1955: 5 movies

(Last updated 24 June 2014)

Pather Panchali 
Written and directed by Satyajit Ray
Music by Ravi Shankar
Cinematography by Subrata Mitra
Editing by Dulal Dutta
Production design by Bansi Chandragupta
Art direction by Bansi Chandragupta
Starring Karuna Bannerjee, Uma Das Gupta, 
Subir Banerjee, Chunibala Devi, 
Kanu Bannerjee, and Runki Banerjee

   This is a masterpiece! It's an epic! It isn't just about life in India more than 50 years ago. It holds all the beauty and mystery and complexity of life. It's about the fragility of life, about family struggles, community and gossip, and about how we often don't realize what we've got until it's gone. It makes you think about your own life and it makes you appreciate the things you took for granted, while it also reminds us to be clever or else risk plunging our families into dangerous circumstances.
   It utilizes silence and the musical soundtrack in ways that maximize the profound moods of humor and tragedy. The cinematography and editing makes it all flow like an album of the most beautiful moments in the life of a young and struggling family. The actors exhibit no shred of ego but are hugely committed to their roles. But the most intriguing aspect is probably its tone. It seems to make statements about life, personalities, actions, and situations, but it doesn't hammer the viewer over the head about it. In fact, it seems only concerned with portraying realities rather than passing judgement on them. It allows us an unprecedented amount of space in this regard. In this sense, it feels like a documentary with very little debt owed to previous cinematic works.
   The title translates from Bengali to "Folk song of the little road."

Killer's Kiss 
Direction, cinematography, and editing by
Stanley Kubrick
Written by Howard Sackler
Produced by Morris Bousel and Stanley Kubrick
Music by Gerald Fried
Starring Jamie Smith, Irene Kane,
and Frank Silvera

   Almost every frame could be framed and displayed proudly on a wall! This is the grittiest most contemporary movie up to its time. No other movie up to this year has captured more of the power of the now. This feeling is communicated through the unfiltered camera lens, the fact that the camera is hand-held, or at least feels hand-held, and the fact that much of it was shot in public settings with the hired actors moving through crowds of people about their business. Some of the dated aspects such as the low-quality dubbed dialogue and the cardboard-stiff acting style, don't really hurt the flow but makes for a grippingly unexpected juxtaposition with the progressive camera-work and editing. The editing, by the way, strings together things pertinent, tangential, and wholly random, as a pair of eyes do when scanning a room or a street scene. Brilliant!

Guys and Dolls 
Written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Produced by Samuel Goldwyn
Cinematography by Harry Stradling Sr.
Editing by Daniel Mandell
Art direction by Joseph C. Wright
Songs by Frank Loesser
Starring Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons,
Frank Sinatra, and B.S. Pully

   This is an interesting movie. At times it feels like a rebellious and sensual movie about gamblers and strippers, at other times it feels like a cutesy children's movie with fun songs and pretty colors. Surprisingly, the movie often hits a perfect balance between the two seemingly adverse genres, but there are a few moments peppered throughout the movie where the low-brow naivete tips the scale. Luckily these moments are minor and pass quickly onto more great balanced moments. Frank Sinatra is a revelation in being able to set the unique tone perfectly. Marlon Brando and Jean Simmons act more on the serious side, which is still exciting and never gets bogged down since their chemistry is so good.

Sommarnattens leende
Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman
Produced by Allan Ekelund
Music by Erik Nordgren
Cinematography by Gunnar Fischer
Editing by Oscar Rosander
Production design by P.A. Lundgren
Costume design by Mago
Starring Harriet Andersson, Eva Dahlbeck,
 Gunnar Björnstrand, Ulla Jacobsson,
and Björn Bjelfvenstam

   It's light and fun, and it's even got a couple of songs in it. There are moments of pure genius cinema, like when the maid and the groomsman run uphill away from the windmill, or when Henrik, the son, in anguish covers his face in the window drapes, or when we follow Anne, the virgin bride, through a day in her life. There are also moments of silly slapstick comedy. But at the root of it all is a vulnerable look at a family that feels all wrong and is looking desperately for the remedy. The moments of solemnity and magic, like that at the dinner table headed by Madame Armfeldt, are another facet to this charming movie.
   The title translates from Swedish to "Smiles of a Summer Night".

Rebel Without a Cause
Directed by Nicholas Ray
Written by Stewart Stern and Irving Shulman
Produced by David Weisbart
Music by Leonard Rosenman 
Cinematography by Ernest Haller
Editing by William H. Ziegler
Art direction by Malcolm C. Bert
Set decor by William Wallace 
Costume design by Moss Mabry
Starring James Dean, Natalie Wood,
Sal Mineo, Jim Backus,
and Corey Allen

   Great tense drama about fitting into a new place and being a teenager. The down-sides are that some of the psychology is hokey, some of the supporting actors seems weak, and at times it feels like James Dean's character is supposed to be speaking wisdom for the ages, when really he's just an impassioned and confused teen who wants his parents to set a good example for him. The plus-sides: James Dean is brilliant at every moment. You can literally feel what it's like to be in his skin! The scenes of teenage bullying are intense. The stunning color photography, the wicked slanted angles, and the nail-biting ending keep this movie fresh.

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