We get another great Japanese ghost story and another loose Guy de Maupassant adaptation this week with Kenji Mizoguchi's Ugetsu. Like a lot of films made in the years after World War II in Japan it is decidedly anti-war. That already gives it a lot of points in our book, but it's also brilliant, beautiful, melancholy, and just downright among the greatest films ever made period.
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.
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.
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.
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.
David O. Selznick is an interesting figure in the Criterion cannon, having produced a large number of films from a swath of wonderful directors. With one glaring exception we've barely liked or strongly disliked his other projects. Terminal Station, his 1953 collaboration with Italian neorealist Vittorio De Sica, takes that ambivalence and splits it in two, which is appropriate: we get one movie to love and one to hate.
Selznick so hated what De Sica brought him that he recut the film himself, shaving 25 minutes out and gutting it of it's emotional arc. The resulting film, Indiscretion of an American Wife, is also included on this Criterion release, so we talk both this week.
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You ever experience a thing and your first thought is "This thing has existed for so long, why am I just now hearing about it?"
Lost in Criterion starts a series of films this week from writer/director Jacques Tati that all qualify. Tati's character M. Hulot is the bridge between Buster Keaton and Mr. Bean, and possibly better than both. Well, certainly better than the latter.
Anyway, the first film, Monsieur Hulot's Holiday (1953), finds our hero on vacation in a series of gags and anti-gags. It's near perfect comedy, and I only say "near" because these movies get progressively better so I have to leave room for improvement.
While perhaps an inferior film to the one we covered last week, Henri-Georges Clouzot's earlier piece, The Wages of Fear (1953), only serves to hammer home the fact that he had a better hand for suspense than Hitchcock. The Wages of Fear manages to be one of the most suspenseful films in history without being anything close to a murder mystery or spy thriller or horror film. Take the explosive threat that drives the suspense in the opening scene of Touch of Evil and expand to two hours, keeping it the background terror of a deep character study on the various ways fear takes its toll on man. As Bosley Crowther said in his New York Times review on the movies initial release: "You sit there waiting for the theater to explode."