Films Worth Viewing



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"Phantom of the Opera":1925,1943,2004

What we think of as the original "Phantom", isn't the original "Phantom." That was "Das Phantom Der Opera" filmed in 1916, No prints exist, but a few stills have been found. All "Phantom's" are based on a novel by Gaston Leroux. It was originally serialized in a French magazine. It was later translated into several languages and published in novel form. Theroux was a journalist who covered both crime and the arts. He was a great fan of both Poe and Conan Doyle. He wrote a number of mysteries; "Phantom of the Opera" is the best remembered.

Lon Chaney had become a world wide star in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" in 1923. Charles Laughton was a memorable hunchback in a sound remake. Those interested in the life of Lon Chaney can view "The Man of a Thousand Faces" starring Jimmy Cagney. I highly recommend this 1957 film. Production of the "Phantom of the Opera" began at Universal in 1923. The head of Universal, Ernst Laemmle, was directly involved including directing several scenes. Probably his most important influence was in constructing the mammoth Paris Opera set. This set was on the Universal back lot until 1914. The set for "Hunchback" is seen in one sequence of "Phantom." The shooting was completed in 1923, but the film wasn't released until 1925. A preview in 1923 so shocked the audience, that the film was extensively re-cut and edited. The film experimented with shading and coloring. Both blue and red tints were used for several scenes; the famous masked ball sequence where the Phantom appears as Poe's Red Death is in color. Rupert Julian was given the job of directing the film, and his name appears on the titles, but he couldn't get along with Chaney, and another actor rode him down with a horse. Edward Sedgewick was brought into finish the film, and he and Laemmle supervised the re-cut and re-edit. The film was a major success. In 1929 the film was redone with sound-dialogue and music. Chaney wasn't available, so the Phantom doesn't speak. This was also successful, and was a major impetus for Universal's investment in horror films. The print of the sound version is the basis for all of the re-issues, but the sound was so bad that when Kino did a major reconstruction, it was considered unusable.

Today this film is remembered for Chaney's performance as the Phantom. In the original publicity for the film Chaney's mask is never shown. He devised his own makeup and it was brutal to wear. He also designed the mask. There is another famous piece of makeup, the skeleton mask for the Red Death in the masked ball
sequence. His costume is brilliant red, and his line:"Beneath your feet are the tombs of tortured men; thus doth the Red Death rebuke your merriment" is the most famous of the cards.

Let's walk through a quick synopsis of the story. The Opera is sold to two new investors; they are obliquely warned about the ghost. The owners visit the infamous box five, they see a mysterious individual's back. They exit in fear, returning a moment later to find the box empty. Then come the notes telling management, the diva, not to perform Margueritte in "Faust". The role must be performed by the understudy, Christine Daae (Mary Philbin). She performs the role to great acclaim, but Carlotta performs the role the next night despite warnings. The great chandelier falls injuring many. The Phantom appears in Christine's dressing room, they exit through the mirror. They come to his lair. He has tutored Christine, but she has never seen him. While the Phantom is playing the organ, she removes his masque. The monster is revealed. Christine is shocked and disgusted, she agrees to leave with the Phantom after one more performance. Christine makes plans to leave the theater after the performance with her true love the Viscount (Norman Kerry). There is a mysterious character wandering around the Opera; it turns out that he is Ledoux, an undercover police officer. He discovers that the Phantom is Erik who was tortured in the cellars, was found to be criminally insane, but escaped. Christine vanishes after the performance, Ledoux and the Viscount pursue the the Phantom and Christine. The Phantom had killed a stagehand before the performance. The discovery of his body sparks his brother to lead dozens of theater workers to hunt the Phantom. The film ends with the death of the Phantom and the reuniting of the Viscount and Christine.

For it's time this was a highly inventive film. The acting is stylized by later day standards, but the film still
has several real shocks. The visual images of Chaney as the Phantom are still arresting. The story is over a hundred years old, but it has been in almost constant revival. There are seven existing film versions with this title, another half a dozen based on the original story with a different title, and probably 10 TV versions both movies and mini-series. The basic story taps something in the human psyche. It also sets up several common horror tropes. The monster as a human, the ignored warnings, mob violence, and the misunderstood monster capable of redemption through love. For those 'Yarders interested in the horror genre, this is one of the grandadys of them all. Along with "Nosferatu" and Todd Browning's "The Unknown" the template for future horror films is set.

Worth viewing; next up more "Phantoms."
 
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"Phantom of the Opera":1925,1943,2004

What we think of as the original "Phantom", isn't the original "Phantom." That was "Das Phantom Der Opera" filmed in 1916, No prints exist, but a few stills have been found. All "Phantom's" are based on a novel by Gaston Leroux. It was originally serialized in a French magazine. It was later translated into several languages and published in novel form. Theroux was a journalist who covered both crime and the arts. He was a great fan of both Poe and Conan Doyle. He wrote a number of mysteries; "Phantom of the Opera" is the best remembered.

Lon Chaney had become a world wide star in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" in 1923. Charles Laughton was a memorable hunchback in a sound remake. Those interested in the life of Lon Chaney can view "The Man of a Thousand Faces" starring Jimmy Cagney. I highly recommend this 1957 film. Production of the "Phantom of the Opera" began at Universal in 1923. The head of Universal, Ernst Laemmle, was directly involved including directing several scenes. Probably his most important influence was in constructing the mammoth Paris Opera set. This set was on the Universal back lot until 1914. The set for "Hunchback" is seen in one sequence of "Phantom." The shooting was completed in 1923, but the film wasn't released until 1925. A preview in 1923 so shocked the audience, that the film was extensively re-cut and edited. The film experimented with shading and coloring. Both blue and red tints were used for several scenes; the famous masked ball sequence where the Phantom appears as Poe's Red Death is in color. Rupert Julian was given the job of directing the film, and his name appears on the titles, but he couldn't get along with Chaney, and another actor rode him down with a horse. Edward Sedgewick was brought into finish the film, and he and Laemmle supervised the re-cut and re-edit. The film was a major success. In 1929 the film was redone with sound-dialogue and music. Chaney wasn't available, so the Phantom doesn't speak. This was also successful, and was a major impetus for Universal's investment in horror films. The print of the sound version is the basis for all of the re-issues, but the sound was so bad that when Kino did a major reconstruction, it was considered unusable.

Today this film is remembered for Chaney's performance as the Phantom. In the original publicity for the film Chaney's mask is never shown. He devised his own makeup and it was brutal to wear. He also designed the mask. There is another famous piece of makeup, the skeleton mask for the Red Death in the masked ball
sequence. His costume is brilliant red, and his line:"Beneath your feet are the tombs of tortured men; thus doth the Red Death rebuke your merriment" is the most famous of the cards.

Let's walk through a quick synopsis of the story. The Opera is sold to two new investors; they are obliquely warned about the ghost. The owners visit the infamous box five, they see a mysterious individual's back. They exit in fear, returning a moment later to find the box empty. Then come the notes telling management, the diva, not to perform Margueritte in "Faust". The role must be performed by the understudy, Christine Daae (Mary Philbin). She performs the role to great acclaim, but Carlotta performs the role the next night despite warnings. The great chandelier falls injuring many. The Phantom appears in Christine's dressing room, they exit through the mirror. They come to his lair. He has tutored Christine, but she has never seen him. While the Phantom is playing the organ, she removes his masque. The monster is revealed. Christine is shocked and disgusted, she agrees to leave with the Phantom after one more performance. Christine makes plans to leave the theater after the performance with her true love the Viscount (Norman Kerry). There is a mysterious character wandering around the Opera; it turns out that he is Ledoux, an undercover police officer. He discovers that the Phantom is Erik who was tortured in the cellars, was found to be criminally insane, but escaped. Christine vanishes after the performance, Ledoux and the Viscount pursue the the Phantom and Christine. The Phantom had killed a stagehand before the performance. The discovery of his body sparks his brother to lead dozens of theater workers to hunt the Phantom. The film ends with the death of the Phantom and the reuniting of the Viscount and Christine.

