Movie Journal – 5/27/2012

Well, it’s Memorial Day weekend, and I’ve been home from school for approximately two and a half weeks. Having actual time has permitted me to watch plenty of films, so naturally, I have failed to keep up with the Movie Journal component of this blog. Consider this my recap. There are quite a few movies here, so I decided to tackle this thing with capsule reviews, Leonard Maltin style. With the good number of films I will have access to this summer, don’t be surprised if I utilize this format more often. As for this entry, Mulholland Drive takes the cake. Enjoy!

 

The French Connection (1971)     5/5

Directed by William Friedkin (20th Century Fox)

Simply one of the greatest crime films ever made, examining the smuggling of drugs from France to the U.S., and proving that some stories can only be told through guerilla filmmaking. Before going on to make The Exorcist, director William Friedkin marched into New York City and crafted this thrilling tale of corruption, so authentic it almost resembles docudrama. Gene Hackman gives an Oscar-winning performance as “Popeye” Doyle, the cop who will stop at nothing to catch the bad guys, even if it means putting himself or others at risk. And who could forget that car chase? The concluding sequence will haunt you as much as the prior left you breathless with excitement.

 

 

Kill Bill, Volume 1 (2003)     4/5

Written & Directed by Quentin Tarantino (Miramax Films)

It may fail to rank with Tarantino’s best work, but the movie loving auteur’s first segment of his two-part, revenge epic is still an extraordinary exercise in style, although the filmmaker’s revery in excess may come across silly at times. Kill Bill, Volume 1 pays homage to Asian/kung-fu cinema, blaxpoitation films, spaghetti westerns, and everything in between, all while telling a conventional story in one of his signature, non-linear narratives (and even interluding with a superb, anime sequence).

Just when you feel overwhelmed by pop culture and cinephilia, you realize just how interesting and fun Tarantino’s characters actually are, Uma Thurman playing “The Bride” with both ferocityand inner-sadness. And boy, does she kick ass; just take the film’s climactic action sequence, as The Bride takes on countless minions, slices their bodies to pieces, and spills more blood than you could possibly imagine. Plus, it tells us something about Tarantino that we had not previously known. He can frame action sequences better than most “action” directors.

 

 

Kill Bill, Volume 2 (2004)     4.5/5

Written & Directed by Quentin Tarantino (Miramax Films)

However, it is Volume 2 that fully realizes Tarantino’s aspirations for what Kill Bill could be. In this dialogue-heavy conclusion, Tarantino proves he is telling a quite compelling character story, rather than a simple tale of violent revenge. What really takes precedent here is the relationship between The Bride and Bill, the final, and most prominent, member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, and the one Uma’s character must kill to fully exert her revenge.

But Bill (played by David Carradine in a spectacular performance) has history with The Bride that has been gradually developed throughout Tarantino’s two parts, and what this forces the audience to examine – love, purpose, anger, regret, and of course, the nature of revenge, is likely more profound than anything Tarantino has dealt with before. In fact, this conclusion goes so far as to even touch us. The Kill Bill films slightly fall below the bloody excellence of Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Inglourious Basterds, but they do show the former video-store employee in a quite different light. He shows us what he loves, and invites us to take part in how it makes him feel.

 

 

Lifeforce (1985)     2.5/5

Directed by Tobe Hooper (Tri-Star Pictures)

Coming off The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Salem’s Lot, and Poltergeist, Tobe Hooper thought it would be a great idea to adapt Colin Wilson’s 1976 novel, The Space Vampires. The intent was to pay homage to British science-fiction, the result – a seemingly half-hearted attempt to make several different types of sci-fi/horror films. We have elements of Alien, Romero’s Dead series, and several others, with little narrative ingenuity to tie such strange story elements together. If it’s any consolation, it seems as though the kinky, romantic elements of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (directed by Francis Ford Coppola) could’ve been inspired by Hooper’s film, although Coppola’s gothic epic is far different, indeed.

