Posts Tagged ‘Film Forum’

I am painfully aware of, and grimly resigned to, the fact that many of those among my friends and heavily Teutonic extended family are reflexive Francophobes.  But I would urge even those who are, and especially those who are not, if they are any true lovers of the cinema, to tune in to Turner Classic Movies this month for the second installment of their excellent new Friday Night Spotlight series, starting at 8:00 PM ET.  They’re featuring the work of François Truffaut, one of my all-time favorite filmmakers, the former Cahiers du Cinéma critic who spearheaded the French Nouvelle Vague (New Wave) as the writer-director of The 400 Blows (1959) and the co-writer of the dreaded Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (1960).

TCM is showing all but two of the 21 features Truffaut directed, and if you do yourself a favor by dipping liberally into his oeuvre, you may find it more diverse than expected.  That’s the experience I had several years ago when frantically attending as much as I could of the comprehensive “Tout Truffaut” festival at New York’s Film Forum (which now won’t even deign to send me a printed schedule, and thus will no longer receive my longtime financial support, but that’s another rant).  Twenty-one features is a sadly small number for such a giant talent, and bespeaks both his criminally short life—he died at 52—and his productivity, averaging almost a film a year through Confidentially Yours (1983).

By way of encouragement, I’m taking the unusual step of enumerating TCM’s entire Truffaut schedule, and while it is beyond the scope of this post to editorialize on every film, I hope it will at least give you some idea of his impressive range.

They kick off on 7/5 with back-to-back showings of his semi-autobiographical Antoine Doinel series, in which we watch Jean-Pierre Léaud age 20 years as his alter ego.  Succeeding The 400 Blows are Antoine and Colette (a short that represents Truffaut’s contribution to the 1962 anthology film Love at Twenty), Stolen Kisses (1968, my personal favorite among his work), Bed and Board (1970), and Love on the Run (1979, both a continuation and a recap of the series, inspired by a marathon showing of the prior entries).  These are followed by the lesser-known but fascinating The Green Room (1978, inexplicably retitled The Vanishing Fiancee), a Henry James adaptation and one of several films in which Truffaut also acts, in which capacity he is best known to American audiences for Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).

On 7/12, they focus on Truffaut’s noir adaptations, most notably those of Cornell Woolrich (aka William Irish):  The Bride Wore Black (1968), featuring Jeanne Moreau and a score by Hitchcock mainstay Bernard Herrmann, and Mississippi Mermaid (1969), with Breathless star Jean-Paul Belmondo (feh) and Catherine Deneuve, which—like the steamy Banderas/Jolie remake, Original Sin (2001)—was based on Waltz into Darkness.  In between they’re showing his swan song, Confidentially Yours, a black-and-white homage to Hitchcockian romantic thrillers, based on a book by Charles Williams; it stars Fanny Ardant, who gave birth to Truffaut’s daughter Joséphine about a year before he died, and French legend Jean-Louis Trintignant (’nuff said).  Topping it off are Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me (1972), a black comedy from What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? author Henry Farrell, and his sophomore feature, Shoot the Piano Player (1960), which has celebrated signer Charles Aznavour in the title role and did double duty during last month’s Friday Night Spotlight segment devoted to noir author David Goodis.

TCM provides a mixed bag on 7/19, starting off with The Soft Skin (1964), a tale of adultery featuring Deneuve’s ill-fated elder sister, Françoise Dorléac, and two adaptations of books by Henri-Pierre Roché, both about romantic triangles:  Jules and Jim (1962), starring Oskar Werner and Moreau, and Two English Girls (1971), also with Léaud.  Next is a real rarity, A Story of Water (1961), a short co-directed with Godard, whose work—excepting Alphaville (1965)—I normally loathe; I have yet to see that or the next offering, The Woman Next Door (1981), with Gérard Depardieu and Ardant as dangerously obsessive lovers.  Finally, The Man Who Loved Women (1977) is one of my least favorite Truffaut films, a situation doubtless exacerbated by the reflected shame of the head-scratching eponymous 1983 Blake Edwards/Burt Reynolds/Julie Andrews/Kim Basinger remake.

