Title:Spring In A Small Town Director: Fei Mu Country of Origin: China Year: 1948 Screening format: DVD Setting: home First viewing? yes
Considered by many to be the masterpiece of the first great era of Chinese filmmaking, if not the greatest Chinese film of all time. A young wife trapped in a passionless marriage (I won’t say loveless, because I believe there is some love there) with an ailing husband becomes reacquainted with a long lost love who shows up on her doorstep one day after 10 years away because he also happens to be very close friends with her husband. She, of course, is forced to choose between her family and the one who got away. From the plot description alone, it sounds like a Satyajit Ray film (or at least a Tagore story). Some sensitive portrayals here, especially by Yu Shi and Wei Wei as the husband and wife, respectively. Spring In A Small Town often feels like it owes a great deal to the self-contained family dramas of Ozu and to Italian neorealism. Indeed, it is well situated within the general ethos of post-War drama. Though, at other times, certain editorial choices (cuts and transitions within an unchanging wide shot) seem to denote the passage of time and almost evoke the spirit of French New Wave a full decade ahead of Truffaut and Godard, even if they were, in fact, necessary quirks rather than stylistic choices. Lovely low-light scenes produce some beautifully shaded and shadowed images, particularly in the last half hour.
Title: Miquette et sa mère Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot Country of Origin: France Year: 1950 Screening format: Blu-ray Setting: home First viewing? yes
A film Clouzot apparently had little interest in making and greeted with equal disinterest by critics and audiences alike, though still very funny if you ask me. Two timid lovebirds (Miquette and Urbain) kept apart by a scheming uncle-Marquis who has designs of his own on Miquette as she strives to make it as an actress in order to make jealous the lover she believes has jilted her. The humor is broadly farcical, blend of irony and slapstick, not unlike Preston Sturges, though considerably more French and likely to have scandalized American audiences of the time (e.g. a particular ancestor is well regarded for having had the Sun King). The very best scenes are played between Danièle Delorme (Miquette) and Bourvil (Urbain). The latter a gifted physical comedian who plays the bumbling idiot well and the former with a gift for portraying the coquettish ingenue. Something in the way Delorme glides through the film, even in the comedic moments, the way she dodges an aspiring lover’s advances while never seeming to notice them, is almost balletic. There is an air about her performance which recalls…someone, though I can’t say for sure who. Perhaps Sidney Fox in Once In A Lifetime. Miquette et sa mère gets a bad rap for some reason, though you won’t hear it from me.
Title: The Clock Director: Vincente Minnelli Country of Origin: USA Year: 1945 Screening format: TV (TCM) Setting: Home First viewing? no
Could Vincente Minnelli’s whirlwind wartime romance The Clock have been made had it not been, well, wartime? In a sense, yes. Light speed romance movies had been made before (Lonesome: 1928) and since (Before Sunrise: 1995) with several others in between. But The Clock has a subtle lyricism about it that I don’t think can be found in similar films, and much of that is due to the wartime setting. Robert Walker is, after all, a soldier on leave, about to return to the front. As such, there is a cloud of potentially impending doom constantly hovering in the background. And, though characters rarely address it directly, they do live as though every moment is precious because there really may not be a future for them. It’s actually refreshing to see Judy Garland act without breaking into song at any point. And James Gleason is always a highlight of any film he appears in. But what is most remarkable about The Clock is the elegance with which the subject matter is treated. Minnelli never really resorts to melodrama or sappy romance, though the temptation must have been very real. The Clock is instead funny, romantic, suspenseful, heart-breaking and uplifting. It is genuinely sweet and unselfconscious and, like any whirlwind romance, over all too quickly.
What began for me as a last minute trip
to Washington, D.C. to burn up some rewards miles last week turned
into a frantic, intensive study session in a windowless room deep in
the Library of Congress once I learned that the Library also happened
to be home to a collection known as The Val Lewton Papers. I am, of
course, a huge fan of Mr. Lewton (as so many are). The symbolism and
classical literacy of the films he produced at RKO were instrumental
in inspiring me to look closer at the often neglected theological
content buried in popular cinema. So, of course, once I learned that,
after a brief vetting process, I could have free access to some of
the man’s personal papers, I had to jump at the chance.
After proving my identity to the folks
in the main office—the Library of Congress’s collections are open
to just about anyone (and I mean anyone, not
just Americans) over the age of 18—I wound my way through the
series of nondescript tunnels that connect the library’s buildings
until I eventually found my way to the Manuscripts Reading Room where
I was vetted again and
pitched my research to the folks in charge before being allowed
access to this particular branch of the library. Once I was
officially cleared, I put in my request for the Val Lewton Papers and
about 10 minutes, five reels of microfilm were delivered to my
workstation. Five reels of microfilm don’t really look that
impressive in person and, frankly, it is a bit disappointing at first
for a nerd like me to I will not be allowed to interact directly with
the objects of my fascination. But my disappointment faded quickly
once I had loaded the film into the machine and began to wade into
the information at hand.
first, I tried to read everything. Taking notes on what I found
interesting and skipping over the rest. But after an hour, no matter
how far I advanced the film, the supply of unviewed film seemed the
same as when I had started. AND I WAS ONLY ON THE FIRST REEL! It was
then that I really began to understand why the Library of Congress
policy allows researchers to scan materials for research purposes. I
have no idea how many thousands of pages of letters, journals,
scrapbooks, and screenplays are included on those five reels, but it
was far more than I could have ever consumed in my three days at the
library. The best I could do was scan anything that looked remotely
pertinent and bring it home to work on here.
here we are. I have a flash drive full of Val Lewton documents and
only a rough idea what they contain. Now, I can’t simply upload them
somewhere for you—there are signs all over the Library of Congress
saying that’s not allowed—and besides, that wouldn’t be any fun for
me. What I can do is give you a little window into my research
that, let me welcome you to The Lewton Ledger. As I read through this
digital stack of documents, I’ll keep you posted of any possible
insights or hunches I have as to what made this master of
psychological horror tick. So far, I can tell you this much, young
Val Lewton was head over heels crazy in love with his wife Ruth.
Like, seriously, it’s so