After watching the Criterion print of Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront (1954), I was surprised to discover that Kazan made the film as a quasi-mea culpa for having testified against eight supposed Hollywood Communists at Senator McCarthy’s Congressional witch hunt.  Kazan greatly loathed Communism, apparently, and believed he was doing something for the greater good by ratting on his friends, although he later regretted his testimony after receiving much dire criticism.  I don’t have much of an opinion on Kazan’s politics some 60 years after the movie’s release and, frankly, I don’t think this bit of learned information does anything to change my feelings aboutRead More →

The year is coming to a close faster than I’d like and I still have quite a few movies to see. But I can’t imagine anything else affecting me the way “Weekend” did. If “The Help” and “The Tree of Life” moved me, and they did, then I must have responded to this movie on a spiritual level. This is a profound work of art that builds not on plot, traditional narrative, or any real discernible structure, but the full and complete development of two of the year’s most memorable characters. What happens here unfolds so organically, over the course of two days, it’s likeRead More →

The Aborigine boy stands like a slim shadow against the sun-baked Outback. He plants his feet firmly in the dirt, rears back a hand, fingers wrapped around a crudely sharpened spear. The first strike tears a hole in the kangaroo’s shoulder. The wounded beast sprints for cover among a density of brush. On the other side, the Aborigine, smiling, prepares to deliver the death blow. Although Walkabout is fiction, the scene is real. The kangaroo is really and truly mortally wounded, and about to meet its maker. That was when I hit the stop button on my remote. Of course, this was after being subjectedRead More →

The Vanishing is a suspenseful, engaging thriller that provides us with interesting characters, a halfway plausible setup, and then destroys everything that has come before in the last ten minutes. The premise: While on vacation in France, Dutch native Saskia goes missing at a rest stop. Three years later, Saskia’s husband, Rex, is still searching for her. He tirelessly puts up posters around Amsterdam, gets interviewed on the local news, and even drives away his new girlfriend, Lieneke, with his obsession.  We soon learn Saskia was snatched from the rest stop.  We meet her kidnapper, Raymond. He’s a family man, clean-cut, well-off, a chemist. ThisRead More →

“Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” That quote kept turning over in my mind as I watched the great Louis Malle’s Elevator to the Gallows, a film where every character is guilty of murder, and each of them is unaware they have an iron-clad alibi. It also happens to be one of the most stylish examples of 50’s French noir I’ve seen. Florence and Julien (Jeanne Moreau and Maurice Ronet) are lovers, fresh off plotting the murder of Florence’s husband, Simon, the chairman of a powerful oil conglomerate. The plan goes off almost without a hitch, as JulienRead More →

Part Hitchcock, part Gothic thriller, Diabolique is one of the most famous suspense films ever made.  That it carries its suspense consistently through to the shaky ending, is a testament to the talent of director and co-writer Henri-Georges Clouzot, and screenwriter Jerome Geronimi. How is it that two women can hate one another so viciously, yet loathe the man they share more, so much so that they’re willing to plot his murder? Paul Meurisse answers that question easily, as Michel, the cruel headmaster of a French boys’ school: he’s a beast of a man, with a poisonous tongue and swift hand.  His wife, Christina (VeraRead More →

What, exactly, happened to Anna? That’s the central question in Michelangelo Antonioni’s haunting masterpiece, L’Avventura, a film uneasy with answers and so much more than a missing persons case.  Like Anonioni’s later film, Blow Up, it builds suspense, not with the shock and action of a modern-day thriller, but what we–and the characters–think has happened, or might happen. The plot is deceptively simple: A group of wealthy socialites on a leisurely yachting expedition decide to spend the afternoon exploring a remote island chain.  They dock near an islet that could be called desolate, if that weren’t such an understatement: the place is a rock, covered inRead More →

Regarded by some as an inscrutable poetic masterpiece, I can’t help but think that Wings of Desire, despite all its beauty, falls into the category of pretentious arthouse cinema. The film follows two angels, Damiel and Cassiel, through a series of images and setpieces, as they regard the modern world around them–always observing, pondering, helping.  The angels have existed since the beginning of time (“it took a long time for the river to meet its bed”) and watched the progression of God’s creations with a mix of sympathy and wonder. Along the way, they encounter a series of lost souls–a holocaust survivor, a lonely circusRead More →

For the second time in a week, I have been profoundly moved by this great film.  One of the best I’ve ever seen.  Passion contains the most astonishing performance I’ve ever seen, by Renee Falconetti as Joan of Arc during her heresy trial. Vastly ahead of its time, full of intricate camera work.  The Criterion DVD carries an alternate score, created for the film, that adds another layer of power to the narrative.  See it silent, as well, for an entirely different, more intimate, experience. Powerful, a monumental achievement, and a defining moment for me. (See also Carl Th. Dreyer’s Vampyr (1932), an incredible silentRead More →

  “God…I don’t understand you!” So Max von Sydow, as an anguished father, cries out in the closing scene of Ingmar Bergman’s great The Virgin Spring (1960).  The moment, when it comes, is inevitable: the end of a path paved by torment and loss of faith. I’ve long suspected that Bergman (1918-2007) was the cinema’s greatest director; after my second viewing of The Virgin Spring, I’m sure of it.  And if Bergman was the greatest director, then so too was Sven Nykvist (1922-2006), his long-time collaborator, the best of all cinematographers, a master lensman who understood better than anyone else the awesome power of lightRead More →