Thursday, January 11, 2018

#619: Meet Me in St. Louis

1944, TSPDT Rank #213

I've never been a fan of Vincente Minelli, Judy Garland, or musicals in general, so Meet Me in St. Louis was never high on my watch list. However, I finally watched it today and was pleasantly surprised. It's an early example of what we know as the classic Hollywood musical, something that it pulls off with great warmth and feel-good charm in its portrait of a St. Louis family in the year before the 1904 World's Fair. There is really no more of a story than that - Meet Me in St. Louis is unique in its essentially plotless nature, instead using a loose series of vignettes based upon the seasons to convey the Smith family's connection to their hometown and each other. The film also incorporates an extraordinary degree of period detail in its costumes and sets, which are all tailor-made for Technicolor, creating a perfect vision of a more innocent time in American history. Furthermore, Judy Garland is effortlessly radiant here, possibly even more at her peak than she was in The Wizard of Oz.

If you're resistant to musicals like I am, or have just never gotten around to seeing this classic film, I recommend putting aside your reservations and giving Meet Me in St. Louis a try. It sits comfortably alongside films like Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz as a prime example of Technicolor's eye-popping potential, and its brilliant ensemble cast (including Lucille Bremer, Mary Astor, Margaret O'Brian, Marjorie Main and Henry Davenport) and endearing script make it much more than a Judy Garland feature.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

#618: In the Mood for Love

Directed by: WONG KAR-WAI
2000, TSPDT Rank #45

Wong Kar-Wai's most acclaimed film, In the Mood for Love, builds upon the feelings of unrequited longing which laid at the root of his playful international success Chungking Express, albeit in a way that is much more somber and meditative than that film was. The film follows a man (Tony Leung) and a woman (Maggie Cheung), neighbors in 1960s Hong Kong, who learn that their respective spouses are carrying on an adulterous affair with each other, leading them to commiserate and become intimate friends as a result. Despite the simplicity of the plot, In the Mood for Love is a master class in the limitless possibilities of interior cinematography. There are hardly any exterior shots - most of the film is confined to the characters' apartments and office buildings, with Wong making liberal use of pans, deep focus shots and slow motion to create a visual atmosphere that is incredibly layered and dreamlike.

Those looking for an erotic tale of infidelity will likely be disappointed by the film's deliberate pacing and elliptical storytelling style, while those who like their films meditative and slow-moving will not be. This is a film that gets under the skin, leaving the viewer with haunting thoughts on love, memory, time and the infinite emptiness that often comes with freedom. It is one of the standout films of the 21st century so far, so visually rich and stylistically unique that it is bound to retain its already towering reputation as the years go by.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

#617: Marketa Lazarová

1967, TSPDT Rank #422

Marketa Lazarová, often named as the greatest Czech film ever made, begins with a narrator introducing a story based on "old tales of foolish deeds ... told at the behest of a wandering echo, and because even the most ancient things lie in the web of present time." This tantalizing prelude sets the stage for a historical epic that is like no other. Set in the Czech kingdom at some point during the Middle Ages, Marketa Lazarová presents a story of people and customs that might seem completely foreign to 21st century viewers at first glance. However, as the story unfolds, it seems to hold an eerie resonance with our contemporary world. The landscape often looks quite familiar, and the themes of human cruelty, violence, religious hypocrisy and forbidden love are even more recognizable. At the same time, Marketa Lazarová is a film which seems to emerge from out of the mists of time. Its arresting use of deep-focus widescreen black-and-white cinematography creates a dense web of visual detail and a mood of hyper-reality, which the filmmakers used to create an imaginative rendering of a distant past that is nevertheless completely believable. The result is a film of strange and mystifying beauty, with many layers of complexity that are sure to reward multiple viewings immensely.