Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Holiday (1938, George Cukor)

Quest Status: 734 / 1000

TSPDT Rank #943

Continuing with an era that I've been focusing on a lot recently, I'm back in 1930s Hollywood today with George Cukor's Holiday. This film fits firmly in the screwball tradition of its era, with Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn in the lead roles, spending the entire film unaware that they're in love with each other. However, it's not just stubborn ignorance that keeps them apart. He's an up-and-coming young businessman with a lust for life who does a back flip whenever he feels a worry coming. She's the black sheep of "one of America's sixty families" who spends her time hiding from members of the other 59 in the quaint play room of her family's mansion. They hit it off from the start... right from the moment he announces her engagement to her sister.

The situation is understandable enough. But Hepburn's sister Julia (Doris Nolan) is the film's true mystery. Despite being a proper society girl who dotes on her demanding father, Julia agrees to marry Grant's Johnny Case only 10 days after meeting him. The two have apparently had no discussion about their future together, and, as it turns out, have very different ideas about it. It's difficult to believe that a woman so concerned about financial security and social standing would marry a self-made man with no knowledge or reverence for high society. The film's moral would seem to be "only fools rush in," but Julia is no fool. Does she see Johnny as an exciting escape from the stiffness of her father's world while still being capable of achieving the financial success she desires? Does she assume that Johnny will just automatically adapt to high society with her help? It could also be that not much thought was given to her character during the writing process, but either way, she comes off as uptight and controlling in the film. It's no wonder that Nolan's Hollywood career failed to gain traction after this film, the biggest role she ever got.

One of the promotional posters for Holiday asked moviegoers the question, "If you had $1,000,000... which sister would you choose to spend it with?" Given the extreme disparity between the two sisters, Cukor makes this an easy question for the viewer to answer. But the question itself is interesting. Grant's character is already successful when we meet him - an enterprising young man on his way to making his first million. He finds out that his fiancee comes from a wealthy family only after he proposes - not before. He doesn't need her money, so her father's promises of a job at his bank are worthless to him. It's only a question of how close he will come to compromising his values. Because of this, there's not as much tension here as there is in some of the more famous screwball comedies like His Girl Friday or Bringing Up Baby. Still, Grant and Hepburn are at their most joyous and effervescent, conveying a life-loving spirit that has been absent from movies for adults for a long time.

---266 films remaining---

Saturday, February 20, 2021

FROM THE VAULTS: Under the Skin (2013, Jonathan Glazer)

 --Originally written 5/19/2020--

Current TSPDT Rank (2021 Edition): #399

[2020 Edition: N/A]

Under the Skin is a film about aliens, but it’s not exactly the sci-fi thriller you might expect from that description. Jonathan Glazer (whose other films include Sexy Beast and Birth) created a uniquely minimalist alien world for Under the Skin, daring the viewer to piece together the details of the plot from visual hints such as men sinking into a gooey black ether as soon as they try to approach a disrobing Scarlett Johannson. Johannson’s acting is intentionally robotic; she hardly utters a word of dialogue unless she’s trying to pick up a Scottish bloke off the street. In these street scenes, she’s like a psychoanalysis app powered by Siri, bluntly asking personal questions which suggest a desire for intimacy to her male prey but in reality serve only to establish whether the man is lonely and unattached.

But what about her reason for picking up these horny men and luring them to their doom? None of this is explained to the viewer. Even the idea that Johannson and her superior (Jeremy McWilliams) are aliens is only an inference to be drawn from 2001-esque lights and a robotic voice reciting English words in the opening sequence. The two characters don’t exchange a single word of dialogue in the entire film. What happens to the men after they’re captured by Johannson isn’t revealed until over 30 minutes into the film, and even then is only conveyed in the form of an abstract series of nightmare images.

