1940s List Discussion and Suggestions (Lists Project Vol. 3)

An ongoing survey of the Criterion Forum membership to create lists of the best films of each decade and genre.
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matrixschmatrix
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#501 Post by matrixschmatrix » Fri Jan 20, 2012 5:37 pm

Brian C wrote:Where does he write about Nevsky? I don't see a reference to it in this review and I can't find a separate review by him. It would be baffling if he preferred it to Ivan given his criticisms of the later films here.
Oh, whoops, for some reason I misread the reference to Potemkin as a reference to it. That's less bizarrely inconsistent, at least.

I have to say, though, I really do love Ivan, without any kind of equivocations about anything. It genuinely feels like one of the best, most exciting, and most interesting works I've seen for the first time in years- I'd happily watch it again right now. I enjoy it the way I enjoy Touch of Evil, the way I enjoy The Godfather- yes, it's a portrait of the blackness at the center of the human soul, but it's such a gorgeously realized world that I don't mind the pessimism of it in the least.

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knives
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#502 Post by knives » Fri Jan 20, 2012 5:53 pm

Plus given the situation and reason it was born from the pessimism and darkness really just seems like an expressionist realization of the world it was born from (though von Sternberg did it first). I'm sure the world of the Soviet elite at the time wasn't too far off from what we see.

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matrixschmatrix
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#503 Post by matrixschmatrix » Fri Jan 20, 2012 6:18 pm

Apt though the comparison with The Scarlet Empress is, I don't see that Ivan looks any worse by comparison. I have no idea of how Sternberg's movie makes Eisenstein 'look like a mechanic' - both movies are absolutely infused with personality and life, just very different personalities. It's true that Ivan doesn't have anything like the eroticism of the Sternberg, but it never sets out to do so- and I think it does manage a Shakespearean grandeur that Sternberg's lighter and defter movie never really attempts. Watching the features, where Eisenstein had sketched out different animal forms Ivan would take as he progressively became less human and less mobile- it makes you realize the subtlety of the way that grandeur is achieved, and how much Eisenstein learned from Disney. I really can't express my admiration for it.

I feel as though Ebert is coming to the movie in the assumption that it's genuinely a hagiography for a monster, and as such is held at arm's length- and so he reviewed it the way he reviewed BoaN, as though he needs latex gloves to touch the thing.
Last edited by matrixschmatrix on Fri Jan 20, 2012 6:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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knives
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#504 Post by knives » Fri Jan 20, 2012 6:30 pm

I hadn't read Ebert's turd when I posted and really am in no hurry to do so so I didn't know he actually made that comparison too. I was just referencing how the production design of both films is similar. It sounds like a case where Ebert is just historically ignorant of the situation. I think it's fair to say that Ivan shows a diseased world through physical means. It's a bit like a horror movie (in fact Ivan himself reminds me in portrayal and role of Count Orlok.

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matrixschmatrix
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#505 Post by matrixschmatrix » Fri Jan 20, 2012 6:43 pm

Yeah, I'm not disagreeing with you, Knives- I think Ivan is more literally expressionistic than most of the German movies often called that, as I think the sets, costumes, and body postures are all built up in a way that is meant to reflect inner workings rather than literal reality. I'd say Scarlet Empress has a similar use of sets- they're designed very much to make the Russian court seem as monstrous and horrific as possible (and, speaking of horror movies, Sam Jaffe's performance as the Czar is something straight out of one) but I think Eisenstein pushes it further, both in the level of unrealism and in how universal that unrealism becomes.

I have a lot of respect for Ebert but I do really wish he wouldn't put things in Great Movies that he didn't honestly think were great movies- he's rarely particularly eloquent about them, and it kind of ruins the programming of the thing.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#506 Post by lubitsch » Sun Jan 22, 2012 8:33 pm

