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Summer Movies

The New York Times has its summer movie preview issue this week, so there’s no DVD column — but if you’re looking for quick plot summaries of pretty much every movie coming out in the US between now and September, some poor guy has typed them up for you here and here and here and here.

In the meantime, let me recommend Criterion’s new Blu-ray of “M.” The contrast looks to have been boosted a little, but otherwise all the grain and detail is there, transferred primarily from the original camera negative (with some missing footage filled in from archive prints) and presented in the subtly narrower aspect ratio (1.19) of early sound. With images like the one above, did Fritz really leave anything for the film noir guys to invent?

77 comments to Summer Movies

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘it’s amazing what can be done sometimes, even in fragile health.’

    Yes, it is so Peter. Mizoguchi directed AKASEN CHITAI very ill, also prepared OSAKA MONOGATARI while dying in hospital.

  • Joseph McBride

    Junko, thanks for your always insightful posts. I would add
    that John Huston directed THE DEAD, one of his finest
    films, from a wheelchair, tethered to an oxygen tank,
    while dying of emphysema. The fine documentary
    on the filming, JOHN HUSTON AND THE DUBLINERS,
    is inspiring.

  • Didn’t Visconti also direct L’INNOCENTE from a wheelchair?

  • Barry Putterman

    And don’t forget Fred F. Sears, who died in 1957 and had five movies released in 1958 with his name credited as director!

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Derek Jarman’s Blue is a record of his reacting to illness and the likelihood of imminent death.

  • Gregg Rickman

    I saw 36 VUES DU PIC SAINT-LOUP and liked it quite a bit; it felt like a Rivette film to me. In a review I referred to Rivette’s “lifelong passion for rituals and reenactments ” qhich is quite present here; I loved the way Vittorio (Sergio Castellitto) is sucked into the clown act he first observes as a member of the audience, and ultimately joins. The strange ritual of the clown act recalls of course the house of fiction in CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING.

    Jane Birkin was particularly fine in the picture as well. I recently saw Varda’s BEACHES OF AGNES, where she does Stan Laurel as part of a Laurel & Hardy act — can anyone tell me where that bit originated from? (Ie, in what earlier Varda film? My guess is, probably her film about the history of cinema.)

    A related question — just what was the homage to THE HIGH SIGN in L’HISTOIRE DE MARIE ET JULIAN?

  • Barry, it’s not a mystery if you just, once and for all, acknowledge the fact that Fred F. Sears didn’t die but was taken aboard a flying saucer, where he was allowed to continue to direct.

    Yes, AROUND A SMALL MOUNTAIN / 36 VUES DU SAINT PIC LOUP is indeed a lovely film. But my favourite would have to be LA BELLE NOISEUSE.

  • Joseph McBride

    Howard Hawks referred to EL DORADO as “a wheelchair
    Western.” That’s part of its charm. It ends with the
    two leads on crutches.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Note on different titles and different versions of UK films in the US:

    TMC showed David Lean’s The Sound Barrier, as far as I know unshown on US cable for many years (I saw it on the late show maybe 40 years ago). And they showed the original UK version, 9 minutes longer than what was released in the US (and shown since), as well as showing it and referring to it with its original title (it was released in the US as Breaking the Sound Barrier).

    Though perhaps not as compelling as Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger would have done with the material (this was a Terence Ratigan original screenplay), it does show Lean increasingly interested in idiosyncratic, anti-social protagonists (as in River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia). In the intervening years, I’ve read that some people regard it as Lean’s best work. My sense in reseeing it (and I have lagged to reconsidering Lean films for some time) that it doesn’t rise to the level of Brief Encounter or Lawrence (curious about what Ryan’s Daughter will seem like when I get around to watching it) or Oliver Twist, perhaps. But it definitely is a noteable work.

    It was stunning to see that apparently there was a prototype of a jet passenger plane by the late 1940s; I didn’t remember they were in play that early.

  • The science and history of the movie is, of course, nonsense–Chuck Yeager was upset when he was shown the picture to learn that 1) A British pilot broke the sound barrier, and 2) he did it by ‘throwing the controls in reverse.’

    Tom’s surprise is understandable; the Comet prototype was tested in 1949. The event this movie is (very loosely) based on–the death of De Havilland Jr., son of company owner Geoffrey De Havilland, while conducting tests approaching supersonic speed–occurred in 1946.

