In an effort to rejuvenate my thirst for film I have partaken on an ambitious endeavor. I have decided to compile my list of 100 favorite films, “rewatch” them, and write a brief review. I encourage you to follow along.

89.

Don’t Torture a Duckling (Fulci, 1972)

Innocence is sacred. It is untouched by the disappointments of the unknown world outside of a child’s imagination. It is a pristine water where even a boy’s fantasies of the naked flesh are cleansed. But the world around a child inevitably encroaches. He will begin to understand the whispering tongues of intrigue, and the pale fear of reality, where pain is more than a skinned knee or broken tooth.

The loss of innocence is a difficult experience, but a necessary one. It is full of fear and confusion for the child, but also for the adults who seek to protect their innocence. This is what propels Lucio Fulci’s film.

It takes place in a small village, seemingly untouched by time. For the people of the village faith, and superstition still exists in everything, right down to the very dust they breathe in their lungs. We find that this village is now at a crossroads between the antiquated beliefs of the old country, and the encroaching modern world at its doorstep. Fulci represents this by showing us the elevated highway that cuts through the rocky rural environment. We rarely see the adults anywhere near the highway, but we often see the children walking under or around the road. The children of this town are being pulled into the warm bosom of the modern world, a world where innocence is not coddled, in fact, it is gleefully plucked from the young. No scene is more representative of this than that of a boy encountering a nude woman. The woman is an outsider from Milan, she is free and careless with her nudity and sexuality, and finds a disturbing humor in exposing herself to the boy, she even toys with the idea of sleeping with him. This is an absurd exaggeration of the point Fulci tries to make, but there is a great honesty to the heightened sense of morality. To put it as bluntly as the film does, this is a clash between worlds, and the children are caught in the middle, oblivious and innocent.

The children are simply following the natural progression of life, like the currents of a river, but the adults, the monsters of fear and superstition angrily claw at any threat to their ideals. It is one of the primal fears for all of us, the fear of change. Our familiarities can sometimes breed a powerful need to protect what we believe to be truth, while being so willfully ignorant to the indifference of progression.

– James Merolla

In an effort to rejuvenate my thirst for film I have partaken on an ambitious endeavor. I have decided to compile my list of 100 favorite films, “rewatch” them, and write a brief review. I encourage you to follow along.

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90.

The Bird with The Crystal Plumage (Argento, 1970)

When I first viewed Dario Argento’s The Bird with The Crystal Plumage I was blinded. I was blinded by the foolishness of each character, dumbfounded with curiosity, and aimlessly plodding toward danger like zombies through the fog. I missed his own visual curiosity, his wandering eye, and the heavy breathing of obsession. So caught up in the characters was I, that I missed the true drive of the film; fear is everywhere. Every scene is an uneasy setting, from a room full of drunken pugilists, to the sterile environment of computers, shifting, moving, angry, emotionless.

Argento may not have hit the mark perfectly, but there is a clear method to every scene in this film that I seemed to absorb subconsciously the first time around, and only now did I understand why I love the film so. He, like every great horror director, plays on our most primal fears, whether it be claustrophobia, heights, or the dark, these moments are just as much a bogey man as the faceless killer. The killer seems to dwell in these dark places, and even thrive.

We are never more alone than in the grips of our fear.

– James Merolla

In an effort to rejuvenate my thirst for film I have partaken on an ambitious endeavor. I have decided to compile my list of 100 favorite films, “rewatch” them, and write a brief review. I encourage you to follow along.

91.

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (Fassbinder, 1972)

We watch Petra flail with the theatrics of emotion, while Karin, the object of such immediate affection for Petra, sways beautifully to the music with eyes closed. This, while Marlene, the diligent slave to Peta watches. She stands close enough to touch Karin, but she feels miles away. She knows what happens to Petra in the presence of such beauty, and she fears her already servile life will get worse.

Other than the obvious visual cues and nuggets of dialogue, nothing in this film is apparent until it’s over. One doesn’t seem to grasp the loneliness of each character until after we have time to reflect on such scenes as Petra laying in bed, with her mother sitting beside her. The two are so lost in their own loneliness and self-absorption that they have two conversations at once. Petra rambles of her pain, and her mother of hers, and neither one listens. It is then that one realizes the entire film is made up of these conversations. Each character makes an emotional declaration without any notice from the other. Every declaration carelessly runs into each other.

