew by watching the TV cut, which is even better, of course. (I apologize to fans in advance for not reviewing that version, but honestly, it's the theatrical version that made me fall in love with it.)
  98. But, amazingly, the theatrical cut loses none of its power. How was Bergman able to do this? It’s a wonder! (Still, he says, in order to achieve this, he had to “cut into the nerves and lifeblood of the film”). The action clearly troubled him. I can't understand how he was able to do it so perfectly and still keep its power intact.  
  99. Back in ’83, I took one of my first and favorite girlfriends to see the movie, and she loved it; it remains one of my favorite moviegoing experiences (though she now remembers that she  absentmindedly talked through part of the film--I think I was so engrossed with it that I've forgotten this). Fanny and Alexander also played at an Atlanta 99-cent second-run house I worked at as a teenager, and I remember the projectionist getting the reels mixed up because it was such an uncommonly long movie; I had to clue him in about his mistake, and it took all night to fix. The film did exceedingly well at the Toco Hills Theater, drawing in big crowds for four weeks--an amazing feat for a three-hour Swedish film in such an locale.
  100. Finally, I adore that it’s a movie with such wonderful, never overdone or sentimentalized insights into the filmmaker’s own troubled yet vibrant childhood as the son of a strict Episcopal pastor. It’s both a perfect Christmas film and a justifiable entry into the horror pantheon, and there are not many movies that can boast of that distinction. And I can deeply feel the care Bergman and his team put into every frame. I love that it’s a film so many other people adore, and as such, it will live forever. It's a movie that resolutely explores and enriches my heart. I hope you know now how much I adore it.

    NOTE: this review originally appeared in 2015 as part of WONDERS IN THE DARK's genre overview called THE CINEMA OF CHILDHOOD. Check the whole lineup out here: 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Film #170: The Innocents

In the realm of horror movies, Jack Clayton’s The Innocents is beyond reproach. And we all realize the horror genre is overflowing with creepy kids. But in the domain of movies about children–the subject of this ongoing series–how does this film fare? The answer is complicated, but assured: it's fully illuminating, even in its inky darkness. In this exquisite adaptation of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, the images are boldly frightening, sexually suggestive, deceptively lush, and idiosyncratically shot in dreamy black-and-white Cinemascope by photographer Freddie Francis. Deborah Kerr, in her personal favorite of many acclaimed performances, plays a repressed nanny whose new charges–the alternately rambunctious and preternaturally mature orphans Pamela Franklin and Martin Stephens–prove to be more than her nerves or her faith can take. Is this secluded mansion she now oversees haunted by the ghosts of two sexually libertine servants? Or is she merely being put through the ringer by a couple of untrustworthy brats?

innocents 9Even before the credits roll, we hear a thin, girlish voice (meant to recall the young tones of our female ingenue Pamela Franklin, here playing Flora, though it could also be the voice of the deceased governess Miss Jessel). Words are put to a vaguely secluded theme that soon becomes the movie’s niggling, incessant refrain. Written by composer George Auric and lyricist Paul Dehn, it’s a suitably ancient-sounding tune called “O Willow Waly,” and it reeks of a particularly lonely menace as we sit in the dark, waiting for a movie to begin like we’ve never waited for a movie to begin before or since. And the 20th Century Fox logo happens in silence:

Over the credits, we get a quick glimpse of what we will later learn is the movie’s climax–a clasp of Kerr’s praying hands, over which she breathlessly trembles and sweats, almost in erotic fervor. “I want to save the children, not destroy them,” she confesses in a whisper that flutters amongst twittering night birds. “More than anything, I love children. They need affection, love–someone who’ll belong to them, and to whom they would belong.”

We then eavesdrop on a moderate prologue in which we’re introduced to Michael Redgrave’s coldly profligate uncle as he hires Kerr’s Miss Giddens to take charge of the young rascals foisted upon him (he echoes–or precursors–Miss Giddens’ sentiments about providing them “someone who’ll belong to them, and to whom they would belong”). But he’s upfront about it: he has no time for them, and he’s looking to pay her to love the children for him (tellingly, his first interview question is: “Do you have an imagination?” and we will find Miss Giddens indeed has a fruitful one, of which she’s later a victim). The sheltered daughter of a radically religious country parson, she strikes us as someone of ulterior motives, because as much as she professes to love children, she’s only too willing to let her prospective employer off the hook for leaving his niece and nephew in the lurch as he gallivants carefree, spreading his influence around London. (Of course, she wants the job, so who is she to object?) Giddens clearly develops a crush on this cad, and throughout the rest of the movie, she’s adamant to do his bidding, even if he never appears before her (or us) again. He’s wealthy, but not someone worthy of love, yet she’s been shuttered away for so long, and so past her prime (Kerr is at once too old for the role, and altogether the perfect age for it) that the soulless uncle seems like some kind of perverse hero to her. Maybe, we’re left to conclude, he resembles her own father, who clearly had no room for his own children “mentally or emotionally.”

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After being regaled of previous governess's appalling fate (and of its secretive quality–she’s told to never to speak of it, ever), Miss Giddens arrives at the cloistered Bligh estate glorified and fully embraced by Franklin’s Flora, who’s positively giddy at having a new person in her orbit. As if her own name were a call to action, Flora responds most powerfully to the blooming countryside engulfing the mansion (often, the movie’s environment, with its croaking frogs and flittering butterflies, feels like it's pulling us headfirst into its dizzying effulgence). As Miss Giddens first wanders beside the landscape’s mirrored pond, she can hear a far off voice calling “Flora! Flora!” When she's finally faced with the young girl, Miss Giddens is confused–to whom did that distant voice belong? She knows that Miles, the nephew, is off at boarding school. However, her faith in the innocence of children quickly brushes such uncertainty aside. She is caught up with meeting the ebullient Flora (whom we first see as a rippling mirror image in the pond–itself mirroring a later disturbing apparition). She’s immediately introduced into Flora’s vivid inner world, which Miss Giddens first sees as being entirely playful. She’s somewhat shocked when Flora introduces her reptilian best friend Rupert (a hapless tortoise), but otherwise, this feels like easy going.

