A Note on Spoilers

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?

Top 250 Tuesday – #015 Late Spring (1949) – Part Two

Continuing to wend my way through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Greatest Movies of All Time. This week, it’s #015 on the list,  Yasujirō Ozus Late Spring. 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.

ls7Last week I began my look at Yasujirō Ozu‘s 149 film Late Spring, so if you missed that, you can get caught up by clicking here.

Last time, I spent a lot of time writing about the set-up of this film, my personal history with the works of Ozu, his place in Japanese cinematic history, the plot of the film, and some of the set-up dealing with the evolving tensions between older Japanese traditions and new, more Western ideas that were “invading” the country, largely due to the post-WWII occupation by troops from the U.S. and other countries.

Today I want to take more of a look at the film itself, and spend some time on the expertise, innovation, and beauty that Ozu brings to the screen.

All one really has to do is looks at some of the stills from the film to see that Ozu, along with his cinematographer Yuuharu Atsuta had an incredible eye not only for the natural beauty that surrounded the city of Tokyo at the time, but also for interior shots and set-ups that made the most of the glorious black and white imagery they were creating.

Whether it is a set-up shot of the mountains, an interior shot that shows the household life of Noriko and her family, or a close-up of one of the characters, each scene is deftly composed, and the focus is just right to convey not only the actions that are taking place, but even the most subtle shifts of thought and mood that are occurring and that inform not only what is going on in the moment, but what is to follow.

ls9At the same time, Ozu seems to bring a special touch to drawing out from his actors not only what is necessary to convey the actions they are taking, but the reasoning and feeling behind those actions, making them not just characters, but living, breathing people, who are not just going through motions to further the plot, but actually being affected internally by not only what is being done and said by them but also what is being said to them and what is happening around them, which is a huge part of what makes Ozu perfectly suited for and a master of the shomingeki genre. (As noted last time, or for those just catching up, shomingeki refers to a genre of film dealing mainly with the ordinary daily lives of the working and middle class people of the times and their personal trials and tribulations.)

Nowhere is this skill more apparent than in the performance that Ozu gets from his main star Setsuko Hara, who plays Noriko.

ls11Noriko is a woman who is deeply conflicted by not only her personal desires and feelings, but by the pressure that is put on her by society at large, and by almost all of those surrounding her, including her most intimate family and friends. She makes it clear very early on that she, personally, does not want to get married, as she would be perfectly content and happy to simply live out her days in her father’s house, loving and caring only for him, and that she is, in many ways, opposed to the idea of marriage in general, especially a marriage to a man who she barely knows and for whom she feels no real affection.

In the hands of a less skillful director, this would be the stuff of melodrama, and would be conveyed mostly though the actions and words of Noriko, and there are times when Ozu walks right up to that line, but he always manages to pull back, instead focusing quite often on the face and features of his actress, a face which reveals that what is going on inside both her mind and her heart is quite often very much opposed to what she is saying and agreeing to.

ls13Of course, in choosing this way to portray the character, Ozu also has to trust Ms. Hara to be able to show us this inner conflict, which she often does simply via a subtle shift in her facial features or the look in her eyes of the set of her mouth. This is truly a collaboration between a director who knows exactly what he is trying to get from his performer and an actress who has the necessary skill to give him just that.

If it were only a case of the performance of  Setsuko Hara being so strong, we could perhaps mark it down as an incredibly skilled actress bringing her “A-game” to a film and thus elevating it, a situation which often happens in movies which have become renowned. However, there really isn’t a false note portrayed by any of the actors in the movie, which again brings the focus back to Ozu and his skill at drawing these performances out of those whom he has chosen to populate this small slice of the world.

ls12Chishu Ryu, who plays Noriko’s father, Professor Shukichi Somiya, and with whom Ozu worked in most of his films, also shows his ability to walk a fine line here, giving us a portrait of a loving and caring father who doesn’t wish to break the independent spirit or heart of his daughter, but at the same time doing, and trying to get her to do, what he sees as best for her, even if he knows that she doesn’t truly desire it or see it the same way. He is a man who ultimately shows that he is, in the end, even willing to lie to her if it will cause her to follow what he sees as the right path. Yet again, director Ozu is not willing to let the Professor be a one-note character, determined to force his will upon his daughter at all costs, thereby allowing the audience to see him as a sort of villain in the piece, but, just as we do with Noriko, we really get a sense of the struggle that is taking place in the heart and mind of the Professor, again raising the movie beyond the level of mere melodrama and into classic status.

