Thursday, November 16, 2006

Taxi Driver



Directed by Martin Scorsese, one of the greatest films of the 20th Century. The story about a man drowning in loneliness that desperately seeks the approval of the social lives of those around him. He is Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro), who (as the film opens) gets a job as a cabbie because of the insomnia he suffers of. He prefers working nights (12 hour shifts), will take anyone anywhere, and still he can't seem to sleep. His point-of-view is an ingenious cinematic approach whereas it is viewed in slow-motion (which symbolizes his heightened observation). There are so many undercurrents within the film that even Bickle himself doesn't realize. There is an apparent prejudice against african-americans (the usual stereotype of them all being pimps or drug dealers - and ironically enough when Bickle finally does meet a pimp, he turns out to be white).
Bickle bides his time in a coffee shop where all the 'night shift' cabbies hang out. He listens to them ramble about imaginary women who give them $500 tips and their phone number to somewhere in South America. His attention wanders and his inability to socialize presents an awkward air that is at times difficult to watch.
Bickle eventually meets Betsy (Cybil Shepherd) who is an avid supporter of the presidential candidate Palantine. His former view of the inhabitants of New York as "scum" is finally changed when he meets a girl who "is not like the rest of them". He asks her out to a movie and it turns out to be porn. He knew it was porn (he goes to the same theatre every night he's off work), but he doesn't go for the usual reason people go, he gets no satisfaction out of it, it is as if he's punishing himself for having walked into such a place. He seems to not realize why she looks at him with disgust and eventually leaves and never wants to see him again.
Bickle is a "walking contradiction" whereas he sees the world as evil and wrong, but in his attempts at being accepted, he finds himself bending the rules of morality and becoming what he despises.
He comes across a 12-year old prostitute named, Iris (Jodie Foster), who he immediately likes, but the only way he can be near her is to pay for "half an hour". He does so, and despite her attempts to "make it", he tries to tell her that he's come to set her free from the life of prostitution. "Don't you want to get out of here?" he asks. "But it saves me from myself," she answers innocently. He leaves frustrated.
Bickle is (like the John Wayne character in "The Searchers") trying to rescue women who don't want to be rescued. It becomes his obsession that these women are being oppressed and that his goal in life is to set them free.
His obsession leads to violence when he purchases weapons and attempts to assassinate Palantine, but runs away almost as if, at the last moment, coming to his senses. But that is only the "dress rehearsal" for the climax of the film which is one of the most graphic scenes of violence ever filmed. It is shot in 'washed out' colors as if the ensuing violence has drained the blood from the film.
The famous line, "Are you talkin' to me? Well I'm the only one here," spoken to himself in a mirror, has been many times mimicked but the meaning can only be fully realized in this film. It is the voice of a lonely man amidst the crowd, a voice of sarcasm at his own worthless condition. The condition we all find ourselves in from time to time.
The film ends with Bickle meeting Betsy one more time as he is driving her home in his cab (by a chance meeting). Her look has changed from one of disgust to admiration and the viewer senses that this scene is not real. That it is either his final dying thoughts or simply a fantasy in his mind. It is Bickle finally finding redemption, finally finding his place in society. It has all been resolved and now he can lead a normal life or die happily.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Ipcress File



"The Ipcress File" is a gripping spy thriller that was a big hit back in 1966. This was the time when Michael Caine was a rising young star, and this movie was an excellent showcase for his talent. Visually, the movie is dated in spots, especially in its use of psychedelic colors and images in the brainwashing sequences. These images, along with Caine's character's wearing of thick-lensed, horn-rimmed eye glasses, were later parodied in spy spoofs, most notably in the Austin Powers series. Fortunately, the story is as engrossing as ever, and Caine's Harry Palmer remains one of the most indelible movie characters ever.
Harry Palmer is a shrewd, cocky, amoral Army sergeant who was busted in Germany for some illegal trading. Sensing his abilities, the British army has offered to keep him out of prison in exchange for his becoming a spy. It's the threat of prison that keeps the freedom-loving Harry in line. [This plot device has been used countless times since "The Ipcress File" was released, most recently in "XXX".] When a prominent British scientist is kidnapped, Harry's boss loans him out to another department. What our confident hero doesn't realize is that he's being used as bait. By whom and for what purpose is what keeps the suspense going right up to the movie's tense climax.
"The Ipcress File" is in the category of spy movies which, unlike James Bond films, portray the characters as participants in a dark, sinister and deadly serious game. In this game, only the hero can be trusted.
Len Deighton's first novel presents the micro-detail workings of a nameless espionage agent's workaday world. The protagonist is as far removed from the glamour world of James Bond as you can get -- in fact, it's the polar opposite. The film is a departure from Deighton's novel but what is here works well.
The entire cast is very good. The story moves along at a leisurely but good pace. The cinematography takes on a persona of its own that bears well under repeated viewing. John Barry's score is one of his best and quite different in tone from his Bond scores. Production values are top notch. And it's quite surprising when you realize this film's producer is Harry Saltzman -- one of the co-producers of the Bond series! In fact, Saltzman brought along some of the Bond crew to work on "The Ipcress File".
This is Michael Caine's first starring role in film. Saltzman tapped Caine after seeing his excellent performance in "Zulu". Caine does a yeoman job of portraying the novel's spy with no name as Harry Palmer, complete with deadpan, wry humor.
Harry Palmer is minus the gizmos, the flash of Bond, he offers you instead an ex-con pressed into using his talents for the British spies. He is a gourmet cook, cannot see too good without his coke bottle glasses, and poor Harry, caught between Ross, his former boss, and Dobly, his new boss, in a thinking man's game of cat and mouse.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Alphaville



Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine) is agent 003, a Dick Tracy character, complete with trenchcoat, felt hat, Zippo, and a .45 calibre automatic. He has come to Alphaville to assassinate its dictator, Professor Von Braun. This is a city ruled by the computer, the Alpha-60, and its scientist creators and neophytes. Politics no longer exists, only the dehumanizing logic of the binary system.
Shot in Paris on a very tight budget, Godard makes graphic use of his surroundings, playing with the black and white images and emphasizing the ruggedness of Constantine and the striking beauty of Anna Karina. In doing so, he revisits a science fiction theme - computers and new technology will transform the physical world, this is true, but their most immediate, global, and lasting impact will be in the reconfiguration of the human mind and consciousness.
The film opens with the legend, "Sometimes reality is too complex for oral communication." While Godard will employ his typical blend of visual imagery, flashing words and still pictures on the screen, making philosophical and literary references beyond the story, etc., "Alphaville" follows a more obviously linear, narrative path than his earlier films.
In this futuristic world, people are no longer capable of free thought. They must adhere to the control of the computer. Each hotel room is equipped with a bible - in the form of a dictionary which lists what words are acceptable and what their meaning must be. Those who express the forbidden emotions of love or betray contrary thinking are to be executed. The computer interrogates those suspected of crime, denouncing them as liars if they do not adhere to established truths.
Lemmy Caution poses as a journalist for 'Figaro-Pravda' - a blend of French and Soviet newspapers. The role of the journalist is to enforce the truth; to disseminate what the State wants its citizens to believe. Before the word, nothing existed. Language is responsible for bringing reality into existence. But Caution appreciates that the seeds of destruction lie not in the future, but in the meanings we inherit from the past. Ironically, for 'the word', we can now read 'cinema'. Film, Goddard is suggesting, can no more be trusted than a dictionary.
Alpha-60 has analyzed the past and realized that man cannot create his own future with any certainty. It is vital that the computer take control and change people into logical travelers into the future. The present is terrifying because it is irreversible. Once people become mere ants, automatically obeying instructions to create structures beyond their ken, they will be free of the stress of uncertainty. The computer is a very moral beast.
Godard's vision of this computerized world is bleak and terrifying. While the narrative sweeps along, it is not a story which can simply be enjoyed. As a viewer, you have to concentrate and try to absorb the themes and images. The acting is consciously stylized, the direction and editing curt and sometimes oblique. The portrayal is that of comic book good versus evil, yet values and morality are fluid to say the least.
Perhaps "Alphaville's" message is symbolized by the habitual greeting exchanged by its characters - "I'm fine thank you, you're welcome", voiced as a simple statement on meeting or leaving. Communication is symbolic, devoid of feeling or individuality. The story reduces its characters to caricatures who act out their instructions against a soundtrack of ironic, B-movie music which seems to instruct the viewer that this is meant to be a moment of cinematographic tension.
The film, therefore, defines meaning as clearly as does a dictionary or computer. This is how you are supposed to think, these are the emotions you are required to feel at this point. Godard, as ever, challenges this message. As a viewer, you are forced to deconstruct his images and narrative and assess meaning for yourself.
"Alphaville" does rely pretty heavily on a wide source of literature (Orwell, Huxley and French surrealism being the obvious influence), however it is Godard's entrancing visual style and clever blend of high art and pop culture that makes this film seem so refreshing and prophetic. A demanding film, a highly entertaining film, an extraordinarily rewarding film, and one which should be watched again and again by all lovers of cinema and students of filmmaking.

