Friday 23 February 2024

Sixty Years of International Art Cinema 1960-2020 - Bruce Hodsdon continues his series - 6 (23) Italy Part 6 - Pasolini, Rosi, the new generation

Pier Paolo Pasolini


Pasolini’s conflicted passions                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Poet, novelist, essayist, script-writer, auteur, Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922-75) dedicated much time to try and reconcile the Catholicism ingrained in him from childhood with Gramscian Marxism which gave him the tools to think through the problems of oppression. His intellectual development was also shaped by the humanism at the core of the Italian school program: the idea of history as the continual process of perfecting an abstract humanity. It nurtured his famed “myth of innocence” with which the peasantry, sub-proletariat and Third World represent existence outside of Western history. 

Pasolini deeply regretted the advent of technocracy and consumerism. By the mid 60s he enthusiastically subscribed to Freudianism which, like Marxism, constituted an attack on bourgeois ideology. Freud also offered him a clear and “scientific” theory of the cause and nature of homosexuality exposing Marxism's inadequacy in addressing sexual oppression and led him to highlight the private sphere as the location for struggle.  

This summary is based on Mauriziano Viano’s A Certain Realism:making use of Pasolini's Film Theory and Practice 1993  ch. 1.  (1-5)

When Pasolini started directing films in 1961, he had already worked on the scripts of some 15 other movies for directors like Fellini and Bolognini. it was on the strength of his well-received Roman novels, ‘Ragazzi di vita (1955) and ‘Una vita violenta’ (1959) that he was first asked to work on scripts set in the same milieu as his novels, also true of his first films as director, Accattone (1961) and Mamma Roma (1962), which form a group with the two novels as much as with his subsequent films. It was the disappointment with the way his scenarios were directed by others, that gave Pasolini the push he needed to make films himself. (Viano 6)

Anna Magnani, Mamma Roma

He wanted to make his films as he wrote poems or novels, “to be author of my own work at every moment.” Pasolini did not want to co-author films in the industry sense of transferring a script to the screen, and this included generally not using professional actors. He nevertheless chose Anna Magnani for the role of Mamma Roma because she had been so identified with Rome since her appearance in Rome Open City. There were apparent tensions when he tried to tone down, without success, the ‘’excess’ of her playing in the part of Mamma Roma. (Stack 49-53,  ibid 97), Rohdie 79)

Pasolini’s Marxist credentials and his use of locations and non-professional actors such as Franco Citti in the portrayal of desperate lives, as in Bicycle Thieves and La Terra Trema, that first raised hopes amongst leftist critics of a socially conscious neorealist revival. (Greene  25)

Franco Citti, Accattone

Accattone, the title character of Pasolini’s first film, is a pimp in the lowest strata of the poverty- stricken Roman community - the ‘borgate’. He is linked by Pasolini to the figure of Christ and the events portrayed have a mythic quality. Mamma Roma, working the streets as a prostitute, is also on the lowest strata but unlike Accattone she has petit-bourgeois ideals and is trapped in the futility of petit-bourgeois morality “like a home, job, keeping up appearances, the radio, going to mass on Sundays.” Pasolini described Accattone’s dreams as “epic-mythic-fantastic.” (Stack 46)

In ennobling his lower classes Pasolini shows their contradictions: they are victims but not passive and, as such, are not without dignity and complexity. Far more haunted by death than most neo-realist films, both Accattone and Mamma Roma are also overtly Christian in the way they are portrayed (what Pasolini called the “epical religious”). This too must have disturbed the leftists. 

Death is stressed even more in Mamma Roma than in Accattone. The arrangement at the table at the opening wedding banquet in Mamma Roma suggests The Last Supper.  Mamma Roma’s son Ettore’s final agony, is likened to that of the dead Christ in Mantegna’s painting ‘Christo Motto’. The “epical religious” mixing of the Roman sub-proletariat with the music of Bach in Accattone scandalised the critics whereas the combination of Vivaldi, more Italian and popular, with the petit-bourgeois in Mamma Roma is less confronting. 

Naomi Greene refers to the precarious tension between passion and ideology inhabiting Pasolini’s first films which gives them a special tone as neorealist milieus and social concerns are filtered through a deeply religious, fatalistic sensibility (39). He agreed with Roland Barthes that the cinema should not try to make sense but suspend it. In keeping with this, his films “are not supposed to have a finished sense, they always end with a question" (Stack 56).

