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1. Loves of a Blonde (1965)
2. Taking Off (1971)
3. The Firemen’s Ball (1967)
4. Black Peter (1963)
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1. Amadeus (1984)
2. Man on the Moon (1999)
I am very pleased that most (If not all) of my regular readers were able to comment on my two blog entries relating to actress Kim Cattrall’s Criterion title choices (read here and here) and how it related to my number one favorite Robert Altman film. Since I asked all of you for your opinions, I sincerely feel that it is only fair If I give my opinions on not only her Criterion picks, but also what she says as a whole in the video. Nevertheless, allow me to divide my thoughts into two categories. The first will cover what films she picked from the Criterion closet and the second towards my extra thoughts.
1.) Heaven Can Wait (1943) (Dir: Ernest Lubitsch)
I too love Ernst Lubitsch like she does. One of these days when I update my blog entry of my favorite Lubitsch films, I will place Heaven Can Wait at number 2 or something. This was Lubitsch’s first Technicolor film and it is most certainly a marvel. A shame that Lubitsch could not have lived longer – it would have been interesting to see how often he would have shot in Technicolor. That Lady in Ermine would have been his second had he not died during production – director Otto Preminger ended up finishing it. Read here for my favorite Ernst Lubitsch films.
2.) Fanny & Alexander (1982) (Dir: Ingmar Bergman)
Though I still consider Persona (also a Criterion title) to be my number one favorite Ingmar Bergman film, I do love Fanny & Alexander as well and yes, it can be viewed as (among other things) an examination of the major changes that happens in a family when an immediate member of it dies. Cattrall sums it up better in that video than I do here 🙂 In case, anyone is interested in what I consider to be my favorite Bergman films, read here. Also, I highly recommend blogger Mitchell’s invaluable guide to the aforementioned director from five years back in 2014 (read here). Read here for my favorite Ingmar Bergman films.
3.) Cat People (1942) (Dir: Jacques Tourneur)
I would be interested in hearing what she loves about this masterful horror film since she did not really delve much into it here. In fact, I wrote a review of it last year on this site (read here). Read here for my favorite Jacques Tourneur films.
4.) Limelight (1952) (Dir: Charlie Chaplin)
I adore Charlie Chaplin’s sound films as much as his silent work and Limelight ranks high up there. I probably would have chosen 1931’s City Lights (another Chaplin title in The Criterion Collection), but all of Chaplin’s work is perfect. Read here for my favorite Charlie Chaplin films.
5.) The Complete Jacques Tati (1949-1974)
Considering that this box-set includes all of Jacques Tati’s work – and I think all of his short films – nobody could go wrong with this choice. Read here for my favorite Jacques Tati films.
6.) A Taste of Honey (1961) (Dir: Tony Richardson)
Admittedly, director Tony Richardson’s films have not aged well – though I still love The Border. Nevertheless, A Taste of Honey and Tom Jones are films that I greatly admire If no longer adore. Still, I do agree with Cattrall that actress Rita Tushingham was fantastic in the former.
7.) Tom Jones (1963) (Dir: Tony Richardson)
Read number 6.
8.) Nashville (1975) (Dir: Robert Altman)
I love this film for the exact reasons Cattrall states in the video link. Not since Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game, has an ensemble piece been this thought-provoking. By now, everybody is probably aware that I just love this film, so once again, read my review right here. Read here for my favorite Robert Altman films. Also, read here for me and fellow blogger Cindy Bruchman’s piece of Altman from a month ago.
9.) Jules and Jim (1962) (Dir: Francois Truffaut)
Anyone who read my blog entry regarding my favorite Francois Truffaut films (read here) is probably well aware that I rank this one very highly. With all that said, I laughed out loud when Cattrall cited Jules and Jim as her first three-way 🙂 What made it funnier is that she said it with a gentle voice 🙂
10.) Repulsion (1965) (Dir: Roman Polanski)
She chose my second favorite Polanski film (the first is Chinatown of course). Interesting bit of trivia: she actually has a supporting role in Polanski’s 2010 thriller The Ghost Writer. Read here for my favorite Roman Polanski films.
11.) Bicycle Thieves (1948) (Dir: Vittorio De Sica)
I would have loved to have heard her thoughts on Bicycle Thieves since it is an undisputed classic of world cinema. Read here for my favorite Vittorio De Sica films.
12.) Sullivan’s Travels (1941) (Dir: Preston Sturges)
I hope The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek gets the Criterion treatment one day, and while The Lady Eve and The Palm Beach Story rank higher for me (the last two are Criterion titles), I do love Sullivan’s Travels a lot. As with other fans of the film (including Cattrall herself), one’s love of it stems from it’s plot of someone who yearns for significance, but in the end, learns that humor has a way of impacting people as well. Read here for my favorite Preston Sturges films.