I could easily go on about the other performances that Ozu gets from the supporting actors in his company, but there is one other aspect of this film that I want to get to before I begin wrapping things up.

But that’s going to have to wait for next time, I think. (Yep, folks, it looks like this is going to a part three, and honestly no one’s more surprised than I am.)

In the meantime, here’s a short clip from the film showing some of the interaction between Noriko and her father:

 

 

 

Saturday Morning Cartoons #009 – The Flintstones: The Great Gazoo

gaz2If the Internet had been around in 1965, I suspect that rather than talking about a show “jumping the shark“, we would instead be talking about it “Gazooing”.

The Great Gazoo first appeared approximately halfway through the Flintstones TV show’s final season of it’s initial run. (Yep, kids. it’s true, The Flintstones made it’s debut as a prime-time animated series in September of 1960 and ran through April of 1966. It really is that old.) An alien from the planet Zetox, Gazoo had been exiled from his home planet, dislocated not only in space, but in time. He had seemingly magical powers such as being able to make objects appear and disappear and freeze time. He also had the ability to make himself visible only to Fred, Barney, and their children, Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm.

gaz1Basically, Gazoo was a genie-like character, voiced by comedian Harvey Korman, (probably best known for his appearances on the Carol Burnett show) who considered himself indebted to Fred and Barney for freeing him from his space-ship, and thus was constantly trying to “help” them, though of course, in the best sitcom genie tradition, his efforts to help would usually simply cause more problems. At the same time, there was a through-line to his story about him trying to get back home which, due to the show’s cancellation at the end of the season, was never resolved.

As I implied above, the introduction of Gazoo, while certainly not the cause of the show’s decline, didn’t help things either, (let’s just say he was no Barnabas Collins who managed to cause a turnabout in a flagging show’s fortunes and keep it on the air longer) and could easily be pointed to as an indication that those behind the scenes were desperate to try anything that might give them a ratings boost and that it had hit something of a creative nadir – pretty much the textbook definition of “jumping the shark”.

Anyway, here’s the episode that introduced the little fellow, appropriately titled “The Great Gazoo”, which first aired on October 29, 1965.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Classic Television Thursday #009 – Fail Safe (2000)

fs1Can a show from the year 2000 be considered “classic television”?

In this particular case, I think the answer is “yes’.

Fail Safe, as noted in Walter Cronkite‘s introduction was the “first feature-length story to be broadcast on CBS in 39 years”. Thus, it is something of a throwback to the early days of television and shows such as Playhouse 90 when live features such as this were the norm and not the exception. It should also be noted that not only was it broadcast live, it was also shown in black and white, giving it even more of an authentic feel.

The story itself, adapted by screenwriter Walter Bernstein from the novel of the same name which was written in 1962 by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler and directed by Stephen Frears, was also something of a throwback, as it played directly toward and highlighted the persistent fears of Americans during the height of the cold war between Soviet Russia and America.

The plot revolves around a cadre of American bombers which have, due to a technical failure, received orders to carry out a bombing mission on Moscow. Unable to recall the bombers or otherwise deter them from their mission, the question becomes just how both sides will respond if they are successful.

The teleplay stars Richard Dreyfuss as the President of the United States, along with George Clooney, Harvey Keitel, Hank Azaria, Brian Denehey, Bill Smitrovich, James Cromwell, Sam Elliott, Don Cheadle, and Noah Wyle.