Orson Welles, La Ricotta

Pasolini contributed an ironic film-within-a-film, La ricotta (1963), to an anthology, RoGoPaG (1963), made up of four contributions (the other three by Rossellini, Godard, and Gregoretti). Pasolini uses the Crucifixion as a metaphor.  A poor, unemployed worker Stracci earns a pittance as a stand-in portraying “the good thief” in a cheap commercial picture about Christ’s life. Orson Welles plays the director of the film and reads a poem by Pasolini expressing nostalgic melancholy for eras long past.  

Stracci uses every free minute to take food from the set to his family while also overindulging (ricotta cheese his favourite) and dying of indigestion on the cross. His death is discovered as the producer visits the location for a luxurious banquet entertaining upper class guests. A sophisticated use of music - from a Gregorian chant ‘Dies Irae’ to Scarlatti, and the twist - “helps to hold together this outcry against the betrayal of religion, the consumer society, social injustice, and cynicism” (Liehm 240).  Neo-fascist youths assaulted Pasolini and others at the Roman premiere.  He was brought to trial, receiving a suspended four month jail sentence for “the defamation of the state religion.” This was especially harsh since, as Naomi Greene points out, “La ricotta deals less with religion per se than with the degraded position it occupies in contemporary society, and, especially with the way(s) it is represented” (Greene 61).

Pasolini had an aversion to the illusion of naturalism that was at the core of neo-realism. Rather than linking things in a natural flow he isolates them, breaking a sense of spatial and temporal continuity. When using long takes, as in Mamma Roma’s night walks, they are stylised in a way that breaks the natural flow of things sought by many of the neorealists. When characters are seated in groups he pans from one face to the other, each person speaking to the camera, non-naturalistically and abruptly, rather than to each other. Greene borrows a metaphor from French critic  André Bazin to highlight that “while the neorealists waited patiently for reality to unveil itself, a brutal Pasolini meets it head-on.”  Measured camera rhythms, slow camera movements, frontal shots, and long close-ups all create a stylised poetic universe that is, as Pasolini remarked, “a frontal, romantic, chiaroscuro world.” (see Greene 42-4)

The environments that were the settings in most of Pasoliini’s films of the early to the mid-60s are, as previously noted, set in the Roman periphery called the borgate where populations were moved into public housing during the Fascist period. This then developed into the progressive social housing experience of the 1950s. Apparently working within its tradition, Pasolini used the borgate to critique neorealism and the  “architectural neo-realism” of Roman urban planning under fascism, and during the post-war economic miracle, in what he saw as contemptuous treatment of Rome’s poor. (Rhodes 125)

While settling accounts with neo-realism in his first two films, Pasolini marked himself as the poet of the Roman borgate. His films in the mid-60s were markedly different from his first films but also from each other except in the shared denominator of stylistic experimentation. What all the films of this phase share is a Gramscian inflection in their social and political concerns. A founder of the Italian Communist Party Antonio Gramsci was rare among Marxist theorists in attributing a revolutionary role to the peasantry. He also urged intellectuals to abandon their traditional ivory towers to form “organic links” with the working class to lead battles in the domain of schools, the media and the arts with the intent of creating a new “national-popular culture” - “national” meaning not the nationalism of the nation-state but a sharing of history and traditions especially among the common people, and “popular” in the sense of a popular culture - not populism. (ibid)

The Gospel According to Matthew 

Pasolini said that “the key by which I conceived Il Vangelo secondo Matteo/ The Gospel According to Matthew (he deliberately removed Saint from Matthew in the title) and that drove me to make it, was Jesus’s sentence in the Gospel that he had come ‘not to bring peace on earth…but to bring division, a man against his father, a daughter against her mother“ (Matt. 10:34) (Viano 133).

