For Reel

The Confession (1970)
December 11, 2016, 8:22 pm
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Director: Costa-Gavras
5 Stars
the-confessionIn his follow-up to Z, Costa-Gavras abandoned the pace of a thriller for a more grueling, psychological aesthetic—rather than chases through city streets, The Confession finds Yves Montand increasingly broken by the captors who ceaselessly attempt to get him to self-incriminate. Montand’s performance of desperation is remarkable, but Costa-Gavras’ clever editing strategies do much to enhance the sense of dread. As Montand’s Anton Ludvik grows increasingly delusional due to sleep deprivation, Costa-Gavras fractures his editing all the more, jumping through flashbacks and even flash-fowards in the midst of an interrogation. Forced to wear welder’s glasses that look like a science fiction props and, in many sequences, psychologically jumping through time, one recalls Chris Marker’s La Jetée more than any like-minded political thrillers. Fittingly, as a film about injustice (the man is ultimately destroyed by a system he firmly believed in establishing), Costa-Gavras imagines a drama right out of Kafka, as faceless voices harang the victim to walk endlessly, take away his food after only a bite, and threaten his life all because he won’t provide answers for the questions that he doesn’t even know. In a story relating intense physical confinement, it’s this sense of psychological confinement that develops the film’s horror most explicitly.

Scream and Scream Again (1970)
October 29, 2016, 12:02 pm
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Director: Gordon Hessler
2 Stars
scream-and-scream-againScream and Scream Again brings a horror cast as esteemed as could have been assembled at the time—giants Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing are top billed, even if the latter two only qualify as cameos. Due to their places in the history of the genre, one might imagine a throwback to a simpler time in the genre’s history. But the film is decidedly of its own period, serving as a conspiracy thriller wherein a primary setting is the hip club in which rock band Amen Corner belts out the eponymous song. The soundtrack—going from the aforementioned rock to more jazz-heavy interludes—adds to an “anything goes” feel, placing the film in the context of the New Hollywood (even if neither the cast nor crew was American and Gordon Hessler was far from a young hotshot director). Similarly, the film’s approach to violence—there are several layers of heinous violent acts occurring simultaneously in seemingly disparate plot threads—is easy to identify in the context of wartime disillusionment. If the film brings together the silver age of horror into an era of experimental pop cinema, its final act is rooted entirely in the classics, including absurd plot twists and a recycling of science fiction/horror tropes. Price is enjoyable as the mad scientist and a repeated image in which a man wakes from a hospital bed to find another limb missing is genuinely chilling, but the film is mostly a story of wasted potential. If the idea from its conception seems rife with intrigue, Hessler is barely able to spin all the plates at once, ridding the picture of any suspense or sensible narrative continuity.

Which Way to the Front? (1970)
March 27, 2016, 11:53 pm
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Director: Jerry Lewis
3 Stars
Which Way to the FrontIn the decade between The Bellboy and Which Way to the Front?, Jerry Lewis directed a film almost every year (in addition to starring in other films, like those of Frank Tashlin) and was on a career high after his unceremonious split with Dean Martin. Depending on who you ask, those ten years are either a remarkable feat of sustained brilliance or a blight on screen comedy. Detractors of Lewis would do well to steer clear of Which Way to the Front?—the humor plays as even more desperate than usual, with Lewis’ performance as Kesselring insisting upon thirty minutes of sustained yelling. And yet the picture also contains many of the idiosyncrasies that make Lewis a unique figure in not only 1960s comedy, but screen comedy in general. Somehow, Lewis bridges the gap between his fascination with consumerism and the second World War—in the film, he plays Brendan Byers II, a playboy who volunteers for the army before being classified as 4-F. His rejection sends him into catatonic fits, and to the supercapitalist his participation in the war becomes a commodity valued higher than any other. Whereas Chaplin and Lubitsch made their Nazi parodies as the war was unfolding, Lewis’ satire involves setting the war in 1960s America (the title card reading 1943 plays like a gag), where civilians claw to be made pawns in a political context. Furthermore, that a group of rejects ultimately kills Hitler not only predates Tarantino’s fantasy in Inglourious Basterds, but puts a ribbon on what Lewis was after with the final scene of The Bellboy—he appeals to the underestimated working man, who has the potential to contribute brilliance if only his voice is heard.

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970)
October 27, 2015, 5:28 pm
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Director: Jaromil Jireš
4 Stars
Valerie and Her Week of WondersThe surrealist Czech fairytale Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is edited with a liberated, free-associative style–there are often radical shifts in the story, perspective, and place. Polecat (Jirí Prýmek), the Nosferatu-like vampire, turns to the eponymous Valerie (Jaroslava Schallerová), and instead of a typical shot-reverse-shot, the film cuts to a washed out, idyllic shot of Valerie bathing in a stream, as if signifying her purity and virginhood. While such radical means of disorientation might be used as violent, confrontational aesthetic choices in other films, director Jaromil Jireš finds a fluidity in his rhythm, giving the viewer a feeling of being in a trance. Valerie’s confrontation with womanhood also serves as a means of “infantilizing” the audience–sexuality and horror are suddenly inextricably linked, neither quite sensible or familiar. In involving a perverted clergyman, witch burning, and vampiric lore (Bram Stoker’s Dracula is as fearful of “corrupt” women as horror gets), Valerie approaches a world that is vaguely women-hating and also women-obsessed. When she asks Eaglet (Petr Kopriva), “How can I love him when I’m afraid of him?”, he naturally responds, “That’s exactly why.” As visually striking as Daisies (if not as politically ambitious), Valerie and Her Week of Wonders demonstrates the confrontation between a young girl and the baggage of a foreign adult world with an appropriate surrealism, suggesting both the bewilderment and the sensual, hypnotic fascination with the unknown.