A few words about Eastern Europe

Obviously being a battlefield doesn't make it easy for countries to sustain film production and suffering from German or Soviet occupation is no help either.
The Soviet film output is pretty depressing, watching directors being submerged not only into propaganda tools (this they were before) but also bowing to socialist realism which is rather an eerie reflection of the idealized picture of the Soviet Union dreamed by this paranoid madman governing the country. Virtually every film is more or less affected by propaganda values infintely more so than e.g. German films of the Third Reich.
I think we all know Eisenstein's Ivan which tiptoes a fine line between horrible justification of Stalinist purges (first part) and sly deconstruction of these crimes (second part), I still find the whole film hard to swallow. Other famous directors sank into complete oblivion or carved a niche as gentle hagiographs like Donskoi. Pudovkin made a Brecht adaptation, The Murderers are coming which has a few darkly satiric moments about the life in Nazi Germany e.g. when a bourgeois couple gradually works itself into a frenzy about their son who they fear will report them to the party. There are nuggets of fine character interaction in Mashenka and Romm's Mechta/Dream with its bitter portrayal of the tenants of a boarding house and their delusions is the nearest to an incisive psychological study the Soviet cinema could manage and arguably the finest effort of this decade. But the fairy tales strike me arguably as the strongest contribution to world cinema even though they are also undermined by patriotic and other messages. I agree with Gropius assessment of the three films, Cinderella is enjoyable fluff, The Stone Flower a brooding folk tale and Kashchei is really great in the visual department. The story of the latter is a bit sketchy and jumpy, but set design, special effects and landscape photography are occassionally breath taking. With all the interest in fantasy Alexander Rou surely merits a rediscovery, there's a very fine Ruscico out there.

Poland was forbidden to produce own films during WWII and then immediately fell into stalinist oppression but at least two films are available on English subtitled DVDs. Both deal with the horrors of the past though filtered by a Socialist perspective. Nevertheless Aleksander Fords Ulica graniczna/Border street is a pretty epic account of Jewish and Polish families (and the tensions between them) before the German occupation until the Uprising in the Warsaw getto. It's quite engrossing and that also goes for Wanda Jakubowskas account of life in Auschwitz, Ostatni Etap/The Last Stage, though if I say that this film has the hottest actresses of the whole 40s cinema, you can guess that something is wrong here. Jakubowska herself was an Auschwitz survivor but she dealt with it mixing classical realism with its socialistic counterpart. It's a disturbing film, but very, very interesting.

Hungary moved along uneasily as Germany's ally, but Emberek a havason/Men on the Mountain got a wide recognition and rightly so. There's a mediocre subtitled DVD, but this stark film describing the harsh life and the customs of mountain people in Transsylvania is no less important for film realism than Ossessione made in the same year is. Hungary had also a bit of genre production and there are fan subtitles for a pretty powerful melodrama Something is in the water which features Katalin Karady, a supremely charismatic femme fatale who lures unwillingly the men around her to destruction. Karady has a very distinctive velvety voice and while the film fizzles out a bit during the second half, she seems to be worth rediscovering, she also helped Jews to survive the Holocaust and was honored among the righteous at Yad Vashem, she survived a three months incarceration and torture by the Gestapo in 1944. After the war another quite powerful drama, Geza von Radvanyi's Valahol Europaban/Somewhere in Europe, caught international attention and it describes movingly the fate of homeless children moving across the land joining together in a band and finally arriving in a ruined castle where a kind old man helps them which isn't liked at all by some thugs in the village. A first class Hungarian DVD with english subs is out there.

And Czechoslovakia also has a major contribution. Under German occupation the commercial film production went on, mosly comedies which are available by the dozen, Divka v Modrem/The Girl in Blue is however a pretty clever example by Otakar Vavra with Lida Baaraova as the woman in a portrait who comes alive, though the film isn't quite as good as Kristian from the previous decade. After the war Vavra made two other remarkable films. Nema barikada/The Silent Barricade is a realistic and eciting war film showing the rising of the Czech resistance against the Nazis with Barbara Drapinska from Jakubowskas film making an appearance as Jewish prisoner who transforms into a fullblown resistance fighter and gets one of the most impressive positive role models for strong women 40s cinema had to offer. Just shortly before with Krakatit he delivered an absolute knockout following a story by Karel Capek (who coined the term roboter) and this mixture of mystery thriller and science-fiction film is shot in a hallucinatory style wrestling with films like Citizen Kane or Wozzeck for the most boldly stylized film of the decade. I don't want to spoil too much of the story, just watch it with a handful of other films mentioned above. Subtitled Czech DVDs from filmexport are available for all three films, why not put in an order?

BTW, no one has yet asked for a slight deadline shift? I wonder if two weeks would be possible ...