Pasolini’s final film of this phase, Uccellacci e uccellini / Hawks and Sparrows (1966), was the director’s farewell to the world of the sub-proletariat as well as to the first part of his oeuvre, “a parting homage to the ideological and cinematic matrix of his formative years as a filmmaker. It is “a film about the end of ideology, the end of commitment. Hawks and Sparrows marks, for Pasolini, the final liquidation of neorealism, the fading of the political hopes first represented by Gramsci and the Resistance partisans and his moving progressively farther and farther away from neorealism in the adoption of the parable form (either modern or set in an antique past). He regarded Hawks and Sparrows as his “purest film” in the sense of being “the product of cinematographic rather than figurative culture, unlike Accattone.” (Bondanella 184, Stack 99))

After Hawks and Sparrows Pasolini entered a phase of political withdrawal that happened to coincide with the upsurge in left-wing political life in 1968. Pasolini’s isolation was probably motivated by despair with what he saw as the incapacity of the PCI or the ultra-left to halt the “death dealing capitalist embourgeoisement of the world he loved.”  (Nowell-Smith 18)

In his first major essay about film, Il Cinema di poesia (1965), Pasolini provided a theoretical map of his view of the poetic intuitions that marked his work. He always used the word “poetic” positively to refer to the superior status of the image that is not straight-jacketed into a single meaning, best describing the language as “spoken” by reality and by cinematic images. As previously mentioned, Pasolini  had an aversion to the illusion of naturalism that was the core of neorealism. He preferred to isolate things that were in a natural flow by breaking the sense of spatial and temporal continuity central to classical narrative (Rohdie 3-4).

“I love life so fiercely, so desperately, that nothing good can come of it” 1960  quoted in Siciliano p 32

“Pasolini (in his death) has successfully evaded the mortal synthesis, and reproduces around his corpse all the contradictions that characterised his multifarious activities.” -Don Ranvaud p 204

The above is drawn from a note in CTEQ Annotations on Film in Senses of Cinema which includes more information of the “conflicted passions” in Pasolini’s life, further discussion of Accattone and Mamma Roma, and footnotes as referenced in the above text.

Filmography  The national-popular phase based in Pasolini's “epical-religious poetry” and Antonio Gramsci's revisionist Marxism  (5 filmsAccatone 61, Mamma Roma 62, La ricotta in Rogopag 62, The Gospel According to St Matthew 64, Hawks and Sparrows 66) ; the self-styled “unpopular” phase (2 films from the appropriation of Greek myth in Oedipus Rex 67 and Medea 69, and 2 contemporary  fables in Teorema 68 and Porcile 69); the “trilogy of life”, a “dream world of guiltless sexuality “(The Decameron 71, The Canterbury Tales 72, Arabian Nights 73);  Salò 75  was to be the first of a trilogy based on Dante's model apparently in rebuttal of the trilogy of life : Inferno, Purgatory, Paradise.   

 

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Naomi Greene  Pier Paolo Pasolini : Cinema as Heresy  1990                                                                                         

Oswald Stack  Pasolini on Pasolini  1969                                                                                                       

Sam Rohdie  The Passion of Pier Paolo Pasolini  1995                                                                                 

Enzo Siciliano  Pasolini A Biography 1982                                                                                             

Mauriano Viano A Certain Realism : Making use of Pasolini’s Film Theory and Practice 1993 

Don Ranvaud “Salo or 120 Ways of Remaining Heretical”  Monthly Film Bulletin September 1979                

John D. Rhodes Stupendous, Miserable City : Pasolini’s Rome  2007                                                   

Geoffrey Nowell-Smith “Pasolini’s Originality”  Pier Paolo Pasolini  ed. Paul Willemen  BFI                                                    

Pasolini et al “an Epical-Religious View of the World  Film Quarterly Summer 1965                                             

Bruce Hodsdon  “Mamma Roma and the Conflicted Passions of Pier Paolo Pasolini  CTEQ Annotations Senses of Cinema no 70

 

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Francesco Rosi 

My first encounter with the third feature of 
Francesco Rosi (1922-2015)Salvatore Guiliano (1961), was at a screening in the mid-sixties on a double bill with John Ford's western Two Rode Together in a near empty cinema midweek in Enmore, an inner Sydney suburb with a then substantial Italian population. Rosi's film (it was very successful in Italy) was being distributed from Melbourne by an Italian importer of feature films to service the post war influx of Italian immigrants, disproportionately from southern Italy. As such, it was not given any kind of release (ironically likely to have been seen to be ‘too political’) in the then expanded number of arthouses in the CBD and screenings for middle and upper middle class audiences in Sydney's more affluent eastern and northern suburbs. In my formative years as a cinephile I had taken to scanning through the cinema listings mainly for atypical screenings of interest such as of Rosi's film. My first viewing of a sub-titled feature film – De Sica's Umberto D (1951) -  at the age of 13 - was at a mid-week “continental film night” introduced c1953 at the local suburban cinema, the programming weighted towards Italian films presumably aiming to attract the growing number of Italian market gardeners and their families from the then nearby semi- rural suburb of North Ryde. BH