13.) Wanda (1970) (Dir: Barbara Loden)
I love Wanda every bit as much as Cattrall does. Nevertheless, I can’t do justice here in describing her insightful words on it – just watch the video link.
What I really found interesting about the video was Kim Cattrall’s background concerning her love of films. As anybody who watched the video is aware, Cattrall’s mother was an usherette at a movie theater and she may have influenced Kim in a significant way. Once again, here is that Criterion Collection video link below.
I wanted to follow-up on my blog entry from yesterday (read here) with something that involves a little more creative participation on the part of my readers. Nevertheless, participation on the part of the reader is optional here and you do not have to participate If you do not want to. After all, just look at the title of this blog entry 🙂 Now some of my readers (that is If you decide to take part in this) may not have seen any of the Criterion titles that actress Kim Cattrall picks out here, but If you have seen them, let me know in the comment section below what your favorite choices of hers are. Also, what aspects of the video came off as the most interesting to you? Once again, here is that Criterion video link I showed you all yesterday.
Though I have never really made it known on here, I am a regular visitor to The Criterion Collection website. I mostly visit there to see what interesting new release will await me for that month and whether or not it is a film I love so much that I will buy. And yes, I own a lot of Criterion Blu-Rays/DVD’s 🙂 But that is beside the point. Any frequent visitor to that site is probably aware by now of their Closet Picks series, which consists of both high and low-profile celebrities being honored the luxury of choosing whatever Criterion title they want to take home with them. Of course, their is probably a limit to the number of Blu-Rays/DVD’s that they can take 🙂 As to whether or not they are supposed to keep them, I am not sure. Well, in one of the most recent entries, actress Kim Cattrall (yes that Kim Cattrall) was given access to the closet to choose a limited number of Criterion titles (that she loves) to take home with her either permanently or temporarily. Again, I am not sure If it is the former or the latter. Although I loved all of her choices, the one that made me the most happy was her pick of director Robert Altman’s Nashville. As many of my loyal readers know, two weeks back, I collaborated with blogger Cindy Bruchman on a blog entry regarding our top 3 favorite Altman films (read here) and Nashville was my number one favorite Altman film. In the link to the video below, she starts talking about it at the 1:39 point. And If you saw the film, here is a link to my review for it.
I am collaborating with blogger Cindy Bruchman today (cindybruchman.com) on one of her L13FC blog entries. This one is entitled L13FC: Director Robert Altman (read here). If any of you readers are interested, please click on that second link and read what me and Cindy have to say regarding our favorite Robert Altman films. Enjoy 🙂
There will be no Moviedrome Monday entries tomorrow because I am taking a little vacation from this blog this week. Nevertheless, readers can expect to see a new Moviedrome Monday entry by late Sunday of next week – July 14th 🙂
Upon reaching new creative heights with his previous Monitor entry The Debussy Film, director Ken Russell decided to end his career there on a quieter note with Always on Sunday, which aired one month later in June of 1965. For those interested, The Debussy Film’s original airdate was 05/18/65, while Always on Sunday’s was 06/29/65. Even so, Always on Sunday remains significant for reportedly being Russell’s first television documentary/docudrama to come off as a pure dramatization of a famous artist’s life (read here). Following broadcaster Huw Wheldon’s departure from the aforementioned programme in 1964, Russell was now free (at least for the most part) to expand upon his creativity as a filmmaker – The Debussy Film’s film-within-a-film format stands out in particular. As with Elgar, Russell tells his story in a similarly straightforward fashion, but unlike that earlier effort, Always on Sunday finds him taking a more laid-back approach to it at the same time.
Whereas Elgar and (in some ways) The Debussy Film centered on the lives of famed composers, Always on Sunday centers on the life of late 19th-century to early 20th-century French post-impressionist painter Henri Rousseau (1844-1910). Oliver Reed serves as the film’s narrator (seriously, what a mesmerizing voice), while James Lloyd handles lead acting duties as Rousseau. Annette Robertson (Gaby from The Debussy Film) also lends welcome support as (yes) pint-sized French symbolist writer Alfred Jarry (1873-1907), whose voice is dubbed here by an uncredited male actor. The scenario was concocted by Melvyn Bragg, who previously collaborated with director Ken Russell on The Debussy Film.