Bonnie and Clyde



"Bonnie and Clyde" is the superb 1967 milestone movie that changed much of the face and the mind of the films that followed. Producer-star Warren Beatty and director Arthur Penn have dealt with an American folk legend in almost ballad form and triumphed. Where the fact ends and the fiction begins is no longer decipherable or very relevant to the brief history of the couple who earned their niche in the hoodlum drifters, nobodies yearning to be some kind of somebodies, rebels with no cause beyond the moment's rebellion, when a third of the Depression-bruised nation, debilitated and apathetic, was ready to secretly admire those who could get away with striking at the Establishment. It is in retrospect that the pathos of this pair is evident--and this evidence provides the particular distinction of what might well have been just another gangster movie, another glorification of violence and rebellion, another bit of lip service to morality. Instead we have a story of two self-made outsiders, aspiring nothing beyond the moment's satisfaction, terrifying in their total dissociation from humanity. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway are flawless in underlining the universality and contemporary significance of the theme; and Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons (Oscar winner), and Michael J. Pollard offer superlative support--all to the rickety twang of a banjo and a saturation in time and place.
This movie ignited critics and the public alike when it was first released in theatres. Much discussion centered around the movie's graphic violence (which was considered shocking by 1967 standards --- two years later "The Wild Bunch" would raise the ante even higher); there was also considerable hullabaloo over the film's glamorization of its lawless true-life anti-heroes (which was in fact an old Hollywood tradition best exemplified by a handful of late 1930's and early 1940's biographical Westerns including "Jesse James", "Belle Starr", "Billy the Kid", etc. in which beautiful actors portrayed the murderous title characters as Technicolored lads and ladies).
39 years later the fires of debate have burned out, and what remains notable about "Bonnie and Clyde" is neither its cutting-edge violence nor its historical inaccuracies, but instead the fine craftsmanship that went into its creation. The performances are uniformly outstanding; the cinematography is evocative of a time and place that can still be glimpsed in parts of the Ozarks, Oklahoma, and North Texas; the editing is clean and well-paced; the direction is innovative and assured, even poetic in some sequences (the initial acquaintance of Barrow and Parker, the reunion of Bonnie's family, the final ambush scene). This film is the telling of legend, not the chronicle of biographical scholarship, and it unfolds its story masterfully.

American Gigolo



American Gigolo is one of my favorite films and yet it is really not one of the greatest films that you might encounter. Shot in rich tones, particularly blues and greys, the director, Paul Schrader, wants us to know that we are not going to be afforded the opportunity to get to know the characters too well. One might be able to argue that American Gigolo was one of the films that literally catapulted the movie going public into the 1980's mindset of materialism.
Richard Gere in one of his earliest films portrays straight male call boy, Julian, who is tops in his game. Julian is gorgeous and knows many gorgeous women. He sleeps with those who will pay him. He doesn't bother with those who won't. Julian's lifestyle is one of everything "is a means to an end". He is interested in beautiful clothing and looking good, but because it helps him get something that he wants. He enjoys artwork and stylish digs, but not because he loves them, but because they are status symbols for his success. Julian enjoys being a gigolo because he is the best there is. He wouldn't (and doesn't) enjoy it when it isn't on his terms. For someone like me who feels he is too in tune with his emotions, Gere's Julian is cool, calculating and enviable. He goes about life without a care for anyone but himself.
When Julian meets Lauren Hutton, he is actually smitten with her. This is evidenced by the meeting taking place in a bar with deep reds and comfortable upholstered booths instead of the abounding greys, blues, and steel evidenced elsewhere in the film.
When Julian finally becomes intimate with Hutton and allows his emotional wall down for a moment, Schrader pulls us in close, but just afterward he lets us see that Julian can't maintain such intimacy and the camera pulls back for a long shot of him as he gets out of the bed leaving Lauren Hutton alone in the bed.
The story is secondary to the style of the film. It is a thriller, but not an exciting one. The music of Georgio Moroder and Blondie complement the film and give it even more atmosphere. It needs it because the films two false endings drag this picture out longer than needed in trying to show us how emotional involvement can change someone. The message should be left that a lack of emotion can be dangerous.

I rewatch this film every so often. It's a guilty pleasure watching the opening of the film with Julian driving down the PCH in his 450SL. Or when he's laying out different Armani outfits determining which to put on. Or looking at paintings, never deciding where he will hang them.

The Big Sleep.



THE BIG SLEEP has a reputation for being a film that gets lost in its own complexity and which fails to clearly identify all the perpetrators of all the murders that litter its scenes. There is a certain truth to this: like the Raymond Chandler novel on which it is based, the plot is extremely complicated, and it requires the viewer to mentally track an unexpected number of characters--including two characters that never appear on screen, a pivotal character who doesn't actually have any lines, and a character who is frequently mentioned but doesn't appear until near the film's conclusion. There is not, however, as much truth to the accusation that the film never exposes all the killers: only one killer is not specifically identified, but even so his identity is very clearly implied.
All this having been said, THE BIG SLEEP is one helluva movie. In general, the story concerns the wealthy Sternwood family, which consists of an aging father and two "pretty and pretty wild" daughters--one of whom, Carmen, is being victimized by a blackmailer. P.I. Philip Marlowe is hired to get rid of the blackmailer, but an unexpected murder complicates matters... and touches off a series of killings by a number of parties who have covert interests in the Sternwood family. Perhaps the most amazing thing about the film is that you don't actually have to pick apart the complicated story in order to enjoy it. The script is famous for its witty lines and sleek sexual innuendo--much of it lifted directly from Chandler's novel--and the cast is a dream come true. Philip Marlowe would be played by a great many actors, but none of them ever bested Humphrey Bogart, who splendidly captures the feel of Chandler's original creation; with the role of Vivien Sternwood Lauren Bacall gives what might be the finest performance of her screen career; and the chemistry between the two is everything you've ever heard. The supporting cast is superlative, all the way from Martha Vickers' neurotic turn as Carmen Sternwood to Bob Steele's purring hitman Canino. There's simply not a false note to be found anywhere. Although the film really pre-dates the film noir movement the entire look of THE BIG SLEEP anticipates noir to a remarkable degree--it would be tremendously influential--and director Hawks gives everything a sharp edge from start to finish.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Battle of Algiers