It is the character of Marlene, acting as the emotional stenographer, who seems to bear the weight of all the lies, loneliness, and deceit that each character spills without conscious. She is the counter to both the flamboyance and emotional recklessness or Petra, and the cold, emotionally barren Karin. The film is seen through her eyes, and theoretically through her sensibility. This could account for the exaggerated actions of each character, including their makeup and dress.

Fassbinder, fully aware and purposeful in his use of such exaggerated emotion had the brilliant idea to keep the film confined to one small room. This is to keep that pain and loneliness from dissipating in the air of reality, and makes even the smallest of “tragedies” in the life of Petra seem so much bigger.

– James Merolla

 

 

 

In an effort to rejuvenate my thirst for film I have partaken on an ambitious endeavor. I have decided to compile my list of 100 favorite films, “rewatch” them, and write a brief review. I encourage you to follow along.

92.

Breathless(Goddard, 1960)

It is difficult to watch a Jean-Luc Goddard film and not feel that instead of watching a unique cinematic perspective, one experiences  a cinematic impression. The characters feel like actors with a blase’ feel for emotion, and a distinct awareness of the influences on their words and actions. Whether it be from film, literature,  or even classic art, Godard makes it very evident what has molded these characters to the point where at times they feel like moving billboards flashing the artistic culture that seeps into all of us. This style, crafted and honed more precisely in later films, keeps a film like Breathless, with all of its sophomoric flaws , feeling fresh and relevant.

There is a cultural familiarity in Michel Poiccard, played by Paul Belmondo, fashioning himself after Humphrey Bogart, as he stares at the cinema posters.  And it is a familiarity that has transcended the film itself and can be found  in several films that followed, perhaps most notably  R.W. Fassbinder’s debut Love is Colder than Death, and more recently, the films of Wes Anderson.

Had  Godard simply set out to create another tragic film of foolhardy youth it would have been forgotten, and Breathless being his first attempt at feature-length film, makes it conceivable he would have been forgotten in the process. But, his delight in toying with pop culture, and its unavoidable influence on art, helped create a style unto itself. Even his casting of the incomparable Jean Seberg was an exercise in self-awareness. Seberg was the hand-picked darling of Otto Preminger, whose most notable venture to that point was the disastrous acting debut in Preminger’s St. Joan. The failure of St. Joan, and the proceeding backlash Seberg recieved would have made it impossible, at that time, for a French audience to divorce Seberg the actor from the character of Patricia Franchini, and in Godard’s mind, why should they? Seberg even plays a displaced American girl floundering in France, trying to break into media. Franchini is Seberg. Seberg is Franchini.

Breathless may not be the pinnacle of French New-Wave, or Godard’s career, but it has left a distinct mark on culture since its debut, which gives it a fluid immortality as it passes through one influence to the next.

– James Merolla

In an effort to rejuvenate my thirst for film I have partaken on an ambitious endeavor. I have decided to compile my list of 100 favorite films, “rewatch” them, and write a brief review. I encourage you to follow along.

93.

Rushmore (Anderson, 1998)

The earnestness of love and youth can be indistinguishable. In our flailings and yearnings for affection we sometimes find ourselves repeating the mistakes of naivety from our youth. In Rushmore, we meet two men, one aged in disappointment, cigarette smoke, and bitterness, and the other,  a child making a mockery of manhood, still stumbling through the trappings maturity. Both men, different in every way, begin to mirror each other in foolishness. They are both consumed with the idea of salvation through love. The older man, Herman Blume, played by Bill Murray, is desperate for a release from his prison of mundane disappointment, and belittlement. He wants Rosemary Cross, played by Olivia Williams, to gather the pieces of his life, and make sense of them. Max Fischer, played by Jason Schwartzman, is a dreamer, who believes everyone in his life is a tool designed to fulfill his dreams, including Rosemary. His love for her is displaced in the void left by his deceased mother, and his disdain for childhood. Max wants to be a man without knowing what a man is.

The first half of this write-up does not give credit to the charm and earnestness of Anderson’s film. The film itself is a work of dichotomy, in that he takes characters, saddened by life and its broken promises, and pulls from them an identifiable charm. This approach more closely resembles ourselves than the typical drama of such themes. Our laughter is not directed at the characters, but at our own lives. We identify with the absurd charms that shield each character from their pain and confusion.  We watch these people grow until they come to a happy understanding of their present lives and the acceptance of the unknown ahead of them, captured is the feeling of comfort and love we all yearn for. It is the mark of a great comedy, and something Wes Anderson gleefully toys with in later films.

