Friday, June 09, 2017

Round About Hollywood (1931)


This 1931 travelogue of Hollywood is notable for having been shot in the Cinecolor process, providing rare color glimpses of the Movie Capital in the early '30s. Highlights include nighttime footage from the premiere of Frank Capra's Dirigible at Grauman's Chinese Theater, aerial views of the Hollywood Bowl, and the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce building. Perhaps due to time and budgetary constraints (the film was made by the British company Wardour Films), the travelogue refreshingly offers fewer views of the iconic sights of Hollywood typically found in these types of scenic films, instead presenting quotidian views of the town's houses, streets and churches that serve as a valuable cinematic time capsule.

Friday, June 02, 2017

Murmur of the Heart (1971)


MURMUR OF THE HEART (1971, dir. Louis Malle) -- Finally got around to seeing this controversial but powerful coming-of-age story about a precocious middle class boy in 1950s France. His burgeoning adolescent escapades are cut short by a heart murmur, and he is sent off to a sanatorium with his mother, where things take a much darker and unexpected turn. Sensitively directed by Louis Malle (whose films I always find worthwhile), I was struck by the honesty in his handling of the material, especially in the film's painful and shocking climactic scene. The film's low-key energy is enhanced by an excellent jazz score featuring Charlie Parker, Henri Renaud, and Gaston Frèche. Starring Lea Massari, Benoît Ferreux, and Daniel Gélin; written and directed by Louis Malle.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Bonnie Scotland (1935)


Laurel and Hardy come to Scotland to collect an inheritance and through a series of misunderstandings find themselves enlisted in the Scottish regiment of the British Army and sent off to India. This one contains at least three classic scenes: Hardy's sneezing fit at the bottom of a lake that leaves it completely dry, the Boys cooking a fish in their hotel room ("it shrizzled"), and their dancing to "The Hundred Pipers" while sweeping up trash, much to the ire of Sergeant James Finlayson.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Eraserhead (1977)

Last night, I saw that the newly-renovated and re-opened Parkway Film Center in Baltimore was going to be showing David Lynch's Eraserhead, a film I have never seen all the way through. I had previously begun watching it when it was available on Netflix or one of the various streaming platforms, but found that the small-screen format made it difficult to immerse myself in the alternate universe that Lynch creates.

Seeing it on the big screen, in a new 4K digital restoration, sounded more like the proper way to experience this film, which has such a devoted following that I have to confess I wondered if it would be able to live up the hype I've heard surrounding it for so long.

I arrived at the Parkway just in time for the 9:45 show on Saturday night, which these days is about as close to a "midnight movie" screening as you're going to find in the area. I purchased my ticket at the counter, and took my seat inside Theater 1, the largest of the three theaters at the Parkway.


Finally seeing Eraserhead, I can understand its appeal to those looking for something different, for viewers interested in alternative possibilities for narrative cinema. Lynch creates a surreal hallucination following a night in the life of a young man who experiences a strange series of events after being left to tend after his newborn "baby", filled with nightmarish imagery, and a surprising number of moments of real humor. It fits well with the kind of uncanny cinematic universe that Lynch has created in other films, though it is perhaps less even, less consistent than his mature films. Here, the moments of self-conscious "strangeness" stand out a little too sharply. But Lynch still conjures up a real sense of dread and unease, masterfully demonstrating early on the hallmarks of his mature cinematic style.

I am glad that I finally saw Eraserhead, and under good conditions, because it really is a unique and highly original film that retains its power even after inspiring many imitations, and it's still exciting to see the movie that heralded David Lynch as a major new filmmaking force at the time of its release.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Fatal Attraction (1987)

Gloriously stylish, melodramatic late-'80s erotic thriller about a Manhattan attorney's (Michael Douglas) relationship with a dangerous stalker (Glenn Close) who threatens to destroy his entire life. Director Adrian Lyne keeps the tension mounting, though it loses steam a bit in the final third, especially once Close's carefully-developed character devolves into a slasher movie-level killer.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Louis Lumiere (1968)


Too often, the films of Louis Lumiere and other early cinema pioneers are discussed as primitive artifacts, a kind of cinematic equivalent of cave paintings that marked the beginning of an art form. This documentary, directed by Eric Rohmer, takes a formal approach, discussing the photographic qualities of the Lumiere films through interviews with Jean Renoir and Henri Langlois. Both men offer eloquent commentary on the beauty and historical value of the Lumiere films, revealing why these pioneering works should be viewed as sophisticated, fully realized motion pictures on their own terms, rather than as merely a precursor of things to come.

Martin Scorsese and Edwin S. Porter


Watching The King of Comedy (1983) last night, I remembered reading that Scorsese had been influenced by Edwin S. Porter's Life of an American Fireman (1903) in thinking about his approach to making the film. I watched it partly with that in mind, thinking about how he might have drawn on that film for inspiration. One of the things I find most interesting about Scorsese is how he ingests the whole of film history and brings those influences to bear in such unexpected but effective ways.

This is what Scorsese had to say about the influence of Porter's film on The King of Comedy:
"People had reacted in such a way to Raging Bull, saying it was a beautiful film - like Days of Heaven, you could take every frame and put it on the wall - that I decided my next picture was going to be 1903 style, more like Edwin S Porter's The Life of an American Fireman, with no close-ups. So in King of Comedy that's what I tried to do." (quoted in Scorsese on Scorsese).

Friday, March 24, 2017

Submarine Patrol (1938)

A minor John Ford film, especially in relation to his classics Stagecoach and Young Mr. Lincoln that he would make the following year. It's a lightweight adventure yarn about a ragtag group of sailors on a Navy sub chaser during WWI. Richard Greene and Preston Foster head up a fine ensemble cast that includes Nancy Kelly, George Bancroft, Slim Summerville, John Carradine, Elisha Cook Jr., and Henry Armetta, among others.

Ford's direction keeps the pace energetic and lively throughout, embellished with a characteristic sense of humor. There are some exciting action sequences, such as the sea battle and sinking of a German sub, which are impressively staged and heightened by excellent model work, especially in the undersea shots.

This is the kind of material John Ford could do so well, and though he would return to the settings and themes again, this seems to mark a turning point in his career. The light, freewheeling tone places it among his earlier work, specifically among his other Navy films like Salute (1929), Men Without Women (1930), and Seas Beneath (1931), rather than the films he would make during and after the war.