Category Archives: sight and sound

My next ten.

Right, I’m making a pledge to get back on my BFI list and I will do one this half-term.  I can’t promise that once I get back in to the madness of the term I will be able to keep it up, but I’ll do my best.

Partie De Campagne (1936) – Jean Renoir

The Wild Bunch (1969) – Sam Peckinpah

A Brighter Summer Day (1991) – Edward Yang

Greed (1925) – Erich Von Stroheim

The Colour of Pomegranates (1968) – Sergie Parajanov

Casablanca (1942) – Michael Curtiz

Fanny and Alexander (1984) – Ingmar Bergman

The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) – Victor Erice

Lawrence of Arabia (1962) – David Lean

The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) – Orson Welles

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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.

7. Joint 93rd – The Seventh Seal’ 1957

I have seen The Seventh Seal before and actually used it in lessons when teaching Chaucer’s context and my recent Medieval lyrics lecture. I love the feeling of the middle ages that it gives – harsh and sparse and it is also really useful when describing the black death, the dance of death and death poetry (that I did for my dissertation) However, although I love Scandinavian pretty much everything, Ingmar Bergman is director I am not that familiar with, although one of Uncle John’s books was about him, so I will try to rectify that.  I already like that his favourite American director was Billy Wilder.

Doing my lecture on Medieval poetry.  I used a clip from this film.

Doing my lecture on Medieval poetry. I used a clip from this film.t

Of course my first knowledge of it was from Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey when I was about seven. The opening sequence on the beach is still great and so iconic and I love that my enjoyment is a mix of high-brow and low-brow. I have also recently been teaching The Exorcist and it is great seeing Max Von Sydow so young and virile, even though it was only sixteen years before. It is also a parallel role, he is still concerned with the reality of God, but this time he is the doubting Agnostic.  I love the questioning of religion. Bergman seems to have picked this period as so heightened and intense that everyone must have been questioning it. It’s an endless question and the chiaroscuro seems to heighten the philosophy.

Watching The Seventh Seal

Watching The Seventh Seal

I really like how dry and funny Death is. When my inevitable death does happen, I kind of hope it is like that. It’s great when the knight thinks he is confessing to him and he gets him to reveal all his chess moves and when he starts cutting down the tree while someone is still in it.  His impish face and glinting eyes are suitably mischievous.

The black and white cinematography is beautiful. A shiny black and pure white, I think the Swedish white light must be helping it. A Scandinavian summer is so beautiful and the scenes of the circus performers enjoying it are idyllic.  Mixed with that the large landscapes with cloudy skies are beautiful.

One of my favourite scenes, and the one I used in my Medieval poetry lecture, is the chanting procession.  I love the contrast created by the juxtaposition of performers and the religious flagellation party. That scene could be ancient, it has feelings of Griffith’s Intolerance and the 1928 The Passion of Joan  of Arc by Dreyer. Some of the close-ups, especially of women crying and the long high angle shots create a timeless feeling.

Other thoughts:

  • The scene where the actor is bullied in the tavern is horrible and made especially frightening by the oppressive camera framing and heavy shadows.
  • This is continued with the dark scenes of the girl who has been accused of bringing the plague.
  • The reactions of everyone at the knight’s home when death finally appears is amazing. The way they are so calm with almost angelic close-ups and are then taken off on the dance of death across the skyline is a great moment. No-one can resist it forever.

Creative:
Black and white
Huge landscapes
Period setting
Game playing
Holy relics and questioning faith

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.

5. Joint 93rd – ‘Un Chien Andalou’

Un Chien Andalou (1927) by Bunuel and Dali is a shocking, challenging and confusing watch.  I have taught this film at least three times and probably watched it twenty times so it is difficult to create an independent response and remember how I initially felt about it.  I actually used this film today, along with some art by Picasso, to explain Modernism, before we started learning about Post-Modernism.  It’s all high-brow around me don’t you know!  It isn’t a film I would watch this regularly if I didn’t teach it, but I definitely appreciate its place in the canon.