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The lively script, largely written by Truman Capote who adapted William Archibald’s play (Archibald had little to do with the screenplay, though he gets co-writing credit) then introduces us to the only adult character who has even a slippery grasp on what has befallen the children in their isolation. Mrs. Grose (Meg Jenkins) is an affable though ultimately simple-minded presence who at once puts Miss Giddens at ease and then, gradually, sets her upon a course to madness. Prone to superstition and secrets (“Stuff and nonsense,” she repeatedly says), she’s an unreliable voice, and the closer we seem to come to the truth via her accounts, the further the truth seems to drift away. Also drifting away are the niceties that first greet Miss Giddens, who first steps into the house overwhelmed by its opulence, and is quickly taken aback when she reaches out to touch some white roses and finds their leaves shedding away in decay. The young girl’s charms and wandering curiosity are discussed, and then Miss Giddens gets startled anew: It wasn’t Mrs. Grose calling Flora’s name earlier. And Flora, then, seems to know of Miles’ impending return to the estate, even though nothing has been mentioned of it. “Promise you won’t go away,” Flora pleads, and Miss Giddens assures her “I expect to be here a very long time.” And then when she and Mrs. Grose talk about the uncle, and the now-dead governess Miss Jessel, Grose lets it slip: “He had the devil’s own eye.”

As we take our first of many eerie candlelit tours through the labyrinthine house (shot with uncommonly well-choreographed lighting and creative lens choices--this stuff was really executed  with proper detail), the film continually ratchets up our unease in subtle ways. Flora continually takes joy in the darkest things, whether it be the notion of being in two places at once, or waking before she dies (she misspeaks in delivering her nightly prayers), or being a soul who walks around after expiring (“Isn’t that what happens to some people?”) or ignoring those screeching, predatory sounds of nature that disturb her governess (“We must pretend we don’t hear it…then we won’t imagine things,” Flora instructs). Continually, we find this world rather billowy and beautiful, and at the same time certainly threatening. And Pamela Franklin’s eyes pierce our soul with their odd combination of knowing and purity, particularly when we find her predictions of Miles’ return come true via a letter informing of his dismissal from school (for a reason that’s never fully spelled out). It’s an unsettling moment but, as with many in the film, we can’t quite put our finger on why it is so (though Franklin’s subsequent line “Oh, look–it’s a lovely spider…and it’s eating a butterfly” place the viewer firmly in ghoulish territory).

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Miles is played by Martin Stephens, a young actor who’d reached an apex of creepiness in British cinema only the year before when he appeared as the agile and otherworldly leader of the transfixing, blonde-headed children commanding Wolf Rilla’s Village of the Damned. His showing here surpasses that role in many ways, though it also recalls it: as in Rilla’s film, his Miles is “miles” beyond his years, and seems to know more about the cruel universe than either the viewer or the adults in the film have any ken. Like Flora, he first appears as an adorably rambunctious child, full of vigor. His masculine energy instantly captivates his governess, and she gladly reverts back to her preferred role upon meeting him. But Miss Giddens is then quickly suspicious of his ability to dirty up innocence, and this is the feeling that defines their odd relationship throughout the film (Mrs. Grose cackles at the governess’ distrust: “Are you afraid he’ll corrupt you?”). This notion becomes ever more alarming when we see that Miles resembles his uncle so, with his cravat and pompadoured hair, that he strikes the viewer (wholly subliminally) as a bonafide Mini-Me. The can’t be good for Miss Giddens, we know right from the outset, when he boldly hands her some flowers as introduction (“Charm must run in the family,” she cheerfully says to Mrs. Grose).

As Clayton’s masterfully directed piece progresses, Miles’ peculiarity becomes more disconcerting, and its causes become clearer (though the film, in keeping with the times it was made, is unable to articulate any details beyond furtive suggestion). The Innocents was mildly appreciated upon its first release (it won Best Director from the National Board of Review, but otherwise was ignored by critical voices, unjustifiably so). But it’s recently re-entered the conversation when discussing the most deeply layered of horror films, and as such, it’s received a much vaunted 2014 release as part of the Criterion Collection, so we can fully soak up Francis’ complex lighting schemes and deep focus framing. The cinematographer’s work shines brilliantly, particularly during the stunning dream sequences–complicated, lap-dissolving mosaics that have rarely seen equal (this would be a tremendously satisfying movie to see on the big screen). Director Clayton, as well, seductively applies sound and music to his creation, with moments of chatter and then thudding silences that will freeze your soul. Without revealing too much (lest I spoil its surprises), the film reaches only one of its many peaks when the ominous Miles, after a vigorous game of hide-and-seek, colludes with Flora to put on a show for the governess and Mrs. Grose. By candlelight, with a chintzy crown atop his head, he recites a morbid love poem to the departed–one that feels utterly like something out of Edgar Allen Poe, but which was directly written for the film as a kind of counterpart to Flora’s song (this must be a creation of Truman Capote, a poet of the first order):

What shall I sing to my lord from my window?
What shall I sing, for my lord will not stay?
What shall I sing, for my lord will not listen?
Where shall I go when my lord is away?
Whom shall I love when the moon is arisen?
Gone is my lord, and the grave is his prison.
What shall I say when my lord comes a-calling?
What shall I say when he knocks on my door?
What shall I say when his feet enter softly
Leaving the marks of his grave on my floor?
Enter my lord!
Come from your prison!
Come from your grave, for the moon is arisen
Welcome, my lord…

innocents 1

This provokes only one of many alarmed jolts from Kerr’s jittery, unstable governess, who indeed may not be as crazy as she seems (this is the movie's perfect height). Her bedside conversations with Miles become increasingly anxious, and one such encounter leads to a totally wrong-feeling moment between the two–one that couldn’t be shot nowadays without a uproar from concerned parents. Amidst spectral walks through deserted hallways, dusty attics, bug-ridden gardens, and wind-blown bedrooms, Clayton elegantly builds tension, to the point you think you mightn’t be able to stand another minute. The swirling, chaotic climax is the final punch to the gut, a shocking coda to all the dread that’s come before.

As a work about children, this might be the chanciest cinema has to offer, particularly given the time in which it was produced. If it were filmed today, the story might be spelled out too baldly, if it could be filmed at all. As it is, you can feel Clayton and screenwriter Capote dancing so close to the edge that the waltz becomes ridiculously perilous. There are innumerable regal and scuzzy scares in The Innocents. What remains in our consciousness, after the fear is shaken away, is the demarcation of that line between chastity and depravity. That’s exactly what’s so alarming about this movie’s splendid, gorgeously horrifying ambivalence. In the end, it’s concerned with what scurrilous details children might cull from seen and unseen adult sexuality. What can be more disquieting, or less innocent, than that? Yet, I think kids can watch this film and understand it fully.