"The Battle of Algiers" is the story of a revolution. The film based on real events begins in 1954 with Ali-La-Pointe, an illiterate, unemployed ex-boxer. He winds up in prison, and it's there that he begins to identify with the F.N.L.--the National Liberation Front. The F.N.L.'s goal is an independent Algeria--free from French occupation--ruled "with a framework of Islamic principles." Once out of prison, Ali joins the F.N.L and begins 'cleansing' the Casbah (the Muslim section of Algiers) of undesirable Algerians who dabble in prostitution, narcotics and alcohol. The film shifts focus from Ali to the uprising against French Occupation. The situation subtly escalates--French police who sit peacefully drinking coffee in street cafes are murdered, and anti-Arab feelings mount. With a momentum of its own, the situation is blown beyond all control--terrorism is rampant--cafes, air terminals, and racetracks are all targets. Naturally, the French respond, but terrorism still increases, and French officials bump up against such bureaucratic necessities as search warrants and paperwork. Soon the French are behind sandbags and barbed wire, and the Muslim population of the Casbah is subject to checkpoints manned by French soldiers. At this point, seasoned warrior French Lieutenant Colonel Mathieu arrives. While the French residents of Algiers welcome his arrival, Mathieu's march though the streets ultimately seems sinister. He's a career soldier, highly principled in his own way--and he's there to win.
Mathieu doesn't mess about. He takes control of the situation and tells his officers "to succumb to humane considerations only leads to hopeless chaos." Strategy dramatically changes as Mathieu methodically rounds up and tortures Algerians. It's a shotgun approach--evidently if you round up enough people and torture them, information will eventually pry loose. And it is by this method that Mathieu begins to break down the cell structure of the terrorist group. Using torture undermines the morality of the French position, but Mathieu tells the troubled French press that the matter is simple--the F.N.L wants the French out, but if France chooses to keep Algeria "you must accept the consequences."
"The Battle of Algiers" is a masterpiece of filmmaking. It's black and white, directed by Italian director, Gillo Pontecorvo with English subtitles. The film has a somewhat grainy look to it that underscores the feeling you're watching a documentary. Interestingly enough the only professional actor in the entire film is Jean Martin who plays Lt Colonel Mathieu (based on General Massu). It's a travesty that this film has faded into obscurity, but evidently enough people know about it for a screening of the film to take place for Special Operations at the Pentagon on August 27, 2003. "The Battle of Algiers" was banned in France and is considered the quintessential film study of a nationalistic insurgency against capitalist suppression. If you are interested in watching an unforgettable political film, it doesn't get better than "The Battle of Algiers." After watching "The Birth of a Nation" Lenin commented that cinema is "History written with lightening." And after finishing "The Battle of Algiers" I'd have to agree—“displaced human”.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Full Metal Jacket.



Stanley Kubrick has been quoted as saying that with Full Metal Jacket, he wanted to make a war film, as opposed to an ANTI-war film. Condemning war is easy. It's a moral no-brainer. Trying to understand its nature is something far more challenging? As a result, Full Metal Jacket does something far more subtle and difficult than simply tell us that War is Hell (although it does that, too). To understand what and how, one must consider the film's structure:
Full Metal Jacket is split brutally into two parts, the first of which follows our hero, Private Joker (Matthew Modine) through basic training at Parris Island. A tubby, slow-witted misfit named Leonard Lawrence (Vincent D'Onofrio in an effective performance) is pushed too hard by the sadistic drill instructor Hartmann (R. Lee Ermey), and ends up killing both Hartman and himself in the Grand Guignol blackout sketch that ends part one.
It is at this point that many people have trouble with Full Metal Jacket, as the second half jumps to Viet Nam with no warning. Although Joker and another character named Cowboy (Arliss Howard) carry over from the first part of the film, they never so much as talk about Parris Island or the murder-suicide that marked their training there. It is as though that event happened in another universe, or at least a different movie.
The key to this apparent gaffe in story cohesion is contained in a scene where Joker is confronted by a Major over having "Born to Kill" scrawled on his helmet at the same time he wears a peace symbol on his flak jacket.
"I was trying to say something about the duality of man," he says, "...the Jungian thing, SIR!"
Duality of man; duality of film. There are (in the film's developing thesis) two possible motivations for killing people and breaking things - compassion (to defend freedom and turn back despotism; our OFFICIAL purpose in Viet Nam), and annihilation (the perverse joy of revenge, of domination; of blood-soaked victory).
Which motivation is more "moral"? Which leads to the "high-ground"? Doesn't annihilation always entail moral decay? And doesn't compassion always lead, ultimately, to peace, rather than violence? Through Joker's journey, from killer-in-training to killer-in-fact, we get a disturbing answer that, by its very simplicity, defies the kind of dumbed-down platitudes most war films (even really good ones like Kubrick's own Paths of Glory) try to feed us. The end finds Joker facing a wounded, disarmed sniper who has killed several of his fellow soldiers, as well as his best friend. In a typically Kubrickian reversal, the sadistic thing would be to "...leave her to the mother-lovin' rats..." (In other words, leave her in PEACE), rather than finish her off, which seems the more humane choice (through a paradoxical act of VIOLENCE). The sniper, a teenaged girl, even begs Joker to shoot her. It seems a simple, humanitarian act when he finally pulls the trigger, but in a long, ambiguous close-up on his face, we see the same demon lurking in Joker's eyes that haunted Lawrence back in Parris Island, just before he killed Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, then himself. The connection is clear; even the same music cue (by Kubrick's daughter Vivian, under the pseudonym of "Abigail Mead") can be heard on the sound track. By setting up a situation where both possible choices (to kill or not to kill) seem at once sadistic and kind, virtuous and evil, we are forced to see the situation on a more abstract level - where words fail, but a horrible insight reveals itself. The nature of war, it seems to suggest, is the nature of mankind - and vice-versa.
In the Kubrick canon, Full Metal Jacket is a hotly debated film. Whether you love it or hate it, just remember: it's a Jungian thing.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Bad Lieutenant.



I had heard, by word of mouth over the years, that "Bad Lieutenant" was truly extraordinary, but nothing could really prepare me for the sheer visceral impact of the film, or the electrifying, career best performance, given by Harvey Keitel, in fact I watched the film few days ago, and have deliberately waited `til now to write this blog.
After much thought I have to say that "Bad Lieutenant" really is a monstrous train-wreck of a movie, but what keeps you watching, utterly mesmerized, unable to look away for an instant, is Keitel's performance as the titular character. He's never given a name in the film, or even in the credits, he's just the "Lieutenant," and "Bad?" "Bad" doesn't even begin to describe this guy, as the front of the DVD case puts it, "Gambler. Thief. Junkie. Killer. Cop."
After surviving on the mean streets of New York for 20 years, he has seen, and pretty well done, it all; the "Lieutenant" is a man who exists in a nihilistic Hell of his own making, and we watch as he roars headlong towards his own destruction, along the way, plumbing the very depths of abject human depravity.
A lapsed Catholic, he is still wracked by guilt for the truly awful deeds he commits, whether it's doing and/or selling drugs, booze, sex, gambling, thieving, killing, the "Lieutenant" is a soul in torment. Unable to find a way out, he is sinking deeper and deeper into a morass of yet MORE drugs, MORE booze, MORE bets he can't cover, and more, meaningless, cold, emotionless, and depraved, sexual acts.
Yet somewhere deep inside this blasted shell of a man, there still exists a spark of humanity, so lost in the wretched, savage squalor of his life, that even HE doesn't know it's there. Then one day he becomes involved in the investigation of a crime that shocks even him... the brutal rape of a Catholic nun. Initially coldly dismissive of what the young woman had been through, he listens in on her conversations with her superiors and is shocked to his core to discover that even though her bruises are still fresh, she has already forgiven her attackers. She knows their names but won't pass them on to the police.
The "Lieutenant" can barely comprehend how can such a thing can be, how can she forgive such a terrible act... such a terrible sin? If she can forgive so much, then maybe, just maybe, he himself can find some kind of redemption, maybe someone - God? - can forgive him HIS sins. After his confrontation with the nun, howling out his characters pain, and anger, and hurt, and fear, Harvey Keitel gives the most searingly honest, desperate, and emotionally raw performance of his career.
Bleak, brutal, depraved, and honest, are some of the words that I would use to describe this film, which is NOT easy to watch, especially this NC-17 version, but it's a film that SHOULD be watched by anyone who is serious about Cinema as an art form. Between them, Ferrera and Keitel have produced an extraordinary cinematic experience, unbending and uncompromising in its exploration of the human condition, powerful and unforgiving, it forces you to actually THINK about the subject matter, and to face the rotten darkness in the heart of this particular human soul.
I would like to end this blog with a bit of trivia concerning Keitel's performance. Regardless of whether you love this film or hate it - like "2001," this film seems to generate extreme reactions - no one can argue about the power, and sheer gut-wrenching truthfulness, of Keitel's performance. Depending on exactly when the film was released, Keitel would have been eligible for a shot at either the '92 or '93 Oscar for Best Actor. So who won? Well, I looked it up, and Keitel "lost" to, either, Al Pacino in "Scent of a Woman" in '92, or, God help us, Tom Hanks in "Philadelphia" in '93! Next time I find myself getting even mildly curious about who's taking home one of the gold statuettes; this little bit of trivia will kind-of put the whole tawdry circus into perspective!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Mean Streets.