Segments of Lifeforce are surely entertaining, but it is hard to determine what is more frustrating; the film’s incessant drive to shift from alien, to vampire, to zombie story, or the fact that the movie simply doesn’t play by its own rules. In the end, it makes very little sense. Maybe had more of Hooper’s space prologue remained intact (much of it was cut through studio intervention), Lifeforce may have received the benefit of a bit more consistency. As it stands now, the film is a campy mess.

 

 

Mulholland Drive (2001)     5/5

Written & Directed by David Lynch (Universal Pictures)

Experiences like Mulholland Drive are the reason we go to the movies. It grabs you and doesn’t let go, mainly because you don’t have a choice. Every step of the way, David Lynch is one step ahead of you. He simply anticipates every reaction, and draws you into something you can’t escape. And what a wonderful trip it is. Lynch, who has made such dark classics as Eraserhead, The Elephant Man, and Blue Velvet, starts things out with a surprisingly straight face. Betty Elms (Naomi Watts) comes to Hollywood with dreams of becoming an actress, yet stumbles upon Rita (Laura Elena Harring), a survivor of a car accident on Mulholland Drive, leaving her with no memory.

As we come to discover a colorful cast of bizarre characters and vignettes, we soon realize all will descend into madness. Originally conceived as a television series, it is a blessing that the pilot was rejected, considering cinema is no doubt Mulholland Drive‘s proper medium. Characters soon switch roles, events may or may not have happened, and we come to wonder what has been idealized, who has been fantasizing about what/who, and what, if anything, is occurring before our eyes.

The last half hour of the film operates by pure dream logic, and while the film overall is capable of telling a conceivable story, multiple viewing are surely required, and deserved. It is incredible how Lynch ties in elements to create a satisfying film, penetrating our thoughts and emotions in such a way that we feel intricately involved, even if we may not know what is going on. Buried beneath it all, however, is a love story so tragic and dark, erotic and bizarre. We may not fully understand it, but it makes us feel something, and Lynch knows that.

You can consider Mulholland Drive as noir if you wish, but Lynch’s psychological style and dynamic cinematography surely contribute to a genre he helped create – American Surrealism. Like Sunset Boulevard before it, Lynch’s film is, in more ways than one, a “f**k you” to Hollywood. It represents the City of Angels not as a place where one discovers dreams, but in their pursuit, a descent into one’s own nightmares. Through Mulholland Drive, we are shown that few know our deepest fears and desires like David Lynch.

 

 

The Others (2001)     3.5/5

Written & Directed by Alejandro Amenabar (Dimension Films)

Although it hinges on a twist that just barely lingers above obvious, Alejandro Amenabar’s The Others is a genuinely spooky, haunted house story, the writer-director achieving quite effective terror from his audience, through music (composed by Amenabar himself), sound, and reaction shots to who knows what. The plot elements are fairly exaggerated, and if The Others had been a bit more subtle about where it was going, it only would have been scarier. However, Amenabar does a terrific job with atmosphere, filling a desolate house with emotion and fear of the unknown. Nicole Kidman, who gives a captivating performance as a woman trying not to go insane, was nominated for a Golden Globe.

The child actors who play her offspring (and who, we are told, have a condition that prevents them from being exposed to direct light) are also fantastic. At the heart of the film is a rather sad story of a woman desperately awaiting her husband’s return from war. What muddles it are some inconsistencies that will be dismissed by many as unimportant. Yet this all culminates in an ending that succeeds in wanting to make you see the film again. I don’t think I will, however, holding onto the fear that the plot will unravel before my eyes. I will instead savor the fear I felt throughout many scenes, and the skill with which Amenabar drew out my own anxieties.

 

 

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)     4/5

Directed by Edgar Wright (Universal Pictures)

As Scott Pilgrim began, I felt overwhelmed by hipness, a near-insane mash-up of retro gaming and indie music culture, that which at first was hard to take, but soon drew me in with its utter inventiveness. Michael Cera gives a hilarious performance as Michael Cera (a.k.a. Scott Pilgrim) who must defeat the “seven evil exes” of Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), in order to properly date her. It may seem difficult to conceptualize that premise, especially when the film jumps right into the visual exuberance of Edgar Wright (who directed Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in both Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz). From there, it is hard to catch your breath.

