Tag Archives: classics

Paths of Glory (1957)

7/10

Kubrick directs his first big-budget feature, Paths of Glory, with grace and his signature phlegmatic style of shot-succession. It stars Kirk Douglass Col. Dax, a young leader whose occupation as a crime lawyer shines through his personality, before he even has to take the stand. Although Douglass is known by some as a vanity actor, I get the feeling that after he thought he could push young Kubrick around in ‘Spartacus’, as the producer, now as an actor he found his ‘rank’. He gives a strong, constrained performance, as the man who tries very hard to be the mirror of the General’s immorality, and of the idea of war entirely.

Col. Dax leads the units in the trenches many yards back from the ant hill, a rather funny name to be used in such seriousness by higher-ups. But when he is ordered by his higher-command, Gen. Mireau, to raid up towards Ant Hill, which even then they could barely hold from a distance, Col. Dax is forced into this act of wrong futility. He obeys orders, and the result is half the men charging and being blown to pieces, in a very effective tracking shot concerned only with the frame of the charging soldiers. The other half of the soldiers don’t charge at all; this cowardice, as Gen. Mireau calls it, who by now we can see is a soulless man whose been in Wars far too long, is put into military court. Gen. Mireau demands execution of his own French troops for their cowardice; beginning with a request of one-hundred, it ends with the selection of one from each regiment, a total of three. The rest of the film concerns itself with the morality of this, and the desperation of Col. Dax for a way to save the soldiers from a pointless execution.

We know once the court hearing is adjourned that the soldiers are going to die; it is a transparent slight in the film that the one-position opinion of Col. Dax is so absolute, as to mimicking the same absoluteness of the General. The military is too attached to cowardice, and sending a signal, more so to the public’s approval than the soldiers, about how things are run. At this end, the rest of the movie seems pointless, yet the ruminations of Col. Dax on the nature of war are enticing;  he stands up to higher-ups and even when they don’t always catch it, we do: he plays word-games on the bluntness of the Generals when it comes to death and rightness, constantly.

Paths of Glory is a unique war film, expected from the anti-war director Stanley Kubrick. He approaches the story with economical methods of  narrative, from the perspectives of all parties involved, including in the cellar with the soon to be executed soldiers. Stark, riveting, and unnerving, Paths of Glory strikes rebellion in the gut from the comfort of a chair.

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Peeping Tom (1960) – Film Review

Peeping Tom is a great film as its main character guides us hand-in-hand through his atrocities, a self-conscious first-person technique that creates mountains of tension. As the audience, we’re peeping into Mark Boehl’s life and his strange hobby and obsession with recording people at the cusp of their being victimized by him. The story is pieced together in a literary form in the way that everything we learn of, like the mothers blindness for example, has a cause and an importance later on.

The director, Michael Powell, establishes the time and place very well, almost like a stage-film in which highly-decorative scenes remain static for long periods of time; the layout of the apartment, the ground-floor, the secluded bunk-like upstairs where Mark dwells and develops his celluloid.  Films that are constantly jump-cutting to new places can be uncomfortable to watch; to better understand the character is by their environment, and with a character like Mark, who keeps to himself, it can be troublesome when trying to probe why he does what he does. And essentially, without the necessary information we need to understand him, all we have is the performance of Karlheinz Böhm to attempt to make us feel some tangible form of sympathy for the man.

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The film is a dense, unforgettable character study. Mark Boehl is an obsessive 8mm film recorder. He works for a film company, not yet achieving his goal of becoming a director, and lives a quiet and methodical life, doing photo-shoots for women on the side. When he becomes interested in a woman who lives next door, his secrets begin to unravel, and he must choose between his hobby and the girl he now has come to enjoy; to say, “who he’s come to love” would be unfitting for Marks character, because he’s the sort of person who proclaims that he ‘enjoys your presence’, nothing more, nothing less.

Peeping Tom didn’t do wonders for director Michael Powell’s film career, as its reception was similar to the reaction Kubrick received following the release of A Clockwork Orange. But thanks to Martin Scorsese’s restoration of the film, Powell-fans can see and admire the voyeuristic work of the director even more.