Salvatore Guiliano

Rosi's film is not about the Sicilian bandit Salvatore Guiliano. “While something of a media star, he was little more than a puppet dancing to the tune of hidden masters.” This is made clear by the film's original title, Sicily 1943-60. We see Guiliano rarely throughout the film “which focuses instead on the half-perceived forces which controlled him and the island of Sicily. In answer to those who objected that the film is too much of a chronicle, Rosi repeatedly asserted that his film is not a documentary, but a document based on careful, detailed study of the events" surrounding the life and death of Guliano (Testa ed. 9)

Rosi's film shows that the rigorously documented study of an historical and social phenomenon, such as the post-Second World War Sicilian independence movement and its relation to the Mafia, can overcome the traditional distinction between fiction and documentary and create a gripping style that is both individually tragic and historically persuasive, methodologically accurate and psychologically refined. (ibid 3)

In comparing Rosi's film with Visconti's classically slow visual idealisation of Sicily in The Leopard, for example, Pierre Sorlin ('Italian National Cinema') puts it more explicitly:  Rosi does not draw distinctions between the criminals and the victims because Guiliano was paid by those seeking independence for Sicily to murder policemen and by the landlords to murder leftist country people. There were many who wanted him dead. 

Beginning with the discovery of Guiliano's corpse at the beginning, “Rosi's film shows that it is impossible to account for the murder, since the whole structure of Sicilian rural society is more or less involved in it.” Modernist film codes more redolent of a sense of indecisiveness, are effectively used in the film. “Many sequences are interrupted briskly, as if it were impossible to conclude them. The film emphasises its own ambiguity by refusing to offer a clear explanation of events. Rosi suggests “that Sicily cannot be understood on the basis of a simple opposition between backwardness and modernisation and that it is not easy to disentangle a complex system where kinship and patronage prevail over class-based relationships” (Pierre Sorlin, Italian National Cinema, 141).

Hands Over the City  

Although complex, Rosi's second major film Le mani sulli chilla/ Hands Over the City (1963) is a film of “political indictment and social commitment” compared with the ambiguities constituting Salvatore Guiliano's “revolutionary postmodernism.” Grounded in a case of real estate speculation in the context of political corruption in Naples, it is “unquestionably about the morality of power, and as such is an abstract work organised as a debate of ideas. The filmic tale is episodic and constructed by verbal means.” (Manuela Gieri, Testa ed 46). 
 

If prior to Hands Over the City Rosi had any hesitation over the path that had been taken  to overcome neo-realism, with this film his message was loud and clear, and he thereafter continued his work towards the creation  and development  of his own personal interpretation  of realism  by   focusing quite openly on narration, rather than description[..] Asking questions  rather than giving answers is ultimately a strategy  aimed at  building within  the  audience  not  only the capacity to  interpret reality,  but  also  the ability to foresee the effects  of present action on the future (Gieri, ibid 54-5)

Bernando Bertolucci

Bernando Bertolucci
 and Marco Bellocchio were almost two generations behind De Sica, Rossellini and Visconti.  Bertolucci was only 22 when he directed his first feature La commare seca/The Grim Reaper (1962) based on script by his close friend Pier Paolo Pasolini covering similar ground to Pasolini’s Accatone. Bellochio was 25 when directing I pugni in tasca/ Fists in the Pocket  (1965). Their “ideological underpinnings were as far to the left as Pasolini's but [their] cinematic culture abandoned neorealism and drew inspiration from foreign directors, professional training, and assiduous visits to film archives and film clubs” (Bondanella 188). 

Bertolucci freed himself from Pasolini's influence to reveal a personal lyrical style verging on the elegiac in his second feature, the autobiographical Prima della rivoluzione/Before the Revolution (1964), which he referred to as “the confession of a child of our century,” propelled by Fabrizio/Bertoluccui’s  [then] fears and hesitations” (Liehm 193). 

