Black-and-White

The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

20120915-234304.jpg

The Phantom of the Opera, Rupert Julian (1925) [93 minutes]

This is my entry for the Universal Backlot Blogathon.Please click the link and check out my fellow bloggers’ posts! I’d also like to thank Kristen [Journeys in Classic Film] for hosting this fabulous blogathon! ūüôā
 

Since I was around 12 I have been a huge fan of The Phantom of the Opera. It all began when I went to the theater with my grandparents. I saw it in the Spanish equivalent of Broadway. Since that day me and my little sister have been completely entranced by the story of the poor, damaged Phantom.We still pop in a DVD of the 2004 version whenever we need our fix (that movie is one of my top guilty pleasures :P). The other day I was browsing through Netflix and saw this version was available for Instant Streaming. Imagine my excitement! And believe me, it did not disappoint.

Julian’s¬†The Phantom of the Opera¬†is very different from¬†the other, Andrey-Lloyd-Webber-y ones that I know and love. Firstly, it is not a musical (it’s a silent movie, that would be rather impossible). Also, it sticks closer to the novel than Webber’s version does. Even with the lack of singing and dancing, this version feels much more operatic than any of the ones I have seen before. It is high melodrama with extremely theatrical acting. The sets are wonderfully crafted and areas, like the phantom’s lair, are just as eerily beautiful as one would imagine them to be. The film is tinted different colors (amber, red, green) depending on the scene and the location. This only adds to this already atmospheric film.

I have yet to mention Lon Chaney’s performance as Erick, the Phantom. He is so great that I figured that he needed his own paragraph! He is so engaging while on screen; your eye cannot help but¬†be drawn to him. There are moments in the film when he is shrouded in shadow or covered in cloaks and a mask, but he still manages to be such a presence on-screen. When he takes off his mask he only improves. Under pounds and pounds of makeup and wires, which Chaney would apply himself, he still manages to emote. Chaney makes this monster human. This movie is worth watching for him alone.

The Ending:¬†SPOILERS ahead: The ending for this film has kind of a crazy history. Initially it was the same as the novel, where the Phantom lets Christine go and then dies of a broken heart. Apparently the audience at the time didn’t like it, so they filmed an alternate ending. This other ending is the one that you can see today. Sadly, the original appears to be¬†lost! This makes me quite upset. The “new” ending just destroys the Phantom’s redemption arc, which is part of what makes him such an amazing character.

Quality:¬†The quality of the film is pretty bad. I’m not sure if it’s just the one on Netflix, but it is very spotty and grainy. It is still watchable, but I just thought I should give you a heads up. If there is a better version out there please let me know!

How To Watch:¬†Silent movies are tricky. You really have to pay attention, more than a sound movie, to really get everything out of it. So, I wouldn’t recommend watching it when you have a million things to do. This movie really needs to be watched in a dark room where you can just let yourself be transported into the opera house.

Who To Watch With: The Phantom is really very scary looking, so probably not the best for little kids. Other than that, I think anyone can enjoy this! Even if you hate the Webber version, give this a try. It is a very good film and everyone should give it a shot.

Final Verdict: This is an amazing, atmospheric, operatic film. Chaney is outstanding as the Phantom; and if anything else just watch it for him. I have yet to show this to my sister (my fellow Phantom enthusiast) and I cannot wait to see her reaction. It is really a wonderful film. Certain scenes are so beautifully rendered that they are likely to stay in your head long after you watch them.

Now, watch it and let me know what you think! :D

Advertisements

Diabolique [Les Diaboliques]

Diabolique, Henri-Georges Clouzot (1955) 114 minutes

This is my entry in the The Best Hitchcock Movies (That Hitchcock Never Made)¬†Blogathon. Please click on the link and check out the entries by my fellow bloggers! I would like to also thank¬†Dorian Tenore-Bartilucci [Tales of the Easily Distracted]¬†and Rebecca Barnes [ClassicBecky‚Äôs Brain Food] for putting this all together and letting me be a part of it ūüôā

