Daily Projections, 6-9-2019: Spring In A Small Town (1948)

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.

Daily Projections: The Clock (1945)

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.

Daily Projections 11-29-2018: To Sir With Love (1967); The Innocents (1961)

Title: To Sir With Love
Director: James Clavell
Country of Origin: UK
Year: 1967
Screening format: Blu-ray
Setting: Home
First viewing? Yes

Notes: One in a long tradition of “inspiring teacher” films. Up until now, I had only seen the remake which was on TV some time in the early ’90s. It’shard to imagine anyone bringing as much dignity to the role as Sidney Poitier does, and yet, as if he needs the added gravitas, in many staff lounge scenes, Poitier is filmed from waist level causing him to appear more imposing than the other teachers who are filmed at eye level. While it’s hard to conceive of someone like Judy Geeson as the least bit menacing today, the lessons Sir drills into his students are possibly more relevant now than they ever were in 1967. Perhaps a teacher like Poitier’s Mr. Thackery would be plagued by scandal these days, but then again, who isn’t.

Interesting to note that the recording of “To Sir With Love” used in the film is not the version I grew up listening to on the radio: more rubato and more flexible phrasing than the single version I’m used to. Also, I never realized the Mindbender’s “It’s Getting Harder All The Time” was from this movie.

Also, I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to seeing young Patricia Routledge.

Title: The Innocents
Director: Jack Clayton
Country of Origin: UK
Year: 1961
Screening format: Blu-ray
First viewing? Yes

Notes: A genuinely creepy ghost story with gorgeous cinematography. Absolutely not the sort of film that should be watched alone, late at night, in a house with a lot of windows – a lesson I learned the hard way. Deborah Kerr is as good as she ever was (the best that she ever was by her account).Costuming cleverly done as Kerr’s Miss Giddens begins the film in light colored, fashionable dresses and gradually adopts a more conservative style of dress until she is in full mourning garb as she becomes increasingly consumed by the house and the mystery within.

The Innocents is absolutely oozing with atmosphere, practically dripping with all the stifling humidity of the best Southern Gothic literature, no doubt the result of Truman Capote’s involvement with the screenplay.

Probably some of the most convincing depictions of ghostly activity I’ve seen without resorting to special effects. More akin to the subtlety of The Uninvited than the trick photography of typical Hollywood horror. The horror of The Innocents lies on the periphery: in the corner of the eye, across a pond, up a tower, outside the window. It’s all in what you might have seen.