Directed by Jack HillUnited States | 1968
One gets the feeling that if the Merryes had been left alone, they might never have been allowed to become monsters—remaining instead withering freaks in a microcosm of familial love. It’s only when the outside world comes calling that things go wrong, and it’s easy to see Spider Baby as an anti-establishment polemic, a bloody Peter Pan story aimed at keeping squares at bay. It’s a theme that would be explored and modified a few years later in Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; the key difference being that Leatherface’s family was a tad more proactive in procuring their meals.
Directed by Claude ChabrolFrance, Italy | 1960
If Chabrol is indebted to Hitchcock here it’s more subtle than in his later “suspense thrillers” where even a layman could note the similarities. Here, Hitch can mostly be seen through the combination of sly sexuality and mysterious danger—its cast is a study in the allure of carnality as it relates to both sex and death. Rita has chosen the safe route, and Henri is a steadfast, if utterly boring, suitor. When she defends her choice all she can really say is that he’s well read, well educated, and comes from a good family. Jane wants something wilder, and in Marcel she has a man who’s leading a secret life…
Directed by Eric RohmerFrance | 1967
Adrien’s hyper-articulate, context-heavy narration guides the dramatic action and offers an additional layer through which to scrutinize the discontinuities between thought and behavior, principle and impulse. Rohmer’s leading males are so self-assured, so certain that they are following the proper path, that it’s easy to fall into a trap in which they appear righteous and sympathetic. Yet as much as Adrien frames Haydée’s day-to-day behavior as manipulative, as if she’s playing a game with his emotions by sleeping around with Daniel and others, it’s really Adrien who’s the weasel, feigning affection and then slipping away with the exacting care of a great dictator.
Directed by Woody AllenUnited States | 1977
I loved the non-linear portions of the film. By seeing the Alvy/Annie story unfold out of order and interspersed with scenes from Alvy’s first marriage and a couple of failed relationships in between, we avoid the movie’s central problem until about the last half-hour: the movie is about a couple casually coming together, casually doing nothing, and then casually drifting apart. These scenes are fairly realistic, wonderfully acted, and intermittently funny. But in the end, when Alvy shrugs and re-iterates his Groucho philosophy, I was unsatisfied.
Directed by Jesus FrancoItaly, United Kingdom, West Germany | 1969
It’s this free-flowing sense of style and identity that really makes Venus in Furs a treat. It might perhaps be a cinematic succubus, borrowing allusions, weight, and form from other works through some manner of infernal coupling, but it also fully encapsulates the excitement of counter-cultural cinema as it was emerging in this latter part of the 1960s- an art-form that was more free than ever before to travel where it saw fit, fuelling and deriving fuel from a larger society that was acting on the same impulse.
Directed by Maurice PialatFrance | 1968
There’s a world of difference between Truffaut’s poetic debut and the direct, documentary-like veneer Pialat favours. Describing L’enfance-nue as “Les quatre cents coup stripped of all sentimentality” is accurate but it doesn’t quite capture the wonderful nuances both films boast. Although it’s a tendency in film criticism to pitch titles against each other and then claim a victor, the truth is that these films work as a remarkable one-two punch in raising the issue of troubled childhoods.
Directed by Yoshishige YoshidaJapan | 1969
That Eiko’s mind should wander to romantic shots of cherry blossoms in full bloom to frame her thoughts on Osugi’s teachings suggests a passion for the anarchist’s philosophy that goes beyond mere political agreement. Indeed, what makes Eros + Massacre so singular is how directly it deals not with history but historiography, the study of how history itself comes to be. While we first fully meet Eiko in the nude in her bedroom, she first “appears” as the disembodied, interrogating voice using an actress to project questions at the daughter of Noe Ito…
Directed by Stanley KubrickUnited Kingdom, United States | 1987
…even an artist of Kubrick’s piercing intellect and artistic insight has trouble finding anything new to say about war or any new way to depict it. A better title for the film would’ve been “Straight Jacket”, as it constantly feels like Kubrick is trying to shed the traditional limitations that his subject matter has imposed on him, and FMJ’s best and worst moments are always the result of his success or failure at that endeavor. Kubrick faced this same problem before with Paths of Glory. But while Paths found him at his most dramatically conventional (and, arguably, dramatically potent), FMJ finds him attempting to incorporate the more ambiguous and provocative stylings of the films he cultivated from 2001 onward.
