The Flowers of St. Francis

Pat and I both come from protestant Christian backgrounds in the Midwest US, though certainly different expressions of even that niche, and more certainly we've landed in very different spots (to where we came from and one another) later in life. Still our divergent ideologies are ever more deeply rooted in humanism, and the Christian-themed films we've watched while Lost in Criterion that we've most loved are those with a humanist touch: Ordet, Winter Light, The Last Temptation of Christ.

Listen to any of those episodes and you'll find that I try to embrace a rather humanist interpretation of Jesus and the Gospels, one focused on the realities of the poor and oppressed in the world today. That is to say, I consider Jesus Christ to be an early humanist hero. But even setting aside Jesus himself, historical expressions of humanism are deeply tied to Christianity and we discuss the life of one of the earlier seeds of that this week with Roberto Rossellini's The Flowers of St. Francis from 1950. Along the way we talk about some of the problems with Francis, or at least his portrayal by Rossellini, and the larger Church, and for some reason discuss Pat's hatred of medieval paintings.

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Unfaithfully Yours

Preston Sturges's most intellectual film, Sullivan's Travels, was an argument that non-intellectual films are ok. People love them! Not everything needs a deeper point! Still, as we mentioned last week with Lubitsch's Heaven Can Wait, Criterion has a tendency to serve us intellectual films, and that makes talking about a movie that doesn't want to say anything an ever unique experience for us.

Of course 1948's Unfaithfully Yours is still a very smart film. It's pitch-perfectly crafted and intensely funny even while maintaining a certain level of suspense. 

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Heaven Can Wait

It's been over two years since we've heard from Ernst Lubistch, despite his being one of the most influential directors in Hollywood. Back then we had the pre-Code Trouble in Paradise and its ridiculously risque writing, but 1942's Heaven Can Wait isn't quite so overtly sexual, in fact despite the plot stemming from the main character's insistence to Satan himself that he is an evil philanderer, we never really see him even approaching cheating on his wife.

It's almost relaxing to have a mid-century Hollywood comedy after a long, long run of films that want to say something, but maybe we're wrong about Lubitsch and Heaven Can Wait. What if this really is a political film? What if we can read a political message into anything?

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The Phantom of Liberty

With The Phantom of Liberty (1974) we have now watched Luis Bunuel's final three films, and there's a very good chance that is the not so distant future I'll find it hard to say which memorable scene belongs to which movie. Phantom is no Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie -- nothing could be -- but it still has some brilliance in it, though it's buried a bit more under some not so great ideas. We've seen other directs throw vignettes at the wall and hope they stick, and thankfully Phantom is more Slacker than Schizopolis, though I'd probably rather watch either of those over doing this again.

Hoop Dreams

We finish up an array of decidedly different documentaries this week with Steve James, Frederick Marx, and Peter Gilbert's Hoop Dreams, the story of Arthur Agee and William Gates, two young men from Chicago with athletic ambitions. Like Burden of Dreams -- though for vastly different reasons -- what was meant to be a short shoot ballooned to four years, and Hoop Dreams arrived as one of the best sports documentaries in history, as well as a lasting indictment on racism and classism in America.

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F for Fake

Before we started our journey of Lost in Criterion I owned two Criterion films: The Third Man and F for Fake. They also happen to be the two movies I most enjoy sharing with other people. I got to make my dear friend Pat watch The Third Man just over four years ago, and now I finally force him to watch F for Fake.
Directed, or perhaps curated, by Orson Welles with footage also directed by François Reichenbach, Oja Kodar, and Gary Graver, F for Fake is a sort of film essay about perceived expertise and fakery. It's a lesson we continue to need.

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Burden of Dreams

In a way Burden of Dreams reminds me of Black Narcissus, or at least Werner Herzog's calling the Amazon "obscene" as a balance against his star Klaus Kinski's insistence that it is "erotic" reminds me of the Archers' argument that India is too weird for westerners to manage living in. Director Les Blank, to his credit, is more sympathetic to the native peoples, even as his film focuses on Herzog's seemingly doomed production of Fitzcarraldo.

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Ashes and Diamonds

We finish up the final chapter of Andrzej Wajda's Three War Films with a film that takes place in the aftermath of armistice. Well, armistice for some. Ashes and Diamonds is a brilliant piece of cinema the contemplates where a country can go after national trauma tears its core. It's also a film that exists in a suddenly more culturally open Poland and it wears its western influences on its sleeve.

A Generation

We start a trip through the early work -- the War Films -- of Polish director Andrzej Wajda this week. We start with his first film, and indeed the first film for many of the on and off screen talent involved: A Generation from 1955. This film, made before the Soviet "thaw" hit Poland, cautiously tells the story of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in a way that hopefully won't make too many Poles angry, though mostly not making the Soviets angry. Wadja, to his credit, hoped the film would make people more communist than the Soviets ever wanted to be. It did not.

An editor's note: we've settled on a system where our episode numbers match to the film's Criterion Spine Number, but with boxsets that contain films that do not have their own number that always becomes iffy. As such we're going through the films chronologically and adjusting accordingly.