But who better to direct this indescribably fun graphic novel adaptation? The visuals are eye-popping to say the least, and are likely to be nothing like you have ever seen before; if you play a lot of video games (or are in a local band with a ridiculous name) you will likely be in heaven. But even if you aren’t young or hip, the script (co-written by Wright), full of wit, clever dialogue, and purposefully bad puns, is hard to resist. Scott Pilgrim isn’t too concerned with logic, but you are unlikely to find many modern films this visually involving, and for the most part, one so joyously in love with itself. There’s also a bittersweet love triangle, to boot. Cult film in the making.

 

 

Shaft (1971)     4/5

Directed by Gordon Parks (MGM)

One of cinema’s most memorable characters, John Shaft (played by Richard Roundtree), wasn’t one to screw around. If you pissed him off, he would be the first to let you know. If you tried to take a smack at him, he would bash a bottle over your head. In 1971, the world was ready for Shaft, and as a result, it inspired a continuous strand of blaxpoitation pictures. While Gordon Parks’ film never quite tells a unique crime story, the African-American detective it places in front of an audience is a character for the ages, established by Isaac Hayes’ Oscar-winning theme.

Apart from its historical significance, Shaft is pretty much as you would expect, demonstrating characteristic fetishes of the blaxpoitation period (ex. hesitant zooms, groovy sex scenes). However, there are some superbly edited action scenes in Shaft, and although this world may seem a little more artificial than say … The French Connection, all of these components blend to produce a film of a quite pleasurable sensibility, and despite not being all that profound, one that we can easily sense as important. Black or white, you’ll be hard-pressed not to cheer for John Shaft.

Movie Journal – 5/12/2012

Face/Off (1997)     4/5

Directed by John Woo (Paramount Pictures)

In Empire’s original review of Face/Off, critic Adam Smith stated that “in the end, this may be [John Woo’s] finest moment so far … which, by default, puts it in as having a strong claim on the title ‘best action movie ever made.'” Face/Off was basically Woo’s first critically and commercially lauded film in America, having established himself as one of action cinema’s greatest directors in Hong Kong (exemplified by the bloodsoaked artistry of Hard-Boiled and The Killer). The Chinese director has never been one for subtlety; his movies utilize kinetic action sequences, ironic humor, obvious symbolism, intense emotion, and ridiculous plotting to really …. well, get in your face.

Written by Mike Werb and Michael Colleary, this was a script that the duo had been trying to sell for nearly a decade, and within the first ten minutes of Face/Off, it becomes obvious why. Not only is the subject matter of the film just plain weird, but some scenes are indeed, quite contrived, contrasting with the originality of the film’s basic premise. Plus, with the wrong people involved, Face/Off could’ve flopped easily. Luckily, John Woo guided a crazy idea into a near-masterpiece of action poetry, using these contrivances to unleash his full imagination, in addition to coaching quite astonishing performances by John Travolta and Nicholas Cage. The result is simply one of cinema’s greatest popcorn blockbusters.

Through a series of events that I won’t bother outlining, terrorist Castor Troy (Nicholas Cage) and FBI agent Sean Archer (John Travolta) end up surgically switching faces, providing each actor the once-in-a-career opportunity to play …. another actor? Cage and Travolta possibly give two of the 90’s greatest performances, convincing us that under each man’s face lies the other man. They accomplish this through subtle mannerisms, changes in dialect, and courtesy to Werb and Colleary, very well-written characters. Travolta playing Cage and Cage playing Travolta is one of the film’s greatest pleasures, that which you are unlikely to find in any other movie.

