Dusan Makavejev for Beginners

How to describe this blast of creative anarchy from 1965? Fascinating and engaging on so many levels, Man is Not a Bird (aka Covek nije tica, 1965) could be seen as a political parable or a social satire or an offbeat romantic drama or an attempt to merge documentary and fiction in some new form of Eastern European neorealism. Continue reading

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Melancholy in Salt Lake City

There was a time during the late seventies/early eighties when John Heard seemed destined to become a major leading man on the level of William Hurt or Jeff Bridges or some other Oscar-winning actor of his generation. He was impressive in his big screen debut opposite Lindsay Crouse in Between the Lines (1977), an indie comedy-romance about the staff of an underground newspaper in Boston, and even better in such disparate roles as Jack Kerouac in Heart Beat (1980), a self-destructive Viet Nam vet in Cutter’s Way (1981) and Nastassja Kinski’s love interest in Cat People (1982). His performance in Cutter’s Way alone deserved an Oscar nomination but Heard never received any recognition from the Academy during his lifetime. He didn’t become a star either but he kept busy as one of the most in-demand character actors in film and television. Perhaps personal problems kept him from becoming an A-list actor but it was more likely the fact that he did some of his best work in movies few people saw such as Joan Micklin Silver’s Chilly Scenes of Winter (1979), which still stands as my favorite John Heard performance. But there was a major obstacle to overcome in raising awareness of Chilly Scenes of WinterContinue reading

Elio Petri’s Portrait of the Artist as Mental Patient

Italian director Elio Petri is probably best known for Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970), which won the Oscar for Best Screenplay (by Petri and Ugo Pirro) in 1972. Yet, most of his other work, with the possible exception of the cult sci-fi satire The 10th Victim (1965), remains overlooked or forgotten when film historians write about the great Italian directors of the sixties and seventies. And 1968’s A Quiet Place in the Country (Un Tranquillo Posto di Campagna) is easily one of his most intriguing and visually compelling films.

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The Unforeseen Journey from Jean-Luc Godard’s 1 AM to D.A. Pennebaker’s 1 PM

With more than 100 feature films, shorts, video and TV work to his credit, Jean-Luc Godard is surely the most audacious, groundbreaking and prolific filmmaker from his generation. Even longtime admirers and film historians have probably not seen all of his work and some of it like the political cinema he made with Jean-Pierre Gorin under the collaborative name Groupe Dziga Vertov is tough going for even the most ardent Godard completist. Weekend (1967) is generally acknowledged as the last film Godard made before heading in a more experimental, decidedly non-commercial direction which roughly stretched from 1969 until 1980 when he reemerged from the wilderness with the unexpected art house success, Sauve qui peut (Every Man for Himself). But most of the work he made during that eleven year period prior to 1980 championed social and political change through ideological scenarios and leftist diatribes that were overly cerebral and static compared to earlier career milestones like Breathless (1960), Contempt (1963) and Pierrot le Fou (1965).

Yves Montand (center in raincoat) and Jane Fonda (lower right) star in Jean-Luc Godard’s Tout Va Bien (1972).

Of the films he made during the Groupe Dziga Vertov period, only Tout Va Bien (1972), which starred Jane Fonda and Yves Montand, attracted mainstream critical attention but most of the reviews at the time were indifferent or hostile to this Marxist, Bertolt Brecht-inflluenced polemic about a workers’ strike at a sausage factory. Much more interesting to me was the film he attempted to make in 1969, tentatively titled 1 AM (or One American Movie). A collaboration with cinema-verite pioneers D. A. Pennabaker and Richard Leacock, the project was abandoned after Godard lost interest during the editing phase but Pennebaker ended up completing his own version of the existing footage which he titled 1 PM (or One Parallel Movie). This is a brief history of the film’s journey from concept to screen.  Continue reading

High Rise Invaders

Long before Michael Haneke arrived on the scene with his original 1997 version of Funny Games (1997), a highly influential and deeply disturbing home invasion thriller, there were many precursors in this unsettling genre that date all the way back to 1939 with Blind Alley and its 1948 remake The Dark Past, in which a psychopathic killer and his gang crash a private gathering at the home of a psychologist. There have been varying tonal approaches to the subject over the years; some overwrought and pretentious like 1964’s Lady in a Cage, some meticulously detailed and artfully depicted as in the Oscar-nominated In Cold Blood (1967) and some purely exploitive and sadistic such as The Strangers (2008). But one of the lesser known but most intriguingly offbeat entries is The Penthouse (1967), the directorial feature debut of British director Peter Collinson.  Continue reading

Eco Warriors of the Tama Hills

The wondrous animated films of Hayao Miyazaki were unknown to most American moviegoers until the 1999 U.S. release of Princess Mononoke, which was released in Japan in 1997. Since then Miyazaki has become a household name thanks to the distribution of his Studio Ghibi films by Walt Disney in English-language versions and industry recognition from the Academy Awards which gave Miyazaki an honorary award in 2015. Miyazaki’s features Spirited Away (2001), Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) and The Wind Rises (2014) have all received Oscar nominations for Best Animated Film with Spirited Away capturing the award in 2003. But not all Studio Ghibli films are directed by Miyazaki and one of the least known and most fascinating is Pom Poko (1994). Although Miyazaki served as executive producer on the film, it is directed by Isao Takahata and is highly recommended for those hungering for family-friendly anime that is off the beaten path.  Continue reading

Frank Capra’s Big Top Adventure

One of the amazing circus stunts featured in Frank Capra’s Rain or Shine (1930), based on the Broadway play.

1934 was the year that Frank Capra became a household name in America with his box-office and Oscar-winning smash hit, It Happened One Night. In fact, he would direct his most famous and financially successful films in the thirties with such career highpoints as Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), You Can’t Take It With You (1938) and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). But his filmography before 1934 is more familiar to film buffs – not the average moviegoer. Some of these films are less predictable, more adventurous and entertainingly quirky than his more famous work such as Platinum Blonde (1931), American Madness (1932) and The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1932). Among these earlier efforts is Capra’s rarely-seen curiosity, Rain or Shine (1930), which offers a fascinating glimpse of the director coming to terms with “talkies” and his developing aesthetic after starting his career in silent films. Continue reading