Saturday, December 26, 2009

Target #284: Klute (1971, Alan J. Pakula)

TSPDT placing: #797
Directed by: Alan J. Pakula
Written by: Andy Lewis, David P. Lewis
Starring: Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland, Roy Scheider, Charles Cioffi, Dorothy Tristan

For the most part, the advent of sound was utilised simply to accompany the on screen action. In Klute (1971), director Alan J. Pakula does something very interesting: he uses audio to layer one scene on top of another. Call-girl Bree Daniels (Jane Fonda), held at the whim of a desperate sexual deviant, is forced to hear the tape recording of a murder. The camera never leaves Bree's face, but the viewer barely sees her. Instead, the mind conjures up an entire scene that was never filmed, the sickening final moments of a drug-addled prostitute at the hands of a disturbed man. A less-assured director might have used video footage, or even a flashback. Pakula understood that the audience would provide its own flashback, and his merging of disparate visual and audio streams allows him to tell two stories at once. In this respect, I wouldn't be surprised if the film was the partial inspiration (along with Antonioni's Blow Up (1966), of course) for Coppola's The Conversation (1974).
Though the film takes its title from Donald Sutherland's small-town detective John Klute, the character himself remains oddly detached throughout. Instead, Pakula is most concerned with Fonda's reluctant call-girl, an aspiring actress who keeps returning to prostitution because it involves an "acting performance" during which she always feels in control. Fonda brings an acute warmth and vulnerability to a film that is, by design, rather cold and detached. Pakula deliberately distances the viewer from the story, placing his audience – not in the room where the action is taking place – but on the opposite end of a recording device. His accusation that the viewer is himself engaging in voyeurism runs alongside such films as Powell's Peeping Tom (1960), Antonioni's Blow Up and many works of Hitchcock. It is Fonda's performance that gives the film its core, more so than the mystery itself, the solution of which is offered early on. However, the extra details we glean from Bree's regular visits to a therapist could easily have been peppered more subtly throughout the film.
8/10

Currently my #5 film of 1971:
1) A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick)
2) Straw Dogs (Sam Peckinpah)
3) Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (Mel Stuart)
4) The French Connection (William Friedkin)
5) Klute (Alan J. Pakula)
6) Get Carter (Mike Hodges)
7) Bananas (Woody Allen)
8) The Stalls of Barchester (Lawrence Gordon Clark) (TV)

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Friday, December 4, 2009

Repeat Viewing: The Shining (1980, Stanley Kubrick)

TSPDT placing: #148
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stephen King (novel), Stanley Kubrick (screenplay), Diane Johnson (screenplay)

As do most, I can clearly remember the first time I saw The Shining (1980). I must have been thirteen or fourteen, and had just read Stephen King's novel. There was something cold and clinical about the film that really shook my spine; I could never quite put my finger on exactly why. Perhaps it was the drab colours, the detached camera-work, an overwhelming sense of apathy towards the characters' fate. Just recently, I took the opportunity to see The Shining at the cinema (on a double-bill with A Clockwork Orange (1971)) and my appreciation for the film hasn't faded. An unhappily-married couple (Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall) are employed to caretake the Overlook Hotel over winter. As the long, bleak months progress, the Hotel's rich and dark history begins to manifest physically, and Jack's alcoholism and unstable psychological
state begins to crumble into maniacal madness.

Jack Nicholson's grotesquely over-the-top performance is terrifying, and hilarious, and insanely watchable; Kubrick encouraged Nicholson to overplay the role to its demented maximum. Not surprisingly, his favourite actor was James Cagney, who frequently eschewed realistic method acting in favour of a broiling intensity that suggested a time-bomb on the verge of exploding. Shelley Duvall, meanwhile, does a very good imitation of a complete mental breakdown (in fact, the director himself drove her to the brink with his endless insistence on re-takes, sometimes as many as 100). The exaggerated central performances are strangely at odds with John Alcott's detached cinematography, which surveys the carnage of Jack's mental breakdown with a disquieting aloofness. However, the camera doesn't merely act as an observer; Kubrick uses it to tell the story, his peculiar use of quick zooms serving to claustrophobically constrict the viewer's field of vision and emphasise an element of interest.