Alfred Hitchcock is the undisputed master of the thriller. He did it better, more often and more consistently than anyone else. Others have made excellent thrillers, but they are always compared back to the master. Hell, these films are even called “Hitchcockian Thrillers.” ¬†This genre is the focus of this lovely, little blogathon. They are basically thrillers that are so freaking good, that could have been made by Hitchcock, himself. Clouzot’s¬†Diabolique holds an interesting place¬†amongst¬†these films. Hitchcock almost made this film. Diabolique¬†is based off a novel by¬†Boileau and Narcejac. Hitchcock was actually looking for the rights to this, but Clouzot beat him to it! There were no hard feelings from Hitchcock, however. He later adapted another¬†Boileau and Narcejac novel with¬†Vertigo¬†(which is one of my favorites). Also, he reportedly showed¬†Diabolique¬†to those who helped him make¬†Vertigo¬†and¬†Pyscho as a great example of a thriller.

Diabolique¬†is about a wealthy, kindly woman, Christina Delassale (Vera Clouzot¬†(the director’s wife)) who is tormented and abused by her gold-digging husband, Michel Delassale (Paul Meurisse). They run a boarding school for little boys. Nicole Horner (Simone Signoret) is a teacher at the school and also Michel’s not-so-secret mistress. Michel is quickly characterized as the¬†villain in the film. He is horrible to his wife and mistress both. He buys rotten food for the children of the school and hands out¬†outrageous¬†punishments for the slightest¬†offenses. Nicole, surprisingly, is Christina’s friend. They have struck up an odd partnership and are out to get rid of Michel. While Nicole pushes for action to be taken against this horrible man, Christina is much more¬†hesitant. These two women are set up as diametric opposites. Nicole is a taller, more masculine blonde. She is anything but passive. Christina is much more¬†sensitive¬†and hesitant to act. Her appearance is much more fragile and feminine than Nicole. She is also ¬†a foreigner and a devout Catholic with heart issues (apparently she’s sickly and doesn’t deal with stress well). There are also a number of smaller characters who serve to add some humor to this dark film.

I’m not going to get into much more of the plot or characterization. If you have never seen¬†Diabolique, you really should avoid spoilers like the plague. It is¬†jam-packed¬†with shocks, twists and turns. If you are watching it for the second, third or tenth time, you will see many little hints and clues scattered throughout the film. Also, the cinematography and lighting for this film are absolutely¬†stellar. There is a lot of play with shadows, especially in the most “important” moments in the movie. This film can hold its own with any Hitchcock movie and is considered one of the greatest French thriller of all time.

Creepy Credits:. The words are projected on a filthy pool of water, which is constantly rippling. The music starts off as a standard, pretty creepy score. Then the voices of young boys are introduced into the music. After that an organ starts to play the theme (this is were I was getting pretty weirded out). Finally the original theme comes into this mix even louder with the organ and the choir continuing to play/sing (unmistakably the score to a very scary movie!).

How to Watch:¬†Do yourself a favor and watch this at night in a dark room. I’ve watched in the middle of the afternoon and its not just not the same.

Who to Watch This With:¬†Probably not the best for young children. I don’t want to say much more (for fear of getting into spoilers), but there are some rather¬†disturbing¬†images, which may lead to nightmares… and not only for the little ones!

Final Verdict:¬†Diabolique¬†is a wonderful example of a suspenseful, intelligent and nuanced thriller. It is beautifully shot and the plot is masterfully crafted. ¬†Whether it’s the setting or the characters, this movie is unmistakably French. And to give credit where credit is due: Clouzot, himself, is a wonderful director, who shines in this film.¬†Its totally like Hitchcock, but not really…¬†Maybe thats a bit of a cop-out from me, but I don’t mean it to be. Just give it a shot and you’ll see what I mean.

Now, watch it and let me know what you think! :D

The Rules of the Game [La R√®gle du Jeu]

The Rules of the Game, Jean Renoir (1939) [110 minutes]

Renoir’s The Rules of the Game is the prototypical example of the critical darling. This film has a tumultuous history. It went from being hated (and when I say hated, I’m not kidding), to being seen as one of the greatest films ever made. Whenever such a big change in public opinion occurs, it always leaves me curious. Why did all those people hate it? Why did people then love it? And most importantly: Will I/my lovely readers enjoy it?

