I decided it might be a good idea to make what’s known as a “sticky post” here on the front page for those coming in who might be concerned about spoilers. In these posts I’m going to be talking about varying aspects of movies that I’ve been watching, This may include writing about things that some would consider spoilers, including, at times, the endings of these movies. Those who are particularly spoiler averse may want to avoid reading these posts if they are planning to watch the movie in question. In certain circumstances where I will be discussing events towards the end of the movie, including the ending in at least a vague way, or when a movie contains a particular plot twist that might be considered major, I will try to post a more specific spoiler warning, because I do recognize that even though I may be writing about a movie that is decades old, it’s still going to be new to some people. Okay, with that out of the way, let’s get on with it, shall we?
Continuing to wend my way through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Greatest Movies of All Time. This week, it’s a double feature, with #008 on the list, Dziga Vertov. For a longer introduction to this series and a look at the full list, just click here. And if you want a heads-up on what I’ll be watching for next week in case you want to watch along, just head on over to the Facebook page or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are also in the sidebar) where I’ll generally be posting that info later in the day.
I noticed awhile back, and I’m sure regular readers did too, that I had fallen a bit behind on getting regular posts up in this series. The original plan was to watch and then write about one movie a week until I had them all covered, an effort which, assuming I held to it, would take just under five years. In actuality, however, it’s probably averaged out to more like three posts per month. (No I haven’t actually gone back and done the math, that’s just my gut assessment.)
So, in order to do a little bit of catching up, when I noticed these two Russian silents sitting so close to each other on the list, I announced a few weeks ago on the DMM facebook page that I would be doing them as a double feature.
Actually, that turned out to be a pretty good idea..
You see, the thing is that just about the only thing these two films have in common is the above-mentioned fact that they are both Russian silent films. Beyond that they really have very little in common at all. But that’s not a bad thing.
Let’s begin with Battleship Potemkin. Directed by Sergei Eisenstein and released in 1925, the film, according to Wikipedia “presents a dramatized version of the mutiny that occurred in 1905 when the crew of the Russian battleship Potemkin rebelled against their officers of the Tsarist regime. “
The movie is divided into five acts, each one having its own title, and each telling its own part of the story. Created as a propaganda film, it tells the story of the 1905 mutiny of the crew of the titular battleship against first the tsarist officers of the ship, and then the soldiers of Odessa, where the ship has docked, when they come to retake possession of the ship.
The most famous section of the film, and rightfully so, is Act IV: The Odessa Steps. A true tour-de-force of film-making, it shows the tragedy that takes place when the people of Odessa, who have massed on the steps, get caught between the guns of the Tsarist soldiers, and the return volleys of the ship as it seeks to defend itself against the oncoming soldiers. It is a scene that is full of tragedy and melodrama, emphasizing the fact that often it’s not those who are actually actively engaged in combat, but those who are so often today dismissed with the euphemism “collateral damage” who suffer the most in a battle like this.
Interestingly, the sequence also depicts a scene which never actually happened. Yep, it’s true. While it’s true that the people of Odessa did support the mutineers and the revolution against the Tsar, there actually was no massacre on the staircase. However, the fact that so many people to this day believe that the massacre did occur is a testament both to Eisenstein’s skill as a film maker and to the true power of propaganda.
Here, instead of the usual trailer for the film, is Act IV in full so that you can see the skill that Eisenstein brings and judge it for yourself:
In sharp contrast to the narrative propaganda style of Potemkin stands Dziga Vertov’s 1929 film Man With a Movie Camera, and when I say “in sharp contrast”, I mean just that. Man is an extremely non-linear, non-narrative experimental film which serves as a showcase for the various tricks and techniques that Vertov wanted to explore and showcase.
Almost completely eschewing plot (unless one wants to fairly arbitrarily assign to the film a sort-of “day in the life of” plot that I really don’t think Vertov was aiming for), instead the film seems almost random both in sequence and in the effects employed within each sequence. I say that it “seems” random, because, while there may be no real direct connective tissue from scene to scene, and there really is no over-arching “getting from point a to b to c” structure to the film, there still is a sense of design not only within each shot but in its editing and placement within the film proper.
As far as being a showcase for experimental film-making of the time, there can truly be no doubt that Vertov succeeds in his mission. At various points he employs double exposures, stop motion animations, fast motion, slow motion, freeze frames, extreme close-ups, jump cuts, split screens, footage played backwards, Dutch angles, tracking shots, footage played backwards, and so many other techniques that it would be hard to list them all.
Obviously, this film is a case of Vertov seeking not only to excite his audience about the possibilities of film, but to push himself to not only employ many already-known techniques, but to create many new ones of his own.