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matrixschmatrix
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#507 Post by matrixschmatrix » Sun Jan 22, 2012 8:43 pm

I'm going to be on a weeklong trip right as the deadline hits, so I would love some extra time.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#508 Post by swo17 » Sun Jan 22, 2012 9:04 pm

If one more person asks for an extension, I'll do it.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#509 Post by domino harvey » Sun Jan 22, 2012 9:15 pm

Move the deadline ahead to tomorrow

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#510 Post by Cold Bishop » Sun Jan 22, 2012 9:20 pm

I'm fine with a week or two extra.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#511 Post by swo17 » Sun Jan 22, 2012 9:31 pm

You've used that joke before, domino.

Deadline moved to Sunday, February 26th.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#512 Post by domino harvey » Sun Jan 22, 2012 9:42 pm

Sorry, I was distracted/dazzled by this ad appearing below all of our posts

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zedz
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#513 Post by zedz » Sun Jan 22, 2012 11:01 pm

Wow, they sure got the demographic of this site dead wrong!

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matrixschmatrix
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#514 Post by matrixschmatrix » Mon Jan 23, 2012 12:05 am

I've just watched La Silence de la Mer, and it's kind of a stunning movie for something made on an evidently tiny budget that feels so much like a stage piece.

The first impression I got, and one that stayed with me throughout, is that it felt in some ways more like a Cocteau movie than what I expect from Melville- the characters feel symbolic rather than specific, the whole atmosphere of the house has an odd dreaminess to it, and the effect of the ticking clock, the silent characters, and the poetic narration all made it feel like a terribly grim fairy tale. And, of course, Vernon's character outrightly mentions Beauty and the Beast. It's also got a strong concern with the artist and the soul of the artist- in some ways, it's like a synthesis of Cocteau's Orphée and his La Belle et la Bête.

It's interesting, too, that so much of the movie works as a metaphor for a sort of Beauty and the Beast-esque courtship/rape via Stockholm Syndrome- Vernon's performance makes his character magnetic and seductive without being likable for most of the movie, and his beliefs that France will eventually come to 'marry' Germany are explicitly linked to his own attempted courtship of the niece. It works very well as a metaphor for imperialistic occupation in general- he has a sort of Orientalism in his beliefs about France and how it will serve as a counterpoint to the country he actually knows, and he seems to believe that by controlling the country the Nazis will actually help it. I imagine that's a common belief, at least initially, for the occupiers from the British in India and North Africa to the Americans in Vietnam and Iraq.

(I feel like spoiling this is silly, but better safe than sorry)
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And, as I imagine it must to those occupiers, Vernon's character is eventually confronted with the naked reality of what the Occupation really means, and must choose between the dream creature he has pretended to himself he is fighting for and the cruelty and brutality of what that fight actually comprises. And of course, he chooses cruelty- because whatever romantic gentility he covers himself with, he is still in the country as a conqueror, still part of his country's war machine, still fundamentally what he is. It's perhaps one of the most well realized moral crossroads I've seen, and it's the only point when you hold out hope that Vernon might actually find a better self- but this isn't that kind of fairy tale.
Melville's realization of the story is very impressive, given that it's essentially monologues overlain with voiceover- he wrings tremendous tension out of the setup, out of the inherent contradiction between what kind of person Vernon seems to think himself and what his position declares him to be, out of silence and out of the ticking of that clock. I'm going to have to think about it more, but it's obviously a very great movie.

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matrixschmatrix
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#515 Post by matrixschmatrix » Mon Jan 23, 2012 2:45 am

And now I've just finished Went the Day Well?, which is as strikingly different a movie about resisting the Nazis as I can imagine. It reminds me in some ways of Red Dawn- which is one of my least favorite movies- in that it paints the enemy as utter sadists, makes some hash of eliminating the traitor, and generally feels like fearmongering propaganda, but it also seems far less evil than that movie does.

There's a lot of reasons for that- obviously, unlike the antagonists of Red Dawn, the Nazis weren't imaginary and an invasion was a very real possibility. Moreover, the movie is conservative rather than fascist- victory is achieved not through some reversion to primitivism and brutality, but by sort of an extension of the lovable Britishness that's Ealing's stock in trade. It's pretty disturbing nonetheless, as much as anything in the ways it depicts a genuine nightmare while sticking to all the rules of sort of polite moviemaking-
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no killing kids, no really nasty gore visible, heroism is celebrated and rewarded, etc.
It's not Hangmen Also Die!, and it never really gets into the mindset of suffering under the control of the Nazis- but the sheer normality of the thing is what makes the Nazi invasion seem surreal.