If I can name one thing that director Ken Russell does really well in Always on Sunday, it would lie in the sincere simplicity of his storytelling. Prior to his flamboyant later films, Russell had continuously proven himself to be a master of subtlety with his early television work at the BBC (1959-1970). This one, Elgar and Song of Summer (my personal favorite) notably demonstrates this aspect. Always on Sunday’s slow but steady pacing debatably resembles Russell’s way of appreciating the finer things in life. One memorable running gag involves Rousseau hauling around one of his paintings around the countryside back and forth in a wagon of sorts. Another involves Rousseau placing one of his paintings in a museum it the hopes of rivaling the work of some of his contemporaries. The action then cuts to some examples via their individual artwork: Camille Pissarro, Paul Cezanne, Vincent van Gogh, Georges Seurat and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
As is occasionally typical of his work, Always on Sunday sometimes feels like a semi-autobiographical account of it’s director Ken Russell. An early sequence depicting French elitists ridiculing Rousseau’s paintings foreshadowed the hostile relationship between Russell and his critics. At the same time, he sees a little bit of himself in Alfred Jarry (a reported supporter of Rousseau). One such scene comes in the form of Jarry’s irreverent play Ubu Roi – a scathing satire on the bourgeoisie. Another example occurs when one of Rousseau’s neighbors complains to Jarry that his pistol firing (he carries two of them) is endangering her children. Jarry’s response is delightfully insulting – If that should be the case madam, we’d hope you get some new ones, the bedroom’s over there. For some odd reason, I can’t help but feel that Russell would applaud his response.
Capturing all of Elgar’s simplicity and none of The Debussy Film’s originality, Always on Sunday is like a warmup to director Ken Russell’s subsequent television films. The following year in 1966, he directed an entry for Sunday Night (Don’t Shoot the Composer) and a stand alone (Isadora Duncan, the Biggest Dancer in the World). The others were episodes of Omnibus – Dante’s Inferno in 1967, Song of Summer in 1968 and Dance of the Seven Veils in 1970. Those last four titles (I have not seen Don’t Shoot the Composer) arguably rank as major works on Russell’s resume. Always on Sunday may seem minor compared to them, but as with all of Russell’s films, it is a great one regardless of ranking.
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Here is a link to Part 1 of the film
Here is a link to Part 2 of the film
Here is a link to Part 3 of the film
Once again, similar to that of a restaurant host/hostess, I just wanted to see If all of you dear readers are enjoying my Ken Russell posts so far? I will post my review of Always on Sunday sometime this week 🙂
Originally, I was going to post a review on another film, but I am currently suffering from a case of writer’s block on that right now. In the meantime and in an attempt to get my mojo back (so I can finish that review), I am going to post reviews on something a little more simpler, but no less complex. In this case, a series of TV bios on famous composers (among other types of giants).
When anybody hears the name Ken Russell (1927-2011), the first words that come to mind are either flamboyant or controversial. A majority of the time, one could say that both terms can apply to him all at once. According to wikipedia’s entry on legendary British filmmaker Ken Russell (read here), these are at least two proper descriptions that can be applied to him. Nevertheless, let us rewind the clocks back to 1959 – 10 years prior to his 1969 breakthrough film Women in Love – a critically acclaimed adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s equally controversial 1920 novel of the same name. From 1959 to 1970, Russell made documentaries/docudramas on celebrated composers (among other figures) for the British Broadcasting Corporation (a.k.a. the BBC – read here). He directed at least 22 of them for Monitor (1959-1965) and 3 of them for it’s official/unofficial successor Omnibus (1967-1970). In between his last for Monitor (Always on Sunday) and his first for Omnibus (Dante’s Inferno), Russell contributed one for BBC’s Sunday Night (Don’t Shoot the Composer) and another as a stand-alone TV film (Isadora Duncan, the Biggest Dancer in the World) in 1966. The following year, he would helm his second feature film (his first was the 1964 comedy French Dressing) entitled Billion Dollar Brain – a British Spy thriller for the American-based studio United Artists. Two days after Billion Dollar Brain’s American premiere (December 20, 1967 – read here), Dante’s Inferno (Russell’s first for Omnibus) premiered for UK television viewers on December 22 of that same year. Based on my calculations alone (read here), Russell directed at least 27 television bios for the BBC. Out of the 27, only 6 of them (at least to my knowledge) are available for home viewing in North America. They are in a 2008 DVD collection entitled Ken Russell at the BBC (read here). The available titles are: Elgar (1962), The Debussy Film (1965), Always on Sunday (1965), Isadora Duncan, the Biggest Dancer in the World (1966), Dante’s Inferno (1967) and Song of Summer (1968). The first three were for Monitor and the last two were for Omnibus. As I mentioned earlier, Isadora Duncan was a stand-alone TV film for the BBC. Russell’s last work for Omnibus during this period entitled Dance of the Seven Veils is not included in the box set. That last title incited a huge ton of controversy due to it’s portrayal of famed German composer Richard Strauss (1864-1949) as either a Nazi or Nazi sympathizer (read here). This angered the Strauss family so much that they withdrew the music rights for it. Apparently, the ban expires sometime this year in 2019 (read here). Currently, the only way one can watch it is on a faded print posted on youtube.