For it's time this was a highly inventive film. The acting is stylized by later day standards, but the film still
has several real shocks. The visual images of Chaney as the Phantom are still arresting. The story is over a hundred years old, but it has been in almost constant revival. There are seven existing film versions with this title, another half a dozen based on the original story with a different title, and probably 10 TV versions both movies and mini-series. The basic story taps something in the human psyche. It also sets up several common horror tropes. The monster as a human, the ignored warnings, mob violence, and the misunderstood monster capable of redemption through love. For those 'Yarders interested in the horror genre, this is one of the grandadys of them all. Along with "Nosferatu" and Todd Browning's "The Unknown" the template for future horror films is set.

Worth viewing; next up more "Phantoms."
I’ve seen the 1925 Phantom of the Opera a number of times, and I’ve seen Lon Chaney in a few other movies as well. Chaney was a great silent actor, but in Phantom he simply puts on a phenomenal performance. A very good film that is well worth seeing just on the basis of what Chaney does on screen, even if you are just watching his silhouette at times.
 
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"Phantom of the Opera"-Arthur Lubin-1943

This is a strange film; it is the first "Phantom" I saw. It was a commercial success in 1943, and it was also a success when it was reissued in 1949. Universal had begun working on a new "Phantom" in 1935. Scripts were
written, actors were prospectively chosen, but something always got in the way. I think that most of the writing about this version undervalues the influence of producer William Wenger. He chose Lubin, and it was he who settled on the direction for the script. Technicolor was still relatively new; this was only Universal's second technicolor. Technicolor demanded that both a color supervisor and a cameraman be on set during filming. The cameraman was well liked, but the color specialist was detested. In order for the proper technicolor to be achieved, sets were frequently repainted. The film was nominated for four technical Oscars and won two.

The cast was certainly unusual for a horror movie. Nelson Eddy(Anatole Garvan) headed the cast. He was best known for his operettas with Jeanette McDonald. Claude Rains, coming off "Casablanca", had established himself as a versatile and expert supporting actor. He had one classic horror credit James Whale's "The Invisible Man." Susanna Foster, a relative unknown, was cast as Christine DuBois. Universal wanted Deanna Durbin, but she was so successful that she could get away with turning down the role. The studio had a problem; they were never sure what kind of film they wanted to make. They wanted to make an operatic melodrama with comedy and horror elements. Rains spent a month working on violin and piano playing. He was reluctant to be on screen with the "PHantom's" facial scars.

The film opens with a production of "Marthe". Christine opts out of a curtain call to meet boyfriend #1, Raoul Dubert, a high level police officer. Claudin(Rains) isn't playing the violin up to orchestra standards. Both are called before the Music Director/Conductor after the performance. Christine goes first. The maestro tells her:"You must choose between an operatic career and a so called "normal life." You can't do justice to both." Claudin is asked to play for the maestro. He plays a lullaby from his native Provence perfectly, but he admits to cramping in one hand. He is fired.

There is a scene at a vocal teacher's studio. Christine is taking her lesson, Claudin is watching in hiding. He has been paying for her lessons; he is broke and facing eviction and the end of Christine's lessons. He only has one option left, he must sell his piano concerto based on the lullaby's melody. He goes to the music publisher's office. He forces his way into the office. One of the publisher's is working on his etchings with his secretary. Claudin hears his concerto being played in the next room. He believes that the publisher has stolen his work. He strangles the publisher; the secretary throws acid in his face. Claudin escapes through the sewers, The Phantom is born.

The Phantom sets up in the opera cellars, and he sets about nurturing Christine's career. He drugs the primadonna Carlotta. She misses the performance, and Christine stars in her absence. Carlotta accuses Raoul the singing boyfriend. She is convinced that there is no real evidence that he is the criminal, but she insists that Christine is no longer to be her understudy. The Phantom drops the chandelier on the audience. When that proves insufficient, he murders the diva and her maid. The masked Phantom abducts Christine down into the depths of the Opera. They are followed by the two hopeful suitors. Above in the Opera Claudin hears his piano concerto being played by Franz List. The is a sequence where we see both List and Claudin playing the concerto in a split screen. Christine unmasks the Phantom, the romeos arrive. The Phantom is prepared to attack with a sword. Raoul,the policeman, aims and fires a pistol, but Anatole, the baritone, grabs his arm. The shot goes into the ceiling. The cellar collapses, Christine and the two romeos escape, but the collapse kills(?) the Phantom. A sequel was announced with much of the same cast, but for a variety of reasons was never made. A brief epilogue shows Christine after a triumph leaving both suitors for a continued career in the opera. This is ironic because Susanna Foster didn't really like performing, despite her talent and opportunities for concerts, more films, and a potential career in opera.

Today this remains a visually beautiful film, with excellent vocal performances, fine music directed by Edgar Ward and sound recording which was a new industry standard. For fans of classic horror, this is a miss. The problem lies in the story. Think Claude Rains in "The Invisible Man", show him from the start as the Phantom, masked and mysterious teaching Christine. Rains was noted for his exceptional voice; it wasn't used for real effect. What this Phantom needs is more Phantom.
 
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"Phantom of the Opera"-Arthur Lubin-1943

This is a strange film; it is the first "Phantom" I saw. It was a commercial success in 1943, and it was also a success when it was reissued in 1949. Universal had begun working on a new "Phantom" in 1935. Scripts were
written, actors were prospectively chosen, but something always got in the way. I think that most of the writing about this version undervalues the influence of producer William Wenger. He chose Lubin, and it was he who settled on the direction for the script. Technicolor was still relatively new; this was only Universal's second technicolor. Technicolor demanded that both a color supervisor and a cameraman be on set during filming. The cameraman was well liked, but the color specialist was detested. In order for the proper technicolor to be achieved, sets were frequently repainted. The film was nominated for four technical Oscars and won two.

The cast was certainly unusual for a horror movie. Nelson Eddy(Anatole Garvan) headed the cast. He was best known for his operettas with Jeanette McDonald. Claude Rains, coming off "Casablanca", had established himself as a versatile and expert supporting actor. He had one classic horror credit James Whale's "The Invisible Man." Susanna Foster, a relative unknown, was cast as Christine DuBois. Universal wanted Deanna Durbin, but she was so successful that she could get away with turning down the role. The studio had a problem; they were never sure what kind of film they wanted to make. They wanted to make an operatic melodrama with comedy and horror elements. Rains spent a month working on violin and piano playing. He was reluctant to be on screen with the "PHantom's" facial scars.

The film opens with a production of "Marthe". Christine opts out of a curtain call to meet boyfriend #1, Raoul Dubert, a high level police officer. Claudin(Rains) isn't playing the violin up to orchestra standards. Both are called before the Music Director/Conductor after the performance. Christine goes first. The maestro tells her:"You must choose between an operatic career and a so called "normal life." You can't do justice to both." Claudin is asked to play for the maestro. He plays a lullaby from his native Provence perfectly, but he admits to cramping in one hand. He is fired.

There is a scene at a vocal teacher's studio. Christine is taking her lesson, Claudin is watching in hiding. He has been paying for her lessons; he is broke and facing eviction and the end of Christine's lessons. He only has one option left, he must sell his piano concerto based on the lullaby's melody. He goes to the music publisher's office. He forces his way into the office. One of the publisher's is working on his etchings with his secretary. Claudin hears his concerto being played in the next room. He believes that the publisher has stolen his work. He strangles the publisher; the secretary throws acid in his face. Claudin escapes through the sewers, The Phantom is born.