Throughout the film, frequent (but irregularly-spaced) title cards signal the passage of time, as though counting down to a historical moment. Jack's plummet into insanity thus becomes set in stone, inevitable, and every preceding frame is plagued by the hand of Fate, gently nudging the man towards a predetermined end. In the film's ambiguous epilogue, Jack's image appears in a photograph dated July 4, 1921. Hence, even before we see Jack Torrance first enter the Overlook Hotel, he has already become a part of its history (just as the previous caretaker Charles Grady had formerly known the Hotel through his historical doppelganger Delbert Grady, the butler). Alternatively, these visions could be a manifestation of Jack's alcoholism – note that, in every scene featuring a ghost, there is a mirror present. It can't be mere coincidence that Jack's axe-assault on a bathroom door was clearly inspired by a sequence in Victor Sjöström's Körkarlen (1921), which concerns an alcoholic husband and father.
9/10

Currently my #2 film of 1980:
1) The Elephant Man (David Lynch)
2) The Shining (Stanley Kubrick)
3) ‘Breaker’ Morant (Bruce Beresford)
4) Star Wars: Episode V- The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner)
5) Stardust Memories (Woody Allen)
6) Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese)

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Repeat Viewing: A Clockwork Orange (1971, Stanley Kubrick)

TSPDT placing: #93

Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Anthony Burgess (novel), Stanley Kubrick (screenplay)

WARNING: Plot and/or ending details may follow!!!

In Kubrick's adaptation of Anthony Burgess' bizarre 1959 dystopian novel, a juvenile delinquent (Malcolm McDowell) and his gang of droogs whittle away their time partaking in such wholesome activities as beating homeless drunks, warring with rival gangs, raping helpless women, and enjoying the music of Ludwig Van Beethoven. There are two things happening in this film: one that Kubrick inherited from Burgess' writing, and another that is endemic to the cinematic medium.

The first role of A Clockwork Orange (1971) is as a rather vicious political satire, dryly mocking the hypocrisy of the government and its policies on institutionalisation and criminal rehabilitation. In the film, the Minister of the Interior (Anthony Sharp) is depicted as opportunistic and self-serving, latching onto the unproven Ludovico technique in a bid to stem his party's failing popularity with voters. When public opinion turns against the therapy, the Minister very swiftly back-peddles, reversing the treatment so that Alex may return to his former ultra-violent ways: "I was cured alright!"
















The UK edition of Burgess' novel contained a final chapter in which Alex sees the error of his former ways, and vows to reform into a productive member of society. Kubrick was unaware of this addition until he had almost completed the screenplay, and never considered using it in the film. This was, I think, a good decision. Burgess' ending shies away from the problem: by letting human nature run its course, he seems to be implying that the problem of juvenile delinquency will sort itself out. Kubrick, admittedly, doesn't offer any solutions of his own, but the corrupt manner in which he ends the film leaves a sour taste.

The Ludovico technique depicted in the film involves the screening of movies, which allows Kubrick room for a degree of self-referentiality. It is in the audiences' nature to recoil from acts of sex and violence, and Kubrick's hard-nosed, deliberately-subversive approach (utilising the perspective of its biased protagonist and narrator) only encourages this response. Just as Alex is exposed to the Ludovico aversion therapy, Kubrick is exposing his audience to the same treatment. Does it work? Do we become desensitised to the violence, or do we begin to associate socially-accepted cues (i.e. Beethoven's Ninth, "Singing in the Rain") with acts of evil?
9/10

Currently my #1 film of 1971:
1) A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick)
2) Straw Dogs (Sam Peckinpah)
3) Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (Mel Stuart)
4) The French Connection (William Friedkin)
5) Get Carter (Mike Hodges)
6) Bananas (Woody Allen)
7) The Stalls of Barchester (Lawrence Gordon Clark) (TV)

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Repeat Viewing: Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991, James Cameron)

TSPDT placing: #565

Directed by: James Cameron

Watching Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) for the first time in three years made me remember how amazing movies could be. Director James Cameron had previously achieved unexpected success with The Terminator (1984), a moody and relentlessly bleak tech-noir thriller. The inevitable sequel came armed with a blockbuster budget and state-of-the-arts visual effects, and it is a triumph on every level. The two films are very different, of course – just as Cameron's Aliens (1986) was very different from Ridley Scott's Alien (1979). The first Terminator film was a down-and-dirty dystopian sci-fi, where the modern-day setting is just as drab and ominous as the terrifying future. In Judgement Day, Cameron juggles a tricky juxtaposition of hope and despair. The blindingly-vivid 1990s action sequences feel as though they were captured in the flash of a nuclear explosion, and their dazzling intensity make our glimpse of a bleak, war-ridden future all the more horrific.
Science-fiction has often tackled the notion that Mankind's technology is destined to rebel, as in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). However, unlike most entries to the genre, T2: Judgement Day takes the time to explore the idea. As in Kubrick's film, the fates of humans and machines become inescapably entwined: Man is no longer merely the designer (a la Dr. Frankenstein) who creates an artificial son, but one who must learn from his progeny. Accordingly, John Connor (Edward Furlong) and the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) share a father-son relationship that twists back on itself like a Moebius strip, each half teaching the other. In one haunting sequence, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) grimly contemplates the Terminator's unwavering loyalty towards John, and his ironic suitability as a father figure. This grotesque interlacing of familial roles speaks a clear message: if Judgement Day is to be averted, Man and Machine must coexist as equals, though human vanity may never allow it.
Throughout the film, Cameron weaves one astonishing action set-piece after another, utilising a seamless combination CGI and optical trickery. The T-1000 Terminator at first glance seems reasonably innocuous, but Robert Patrick brings something icily sinister to the role, a cold intelligence that isn't strictly mechanical but somehow filled with imagination. An equally fascinating character, I thought, was Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor, a complete reversal from the innocent Sarah Connor of the previous film. Now emotionally hardened by the prospect of nuclear holocaust, Sarah sees only ghosts where she once saw people, her apathy stemmed only by her maternal instincts towards John. In a haunting dream sequence, Sarah Connor is powerless to warn a younger version of herself (representative of society at large) of the coming dangers, her screams consumed by a nuclear blast that levels cities and engulfs her in flames. Hamilton's performance is bold and ferocious, perhaps cinema's most intense female action role (not coincidentally, James Cameron also provided us with the runner-up, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in Aliens).
10/10