Marco Bellocchio

Bellocchio set his first two films in prosperous, conservative middle class northern towns. Fists in the Pocket, “is angry and provocative rather than elegiac” in attacking the very concept of family itself as well as all its traditional values and myths” (ibid). In analysing a decadent bourgeois family whose physical handicaps underline moral defects, Bellochio takes on the traditional images of family in Italian cinema. He tackles the connection between family and the wider world of politics in China is Near/La Cina è vicina (1967), assembling a group of thoroughly unlikeable characters, including a grotesque and ideologically incoherent provincial family, in satirising the state of cynical compromise between the Christian Democrats and the Socialists in Italian politics.

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Mira Liehm  Passion and Defiance Film in Italy 1942 to the Present  1984                                                                          

Peter Bondanella  Italian Cinema From Neorealism to the Present  2001                                                                                   

P. Adams Sitney  Vital Crises in Italian Cinema  Iconography Stylistics Politics  1995                                                            

Roy Armes Patterns of Realism Italian Neo-Realist Cinema  1971                                                                                                                  

Bruce Hodsdon “The Conflicted Passions of Pasolini”  CTEQ Annotations Senses of Cinema Sept. 2013.                               

Geoffrey Nowell-Smith  “Visconti “ Oxford History of World Cinema G N-S ed 1996 ; Also  Visconti 1973 

Robert Phillip Kolker  Bernado  Bertolucci  BFI Publishing 1985                                                                                                    

Carlo Testa  Poet of Civic Courage The Films of Francesco Rosi 1996 James 

Brown, Great Directors: “Michelangelo Antonioni” Senses of Cinema May 2002                                                                      

Jeremy Carr, Great Directors: “Luchino Visconti” Senses of Cinema June 2018                                                                

Antonio Shanahan, Great Directors: “Frederico Fellini”  Senses of Cinema July 2002                                                                                         

Gino Moliterno, Great Directors:“Pier Paolo Pasolini” Senses of Cinema December 2002  

Gino Moliterno, Great Directors: “Francesco Rosi” Senses of Cinema May 2003

Bibliography for Rossellini attached to 6 (19), for Antonioni to 6 (21) and for Pasolini 6(23)


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Previous entries in this series can be found if you click the following links

 

Sixty Years of International Art Cinema: 1960-2020 - Tables and Directors Lists to Accompany Bruce Hodsdon's Series

 

Notes on canons, methods, national cinemas and more

 

Part One - Introduction

Part Two - Defining Art Cinema

Part Three - From Classicism to Modernism

Part Four - Authorship and Narrative

Part Five - International Film Guide Directors of the Year, The Sight and Sound World Poll, Art-Horror

Part Six (1) - The Sixties, the United States and Orson Welles

Part Six (2) - Hitchcock, Romero and Art Horror

Part Six (3) - New York Film-makers - Elia Kazan & Shirley Clarke  

Part Six (4) - New York Film-makers - Stanley Kubrick Creator of Forms

Part Six (5) ‘New Hollywood’ (1) - Arthur Penn, Warren Beatty, Pauline Kael and BONNIE AND CLYDE

Part Six (6) Francis Ford Coppola: Standing at the crossroads of art and industry

Part 6(7) Altman

6(8) Great Britain - Joseph Losey, Lindsay Anderson, Karel Reisz, Richard Lester, Peter Watkins, Barney Platts-Mills

6(9) France - Part One The New Wave and The Cahiers du Cinema Group

6(10) France - Part Two - The Left Bank/Rive Gauche Group and an Independent

6(11) France - Part Three - Young Godard

6(12) France - Part Four - Godard:Visionary and Rebel

6 (13) France Part 5 Godard with Gorin, Miéville : Searching for an activist voice

6(14) France Part 6 - Creator of Forms - Bresson 

6 (15) France Part 6 - Creator of Forms - Jacques Tati

 6 (16) - Part 6 - Creator of Forms - Carl Th Dreyer

6 (17) - Italy and Luchino Visconti

6(18 - Italy and Roberto Rossellini - Part One

6(19) - Rossellini, INDIA and the new Historical realism

6(20) - Rossellini in Australia

6 (21) - Italy - Michelangelo Antonioni

6 (22) - Italy - Federico Fellini, Ermanno Olmi

Monday 19 February 2024

CINEMA REBORN 2024 - OPENING PROGRAM - MIDNIGHT (Mitchell Leisen, USA, 1939) World Premiere of 4K Restoration by Universal Pictures