The Phantom sets up in the opera cellars, and he sets about nurturing Christine's career. He drugs the primadonna Carlotta. She misses the performance, and Christine stars in her absence. Carlotta accuses Raoul the singing boyfriend. She is convinced that there is no real evidence that he is the criminal, but she insists that Christine is no longer to be her understudy. The Phantom drops the chandelier on the audience. When that proves insufficient, he murders the diva and her maid. The masked Phantom abducts Christine down into the depths of the Opera. They are followed by the two hopeful suitors. Above in the Opera Claudin hears his piano concerto being played by Franz List. The is a sequence where we see both List and Claudin playing the concerto in a split screen. Christine unmasks the Phantom, the romeos arrive. The Phantom is prepared to attack with a sword. Raoul,the policeman, aims and fires a pistol, but Anatole, the baritone, grabs his arm. The shot goes into the ceiling. The cellar collapses, Christine and the two romeos escape, but the collapse kills(?) the Phantom. A sequel was announced with much of the same cast, but for a variety of reasons was never made. A brief epilogue shows Christine after a triumph leaving both suitors for a continued career in the opera. This is ironic because Susanna Foster didn't really like performing, despite her talent and opportunities for concerts, more films, and a potential career in opera.

Today this remains a visually beautiful film, with excellent vocal performances, fine music directed by Edgar Ward and sound recording which was a new industry standard. For fans of classic horror, this is a miss. The problem lies in the story. Think Claude Rains in "The Invisible Man", show him from the start as the Phantom, masked and mysterious teaching Christine. Rains was noted for his exceptional voice; it wasn't used for real effect. What this Phantom needs is more Phantom.
The 1943 Phantom is watchable, and it has Claude Rains in it which is a plus for me. It's not a bad movie, but it simply doesn't hold a candelabra to the Lon Chaney version.
 
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"Phantom of the Opera"-Joel Schumacher-2004

I wanted to like this film. It's not that I didn't expect music. Opera figures prominently in the title, and stories from such diverse places as 'The Producers" and "The Lion King" have been made into musicals. This was massively successful on Broadway, and I liked "La Miz." It gets off to a fine start with the auction at the decrepit Opera Populaire filmed in muted black and white. I like having the Phantom appear early and often.
The Phantom back story, which appears late, is credible. I like Simon Callow and Ciaran Hinds as the new owners. The famous box five re-appears and having the Phantom on salary is a nice touch. The biggest problem is the Phantom. Some times it is in the music; when you use organ music that much; I expected to see the Phantom at the organ.

Andrew LLoyd Webber has the ability to write hit musicals, but it is a key miss in the story which mortally wounds this itteration of the legend. The Phantom is not a romantic hero, not for 2 and a half hours. I have extolled the willing suspension of disbelief as part of what the viewer must bring to the film, but we do that for the payoff. In the super rare occasions where a film doesn't give us what we personally are led to expect, but still is great. There has to be something else; think "Rashomon." It gives us a world of lies and unanswered questions. Can we believe anything? Is "Rashomon " a great film? Yes, the questions the film raises and refuses to answer could leave the viewer dissatisfied, but we have experienced the film.

I watched this film twice with a few days between viewings. The experience doesn't justify tampering with the world of the Phantom. One final note, the film ends in the muted black and white at the grave. The Count leaves the monkey music box at the grave. He sees the red rose wrapped in the black ribbon and the ring he bought for Christine. The Phantom still lives, and there is the implication that the Phantom is the great romantic love of Christine Daee. Just not credible for me; my experience of this film says this ending is contrived and false.
 
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"Great Expectations"-David Lean-1946

Dickens is an unending source of material for Masterpiece Theater, the length of his books cries out for the mini-series format. Most of Dickens' novels began as magazine serials. This contributes to their length and plot turns. Dickens became a cultural superstar in his lifetime; he became very wealthy. In addition to serials, novels he gave public readings from his works. These and his lectures were paid ticket events. He even had an agency to book his tours to the cultural hinterlands like America.

Lean began his career in films as an editor. His first directing effort was with Noel Coward on "In Which We Serve." He directed several of Coward's works most notably "Brief Encounter." Lean co-wrote the script with Ronald Neame. A two hour script of "Great Expectations" means a lot of cuts, while "Great Expectations" has been re-made many times in regular films and long form television adaptations ,this is considered the finest film version.

We begin our journey with young Pip, an orphan, living with his sister and her blacksmith husband, Joe Gargery (Bernard Miles). Pip is visiting the cemetery when he is confronted by the escaped convict Magwich (Finlay Currie). Magwich demands that Pip return the next morning with a file and vittles. Pip complies, but a few hours later he is searching the mud flats for Magwich and another escaped convict. The convicts are captured when Magwich is fighting with the other convict his mortal enemy. Sometime later Pip is invited to come play for Miss Havisham (Marita Hunt). Miss Havisham was left at the altar by her fiancee. Her life stopped at this point; all the clocks in the house are stopped at eight forty. The places for the wedding banquet and even the rotting rat infested cake is still on the table. It is here that Pip meets the love of his life, Estrella. She had been adopted by Miss Havisham and raised to be a scourge to men. She finds Pip to be coarse and common, but his adoration never wavers despite his clear vision of her toying with him.

Pip visits Miss Havisham for years pushing her wheelchair. On his 14th birthday he is apprenticed to his brother-in-law the blacksmith. Estrella is sent to France to be educated as a lady. Some years later Miss Havisham's lawyer, Mr. Jaggers (John L. Sullivan) arrives with an offer from a mysterious benefactor. Pip
is to come to London to be educated as a gentleman with great expectations. He must keep his name and is not given the identity of his benefactor. Pip believes it to be Miss Havisham. He has rooms with Herbert Pocket (Alec Guiness). Pip (John Mills) is tutored by Herbert and his father. He becomes full of himself, and when Joe comes to London, he is dismissive. He does return to his home area where Estrella is returned having completed her education.

Estrella makes her debut in society; she has many admirers. Pip still desires to make her his wife despite all warning signs. Meanwhile, Magwich returns from Australia where he has made a fortune. He is Pip's benefactor. His voyage to England to see Pip is dangerous; he could be arrested and sent back to prison.
The final third of the film resolves all the conflicts, but Magwich and Havisham die, and Pip and Estrella (Valarie Hobson) have an opening for happiness.

Mr. Jaggers, the lawyer, has served Pip both in the management of his funds, but also as a guide to becoming a more understanding man. He has a great line: "Take nothing on its looks, take everything on evidence. There is no better rule." Pip matures in the final third of the film; he sees the evidence clearly and acts upon it to help others.

The film gives us some remarkably evocative settings most memorably Miss Havisham's decaying mansion and Jaggers' Law office. The film won Oscars in technical areas, but to my mind the glory is in the acting of the supporting players. Havisham, Jaggers, Magwich, and Gargery are memorable and brilliantly played. The adult Pip and Estrella are good but not great. In fact their younger versions are superior. While Lean is remembered today mainly for his epics: "Bridge on the River Kwai," "Lawrence of Arabia," and "Doctor Zhivago," his earlier work like "Great Expectations" is also world class. This is available on Amazon Prime if you are a member. Great film technically, top story, and great acting make this a classic.
 
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"Great Expectations"-David Lean-1946

Dickens is an unending source of material for Masterpiece Theater, the length of his books cries out for the mini-series format. Most of Dickens' novels began as magazine serials. This contributes to their length and plot turns. Dickens became a cultural superstar in his lifetime; he became very wealthy. In addition to serials, novels he gave public readings from his works. These and his lectures were paid ticket events. He even had an agency to book his tours to the cultural hinterlands like America.

Lean began his career in films as an editor. His first directing effort was with Noel Coward on "In Which We Serve." He directed several of Coward's works most notably "Brief Encounter." Lean co-wrote the script with Ronald Neame. A two hour script of "Great Expectations" means a lot of cuts, while "Great Expectations" has been re-made many times in regular films and long form television adaptations ,this is considered the finest film version.

