Desire: A Day in the Country (1936)

DAY IN THE COUNTRY, A (1936)

To view A Day in the Country click here.

One of Jean Renoir’s most beloved films is one he wasn’t interested in finishing. While making A Day in the Country, Renoir was in pre-production on both The Lower Depths (1936) and Grand Illusion (1937). Once A Day in the Country ran into money problems he put it to the side, leaving it to be finished by his producer Pierre Braunberger. Shot in 1936, it wasn’t released until 1946 as a 40-minute short, whereupon it swiftly entered the pantheon. A suggestive slip of a movie, adapted from a Maupassant short story, it portrays the dueling desires of a bourgeois Parisian family and two country layabouts out for a bit of flirtatious sport. What transpires is beyond their respective imaginings, a transformative lust that lingers well beyond that afternoon under the summer sun.

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Billy Bob Thornton and Southern Gothic for the Big Screen

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To view Sling Blade click here.

Articles about Billy Bob Thornton’s films, scripts or starring roles inevitably bring up some combination of his eccentric behavior, Southern background and strange marriage to Angelina Jolie. Any one of those personal details might drive mainstream reviewers to ridicule or dismiss the films he has written and/or directed, but the three together have likely tanked any significant critical appreciation of his entire body of work.

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Counter-Revolutionaries: Knight Without Armour (1937)

KNIGHT WITHOUT ARMOUR (1937)

To view Knight Without Armour click here.

The year 1937 witnessed a milestone for author James Hilton, as two of his books got the big screen treatment on both sides of the Atlantic. One, Lost Horizon, needs no introduction. Produced by Harry Cohn and directed by Frank Capra, the movie was a smash with critics and audiences alike. In Britain, the other movie adapted from Hilton’s work, Knight Without Armour, produced by Alexander Korda and directed by Jacques Feyder, met with a troubled production and a lukewarm reception from critics and audiences upon its release. Ultimately, the film lost money and faded away. But it stars Robert Donat and Marlene Dietrich and provides one of the more interesting takes on the Russian aristocracy during the revolution, especially coming only two decades after the fact and a mere two years before the USSR would work with Nazi Germany before switching horses midstream to work with the Allied Forces in World War II. [...MORE]

The Delightfully Perfect Blithe Spirit (1945)

BLITHE SPIRIT (1945)

To view Blithe Spirit click here.

There are countless great movies, but so few are truly perfect. Some of the movies that I consider worthy of the “perfect” designation include Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946), William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), John Ford’s Stagecoach (1939), Mervyn LeRoy’s Random Harvest (1942) and Billy Wilder’s The Apartment (1960). In these films, it’s easy to break down what makes them special: not a single moment is wasted. Every shot, scene, snippet of dialogue, musical accompaniment and actor’s glance is carefully constructed; the result of the intricate work of cinematic masters at the helm. In Notorious, Hitchcock centers his story around two of the most beautiful, talented actors (Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman) while masterfully weaving romance, sexuality, political intrigue and an empathetic view of a morally corrupt character. In The Best Years of Our Lives, Wyler authentically captures the complicated nature of veterans returning home and adjusting to civilian life—something that was all too real for Wyler and his fellow World War II veterans. And in The Apartment, Billy Wilder skillfully creates a humorous and heartbreaking glimpse of two lonely people finding love while caught up in the midst of sleazy corporate America.

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The Past Is Always With Us: The Naked Kiss (1964)

NAKED KISS, THE (1964)

To view The Naked Kiss click here.

Samuel Fuller developed a reputation over time of being the tough guy director of movies like Pickup on South Street (1953), The Steel Helmet (1951) and The Big Red One (1980). This is all well and good but his films have a sense of style, and insight at their core, that belies the notion that Fuller can be pigeonholed as the cigar-chomping model of masculinity behind the camera. He may well have been, but the man put together more movies about regret and despair than most directors and occasionally dipped deeply into the well of sentimentality. In 1964, he put together a movie whose story and plot could have easily been mistaken for the kind of movie directed by Douglas Sirk, although with completely different results. In fact, The Naked Kiss (1964) may be described as the best movie Douglas Sirk never made.

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“Just shut up and watch!”: Remembering Seijun Suzuki (1923-2017)

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To view the work of Seijun Suzuki click here.

