We did a Secret Santa at home and I got dad.
He made me a Steadicam, or more accurately a HarryCAM.
I have to admit that I have been putting off watching Aguirre, Wrath of God. I had only watched Herzog’s documentaries and enjoyed them, but was slightly nervous about watching this from its legendary, should I say notorious, status. I had heard a lot about this film and Fitzcarraldo, especially concerning the volatile relationship between Herzog and Klaus Kinski. I had also heard about the influence it had had on Apocalypse Now in 1979, which didn’t help as I’m not a huge fan of that film, with its bloated storytelling and self-indulgence, so I started watching with trepidation.
As soon as I did, aided by a very old DVD that immediately started the film, I felt plunged in to the incredible landscapes, actually feel slightly anxious for the actors involved, especially watching them come down the rapids on rafts in full armour or carrying a sedan chair through mud. Herzog seems to like making his actors and crew work for their money, almost as if the suffering won’t be genuine if they aren’t experiencing it. I’m not convinced and this kind of realism debate reminds me of the filming of Marathon Man when Dustin Hoffman was jogging around to appear tired and Laurence Olivier suggested he ‘try acting, dear boy’. Although it does clearly works for this film and I’m not surprised that Cecilia Rivera, the actress playing Aguirre’s daughter, never made a film again!
This style mirrors this physicality of production and some shots have water flying in to the lens or obscuring the shot. These are contrasted with very static shots when focusing on the human story or the controlled spiraling around the boat towards the end. Kinski is also frenetic. He never seems to stand upright, but is constantly leaning over or tilted. It reminds me of Olivier’s Richard III, not sure why he is in my mind so much this week… Kinski is also always so close to the other actors. His face is strangely hypnotic, a constantly invading presence.
The story line is actually a very easy diary format, this simple narrative thread allows an episodic structure and gives some coherence for the audience to allow the madness to unfold. That it contains maniacal, egotistical and ambitious men seems suitably matched to the humble diary format, it shows them off and allows their obsessive dreams to be described, rather than prescribed.
A metaphor of the trap of power, money and religion, shown by the ridiculous difference between the emperor and the soldiers.
I question why Herzog wants to punish himself, his actors and his crew so much? I love that Herzog shot it in sequence to show the deterioration.
Love the oneiric qualities of the final scene, the monkeys are amazing.
The soundtrack felt strange and difficult at first, but seemed to make sense by the end.
Landscapes with obscured parts
Too close or tilted images of the world.
A One and a Two is a Taiwanese film released in 2000 . It was produced and written by Edward Yang. I have never seen a Taiwanese film before and so this top 100 list is already helping me see a lot of films from amazing places. It shows one of the most impressive powers of film in that I am able to see different cultures and lives and it inevitably makes me realise that I should travel much more!
1916, D. W. Griffiths, starring up to 3,000 extras, but also Lillian Gish and Constance Talmadge (who I still have a thing against because she was the sister of Buster Keaton’s mean wife Natalie). I watched this online and at school waiting for my French class. I have to admit that I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to the three hour run time, but realise that it is a crucial film to help me understand the progression of film. This is the only D W Griffith on the BFI list, I presume the distasteful nature of The Birth of a Nation made sure it wouldn’t make it.
This film constantly refers to itself as a ‘play’. I’m not sure if that is because it considered itself a photoplay or that it added some more gravitas. The idea of a play is continued in the stagey (if lush) sets and the mostly long-shot static camera (although excited to read the book I have just got on the cinematographer Billy Bitzer) However, there are some great forward tracking shots (to create the zoom effect that wasn’t around until 1932 for film cameras) and close-ups. I really like the painterly, soft-focus way that faces, especially the female faces have been filmed. I can see an enormous influence for F W Murnau in them. It feels like an ancient religious icon and you can see why people have classed this as a great piece of universal art, along with Beethoven’s 5th. It does have a timeless quality to it, despite not being well-received initially.