Claudette Colbert, Midnight

 

Cinema Reborn 2024 will open its forthcoming Sydney and Melbourne seasons with the World Premiere of the 4K restoration of one of the greatest screwball comedies of the 1930s, MIDNIGHT, made in 1939, directed by Mitchell Leisen, from a laceratingly funny script by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett and starring Claudette Colbert, Don Ameche, John Barrymore, Francis Lederer and Mary Astor. 

 

MIDNIGHT will screen at 7.00 pm on Wednesday 1 May at the Randwick Ritz in Sydney and at 7.00 pm on Thursday 9 May at the Hawthorn Lido in Melbourne

 

Cinema Reborn is proud to have been entrusted with the very first screenings of the new restoration and gives special thanks to Universal Pictures.


John Barrymore, Claudette Colbert, Midnight

 

Universal Pictures has been a longtime friend and supporter of Cinema Reborn and in the past has brought such titles as RUGGLES OF RED GAP, TROUBLE IN PARADISE, CRISS CROSS and DESTRY RIDES AGAIN to Cinema Reborn audiences. As Universal Pictures’ Managing Director Mike Baard acknowledges: Cinema Reborn has become a most welcome annual celebration of some of the finest works in cinema history. The Festival’s mission is of utmost importance, helping showcase the latest restoration efforts thereby allowing audiences to appreciate them anew and keep their legacy alive. Universal Pictures is thrilled to partner with Cinema Reborn to present the World Premiere of the 4K restoration of director Mitchell Leisen’s Midnight, from a script by the legendary Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett. This film is part of our Studio’s on-going film restoration program making classic titles in our 100+ year old library available for today’s audiences for enjoy”

 

Back in 1939 MIDNIGHT was an immediate hit. Frank S Nugent in the New York Times called it:  One of the liveliest, gayest, wittiest and naughtiest comedies of a long hard season. Its direction, by Mitchell Leisen, is strikingly reminiscent of that of the old Lubitsch…it’s really too daffy to be synopsized. You’ll have to take our word for it that it’s fun…Pictures like Midnight should strike more often.” – 

 

Wilder and Brackett’s script takes aim at European aristocrats, fashion trends and the ostentatious rich while exploring the frictions between wealth and love. Claudette Colbert plays an unemployed, gold-digging American showgirl stranded in a Parisian rainstorm, when she meets an amorous Hungarian taxi-driver (Don Ameche). Gate-crashing a party held by a socialite (Hedda Hopper), she meets a wealthy industrialist (John Barrymore) who hires her to pose as an American wife married to a Hungarian Baron. …

 

Claudette Colbert, John Barrymore, Midnight

Cinema Reborn is being presented in both Sydney and Melbourne in 2024. This will be its first Melbourne screening. In Sydney the film will be introduced by the President of the Film Critics’ Circle of Australia CJ Johnson and in Melbourne the screening will follow an introduction by critic Keva York who contributes to ABC Online and publications such as the Metrograph Journal, Reverse Shot, Screen Slate, and MUBI Notebook.

 

The Original Trailer

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_KmF0gSiaTA&t=56s

 

Bookings for the Opening screenings in Sydney and Melbourne are now open and may be made direct through these links to the  Ritz website or the  Lido website

 

Restoration Details

For this restoration, Universal Pictures primarily used a 35mm nitrate comp fine grain. The picture element was dry gate scanned in 4K on an ARRI film scanner for a 4K workflow. Universal applied digital processes to improve flicker and stability, address diagonal streaking issues, and clean up film damage, dirt, scratches, and stains. Audio was restored from the 35mm comp fine grain. Digital audio restoration tools were applied to reduce optical anomalies, noise floor, hum, rumble, and sibilance where possible. Restoration services conducted by NBCUniversal StudioPost.