Here’s a short clip which will give you a good impression of the style of – and the variety of styles employed within – the movie:
In the end, I have to say that whatever the circumstances that caused me to watch these two films side-by-side, I’m glad that I did, because I think they truly do serve to highlight not only the variety of film that was being made during the silent era in Russia, but also the diversity that is possible with film in general. Whether the purpose of a film is simple narrative, propaganda, or experimental, in the hands of a true virtuoso of the form and someone who is daring enough not only to see what they want to create but to use whatever they need to to achieve that effect, there are very few limits to what film, even in the early stages of it’s life when creators were still figuring out the possibilities and language of the medium can achieve.
This week (Sept 21-27) has been designated – by those who decide these things – as Banned Book Week, a time to raise awareness of the sometimes ridiculous and always offensive censorship and/or challenges to certain books, usually not because they pose any real threat, but because there are certain aspects of them that cause a certain segment of our population to be uncomfortable.
Of course, that’s quite often the entire purpose of certain works of art, whether they be books, paintings or other visual artworks, or yes, even films. Some of the best artistic creations throughout history have been designed solely for the purpose of either challenging the status quo, or simply challenging peoples’ mind-set.
And, it’s usually those who need just this sort of challenge who stand in opposition to the presentation of those uncomfortable ideas, and the excuse that is most often used is that it’s to “protect our children”.
My own personal response to that is that it’s a shame that your faith in your own teachings and your ability to pass those along to your children is so fragile that it can’t stand up to even the slightest challenge.
Anyway, since this is a movie blog, I thought I’d use this opportunity to mention one of my own personal favorite critiques of the entire idea of censorship and what it does to people, and also a classic of film-making, Francois Truffaut‘s 1966 masterpiece Fahrenheit 451. The film is, of course, an adaptation of the Ray Bradbury story which sees “fireman” Guy Montag begin to question his future society’s idea that all books are evil and should be burned – that is the job of these so-called firemen, to track down and arrest those in possession of books and to burn their caches before they can disseminate them further – and the effect that actually reading a book has on him.
Both the story and the film are classics, and though some may quibble with the change in ending that Truffaut made in the film, I don’t think that it spoils things at all. It is, as happens so often in a book-to-film translation, different.
Here’s the trailer for the movie:
Also, as an added bonus, here’s a short discussion with the late Mr. Bradbury where he shares his own thoughts about both the story and the film:
I’ll just wrap things up quickly here by encouraging you to celebrate Banned Book Week by reading one of the frequently challenged books. Or, for that matter, watching a film that has been censored or challenged, because there have also been plenty of those. The real point is: fight those who would try to tell you what you (or your children) what you should or shouldn’t read/watch/think. Challenge yourself and them to explore new ideas, and most especially those that might cause some discomfort or might challenge your way of thinking.
Because it’s only when we are confronted with new ideas, that our minds can truly expand.
- The enduring oddness of François Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 (thedissolve.com)
- Fahrenheit 451 (1966 film) (turcanin.wordpress.com)
- Googler proposes ‘451′ error code to signal Internet censorship, in honor of Ray Bradbury (digitaltrends.com)
- Review of Scary Book Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (writedge.com)
*** Spoiler Warning! No, I’m not going to be discussing the ending of the film, but there are specific plot points that I feel it impossible to fully discuss this movie without revealing, the first of which is the blockquote directly below. So, if you have any intention of seeing this film (and I’ll go ahead and say here that I highly recommend that you do) and want to, as I did, and am quite happy that I did, go into it without really knowing much about it at all, then I STRONGLY recommend seeing it first, then coming back here to read my comments. You have been warned. ***
Scene from a confessional. We can see the priest and his reactions, but have no idea of the identity of the other speaker, except for hearing his voice. The character on the other side of the confessional screen begins:
Nothing to say?
It’s certainly a startling opening line.
What is that, irony?
I’m sorry. Let’s start again. What do you want to say to me? I’m here to listen to whatever you have to say.
I was raped by a priest when I was seven years old. Orally and anally as they say in the court reports. This went on for five years; every other day for five years. I bled a lot, as you can imagine I bled a terrible amount.
Have you spoken to anyone about this?
I’m speaking to you, now!
I mean, have you sought professional help?
Why? So I could learn how to cope? So that I could learn how to live with it? Maybe I don’t want to cope. Maybe I don’t want to learn how to live with it.
Did you make a formal complaint? Did you testify?
The man’s dead.
I don’t know what to say to you. I have no answer for you, I’m sorry.
