Friday, July 13, 2012

THE CINEMA DECADENCE Film Festival

The #CinemaDecadence Film Festival will cover most of the significant films of world cinema from 1890-1970.  Most films in the collection are from the high end Criterion Collection blu-rays, or the best available DVD version I could find.  I give each film an overall grade, and most films get a "context" grade showing their importance or contribution to world cinema.  I avoided horror and most of Hitchcock, since they deserve their own sub-genre.  There's no particular order to these films, and I feel it's foolish to "rank" one film against the next.  It's closest to semi-chronological order.  I've grabbed most of the films from the Toronto Top 100, Martin Scorsese's list of must sees, and my own personal interests.  I'm planning for live Tweetup screenings and discussions in the coming months, so stay tuned.

Visit CINEMADECADENCE.com for more details.

1. SHADOWS - 1959 - dir. John Cassavetes / "Shadows" is the ultimate cinema verite style narrative feature film from actor/director John Cassavetes.  Mostly improvised by the amateur actors, Cassavetes single-handidly created DIY/gonzo filmmaking on the fly.  Shot with a budget of $40k on 16mm film, this NYC interracial love story broke all the rules.   If you like indie film, start here.
Overall: B+     Context: A


2.  FACES - 1968 - dir. John Cassavetes / "Faces" is Cassavetes' 2nd self-financed return to DIY product.  It took him three years to make, and received three Academy Award nominations, including best original screenplay, and best supporting actor & actress.  The cruddy sound stressed me out, but I really liked a young Seymour Cassel (seen left).
Overall: B   Context: B+


3.  MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA - 1929 - dir. Dziga Vertov / This kick ass film shows pre-war Russian society in quick cuts, split screens, stop motion animation, and an overall avant garde attitude.  Credit his wife for the modern style of editing, this experimental doc would fit in perfectly in the 21st century.  Considered the birth of modernism in film.
Overall: A   Context: A

4. BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN - 1925 - dir. Sergei Eisenstein / Ahhhh, a true classic.  They still torture film school students with this silent propaganda recruitment film.  You've heard it all before: Odessa Steps sequence > "Untouchables."  The acting is weak, and you might be a little commie for liking it.  But, Eisenstein was a genius that worked his editing magic on the audience.  He worked tirelessly to make you FEEL sympathy for the uppity soldiers, who don't like rotten meat.  Overall: B+     Context: A


5.  METROPOLIS - 1927 - dir. Fritz Lang / Shot during the absolute apex of German Expressionism, this is considered the greatest sci-fi film of all time.  I thought there'd be a lot more robot killing, but it's just not that film.  Every 10 minutes, my jaw drops at the beauty of it, but I still find it hard to watch the hyperbolic actors with caked on makeup.  Quite a production for 1927.  Long-winded for sure.
Overall: C+     Context: A

6.  THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI - 1920 - dir. Robert Wiene / Considered the very first horror movie, and just watching it can be a horrible experience.  If you're a fan PORTLANDIA, then you know my mailman screamed, "I'm free!" after I watched it.  German Expressionism at its finest.  It's cool if you enjoy pain.  Overall: C

7.  THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC - 1928 - dir. Carl Dreyer / Now we're talking!  I didn't even know they made silent films like this.  Shot mainly with mediums and close ups (no establishing shots), this is the first film to include a modern tracking shot.  The performance from Maria Falconetti is spectacular (in her only on-screen role), as she cries in anguish throughout the film.  Sure, it's weird for a silent picture, but done very well.  The lore behind the film is even more interesting, involving insane asylums in Norway, and on-camera blood letting.  Couldn't be cooler. Overall: A    Context: A

8.  MODERN TIMES - 1936 - Charlie Chaplin / The final film as his "tramp" character, Chaplin created a masterpiece.  Even though it was ten years into "talkies," Chaplin decided not to monkey with the wildly popular silent era Tramp formula.  Big Hollywood production values are apparent, but Chaplin still conveys his man-of-the-people theme.  It includes the birth of the conveyor belt comedy trope, and plenty of slapstick with social commentary.   Overall: B+