Watching it in class this afternoon

Watching it in class this afternoon

I really love watching this film with students and have used it as part of the showreel to sell film studies this year.  It quickly got around school that I was showing the most disgusting clips, which surely can only help!  The student reaction to the eye-cutting sequence is brilliant.  The most hardened horror fan will still squirm when the eye is cut in to.  I don’t think they expect it to really happen.  It’s amazing how quickly people forget that film is a construct and that it can’t really be happening.  On the viewing this afternoon one of my students sat open-mouthed throughout the entire thing.  Perfect.

Obviously, I love the initial eye-cutting sequence and all its references to the hypnotic and damaging power of mainstream cinema.  I also love the close-up on the beach sequence where the man’s hand is held up next to her face and she seems to stare at his watch.  However, my favourite sequence is the one that Dali seemed to be most in charge of.  I love the male character trying to drag the two pianos, two priests and two dead horses.  It’s such a perfectly visual image and I would love to imagine what it would look like in colour.  Although I love the grainy black and white generally, it’s nice to imagine this as a Dali painting.

Horses on pianos.

Horses on pianos.

This short film is clearly about a break with narrative structures and no matter how often you try to suggest to a class that there isn’t a clear plot and the narrative is deliberately confusing they won’t have it.  I love how it plays around with time, including the intertitles that say ‘eight years later’, ‘in the spring’ in an illogical way.  The changes in tempo are dramatic and unnerve the spectator, clearly a plan.

Creative:

A close-up on the eye.

A short film that disrupts time and place.

A chaotic written piece.

What a weekend!

I’m not very good on my own.  Never have been.  I finally lived alone at 28 for a year and learnt ways to enjoy it.  Most of them involved making my house obsessively neat and pretty, watching a lot of films, reading compulsively and having a drink or two.

I had the opportunity to re-live that time this weekend as M went away to London to see a gig.  I set myself up with an excellent film marathon on the Saturday afternoon and night, had a stash of film magazines to get through and watched one of my Top 100 films

.  film mags pic

3 dvds picture

 

I’m not going to gild the truth.  I didn’t get out of my pyjamas, I did employ the duvet, I did drink one too many Singapore Slings and I did review the films with my crocheted Hobbes.  I’m not ashamed, it was a great day.

Anyway – the films!  My Man Godfrey is amazing – I love William Powell and have added The Thin Man to my wishlist.  The two other films weren’t as amazing, but Jack Lemmon is in them so I don’t really care.

The List.

I am going to use the 2012 Sight and Sound critics’ list, available here –http://explore.bfi.org.uk/sightandsoundpolls/2012/critics

I am going to go in descending order and therefore I am going to start with the joint 93rd films of:

The Seventh Seal, Bergman, 1957

Un Chien Andalou, Bunuel, 1928

Intolerance, Griffith, 1916

A One and a Two, Yang, 1999

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Powell/Pressburger, 1943

Touki Bouki, Mambety, 1973

Madame de…, Ophuls, 1953

Imitation of Life, Sirk, 1959

Go and visit it!

The plan.

Film and creative challenges are a passion.  For the last three years I have been using flickr to remind me to be creative.  I have completed the 365 challenge, a topic a week and a photographer a month – results on http://www.flickr.com/photos/hhurdley/

I would love to do an MA in film, but until I have the funding and the time I thought I could start making an effort to widen my film knowledge here.  But, I don’t want to consider film in a purely academic, critical way.

So – the plan.  I will use the critics’ choice top 100 from the 2012 Sight and Sound poll as a guide.  I will watch and write something (maybe a review, focus on an area of film language, consider some theory) and then use it as a springboard for creativity – possibly a photograph, poem, collage, alternate poster.  Theory into practice, practice into theory.

This is a big challenge and may take me a while, but all learning is good learning.  I will also document any books I read or other films I see of interest.

I thought I would start off the creativity by posting one of my photos from the Film exhibition by Tacita Dean.

At the Tate Modern