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.
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).
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
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
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
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
A former actor from Austria turned film director, Georg Tressler is not a name familiar to most American movie fans but for German filmgoers of the fifties he created a sensation with this 1956 feature film debut, Die Halbstarken (released in the U.S. as Teenage Wolfpack). As topical, incendiary and controversial in its day as The Wild One (1953), Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and Blackboard Jungle (1955), Die Halbstarken was a hard-hitting portrait of juvenile delinquency in post-war Germany and featured Horst Buchholz as a manipulative gang leader in a performance possibly inspired by James Dean. It was a huge hit and led Tressler to follow it up with two more youth-oriented films – Noch Minderjahrig (Under 18, 1957) and Endstation Liebe (Two Worlds, 1958). His fourth feature, Das Totenschiff (Ship of the Dead, 1959), was a complete departure from his trilogy in terms of content and was mostly ignored by critics and the public. But timing is everything and today Das Totenschiff looks like a lost classic from the pre-Berlin Wall era. And it may very well be Tressler’s finest achievement. Continue reading
The James Bond film craze of the 1960s was responsible for launching a secret agent/spy movie sub-genre that thrived for more than a decade. Some of the imitators like Our Man Flint (1966) and The Silencers (1966) even spawned mini-franchises but the majority of them were strictly B-movies with international casts and exotic locations. One of the more obscure and unusual entries is Operation Kid Brother (1967), which is an entertainingly bad knockoff and sports a genuine Sean Connery-007 connection. It stars younger sibling Neil Connery in his screen debut. Continue reading