One of the other obvious points of comparison is 49th Parallel, but that doesn't really fit either- there's no question that Canada is ever under any real threat in that one, and it individuates the Nazis so much more that they don't seem to be depictions of the same group. This one is certainly effective moviemaking, and it manages not to feel too xenophobic or fascist, which is an accomplishment in itself.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#516 Post by Mr Sausage » Mon Jan 23, 2012 3:06 am

Matrixschmatrix wrote:It's pretty disturbing nonetheless, as much as anything in the ways it depicts a genuine nightmare while sticking to all the rules of sort of polite moviemaking-
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While indeed no kids are killed, the moment where the kids are saved from the grenade is the most shocking and unexpected gut punch in the movie. It's a heroic act in retrospect, but the moment isn't played that way, it's played to shock and disturb. I always thought the movie did a wonderful job of showing the suddenness and unexpectedness of death, which removes the feeling you get when such deaths are carefully telegraphed that it's all a part of the plan, the way things ought to go.

I was also impressed with the way the death of the traitor played out. Instead of feeling satisfactory, with justice having been carried out, it was unpleasant because we've seen the executioner evolve over the course of the story from a pleasant, friendly sort of woman into this cold and ruthless killer. With his death the cost seems greater than the gain. So you get that traditional purging of the traitor element without the unpleasant feeling that you're meant to cheer. It overcomes the problematic way such propaganda induces you to keep an eye on your neighbour by at least having the fulfillment of that sub-plot focus on character rather than message, and by making it a low note.

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matrixschmatrix
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#517 Post by matrixschmatrix » Mon Jan 23, 2012 3:39 am

Mr Sausage wrote:
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While indeed no kids are killed, the moment where the kids are saved from the grenade is the most shocking and unexpected gut punch in the movie. It's a heroic act in retrospect, but the moment isn't played that way, it's played to shock and disturb. I always thought the movie did a wonderful job of showing the suddenness and unexpectedness of death, which removes the feeling you get when such deaths are carefully telegraphed that it's all a part of the plan, the way things ought to go.
True enough, and I don't want to undercut how brutal the movie is (and that moment is a particularly brutal one)- but look at the tact with which it's carried out. It doesn't look or feel like a movie in which that kind of thing would happen, and it keeps to that cleaner style even in the middle of the horror- which, to me, heightens the effect of it. It's like if the Nazis invaded A Canterbury Tale.
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I was also impressed with the way the death of the traitor played out. Instead of feeling satisfactory, with justice having been carried out, it was unpleasant because we've seen the executioner evolve over the course of the story from a pleasant, friendly sort of woman into this cold and ruthless killer. With his death the cost seems greater than the gain. So you get that traditional purging of the traitor element without the unpleasant feeling that you're meant to cheer. It overcomes the problematic way such propaganda induces you to keep an eye on your neighbour by at least having the fulfillment of that sub-plot focus on character rather than message, and by making it a low note.
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There's no real implication that the act has made her hard, and more willing to make Tough Decisions in the future, either- it's a nasty thing, no matter how horrible the man actually was, and the movie treats it as a nasty thing and then moves on.
I think that's characteristic of the movie in general- I didn't get the feeling it was implying all these people would know better than to trust outsiders in their midst from then on. They might be more vigilant in their duty, more willing to listen when someone raised the alarm, but even just the tone of the man telling us the story in the wraparound seemed to imply that they went back to being a charming, workaday British village. Which, as I say, is something of a conservative message, but it's conservative in the way The Ladykillers is, and I can live with that.

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Cold Bishop
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#518 Post by Cold Bishop » Mon Jan 23, 2012 4:45 am

I've mentioned that I consider They Made Me a Fugitive to be the superior film, but I still think it's a masterpiece, and about as great and convincing as genuine "propaganda" can get (as opposed to the previously mentioned Ivan the Terrible, which to me is interesting for precisely the way it fails as propaganda... that is, not celebrating Ivan/Stalin, but painting their reigns' as nightmarish).

