On this week’s Lost in Criterion I present a nascent Marxist reading of Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket -- if only as a counter to Pat’s sexual deviancy reading -- and come so close as I talk it out but still so far. I realized after the recording that if there is a valid Marxist interpretation of Pickpocket I had it a bit backwards: Michel steals excess value from people who (presumably) produce it, but sits on it, not using it to better society nor even to better himself. He’s the embodiment of the thieving Boss. Anyway, the film serves as a pickpocketing procedural which is fun, and is also “inspired” by Crime and Punishment in such a way that it almost feels like a parody of Dostoevsky. It’s pretty great.
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.
We return to the Yasujiro Ozu well with a double feature, or as Pat corrects me, a one and a half feature. Ozu made the silent black-and-white A Story of Floating Leaves in 1934 then during a break in his production schedule after finishing Good Morning early in 1959 he remade it as Floating Leaves in color and with sound. Fascinating to see a great artist approach the same basic material a quarter-century apart. It reminds me of Loudon Wainwright III's album Recovery in which he rerecorded some of his earliest work.
The same amazing non-linear storytelling that we saw in masterful use last week kind of makes its cinematic debut here, in Alain Resnais' 1959 drama Hiroshima mon Amour. Sure, as we point out, other films had used flashback, but none in quite this way, a much more literary way to be sure (we cite To The Lighthouse, but Slaughterhouse Five is perhaps the literary codifier of the method). In any case, though, Hiroshima mon Amour's technique became THE film narrative for flashback. And we're all lucky for that.
This week's episode is a long one solely for the plethora and variety of material we're tasked with talking about. Stan Brahkage was an experimental filmmaker and a long-time film professor at the University of Colorado, who principally focused on non-narrative film. By Brakhage covers work from six decades of his career. With over four hours of material in 26 pieces ranging from 9 seconds to 74 minutes long, there's a lot to digest: a lot to love and some, well, not to.
After The Cranes are Flying a few weeks ago we may have set our hopes too high for our next foray into Soviet "Thaw" era films about World War 2. It's not that Grigori Chukrai's Ballad of a Soldier isn't good, but that bar was really high. Released in 1959, two years after Cranes, Ballad of a Soldier feels like a throwback, more influenced Eisenstein than, well, anyone other than Eisenstein. And Eisenstein is great! But Ballad's exploration of (rather chaste) love in many forms just doesn't land with us.
Yasujirō Ozu's 1959 comedy Good Morning is about two young brothers who go on a silence strike until their parents agree to buy a television. It's also a pretty great window into suburban life in Japan in the Sixties. That combines to stand in a pretty stark contrast to the other Japanese films we've watched so far. Maybe what we've learned is that Kurosawa would be more interesting to me if there were more fart jokes. Just kidding! Kurosawa is already interesting to me. Though a fart joke in High and Low would have been amazing.
We hit up our last Jean Cocteau film this week to finish off his trilogy of artistic non-statements with the 1959 swan song Testament of Orpheus. Pat and I are so done with Cocteau and his insistence that nothing he does has meaning even while he forces metaphor and symbolism into every nook and cranny of his work. This one features Cocteau himself as protagonist being berated by supernatural beings for asking "Why?" Along the way we discuss Adam's own personal mythology -- it involves slaying dragons under modern-day Columbus -- and the failings of Pat's education regarding the lifespan of Pablo Picasso. Plus Yul Brynner's in this movie? I'm sorry, that should be an exclamation point.
After the great conversations of the last two episodes we're delighted to report that Stephen was interested in staying on for a couple more. He joins us again for Black Orpheus, Marcel Camus' ode to Greek myth and Brazilian culture from 1959.
The film that launched bossa nova into the northern hemisphere -- it's soundtrack sold millions of copies in the US and Europe -- Black Orpheus pulses with the beat of Carnival as escape: from failed love, from poverty, but not, notably, from fate.
This week Pat and Adam talk about Francois Truffaut's intense and wonderful 1959 drama The 400 Blows. Guess if they liked it or not?
Also, Adam completely butcher's Truffaut's name, but makes up for it by mispronouncing it a different way every time he says it. I promise I'm not a complete idiot; I even went to college.