NOTE: this review originally appeared in 2015 as part of WONDERS IN THE DARK's genre overview called THE CINEMA OF CHILDHOOD. Check the whole lineup out here: 


Monday, December 21, 2015

Film #169: Sundays and Cybele

After years of merely seeing the title Sundays and Cybele bandied about, I only recently got the chance to see it courtesy of our heroes at Criterion. I had long had it on my radar, knowing that it won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1963. And, then, in 1964, due to arcane Academy rules, it achieved that ancient and odd achievement of being nominated the following for Best Adapted Screenplay (it comes from a novel by Bernard Eschassériaux, who threw in on the screenplay, though he’s uncredited) and also for the legendary Maurice Jarre’s evocative score. When I finally got the chance to see it in 2014, I was seriously blown away by its visual acuity, intense performances and complicated emotions. I could barely comprehend its immense breadth, and immediately wanted to know more about its maker. But here I quickly found myself thwarted. Even in the age of the Internet, there are still artists about whom you can find little. And its director/co-writer Serge Bourguignon is one of them.

So here is what I have learned about him: From 1948-50, he studied at France’s L’Institut Des Hautes Etudes Cinematographiques (the IDHEC, translated as the “Institute for Advanced Cinematographic Studies,” and now known as La Fémis). This is the famed film school that spawned the likes of Alain Resnais, Claire Denis, Volker Schlondorff, Theo Angelopolis, Louie Malle, Costa Gavras, Claude Sautet, Patrice Leconte, Arnaud Desplechin, and Jean-Jacques Annaud, as well as countless other cinematic craftspeople (quite an alumni there). After traveling the world in search of material, he began helming documentary shorts in the late '50s, culminating with his Palme D’or win at Cannes for his short film La Sourire in 1960 (this short is available on the recent Criterion Collection release of Sundays and Cybele, though I must confess, I haven’t yet seen it).


After Sundays and Cybele won the Academy Award, the director moved on to making a now obscure 1965 American western called The Reward, starring Max Von Sydow and Bourguignon’s wife Yvette Mimieux (and where can we see THIS film?). His second French feature, Two Weeks in September, starring Brigitte Bardot, arrived in 1967 and has only recently been released as part of a Bardot box set. After this, Bourguignon threw in on the filming of The Picasso Summer, a 1969 drama adapted from the work of Ray Bradbury and starring Mimieux and Albert Finney (the number of filmmakers who contributed to this film were many, and effectively diluted his contribution, to the point where he’s not even mentioned on IMDb as a collaborator, and this i also a lost film). After this, he apparently divorced Yvette Mimieux (who would go on to wed Stanley Donen in 1972), and ever since, cinematically or otherwise, we haven’t heard word one from Serge Bourguignon. Outside of what’s included in the Criterion’s extras on their release of this film. I doubt one could find out anything about the man.

I can barely imagine what his life has been like being at such peaks and valleys. (Can YOU fancy being married for less than a decade to the stunning Yvette Mimieux?) But I guess he’s found happiness without making films. Even so, Orson Welles said that you only need one to be remembered, and for Bourguignon, it’s clear that Sundays and Cybele is his one. Its original title is Les dimanches de Ville d’Avray (or Sundays in Ville d’Avray, referring to the Ville-d’Avray suburb of Paris, where the film’s action takes place). Somehow, the film’s title in the Criterion days has been transmogrified into Sundays WITH Cybele, but I’m going with the title Bourguignon’s movie is most well known by–Sundays AND Cybele–which is, I find, radically more poetic. I must admit, I am fiercely curious as to the filmmaker’s abandonment of an art form of which he was a downright master. But I can easily see how someone with his baffling sensitivity would've been disillusioned with the sickening complexities of the film industry, particularly given his disappointing history with it.

When one views Sundays and Cybele, one is seeing the work of an absolute innocent–and it’s a mirror reflecting the innocence of the film’s lead characters, much like the mirror reflections we constantly see in the film’s pond waters. Any person who could make a movie like this would instantly be destroyed by any sniveling studio overlords, be they American or European. It’s a miracle that it made it as far as it did in mass acceptance. Still, in fact, this is a movie that has been, in my view, actively suppressed for many years, and it’s only now, with its Criterion release (bless them), that it’s becoming a work that has a new salvo of fans behind it. Yes, I know it was released on VHS in the early 90s; but why has it not seen screens since Criterion’s 2014 release? (I know why…) Anyway, I’m just happy to be part of the crowd that has, at least recently, embraced this masterpiece.


It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what the problem is here. We now live in a world where the kind of relationship displayed in Sundays and Cybele cannot even be conceived of without the collective population making instant judgments (and these judgments definitely make a fatal and defiant appearance in Sundays and Cybele). There is, apparently, no room in this present world for a heightened, and chaste, friendship between an adult and a child. Even mentioning this concept makes me, myself, culpable. These days, the only adults that need to be saying word one to a kid are the kid’s parents. Anyone else is suspect. And I have to say, I find this sad. How anyone can be a teacher or an adult be a friend to kids nowadays? I had many adults as friends as a kid, and I was also totally aware of how an adult could take advantage of me. Yet I forged many friendships–even ones that I still have–with non-family adults when I was young. I feel there is a madness existent now, particularly in American culture, regarding relationships between non-parental adults and kids under 18 (and even older). I understand: there are maniacs out there–maniacs who are close to, or even fellow family members with kids. But it’s just so sad. That major majority of adults–those who aren’t pedo perverts–are labeled with the same stickers as the tiny minority who are. We’ve gotten to the point that the only humans who can talk to kids are the ones who are related to them (even though it is those related to them who are the most likely suspects of wrongdoing). I think all of this–even the very notion of it–is sick. In the end, this culture has made me–a childless singleton–wary of being around kids. And how strange, and wrong, is that? Whew.