"Mean Streets," to simply put, is the greatest independent film ever made. At the very least, it pioneered what modern audiences have come to associate with the best of indie cinema, and what, by the late '90s, has become so essential to our perception of so-called "hip" movies that the once daring and exhilarating techniques are now mostly used as frustrating clichés. The picture itself, made in 1973, is most famous for kick-starting three major careers. Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro later collaborated as a director/actor team on four more masterpieces: "Taxi Driver," "Raging Bull" "The King of Comedy" and "Goodfellas." Harvey Keitel, in the leading role, went on to play other memorable characters, like "Pulp Fiction’s Mr. Wolf. Cast as Charlie, a small-time, young gangster in New York's Little Italy, Keitel struggles to make sense of his Catholic background and help his troubled friend (DeNiro) stay out of the powerful Mafia players' way. What seems to be a familiar scenario, used as far back as the classic Bogart/Cagney vehicles, gets an unusually complex treatment from Scorsese. A conventional, linear plot structure with big speeches and witty one-liners from main characters is abandoned for a grittier, naturalistic approach. The film consists of a series of telling episodes, related only through their participants.
"Mean Streets" has much more in common with the works of Italian Neo-realism or French New Wave, rather than a typical gangster drama. Its unorthodox, original, yet unpretentious camera work gives the film an unprecedented vitality that young filmmakers have attempted to recreate for decades. Now commonplace shots, such as a subtitled introduction of a particular character, a fight sequence tracked through the four corners of a room in a single take, a swaying hand-held camera to create the sense of an alcohol-induced stupor, have all been popularized through this movie, a veritable Bible of dynamic cinematography.
Another revolutionary aspect of "Mean Streets" is the virtual lack of a script. Most of the key scenes were almost fully improvised, thus sounding far more authentic than the old-style, theatrical delivery used in most American films up to that time. The actors' speech is so profanity-ridden that no screenwriter of the time could have possibly doctored anything even close. De Niro's flamboyant turn as a youth on the edge of sanity is unlike anything before. In fact, the swear-fests of later crime movies (and indie classics like "Clerks") owe a direct debt to his extraordinary performance as Johnny Boy. One of Scorcese's most groundbreaking achievements was his incorporation of popular songs into the soundtrack. All of the included music originates elsewhere- Italian traditional recordings (Opera arias, Folk tunes) and for the most part, glorious, irresistible Rock'n'Roll of the early 60's (Motown, the Stones, Girl Groups, DooWop).The easily identifiable hits serve as atmospheric settings, adding an extra, personal dimension to any given scene. George Lucas' "American Graffiti", released in the same year, operated by the same principle, establishing a tradition that seems to expand with every coming year. As it is often the case with true independent cinema, "Mean Streets" was ignored at the box office, despite an underground acclaim which helped launch not only the great talents behind it, but an entire school of filmmaking.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Spellbound



SPELLBOUND was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and produced by David O. Selznick in 1945. As the story unravels it is essentially a murder plot interwoven around psychiatrists and psychoanalysis. It is actually Alfred Hitchcock's approach to the story and his collaborations with composer Miklos Rozsa and surrealist artist Salvador Dali that highlights this film.
Gregory Peck plays John "J.B." Ballantine who poses as a psychiatrist while in a state of amnesia. Uncovered by Dr. Constance Peterson played by Ingrid Bergman, Ballantine must find out if he is responsible for the death of the missing psychiatrist that he posed as and simultaneously discover his own identity.
Miklos Rozsa's score is both romantic yet eerie as Ballantine tries to remember what happened through analysis of his dreams. Alfred Hitchcock hired Salvador Dali to design illustrations and paintings in order to construct a crisp and vivid rendering of these dreams. Hitchcock did not want to use conventional techniques such as blurred camera shots to recreate the dreams. He wanted them to be as clear and even sharper than the rest of the film. He wanted Dali's style of using shadows, lines of convergence and the idea of infinite distance incorporated into the dream sequences.
In the dream sequence we see a black stage highlighted with people at gambling tables with huge mysterious looking eyes peering over them. A man cuts away at the fabric of one eye with a giant scissors revealing another eye. In another part of the dream we see a man standing on a roof behind a chimney that has sprouted roots. The hooded man holds what looks like a deformed or eccentric wagon wheel in his hand. In the distance there is a formation of rocks and boulders, which look like they are sprouting into the shape of a man's head. Another part of the dream shows a man running down a pitched geometric plane as the shadow of a bird follows him. In the background there are geometric shapes and lines that go off into infinity. All these images must be interpreted into experiences from reality. Dali's images are unsettling and thought provoking.
Eventually, the eccentric wagon wheel turns out to represent the chambers of a revolver pistol and reveals the true identity of the murderer. A surrealistic painting brings to the canvas an image from reality but puts it into a context of the unreal. I think Dali was successful in translating the realistic elements from the plot into a vision of incomprehensibility of the conscious human mind.
Hitchcock and the scriptwriter Ben Hecht then had their characters translate Dali's images back into plausible reality. This is brilliant filmmaking years ahead of its time.

Last Tango In Paris.



Marlon Brando’s death affected me deeply somehow. He had always been one of my favorite actors and I truly admire him for his extraordinary talent. During the last few months I have rented many of Brando's films and am still amazed, after all these years, at the force of his acting in "Last Tango In Paris." I believe that some of his best work was done in this film.
Paul, (Brando), an aging American expatriate in Paris, comes home to discover that his marriage has ended. His French wife, Rosa, had slit her veins, leaving bloody bath water and spattered walls behind. She didn't leave much else - no good-bye note or explanation for her husband, parents or lover, a guest in the fleabag hotel she owned and managed. She did bequeath the hotel, and its seedy occupants, to Paul. Overwhelmed with grief, Paul walks the streets and finds himself looking at an apartment for rent. He finds Jeanne, (Maria Schneider), a girl-woman, barely out of her teens, looking at the same apartment. She is to be married in a few weeks to her bourgeois, filmmaker fiancée. Paul and Jeanne circle each other warily in the empty flat, each contemplating the rental, (and each other), and wondering who will take it. Suddenly, they grab each other and have hard, fast sex against the apartment wall. Thus begins a most bizarre relationship.
Paul makes the rules. Jeanne must follow them or she will not see him again. Their purely carnal relationship must remain anonymous, emotionless, and exist only within the walls of the apartment, which Paul rents for this purpose. There are to be no sexual taboos between them. He does not want to know her name or anything about her and refuses to give her any information about himself. They are not to see each other outside the apartment confines, nor even leave together. It seems as if Paul wants to bury his pain, his sense of betrayal and hurt in the mindless, sometimes brutal, act of sex. Director Bernardo Bertolucci's camera perfectly captures the impersonal nature of their coupling. The shots are blunt, without sensuality or eroticism, but an enormous sexual energy is captured. I think Jeanne is fascinated by the mystery that is Paul. She is bored, perhaps, and looking for something, maybe excitement. She is certainly intrigued by Paul's dominant role, and seems to enjoy playing the passive partner most of the time. She is clearly not happy with her boyfriend, who relates to her as the object of his latest film. He talks at her, not to her. And he does not listen. However, I do not see Jeanne as merely an object here, as do some others. The film focuses on Paul, not Jeanne.
It is unfortunate that Ms. Schneider's career fizzled after this movie. She is excellent as Jeanne and perfectly captures her character's capriciousness, playfulness, bewilderment, vulnerability, anger, frustration, seductiveness and curiosity. Brando is simply superb. There are times, when he and Jeanne are together, that it appears as if he is extemporizing. He acts as if there is no camera filming him - as if he is not acting at all. There is one scene, where he is alone with his wife's body - she is layed-out in a coffin. Brando begins to speak to her and just loses it. His remarkable outpouring of guilt and grief is probably the best acting I have ever seen.
Towards the end of the film there is a surreal ballroom scene where couples are dancing the tango. It is both haunting and memorable. The end is a bit of a letdown, but in a Brandoesque moment the actor comes to the rescue.
Bertolucci was very affected by the work of painter Frances Bacon, considered to be one of the best artists of the 20th century. He chose Brando after seeing a Bacon painting "of a man in great despair who had the air of total disillusionment." The "Last Tango In Paris," defined as "the most controversial film of an era," brought Bertolucci to international attention. It was nominated for two Academy Awards. Vittorio Storaro's cinematography adds to the cold, remote ambiance. His camera pans the colorless apartment and makes the viewing experience as impersonal as the couple's relationship.
This is obviously not a film for everyone. It has been called obscene, and worse. However, there are many, like myself, who think it is a great film. For fans of Marlon Brando, it doesn't get better than this. Bravo!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Le Samourai



