Sunday, 25 September 2016

I've Just Seen: The Right Stuff (1983)

Director: Philip Kaufman

My first reaction after watching The Right Stuff was 'why is this film not more lauded?' It is a great story, its long running time immersing us in the early days of the American space program, and the effect of its fame on the astronauts involved. It also gives us Chuck Yeager, the man who broke the sound barrier, who, if he was anything like the portrayal in the film, was one of the coolest, bravest people to ever fly a plane (or even exist!).

The film is filled with great performances, and for a story that could potentially be all about the astronauts' work, pays a lot of attention to their private lives. This adds to the film's impact, developing the men as rounded people and amplifying the stakes - we sit nervously with their wives, waiting to hear if they have survived the mission.

While Kaufman's film is more about what happened on the ground than in space, the few scenes of space travel are still beautiful. John Glenn's orbiting of Earth, though perhaps not as jaw-dropping as Cuaron's Gravity, is a great moment in the film.

If you loved Ron Howard's Apollo 13, you will definitely appreciate this film. Though it has less nail-biting tension, it provides a fantastic background to other science-fiction films, giving us the story of where it all began.

Friday, 23 September 2016

I've Just Seen: Viridiana (1961)

 Director: Luis Bunuel

I am still not sure what I think of Viridiana. Unlike many other film bloggers, I hold some (though not all, I am not Catholic) of the beliefs that Bunuel is pilloring in his film. I was not offended by what he does in his film, but I was certainly unsettled by it. This clearly says much about me as a person and as a film viewer. However, after reflection, I appreciate the obvious power of Bunuel's filmmaking, that it can spark such feelings. It is good to be shaken up, and good art does this.

And this is art. This is my first proper experience of Bunuel, having only before seen clips from Un Chien Andalou (not the whole thing yet), and one cannot fault his eye for striking and beautiful imagery. The image of Viridiana in her aunt's crisp white wedding dress is arresting in both its illuminosity and its transgressive ideas.

I haven't been scared off by Bunuel, but am wondering what else I am to see and feel in his films.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

I've Just Seen: The Wages of Fear (Le salaire de la peur) (1953)

Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot

The first time I tried to watch The Wages of Fear, I stopped halfway through, finding myself unengaged with the film. I don't know why: maybe I wasn't paying attention to it, doing other things at the same time. The copy I saw was also unrestored, the quality rather scratchy looking. But its on the 1001+ films list, so I knew I would have to try again.

And this time I was entralled. Though the quality was no better, I found myself interested from the outset, unlike last time where I wondered where the story was going. The film does take a while to get to the suspense-laden drive it is rightly famous for. But the long build-up allows us to see the lives of the men who undertake such a risky job. They are part of the diaspora who live in Las Piedras, and anything is worth risking one's life to earn money.

The conceit of the story is a simple one; driving explosive material across unforgiving terrain, and its simplicity works well in the film's favour. Clouzot paces the drive well, allowing time for the characters, and the audience, to breath after every dangerous scene. Many see Clouzot as the French Hitchcock, and that is high praise. Clouzot's film is more political than Hitchcock's take would have been, and there is a real grittiness to the journey.

This is a great suspense-thriller that is not just about rattling the audience's nerves. It also asks us what price is a man's life, and how much does he (or she) risk in pursuing money. Watch with something, or someone, to grip onto during the tense moments.

Friday, 16 September 2016

I've Just Seen: Women He's Undressed (2015)

Director: Gillian Armstrong

In the opening titles of my favourite film Some Like It Hot is the credit "Miss Monroe's Gowns ORRY-KELLY." I've been watching this film for years, and have occasionally wondered who Orry-Kelly was. Little did I know that Orry-Kelly, born Orry George Kelly, was Australian and grew up in Kiama, a beautiful town (famous for it blow-hole) two hours down the road from where I live. Kelly moved to the US originally to become an actor, but ended up becoming one of Hollywood's top costume designers, winning three Oscars and dressing some of the world's most famous actors.

Armstrong's film is a reasonably straightforward depiction of Orry-Kelly's life. Along with interviews from other costume designers about his significance in film history, we also hear Kelly's own thoughts, from the letters sent to his mother, and his diaries. The film moves onto look at some of Kelly most famous creations, and particularly focuses on his working relationship with Bette Davis. Throughout the film as well is the elusive figure of Archibald Leach, aka Cary Grant, with whom Kelly shared a flat (and apparently more) in the 1920s in New York.

Armstrong's documentary was largely made with an Australian audience in mind, acting as an introduction to this influential person from our shores. While the dramatisation of Kelly's letters and diaries doesn't completely gel stylistically with the interviews and clips of films shown, the film as a whole is a nice slice of film history, and does make one appreciate the art of costume design. Next time I see "Gowns by Orry-Kelly" in a film's credits, I will appreciate exactly what that means.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

I've Just Seen: Koyaanisqatsi (1982)

Director: Godfrey Reggio

It is almost impossible to describe Reggio's documentary in words. Its reliance on images, and specifically moving images, and its absence of traditional narrative make it a rare piece of pure cinema. Motion, movement, kinetic energy - from which the word 'cinema' comes from - is the focus of Ron Fricke's camera, whether it is the sped-up flight of clouds through the air or the swell of humans through a train station.

'Koyaanisqatsi' is a Hopi word for 'life out of balance,' and this acts the only real direction from Reggio as to how we should approach the film. Occasionally while watching, my mind thought about how the previous images related to each other, about how the movement of life in the city compares to nature's pace. Most of the time, however, I was simply transfixed by the scenes of recognisable life sped-up or dwelt upon, rendering them fresh and strange.

Reggio's documentary recalls Vertov's Man With a Movie Camera, another silent experimental exploration of modern life. Where Vertov's film is political and playful in its treatment of 1920s Russia, Koyaanisqatsi is much more meditative, asking us the price of human expansion on the world and our lifes as people.

This is a bewitching film that pulls you in through the ambiguous beauty of its images. I wish I had seen it on an IMAX screen so I could be envoloped by the extreme wide shots. Come expecting anything, except a clear narrative!