Friday, February 26, 2010

#143 The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (1972)


Director:Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Cast: Margit Carstensen, Katrin Schaake, Hanna Schygulla, Eva Mattes, Irm Hermann, Gisela Fackeldey

I have to perfectly honest and say that this movie had me grinding my teeth at first. I was totally lost by this bizarre, slow-moving film, shot entirely in German (not my favorite of languages to listen to either...).

Then, slowly, I think I started to understand that I was witnessing something much bigger and much more extravagant than just an artsy German film.

But let me step back for a minute.

This film is the story of cruel, selfish fashion designer Petra Von Kant, who treats her servant terribly and indulges herself in her own philosophies about love and life. Marlene, get me gin. Get me brandy. Do your sketches. And so on, so forth. She eventually is introduced to young Karin, whom she immediately falls in love with, promising to start her a succesful modeling career if she moves in. Karin obliges, and the two begin a relationship that is beyond complicated. Karin eventually retreats to men-- strangers and her estranged husband, and it sends Von Kant stumbling back into reality in a fit of rage and hysteria.

For one, the film is shot with amazing consideration for composition. Every shot is posed like a renaissance painting-- to the point where it is absolutely obvious and awkward. It does, however, allow you time to focus on the meaning behind the rigid compositions, and I guarantee, they are all 6 feet thick with symbolism. One thing I found so striking were the way Von Kant's mannequins resembled her so much, and the way they were used/positioned/played with to create meaning in the scenes. FOr instance, after Karin's leaving, Von Kant mourns her losses in her bedroom with all the furniture removed. It is only after some time that the camera pans and allows you to see the way she has moved her furniture and mannequins to reconstruct scenes from her happier days in an adjoining room. Truly creepy.

I'm having such a hard time writing about this film because it was really just so bizarre... and boring... and beautiful... and meaningful... and drab... and emotional. I can't make up my mind. One thing is for sure though, in its absence of any real action... this is a very erotic film. I also believe it was one of the first lesbian films.
But I might be wrong.

Maybe I'll come back to this.
My head is still spinning.

#142 Amadeus (1984)


Director: Milos Forman

Cast: Tom Hulce, F. Murray Abraham, Elizabeth Berridge, Simon Callow, Roy Dotrice, Christine Ebsersole

The remarkable story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart told through the deranged eyes of Antonio Salieri, court composer for the Austrian crown. To begin, we find Salieri in an insane asylum, rehashing his life to a priest-- not in confession, but rather in boast-- as he claims to be the murderer of the great composer, Mozart.

The story, then, is told through flashback, as we listen to Salieri describe his ongoing jealousy of Mozart's genius, unable to understand why God had chosen to bestow such a gift onto a man so "vulgar." The plot, then, follows suit, and we watch Salieri plot Mozart's eventful demise, leaving even the most joyful parts of the film with a sinister after taste.

I thought the acting of the film, particularly by Tom Hulce, was extraordinarily entertaining to watch. Mozart is portrayed as a gay, happy, and extremely brilliant man with a laugh so giggly, womanly, and cutting that I found myself just waiting to hear it again and again. The film hinted at the brilliant Victorian joy that the film Marie Antoinette has-- as the story takes place at the identical time period of Coppola's film. Antoinette is often mentioned in this film as well, as the king of Austria whom Mozart and Salieri strive for the approval of... is her brother.

While at times extremely amusing and joyful, the story really is one of evil and jealousy. Perhaps it was just my mood, but I found myself wishing the whole film had been of Mozart dumping champagne on himself at parties with that silly giggle.
Nevertheless, separating myself from that, I really did think it was a great film, and it certainly has the awards to back that theory up.

And I can't go without mentioning that the music and costuming of this film are absolutely mind-blowing.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

#141 I Know Where I'm Going! (1945)


Directors: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

Cast: Wendy Hiller, Roger Livesey, Pamela Brown, Finlay Currie, George Carney, Nancy Price, Catherine Lacey

Originally beyond thrilled to find a love story that takes place in Hebrides of Scotland, I find myself horribly, horribly disappointed by the atrocity that is this film. It's the story of a determined middle-class Englishwoman who has lined herself up to marry one of the wealthiest men in Europe, who happens to be residing on the island of Kilorin off of Scotland's mainland. To begin with, the film is black and white, and it is a shoddy black and white at that. I can't hate on the year 1945 for its lack of technology... but I can express my great disappointment in not seeing the gorgeous rolling highlands like I remember them in my mind.