    What impressed me was that the finale, the fateful flight that breaks the barrier, was conducted largely through voiceover, with the camera sweeping over Richardson’s face to mimic the movement of the plane as Richardson followed its progress across the sky.

  • nicolas saada

    That jane Birkin bit in PLAGE D’AGNES is a clip from “JAME B PAR AGNES V”.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    The ending of The Sound Barrier is indeed a terrifically realized moment.

    I also was moved by the jet flight from England to Cairo in the jet, as the test pilot treats his (pregnant) wife to her first time flying so high – the sense of intimacy between them is greatest in this scene (certainly a key theme of this film as in so many of Lean’s is the difficulty of emotional bonding) highlighted when they “kiss” by having their face masks touch.

    I like that the history is nonsense (the barrier had been broken in 1947, but when the film went into production this was still unknown, kept secret by the US). I suspect it made it easier to shape the film into something more personal, less science oriented.

  • I love THE SOUND BARRIER. Admittedly Ann Todd is not the greatest of actresses, but the cinematography more than makes up for any potential shortcomings. The shots of grass slightly swaying after a plane has flown above them. The flight down to Egypt. And Ralph Richardson is frightening! About historical accuracies, Britain did have a secret supersonic development programme going on, fairly successful, from 1942. So Rattigan’s script isn’t that far off. In 1946 the Americans visited, took the best ideas and returned home. Then the British government cancelled the project and Chuck Yeager got to be famous. Maybe the film can be read as a “what might have been”-story.

  • Gregg, I think this is the HIGH SIGN homage to which Glenn refers:

    However, I’m not so sure that it isn’t an homage to SHOWGIRLS; Gina Gershon makes an identical hand gesture during one of her dance routines and Rivette has been a very vocal supporter of Verhoeven’s film.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Nicolas, thanks for the Varda reference.

    Michael, perhaps Verhoeven (or Gershon) are Keaton fans, and/or members of the Blinking Buzzards (the secret organization in THE HIGH SIGN). Actually… secret organization… Rivette… the linkage makes itself!

  • dan

    Michael, i really like the SHOWGIRLS suggestion you just made. It really is a possiblity, counting on Rivette’s justified admiration for that Verhoeven film (or any of his film, by the way).

    Glenn, Its great that you care so much for MARIE ET JULIAN, i also find it extremley beautiful. I wonder what kind of recognition Rivette last couple of films got over the world. Did they got a release stateside, or in any place other than France?
    I find his last three films to be as good as his most notorious ones. especially DON’T TOUCH THE AXE.

  • Perhaps it’s two, two, two references in one! The reason I made the association with Keaton is because, gestural similarities aside, there’s also that “I am a part of your secret society” meaning of the gesture shared by both films. Whereas in “Showgirls” the gesture is merely more flailing in a Fosse-on-steroids routine. But as Rivette is a great admirer of the Verhoeven film—which comes out on Blu-ray soon, yowzah!—there is a distinct possibilty.

    Richard Lorber opened Marie & Julien in NY for a little while but I think that was largely it for a U.S. theatrical release. The domestic DVD of the film is a bit better than most Lorber home vid products.

  • Rick K.

    Re: SOUND BARRIER, I think Lean’s much maligned, often brilliant “Ann Todd trilogy” remains one of the most significantly overlooked bodies of work by a major artist, each film having suffered some form of critical backlash which inevitably became their focal point, so that despite individual merits, the trio remains generally dismissed as a weak (perhaps indulgent, in that Todd was Lean’s wife) creative period coming from an overall estimable career. So far, SOUND BARRIER is the only one of the three released on DVD in the U.S., and even so, hidden in a rather generic World War set from Lionsgate, which went by generally unnoticed.

