Search Results for masterpiece
CCU59: Late Spring and the Films of Yasujiro Ozu
Mark, Aaron and Matt Gasteier explore the filmmaking world of Yasujirō Ozu, centering on his pivotal masterpiece Late Spring (1949). It would be impossible to explore all of his dozens of his films in one episode, so we give an overview of his work, his style, and his contributions towards international cinema.
CCU44 – A Brighter Summer Day (1991)
Mark and Aaron are joined by Scott Nye to hash out the intricate themes, history, and nuance of Edward Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day. Given the length and depth of the film, we explored it in detail, distilling the cultural and societal clashes that took place in a pivotal period of Chinese and Taiwanese history. We also compare it to what is considered Yang’s other masterpiece, Yi Yi, and we touch on the New Taiwanese Cinema movement.
CCU18: Expanded News and an Announcement
Mark and Aaron have to abbreviate the episode, but we expand the news and get into what is happening not just with Criterion, but also with other films out there during awards season and that are in the wheelhouse of Criterion fans. We also finally (yes, finally) announce our special guest, who has 3.5 films in The Criterion Collection.
Or listen here to it here:
Or direct download/listen to the MP3.
0:00 – Intro, Housekeeping
14:55 – News
Met our Facebook challenge – thanks guys.
Wexner Center to Showcase Criterions and a New Restoration.
New York Film Critics Circle Winners
Restored Mizoguchi Masterpiece Gets an Overdue Theatrical Run
Review: Hitchcock/Truffaut Revisits the Master of Suspense
Ana Lily Amirpour Top Ten List
Where to Find Us:
Mark Hurne: Twitter | Blog | Letterboxd
Aaron West: Twitter | Blog | Letterboxd
Criterion Close-Up: Facebook | Twitter | Email
Criterion Close-Up 2: My Life as a Dog & Lasse Hallström’s Career
Or listen here to it here:
For other apps or mobile devices, try this link.
Or direct download/listen to the MP3.
0:00 – Intro: Introductions, Housekeeping, Criterion News.
25:00 – My Life as a Dog discussion
1:00 – Lasse Hallström discussion
Thanks to guest host Martin Kessler for joining us.
New show Twitter: CriteronCU
The New World
Clouds of Sils Maria (DVD release already out)
Wim Wenders Janus Retrospective
Late Spring Criterion has Tokyo-Ga.
Arrow’s The Jacques Rivette Collection (Region B only)
Imamura Masterpiece Collection (Region B only)
My Life as a Dog
Mark – 7.8
Aaron – 7.5
Martin – 8
Average: 7.76 (rounding up to 8)
Mark – 7
Aaron – 7
Martin – N/A (sorry Martin, forgot to get yours)
Average : 7
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?
The Cider House Rules
The Shipping News
4/10 (sorry Lasse)
Where to Find Us
Martin on Twitter
Aaron on Twitter
Mark on Twitter
Criteron Close-Up on Twitter
Criterion Blues on Facebook
Modern Times, 1936, Charles Chaplin
In many ways, Modern Times was both an ending and a beginning. For Chaplin, it was the end of his silent movie star career and his popular character, the tramp. It was also the last major silent film release. It was at the height of the depression, and the underlying themes represented Chaplin’s critical feelings of industry and the exploitation of the working man. Little could he know that everything would change in a few years with a war, which would devastate the world and end the depression. Yet, the changing times did not date the picture. With historical perspective, Modern Times can be seen as a nostalgic and sentimental transitional film.
If there are any questions about Chaplin’s thoughts about industrialization, then they are answered within the first 15 minutes. Chaplin effective turns a social issue (one that we felt strongly above) into comedy, and as expected, he was completely successful. The early factory scene delivers the laughs. Chaplin becomes both obsessed and complacent with the act of riveting. Occasionally he’ll sneeze or otherwise be forced to miss an item and the assembly line will go out of whack, forcing the two other employees working behind him to get frustrated with his antics. The Tramp keeps on turning knobs with his two wrenches, sometimes even when his hands are not over the assembly line. He gets distracted by a woman’s attire with dark, loud buttons, and tries to turn them too. This scene works flawlessly. There are not many cuts, so the action must have been carefully rehearsed and difficult to carry out, and the speed at which the scene flows thanks to the customary 16 frames per second in silent films make it seem all the more hurried and manic.
The scene with the most laughs, at least for me, is the lunch efficiency machine. Again, Chaplin is poking fun of industrialization, specifically the fact that they value production so highly that they will compromise the worker’s free time and convenience by automating their lunch process. The machine dumps soup on Chaplin, forces him to eat corn on the cob at a rapid fire pace, and smacks him on the face when it is intended to merely wipe his chin. The device itself is funny simply due to its absurdity, but it is Chaplin’s performance that cements the scene as being so memorable in his cannon. He recalls the lunch machine later in the film by becoming a lunch machine himself, yet he is just as effective (or ineffective) as the automated version. Again, this is funny, but he is still making a cultural statement. People do not need external assistance, whether from a machine or a human, to perform basic duties.
Chaplin’s politics seem clear in some instances and hazy in others. He is clearly portraying modernity from a leftist perspective, and that echoes some of the activism he was undertaking outside of the film industry. However, he was careful not to go too far to the left. There is another scene where he takes a flag from a truck. A communist mob marches behind him, and he is swept up with them. As the flag waver in the front, he is mistaken as the front-runner in yet another hilarious gag. Despite the scene’s humor, he is distancing himself from the Communist movement. He was leftist, but not that left wing.
Unlike other Chaplin pictures, in Modern Times he has a co-star – a trampette if you will – in the form of Paulette Goddard, his off-screen lover. Even though Chaplin is always the funniest, she provides a welcome equilibrium to his antics, along with a motivation for him to pursue his character arc. Before meeting her, he was perfectly content being in jail because, after all, they served food and gave him a roof over his head, which wasn’t always the case on the outside (and this was another comment about modern times.) After meeting Goddard as The Gamin, he wants to succumb to the lures of society. He wants a good job so that he can afford a nice house, even if his dream house still rejects modernity by extracting milk directly from a passing cow rather than buy the processed product.
As Chaplin and Goddard pursue normal lives, and even find themselves living in a crude, fragile shack, they cling more to a life of poverty. In Chaplin’s vision, having less allows one to live in opposition to the modern trappings of society. They find themselves in plenty of other comic scenes, including a department store and most famously, a restaurant where Chaplin sings for the first time, but this is not the life for them. As everything they aim for falls apart, they are content simply walking away, hand in hand, comfortable in each other’s company.
Film Rating: 9.5
- Modern Times definitively identifies Chaplin’s transition from silent films into sound. He had intentions of making a talkie and even wrote a script, but trashed the idea after filming a couple scenes.
- After City Lights, he went on an 18-month world tour where he was treated as a celebrity. He saw economic collapse and nationalism. He published a number of social articles when he returned, including those about the tyranny of the assembly line.
- The lunch machine scene took 7 days. It isn’t known for sure because Chaplin never revealed his methods, but it is thought that there was an operator somewhere, although stills show Chaplin operating the lever.
- He was accused of ripping off Rene Clair’s À Nous la Liberté. Some argued that the similarities were obvious with any industrial story. Clair was not pleased with the lawsuit because he respected Chaplin. He didn’t think Chaplin was guilty, and if so, was flattered. The suit was out of Clair’s hands and went on. It didn’t resolve until 1947, where Chaplin paid a modest settlement.