What good would it do anyway if he were still alive? What would be the point of killing the bastard? That would be no news. There’s no point in killing a bad priest. Killing a good one? That would be a shock! They wouldn’t know what to make of that. I’m going to kill you, Father. I’m going to kill you ’cause you’ve done nothing wrong! I’m going to kill you because you’re innocent. Not right now, though. I’ll give you enough time to put your house in order. Make your peace with God. Sunday week, let’s say. I’ll meet you down by the beach, down by the water there. Killing a priest on a Sunday! That’ll be a good one. Nothing to say to me, Father?
Not right now, no. But I’m sure I’ll think of something by Sunday week.
That’s the dialogue that opens the movie Calvary and which propels everything that follows. And honestly, if reading that doesn’t compel you to want to see the film, I’m not sure anything I’m going to say hereafter will. Of course, that’s certainly not going to stop me writing about it, now is it? After all, that’s what you come here for, right?
There is, at its core, more than a touch of High Noon in Calvary, for like that movie, the foremost question in the film is not “Whodunnit?” or “How?”. It can’t be classified as a whodunnit because although we as the audience (at least upon first viewing) may not know who the killer is, his intended victim, Father James does, because he of course recognizes the voice on the other side of the screen as one of his parishioners. Nor can the question be how because, as you can see from the section above, he tells the Father just when, where, and pretty much how right up front.
No, those are not the questions that writer/director John Michael McDonagh is interested in exploring. Instead, the film is more of an examination of just what effect knowing about his imminent demise will have upon the small-town Irish priest, how that knowledge will afffect him not only personally, but in his interactions with his parishioners (including the man he knows plans to kill him), and what steps he will or won’t take to avoid that outcome.
For the viewer, as much as for the Father, the tension is heightened the closer the deadline comes, because we are never really made privy to the inner thoughts of the priest, but are instead left to interpret his varied actions and interactions on our own.
Obviously, this is one of those films that will actually reward at least one repeat viewing, because, much like, say, The Sixth Sense, with its twist at the end, once the viewer actually knows the identity of the would-be killer and the eventual outcome of the story, there is that desire to go back and re-watch the movie with that knowledge in hand.
Of course, there are other questions that both the audience and Father Gleeson must confront during the week between the opening confession and the assigned day of reckoning. Questions such as: Is the Father truly a good man? How does one even go about defining such a thing? How does much effect can one man really have in other people’s lives, especially when that man is a priest and many of the people he is dealing with are non-believers? Even if one accepts that Fr. Gleeson is good then how does/should he react when ofttimes his words and actions are met with outright ridicule? What is it that keeps him going in the face of all of these things?
And there are also questions that the audience is, its own way, forced to confront, chief among them being how would we react in a similar situation, and beyond that, how do we both expect and wish Fr. Gleeson to react? Do we want him to break the confessional seal and reveal the identity of his potential killer? Do we want him to fight back or defend himself? Do we wnat him to accept his threatened fate?
And in the end, how do we feel about his ultimate decision and its outcome?
As far as the directing of McDonagh and the acting of star Brendan Gleeson as Father James, both rank extremely high in my book. Though this is not the first film I’ve seen with Gleeson in it, it’s certainly his first starring role for me, and I can’t wait to see what he does for a follow-up.. Actually, what I’m really looking forward to is getting a chance to watch The Guard, McDonagh’s first feature film which also stars Gleeson and has received similar high praise as that heaped upon Calvary.
McDonagh also truly takes advantage of the natural beauty of his setting, making the most of the coastline town and the way that it, too, affects the town and its people, and making the the film not only tension-filled, but a wonderful thing to behold.
Beyond that, I’ll simply say that though it’s still relatively early in the year for such statements, there is no doubt in my mind that Calvary will be topping my end-of-the year favorites list and will definitely take a place among my all-time favorites. Yes, I liked it that much.
So I say “Go see it”, but I also include the caveat that once you have you’re likely to want to see it again. Not that that’s a bad thing at all.
Here, as usual, is a trailer, but I’ll be honest, you may very well want to skip it, especially if you’re going to watch the movie soon.
- ‘Calvary’ is a vivid portrait of a real priest with the heart of a shepherd (newadvent.org)
- In The Wake Of The Catholic Sex Abuse Scandal (dish.andrewsullivan.com)
- No Forgiveness, But A Kind Of Cinematic Grace In ‘Calvary’ (npr.org)
- ‘Calvary’ Review (screenphiles.com)
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Ruff and Reddy, a cartoon series that I remember first seeing on weekday mornings when I was a wee lad. Another of my favorite characters from that same time period was Felix the Cat.
The Felix that I remember from that time and still love with a fog of nostalgia, the one with the magic bad that he could pull incredible things out of and could reshape into whatever he could think of to get himself out of jams (such jams usually caused by people trying to steal that magic bag) was actually from a revival series which was made for television beginning in the 1950s. The character of Felix himself, however, is actually much older than that.
