1950s 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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Scharphedin2
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#1 Post by Scharphedin2 » Wed Jan 17, 2007 6:11 pm

With the enormous output of films on DVD in recent years, I have (like many others around here) managed to accumulate quite a little library of films, and I have been very pleased with the lists project here on the site as a means to help me structure my viewing. Over the past few months, I have concentrated on films of the '40s, and it has been an extremely rewarding experience in several ways. I really feel that I have both enjoyed my viewing more, and learned more about the individual films by viewing them in this type of historical context.

In a couple of weeks, the '40s lists are due, and I have more or less managed to view or re-view the majority of the titles I own from this particular decade. Putting together the final list of 50, I am beset by the same feeling that I always experience, when I listen to a "Greates Hits Compilation" by a band or musical artist. I am never happy -- I so much prefer to listen through all the individual album releases; it is most often the "not-so-great-hits" that give the greater pleasure, especially once familar with an artist.

Based on this very positive experience of viewing the films of the '40s, I will move right on into the '50s, and have already put a very ambitious schedule together for the coming months. I wonder if anyone else is using these polls in a similar manner? In any event, for my personal benefit (and anyone else that may be doing something similar to this), I have been thinking about what good additional materials are out there (primarily books) that focus in whole or significant part on the films of the '50s, or a specific genre, artist, national cinema of the '50s.

I will go through my own bookshelves tomorrow and post a list of any material that I own that would fit this description.

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sevenarts
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#2 Post by sevenarts » Wed Jan 17, 2007 6:25 pm

This is a good idea. I haven't participated in previous lists due to the paucity of films I've seen from earlier decades, but I plan to start contributing with the 50s and will be using it as an excuse to watch as many films as I can from this decade.

I have virtually no interest in early Hollywood films, so I'd greatly appreciate any lists of crucial non-Hollywood cinema to view from this period, and especially any avant-garde shorts and features.

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Steven H
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#3 Post by Steven H » Wed Jan 17, 2007 6:37 pm

Cook's A History of Narrative Film is a good start. I usually browse through that book when I'm looking for an overreaching idea of what was going on in film during a certain time.

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Scharphedin2
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#4 Post by Scharphedin2 » Wed Jan 17, 2007 9:14 pm

I agree with Steven, Cook's A History Of Narrative Film is always a good start (regardless of which period in film one may be interested in). However, it is also very much a textbook, and while it provides an enormous amount of suggestions for further viewing and reading, it also comes with a good dose of academic dryness.

Below I have compiled the beginning of a list of books that I will skim back through, as I view the films of the '50s. I am not a scholar, or, in any manner professionally involved in film, so bear with me, I admit nothing if not my own ignorance, and would of course welcome any input into this list.

General Film History:

A History Of Narrative Film by David Cook -- As mentioned above.
The Story Of Cinema, Vol. 2 by David Shipman -- The first film book I ever read, and one that treats its subject with passion. It is also a more subjective approach than Cook.
Expanded Cinema by Gene Youngblood -- A history of experimental film from silent times to the sixties. This book is fascinating; a great place to find inspiration to begin viewing experimental film. Not exclusively dedicated to the '50s, of course.

Film Theory:

The Major Film Theories: An Introduction by J. Dudley Andrew -- The latter half concerns film theorists that were active in the fifties. As the title implies, it is only an overview of a topic that is naturally vast.
What Is Cinema, Vol. 2 by Andre Bazin -- These writings are theoretical, but I remember being surprised that they were rather light in tone, very much in love with the subjects, and not very scholarly on the surface.

Hollywood/American Film in the '50s:

The Genius Of the System by Thomas Schatz -- I read this recently and absolutely enjoyed it. It is of course only the last few chapters that are concerned with the '50s, but it does give an idea of how the Hollywood system was changing or falling apart in the '50s.
The Whole Equation by David Thomson -- Again, this is a history of Hollywood from silent days to the present, so only a segment of it really concerns the '50s.
Hollywood Babylon by Kenneth Anger -- The other side of the coin. Once more, only certain parts pertain to the '50s, as the book covers the period from silent days to the '60s.
Who The Devil Made It by Peter Bogdanovich -- Bogdanovich interviews more than a dozen legendary Hollywood directors at great length in this book. It is of course not exclusively dedicated to the '50s, but many of the directors that he talks to were active during the decade of the '50s.
The American Cinema by Andrew Sarris -- This should maybe go under "film theory," but it does give an excellent overview of what (according to Sarris) are the films and directors worthy of attention from the dawn of Hollywood to the end of the '60s. So, it would be a good book to consult if putting together a viewing list of '50s films, altough I personally would not rely exclusively on Sarris's opinion.

