For Reel

Chronicle of a Summer (1961)
December 31, 2016, 6:28 pm
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Director(s): Jean Rouch & Edgar Morin
4.5 Stars
chronicle-of-a-summerIf the question of how much photography influences behavior is inherent to every documentary, Chronicle of a Summer makes that subject the main topic of concern. In asking a cross-section of young Parisians whether or not they are happy, sociologist Edgar Morin and filmmaker Jean Rouch don’t so much uncover what it is to be happy, but rather begin to document not only how people present themselves, but how others react to those very presentations. In Chronicle of a Summer‘s final sequence, the filmmakers show a rough cut of the film to a theater full of the film’s subjects, who then proceed to critique what they see. Many single individual interviewees out, remarking on their theatricality and suggesting that some subjects should feel ashamed for the openness that they allowed on screen. Morin and Rouch later reflect that their subjects’ rawness is viewed as theatricality, whereas the opposing guardedness hosts its own slew of dramatic problems. What they discover remarks on the nature of truth and impression, but significantly a society founded on certain lies and emotional repressions. As one subject remarks on her experience in the Holocaust and those around her attempt to piece together what little they know of recent history, it becomes clear that the problems with communication have to do with a certain ignorance and stifled curiosity. That “Are you happy?” reads as a radical question in the early-1960s is part of the problem—these subjects are so unsure about themselves because, above all, it becomes clear that they are absolutely unsure about each other.

Viridiana (1961)
April 1, 2016, 7:23 pm
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Director: Luis Buñuel
5 Stars
ViridianaViridiana is notoriously one of the most radical transgressions in film history. It inspired a famous political cartoon in which Francisco Franco is seen welcoming now renowned auteur Luis Buñuel back to Spain, only for Buñuel to present a package titled Viridiana that blows up in the dictator’s face. And yet, if the film does indeed pose an extreme challenge to organized religion, what is memorable about the picture is not how it challenges institutions per se, but about how it interprets a certain disconnect that happens when the privileged aspire to be virtuous. In one of the film’s most famous images, the eponymous character’s cousin (Francisco Rabal) saves a dog from the cruel fate of being dragged by a wagon, risking strangulation should it not keep up. Few images elicit audience empathy more than animal cruelty, and so this noble act immediately characterizes the cousin as a man of character. Only seconds thereafter, Buñuel upends the whole tone of the scene by focusing on another dog in an identical situation going the other way across the road, our do-gooder oblivious to it. The scene is a perfect summarization of everything the film is about—Viridiana (Silvia Pinal) ultimately fails in her charitable act of bringing together the town’s disenfranchised because of a fundamental misunderstanding of how difficult it is to change one’s nature—but it also allows the audience to participate in Buñuel’s themes. Our momentary satisfaction at the salvation of one animal does nothing in the battle against a way of life in which cruelty to animals is a deep-rooted pattern.

The End of Summer (1961)
February 9, 2016, 8:16 pm
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Director: Yasujirō Ozu
4.5 Stars
The End of SummerThose familiar with the films of Yasujirō Ozu will likely be startled by the opening shot of The End of Summer. Instead of a typical domestic scene, Ozu’s penultimate film begins by establishing modern Osaka, complete with neon billboards that grapple for one’s attention. A key advertisement reads NEW JAPAN, literally demonstrating the recurrent theme of traditional Japanese culture vs. encroaching modernity. In his late films, Ozu seems to have fully come to terms with the younger generation. That is not to say that he doesn’t have a great affection for the widowed patriarch (Ganjiro Nakamura) of The End of Summer, but the film is about how his children overcome their father’s influence and begin to live their own lives. Manbei (Nakamura) is a key argument against the assertion that Ozu was a patriarchal filmmaker, but what is particularly interesting about his characterization is that he is both liberated (he is a man who lives purely for pleasure) and oppressive, failing to recognize that his daughters might want a different future than the one he tries to push on them. His passing, then, releases the women from his influence, but also serves as a transference of his penchant for pursuing personal desires openly. Ozu’s films often involved the troubled encounters between an individual and his/her family, and The End of Summer resolves it conclusively, not merely with a death but by the passing on of a sensibility.

The Ladies Man (1961)
January 13, 2016, 10:48 pm
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Director: Jerry Lewis
4 Stars
The Ladies ManMilltown is introduced as “a very nervous little community” in the opening scene of The Ladies Man, quickly followed by a tracking shot of an older woman walking down an empty sidewalk. Suddenly, a man shouts her name and, having been startled, she screams and falls onto a drug store window, signaling the beginning of a Rube Goldberg-like descent into madness that brings the town into a complete frenzy. This sequence perfectly illustrates the manic tone of a typical Jerry Lewis vehicle–the ordinary is disturbed into an ever-escalating hysteria, with improbable events stacked upon each other in a pyramid of neuroses. When the formula works (as it does in The Ladies Man) it is something entirely unique, developing a rich comedic world as specific as those of Buster Keaton or Jacques Tati. Lewis’ personal rants about the lack of funny women in recent years has cast an eye towards his misogyny, and here is a film that fully considers the complexities of his relationship with women. A heartbreak sends his character into an adolescent state where he becomes catatonic around women. In one scene early on, Lewis throws a fit while sitting in a highchair and being handfed by a woman that could be his mother. As the film progresses, he must domesticate himself under the watchful eye of every feminine stereotype of the time, complete with a convincing Marilyn Monroe impersonator. The devolution into a psychic fantasy in the second half perhaps suggests a thinness in the script–Lewis is no stranger to sequences that play just a little too long, and many of these do. Regardless, The Ladies Man is fascinating throughout, and the dollhouse set is a masterpiece of scale and stylistic artifice, with the open fourth wall and empty mirror frames complicating notions of domesticity and performance.

Mothra (1961)
June 23, 2015, 3:24 pm
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Director: Ishirō Honda
3 Stars
MothraThe reputation of Mothra has grown considerably since she was first introduced to American audiences as part of a double bill with a Three Stooges comedy. Unlike her monster predecessors from Toho Films (including Godzilla and Rodan), she’s not a mindless lizard set on wrecking havoc on an unsuspecting populous. Instead, she’s identified as a protector God, whose path of destruction is incited by her heroic duty to save a pair of fairies (Ito Emi & Ito Umi) who have been taken captive by the humans. Of all of the Toho Creations, she may be the most essentially Japanese–she’s a manifestation of nature’s resistance, with her creation not being a response to the atomic age but rather as a broader defense against the disruption of a natural harmony. Her first feature takes awhile to get going and, once it does, fails to leave a terrific impression as an action spectacle, but it can be appreciated for its inventive visuals. A climactic sequence in which bell towers chime together in order to attract the beast’s attention is rendered as a hallucinatory montage, and even the simple beauty of her lovingly detailed flapping wings is a radical contrast to the destruction that results from them.

Splendor in the Grass (1961)
April 30, 2011, 8:02 pm
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Director: Elia Kazan

One of the crowning achievements of Natalie Wood’s career, she plays a lower-class teen-aged girl in the wake of the Great Depression. Her boyfriend, played by Warren Beatty, comes from a wealthy family whose father suggests he find a woman more willing to cater to his sexual needs. The film’s final act is familiar of many melodramas – a depressing encounter that unromantically demonstrates a love that should have been – however, because the relationship had primarily been developed in regards to the physical rather than the emotional or spiritual, it doesn’t quite earn the tears it wants to bring us.