Ozu, Ending All Auteurs
According to iMDb, I’ve seen less than fifteen hundred movies and sometimes I wonder how the hell did I get here? How did I end up practically living in front of my television or a movie theatre? How did I end up being able to pronounce – AND spell! – Apitchatpong Weerasethakul and Jerzy Skolimowski without a bat of an eye and what possessed me and my younger selves to watch more?
I had a good foundation with healthy doses of David Fincher and Stanley Kubrick as a child (my dad actually showed Eyes Wide Shut to my older sister in high school and if any of make any jokes…). But college came. I think it was 2007, between my second and third year studying English and Art History that I realized that even though it might have been too late to switch, that I might have picked the wrong majors.
Not in any particular order, I watched my first Godard (It was Le Weekend, which is more visual than dialogue so I was ok. I still have to see Pierrot le Fou, which used to play a lot here). Then there were three films from fellow Frenchman Louis Malle for the first time. Four from Woody Allen and one from Ridley Scott on an outdoor, downtown big screen, so good that the flashing advertisements around the screen couldn’t distract me away. I’ve seen my first Lars von Trier on a big screen and of course, I drank vodka from a flash minutes after watching the movie, rethinking the sadness of my life. The first Danny Boyle I’ve seen in entirety – I’ve seen parts of and the ending of Trainspotting before. Two from Sidney Lumet, a favourite because his theatre background kept creeping up into his films. Two Johns at their later, tamer years – Waters and Frankenheimer. My first Hitchcock which should have come earlier in my life. George Cukor’s celebration of the feminine. Wes Anderson (Bottle Rocket). Two from Nicholas Ray and two more from Frank Capra.
There were also the films in classes under the English major bracket, where my professors were self-loathing whites. They introduced me to George Stevens’ colonialist propaganda, although I’m pretty sure not all of them are like that. John Ford, poking criticism towards colonizers under the guise of propaganda. D.W. Griffth, who is quasi-apologetic for being a colonialist in his first and most important film. Errol Morris, Ousmane Sembene and more capturing depressed people in both developed and developing nations. Find out why I wrote this entry after the jump.
The reason why I’m prattling on about my lifetime journey in cinema so far is because recently, a few weeks before I’ve seen a movie directed by an auteur whose name everyone can pronounce but who is nonetheless elusive – Yasujiro Ozu. His last name smoothly rolling off the tongues and keyboards of the better movie critics and bloggers. When Roger Ebert – hi! – and other film critics and bloggers write about the director, the more intimidating he got. Deathbed movie intimidating. I didn’t go to regular film school so I didn’t watch Tokyo Story during 101. I also don’t do the Criterion thing like all of you – finances and clutterphobia are both to blame. I watched my first Ozu, the auteur to end all auteurs, a few weeks before my twenty-fourth birthday and I don’t feel ready.
But a film group here showed Ohayo, a film produced by Shochiku and not Toho. It’s one of his lighter, more jokey ones. Here he chooses to film in colour, giving the film a more modern feel. The film’s supporting characters have such strong impressions that I don’t feel like there’s a central character here, although I don’t see that as a bad thing. Some characters include a set of children with no female friend and housewives talking about shares of money that makes it feel like a Mamet film avant la lettre. And Ozu has a more elastic definition of the word ‘trapped.’
I might also be overreading when I notice how the camera’s so close to the ground or how the frame almost hugs the body. I’ve seen more medium shots and close-ups here than in, say, a Kurosawa (other than Kurosawa I’ve only seen one Mizoguchi and one Sion Sino. It’s really sad). I also noticed on the pictures of this film that are available on the internet, as well as my screencaps, that it focuses on the faces and figures of the targets of the jokes. It’s as if these characters look depressed, that we need sound and movement to understand that they belong within a comedy. I suppose it’s foolish for me to believe that I’ll understand everything about Ozu within a single film, that I need to see more to get a sense of the man.
- A Little Late Ozu (harmonyguy.wordpress.com)
The 400 Blows
I saw The 400 Blows for the second time without subtitles which was brutal, except that I paid more attention to things like Jean-Pierre Leaud‘s acting tics as he plays Antoine Doinel. He quickly looks away while he’s talking to his mother, scornfully dismissing her. He’s not necessarily that cruel, telling her about his problems at school, a normal frustration for a child that she understands. Or when he’s being interviewed by one of the officials in the youth camp where he’s sent, talking about abortions and prostitutes with frankness or the occasional impish grin. Leaud’s Antoine seems more experienced in life than his character in Masculin Feminin. Director Francois Truffaut is lucky to have found him.
Or the camera work, like when a line of schoolboys get shorter and how half of the adults in the area are so complacent about this as well as towards Antoine’s antics. If only we were schoolboys in Paris too. Antoine’s predicament is unfair since everyone does what he gets repeatedly punished for. Kids should never be treated this barbaric – there’s a racially ambiguous child in this film being fed toothpaste – but how do adults act when a child does bad things again and again?