Tristana (1970)
April 21, 2012, 6:35 am
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Director: Luis Buñuel

In many ways the quintessential example of late-period Buñuel, Tristana is an ample showcase of a number of the director’s biggest interests: obsession, sadomasochism, religion, and so on. Set in Toledo, Spain and starring Catherine Deneuve (in her second collaboration with him following Belle de Jour), Tristana is based on a book by heralded Spanish novelist Benito Pérez Galdós. Fernando Rey is Don Lope, an atheist nobleman who falls in love with his adopted daughter (as played by Deneuve) when she reaches her late teens. Soon, she leaves him for a much younger man, only to return years later after she has fallen ill with a tumor that will leave her an amputee. Buñuel’s concern is power – Tristana, an object of Don Lope’s pleasure, eventually seeks vengeance on the man who took her virginity. It is the stuff of preposterous melodrama – and, frankly, it can sometimes be difficult to see it as anything more – but Buñuel is fully in control and, more significantly, entirely self aware. Early in the picture, for example, Don Lope quips that the only way to keep a woman honest is to break her leg so that she cannot leave home. With bitter, hilarious irony, it is the crippled Tristana that is the catalyst for Don Lope’s downfall. Just as the director’s final film, That Obscure Object of Desire, would be, Tristana‘s structure is almost entirely symmetrical – the shifting power dynamic happens roughly half-way into the picture, or at least it is then that Tristana’s youthful exuberance is shown to have been quelled and Don Lope’s demise begins. This sense of inevitability is echoed in the final frames of the film in which Buñuel, as if having pressed rewind, traces back glimpses of key moments in the relationship.

Gimme Shelter (1970)
April 20, 2012, 1:10 am
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Director(s): Albert & David Maysles

Of all of the films to emerge from the New Hollywood movement – including Easy Rider, Head, and Bonnie and Clyde, among others – perhaps none better encapsulates the disillusionment facing youth culture in the late 1960s than Albert and David Maysles’ non-fiction telling of the fateful Altamont Free Concert, Gimme Shelter. The pictures begins, as one might expect a concert documentary to begin, with a lively performance of one of the Rolling Stones’ biggest hits, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”. In the next scene, the Maysles’ bring the band into the editing room to watch elements of their production, which includes cryptic references to the deaths that occurred at the concert that the film addresses. After that, a performance from the same Madison Square Garden concert that began the picture is played – this time, however, it is muted by a sense of foreboding, its pleasure no longer so vivid. Anyone could have made a harrowing picture about a spectacle like Altamont, but it is the Maysles’ ability to structure the material that makes Gimme Shelter one of the great American documentaries. Although the filmmakers are often spoken of in terms of naturalism, they were, in fact, quite deliberate and manipulative in the editing room (in the very best of ways). After the horrors of Altamont have concluded and the crowds walk home through the fields, one reflects on the myth perpetrated by Woodstock – that music could bring people together. Altamont was the antithesis of such optimism. If Michael Wadleigh’s important documentary Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music was about people coming together, Gimme Shelter is about people being driven apart. It not only deconstructs the image of the Rolling Stones through its unwillingness to mythologize the band, but it tears apart and exposes the falsity of the 1960s as a “peaceful” era.

Equinox (1970)
December 8, 2011, 10:33 pm
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Director: Jack Woods & Dennis Muren

Originally released in 1967 as The Equinox… A Journey into the Supernatural under director Dennis Muren (the special effects pioneer with nine Academy Awards to his name), Equinox was extended into a feature-length film using additional footage directed by Jack Woods in 1970. If a picture’s merit is judged solely by the competence of the actors, the script, and its narrative coherency, this is an objectively awful film. In its latter half, however, it exceeds the mere “so bad its good” appeal with genuinely inventive sequences of stop-motion animation. Famously made with a budget of $6,500 by filmmakers under twenty, the picture may be lousy, but the story of its production is fascinating and clearly had to have had an influence on the Sam Raimis of the world. The film’s biggest laugh is the deadpan way in which a forest ranger announces himself as “Asmodeus.” Later, one of the teens exclaims, “I just remembered! Asmodeus is another name for the devil!”

Le cercle rouge (1970)
May 25, 2011, 4:44 am
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Director: Jean-Pierre Melville

The centerpiece of Le cercle rouge – a silent, thirty minute heist sequence – exemplifies Melville’s familiar God-like objectivity in dealing with crime. In a series of long takes, the audience is led to admire the precision of the gangster craft. To Melville, this is dance.

Using familiar elements from all of his earlier gangster pictures, Le cercle rouge is again a film about the gangster code of ethics. Corey protects the intruding escaped convict Jansen – who has hidden in his trunk – from an investigator, feeling a kinship and perhaps admiration for someone who not only served a sentence in prison, but has daringly escaped from it. Later, the character of Santi expresses an unwillingness to snitch, which is, from as early as Bob le flambeur, the biggest sin a Melvillian gangster can commit. Ironically, only in a few occasions do they actually inform, despite such anxieties contributing to much of the suspense in each of the pictures.

If the film has one shortcoming, it is in the character of Jansen. Played by the legendary Yves Montand, his introduction into the film is an absurd hallucinatory sequence involving a series of tormenting creatures who crawl on him as he suffers in a drunken stupor. While Montand’s performance in the latter part of the film is effectively conceived, this sequence – which ultimately serves to contrast with Jansen’s redemption near the end of the picture – is a baffling tangent in an otherwise wholly understated effort.