Non-American Film History in the '50s:
(a really poor heading, and a section where I would really appreciate input. Many excllent books must have been written on the cinemas of other countries than the United States, but I unfortunately am not familiar with them)

The Japanese Cinema by Jospeh L. Anderson & Donald Richie -- Unevenly written, but certainly very insightful study of the Japanese film industry up until the end of the '50s.

Books on Film Directors active in the '50s:
(a small selection of books that I know to deal with the period, and that I thought were particularly good, when I read them)

About John Ford by Lindsay Anderson
Citizen Welles by Frank Brady
Conversations With Wilder by Cameron Crowe
The Films of Akira Kurosawa by Donald Richie
Hawks On Hawks by Joseph McBride
HitchcockTruffaut by Francois Truffaut
Nicholas Ray by Bernard Eisenschitz
Sirk On Sirk by Jon Halliday
This Is Orson Welles by Peter Bogdanovich
A Tree Is A Tree by King Vidor
The Warrior's Camera by Steven Prince

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Rufus T. Firefly
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#5 Post by Rufus T. Firefly » Thu Jan 18, 2007 3:19 am

I've been reading the History of the American Cinema series chronologically over the past few years. The latest (last) release in the set of ten, Lev's The Fifties, has only just come out in paperback so I have yet to read it. But the past volumes have all been useful in understanding trends in American cinema from the point of view of public tastes, production and technical trends, economic and political imperatives and so on.

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jt
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#6 Post by jt » Thu Jan 18, 2007 9:54 am

The Story of Film by Mark Cousins has chapters covering (I think) 1945-52 and 53-59 rather than exact decades but he touches on the films that he feels were the most important from all over the world and explains his choices in a very readable (but not too heavy) way.

In all, there's probably about 100 pages on the 50's and he considers 'classicism' in cinema to refer to 30's through 50's Japan, not USA, whose golden period he refers to as 'closed romantic realism'.

One of my favourite books on film and available as a sturdy and cheap paperback.

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foggy eyes
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#7 Post by foggy eyes » Thu Jan 18, 2007 12:08 pm

The History of American Cinema series is indeed fantastic: very thorough, and scholarly but not too scholarly. Highly recommended.

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#8 Post by David Ehrenstein » Thu Jan 18, 2007 1:52 pm

Gavin Lambert's Mostly About Lindsay Anderson is a great book about the title subject and a great book about Nicholas Ray. In fact the KEY book about Nicholas Ray.

academyleader
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#9 Post by academyleader » Thu Jan 18, 2007 5:15 pm

Gordon Gow's "Hollywood in the Fifties," even though published in 1971, is still a good, concise guide to American films of that decade. Readers will find lots of connections between titles because the films are grouped for discussion thematically.

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Gregor Samsa
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#10 Post by Gregor Samsa » Thu Jan 18, 2007 9:33 pm

It isn't necessarily a guide to canonical films of the period, but Peter Biskind's Seeing is Believing: How Hollywood Taught Us To Stop Worrying and Love the 50s offers a series of interesting political analyses of films ranging from Twelve Angry Men to Them! It simultaneously indicates the diversity and the commonalities of the decade in American filmmaking. Its also why I was disappointed in the gossip-fest that was Easy Riders, Raging Bulls.

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Brian Oblivious
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#11 Post by Brian Oblivious » Wed Jan 31, 2007 9:36 pm

A couple of books I'd highly recommend for readers interested in short film forms:

Cartoon Modern by Amid Amidi

Cinema 16: Documents Toward a History of the Film Society edited by Scott McCloud.

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colinr0380
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#12 Post by colinr0380 » Thu Feb 01, 2007 6:23 am

I enjoy using the list project for the same reason Scharphedin2, and really enjoy the debates about the films of each decade, even if I'm not adding my list this time around (I want to use the time to rewatch a lot more films before the cycle starts again, if it starts again!)

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zedz
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1950s Discussion and Suggestions (Lists Project Vol. 2)

#13 Post by zedz » Tue Feb 06, 2007 4:41 pm

This is where you can make viewing suggestions for, seek information about, or argue the merits of films eligible for the 1950s list. Housekeeping matters about the mechanics of the voting, or the eligibility of certain films, should be discussed in the stickied "Lists Projects" thread. Post-vote, darlings can be defended in the existing thread.

Just to kick things off, if you haven't seen it, for heaven's sake track down Ida Lupino's The Hitch-hiker and watch it with the lights on.

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GringoTex
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#14 Post by GringoTex » Wed Feb 07, 2007 1:31 pm

The MOC Naruse boxset provided the most exciting introduction to a director I've had in years. Sound of the Mountain is my favorite but all three are excellent.

