Tunes of Glory

I knew nothing about Tunes of Glory before watching it except that Ronald Neame directed it and Alec Guinness stars as a Scotsman.

Since all the Neame films we've seen so far have been delightfully fun and Alec Guinness heavily made up is good for a laugh or a cringe, I'll be honest I was expecting this 1960 film to be a bit of a lark. It is not. It is so not. And it is wonderful.

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Pickup on South Street

Sam Fuller is a pulpy director, but that's not a problem when it's fun. The issue with Pickup on South Street isn't even necessarily that it isn't fun, I suppose. The problem is that his 1953 "spy" film is just poorly written with character motivation poorly defined and the characters themselves not defined much better. Fuller wrote it himself, so I can't let him off the hook here, but it's still a beautifully shot film and he's responsible for that aspect as well.

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Maitresse

The last time we heard from Barbet Schroeder was in his documentary General Idi Amin Dada about a clearly insane man which allowed us to talk about exploitation in documentaries which gets even more interesting when you can't be sure if it's the director or the subject exploiting the other more.

The very next film he worked on may lead to similar concerns of exploitation if it weren't for the concept of informed consent and the fairly clear facts that everything is above board and everyone is on board and a certain board gets used for a purpose I will not quickly forget, but I digress.

Maîtresse (1975) is a traditional boy-meets-girl love story where one part of the couple has to come to terms with something the other does that threatens to undermine their relationship. It's a common enough storyline, though the "something" in this particular instance is that Gerard Depardieu's new girlfriend is a BDSM mistress. Originally Rated X in the US and flat out banned in Britain despite the act that the Brits recognized it as a worthwhile film with some rather graphic content that they just weren't comfortable with.

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Diary of a Country Priest

Going through the Criterion Collection by Spine number often leaves us with some interesting thematic pairs that are just disconnected enough to seem accidental: the earliest that comes to mind is the racist undertones of #32 Oliver Twist and #33 Nanook of the North.

Likewise last week's Ikiru and this week's film both deal with men dying of stomach cancer. They take vastly different paths. Robert Bresson, who we heard from once before, writes and directs Diary of a Country Priest (1951), a fairly heavy film, that may have been better if it were heavier.

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Ikiru

When confronted with mortality, a man decides to change his life. In the West these stories (A Christmas Carol, It's a Wonderful Life) are usually framed around Christmas for the inherent symbolism of the holiday in particular and winter in general.

With Ikiru (1952) Akira Kurosawa makes the best version of this type of story without any over religion, just humanity. It's quite probably his best film, though we've probably said that before.

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Naked Lunch

We start this week's episode with 15 minutes about linguistics, so have fun with that.

Naked Lunch is a "transgressive" and "unfilmable" novel written by William S. Burroughs in 1959. So unfilmable, in fact, that when David Cronenberg decided to make a movie in 1991 it became less of an adaptation of the specific book and more of a meta-adaptation (or, as Pat argues when we finally start talking about the movie, an uber-meta-adaptation) of Burroughs life and creative process. It's messy and uneven.

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La Strada

It's clear that by the time he made 8 1/2 Federico Fellini was self aware enough to not only claim that all his films were autobiographical (as he always had) but to recognize more meaning in that and start to use them as a way of poorly apologizing to his wife Giulietta Masina. Part of this week's conversation focuses on whether or not he'd reached that point when he made La Strada in 1954.

Of course, there's also the fact that when I started to take Fellini at his word that his films are autobiographical is when I really started to have a problem with him.

At least Masina is great.

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Le Cercle Rouge

Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Cercle Rouge (1970) opens with a nonsensical and overwrought (and fabricated) quote from the Buddha. It sets a tone for the entire film. Nothing really makes sense, everyone makes decisions against their barely establiched character and motivations are at best unclear.

But it does let us reflect on all the other gangster films we've watched that we loved or hated! Good times!

Cobra

It's that time of year again! The time where we gather close to loved ones and, at least in the northern hemisphere, try to stay warm through the darkness. Whatever your position on this planet, though, assuming you count time by the Gregorian calendar it's also the time of looking back at what has passed and hoping in what may come.

Or hoping against what you fear may come.

2016 has been...complicated. 2017 isn't going to be much easier. But we can strive to make it better.