– James Merolla

In an effort to rejuvenate my thirst for film I have partaken on an ambitious endeavor. I have decided to compile my list of 100 favorite films, “rewatch” them, and write a brief review. I encourage you to follow along.

94.

A Woman Under The Influence (Cassavetes, 1974)

Love hides our insecurities under a warm canopy of belonging and acceptance, and it exploits them, cutting us to the nerve. All of our efforts to shield ourselves from the harsh, unforgiving cold of life are futile when we are at the mercy of love. Our visions of the perfect happiness are nothing to love. Love follows its own rules. It takes what it wants, but it gives just as generously. It can be a maddening frenzy of wills that ends in an exhausted submission.

In the characters of Mable and Nick, Cassavetes proves that love makes us fools. As the film unfolds, we see the flaws and the fragility of both characters and they never notice themselves.

To say that Mable is a sick woman would sell her short, but she is in a constant haze of juvenile spirit, and unease, which would give the strong impression that she is not all together sane. Without the love of her husband and children she would no doubt wither and die. But, the very thing that keeps her alive is also what she struggles with. She struggles with the expectations and the societal standards that come with being a wife and mother, and we watch her reach her breaking point, at times it seems at though she is about to claw through her skin. She has so much love and joy within her, but she is at a loss on how to express it in an appropriate way.

Nick is a buffoon, a loveable buffoon, but a buffoon nonetheless. He, like many men, is completely incapable of expressing himself in any meaningful and emotional way. In his dealings with Mable, he winds himself so tightly that eventually his emotions split out the sides in violent outbursts. But, he finds a security in Mable’s strange love. He is comfortable being the fool he is with her, and we see how he breaks down when she is not there.

These two people are exactly what love is. They aren’t traditionally beautiful, and their idea of romance is clumsy. But life goes on blissfully for them, pocked with the scabs of breakdowns and outbursts. They define their happiness.

– James Merolla

In an effort to rejuvenate my thirst for film I have partaken on an ambitious endeavor. I have decided to compile my list of 100 favorite films, “rewatch” them, and write a brief review. I encourage you to follow along.

95.

The Long Goodbye (Altman, 1973)

The Long Goodbye is Robert Altman’s farewell to Hollywood romance. It is the careful deconstruction of our heroes and villains, and a spotlight on the moral compass of cinema. How Altman does this is through an array of characters who are familiar, but never seem to have the answers. The main character, Philip Marlowe, played brilliantly by Elliot Gould, is, as every other adaptation of the character, a down on his luck private eye who finds himself in a strange situation. But, that is where the similarities end. You see, this Marlowe is not particularly clever, he isn’t classically handsome, he isn’t good with women, and he is constantly befuddled by what is happening around him. He is an average man, lacking the broad shoulders and strong chin of a hero, just trying to wriggle his way out of trouble, and in the end, his actions (I won’t spoil them) aren’t heroic, but rather, sad.

Marlowe is not the only romantic hero stripped of his Hollywood sheen. We also meet a character by the name of Roger Wade. To put it bluntly, Roger Wade is Ernest Hemingway if he had lived too long. His lies of conquest and strength are now abundantly transparent, and he is now reduced to a drunken coward. No scene is more evident of this than his confrontation with Dr. Verringer, played by the slight of stature, Henry Gibson. Verringer never backs down from Wade, knowing exactly who he is, and just as we believe Wade is going to force his will on Verringer, the small doctor slaps him. We suddenly see the lies, the manhood, and strength of Wade rush out of him. He is just an angry old man. He is not the romantic artist we so cherish.

This is not and indictment of old Hollywood, rather, it is a further romanticizing of it. It is an example of how far we had drifted from the Bogarts, Stanwycks, and Fondas. The gate operator, that several characters pass throughout the film, does impressions of all the old Hollywood stars, and the other characters either find him droll or downright irritating. Naturally, he is the only innocent character of the film, constantly being passed, and quickly forgotten by the jaded and corrupt. It is in this simple gesture that Altman suggests that we as an audience have become jaded, and perhaps the modern, sophisticated American cinema of the 70’s should stop a moment and reflect.

– James Merolla