While I will admit that there are quite a few innovative shows on television right now, (most of them coming from cable sources like HBO rather than the “major” networks) I really do wish that we could get more programming like this. Despite the networks’ arguments (most of which boil down to nobody else is doing it, and we’re scared to give it a try), I think the time is ripe at least for a weekly feature-length anthology series (I’m not even asking for it to be broadcast live) to return to our screens.  The public, I think, has shown that they are willing to support something different if it’s smartly done, and with the number of incredible writers, directors and actors out there who would be willing to do this kind of work as opposed to committing to a full-time series, such a program could really provide even more modern shows that eventually will also be considered “classic”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top 250 Tuesday – #015 Late Spring (1949) – Part One

Continuing to wend my way through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Greatest Movies of All Time. This week, it’s #015 on the list,  Yasujirō Ozus Late Spring. 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.

ls7One of the reasons that I started this trip through the Sight and Sound Top 250 was that I knew that it would give me both a reason to and a guide to explore many films and directors that I might not otherwise. This week’s entry is a prime example of that.

For a long time now, I’ve been hearing much praise for Japanese director Yasujirō Ozu’s films, but I had not actually watched any of them. The reasons for this are, of course, many. During my younger years it was simply a case of availability. As opposed to today, when it seems that almost any movie or film one might desire to see is available in some form almost instantly (though this isn’t completely true, it’s much more the case now than it was then), the only movies that we got to see then, for the most part, were those that were shown on television or that hit the theater screens, and let’s face it, those were both mass market outlets that were going to show things that would only appeal to huge audiences and subtitled foreign films from obscure (at least from an American perspective) foreign director were simply not on the agenda.

Even in the early VHS days, when the vistas began to open for those of us who lived outside of places like New York and L. A. – which had “arthouse” theaters and the like that might actually show silent or foreign films – suddenly had access to a wider variety of films, the majority of those were limited to older Hollywood offerings.

ls4Plus, there was also the simple problem of knowledge and interest. Sure, as someone who had an interest in exploring different movies and cultures, I quickly became familiar with the more “prestigious” names like Kurosawa or Murnau or Lang, or Fellini, but smaller names like Ozu? Let’s face it, if you don’t know it’s out there you can’t explore it. So that’s why, finally, I decided to pick a list like this to, as I said above, act as a kind of guide to those film makers and films that had gained enough respect over the years from those much more knowledgeable (or at least who had much more familiarity and exposure) in those areas of film that I had overlooked, and to help broaden my horizons.

All of which brings us to Ozu’s incredibly beautiful and thought-provoking work Late Spring.

ls1Late Spring is one of those movies in which the plot is actually quite simple: a 27-year-old woman named Noriko, who has lived all of her life with her widowed father and for whom the very idea of marriage seems repugnant, is pushed by her family and friends to finally accept an arranged marriage to a man she really barely knows.

That’s it. That’s the entirety of the plot. But that’s okay, because, while I’m not going to dismiss it as simply as to say “this is a movie that really isn’t interested in plot” because obviously that is a driving force, there is simply so much more going on that it really doesn’t need anything other than that to proceed and to deliver a true masterwork.

ls5Late Spring  – or, to give it it’s Japanese title, Banshun – actually comes from a tradition of Japanese movies known as shomingeki.  Translated, shomingeki – or alternatively shomin-geki – is actually not a Japanese word per se, but a genre created by Western film critics and scholars to describe a type of film that is focused on the everyday lives of working-class people. Thus, it is much more interested in watching how these people act and react in certain situations than it is in having a more complex narrative or an intricate plot full of twists and turns that will surprise or somehow shock the viewer. Instead, the art of the film lies more in character study and in exploring the thoughts, passions, and actions of everyday people in ordinary circumstances and developing those characters as they go through these experiences.

ls3In particular, this film sets out to explore the character of Noriko who is presented to the viewer as an incredibly traditional woman who is simply content living with and taking care of her father, Professor Shukichi Somiya. For Noriko, the idea of marriage, and especially an arranged marriage, is something she doesn’t even want to consider. She even chides one of her father’s friends, Professor Jo Onodera, another widower who has recently remarried, for doing so, saying that she finds his action distasteful, and even calling him “filthy” because of it. Rather than being truly offended by her words, however, the professor takes it in stride, even laughs at it, treating it more like the speaking of a child who really doesn’t know any better than to say such things.