© Charles Chaplin Productions

9.  THE GREAT DICTATOR - 1940 - Charles Chaplin / By far, my favorite film by Chaplin.  He mixes his social commentary on Adolf Hitler with great comedy.  I love the WWI sequences, the dancing globe, and the heartfelt, passionate speech at the end of the film.  It's great to finally hear Chaplin speak on camera, and realize what a great genius he was.  When he breaks character, and speaks directly to the audience with his hope-filled speech, I still get all googly-eyed.  Overall: A   Context: A




Sidenote: This is Paulette Goddard in 1944 (age 34), and she was one hot tomato.  She starred in both "Modern Times" & "The Great Dictator," and her performances and beautiful appearance are both very modern-looking.  She married, and subsequently divorced, Mr. Chaplin, and ultimately received an Oscar nomination in 1943.  Paulette became a wealthy widow from her late 4th husband, and was a great lover of art--even donating $20 million to New York University.  What a life, pretty lady.

10.  THE 39 STEPS - 1935 - Alfred Hitchcock / One of Hitch's earliest thrillers, it takes place on the moors of the Scottish highlands.  This was the beginning of Hitchcock's innocent-man-on-the-run theme, and he shows many clever plot twists, that are now considered genre cliches.  At times, some of the production values are hard to handle, but Hitch still manages to deliver style and entertainment value.  Overall: B


© Mercury Productions / RKO Radio Pictures
11.  CITIZEN KANE - 1941 - Orson Welles / This is the granddaddy of all films ever made anywhere in the universe forever, and it will never be toppled.  That last sentence might be dripping in sarcasm because as much as I love it, it still feels like a film critique from an older generation.  Welles claimed his groundbreaking filmmaking techniques (like extreme deep focus, low angle shots, split screens, matte paintings, and music) were a result of sheer ignorance, but I believe "CK" happens when true artists are given complete control over their product (having an Oscar-winning, genius cinematographer in Gregg Toland helps, too).  This is a must see for any filmmaker or cinephile, and each shot and story device can be studied ad nauseum.   If you're really serious about its messages, check out Roger Ebert's critique.

< Here's an example of the deep focus, beautiful composition, and stark lighting that makes CITIZEN KANE great.  The story on how this film got made, and the struggles for control after its release, are legendary.  It lost money at the box office, and won only 1 Academy Award (9 noms).  However, this negativity was largely due to the influence of the uber-wealthy media mogul, William Randolph Hearst, whom Welles loosely based the story.  My favorite quote comes from Welles' character Charles Foster Kane, "If I hadn't been very rich, I might've been a really great man."  Overall: A   Context: A

12.  ROME, OPEN CITY - 1945 - Roberto Rossellini / Heavy drama about the Italian resistance to the German occupation of Rome at the end of the war.  This perfect example of neorealism in film set the tone for the restructuring of Italian society.  Shot with mostly non-professional actors on location in war ravaged Rome, the film suggests that the youth now had the responsibility to rebuild.   It has a documentary look and cinema-verite style, which lends to its authenticity.  It can be a bit melodramatic at times, and the ending is harsh.  But, it has some great tracking shots, and brought location shooting to the forefront.
Overall: A-   Context: A

13.  BICYCLE THIEVES - 1948 - Vittorio De Sica / Another feather in the Italian neorealism cap, this simple film follows the plight of an unemployed father, who gets his ride stolen and can't get to work.  The father's desperation to find a way to work in order to provide for his family, drives him down a road of complete character disintegration.   It won an honorary Academy Award in 1950, and is still considered one of the best films of all time.  Overall: A   Context: A

14.  UMBERTO D. - 1952 - Vittorio De Sica / A poor old man in Rome struggles to keep his head above water, as his life slowly unravels.  Another masterpiece of Italian neorealism, it features a simple man in simple situations.  As things get worse for Umberto and his dog Flicke, he ultimately realizes the joy of man-dog love is enough to keep him rooted in the present.  If you don't feel strong emotions at the end of this film, you are NOT a human being.  I absolutely loved this movie.  Overall: A

