Shore Leave: Querelle (1982)

QUERELLE (1982)

To view Querelle click here.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder passed away on the morning of June 10, 1982, three weeks into the editing of his final feature Querelle. The New York Times reported that, “a video-cassette machine that he had been using was still running at 5 A.M., Munich time, when Miss Lorenz [Julie Lorenz, his roommate and editor] discovered his body.” He died of an overdose of sleeping pills and cocaine – he had long been pushing his body to extremes while shooting some 45 features in 15 years. Querelle is not a summation or a final statement, as Fassbinder was constantly shifting, poking and exploring his stylistic palette. New paths emerged within every film, and Querelle is just another fork in the road before his heart gave out, but it is a feverishly beautiful one. Querelle is a free adaptation of Jean Genet’s 1947 novel Querelle of Brest, about a dope-dealing seaman involved in a murder while on shore leave, while grappling with his repressed and newly emerging homosexual desires. Frankly erotic and garishly artificial, shot on horizonless soundstages and bathed in orange and blue filtered light, it is both ridiculous and sublime.

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Ida Lupino Gets Her Due

MBDONDA EC020

To view the work of Ida Lupino available on FilmStruck, click here.

Ida Lupino was groomed for stardom by Paramount during the 1930s and achieved it at Warner Bros. in the 1940s. Yet, she loathed the star system, which turned actresses into manufactured personas that required them to behave offscreen as they did on-screen. However, her experiences as a star were not in vain because they influenced her career as a director, according to Ida Lupino, Director: Her Art and Resilience in Times of Transition, a new book by Therese Grisham and Julie Grossman.

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The Red Balloon (1956)

RED BALLOON, THE (1956)

To view The Red Balloon click here.

I like to think of silent cinema as our very own Tower of Babel as built by our great grandfathers in the late 1800′s and early 1900′s. Most pre-talkies required only a few scant intertitles here and there to be translated into different languages before being exported around the world. Most of the information then being conveyed was done visually. Iconic giants like Charlie Chaplin traversed easily across cultural borders and became famous on a level that even today no Kardashian could hope to match. Once the talkies came around, that tower of pure visual language that so easily spoke to many cultures came crashing down.

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Desperation and Bravery in Basil Dearden’s Victim (1961)

VICTIM (1961)

To view Victim click here.

In late 19th century England, the Criminal Law Amendment Act was implemented, not only banning homosexuality, but making it a criminal offense. For decades, this senseless, discriminatory and repulsive law targeted, and subsequently ruined, the lives of countless gay men in England. Fear of becoming social outcasts, these men were also at risk of losing their jobs and homes. But what made this law even worse was that it left the door wide open for blackmail. If these gay men weren’t already frightened of the serious consequences brought about by this inhumane law, they had to worry about being exposed and outed to their families and employers without consent. Much like Prohibition in America encouraged the rise of an extremely violent criminal underworld peddling booze and drugs, the Criminal Law Amendment Act created a lucrative business for unscrupulous individuals to profit off of secrets. Blackmail was such an issue within the gay community, that the Criminal Law Amendment was known as “The Blackmailer’s Charter.” In 1957, seven decades after the law was enacted, John Wolfenden, an educator, along with a committee comprised of doctors, religious leaders, lawyers and professors, came to a near-unanimous decision to recommend that homosexuality be decriminalized—their findings became known as the “Wolfenden Report.” While many of the observations made by the committee are archaic by today’s standards, they were both groundbreaking and controversial for the time. Unfortunately, it took England another ten years to decriminalize homosexuality. But in the years between the Wolfenden Report and the Sexual Offences Act of 1967, there were no shortage of harsh social commentaries and protests in favor of equal rights for the gay men targeted by the law. In 1961, director Basil Dearden and producer Michael Relph released Victim, a cinematic masterpiece, with a groundbreaking, unflinching look at the shameful treatment of the gay community and condemnation of its blackmailers.

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Into Thin Air: The Vanishing (1988)

VANISHING, THE (1988)

To view The Vanishing click here.

Years ago, I watched a made-for-television movie starring Cloris Leachman and Dabney Coleman called Dying Room Only (1973). It was written by a personal favorite of mine, Richard Matheson, and told the story of a couple on a road trip stopping off at a diner to get a bite to eat and take a rest. While Leachman sips her coffee, husband Coleman goes to the restroom and never comes back. I was fascinated and gripped until the climax, when the movie reveals what happened. I won’t spoil it for you, but when I saw The Vanishing (1988) years later, based on the book The Golden Egg, I thought two things: One, did the book’s writer watch Dying Room Only and two, I’m glad he fixed the ending.