What makes Face/Off impeccable is that it does not allow Woo’s incredible action sequences and set-pieces to diminish the appeal of such an interesting character story, despite a few cringe-worthy moments of cliché that advance it. But as previously mentioned, it doesn’t matter to Woo that some scenes are fodder when compared to the rest (the opening scene immediately sets the tone here); if he has something to share with his audience, whether emotionally, physically, or thematically, he will display it in the most visual way. What prevents Face/Off from reaching a higher plethora of cinema (but also increases its pulpy appeal) is this – the film is never quite sure whether it is a self-reflective play on its own ridiculousness, or just a straight-faced exercise in ridiculous. Yet this aspect of Face/Off is secondary to the many things worth commending.

Whether in an airplane hangar, a bizarre prison, a safehouse, or the film’s climactic speedboat chase, anyone unfamiliar with Woo’s work will quickly realize that he knows how to stage action like no other. He is one of few directors who uses slow-motion effectively, emphasizing moments of suspense in sequences of outrageously exciting gunplay. It’s also killer to see how well Woo translates his Hong Kong-formula to American cinema, filming in exotic locales and elaborate sets, yet still making the primary battle between two men, and their complex, thematic struggles.

Mainly, Woo questions the concept of identity; it is not until these men get under each other’s skin that they actually begin to understand each other, or better understand themselves. The face, being humanity’s primary source of identity, is also examined as a mechanism of definition; how it is used by the person in question defines whether it is a face or a mask. In the end, Face/Off may not be the greatest action movie ever made, but it did raise the bar. In essence, John Woo removed the face we have come to expect from American action films, replacing it with a flick that is unafraid to think, feel, or simply be itself.

Movie Journal – 5/5/2012

Baraka (1993)     4.5/5

Directed by Ron Fricke (MPI)

Shot in 70mm, Baraka is a large-scale, experimental documentary, fusing together image and sound to craft an awe-inspiring vision of life. Director Ron Fricke has described the film as a “guided meditation,” the title often being translated as “blessing” in a variety of languages. And a blessing it surely is. Through a wide array of shots, captured in “24 countries on six continents” (in addition to some beautiful footage of the cosmos), Fricke provides a breathtaking piece of art that examines what it means to be alive on this planet. There is no voiceover, no dialogue. The film’s tagline, “a world beyond words,” pretty much sums up the entire package.

What Fricke examines is loosely divided into three categories: nature, nature interrupted by human activity, and the aspects of nature that have continued to live on, coexisting with humanity, and prompting us to discover our own place within the natural world. From volcanoes, to tribal ceremony, to Auschwitz, Fricke shows us things that many of us will never have the opportunity to experience in real life; in other cases, he shows us things that we may very well know of, but tend to purposefully ignore. The context of the imagery we see (where it was shot, or even what it is) tends not to matter; Baraka‘s significance lies in the overall themes that it addresses, through a kaleidoscopic trip that feels startlingly fragile and real.

In the case of Fricke’s film, the medium of cinema is used to bring us closer to our world; to enrapture us in things that may be essential to our understanding of existence, but might not appear to us in any other way. It is a wonder how many of these shots were even obtained. Fricke, who was the cinematographer on Godfrey Reggio’s 1982 art film Koyaanisqatsi (which was arguably the first of its kind), basically makes a follow-up to that film through Baraka, despite the fact that the prior film has two sequels of its own. For fans of that film, it is slightly frustrating to see how Fricke uses imagery that is almost exactly the same, especially during the film’s time-lapse city sequence. Yet Baraka certainly has a different tone, and a slightly differentiated message. Case and point – if Fricke had wanted to make the same film again, he would’ve hired Philip Glass.

The score by Michael Stearns is impressive, giving every moment its due emphasis. In defense of Fricke’s repeated techniques, it is more interesting to note his cinematographic skills as an aspect of genre, rather than his own stylistic fetishes. There is plenty of experimental cinema out there, but Reggio and Fricke created their own subgenre; the Earth-focused, cinematic tone poem, examining nature, humanity, and technology without utilization of the spoken word. Ron Fricke’s sequel to Baraka, Samsara (distributed by Oscilloscope Laboratories, founded by the recently departed Adam Yauch), premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last September, and will likely garner a limited release before the end of the year. One can only hope for more of these films. Along with their incredible imagery, there is something else that is similar between each picture made by Reggio and Fricke. The credits roll, you walk back out of the darkness, and into the world. You think about what you have just seen, and what you are now seeing. And after learning so much, you then realize there is so much more to know.