Taxi Driver

Taxi Driver is a quintessential Scorsese-picture, favorably compared to the debut films like Boxcar Bertha. The film jump-starts the 70 and 80s Scorsese-masterpiece drive, a force of inertial filmmaking creativity.

The film explores the sticky mind and mannerisms of Vietnam veteran Travis Brickle, who has taken up occupation as a taxi-driver because of his pestilent insomnia. The screenwriter, Paul Schrader, says that he composed the screenplay in mind of Dostoevsky’s existential book, ‘Notes from the Underground’ which shapes rightly to the heavy-theme of society isolation. Taxi Driver introduces and provokes the now oft-used satirical theme of the pick-and-choose nature of law enforcement and punishment (Pop-culture know-it all’s may think this idea familiar from Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, where the Joker tells Harvey Dent about how society works according to ‘plan’). The expected is of far more ease than the unexpected, as any anxious person can attest to.

Nearing the third act, Travis decides as clear as a meth-head to kill the governor-elect, but after a shady getaway on his first attempt, he quickly crosses over to his preferred righteous-path, killing a handful of pimps in hope of brightening the life of a young prostitute they vendor. The girl’s name is Iris, and at only fourteen years, you can imagine her iris-flower growing amongst the dirt and muck that Travis so willingly describes for us. But how much, we think, will this help? Or will Iris end up needing to turn towards more severe acts for money as consequence? Rest assured Travis receives a letter from her parents, thanking him for helping return her to them; whether the aftermath is a dream or real-time recuperation, Scorsese does not, and refuses to tell.

Taxi Driver is a benchmark in character study. If these studies are done well, the looking glass should be uniform and unmoving from the character, not flopping once or twice to another character’s perspective for easy dramatic irony.  This perspective dials our heads into conforming to the ticks and habits of the narrator we so intimately let ourselves into. Travis, I think, although disastrous and a reflection of real and dangerous people, romanticizes the involuntary hate for culture-hounds and rules. He pouts blasphemy throughout of and against the junk around him, yet goes to the same movies they do, an undividable paradigm of enjoyment or understanding.
There are many clever film-devices Scorsese uses to tell the narrative, like the use of the Taxi’s front-window and street-smog to resemble Travis’ clouded view of the city. They are understood because and only because of the tone and theme that matches them; the soundtrack, the attitude, etc. That’s Scorsese. Later in the filmography, the great duo of Schrader and Scorsese present themselves triumphantly again in the first year of the 80s with ‘Raging Bull’.

Film Review: One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest

10/10

Milos Forman’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest depicts the rebellious nature of the 197os through a strained relationship between Randle, a psychiatric patient(Jack Nicholson),  and Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher), a character symbolic and iconic of authority, or what the 197os upheavals thought it to be. She snares back to requests and questions with dogmatic, parent-like answers like ‘because’, and frustrates Randle to the point of making his stay longer than needed. He is essentially the most transparently sane, with able gesture and thought-process,  yet Nurse Ratched is able to find illness in simply the words that leave his mouth.

The characters in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s nest are memorable and comical, though not in a hurtful way. It’s a true depiction of that era’s psychiatric unit: black men cleaning up and keeping control, dressed in white slacks and shirt, and neat nurses in white dresses, all women. The main social premise is that authority, the nurses, are the ones causing the permanent stay of some of the patients, because they make them feel inferior: not until later do we and Randle find out that most of the patients are there on a voluntary basis. Randle was transferred from jail to the unit–but to go to the unit on your own free will he finds insane in itself. The social metaphor moves from the book to the screen in a very economical and entertaining way.

When Randle tries to help a young patient, show him to a few pleasures of the real world, it results in panic and paranoia for the young boy, Billy, when Nurse Ratched threatens to tell his mother of the things he did under the finger of Randle. Randle is trying to preach rebellion–that their is better ways to do things than what the status quo says. But ultimately, most of the patients are trapped in their own familiarity with the psych unit and cannot escape. The one who follows Randle in his escape, is the one who didn’t talk through out the movie.

