For Reel

Blood and Black Lace (1964)
November 6, 2016, 10:00 pm
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Director: Mario Bava
3.5 Stars
blood-and-black-laceThe second of six murders in Blood and Black Lace is the film’s masterpiece. A faceless killer stalks a young girl in an impossibly cluttered antique shop, vanishing before her eyes as a magenta strobe light flashes on and off. This setpiece, like many in the film, is an orgy of color and fluid camera movements—to Mario Bava, as is typical of the giallo genre, color is a tool used to suggest the subjectivity of a scene, with horrific, lush reds and pinks hinting at danger and death. Bava’s fetishistic structure is troubling to any viewer who claims to have a conscious—the film is wrought as a series of beautiful women being stalked and killed—but if Bava doesn’t balk from the pornographic implications, he uses them as a critique of the fashion industry, consumed by self-interest and the debasement of models (it is no coincidence that the corpses are often “posed” as if they were in a magazine spread). At once beautiful and sadistic, Blood and Black Lace is a striking formal answer to the American and British horror films of the period, suggesting that an overtly disciplined, self-aware aesthetic could render things just as horrifying as the time’s favored realistic approach.

Gertrud (1964)
October 4, 2016, 9:13 pm
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Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer
4 Stars
gertrud“I feel as though I’m staring into a fire about to be extinguished,” reflects the now aged Gertrud (Nina Pens Rode), a woman whose search for a very specific type of love ultimately left her with nothing but memories. This sequence, set twenty or thirty years after the action of the film, has a palpable sense of deathliness—if Getrud spent the entirety of the film being of the moment, in this scene all she has left is remnants of the past, which she calls to mind like faded photographs. The simple closing of a door becomes an action that represents spiritual transcendence, either a moment of hopeful grace or tragic loss depending on the viewer. Director Carl Theodor Dreyer is not keen to make such decisions, rather revels in the complexities of his characters and situations. The key to this understanding is Gertrud herself, who is both a worthy martyr and a deeply flawed romantic. She becomes so obsessed with an unattainable ideal that she makes everyone, including herself, miserable by the end. Gertrud is equal parts intoxicating and frustrating on a first viewing—while Dreyer’s minimalism is not to be mistaken for a lack of complexity (the shifting balances of the characters within the frame is itself a remarkable game of power), the film has the feel of a mausoleum. And yet this doomed tone services an unforgettable evocation of the most haunted of memories, where Gertrud’s conquest and the way she illustrates her free will being the cause of her eventual isolation.

A Shot in the Dark (1964)
October 3, 2016, 10:24 pm
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Director: Blake Edwards
3.5 Stars
a-shot-in-the-darkOnly three months after The Pink Panther hit movie screens, this immediate followup continued the exploits of the bumbling Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Peter Sellers), the inarguable standout of the classic Blake Edwards caper. This time, the mystery matters even less, instead serving as a backdrop for a number of inspired comic setpieces—the best of which occurring with a number of near-miss murder attempts at a revolving series of nightclubs. Again, Sellers plays Clouseau as a man with misplaced self-confidence, bungling even the simplest of gestures and passing it off like it never happened. The familiar setup in the finale, in which all of the suspects are gathered in a drawing room as Clouseau rattles off the facts, is given new life by the humorous ways it finds to demonstrate Clouseau’s incompetence. That the suspects end the film with their own premature confessions, thereby robbing Clouseau of his grand reveal, is apropos—the point of the Clouseau films is not to witness the methodical solving of a murder mystery, but rather to witness how delightfully Sellers plays a man who is consistently unaware that he is in over his head.

Red Desert (1964)
March 31, 2012, 4:27 am
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Director: Michelangelo Antonioni

In the early-1960s, black-and-white cinematography was still the aesthetic of choice for serious European dramas. Not only does Red Desert distinguish itself from the pack because it resisted this trend, but its experiments in color are so vivid and successfully world-building that it is fair to regard it as a significant landmark in the history of European cinema. Art director Piero Poletto famously painted streets and certain objects in order to suit Antonioni’s desired tone. The result sees mostly hues of brown, gray, and blue, with the occasional, shattering boldness of a red or yellow, usually accenting the film’s perceptions of modernity. Of course, modernity is the prime concern of the picture, but to suggest that it simply possesses a Luddite tendency is too reductive. As much as it expresses environmental concerns, Antonioni is equally fascinated and mesmerized by the utopian sculptures of his vast wasteland – even the poisonous, yellow smoke at the film’s end has a beauty worth mentioning. His point does not seem to be so much that technological innovations have exclusively led to the alienation that is suffered by the protagonist, but rather that mankind itself has not adjusted to their own self-imposed patterns of industrial living. The film’s most enchanting sequence – a fable of sorts told by Monica Vitti to her son – is certainly governed by a theme of isolation, despite the natural, idyllic pinks and blues of the gorgeous beach. While there is certainly environmentalism at play, Antonioni is at something much deeper – a sort of interpersonal pollution, in which communication is so crippled that the absence of meaningful human relationships becomes a catalyst for madness.

Band of Outsiders (1964)
April 30, 2011, 10:43 pm
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Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Perhaps the most accessible of Godard’s pictures, Band of Outsiders is a film of gestures. Charmingly tangential with episodes including a dance sequence and a quick sprint through the Louvre, the light tone of the film serves as a slight misdirection when, in the last third, the violence becomes all too real. I am admittedly a Godard philistine and only find pleasure in a select few of his pictures (Vivre sa vie being a favorite), however the film’s self-reflexivity and stylistic exhilaration rises above the forgettable narrative. Narrative, of course, is not the point – the film’s pleasures are not in what it is about, but in how it is about it.