Movie Journal – 4/24/2012

Yojimbo (1961)     5/5

Directed by Akira Kurosawa (Toho)

After bringing the samurai genre to unprecedented popularity in 1950s Japan, Akira Kurosawa completely transfixed his own conventions in Yojimbo, a film that remains one of his greatest achievements. Taking elements from American westerns, such as High Noon and those by John Ford, it is especially ironic that Yojimbo created new elements of the Western genre that would remain ever since. Sergio Leone’s first spaghetti western, A Fistful of Dollars, is an almost identical remake, in addition to establishing Clint Eastwood’s “Man With No Name” character, a clear inspiration of the deadly loner played by Toshiro Mifune.

Sanjuro (Mifune) is a samurai-for-hire, a wanderer who upturns every notion that Kurosawa previously established for the “noble” profession. Finding himself in a seemingly desolate town, the samurai soon becomes involved in the rival factions of a rice and sake merchant. Hiring himself to each without the other’s knowledge, he soon drives them closer to their own destruction.

In Yojimbo, the samurai era has basically come to an end. Mifune’s samurai is no longer loyal or honorable; he has no master or interest in serving society. Yet these pitiful gang members still uphold such expectations, allowing him to thoroughly take advantage of them. The film is also a surprising, theoretical example for the destruction of capitalism. Sanjuro interjects himself between these two competing firms, and once he has his way, only those who have aided him remain.

Kurosawa was a master of the moving camera; tracking shots are dynamic and involving, occasionally subsiding for still shots of remarkably deep focus. The cinematography, by Rashomon veteran Kazuo Miyagawa, is simply remarkable. In fact, the climax of Yojimbo is possibly one of his most exciting, a samurai duel commenced by a shot of incredible composition and depth, featuring nearly three levels of focus.

The script is also darkly hilarious, Monty Python-like slapstick contrasting with moments of strikingly hard violence. The era of Rashomon and Seven Samurai is over, and a new one has begun. One of the primary symbols in Yojimbo is a handgun, one that represents the end of a time when a man could be judged by his skill with a sword. There is a moment late in the film when Sanjuro willingly faces that gun, not knowing whether or not it is loaded. Like Sanjuro, Kurosawa’s film ventures into such unknown territory, examining the past with both reverence and ingenuity, but most importantly, awaiting the future with ample curiosity.

Movie Journal – 4/12/2012

L’Avventura (a.k.a “The Adventure”) (1960)     5/5

Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni (Janus Films)

Antonioni’s L’Avventura was a game changer. It showed the world that characters’ actions don’t necessarily have to be associated with meaning, mainly because people don’t necessarily do meaningful things. There is some psychology that not even cinema can unravel, despite the fact that filmmakers may enable us to try.

On an island off the coast of Sicily, Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti) and Anna (Lea Massari) are on a peaceful yacht trip, if not for the anxiety of a soon-approaching marriage, especially after the couple has not seen each other for a significant duration of time. In other words, it transforms into relationship hell. Soon enough, Anna goes missing, and her best friend, Claudia (Monica Vitti), begins to help Sandro look for her, even after the vacationers have abandoned all hope on the island. The two then form an inexplicable relationship, and although Anna’s mysterious absence lingers throughout the film, the new couple arguably abandons their quest.

Antonioni shoots the film brilliantly, as fascinated with nature as his characters’ faces, which range from expressionless to painfully emotional. There are recurring themes throughout the film of time and dream, but what ultimately sticks is the isolation faced by Sandro, Anna, and Claudia. The post-war upper class is so out of synch with reality, so disconnected from their own emotions that they fail to form meaningful relationships. The affair that Sandro and Claudia begin is “the adventure” the film refers to (“l’avventura” is also translated in English as a “fling”); the search for interpersonal connection that was never fully explored by Anna, hence her physical disappearance.