A touching and involving look into the ideology of the 70s, and featuring a powerhouse performance from Jack Nicholson who carries the film almost on his charismatic back; without someone as assured in his profession as Jack Nicholson, this film could have been completely different: seriously, Imagine someone else as Randle. An excellent film that holds up the  same inequality argument forty some years afterwords.

The Conversation (1974)

The Conversation, a seminal film by acclaimed director Francis Ford Coppola, takes a few seconds of fragmented, audio-recorded dialogue between a man and a woman and makes it the subject of a film. Scrutinizing the audio-track is legendary surveillance expert Henry Caul, a quiet, heavy-gazing man with a few (many) years of experience under his belt. His longevity does not provide him with any moral cushioning, however, and the film progresses as he realizes that the tape he is submitting to the corporation that hired him might result in the murder of his clients, a man and woman.

We see early on, when Harry visits a woman in a different apartment, the sexual tensions present: he’s afraid to become close to a woman, it seems, because he is afraid to reveal any sort of inner secret. And when he reveals this to a woman in what seems to be an entirely honest moment, it is recorded by a competitor, who Harry hadn’t realized had bugged him; all fun and games, for the competition, but Harry takes guard and responds equally as mad at this act of private thievery as he would have if his professional tapes were stolen. It’s all the same to him.

Earlier in the film, when the same sardonically hateful and envious fellow surveillance expert asks Harry about how he tapped into a boat and recorded a highly-guarded dialogue, which resulted in the murder of three different persons, we find out why he is so ambivalent to give the tapes in and return to such a state of murderous guilt. He tries to remain objective, but the line between duty and moral obligation becomes thin; a machine would be better fit for the job of Henry, but then does that not make the creator of the machine equally immoral?

The Conversation expertly blends existential angst and obsession into a sharp and uniquely spliced audio experience filled with buzzing, static voices. The slow increase of paranoia hits Henry hard, his past being suddenly explored in a sort of expressionistic black- and-white scene where he’s calling towards a woman he listens to, standing fearfully atop long concrete stairs, listening to him, as if he were another person just exploiting her for information, not a friend, not anyone who would help.

Francis Ford Coppola’s sensitive and intriguing look into surveillance professionals boasts great performances from Gene Hackman as Harry, and a very influential use of audio as a stepping stone and as a main ingredient in the narrative. A jarring, tantalizing look into a man who cares about nothing more than the keys in his life; to his apartment, his mind, and to his various recordings.

Film Review: Rosemary’s Baby

9/10

Like his earlier film “Repulsion” Roman Polanski  uses a quiet, sensitive woman as the magnet of his camera in his first American film, and also blends her into its themes and shadows with keen cinematic ability. The film starts with a common-day sight of a man and a woman, ready for a child, buying an Old new york apartment several floors above the city streets, and appearing to be occupied mainly by elderly folk. The hard floor echoes and the empty floors are hallow and unoccupied by furniture. The titular character, played by Mia Farrow, stays at home in preparation for the new baby, while her husband Guy, played by John Cassavettes, goes to work as an aspiring actor. His dramas and failures are more expressed than the fears of Rosemary and her pregnancy, suppressing her internal doubts like the stereotypical housewife.

The signature of Polanski is taking the normal patterns of life and twisting them by the mind’s fears and hesitations into something mutated. Child-birth should be celebrated, but it is instead feared by Rosemary, as she thinks the baby is of a different world or somehow cursed by the devil. Through these dark, brooding sequences of terror, Rosemary’s Baby influenced such well-regarded future films as “The Omen” and “The Exorcist”.

The main source of paranoia in Rosemary is her mysterious next door neighbors, Roman and Minnie. Guy takes a fond liking to them and often leaves to have conversations with Roman, while Rosemary fears the two rather eccentric elders are conniving behind her back.  Minnie brings over little bowls of Chocolate Mousse for Rosemary, taking concern over her health, but even the sweet desert seems like a trap, a snare concocted by the odd woman. The film is well-paced and creepy, in huge part due to the performances, especially the older neighbor Minnie,  played by Ruth Gordon, with black, focused eyes and a very strange wardrobe; she commands the screen whenever she’s present with her glossy but shadowy facade.