Fanny and Alexander, the theatrical cut

Technically released first, but planned second, the theatrical cut of Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander removes over 2 hours of material that, while perhaps non-essential, helps make the longer cut the better version. Three hours and eight minutes is still pretty h*ckin' long for a theatrical film, though it turns out there was a Swedish theatrical release of the full 312 minute "television cut" as one movie in 1983. I think that's probably a bad idea, too. Consume it as the four television episodes over the course of a few nights and you have a much more manageable and enjoyable experience.

This is part two of our discussion of Fanny and Alexander, following last week's discussion of Fanny and Alexander: the television cut.

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Fanny and Alexander, the television cut.

Contrary to what Adam says toward the beginning of this week's episode, Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander was not first released in a 312 minute cut. The long cut was planned first, but the first release was the shorter 188 minute version in 1982, which we'll talk more about next week. Still this longer version was actually released to theaters in December of 1983 before being chopped into four episodes for Swedish television a bit later.

This is part one of our discussion, one because there's just too much Fanny and Alexander for one episode, an two because its impossible to talk about the shorter cut without talking about the longer, better cut. We'll see you next week for part two, which focuses more on the theatrical cut.

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Eyes Without a Face

It's October so let's watch a classic horror film! (As if this was planned and not just a quirk in the randomness of the way the Criterion Collection presents films to us.)

Georges Franju was asked by producer Jules Borkon to make a British/American style horror film for a French audience, but one that didn't torture animals, have too much blood, or a mad scientist. So he made a film about a mad scientist who experiments on dogs and does a whole face transplant on screen.

Franju did so well emulating foreign horror that Eyes Without a Face was wholly disowned by the French film establishment. It's just that amazing.

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Fat Girl

Fat Girl is an unfortunately named coming of age story film that Catherine Breillat made in 2001 which led me to a greater understanding (though probably still not appreciation) of Liliana Cavani's The Night Porter which we discussed three and a half years ago. We're growing!

The film itself plays with similar, if much less Nazi-exploitative, themes to Cavani's work, speaking to the inherent violence of male-dominated sexual relationships. And it's ending! Oh goodness, the ending.

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Tanner '88

Robert Altman gets political again, but in a very different manner to last week's delightfully weird ranting satire. Instead we have a miniseries set against the 1988 Presidential race that may have been satirical in 1988, but we've gone through the looking glass as of late and instead it's just inside baseball. Which doesn't make it any less funny when it's funny, or poignant when it's poignant -- or exploitive when it's exploitive. Tanner '88, written by Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau, tells the story of a failed campaign in a ripped-from-the-headlines manner involving real political players interacting with Altman's fakes over the course of 11 episodes that are incredibly uneven indvidually, but pretty great as a whole.

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Secret Honor

A clearly disturbed and vile president rants about the conspiracies against him while contemplating suicide, and somehow is so full of pathos that we find ourselves feeling pity instead of anger.

There are...modern parallels? Robert Altman's Secret Honor's exploration of Nixon's psyche is a class of its own, due mostly to Philip Baker Hall's masterful performance. Still it does remind us of certain contemporary pieces, namely the first episode of Comedy Central's The President Show (particularly starting at about the 5 minute mark), and Aimee Mann's brilliantly tragic entry for 30 Days 30 Songs "Can't You Tell?".

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Opening Night

We reach the end of the Five Films by John Cassavetes (though not quite the end of the boxset) with Opening Night from 1977 which, like A Woman Under the Influence, stars Cassavetes' wife Gena Rowlands. Next week we'll discover that we've been pronouncing her name wrong, but don't let that distract you from her brilliant performance here. Sure the resolution of her character's issues could have been better, and we propose a change to the final scene that would have made this movie beyond compare, but it's still pretty doggone amazing.

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The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

Two films for the price of one this week as we watch the original 135 minute version of John Cassavetes' The Killing of a Chinese Bookie from 1976 and then his director's cut which runs 108 minutes from 1978. Of course, since this is Cassavetes, the shorter version isn't just a truncated version but a rather different film in design, in character motivation, and quite a bit of plot. Right from the start we see scenes not in the longer original then a restructuring of the narrative's chronology. The pair form a fascinating look into the psyche of an extraordinary director, only compounded by the suggestion that the story is allegorically autobiographical.