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Michael Kerpan
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#15 Post by Michael Kerpan » Wed Feb 07, 2007 3:05 pm

Audie Bock's out of print book on Japanese directors is a bit out-dated, but still an essential starting point for looking at some of the most significant Japanese directors of the 50s. (Libraries should still have copies, I would think).

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Steven H
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#16 Post by Steven H » Wed Feb 07, 2007 4:03 pm

Finding one's way around Japanese cinema in the fifties is certainly a task. So much is unavailable. I specifically am about to pick up Ichikawa's A Full Up Train and Imai's Darkness at Noon from cdjapan (I've wanted to see both for a while.) Also, I'm going to try and watch at least one film directed by Tanaka Kinuyo (the only one available, I think, on video, is Love Letter.) And then there are the seemingly endless supplies of yakuza and samurai films from that era floating around on ebay.

A couple of 50s films I can't find, though I know were once available on VHS in Japan (unsubbed, of course) are Hashimoto Shinobu's I Want To Be A Shellfish and Kobayashi Masaki's Black River. If anyone can tell me how I can see videos of these films, please PM me.

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#17 Post by Michael Kerpan » Wed Feb 07, 2007 4:25 pm

Imai is virtually unknown in the West now. He was, as far as I can tell, actually the most popular and critically acclaimed Japanese director of the 50s in Japan itself. While the second most popular director of the era -- Kinoshita -- was profiled by Bock, Imai was totally ignored. Richie has always given pretty short shrift to him as well.

I've only see two of his films so far -- and found one enjoyable and the other one very close to great (or maybe actually great). It would seem impossible to assess Japanese cinema of the 50s meaningfully without addressing Imai's role -- yet virtually nothing has been written about him in English or (so far as I know) French...

Western coverage of Japanese cinema can not even be described (charitably) as "spotty".

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Scharphedin2
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#18 Post by Scharphedin2 » Wed Feb 07, 2007 8:15 pm

Thank you for creating this thread, zedz.

I have watched a few '50s films already; the following were the most exciting:

John Ford's Wagonmaster is not out in R1, but Editions Montparnasse's edition is actually quite nice. The film is wonderful -- without a strong star lead performance, it is as if Ford focussed even more attention on the landscape and the detail of life. Many of his stock actors are on hand, and the film is more of an ensemble piece. The soundtrack rates among the best of any Ford film I have seen, and there is some great dialogue -- the opening scene wherein Ben Johnson and Ward Bond haggle over a horse trade is a classic moment.

The more films I see by Nicholas Ray, the more I fall in love with his style and choice of characters. I had never seen In a Lonely Place until this weekend, but it is a fantastic film, both as a "Ray" picture, an Hollywood expose, and a film noir. Beautiful photography by Burnett Guffey and excellent score by George Antheil. Bogart's performance is one of his toughest and most cynical; Gloria Grahame I am not that familiar with, but she marvelous here. Although the disc from Columbia is a few years old, the film transfer looks very strong to my eyes.

I picked up The Rocking Horse Winner on the strength of a review at Beaver. It is a small British film by Anthony Pellisier, based on a literary piece by D.H. Lawrence. It is a truly eccentric little film; another film of the world experienced through the eyes and ears of a young boy, steering close to fable, and teetering very close to horror in a couple of scenes. The film was released on DVD by HVe, and the transfer is very nice.

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zedz
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#19 Post by zedz » Wed Feb 07, 2007 9:45 pm

Scharphedin2 wrote:The more films I see by Nicholas Ray, the more I fall in love with his style and choice of characters. I had never seen In a Lonely Place until this weekend, but it is a fantastic film, both as a "Ray" picture, an Hollywood expose, and a film noir. Beautiful photography by Burnett Guffey and excellent score by George Antheil. Bogart's performance is one of his toughest and most cynical; Gloria Grahame I am not that familiar with, but she marvelous here. Although the disc from Columbia is a few years old, the film transfer looks very strong to my eyes.
Looking back at my previous 50s submission, I see it needs a major overhaul. In a Lonely Place was on that list, but now I'd go for The Lusty Men as my favourite 50s Ray. He's a key American director of the decade, but this is one of those many cases where possession (or rather, availability) might prove to be 9/10ths of the law.

In fits and starts, most of Anthony Mann's westerns have made it onto disc in the past few years. The Stewart ones tend to get the most attention, and they're marvellous (particularly The Naked Spur and The Man from Laramie), but even the lesser-known Tin Star is superb, mature and well left-of-centre. And Man of the West is one of the greatest westerns ever made, even though the current DVD transfer means you have to take its visual splendour on trust.

