The Gold Rush (1925)

The Gold Rush
Written and directed by Charlie Chaplin
(number 348)

Here’s one of these old films that you kind of know what it’s about purely because it’s been spoofed, referenced and sampled in so many other places. I feel like I’ve seen clips of it over and over. Mostly I think of the Simpsons parody with Homer and Mr Burns in the cabin.

The things I like about this film are that it’s easy to follow, there’s not weird stuff happening like in Napoleon. There’s genuinely amusing set pieces, and the love story is rather sweet and affecting. I didn’t really expect a love story but I suppose Chaplin usually put them in.

Tropes which started with this film: being so hungry you imagine someone as a big bit of food, being so hungry you cook and eat your shoe, the breadrolls + forks dancing feet, the cabin teetering on the edge of a precipice? P
ossibly the stuff with the bear being right behind him but then turning into a cave when the Prospector turns around? No, that one’s been around since people started making stage comedies I think.

I like the continuity with his missing shoe all through the movie as well, and his bundled up foot. It’s nice to see it so carefully represented all through the story, even after it gets set on fire. It should probably go without saying but I’m gonna state it anyway, there’s some astoundingly good slapstick in this film. I think my favourite is the Prospector declaiming his intentions to Georgia and gesturing widely, then being yanked off camera by Big Jim. You see both of Charlie’s feet in mid air in this stunt and it’s impressive.

I was also surprised to read that the majority of the movie was filmed in studios and backlots, it does look quite a lot like the actual Klondike stuff at the start of the film.

Does it make me love the people? Yes, the prospector, he’s our every man, but the tenderness he shows once he’s fallen for Georgia is what really makes him sympathetic. He has so little, but he sets up a lovely dinner table, decorations and a gift for her for New Years Eve dinner. It’s so sweet.

Bechdel test: well, aside from the fact that no one actually speaks out loud, it actually gets close. Georgia is shown talking with her dance hall girlfriends several times, but they aren’t named and their dialogue isn’t shown on title cards.

Best line:

“Man proposes, but a storm disposes” may be the best title card ever.

also I learned through the power of subtitles that the Spanish for ‘stowaway’ is ‘clandestino’ and if that’s not the most brilliant word, I just don’t even know language.

State of Mind: This is a lovely film, easy and fun to watch with lots of appeal for a modern sensibility. Charlie’s performance seemed ‘essence of Chaplin’ and I read online that it’s the role he wished to be most remembered for. I can see why. I may seek out other Chaplin films, as it really is sweeter than I expected from the opening sequence’s bleakness.

Watched movie count

Au hasard Balthazar (1966)

Au hasard Balthazar
Written and directed by Robert Bresson
(number 354)

Same film maker who did A Man Escaped which I watched a bit over a year previously. One of the greats in the ‘pretentious boring French film’ stakes (which I say with love, because French films are generally, love.) Having said that though, I’m not sure this is going to be one of my favourite French films. Marie and Balthasar are both mistreated and it’s meant to be a study of sainthood?

I guess the saints generally had pretty crap lives, didn’t they?

This film is basically Black Beauty if Black Beauty was a French donkey. So much pain and suffering and equating the struggles of an animal with the existential crisis of life.

It’s beautifully made, no question there. The photography is beautiful, the animal actors are astounding, the human actors are great too. The music, everything. It’s a lovely piece visually, but the story is pretty bleak. I had to watch this without Anna around and I’m glad I did as there’s quite a lot of animal suffering.

Does it make me love the people? I loved Balthasar because how could you not? Basically everyone else in the movie is horrible, selfish or actively abusive (especially bad boy Gerard, urgh.) Marie, yes. and Basically only Marie. Marie was such a sad, obedient character but there wasn’t much going on otherwise. Just winsome sadness.

Bechdel test: No, Marie and her mother talk, but her mother is not named and they only talk about Marie’s boyfriend and her father so. No.

Best line:

Gerard: Lend him to us.
Marie’s mother: He’s worked enough. He’s old. He’s all I have.
Gerard: Just for a day.
Marie’s mother: Besides, he’s a saint.

State of Mind: I cannot recommend this film. It’s depressing and upsetting things happen to the donkey. I feel I’m not sufficiently educated in how this movie relates to religion and sainthood but I dunno, it just felt awful. I tried to explain about it to a couple of people after finishing it and apparently my description just makes it sound awful as well. Cannot recommend.

Watched movie count

Fatal Attraction (1987)

Fatal Attraction
Directed by Adrian Lyne
Written by James Dearden based on his short film.
(number 351)

Here’s another film which you hear a lot about without actually seeing it. There’s one thing in particular that you hear about this film, and it’s also the reason why Anna should never see it. #BunnyBoiler

I guess it’s one I had always been interested in – just out of curiosity, also because it is one of those films which get parodied or homaged to quite often. I hadn’t realised it had been nominated for so many academy awards. It seems like it’s not the kind of fim which would get nominated these days, it seems like a pulp film, below their notice. Different times, I suppose.