The lack of passion in this society does not enable Sandro and Anna to learn all the rules of love quickly (or even properly). In fact, in film’s final act, Sandro may have finally failed. But relationships will never succeed without knowledge of human weakness, and ultimately, the ability to forgive; to trust the one you love and share hope for a better future. I’m just calling L’Avventura as I see it. But I guess I don’t really know, do I?

 

 

Flesh for Frankenstein (a.k.a. “Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein”) (1974)     4/5

Directed by Paul Morrissey (Bryanston Distributing Company)

How does one even attempt to review Flesh for Frankenstein? Can you just trust me that I saw it? Please? How about this, I’ll just show you a screenshot.

Not good enough? Okay fine, let’s compromise. I’ll sum it up in the following paragraph…

 

The Andy Warhol-produced, Paul Morrissey-directed, Udo Kier-starring Flesh for Frankenstein is one of the most hysterically funny, gory, and least terrifying horror films ever made. Because of the purposefully awfully dialogue and performances, it is also instantly quotable, incredibly bizarre, and not soon forgotten. The cinematography, however, is undeniably interesting, as are the filmmakers’ interpretations of the Frankenstein legend. Who ever thought the baron’s obsessions would be driven by psycho-sexuality? (The only thing that gets this guy off is giving life to corpses and getting them to mate …. but not without having his way with them first!) Despite the ultra-campy attitude (and deceptive artlessness) it applies to the genre, the film is a surprisingly fresh, thought-provoking interpretation of a story we all claim to know so well.

 

Still not good enough? Fine! Here’s a few memes*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Not guaranteed to make sense if you’ve never seen Flesh for Frankenstein, or if you only know Andy Warhol as the “soup can guy”

Movie Journal – 3/29/2012

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)     4.5/5

Directed by Jacques Demy (Koch-Lorber Films)

In Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, the esteemed New Wave director attempted something that had never been done before, or for that matter, has never quite been done since. He took a genre of the utmost fanaticism (the musical) and applied it to a story of realism. In Cherbourg, there are no lyrics, but rather, sung dialogue. In fact, every line is sung, and the film consists of very few minutes not complemented by Michel Legrand’s beautiful, instrumental compositions.

Guy (Nino Castelnuovo), has fallen in love Madeleine (Ellen Farner, who gives an incredible, breakthrough performance), the young daughter of an umbrella saleswoman (Anne Vernon). However, Guy is soon drafted into the Algerian War, and Madeleine must make the choice of whether to wait for Guy, or accept the hand of a wealthy jeweler, played by Marc Michel (his character having been the protagonist in Demy’s earlier film, Lola). This is a simple story (with some slightly predictable complications), but executed in a way that fully reconsiders our expectations of the musical, arguably the “happiest” genre.

The color in Cherbourg is also striking, having been recently restored by Demy’s wife (and fellow filmmaker), Agnes Varda. Demy’s cuts are very rare, prompting us to become involved in the characters’ emotional developments, rather than removing us from the ongoing action. However, Demy does make quite a few uses of montage, contrasting with the editing style throughout the film, and jumping through time in quite clever ways. This is where the film reaches an enticing contradiction – it tells a story that would likely occur in real life, yet shrouds it with color and style. This was no doubt Demy’s intent, examining contradictions within the entertainment of his era, and utilizing them to craft a near-masterpiece.

Cherbourg is a phenomenal film, but through no fault of its own, elements are surely lost in translation. French is a beautiful language, and sung dialogue sounds just as lovely as any lyrical composition. Yet when subtitles force us to translate the dialogue and simply interpret it as words, the mystique of Demy’s vision becomes slightly lost. Now that I have seen the film once (obviously using subtitles to understand the narrative), I do plan to watch it again, yet without the typed words that so often distracted me from Demy’s ambitious grandeur. Yet the emotional power remains. ThUmbrellas of Cherbourg is pure, cinematic opera, a fusion of sight and sound that has never been rivaled in its lucidity, or the simple ability to move an audience.

