1980s List Discussion and Suggestions (Lists Project Vol. 2)

An ongoing survey of the Criterion Forum membership to create lists of the best films of each decade and genre.
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foggy eyes
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#110 Post by foggy eyes » Sun Jun 15, 2008 6:41 pm

zedz wrote:Sink or Swim
Sold! I've been thinking about checking out Friedrich for a while, but this has completely won me over. Thanks for the fascinating analysis - although it might be worth noting that her website lists the date of the film as 1990.

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zedz
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#111 Post by zedz » Sun Jun 15, 2008 8:46 pm

foggy eyes wrote:
zedz wrote:Sink or Swim
Sold! I've been thinking about checking out Friedrich for a while, but this has completely won me over. Thanks for the fascinating analysis - although it might be worth noting that her website lists the date of the film as 1990.
Oops! IMDB agrees. I'm pretty sure it was on my previous 1980s list, so I just pottered on oblivious. Sink or Swim is probably top of the heap, but Friedrich's other films are well worth seeking out, and the (boxless) 'box set' is a great purchase. If you're picking and choosing, try to see Rules of the Road as well (on the Damned If You Don't disc).

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sidehacker
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#112 Post by sidehacker » Sun Jun 15, 2008 8:50 pm

Merry-Go-Round = best Rivette film! More on this later...

...later has come and here is the more. Warning: it may not make sense, but that pretty much fits the movie.

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Mr Sheldrake
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#113 Post by Mr Sheldrake » Tue Jun 17, 2008 8:37 pm

In the 80s Paul Mazursky tackled loose remakes of Truffaut, Renoir and the Bard himself along with an adaptation of a Singer short story. I was unable to see Willie and Phil but remember it as a bit of a mess, plot-wise.

Tempest begins a four film collaboration with screenwriter Leon Capetanos whose other film credits are minimal. These films all concern a dislocation of environment hopefully to some comic effect. Philip (John Cassavettes) exemplifies the male mid-life crisis, successful, rich, but, you know, unhappy. On a deserted Greek island with a luscious Susan Sarandon climbing all over him he’d rather recite baseball statistics than break his curious vow of celibacy. He’s able to conjure up storms too. In one of Mazursky’s narrative blunders Philip abruptly sacrifices a cute little goat to celebrate the rescue of the shipwrecked survivors of one of these conjured up storms meant to harm them. Everyone is horrified by the bloody act but in the next scene a perfunctory Shakespearean family reconciliation ensues with nary a mention of Phillip’s bad manners. This sequence is somewhat reminiscent of Blumes rape of his ex-wife in Blume In Love, a heinous act by today’s standards (then too) but rewarded by a baby, re-marriage and a trip to Venice. Still, I loved the scenery in Tempest, Molly Ringwald skinnydipping, Raul Julia’s dance with the goats and some funky coordinated surf dancing by Molly and Susan. Maybe Mazursky should have tried an out and out musical. Close your ears during Jackie Gayle’s horrendous ethnic and racial jokes.

Moscow On The Hudson presents a thankfully restrained but very hairy Robin Williams as a defector from Russia who commits the deed in Bloomingdales. The Bloomingdale security guards are funnier than Williams, and the romance sub-plot lays an egg, surprisingly because one of Mazurskys’ strengths is his depiction of male/female love/hate. In Moon Over Parador Richard Dreyfuss plays a struggling actor who gets to play the part of a lifetime impersonating a real-life dictator of a South American country who has inconveniently passed on. Raul Julia, again, very funny, Jonathan Winters as a retiree/CIA agent even funnier, and Mazursky himself, in drag, as the dictators mother. There might have been a real good movie here about the confusion of identity, indeed Mazursky seems at times to want to do just that, especially in the scenes with Sonia Braga as the Eva Peron like mistress. Mazursky gets serious (mostly) in Enemies A Love Story. Ron Silver is very good in the lead, but like the even better (ill-fated) Lenny Baker in Next Stop Greenwich Village, he’s not a star, never became a star, you wonder what he’s doing here. Which may point out that Mazursky needed the charisma of stars to put over his conceits especially when they flounder in sentimentality. I could have used subtitles to understand the heavily accented dialogue. Lena Olins’s performance was half lost to me but it looked like a good one. A Polish actress named Malgorzata Zajaczkowska is hysterically funny playing Silver’s second wife in a scene in which she discovers the ghost of his presumed dead first wife (Anjelica Huston) , to whom she had been a servant girl in the old country, standing in her doorway. The ending is unsatisfying but this a heartfelt, estimable movie.