At the same time, Noriko finds herself continually confronted by, and under pressure from, both family and friends – including her beloved father – to get married herself. It is really the kind of scenario that we have seen played out over and over, probably one of the oldest story-lines there is: the aging daughter who, for various reasons, everyone wants to see get married, despite her own wishes, desires, or feelings, and their efforts to break down her resistance for what they consider her own good.

ls6Of course, we also have to consider the cultural context within which all of this is taking place. At the time, there was a terrific tension between the traditions being carried over from the older pre-war Japan, in which arranged marriages were much more the norm, to the newer post-war Japan, where western ideas and influences – in large part due to the occupation of the country by western troops – were beginning to take hold. Note, for instance, the Coca-Cola sign which dominates the screen-shot at left, overpowering and overshadowing Noriko and her friend Hatori as they bicycle through the countryside.

Okay, so that’s at least part of the set-up. But really, I haven’t even begun to get into what sets this film apart from others of its genre and what makes Ozu’s treatment of it such an outstandingly incredible example of film-making at its finest and earns it such a prestigious spot on the list. And I really have as much to say about that as I’ve already said thus far. So I think, instead of going on for another 1200 or so words today, I am, for the first time, going to actually split this entry into two parts, tackling the rest next week.

ls2Instead of a trailer for the film (which I really couldn’t find a good example of), I think I’ll leave you with this compilation of images which will give you a taste of just what Ozu brings to the table in terms of his direction, image selection, camera-work, even the actual story-telling itself, – all those things I have yet to really touch on. I will note that I personally am not a fan of the music the compiler has chosen to accompany these clips, but I still encourage you to take a look, and if you find them as gorgeous as I do, to go ahead and seek out the film and watch it, since the full movie is readily available on YouTube, and obviously I’ll be back with more next week.

 

 

 

Saturday Morning Cartoons #008 – Woody Woodpecker

I’m (really this time) not going to say a lot today about Woody Woodpecker. Personally, I always found him more than a little annoying. On the other hand, I know a lot of people love(d) him.

Here;s about 45 minutes worth of Woody cartoons. I’ll let you judge for yourselves where you fall on the love/hate spectrum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Classic Television Thursday #008 – The Wonderful World Of Disney: An Adventure In Color And Mathmagicland

What you see above is the opening of the format that I remember for Disney’s weekly showcase.

Yeah, we’re once again tripping back to that mythical pre-cable time, a time when The Disney Channel would have been… well, I started to say it would have been but a gleam in Uncle Walt’s eye, but it’s tough to imagine even he could believe that there would come a time when there would be an entire television network that revolved around him and his creations (though, lets face it, very little of the shows on the so-called Disney Channel today are actually based on Mr. Disney’s creations or are even characters that he would recognize) and also, since he passed away in 1966 (actually just days after my second birthday), the memories that even I have of the show are really from a time after his death.

dis1Nonetheless, yeah, that’s the way I remember the show opening. And, I would guess, that’s at least similar to the memory that most of you reading this blog who are old enough to have memories going back that far would remember it, too. Sunday evenings, sometime around dinner time, pretty much the entire family would gather around the television to see what was on the show that week. Sometimes it would be a part of a Disney movie (especially their live-action offerings that so often got overlooked then, just as they often do now) that would be split into multiple parts to fit the program’s hour-long format, sometimes it would be a collection of Disney animated shorts some of which would never have been seen on television before, and possibly wouldn’t have been seen since they’d been originally shown in theaters. Other times it might have been one of the Disney Studio’s nature documentaries, which were always amazingly beautiful. Or maybe it would be a behind the scenes documentary of the type that are often included on DVDs and Blu-rays today which focused on different aspects of the creation of whatever new Disney movie was in the theater or soon would be.

Really, it didn’t matter, because not only were there very few other options for viewing at that time, but it always seemed like no matter what the show was, you could count on it to at least be entertaining. At least, that’s the way it seemed back then.

However if we come in there, with the Wonderful World of Disney from my childhood, we’re really coming in about half way through the story.

The presence of a weekly Disney TV show actually began in 1954 with a show called Disneyland.