I’m interested in Michael Douglas’s character because Dan seems like such the cookie cutter of the Michael Bateman type, a successful capitalist man’s man in suits. He’s a twist on it though because he is happily married and relatively devoted to his wife and family. And the other twist: he gets punished for breaking the family mould and sleeping around. It is kind of horribly satisfying to see the police be so useless when Dan goes in for help – a gender twist on the woman going to complain about being harrassed and basically being told she deserved it and there’s nothing they can do but catch the culprit in the act. Not a fun scene but an interesting use of it, I feel.

The sex scenes with Glenn Close are pretty raunchy, I can see how this caused a stir in the late eighties alone, let alone what happens later. It’s a very familiar storyline, not sure if this film originated it or not: textbook love sequences with raunch and playing around and tenderness, but then of course the darkness seeps in. She immediately goes to violent emotional manipulation and goodness. It’s scary. It also seems like classic behaviour for a manipulative partner.

The bunny sequence is shocking even when you know it’s coming – I can’t imagine the reaction in the theatres at the first releases. It’s especially awful because of how it doesn’t target Dan – it hurts his daughter first and foremost, and Beth for discovering it. He is forced to tell what happened, forced to deal with the fall out and how it hurts them.

The last half hour moves into classic horror territory with Alex popping up seemingly from nowhere, and the scenes in the country house becoming increasingly scary.

Does it make me love the people? Sure, you like Dan and there’s nothing but sympathy for Beth and Ellen. At first you feel sympathy for Alex too, you’re taken in just as Dan is because she seems sweet and fun. She lost all of it when she accused him of being gay for not doing what she wanted :/

Bechdel test: The babysitter talks to the daughter Ellen very early on, but the babysitter is not named. Martha the secretary talks to Alex over the phone but we only hear the secretary’s side of things. Hildy and Beth talk while they’re at a dinner party with their husbands but it’s sort of all four of them talking at once so I don’t think that counts. Beth and Ellen can be heard enjoying a bed time story together but it’s off screen, does that count? They’re both named women and talking about not-men…? Finally a definitive pass, Alex is in the house talking to Beth. It’s small talk about the apartment and definitely not about men. So many near misses before then! Later Beth and Ellen are shown on screen talking and practising her lines for the school play, so it’s a definite pass a couple times over. Nice to have so many named women to choose from!

Best line:

Dan: so you’re just gonna show up at my apartment?
Alex: Well, what am I supposed to do? You won’t answer my calls, you change your number. I’m not gonna be IGNORED, Dan.

State of Mind: It got really tense at the end there. I didn’t like the jump scares… but overall a great movie. I’m not sure if I’d watch it again but the performances really are incredible. Virtuoso stuff from Glenn Close. I feel good for having seen it properly – I’m sure I’ve seen clips of it here and there, and certain moments were so familiar to me – but I think because of endless homages.

Watched movie count

Leave her to Heaven (1945)

Leave her to Heaven
Directed by John M. Stahl
Written by Jo Swerling based on the novel by Ben Ames Williams
(number 352)

This film is named after a quote from Hamlet. Nice. (The ghost of Hamlet’s father telling him not to judge his mother, but let God deal with her sins.)

Okay but I want to travel on the train shown at the start of this film, which looks exactly like a very long and comfy lounge with armchairs and sofas and lamps and curtains, it looks very pleasant. Actually the houses this movie is set at look lovely as well. Very homey.

This feels very much like a Hitchcock film, what with the trains and the people being told they resemble other people, femme fatales, the lush landscapes and the wittiness of the characters. This isn’t at all a bad comparison.

I realised as I watched this but that this film is a prototype for all the ‘women gone murderous’ films like Fatal Attraction or Gone Girl. There’s a lot of this in Gone Girl, in retrospect. It’s a great film. You’re trying to work out what she’s going to do next and thinking breathlessly ‘no, she wouldn’t!’ and then of course she does. Compelling stuff and a great psychological thriller which didn’t go the way I expected.

Shout out to having writers in movies. I love seeing writers in movies. I mean, there’s not much about his work or process, just that he is busy typing away a lot of the time. It’s good fun, and of course it’s all important plot points along the way. I’m leery of putting too much detail in here because I want to urge my friends, all my readers, to watch this. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone talking about this film and it’s great.

Does it make me love the people? Yes, especially Ruth. Ruth is MVP. I like Dick a lot, and actually although she’s cold and calculating and evil, Ellen is a great character. She’s so compelling to watch.

Bechdel test: Yes, a few times. At least when Ruth and Mrs Berent talk about Ellen and later when Ellen and Ruth talk about how Ruth wants to go on holiday to Mexico.

