Sunday, September 7, 2014

#509: Ali: Fear Eats the Soul

1974, TSPDT Rank #122

This film, situated right in the middle of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's extremely short but equally prolific career, is almost an exact remake of Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows - only with the Hollywood varnish stripped off and the plotline's ante upped considerably. Fassbinder transports the story to 1970s West Germany, trades operatic plot turns for harsh, subdued moments of reality, and replaces the attractive leads of Sirk's film with a cast of battered, beaten, and world-weary characters. And while the story still involves the love between an older woman and a younger man, Fassbinder also adds race into the equation - along with several references to Hitler along the way. All of this adds up to create a considerably more uncomfortable film than All That Heaven Allows was, while still playing on the audience's emotions in such an effective and subtle manner that it's no wonder that the film also ranks higher on the TSPDT list than All That Heaven Allows. The story of romance between an elderly German cleaning lady and a much younger Moroccan immigrant could definitely not have been achieved as powerfully by any other director of the time, or any other time for that matter. Fassbinder not only pays homage to his melodramatic influences with this film, but subverts them to create a unique and spellbinding effect - much like Sirk himself did with the Hollywood conventions of his day. A truly impressive film from a legendary figure in cinema history.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

#508: Shadow of a Doubt

1943, TSPDT Rank #492

Shadow of a Doubt was supposedly Alfred Hitchcock's favorite of all the films he directed, and while it might not jump out at you quite like some of his later films such as Psycho or Vertigo, if you read between the lines and pay attention to the small details, you might get some idea of why Hitch was so pleased with this film. It functions very well as a psychological thriller of its time, but there a lot of hidden subtexts hidden under the surface which suggest something more sinister and twisted than just a murderer on the loose in small-town America. The relationship between Joseph Cotten's Uncle Charlie and his niece, Teresa Wright's "young Charlie" is something which has often been brought up in discussions of the film, but which is only vaguely alluded to onscreen as "something more than an ordinary uncle and niece". Certain events early in the film seem to suggest that there is some psychic connection between the two, but this seems less and less true as the film progresses. Uncle Charlie and his niece don't really seem to have a lot in common on the surface, but there does seem to be a strange bond between them. What exactly this bond implies is definitely one of the film's major themes - and I would bet that Hitch had his own perverse, unspoken ideas about it. On a more conventional level, I'm sure that he liked toying with the idea that someone could get away with murder - and even achieve a certain level of comfort and respect after the fact. This concept is usually dealt with much solemnly and resolutely in other films noir or thrillers of the time period, but if there was anyone determined to push the boundaries of film morality in Hollywood, it was Alfred Hitchcock - who always appreciated the dark humor and grey matter inherent in macabre situations, and put these signature preoccupations in prominent display for Shadow of a Doubt.