I honestly don't see how you say the film plays it safe. Sure,
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no kids get killed (which in itself may deserve a spoiler tag), but it certainly doesn't keep them out of harms way... not just the moment Sausage mentions, but a kid does get gunned down, which is shocking and taboo even if he does survive.
In fact, the film distinguishes itself precisely by Cavalcanti's talent and understanding of screen violence. It's something he excelled at: it pops up in Dead of Night
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where he generates genuine panic and sympathy for the destruction of an inanimate object
...and which comes to the fore again in Fugitive, which is structured around three moments of extreme violence (and where he plays with the viewer's position as voyeurs/witnesses). The film may not celebrate "primitivism and brutality", but its resistance is never simply "heroism". The film's all about normal, decent people suddenly making contact with very real and very serious brutality, and Cavalcanti doesn't sugarcoat it at all. While shot on location, the film is shot in a very "invisible" Ealing studio style from the beginning, showing only the briefest hints of Cavalcanti's avant-garde and documentary inclinations.

That all changes half-way through, precisely at the moment when violence starts to intrude on the film, the docile, polite shooting style suddenly giving away to a much more punchy and moody design.
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The shot of Daisy being held at gunpoint at the switchboard is shot in stark, expressionist close-ups that constrast jarringly with the very scene it's cross-cut with.
The film may not have "gore", but Cavalcanti doesn't need it; those first slaps pack as much wallop as most bloodshed in lesser films, and it's only the first unsettling sign of things to come.

Cavalcanti constantly undercuts and shades the moments of violence with genuine horror, films them with unglamorized bluntness, and in the later scenes, as the violence escalates upon itself, hints at a burgeoning sense of amoral sadistic glee in its protagonists. The film's point of view is a collective; it doesn't establish any leads among the cast of characters, and this not only emphasizes the sense of community, but it has the flip-side of leaving us a sense of genuine unpredictability. For a film about "heroics", this is the rare film where literally any character can be killed. When it happens, it's not treated with the bombast of a "hero's death", but with a matter-of-fact unsentimental abruptness. When heroism and sacrifice does emerge, it's similarly hard-earned and direct. "Patriotism" takes a back seat to plain survival, and Cavalcanti brings attention and nuance to the psychological strain of suddenly being immersed in violence.
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The most shocking moments of the film bear this out. Kind Mrs. Collins, who would probably never hurt a fly, suddenly taking up an axe, and recoiling at her actions... all this only to be disposed of quickly. The home guard, comprising nearly all the young men remaining in the village, being unceremoniously slaughtered. The previously mentioned sacrifice by Mrs. Fraser, which is unthinking, blink-and-you-miss-it. Nora's getting her revenge, but doing so at the edge of madness. Daisy being rescued, and not rejoicing, but breaking down with tears of revulsion at the two murders she just saw.
In fact, there's a perversity to the later scenes, where the violence escalates into series of increasingly rapid-fire montages. The fact that both the allies and the enemy are in the same uniform makes distinction among the combat and carnage increasingly impossible, disrupting simple patriotic crowd-pleasing in favor a genuine sense of unease and anarchy.

I'll leave it to war strategists to explain the feasibility of the Nazi's invasion plan, but the film's vision of resistance is never less than convincing. I see no xenophobia here, but a genuine immediacy at a very real threat. Yeah, it espouses vigilance and heroism, but with good reason, and never allows itself to lapse into fervency or to coast on demagogy. Naming the film after the John Maxwell Edmond epitaph is to me a masterstoke, as it summarizes both the attitude and outlook of the film.
Went the day well?
We died and never knew.
But, well or ill,
Freedom, we died for you.
Went the day well?
It's patriotic, but sobering in its execution. It's heroic, but mournful of the cost of war. It speaks of sacrifice, but not as a grand gesture of allegiance to blood and soil (the cult of sacrifice so alluring to fascists), but as something unglorified and often unthinking, done at the blink-of-a-moment for the sake of your fellow man. And just as the poem ends on a note of uncertainty, so is the "science fiction" of the bookends unable to divert from the genuine terror and restlessness that it contains. While Bramley End wins for freedom, the film doesn't ignore it comes at a price. While the price may be justified, it's to the films benefit that it doesn't sweep it under the rug for simple ra-ra patriotism. Measured, clear-eyed and unflinching, this film is propaganda that doesn't come from a war-office, but from a very real place of urgency and foreboding in the common people it chooses to glorify.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#519 Post by colinr0380 » Mon Jan 23, 2012 6:52 am

zedz wrote:Wow, they sure got the demographic of this site dead wrong!
Although an advert for CougarLife.com would make sense on a thread where people may have been talking about Cat People/Curse of the Cat People/The Leopard Man!