Famed U.S. film critic Pauline Kael (1919-2001) once said of late master filmmaker Robert Altman, that he could make film fireworks out of next to nothing (read here). This sentiment can also be applied to that of director Ken Russell. Compared to Russell’s more outrageous later work (The Music Lovers, The Devils and Lisztomania to name just a few), the style of his early television films may initially come off as subdued on the surface. Deep down though, each of the available six films prove to be every bit as radical (albeit different) to those previously mentioned titles. Even with their low-budgets, Russell amazingly managed to break the rules on what was widely accepted within the documentary format. Instead of traditionally relying on still photographs and old film footage alone to tell his story, Russell would not only dramatize it through a re-enactment, but he would also (in the case of Elgar) use different actors to portray the lead character as he/she ages (read here and here). And this only marks just one of Russell’s many talents at successfully making the most out of very little.
My full review of Elgar – the first of director Ken Russell’s six films in the aforementioned 2008 DVD collection – should be up sometime by tomorrow.
Warning: The following review contains potential spoilers. If you have not seen the film yet, than I strongly advise to not go any further.
Filmed in black-and-white on a low-budget reportedly consisting of $114,000 dollars, Night of the Living Dead proved to be a success with both audiences, and eventually critics nationwide. In addition to all of that, it not only served as George A. Romero’s directorial debut, but at the same time, it also cemented his reputation (and deservedly so) as a master of horror amongst devotees of the genre like myself.
During a visit to their father’s grave at a cemetery, siblings Barbra (Judith O’Dea) and Johnny (an uncredited Russell Streiner) notice a dazed looking man walking awkwardly. When he tries to attack Barbra, Johnny intervenes by fighting back. Nevertheless, this backfires as the man fatally throws Johnny against a gravestone. Running for her life, Barbra seeks shelter inside a farmhouse that looks as If it has been deserted. Upon entering the upstairs area, Barbra discovers a seemingly devoured corpse leaving her terrified and ready to leave. Suddenly, an African-American by the name of Ben (Duane Jones) enters the place and defends it by killing two of the monstrous strangers with a tire iron. Although, Ben is able to persuade her to help him board up the entire house, Barbra’s mental state has deteriorated considerably due to everything that she has just witnessed. Semi-ignorant of her current state of shock, Ben tells Barbra that he first witnessed all of his chaos while passing by a local diner. In his words, he talks to her about how he went inside an abandoned truck so he could listen to the radio and remain informed on the current situation. While in there, he saw a bunch of these strange people chasing after a gasoline truck, which drove right through a billboard resulting in the driver’s death. Afterwards, Ben looked around and realized that he was allegedly the only person left alive and to survive, he would seek solace in someplace that was safe. Barbra summarizes everything that happened to her at the cemetery prior to hiding out in the farmhouse that she is currently sharing with Ben. Under the false impression that her brother Johnny is still alive, Barbra tries to convince Ben to go out and look for him. Ben quickly dismissed this idea by simply stating that your brother is dead resulting in a hysterical Barbra to reply back with No! My brother is not dead! and after slapping him, he smacks her back intending to shake some common sense into her, but ends up leaving her incapacitated.
Armed with a hunting rifle that he had found in the farmhouse, Ben uses it to fend off attacks from the outside while listening for the next radio report. Unexpectedly, the cellar door opens awakening Barbra and slightly startling Ben, who discovers that a few others have survived. We are introduced to a teenager named Tom (Keith Wayne) and an arrogant and unhappily married father/husband by the name of Harry Cooper (Karl Hardman), who is unrelated to him. Tom’s teenage girlfriend Judy (Judith Ridley) is in the cellar assisting Harry’s wife Helen (Marilyn Eastman) in any way she can with her and Harry’s ailing 11-year-old daughter Karen (Kyra Schon), who was bitten by one of the attackers. Harry and his family are hiding in the farmhouse because their car was turned over by the same freaks encountered earlier on by Barbra and Ben. Tom and Judy sought refuge in the house after hearing about the recent string of murders from a radio report via an emergency broadcast from earlier. Shortly after discovering a television set somewhere in the house, Ben turns it on to listen to the next report with most (If not all) of the others and learns that this nationwide epidemic of murderous mayhem began when the deceased unexplainably came back to life and started feasting upon human flesh. One scientist thinks that this recent outbreak may have originated from a Venus space probe that exploded in the Earth’s atmosphere. According to a local Sheriff, the most effective way to kill these reanimated corpses is to aim for the head with either a gun, a club or a torch. As the number of zombies become more widespread, Ben fends them off while simultaneously plotting an escape route with the full cooperation of everyone around him with the exception of the selfish Harry.