The narrative involves four different plots, that of ancient Babylon, Jerusalem in the time of Jesus, Renaissance France and modern America. I’m not sure that I would have spent my energy on all four as the modern day story is by far the most engaging because of the human interest. The Babylonian one has some amazing sets and I love the slaves opening the enormous gates and some of the fight sequences, but the French and Jerusalem settings do seem to be filling in time (oh so much time!) without adding much to the response. I definitely think I would agree with David Thomson’s analysis:
‘The cross-cutting, self-interrupting format is wearisome…. The sheer pretension is a roadblock, and one longs for the “Modern Story” to hold the screen…. [That story] is still very exciting in terms of its cross-cutting in the attempt to save the boy from the gallows. This episode is what Griffith did best: brilliant, modern suspense, geared up to rapidity — whenever Griffith let himself slow down he was yielding to bathos…. Anyone concerned with film history has to see Intolerance, and pass on’.
A list of my intolerances (probably not as serious or universal, but I have many…)
A picture in soft focus.
A moving image that focuses on the set.
The life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger is a classic of British cinema. It stars a wonderful Roger Livesey as Colonel Candy, Deborah Kerr as a variety of great women and Anton Walbrook as a complex and sympathetic German character. Something that caused controversy at the time, but reveals a liberal and cosmopolitan view that is lovely to see. My ace friend Nat had given me a box set of eleven Powell & Pressburger films about three years ago so I have seen it before. I have to admit that it isn’t one of my favourites (I much prefer A Matter of Life and Death and The Red Shoes), but it is always nice to see wartime British films. I used to collect Utility/CC41 clothing and furniture and have always had an interest in that period of history. I also enjoyed this film a lot more on the second viewing.
On holiday in Norfolk I realised I had a good set of props to create my ‘Imitation of Life’ creative task. In the lovely National Trust cottage they had a very cheesey still life print, some beautiful red roses and Mark had bought a retro butter churner. These gave me the correct impressions of working class life, glamour, red and a painted backdrop. I tried to keep it fairly minimal and give that Technicolor static quality.
I started off my top 100 film list by watching ‘Madame De…’ a lush and regal 1953 French film directed by Max Ophuls. It was the perfect choice for a Saturday afternoon and told the story of a Parisian coquette (played by Danielle Darrieux) who sells her husband’s earrings (Charles Boyer) as she is in debt. We then follow the earrings as their owners get entangled in affairs, deceit and desire.
Throughout the film there were numerous long tracking shots that involved complex camera movement and the use of focused lighting. It gave it a lovely musical quality, it had an innate choreography that was most clearly demonstrated in an energising waltz montage. The camera and two main characters (Darrieux and Vittorio De Sica) are continuously spinning round each other, they have a force that will inevitably lead to the tragic resolution. I have discovered after researching the film that Ophuls had been a musician and he used to script a tempo to each scene of the film.
This lightness of touch continues with the amount of adult content that is explored in a delicate way. We have mistresses, gambling, debt, heartbreak and I love the way they are all treated with ease. There also seems to be a lot of parallels througout the narrative that give it a lush, formal feeling (to match the incredible rococo mise-en-scene). The train departure, the earrings as a gift, both men wanting her to come back, being injured or feeling pain in her and his heart and feeling irritation about her suitors. The dialogue is equally sparse and precise, but contains some lovely, philisophical statements that discuss the human condition.
The most impressive scene for the economy of story-telling, something I think modern films have often lost, is the scene where Darrieux and De Sica meet. It is in a customs office and in only four shots we find out what he does (an ambassador), realise he is interested in her, they acknowledge each other and she leaves. The camera movement does all the work and they exchange no words. A masterly sequence and an example of how tightly crafted the whole film is.
I loved Darrieux’s performance. She went from a frivolous coquette to a tragic heroine in ninety minutes. I loved her taut, composed face with eyes that showed desperation. Her scenes during the affair were well done and I loved how she said ‘Je vous n’aime pas’ over and over, while clearly expressing the opposite.
I was interested in the suggested critique of the church. Her futile prayers were another parallel througout and I liked the fact that her cursed earrings were left to the church as the final image.
Ideas for creativity:
Details of the film: France, 1953. Directed by Max Ophuls and starring Danielle Darrieux, Charles Boyer and Vittorio De Sica.
Details of viewing: 6th October, 5pm, on my own at home on DVD.