We begin our journey with young Pip, an orphan, living with his sister and her blacksmith husband, Joe Gargery (Bernard Miles). Pip is visiting the cemetery when he is confronted by the escaped convict Magwich (Finlay Currie). Magwich demands that Pip return the next morning with a file and vittles. Pip complies, but a few hours later he is searching the mud flats for Magwich and another escaped convict. The convicts are captured when Magwich is fighting with the other convict his mortal enemy. Sometime later Pip is invited to come play for Miss Havisham (Marita Hunt). Miss Havisham was left at the altar by her fiancee. Her life stopped at this point; all the clocks in the house are stopped at eight forty. The places for the wedding banquet and even the rotting rat infested cake is still on the table. It is here that Pip meets the love of his life, Estrella. She had been adopted by Miss Havisham and raised to be a scourge to men. She finds Pip to be coarse and common, but his adoration never wavers despite his clear vision of her toying with him.

Pip visits Miss Havisham for years pushing her wheelchair. On his 14th birthday he is apprenticed to his brother-in-law the blacksmith. Estrella is sent to France to be educated as a lady. Some years later Miss Havisham's lawyer, Mr. Jaggers (John L. Sullivan) arrives with an offer from a mysterious benefactor. Pip
is to come to London to be educated as a gentleman with great expectations. He must keep his name and is not given the identity of his benefactor. Pip believes it to be Miss Havisham. He has rooms with Herbert Pocket (Alec Guiness). Pip (John Mills) is tutored by Herbert and his father. He becomes full of himself, and when Joe comes to London, he is dismissive. He does return to his home area where Estrella is returned having completed her education.

Estrella makes her debut in society; she has many admirers. Pip still desires to make her his wife despite all warning signs. Meanwhile, Magwich returns from Australia where he has made a fortune. He is Pip's benefactor. His voyage to England to see Pip is dangerous; he could be arrested and sent back to prison.
The final third of the film resolves all the conflicts, but Magwich and Havisham die, and Pip and Estrella (Valarie Hobson) have an opening for happiness.

Mr. Jaggers, the lawyer, has served Pip both in the management of his funds, but also as a guide to becoming a more understanding man. He has a great line: "Take nothing on its looks, take everything on evidence. There is no better rule." Pip matures in the final third of the film; he sees the evidence clearly and acts upon it to help others.

The film gives us some remarkably evocative settings most memorably Miss Havisham's decaying mansion and Jaggers' Law office. The film won Oscars in technical areas, but to my mind the glory is in the acting of the supporting players. Havisham, Jaggers, Magwich, and Gargery are memorable and brilliantly played. The adult Pip and Estrella are good but not great. In fact their younger versions are superior. While Lean is remembered today mainly for his epics: "Bridge on the River Kwai," "Lawrence of Arabia," and "Doctor Zhivago," his earlier work like "Great Expectations" is also world class. This is available on Amazon Prime if you are a member. Great film technically, top story, and great acting make this a classic.
Another movie that I haven't seen in quite some time, but no question this is a great film. As mentioned,there is some great acting here, but my for me Finlay Currie as especially memorable as Magwich.
 
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"Beckett-Peter Glenville-1965

The film focuses on two characters Henry II (Peter O'Toole) and Thomas Beckett (Richard Burton). Both O'Toole and Burton received Oscar nominations for best actor. John Gielgud was nominated for best supporting actor.
It received nominations for picture, director, score, and sound. It won only for best adapted screenplay. The film was adapted from Jean Anouilh's play. The play starred Laurence Olivier (Beckett) and Anthony Quinn (Henry). Quinn won a Tony. Glenville directed the play on Broadway.

Before I cover the film itself; I am going to mention several areas of historical inaccuracy. Beckett was Norman and not Saxon. Anouilh, the play's author, used an outdated history as a source. Glenville invented the murder of a bad clergyman. The real dispute was over the so called Clarendon Constitution which attempted to limit the power of ecclesiastical courts. The film implies that Beckett and Henry II were lifelong friends. That wasn't the case.

The film opens with Henry II kneeling before Beckett's tomb and having a one sided discussion about their relationship. At the end of the film Henry is scourged by monks. This was the punishment for his part in the murder of Beckett. The balance of the film details the shifting relationship between Henry and Beckett. We see them first escaping from bedding a girl. They exit through the window and ride away. Next while hunting they take shelter from the rain,and Henry is going to bed another girl. Beckett asks for the girl, and Henry agrees, but says he will ask something in return. Beckett doesn't realize that Henry will ask for his wife.She commits suicide rather than be bedded by the king.(While shooting the film, O'Toole convinced Elizabeth Taylor to take his film wife's place. She was naked under a blanket. Burton was not amused.)

Throughout the film, Henry is depicted as a man of great passions, and Beckett is the sober intellectual. Henry loves Beckett, Beckett love nothing, not even honor. He is loyal to Henry. Henry makes him Chancellor of England and gives him the Great Seal. One of the big problems Henry is facing as king is the growing power of the Church. When the Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Church in England, dies, Henry appoints Beckett. Beckett had to be ordained as a priest, only then could he become Archbishop. He still held the position of Chancellor. Beckett changes, he values his newfound relationship with God and the Church more than his relationship with Henry. He gives up the Chancellorship.

The conflict between them swiftly becomes realm threatening. A baron captures a rogue priest who is guilty of several crimes not specified, but rape is implied. Beckett excommunicates the baron. Henry sends his chief judicial officer to arrest him. Beckett escapes to France and enlists the support of Charles VII, King of France (John Gielgud). Beckett eventually leaves France and goes to Italy to enlist the Pope's aid. The Pope doesn't want the conflict to continue; so he supports negotiations. Beckett returns to England, but the conflict continues. Henry has the great ahistorical line: "Will no one rid me of the meddlesome priest?" Four knights take up the task and murder Beckett in the cathedral during vespers.

The screenplay is excellent, the acting is first rate, but for me O'Toole is a little over the top. The film is almost all dialogue. O'Toole gets another chance to play Henry II in "The Lion in Winter" in 1968. Here Henry while still passionate, has more self control. An argument can be made that O'Toole's great acting and numerous snubs by the Academy is the greatest collective failure of the Academy. Still "Beckett" has not worn as well as his other nominated roles. The film seems overly long perhaps because of its total reliance on dialogue. Recommended, but this isn't great.

Next up: "Hair" then a concert film.
 
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"Hair"-Milos Forman-1979

I saw the stage production in London in the late 60's. My memory of the show is dim. Milos Forman saw it in NYC. He tried to mount a production in Czechoslovakia in 1968, but the Russians invaded. It took him more than a decade to get a film made. The rights to the stage play cost over a million. The casting took over a year, and those cast were relative unknowns. Michael Butler produced both the movie and the stage version.
Forman hired Michael Weller to write the screenplay. His story differs dramatically from the stage version. In the stage version Claude Bukowski is the leader of an East Village commune. In the movie he is a draftee from Oklahoma. Some songs are cut, and the order is re-arranged. The writers of the stage version, Ragni and Rado,
hated the screen version. They believed the screen version portrayed hippies as odd balls, and ignored their relationship to the Viet Nam protest movement. The film does contain shots of draft cards being burned ceremonially and mass protests.

The meeting of the hippie group led by Berger(Treat Williams) and the draftee Bukowski (John Savage) sets the stage for the entire story. Visually the Twyla Thorpe choreography where the mounted policemen's horses dance in step with the music and the dancers is unforgettable. The core group of hippies, led by Berger, are forces of chaos, they disrupt the established order. They change Bukowski's life. First they hire a horse to ride in Central Park. Somehow Claude ends up on the horse trick riding to try and impress Shelia (Beverley D'Angelo) a wealthy attractive girl. It is love at first sight for Claude. Berger organizes a foray to disrupt a wedding where Shelia is a bridesmaid. Claude has only a few hours before his physical and induction. After the wedding he reports and it is off to Nevada for training. He writes Shelia; she shows the letter to Berger, and it is off to Nevada in a car belonging to Shelia's brother. The group is bigger; Lafayette's fiancee shows up with Lafayette Jr. The group plans a picnic for Claude before he ships out for Vietnam. How to get Claude off the base? Berger has a plan which involves getting the uniform and car of a sergeant. He is tricked by Shelia; the sergeant is captured. His clothes and car are borrowed. Berger is off to the camp.