Is it possible for the world today to take a look at Sundays and Cybele and understand that it displays an intense friendship between a damaged, childlike man and a child? I wonder about that. When I first saw the movie in 2014, I immediately thought: “This is why I haven’t seen this movie. It’s been suppressed.” I think the world of children, and of adults, changed with the release of Kramer Vs. Kramer in 1979 (remember, that was the #1 box office success of that year, and in collusion with the Reagan era, was the film that let formally clueless, coked-up parents know that their kids should be their prime priority). The other big things that happened soon after, at least in American culture, were the TV films Adam (1983, about the kidnapping and death of John and Reve Walsh’s child–John Walsh later became the host of FOX’s massively successful reality crime show America’s Most Wanted) and Something About Amelia (an Emmy winner in 1984, starring Ted Danson and Glenn Close, in which the father has an incestuous relationship with his daughter). Both of these TV movies (along with 1981’s Fallen Angel, with 13-year-old Dana Hill being seduced into child porn by a jerk perfectly played by character actor Richard Masur) received massive ratings and critical acclaim, and seemed to instantly ratchet up the idea that kids–all kids, everywhere–were in stranger danger danger danger.

Why am I talking about all of this? Because when I first watched Sundays and Cybele in 2014, I immediately felt this movie was supremely weird, and wonderful, and that it might unduly offend or at least trouble the average viewer. By its end, I understood its heart. This is a movie about a heightened friendship. It is not a film about a romance, although the actual child in this relationship–played brilliantly by Patricia Gozzi–is 12 years old and openly expresses a desire to eventually marry the adult Pierre (Kruger) when she reaches the legal age of 18 (she even does the mathwork for them, and he clearly has no problem with this, though we wonder if he has any grasp of reality after his wartime experience). Kruger’s Pierre–a onetime jet pilot–has been scarred by what we see in the film’s pre-credits sequence, where he crashes his plane, downed in the early Vietnam War, right into the face of an innocent Vietnamese girl. This is how the film starkly, fastly begins, with that ridiculously contrasting black and white. With this, we can at least understand that a psychological barrier has been set up for Pierre–it’s one laden with supreme guilt.

cybele 3

And so, when we see Pierre first blankly connecting with Cybele, we get it. At that point, she is being abandoned by her actual father at a train stop, where she is supposed to arrive at a parochial school. As her father asks Pierre, waiting lonely  at the station, to direct them to St. Maugerite’s boarding school, Cybele instantly connects with Pierre (with both of them glaring strikingly into Bourguignon’s camera). At that train stop, they smile at each other and recognize the caring in each other’s eyes. But they are separated still. Cybele demands that her father explain why she is being abandoned, but he says that he will come back and visit her. He never does. “She mustn’t cry,” Pierre says, insisting on meeting her. And he offers her pieces of a star. Pierre is a man, but a child, too. The trauma of war has left him in a state of arrest, and even regression. He’s in a cool relationship with Madeleine (an extremely sexy Nicole Courcel), one on which she places much more importance than he. When she approaches him in her underwear, clearly post-coital, and asks how he feels, he says he feels like nothing. He’s no longer ready for the responsibilities of adulthood, and though they’re sexually active, Madeleine has no idea there’s anything impeding their relationship. Neither does Pierre, frankly.


It’s difficult to see Pierre’s following of Cybele as anything but stalking nowadays, and again, that’s sad. Cybele is someone who needs love, and her father and the nuns clearly have no affection left. When her father leaves her luggage outside of the school, it’s Pierre who retrieves it, and that’s what leads to their alliance (at the subway station, we see someone exiting the train with a cello, and the auteur theorist in us think of Hitchcock’s cameo in Strangers on a Train). And then, amongst cinematographer Henri Decaë’s finest widescreen shots, we see the image shrink to a tiny silent-film circle, where Pierre realizes Cybele’s father isn’t coming back. The film is never about Pierre’s guilt for loving Cybele. Their friendship–which is never a physical relationship–is unencumbered by naughtiness. Pierre cannot remember sex, or love, and it’s only the trees in nature that spark him. He admits to his girlfriend Madeleine that he’s unhappy, and without identity. But she never believes it…that is, until she can do nothing but believe it. (At the hospital she works at, Madeleine strike up a flirtation with a doctor that later leads to darker depths.) I love that Pierre’s connection with Madeleine seems complete and faithful. He really cares for this woman, and his love for Cybele is something completely different. It’s a connection without sex, but also equally intense. Vertigo also plays a part in the film, referring to Hitchcock once again.

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The images I recall most from Sundays and Cybele are the ones that involve Pierre and Cybele (who keeps her real name obscured from Pierre until just the correct moment–she tells him her name is Francoise for most of the film) as they aimlessly wander the watery park paths, their reflections dappling in the ponds they pass, with their dreamy mirror images blending their bodies in with their woodsy surroundings. I love absolutely everything about Bourguignon’s direction (key shots are framed through glass, too), and his mastery of not only black-and-white, but of widescreen photography is never less than magical (the older I get, the more I realize that the matching of Cinemascope and B&W is the stuff of complete wonder). His vivid reflections upon water are visions I have never seen assayed in quite the same way in all of cinema history. Geez, I think that I could watch this movie at least ten more times and get something new out of it. So I hope you forgive me when I say I’ve seen it only once.

Without spoiling the film for you, I should say that it is Patricia Gozzi who stands as its ultimate heroine. She’s so amazingly INTO this role. Her performance here is unmatched–she’s appealing and smart; she’s innocent, and preternaturally mature, and so she knows the limits of this relationship, even if Pierre doesn’t. In fact, she’s way ahead of him, even if she can’t truly express or understand what’s going on in Pierre’s past or present (I do love Hardy Kruger in this movie, too–it may be his most soulful role in a very long career). Make no mistake: the shattering final moments of this film will forever haunt your thoughts. There are stinging tears here. I mean, these young tears burn.

NOTE: this review originally appeared in 2015 as part of WONDERS IN THE DARK's genre overview called THE CINEMA OF CHILDHOOD. Check the whole lineup out here: 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Film #168: Ponette

Many movies deal with children confronted with the horrors of humanity–wartime, racism, poverty, crime. Yet, in its own quiet way, Jacques Doillon’s diminutive Ponette is among the most powerful of them all, simply because it gets the details of childhood correct. It also never shirks away from the toughest images of abject grief. One should be warned: it’s pretty nigh impossible not to view this movie through a sheen of constantly falling tears. Victoire Thivisol, in the title role, was only four years old when the film was shot, and this must be regarded as a miracle. It’s tempting to read up on how Doillon actually elicited this highly emotional work from such a young soul, but to do so might spoil our impressions of Thivisol as a performer (she would take the 1996 top prize at the Venice Film Festival–as far as I know, the youngest actor to ever win any sort of major award). And this is deserved: by any measure, as her performance is unforgettable.