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matrixschmatrix
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#520 Post by matrixschmatrix » Mon Jan 23, 2012 11:54 am

Bishop, I agree with virtually everything you have to say, and I'm worried that I wasn't making myself understood well- I was just trying to get across that feeling of the collision between Ealing invisible style, which gives you the feeling of a normal and safe country village, and the nightmare that invades it. Though there are still some strange, surreal juxtapositions later on-
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When the two women are sniping from the windows, and the first has what I would guess is a realistic reaction after she kills a Nazi- she's disgusted and almost sick- while the second has a very Charters and Caldicott one, and encourages her friend to react the same way. If it had skipped the first part, the passage wouldn't be noteworthy, but putting the two next to one another both undercuts the otherwise apparently cheerful killing and also sort of confuses your own reactions.

I think there are still hints of the normal protagonists-never-die structure of a 40s war movie in how the events unfold- the bride and groom seem safe no matter how much risk they take, and nearly everyone who's gotten a line gets allotted a heroic death. But the way the Home Guard are wiped out is outside that kind of moviemaking, and a deeply horrifying moment. It's also built on some of the really well constructed moments of Hitchcockian suspense (i.e. suspense built on the dramatic irony of situations where the audience knows something the people we're watching don't): when the Home Guardsmen hears the church bells, and his reaction is dismissed by his fellows. There, the whole scene with the recipe book and the note (the cousin there is really infuriating in how stupid she seems, even though she really does nothing wrong, the switchboard operators who can't be bothered to answer a call right away, and probably a few more things all give one a feeling that fate itself is fighting against the ingenuity of the characters, and that every chance they take is going to be met with bad luck and stupidity- pulling in a piece of the noir ethos in a place you wouldn't expect to find it. It's really brilliant filmmaking, I think.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#521 Post by the preacher » Mon Jan 23, 2012 1:46 pm

I agree the mediocre DVD of Emberek a havason/Men on the Mountain does not do justice to this moving film, top 10 material for me.

I appreciate the extension, even more being now involved in that time-consuming exercise called Doubling the Canon.

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zedz
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#522 Post by zedz » Mon Jan 23, 2012 3:31 pm

Great discussion of the Cavalcanti. From a modern perspective, I think it's easy to overlook just how transgressive the film was. Sure, we don't get close-ups of kiddies taking it to the head, but the propaganda message and the film's bizarre subjunctive mode give Cavalcanti far more license for brutality than almost any other filmmaker of the era, and I never get any sense in the film that any character leads a charmed life. There are a large number of focal characters, none favoured enough to be labelled the protagonists, and a number of them don't make it.

I think one of the real strengths of the film is that it does pull off that very difficult 'collective protagonist' structure. I'm actually struggling to think of examples that don't flatten everybody into relative anonymity (Jansco), or rupture the narrative structure so it becomes more of a fresco (Altman) or a series of discrete but interconnected stories with their own protagonists.

The other major strength of the film for me is that the characters are smart and resourceful, but that doesn't necessarily suffice. Good plans aren't necessarily good enough, or go awry for unrelated reasons, and when the people's plans succeed, it's just as much down to dumb luck as it is when they fail. It's a particularly scary but salutary message for a society that really was under attack: you have to be vigilant, you have to be brave and smart, but even then that might not be enough, and some of you are going to die.

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#523 Post by Mr Sausage » Mon Jan 23, 2012 6:29 pm

zedz wrote:It's a particularly scary but salutary message for a society that really was under attack: you have to be vigilant, you have to be brave and smart, but even then that might not be enough, and some of you are going to die.
And not just that some of you are going to die, but that some of you will have to make horrific choices and sacrifices, witness awful things, and may come out of it very changed, very damaged people. The worst will be bad indeed, and victory won't erase that. In fact, victory, sacrifice, and heroism don't bring glory, and all that the survivors win back is the remainder of whatever they had in the first place.