Francis Lederer, Mary Astor, Midnight

Stills
 (from the original on set still camera) available on request to filmalert101@gmail.com

 

For further information

 

Geoff Gardner

filmalert101@gmail.com

0416 912567

Tuesday 13 February 2024

The Current Cinema - Barrie Pattison examines military incursions in GOJIRA -1.0/GODZILLA MINUS ONE (Takashi Yamazaki, Japan, 2023) and FIGHTER (Siddarth Anand, India, 2024)

 PRO PATRIA.


Curious to find Gojira -1.0/Godzilla Minus One, this number thirty plus Godzilla movie getting wide sub-titled release. I can’t go along with the chorus of praise it has received. Roland Emmerich’s 1998 piece of cultural appropriation still remains the most accomplished entry in the cycle and, while I could find some sympathy for the Twentieth Century Japanese items with Kurosawa’s people -Takashi Shimura as white coat scientists and Masaru Satô providing scores – my favourite representation is the 1976 Arkush/Dante Hollywood Boulevard, where on-screen movie director Paul Bartel tells the man in the suit to remember that he represents a tragic figure, the last of his kind alone after thousands of years, but he should also try to stomp as many people and cars as possible.

Writer director Takashi Yamazaki and his lot have taken all this in an unfamiliar direction on the new film, starting at the close of WW2 war in the Pacific, where reluctant Kamikaze pilot Ryunosuke Kamiki lands his plane, bomb still suspended beneath it, on the small Odo Island base the already defeated Japanese Army is using as a maintenance depot, to the scorn of ground crew commander Munetaka Aoki. However, that very night a monster monster rampages through the camp with Kamiki afraid using his plane’s twenty millimetre cannon will get it mad. Well might he worry.

Back in the ruins of his bombed out Tokyo district, his relatives dead, Kamiki forms a blended family with girl fugitive Minami Hamabe and the child which has fallen into her care. Their bare existence is made more secure when he takes a well-paid but perilous job on a rundown wooden minesweeper. (Metal attracts US magnetic mines.) What should the crew encounter but that same prehistoric menace, now able to digest the pair of mines they drag into its mouth – good scene.

Godzilla, mutated and enlarged by the United States' (tinted) nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll can now destroy the heavy cruiser (“the Takao is a beast”) sent to take it out. The government’s decommissioned war ships are unequal to the task and the Americans don’t want to get involved and rile up the Soviets. Godzilla is of course on its way to stomp Tokyo and eat subway trains. It hits the Ginza district, where we know Oishi works.


Now thirsting for revenge, Kamiki joins the only potent force – the Japanese military, betrayed by their nation in the war years (dive bombers without ejector seats). They now form a vigilante army (with a few walk outs) and engage battle. The minesweeper’s rejected scientist comes up with a plan to do in the menace by decompression and our hero is kitted out in a prototype Kyushu J7W Shinden fighter, serviced by rehabilitated Aoki. Big action finale backed by Ifekube’s rousing Godzilla theme.

Down the years, the technicians have now spent a lot of time in the Toho tank and the model work is impressive, though we can’t help noticing that ships’ decks are curiously unoccupied. The monster action scenes, which are the reason for the film, are widely spaced, getting second place to not too involving personal material airing issues like survivor guilt, radiation sickness and, by implication, the pacifist constitution. Thoughtful doesn’t strike me as the way to take these. An implausible happy ending further undermines the shift to serious.

Outside the film’s entertainment credentials, it contains an unexpected emphasis on idea content. We are expected to admire a belligerent ex general who we would usually be the bad guy in one of these and we get another homage to the Zero like Miyazaki’s Kaze tachinu / The Wind Rises.


Considering that this one arrives the same time as Dunki, Siddharth Anand‘s new Fighter, is a film sufficiently accomplished to leave us wondering what we are missing in the way of (traditional Hindi) film from India. There are a whole lot of things you can say about this one. Yes, it is a rip-off of Top Gun Maverick but it’s a whole lot better film with superior aerial combat sequences and more stirring flag waving - the all-time best military funeral or star Hrithik Roshan leaning out of the helicopter holding the Indian Tricolor steaming in the wind to acknowledge the one the cadet is flying from the endangered truck convoy below.