Ending on a generally high note, 7/26 opens with Day for Night (1973), Truffaut’s love letter to filmmaking itself, in which he really stretches his range by playing a director, joined by Jacqueline Bisset and Léaud.  I’ve been slow to warm up to The Last Metro (1980), a tale of refugees and the Resistance during the Nazi occupation that stars Deneuve and Depardieu, but I loved The Wild Child (1970), the true story of a late-18th-century doctor (Truffaut) who tries to educate a boy raised by wolves.  As a perfect capstone, Isabelle Adjani—so luminous in Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu (1979)—impressively portrays the mental deterioration of Victor Hugo’s daughter in The Story of Adele H (1975)…which, oddly, is not the only film in which we see Adjani go spectacularly mad, e.g., Possession (1981).

The two films not being shown are, fortuitously, both in the Bradley Video Library:  Fahrenheit 451 (1966), his love-it-or-hate-it adaptation of the late Ray Bradbury’s classic SF novel, featuring Werner, Julie Christie in a dual role, and another Herrmann score, and Small Change (1976), a largely improvised composite character study of the children in a small French town, played by non-actors, which is better than it sounds (at least to me).  Meanwhile, inspired by this outpouring of Truffaut-Amour, I’m doing something long overdue, dusting off some of the tapes I made when TCM devoted a similarly thorough marathon to Akira Kurosawa to honor his centennial back in 2010.  In this, at least, Madame BOF is my eager co-pilot, and we’ve already traveled back to the beginnings of his directorial career with The Most Beautiful (1944) and The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail (1945); on deck at the moment are my first viewings of Sanshiro Sugata Part Two (1945) and No Regrets for Our Youth (1946), plus One Wonderful Sunday (1947).

Addendum:  Film Forum did finally send me a printed schedule.  “Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles…”

Bradley out.

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Happy Halloween!  In honor of the (apparently) late, lamented Watching Hammer, I offer this nostalgic list, written at their request just before the site ceased posting new material:

Sincerest thanks to Watching Hammer for inviting me to contribute a Top Ten.  Since Hammer’s heyday ended when I wasn’t quite old enough to drive, I haven’t had the experience other contributors did of seeing these films on the big screen, and was forced to content myself with TV, home-video and convention screenings over the years.  In my infancy as a genre-film aficionado, I thought Hammer was a bunch of pretenders who had the audacity to remake our beloved Universal classics, but our friends across the Pond had the last laugh because now, at any given moment, I’d probably rather watch a Hammer than a Universal, much as I love them both.  And the fact that my future wife and I bonded in high school by chatting about these films during chorus class didn’t hurt.

As the guy who had a hard time getting his list of favorite films on his own blog down to 100, I found it difficult to limit myself to ten, and must give an honorable mention to The Phantom of the Opera before beginning.  So, rather than subject myself to further agony, I am listing them in chronological order.  I make no apologies for including both of the films written by the object of my obsession, Richard Matheson, because I genuinely believe they were two of Hammer’s best, although this is really a list of favorites rather than those I would rank as “best” by some mythical objective standard.  Here goes…

The Quatermass Experiment:  Given my focus on writers, it’s no surprise that I think Nigel Kneale was one of the best things ever to happen to Hammer.  He might not have agreed at the time, since he was unhappy with both the casting of Brian Donlevy in the lead and the adaptation (by Richard Landau and director Val Guest) of his seminal BBC serial, but since some chapters of the TV version are lost, we’ll never be able to compare them in their entirety.  Be that as it may, Quatermass’s struggle to learn what happened to the three-man crew of his first space rocket is eerie and suspenseful from the start, as he learns that contact with an alien life-form has made one astronaut (Richard Wordsworth) absorb the others and begin mutating.  It was Hammer’s first big success, and rightly so.