Meanwhile at the camp; training and boot camp are over. There is a parade and a general (Nicholas Ray, the famous director) is addressing the troops. The sound system has been captured by someone and rock music is playing at full volume. The system is destroyed by soldiers so the General can continue his remarks. Berger enters the camp and gets Claude to the picnic. Unfortunately, he has to stand in for Claude so that there will be a Bukowski to answer in roll call. Claude doesn't make it back in time, and Berger is off to Vietnam. Berger dies, and the film ends with a visit to a vast military graveyard. We see Berger's tombstone, and then we have a massed protest with the music "Let the Sunshine In."

Forman's film was shown at Cannes, but wasn't part of the judging. It had already opened in the US. There were literally thousands of extras in some of the New York scenes. There were hundreds of extras at the graduation/parade in Nevada, and tens of thousands(not extras) in the final scene. Few of you are old enough to remember the old TV cop show, "The Naked City." " There are 8 million stories in the Naked City, and this is one of them." This one story of the Vietnam era; we have all seen some of the others on film, "The Deer Hunter" and Apocalypse Now" for instance. Forman is a gifted and intelligent film maker. This film evokes one aspect of an era. "One, two, three, four, what are we fighting for..." sing Country Joe and the Fish; in "Generation Kill"this is one of the songs sung in the Humvee.

You don't have time to take a breath in this film, watch it, then pause perhaps to remember if you're an old fart like me, for the youngins this is a Wayback Machine.

Next: "Stop Making Sense" This is not meant to imply that I've made any sense in this commentary.
 
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"Stop Making Sense"-Jonathan Demme-1984

I really like this film, but I liked the Talking Heads. What are the reasons that many critics think this is the greatest concert film? First there is almost no wasted time. Second by using wide shots all the time, you really
feel like you are in the audience. Third the sound is impeccable. Fourth the extras, the back projections and the fat suit really add to the performance/experience. Finally, the band gives us a super energized performance. Still not convinced, well there some pretty great songs beginning with "Psycho Killer." Byrne emerges and sings solo with an acoustic guitar. In the background the roadies are setting up. More members are added until "Burning Down the House" is performed with the full compliment of artists.

There is no doubt that Byrne and Demme jointly organized the performance. However, the band had the final say. Demme wanted to shoot some material on a specially constructed stage; the band said no because they wanted the entire film to be performed before a concert audience. I don't want to venture into the bottomless pit that is this band's history, but I think it is worth mentioning that three of the members met at the Rhode Island School of Design, and that in their early performances in New York they just stood there and played. Well let's see; "Once in a Lifetime" and "Take Me to the River", Genius of Love (Tom, Tom Club), and the first song in the Fat Suit is "Girlfriend is Better." Byrne introduces the band members and the roadies.

That's pretty much it; it's on Amazon Prime. Next up: "The Bitter Tea of General Yen."
 
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Second by using wide shots all the time, you really
feel like you are in the audience.
That's a good point. Too many tight close-ups in most concert footage,

Anyone else catch this show live at the Agora in West Hartford?
 
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That's a good point. Too many tight close-ups in most concert footage,

Anyone else catch this show live at the Agora in West Hartford?
While I never saw the Talking Heads together in concert, they are one of my favorite bands. I did see David Byrne at the Garde Theater in New London on my birthday in 2004. Byrne was touring in support of his Grown Backwards album. I was a little hesitant about going, as Byrne had a group with him called the Tosca Strings, and at the time I didn't care too much for adding strings to rock music. I was wrong with that one, as the Tosca Strings offered terrific support to what Byrne did on stage, which was a combination of Talking Heads material and his solo stuff. It was one of the best concerts that I have ever been to.
 
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"The Bitter Tea of General Yen"-Frank Capra-1933

I just watched this film again for this commentary. I had pulled it about a month ago, but I chose to discuss quite a few other films first. I saw this film first on TCM at least a decade ago. This film defies expectations in a number of ways. While setting the film in China can't be considered typical, it should be noted that "The Good Earth' was a huge success in this period. Dietrich made a memorable film set in China, and even American capitalism had a moment with "Oil for the Lamps of China." The opening scene shows a full scale riot in Shanghai. Meanwhile inside the cantonment area we see the preparations for a wedding. A young American woman coming directly from the states is going to marry an American missionary doctor. The guests are seemingly unconcerned with the events in the city.

Megan Davis (Barbara Stanwyck) is coming by rickshaw from the railroad station to her wedding. The rickshaw is hit and the driver killed by a limo . Davis tries to aid the rickshaw man to no avail; she is angry that no one is interested in trying to help, She approaches the limo and accosts the principal passenger. He is a well dressed Chinese (Nils Asther). They have a short combative exchange. Megan is picked up by another rickshaw and taken to the wedding site.

Asther was a Danish born Swedish actor who had moderate success in Hollywood after working in Europe with some top directors. He played his part in "yellow face" quite common in Hollywood. Think Manchu and Charlie Chan in addition to such films as "The Good Earth." This is a stunningly good performance; General Yen is a great screen character, multi faceted, serious, humorous, threatening, considerate, callous, and most of all human.

The wedding is postponed when Doctor Bob arrives he says he must leave for Chingu to rescue children from an imperiled orphanage. He needs to get a safe conduct pass from a Chinese general to protect the
children. He has learned that General Yen has secretly come to Shanghai. Yen shows his disdain for missionaries when he cruelly writes a mocking note instead of a safe conduct. Bob Strike couldn't write or read Chinese. Megan insists on accompanying Dr. Bob on the rescue mission. There are only six children and a mission official to take back to Shanghai. While they are readying the children, the car is stolen. They elect to leave the mission and to try and reach the railway station first on foot and then by rickshaw. This doesn't work out well, Megan is knocked out and separated from the group. She ends up in the summer palace of General Yin.

to be continued
 
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What makes this film extraordinary is its depiction of pretty overt racism by even some of missionaries. It is not clear that all the wedding guests are missionaries. The wedding is taking place in the cantonment (a European only area in the city). Typically social events drew from a diverse population in the cantonment. If you were a European in business, diplomacy, or missionary work you met socially on a regular basis. The bond was skin color even more than nationality or profession. The conversations we are directed to by the script show the negative attitudes, but clearly they don't encompass all the Europeans. Doctor Bob and Megan for example show by their actions that they regard Chinese as humans. Jones, General Yen's financial adviser, has a line:"How's the missionary racket?" He believes that everyone has an angle. Self interest and money are everything. General Yen is deeply suspicious of missionaries; he regards them as hypocrites. Wanting to help and even helping, doesn't remove the possibility of believing in the inferiority of other races or cultures. Think of Kipling's "White Man's Burden." It is the duty of the superior whites to help the downtrodden other races.
It is better than "Human life is cheap," but it doesn't clear the racism barrier.

In the reveletory dream sequence Megan is pursued by a Manchu racial stereotype only to be rescued by a masked man. When the mask is removed, General Yen is revealed. This film was made before the Hays Office. When Colombia tried to re-issue it in 1950 it was denied a license. The implication of even the possibility of love between the races was considered immoral. Historians and film analysts report that this film was Capra's bid for an Oscar. The studio reportedly spent $200,000 on Chinese artifacts to decorate the set. The film was booked to open Radio City Music Hall as a major film venue. There are elements of German expressionism in the filming. The action sequences are particularly brutal for the era. The ending is certainly not happily ever after. It was a financial failure, and it received no major nominations for any film awards. The Chinese Embassy complained, and women's groups across the country advocated boycotts. This perplexes me, why would Capra and Colombia make this film the way they did? One other question I can't answer is why Anna Mae Wong wasn't cast as Mah-Li. She was actually the closest thing to an Oriental movie star in the world. This was a much better part than she usually had to take.