We've seen some great films this year that provide a light in the darkness. It may have been Lost in Criterion's most political year yet, and some of our best episodes this year deal with politics, fear, politics of fear, and fear of politics. Oh, and the Holocaust. Let's try not to let that happen again, eh? As like a New Year's Resolution, maybe? But, you know, one we actually keep.

We got existential with Solaris and Bergman's trilogy on religion. We examined the ups and downs of a life (and a career) with Truffaut's Antoine Doinel series. We talked about the nature of documentary and art. We even peered Dickens-like into a possible future.

We finish things off, as we always do, with a seasonally appropriate non-Criterion Collection movie. This year it's Sylvester Stallone's 1986 film Cobra. George P. Cosmatos directs this just awful film -- awful both in product and moral. Donovan Hill and Stephen Goldmeier, two long time guests and practicing defense attorneys, join us for a film that is like Dirty Harry on speed, the story of a cop who is do dedicated to "justice" that he's willing to punch out a reporter who suggests that criminals may have civil rights. Oh and that cop murders a lot of people. Ostensibly he is the good guy here. There are no good guys here. C'est la vie.

For those of you who haven't seen it, Pat was kind enough to edit all the good bits of Cobra into this one 30 mb gif which I can't post here because SquareSpace limits us to files under 20 mb, but if you have the data follow this link!

This has been a long post but if you're still reading, we are very happy to announce our new Patreon this week: https://www.patreon.com/lostincriterion. If just 1/10 of you regular listeners pitched in a dollar a year we'd make enough for our costs, but it's still just enough to strain us financially because we are poor. But we've got some decent rewards for those who'd like to help! (We hope, at least. And right now hope is all many of us have.) Please click through and check it out!

So Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! Happy Hanukkah! Heri za Kwanzaa! Joyous Solstice! Joyeux Candlenights! Our love and thoughts and blessings to you on whatever you may or may not be celebrating. We're all in this together. 

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Tokyo Story

Yasujiro Ozu's 1953 drama Tokyo Story is principally about the slow march toward the future. Things change, and the sooner you accept that, the better. That's not to say that Ozu doesn't think one should hold on to the past, but just don't be controlled by it.

But theme is only the half of it with this incredibly realistic portrait of a multi-generational family. Well, at least more realistic feeling than that last portrait of a Japanese family we watched.

The Rules of the Game

Jean Renoir made one of the greatest anti-war movies ever with 1937's The Grand Illusion, a war film that is actually an anti-war film designed to showcase that all men are truly brothers, that everyone's essentially the same no matter that country they may hail from. Renoir had seen the writing on the wall and new that war was coming. Having lived through World War I, Renoir was desperate to avoid another one.

War came.

The Rules of the Game (1939) is a second, and much more subtle attempt. After the Munich Agreement found the European powers opting for "peace for our time" and a normalization and appeasement of Hitler's power and land grabs, Renoir knew he had to do more, so he made the greatest anti-war movie of all time and disguised it as a bedroom/upper class farce.

It still didn't work, but goodness is it a valiant attempt.

We recorded this episode November 12, 2016, less than a week after the US election.

We welcome any pushes against normalization and appeasement.

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The Devil and Daniel Webster

When the first wrong was done to the first Indian, I was there. When the first slaver put out for the Congo, I stood on her deck. Am I not in your books and stories and beliefs, from the first settlements on? Am I not spoken of, still, in every church in New England? ‘Tis true the North claims me for a Southerner and the South for a Northerner, but I am neither. I am merely an honest American like yourself—and of the best descent—for, to tell the truth, Mr. Webster, though I don’t like to boast of it, my name is older in this country than yours.
-- Mr. Scratch, The Devil and Daniel Webster

The Devil and Daniel Webster makes a feint at confronting something deep and true about America's past and then quickly ignores that hurtful truth for a hopeful cry of "a man shall own his own soul" and "Don't let this country go to the devil." The truth is that the US has always been in step with the Devil. Stephen Vincent Benet knew that when he wrote the story, and when he adapted it for William Deterle's 1941 film.

But by the same turn, as evident by Webster's speech to the Jury -- a jury made of the "worst of Americans" though not a Confederate or slaver among them? -- we fight the Devil when we allow freedom to ring.

From Loving to Obergefell we overcome the Devil of our past and make America greater when we tear down bigoted laws.

