1962: 4 movies

(Last updated 17 October 2014)

Cosmic Ray
Directed by Bruce Conner

   An explosion of cinema. Whether you call it abstract, collage, music video, or apocalyptic nightmare, it's truly one of the greatest artistic achievements! A masterpiece! It reflects its time with the changes in consciousness after the advent of nuclear bombs, television, rock and roll, America's addiction to war, and its obsession with sex. This movie reflects the speed, desperation, and glitz of life in the latter half of the 20th century. It was a time where most knew very concretely that any moment could be the last and, on the plus side, that every moment was a gift. Being aware of the increasing dangers made everything sparkle that much more, as if in a dream, or as in the transition from monochrome to color in "The Wizard of Oz" (1939). An admirable trait of this movie's is that it conveys this sort of development in consciousness all the while sticking solely to black-and-white cinematography.
   The soundtrack is taken from a live performance of Ray Charles' R&B hit "What'd I Say", which was first released in 1959. The repeated song-line "It's all right!" serves as a kind of encouragement through the barrage of emotion-inducing images. The tone of the song which blends sensuality and fervent spiritual praise serves to underline the themes while also making it an enjoyable romp.
The movie is a bold declaration that the human spirit can ride even the most treacherous of waves of deadliness. We know what we're up against strong odds and yet we won't ever give up being true to ourselves! It bursts the lid on what was thought possible with movies, takes it to the stratosphere! One of the pefect soundtracks in cinema! One of the perfect titles in cinema.
   There is a strong current of sexuality throughout, and this major aspect of the movie seen from our present perspective and consciousness is clearly biased sexually, racially age-wise, and body-type-wise. But I think, considering the time of the production, this is understandable, considering how show-girls and night-club dancers of the day typically met the same criteria. The movie is trying to encapsulate our world and present it all in a ironic way as entertainment. Blending images of war with fireworks with images of nudity is a reflection of how our world has come to jumble everything together without any time to reflect or appropriately transition to the next topic. The novel thing about the nudity, stripping, and sensuality, is that it comes across as very fresh and current in the manner it was shot, namely in that they are shots that capture the beauty of the female form and don't seem to be primarily for the purpose of tantalization or arousal.

La rivière du hibou
Written and directed by Robert Enrico
Produced by Paul de Roubaix and Marcel Ichac
Music by Henri Lanoë and Kenny Clarke
Cinematography by Jean Boffety
Editing by Denise de Casabianca and Robert Enrico
Sound mixing by Jean Nény
Starring Roger Jacquet and Anne Cornaly

   Heart-pounding, dreamy, thrilling, glorious! The movie is a miracle of cinema. Its effects long outlast its short run-time. One of the greatest indictments of capital punishment in cinema, it makes the thing seem no different than murder, and it's all because we feel like we live within the psyche of the main character. Beautiful and genius cinematography that captures not only the thoughts and feelings of the character, but also of the entire landscape of which he is a small but desperately conscious part. The slowing down of time within a period of slowed-down time is a feat that can never be topped. On top of all this, the soundtrack is perfection. There is practically no dialogue, but rather it's half sound-effects and half instrumental scoring, with one amazing and soulful original song, "Livin' Man".
   The escape and reunion scene are the definition of magic, where movie-lovers live when they get that gleam of movie-love in their eyes. For the precedent on capital punishment, see Melies' "Les incendiaires" (1906).
   The title translates from French to "Owl river", named in honor of the 1890 Ambrose Bierce story upon which it is based "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge".

Jules et Jim
Directed by François Truffaut
Written by François Truffaut and Jean Gruault
Music by Georges Delerue
Cinematography by Raoul Coutard
Editing by Claudine Bouché
Costumes by Fred Capel
Starring Jeanne Moreau, Oskar Werner,
and Henri Serre

   I've watched this movie more than most on this list. I was entranced on my first viewing as a teen. It felt timeless, magical, uber-smart, and uber-passionate. Then in college, I had a snobby professor tell the class that it is a good movie when you're a teen, but it's light and fluffy compared to a lot of other movies, namely those by Godard and Fassbinder. I vehemently shook my head in silence. I couldn't believe he was serious! I still can't. After all these years and viewings, I am still entranced by this movie. I am amazed at how lovely and radical and timeless it is while still changing and showing new facets and lessons to me as I change. Today, it seems to me a masterwork not only of Truffaut's but of cinema. It handles its pretty standard run-time of an hour and forty-five minutes like an epic, like a lifetime, like a journey through the decades, like a powerful poem holding the essence of humanity. It is framed in a "by straight men for straight men" tone, focusing on feminine beauty, "bros before hoes" philosophy, treating women either as disposable, troublesome, worthy of adoration, or crazy. But in a subtle way, it highlights the gender gap like no movie before or after. Jeanne Moreau is astounding in her role as the misunderstood woman. She walks an unbelievable tight-rope line where roles of feminism, domestic wife, libertine, psychopath, and warrior for justice all meet. And at the end, the fact that the audience is left trying to figure out how to digest the ending, as symbolic of marriage, as real action, or as idealist allegory is maddeningly satisfying. We are left with a document laying human sexuality in the 20th century bare. This was us with all of our possibilities, our hopes and fears, and all of our limitations.
   The title translates from French to "Jules and Jim".


Two for the Seesaw
Directed by Robert Wise 
Written by Isobel Lennart
Produced by Walter Mirisch and Robert Wise
Music by André Previn
Cinematography by Ted D. McCord
Editing by Stuart Gilmore
Production design by Boris Leven
Set decor by Edward G. Boyle
Starring Shirley MacLaine and Robert Mitchum

   During my first viewing, I thought this was a surprisingly good and sweet flick. But during the second viewing, I thought it was devastatingly amazing, especially Shirley MacLaine's performance, because it proves that the greatest actor in 1962 was not Marlon Brando or Paul Newman. Much better than either of them, is the short, fast-talking young woman who plays wise, confused, enamored, exhausted, hurt, nervous, and desperately intimate, sometimes all in the same scene, and always in a way that's extremely gripping. It's as if the whole movie revolves around her performance. The glorious sets, expert lighting, the pitch-perfect music, somber and awkward Robert Mitchum, the bold writing, and nimble camera movement all create an atmosphere and set the stage for MacLaine to dance in for us. The words are of second importance, but MacLaine's uttering them and feeling them, and making us feel them, that is of first importance.

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