Quatermass 2:  Many years ago, when New York’s outstanding Film Forum repertory cinema was still in its old Watts Street location, I arranged with my friend Greg Cox (now Matheson’s editor at Tor and a successful author of franchise fiction) to attend a screening of the Quatermass trilogy.  When I told him we might want to arrive early, he laughed and said, “Matthew, these are old British SF films from the ’50s and ’60s; we won’t have any trouble getting in.”  Well, the line was literally around the block, but we did get in.  Due to the vagaries of television programming, I think this was the first time I’d seen the original since childhood—perhaps the first in its entirety—and the first time ever for the sequel, which really wowed me.  Donlevy and Guest were back (the latter sharing script credit with Kneale this time), as Quatermass copes with a government conspiracy that turns out to represent an alien invasion.  The scene of the politician who has fallen into a vat of toxic liquid is a particular standout in this gripping and inventive thriller.

The Curse of Frankenstein:  With its unprecedented full-color gore and sumptuous period production values, this set the template for Hammer’s most famous films and established the “dream team” of their early days, including director Terence Fisher, screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, composer James Bernard, and up-and-coming genre superstars Peter Cushing (as Baron Frankenstein) and Christopher Lee (as the Creature).  Cushing’s Baron is a fascinating character, and Hammer wisely built the ensuing series around him rather than the Creature, who gets dissolved in a vat of acid at the end.  Hazel Court is the delectable cherry on top as Elizabeth, and I love Cushing’s chutzpah as he yells, “Look out, Professor!”…while pushing the poor old guy—whose brain he needs—off a balcony, in order to throw anyone within earshot off the scent.

The Hound of the Baskervilles:  In all fairness, I haven’t seen a number of the screen incarnations of Sherlock Holmes, but of those I have, I would rank Peter Cushing as second only to Basil Rathbone in the role.  In most cases, Rathbone easily surpassed his material, much of which was not derived from Conan Doyle, but here, the above dream team (minus Sangster) provided a top-notch vehicle, complete with the always-welcome Andre Morell as an unusually intelligent Watson.  Although relegated to the role of the imperiled Baskerville heir, Lee adds considerable heft, and Cushing is a delight as he rips into lines like, “There are many strange things to be found upon the moor—like this, for instance!”  (Cue the loud “Thwock!” as he slams the ceremonial dagger into the table.)

Fanatic:  One might be forgiven for mistaking this as another of Hammer’s post-Psycho psycho-thrillers, written by Sangster and bearing similar one-word titles:  Paranoiac, Maniac, Nightmare, Hysteria.  But as much as I love Sangster’s seminal scripts for Hammer in the ’50s, I think Matheson far surpasses him in this adaptation of Anne Blaisdell’s Nightmare (whose title presumably had to be changed to differentiate it from the Sangster film).  Stefanie Powers is lovely and believable as the American girl imprisoned by her late former fiancé’s mother, equally well played by Tallulah Bankhead, and her growing realization that her captor is a dangerous religious fanatic rather than a harmless eccentric gives the film a satisfying dramatic arc.  Throw in the young Donald Sutherland as a mentally challenged servant, and you’re good to go.

Dracula—Prince of Darkness:  This is my wife’s favorite movie, but that’s not the only reason I’m including it.  I’m sure many would consider it sacrilege to give this the nod over what we Yanks think of as Horror of Dracula, especially since Lee’s distaste for the script (Distaste the Script of Dracula?) led him to omit his dialogue.  Still, I’ve always preferred Prince; maybe I never got over the fact that Sangster had Harker get turned into a vampire, just as Dan Curtis did in the Jack Palance television version—a plot point, I might add, that is not found in Matheson’s published teleplay.  But I digress.  Andrew Keir pinch-hits beautifully for Van Helsing as rifle-toting Father Sandor, and rich entertainment is provided by the interplay among the ill-fated Kent family, with Francis Matthews and Suzan Farmer amusingly cast as Charles and Diana and the ever-popular Barbara Shelley as the prim Helen, whose transformation into a sensuous vampire is most extraordinary.