The message behind the propaganda is meant to be sobering. Ironically, that's why it's so palatable as war-time propaganda to modern eyes: it's not trying to sell you the war, it's preparing you for the reality of it. As matrixschmatrix intimated, the movie is composed as the puncturing of an illusion, where the British pastoral myth crumbles under the weight of modern violence. The movie is similar, I think, to All Quiet on the Western Front, whose aim was to reveal the idea of it's being good and sweet to die for the fatherland as the rubbish it really is. Went the Day Well? uses propaganda to do much the same thing: use the negative physical and psychological effects of violence to puncture British complacency by puncturing the myths that support it. Having done away with one myth, it has the good sense not to replace it with another. In a war against Nazism, complacency and pastoral idealism are not sustainable (a sentiment George Orwell shared at the time, and tried to puncture himself in his novel Coming Up For Air).

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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#524 Post by thirtyframesasecond » Tue Jan 24, 2012 10:26 am

The extra time will be nice, considering I have another 20 or so films I want to see before the deadline, excluding things I might want to see again. Last films watched were Trnka's 'Springman and the SS' and Zeman's 'Inspirace' - the latter should be pretty high up my list, especially in terms of animated/short films. It's a wonderful little animation with glass figurines. Wellman's 'The Ox bow incident' should also do quite well, as should 'The great dictator', though I should think 'Monsieur Verdoux' will be the higher placed of the two Chaplins.

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Cold Bishop
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Re: 1940s List Discussion and Suggestions

#525 Post by Cold Bishop » Wed Jan 25, 2012 5:32 am

Hideko, the Bus Conductress (Mikio Naruse, 1941)

This movie is like a lenticular image. It, at first glance, seems like a normal, commonplace picture. Just turn it at a different angle, and the image reveals something else entirely. If I could describe the film in two words: simply pleasant. It carries itself with a light-humor and gentle sweetness not unlike those Hiroshi Shimizu comedies. It's almost a film with no conflict. Oh, the potential for conflict arises, but it's muted in a way that never disrupts the docile surface of the film. There's rumors that their company is going out of business, but it never turns into a "let's save the rec center!" sort of scenario. The bus company reveals itself to be involved in rather unethical practices, but it never devolves into a morality tale. At one point, a lead character seems to be seriously injured, but it turns out to be nothing. Instead, the movie is like a short slice-of-life, exuding the same soft-spoken, good-natured charm embodied in its teenage star, and moving along with the easy-going lightness of a lazy summer's day (several of which the film takes place in).

But turn that image, and it's also a ruthlessly cynical film. We're so distracted by the film's amiability, that we almost miss that these "muted conflicts" have been raging along, and by the time the film's over, threaten to destroy the docile surface of the film completely. There's no major mind-bending revelations, but the film has a genuine "twist" ending, one that makes us rethink and reevaluate everything that came before.
SpoilerShow
The more I consider it's bitter irony, the more effortlessly heartbreaking I find it. All the more so since Sonada and Okoma, so cheerful and happy when we leave them, are, much like the viewer for the duration of the film, still completely unaware and ignorant of what's happened.
It's a pleasant pastoral postcard of a Japanese country road... but hiding behind the bend of the road is the bitter Naruse of Street Without End and A Women Ascends the Stairs. A fascinating, if minor film.

The Uninvited (Lewis Allen, 1944)

A classy and elegant haunted house film... but perhaps too much so for my tastes. It's a film that's hard to find fault with, but equally hard to be passionate about. It is, however, far too handsomely shot and professionally made to ever devolve into a "mediocre" film. Lang's photography is certainly moody, and with the score, deserves high marks. One of my least favorite aspects of these films is the inevitable "Haunted? It's all coincidence!" section of the story; so how delightful that our protagonists are so gung-ho and matter-of-fact about being haunted. The seance scene is actually expertly put together, even if all it's tricks are well-know by now (in fact, you're two steps ahead of the film by the first time "Carmel" is uttered) And kudos to the film for saving Miss Holoway's integral, malevolent presence for so late in the film, even if it never capitalizes on the character's domineering creepiness (nor, perhaps, could it without tipping off the censors). My problem is that it's all too damn respectable, damaging for a film that's all about the irrepressible ugly truths hiding behind respectability. A film like this needs more bite, more venom. I guess it doesn't help that the haunted house film is one of my least favorite sub-genres; even then, as far as classy, adult haunted house films go, it doesn't quite reach the heights of The Innocents or The Haunting. And as far as Lewis Allen's uneven output goes, I still prefer his Victorian Brit-noir, So Evil My Love.

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