- Goddard had been a struggling actress and a divorcee when she met Chaplin, when their affair and collaboration began. He convinced her to go back to her natural brunette color instead of the platinum blonde.
- One of the few critical complaints is that Modern Times is a series of 2-reelers, which is true to an extent (factory, furniture store, factory again, restaurant).
- Like City Lights, he was credited as composer. People have criticized him for taking too much credit away from his arrangers. He could play instruments, but could not read music. The arrangers all confirmed that he directed the compositions through them.
- The FBI, trying to establish a link with him and the Communist Party, investigated Chaplin. It was more that he found left leaning individuals to be better dinner companions. The FBI never found anything despite their pursuits. He was never tied to the party, so their efforts were futile.
- Chaplin’s song became famous. In 1939 it was released as a song about who had the better mustache, Chaplin or Hitler. It was most famous as being the first time his voice is heard on screen. He sings a gibberish of his own invention.
Modern Times: A Closer Look: Visual essay from Chaplin historian Jeffrey Vance.
Chaplin was highly secretive about how he worked. He did not allow people to film him during the process. “If people know how it’s done, the magic is gone.” Still photos survive as the background of the making of Modern Times.
He spoke with great minds (Churchill, Einstein, others), and wanted to make some sort of social cinema. He nixed the idea of a Napoleon film when he befriended Paulette Goddard. This would begin an 8-year collaboration with Chaplin and Goddard, which included a common law marriage. They treated each other as equals, and he cast her in that manner in the film.
The film was steeped in the political and social realities of the time. He met Henry Ford in 1923 and found that people who were hired from farms to factories often had nervous breakdowns.
Goddard later called it her favorite film. “Charlie could be difficult at times, but charming” and he gave her valued education and experience. Their collaboration would end due to a falling out after The Great Dictator.
A Bucket of Water and a Glass Matte: Craig Baron and Ben Burtt talk about visual and sound effects.
Chaplin isn’t thought of in terms of visual effects, but he used them effectively. He was a visual director because of his roots in silent film. He used techniques like miniatures, rear projection, glass shots, matte paintings, and many more. He built large sets, like he did with the factory. He used a lot of hanging miniatures, even during the factory sequence. They are smaller, yet they give the impression of appearing full-size, and they make the set look larger.
Sounds were used as needed for dramatic or comic effect, but no more. He preferred to use them only when necessary, such as the feeding machine and flatulence jokes.
They show the roller skating shot in detail. Chaplin used a glass matte painting shot. Camera shoots through a sheet of glass with a painting. The empty “cliff” is the painting. Chaplin was an exception skater, but was never in any danger.
Silent Traces: Modern Times: Visual essay with John Bengtson as he tours the locations that Chaplin used.
Chaplin began in Los Angeles, and many of the locations still exist today. He filmed factory scenes near gas storage tanks. The north of which was demolished in 1973. The landmark also appears in The Kid, Buster Keaton’s The Goat. The southern plant was smaller and used in the worker lineup scene.
Today the Chaplin studio in Hollywood is home to Jim Henson company, where Kermit pays tribute to Chaplin by dressing as the tramp.
David Raksin and the Score: 1992 interview with the composer for the film..
Alfred Newman did the conducting and was brilliant. Raksin was credited as music arranger. Charlie was autocratic, not used to people disagreeing with him. Initially he did not get along with Raksin because his taste and authority were challenged. Raksin was at one point fired due to these disagreements. Later Newman was looking at his Raskin’s sketches and thought they were marvelous, and he talked Charlie out of firing him. Charlie and David had to talk privately and work things out before he could come back.
Charlie did not know how to develop music, but he was excellent at working it out with someone who knew about music. He had an understanding of instruments that most non-musicians wouldn’t have. Raskin would generally like what Chaplin did, and prior disagreement were his just acting out of instinct.
Two Bits: These are two deleted scenes.
Crossing the Street – Funny scene with the tramp not understanding the stop and go signs, and the cop chiding him along. Even though it is funny, it does not fit too well with the theme of the film. I understand why it was cut.
The Tramp’s Song, unedited. – The last verse was removed when Chaplin re-edited the film. This 4-minute full sequence restores it. The last verse doesn’t add much and I expect he cut it for brevity.
All At Sea: This is a short filmed by Alistair Cooke of a yacht trip with Chaplin and Goddard with an added film score.
We see their mugs playing to the camera. Mostly it is Charlie doing the comic antics, but we also see Alistair showing a sense of humor that would surprise most fans of Masterpiece Theater.
It is strange seeing Chaplin out of his element, dressed well with perfectly combed hair. He looks just like a wealthy man on a yacht and nothing like the tramp. That doesn’t mean he isn’t funny. He does a series of routines with a broom, impersonating people that were in the headlines such as Gaynor, Garbo, and Harlow.
This documentary really is a treasure and I’m glad they added it to the disc.
Susan Cooke Kittredge Interview: When her father died in 2004, she was responsible for sorting through his old belongings. She found a treasure trove. Behind everything was a reel of film labeled “Chaplin film.” He had told his children that he had made a film with Chaplin, but they thought he was making it up. Cooke thought had he lost it, and it was unfortunate that it was found after his passing.
Cooke wanted to be a film critic early. He approached Chaplin and told him he was with the London Observer and asked to schedule an interview. Chaplin says yes, and Cooke pitched it to the Observer to get them to hire him. They hit it off well, and the interview turned to lunch and then dinner, and then they became inseparable.
They spent the weekend cruising around Catalina Island. Cooke happened to have a 8mm camera so they just thought they would shoot a film. It was just something to do.
Their friendship did not continue because their careers went in different directions. They saw each other occasionally and would reminisce, but the intensity of the friendship passed.
The Rink: – This has plenty of slapstick comedy and subtle gags. Some jumped out at me, like when he is working at a restaurant and tells his boss,“I’m going to lunch,” and promptly leaves the restaurant. The antics in the skating rink make it a fitting companion to Modern Times. This short shows off Chaplin’s skating ability, which was quite impressive.
For the First Time: 1967 Cuban documentary about showing motion pictures to rural communities that haven’t ever seen a movie. They showed Modern Times.
This was my second favorite supplement on the disc, with the Cooke film as the first.
The crew traveled to rural areas near Guantanamo and Baracoa. Many peasants had never seen a movie.
There is ecstatic laughter at the lunch scene! When the corncob goes in his mouth, people seem about to lose themselves with joy. Some kids yawn and then fall asleep. Some people are so blown away by what they are seeing that you can see tears in their eyes. My only complaint is that they don’t have interviews afterward to hear their thoughts.
Chaplin Today: “Modern Times.”: Philippe Truffaut documentary in 2003 with the Dardenne brothers.
The famous filmmakers dissect the film. They identify that he uses hunger in most of his films, and bread brings him together with the girl and is a prop in prison. Even the furniture store “burglars” are only looking for some food.
The assembly lines of Ford’s auto plants were mechanized labor, and during the depression that was no hiring because there was no demand for product. Chaplin was inspired by the assembly lines in Detroit to make the movie. Dardennes: “Man becomes a cog in the machine.” Chaplin sabotages the system, which is the ultimate rebellion. Dardennes talk about how when he does his ballet, he distracts the men from the machine, but they are still chained to it and resume work when he reminds them.