The Rules of the Game is a tragic comedy-of-manners set in France. There is a large ensemble of characters, which on a first viewing are difficult to keep track of. The plot revolves around a series of romantic entanglements that come to light while this group is on a hunting trip to the French countryside. There are several plots involving the upstairs crowd (the wealthy couples) and the downstairs one (the servants and groundsmen). If you’re a fan of those kinds of dual, complementary tales (√† la Downton Abbey), this movie is definitely worth a shot.

For me the key to understanding this film was to really pay attention. I know that sounds pretty basic, but believe me it’s trickier than it sounds. Renoir has so much stuff happening in a single shot, the audience really has to know where to look (and sometimes it’s at like 3 places at once!). He uses deep depth of field, or deep focus, to show different characters/objects in the foreground and background simultaneously. You will have two men arguing over a woman in the foreground; while in the background, she is sneaking off into an empty bedroom with another.

The mis-en-scene is also very “cluttered.” I use quotes here because I don’t mean to use that term pejoratively. The rooms are filled to the brim with antiques and opulence,¬† it serves to further highlight the outrageous lifestyle of the characters. The movie is a farce, rather than a true-to-life depiction of 1930’s France. This satire underscores the fact that their world is barely being held together by a set of rules. These rules must be followed, by both the wealthy and their servants, to avoid chaos. Of course, once the rules are ignored we are left to watch the delicious disaster that ensues.

Man of Many Hats: Jean Renoir is the director, writer, producer and actor in this film. He plays a the role of the bumbling jester for this elite crowd. He is in the picture at the top of the post, holding onto Christine (the only woman in the still).

Firey Reception:¬†So, you remember how earlier I said that people really hated this film when it was released? I meant it. At the premiere, which Renoir attended, people were extremely angry. There was yelling and throwing things at the screen. The worst offender was this one man who was sitting in the theater with a newspaper. At some point he calmly unfolded his paper, stood up, took out some matches, set the paper on fire and attempted to burn the theater to the ground! That’s a pretty extreme reaction… watching it today it’s hard to see what in the film would warrant such desperation, but if you put it in context it is a little easier (not really, but we can try :P). This was released right before WWII broke out, so tensions were very high. Also, this film is a pointed critique of the stupidity and vanity of french society’s rules, of all social/financial levels, so maybe it felt a bit to truthful for them to handle.

General Tip about French Films: These kinds of movies start off REALLY slow. It feels like nothing at all is happening. They tend to pickup the pace at about the 30 minute mark, and then all the crazy, intense stuff happens. Most people who say “all French movies are so friggin’ boring,” in my opinion, don’t make it past those first 30 minutes. Which is really their loss!

How to Watch: Just pay attention. On a first viewing, you won’t get every nuance and detail, but it’s still very funny and a good time. This film is perfect for repeat viewings, every time you watch The Rules of the Game it just gets better and better.

Who to Watch This With:¬†This film isn’t for kids. It’s very dialogue heavy and there are many confusing love triangles, hexagons, and so on. Also, there is a rather intense hunting scene. It is a very famous scene, one of the most famous in cinema history, but it is hard to watch.¬†

Final Verdict: The Rules of the Game is a very intimidating film to watch. It is so heavily praised, loved and revered, but remember it’s just a comedy. It’s okay to laugh! Sometimes I feel that when we watch a fancy-sounding, famous, french film, we forget that these films are supposed to be fun.¬† This film is silly. There is slap-stick and silly jokes, as well as drama and wit. This was made for the general public, like you and me, not an elite group of academics. So, have fun while you watch. Just because it’s old and french doesn’t mean it’s going to put you to sleep! So, sit back with some popcorn (or maybe a baguette or a nice pain au chocolat?) and enjoy.