Quatermass and the Pit:  Feel free to criticize me for devoting almost a third of my list to ol’ Bernie, but remember, I could have included Kneale’s The Abominable Snowman, as well.  Reuniting Keir (as Quatermass) and Shelley, this is truly a thinking man’s SF film, as Quatermass discovers a five-million-year-old Martian spacecraft that is buried beneath London and holds surprising secrets about mankind’s evolution.  With Roy Ward Baker [see “A Career to Remember”] succeeding Guest, and Kneale bearing sole script credit, it once again showed the triumph of good writing over pathetic special effects—in this case, those finger-puppet Martians.

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave:  Yeah, we Bradleys love us our vampires (Captain Kronos—Vampire Hunter almost made the list as well), and I’ve always had a big soft spot for this follow-up to Prince, an affection that not merely the presence of Veronica Carlson can explain.  The redoubtable Rupert Davies as the monsignor has a lot to do with it, as does the spectacular climax, with Dracula knocked over his own battlements and impaled on a giant cross.  One of Fisher’s periodic hospitalizations forced Freddie Francis to direct this, but although he told me when I interviewed him that he was more interested in the young lovers than in Dracula, I think that once again, the story of the non-nosferatu characters is strong enough to keep us going in between visits from Lee.

The Devil Rides Out:  A pinnacle for all concerned.  Dennis Wheatley justifiably praised Matheson for his exciting adaptation of Wheatley’s somewhat verbose novel, and Lee has a rare heroic (not to mention sizeable) role as the Duc de Richleau.  Charles Gray is also outstanding as the Satanist villain, Mocata, and although the usual complaints are leveled at the skimpy special effects, see Quatermass and the Pit for my response to that.  With the usual superior contributions from Fisher and James Bernard, this is horror at its fast-paced, non-jokey and intelligent finest.  Lee and others have argued that it is ripe for a remake, but since you know it would just turn into another CGI-fest, I’m not sure I agree.

The Vampire Lovers:  I’d be lying if I said that naked women in general, a naked Ingrid Pitt in particular, and lesbian vampires didn’t influence this choice.  But, in my defense, look at the record:  you’ve got Cushing as the devoted and devastated father, General von Spielsdorf.  You’ve Jon Finch, soon to be brilliant in Roman Polanski’s Macbeth and Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy, in a supporting role.  And, perhaps most of all, you’ve got what may be the most faithful adaptation of J. Sheridan LeFanu’s oft-filmed “Carmilla,” with Baker at the helm.  Threadbare production values be damned, this is a good movie.

BOF Addendum:  Now I’ll sit back and wait for Drax to complain (albeit with love) about the absence of visuals.  I keep telling him I am the Word-Man.  Word-Man.  WORD-MAN!  BWUHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

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Hel Is Other People

On Saturday, the wife and I made the obligatory trip to Manhattan’s Film Forum to see the latest restoration of Fritz Lang’s silent SF classic Metropolis, now held over through May 27. For those of you who tuned in late, the film was cut substantially after its 1927 premiere in Berlin, and much of the missing footage was thought lost, until it began turning up in various locations; previous restorations included Giorgio Moroder’s controversial 1984 version and a major reconstruction in 2002. Then, in 2008, a 16mm print was found in Buenos Aires containing about half an hour of even more footage, bringing the film much closer to Lang’s original vision…although not, as Film Forum’s marquee erroneously and annoyingly calls it, “complete.”