Criterion Rating: 10/10
Gates of Heaven, 1978, Errol Morris
Early on in Gates of Heaven, one of the interview subjects gives a quote that summarizes much of the film: “The love that people have for their pets is tremendous, something that is very, very difficult to explain.” As a pet owner for most of my life, I identify with this statement. When each pet has passed, it has been a difficult period –- almost to the level of losing a family member. For some people, losing a pet is worse than losing a family member.
At a recent film festival, we saw a short film about Cherry Pop, a Fort Lauderdale show cat with wealthy owners that lived during the 1980s. Her “parents” would buy her jewels, gave her a Rolls Royce, and spoiled her to high heaven. It was estimated that they spent $1 million on this cat. It was a neat little film with archived video footage from home movies, and I can think of fewer examples of someone loving a pet as much as this family. It was ridiculous that they spent all that money, but the feeling in their hearts was genuine. When they lost Cherry Pop, they were devastated.
The opposite is also true. There are many who see animals as packages of flesh with no real purpose. Since they are not human beings, they do not deserve to be memorialized or even treated humanely. These are the types who would raise no objection about rendering a deceased pet’s remains into a raw material.
Gates of Heaven is about this dichotomy. It explores the levels of which people love and care for their pets, in this world or the next, and those who think of them as garbage that needs to be processed somewhere. It is also about more than just the pets, but how people can turn these emotional connections into business enterprises, and whether they do so out of compassion or in order to line their own pockets.
The film begins with Floyd (or “Mac” as he goes by) talking about losing his Collie to an accident. Devastated, he wanted to find a piece of land to bury the remains of his loved one. When he found the land, he had a dream and eventually it led to the creation of a pet cemetery.
Mac is a man of compassion and his business interest is more about his love and respect for the deceased animals and the families who mourn them. He lambasts the rendering companies who have no respect for the deceased. There is another interviewee who talks about people being upset when a zoo animal’s remains went to rendering company. He admits that they lied and said that they buried them.
Mac realizes that there are more economic ways to maintain a pet cemetery, but he claims that his is “not a fast buck business.” He could have efficiently dumped a number of animals into the same burial plot and that would have likely brought him more profits, but it went against his moral code. Unfortunately, because he focused too little on the business aspect, he lost his shirt and his buried pets were forcefully evicted from the cemetery.
Mac when talking about the failings of his business and any culpability: “The only thing I’m guilty of is compassion. And that’s all.”
These pets were transferred to Bubbling Well Pet Memorial Park. Contrary to Mac’s endeavor, Bubbling Well is a successful pet cemetery because it is built upon solid business practices.
While the father and two suns that run Bubbling Well see it more as a business, does that mean it is exploitative? That is up to the viewer’s interpretation. There is one scene where a couple are putting to rest their loved dog Caesar. They are memorializing him with the patriarch of the business, Cal Harberts. He asks to see a picture of Caesar and compliments the dog for having such a gorgeous coat. He then talks about what great pets mixed breeds make. His tone is respectful and it comforts the mourning couple, but you have to wonder whether it is genuine. It could be superficial and a variation of what he says to every client, or he could have been playing to the cameras. Mac would share similar words, but we can imagine that he may emotionally empathize more with his clients.
Harberts leaves the operating of the business to his two kids, Phil and Dan. Dan dresses in 1970s, post-hippie fashion, and aspires to be a rock star. He admits that he partied during college, yet feels that he learned things and gives an odd explanation as to why, which shows that he basically did not learn. His brother Phil is his opposite. He has experience in the insurance industry and has good business sense. He compliments himself on his great memory and how it is necessary for the business that he uses it to keep up with all his veterinarian contacts. When he speaks, he is all either business or affirmation. He wants to even expand the business, and when talking about his father’s success, “he read the same textbooks as me.”
Phil is creative. He builds a “Garden of Honor,” which is a resting place for service dogs, whether they are police or seeing eye dogs, and they are buried for no price. Other owners can bury their pets in the same section, but at a higher price because of the prestigious land.
Bubbling Well still exists today. Here is a recent article the facility and its history.
Dan is neither Phil, Cal or Mac, and his appearance towards the end gives this documentary an extra quirk (although it has plenty, mostly from interviews of pet owners). He really is a slacker. We see him in his apartment listening to psychedelic music, presumably his own. He writes songs and longs to have them heard, but realizes that as time passes, that dream is fading.
The interviews with pet owners and snapshots of their interactions, like the memorable singing owner and dog, offer little to the narrative, but they are what gives the documentary its flavor. They recall the statement I began this write-up with, that people inexplicably love their pets. One lady says that she wants her pet buried because she believes they will be together again. In a sentiment that Mac would agree with, Mrs. Harberts says that the “at the Gates of Heaven, an all compassionate God is not going to say ‘Well, you’re walking in on two legs, you can go in. You’re walking in on four legs, we can’t take you.”
Film Rating: 7/10
Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, 1980, Les Blank
The bet was that Morris would not be able to complete Gates of Heaven or Werner Herzog would eat his shoe. This documentary is Herzog living up to his end of the bargain, with help from friends such as culinary goddess, Alice Waters, and of course the documentarian, Les Blank.
The documentary is in typical Les Blank style. It begins with upbeat music, photography that focuses on a weird object (Herzog’s walking shoe), and of course food.
After preparing the shoe Cajun style, and boiling it for 5 hours, he proclaims the shoe edible. Herzog says that he has survived Kentucky Fried Chicken so he can handle this. Does he eat the shoe? Sort of. They cleverly intercut the famous Chaplin shoe-eating scene from The Gold Rush. He does eat the shoe, but not the sole, comparing it to the bones of a chicken.
Back to the topic of this post. Herzog is proud of Morris for making the film. While eating the shoe is foolish, he is proud that it was a motivator.
Film Rating: 8/10
Herzog at Telluride: “You can make films with your guts alone.” This is a very short clip where he complements Gates of Heaven as a very fine film that was made with no money and only guts.
Errol Morris: October, 2014 interview.
Just like with The Thin Blue Line, Errol Morris proves to be an excellent interview subject.
He tells a funny story about how Douglas Sirk, a director that he respected tremendously, walked out of his movie. “This isn’t a movie. This is a slideshow.” And then he said, “There’s a danger that this film could be perceived as ironic.” What?
Morris doesn’t remember Herzog saying he would eat his shoe, and minimized the influence of that “bet.” He claims he was more inspired by Herzog’s films.
Wim Wenders saw a very rough cut, one that they were worried wouldn’t fit into the projector. He said it was a masterpiece. That was the first positive review. It was very encouraging of course. Siskel and Ebert followed suit and loved it. They were known to fight with each other, but in the case of Morris’ film, they fought about how good it was. They reviewed it three times and put it on best of year list. “Thank you, Roger. Thank you, Gene.”
This is a two-film disc with Vernon, FL, which will be discussed next.
Odd Man Out, 1947, Carol Reed
Odd Man Out was the first of a series of three films that essentially put Carol Reed into the conversation as a major auteur of the post-war period. The other two are The Fallen Idol and The Third Man, the latter of which is considered his masterpiece. It currently is #73 on BFI’s Sight and Sound poll and is consider the #1 British film of all time. Reed’s later work had some success, even if not quite as celebrated on a historical scale. He is appropriately remembered for these three, all of which have some similarities in style, yet are thematically different.