Down And Out in Beverly Hills plays to most of Mazursky’s strengths and few of his weaknesses. Here we do have a charismatic star, Nick Nolte, as a modern Boudou upending a highly satirizable family of neurotics, discontents, and searchers, with a lot of money on the side. That this Boudou ultimately accepts conventionality when he tries to hit the road back to freedom still doesn’t detract from much of the pure fun that preceeded. Bette Midler’s Orgasm for the Ages may be the funniest moment in the Mazursky canon of laughter. For all his faults, Mazursky cares deeply for his characters and deserves comparison to Renoir. Although found wanting in such a comparison, you can always anticipate terrific performances, and I thought all but Moscow were very entertaining movies(no mean feat), containing some great comedy, and are probably much better than I described them.

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backstreetsbackalright
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#114 Post by backstreetsbackalright » Wed Jun 18, 2008 3:50 am

Allow me to heartily agree on Sink or Swim. Though less formally complex than Sink,The Ties That Bind is still worth a look or the 80s list, and is excellent preparation for Sink, since it handles maternal bonds where Sink deals with Friedrich's relationship with her father. (I haven't managed to catch Rules of the Road yet).

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zedz
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#115 Post by zedz » Wed Jun 18, 2008 3:24 pm

backstreetsbackalright wrote:Allow me to heartily agree on Sink or Swim. Though less formally complex than Sink,The Ties That Bind is still worth a look or the 80s list, and is excellent preparation for Sink, since it handles maternal bonds where Sink deals with Friedrich's relationship with her father. (I haven't managed to catch Rules of the Road yet).
In many respects, Friedrich's mother is a more interesting and complicated character than her father, and Ties is much more direct encounter with her than Sink is with him (he doesn't really 'appear' on the screen or soundtrack). It's easily my first choice out of Friedrich's 80s work, though I ought to give the spooky early shorts another spin. Gently Down the Stream is great (if that's not a 70s film).

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Gregory
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#116 Post by Gregory » Thu Jun 19, 2008 8:32 pm

I’d like to make a deal similar to the one for They All Laughed, if I may. The film I want to encourage people to watch is Bille August’s film Zappa, which is included as a second disc with HVE’s release of Twist and Shout. Anyone who agrees to watch Zappa can give me a film to watch, from any decade, and -- unless it’s extremely expensive to obtain and not available from any of my university libraries – I’ll watch it. Anyone can PM me about this, not just those planning to submit a list for the project.
Technically, I’m not asking people to watch both, but once people watch Zappa, I think (hope) they’ll want to see the follow-up, Twist and Shout, as well. They’re both outstanding. I’m not exactly sure why they put Zappa as the second film on the set – maybe they were worried people would assume the DVD had anything to do with Frank Zappa if "Zappa" were the main title.

I was floored by these films when I first saw them about three years ago. I have wanted to try to start a discussion about them, but I’m not sure I can do them justice in writing, and part of their significance to me is very personal.
The setting is Denmark, around 1959 in Zappa and 1963 for the second film. They’re both coming-of-age stories, and while they both contain “bittersweet” qualities, of the two Zappa is the more harrowing portrayal of growing up. It has moments of tenderness in the lives of its 13-year-old characters that are beautifully realized but, crucially, the director doesn’t shy away from depictions of intimidation and coercion. It is pretty far from being an excessively brutal or difficult film, but it looks deeply and directly at the things people often do to each other as they struggle for maturity or acceptance.