There was only so much to be done with the worn footage that had reportedly been in private collections since 1928, so it’s easy to distinguish it, but that’s actually a blessing for those of us who have seen the film umpteen times and wanted to be able to spot the “new” shots immediately. Further muddying our mental waters is the fact that missing scenes were previously represented by stills and/or summaries (as are a few in this version that continue to elude historians), so even if you hadn’t actually seen a missing sequence, you sorta felt like you had anyway. Just for the sake of brevity, I’m going to assume that BOF readers are already familiar with some version of the story, and if not, well, I suggest you get your ass down to Film Forum for a remedial viewing.

Certain additions offer a welcome look at daily life in Metropolis that we’ve never really had, e.g., a shot of Joh Fredersen’s henchman, the Thin Man (Fritz Rasp), reading—or at least hiding behind—a copy of the Metropolis Chronicle, while others shed additional light on two complex sets of relationships. The first is between Fredersen (Alfred Abel), the master of Metropolis, and one-handed inventor C.A. Rotwang (played by Lang’s Dr. Mabuse, Rudolph Klein-Rogge), whose wife Hel left him for Fredersen and died after giving birth to the latter’s privileged but idealistic son, Freder (Gustav Frölich). The second involves Josaphat (Theodore Loos, strongly resembling Lang himself), who throws in with Freder after being dismissed for keeping Fredersen insufficiently informed about unrest among the workers, and Georgy, aka 11811 (Erwin Biswanger), the worker with whom Freder trades identities.

Freed from his virtual slavery, 11811 is told to wait for Freder at Josaphat’s apartment, but now we actually see him give in to the temptations offered by the shady nightclub Yoshiwara, where the false Maria (Brigitte Helm)—originally created in Hel’s image—later does her, uh, stimulating dance. While we’re on the subject, I understand that acting styles differed in the silent era, but the amount of breast-clutching and wild gesticulation on display in Metropolis is quite astounding, and I wasn’t the only one having an affectionate laugh at the reaction to said dance by Yoshiwara’s patrons, who seem to be almost frothing at the mouth, literally coming to blows over her. In any event, when 11811 is killed in the catacombs by a knife wound intended for Freder, his dying regret over his previous failing gives the scene an extra and poignant resonance.

Some of the new shots simply reinforce or augment existing footage, so their absence was hardly crippling in previous versions, but others considerably ratchet up the tension in ways that make the film more effective. For example, when Freder, Josaphat, and the real Maria (also Helm) are rescuing the children of the workers from their rapidly flooding underground city, they reach the top of the endless stairs, only to be met by a locked gate that takes them several nail-biting minutes to force open. Sure, we know they’re going to make it, but watching the extremely athletic Frölich maneuver around the children to reach the gate is impressive, as are some additional shots of water cascading down from collapsing ceilings that I can’t imagine anyone cutting for length.

Watching Metropolis 4.0, I was struck by several things, one of which is the number of scenes in the climax reminiscent of other films that may have influenced or been influenced by Lang. Shots of Maria being chased through the streets by a mob, and of Freder battling Rotwang on the parapets of what looked like a cathedral (I don’t remember if it was specifically identified in the film), evoked similar ones from, respectively, the Lon Chaney classics The Phantom of the Opera (1925) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923). Likewise, when Rotwang carried Maria over the rooftops, it seemed to anticipate the scene of the heroine being carried off by an ape in Robert Florey’s Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932).

Most of all, and not for the first time, I marveled at the number of seemingly flawed plans afoot, like Fredersen’s desire to foment an uprising among the workers, apparently for the sole purpose of being able to crush it with an iron hand. At the risk of sounding naïve, did he really think that encouraging better relations between them and management—as Maria sought to do, with the help of a mediator who turned out to be his own son—was a bad idea, and whom did he think was going to run the machines afterward? Similarly, once he learns from eavesdropping on Rotwang (in one of the few scenes yet to turn up) that the inventor has vengefully programmed the false Maria to make the workers destroy the city, why does Fredersen still order Grot (Heinrich George), the guardian of the Heart Machine, to admit them and allow them to run amok?