This film has the indelible reputation of being a classic French film Noir; as being the inspiration for John Woo's THE KILLER, and Jim Jarmusch's GHOST DOG, and certainly influenced Jean Reno in THE PROFESSIONAL. It, in turn, was most certainly influenced by Alan Ladd's premiere role as "Raven" in THIS GUN FOR HIRE. Director Jean-Pierre Melville was a veteran of several French crime films. This one was easily his best. He died six years later. It was released in America in 1972 under the title, THE GODSON.
This is a very dark tale of a meticulous assassin living very secluded and alone in a rundown apartment house; inconspicuous, hiding in plain sight, a Spartan existence, a monk's simplicity and pure dedication to vocational choice. There is only one spark of life in the grayness of his domicile...a small bird in a dirty cage. This is a color film, but most of it is shot in deep shadows, and at night; all gray and black imagery. And in that sense, it does have a real Noir feel to it.
This film has been so well received, and is held in such high esteem, somehow I, as a first time viewer, expected more from it. The lexicon of assassin crime films is lengthy, so one longed to see something new, fresh, and original; something connected to samurai or yakuza roots. There was the establishment of a pervading sense of doom, of fatalistic events, as we watched Alain Delon as Jef Costello maneuvering himself into tragedy.
But for me, the primary weakness of this film was Delon himself. His matinee good looks, his Bogart-like raincoat, his smooth short brimmed fedora, his strained attempts at coolness...all seemed wrong, and off-center. I needed to see toughness, not the stiffness and effeminate posing. I needed to see Yves Montand or Gerard Depardieu as Costello. Someone with a lived-in face, deeply lined and chiseled, and life's weariness in his sagging shoulders, and real violence springing from a killer's sinews...not the awkward shuffling of Delon's pretend gangster. I needed to see the propensity for inflicting pain behind his eyes, terrible anger predicated on a misspent life. Death. Death in his eyes, countless killings from that moment spread clear to the horizon, too many to count, the loss of even the need to count; the coldness of a professional mechanic, the icy blank stare of a zero guilt psychopath. I think I wanted to see Costello sitting around in a dirty t-shirt cleaning his weapons lovingly, like Christopher Walken in THE DOGS OF WAR. I longed to witness the bushido connection to Costello...but instead with Delon one received a vacuous state of disbelief. There was no whisper of Kurasawa, no Mifune stare, no Nakadai burst of lethal violence...there was just handsome Alain Delon posing for posters, standing stiffly in shadows, and prancing in and out of stolen Citroens.
Nathalie Delon as Jane LeGrange had some good moments. Married to Alain Delon, this was her film debut. Her scene with the wily police superintendent, played by Roger Fradet, was very good. Her characters inherent toughness, this beautiful woman caught up in the greasy world of call girls and gangsters, mere inches from descent into prostitution, came through clearly; also what appeared to be genuine affection for the rake Costello. Fradet, as the Chief Inspector, was appropriately driven, prissy, and likewise meticulous; creating an excellent counterpoint to Costello. Cathy Rosier, as Valerie the jazz pianist, hit all the right notes; kind of a black French Keely Smith. Her decision not to finger Costello, whom she clearly recognized, seemed to imply her deeper involvement in the complexity of the murderous plot.
This film has been called," beautiful, sad, and very very cool,"...le crime hot, I guess. In this genre, the music itself was a bit pedestrian. It needed some Quincy Jones score to punctuate the action. There were a lovely bunch of triple crosses and plot twists. But it was never clear if Valerie's name was on Costello's second contract. When Costello returned to her apartment in search of her, and he encountered the mid-level boss, and eliminated him in reprisal...was this a random act, or the first faltering steps he was taking on his walk to doom? Watching the bird in the cage at Costello's rat hole, molting and dying, seemed an effective visual symbol, keying us to the killer's plight.
One other problem for me was the gendarmes seemed to be able to dog Costello's tracks, bug his apartment, and monitor his movements a little too easily. This was supposed to be a tale of a hardened killer, a professional who thrived on danger. It was a bit too easy to snare him. Did Costello know that he was walking into a trap at the nightclub? Perhaps. He did unload his pistol before strolling in. Was his life, his very existence, so without meaning that he would throw it away without exacting the full measure of punishment on his betrayers?

In the film's final flickers, we know we have seen a classic.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Midnight Cowboy.



1969 was an excellent year for films. There was Anne of the Thousand Days, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Hello Dolly, Easy Rider; the list goes on and on. Why is it then that this is the film that won the Academy Awards for best picture, director and screenplay of that year? (And was also given nods for both leading actors). Perhaps the voters over 30 years ago could foresee that this movie would stand the test of time.
This is a story that tugged at our heartstrings, and made us up sits up and takes notice of the world around us. Joe Buck(John Voight), a naive, good looking, Texas "cowboy", in a get up that looks as if he is Alan Ladd reincarnated, hits the "Big Apple" in hopes of striking it rich (literally) with the ladies there.
It isn’t long before his hopes are dashed, he is broke, and life on the streets of New York is savage. He must do things that turn his stomach in order to survive. He finds himself in need of a friend. The friend comes in the form of one "Ratso" Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), a sleazy. Panderer, who offers Joe a place with him in a condemned apartment building.
Ratso takes Joe under his wing, and together they try to survive on one get rich quick scheme after another. These two very different men form a unique bond. Joe has disturbing thoughts of the past, and Ratso has dreams of the future. When Ratso falls ill, though. It is Joe who must care for him. Their friendship moved us then and it will move you now.
The actors are phenomenal in their performances. Hoffman fresh off his success in "The Graduate" shows us way back then how versatile he is, and Voight the newcomer proved his dramatic skills early on. The director John Schlesinger (Far From the Maddening Crowd) gives us a very realistic view of life on the streets. At the time of its release this film was rated X (it is R now) and although there are some explicit scenes, the main focus is on the kinship of man.
The film is full of memorable characters - Sylvia Miles as an aging Park Avenue woman with a thick New York accent who considers herself "one helluva gorgeous chick", John McGiver, the religious nut job who Joe Buck thinks will give him connections to rich women, and Brenda Vacarro who takes Joe home with her after a psychedelic party. There's a memorable soundtrack too -- "The Echoes of My Mind". And then there's the memorable conclusion which takes place on a bus headed for Florida.
One of the most stirring movies of all times.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Badlands.



This is an amazing directorial debut, as the film works on so many fronts. It is both a love story and a crime drama, with sneak peaks at what makes the two main protagonists tick. It remains for the audience to decide who is the more chilling and disturbed of the two characters, twenty five year old Kit (Martin Sheen) or fifteen year old Holly (Sissy Spacek).

This is a film in which two unlikely characters become lovers. Kit, a James Dean-like loser espies the fresh-faced Holly twirling her baton one day and is smitten. He approaches her and, despite her initial reluctance, she begins to see him against her protective father's wishes. Kit is ten years older than Holly, a high school drop out from the wrong side of the tracks, who is unable to maintain a job and appears to have a limited future. He falls in love with Holly and wants her to be his exclusively. Eventually, they become lovers.

Holly, a loner who has been raised by her father since her mother died many years ago, lives a middle class, materially comfortable existence. Her father, while he no doubt loves and cares for her, lacks certain sensitivity. His idea of punishing Holly for disobeying him is to shoot her dog in cold blood. When her fish is dying, his solution is to toss it into the yard while it is still gasping for breath, replacing it with a new fish. Holly's naive, fresh-faced, freckled countenance belies a soul that has atrophied. It is as if Holly were disconnected from her feelings.

