1974: 6 movies

posted 2015 April 27

Céline et Julie vont en bateau
Directed by Jacques Rivette
Written by Juliet Berto, Dominique Labourier,
Bulle Ogier, Marie-France Pisier,
Jacques Rivette, and Eduardo de Gregorio
Produced by Barbet Schroeder
Music by Jean-Marie Sénia
Cinematography by Jacques Renard
Editing by Nicole Lubtchansky
Costumes by Jean-Luc Berne, Pierre D'Alby,
and Laurent Vicci
Starring Juliet Berto and Dominique Labourier

   Do you remember those early wild-frontier days of cinema, like with Melies when disembodied heads sang songs, and characters jumped out of books and switched bodies? It wasn't always clear what was going on or why, but it was fabulous to behold. Remember how during 1912, things changed and movies became stagy, over-dramatic bores with practically only Charlie Chaplin fighting to keep some distinction and life in the art-form? Remember how, after sound came about, those riotous wacky, good times practically disappeared? After 1919, there were only a few glimpses of that madcap, zany energy that did not respect the solemnity that some tried to put on cinema. "Un chien andalou" is a good example. The early Marx Brothers movies are another good example. And then it got even more quiet and serious, except for in animation, for 30 years. There were scattered golden moments, such as from Maya Deren's movies, from Pier Paolo Pasolini in "La ricotta", from Bruce Conner's movies, from Luis Bunuel's movies, from Vilgot Sjoman's "Jag är nyfiken - en film i gult", from Alejandro Jodorowsky's movies, and from Claude Lelouch's "Le voyou". From the 30s to 1974, it was only about 10 directors, maybe less, that saw cinema not as a boring stock format to fill in with pre-written stories and big name actors, but as an organic being that lives and that could inspire us and maybe even help us to think differently about reality.
   The French New Wave had tried to do this since the late 50s, but their efforts were mostly stifled by their admiration for Hollywood and by their intellectual bravado. It wasn't until this movie that one of the founders of French New Wave really brought together all the ideas and passions that motivated them and captured it without trying to dress it up as commercial contender. Here, we feel the same wonder and magic that we did with Melies, the same zany camraderie that we joined in on with the Marx Brothers, the same heroism we admired in Charlie Chaplin, and the same surreality of "Un chien andalou". The acrobatic handheld camera and the drunken-master editing-style create the frame around our two shape-shifting, magical protagonists. These women are unpredictable in their improvisations and chemistry, and so is the story. In fact, the story is so unpredictable that there is a story outside of the story! And people ask whether cinema is dead. It's not dead, it just sleeps for awhile until a courageously funny cast and crew awaken it again. Such has happened here.
   The title translates from French to "Celine and Julie go boating", which is possibly a play on the title of the 1911 movie "Rosalie et Léontine vont au théâtre".

Il fiore delle mille e una notte

Written and directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini
Produced by Alberto Grimaldi
Music by Ennio Morricone
Cinematography by Giuseppe Ruzzolini
Editing by Nino Baragli and Tatiana Casini Morigi
Production design by Dante Ferretti
Costume Design by Danilo Donati
Starring Franco Merli, Ines Pellegrini,
Tessa Bouché, Luigina Rocchi,
Franco Citti, and Ninetto Davoli

   At first, it seems like a happy sequel to Pasolini's , but as it plays, the realization grows that this is a work that has no true precedent in cinema. The way the stories overlap and continue after other stories, the way they include even other miniature stories within them is overwhelming. Fresh and believable new faces abound in the cast, and only a few recognizable ones from previous Pasolini movies are present. The themes are greater too and more abundant. It's not just sex and humor like "Il Decameron" offered, but also heartbreak, magic, separation, searching, jealousy, madness, and more. One particular story, and possibly the best one, is told almost completely in poems. The main character, like us, doesn't understand the meaning at first, but just as he will reflect on them again later in order to gain a fuller picture of his beloved, so will we. Our beloved is the collage about love that the movie weaves.
   Some of the special effects are amazingly done, and a couple of them are so out-dated they are cringe-worthy, but on the whole, the movie is not made or broken by its effects. The point still gets across. Life is a labyrinth of stories, a spectrum of emotions and meaning, full of twists and turns that no one could ever predict. There is a great deal of nudity and sex here, but all of it is beautiful and welcome to behold, not only aesthetically, but also because of the sense of moral revolution that Pasolini imbues the scenes with.
   The title translates from Italian to "The flower of the thousand and one nights", in reference to "The thousand and one nights", the classic Arabic book of tales that this movie was based on.