It isn't surprising that this film vanished from view for about 70 years. Recently it has been picked up by several free streaming services. I won't disclose the final third of the film; this is a must view. Given its era and the fact that it was shot in Colombia's back lot; this is wonderful film making. Mah-Li (Toshia Mori) and Mr. Jones (Walter Connolly) are excellent characterizations. The use of light for dramatic effect really works.
I know it's fiction, but the dialogue is credible. Moral questions are raised and not given easy answers. Stanwyck was a Capra favorite, reportedly they had an affair. The Megan Davis role is extraordinarily tough.
She has to show a variety of emotions, confront her own prejudices and values, and engage in a forbidden love affair. It is never consummated, but there can be no doubt that Yen and Davis love each other consequences be damned. Still the best performance in the film is by Nils Asther, he is great, he is mesmerizing. I hope I didn't oversell this film. I thought it was important to put it social and historical context, but the film can and does stand on its own .
 
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What makes this film extraordinary is its depiction of pretty overt racism by even some of missionaries. It is not clear that all the wedding guests are missionaries. The wedding is taking place in the cantonment (a European only area in the city). Typically social events drew from a diverse population in the cantonment. If you were a European in business, diplomacy, or missionary work you met socially on a regular basis. The bond was skin color even more than nationality or profession. The conversations we are directed to by the script show the negative attitudes, but clearly they don't encompass all the Europeans. Doctor Bob and Megan for example show by their actions that they regard Chinese as humans. Jones, General Yen's financial adviser, has a line:"How's the missionary racket?" He believes that everyone has an angle. Self interest and money are everything. General Yen is deeply suspicious of missionaries; he regards them as hypocrites. Wanting to help and even helping, doesn't remove the possibility of believing in the inferiority of other races or cultures. Think of Kipling's "White Man's Burden." It is the duty of the superior whites to help the downtrodden other races.
It is better than "Human life is cheap," but it doesn't clear the racism barrier.

In the reveletory dream sequence Megan is pursued by a Manchu racial stereotype only to be rescued by a masked man. When the mask is removed, General Yen is revealed. This film was made before the Hays Office. When Colombia tried to re-issue it in 1950 it was denied a license. The implication of even the possibility of love between the races was considered immoral. Historians and film analysts report that this film was Capra's bid for an Oscar. The studio reportedly spent $200,000 on Chinese artifacts to decorate the set. The film was booked to open Radio City Music Hall as a major film venue. There are elements of German expressionism in the filming. The action sequences are particularly brutal for the era. The ending is certainly not happily ever after. It was a financial failure, and it received no major nominations for any film awards. The Chinese Embassy complained, and women's groups across the country advocated boycotts. This perplexes me, why would Capra and Colombia make this film the way they did? One other question I can't answer is why Anna Mae Wong wasn't cast as Mah-Li. She was actually the closest thing to an Oriental movie star in the world. This was a much better part than she usually had to take.

It isn't surprising that this film vanished from view for about 70 years. Recently it has been picked up by several free streaming services. I won't disclose the final third of the film; this is a must view. Given its era and the fact that it was shot in Colombia's back lot; this is wonderful film making. Mah-Li (Toshia Mori) and Mr. Jones (Walter Connolly) are excellent characterizations. The use of light for dramatic effect really works.
I know it's fiction, but the dialogue is credible. Moral questions are raised and not given easy answers. Stanwyck was a Capra favorite, reportedly they had an affair. The Megan Davis role is extraordinarily tough.
She has to show a variety of emotions, confront her own prejudices and values, and engage in a forbidden love affair. It is never consummated, but there can be no doubt that Yen and Davis love each other consequences be damned. Still the best performance in the film is by Nils Asther, he is great, he is mesmerizing. I hope I didn't oversell this film. I thought it was important to put it social and historical context, but the film can and does stand on its own .
TCM shows "Bitter Tea" periodically, and I made a point of watching it recently for the first time, primarily because of the involvement of Frank Capra and Barbara Stanwyck. Capra became a superstar director not long after this when he made "It Happened One Night". A solidly directed film, and it is certainly watchable. Still, it is not a film that I plan on watching again and again like I do with many of my favorites.
 
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Somehow my commentary on "Bloody Sunday" vanished. I will redo it tomorrow. Next after "Bloody Sunday" is "Amelie."
 
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Somehow my commentary on "Bloody Sunday" vanished. I will redo it tomorrow. Next after "Bloody Sunday" is "Amelie."
Ahem...
 
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Thank you very much . If you are interested in my opinions about "Bloody Sunday;" please read the Great Bands from the 90's third page.
 
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"Amelie"-Jean-Pierre Jeunet-2001i

When I picked "Bloody Sunday"and "Amelie" I knew that it would be difficult to find two films which differ more in conception and treatment of reality. "Bloody Sunday" is an attempt to re-create the past as accurately as possible; "Amelie" is heightened reality. Jeunet began collecting stories in the mid seventies which he tried to get a handle on. He wanted to tie them together around a central organizing idea. He found that one of his stories: the life of a shy girl, was the ideal starting point. It became among other things the only use of a suicidal gold fish in films.

As a child Amelie had distant parents. Her mother was killed by a jumping Canadian tourist. Her doctor father misinterpreted her elevated heart rate during monthly examinations as a sign of a weak heart. She was kept out of school. Now in her mid twenties she has a job as a waitress at Cafe des 2 Moulins. She is still shy, but at least she has contact with some people. On the day Princess Di died, she drops the top of her perfume bottle. This leads to the discovery of a box which contains the treasures of a boy's childhood. She makes a promise to herself that she will find this man and return this box of memories. She hopes that this will change his life for the better.

Jeunet creates a special world for Amelie. It is the real Paris, but it is heightened reality. The colors are brighter and more vibrant, there is beguiling music in the background, the streets of Monmarte are always clean, there isn't a huge amount of traffic, and we have time to make discoveries. The cinematography (Bruno Delbonnel)
and the production design (Aline Benutto) gently but firmly place us in a slightly enhanced reality. We accept this and have an experience, or we don't and become frustrated. It is better if we don't ask a lot of questions; focus on Amelie Poulin as she attempts to connect. We meet marvelous characters, a painter with a disease which makes his bones brittle. He has painted the same Renoir masterpiece once a year every year for over 20 years. Then there is the young man with the strange hobby of reconstructing torn photos from a photo kisok in the Metro and creating albums. Another character is a failed writer who perhaps does have ideas and talent. Then we meet the customers and the staff of Amelie's workplace. There is the grocery store where she shops, the visits to her father, and the residents of her apartment all elements of Amelie's
world and if we observe this something happens. The viewer becomes involved; you have an experience. This is not a problem to be solved. Let your analytical faculties rest for two hours, and you will laugh and smile and have a very warm feeling. I want you all to have this experience.

Audrey Tautou is marvelous in the main role. Jeunet is a master craftsman in this movie. The extras on the DVD are really worth your time. We have talked about what each of us bring to a film. This is a great film for those who are open to its experience.
 
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"Grave of the Fireflies"-Isao Takahata-1988

This film's source is a short story of the same name published in 1967. Akyuki Nosaka had several feelers about making this semi autobiographical account into a film. He held back because he didn't believe that Japanese child actors could portray the characters, and he didn't see how the devastation in the landscape could be portrayed. The solution of making an animated feature was a novel one. I am not at all versed in anime, but from what I have seen anime doesn't present it characters realistically.

I want to set the background of the film. It is set in the closing days of WWII and the immediate aftermath. In 1945 the US began a saturation fire bombing campaign of both civilian and military targets in major Japanese cities. A fire bombing attack of Tokyo reportedly killed 100,000 people. Kobe was a major city, the 6th largest in Japan. There were several important factories in the city, they were bombed with conventional ordinance, but the city had two major firebombing attacks. The first on March 16-17 destroyed 21% of the wooden structures in the city. The second on June 15th was larger and covered about 30% of the city. The film doesn't
identify which of the fire bombing attacks drives our key characters from their homes. My best guess is that it was the March attack.