Directed by Stan BrakhageUnited States | 1967, 1978
By sheer necessity you can only remember Brakhage’s films by way of fleeting moments and images, more like memories of fading dreams than series of connected events. For a director so concerned with vision, it seems apropos that Brakhage would focus on lights so much, and lights indeed serve as another motif. They appear in a variety of ways; sometimes they are distant colored dots on the horizon, either originating from building windows, streetlamps, or other unknown sources. In one moment we get a close-up of an orange glowing light bulb that is superimposed with smaller lights that lead us into the next section, which includes cruising across a bridge with the sky bathed in red and buildings standing like hulking shadow monsters ahead.
Directed by Ingmar BergmanSweden | 1966
The film borrows bits and pieces from the entire period that precedes it, taking the milieu of Glass Darkly and the suggestion of insanity, the epistolary laden motif of Winter Light and the female/female relationship of The Silence. But Persona also piles on a multitude of levels, including the element of modernistic, cinematic self-awareness, that metafictional recognition of the director pulling the strings. It also adds glimpses of an outside world that Bergman largely ignored in his preceding trilogy, namely images from the on-going Vietnam war.
Directed by Joel Coen, Ethan CoenUnited States, United Kingdom, France | 2009
Given the film’s thematic complexity, it seems almost trivial to return to the more plebeian forms of criticism, but Roger Deakins’ dreamlike, almost surreal cinematography deserves it. It brilliantly contrasts the comic book-like colors and geometry of suburbia in wide lenses and deep focus with the hazier colors and angles of Larry’s subjectivity and dreams in long lenses and shallow focus. This echoes the theme of Larry being cut off from objective reality by his distorted view of his life.
Directed by John ScheinfeldUnited States | 2006
An audiotaped interview of Nilsson himself narrates a good deal of this which results in the most insightful moments, where one can glean at least some of his influences as there is no attempt on the film’s part to explore the source of his unusual songwriting talent and nothing interesting offered up by Nilsson’s favorite artist to cover, Randy Newman. However, snippets of Nilsson’s recorded output are sprinkled throughout to good effect, if only because they remind the viewer just how ineffable a thing the music is and how impotent theory and criticism and biography are in the face of such a soul-searing voice.
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1963
This is an inversion of the classic Kurosawa quick-motion pan—this time the cameras are positioned on a moving subject as it darts past the stationary objects of its gaze. After the long static drama of the first half, this four-minute scene is exhilarating with its free cuts and fluid movements. Kurosawa employs nine roving cameras… to capture every gaze and reaction, including Gondo’s pained expression when he finally slides the suitcases out of the narrow washroom window. Expert editing reduces it to the necessary action, giving it the fluidity of real-time and the fixity of crisis.
Directed by Mike NicholsUnited States | 1967
The problem with all this is that if The Graduate does capture the zeitgeist of ’60s America, it is a romanticised zeitgeist, one that is a world away from the bristling anger and genuine unrest of Vietnam and the marches of the Civil Rights Movement. The social fallout is handled, at best, abstractly in Ben’s general disaffection, but even the film itself seems somewhat unconvinced by its own thesis. The use of music from Simon and Garfunkel plays prominently into this.
Directed by Joel Coen, Ethan CoenUnited States, United Kingdom, France | 2009
One possible interpretation among many is to conceive of A Serious Man as the Coen brothers answer to their critics, who for years have accused their films of nihilism or worse. The Big Lebowski and Barton Fink in particular are largely seen as something like apocalyptic sketches: the former portraying modern man after the idealism of the 60’s has all but disappeared and the latter suggesting that man is utterly corrupt and salvation is unattainable. The Coens have at last crafted a black comedy that both embraces and shuns their origins, while complicating them.
Directed by Tadashi ImaiJapan | 1963
Bushidô zankoku monogatari is straight-forward, no-nonsense, literary storytelling. We have chapters that are meant to parallel and reinforce one another, but not to stratify or obfuscate our thematic understanding. So there is plenty of redundancy here, but that’s really the point: Japan as victim of its own inability to learn, to grow. Its embrace of a ruthless patriarchy goes back centuries, as the film stresses pointedly, despite the kind of superficial changes that people often call progress.