Friday, 3 April 2020

Plague Times Diary (4) - Despatches from Peter Hourigan, David Stratton and David Hare

Peter Hourigan writes:

I can’t say the lock-down has impacted my viewing as yet. I haven’t spent more time viewing on any single day but because I haven’t been going out to the cinema, etc there have been more days when I have been home and viewing something. I haven’t launched into any systematic viewing of a director or genre but have generally chosen something from streaming, or my pile of unwatched DVDs – or sometimes a download from a friend.

This probably shows in my viewing for the last week.

Three new arrivals on Netflix:  Crip Camp (Nicole Newnham, Jim Le Brecht) is a documentary. The eponymous camp was a summer camp in New York State in the 1969s and 1970s especially for kids with various handicaps and disabilities. When, a decade or two later, the Civil Rights movement for the disabled took off, some of the kids from the Camp were key members in the movement. Standard work of documentary but the subject is very interesting and involving.

Curtiz (Tamas Yvan Topolarsky). The director of Casablanca is the eponymous focus of this drama. A Hungarian film, it’s based around some moments in the filming of the Hungarian born director’s every popular film. Potentially interesting story and glorious black and white.  But it doesn’t work. Too hard to have actors cast as Bergman or Bogie, so don’t even have them in the film. Over scripted dialogue that reflects the problem of a director for whom English is not his native language, and often not well delivered. Disappointing.

Sergio (Greg Barker). Interesting documentary about United Nations diplomat Sérgio Vieira de Mello Injured by a bomb blast in Baghdad, Iraq. An interesting subject, if not particularly exciting film making.

The Irishman (Martin Scorsese) Thought it was probably time to revisit this for the first time since seeing it in the cinemas.  And worth the time once again.

7 Days in Havana (Gaspar NoéElia SuleimanJuan Carlos TabíoLaurent CantetBenicio del ToroJulio MedemPablo Trapero) If it hadn’t been for the lock-down I would have been heading off very, very soon for my own seven days in Havana.  I’d been going through those Cuban titles I have in preparation.  This was one of the last. Seven short films, several quite typical of their directors, but none really very special. Probably liked the Suleiman best – it was the one that kept the distinctive feel of its director.  If I do get to Havana, it may be a pleasure to have a final viewing.

You Were Never Really Here (Lynn Ramsay) I have been trying to reduce the small number of discs that I have bought but never got round to viewing.  I saw this on a late Saturday night in Warsaw, and it was a little bit of a trek getting home to my BnB. It’s one of those films that I admire without particularly warming to.

Fallout (Lawrence Johnston) Checked this out on Beamafilm. Thought it was time to refresh my memory of it. Certainly of interest – I just wish I could have more time for its subject (Kramer’s film of On the Beach) than I do.

Asako 1 + 2 (Ryusuke Hamaguchi) A bittersweet Japanese film. First seen at MIFF a couple of years back, I’d largely forgotten it, but it was a pleasure to re-see.

David Stratton writes:

Since GASLIGHT we have continued our journey back to 1944 with:-

THE WAY AHEAD - maybe the best of the British war films that were made
during the war

David Hare writes:
Week 1 of lockdown. 
Here in NZ the government initiated a full bore Level 4 lockdown last week starting Thursday March 26.
When your house is co-habited by a collection of thousands of discs, hard drives, rips, thumbnails and files the question you most dread is “what will we watch now.” If you are as scatterbrained as me the best course is to pick up hints from other people’s comments, posts and ideas. Last week started with Noir supremo, Eddie Muller who was singing praises for a 1948 B picture from fringe director Jack Bernhard, The Hunted. The big attraction here is 40s iceskating queen, Belita whom some viewed as the successor to the Sonja Henje crown. She does one number midway the show, but the film mercifully spares us any more. The most involving aspect of the picture was just how expressive you could be with a poverty row budget from a poverty row studio like Allied Artists. Answer is quite a bit, although I don’t think director Bernhard’s direction is up to extracting a complex performance from as limited an actress as Belita. The film is half way there and held enough interest to lead me across the shelves to another 1946 Belita epic, the completely amazing Suspense. This one is a King Bros production from the notorious Monogram studio, in fact one of their very first A productions. Director Frank Tuttle was gifted the works - A budget crew, including DP Karl Struss, Amfitheatrof for music and a superb off the wall production design from Frank Sylos. ( He also did production design for Ulmer’s Ruthless.) This is one of the unheralded great 40s Noirs.
For the sake of completeness I checked out another another 1946 Bernhard, Decoy. Another Monogram A budgeter, this “introduces” Jean Gillies, another in the line of Bernhard’s thematic murderous ice queens for whom men are target practice. Bernhard may not be a sparkling new discovery but his work often displays the less travelled corners of Noir iconography and it’s always worth watching for that.
One thing leads to another and I soon found myself rewatching Tuttle’s really excellent Graham Greene 1942 adaptation of This Gun for Hire. This was Alan Ladd’s debut and I think it’s his best Noir, with the peekaboo coiffed Veronica Lake.
Jacques Tourneur
And a comment from FB friend Jose Arroyo about Tourneur’s 1951 Circle of Danger led me back to that, previously half watched years ago. I love it so much I decided the core activity for this period of withdrawal could happily be given over to a retrospective of le Tous Tourneur. With various excursions and diversions.
Finally after another prompt from Chris Schneider, a previously unseen Columbia 1955 musical in Scope and Technicolor, Three for the Show. Apart from returning Betty Grable to the screen, it showcases one of the great unsung auteurs of American musicals, Jack Cole in some of the best numbers, musically and choreographically seen in 50s musicals. 
So that’s week 1. The Hunted was released on a Warner Archive DVDR. Decoy and Suspense were both included on one of the first volumes of the 2007 and 2008 Warner Noir series which were and are invaluable. This Gun for Hire has had Blu-ray releases on German Koch Media and more recently Arrow with an Adrian Martin commentary. Circle of Danger is on a PAL Network DVD. Three for the Show was released years ago on a Sony VOD Burnt DVDR.

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