The film is exceedingly, wonderfully simple. With a tiny cast on her forearm, Ponette is the survivor of a car crash that took her mother’s life. As the film begins, her father (Xavier Beauvois) is comforting her in her hospital bed, and getting ready to drive her back to a boarding school. He expresses anger at his deceased wife–one senses that their relationship was on the skids anyway–while Ponette is still unable to accept that her mother is gone forever. As a parting show of love, she gives her daddy her teddy bear to keep, and he gives her his watch, which she sweetly keeps on her wrist throughout the picture. Doillon then follows this girl, with his camera wisely never lifting above her eyeline, as she struggles to come to terms with her loss.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross once broke down the approach of death into five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. One can see each of these stages illustrated here in Ponette’s journey, too, never with a heavy hand and in very much the same order. Some of the film’s most fascinating scenes have her on the playground with her classmates, navigating this process. The film is filled with nominal talk of God and Jesus, and Heaven–both the adults and the kids indulge in this–and we get the sense that Ponette is alternately comforted, confused and infuriated by some of this stuff (at one point, she chides a teacher for feeding her lies). One bossy girl sends Ponette on a playground obstacle course where the ground is a lava pit of Hell, and where there are only scattered islands of safety to which to jump. Her nominal “boyfriend” Mathias listens as she expresses her mind-twisting sadness, and then he kisses her cheek, comforting her in a scene of such aching intimacy that we’re both amused and relieved when he decides to give her his most prized possession: a Batman toy. “You’re nutty, but nice,” he says. All of this dovetails in a superb scene where Mathias and Carla decide to give Ponette one final test, exiling her to a trash bin for five minutes, to replicate the feeling of death and to strengthen her bravery. Just when we think the film is being unimaginably cruel, her friends find pity for the weeping Ponette and rescue her, excitedly telling her she’s passed muster (and Doillon even finds it possible to wring some laughs from the situation).

To imagine Doillon actually writing this movie–well, it’s nearly unthinkable because he’s got the strange logic and cadence of childhood thought and speech down perfectly. There’s no way that the film was improvised–we know that’s just not an option–yet everything feels ridiculously authentic. We’re forced into realizing that this filmmaker has got a preternatural connection to the world of childhood (and, again, I can’t stress enough the intelligence he shows with his always-close-to-the ground camera, as well as his light hand with Phillippe Sarde’s gentle score). I love the scene where a group of girls are having a giggly but somehow mature nighttime talk about boys and then, later, try and hoodwink Mathias into “marriage” with Carla (“You’re like daddies,” one girl tells him. “You don’t like love,” and then another girl takes offense: “My daddy likes love”). But then we’re stunned when a playground bully produces a pretty realistic toy gun and then pushes Ponette around, blaming her for her mother’s death. This is rough going here, and unlike anything ever seen in cinema–lithe, but mean.

Still, the moments in which Thivisol, alone, commands the screen are the film’s jewels (and she’s in nearly every shot, often in extreme close-up). The pain and turmoil on her frankly adorable face are imminently palpable throughout, and her tears are a real trial for the filmgoer. This is not a movie to watch lightly. And just when Ponette’s depression gets absolutely unbearable–to the point where she discusses with Mathias her wish to die, and then later begins digging in the dirt to join her mother–Doillon provides us with a release valve for all this unrelenting sadness and tension. It’s a twist that’s totally believable, and totally welcome, and it leads Ponette to the only place she really can go–to a nook where she can learn to live again.

NOTE: this review originally appeared in 2015 as part of WONDERS IN THE DARK's genre overview called THE CINEMA OF CHILDHOOD. Check the whole lineup out here: 

Friday, December 18, 2015

1969--The Year in Review

It's an edgy slate of movies closing out this earth-shaking decade. For the Academy's part, they responded well to the sea-change by awarding Best Picture to the chanciest movie ever to top their poll--Midnight Cowboy, John Schlesinger's melancholy tale of crushed dreams and unexpected friendship. It's such a massively moving piece, I have zero animosity for it; even so, one boisterous, bloody work just barely nudges it out of the winner's circle. Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch bowled me over as it did almost everyone who saw it in the late '60s/early '70s (it's certainly a movie that should be seen at least once at a theater; if you haven't experienced it as such, you're partially abandoning its strength). From its very first scene--that staccato credits sequence portraying the titular bunch trotting past a group of joyful kids cackling as thousands of fire ants overtake two deadly but hapless scorpions (a harbinger of the film's famously chaotic conclusion)--The Wild Bunch aims to encapsulate the brutality of criminally-minded men and, simultaneously, their deeply-held longing to regain some modicum of innocence, honor and compassion. In its dichotomies, and in its steadfast refusal to steer its gaze away from violent acts, Peckinpah's picture is like no other. For better or worse, it set a template for all subsequent cinema. Of course, there were other superb films to challenged these two: Z, Costa-Gavras' expertly constructed thriller about political upheaval in Greece; Salesman, the soaringly dour Maysles Brothers documentary about door-to-door Bible hawkers; The Honeymoon Killers, Leonard Kastle's sole directorial effort (he took over from a fired Martin Scorsese), based on a true story about lonelyhearts killers Ray and Martha Hernandez; Haskell Wexler's stunning Medium Cool, featuring footage of the 1968 Democratic convention riots seamlessly blended into a narrative about a rebellious TV reporter; a tour of ancient oddities courtesy of Fellini Satyricon; They Shoot Horses, Don't They, Sydney Pollack's ultra-downbeat look at a Depression-era dance contest; and perhaps the most widely-loved movie of the year, George Roy Hill's smash-hit buddy western Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which basically twins with The Wild Bunch as a temporary farewell to the Western genre. With that, in 2016, we'll start with the greatest decade of movies ever: the 1970s! NOTE: These are MY choices for each category, and are only occasionally reflective of the selections made by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (aka The Oscars). When available, the nominee that actually won the Oscar will be highlighted in bold. 