I'll be very interested to see how Ozu fares this time around. He's been going from strength to strength in the recent polls, and his output from the 30s and 40s is barely available. On the other hand, virtually all his 50s films are generally accessible. Will this lead to a flood of Ozu titles in the top 100, or will individual titles be drowned in vote-splitting?

And will the recent Free Cinema box set result in more British votes? My Anderson title from the last vote (Thursday's Children) wasn't included, but now I'm very tempted to find a place for The Singing Street.

I hope the recent McLaren and Anger releases will improve the chances of Blinkity Blank and Eaux d'artifice, but some DVD label better act quickly if anyone else is to vote for Free Radicals or Yantra. And, on a similar note, what impact will the continued unavailability of Senso have on its chances? To a large extent, this is a lottery, but that's part of the fun.

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Scharphedin2
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#20 Post by Scharphedin2 » Thu Feb 08, 2007 2:05 am

zedz wrote:...now I'd go for The Lusty Men as my favourite 50s Ray.
The Lusty Men already has a place on my list. It was one of the first Ray films I saw, and although I have not seen the film in 15 years, there are still moments from that film that I think about probably every month.

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#21 Post by david hare » Thu Feb 08, 2007 4:03 am

Its one of Ray's greatest pictures. If only he'd worked with Mitchum and Harward more than once! (And lived forever...)

The old laser was sublime and the print looked crystal clear mint. Im certain we might see this later in the year from Warner. Arthur Kennedy is also unreognized and wonderful, as he is in Dave's fabulous Summer Place (my FIRST favorite move from the 1960s. Cause I saw it on first release in Technicolor, and was able to fall in love with both Troy and Sandra.

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#22 Post by Balthazar » Thu Feb 08, 2007 1:00 pm

Just to add - for any interested parties, The Lusty Men is showing at the NFT here in the UK at 5:40pm this Sunday (in a double bill with Duck Amuck).

I for one will be passing it up to see The Mother and the Whore at the Ciné Lumière at 6:45, but that's another story...

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Polybius
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#23 Post by Polybius » Thu Feb 08, 2007 10:47 pm

zedz wrote:In fits and starts, most of Anthony Mann's westerns have made it onto disc in the past few years. The Stewart ones tend to get the most attention, and they're marvellous (particularly The Naked Spur and The Man from Laramie)
Those two are the jewels of their brilliant collaboration.
And Man of the West is one of the greatest westerns ever made[...]
True. I just wish that Stewart had been available to do it, as well.

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GringoTex
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#24 Post by GringoTex » Thu Feb 08, 2007 11:07 pm

Polybius wrote:
zedz wrote:In fits and starts, most of Anthony Mann's westerns have made it onto disc in the past few years. The Stewart ones tend to get the most attention, and they're marvellous (particularly The Naked Spur and The Man from Laramie)
Those two are the jewels of their brilliant collaboration.
Love those but I actually prefer Winchester '73 and Far Country.

The highest rated Western on my list, however, will be Vera Cruz. I'm not sure there was a better director in the world betwen 1954-1956 than Aldrich.

jonp72
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#25 Post by jonp72 » Sat Feb 10, 2007 12:18 pm

I've migrated a list of 1950s short films to this thread. Please send me a personal message if there any problems with the links. I will post links to the Ubufilm clips in a separate post. For zedz's sake, I have also added some Len Lye clips, including a double bill that includes Free Radicals paired with Colour Box. (Note: Colour Box is ineligible, because it was made in the 1930s, but Free Radicals is eligible as a 1950s entry.) In addition, I added some of Tex Avery's work from the 1950s, along with an animated adaptation of Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart with James Mason narrating.

Bruce Conner, A Movie (RealMovie format)
Stan Brakhage, Wedlock House: An Intercourse
Stan Brakhage, Desistfilm
Stan Brakhage, Cat's Cradle
Hans Richter, the Queening of the Pawn (from 8 X 8: A Chess Sonata)
Hans Richter, The Fatal Move (from 8 X 8: A Chess Sonata)
Hans Richter, the Self-Imposed Obstacle (from 8 X 8: A Chess Sonata)
Harry Smith, Color Study (non-original music added)
Harry Smith, Number 11: Mirror Animation (non-original music added)
Kenneth Anger, Rabbit's Moon
Kenneth Anger, Eaux d'Artifice
Maya Deren, The Very Eye of Night
Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie, Pull My Daisy (also here)
Len Lye, Colour Box in a double bill with Free Radicals
Len Lye, Colour Cry
Len Lye, Tal Farlow
Tex Avery, Car of Tomorrow
Tex Avery, Sh-h-h-h-h-h!
Tex Avery, T.V. of Tomorrow
Ted Parmelee, The Tell-Tale Heart (animated Poe adaption with James Mason narration)

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