Thursday, February 3, 2011

341 Days, 219 Movies

I watched 232 movies in the 365 Days of 2010. Here are movies 219-215 that I watched:

The Party 
1968. 99 minutes. USA. Directed by Blake Edwards. Watchdate: 12/7/2010.
Aside from a few opening scenes setting up the fairly simple fish-out-of-water premise, I am convinced that the movie was mostly unscripted and Blake Edwards just had a camera crew follow Peter Sellers around the titular party, throwing comic set pieces in Sellers' way as he thought of them. At least that's how I like to think of it. It's a simple but effective technique. My personal favorite sequence starts with Sellers finally finding a toilet after a long search and then proceeding to break, clog and flood the entire bathroom to such an extent that he is forced to escape through a window. What follows is the best fall in the history of slapstick comedy. The movie eventually devolves into pure nonsense, with a vandalized elephant and mysteriously metastasizing foam.

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul 
1974. 93 minutes. Germany. Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Watchdate: 12/1/2010.
I wanted to watch a Fassbinder movie but other than that I went into this without any advance knowledge and was pleasantly surprised to see a nuanced, realistic story of forbidden love for lack of a better term. Fassbinder carefully dissects the bizarre ritual of shunning in scenes like when the tearful Emmi and sullen Ali eat a restaurant while the entire wait staff stares at them menacingly. Ali is a great character to watch because he seems so simple yet becomes so complex as the movie unfolds, all without too many words (except of course the titular line). There's a great scene where a grocer welcomes Emmi back into his good graces that basically explains all you need to know about the economics of bigotry while also signifying how Emmi's friends and family will eventually accept her choice. I think my favorite bit was the brilliant juxtaposition of the warmth of acceptance with the chill of social exclusion in a scene where Emmi is finally allowed to eat lunch and gossip with her maid coworkers as she used to before she remarried. They accept Emmi as they exclude the new maid who happens to be a foreign immigrant. The scene reflects an earlier one when Emmi is cut out in the very same way for her unconventional relationship with Ali. Emmi seems painfully aware of the similarity, and yet does nothing about it.

Hidden Agenda
1990. 108 minutes. UK. Directed by Ken Loach. Watchdate: 11/29/2010.

If Ken Loach was attempting to remake Illustrious Corpses without all of the subtlety, the beauty, the tension, the artfulness, the ambiguity and the sense of real danger that the earlier movie contained, he succeeded unconditionally. Brian Cox and Frances McDormand are both great in this, and I love withering attacks on the Thatcherite political establishment of post-70s Britain as much as the next guy. But even for a fairly unapologetic leftist like me, this was a little too on the nose. I don't know, maybe Loach was trying to make something commercial by being obvious? There is one great scene in the movie, a shouting match featuring Brian Cox slowly beginning to lose confidence in his own sense of right and wrong. Cox is a marvelous shouter, he can shout with so different many emotional notes behind the blare of his voice. It must be because he's Scottish.

Aguirre, the Wrath of God 
1972. 94 minutes. Germany. Directed by Werner Herzog. Watchdate: 11/28/2010.
My friend who works at the beautiful old movie palace where I saw VertigoMildred Pierce and Angel Face had been imploring me to see Fitzcarraldo, his favorite movie. Within a week of me finally watching Fitzcarraldo (and loving it), he called me up to tell me the Red Vic (different theater that another friend of ours works at) was playing Aguirre, the Wrath of God. So of course we had to go. What can I say about this movie that whirls without moving, that castigates without judging, that keeps the women looking beautiful while the men seem to decay into the mud? While there were many good scenes, the one scene that seemed to tower above the rest was when Aguirre's crew finally decides to toss the horse overboard. That scene is so dynamic while much of the rest of the movie is so still. So many people are trying to do so many different things at the same time in such a small space. It's the kind of scene that reminds you of why you go to the movies. Truly wonderful and terrifying. The movie seems to have influenced a good number of the epics that have been released since, everything from Apocalypse Now to There Will Be Blood. And I use the word epic deliberately. Because it seemed to have a running time approaching Fitzcarraldo until I realized afterward that I had only been in the theater a little over 90 minutes. The ending in particular has a perpetual, never ending feeling. It's like watching paint dry, if watching paint dry was like watching men rot alive and then see their corpses swallowed up by the Gaian impulses of the Amazon jungle. One of the best movies I've seen about dangerously insane ambitions that have little to distinguish them from asylum derangements.

Ordet 
1955. Denmark. Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer. Watchdate: 11/28/2010.
Unfortunately, I only caught one movie at the recent Dreyer retrospective at PFA. Fortunately it was a pretty damn good one. While it started slow, the middle section was brilliantly executed. I particularly enjoyed the petty, vague and yet intense conflict over who has chosen the right sect of Christianity. This was played out by Morten Borgen and the father of the daughter that Borgen's son Mikkel wants to marry. Having known an individual in my own life who went mad thinking he was Jesus, I found Johannes to be a fascinating character to watch. It was almost like getting to see an earlier, dramatic take on Peter O'Toole's role in The Ruling Class. Of course, that's from deep in my own cinematic biases as I absolutely love that performance. The final act left me questioning in the best way possible. After spending much of the story seeming to goof on, satirize or at the very least kid-on-the-square about Christianity and religious fanaticism, why did Munk and Dreyer end the narrative in the way that they did? Why make God seem to punish Anders' agnostic lack of piety by killing his pregnant wife but then at the point of total despair bring her back as if by a genuine miracle? Such unsubtle ambiguity will keep me thinking for a long time.

PS - If anyone has been consistently reading this, I missed several days of posting because I got my wisdom teeth taken out. More on that later.

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