Currently my #2 film of 1991:
1) The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme)
2) Terminator 2: Judgment Day (James Cameron)
3) JFK (Oliver Stone)
4) Hearts Of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (Fax Bahr, George Hickenlooper, Eleanor Coppola)
5) Barton Fink (Joel Coen, Ethan Coen)

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Target #283: 42nd Street (1933, Lloyd Bacon)

TSPDT placing: #438

Directed by: Lloyd Bacon
Written by: Bradford Ropes (novel), Rian James (screenplay), James Seymour (screenplay),
Whitney Bolton (contribution to treatment) (uncredited)

The backstage Broadway show has always been a staple of the Hollywood musical, and Lloyd Bacon's 42nd Street (1933) might just be the grandfather of them all. The concept itself is appealingly self- reflexive: the process of manufacturing drama creates its own drama. Behind the theatre curtains, unbeknownst to the waiting audience, lives are being changed forever – love blossoms, hearts are broken, and directors wearily await the public verdict. Similar structures were later used in Powell and Pressburger's The Red Shoes (1948) – in which the backstage drama is foreshadowed by the ballet being performed – and Minnelli's The Band Wagon (1953). Better still, Singin' in the Rain (1951) took the same premise and applied it to movies themselves, a direct brand of self-reflexion that would only grow more overt with the likes of Federico Fellini and Charlie Kaufman. In any case, it is sufficient to say that the film's storytelling approach proved hugely influential, and many musicals have carried forth its various clichés.

In Depression-era New York, overstrained Broadway director Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter) vows to make his final stage-show his greatest of all. It won't be easy: his leading lady, the glamorous but snooty Dorothy Brock (Bebe Daniels) is torn between love and stardom, bouncing between her wealthy benefactor (Guy Kibbee) and an old vaudeville partner (George Brent). Into the show comes shy, fresh-faced Peggy Sawyer (Ruby Keeler), who learns the art of the Broadway musical, and incidentally becomes a star in the process. Among the supporting cast there are a few very familiar faces, including a sprightly Dick Powell (a decade before he toughened up with Murder, My Sweet (1944)) and Ginger Rogers, who proves her comedic spark even before pairing up with Fred Astaire in Flying Down to Rio (1933). For the most part, 42nd Street has an incredibly optimistic outlook, making it ideal for a lonely winter night. There's not a single unlikable character in the mix: even the snobbish Dorothy Brock has a few words of encouragement for Peggy before her nervous debut.

Audiences are more likely to connect with the adorably innocent Ruby Keeler, but the film revolves most strongly around Warner Baxter's disenchanted Broadway director, whose body and mind is gradually but inevitably failing him. At first, Marsh seems determined to do whatever it takes to taste acclaim one more time. In a scene borrowed straight out of Warner Brothers' contemporary gangster films, he orders hired thugs to intimidate Pat Denning, Brock's secret sweetheart, but Denning gets away with little more than a cut forehead. Marsh's eventual triumph is heartening, but bittersweet, as he anonymously enjoys the poetry of critical praise just one last time. It's the only moment in 42nd Street that strays from the film's otherwise-buoyant mood, and so it leaves an indelible mark. Most impressive of all, however, is Busby Berkeley's choreography, which really only arrives in the final act. It's remarkable how he uses human bodies like the cogs in a machine, melding human figures and movement, shot from above, into stunningly liquid abstract shapes and tessellations.
7/10

Currently my #3 film of 1933:
1) King Kong (Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack)
2) The Invisible Man (James Whale)
3) 42nd Street (Lloyd Bacon)
4) Duck Soup (Leo McCarey)
5) Flying Down to Rio (Thornton Freeland)

