Monday, February 7, 2011

Double Sevens

I watched 232 movies in the 365 Days of 2010. On November 18th I watched a classic Kurosawa movie and its American remake:

Seven Samurai
1954. 208 minutes. Japan. Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Watchdate: 11/18/2010

First of all, Toshirō Mifune is a true baller. It's hard to take your eyes off him in this movie, where he's funny, badass and profound occasionally all at the same time. The scene where he rings the bell, or the one where he explains why peasants connive -- pure brilliance. Second, Kurosawa knows how photograph rain like no else. I think that was my favorite thing in Rashomon, but in this one it's even better. Third - fuck it, the movie is nearly flawless. How can you wrap a sophisticated, solemn meditation on the nature of violence and social class into a rollicking action adventure story without missing a beat or bearing an ounce of pretension? I don't know, but the Emperor did it. Up until this point, I had been impressed with Kurosawa as a technician but uncertain if he was the artist that his reputation seemed to posit. I have now been relieved of that uncertainty. I am excited to watch many more in the coming months. But yeah, looks like I got another favorite here.

The Magnificent Seven
1960. 128 minutes. USA. Directed by John Sturges. Watchdate: 11/18/2010

This was playing as part of this Flashback Films Thursday deal they have over at the UA Theater, and when I saw it was coming up in the schedule I decided to finally get around to watching Seven Samurai. So last Thursday, I woke up and watched Seven Samurai and then that evening I went and saw The Magnificent Seven. I hadn't thought of how unfair doing such a thing would be to the latter movie. I remember thinking while I was watching Seven Samurai, how the hell are they going to import the themes about strict social class to the U.S. where we like to pretend class doesn't exist. Then I watched this one, and of course they changed it to race. So obvious, I can't believe I didn't think of it. Race is often the medium that Americans use to talk about class. It's pretty fun though, it reminded me of Avatar, having a bunch of WASPy he-man action heroes swoop in to save the simple primitive village people from the real exploiters. Anyway, Steve McQueen, Eli Wallach, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn are all top notch, Yul Brynner is Yul Brynner and Charles Bronson is Charles Bronson. The role of Chico, a composite of Mifune's role and the kid role of Katsushiro, is filled by an annoyance which is really a shame because with someone good it may have been the best role in the movie like in the original. Elmer Bernstein's score is classic, and one of the finest parts of the piece. The movie has been copied so often by subsequent action adventures that some of it feels shopworn even though it probably wasn't at the time, but here's another difference between it and the original: no matter how many times Kurosawa gets copied, he's almost never matched or exceeded so his work still feels so fresh. Another thing is that Sturges cut out more than an hour in the remaking, losing a whole lot of depth but not gaining much in terms of pacing - the final act still feels too long. So it was quite unfair for me to put these two so directly side by side, but it was a fun exercise and The Magnificent Seven was still very enjoyable. Some great gunfightin' scenes in here, most definitely.

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