Now, watch it and let me know what you think! ūüėÄ

My Movie Year: 1957

Fandango Groovers Movie Blog is having a day were bloggers post about their favorite year in movies. It is not the “best” year as deemed by others, but rather it is my personal choice. I had a lot of fun participating and I think you’ll have fun reading!

Here goes nothing:

Being a very indecisive girl, picking just one year was really hard. I tossed and turned over the decision more than I should have. As if somehow the neglected years would be offended by my choice (I’m a bit odd at times). After much research and thinking about what I¬†really¬†like, it was clear, 1957 is the year for me. It has a little sample of everything I love about film. The following five movies really speak to me, all in very distinctive ways. Here I will post little mini reviews on these films (and link to my longer ones as I write them). Enjoy!

12 Angry Men, Sidney Lumet

12 Angry Men is not an “action-packed” film. 12 men basically just sit around a room and talk for the whole movie. And somehow you are still on the edge of your seat. The level of tension is equivalent to a Hitchcockian thriller. Our hero, Henry Fonda, plays a juror who feels that there is not sufficient evidence to put a defendant to death. The other 11 just want to get it over with and head home, but Fonda takes his duty seriously. Each juror has a distinct personality and justification for their decision. Fonda goes to great lengths to convince these men, performing monologue after amazing monologue. Lumet also does a great job with the direction. Every camera movement is so efficient and subtle that you almost don’t notice how brilliantly it’s done.

Throne of Blood, Akira Kurosawa

While 12 Angry Men is driven by witty and powerful dialogue, Kurosawa’s¬†Throne of Blood¬†does not put the same weight on the spoken word. This film’s visuals make it a masterpiece. Kurosawa took my favorite Shakespearian drama, Macbeth, and transported the narrative back to medieval Japan. He did not worry about translating every line perfectly or making it all in iambic pentameter, but rather he really captures the “feel” and emotion of the Scottish play. The cinematography and mis-en-scene are among the best that Kurosawa has ever done (and if you know his work, you know that is high praise). I love a film that embraces the fantastical and poetic, like Throne of Blood does.

Also, it has Toshiro Mifune in it, how can I not love it?

[My full review]

Witness for the Prosecution, Billy Wilder

This is probably my favorite movie ever. Along with¬†Laura,¬†this film is one of the reasons I am such a film buff today. I watched Witness for the Prosecution when I was little and it really stuck with me. It has a special place in my movie loving heart. It’s not an accurate portrayal of the British justice system, but who cares?¬†Charles Laughton¬†plays a crotchety, old lawyer. He was always a brilliant defense attorney, but now is ill and should not take difficult cases. Of course, that lasts all of 5 minutes and he ends up taking a fascinating murder trial where nothing is what it seems. The film is worth watching for Laughton alone. The rest of the stuff is just icing on the cake. (I do have to give kudos to Wilder, he got great performances out of all the actors, wrote the witty screenplay and captured it all wonderfully)

Seventh Seal, Ingmar Bergman

This is one of those “must see” films for any fan of cinema. Whenever people say things like that it just sounds like a boring, preachy, pretentious film. Seventh Seal, however, is anything but. Believe me, it will be one of the most profound and beautiful movies you will ever see. It is a story of the calamities of medieval Europe and the struggle to find peace between life and death. The visuals are so striking, you will remember them long after the credits roll. After watching it, the most interesting conversations will arise between you are your fellow viewers. You could talk about it for years and not run out of things to say. Even if it just consists of “I need to learn some chess, so I ¬†can cheat death, y’all,” you will have a great time.

Nights of Cabiria, Federico Fellini

Guilietta Masina¬†gives a brilliant performance as a na√Įve, optimistic prostitute in Fellini’s¬†Nights of Cabiria. Her life is one tragic disaster after another, but she keeps moving on. She is so adorable and goofy in the film. You know the men are conning her, but you can’t help but hope that this time around it will be okay. The story will break your heart, yet is somehow inexplicably uplifting. Also, just look at the picture I put up there. It is so beautiful. When I was picking a screen cap I was having a horrible time. There are so many great shots it was overwhelming, in a good way :P! This is the only Fellini movie I’ve seen (I know, it’s bad), and this film makes me want to watch a whole lot more!