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Target #282: Ninotchka (1939, Ernst Lubitsch)

TSPDT placing: #282
Directed by: Ernst Lubitsch
Written by: Melchior Lengyel (story), Charles Brackett (screenplay), Billy Wilder (screenplay), Walter Reisch (screenplay)
Starring: Greta Garbo, Melvyn Douglas, Ina Claire, Bela Lugosi, Sig Ruman, Felix Bressart, Alexander Granach

I find it a little odd that, on the cusp of WWII, Hollywood delivered a piece of anti-Communist propaganda, when clearly there were, at that time, more immediate threats to European freedom. Ninotchka (1939) was produced while Ernst Lubitsch waited for Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart to become available for The Shop Around the Corner (1940), but it was by no means merely a fill-in project: the film was Greta Garbo's first and only collaboration with Lubitsch, and the actress' penultimate role before a premature retirement. MGM's publicity campaign used the tagline "Garbo Laughs!" to advertise that this was a new type of role for the enigmatic actress, a comedy that promised to humanise her otherwise somber screen persona {this campaign deliberately referenced the tagline for Garbo's Anna Christie (1930), which had proclaimed "Garbo Talks!"}. Though the screenplay by Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett and Walter Reisch unsurprisingly has many genuine sparks of wit, the balance of romance, farce and political commentary never quite sits as comfortably as one would expect given the talents involved.

When three Soviet diplomats (Sig Ruman, Felix Bressart and Alexander Granach) arrive in Paris to sell off some jewelry confiscated from the Grand Duchess (Ina Claire) during the Bolshevik Revolution, they find it difficult to keep their minds on their work. Far away from the cold, drab apartments of Moscow, the French capital is bustling with life, warmth and prosperity (just forget that the French upper-class are not, in fact, a reasonable yardstick for comparison with the Soviet proletariat). Playful aristocrat Léon (Melvyn Douglas), the Duchess' romantic lover, succeeds in corrupting the bumbling diplomats by flaunting the luxuries of capitalistic society. To ensure that the transaction goes through smoothly, the Soviets send down Ninotchka (Garbo), a curt, tight-lipped Bolshevik with a militant hatred of Capitalism and everything it stands for. Against all odds, the debonair playboy Léon and the belligerent Ninotchka fall for one another, an attraction that ultimately proves more significant than one's national allegiance.

Unfortunately, once love softens the formerly stone-faced Ninotchka, the film shifts from being a lighthearted political farce {not unlike To Be or Not to Be (1942) or Wilder's One, Two, Three (1961)} to a weepy romance. Lubitsch followed Ninotchka with The Shop Around the Corner. What worked so well in the latter film, I thought, was that Lubitsch's heart was not necessarily with the star-crossed lovers – James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan – but with Frank Morgan's shop owner, and his familial relationship with its employees. The three reluctant Soviet diplomats in Ninotchka are utterly charming supporting characters, but too often they are shunned in favour of the central romance, which seems to tread water once, as advertised, Garbo breaks character and enjoys a hearty chuckle. Nevertheless, Melvyn Douglas is magnificently debonair, bringing something distinctly likable to the role of a lazy playboy aristocrat. During her opening act, you can almost see a smile forming beneath Garbo's icy exterior, and she plays the role with just the right amount of breeziness.
6.5/10

Currently my #11 film of 1939:
3) Only Angels Have Wings (Howard Hawks)
4) The Wizard Of Oz (Victor Fleming, Mervyn LeRoy, Richard Thorpe, King Vidor)
5) Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming, George Cukor, Sam Wood)
6) The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (H.C. Potter)
7) The Hunchback of Notre Dame (William Dieterle)
8) La règle du jeu {The Rules of the Game} (Jean Renoir)
9) Dark Victory (Edmund Goulding)
10) Another Thin Man (W.S. Van Dyke)
11) Ninotchka (Ernst Lubitsch)
12) Drums Along the Mohawk (John Ford)

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Target #281: JFK (1991, Oliver Stone)

TSPDT placing: #492
Directed by: Oliver Stone
Written by: Jim Garrison (book), Jim Marrs (book), Oliver Stone (screenplay), Zachary Sklar (screenplay)
Starring: Kevin Costner, Jack Lemmon, Gary Oldman, Sissy Spacek, Michael Rooker, Joe Pesci, Walter Matthau, Tommy Lee Jones, John Candy, Kevin Bacon, Donald Sutherland

Oliver Stone's wildly-speculative conspiracy theory epic JFK (1991) opens with a montage of archival footage depicting the presidency of John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States, up until 12:30PM on Friday, November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas. However, even before this historical prologue has come to an end, Stone has already introduced his own dramatisation – a beaten prostitute, dumped on the side of a road, pleads that Kennedy's life is in danger. Her agonised cries play over familiar documentary footage of the Presidential motorcade. Already, Stone is defiantly blending fact and fiction, speculation and dramatisation. On its initial release, the film stirred enormous controversy due to its flagrant disregard for historical fact, but that's not what JFK is all about. Oliver Stone may (or may not) genuinely believe all of Jim Garrison's conspiracy theories – which implicate everybody up to former President Lyndon B. Johnson – but his film nevertheless offers a tantalising "what if?" scenario, an unsettling portrait of the fallibility of "history" itself.