Glazer ostensibly intended to show viewers how aliens might realistically act if they touched down on Earth to suck out the insides of the locals. They probably wouldn’t speak in any human language unless they needed to interact with people directly. They probably wouldn’t show any kind of recognizable emotion. And however they chose to devour their humans, you can bet that it wouldn’t be with a fork and knife. (So how would they do it then? Well, in one ominous scene, we see a man’s body instantaneously collapse into a filmy membrane, followed by a shot of juicy guts rolling down a conveyor belt to be transformed into a bright red beam of light. From there on, it’s anyone’s guess.)

Mica Levi’s dissonant score plays a key role in creating an atmosphere of weirdness and alien loneliness. We feel dread for the fate of the anonymous men before they even start to sink, and moments of silence are given all the more ominous weight by the squirm-inducing punctuation  from Levi’s viola. The absence of music in the street scenes, as Johannson talks to passersby (many amateurs who initially didn’t know they were being filmed), creates a cinéma vérité mood that makes the music all the more effective when it does come in, while also echoing the emptiness of the lives of the men that Johannson preys on.

This is especially pronounced in the film’s pivotal scene, in which Johannson picks up a man with a horribly deformed face (Adam Pearson) on his way to the supermarket at night. In this scene, her exploitation of his loneliness and longing for human connection feels unbearably cruel--a feeling which also registers with her for the first time when she is unable to go through with her nightly ritual and, in doing so, resigns herself to a human life of loneliness . It’s this quality, the delicate balance of realism and otherworldly discomfort which gives the film’s weirdness weight. Under the Skin doesn’t give the viewer any answers or explanation, instead merely posing the question “What would it be like to be an alien among everyday humans?”

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Make Way for Tomorrow (1937, Leo McCarey)

Quest Status: 733 / 1000

TSPDT Rank #809

"If it should happen that I don't see you again, it's been very nice knowing you, Miss Breckenridge."

This should be one of the most famous quotes in movie history. It certainly packs more of a punch than "here's looking at you, kid." Of course, this could only happen if more people had seen Make Way for Tomorrow. But today, as in 1937, downward spiral films don't tend to do well at the box office. They might get good reviews, maybe even win an Oscar, or even one day end up in the top 500 of a 1,000 Greatest Films list, but they're not going to have much replay value on TV or inspire many clicks on Netflix. This probably explains why Make Way for Tomorrow has rarely been available on streaming services, except for occasional appearances on the Criterion Channel. Before it was released by Criterion, it was a mere footnote in film history, seen by only the most diehard of film buffs.

Now it's slightly more seen, but only slightly. After all, I've been working on the 1,000 Greatest Films list for over ten years and never got around to watching it until now. It's hard to sit down on the couch after a hard day at work and be depressed for 90 minutes. It's hard to do it on the weekend too. This is the price that filmmakers pay for being willing to stare reality square in the face. The same year that Leo McCarey made this film, he also made The Awful Truth with Cary Grant and Irene Dunne - a raucous screwball farce that won him a Best Director award at that year's Academy Awards. But there are no stars in Make Way for Tomorrow. In it, we follow two elderly parents who lose their house to the local bank as they are forced to move in with their children. Neither of the children has room to take them together, so they have to separate. Even then, they're a burden to their children, with no visible path to happiness. Slowly, they begin to realize that they'll always be a burden to someone, and things will never be like they once were.

The most recognizable face in Make Way for Tomorrow for most will probably be Thomas Mitchell, the veteran character actor who most notably played Uncle Billy in Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life. But the core situation will be painfully recognizable to almost anyone. Parents give everything to raise their children, and then what do they have to show for it? When the parents fall on hard times, or even just want to spend time with their children, they will likely be seen as a burden to the children they worked so hard to raise. Taking an tough and unapologetic stance, McCarey challenges the viewer to consider the situation of Barkley (Victor Moore) and Lucy (Beulah Bondi), the parents whose children are so anxious to get rid of them, as they mournfully accept that their allotment of happiness has simply run out. Is this situation unavoidable? Would we do the same thing if faced with it in our own lives? Why do children see their elderly parents as such a burden? McCarey doesn't answer these questions, nor does he expect the viewer to, but simply invites them to watch the story of Bark and Lucy and consider it for themselves. The lack of sentimentality is part of what makes Make Way for Tomorrow difficult to watch, but also what makes it such a lasting and meaningful film.