From Brown to Roe to Lawrence we refuse to let this country go to the Devil when we distribute freedom out from the hands of a privileged few and take steps toward liberty and justice for all.

We recorded this November 5th. Somethings have changed since then. But then they haven't, have they?

As the film acknowledges, the devil's always been in power here.

As the film implores:
Don't be fooled like Jabez Stone.
Don't sell your soul.
Don't let this country go to the Devil.

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Richard III

Laurence Olivier plays a power-hungry outsider with a distinct physical feature and speech patterns whose ascension to power allows him to imprison his political enemies and ultimately leads to war.

There are no parallels.

Just kidding. Olivier based his portrayal of the title character in Richard III (1955) on Hitler, as he'd done when he first played the role in this Shakespearean play on stage in 1944. Surely there are no new lessons to be learnt from this.

Olivier also directs and adapted, and what a job he did at each. A fantastic job. The best job.

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Ingmar Bergman Makes a Movie

In 1963 a fresh-faced Vilgot Sjoman asked Ingmar Bergman if he could watch his process, then Sveriges Television asked Sjoman if they could tag along. Of course Bergman only half said yes. The documentary is mostly true to life, and fascinating in that regard, though it's also a bit fake, with some sequences not exactly showing what they claim and at least one interview wholly reshot after Bergman didn't like the results. Well, not as bad as Nanook.

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The Silence

We finish of the Three Films by Ingmar Bergman boxset next week with a documentary by Vilgot Sjoman, but the three titular films come to an end and a head this episode as we talk The Silence from 1963. While we praised Through a Glass Darkly and Winter Light for being the most straightforward Bergman films we've experienced, the third is a bit more obtuse unless the titular Silence of God is the fact that religion just isn't mentioned anymore. But it takes place at a hotel, so Adam gets to share some hotel stories!

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Winter Light

The Communicants -- the actual translation of the Swedish title for Winter Light -- are what we call people who are taking the Communion, and perhaps the solid statement, calling everyone in this film Communicants, is as much a lesson as anything in the film. Of course the other definition -- someone imparting information -- brings its own interpretations. Winter Light -- the always dim but never dying sun -- well, that's a third meaning to keep on our plate. Bergman's 1962 followup and ideological sequel to Through a Glass Darkly acts as a rebuttal to the finally of that film. But at the same time even as rites and actions are confessed to be metaphysically useless, they're still psychologically important, maybe? As people who have sailed those seas and landed on seperate shores Pat and I have a lot to say this week. It starts with 10 minutes about Communion itself, though, because BERGMAN.

Through a Glass Darkly

1961, and specifically the film Through a Glass Darkly, marked a number of changes for Ingmar Bergman: it's the first time he starts to shoot on the island of Fårö, his first time working with the great cinematographer Sven Nykvist, and, perhaps most strikingly, a brief flirtation with making philosophically straightforward film. This film and the next -- Winter Light which we'll talk about next week as we continue through the boxset Three Films by Ingmar Bergman -- are possibly the most easy to understand of Bergman's whole catalog, among the few where the filmmaker himself is doing most of the work for interpretation. This does not make them less depressing, but it does make it a good starting point for introducing yourself to the films of Ingmar Bergman.

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The Pornographers

Shohei Imamura is the only Japanese director to win the Palme d'Or at Cannes, which is probably more of an indictment against Cannes than the quality of Japanese film. Nonetheless, the award was not for The Pornographers, his first independent film made at his own production company in 1966. Imamura viewed himself as a "cultural anthropologist" and therefore wanted "to make messy films" about real people. This one may be a little too real for Pat and I. But it does give us an opportunity to revisit Ronald Neame's The Horse's Mouth, to which Imamura make a clear reference even though a Google search suggests that we are among the very few people in history to notice.

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The BRD Trilogy: Lola

Lola (1981) brings us to the end of the BRD Trilogy, and is a fitting bookend with The Marriage of Maria Braun in being a much lighter film -- at least compared to Veronika Voss -- that deals more overtly with the political climate of the time. It can be argued that Veronika Voss is a political film, but for Maria Braun and Lola the argument stands on surface observation. Rainer Werner Fassbinder had some interesting political beliefs, and we tackle probably his most controversial stance in this week's episode as well. Find out what he's wrong about by giving us a listen.