All of this makes the presumably visionary “master of Metropolis” seem like a bit of a boob, but no more so than the workers, who wreak havoc despite being warned by Grot that doing so will flood the city where their children are. Yet these are quibbles in a work whose spectacular visuals and filmmaking virtuosity remain unmatched after almost a century. And as much as I champion Moroder’s hotly contested pop score, which I think was composed with great care for the visuals and story it accompanied, I can find no fault with Gottfried Huppertz’s original, used both here and in the 2002 restoration.

I had the good fortune at the screening to bump into producer Richard Gordon, who at 84 has both lived and made genre-film history, and Tom Weaver, who has so expertly chronicled it in his fine articles and books, most notably his many interview collections for McFarland. Gordon was behind such films as The Haunted Strangler, Corridors of Blood—both with Boris Karloff—and Fiend without a Face (all 1958), and his brother Alex was a key figure in the early days of AIP. We chatted a bit about screenwriter and novelist George Baxt, whom I befriended in his final years, and Gordon related how George never forgave him for allowing director Jim O’Connolly to rewrite his script for Tower of Evil (1972), a sad story Baxt had touched on when I interviewed him for Filmfax in the ’90s.

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On the Fritz

Okay, I will leave the explication to the professionals, but I do feel obliged as a kind of public-service announcement (and no, I don’t get kickbacks!) to point out that the restoration du jour of Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent classic Metropolis is coming to Manhattan’s Film Forum May 7-20. I say “du jour” because this is now the third restoration since my college days, and I don’t just mean a gussied-up negative; we’re talking boatloads of “new” footage found in Argentina (hmm…), the whole nine yards. It is, naturlich, a mixed blessing for those of us who ponied up to buy the previous restoration on DVD, but when the opportunity presents itself to own a more definitive version of a—some might say the—masterpiece of silent film, one does try to accentuate the positive.

Of course, some of us WOULD have bought the 1984 Giorgio Moroder restoration on a legitimate DVD, were such a thing ever made available, which I don’t believe it has. For those of you unfamiliar with that (hardly surprising, in light of its veritable suppression), pop-music magnate Moroder added not only rediscovered material but also tinting—common in silent films—and a contemporary score featuring artists such as Adam Ant, Pat Benatar, Queen’s Freddy Mercury, Billy Squier, and Bonnie Tyler. Inevitably, many purists howled, but we proponents loved the score, commending Moroder for trying to win the film a new audience as well as restoring it, and although we would never say his version should supplant any others, we feel it should be available for those who want it.

The soapbox is now closed. See details from Film Forum below. Bradley out.


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The Day of the Hunter

Mother’s Day came early this year, at least in the BOF branch of the Bradley clan, when I took Wednesday off to treat Mom to a showing of Akira Kurosawa’s Dersu Uzala (1975), brought briefly back to Manhattan’s Film Forum by popular demand after its inclusion in their centennial retrospective (see “Kurosawa’s Hundred (Years) et al.”). I told my colleagues, “I’m taking her to a long, slow, sad, Russo-Japanese film about two guys in Siberia…and she’s gonna love it!” I wasn’t kidding: it had been twenty-five years, minimum, since I’d seen the film in college, and my only crystal-clear recollection was that it had her name written all over it.

Something of an anomaly in Kurosawa’s career, it came during a difficult time following Red Beard (1965), his final collaboration with Toshiro Mifune, which marked the end of his classic period. Sometimes due to poor box-office and/or elusive funding, a five-year gap elapsed before each of his next five films:  Dodes’ka-Den (1970), Dersu, Kagemusha (1980)—arguably his post-Mifune masterpiece, financed in part by well-heeled admirers Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas—Ran (1985), and Dreams (1990). An abortive attempt to film his script Runaway Train (shot in 1985 by Andrei Konchalovsky), the fiasco of his involvement with Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970), and the commercial failure of Dodes’ka-Den had led Kurosawa to attempt suicide, feeling that his creative powers had ebbed, but he survived and accepted an offer from Soviet studio Mosfilm to make this adaptation of Captain Vladimir Arsenyev’s eponymous memoir.

An Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Language Film, Dersu can be a bit disorienting for those more accustomed to the likes of Seven Samurai (1954), right from the first three words to appear onscreen: “Roger Corman Presents.” While laughing out loud, I remembered that exploitation-movie king Corman burnished his image by acquiring U.S. distribution rights for his New World Pictures to this, Bergman’s Cries and Whispers (1972) and Autumn Sonata (1978), and Truffaut’s The Story of Adele H. (1975) and The Green Room (1978), neatly encompassing all three of my favorite foreign-language art-house directors. It’s also a little jarring to see a Kurosawa film in color (only his second, after Dodes’ka-Den), and featuring a minimal non-Japanese cast speaking Russian, complete with those big-ass ’70s subtitles, but two minutes in, Mom leaned over and whispered, “I like it already!”

The story opens in 1910 as military surveyor Arsenyev (Yuri Solomin) seeks the unmarked grave of his friend, Goldi tribal hunter Dersu (Maksim Munzuk), in an area aptly being uprooted for new development. It then flashes back to 1902 as Dersu first meets Arsenyev, whom he charmingly refers to only as “Captain,” and agrees to be his guide through the remote Sikhote-Alin region of Siberia. Blowing away Arsenyev’s amused (and sometimes bemused) soldiers with his woodcraft, Dersu is like a superannuated Siberian Tarzan, and when the two men become separated from the rest of their party, the hunter saves Arsenyev from freezing to death on the desolate tundra by erecting a grass hut around his tripod as night falls and a blizzard looms.

The first half includes a poignant encounter with an elderly Chinese hermit (Mom’s major Kleenex action kicked in here), and ends with Dersu being invited to the departing Arsenyev’s home in Khabarovsk, but declining in favor of profitable sable-trapping. We then flash forward to their reunion in 1907 during Arsenyev’s next topographic expedition, and endure another nail-biter as Dersu is swept toward roiling rapids on a raft, narrowly rescued with a tree chopped down by the Russians. An incident with a Siberian tiger convinces Dersu that he has angered the spirit of the forest (known, in a moment of hilarity for A.A. Milne fans, as Kanga), which along with his failing eyesight persuades him to accept Arseneyev’s hospitality, but he is unsurprisingly miserable in the city, and his decision to return to the forest leads indirectly to his death.

Mom was captivated by Dersu’s humor, wisdom, simple humanity, and ultimate plight; by the respect and unselfish friendship between the two men; and by Kurosawa’s spectacular widesecreen vistas of the rugged Siberian countryside in various seasons. In particular, the wintertime shots of Arsenyev and Dersu, dwarfed at sunset by the featureless wasteland that threatens their lives, command deep respect for filmmakers who spent two years on location in Siberia without CGI at their disposal. After the obligatory sushi dinner (one could argue that Russian food would have been more appropriate, but the only place I know is the astronomical Russian Tea Room, and in any event the siren song of what Dad used to call “dead fish” is too strong in the blood), we returned home, and she uttered the magic words: “That was a perfect day.”

I love you, Mom.

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As you can see, I have finally been able to devote some time to the bells and whistles (e.g., the “About” and “Publications” pages), so you’ll have to content yourself with those while I work on my next “real” post.  A point of possible interest is the fact that the collage behind me is not a product of PhotoShop, but an actual collage I created on the wall of my workstation at the now-defunct GoodTimes Entertainment, where the photos were taken.  And yes, that is the benevolent presence of Richard Matheson looming to the right.  My very special thanks to the anonymous benefactor who synthesized the above image.

Meanwhile, a correction:  as I near the end of series 2, I realize that Reggie Perrin’s shop (see “Grot Expectations”), while it might reasonably have been expected to fail, was never intended to fail.  My apologies.