---267 films remaining---

Monday, February 1, 2021

January 2021 Update (+2020 in review)

It's that time of year again - the new TSPDT list update has just been published! Despite all of the hardships and bad news of the past year, there was a silver lining in that I had my most productive year of blogging since I first started this project 11 years ago. It's still not easy to find the time to keep the blog the going, but over the course of the past year, I rediscovered the joy of watching a movie and hammering out a review shortly after. As you can see in the list below, I watched 42 new movies towards my quest over the course of the past year. This year, I hope to at least keep the same pace going, if not surpass it.

Thankfully, the new list update also gave me a slight push forward. Of the 25 new films added to this list this year, I've seen already seen a whopping 15. (I'll be posting a retrospective review of at least one of those within the next week or two.) Of course, I always lose some as well, but I still scored a net gain of 4 films, putting my current total at 732/1000. Almost 3/4 of the way there!

As always, thanks to Bill Georgaris for putting this amazing list together. Check out the details of its creation and the latest update here: http://theyshootpictures.com/gf1000.htm

And you can keep detailed tabs on my viewing activity here: https://letterboxd.com/Wisejake237/

Image result for celine and julie go boating house

January-March 2020
686. Chelsea Girls (1966, Andy Warhol)
687. That Obscure Object of Desire (1977, Luis Buñuel)
688. Los Olvidados (1950, Luis Buñuel)
689. Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974, Jacques Rivette)
690. The Piano (1993, Jane Campion)
691. Local Hero (1983, Bill Forsyth)
692. The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926, Lotte Reiniger)

Carl Theodor Dreyer: Ordet - The Culturium -

April 2020
693. If... (1968, Lindsay Anderson)
694. O Lucky Man! (1973, Lindsay Anderson)
695. Voyage to Italy (1953, Roberto Rossellini)
696. Day of Wrath (1943, Carl Theodor Dreyer)
697. Ordet (1955, Carl Theodor Dreyer)
698. Gertrud (1966, Carl Theodor Dreyer)

Heroines of Cinema: Tilda Swinton and Sally Potter's Orlando ...

May 2020
699. Triumph of the Will (1935, Leni Riefenstahl)
700. Shoah (1985, Claude Lanzmann)
701. JFK (1991, Oliver Stone)
702. W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism (1971, Dusan Makevejev)
703. Orlando (1992, Sally Potter)

June-July 2020
704. Sansho the Bailiff (1954, Kenji Mizoguchi)
705. The Life of Oharu (1952, Kenji Mizoguchi)
706. Orpheus (1950, Jean Cocteau)
707. Vivre sa vie (1962, Jean-Luc Godard)
708. Hana-bi (1998, Takeshi Kitano)

August 2020
709. Dekalog (1988, Krzysztof Kieslowski)
710. The Last Laugh (1924, F.W. Murnau)
711. Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler (1922, Fritz Lang)
712. Naked (1993, Mike Leigh)
713. The Sacrifice (1986, Andrei Tarkovsky)
714. A Separation (2011, Asghar Farhadi) 

September-November 2020
715. The Saragossa Manuscript (1965, Wojciech Has)
716. Sátántangó (1994, Béla Tarr)
717. Van Gogh (1991, Maurice Pialat)
718. Tropical Malady (2004, Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
719. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010, Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
720. Miller's Crossing (1990, Joel & Ethan Coen)
721. The Servant (1963, Joseph Losey)
722. The Piano Teacher (2001, Michael Haneke)

December 2020 - January 2021
723. Irréversible (2002, Gaspar Noé)
724. Caché (2005, Michael Haneke)
725. Nostalgia for the Light (2010, Patricio Guzmán)
726. Grave of the Fireflies (1988, Isao Takahata)
727. The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989, Peter Greenaway)
728. Only Angels Have Wings (1939, Howard Hawks)