Thursday, January 14, 2010

Murnau, Truffaut and a Hawks 1948 Double

So I've been watching a lot and not writing anything (or not wanting to really), but here's some more on the list of the directors that I'm working through. I hate the feeling that I have to write something, but I look at this blog as also somewhat of a viewing log.

Herr Tartuffe, 1925
Dir: F.W. Murnau

Maybe the first instance of a "film within a film", this is not as visually striking as many as Murnau's other films, being that it was adapted from a play, and the chamber-drama itself unfolds pretty predictably (Oh, so he really isn't religious is he?), and that itself parallels the the "framing" story's plainess as well (Poison?!!?). There are a couple of really interesting things here though, such as many static shots that Murnau presents based on paintings that he enjoys (paritcularlly by master of "light", like Rembrant). It's a usage he has done before, and will use again in Sunrise (1927). There is also a very risque use of the "male gaze", maybe overt enough to be called a lustful gaze. Emil Jannings as the nefariuos Herr is not nearly as enjoyable as he has proven he can be.


Domicile conjugal (Bed and Board), 1970
Dir: Francois Truffaut

Back to Doinel, which is good. Bed and Board (or maybe Bored) is about the domestic space of young couples. Antoine (JP Leaud) and Christine (Claude Jade) are now a young married couple trying to get by while staying in love. Needless to say, once baby Alphonse comes, Antoine finds himself needing to break out (the scene where he takes an axe to his apartment wall for an addition; or is it for an escape?). I really wasn’t prepared for Doinel to be a married man. But it seemed to be a way for him to create needed order and structure. Truffaut's direction reflects this, being much more formal than the spontaneous and messy Stolen Kisses. He is, however, obviously still very dependent upon a certain amount of chaos and ambiguity, much to the frustration of his wife. She needs him to be a man, a husband, a father, but he is still very much the child from 400 Blows. But we like that about Doinel, despite the fact that he leaves behind one broken relationship after another, as if that were the norm, and as if it won’t potentially leave him sad and lonely in the end. Eternal adolescence is his fantasy, and yet he seems, by the end, to be truly lost about the fact that the guy at the end of Stolen Kisses was right. He is a "temporary person."


Red River, 1948
Dir: Howard Hawks

So, I was tricked. This was filmed in black and white, but the upload on Netflix for streaming is in color. And like all colorizations, it's all bleached out. I won't stay angry for too long at that, cause we're talkin' Westerns y'all! Westerns were one of those "watch with Dad" genres for me growing up, so I'm surprised that I never saw this. Granted, they tended to be more light fare stuff, but given the "classic" status this has in Western canons, I was surprised, but I probably haven't seen a lot of "important" Westerns because my Dad really doesn't care about that stuff (and for that matter, neither do I, because most of those things are wrong). But the biggest reason why I'm surprised is because John Wayne is in this, and the Duke made a few appearances at the Smith household (and yes, I've probably seen The Alamo (1960) about 10 times). Red River is about a cattle drive, and Hawks, this being his first Western, is front and center trying to put forth his ideas on what he thinks about the genre, and also manages a few moments that can be connected back to his earlier films. Wayne actually might be the most intersting character, a desperate cattle man trying to be manly among men and going a little bonkers. Well, his character has a dark turn out on the plains, which is what Westerns should be about, so I'd just say that the character is written well. No one else is particualrly stellar, though Montgomery Clift, who is the young gun, makes a strong, but rather one dimensional debut. His showdown with John Ireland's Cherry Valance is beefed up at the beginning and seemingly forgotten, which is disappointing. It was always in the back of my mind, considering that the Clift vs. Wayne duel that supplants it was only gonna end one way, particularly after the women element was introduced. The ending really is silly enough, but Joanne Dru can't help but drive it further into the dirt with her atrocious acting. I don't think that should stop you from watching this though. In fact, it's a good place to start if you want to get into Westerns. There is a lot of strong writing and decent acting.


A Song is Born, 1948
Dir: Howard Hawks

A remake of his own Ball of Fire (1941), Hawks shot this in technicolor while also retaining Gregg Toland. But by remake, I mean like Gus Van Sant's Psycho. It's a pretty pointless exercise actually, except for the music, which features some excellent swing and Louis Armstrong.


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