Felix was first created in the early 1920s, but his actual origin remains, according to Wikipedia, somewhat disputed. He first appeared in a series of silent shorts before slowly transitioning to sound. These shorts continued to be produced and released to theaters until 1932, and it is from these shorts that today’s feature episode comes.
To say that this Felix is rather different from the one I remember is a bit of an understatement. Entitled “Woo’s Whoopie”, it follows a drunken Felix as he attempts to navigate his way home from a bar to a very angry wife. Yeah, I’m pretty sure this was not part of the syndicated programming package that was part of the early morning children’s TV fare of my early years.
And here, as an extra bonus for comparison’s sake, is an episode of the Felix Ishow do remember, including his unforgettable theme song:
- Saturday Morning Cartoons #003 – Ruff and Reddy (durnmoosemovies.wordpress.com)
It’s true, almost 45 years after his initial appearance on silver screens, the black private dick who’s a sex machine to all the chicks will be getting his own comic book. Courtesy of publisher Dynamite Entertainment, writer David F. Walker and artist Bilquis Evely, the first issue of Shaft is scheduled for release in December of this year.
The character of John Shaft first appeared in a 1970 novel by writer Earnest Tidyman. The novel was adapted into a screenplay by Tidyman and co-screenwriter John D.F. Black, and the film version of Shaft hit American theaters in July of 1971.
An immediate hit, mostly due to Richard Roundtree’s sharp performance and Isaac Hayes’ unforgettable score – including the iconic theme song, which people who most likely haven’t even seen the film will instantly recognize, the movie while not the first “blaxploitation” film certainly popularized the genre, and was one of only three profitable movies released by MGM in 1971, taking in 13 million dollars on a reported budget of $500,000.
According to a press release by Dynamite, the new comic series will be a prequel to the movie, exploring the character’s origins and his adventures before what we see in the film. On his website, Walker states that the book is being written “with the help and the blessing of his [Ernest Tidyman's] widow, Chris Clark-Tidyman”.
Walker also says that
My take on Shaft is steeped in Tidyman’s work, and builds on the world created in the original novels. I’m exploring who he is as a man, as a private detective, and as a cold-blooded killer. This John Shaft is much grittier, more badass, with a complexity never seen in the films. The name may be familiar, and some aspects of the character may be recognizable, but at the end of the day, he will be something new and exciting – especially in the world of comics. This is Shaft the way Shaft was meant to be.
As a long-time fan of 70s films and of the blaxploitation genre, I must say I’m quite interested to see where Walker will take the character, and am looking forward to checking this out come December.
- Shut your mouth! (I’m talking ’bout new Shaft books and comics) (thedissolve.com)
Since I posted an some episodes of The Lone Ranger television show earlier this week in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of the show’s star, Clayton Moore, I thought that for today’s feature I’d give you an episode of the Ranger’s descendant’s show, The Green Hornet.
Like the Ranger, the Hornet was created for Detroit radio station WXYZ (yes, seriously) by Fran Striker, debuting on January 31, 1936. However, unlike the Ranger, it took 30 years for the character to make it to television screens, as a spinoff of the then-popular Batman TV series.
The television show was played somewhat straighter than the Batman show, and despite the presence of Bruce Lee as his sidekick/chauffeur Kato, it never really took off. Still, personally, I find it a fun watch, and think, given time it might have caught on. I’ll give you a chance to judge for yourself, however by sharing with you this episode which first aired on Dec. 30th 1966.
- Five Kickass Sidekicks (That Are Way Cooler Than Their Bosses) (humor.gunaxin.com)
- Batman ’66 Meets the Green Hornet #1 (comicvine.com)
Mr. Moore made his first uncredited on-screen appearance in the B-Western Forlorn River in 1937. After a couple of other uncredited appearances, he received his first onscreen credit as Jack Moore in 1939’s Burn ‘Em Up O’Connor, in which he played a hospital intern.
Moore landed his most famous role in 1949 when he was selected to portray the titular character on the television version of The Lone Ranger. The character was already popular from the radio show, which had been on the air since 1933.
Moore played the character for the first two years of the show which presented an astounding 52 episodes per year! For reasons that have never been fully revealed, Moore was fired and replaced by actor John Hart for the third season, but when hart proved nowhere near as popular, Moore was rehired, and remained with the show until it finally ended its run in 1957. He also starred in two Lone Ranger feature films.
After the series ended, Moore continued to make personal appearances as the Ranger for many years, and for many people even today, he is The Lone Ranger.
So, in celebration of what would be Clayton Moore’s 100th birthday, here are just a few of the total 169 episodes of the series which made him a household name