Thursday 31 May 2018

A new strand on Film Alert - Adrian Martin kicks off a series that retrieves early critical writing

Editor's Note: A good friend suggested a new pursuit for Film Alert and its readers. Let's, he said, retrieve and re-publish pre-digital film criticism by our writers and our readers. That means something from long ago. Of course the selection would be chosen and possibly edited by them. No point in showing yourself in a bad light. Contributions are now called for and all are welcome. 

Critic, scholar and long-time cinephile Adrian Martin responded instantly and sent in this contribution. The pictures have been added and you can click on them to enlarge.

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Film Diary 1975: A Critic at 15 (extracts)

[Note: The only additions to the original text are in parentheses]

Jan 31
Harriet Andersson, Summer with Monica
At the Playbox, a [Ingmar] Bergman retrospective; and on the day Sommaren med Monika[Summer with Monica] with Chaplin’s A Jitney Elopement[1915]. Empty-headed comedy is at least more assured than naïve (one is tempted to say immature) character dramas, but Bergman’s 1953 work occasionally foreshadows more dense (and far more intense) films like Persona[1966].

Back to the TV creepies; more interesting as stylised theatricality than genuinely horrific images and sounds. Talky, contrived (aren’t they all?) humour and set design, is Rowland V. Lee’s Son of Frankenstein[1939].

Feb 1
The Wild Child
[François] Truffaut imitating [Robert] Bresson is a bewildering idea; but he does it remarkably well while still exploring his auteur themes in L’Enfant Sauvage[The Wild Child, 1970]. The austerity and severe control of style is ever-present, but as with Bresson this story of a wild boy’s education has a remarkable power to move and to make us understand the emotional relationships without moralising. Not a typical Truffaut film, but rare and precious.

Bresson defines perhaps one style of cinema; if so, Ken Russell defines the extreme opposite. On a second viewing, The Music Lovers[1971] has lost its power to impress, or signify the slightest in the way of theme. Generating its own forgettable brand of insane grandeur, it is absurdity without surrealism; gestures without characters; form without content. But the bold, know-all young critic behind me at the Palais found the chance to exclaim, “It’s subtle, isn’t it?”

Feb 3
Now that school has started, the period of reflection before these journal entries must be shortened; thus I come to discuss Hell and High Water[1954] and future films with scarcely the same critical equilibrium. 

Bella Darvi, Hell and High Water
But anyway… [Samuel] Fuller’s film with Richard Widmark was unashamedly anti-Communist; and as well violent, direct, and perhaps even thoughtful between the thundering moments of tension. [Peter] Bogdanovich has called it a failure; I feel not, as even in the most wooden and contrived passages it asserts Fuller’s unique ideas and attitudes in an honest, uncluttered fashion; with just enough ambiguous symbolism to make it interesting but not pretentious (The Music Lovers wasn’t pretentious – it didn’t even have a theme!).

Feb 4
Something to end the holidays: a frightful film starring (and produced by, and written by) James Mason; third rate imitation of Mr. Hitchcock – Lady Possessed[1952]. 

[Jules] Dassin doesn’t bother with such ambitions; but he doesn’t have the plain rigour of Fuller that was needed for Naked City[1948], too embarrassing for its own good (and shot ENTIRELY ON LOCATION!)

Feb 16
The contes moraux[moral tales] of Éric Rohmer grow with the development of one’s own intellect and desire – they may be literary and all the rest of those critical qualms, but they are so rich and alive as to make anyone long to know all about this French Catholic intellectual. Ma nuit chez Maud[My Night at Maud’s, 1969] is not as captivating as Le genou de Claire[Claire’s Knee, 1971], but as it grows one realises its delicacy and subtle nuances; its complexity of thought and fusion of a moral dialectic. Rohmer is much truer to his cinematic principles in the 3rd rather than in the 5th tale; and here he expects a lot more from his audience. 

My Night at Maud's
But the two films form a perfect complement; and give a large idea of an auteur whose films can only be described as ‘Rohmerian’ (Sight and Sound).

© Adrian Martin January/February 1975

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