I find that in nearly all coming-of-age films that are bittersweet, the sweet serves to sugar-coat the bitter. It overwhelms the sorrow and regret, making them less troubling, and even less apparent, to the viewer. This is the nostalgic quality that to many viewers is part of their appeal. I'm not immune to this, and I know that’s often how memory works, but I don’t think it’s true to experience, so I do appreciate films that avoid this tendency. Au Revoir Les Enfants would be another good example of a film that succeeds in this way, which is perhaps more predictable given the setting of Nazi occupation.

In Twist and Shout, Bjorn, the main character from Zappa, is about 17. The mood is lighter in this film but it’s just as poignant and complex. One of the things that impressed me about the two films was how well they fit together and how natural the change in tone felt.
Last edited by Gregory on Thu Dec 11, 2008 2:43 am, edited 4 times in total.

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tavernier
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#117 Post by tavernier » Thu Jun 19, 2008 8:36 pm

Zappa was virtually unknown, even less so than Twist & Shout, which is why it was a mere "extra."

And yes, they are both wonderful films -- much better than They All Laughed (which isn't hard, I know).

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Gregory
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#118 Post by Gregory » Thu Jun 19, 2008 11:29 pm

That makes sense. It's a little curious that now Zappa has more votes on IMDB than Twist and Shout, although neither has a huge amount. I've read Zappa referred to in numerous places as a "prequel," but (assuming he wrote them in the order that he made the films) it doesn't fit the definition of what a prequel is.

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zedz
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#119 Post by zedz » Sun Jun 22, 2008 10:40 pm

Two more:

Gang of Four

The last (and first) time I saw this film, it was “the latest Rivette”, so my recollections of it were, to say the least, rather faint. I remembered its wonderful ensemble atmosphere, a couple of sharp, gloriously incongruous suspense sequences, and a general air of mystery (something all my favourite Rivettes have).

That’s all present and correct, but I was pleased to see the whole film has held up superbly, even matured like a fine wine.

It’s beautifully structured around a series of theme-and-variations scenes (the rehearsals with Constance; the girls in twos, threes or fours back at the house; individual encounters with the mystery man). Even the brief transition scenes are reduced to variations on a theme (the train ride out to the suburbs). The underlying plot edges along incrementally through the accrual of these variations (one of the plot points, for example, is the way in which the different encounters with Henri / Thomas / whatsisname are variations). There are also a handful of setpieces that stand on their own, such as the mock trial Anna, Claude and Joyce stage for Lucia, or Lucia’s encounter with the ‘ghost’ (it’s a wonderfully Rivettian touch that we are required to swallow the existence of a ghost that is otherwise completely tangential to the story), and a couple of episodes evolve into great suspense sequences (or parodies of suspense sequences). Anna’s night ride with Henri is a superbly modulated encounter in which the basis of the situation constantly shifts, becoming more and more unnerving, but failing to resolve itself conventionally. The same goes for the great scene near the end involving a drugged glass of whiskey. I couldn’t remember many details of the film from my initial viewing, but this scene was still blow-for-blow vivid, a Hitchcock riff in which we and the camera follow the glass around the room as the tension builds. Again, Rivette doesn’t give us the conventional payoff, but we do get a pretty dramatic climax out of it.

The ensemble work is really fantastic, the women’s relationships on a much more naturalistic footing than Celine et Julie or L’Amour par terre, and this is where the life is breathed into the film. The other key elements are either more formal (the rehearsals, though these are nevertheless fascinating, and enlivened by Bulle Ogier at her best) or more formulaic (the deeply buried thriller plot – though its surface manifestations are rather idiosyncratic). Their intersection is surprising and satisfying, and Rivette preserves a powerful air of mystery through keeping motivations and resolutions obscure (why does Lucia not turn the key over to Cecile? What is the ultimate fate of Benoit Regent’s character? Or Bulle Ogier’s?) which helps keep this film much more (or much less) than the simple thriller it could have devolved into.