Odd Man Out is also remembered as one of the few films to feature Northern Ireland politics as a major setting. Another is John Ford’s The Informer, which would be a major influence on the Reed film. The politics of the IRA at the time were complicated, as they were in subsequent decades, and I don’t believe that Reed was trying to make a political statement of any sort. He simply adapted a novel with an Irish setting and used the political landscape as the backdrop to explore some major themes about humanity.
This was also James Mason’s breakthrough role, and I consider it to be one of the best performances of his career. His character Johnny is the leader of the local IRA group, and they rob a mill in order to acquire funds. Things go wrong when a renegade employee pursues the group with a gun. After a struggle, he shoots Johnny, who returns fire and kills the man. Johnny is wounded and tries to escape with his gang, but falls from the getaway car into no man’s land. From here, he is the title character as he literally is the odd man out of the group, although not by design.
Johnny is gravely wounded, yet because of the crime and fatality, the police are after the local rebel. The relations between the armed police and the citizens are the scenes where the political situation is addressed. Many of the locals seem to be on Johnny’s side whereas the police desperately want him captured and order restored. People assist Johnny in eluding his captors, sometimes by accident, but they do not immediately report his location. A household takes him in at one point, not realizing who he is, and they try to help with his injuries. Once they realize who he is, they let him go to wander the streets, but they do not turn him in. They simply want no part of the situation, probably because even though they support Johnny and his people, they do not want trouble from the authorities. Others assist him as well, and later when someone attempts to turn him in, it is to a local priest and only for some sort of reward.
As Johnny’s physical state deteriorates, his mental state follows. He fades in and out of consciousness, at times reaching a delusional state where he sees hallucinations. This is where Mason’s performance stands out. He often has very little dialog to say, and instead spends a lot of his screen time looking weathered and emaciated. When he does speak, it is often murmuring and sometimes rambling. Often his performance is merely physical, and he does as much with his movements, mannerisms and expressions as he does with words.
Even though Johnny is technically a rebel, murderer and criminal, he is portrayed as a benevolent person. When he is lucid, he wonders whether he accidentally killed the man at the mill. It pains him when he learns that the man is dead, not just for his own fate as a criminal, but because of his guilty conscience. He is expressly non-violent. At one point he hallucinates a policeman who he treats of as a confessionary, a plot point that will come back into play later.
The church is continually involved in the film, both from a thematic sense and directly within the plot. Religion is at the forefront of the film, and becomes expressed through the character. When “Shell” gets wind of Johnny’s location, he uses an analogy of Johnny being one of his birds, and essentially tries to get a reward for this message from the church. Rather than giving any monetary reward, which they could not offer anyway, they instead give him the promise of spiritual rewards. By delivering Johnny to the church (and by extension, to God) “Shell” is one step closer to salvation.
As a product of the thick religious theme, Johnny becomes a messianic character. As he is being bandaged up by a local group, his physical health deteriorating and visions increasing, he quotes the bible. He says ““I remember when I was a child, I spoke as a child; I thought as a child; I understood as a child. But when I became a man, I put away childish things.” This bit of scripture is from Corinthians chapter 13, which is coincidentally enough, the chapter on “Love,” and is often quoted in positive and selfless context. Is Johnny becoming an instrument of God? Through his delusion, is he preaching for people to become more passive, loving, and accepting of God so that they will reach salvation? Is Johnny merely trying to achieve his own salvation out of guilt for his actions and the potential sacrifice to come? The film does not answer any of these questions definitively and it shouldn’t. That is one of its strengths, as it cannot give the answers, but it promotes spiritual and ethical exploration.
One of the constant motifs is about death. Tying into the religious theme, at one point the priest says, “This life is nothing but a trial for the life to come.” It is perhaps Johnny’s trial. In another scene, a character is asked what faith means. “Only one man had it,” he responds, probably referring to Jesus, although possibly in the context of the film, to Johnny. He continues by saying that “It is life.” Much of the film is concerned with whether Johnny will live or die, and it is through his love, Kathleen, that this answer is revealed at the end of the film. I will not give that answer here and spoil the film, but I will say that the ending punctuates much of what I have discussed here. It creates more questions than it answers, and that sort of ambiguity (along with a number of filmic strengths that I have not discussed) is what makes this a classic.
Film Rating: 8.5/10
Template for the Troubles: John Hill on Odd Man Out: 2014 interview with a scholar on Northern Ireland.
He calls this the first film to portray the urban Northern Island situation since the partition in 1921. IRA activity had not been significant before the film. During WW2, the members were interned. The film is sympathetic to the organization and Johnny.
The city in Odd Man Out is not named, but is implied to be Belfast. There are some overhead establishing shots of Belfast, but most of the film was shot around Shoreditch, London or in Denham Studio in London. They created a model of the large clock, which would play a major part in the visuals, and they recreated the Crown Bar from Belfast in Denham studio.
Postwar Poetry: Carol Reed and Odd Man Out: This is a short documentary made for Criterion Collection in 2014.
They discuss the film in detail, from its origins when Reed read the book in 1945 and began shooting in 1946, to its legacy. One contributor calls it the British High Noon because you are so aware of the time throughout the film.
They speak about this film in the context of the other Reed films, including his prior and later films. One element that sets apart the three films is that they are shot at night and they exhibit an excellent use of darkness. Previously filming at night was not an option for Reed because he did not have the budget. There were other characteristics of a Reed film, such as that it had a cluttered frame and was shot documentary style.
Home, James: This 1972 documentary is a personal look through Mason’s eyes at his hometown of Huddersfield.
Mason narrates and they show scenes of people living, working, walking and going about his town. Much of the movie is about the economy, population, and industry. He spends a lot of time looking at the various local companies that operate in Huddersfield, and he speaks gushingly of the respectable type of person that lives in the town, whether they are a lower class worker or an upper class business owner. You could call it a fluff piece, as a critical words is hardly uttered.
Mason has a familiar slow and relaxed manner of speaking, which works well in film and his dialog benefits from this manner of speaking. I once joked that Mason’s voice would be enjoyable reading a phone book. After seeing this documentary, my opinion has changed. This film appears to have been created for local educational TV as a way of glorifying the city. Mason indubitably had plenty of hometown pride, but from an outsider, this is not exactly gripping subject material. It actually took me away from the film. A supplement about Mason would have been terrific, but this seemed like it did not belong. Film Rating: 3/10
Collaborative Composition: Scoring Odd Man Out: This is a piece about William Alwyn’s score with Jeff Smith.
I did not discuss many of the exemplary technical elements in my review, but the score is absolutely brilliant. Johnny’s theme is especially memorable and really fits well with his plight. As a result, this was my favorite supplement on the disc and it brought me back after seeing the dull documentary.
In a way, the score was experimental. Alwyn did not believe in “wall-to-wall” score with endless silence. He believed that there should be musical silence in plaes. He worked with sound editor to determine when to use score and when to use sound effects.
Smith plays all of the themes on the piano, which are for the characters of Johnny, Kathleen, Shell. Alwyn only deviated slightly from these themes. For instance he would play a delirium sound when Johnny hallucinates or loses his mind.