Movie Journal – 3/22/2012

Breathless (1960)     5/5

Directed by Jean-Luc Godard (UGC)

Over 50 years later, it still does … well, you know. As Godard’s first feature, Breathless remains a fearless proponent of the French New Wave, in addition to an ideal balance of style and substance. Michel, played with fascinating effect by Jean-Paul Belmondo, is a small-time criminal who kills a cop, and then proceeds to roam the streets of Paris with his American, journalist girlfriend, Patricia (Jean Seberg). Michel worships the American gangster image, as exemplified by his love of Humphrey Bogart. Godard also alludes to his love of American cinema, yet makes it quite clear that he is not intent on making a studio product. Both Michel and Patricia occasionally break the fourth wall, but structurally, the film takes an even bolder approach.

The story is told mainly through jump cuts, rather than a traditional system of linear editing. Breathless was also shot entirely handheld (some shots captured via Godard’s rolling position in a wheelchair), on location in the City of Light, and accompanied by Martial Solal’s jazzy score, exuding as much charisma as the film’s protagonist. Yet most fascinating is the way Godard restrains Michel’s own fulfillment of the cool, criminal image. This was a movie that was truly the first of its kind, and because of such innovative cinematography, editing, and overall presentation, there is no room for Michel to become the idealized, American king of the underworld.

He, along with the audience, is instead left breathless; a result of cinema’s inevitable evolution. The New Wave has influenced cinema even to modern day, as Tarantino and others, such as Nicolas Winding Refn (director of Drive), continue to transform our conventions. Jean-Pierre Melville, another French director of the period (Le Samourai, Le Circle rouge, Army of Shadows), also plays a small role. And that ending, how … expansive. By expansive, I do not mean thorough, but rather, a combination of ambiguity and ceaseless profundity. These films do not end – they continue as FIN fades in. They force us to believe that these characters exist somewhere in the world, and that their stories will continue. We probably know a few of them. Some may even be us.

 

if…. (1968)     5/5

Directed by Lindsay Anderson (Paramount Pictures)

“There’s no such thing as a wrong war. Violence and revolution are the only pure acts.” “A man can change the world with a bullet in the right place.” Sounds to me like rebellion. And never has that idea become so fully encapsulated by a film. if…. is Lindsay Anderson’s story of a fantasy-driven revolt at a British boarding school, led by menace-to-society Mick Travis, and played by Malcolm McDowell (a few years prior to becoming Alex in A Clockwork Orange). The film coincides with the 1968 student uprisings in Paris, in addition to the counterculture spawned by Vietnam and a new era of sexual awakening.

if…. presents a world where everything is suppressed, and one in which even the oldest children are subject to beatings, although this form of punishment may resemble a far more vigorous form of torture. We are given an expansive look at the school, including a glance at the juniors and seniors, the rebels and the prefects, the religious leaders and the symbolic headmaster. There are homosexual interests, late night drinking sessions, a divine interest in sex and violence, and when the film finally allows it, the descent of these attributes into complete anarchy; an absolute overthrow of any sort of authority. if…. mixes black-and-white with color, refusing to blink an eye. As the film advances, this blend of elements soon becomes applicable to both reality and the darkly hilarious absurdism that would inspire the likes of Monty Python.

Taking reference from Jean Vigo’s surrealist work, Zero de conduite, if…. refuses to conform to any standard, and was considered quite graphic (and dangerous) at the time of its release. While it is unfair to claim Anderson’s work of art as inciting violence, it is undeniable that an overthrow of all that confines us is fantasized within each human mind, and how better to convey it than through violence? That is the great irony. These kids are growing up with these horrors all around them. So why not use them to their advantage? Or simply wonder about the possibility.

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