I’ve often found Rivette’s style difficult to define, but very distinctive once you’re in its midst. David Ehrenstein’s evocation of Hawksian mise-en-scene was very useful for pinning it down, and this film is a great example of how he frames groups of people and favours medium-long shots. The blocking is fluid and the camera will often swivel and pivot to explore the ensemble, who will be dispersed throughout the space and move (or become reframed) to form different dynamic units. In many scenes, the camera operates on the same terms as the characters (without being anything so straightforward as subjective), inhabiting and ‘acting’ in the same physical space.

A Summer at Grandpa’s

Way back when, this was the first Hou Hsiao-hsien film I saw, and it’s still one of my favourites.

His elliptical storytelling style is front and centre here, with deft use of off-screen space and time, though the narrative context (a child’s eye view of this new community) provides a kind of ‘alibi’ for this approach. The events are beautifully, gently observed, and this film gives a better account of the feel of ‘empty time’ to a child than almost any other. I say ‘almost’ because one of the champions in this regard (and likely contender for my 80s list) is Miyazaki’s My Neighbour Totoro. There are so many similarities between these two films that it’s hard to believe Miyazaki was not familiar with Hou’s film. The basic premise (mother in hospital with vague illness: children sent to stay in the country), its landscapes and many of its sequences (younger child befriended by curious, speechless local inhabitant; child lost in the fields and being searched for) are shared. There are even some tenuous visual connections: Tung-tung being followed by his remote controlled car resembles the tootling ‘baby totoros’. Of course, Miyazaki takes these ideas in completely different, magnificent directions, but Hou’s film has much the same charm, and there are scenes, like the sequence in which the kids slide in socks back and forth on polished floors, only to be met with their Grandpa’s silent dismay, that actually look as if Hou cribbed them from Ghibli.

Hou’s film takes in – obliquely – much darker material, however, including an armed robbery, a near fatal accident, unplanned pregnancies, possible rape and eugenics. Looking back, it’s quite amazing how much material Hou’s eliiptical style can fit into an hour and a half while still maintaining an air of unperturbable calm. Ozu is another reference point – this may be Hou’s most Ozu-esque work (it’s a great train film – they’re all through it, fulfilling a multitude of functions), and his handling of the groups of kids recalls I Was Born, But. . . and Good Morning. In terms of technique, Hou gets better and better, but this film remains a major achievement and personal favourite.

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flyonthewall2983
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#120 Post by flyonthewall2983 » Sun Jun 22, 2008 11:51 pm

I gotta show some love for Planes, Trains & Automobiles. John Hughes at his absolute peak. Two comedic geniuses making the best use of their enormous talents and their abilities as film actors to tell a pretty classic story of two men lost finding their way home (one literally and one figuratively).

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Hopscotch
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#121 Post by Hopscotch » Mon Jun 23, 2008 12:03 am

Anyone voting for In A Year of 13 Moons?

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zedz
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#122 Post by zedz » Mon Jun 23, 2008 12:10 am

Hopscotch wrote:Anyone voting for In A Year of 13 Moons?
Nope. It's 1978 (and made the 70s list - no. 52). Your Fassbinder choices this time are limited to Berlin Alexanderplatz (which should do considerably better this time around), Lili, Lola, Veronika and Querelle - and Theater in Trance if you're so inclined. My money's on Ronnie.

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Hopscotch
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#123 Post by Hopscotch » Mon Jun 23, 2008 10:29 am

Ah shit. I was looking at the U.S. release date, which was 1980 according to imdb, and just not paying enough attention all around. Oh well.

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zedz
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#124 Post by zedz » Mon Jun 23, 2008 5:50 pm

[tumbleweeds]
Last edited by zedz on Mon Jun 23, 2008 7:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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tavernier
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#125 Post by tavernier » Mon Jun 23, 2008 6:15 pm

The Wenders' film is 1991, no?

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domino harvey
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#126 Post by domino harvey » Mon Jun 23, 2008 7:52 pm

It's not an eighties film, but zedz can just either move or C+P his post here.