(2nd: Midnight Cowboy (US, John Schlesinger), followed by:
Z (Algeria/France, Constantin Costa-Gavras)
Salesman (US, Albert Maysles, David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin)
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (US, George Roy Hill)
The Honeymoon Killers (US, Leonard Kastle)
Medium Cool (US, Haskell Wexler)
Fellini Satyricon (Italy, Federico Fellini)
The Sorrow and the Pity (France, Marcel Ophuls)
They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (US, Sydney Pollack)
This Man Must Die (France, Claude Chabrol)
Kes (UK, Ken Loach)
My Night with Maud (France, Eric Rohmer)
The Rain People (US, Francis Ford Coppola)
On Her Majesty's Secret Service (UK, Peter Hunt)
Law And Order (US, Frederick Wiseman)
Oh! What a Lovely War (UK, Richard Attenborough)
Army of Shadows (France, Jean-Pierre Melville)
The Sterile Cuckoo (US, Alan J. Pakula)
Easy Rider (US, Dennis Hopper)
Take the Money and Run (US, Woody Allen)
The Passion of Anna (Sweden, Ingmar Bergman)
Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice (US, Paul Mazursky)
Downhill Racer (US, Michael Ritchie)
Women in Love (UK, Ken Russell)
Alice's Restaurant (US, Arthur Penn)
The Italian Job (UK, Peter Collinson)
The Damned (West Germany/Italy, Luchino Visconti)
A Boy Named Charlie Brown (US, Bill Melendez)
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (UK, Ronald Neame)
True Grit (US, Henry Hathaway)
Anne of the Thousand Days (UK, Charles Jarrott)
The Learning Tree (US, Gordon Parks)
Sweet Charity (US, Bob Fosse)
Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here (US, Abraham Polonsky)
Last Summer (US, Frank Perry)
The Plot Against Harry (US, Michael Rohmer)
The Valley of Gwangi (US, James O'Connelly)
Journey to the Far Side of the Sun (UK, Robert Parrish)
Goodbye Columbus (US, Larry Peerce)
Marlowe (US, Paul Bogart)
Bloody Mama (US, Roger Corman)
Putney Swope (US, Robert Downey)
The Magic Christian (UK, Joseph McGrath)
The Bed-Sitting Room (UK, Richard Lester)
Age of Consent (Australia/UK, Michael Powell)
Hello Dolly (US, Gene Kelly)
The Reivers (US, Mark Rydell)
Paint Your Wagon (US, Joshua Logan)
More (Luxembourg, Barbet Schroeder)
Mondo Trasho (US, John Waters))

ACTOR: Dustin Hoffman, MIDNIGHT COWBOY (2nd: Jon Voight, Midnight Cowboy, followed by: William Holden, The Wild Bunch; John Wayne, True Grit; Paul Newman, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; Robert Redford, Downhill Racer; Tony Lobianco, The Honeymoon Killers)

ACTRESS: Shirley Knight, THE RAIN PEOPLE (2nd: Maggie Smith, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, followed by: Jane Fonda, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?; Liza Minnelli, The Sterile Cuckoo; Glenda Jackson, Women in Love (won in 1970); Shirley Stoler, The Honeymoon Killers; Shirley MacLaine, Sweet Charity

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Gig Young, THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON'T THEY? (2nd: Jack Nicholson, Easy Rider, followed by: James Caan, The Rain People; Ernest Borgnine, The Wild Bunch; Robert Ryan, The Wild Bunch; Red Buttons, They Shoot Horses, Don't They?; Elliott Gould, Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice)

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Mary Jane Higby, THE HONEYMOON KILLERS (2nd: Catherine Burns, Last Summer, followed by: Susannah York, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?; Dyan Cannon, Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice; Goldie Hawn, Cactus Flower; Chita Rivera, Sweet Charity; Sylvia Miles, Midnight Cowboy) 


DIRECTOR: Sam Peckinpah, THE WILD BUNCH (2nd: John Schlesinger, Midnight Cowboy, followed by: Constantin Costa-Gavras, ZAlbert Maysles, David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin, Salesman; Leonard Kastle, The Honeymoon Killers; Haskell Wexler, Medium Cool; George Roy Hill, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid)

NON-ENGLISH-LANGUAGE FILM: Z (Algeria/France, Constantin Costa-Gavras) (2nd: Fellini Satyricon (Italy, Federico Fellini), followed by: This Man Must Die (France, Claude Chabrol); My Night with Maud (France, Eric Rohmer); Army of Shadows (France, Jean-Pierre Melville); The Passion of Anna (Sweden, Ingmar Bergman))

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: SALESMAN (US, Albert Maysles, David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin) (2nd: The Sorrow and the Pity (France, Marcel Ophuls), followed by: Law And Order (US, Frederick Wiseman))


ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: William Goldman, BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (2nd: Sam Peckinpah and Walon Green, The Wild Bunch, followed by: Eric Rohmer, My Night With Maud; Paul Mazursky and Larry Tucker, Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice; Francis Ford Coppola, The Rain People)

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Waldo Salt, MIDNIGHT COWBOY (2nd: Jorge Semprun, Z, followed by: Ken Loach, Barry Hines, and Tony Bartlett, Kes; James Poe and Robert E. Thompson, They Shoot Horses, Don't They?; Claude Chabrol and Paul Gegauff, This Man Must Die)

LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM: TOPS (US, Charles and Ray Eames) (2nd: A Day with the Boys (US, Clu Gulager), followed by: Lemon (US, Hollis Frampton); A Test of Violence (UK, Stuart Cooper); The Story (US, Homer Groening); Invocation of My Demon Brother (US, Kenneth Anger))

ANIMATED SHORT FILM: WALKING (Canada, Ryan Larkin) (2nd: The Ant and the Aardvark (US, Friz Freling), followed by: Of Men and Demons (US, John and Faith Hubley); Bambi Vs. Godzilla (US, Marv Newland); It's Tough to Be a Bird (US, Ward Kimball))

CINEMATOGRAPHY: Lucien Ballard, THE WILD BUNCH (2nd: Conrad Hall, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, followed by: Giuseppe Rotunno, Fellini Satyricon; Haskell Wexler, Medium Cool; Adam Hollander, Midnight Cowboy) 

ART DIRECTION: THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON'T THEY? (2nd: Oh! What a Lovely War, followed by: Anne of a Thousand Days, Hello Dolly, Journey to the Far Side of the Sun)

COSTUME DESIGN: FELLINI SATYRICON (2nd: Anne of a Thousand Days, followed by: Sweet Charity, They Shoot Horses Don't They, Oh! What a Lovely War) 

FILM EDITING: THE WILD BUNCH, Midnight Cowboy, Z, Medium Cool, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid 

SOUND: BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, The Wild Bunch, Sweet Charity, Hello Dolly, Marooned) 