Or Antoine and his best friend’s costumes. The best friend wears a suit and tie while Antoine wears flannel. The rich one has the ideas and the poor one does the work, thinking their plans are foolproof. I can marvel at the film’s shot compositions while the ghetto side of me comes out and thinks ‘punk ass stillin’ a typewriter, yo!’ I used to meet older Antoines and hear their stories about starting theft under $5000 in middle school. It’s a relief that my generation isn’t the only one who are guilty. I also get angry when he’s being treated badly, but the music calms me, toning my range down to defenseless pity. Melodrama wouldn’t suit a film about Antoine – in spite of oppression he never cries, and he totally can pull that card since he’s young enough. Whether it’s the occasional home troubles, mixed in with happy moments or the downward spiral of the film’s last 25 minutes, the film doesn’t allow for those kind of heightened emotions.
This film is also why you shouldn’t go to theory-based film classes. The first text I got writes something about how Antoine’s final close-up is unsettling, which thanks for the spoiler – and yes, I’m a hypocrite. The ending doesn’t close the plot, but I don’t necessarily see that as unsettling as opposed to showing him as a representative to a generation. Truffaut made sequels for the film, but for now Antoine’s future comes to a stand still.
Three Colours – White
Pillow Talk (Michael Gordon, 1959)
8 1/2 (Federico Fellini, 1963)
Amarcord (Federico Fellini, 1974)
Moonstruck (Norman Jewison, 1987)
Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991)
The Usual Suspects (Bryan Singer, 1995)
Trouble Every Day (Claire Denis, 2001)
Charlie Wilson’s War (Mike Nichols, 2007)
Bright Star (Jane Campion, 2009)
If I was Doris Day, I would have totally gotten out of the car and slash his tires. Come to think of it, I wanna see Doris Day slash somebody’s tires right now.
I can’t post a full review because I dozed off 15 minutes before the movie ended.
Robin Wood: Rio Bravo
Sorry for the hiatus, 32 regular readers. I’ve been busy with the World Cup/ shenanigans.
The film’s focus is on maintaining order. John T. Chance (John Wayne) is middle management, the Sheriff of Presidio County, Texas. He arrests a murder suspect and does his best to keep the latter in a jail cell for six days when the Marhsall comes and takes the prisoner into a larger penitentiary. To have a John Wayne character have so much trust on slow government bureaucracy is a rare thing to watch. You’d just expect him to shoot the guy. But then again, he tries to convince the town that he can run the town by himself, so tough guy’s still there.
As Hawksian film go, the supporting characters do not believe that Chance can do it by himself. In an inspired human resources strategy, Chance reluctantly hires Dude (Dean Martin), a junior driven to alcoholism by a girl, Colorado Ryan, a young buck out to avenge his old master’s assassination and, unofficially, a histrionic ex-stripper named Feathers (Angie Dickinson). One of the main plots concern Chance’s relationship with Dude, the former not deriding the latter but actually hopes that Dude goes back to his old form. During the screening, I saw this team as the manifestation of old values, that it was easier to get a job or a second chance those days even for a drunk. Now I also realize that most of Chance’s associates asserted and fought for a place in his circle, definitely a capitalist move for those characters.
There’s a slight presence of music felt in “Rio Bravo” as in some classic Westerns. The characters in the sheriff’s office can hear the trumpets blaring the same tune played by the Mexicans who invaded the Alamo. Also and most importantly is Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson’s musical number. There are many readings of music sequences like this. To relieve tension before the final showdown. To show how civilized the sheriff/hero is. To show a growing culture in the early days of America. All of those apply to “Rio Bravo.”
This film might also be the gayest John Wayne will ever be in front of the camera. Howard Hawks is all about the bromance, after all, and John Wayne has that sense of humour about himself that nobody expects. Almost trying on red pantyhose while Feathers walks in. Kissing his crippled jail guard in the forehead. Dude being jealous, thinking Chance has replaced him with a younger gun. Making the most beautiful woman in the world wait for Chance while he’s ‘stuck at work.’ Gay. In a more serious note, Chance is a character with a homosocial bond with his fragile deputy, treating the latter like a son, which is exactly what both need and they won’t shy away from that.
There’s also Feathers as a character, who is superficially more of a whore than a mother, but she’s more complex than that. For contrast, a man in “Rio Bravo” are carte blanche. One man is wronged by a woman while another is somebody’s son, but there’s no real history of the man beyond that. They might as well be born in and by the desert. Feathers, on the other hand has traversed from city to city, from being a gambling accomplice to singing songs in her stockings. She came from somewhere, has a deeper past, the bearer and mother of old America’s past sins. Yet she came to Presidio to eventually settle down and fortunately found a man willing to overlook her past. She’s shocked and even mad at him for overlooking the fact that she’s ‘that kind of woman.’ He likes you for who you are, girl, just take him. And yes, the age difference is kinda unrealistically creepy, but they eventually find a compromise.
Rio Bravo is showing on AMC at July 1 and 2, but don’t worry, I’ll remind you again.