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zedz
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#127 Post by zedz » Mon Jun 23, 2008 7:55 pm

domino harvey wrote:It's not an eighties film, but zedz can just either move or C+P his post here.
I'm faring pretty badly at this so far! Lucky I wasn't going to vote for it. Will relocate!

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Bete_Noire
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#128 Post by Bete_Noire » Thu Jun 26, 2008 6:40 pm

Since his name has yet to appear, and he was grossly overlooked in the previous 80s list with the exception of Stop Making Sense, I feel I should defend Jonathan Demme's pre-SOTL work. Sure, Melvin and Howard et al. got great reviews when released, but you never hear masterpieces like Something Wild (my personal favorite Demme besides 1977's Handle With Care) or Swing Shift (particularly the hard-to-find director's cut) get mentioned in discussions of the best 80s movies, even amongst hardcore film buffs.

Yet I can think of few American directors post-1970 who can shift from humor to pathos so effortlessly while avoiding the preciousness and ironic posturing that have sadly become staples of American cinema as Demme did during the his pre-SOTL run. I'm referring not only to his overt tonal shifts in narrative, such as when Ray Liotta is introduced in Something Wild, but within each scene as well. E.g. in the beginning Melvin and Howard, look how naturally Jason Robards's emotional palette alters from bemused to disgruntled and then back to bemused during his exchange with Paul Le Mat, and how Demme uses this scene to convey both Le Mat's brash insouciance towards life and the loneliness of Robards's Howard Hughes -- which in turn lends dramatic credence to the entire film. Additionally, he seems to have a magic touch with actors -- if Le Mat, Mary Steenburgen, Goldie Hawn or Melanie Griffith have ever been better outside of their work with Demme, I don't know about it -- and his choice of pop music (the Go-Betweens, the Feelies, X) is impeccable.

Unfortunately, the mainstream success of his weakest films -- Silence of the Lambs struck me as well-crafted but hollow sensationalism, Philadelphia is almost nauseating in its pomposity and self-preening, while The Manchurian Candidate felt largely superfluous in the face of the original -- seems to have damaged Demme's standing amongst many cineastes, rendering him too unhip to attract the cult of a Richard Linklater or an Elaine May. That, and the eclecticism of his oeuvre (from concert videos to political documentaries) deprive him of the instant recognizability of more established auteurs. I would actually argue his closest parallel is Peter Bogdanovich, not only in their overall state of critical limbo, but in their affection for amoral characters, adult whimsy, and subtle handling of standard Hollywood tropes.

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Cronenfly
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#129 Post by Cronenfly » Thu Jun 26, 2008 9:30 pm

I sincerely hope that the release of the CC edition of Mishima coinciding with the '80s list compilation at least gets some more people to see it. Recently having read the relevant passage in Schrader on Schrader, I'm also convinced that Patty Hearst is worth a look, though it's not too surprising that I would think that, seeing as Mishima and Auto Focus (the two other Schrader-directed biopics [though I shudder at categorizing Mishima in particular merely as such]) are my favorite films of his. American Gigolo is a guilty pleasure (although even in that capacity I still think the film is pretty lacking), Cat People I don't feel too strongly about one way or the other, and Light of Day I have yet to see (though it isn't a high priority).

Scorsese's oeuvre from the '80s, specifically the theesome of The King of Comedy, After Hours, and The Last Temptation of Christ (the latter in particular) deserve a second/first look too, IMO. I know Raging Bull and The Color of Money qualify too, but I find myself much less attached to those two as time goes by.

Greenaway will also hopefully get some viewings; The Draughtsman's Contract, A Zed and Two Noughts, The Belly of an Architect (don't miss this one! I avoided it for a long time for whatever reason [perhaps Mertens' doing the soundtrack instead of Nyman], but it really is one of PG's best), and The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover are all very worth taking a look. I can't speak about Drowning by Numbers (having never seen it) but it looks like it's up to the calibre of the rest of his '80s work.

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colinr0380
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#130 Post by colinr0380 » Thu Jun 26, 2008 9:55 pm

Drowning By Numbers is an interesting film - I wouldn't rate it as highly as Greenaway's other 80s films but then I wasn't that taken with A Zed And Two Noughts until I rewatched it on the BFI DVD a couple of years ago and now that film has become one of my favourites!