ORIGINAL SCORE: Burt Bacharach, BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (2nd: Jerry Fielding, The Wild Bunch, followed by: John Barry, Midnight Cowboy; Mikis Theodorakis, Z; Jerome Moross, The Valley of Gwangi)

ADAPTED OR MUSICAL SCORE: John Green and Albert Woodbury, THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON'T THEY? (2nd: Cy Coleman, Sweet Charity, followed by: Alfred Ralston, Oh! What a Lovely War; Vince Guaraldi, Rod McKuen, and John Scott Trotter, A Boy Named Charlie Brown; Nelson Riddle, Paint Your Wagon)

ORIGINAL SONG: "Everybody's Talkin'" from MIDNIGHT COWBOY (Music and lyrics by Fred Neil) (2nd: "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head" from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (Music by Burt Bacharach, lyrics by Hal David), followed by: “A Boy Named Charlie Brown” from A Boy Named Charlie Brown (Music and lyrics by Rod McKuen); "Something in the Air" from The Magic Christian (Music and lyrics by John Keen); "Mama Tried" from Killers Three (Music and lyrics by Merle Haggard); “Jean” from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Music and lyrics by Rod McKuen); "Come and Get It" from The Magic Christian (Music and lyrics by Paul McCartney); "Come Saturday Morning" from The Sterile Cuckoo (Music by Fred Karlin, lyrics by Dore Previn); “We Have All The Time in the World” from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (Music by John Barry, lyrics by Hal David); “The Ballad of Easy Rider” from Easy Rider (Music by Roger McGuinn, lyrics by Bob Dylan and Roger McGuinn))

SPECIAL EFFECTS: THE VALLEY OF GWANGI, Marooned, Journey to the Far Side of the Sun


Saturday, December 12, 2015

1968--The Year in Review

An incredible year…maybe my favorite of the decade. Music takes over in a new way, with Head, Oliver!, Yellow Submarine, Monterey Pop, Wild in the Streets, Sympathy for the Devil, Petulia, Funny Girl, and even The Producers. Horror comes into a new age with Targets, Rosemary's Baby, Hour of the Wolf, Night of the Living Dead, Witchfinder General, and The Devil Rides Out. The crime movie is re-imagined with Bullitt, Coogan's Bluff, The Detective, Pretty Poison, The Split, The Thomas Crown Affair, and The Boston Strangler. But one profound, gorgeous movie justifiably towers over all. There are many masterpieces surrounding it–in fact, the first 20 works I list are mandatory viewing. But, for me, this year’s victor will always be the single best film that’s ever been made. There is no question about it. NOTE: These are MY choices for each category, and are only occasionally reflective of the selections made by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (aka The Oscars). When available, the nominee that actually won the Oscar will be highlighted in bold. 

PICTURE: 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (UK/US, Stanley Kubrick)
(2nd: Once Upon a Time in the West (US/Italy, Sergio Leone), followed by:
Oliver! (UK, Carol Reed)
Targets (US, Peter Bogdanovich)
Petulia (US, Richard Lester)
The Color of Pomegranates (USSR, Sergei Paradjanov)
Head (US, Bob Rafelson)
Rosemary’s Baby (US, Roman Polanski)
if… (UK, Lindsay Anderson)
Yellow Submarine (UK, George Dunning)
Monterey Pop (US, D.A. Pennebaker)
Night of the Living Dead (US, George A. Romero)
Shame (Sweden, Ingmar Bergman)
High School (US, Frederick Wiseman)
Faces (US, John Cassavetes)
Bullitt (US, Peter Yates)
Planet of the Apes (US, Franklin J. Schaffner)
Stolen Kisses (France, Francois Truffaut)
Hour of the Wolf (Sweden, Ingmar Bergman)
Romeo and Juliet (UK/Italy, Franco Zeffirelli)
Mandabi (France/Senegal, Ousmane Sembene)
The Lion in Winter (UK, Anthony Harvey)
Witchfinder General (UK, Michael Reeves)
Les Biches (France, Claude Chabrol)
In the Year of the Pig (US, Emile de Antonio)
The Milky Way (France/Spain, Luis Buñuel)
Rachel, Rachel (US, Paul Newman)
The Swimmer (US, Frank Perry)
Pretty Poison (US, Noel Black)
The Producers (US, Mel Brooks)
Dark of the Sun (UK, Jack Cardiff)
Signs of Life (West Germany, Werner Herzog)
The Odd Couple (US, Gene Saks)
Hell in the Pacific (US, John Boorman)
Wild in the Streets (US, Barry Shear)
Play Dirty (US, André de Toth)
Danger: Diabolik (Italy/France, Mario Bava)
Isadora (UK, Karel Reisz)
Symbiopsychotaxiplasm (US, William Greaves)
Madigan (US, Don Siegel)
Memories of Underdevelopment (Cuba, Tomas Gutierrez Aléa)
The Party (US, Blake Edwards)
Je T’Aime, Je T’Aime (France, Alain Resnais)
Sympathy for the Devil (France/UK, Jean-Luc Godard)
Coogan's Bluff (US, Don Siegel)
The Shooting (US, Monte Hellman)
The Split (US, Gordon Flemyng)
The Thomas Crown Affair (US, Norman Jewison)
The Subject Was Roses (US, Ulu Grosbard)
Funny Girl (US, William Wyler)
The Detective (US, Gordon Douglas)
The Devil Rides Out (UK, Terence Fisher)
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (US, Robert Ellis Miller)
Greetings (US, Brian De Palma)
The Great Silence (Italy, Sergio Corbucci)
Where Eagles Dare (US, Brian G. Hutton)
Countdown (US, Robert Altman)
Thérèse and Isabelle (France, Radley Metzger)
The Killing of Sister George (UK, Robert Aldrich)
The Night They Raided Minsky’s (US, William Friedkin)
The Boston Strangler (US, Richard Fleischer)
Barbarella (France/UK, Roger Vadim)
Charly (US, Ralph Nelson)
Psych-Out (US, Richard Rush))

ACTOR: Boris Karloff, TARGETS (2nd: Henry Fonda, Once Upon a Time in the West, followed by: Steve McQueen, Bullitt; George C. Scott, Petulia; Alan Arkin, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter; Peter O’Toole, The Lion in Winter; Vincent Price, Witchfinder General; Zero Mostel, The Producers; Malcolm McDowell, if…; Ron Moody, Oliver!) 

