Alfonso Cuarón has made some really great movies, a few masterpieces, and at least one sex romp that may be a satire of an HIV awareness campaign for encouraging monogamy. Guess which one the Criterion Collection makes us watch this week? It’s the sex romp one. Ultimately the target seems more than a little misguided, but the movie’s still pretty good.
The Japanese horror films from the 60s that the Collection has served us have been nothing if not interesting. Stylistically, though, Nobuo Nakagawa’s Jigoku (1960) blows everything else out of the water. Certainly Kwaidan is a great film, but Jigoku blows it out of the water with an acid trip through Buddhist hell. Unfortunately, the rest of the film serves to just get us to hell as quickly as possible, so what we end up with is a sort of negative Universalism, where no one is good enough to escape the Bad Place, so theologically and philosophically the film leaves a lot to be desired. But it’s still a trip.
This week we spend too much time talking about Franco to lay a floor for discussing The Spirit of the Beehive as a political film. Of course, even without that context it’s a masterpiece of a movie, visually stunning and stylistically perfect. Also it has Frankenstein.
Over a year ago we watched Divorce Italian Style and decided that there was ample evidence that film was an attack on Fellini, instead of the attack on Sicilian culture Germi maybe thought it was. This week it’s harder to ignore that Germi is decidedly punching down as he heaps a national issue onto a certain region. Still it’s a funny movie, so there’s that.
We last heard from Noah Baumbach as the cowriter of Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. One of our many guests on that 300th episode, Ben Jones-White, insisted that when we got around to doing Baumbach’s own feature debut he should join us, and nearly a year later we make good on that offer. Kicking and Screaming shares a lot of DNA with movies we love in and out of the Collection. It’s also the story of people a lot like I was in college. I hate them.
Our guest Ben also works with WikiTongues, an organization dedicated to documenting and saving languages all over the world. If you have the resources please support their work.
Near the top of this week’s episode Adam once again goes on a short rant about the Criterion Collection’s naming conventions as if there is a logic to any of it. There isn’t.
With slight distance I think the boys would be more apt to agree that all of the moral tales of are critiques of various aspects of what we would now call toxic masculinity. In it, though, even with this last episode, we get bogged down wondering if that reading is more our wish than Rohmer’s design. But finally finishing the series at least provides us with a floor to talk about them better individually.
This outing I think Eric Rohmer may have been trying to make a parody of Lolita by introducing a woman with a predilection for underaged men who convinces her male friend to try to seduce a couple underaged young women, but like as a goof. He gets a little too involved.
I like to believe we’ve reached the point in Six Moral Tales where it becomes clear that the Rohmer himself is condemning the behavior of the men in his movies, considering the men in this week’s film are nearly completely irredeemable. But in an interview accompanying the film Rohmer says that he understands the audience not liking the men, but then just laughs and moves on. Does he also hate this behavior? Or does he think this is normal manhood? Are those two mutually exclusive anyway?
In the third Moral Tale we finally meet a fully rounded female character, so round in fact that she gets a name in the title! We also get to finally deal with moral philosophy that while we don’t agree with at least gives us something to talk about in the form of Counter-Reformation Catholicism’s mirror of Calvinism and a discussion of game theory-based Christian belief. Also both of these coming up suggests that mid-century France was significantly more obsessed with certain 17th century theologians and mathematicians than Pat and I find believable, but they may reflect Eric Rohmer a bit more, and that itself makes this movie more interesting. In any case, this one is nothing like “watching paint dry”.
In our second Moral Tale we find another jerk being mean to another woman, but this one has a bit more substance perhaps. It still doesn’t really work for us, but hey whatever. The Criterion releases for each Moral Tale just full of material and Suzanne’s Career also brings us an opportunity to watch and discuss Nadja in Paris (1964), a short clearly meant to encourage American high schoolers to study abroad. Star Nadja Tesich is a delight, and the film is the first collaboration between Rohmer and cinematographer Néstor Almendros who will bring a certain watchability to the rest of the Moral Tales.
We kick off a boxset of Eric Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales with one starring Barbet Schroeder (who produces the entire series) as a jerk who mistreats a woman while his heart belongs to another. This is largely the basic plot of each of the Moral Tales, and if you find that statement reductive or dismissive then boydog are you not going to like any episode in this series. Still some of them connected better with Pat and I than others. But Bakery Girls wasn’t one of them.