Director/co-writer George A. Romero may have cited Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel I Am Legend (read here, here, and here) as an inspiration, but it would be unwise for anybody to sum up Night of the Living Dead as a pastiche of past horror fiction (cinematic or literary) since the result is the complete opposite. In terms of plot, it is most notable for being the first film to depict zombies (read here) as flesh-eating monsters. Succeeding Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde and preceding Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch both by a year, the violence in Night of the Living Dead (like the former and the latter) was noticeably more graphic than anything else viewers had seen in the past. Unlike those first two titles however, this one was an independent film distributed by the lower-profiled Water Reade Organization (read here), a once high-profile movie theater chain. Aside from a considerably gory stabbing, a crushed skull and the decomposed face of a corpse, we also get zombies completely devouring human beings.
At heart, Night of the Living Dead also works as a biting satire on the political and social turmoil that ended up shaping the 1960’s as a whole. Not unlike The Wild Bunch, Night of the Living Dead’s display of graphic violence (strong for it’s day at least) was symbolic of the American news media’s daily televised depictions of the ongoing Vietnam War overseas (read here), which the United States was heavily involved in at the time. Taking into account the continued escalation of U.S. involvement (read here) during the then presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969), one can’t help but possibly see this as a fitting metaphor. One could also potentially see a parallel between the killings of the zombies and the protest activity that erupted at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago (read here and here) with the posse of armed men in the roles of the police officers upholding law and order by physically restraining them. While privately understanding of their anger, the police (alluding to the posse) feel that it would be a dangerous mistake for protesters (alluding to the zombies) to let that emotion influence them to cause chaos and destruction. If Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds served in part as an allegory of the decline of the nuclear family (read here), than director George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead symbolically serves as one about it’s demise. For example, Harry and Helen Cooper’s marriage is obviously an unhappy one judging from Helen’s remark to Harry of we may not enjoy living together, but dying together isn’t going to solve anything. According to Helen, it is important for her egotistical husband to be right and for everybody else to be wrong. Fairly or unfairly, it seems that dysfunctional families like these have only become more common since the passage of no-fault divorce the following year in 1969 by then California governor (1967-1975) and future 40th U.S. President (1981-1989) Ronald W. Reagan (read here and here), who would later reportedly cite this as the biggest mistake of his political career. By 1985, all except one state had some form of it and by 2010, New York would become the last state to pass a no-fault divorce law (read here). Explicitly, the already insecure Harry resents taking orders from Ben, who (along with Helen) hates him due to his arrogance and bullying. Implicitly, Harry harbors a racial hatred for the African-American Ben, who is almost killed by the zombies when Harry purposely locks him outside. Later on, Ben gets his revenge by shooting him with the hunting rifle. Open or closeted, Harry’s racism was typical to that of extreme critics of the Civil rights movement (1954-1968) (read here). By the end, just as it looks as If Ben is going to be the lone survivor, he is unexpectedly shot in the head long range by a posse member, who had mistaken him for a zombie. This ending resembles the pessimism that drove the mood of the nation following two 1968 assassinations on political leaders in the form of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4 of that year (read here) and then New York senator turned Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy (read here) two months later on June 5. The eerie music that plays during the closing credits foreshadows the two turbulent events that followed in the guise of the King assassination riots (read here) and the aforementioned protest activity that occurred at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago of that same year. Romero’s vision of a radically changing America is made all the more terrifying when one comes to the realization that most (if not all) of these incidents were taking place between early April and late August of that year; prior to the film’s premiere during that month of October.
While I personally feel that director George A. Romero would surpass this one 10 years later with the gorier and wittier Dawn of the Dead in 1978, Night of the Living Dead is still truly deserving of it’s status as an influential cult classic. Even at the tender age of 50, it feels every bit as scary and timeless now as it was in 1968. To put it in other words, Night of the Living Dead is a horror film with a lot on it’s mind.
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