Category Archives: melodrama

10. Joint 90th – ‘Aguirre, God of Wrath’ (1972)

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.

Watching Aguirre

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.

Thoughts:
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.

Creative:
Diary format
Landscapes with obscured parts
Too close or tilted images of the world.

8. Joint 93rd – ‘A One And A Two’ 2000

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!

A One and A Two

I had researched this film a little before I started.  It is the youngest film I have watched so far and when it was released it received plaudits from Cannes and Cahiers du Cinema among many others.  However, when I first started watching it, as I came in from work on Friday, it seemed initially quite cheap, maybe shot on video and the domestic setting made it look like a fairly low-budget TV soap.
However, as you got involved in the nearly three hours of story-telling, it was heart-breakingly moving and had unforgettable performances.  It is told through three characters from the same family: NJ, the father, Ting Ting the thirteen year old daughter and Yang Yang the eight year old son. They are all so engaging and rounded.  Yang Yang’s expressions are so infectious and his interactions and questions with the the adults are adorable.  His little unexplained adventures lend a softer, humourous side to the film that is necessary and I always love a child with a camera, especially as he is taking photos for a very benevolent reason.  Ting Ting’s story of first love is so movingly acted and when NJ is finally able to express his feelings that have clearly been eating at him for thirty years, the quiet heartbreak  made me cry – stoic men always get me.
Throughout there is a brilliant use of parallelisms between all the stories.  These are shown in graphic matches, but also through the brave use of reflections and windows that gave a shiny, but untrustworthy quality to the film.
This is the first film on my list that I have watched since I got my new job.  I am now going to be Head of English at another school, so will no longer be watching these for my teaching self-esteem, but to enjoy them as a hobby, as they always had before.  I think with this new even more demanding job, I am definitely going to need the distraction!  This is also the last 93rd film – I can start watching the 90th films now!
Creative:
Something with reflections and lights – a photo.
Using family – I am going to visit my family at the weekend, so I could easily use them and maybe combine the reflection.  Possibly a film or still image.

6. Joint 93rd – ‘Intolerance’

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.

Intolerance

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’.

Other key things I liked or noticed:
  • Griffiths creates easy pathos – ‘the little dear one’ and ‘brown eyes’ as names for some of the female characters.  It also means it is universal, but also makes sure the spectator is aware of the response they should be having.
  • Recurring theme of the cradle rocking to indicate universality.
  • Impressive editing – love the irising, the complex cross-cutting and cross dissolves
  • A lot of intertitles – have recently re-watched ‘Sunrise’ and am so impressed in the ability to not use them. Amazing matte paintings
  • The dear one reminded me of Emily Watson
  • Typical view of Jesus, liked the use of lighting on him
  • In the harem dancing sequences, I liked the more realistic female bodies
  • It is weird to think that this was going on at the same time as WW1
  • Gets really exciting towards the end when they are trying to stop The Boy’s execution. Loved the camera following the speeding train.

Creative ideas:

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.

2. Joint 93rd – ‘Imitation Of Life’

Very comfy for a lush melodrama on a cold October night

I was very pleased to have ‘Imitation of Life’ as my second film of the top 100 to watch.  I had watched a couple of Douglas Sirk films (‘All That Heaven Allows’ and another one…) and enjoyed the decadent, hyperbole of the melodrama.  Unfortunately, as soon as I pressed play, I realised that the other Sirk film I had seen was this one!  Of course I would have watched it anyway (I’ve probably watched 50% of the top 100 before) and I am now looking at it for different reasons, but I couldn’t believe I had forgotten a film I saw in the last year.  My brain is clearly packing up.  Anyway, Kate and I settled in with some lovely food (always on offer at her house) and some pink fizz to suit the 50s tone.

I was very impressed with the way the film dealt with some major issues (harassment, sexism, racism, the role of women and the struggle of everyday working-class American life) in a straight-forward and adult way.  Occasionally it was a little heavy-handed, but the strong female characters were engaging and it was interesting that Lora and Annie were almost allowed to be more complex because they are widows, they are removed from the girlish romantic storylines of conventional Hollywood.

I started to investigate Sirk, who is an engaging Hollywood character.  He was born in Germany to Danish parents and was always an outsider in Hollywood.  He had to leave Germany in the 1930s as his second wife was Jewish.  With this outsider view he was able to see the excesses and hypocrisies within his adopted culture and create some ‘paradigmatic dissections of conformist 1950s American society.’  On his retirement after this film in 1959, he was considered a second or third rate director, although very popular at the box office. ‘Cahiers du Cinema’ and Godard revered him as an auteur and created his current reputation.  I am always really interested when critics re-evaluate artists and re-write film history.  Throughout his career, he focussed on cultural mores, constraint and repression.  This repression is obvious in the mise-en-scene in ‘Imitation of Life’ with the use of ceilings, low angles and placement of things in front of the camera (banisters, fences etc.).  There are a lot of fragmenting lines.  The female characters are also always physically corseted and constrained by their clothing.  The reflection of society is potentially represented in the multiple scenes where characters are seen as reflections in mirrors or shop windows.

I thought some of the acting was great – particularly from Juanita Moore and Susan Kohner.  Mahalia Jackson is amazing when she sings ‘Troubles of this World’ at the funeral.  A YouTube clip that I sent my dad (a big Mahalia fan) last time I watched the film!

Only at the end can Lora (Lana Turner) be the proper mother of Susie and Sarah-Jane – she had drafted out those duties to Annie, Juanita Moore’s character.  Is this a comment on women’s possibility to have a career and be a mother?

Ideas for creativity:

  • Colours – bright reds/dove grey
  • Lush Technicolor photography
  • Very forced/artificial/consciously fake – the painted backdrops
  • Spotlight lighting
  • Long depth of field
  • Vaseline on the lens/soft focus (especially on Lana Turner)
  • Static cinematography to focus on the lush sets.
  • A painterly quality – Sirk was influenced by Delacroix and Daumier.

Details of the film:  USA, 1959, Universal. Directed by Douglas Sirk and starring Lana Turner, John Gavin, Sandra Dee, Susan Kohner and Juanita Moore

Details of viewing: 22nd October, with Kate at her house in Stanwick on DVD.