Alwyn was a major influence on the merits of pre-scoring a film and working with a collaborative team. Many famous conductors would write the score after the first rough cut of the film was completed. Alwyn pre-scored Odd Man Out based on the script. Others have followed, with the most notable example being Ennio Morricone with Once Upon a Time in the West where he played the theme for the actors.
Even though he had a highly successful career, Alwyn considered Odd Man Out his crowning achievement.
Suspense, Episode 460: February 1952 broadcast with primary cast.
This was another radio broadcast with cast members from the film. Since it is relatively short, it is an easy listen, even if the film language does not translate well to radio. Mason’s voice work is key in this version, beginning with him using his character to establish the heist debacle. “I’m hurt!!!” he yells loudly.
Criterion Rating: 8.5/10
Beauty and the Beast, 1946, Jean Cocteau
When Beauty and the Beast was in production, the Second World War was in its final throes. The entire European landscape was ravaged and devastated by the war machine, and France had been under German occupation. Even though many filmmakers fled or were exiled, the industry continued in a limited capacity. To say that it had been a difficult time for the French would be a gross understatement. It had been horrific. When the film industry slowly began finding its legs, it would be expected that some escapism would be necessary. A bit of that can be found in Children of Paradise (my #1 of 1945). Few, however, would expect such a vast departure from reality as Beauty and the Beast.
Previous to 1946, Fairy Tales had primarily been almost exclusive to Disney animated films. In France, they were even less prominent, as many American films had not been shown during the war. Most people didn’t have a chance to see Pinnochio, Fantasia, Dumbo or Bambi until after the war. I’m a believer that time and context is a major consideration when evaluating film. This makes Cocteau’s project that much more special. For France, it was revolutionary filmmaking, unparalleled in time and space. One could argue that there never has been a live action film like it, and it has influenced many future films, such as the Disney remake and Demy’s Donkey Skin.
The story is familiar to probably every reader. Whether they have seen the Cocteau, they have undoubtedly seen the 1991 Disney version, which takes more from Cocteau than it does the original work from Beaumont. A princess ends up in an animated castle with a beastly creature. At first she loathes him, but grows to like and respect him, and eventually, well, you know the rest. This is a fairy tale after all.
What is also impressive is that Cocteau does not rely on state-of-the-art special effects to achieve is fantasy. He uses set design, musical score, costumes, make-up, cinematography, and mise-en-scene to create the fantasy. There are special effects, but they are only slightly more technical than the effects that Georges Méliès was creating during the early days of films. What’s more impressive is that we hardly notice that the effects are not technical spectacles. Everything else is so well done that it keeps us enthralled with what’s on screen. Cocteau uses artistry and not trickery to immerse us in this world.
I’ve already gushed plenty about this movie, but I have to gush just a little more. Jean Marais deserves credit for playing a number of parts in the film, but most importantly for his work as the Beast. One amazing aspect of the supplements was learning all that went into creating the character. Marais basically had to live in an uncomfortable layer of fur for hours, after spending up to five-hours being prepared in costume. Despite having no face to emote, he manages to perform enough with his eyes and his mannerisms that we understand the character’s feelings and motivations. On different occasions, we see the Beast as fierce, menacing, somber, mournful and jubilant.
Unlike a number of directors, past and present, Cocteau was a true artist. Rather than create a faithful adaptation, he made it his own by adding to the fantasy. The fantastical elements of the house are all Cocteau. He has human hands holding candles, pouring liquids, and human faces lining the walls, watching every move of the living. The fact that the house is alive adds to the mood and mystique. It is both unnerving and enticing to see a ashen face breathing smoke alongside the fireplace.
Beauty and the Beast was not without social commentary. The fact that the other living characters, especially Belle’s sisters, are untrustworthy, manipulative, and only looking out for their own gain speaks to the times. Belle utters a particularly scathing line of dialog that speaks more to modern society, specifically German occupiers and French collaborators: “There are men far more monstrous than you, but they conceal it well.” Cocteau is unequivocally comparing the monstrous nature of the peripheral characters with the real monsters who had governed France for the previous several years. Even if these monsters could sometimes be polite and smile, that does not change the fact that they are monsters. Beauty’s first paramour, Avenant, is very much like these two-faced fiends. He even has Belle fooled during the early portion of the film, but he is revealed to be just as cunning and dangerous as the outwardly evil characters. The Beast may not look like much and acts outside of social norms, but he is genuine. Belle knows what she will get with the Beast, and the more she gets to know him, the more she likes what he is.
I’m careful not to use the word “masterpiece” because it is a term that is too easily thrown about. I’ve used it on a few occasions, which is probably too often because it lessens the magnitude of the word. When I consider something is a masterpiece, I believe it is a truly original, creative and artistic piece of work that is unparalleled. Beauty and the Beast meets my definition, as I consider it the most important and the greatest live action fairy tale that has ever been made. It is the standard for which all tales should be measured, animated or otherwise.
Film Rating: 10/10
Arthur Knight – Film historian, recorded in 1991.
- Germans enjoyed the film. They took to the Aryan looks of the leads and ignored the subtext, although it was obvious in the minds of the French.
- Cocteau added a number of elements to the story. Avenant is an example of a character that was not in the original.
- It was a frustrating shoot because of continued problems. Airplanes would fly over the set, the weather was bad, and passing children would gawk at Marais in costume. There were many delays.
- Cocteau was critical of Alekant’s cinematography, especially the pacing of him setting up, thinking that imperfections would show in the final product. The opposite was true as the photography was celebrated.
- Knight speaks in detail about Cocteau’s homosexuality, contrasted with Noel Coward’s. He speaks about the relationship with Jean Marais, which lasted until 1947, where Cocteau met Edouard Dermit.
Sir Christopher Frayling – Writer and cultural historian, recorded in 2001.
- He gives more of a direct commentary to the scenes as they are shown whereas King provides more background details. Frayling mentions more instances where Cocteau takes poetic license or when the dialog is lifted from the book.
- Critics had attacked Cocteau for not being political. The prologue text is directed more toward them than the viewer.
- Cocteau had been poet, playwright, graphic artist, and a novelist. He was quite the artist, but hadn’t made a film since 1930 and this was his first mainstream film.
- Many of the castle props, including the living sculptures and supernatural elements were inventions of Cocteau. This is more surreal whereas the book was opulent. Disney used the Cocteau ideas for their version.
- Frayling contrasts between Beauty in this version and Disney. She is a post-feminist, intelligent woman in the Disney film, whereas Cocteau portrays her more as an object.
- In original story, Belle stays with Beast for three months while sisters get married to flawed individuals. Cocteau compresses the scenes.
- The fairy tale dates to 2nd century AD and wasn’t written until 1756. Passed down via word of mouth – “mother goose tale.”
- New Wave filmmakers loved Cocteau and Truffaut actually donated money for him to complete a film. He was not embraced in 1946-47.
Philip Glass’s Opera: 1994 opera created for the movie. It functions as another audio track that replaces the dialog. The Glass music is distinctive for those watching Errol Morris films (link to Thin Blue Line). It is a nice option for fans of opera and highlights some of the emotionality of the film. For many it may be the preferred score. It is extremely well put-together and inspired, but I prefer the original.
Screening at the Majestic: A short documentary about the filming with interviews.
During filming in 1946 in Rochecorbon, Tours, Cocteau watched the “rushes” in the Majestic Theater, which no longer exists. They found from the rushes that the film had a poetic and beautiful quality.