On February 13, we lost Seijun Suzuki. The Japanese director, screenwriter, actor and producer was 93-years-old at the time of his death and a titan in my own cinematic universe but I haven’t had the opportunity to properly mourn his passing. With Suzuki’s birthday fast approaching (May 24th) I thought I would devote some time to discussing the movie maverick who is being commemorated on The Criterion Channel of FilmStruck with “Chaos of Cool: A Tribute to Seijun Suzuki.” The programing theme presents seven of Suzuzki’s films including Take Aim at the Police Van (1960), Youth of the Beast (1963), Gate of Flesh (1964), Story of a Prostitute (1965), Fighting Elegy (1966), Tokyo Drifter (1966) and Branded to Kill (1967) but if you search for the director’s name on FilmStruck you will also find Everything Goes Wrong (1960), which I singled out in the past. If you are unfamiliar with Suzuki or already a fan, “Chaos of Cool” provides subscribers with a fantastic opportunity to explore the work of one of Japan’s most dynamic, influential and innovative filmmakers.

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All You Need Is the Importance of Love

THAT MOST IMPORTANT THING: LOVE (1975)

To view That Most Important Thing: Love click here.

Though you wouldn’t know it from the mainstream press, one of the biggest losses to the film community last year was the death of filmmaker Andrzej Zulawski, a dazzling Polish filmmaker who stirred up attention both positive and negative from critics and his government in the early 1970s with The Devil (1972). He wound up relocating to France where he made the lion’s share of his later work, the first of which was L’important c’est d’aimer (1975). Translating that title elegantly into English is a tricky feat; American distributor Seaberg Film Distribution tried its best with its dubbed 1977 version called The Most Important Thing: Love, while others try to smooth it out as The Main Thing Is to Love or The Importance of Love. However, none of those Baz Luhrmann-style monikers really give you an idea of what’s really in store in this deeply affecting and wildly flamboyant portrait of passion and artistry that’s unlike anything else you’ll ever see.

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The Tramp: Boudu Saved From Drowning (1932)

BOUDU SAVED FROM DROWNING (1932)

To view Boudu Saved From Drowning click here.

“From Boudu I have learned that one of the attitudes to take toward society is to loathe it.” - Michel Simon

In Boudu Saved From Drowning (1932) Michel Simon plays a bearded bum who has lost interest in humanity. Boudu would prefer to stroll in the park with his dog or drown at the bottom of the Seine than re-enter the world of neckties and table manners and responsibility. But he is dragged into it by a bourgeois bookseller who hopes to “save” him from his “plight.” But instead of praise Boudu brings chaos, destabilizing the household from within. Simon closely collaborated with director Jean Renoir on the production, and it is a tour de force performance, with Simon a loose-limbed satyr, extending his gangly frame in all the wrong directions so as to most annoy his hosts. It is something of a thematic sequel to La Chienne(1931), which Renoir and Simon completed the previous year and which I wrote about last week. They both center Simon as a sympathetic monster, one who commits despicable acts but only because they are being true to themselves. It is Boudu’s nature to drift, so if he is not allowed to drown in the undercurrent, he will coast above it, roiling all the lives he touches along the way.

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Inside Chuck Barris’s Head: Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)

CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND (2002)

To view Confessions of a Dangerous Mind click here.

Innovative game show creator Chuck Barris, one of my favorite showbiz figures, died in March of this year. Obituaries rightly acknowledged his influence on reality television. While he created many game shows as head of Chuck Barris Productions, there are three that made pop culture history. The Dating Game (1965-1986), The Newlywed Game (1966-1974) and The Gong Show (1976-1980) shared in common a format designed to exploit the spontaneous and the unpredictable. The shows’ premises—dating, marriage and the desire to be the center of attention—often resulted in responses from contestants that could be embarrassing and downright humiliating.

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Bigotry & Bloodshed: Sapphire (1959)

SAPPHIRE (1959)

To view Sapphire click here.

A beautiful young woman named Sapphire (Yvonne Buckingham) has been murdered. Her bloodied corpse was found in London’s Hampstead Heath park. A seasoned detective (Nigel Patrick) and his young partner (Michael Craig) are called on to investigate the case but as they try to piece together the puzzle of this post-war whodunit the mystery only deepens. Behind her tweed skirts and pale complexion, Sapphire was keeping many secrets including the fact that she was the biracial child of a black mother and white father. Did race play a part in her murder? Is a family member involved? Or was she killed by one of her male suitors? Before the killer is unmasked, this curious mystery takes some surprising twists and turns. In the process viewers get a firsthand look at London’s vibrant city streets undergoing a tectonic shift as denizens of white working-class pubs and black jazz clubs mix, mingle and occasionally fall in love. We also get a taste of the revolting racism quietly simmering underneath this modern cultural melting-pot.

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