As you can see from the above show opening, it utilized a format that highlighted each of the four different “lands” which made up the different areas of the theme park. As a matter of fact, the television show actually pre-dated the opening of the park (in July 1955) by more than a year and was used to at least partially fund its construction and, of course, to draw people into the park once it did open. Thus, one week we might have a story of the old west, which would be coming to the viewer from Frontierland, while another week might see a collection of animated shorts coming from Fantasyland.

Just as an aside, it was this version of the show which famously gave us Fess Parker and his coon-skin cap as Davy Crockett, though what may come as a shock, considering the popularity of the protrayal on the one-time ubiquity of the “Ballad of Davy Crockett” theme song, is that there were only three episodes which featured the character during that 1955 run, which were followed by two more the next year. Yep, just fove episodes all together.

The show began on ABC, and remained there, though the name was eventually changed to Walt Disney Presents until 1961, when it moved to NBC. The reason for the move was simple: NBC, at that time, had the ability to broadcast in color, which ABC did not, and Disney wanted to take advantage of that.

dis2Thus came the second retitling, as the show became Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, the name it would retain until 1969 when it finally morphed into it’s most famous form, The Wonderful World of Disney, which it would retain until 1979 when it was retitled Disney’s Wonderful World. That was the name it would retain until 1981, when declining ratings finally compelled NBC to cancel the series.

This was not the end, however, as CBS then picked up the show for a two-year Saturday night run under the simple moniker Walt Disney. This iteration lasted until 1983, when then-company CEO E. Cardon Walker decided to cancel the show, not wanting it to compete with the just-beginning cable network known as The Disney Channel.

That’s right, folks. remember that never-in-Uncle-Walt’s-dreams network that I mentioned earlier? Yep, it had not only finally happened, but it also took away the main broadcast outlet for millions of Americans who either didn’t have cable (which, yes, at that point was not only a possibility, but a likelihood) or didn’t want to pay extra for the channel.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAAfter that point, there were various revivals and formats for and attempts at Disney programming on the networks over the years, the first being a two-hour block on ABC entitled The Disney Sunday Movie. There were various iterations after that, most of them utilizing the Wonderful World of Disney title or some variation of it.

All of which brings us to today’s featured episode, for which I’ve chosen the first of the NBC color episodes, “An Adventure in Color”. Though, as noted above, this episode originally appeared with the series entitled Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, this YouTube embed appears to be from a rebroadcast during the Wonderful World of Disney era. Of course, it really doesn’t matter what you call it, the show is a definitely entertaining look at how color is used in and the effect that it has on the animation process.

And also, just for the record, it also features the first appearance of Professor Ludwig von Drake, one of Donald Duck’s uncles, who also just happened to be the first Disney animated  character created specifically for television.

So whether you are old enough to reminisce about the Disney Sunday night programming with me, or this is entirely new to you, I hope you’ll enjoy this little bit of Disney magic.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Time To Brew Up Some Damn Good Coffee And Grab Some Pie – Twin Peaks Is Coming Back!

I first saw this as a rumor a couple of days ago, but was waiting for official confirmation before running with it. Well, that confirmation has come pretty quickly. Yes, it’s true: David Lynch and Mark Frost‘s incredible television series Twin Peaks will be returning as a nine-episode mini-series on Showtime in 2016. This article on Tor.com covers the way the reveal was made.

As someone who watched the original series as it was broadcast on ABC I remember very well the feeling of having discovered something intriguing and surprising, especially for network television at the time. And I remember that feeling that the show really lost its way after the reveal of the identity of the initial killer.

That’s one reason I really like the idea of this being a limited series. Lynch and Frost have obviously had plenty of time to develop the ideas and plot for the story that they want to tell, while the small number of episodes will hopefully force them to stay focused on telling that story without too much wandering from and stretching out of that story. Also, with the show airing on Showtime, they won’t be limited by “network standards” this time around.

Here’s the official announcement promo:

Yeah, 2016 is a ways off, but that just means we all have plenty of time for a full re-watch of the original series, which I personally intend to begin asap.