When Kit tries to talk to the father about his feelings for Holly, he is told in no uncertain terms to hit the road. Kit then decides to leave and take Holly with him. Kit enters Holly's house one day, packing a suitcase of her things in anticipation of their departure, when Holly and her father unexpectedly arrive home. Kit and Holly's father have a confrontation that ends badly for dear old dad. It is here that the film first signals Holly's detachment as being something other than naiveté. Her reaction is mind boggling. It is even more horrific than Kit's reaction. Or is it just shock? You be the judge.

They initially live an almost Thoreauesque existence in the woods, living off the land, reading, and spending lots of quality time together, until this, too, begins to pall. Discovery of their idyll by law enforcement officers drives them out, and they begin a chilling killing spree across the Badlands of South Dakota and a life on the lam.

While it is Kit who does all the actual killing, it is, to my mind, Holly who is the more complex and frightening character. Her prosaic and banal conversation, as well as a lack of empathy in the most heinous and disturbing of circumstances, is most unsettling. This is reinforced in the film through a voiced-over, almost toneless, detached narration by Holly of the events that took place. It is a masterpiece of point and counterpoint, chilling in its very telling and understated irony. When they are eventually caught, Holly remains impassive, while Kit relishes his celebrity and oozes charm, winning over his captors. Martin Sheen's performance is nothing short of brilliant, while Sissy Spacek is mesmerizing with her ability to chill the viewer.

This is an expertly crafted film with an ingenious use of music. The director even manages to utilize the music of Erik Satie (Gymnopedies 3) most effectively, however unlikely it may seem. Like the music of Erik Satie, the film is multi-textured and deceptively complex. Bravo!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Easy Rider



Easy Rider is a truly landmark film in the true sense of the meaning of the term. Produced on a very low budget and set in the late 60's it was, in my opinion, the first movie to really capture a particularly interesting moment in time. While many films sort of used the notion of the late 60's, drugs, sex, rebellion, idealism, as a means to make money, this seemed really the first film to accurately reflect a realistic image of the time period with an unflinching eye.

Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper play Wyatt, or Captain America, and Billy, two free type spirits who, after a making quite a bit of money through a sale of drugs, decide to hit the road and drive cross country to Mardi Grass. Along the way, they pick up George Hanson, a southern lawyer, played by Jack Nicholson.

While watching this movie, you may get a sense that it is sort of a western, with the western landscapes and the main characters riding 'iron' horses. This was the intention of the filmmakers, especially the director, Dennis Hopper. One of my favorite scenes was at the beginning, right before Wyatt and Billy are about to embark on their trip, Wyatt removes his watch and throws it on the ground. This symbolized a sense of throwing off the constraints of the old world and an effort to embrace true freedom, if there is such a thing.

Nicholson tends to steal the scenes he is in, and gives a particularly wonderful piece about what freedom is, and why people are so afraid of it. He sort of represented to me one who has been fed many misconceptions about the individuals and movement Wyatt and Billy represent, but once in their company, finds that much of what he has been told may not be true. A sort of individual caught between the generations.

The film is dated, but that didn't detract anything for me. The only scene I really didn't care for was when Wyatt, Billy, Mary (Toni Basil), and Karen (Karen Black) drop acid in a Louisiana cemetery and proceed to trip for an extended period of time.

Along with wonderful performances, much credit must go to the cinematographer (Lazlo Kovacs), as the landscapes are beautiful, especially the wide shots of the western scenery. They are truly breathtaking. And the music used was exceptionally good, fitting each scene and helping to create the proper mood throughout the film.

This is a film that has survived times and should be viewed.

Sunbeam S7s&S8s: A Rare Classic.



Initially designed by Erling Poppe - believed as a result of letters to a motorcycle magazine - it came on to the market in 1946 - straight after the war - a completely NEW concept in motorcycle design.

Several versions were secretly tested at the factory in Redditch where they were made - which were intended to lead up to two productions types - the `Tourer' which came onto the market as the model S7 in 1946 - and the little known `Sports' which was tested but never put into production. This sports model had a much higher compression ratio with a different OHC design. The S7 was road tested by `Motorcycling' in February 1946 and did a comfortable 75 mph. The never-sold sports model was road tested in May 1946 and gave 94 mph. Why it was not put into production was never officially disclosed. Rumour had it that-it produced too much BHP for the wellbeing of the components - notably the rear drive unit, although later evidence proved this rumour to be unfounded - others say it didn't handle too well - which; as these earlier versions had a rather more primitive undamped front fork system, and the rubber mountings for the Sunbeam hadn't been completely sorted out - could very well be true! There were also trials with a rigid version for a cheaper model - but this wasn't pursued either.

Erling Poppe was designing motorcycles in the 1920's. His father was one of the partners in White & Poppe of Coventry, who built engines for motor vehicles in the pioneering days. Erling started to design and build his own motorcycles in 1922. He sought always for better silencing, comfort and cleanliness. He went on to design cars and heavy vehicles until he designed the new concept which was to be the shaft driven S7s and S8s.

The famous name of SUNBEAM was started by John Marston when he set up in business in 1895 and produced the first Sunbeam vehicle, a car - in 1899. He produced the first Sunbeam motorcycle in 1912 and this long and successful line of singles was going strong when he died in 1918. A syndicate then took over the business and Sunbeams, including the legendary long strokes, were produced until 1937 when A.M.C. acquired the interests. A.M.C. designed a completely new heavyweight single for 1939 but the war forced them into wartime work - and in 1943 they passed the Sunbeam name over to the B.S.A. group who were thinking up a new motorcycle for after the war. In November 1944 a `Forum' was set up inviting readers to give their ideas on the `machine of the future'. Erling Poppe was brought from the bus-building division of British Tramways to design it. It seemed inevitable that Poppe - now a car man - would think along car lines! The first hand built Sunbeam was made in 1945 with the engine bolted solidly in the frame. The production tester found the vibration far too severe and said it couldn't be produced in that form. However, the first few were actually sold (mainly abroad) with the engine so mounted and had to be hurriedly recalled for modification, but early in 1946 they were on the market with a vibration-free rubber mounted engine.

The first post-war motorcycle show was in November 1948 - and by this time the undamped forks of the S7 had been redesigned to give better handling, and numerous other minor alterations were made to generally improve the machine. It was called the S7-De-Luxe and made its first public appearance at the show, along with a new version called the S8. This was to be a lower-priced, slightly less sophisticated model, but lighter in weight - and hence faster and sportier to ride. It substituted the now distinct `fat wheels and tyres' of the S 7 with narrower more conventional wheels, narrower guards and lighter front forks, and was sold to the public from 1949.
These two models went on virtually unchanged until actual production ceased in 1956. The opinion is that they died because they never continued to modernize the design. However, the standard finish was so high on the S7 and S8 Sunbeams - that perhaps they could do no more than halt production, if they were not to price themselves out or resort to shoddier manufacture.

Whatever the reasons - there really has never been another machine like them and they must surely be one of the `great and innovative' British motorcycles - still sought after - and still widely ridden on a regular basis over 40 years after their demise.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Weegee: The Famous.



Arthur Fellig, better known as Weegee, contributed images of murder, mayhem, and drama to New York's press through the 1930's and 40's. Weegee derived his name from the phonetic spelling of Ouija, claiming that psychic powers enabled him to be the first at fires, crime scenes and the like.

Arthur Fellig was born in Austria, 1899. Fellig immigrated to America in 1909, and grew up in a tenement on Manhattan Lower East Side. In 1923 Fellig joined Acme News Pictures (which would later be known as United Press International Photos) as a darkroom technician. Occasionally, Fellig served as a photographer. In 1935, working out of police headquarters, Fellig began a career a freelance press photographer. Images of dead gangsters established his reputation as New York's resident crime photographer. Fellig lived the reputation, stamping his photos "Credit photo by Weegee the famous."