Having undertaken some light research, I don't feel that Garrison's claims hold much water. However, that doesn't detract from the film's brilliance. Crucial is Stone's more generalised vibe of government mistrust, the acknowledgement that political institutions are at least conceptually capable of such a wide-ranging operation to hoodwink the American public. JFK also paints a gripping picture of its protagonist, torn between its admiration for a man willing to contest the sacred cow of US government, and its pity for one so hopelessly obsessed with conspiracy that it consumes his life, family and livelihood. Kevin Costner plays Garrison as righteous and stubbornly idealistic, not dissimilar to his Eliot Ness in De Palma's The Untouchables (1987). The only difference is that Garrison is chasing a criminal far more transparent than Al Capone – indeed, a criminal who may not exist at all. Costner is supported by an exceedingly impressive supporting cast: Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Kevin Bacon, Donald Sutherland, Joe Pesci, Michael Rooker, Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman and John Candy.With the Director's Cut clocking in at 206 minutes, JFK is an epic piece of work. However, the film is so dazzlingly well-constructed that watching it becomes less of a choice than a compulsion. Stone frenziedly throws together seemingly-unrelated puzzle-pieces, systematically peeling back layer after layer of conspiracy until all that remains is what Jim Garrison believes to be the naked truth. Beneath the sordid details, Stone speculates on the nature of history itself. Archive footage blends seamlessly with dramatisation – but what is recorded history but a re-enactment submitted by the winners? Not even the witnesses to Kennedy's assassination, clouded by subjective perception, can know for sure what exactly took place on that dark day in Dallas. Perhaps Zapruder's 486 frames of grainy hand-held footage (combined with that of Nix and Muchmore) represents the only objective record of the event – but Antonioni's Blowup (1966) argued that even photographic documentation is unreliable through the inherent bias of the viewer. In short, nobody knows what really happened that day. JFK is Oliver Stone creating his own history – or merely correcting it.
9/10

Currently my #3 film of 1991:
1) The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme)
2) Terminator 2: Judgment Day (James Cameron)
3) JFK (Oliver Stone)
4) Hearts Of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (Fax Bahr, George Hickenlooper, Eleanor Coppola)
5) Barton Fink (Joel Coen, Ethan Coen)

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Target #280: Days of Heaven (1978, Terrence Malick)

TSPDT placing: #164

Directed by: Terrence Malick
Written by: Terrence Malick

Terrence Malick is less a storyteller than a visual poet. At times, the images in Days of Heaven (1978) seem too beautiful to be believed – could Mother Nature even construct such moments of magnificence at her own accord? Cinematographers Néstor Almendros and Haskell Wexler (credited only as "additional photographer") consistently shot the film during the "magic hour" between darkness and sunrise/sunset, when the sun's radiance is missing from the sky, and so their colours have a muted presence, as though filtered through the stalks of wheat that saturate the landscape. Crucial alongside the film's photographers are composer Ennio Morricone – utilising a variation on the seventh movement ("Aquarium") in Camille Saint-Saëns's "Carnival of the Animals" suite – and a succession of sound editors, whose work brings a dreamy, ethereal edge to the vast fields of the Texas Panhandle. The film's final act, away from the wheat-fields, recalls Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde (1967), but otherwise Malick's style, contemplative and elegiac, is in a class of its own, more comparable perhaps to Kurosawa's Dersu Uzala (1975).

Malick refuses to explore his characters' motivations. The viewer is deliberately kept at an arm's length, and Malick eschews cinema's traditional notions of narrative development. Instead, the story is told as a succession of fleeting moments, the sort that a young girl (the film's narrator, Linda Manz) might pick up through her day-to-day experiences and muted understanding of adult emotions. Note that the girl is always kept separate from the dramatic crux of the film – the love-triangle between Billy, Abby, and the Farmer – and her comprehension of events is tainted by her adolescent grasp on adult relationships and societal norms. I was reminded of Andrew Dominik's recent The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) {another sumptuously-photographed picture}, which also refused to explore its title character, Jesse James, kept at a distance through the impartial objectivity of the historical narrator. In Malick's film, Linda's narration tells us one thing, and the viewer sees another. But one can never fully understand the complex emotions driving human behaviour, so perhaps the girl's perspective is as good as any other.