The film opens with the line: "September 21, 1945 that was the night I died." Seita is a 14 year old boy who lives with his Mother, and his 4 year old sister Setsuko. Their father is an officer in the Imperial Japanese Navy.
When the film opens we are in a train station (I believe); Seita is discovered dead by a janitor, another of the "sleepers" is also dead. When the body is searched, a metal box which contained fruit candy is discovered. The box is thrown away. It pops open and Setsuko's ashes come out. Her ghost emerges and meets Seita's ghost.

The scene is shifted to the firebombing. Seita is charged with hiding food in a hole in the ground and with taking his sister to the bomb shelter. Their mother who suffers from a heart condition will follow. Seita and Setsuko try to get to the shelter. Seita carries his sister on his back; fires are popping up everywhere. They never reach the shelter, but they eventually reach a local school where survivors are assembled. Seita's mother has been fatally burned; she dies in the school. Seita doesn't tell his little sister. They will go to an aunt's house in a neighboring town. Seita vows to nurture and protect his sister. Despite Seita's efforts to materially help the aunt, he brings a substantial quantity of food he had hidden and allows his mother's kimono's to be sold, she resents their presence and complains they do nothing to support the household. The situation continues to deteriorate Seita and Setsuko find a deserted shelter and make a new home.

The two children have some pleasant experiences, but when the fireflies they brought inside to give they light in the dark die overnight; Seita realizes how desperate their situation is as he watches Setsuko bury the fireflies. Food has become virtually impossible to find and/or buy. Seita steals and is caught, but he is released with no punishment. Setsuko is very malnourished, and a visit to the doctor provides no real help.
Seita goes to the bank and closes out his mother's account; he had previously drawn out over half to keep them going. He uses this money to buy food. He feeds some water melon to Setsuko; her last words were:"Seita, thank you. She never wakes up. Seita arranges to cremate her himself. He puts some of her ashes in the candy box. He never returns to the shelter/home. He believes that he has failed to protect and
save his sister. He loses his will to live. He dies a little over a month later.

"Grave of the Fireflies" was first exhibited as part of a double bill with "My Neighbor Totouro." Much of the audience exited before "Grave..." This is a difficult film to write about; it is moving, but there are reasons why it was declared the 6th most depressing film of all time. When you start with a ghost telling his life story; you have a very strong inference based on his condition at his death, that this is not going to be a happy hour and a half. The story is told realistically despite it being anime. This is an experience film; what inferences you draw and what intellectual constructs you make, will be your own. I was drawn to the history of the period and the story's genesis. I'm not sure if I rate this as truly great; many if not most of the top critics do find it an all time great. It's certainly at least on the border of great and near great. I'd be interested in your reactions.

I'm unsure about what's up next; I"m considering several options.
 
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"Amelie"-Jean-Pierre Jeunet-2001i

When I picked "Bloody Sunday"and "Amelie" I knew that it would be difficult to find two films which differ more in conception and treatment of reality. "Bloody Sunday" is an attempt to re-create the past as accurately as possible; "Amelie" is heightened reality. Jeunet began collecting stories in the mid seventies which he tried to get a handle on. He wanted to tie them together around a central organizing idea. He found that one of his stories: the life of a shy girl, was the ideal starting point. It became among other things the only use of a suicidal gold fish in films.

As a child Amelie had distant parents. Her mother was killed by a jumping Canadian tourist. Her doctor father misinterpreted her elevated heart rate during monthly examinations as a sign of a weak heart. She was kept out of school. Now in her mid twenties she has a job as a waitress at Cafe des 2 Moulins. She is still shy, but at least she has contact with some people. On the day Princess Di died, she drops the top of her perfume bottle. This leads to the discovery of a box which contains the treasures of a boy's childhood. She makes a promise to herself that she will find this man and return this box of memories. She hopes that this will change his life for the better.

Jeunet creates a special world for Amelie. It is the real Paris, but it is heightened reality. The colors are brighter and more vibrant, there is beguiling music in the background, the streets of Monmarte are always clean, there isn't a huge amount of traffic, and we have time to make discoveries. The cinematography (Bruno Delbonnel)
and the production design (Aline Benutto) gently but firmly place us in a slightly enhanced reality. We accept this and have an experience, or we don't and become frustrated. It is better if we don't ask a lot of questions; focus on Amelie Poulin as she attempts to connect. We meet marvelous characters, a painter with a disease which makes his bones brittle. He has painted the same Renoir masterpiece once a year every year for over 20 years. Then there is the young man with the strange hobby of reconstructing torn photos from a photo kisok in the Metro and creating albums. Another character is a failed writer who perhaps does have ideas and talent. Then we meet the customers and the staff of Amelie's workplace. There is the grocery store where she shops, the visits to her father, and the residents of her apartment all elements of Amelie's
world and if we observe this something happens. The viewer becomes involved; you have an experience. This is not a problem to be solved. Let your analytical faculties rest for two hours, and you will laugh and smile and have a very warm feeling. I want you all to have this experience.

Audrey Tautou is marvelous in the main role. Jeunet is a master craftsman in this movie. The extras on the DVD are really worth your time. We have talked about what each of us bring to a film. This is a great film for those who are open to its experience.
Hmm…A review of Amelie, and no mention of garden gnomes? I didn’t think that was possible. Regardless, I totally concur with the above review of Amelie. It is a bright, over the top film that is full of great charm, whimsy, and imagination. It is a great and unique movie that creates its own little universe.

My wife doesn’t watch too many foreign movies these days as she has lots of problems reading subtitles (due to eye problems she is a slow reader). Still, she absolutely adores Amelie. We haven’t seen Amelie in several years, but my wife will still make the occasional odd out of the blue reference to this movie. Once seen, this film is hard to forget, and I mean that in a good way.
 
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"Amelie"-Jean-Pierre Jeunet-2001i

When I picked "Bloody Sunday"and "Amelie" I knew that it would be difficult to find two films which differ more in conception and treatment of reality. "Bloody Sunday" is an attempt to re-create the past as accurately as possible; "Amelie" is heightened reality. Jeunet began collecting stories in the mid seventies which he tried to get a handle on. He wanted to tie them together around a central organizing idea. He found that one of his stories: the life of a shy girl, was the ideal starting point. It became among other things the only use of a suicidal gold fish in films.

As a child Amelie had distant parents. Her mother was killed by a jumping Canadian tourist. Her doctor father misinterpreted her elevated heart rate during monthly examinations as a sign of a weak heart. She was kept out of school. Now in her mid twenties she has a job as a waitress at Cafe des 2 Moulins. She is still shy, but at least she has contact with some people. On the day Princess Di died, she drops the top of her perfume bottle. This leads to the discovery of a box which contains the treasures of a boy's childhood. She makes a promise to herself that she will find this man and return this box of memories. She hopes that this will change his life for the better.

Jeunet creates a special world for Amelie. It is the real Paris, but it is heightened reality. The colors are brighter and more vibrant, there is beguiling music in the background, the streets of Monmarte are always clean, there isn't a huge amount of traffic, and we have time to make discoveries. The cinematography (Bruno Delbonnel)
and the production design (Aline Benutto) gently but firmly place us in a slightly enhanced reality. We accept this and have an experience, or we don't and become frustrated. It is better if we don't ask a lot of questions; focus on Amelie Poulin as she attempts to connect. We meet marvelous characters, a painter with a disease which makes his bones brittle. He has painted the same Renoir masterpiece once a year every year for over 20 years. Then there is the young man with the strange hobby of reconstructing torn photos from a photo kisok in the Metro and creating albums. Another character is a failed writer who perhaps does have ideas and talent. Then we meet the customers and the staff of Amelie's workplace. There is the grocery store where she shops, the visits to her father, and the residents of her apartment all elements of Amelie's
world and if we observe this something happens. The viewer becomes involved; you have an experience. This is not a problem to be solved. Let your analytical faculties rest for two hours, and you will laugh and smile and have a very warm feeling. I want you all to have this experience.