Fellig's hunting grounds extended from the Bowery to Greenwich Village. Fellig documented the activities of the uptown elite, to the impoverished. Fellig's clients included such periodicals such as LIFE, LOOK, and Vogue as well as Daily Newspapers, tabloids and the like. From 1940-1945 Fellig's main client was a paper called PM DAILY. 1945 Fellig began as a society photographer for Vogue. From 1947-1951 Fellig periodically worked in Hollywood as a technical consultant. And playing cameo parts in several motion pictures.

Fellig's dramatic close-ups and subject matter illustrate his dramatic flare for telling a story. Fellig blurred the line between being the spectator of an event, and being part of the event. Fellig's stories range from "trippy" and bizarre, to extreme action and emotion.

Fellig authored several books, including The Naked City (1945), Weegee's People (1946), and Weegee by Weegee (1961). Fellig has been the inspiration of movies, such as The Public Eye (1992) and an episode of Fox's TV show: X-Files.

"He will take his camera and ride off in search of new evidence that his city, even in her most drunken and disorderly and pathetic moments, is beautiful."
- William McCleery in Naked City

Henri Cartier-Bresson:A True Genius



Regarded as one of the greatest photographers of his time, Henri Cartier-Bresson was a shy Frenchman who elevated "snap shooting" to the level of a refined and disciplined art. His sharp-shooter’s ability to catch "the decisive moment," his precise eye for design, his self-effacing methods of work, and his literate comments about the theory and practice of photography made him a legendary figure among contemporary photojournalists.

His work and his approach have exercised a profound and far-reaching influence. His pictures and picture essays have been published in most of the world’s major magazines during three decades, and Cartier-Bresson prints have hung in the leading art museums of the United States and Europe (his monumental ‘The Decisive Moment’ show being the first photographic exhibit ever to be displayed in the halls of the Louvre). In the practical world of picture marketing, Cartier-Bresson left his imprint as well: he was one of the founders and a former president of Magnum, a cooperative picture agency of New York and Paris.

Henri Cartier-Bresson was born in 1908, in Chanteloupe, France, of prosperous middle-class parents. He owned a Box Brownie as a boy, using it for taking holiday snapshots, and later experimented with a 3 X 4 view camera. But he was also interested in painting and studied for two years in a Paris studio. This early training in art helped develop the subtle and sensitive eye for composition, which was one of his greatest assets as a photographer.

In 1931, at the age of 22, Cartier-Bresson spent a year as a hunter in the West African bush. Catching a case of backwater fever, he returned to France to convalesce. It was at this time, in Marseille, that he first truly discovered photography. He obtained a Leica and began snapping a few pictures with it. It was a pivotal experience. A new world, a new kind of seeing, spontaneous and unpredictable, opened up to him through the narrow rectangle of the 35 mm viewfinder. His imagination caught fire. He recalls how he excitedly "prowled the streets all day, feeling very strung-up and ready to pounce, determined to ‘trap’ life, to preserve life in the act of living."

Thus began one of the most fruitful collaborations between man and machine in the history of photography. He remained devoted to the 35 mm camera throughout his career. The speed, mobility, the large number of exposures per loading, and, above all, the unobtrusiveness of the little camera perfectly fitted his shy, quicksilver personality. Before long he was handling its controls as automatically as an expert racing driver shifts gears. The camera itself, in his own famous phrase, became an "extension of the eye".

When World War II erupted, Cartier-Bresson served briefly in the French Army and was captured by the Germans during the Battle of France. After two unsuccessful tries, he escaped from the camp where he was held as a prisoner of war, and worked with the underground until the war’s end.

Resuming his interrupted career as a photojournalist, he helped form the Magnum picture agency in 1947. Assignments for major magazines would take him on global travels, across Europe and the United States, to India, Russia and China. Many books of Cartier-Bresson photographs were published in the 50’s and 60’s, the most famous being ‘The Decisive Moment’ (1952). A major milestone in his career was a massive, 400-print retrospective exhibition, which toured the United States in 1960.

As a journalist, Henri Cattier Bresson felt an intense need to communicate what he thought and felt about what he saw, and while his pictures often were subtle they were rarely obscure. He had a high respect for the discipline of press photography, of having to tell a story crisply in one striking picture. His journalistic grappling with the realities of men and events, his sense of news and history, and his belief in the social role of photography all helped keep his work memorable.
He has said that a sense of human dignity is an essential quality for any photojournalist, and feels that no picture, regardless of how brilliant from a visual or technical standpoint, can be successful unless it grows from love and comprehension of people and an awareness of ‘man facing his fate." Many of his portraits of William Faulkner and other notables have become definitive, catching as they do, with relaxed and casual brilliance, the essence of personality.

His first book contained an often-quoted paragraph that sums up his approach to photography and has become something of a creed for candid, available light photojournalists everywhere. The decisive moment, as Cartier-Bresson tersely defined it, is ‘the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as the precise organization of forms which gives that event its proper expression."

Some critics accused him of being nothing more than a snap-shooter. It is true that the "decisive moment’ approach, in less disciplined hands, can degenerate into haphazard, unselective snap shooting. But the best of Cartier-Bresson’s works, with their uncanny sense of timing, rigorous organization, and deep insights into human emotion and character, could never have been caught by luck alone, unaided by a rare talent. They are snapshots only in the classic sense of "instantaneous exposures” snapshots elevated to the level of art.

"In photography, the smallest thing can be a great subject," he wrote in ‘The Decisive Moment’. "The little human detail can become a leitmotif." Most of his photography is a collection of such little, human details; concerned images with universal meaning and suggestion. He lived in a haunted world where mundane facts, a reflection in a mud-puddle, an image chalked on a wall, the slant of a black-robed figure against mist, radiate significance at once familiar and only half-consciously grasped. His was an anti-romantic poetry of vision, which finds beauty in "things as they are," in the reality of here and now.

All his great pictures were taken with the kind of equipment owned by many amateur photographers: 35 mm rangefinder cameras equipped with a normal 5Omm lens or occasionally a telephoto for landscapes.

Along with Dr. Erich Salomon and Alfred Eisenstaedt, he was a pioneer in available light photojournalism, and would no sooner intrude flash or flood into his pictures than would a fly fisherman toss rocks into a pool where he hoped to catch a prize trout.

By having so skillfully exploited the camera’s ability to transfix a moment in time’s flow, Cartier-Bresson has left us a treasure of images. We can, through his eyes, see the world a little more clearly, and find truth and beauty where we had not guessed they existed.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Reservoir Dogs.



"Reservoir Dogs" is another one of my favorite movies. Despite what critics think, this is a Tarantino masterpiece with unforgettable characters, smooth and cool dialogue, and a shocking finale.
I had the older version of this movie on CD, and it was all right. The picture wasn't too bad, sound was so-so, and there were virtually no special features. So when I found out that a new remastered and fully-loaded version of the movie was coming out, I knew I had to have it. And I am very glad that I did purchase it.
Since this is a crime flick, the plot and storyline isn't that complex or deep, and there is no reason for it to be. It's pretty simple. Perfect strangers plan the perfect crime, but end up in a bloody set-up. With only four of them left alive, they must uncover the rat in the house. But which one is it? That is something they must find out before the cops get a hold of them in this unforgiving and spectacular crime/noir movie.
The writing is off the hook. Tarantino is a master when it comes to dialogue. Why? Because the characters talk like real people. In ordinary movies, all the characters ever talk about it the plot or scheme. In this movie, they talk about everyday normal things that we would talk about, which make them seem more realistic and convincing. His writing reminds me a lot of Raymond Carver, except with more humor.
The cast is terrific. Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Chris Penn, Lawrence Tierney, and Steve Buscemi all did their roles justice. Michael Madsen is awesome and cool as Mr. Blonde, who will always be remembered for that very particular role. Buscemi is hilarious, and your eyes never leave his sight when he's on screen. But really, everyone is outstanding in this movie.
"Reservoir Dogs" is a classic, whether people like it or not. Don't let anyone over-hype this movie for you if you have not seen it. Just watch it like you would with any normal movie, and you'll do fine. I have the same problem with many when it comes to over-hyping movies. It happens.
You will never listen to the song "Stuck in the Middle with You" by Stealers Wheel the same way again.