Days of Heaven derives its title from a passage in the Bible (Deuteronomy 11:21), and Malick's tale of jealousy and desire is suitably Biblical in nature. Essential to this allegory is an apocalyptic plague of locusts, which descend upon the wheat-fields like an army from the heavens. When the fields erupt into flame, quite literally from the broiling emotions of the film's conflicted characters, the viewer is confronted by the most intense manifestation of Hell-on- Earth since the burning village in Bondarchuk's War and Peace (1967). But, interestingly, Malick here regresses on his own allegory: Judgement Day isn't the end, but rather it comes and goes. Life is driven by the inexorable march of Fate: The Farmer (Sam Shepard) is doomed to die within a year; Bill (Richard Gere) is doomed to repeat his mistakes twice over. In the film's final moments, Linda and her newfound friend embark purposelessly along the railway tracks, the tracks being a physical incarnation of Fate itself: their paths are laid down already, but we mortals can never know precisely where they lead until we get there.
8/10

Currently my #2 film of 1978:
1) Watership Down (Martin Rosen)
2) Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick)
3) Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (Philip Kaufman)

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Saturday, August 1, 2009

Target #279: A Matter of Life and Death (1946, Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger)

TSPDT placing: #126


WARNING: Plot and/or ending details may follow!!! [Paragraph 3 only]

The films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger effectively introduced Technicolor to British cinema, but it's how they utilised the new technology that is astonishing. The Red Shoes (1948) and Gone to Earth (1950) each boast a wondrously flamboyant visual style, rich in lush colours and vivid tonal contrasts. A Matter of Life and Death (1946), a post-War fantasy that builds on Powell's work in The Thief of Bagdad (1940), is equally magnificent. As in many of The Archers' colour films, there is a certain slap-dash quality: rather than bearing the products of careful, meticulous planning, it feels as though the directors simply threw caution to the wind and went with whatever felt right {certainly, cinematographer Jack Cardiff took his to heart, choosing to "feel" the correct lighting rather than use a light meter}. Though the parallel settings never quite gel with complete harmony, the wealth of imagination, creativity and sheer gob-smacking wonderment left me utterly entranced for two hours.

In 1945, a doomed British aviator (David Niven) falls in love with June (Kim Hunter), the American radio operator to whom he conveys his final words. After bailing from his floundering plane without a parachute, Peter Carter is resigned to death, but later wakes up on the beach to find that the heavenly angels overlooked him in the fog. He quickly requites his love for June, but Heaven soon sends a romantic French "Conductor" (Marius Goring) to retrieve Carter and correct their previous oversight. However, having suddenly found something meaningful for which to live, Carter demands a celestial appeal, winning the right to argue his case for extended life. Powell and Pressburger are judicious in avoiding any direct mention of Heaven, opening the film with a canny subtitle in which we are told: "This is the story of two worlds, the one we know and another which exists only in the mind of a young airman whose life and imagination have been violently shaped by war. Any resemblance to any other world, known or unknown, is purely coincidental."
















Roger Livesey's astute neurologist is the film's most rational character, recommending a surgical procedure to curtail what he believes to be elaborate post-traumatic delusions. In tales of this sorts, the skeptic ultimately suffers at the hands of the director, but here they're apparently on his side. That Carter's visions of the afterlife are a product of a shell-shocked mind is reinforced by the film's subtle nod to The Wizard of Oz (1939); both the celestial Judge and the surgeon are played by the same actor, Abraham Sofaer. However, the romantic in me – and, may I add, the atheist romantic in me – wants the converse to be true. At the time A Matter of Life and Death was released, the nations of the world were still mourning the War's significant human losses, and to see young British soldiers emerging from death, wide-eyed and cheerful, must have been emotionally reassuring for grief-stricken families, particularly the purely innocent image of a fresh-faced Richard Attenborough remarking, "It's heaven, isn't it?"

A Matter of Life and Death is a masterpiece of contrasts. In one memorable moment, the idyllic and vaguely-mythological scene of a naked goatherd on the beach sands is unexpectedly punctuated by the overpass of a low-flying Mosquito bomber. The most crucial contrast, of course, is that of Cardiff's photography. Inverting the logic of The Wizard of Oz, the Archers shoot their fantasy sequences in ethereal monochrome, whereas the terrestrial scenes are captured in glorious, vibrant Technicolor. This stylistic decision is also important thematically, typical of the filmmakers' Capra-like optimism in the years during and directly following the War (until they began to indulge in operatic tragedy). The film's afterlife is a Utopia of sorts, where the populace can indulge in their hobbies and neglect the worries of mortal life. However, the Archers' preference is most certainly for the real world. The souls of Heaven seem frozen in time, sporting the same dreary clothing and prejudices of their era. Conversely, the people of Earth – like Peter and June – are living, loving and learning every day. Life is a colourful wonderland of emotion, so make the most of it.
9/10