Laura

Laura, Otto Preminger (1944) [88 minutes]

The first time I watched Preminger’s Laura, I became a film fanatic.Watching this movie with my dad as a young girl is one of my favorite memories. Immediately after it was over, we re-watched the entire thing again, this time with the commentary. It turned this already interesting film into a completely fascinating experience. I loved learning all the detail that went into making this movie. The more I heard the more I wanted to know. After this, I practically devoured every movie I could find, especially film noirs, which quickly became my favorite genre.

The level of detail and the amount of subtlety in¬†Laura is lost on a first time viewer. This is the type of film that you¬† must watch over and over and over again… But don’t be discouraged! It’s still very good the first time you watch it (what’s the point if it isn’t?).

The film starts off with Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews), investigating the murder of Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney). She was shot in the face with a double-barreled shotgun in the dead of night. He questions and investigates the myriad of characters that surrounded Laura in life. Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb) is a wealthy writer who acts as her mentor. Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price) is Laura’s bumbling, ladies man of a fianc√©e, who has been living off her aunt’s, Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson), fortune for quite some time. All these people divert and draw suspicion to themselves throughout the film. You never know who to trust. The film has some very shocking twists, yet the story is still believable. I abhor when I watch a movie and there is a twist out of nowhere that is “surprising”, but it’s pathetically nonsensical rather than being well-written (and Laura is certainly the latter).

Preminger shot this film in the “invisible camera” style, popular in Classic Hollywood era. In this style, audience doesn’t/shouldn’t¬† notice when or how the camera moves or any evidence of editing. The purpose is to fully focus the viewer on the story and have them ignore the mechanics behind it all, which tend to “destroy” the illusion. Achieving this style is not as simple as it sounds. The camera has to always be where it needs to be, largely keeping its distance from the characters allowing the audience to act like a detective who analyzes and observes the action. In addition, the camera zooms into closeup so rarely that when it does it adds weight to the moment.

This film is atmospheric. Like a dream, it is not a gritty detective story: fast and impatient. The film takes its time, showing us all the characters, their different stories and flaws. The amount of detail in the set designs is outstanding. Laura and all the suspects are very wealthy. Their homes contain a great amount of antiques, art and other expensive looking objects. Some of these things play a huge role in the narrative, almost becoming characters themselves.

The biggest factor in creating the dream-like mis-en-scene has to be the portrait of Laura [pictured above]. Located in her apartment, a large amount of the action happens around it. When I heard the commentary track, I found out some interesting things about the painting. Apparently, while they were filming the movie, they treated this object like it was another person in the frame. The way that it was lit, composed and positioned in relation to other actors was as if it where Gene Tierney herself. As the film progresses we see the detective become enamored with the murder victim. He becomes obsessed with the portrait; he gazes at the painting and it seems to look right back at him. There is one moment in the film, during one of the major twists, were the painting is very haunting and almost surreal in relation to its surroundings (sorry to be so vague! I just don’t want to spoil it, if you want more specifics ask in the comments bellow. Believe me you will love it!).

On the surface, this film appears simple. It is very short and it can seem like not a lot is happening (it takes a while to “get started”). Most of the scenes center around dialogue rather than action. The twists, however, are shocking and fun! I was just re-watching it with my brother before writing this review. He was having a great time trying to guess who the murderer was. I think you guys will like this film. It is not a big time commitment and you get much more than you would expect out of it.

[I was going to put a trailer here but all the ones I saw were either too long or full of spoilers!]

Musical Moment: Don’t worry, no one breaks out in song and dance (it would be a little out of place!). I just wanted to mention the film’s score, written by David Raskin. It’s the song playing throughout this trailer. It is so perfect for the film! Its one of those scores that elevates an already great movie to another level.

Special Features: The commentary tracks are very good. They are informative and entertaining!

Adaptations: I know that this is originally a book. I have it on my pile of books I have yet to read, which has been largely untouched throughout the school year. Have any of you who read the books think that this is a good adaptation? I’m curious to know.