Finally, in the Life’s Little Ironies Department, it seems that Film Forum is not alone in celebrating a certain filmmaker’s 100th (see “Kurosawa Centennial”).  Fresh from knocking my socks off with an incredibly inclusive Bogart retrospective in December, TCM has scheduled a line-up nearly identical to Film Forum’s Akira Kurosawa festival, airing every Tuesday in March (including a 24-hour birthday marathon on the 23rd).  It does not, however, include The Quiet Duel…which is some consolation after all of the time and money I just spent trekking into Manhattan on three successive Sundays to see that and three of the same rarities now upcoming on TCM.  Once again, there being only so many hours in the day, I’ll be focusing not on the obvious films like Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, and Yojimbo, but on some of the lesser-known ones that I’ve seen only once or not at all.  Can’t wait.

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Kurosawa Centennial

I don’t expect to be writing a lot of time-sensitive posts, but here’s one.  Those who are at all able to do so should immediately hie themselves to Manhattan’s Film Forum, now celebrating the centennial of Japanese writer-director Akira Kurosawa with an admirably inclusive six-week retrospective (http://www.filmforum.org/films/kurosawa.html).  Some history is in order:  my eleven years as a full-time book publicist culminated in a stint (1990-96) at the prestigious Penguin USA, where I had the honor of working with, among many other Viking authors, a guy named Stephen King.  My Penguin pals and I—friends to this day—then had the supreme luxury of being located a single block from Film Forum, one of the all-time great repertory and art-house cinemas, which back in the day had an annual festival of horror, science fiction and fantasy films, not coincidentally my area of special expertise.  Since I now work in my home state of Connecticut, it’s tougher to get there, but I’ll make the pilgrimage for something special…like Kurosawa, part of my “holy trinity” of foreign-language directors (along with Ingmar Bergman and François Truffaut), each of whose work I am endeavoring to see in its entirety.

Like many people, I came to Kurosawa through his 1954 epic Seven Samurai (still my favorite among all his works), to which I was drawn in turn by its Westernin every senseremake, John Sturges’s The Magnificent Seven (1960).  In fact, one of the reasons Kurosawa fascinates me is the frequency with which his stuff has been reworked by filmmakers from other cultures, not least of them George Lucas, who has acknowledged The Hidden Fortress (1958) as a major influence on Star Wars (1977).  Kurosawa’s samurai classic Yojimbo (1961), which owes more than a little to Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest, was remade as Sergio Leone’s seminal spaghetti Western, A Fistful of Dollars (1964), and that same year his breakthrough hit Rashomon (1950), whose title has become a household word, was remade by Bradley-fave Martin Ritt as another Western, The Outrage.  Kurosawa himself has adapted films from a fascinating range of works by Dostoyevsky (The Idiot, 1951), Shakespeare (Throne of Blood [1957], from Macbeth, and Ran [1985], from King Lear), Maxim Gorky (The Lower Depths, 1957), and even one of Ed McBain’s excellent 87th Precinct novels, King’s Ransom, filmed as High and Low (1963).  On top of that, Kurosawa worked extensively during what I consider his classic period (i.e., through Red Beard in 1965, although many fine films followed) with two of Japan’s greatest film actors, Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura, often at the same time.

The past two Sundays, I have trekked into New York to see The Idiot with my daughter and a double-bill of The Quiet Duel (1949) and Scandal (1950) with my wife.  Donald Richie, the great expert on Japanese cinema in general and Kurosawa in particular, didn’t seem to think too much of those early efforts, which may help to explain why they had eluded me up until now, but I enjoyed all of them.  Today, they are showing Kurosawa’s late masterpiece, the somber epic Kagemusha (1980), and there’s still time to see the likes of Rashomon, Seven Samurai, Red Beard, Yojimbo (paired with its 1962 sequel, Sanjuro), and Ran, which will be showing for two weeks in a new 35mm print starting on February 5.  Madame B and I plan to return this Sunday to see The Lower Depths.  Hope you can join us!

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