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A Woman Under the Influence

There are ways in which A Woman Under the Influence is the most "Hollywood" of the John Cassavetes films we've seen so far. It's got structure! But in other very deep ways it is absolutely the furthest from anything Hollywood would ever put out --  "No one wants to see a crazy, middle-aged dame." It's quite possibly the most emotionally intense film we've ever seen.

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Shadows

We kick off a box set of Five Films by John Cassavetes this week with his first feature Shadows (1959). It was a bit of a rough start for the prolific indie auteur who recut the film after a disastrous premiere before leaving the original cut in a subway car. What remains is a fascinatingly realistic look at New Yorkers in the late 50's.

The Battle of Algiers

In 2003 the US Department of Defense held a screening of Gillo Pontocorvo's 1966 film The Battle of Algiers at the Pentagon. A flyer for the screening read:

How to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas. Children shoot soldiers at point-blank range. Women plant bombs in cafes. Soon the entire Arab population builds to a mad fervor. Sound familiar? The French have a plan. It succeeds tactically, but fails strategically. To understand why, come to a rare showing of this film.

Subsequent US history tells us that the showing did not achieve its objectives.

Videodrome

There's an early iTunes review of Lost in Criterion that states that Pat says "weird" a distractingly large number of times for lack of a better way to describe things. This week the two of use do the same thing but with the word "orifice". If there is any director who comes to mind with the word "orifice" it's definitely David Cronenberg, and in 1983 he was at his most-orifice-y with Videodrome, a film that accurately predicted the future of James Woods. Also, don't click that link to James Woods twitter because current James Woods is a nightmare unlike Cronenberg could ever imagine.

Slacker

Richard Linklater's Slacker kicked off the American indie scene of the 90's for better or worse (Kevin Smith cites the film as inspiration for making Clerks). Criterion dates the release as 1991 which is when it won at Sundance, though it floated around for at least a year before that, premiering in Austin in June of 1990 and having principally been shot in 1989. There's a lot here that under other circumstances I'd hate, mainly all the people spouting bad philosophy less toward other characters and more toward the camera, but you know what? It works here. It works beautifully.

I Vitelloni

The Criterion website describes Federico Fellini's I Vitelloni as "semiautobiographical" which is a valid description of any Fellini film. The man couldn't make a movie that wasn't ultimately about himself. I suppose upon its release in 1953, with only two other films under his belt (Variety Lights and The White Sheik), it is perhaps the most autobiographical Fellini has been thus far, but both earlier films clearly have elements of Fellini's life woven in. As far as I Vitelloni goes, it's pretty clear who Fellini thinks his author-insert is, but it's also pretty clear which who it actually is.

Port of Shadows

Marcel Carne's Port of Shadows, released in 1938, is the one of the earliest films to have the term "film noir" applied to it. It also stars our favorite face of French Poetic Realism Jean Gabin (who shows up often enough that we should probably make him his own tag). This is our second outing with Carne after his 1945 epic Children of Paradise. There is significantly less mime in this one.

Elena and Her Men

So producer Louis Wipf says to Jean Renoir, "Hey, Jean Renoir, you wanna make a movie with Ingrid Bergman?"

And Jean Renoir says, "Boy do I!"

Then he sat around for a bit and tried out a few ideas that either he or Wipf or Bergman didn't really like before settling on a fictionalized version of the life of General Georges Boulanger, though not fictionalized enough that Bergman was playing the general.

Anyway, Elena and Her Men (1956) brings the Stage and Spectacle boxset to a close with little stage but a whole lot of spectacle, and is our favorite of the three.

French Cancan

We continue the Stage and Spectacle boxset with 1954's French Cancan wherein Jean Renoir explores the founding of the Moulin Rouge with about as much fidelity to history as Baz Luhrmann. But more interesting than the pseudo-history is the visual panache, with frequent frame references to the works of Renoir's father and his fellow impressionists. Visually stunning to say the least. And perhaps the most.

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The Golden Coach

We've seen three Renoir films so far, and two of them -- The Grand Illusion and The Rules of the Game -- are among my absolute favorite films that the Collection has offered us, and the last -- his take on The Lower Depths -- is pretty dang good in its own right.

Now we jump 13 years into his future and find him working in color and out from under the pressures of an impending war (and a bit of an exile to Hollywood) for a trilogy of films dancing around themes of theater and female-empowerment. Well, kind of.

First off from Stage and Spectacle: Three Films by Jean Renoir is 1953's The Golden Coach and boy is it a change from the Renoir we've grown accustomed to.

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