How to watch: This one you can watch in English (I bet you thought I would never say that). I watched the DVD and the quality was pretty good, but not great. I looked on Amazon and I don’t see any Blu-ray options available, but we better get one very soon. Also, watch this on a stormy night, film noir always seems even better when its miserable out.

Who to watch with: There is a lot of dialogue in Laura. Make sure that you watch it attentively. Also, its pretty good for bookish kids, like I was. With all the dialogue and atmosphere it feels like a really great novel at times.

Final Verdict: Maybe I’m a little bias, I mean I really love this movie. I’ve loved it for so long and I adore re-watching it. It is smart, stylish, suspenseful, mysterious, dreamy and overall wonderful. If it can inspire this much passion in me, you really must give it a try.

Now, watch it and let me know what you think! ūüôā

Harakiri [ŚąáŤÖĻ- Seppuku]

‚Äď After all, this thing we call samurai honor is ultimately nothing but a facade.

Harakiri, Masaki Kobayashi (1962) [133 minutes]

After seeing Harakiri, I really need to reevaluate my list of favorite Japanese movies. And coming from me, that is a pretty big compliment (I have a tendency to like all things samurai). It is so beautiful, horrifying, poignant and brash. It shows the hypocrisy and corruption of the ancient Japanese samurai honor code. Kobayashi shows us that this code is just as empty as the suit of armor pictured above.

The story itself is nonlinear, and told through a set of flashbacks and flashbacks within flashbacks. As a viewer you will switch sides many times throughout the film; it keeps you on your toes, never knowing what to believe. It begins with a samurai (played by¬†Hanshiro Tsugumo) entering a large manor. His purpose is to ask if he can use their courtyard to commit harakiri. He has lost everything, he has no master and has been living in poverty. This is no way for a samurai to live; so, he says that in committing harakiri he would at least die with honor. Now, the lords and their retainers are not too sure that this man’s intention is honorable. At the time, many masterless samurai, called ronin, would go to homes claiming that they wished to commit harakiri. No one wants a person to disembowel themselves in what is the equivalent of their front lawn, so they would usually offer the samurai a job or give them some money. This household believes this man is also out for some cash. They proceed to tell him a tale, it feels like a parable, of a young ronin who tried to fool them. After hearing the tale, the samurai responds with a story of his own.

I must warn you, however. This film is not for the faint of heart. I mean, it is called Harakiri after the ritualistic suicide performed by samurai. There is less violence than one would expect, but when it appears it is very graphic and unsettling. I’m not bothered by too much blood and such, but even I was a little freaked. Unless you’re super sensitive, don’t let it stop you from watching. If you are a bit nervous about it, maybe you can get someone to cover your eyes and ears during those scenes! They give you plenty of warning.

This film is super stylish. Now, by stylish I don’t mean that it has great fashion or interior design skills (even though the costumes and sets are very nicely done). When you watch it you will see what I’m talking about. Every shot is composed perfectly.¬† It really is a beauty to watch. The trailer bellow will show you what I mean better than any words can:

Nerdy Linguistics Moment: Harakiri and Seppuku mean the exact same thing. Harakiri is just a more vulgar way of saying Seppuku. For more info about what it is click here.

How to watch: Of course, you must watch in Japanese with subtitles. I also must recommend that if you can you should watch this on a nice, big TV. This movie is very visually engaging, so it benefits from a dark room and a large TV.

Who to watch with: This movie is not for children. Teenagers and up are fine, but younger kids will not understand the majority of what is going on and will be pretty freaked out. Other than that most people would enjoy this. As I mentioned before, if you really don’t like violence this will be tough. It is very graphic.

Final Verdict: This is one of the greatest samurai movies I have ever seen. It does a wonderful job of painting a complex narrative full of twists and turns. The visuals and soundtrack are among the best I’ve seen/heard. You will be thinking about this movie long after it ends. It will be the topic of many a conversation with your fellow viewers. So, watch this movie. It may be difficult to get through at times, but it is most definitely worth it.

Now, watch it and let me know what you think! ūüôā