ACTRESS: Mia Farrow, ROSEMARY'S BABY (2nd: Joanne Woodward, Rachel, Rachel, followed by: Katharine Hepburn, The Lion in Winter; Tuesday Weld, Pretty Poison; Liv Ullmann, Shame; Vanessa Redgrave, Isadora; Julie Christie, Petulia; Barbra Streisand, Funny Girl; Stéphane Audran, Les Biches; Patricia Neal, The Subject Was Roses)

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Gene Wilder, THE PRODUCERS (2nd: Douglas Rain, 2001: A Space Odyssey, followed by: Jack Wild, Oliver!; Roddy McDowall, Planet of the Apes; Harry Secombe, Oliver!; Seymour Cassel, Faces; Jack Albertson, The Subject Was Roses; Kenneth Mars, The Producers; Sidney Blackmer, Rosemary’s Baby; Tim O'Kelly, Targets)

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Ruth Gordon, ROSEMARY'S BABY (2nd: Lynn Carlin, Faces, followed by: Kim Hunter, Planet of the Apes; Shirley Knight, Petulia; Estelle Parsons, Rachel, Rachel; Sondra Locke, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter; Billie Whitelaw, Charlie Bubbles; Coral Browne, The Killing of Sister George; Kay Medford, Funny Girl; Lee Remick, The Detective)

DIRECTOR: Stanley Kubrick, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (2nd: Sergio Leone, Once Upon a Time in the West, followed by: Richard Lester, Petulia; Carol Reed, Oliver!; Sergei Bondarchuck, War and Peace; Sergei Paradjanov, The Color of Pomegranates; Roman Polanski, Rosemary's Baby; Peter Bogdanovich, Targets; Lindsay Anderson, if...; Bob Rafelson, Head)

NON-ENGLISH-LANGUAGE FILM: WAR AND PEACE (USSR, Sergei Bondarchuk) (2nd: The Color of Pomegranates (USSR, Sergei Paradjanov), followed by: Shame (Sweden, Ingmar Bergman); Stolen Kisses (France, Francois Truffaut); Hour of the Wolf (Sweden, Ingmar Bergman); Mandabi (France/Senegal, Ousmane Sembene); Les Biches (France, Claude Chabrol); The Milky Way (France/Spain, Luis Buñuel); Signs of Life (West Germany, Werner Herzog); Memories of Underdevelopment (Cuba, Tomas Gutierrez Aléa); Je T’Aime, Je T’Aime (France, Alain Resnais))


DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: MONTEREY POP (US, D.A. Pennebaker) (2nd: In the Year of the Pig (US, Emile de Antonio), followed by: High School (US, Frederick Wiseman); Sympathy for the Devil (France/UK, Jean-Luc Godard))

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Sergio Leone, Sergio Donati, Dario Argento and Bernardo Bertolucci, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (2nd: Mel Brooks, The Producers, followed by: John Cassavetes, Faces; Ousmane Sembene, Mandabi; Peter Bogdanovich and Polly Platt, Targets) 

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (2nd: Roman Polanski, Rosemary's Baby, followed by: James Goldman, The Lion in Winter; Sergei Bondarchuk and Vasily Solovyov, War and Peace; Lawrence B. Marcus and Barbara Turner, Petulia)

LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM: WHY MAN CREATES (US, Saul Bass) (2nd: The Dove (US, George Coe and Anthony Lover), followed by: Pas de Deux (Canada, Norman McLaren); LBJ (Cuba, Santiago Alvarez); The Big Shave (US, Martin Scorsese))

ANIMATED SHORT FILM: WINDY DAY (US, John and Faith Hubley) (2nd: Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day (US, Wolfgang Reitherman); The Magic Pear Tree (US, Charles Swenson); Mickey Mouse in Vietnam (US, Lee Savage); The Alphabet (US, David Lynch))

CINEMATOGRAPHY: Geoffrey Unsworth and John Alcott, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (2nd: Tonino Delli Colli, Once Upon a Time in the West, followed by: Yu-Lan Chan, Anatoly Petritsky, and Aleksandr Shelenkov, War and Peace; Pasquelino De Santis, Romeo and Juliet; Oswald Morris, Oliver!)

ART DIRECTION: 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, Oliver!, Once Upon A Time in the West, War and Peace, The Shoes of the Fisherman

COSTUME DESIGN: OLIVER!, Romeo and Juliet, War and Peace, The Lion in Winter, Petulia

FILM EDITING: BULLITT, Petulia, Oliver!, Once Upon a Time in the West, Head 

SOUND: BULLITT, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Oliver!, Monterey Pop, The Odd Couple

ORIGINAL SCORE: Ennio Morricone, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (2nd: Jerry Goldsmith, Planet of the Apes, followed by: Krzysztof Komeda, Rosemary’s Baby; Lalo Schifrin, Bullitt; Neal Hefti, The Odd Couple)

ADAPTED OR MUSICAL SCORE: John Green, OLIVER! (2nd: George Martin, Yellow Submarine, followed by: Walter Scharf, Funny Girl)

ORIGINAL SONG: "Porpoise Song" from HEAD (Music and lyrics by Gerry Goffin and Carole King) (2nd: "Springtime for Hitler" from The Producers (Music and lyrics by Mel Brooks), followed by: "The Windmills of Your Mind" from The Thomas Crown Affair (Music by Michael Legrand, lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman); "Circle Sky" from Head (Music and lyrics by Michael Nesmith); "The Shape of Things to Come" from Wild in the Streets (Music and lyrics by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil); "Only a Northern Song" from Yellow Submarine (Music and lyrics by George Harrison); "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman); "It's All Too Much" from Yellow Submarine (Music and lyrics by George Harrison); "As We Go Along" from Head (Music and lyrics by Carole King and Toni Stern); "For the Love of Ivy" for For Love of Ivy (Music by Quincy Jones, lyrics by Bob Russell); "Wild in the Streets" from Wild in the Streets (Music and lyrics by Les Baxter and Guy Hemric); "Barbarella" from Barbarella (Music and lyrics by Bob Crewe and Charles Fox); "Daddy's Song" from Head (Music and lyrics by Harry Nilsson); "Hey Bulldog" from Yellow Submarine (Music and lyrics by John Lennon and Paul McCartney))


MAKEUP: 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, Planet of the Apes, Oliver!