    My own particular favorite is THE PASSIONATE FRIENDS, which inevitably invites comparison to the earlier BRIEF ENCOUNTER (recasting Trevor Howard in a similar role), dismissed as an inferior retread, which sells it short on so many levels. Lean himself expressed considerable fondness for it, noting that it does mirror the earlier film, although in treatment, milieu and the circumstances of it characters, remains distinctive throughout (he also said Claude Rains was one of two actors he most favored working with, the other being William Holden). The intentional “drabness” of  ENCOUNTER, being an integral part of that film’s insight and impact, here gives way to more traditional romantic leanings, with picturesque elegance and travelogue locations allowing Lean’s painterly eye full visual expression.  Indeed, I’ve always felt this one of the most rapturous of b&w films, full of impeccable imagery (Guy Green), complimenting the idyllic/illicit circumstance of its love triangle revealed in multi-level flashback mode. Two sequences in particular managed considerable tension in the script by Eric Ambler, one at a plush resort, the other (shades of ENCOUNTER) in the London underground which, in Lean’s hands, achieve an almost Hitchcockian level of suspense. While unavailable in the U.S., there is an excellent Region 2/U.K. DVD, the quality quite impeccable, from a print restored by The David Lean Foundation.

    Has anybody seen the new Blu-ray of DR. ZHIVAGO?

  • Indeed, THE PASSIONATE FRIENDS is quite brilliant. Sometimes the visuals in the film becomes subjective, as if space becomes a part of a character’s mindset, in a most impressive way. But I think that the film were Ann Todd is used most to her advantage is MADELEINE. It’s perhaps Lean’s least known (and least loved) film, but it too is very good.

  • Johan Andreasson

    When I watched the early David Lean films in the excellent British The David Lean Collection – still available, and a real bargain: a couple of years ago the ones that really surprised me were THE PASSIONATE FRIENDS and MADELEINE, which I now think both are among Lean’s best.

    In both films there would have been easy ways to end them that would probably have helped them commercially: you could have let the audience know that Madeleine was guilty and you could have punished Todd’s character in THE PASSIONATE FRIENDS by having her commit suicide.

    Instead the narrator asks: “Well Madeleine Smith, are you guilty or not guilty?” but Madeleine looking rather pleased doesn’t answer, and the unfaithful woman in THE PASSIONATE FRIENDS goes back to her husband and gets on with her life. Not the way Lars von Trier would have done it!

  • Barry Putterman

    Johan, I must admit that the mind fairly boggles a the image of Lars von Trier asking himself; “What would David Lean do?”

  • Johan Andreasson

    Speaking of endings, I can actually imagine David Lean directing the epilogue of ANTICHRIST with hundreds of women ascending towards Willem Dafoe. Lean would probably have skipped some other scenes though, not just the animated talking fox.

  • Alex Hicks

    Rick K.,

    Thanks for the reference to Lean’s Ann Todd trilogy, especially THE PASSIONATE FRIENDS, whose very existence had eluded me. I suspect that part of the repudiation of the fine BRIEF ENCOUNTER was in overreaction to the an initial vogue that now seems astonishingly inflated, even to many who think ENCOUNTER’s pretty good.

    In British National Cinema (1997), Sarah Street argues that, in the post-War era of its release, BRIEF ENCOUNTER “articulated a range of feelings about infidelity which invited easy identification, whether it involved one’s husband, lover, children or country” (p. 55).

  • “I suspect it made it easier to shape the film into something more personal, less science oriented.”

    I agree, actually–fidelity to science and history is appreciated (I’m thinking of 2001, where there is far as I know one official factual inconsistency (which I personally dispute)), but not indispensable.

    Might point out as well flying a pregnant woman in a prototype jet, when she can be subjected to oxygen deprivation, is a questionable act–but at that time, probably wasn’t even considered.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    I suspect that Lean/Rattigan were conscious that her flying in a jet was definitely risky – for me it added significance to the scene and the complicated nature of their relationship.

  • Ditto to all the support for THE PASSIONATE FRIENDS AND MADELEINE (haven’t seen The Sound Barrier) – thought John Orr’s article over at senses of cienma on the “Ann Todd trilogy” was first rate – see link:

  • Rick K.

    skelly … many thanks for the reference to the Senses of Cinema critique of the Ann Todd trilogy which adds a lot of insight to these films, full of splendid observations. I haven’t watched MADELEINE in quite awhile, though I intend to correct that in the next week or so.

    Also to david hare, thanks for recommending the CITY GIRL Blu-ray, which indeed seems to represent a new standard for what CAN be accomplished in the presentation of silent films on this format. The CITY GIRL elements must have really been in splendid shape, perhaps because the silent version saw very little distribution back in 1929-30, and the reference print probably just sat on the shelf all those years untouched and unnoticed until its rediscovery, “waiting for new life to come” to quote Colin Clive.