Director Satyajit Ray separated himself from mainstream Indian cinema with PATHER PANCHALI, which premiered at Cannes (at midnight, during a party for Akira Kurosawa) in 1956. Still, several influential critics made it to the screening and championed the film’s originality and vision. It was completely unlike other Indian films in that there was no melodramatic…
Director Nicolas Roeg has an erratic track record, to say the least, occasionally turning to commercial work after some of his more outlandish ideas didn’t exactly turn into box office hits. He started out strong with the haunting 1971 masterpiece WALKABOUT, followed by the equally haunting murder mystery DON’T LOOK NOW (featuring one of cinema’s greatest sex scenes) and the confounding, sci-fi David Bowie vehicle THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH. These films made it clear that for Roeg, ideas came first and the story came second. Certainly this is true for INSIGNIFICANCE, his 1985 swan song of sorts, unless of course you count his adaptation of THE WITCHES (1990) based on the Roald Dahl story of the same name.
In 1940 the Nazi’s established four new concentration camps at Neuegamme, Gross-Rosen, Natzweiler and Auschwitz; later that year Charlie Chaplin released THE GREAT DICTATOR. As the U.S. was not yet at war, Hollywood was actually worried about offending certain European dictators. Indeed, the film was immediately banned in occupied Europe. But Chaplin had other worries, namely, was this a time to be funny about dictators? How do you make jokes about such a touchy and personal subject without seeming crass or insensitive?
Henri-Georges Clouzot is often overlooked as a leading director of the world’s best mysteries and thrillers, but with the release of DIABOLIQUE ( available today), Criterion is seeing to it that one of cinema’s great original masters is getting his due. “Before PSYCHO, PEEPING TOM and REPULSION, there was DIABOLIQUE (1955),” which Clouzot directed right after his 1953 blockbuster thriller THE WAGES OF FEAR (starring Yves Montand, Peter van Eyck and Clouzot’s wife, Vera). Its resounding success with audiences in Europe and the U.S. solidified Clouzot’s reputation as one of France’s premiere directors. Dubbed “the French Hitchcock,” Clouzot’s films became known for their psychological depth and nuance and their refreshing unpredictability. Clouzot beat Hitchcock to the punch more than once in terms of film technique and storytelling, but one thing the two directors have in common is their tireless dedication to craft. Clouzot obsessed over the smallest of details and was notorious for the demanding work ethic he required of his actors. He frequently took dozens and dozens of takes of a single shot, often for seemingly unimportant reasons. In DIABOLIQUE, for instance, Clouzot wasn’t happy with the way Simone Signoret turned to leave the room in one scene. Though the shot was just of her back, Clouzot insisted that her anger wasn’t real; Her hands were in her pockets but he could tell they weren’t clenched into fists.
Now that Oscar season has come and gone, we can all relax a bit and not drown in the complete saturation. On movies, I’m simply able to reflect more clearly. One opportunity came recently, after pondering TRUE GRIT and watching Jeff Bridges do his friendly guy thing on the red carpet– I popped in THE LAST PICTURE SHOW and gave it a whirl (Criterion released it on blu-ray in December). I reflected – what a career Jeff Bridges has had. And what an ensemble cast – particularly the wonderful Timothy Bottoms. It’s worth going back to.
Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski made THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE towards the end of his long and illustrious career, and while fans will see similarities to his earlier works in terms of pacing and mood, VERONIQUE marked an arresting departure towards a deeply meditative, supremely metaphysical space. Though VERONIQUE offers little in the way of plot, it’s a hypnotic and thoroughly moving masterpiece.
When Wes Anderson’s fifth film, THE DARJEELING LIMITED, came out in 2007, it was called a “precious…flawed, but nonetheless beautiful handmade object as apt to win affection as to provoke annoyance” (The New York Times). Critic A.O. Scott was talking about Anderson’s meticulously orchestrated compositions, a trademark that has steadily grown in complexity over the span of his career, just compare any shot of the train in India to the motel scenes in BOTTLE ROCKET. Every color, every piece of fabric, every accessory is exactly in its place. This obsessive attention to detail is what led many critics, like Scott, to doubt whether Anderson had a real story to tell, or whether the story was too weighed down by the trappings of an overactive art department. “Humanism lies either beyond his grasp or outside the range of his interests.”
Billy, Antoinette, their son Bogart and their dog, Merton in A MARRIED COUPLE
It’s no exaggeration to say that Canadian director Allan King made some of the most searing, most intimate, most stunning and remarkable documentary films of all time, but chances are you’ve never heard of him. And before the Eclipse Series from Criterion, “The Actuality Dramas of Allan King,” was released two weeks ago, neither had I. King pioneered a cinéma vérité style he preferred to call ‘actuality dramas,’ spontaneous portraits of the everyday. The Eclipse Series contains five of his best known and most critically acclaimed works, WARRENDALE (1967), A MARRIED COUPLE (1969), COME ON CHILDREN (1972), DYING AT GRACE (2003) and MEMORY FOR MAX, CLAIRE, IDA AND COMPANY (2005).
Before John Ford shot STAGECOACH in Monument Valley, no one – especially in Hollywood – had ever heard of the place. But when the film was released in 1939, everyone claimed they discovered the magnificent red rock landscape first. No matter who the honor rightfully belongs to, the northern Arizona desert valley, dotted with sandstone buttes jutting straight up as high as 1,000 feet, proved to be the perfect backdrop for the western that famously launched the genre from “B movie to the A-list.”
Advertised in its original trailer as “a motion picture so shocking you will say, how did they dare make it?” Nicholas Ray’s BIGGER THAN LIFE was not only ignored but condemned when it was released in 1956. Even though it had big stars, a big director and major distribution, the movie-going public at the time…