Best line:

Mrs. Berent: There’s nothing wrong with Ellen. It’s just that she loves too much.

State of Mind: Impressed, that was compelling and gripping and interesting. I guess the characterisation of the women isn’t too unusual now, I wonder if it was a little groundbreaking when it came out. Or maybe it’s just standard Noir characterisations. The point is that this is a beautifully made film and I recommend it to everyone. I’ll definitely watch it again. It sticks with you, this film.

Watched movie count

Arthur (1981)

Arthur
Written and directed by Steve Gordon
(number 355)

First impression: oh, I love this song…

Second impression: Arthur’s so freaking annoying, my god. Stop making stupid jokes, stop laughing at your own stupid jokes. Just stop.

Maybe it’s the current political climate, or the extreme eighties love for capitalism but it is quite hard for me to feel sympathy for the overly privileged white man child. Perhaps if his laugh and jokes weren’t so annoying. But the problem being that he’s cut off if he doesn’t make the politically convenient marriage is rather Bertie and Wooster-ish which I kind of enjoy. But overall, urgh. I don’t know why I should care that his life of driving drunk and taking prostitutes home to deal with his surly valet is in jeopardy.

The settings are all very lush, as you’d imagine for a movie about a stupidly rich man, the fashion is rather impressive in an early 80s way. The wedding dress and bridesmaids are just incredible. So many frills and so much lace and wide brimmed hats. Stunning really. The Burt Bacharach soundtrack is pretty good too, not that I’d listen to it on its own but it suits the film very well.

Does it make me love the people? Okay I do quite like Hobson. He has as little patience with Arthur as I do, although he is rather discriminatory. Arthur I cannot bring to love, especially since I’m pretty sure he told the man married to the loud woman who lives near Linda to beat her so she wouldn’t be so loud.

I guess I love Linda, she’s sweet if a little two dimensional – being the sassy Liza Minelli sort of character and falling in love with Arthur right away. Nah, it’s about about Hobson.

Bechdel test: Linda and Susan talk a little in the stables but Arthur is also there and also they quickly start talking about Linda’s imaginary husband so I’m not sure that counts at all.

Best line:

Hobson: You spoiled little bastard! You’re a man who has everything, haven’t you, but that’s not enough. You feel unloved, Arthur, welcome to the world. Everyone is unloved. Now stop feeling sorry for yourself. And incidentally, I love you.

Hobson: – puts on a hat – if I start to die, please take this off my head. I do not wish to be remembered this way.

State of Mind: The only thing that could tempt me to see the remake is that Helen Mirren is the Hobson character. That sounds amazing, but I don’t think I could take Russell Brand laughing and making awful jokes the whole time. Also a comedy near-stabbing? not that funny. It’s possible I was in the wrong mood to watch this, being pretty tired out and having read a lot of crap about the state of the world on the internet today, but I fail to see where the appeal is in this movie. I don’t find it a moving love story, I don’t feel much sympathy for the lead character and generally… I was pleased when it was over.

Watched movie count

Napoleon (1927)

Napoleon
Written and directed by Abel Gance
(number 361)

Okay so I sat down and started watching this and really rather enjoyed the first half hour/40 minutes. And then I paused it and it turned out it’s a 5 and a half hour movie. GOOD LORD. WHY. Whyyy

So I’ve watched it in installments.

The opening sequences of Napoleon as a little boy are pretty rough to watch. I have issues with empathy and hating to see people being bullied. The bullying of Napoleon is harsh. Especially the bit where two of his schoolmates release his pet eagle just because they see how much he loves it. That’s exactly the kind of thing I have trouble with (see write up for American History X )

Very easy to see how impressively made this film is, how it led into the new wave cinema movement. The merging of images over other images, the different frames used, the splitting of the pillow fight into multiple pictures on the same screen. It’s impressive, and the special effects also make good storytelling sense when they’re used.

I wasn’t too sure if there’s any kind of meaning behind the different colours soaked over the footage. I guess just as a way to differentiate the different stages of the story, the stages of his life? The purple was very intense and I found it actually distracting.

The battle scenes are pretty impressive, I wonder how much it all cost back then to assemble a bunch of people. How much trick photography was used to make it look like more people were there? How many extras appear over and over again? The pasted together frames of the huge army with Napoleon addressing them at the end of the film is impressive. I’d never know if extras were doubled, or if half of them are matte paintings behind the extras but it’s not about that. The film maker has achieved an epic scope with those shots and it’s cool to see. The speech loses quite a lot for being on title cards, but the music is appropriately surging.

I didn’t manage to watch every minute of this film. It became such a chore in my mind, I just ended up watching selected highlights. I apologise for this, but I don’t particularly regret it. It’s too much story, too many life events, too many battles and too many sequences of staring at Napoleon’s face.