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Jules and Jim

We return to Francois Truffaut this week, who we haven't seen since we finished the Adventures of Antoine Doinel. In fact this is our first Truffaut film in which Doinel is not a character. Jules and Jim, instead, is a period piece about a trio of friend and lovers whose situation becomes untenable. How Truffaut, and author Henri-Pierre Roche, choose to resolve the untenability is the sticking point of the film for us, particularly because Roche's original novel is "semi-autobiographical" and the ending is one aspect that earns that"semi".

The Sword of Doom

Donovan Hill joins us as our resident Samurai film buff, and that's always fun. If you like hearing Donovan rant, and I know I do, he joins us for non-Samurai films over on the Patreon bonus episodes more often and it's always a treat.

We're talking Kihachi Okamoto's The Sword of Doom from 1966 and boy is it nihilistic. That's something Donovan knows a bit about as well. Good times! But for serious, this is good conversation. It's also long. Clocking in as one of the longest episodes Lost in Criterion has had because of the enlightening exploration of Japanese cultural history that Donovan and Pat provide.

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Young Törless

As evident in our journey through Criterion, Volker Schlöndorff makes interestingly complicated films that press viewers to think about human behavior and how we treat one another. Also ones in which a good chunk of humans, particularly men in the ethnic majority, are sociopathic. These themes, of course, are not uncommon in German cinema of the post-WW2 era.

1966's Young Törless is another variation on that melody, this time emphasizing the ease with which we go along with the oppressive behavior of others in order to fit in. The narrative is not without its own problems, but Schlöndorff manages to remind us how easy it is to help the oppressor, and to slip away convinced you did nothing wrong. It's a lesson much of humanity, again particularly men in the ethnic majority, still needs to learn.

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L'Eclisse

A little over three years ago Lost in Criterion watched the first film in a trilogy of sorts by Michelangelo Antonioni. We were not impressed with L'Avventura, but could it be that by the the last film of the trilogy we'd could get into a Antonioni film? Marginally!

1962's L'Eclisse isn't quite as tedious as I remember L'Avventura being, though I think I'm understanding Antonioni's perspective a bit better now. If there's one thing long time listeners may have noticed, it's that the longer we spend in the Criterion Collection the less Lost we feel -- but that doesn't mean we can't still feel totally Lost at times. Anyway, there's still the fact that I watched L'Eclisse twice and when I sat down to edit this week's episode I couldn't remember a thing about it. Though to be fair to myself I've also watched Groundhog Day 12 times in the intervening 3 weeks, so my brain is a bit fried.

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My Own Private Idaho

Gus Van Sant originally started writing the film that would become My Own Private Idaho in the 70s, and wrote the other two films that would become My Own Private Idaho sometime before the film came out in 1991. Somehow despite the fact that it is very clear which portions of the final film come from the Shakespeare modernization script the film works cohesively -- just with wild changes in tone.

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The River

Previously on Lost in Criterion:
When Jean Renoir is thinks the world is about to burn we love him. When he's less political, we do not.

On this week's episode:
The River finds Renoir making his first color film which is also the first color Technicolor made in India. Made in 1951, just after India's independence, in the Bengal region, and based on the memoirs of Rumer Godden (who also wrote Black Narcissus). While the Archers ultimately seemed to be arguing that India is just too weird for Brits, The River has a little more respect for the population it's movie is ostensibly about. A very little more.

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Tout va Bien

Tout va Bien (roughly translated: "This is fine"), is the 1972 culmination of Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin's Dziga Vertov Group, a production group focusing on Marxist/Maoist revolution mostly through documentary, though Tout va Bien is a narrative film. It is, however, paired with the didactic documentary Letter to Jane, a postscript to Tout va Bien the dissects the famous Hanoi photo of Jane Fonda, star of the film who in the months following the release of Tout va Bien became an international talking-point. Ultimately, the film stands to ask the question "What is the role of the woke upperclass in the revolution?" and how that intrinsic to finding the right answers is asking the right questions.

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Night and the City

Jules Dassin moved to Europe in 1950 to avoid the blacklist, and his first stop was London -- The City -- where he made Night and the City seemingly quite hastily -- he claims he never even read the script. Fortunately, Dassin could hit all the notes of noir in his sleep. Unfortunately, it seems like he did.

Anyway, five years ago this week we put out our very first episode which introduced us to Jean Renoir and set us on our rollercoaster of a ride. Lost in Criterion as a name was just something that fell into place back then, but five years on we're still hacking our way through an endless jungle. Sometimes we even understand what we're doing. To those of you who have been here the whole time, have come along relatively recently, or, heck, left long ago, thanks for giving us frankly surprisingly high download numbers that convinced us this was a thing worth doing. Now we're stuck doing it forever! Yay!

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Thieves' Highway

After making Thieves Highway in 1949 Jules Dassin was blacklisted for being a communist. The movie is about working class men -- Army vets at that -- trying to use capitalism to pull one over on a small-time robber baron, and when that fails there's some violence. It's not quite Marx, but it's not quite not Marx.

Anyway, Dassin would flee to Europe and continue working, first with Night and the City which we'll talk about next week, and later with Rififi, his masterpiece.

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