Les valseuses

Directed by Bertrand Blier
Written by Bertrand Blier and Philippe Dumarçay
Produced by Paul Claudon
Music by Stéphane Grappelli
Cinematography by Bruno Nuytten
Editing by Kenout Peltier
Production design by Jean-Jacques Caziot and Françoise Hardy
Costume design by Michèle Cerf
Starring Gérard Depardieu, Patrick Dewaere,
Miou-Miou, Jeanne Moreau,
and Gérard Boucaron

   It's another take on the crime-flick, of the lovers on the run sub-genre, like Gun Crazy, Bonnie and Clyde, and Badlands. But what makes it special is not the obvious fact that it is more graphic sexually, violently, and filled with vulgar insults. Rather it is its meandering journey through tone, from comedy to tragedy to profound poetry, and its meandering journey through meaning, from blatant misogyny to self-sacrifice, to reciprocity. The shift of tone creates a surreality that catches the viewer off guard,  making us comfortable with its cold criminality, only to surprise us with its comedic misogyny, then surprising us again with its asexuality and androgyny, until we give up our prejudices and our along for the ride no matter what bumps or turns in the path.  Besides the writing and acting, the genius direction and cinematography make us wonder whether this is a fantasy, a nightmare, or something entirely new.
   The title translates literally from the French to "The waltzers", but the cultural translation would probably be closest to "The nuts".



Chinatown
Directed by Roman Polanski
Written by Robert Towne
Produced by Robert Evans
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography by John A. Alonzo
Editing by Sam O'Steen
Production design by Richard Sylbert
Art direction by W. Stewart Campbell
Set decor by Ruby R. Levitt
Costumes by Anthea Sylbert
Hair by Susan Germaine and Vivienne Walker
Starring Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway,
and John Huston

   It's a record of our greed, our confusion, our persistence for truth, our reaching for love, and our never-ending run-in with futility, but told as a classy retro-noir mystery, and shot as if using Bernardo Bertolucci's gorgeous "Il Conformista" (1970) as a model. The dialogue and music, like the acting by Nicholson, Dunaway, and Huston, are marvellous, sexy, and sinister.

Angst essen seele auf
Written and directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Cinematography by Jürgen Jürges
Editing by Thea Eymèsz
Starring Brigitte Mira and El Hedi ben Salem

   Done in a new and brilliant style, where the screen is mostly drab and empty, except for a small area where bold hues pop out. The angles of perspective are all chosen for great geometric composition which emphasizes the mood. Additionally, the actors move very little, and when they do, it is a stilted card-board style of action. They emotions are mostly muted, and they pause for an extremely long time after every line of dialogue, not talking or moving. It's a surreal feeling, but rooted more in  The extended silences after practically every sentence make it seem like a photo essay, like flipping through a photo album, or like walking through a gallery. The ending is a little abrupt.
   The title translates from Deutsch to "Fear eat soul up".

Lenny
Directed by Bob Fosse
Written by Julian Barry
Produced by Marvin Worth
Music by Ralph Burns
Cinematography by Bruce Surtees
Editing by Alan Heim
Production design by Joel Schiller
Starring Dustin Hoffman and Valerie Perrine

   A homage to Lenny Bruce, a pioneer of free speech. It is told in a black-and-white that is at times gorgeously romantic, sometimes smoky and seedy, and sometimes documentary-like. But the shots are so rich and vibrant that after the screening, you will feel as if at least some of the scenes were in color. The acting is phenomenal. The story and editing whips through years of joy and pain in a way that is easy to follow, entertaining, and quite easy to relate to. It's a tale about a guy trying to make a buck in show business who transforms into a martyr of love and freedom, and it's important because it reminds us of where we came from. Well done.

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