Roshan leaves Tom Cruise in his dust in the military hero stakes – taller, better built, more authoritative. Imagine a dignified Indian Jimmy Cagney or a damp-eyed John Wayne and you’re on the way. Around the year 2000 mark, Roshan rapidly turned into his industry’s leading Sylvester Stallone imitator and, in this one, he wastes no time reassuring his admirers he’s been keeping up his time at the gym, by getting his shirt off under the opening titles.

Squadron Leader Hrithik is, of course, India’s greatest pilot in a time of increased tension over Pakistan housing Kashmir training camps for extremists - not even the full bottle on Koran quotation. Hrithik (Patty lettered on his visor) joins the squadron doing air combat scenarios and spots robust Deepika Padukone, who proves to have spectacular shoulder length hair tucked into her flyer’s helmet. However he has a secret sorrow restraining his romantic urges. Nevertheless they get to share inserted dance numbers (think Grease & Saturday Night Fever), party with the flyers and at dawn he runs her back to her single officer quarters on the back of his motorbike. Their profiles approach only to have an emergency call arrest their impending lip lock. Nothing too much has changed in these.

Turns out that super menacing Jaishih Rishabh Sawhney has launched an attack modelled on the 2019 Pulwama incident, where forty Indian military police were killed in Kashmir. The Indian response was their Balakot air strike, of which we get a spectacular recreation, where Sawhney is injured, his blood-filled eye making him even more sinister. An informer, his identity concealed in a black chador, fills in the I.A.F. briefing. He is not what he seems.

This one emphasises the Indian government’s restraint in the face of the atrocities committed by militants based in Pakistani occupied Kashmir, with the Indian Air Force responsibly respecting the invisible LOC demarcation and avoiding civilian casualties.

Hrithic is found guilty of recklessness and transferred to Hyderabad air training facility as an instructor – impressive scene of talking down the beginner-girl pilot, whose first landing is jeopardised by an unexpected crosswind. He also finds time to use his famed charmer smile and sort out Padukone’s stressed family situation.

However, it’s plot and counterplot with the bad hats wanting to lure the Indian flyboys (& girls) into crossing the border to a trap, using Hrithik’s shot down pilot mates as bait. This one runs to the ultra-sadistic, with the crazy cutting off one pilot’s fingers before they send him back in a body bag. Of course the rule book goes out the window with victory demanding our hero be restored to his place leading the rescue and facing off in the sky with his opposite number in the red nosed jet fighter, before we get some more cheer worthy action on the ground.

It’s another Indian popular film where you sit there thinking “Well all right” for the first couple of hours and, after the obligatory interval, you are jolted out of complacency by waves of superior material. Think Mother India, Lagaan or Seventh Horse of the Sun.

The action staging is some of the best ever, outclassing the work we are seeing from the U.S. and China now – the fighter plane paused vertical in the air, the bogus Russian airliner peeling off to reveal the jets its shadow covers on the radar, the shots of the training facilities exploding, our hero’s re-appearance at the crucial moment and the chopper strafing the evil rug heads pouring out waving automatic weapons. Director Siddharth Anand is a specialist in these military spectaculars. If it wasn’t so stirring you’d think it was ridiculous. Well, maybe it still is a bit ridiculous.

Of course overriding such considerations, is the question of putting such a persuasive film into the market to endorse military incursions spurred by religious differences. Ukraine, Palestine, Iraq make uncomfortable comparisons. The film has already been banned in most Arab countries but Viacom and Netflix have money in it, so Fighter looks headed our way after its brief theatrical showing. 

The consistency of the pattern – films from the U.S, China, Japan and India, often made by people unaware of the others’ existence – is not a little disturbing. The message is clearly that the only way to prevent people, with an outlook that doesn’t match your own, building nuclear refining plants, training blood thirsty insurrectionists - or at very least stomping on your coastal cities - is to send out military hardware manned by sexy characters in uniform. That this will play with unsophisticated target audiences is disturbingly possible.

There is a gloomy kind of comfort to be had in comparing these with productions made around the world near the 1930 mark, when the Anti-War movement was at its most vocal, films more thoughtful and better than this batch of of gung ho actioners – Wings, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Eagle and the Hawk, Les croix du bois/Wooden Crosses, Niemandsland/Hell on Earth, Kameradschaft. A steady stream of serious, reasoned and master-crafted product preceded the greatest military calamity in history. Can’t help but hope no one is listening this time either.