Powell and Pressburger make some of the best English-language films we’ve seen. But their wartime propaganda films are among the most, lets say, controversial we’ve discussed. Was Colonel Blimp a good movie? Maybe. Did it have among the worst morals we’ve seen in any film in the Collection? Almost certainly. But A Canterbury Tale combines the terribleness of The Archers’ wartime morality with a movie that is just not that good plot-wise. To the point where Adam argues that maybe the simplicity and idiocy of the plot is hint that the moral of the film is simplistic and idiotic and Powell and Pressburger know it. Here’s hoping.
I can’t, and will not try to, speak to the nature of the Gorilla Foundation’s current model, but the one recorded in Barbet Schroeder’s 1978 documentary on Penny Patterson’s attempts to teach Koko a modified version of American Sign Language appear to lack a certain rigor that Pat and I question. Pat, having been an anthropology undergrad, has seen and critiqued the film before. While Schroeder damningly states that Koko may become the world’s first White American Protestant Gorilla, Dr. Patterson may have just ruined a perfectly good monkey. Schroeder mostly lets the issue lay bare and allows the viewer to decide the experiments merit and achievements. I say mostly because his talk with San Francisco Zoo Director Saul Kitchener makes that zoologist with a primate specialty look like a mean man who wants to take his ape back from the loving psychologist (who wants to give it hamburgers). Along the way we talk about racism and classism, To Kill a Mockingbird and Planet of the Apes, because this wouldn’t be Lost in Criterion if we didn’t.
We spend a lot of time this week talking about Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love, and on the one hand I feel a bit bad in seeing one Chinese language film and talking about it a lot in comparison to one of the only other Chinese language films the Collection has given us, but on the other Edward Yang’s Yi Yi came out the same year and is Love’s equal in nearly every way and Love is a masterpiece. They are, rightfully, listed as two of the top (often two of the top three) films of the 21st century, and I think objectively they are at the top of the best films outside that century as well. Yi Yi is just amazing (with the possible exception of one artisitc choice I just don’t like, but I don’t know if it’s objectively bad).
You all don’t know this, but this is our first recorded episode in about six weeks and I’m so glad we have Equinox to take that blow. Equinox is two films, the first made by a bunch of kids who would grow up to be the best visual effects artists in American film, the second sold to Jack Harris with additional footage shot by Jack Woods. It’s a ridiculously bad film in either cut, but one with astonishingly good visual effects.
When I first saw that our agenda with the Collection was bringing us another film about a teenage girl’s sexual discovery I was…nervous. We talk about those nerves quite a bit this week, but Molly Haskell’s essay included with the release goes a long way to qualm those fears and explain why they are, for once, perhaps unfounded. Maurice Pialat’s A nos amours (1983) could have easily been something it wasn’t, and may even have been equally praised if it were. Instead we get something Cassavetes-esque that respects its main character. Though there’s probably still too much nudity given her age.
Slacker was one of our favorite films we’ve done for Lost in Criterion, but Richard Linklater’s follow-up Dazed and Confused’s marketing as a stoner comedy meant we know a lot of people who love the movie whose opinions we find suspect. Though, to be fair, a lot of people we know whose opinions should be trusted also like the movie. Anyway, we have a sprawling conversation on the dangers of nostalgia and whether or not Linklater agrees with the danger, because Pat doesn’t think he does and I can’t see how he doesn’t.
After our run of later period, more biographical Louis Malle films a few weeks ago we swing back with his first feature length, which is a different sort of master work than Au Revoir les Enfants but still sticks with me. Elevator to the Gallows, or Lift to the Scaffold as the British (and Pat) demand to call it, is a noir murder with a bit of Bunuelian stream of consciousness thrown in and a level of suspense fit for Hitchcock if not Clouzot. And all that name-dropping aside, it’s also just a really good film.
Barbara Kopple’s Harlan County, USA provides us with a lot of talking points about Pat’s family history (and Appalachian geography’s effects on politics), the Anthropology version of the observer effect (and when keeping your subjects alive means breaking cardinal documentary rules), and what exactly constitutes a living wage (when income well above the today’s Federal minimum isn’t even enough for a guy living in a trailer on the side of a holler).
It’s uh…it’s a very good documentary.
Marco Bellocchio’s 1965 film is open to interpretation, so this week we spend the episode suggesting, then dismantling, various interpretive theories. The story of a wealthy family with physical and mental disorders, and the one son who decided to kill them all, Fists in the Pocket is a bit of a mess and a bit innovative and mostly reminds us of a lot of better films.