Jean Marais (Beast) and Mila Parély (Félicie) are interviewed. Marais respects Beaumont, the original author, but thinks that the magnificence of the film is due to Cocteau. I agree.
René Clément showed up and assisted, just after finishing Battle of the Rails, a prominent movie about the French Resistance. Clément was an AD, but was vitally important. They did not know then how talented he was.
Marais’ makeup took 5 hours to put on and was difficult to take on. The glue cut off his circulation.
Studied the art of Vermeer and others to get the lighting and set design. This is apparent in the scenes of Belle’s family’s house, as the interiors look very much like Vermeer paintings.
Interview with Henri Alekan: This 1995 TV interview with Director of Photography coincided with restoration.
It was a highlight of his life, in part because he was a beginner. It was difficult to make because the war was still going on.
Tricky to film in the dark, but he took on the challenge. Flemish painters like Vermeer, De Hooch, inspired him. Cocteau mentioned them repeatedly and encouraged him to go to museums to study the masters. This was just as important for his future as a cinematographer as making the film.
Secrets Professionnels: Tête à Tête: 1964 episode from French TV.
This short feature is about Hagop Arakelian, makeup artist. He worked for 33 years in the profession, learned from an actor in stage and silent movies in Russia and France.
As he has an actor in the make-up chair, he talks about his methods for applying makeup, how to make eyes look natural and other practices.
The list of directors he has worked with is staggering. They are basically the masters of French cinema. He demonstrates a number of different looks he can create, such as a black/white painted male face or a vagabond looking character with fake facial hair
This piece does not mention Beauty and the Beast, but he refers to it as his best work.
Film Restoration: The movie was not in jeopardy of being lost because all the negatives exist, but had degraded over the years. They replaced 150 frames with those before or after to fill in black frames, while computer procedures were used to correct sound.
Criterion Rating: 10/10
Fellini Satyricon, 1969, Federico Fellini
Over the last couple months, there have been an inordinate number of art films with graphic sex scenes. Most recently was Godard’s Every Man for Himself, and not long before that was Don’t Look Now with the infamous “love” scene. The crème de la crème were Salò and In the Realm of the Senses. I haven’t intentionally looked for explicit films. That’s just the way it has worked out recently. Fellini Satyricon is more in the category of the latter two, yet does not quite reach the same depths of perversion. It is a depiction of pre-Christian Roman times and does not hold back showing the debauchery and depravity, which results in a lot of sexual activity.
I first saw Satyricon ages ago. I honestly cannot remember whether I saw it on video or cable, although I’m pretty sure it was one of the two. I watched it expecting humorous scandal, and ended up wondering what in the world I was watching. I may not have even finished it. Since that viewing, I have obviously studied film, and maybe not so obviously studies history, including a lot of ancient history. I never read Petronius’ Satyricon, which the Fellini version was “freely adapted,” from, as they point out in the opening credits. I did read a few of the peripheral sources from that time, including some Tacitus. Today, compared with my younger days, I have a firmer grip on Roman history and culture. In these two respects, this viewing was far more informed.
I usually do not get into transfers when writing about these films. Part of that is because Criterion has the reputation of putting out the best transfers available. At times there will be controversy that needs to be addressed, like with Lola, but rarely do I feel it is important to point how good a transfer is. That changes with Fellini Satyricon because this 4k restoration and Blu-Ray display might as well be another character. It is hard to imagine this movie looking any better. Every second is a visual spectacle. Even if some scenes are difficult to watch or incomprehensible, they look amazing.
On the other hand, sometimes the clarity of the transfer reveals the façade. Examples of this are when they are on a large set that is intended to masquerade as the outdoors, with a matte painting in the background. The above screenshot of the Roman Baths is an example of how this type of scene looks glorious with the format, as the upper half is a painting. On their way to the Baths, the structure of the set is more visible and it looks artificial. That is not really a gripe because it probably looked more realistic on other formats, not to mention it came out in 1969 and looked far better than most anything else from the time period. I enjoy being able to see these “flaws” in the production, even if it reveals more behind the curtain.
To say that Fellini Satyricon is ostentatious and brazen would be an understatement. Every shot has a mind-bogglingly large set, with costumes so decorous that they look partly authentic and also like a freak show. We can tell that Fellini is in love with these little worlds he has created as much as we are, as he has extended tracking shots that reveal the entire set with carefully choreographed acting. The make-up and costumes are so brilliantly exorbitant that it is a festival of riches and completely immersive. It is a blast to be hypnotized by the visual marvels. Trimalchio’s Dinner is the most notable of these, even if the sets are intentionally less decorative than the brothels or art museum. They are the best portrayal of the hedonism and excess that these wealthy Romans indulge upon. At times they are disgusting, while at others they are wild and upbeat, such as the many energetic dancing sequences. They are always entertaining.
After viewing the spectacle, the plot seems less important, but it is worth touching on. Encolpio (Martin Potter) is the central figure and we see most everything from his point of view. He is involved with Ascilto (Hiram Keller), Gitone (Max Born) and Eumolpo (Salvo Randone). Their escapades begin at the heart of Roman culture in the city of Rome. They are later taken prisoner via boat to the outer provinces where Encolpio has to overcome a number of challenges, including fights with mercenaries, Minotaurs, and a merchant named Lichas with a lazy eye (Alain Cuny). While there is a beginning and ending, and the characters are on a journey of sorts, this is more of a slice of Roman life rather than a narrative with a central plot. In other words, you cannot compare this with the three-act Hollywood formula. It breaks virtually all the rules.
There is abundance of lascivious content. The three younger male characters have androgynous looks, and there are hints of homosexual activity even if they are not shown on screen until Encolpio meets Lichas, and that shows just a kiss. We are given the impression that a great deal of homosexual activity takes place behind the scenes. There is plenty of female nudity and heterosexual scenes, beginning with the brothel, and culminating in Encolpio’s sexual rendezvous with a tied-up nymphomaniac. I’ve already compared it to some later movies where graphic intercourse was shown, but it holds back from becoming anything resembling pornography.
Fellini took a great deal of license with adapting Petronius’ work, filling up much of the film with his own research and, frankly, his wild imagination. Despite his embellishments, it still stands up as being much closer to authentic compared to other Roman depictions. This is not the Rome from your ordinary Cecil B. DeMille epic or even an HBO miniseries. This was the underbelly of Rome from during Nero’s reign, which Petronius was a witness to, and Fellini translated for a modern audience. It is carnivalesque mostly because this 2000 year-old culture is so foreign and distant to the one in which we live in. The reality is there was quite a bit of debauchery in pre-Christian Rome. Fellini Satyricon is not going to stand up as a historical document, but it is a better representation than a casual viewer (including the younger me) might realize. It portrays animal sacrifices, the brutality and abuse of power, pagan worship, and wild, erotic celebration.
I cannot say enough about how visually splendid this film is. This post has a lot more screen shots than most, and I could have included even more. Every frame has something interesting to the eye, whether it is the flamboyant and eccentric character, the fantastic make-up, costumes, set designs, gorgeous landscapes and last but not least, the photography. The use of locations and color are not only unparalleled for the time, but they hold their own against some of the more artistic projects created today with modern technology. I will not spoil the beautiful final shot because it has to be seen, but it punctuates the film both visually and thematically. It is up there with the best shots in Fellini’s career.