Currently my #3 film of 1946:
1) The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks)
2) It’s A Wonderful Life (Frank Capra)
3) A Matter of Life and Death (Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger)
4) The Best Years of Our Lives (William Wyler)
5) Duel in the Sun (King Vidor)
6) The Killers (Robert Siodmak)
7) Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock)
8) The Locket (John Brahm)
9) Crack-Up (Irving Reis)
10) The Dark Mirror (Robert Siodmak)

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Repeat Viewing: To Kill a Mockingbird (1962, Robert Mulligan)

TSPDT placing: #252

Directed by: Robert Mulligan
Written by: Harper Lee (novel), Horton Foote (screenplay)

WARNING: Plot and/or ending details may follow!!! [Paragraph 3 only]

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) has stayed with me since the time I first saw it, perhaps because the film caught me at an impressionable age. This was in 2004, not a particularly long time ago, but it feels an age away. High school greets you at a young, idealistic age, when the world sits at your fingertips just waiting for you to take it. Having just read Harper Lee's Pullitzer Prize-winning novel in English class, we followed it with Robert Mulligan's film adaptation, which scored an Oscar for Gregory Pick and would have won Best Picture had David Lean not hustled in with his masterpiece. Even when lamentably broken up into fifty-minute intervals, To Kill a Mockingbird left me captivated by its magic – and, yes, there is magic. Though typically celebrated as a statement on racial prejudice in the American South, the true core of both Lee's novel and Mulligan's film is distanced from Tom Robinson's rape trial, and lies in terrible, wonderful and beautiful experience of growing up.
The film, as in Lee's novel, is told through the eyes of Scout Finch (Mary Badham; voiced by Kim Stanley as an adult), the tomboyish daughter of small-town lawyer Atticus (Gregory Peck) and younger sister of Jem (Phillip Alford). Along with visiting neighbour Dill (John Megna), the two siblings whittle away their summers obsessing over local recluse "Boo" Radley, an agoraphobic, mentally-ill man towards whom the children develop both a fear and fascination. Meanwhile, Atticus is appointed to defend an African American (Brock Peters) accused of raping a white woman, and his determination to give the man a fair trial leads to heated racial tensions in the bigoted Southern township. To Kill A Mockingbird follows Jem and Scout as they go about the processes of growing up, learning of the bitter immorality and prejudice that lurks beyond the security of their home. Ironically, the film is weakest during its narrative crux – Tom Robinson's courtroom trial – as Mulligan strains to keep the story focused around the children, though Peck's virtuous performance compensates for the lapse.
I've never quite been able to put my fingers around why To Kill A Mockingbird is, to me, such an emotionally-draining (and fulfilling) picture. Perhaps it's Elmer Bernstein's musical score, sad and wistful, like the lamentation of a fairy-tale punctuated by reality. Childhood itself is not unlike a fairy-tale, a time of infallible ideals and black-and-white ethics. Mulligan justly celebrates the steadfast moral courage of Atticus Finch, but the overriding emotion at Tom Robinson's sentencing is instead one of sinking disillusionment: while Scout watches on, uncomprehending, Jem buries his head in his arms, his childish conviction in the goodness of adults irreparably shattered. Yet, even then, hope survives for those who, like the Finch family, preserve their moral integrity. The film's fairy-tale mood, at times reminiscent of Laughton's The Night of the Hunter (1957), is enforced most strongly in the children's final walk through the forest, described as their "longest journey together." Arthur "Boo" Radley, a mockingbird who might have been destroyed by less sympathetic souls, ultimately becomes their saviour.
10/10

Currently my #2 film of 1962:
1) Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean)
2) To Kill A Mockingbird (Robert Mulligan)
3) La Jetée {The Pier} (Chris Marker)
4) Le Procès {The Trial} (Orson Welles)
5) Birdman of Alcatraz (John Frankenheimer)
6) Ivanovo detstvo {Ivan’s Childhood} (Andrei Tarkovsky, Eduard Abalov)
7) The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (John Ford)
8) Cape Fear (J. Lee Thompson)
9) Panic in Year Zero! (Ray Milland)
10) The Manchurian Candidate (John Frankenheimer)

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Repeat Viewing: North by Northwest (1959, Alfred Hitchcock)

TSPDT placing: #49

Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Ernest Lehman
WARNING: Plot and/or ending details may follow!!!