Does it make me love the people? Napoleon looks a lot like Noel Fielding which I kind of love. I don’t know how much I cared about him as a character though…

Bechdel test: There are named ladies other than Josephine but they’re only shown speaking to each other about Napoleon, which… given it’s a biopic makes sense. (Quite possible there were magical scenes of named women talking about other stuff in a bit I skipped though? I assume not, but… you never know.)

Best line:

“all the scenes in Corsica were photographed exactly where they happened.” well, isn’t that sweet?

State of Mind: Like, it’s pretty good, in parts. The ball sequences are lush and fun to watch, the battles epic, etc. I think my favourite part was the childhood stuff… but it’s just too damn long. I can’t. It’s impressive, the end is inspiring, although I don’t particularly care about Napoleon’s successes, the surging music over the footage in the colours of the French flag is all the right notes for good propaganda – like at the end of Independence Day when the alien ship is crumbling and Will Smith says to his son ‘I promised you fireworks’ or something like that, and honest to the universe when I first saw that film I thought “I’m so glad I’m American!”

Watched movie count

Unfaithfully Yours (1948)


Written and directed by Preston Sturges
(number 358)

This is another of those movies I’d never heard of, but was pleased to find it’s a comedy. Once again a romantic comedy which is regarded as a valid piece of cinema due to its age?

Watching it, I can see some art to the direction, some weirdness about the plot, the structure of how he imagines what he will do about his supposedly cheating wife. The batshit premise of the film is quite at home with current comedy movie scripts, in that respect there’s very little has changed. This is one of those old ‘movie as play on screen’ productions, with lots of long scenes of dialogue between two people in one room.

What I really enjoyed about the film was the acting and the script. There’s some gorgeous long interchanges, some snappy one liners and some laugh out loud moments. It’s tight. Honestly? It reminded me of a Shakespeare comedy, with lots of misunderstandings, miscommunication, overly elaborate plots and long metaphors (especially the scene where Alfred describes a movie about a dog to Daphne but it’s all about how he knows she cheated on him.)

“For me no one handles Handel like you handle Handel”

The costuming and sets are very beautiful as well, reminiscent of all the high class inner spaces of All About Eve. It’s a stunningly beautiful film, and the black and white seems to emphasise that beauty. The gorgeous long takes of speech and action help as well.

Does it make me love the people? Absolutely. Alfred’s sympathetic if a bit extreme in his reactions. I feel for Daphne more than him, but it’s the kind of film where people are generally likable and sweet.

The sequence where Alfred is trying to set up his perfect murder is just… incredible. Like those sequences in infomercials where everything goes wrong? It’s like that but writ large, hilarious! I watched it with Jo and the two of us where laughing so hard we were tearing up.

Bechdel test: Barbara and Daphne talk to each other a lot, but I rather think it’s always about either August or Alfred.

Best line:

August: You keep repeating ” keep an eye on your wife,” as if it had some special meaning. Well, you see Alfred, being a little nearsighted, I couldn’t keep an eye on her from Palm Beach. Nevertheless, I did not fail you.
Alfred: Again, something’s happening to my back hair. I don’t recollect saying anything to you at the airport except possibly good-bye. But if I did say keep an eye on my wife for me, I meant see if she’s lonely some evening. And if she is, take her to the movies, you and Barbara.
August: But you didn’t say that. You said, ” Keep an eye on my wife for me.”
Alfred: Well, supposing I did, how could you do it from Palm Beach?
August: With detectives.
Alfred: With detectives! You stuffed moron!
August: Control yourself, Alfred. Control yourself. This is entirely uncalled for. Kindly release my scarf.
Alfred: You dare to inform me you had vulgar footpads in snap-brim fedoras…sluicing after my beautiful wife?
August: I believe it’s called ” sleuthing.” Kindly let go of my shirt. You’re tearing it.There’s nothing to be so upset about. I merely had her tailed.
Alfred: You merely had her what?

Alfred: I give you my solemn word, August: if I don’t regain control of myself in a few minutes, concert or no concert, I’ll take this candelabrum and beat that walnut you use for a head into a nutburger, I believe they’re called!

Alfred: what would you think if your wife had been untrue to you?
Jules: Untrue to me, sir? Oh, I think it’s most unlikely. First of all,
where would she find anybody, sir? And in the second place, if she’d wanted
somebody better looking than me… she could’ve had him easy enough. – I was awful ugly when I was young, sir.

State of Mind: genius, I loved that. Bright and funny and a lovely ending. The characters are interesting and witty and the script zings. According to the internet this is one of Quentin Tarantino’s favourite movies, and whether that’s a recommendation or not I’m not sure, but I can see how it would appeal to him. There are definite homages to this film in his works and his scripting is very much in this style.

Watched movie count