A Clockwork Orange.




In 1964 director/producer Stanley Kubrick created the nuclear war comedic masterpiece "Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb". He followed that with the science fiction masterpiece "2001: A Space Odyssey". Stanley Kubrick would reach his creative peak with his next film. An Adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ novel "A Clockwork Orange”.
Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange is one of those films that you will either love or hate. The film centers around the character of Alexander DeLarge (played to perfection by Malcolm McDowell) a 15 year old "droog" who with his friends Pete (Michael Tarn), Georgie (James Marcus), and Dim (Warren Clarke) drink Milk Laced with drugs at the local "MilkBar" and then go out on the town at night, doing horrible things to people. During one incident Alex is captured and taken to prison. He finds out about a treatment that can get him of prison. He goes through with the treatment (which will make him sick when he attempts to commit an act of violence), is released from prison and thrown back into the world, unable to defend himself. Out of all the things that make this movie great, the number one element is the performance of Malcolm McDowell as Alex.
The entire movie revolves around him so if McDowell's performance isn't top notch then the movie isn't top notch. McDowell was in his late twenties when he made this movie. In the novel Alex is 15 years old. So although being much older then his character McDowell plays the adventurous youth wonderfully.
Surprisingly McDowell was not nominated for an Academy Award. Another really strong element is the music. Never in my life have I seen a movie (non musical) where the music plays such an important role in a film. Gioacchino Rossini's "The Thieving Magpie" during the fight sequence against the rival droogs. "The William Tell Overture" played 5 times too fast during the orgy scene and the use of Ludwig Van Beethoven’s “Symphony no. 9” is just a few examples of how music plays an important role in this film.
As far as things being wrong with the movie. The only real thing is the lack of any real supporting cast (if that's a bad thing?). In no means are the supporting cast bad actors. There just isn't a real supporting cast there. But McDowell's performance makes up for it. This film get's 5 stars because of 3 things. Number one is the performance of Malcolm McDowell. Number two is the use of music in such a different and unique way and number three is the originality of it.
This movie came out in 1971 and I haven't seen any movie like it that came out before or since then. A Clockwork Orange was nominated for several Academy Awards including "best picture" and "best director" but it lost in all categories to William Friedkin's "The French Connection"
Before I end this review it should be noted that when initially released this film did receive an "X" rating (equivalent of NC-17 today). It does contain some strong images that may be too hard for some to stomach. So be warned.

CHE GUEVARA: Revolutionary & Icon.




This portrait of Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, Guerrillero Heroico, photographed by Alberto Díaz Korda on March 5, 1960, is considered to be the most reproduced image in the history of photography. Whether this claim can be substantiated or not, Korda's Che is nonetheless a unique image. It has come to symbolise anti-establishment, radical thought and action.

That Che Guevara himself was young and charismatic and brutally murdered with the support of the CIA at only thirty-nine years of age inevitably contributes to the mystique. Guerrillero Heroico is a statuesque image taken from below. It derives from a visual language of mythologised heroes harking back to an era of socialist realism, yet it also references a classical, even Christ-like demeanour.

The image moves from heroic guerrilla and pop celebrity to radical chic, spoof and kitsch. The vast majority of the aesthetic treatments of Korda's image derive from the Pop idiom of the 60s. While traditional art relishes ambiguity, introspection and chance, the aesthetic of Pop art was by definition a rejection of traditional art and figuration. Pop's egalitarian, "in your face" presentations are a perfect corollary for Che's anti-establishment values.

This portrait of Che is an ideal abstraction transformed into a symbol that both resists subtle interpretation and is infinitely malleable. It has moved into the realm of caricature and parody at the same time it is used as political commentary on issues as diverse as the world debt, anti-Americanism, Latin-American identity, and the rights of gays and indigenous peoples.

Rashomonesque in its multiple appearances, Guerrillero Heroico has remained fluid yet buoyant. Its meaning is always clear even to those who know little about the man himself.

Avedon:The Great.




Born in New York in 1923, Richard Avedon dropped out of high school and joined the Merchant Marine's photographic section. Upon his return in 1944, he found a job as a photographer in a department store. Within two years he had been "found" by an art director at HARPER'S BAZAAR and was producing work for them as well as VOGUE, LOOK, and a number of other magazines. During the early years, Avedon made his living primarily through work in advertising. His real passion, however, was the portrait and its ability to express the essence of its subject.
As Avedon's notoriety grew, so did the opportunities to meet and photograph celebrities from a broad range of disciplines. Avedon's ability to present personal views of public figures, who were otherwise distant and inaccessible, was immediately recognized by the public and the celebrities themselves. Many sought out Avedon for their most public images. His artistic style brought a sense of sophistication and authority to the portraits. More than anything, it is Avedon's ability to set his subjects at ease that helps him create true, intimate, and lasting photographs.
Throughout his career Avedon has maintained a unique style all his own. Famous for their minimalism, Avedon portraits are often well lit and in front of white backdrops. When printed, the images regularly contain the dark outline of the film in which the image was framed. Within the minimalism of his empty studio, Avedon's subjects move freely, and it is this movement which brings a sense of spontaneity to the images. Often containing only a portion of the person being photographed, the images seem intimate in their imperfection. While many photographers are interested in either catching a moment in time or preparing a formal image, Avedon has found a way to do both.
Beyond his work in the magazine industry, Avedon has collaborated on a number of books of portraits. In 1959 he worked with Truman Capote on a book that documented some of the most famous and important people of the century. OBSERVATIONS included images of Buster Keaton, Gloria Vanderbilt, Pablo Picasso, Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Mae West. Around this same time he began a series of images of patients in mental hospitals. Replacing the controlled environment of the studio with that of the hospital he was able to recreate the genius of his other portraits with non-celebrities. The brutal reality of the lives of the insane was a bold contrast to his other work. Years later he would again drift from his celebrity portraits with a series of studio images of drifters, carnival workers, and working class Americans.
Throughout the 1960s Avedon continued to work for HARPER'S BAZAAR and in 1974 he collaborated with James Baldwin on the book NOTHING PERSONAL. Having met in New York in 1943, Baldwin and Avedon were friends and collaborators for more than thirty years. For all of the 1970s and 1980s Avedon continued working for VOGUE magazine, where he would take some of the most famous portraits of the decades. In 1992 he became the first staff photographer for the NEW YORKER, and two years later the Whitney Museum brought together fifty years of his work in the retrospective, "Richard Avedon: Evidence". He was voted one of the ten greatest photographers in the world by POPULAR PHOTOGRAPHY magazine, and in 1989 received an honorary doctorate from the Royal College of Art in London. Today, his pictures continue to bring us a closer, more intimate view of the great and the famous.
Avedon died on October 1st, 2004.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Have you ever watched kids on a merry go round?

Have you ever watched kids on a merry go round? or
Listened to the rain, slapping on the ground
Ever followed a butterfly's erratic flight?
Or gazed at the sun into the fading light?
You better slow down
Don’t dance too fast
Time is short
The music won’t last

Do u run through each day, on the fly?
When you ask “how are you?”
Do you hear the reply?
When the day is done
Do you lie in your bed?
With next 100 chores in your head?
You had better slow down
Dont dance so fast
Time is short
The music won’t last

Ever told your child? We will do it tomorrow
And in your haste, not see his sorrow?
Ever lost touch, let a good friendship die
Cause you never had time to call and say ‘hi’
You had better slow down
Don’t dance too fast
Time is short
The music won’t last

When u run so fast to get somewhere,
You miss half the fun of getting there,
When you hurry and worry through your day
It is like an unopened gift....
Thrown away
Life is not a race
Do take it slower
Hear the music
Before the song is over....

Why Blog Afterall....

One the paramount reason,i opened a blog account was to share my views on movies i had seen during my lifetime.In order to carry that objective,i shall be posting reviews of my favorite movies.
Constructive reading i would say.

Finally...i broke the ice.

After long time and helluva effort, finally I somehow managed to post a blog account. Actually I had being pestered to hell by circuit to create it at earliest, so I decided to draw the curtain. To start with I am a self confessed movie fanatic, so expect a lot of words on cinema from me.
Ciao!