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Spies Among Us: Another Country (1984)

ANOTHER COUNTRY (1984) To view Another Country click here.

“And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,

Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;

We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;

Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;

And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,

And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.”

I Vow to Thee, My Country, Sir Cecil Spring Rice & Gustav Holst

In the early 1930s, a group of upper-class British university students were recruited as Soviet spies. Today they’re referred to as the Cambridge Five although it’s likely that their numbers were much larger. At the time that they became Soviet sympathizers, Britain and Russia were still allies but the United Kingdom was facing a monumental crisis. Millions were jobless and the economy was in the throes of a deep depression while imperialism and fascism were on the rise. The Cambridge Five responded by embracing Marxism, championing the working classes and opposing fascism, which was particularly rampant within the privileged social circles they traveled in. But times changed and as WWII erupted the alliance between Britain and the U.S.S.R. began dramatically shifting and morphing according to the winds of war. The spies were eventually found out and between 1950 and 1980 their crimes made headlines. The news stunned the British public and sent shockwaves through the establishment. What compelled these sons of fortune to adopt Marxism and become spies for Russia? Another Country (1984) scrutinizes the autocratic British school system that may, or may not, have motivated their betrayal of king and country. [...MORE]

Experience Preferred: The Dangerous Dynamic of The Servant (1963)

SERVANT, THE (1963)

To view The Servant click here.

It’s usually compelling for movie fans to see an actor trying to break out of a mold into which they’ve been cast by the public, and few did it so successfully or aggressively as Dirk Bogarde. Though he’d built up a strong reputation among critics and cineastes in the 1960s with darker character work in films like Cast a Dark Shadow (1955) and the daring masterpiece Victim (1961), he was best known to the public as Simon Sparrow, the heartthrob comic lead in Doctor in the House (1954) and four subsequent sequels. Bogarde’s last film in the series, Doctor in Distress (1963), turned out to be aptly named as it came out the same year as the film that would permanently enshrine Bogarde as a major league actor: The Servant (1963). [...MORE]

Oh The Humanity: Dirigible (1931)

DIRIGIBLE (1931)

To view Dirigible click here.

Summer movie season is already upon us, with superheroes saving the world from various varieties of destruction. I’m turning back the clock to 1931 to look at a disaster film that uses the same playbook, Frank Capra’s blimp inferno Dirigible. (For the throngs of readers who have been following my Jean Renoir series, it is taking a month-long break, returning on July 18th.) Dirigible‘s thrills are premised on scale, on framing the enormity of these cruising zeppelins against the sky, and realistically rendering the chaos of such a behemoth coming apart at the seams. This was a million dollar production, with a lot of effort at authenticity, and much of the flying footage was shot on real Navy blimps with the compact Eyemo camera (cinematographer Joseph A. Walker says only two insert shots – of a train station and a sealing ship – were stock).  The movie alternates between these awe-inspiring feats of technological wonder and a rote love triangle that barely gets off the ground. This is a movie about the machines, not the people, which makes for dulling drama but stunning spectacle.

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Bryan Foy and John Alton: An Unlikely Team

Producer and director Bryan Foy, 1930

To view the “Anthony Mann/John Alton Noir” theme on FilmStruck, click here.

Anthony Mann gained a reputation for creating lean, mean film noirs with the help of cinematographer extraordinaire John Alton. Mann’s stylish direction and memorable characters in film noir, as well as in Westerns and dramas make him a favorite among classic movie lovers. You can count the Streamliners among Mann-fans based on the many FilmStruck posts about the series “Anthony Mann/John Alton Noir,” including my own article from earlier this year.

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Shattered Glass: The Tin Drum (1979)

TIN DRUM, THE (1979)

To view The Tin Drum click here.

There’s a scene in the novel, The Tin Drum, by Gunter Grass, that portrays a place called The Onion Cellar Club. It’s a place where Germans can go to listen to music, cut open onions and weep. The onions provide the tears. It’s a harsh symbol, implying that the emotions that would naturally bring the tears are nonexistent. It also implies they’ve got a lot to cry about and much soul-cleansing to do. The movie does not contain such a scene but goes a different path, taking the seemingly unfilmable novel and narrowing it down to a little under three hours. It won the Palme d’Or at Cannes but many readers of the book were disappointed. I was not. I am never disappointed because a movie isn’t like the book. Two different mediums require two different routes to the same destination. I’m not even disappointed when a movie seems to project an entirely different attitude or tone than the novel, as long as it succeeds and stands on its own merits.  But does the 1979 adaptation do so? I’m not convinced.

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