15.  LATE SPRING - 1949 - Yasujiro Ozu / Shot during the Allied occupation of Japan following WWII, this drama documents the quest of a widowed father to marry off his daughter.  With mostly static shots, and a lilting pace, the film explores the transitioning Japanese family in a world dominated by Western influence.  I know I'll rankle some cinephiles with this, but it was hard for me to fully understand all the character motivations due to my ignorance of Far East cultures.  I had a very open mind to this film, but found it to be somewhat boring and technically soft.  I was most interested in the infamous "pillow shot," but my impression was that it was just sloppy editing, and nothing more.  I enjoyed the performances, and the overall story, but "Late Spring" was like watching paint dry.  Overall: C+   Context: B+
© Twentieth Century Fox
16.  THE GRAPES OF WRATH - 1940 - John Ford / Mr. Ford won the Academy Award for best directing for his thorough and engaging take on the John Steinbeck novel.  Henry Fonda leads his family out of the dust bowls of Oklahoma for the promise of work in the golden state of California.  Unfortunately, many other "Okies" have the same idea, and conditions are extremely poor for the migrated workers.  Filmed with a mixture of studio sets and locations, and shot beautifully by cinematographer Gregg Toland, "Grapes" shows Americana life struggling to free itself from the Great Depression.  5 Oscar noms & 2 wins.   Overall: B+  Context: A

Sidenote: This is master cinematographer Gregg Toland.  He shot "Grapes of Wrath," and won the Oscar in 1939 for "Wuthering Heights."  He shot "Citizen Kane" in 1940 with Orson Welles, and is largely responsible for the "deep focus" look (5 Oscar noms).  Toland died tragically from a heart attack when he was just 44 years old.  Many legions of DPs consider Toland the Jimi Hendrix of Cinematography.



17.  HIGH NOON - 1952 - Fred Zinnemann / Gary Cooper stars as John McClain in...wait a second, that's Will Kane defending law and order against a pack of killers.  His new bride, played by Grace Kelly, is stunning in this film.  This film defied my expectations of American westerns.  It's real-time approach, and the pathetic lack of support from the townspeople set it apart from the stereotypical genre elements.  Great barn fight.   It won 4 Academy awards (7 noms), including Gary Cooper for best actor.  Overall: B+   Context: A

© Warner Brothers Pictures
18.  CASABLANCA - 1942 - Michael Curtiz / Humphrey Bogart plays the neutral-leaning, doesn't-stick-his-neck-out-for-nobody owner of a club in Nazi-occupied Casablanca.  Former lover, Ingrid Bergman, re-enters his life, and things get snappy for Rick.  This film has only grown in popularity since its premiere at the Hollywood Theater in 1942.  It was nominated for eight Academy Awards, and won three of them (best picture, best director, & best screenplay).  It has a great love story without the sappy ending, and becomes more about showing love through self-sacrifice than "boy conquers girl."  Cool black and white cinematography lighting and smooth camera moves make it one to be studied.  Overall: A-   Context: A

19.  RASHOMON - 1950 - Akira Kurosawa / Made for a meager $250k 1951 dollars, Kurosawa spins a tale of a murderous event told through the POVs of the four characters involved.  Lots of cool tracking shots through the forest, a basic and intriguing story, and a wicked sequence  from the dead samurai as told through a medium are highlights.  Kurosawa used multiple cameras to gain more coverage from a tight shooting schedule.  Lots of interesting editing effects.  Overall: B+   Context: A

20.  IKIRU - 1952 - Akira Kurosawa / A beautiful film about a dying man finding redemption in the final moments of his life.  I loved this movie, and it's a must see for any true film fan.  Check out Roger Ebert's critical take on "Ikiru" (english: "To Live").  Overall: A   Context: A

21.  SEVEN SAMURAI - 1954 - Akira Kurosawa / At three and a half hours of samurai goodness, this quintessential Kurosawa flick is just pure fun.  Great characters and well-played action scenes dominate, and the film helped spawn countless "recruitment-type" Hollywood remakes ("Magnificent Seven," "The Guns of Navarone," "Ocean's Eleven").  Shot over a one year period, it took 148 shooting days to complete.  This film was the largest film ever completed by the fledgling Japanese film industry (Toho Films), and its influence even crossed over to the Western audiences.  Kyuzo is my favorite samurai, and his retrieval of the musket is priceless.  Highly recommended.   Overall: A   Context: A

Sidenote: This actor is Takashi Shimura.  He was an actor in most of Kurosawa's films.  While I liked his performance in SEVEN SAMURAI, I particularly enjoyed him in IKIRU.  Not only did he get to work with Kurosawa, but he played a scientist in the first two GODZILLA movies.  Freaking cool, man...



For the rest of the festival, visit www.CinemaDecadence.com.

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