I still have yet to see The Belly Of An Architect.

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Zumpano
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#131 Post by Zumpano » Fri Jun 27, 2008 10:40 am

Bete_Noire wrote:Since his name has yet to appear, and he was grossly overlooked in the previous 80s list with the exception of Stop Making Sense, I feel I should defend Jonathan Demme's pre-SOTL work. Sure, Melvin and Howard et al. got great reviews when released, but you never hear masterpieces like Something Wild (my personal favorite Demme besides 1977's Handle With Care) or Swing Shift (particularly the hard-to-find director's cut) get mentioned in discussions of the best 80s movies, even amongst hardcore film buffs.
Your post has somewhat inspired me to break out my "Citizen's Band"(Handle With Care) VHS tape this weekend to see if the tape still works. I sure wish this film would find its way to DVD. I always thought it'd make a great Criterion.

"Melvin & Howard" is a terrific movie, and Le Mat's performance is a major highlight. I haven't seen it in years, but now I will watch it again for the 80's project. Thank you for bringing up Demme.

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Cronenfly
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#132 Post by Cronenfly » Fri Jun 27, 2008 3:10 pm

colinr0380 wrote:I still have yet to see The Belly Of An Architect.
Make haste, good sir! It's probably the most conventional of Greenaway's '80s work, but it's still well worth a look. Dennehy is a powerhouse in it; he takes full advantage of the opportunity to work on something better than the dreck he's been in most of his career. Greenaway well utilizes his Italian locales, and by making the film such a showcase for Dennehy he tones down a few of the tics that seem to grate on non-PG fans, especially with regards to structure (probably the fewest list/number games of all his films). In this way, it may be a better starting place for those just getting into Greenaway (I'm of the mind that all of his '80s work is pretty accessible, but that might have more to do with the way I'm wired than anything else), but I think that a more hardcore PG fan would enjoy it too. It is more mainstream, but I don't feel as though it's watered down. And Mertens' score is fantastic; I almost like it more than a lot of Nyman's work for PG, which is saying a lot.

And I'll have to track down Drowning by Numbers...Does anyone know of a decent DVD available anywhere? It seems to me that there isn't, but I hope that I'm wrong...

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tavernier
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#133 Post by tavernier » Fri Jun 27, 2008 7:42 pm

Cronenfly wrote:And I'll have to track down Drowning by Numbers...Does anyone know of a decent DVD available anywhere? It seems to me that there isn't, but I hope that I'm wrong...
You're not wrong...there isn't.

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colinr0380
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#134 Post by colinr0380 » Fri Jun 27, 2008 10:45 pm

Cronenfly wrote:...he tones down a few of the tics that seem to grate on non-PG fans, especially with regards to structure (probably the fewest list/number games of all his films)...
True - that reminds me that Drowning By Numbers, as suggested by its title, is perhaps Greenaway's most extreme version of this structure outside of The Falls and the shorts (and maybe the Tulse Luper films but I've also not had the chance to see them yet), and it bears similarity to that film in that it becomes almost an endurance test for the audience in the way that the numbering conceit is doggedly pursued to the bitter end (sort of an adult orientated version of Sesame Street's number counting! :wink: ). Not that I'd complain too much about that style though, but I think you are right in that it can be an acquired taste if you are looking for tonal variation in your films!

Oh, and it does have a rather cynical view of women as castrating and cliqueish while the men are weakly submissive, driven by the basest urges and prone to bouts of self mutilation! (Perhaps bearing some comparisons with The Pillow Book, a film I like more as the characters are a little more sympathetic) Disturbingly, the child characters are the ones who are prone to the most extreme types of those behaviours as they seem to be responding and trying to emulate what they have seen of the adult's behaviour.

While I'm not hugely fond of the film I would like the opportunity to upgrade from my VHS of Drowning some time, especially if the deal was sweetened with a Greenaway commentary (hint, hint!)

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