Audrey Tautou is marvelous in the main role. Jeunet is a master craftsman in this movie. The extras on the DVD are really worth your time. We have talked about what each of us bring to a film. This is a great film for those who are open to its experience.
"Grave of the Fireflies"-Isao Takahata-1988

This film's source is a short story of the same name published in 1967. Akyuki Nosaka had several feelers about making this semi autobiographical account into a film. He held back because he didn't believe that Japanese child actors could portray the characters, and he didn't see how the devastation in the landscape could be portrayed. The solution of making an animated feature was a novel one. I am not at all versed in anime, but from what I have seen anime doesn't present it characters realistically.

I want to set the background of the film. It is set in the closing days of WWII and the immediate aftermath. In 1945 the US began a saturation fire bombing campaign of both civilian and military targets in major Japanese cities. A fire bombing attack of Tokyo reportedly killed 100,000 people. Kobe was a major city, the 6th largest in Japan. There were several important factories in the city, they were bombed with conventional ordinance, but the city had two major firebombing attacks. The first on March 16-17 destroyed 21% of the wooden structures in the city. The second on June 15th was larger and covered about 30% of the city. The film doesn't
identify which of the fire bombing attacks drives our key characters from their homes. My best guess is that it was the March attack.

The film opens with the line: "September 21, 1945 that was the night I died." Seita is a 14 year old boy who lives with his Mother, and his 4 year old sister Setsuko. Their father is an officer in the Imperial Japanese Navy.
When the film opens we are in a train station (I believe); Seita is discovered dead by a janitor, another of the "sleepers" is also dead. When the body is searched, a metal box which contained fruit candy is discovered. The box is thrown away. It pops open and Setsuko's ashes come out. Her ghost emerges and meets Seita's ghost.

The scene is shifted to the firebombing. Seita is charged with hiding food in a hole in the ground and with taking his sister to the bomb shelter. Their mother who suffers from a heart condition will follow. Seita and Setsuko try to get to the shelter. Seita carries his sister on his back; fires are popping up everywhere. They never reach the shelter, but they eventually reach a local school where survivors are assembled. Seita's mother has been fatally burned; she dies in the school. Seita doesn't tell his little sister. They will go to an aunt's house in a neighboring town. Seita vows to nurture and protect his sister. Despite Seita's efforts to materially help the aunt, he brings a substantial quantity of food he had hidden and allows his mother's kimono's to be sold, she resents their presence and complains they do nothing to support the household. The situation continues to deteriorate Seita and Setsuko find a deserted shelter and make a new home.

The two children have some pleasant experiences, but when the fireflies they brought inside to give they light in the dark die overnight; Seita realizes how desperate their situation is as he watches Setsuko bury the fireflies. Food has become virtually impossible to find and/or buy. Seita steals and is caught, but he is released with no punishment. Setsuko is very malnourished, and a visit to the doctor provides no real help.
Seita goes to the bank and closes out his mother's account; he had previously drawn out over half to keep them going. He uses this money to buy food. He feeds some water melon to Setsuko; her last words were:"Seita, thank you. She never wakes up. Seita arranges to cremate her himself. He puts some of her ashes in the candy box. He never returns to the shelter/home. He believes that he has failed to protect and
save his sister. He loses his will to live. He dies a little over a month later.

"Grave of the Fireflies" was first exhibited as part of a double bill with "My Neighbor Totouro." Much of the audience exited before "Grave..." This is a difficult film to write about; it is moving, but there are reasons why it was declared the 6th most depressing film of all time. When you start with a ghost telling his life story; you have a very strong inference based on his condition at his death, that this is not going to be a happy hour and a half. The story is told realistically despite it being anime. This is an experience film; what inferences you draw and what intellectual constructs you make, will be your own. I was drawn to the history of the period and the story's genesis. I'm not sure if I rate this as truly great; many if not most of the top critics do find it an all time great. It's certainly at least on the border of great and near great. I'd be interested in your reactions.

I'm unsure about what's up next; I"m considering several options.
You made a fine choice in the way of contrast with these last two movies. There is a beautiful joy that watching Amélie imparts upon the viewer and a striking and profound sadness that envelops you throughout Fireflies. Both movies made a great impression on me and I think of them fondly. Tautou is a great actress, instant crush for me.

I love anime, always have loved illustration as an art form. Grave is among the very best of the medium/genre. It's just achingly sad. The real life backdrop makes it even sadder. I think I last saw it nearly 10 years ago now, it still sticks with you.
 
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The Desert Fox"-Henry Hathaway-1951

This is a bio-pic of Frwin Rommel. Rommel is probably the most famous German general in WWII. The film focuses on the last few years of his life. It is reasonably historically accurate. The central issue of the film is Rommel's involvement in the plot to kill Hitler. Critics both professional and amateur often fault the film for not revealing why Rommel was known as the Desert Fox. They blithely ignore the source material of the movie. Brigadier General Desmond Young began his biography with the purpose of discovering what really happened
at the end of his life. There were rumors that despite the State funeral Rommel didn't die of his wounds. Young confirmed this early on; he was given full access to Rommel's papers by his wife and son. In 2018 additional materials came to light which confirm Rommel's involvement in the plot. Rommel's wife was a technical adviser for this film and "The Longest Day." When this film was made the Cold War was in its infancy, and NATO was just beginning. Germany was a key component in NATO, and a film casting a famous general in a positive light could be useful in helping to smooth the way for German re-armament. This wasn't the only film which could be seen in this light; "The Big Lift" comes to mind.

James Mason's portrayal of Rommel is considered to be a quality effort. The script by Nunnally Johnson is solid. Henry Hathaway is a quality studio director. Most of the film was shot in the US; the desert scenes around Yuma, Arizona. Lucie Rommel contributed props for the interior set in the Rommel house. Documentary film footage is cut into the film. The cast is top rate: Jessica Tandy as Lucie Rommel, Leo G. Carroll as Von Runstedt, Luther Adler as Hitler, and Cedric Hardwicke as Dr. Karl Strolin. This is an enjoyable and solid film, and it is way more accurate than most Hollywood bio-pics. BTW I just watched "Sophie Scholl: The Final Days" and this film is at least as accurate as the Scholl film made over 60 years later.

I generally offer a list of films for viewing on patriotic holidays. I'm late but, I'm going to try and get in a few suggestions. One final note about "Grave of the Fireflies" the 2012 release has both an English and a Japanese soundtrack. Check your local library.
 
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I watched one new film for this group of recommendations: "Hollywoodism: Jews, Movies, and the American Dream." This documentary details the efforts of the Jews who founded the early studios. Their belief in an American Dream is bound up with their desire to be truly Americans, and not hyphenated Americans. This documentary raises some interesting questions about their visions of inclusion, their visits to the Death Camps (they made no public statements, and their buckling under during HUAC investigations. Worth watching although for me tying Universal monster films to a Jewish sense of being the other is more than flimsy.

Interestingly, there has been a group of films recently like "Brooklyn" and "Immigrant" dealing with the immigrant experience. Of course there are others like Kazan's "America, America" a fictionalized account of his Uncle's experiences in reaching America. Another interesting film is John Ford's "The Last Hurrah" which stars Spencer Tracey as an Irish American politician. Jim Sheridan's "In America" is a very good film depicting interactions among ethnically different immigrants. One of the most moving events is attending a naturalization ceremony; it is fitting to remember that our ancestors were all immigrants. On my mother's side we go back to the Pilgrims, John Alden in particular; on my father's side Irish fleeing the potato famine. Refugees all, so I like to celebrate the country by remembering this heritage
 

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