My expectations for Fellini Satyricon could not have been lower. In fact, I wondered why it was getting the Criterion treatment at all. Instead, I fell in love with Fellini all over again. He was a genius and versatile filmmaker, and this is yet another dimension of his fine career.
Film Rating: 8.5/10
Commentary: This is a dramatic reading of Eileen Lanouette Hughe’s 1971 memoir On the Set of “Fellini Satyricon”: A Behind-the-Scenes Diary. This is a new type of commentary for me, and it is tough to keep up with while re-watching the movie. It usually does not correspond to what is on the screen, although it is usually relatively close. It also gives a wealth of information about every aspect of the production, so much that it’s impossible digest it all. I am listing a few tidbits that I found interesting.
- It came to be known as Fellinicon and was the most expensive of his films and the first with foreign financing.
- All 3 of the leads were young, unknown actors. Two were British and one was American. They represented hippie culture, which is a good fit for the Petronius’ style.
- There was a rival Satyricon in the works with a much lower budget. That is why this was named Fellini Satyricon. It was a way to distinguish between the two.
- Many of the sets and props had to be made quickly with short notice. A Venus statue was made overnight. Parts of the brothel set were built in a couple hours and shot in a way that makes them look larger. There are many other examples of this throughout the commentary.
- The Trimalchio dinner scene took three weeks to shoot. It was intended to show the residence as not being ornamented aside from the food, because Trimalchio was a poor landowner and former slave who worshipped food.
- The actor that played Trimalchio ran a restaurant that Fellini used to frequent until he started getting too fat. The actor was reluctant to appear in film and leave his restaurant alone.
- Fellini intended to capture the essence of a pre-Christian world, which he likened to capturing Martians. That is why this pagan world seems so foreign to us.
- The ship is designed with modern methods and is a bridge between the ancient and modern world. This was intentional.
- Petronius had Encolpio marrying a young girl, but Italian censors would not allow a marriage with a child. Instead he marries Lichas (Cuny), a male, but acceptable to censors.
- The suicide scene may have been a nod to Petronius, because he killed himself rather than be killed by Nero.
- The set was constantly crowded with four people writing books, a documentarian, photographers, and guests. It also required an enormously large cast and crew.
Ciao, Federico! – Hour-long documentary by Gideon Bachmann. It starts with Fellini directing a love scene, calling out orders as the camera tracks around a threesome. One of the great parts of him shooting without sound is you hear him talk loudly to the actors while the camera is rolling. They show many shots from behind the scenes, which they alternate with interviews and slices of life with Fellini. We see him totally in element, including him on a cussing diatribe railing against someone who is working on the production. We also see him angry, happy, content, serene, and focused. It was a good documentary, both intrusive and revealing, but they had a lot of access.
Fellini: A series of interviews. Fellini despised giving interviews, but he had trouble saying no. That was noted in Bachmann’s documentary as well. We’re lucky he said yes so often because he had a lot to say and was highly quotable.
Gideon Bachmann (audio), 1969 – 10 minutes. Starts with a good quote: “The ideal film is the one you are making.” Obstacles are stimulating, because they cause you to create. He calls Saytricon his most difficult film because he had to create a world and portray situations that are considered forbidden. It was a stressful film for him to make.
French Television, 1969 – This was a short interview of just over a minute. He talks about the morality, or lack thereof in Satyricon, and instead showed decadence and vitality.
Gene Shalit, 1975 – This was another short interview. It begins with a title card that reads “Perfection.” Shalit repeats a previous Fellini quote “A good picture has defects.” They have to be complete, vital, and cannot reach perfection. He makes fun of Shalit’s appearance because it is imperfect and outlandish, yet he likes him for those flaws. The same is truth with film.
Giuseppe Rotunno, Cinematographer: 2011 interview for the Criterion Collection where he discusses the challenges in filming this iconic film. They worked on a number of films together and became like school buddies. Fellini allowed a great deal of freedom, yet was precise as far as what he wanted. Rotunno set up lights for 360-degree views because Fellini also liked to be free and wanted to shoot from all angles. Fellini’s common question when discussing a shot: “But will it look real?”
Fellini and Petronius: New 2014 Criterion documentary with classicists Joanna Paul and Luca Canali. Tacitus describes Petronius as someone who played in the leisurely, seedy side of Roman culture. He was known as a scandalous figure. We are missing most of the books of the Satyricon today, with only having bits of three of them. Fellini makes the film fragmented to honor what we have of the original text. The book is very realistic, and the film contains elements of that realism. Trimalchio’s dinner is the only extended portion of the Petronius text that survives, yet Fellini exaggerates it. A lot of the content and characters come from Petronius, while others come from elsewhere, partly Fellini’s imagination and also other sources. Fellini does not reveal sources except for Horace and Ovid, because he was not trying to be academic, but he clearly did his research to prepare for the film.
Mary Ellen Mark: She was 28 when she was assigned the task of photographing production for Look magazine. This is a 2014 interview with her. She shot the sequences he did in the Roman Baths, which was a smaller set and then grew larger. She had total access, partly because people weren’t paranoid about leaks like they are now. She loved photographing Fellini. He was larger than life and seemed to enjoy being photographed. She called him a showman. He was so busy making the film that he was oblivious to being shot, but still allowed himself to be seen.
Felliniana: These are items from Don Young’s memorabilia collection. It is a series posters, books, programs, and so forth. It is interesting to see such various depictions of this highly visual film from different cultures.
This was quite a release. While the film cannot be considered a masterpiece, the amount of supporting materials that were created and used on this Criterion disc are staggering. With a heavy and detailed commentary, a terrific behind the scenes documentary, and several other odds and ends, this is one of the most complete releases I’ve seen in a long time.
Criterion Rating: 10/10
A Day in the Country, Renoir, 1936
Even if Renoir’s A Day in the Country is barely over 40-minutes long, was unfinished and lost for 10 years before being edited for release, it is still one of the quintessential representations of 1930s French Poetic Realism. The setting out in the country and the focus on being in nature and how the characters react to their surroundings is the poetic element. This is particularly revealed through the eyes of Henri and Henriette, both hopeless romantics who are looking for something poetic to distract them. The realistic element is the way that the plot unfolds. Rather than give away the ending in this post, because I implore people to watch this accessible Renoir, I’ll just say that realism means things don’t always work out the way people want or hope for.
A Day in the Country is a joyous movie, although two different versions of joy are juxtaposed against one another. A Parisian family wants to escape from the stuffy Paris, get some oxygen, and enjoy the luscious and beautiful French countryside. The joy for Henri and Rudolphe, two scheming locals, is having a group of Parisians to take advantage, specifically the young women. They are enthralled as the youngest, Henrietta, swings gracefully on a swing.
Given the short film length, not much time is spent on character exposition, but aside from a few details, it isn’t necessary. The characters of Rudolphe and Henri are explored as they sit in the café. Rudolphe considers himself a player, and ridicules Henri for being a serious man that wants a serious relationship. “Whores bore me, society girls are even worse,” Henri says. He is a serious romantic. You can tell this not only from the words he says, but his demeanor as he says them. Romance is not a joyous topic for him, as he has yet to find someone who shares his ideals.