We watch as the woman makes the long journey and meets a sailor who is going to take her the last leg of her trip, across the short stint of sea to the island. The weather, however, takes a horrible turn for the worse, and she is stuck just a 20 minute boat-ride away from her future husband. This is where the love story is supposed to develop. Alas, both of the characters are completely ridiculous, boring, and under-developed. And the "handsome Scottish sailor" is ENGLISH with a posh accent... and is named TORQUIL! How absolutely wrong!

The film takes a silly, tourist gaze at Scotland-- highlighting all of the not-so-important Scottish traditions in a "aww isn't that dear," condescending way.

Also, a lot of it dragged with dialogue and fill-in legends and dorky Torquil prancing about in a kilt that doesn't suit him.

Total disappointment.
But I'm probably biased...

Saturday, February 20, 2010

#140 A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)


Director: Elia Kazan

Cast: Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter, Karl Malden, Rudy Bond, Nick Dennis, Peg Hillias

Hubba. Hubba.

I was excited for this film, first of all, because it is Vivien Leigh. Secondly, because I had never seen a Marlon Brando flick, and I have read loads about his intense method acting. Thirdly, I was dying to know what story leads to the classic line, "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers."

And damn. What a movie!

Based off of an original theatrical production by Tennessee Williams, it is ((supposed)) to be a story focused on Blanche DuBois, a southern belle who has lost the family estate and travels to stay with her pregnant sister and brutish husband in New Orleans. We watch as her pathetic clinging to her traditions and delusions of refinement drive her sister's husband absolutely wild. Convinced she is hiding some sort of inheritance and is full of lies, he bullies her out of sheer frustration, to which Blanche ultimately responds with a loss of sanity.

If I can try to remove myself for a moment from the fact that Marlon Brando is so stinking SEXY in this film (all greased up and sweaty), his performance as Stanley Kowalski is absolutely brilliant. He is absolutely animalistic on the screen, and his attention to the detail of his character is captivating. When he first enters, we watch him engage with Leigh in his own apartment, absently scratching his belly and back as he lets his lines be shrugged off his muscley shoulders.

The film is more theatrical than cinematic, I would say. The director seemed far more interested in his characters than he did for creating a beautiful film. But there is something about this story and these characters that drives you to another place-- a place where you can count on women to be frail and pathetic and men to be covered in sweat and throw you over their shoulder.

Absolutely genius film. Five stars. Get in my life.

Friday, February 19, 2010

#139 The Color Purple (1985)


Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover, Margaret Avery, Oprah Winfrey, Willard Pugh, Akosua Busia

In part, I can't believe I am saying this, but this film made me cry. I haven't been moved to tears by a film in a long time.

I find myself torn between wanting to fully let myself be submerged in the moving, dramatic aspects of the story vs. stepping back and just appreciating it. When watching a female character in plight, I can't help but want to appropriate the story in step with my own struggles and cheer for their revolution. But really, how can I relate to a woman with an abusive spouse? Even simpler, how I can relate to the plight of the black poor in the early 1900s? It's somewhat silly to make such comparisons, and I am left slightly isolated from the story as a result. With all epic tales of survival (based on truth or purely fiction), I can't help but wonder what my great victory will be.

For those that aren't familiar with the story, this movie is an adaptation of Alice Walker's novel about an impoverished rural black community in the early 1900s. One of Goldberg's first major performances, she plays Celie, a young girl who is married off by her sexually abusive father to man of the local church. In doing so, he separates her from her beloved sister, and also sells off her two illegitimate children that she conceived through his abuse.

She is destined to a life of beating and servitude to her abusive new husband, and it is only the arrival of her husband's infatuation, singer Shug Avery, that Celie is able to find hope. Watching this character open up is a very long, slow process, but a rewarding one. An exciting moment is when she finds her voice after the discovery of hundreds of letters that her sister had sent her over the years from Africa--letters that her husband had been hiding from her.

Other characters that are connected to Celie--their stories are also told. Oprah Winfrey plays the wife of Celie's step-son, whose fiery disposition gets her into trouble with the white community. Surprisingly, (I truly can't believe I'm saying this), Oprah Winfrey's acting was beyond impressive. It was downright spectacular.

This film is often criticized for being one of Spielberg's weakest films. Granted, this is one of the first adaptations of a novel where I watched the film without reading the book first (SACRILEGE!), but I found the film to be moving, beautiful, and not too entirely predictable either.

Certainly made this sleepless night go by much more peacefully than if I had laid tossing and turning.

Power de la femme.