|La Maman et la Putain
|OUT 1: SPECTRE
|Le Crime de M. Lange
|Leave Her to Heaven
|John M. Stahl
|Only Angels Have Wings
|Josef von Sternberg
|La VIE DE BOHÈME
|Erich von Stroheim
La Maman et la Putain
The greatest and most honest triangle film of all time, set in a time of supposed liberation, when the old categories uneasily coexist with individual awakenings and the roles of men and women seem headed for a fatal crash. It is unsparing, deeply moving, and hypnotically involving.
OUT 1: SPECTRE
I prefer the enigmas of this edit to the transparency of the full 12-hour version, but either way it is a masterpiece of guided improvisation, a deep immersion into the personal dynamics of a large cast--the division between actor and role rather more fluid than is normal--an alluringly unsolvable mystery, and an unrepeatable portrait of a time and place.
Le Crime de M. Lange
It is the purest product of the Popular Front, a tale of workers' revolt that is above all deeply romantic, from the poetry of the title character's pulp imagination to his love for the boldest and prettiest of the sympathizing washerwomen. The pacing is crisp, the dialogue slangily precise, the cast varied and lively--and the good guys get away with it at the end.
Great swooning romanticism by way of a soberly realistic portrayal of working-class lives. It is a dream, and it is real life, and it is impossible to separate the two. The picture combines the seductive energy of an early work (it was Vigo's second feature) with the grand summation of a late work (it was his last movie). The cinematography by Boris Kaufman somehow invisibly slides between material and ethereal.
Leave Her to Heaven
Imagine a collaboration between Douglas Sirk and Patricia Highsmith. Gene Tierney as a consummate villainess, troubling and insidious, looking like a million bucks, photographed in the latest extravagant fashions against a shifting backdrop of vacationland--from the Southwest's golden strands to the rockbound coast of Maine--in a shimmering display of Technicolor, like an animated fashion spread with a murder plot.
Only Angels Have Wings
I feel like I could name at least half a dozen other pictures by Hawks, but this one is my favorite. He is in peak form, keeping the screen in motion at all times, treating large matters of life and death and loyalty and sacrifice with deceptively blithe gallows humor. The characters are many and varied and even the most marginal is vivid. The dialogue is so fast and sinuous it feels like a card trick.
Soon after its American release I walked into this movie cold, never having heard of Imamura and knowing little about Japanese cinema overall, and it affected me permanently. It is history told from below, the events leading up to the Meiji Restoration in late 1860s Edo as seen by whores, cutpurses, beggars, and drunks, with raucous humor and moments of extraordinary beauty. Its ending is impossible to dislodge from memory.
Dietrich and Sternberg approach this women's-magazine weeper of a story with surrealist abandon. You absorb the sentimental absurdities as if they were scenery viewed from a train, meanwhile surrendering to Marlene's face and an unending succession of wild images.
La VIE DE BOHÈME
Just as La Vie de Bohème is set both in the past and the present, so it also bridges satire and tenderness. He takes Henri Murger's antique carnival of sentimental clichés and makes it emotionally real, through his superb cast and his majestic deadpan. In this as in all of Kaurismäki's movies, the maintenance of dignity in the face of squalor and adversity is a moral imperative, and if that dignity brings in comedy, so much the better.
When I recommend Greed, people often tell me that it can't be adequately seen, owing to MGM's elimination and destruction of fourteen reels; all we have now are verbal descriptions of those omitted scenes. Nevertheless, that does not prevent it from remaining one of the greatest films ever made, in its great sweep of a story, moral arithmetic, character arcs, thoroughgoing sensuality, extreme attention to detail, hallucinatory imagery--even its novelistic amplitude seems to be represented in the severely truncated version we have.