Much of the film’s comedy is related to the double meaning of catching fish. The patriarch, Monsieur Dufour and his future son-in-law Anatole are obsessed with bringing a fish back to Paris to fry. Meanwhile, Rudolphe and Henri hatch a plan to lure the two women away from their family for their own amusement. After the two men talk in the café about their plans to catch the ladies, the scene cuts to the other men talking about fish. These two conversations can be contrasted, even if they are on completely different subjects. Monsieur Dufour is explaining to Anatole, who isn’t the brightest bulb, about the nuances of the fish they plan to catch, specifically the difference between the chub and the pike. Anatole is lost when it comes to fishing, whereas Henri is lost with love. Rudolph and Monsieur Dufour are the self-proclaimed experts.
When the two women talk, it is a variation of the men’s conversation, only the subject isn’t about catching fish, men, or women. The younger Henriette reveals herself as a romantic and has a love of nature. She is enraptured by her surroundings, and enjoys herself, whether she is on a swing, a skiff, or just lying on the grass. As they explore the potential for riding in a boat, she leaves her hat to save their picnic spot. This gives the men their ‘bait.’ It works and the entire family warms to the two men instantly, setting their plans in motion.
The men get the attention of the women and find some common ground. They get along splendidly. Madame Dufour is outgoing, giggly, and easily plays into the charms of the men. Henriette is still an introvert, but she is excitable about having a good time in nature, especially if she has the opportunity to ride in a boat. To lure the men to agree to let go of their women, they bring fishing poles. The Dufours consider them kind gentlemen, and naively let them do as they please with their women.
Rudolphe was hoping for Henrietta, and had arranged as much with his buddy, but then Henri manipulates the situation and gets her into his skiff. He sees something in Henriette that he sees in himself, and he is not going to let his mischievous friend take advantage.
The character contrasts are distinct, but they make the film even more enjoyable down the stretch. Rudolphe and Madame Dufour are both outgoing, playful, and they have fun with the adventure of the chase. Henri and Henriette are also similar. They are demure and romantics. Henriette is swept up in excitement as they row along the Seine. Henri has his mind on something different altogether, and when she begins to figure this out, she is reticent to continue. If not for crossing paths with their counterparts, who are loudly and boisterously having a great time, things might not progress. They do, however, and if not for a chirping bird, they may not have gone further.
The last few minutes are abbreviated because the film wasn’t finished. They work as a conclusion to this short film, but if Renoir’s vision of three connected short films had come to fruition, this could have been among his masterpieces. Even at the abbreviated length, I consider this to be one of his strongest works, and the story behind the story is almost as captivating as the film itself.
This was a pivotal period in Renoir’s career. He had already become an established star director, and he had become more comfortable in his craft. In A Day in the Country , you can see him exploring techniques that would result in his finest films, like La Grande Illusion, La Bete Humaine, and Rules of the Game. He plays with deep focus photography for many scenes, such as when the men are talking in the café and a swinging Henriette is framed by the window. This technique would be mastered in later films, most notably Rules of the Game. He had become deft at exploring character contrasts, which he did so terrifically in La Grande Illusion.
A Day in the Country stands on its own as one of Renoir’s greatest achievements, but it is also evidence of a master that was progressing in his craft.
Film Rating: 9.5/10
Renior Introduction: The initial idea was to shoot a 40-minute short film with the production value and acting talent as a feature. He wanted to shoot three shorts of that length, which in sum would become a feature. This sort of omnibus feature had not been done by then, but has since.
In a weird digression, Renoir argues for plagiarism. I don’t think he means it the way we understand the term. He means using stories as templates to embellish into a different story, and that has and is regularly done today. I can only speculate that back then, people thought it took nerve to alter a story by someone as heralded as de Maupassant.
The Road to A Day in the Country: This is a piece from Jean Renoir scholar Christopher Faulkner.
1935 he was very active with the popular front, militantly active. While he was leading the popular front and making films (like The Lower Depths) in the language of the movement, he made this one that seemed out of time politically.
Part of this was his coming to terms with his father, the famous painter, whose legacy likely continued to overshadow Renoir’s directorial career. Faulkner thinks this is a resolution with the past that he would return to frequently. The area that they filmed was an area that impressionist painters had worked in the 1880s. Many shots were homages to impressionist paintings.
Rain interfered and slowed down production. It took seven weeks, only 22 days of which were dedicated to shooting. Faulkner disagrees with Renoir’s assertion that they changed script due to rain. There was evidence that they had written in rain. Nevertheless, the rain did shut down production and cost money. Jacques Becker shot some material later when Renoir was not available. 23 shots in the completed film were shot by Becker, but according to Renoir’s instructions.
Producer Pierre Braunberger was Jewish and had to leave the country when war broke out, and had to take all his belongings including the film. He edited it in his mind during his exile, but it could not be seen until 10 years later when the war ended.
Marinette Cadix and Marguerite Renoir later edited the film into what we see today.
By the time of the release, Renoir was in the USA and basically forgot the movie. He had nothing to do with the final editing of the film.
Pierre Braunberger on Jean Renoir: They had worked on a great number of Jean’s early works. He speaks reverentially of Renoir. He made A Day in the Country for Sylvia Battaille, who he was in love with.
He talks about the rain and production problems. Both Renoir and Battaille got sick of it, and they shut down the film. They had hoped to finish the film, but the war and exile changed those plans. When he was hiding on an island, he had a lot of time to think. In his solitude, he realized that he could finish the film with two titles cards. Voila.
Un Tournage a la Campagne: This is a long series (1:29) of scenes and outtakes from the production. Some of them add scenes or extend scenes included in the movie, but the majority are in sequence of what we see in the finished film. They show some of the filmmaking process, with the setting of the scene, calling action, and other background set details. They even show mistakes by the actors and/or crew. There are some sequences that are significantly longer, such as the swinging scene. What’s interesting is they had a lot more footage to make a longer film. Some of the footage is of poor quality. Some even has no sound, probably because it was going to be added in later.
One thing that is impressive about all of these outtakes is the skill of the actors. We can see take after take of them giving their all. I was mostly impressed by Battaille, who on a moment’s notice could turn on the childlike giddiness or enraptured romanticism.
Renoir appears prominently in these outtakes. You can always hear his voice in the background and he is encouraging. Even though I enjoyed the entire series (although many might find it long), I especially liked the tribute to Renoir in the end credits where they show outtakes of people saying “Here is the boss.”
Renoir at Work: Christopher Faulkner examines the outtakes of the film. This is the only set of outtakes for any Renoir film, so they are important to see how he worked.
We see how Renoir interacts with the actors, and starts the scene by using the first line of dialog and he praises the shot. This is how he became “an actor’s director.”
Some of the later scenes are after Renoir had left for The Lower Depths and Becker had taken over. We can tell that Becker followed Renoir’s instructions.
Screen Tests: These are a series of screen tests with all (or most) of the actors. The initial scenes of Henri and Henriette are mere impressions, as they quietly react to each other.
The mother, father, future son-in-law, grandmother (man in women’s clothing) are just looking at the camera and around. Even Renoir gets a screen test.
Some have expressed reservation about Criterion publishing what is essentially a film short, but there is so much extra material here that isn’t characteristic of classic film. We get spoiled by releases of recent films, such as the Wes Anderson collection, all of which have a ton of supplements. A Day in the Country has nearly the same volume of supplemental material, which is a rarity for a classic French film.
Even though this is an early release, it has such great supplements and import that it is an early contender for release of the year.
Criterion Rating: 10/10