Following the commercial failure of Vertigo (1958), Alfred Hitchcock needed a crowd-pleaser. He certainly gave us one. North by Northwest (1959) might just be the most outright entertaining of the director's pictures, a film that exists solely to give its audience a rollicking good time. Throughout his career, Hitchcock often utilised his established stars – for example, Cary Grant in Suspicion (1941) or James Stewart in Vertigo – as an opportunity to deconstruct their ingrained public image. Here, instead, he simply goes with the flow. In his fourth and final film for the Master of Suspense, Cary Grant plays with a familiar persona – debonair and charming, cocky and mischievous. His Roger O. Thornhill (the arbitrary middle initial an overt jab at producer David O. Selznick) is an advertising executive, superficial and self-serving, but with the charisma to support these dastardly qualities. Such a man is surely in need of a comeuppance, and Hitchcock delights in every plot twist that sees Thornhill plunged ever further into a sadistic practical joke cooked up by the Cold War.

Ernest Lehman's screenplay outwardly appears to be little but a selection of spectacular set-pieces strung together by Hitchcock's trademark "wrong man" motif, but it nonetheless amply supports its running-time (among the director's longest). Cary Grant's charming banter with double-agent Eva Marie Saint is tinged with sly sexual innuendo, and only Hitchcock could have ended a film with the hero's train entering the leading ladies'…. well, you get the picture. James Mason brings a dignified vulnerability to the role of Commie spy Phillip Vandamm, but Hitchcock seems only marginally interested in the character, and, indeed, his ultimate fate is completely skipped over (instead, Martin Landau's vicious henchman is given an arch-villain's death). Hitchcock's climax atop a studio reconstruction of Mount Rushmore is only effective thanks to Bernard Hermann's momentous score, but other sequences reek of the director's astonishing aptitude for suspense. The breathless crop-duster ambush is worthy of every accolade that has been bestowed upon it, and Grant's comedic talents shine during both a drunken roadside escape and an impromptu auction-house heckle.

That the audience learns of George Kaplan's fictitiousness long before Thornhill ever does may admittedly weaken the suspense, but Hitchcock's motives are instead to recruit the audience into his own position, as director, of omnipotent power. Beneath its surface, North by Northwest appears to be a subtle swing at Cold War politics, and particularly the power wielded by the FBI and government committees like the HUAC. As Thornhill fights to unravel himself from a tangled web of deception and espionage, Hitchcock unexpectedly crosses to a panel of FBI agents, headed by Leo G. Carroll, who bicker indifferently over the mess into which they've got this oblivious pawn. These government employees are happy to sit listlessly by as citizens place their lives on the line, their quarrels bizarrely resembling the conversations of the gods in Jason and the Argonauts (1963). Indeed, like deities, the FBI men wield the power to invent (Kaplan), destroy, or even resurrect (Thornhill) human beings, and intercede sporadically in a suitably Deus Ex Machina-like fashion.
9/10

Currently my #3 film of 1959:
1) Die Brücke {The Bridge} (Bernhard Wicki)
2) Room at the Top (Jack Clayton)
3) North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock)
4) Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder)
5) Our Man in Havana (Carol Reed)
6) On the Beach (Stanley Kramer)
7) Le Quatre cents coups {The 400 Blows} (François Truffaut)
8) Pickpocket (Robert Bresson)
9) Ben-Hur (William Wyler)
10) The Tingler (William Castle)

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Target #278: The Best Years of Our Lives (1946, William Wyler)

TSPDT placing: #122

Directed by: William Wyler
Written by: MacKinlay Kantor (novel), Robert E. Sherwood (screenplay)

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) is one of the most powerful war films I've ever seen, and yet its story begins after WWII had officially ended. Too often in cinema, the end of the battle is considered the end of the war: a sweeping camera movement, an upwelling of stirring music, the hurrah of victorious soldiers, and suddenly everything is all right. But war doesn't end when the guns stop blazing, nor when the politicians put their pens to paper. War lingers for days, months, and years. Returning veterans, even those who emerged from conflict without a scratch, faced an uphill battle to reclaim their former lives, having sacrificed their happiest years in service to their country. In 1946, the issues faced by war veterans had only just come to public light. Two years earlier, congress had introduced the G.I. Bill, which allowed ex-serviceman access to low-interest loans with which to rebuild their lives. Post-traumatic stress disorder in soldiers had previously only been explored in the film noir The Blue Dahlia (1946).

Three soldiers from different social classes, returning to their home-town after years of conflict, are united in their desire to rekindle their former lives. But things will never be the same as before. Homer Parrish (true-life war veteran Harold Russell) lost his hands in battle, and fears that his faithful girlfriend (Cathy O'Donnell) remains with him only out of pity. Working-class pilot Fred Derry (Dana Andrews) finds that, despite his distinguished achievements in war-time, he still lacks the necessary experience to assimilate into civilian life. Al Stephenson (Fredric March) returns to children he barely recognises, but finds consolation in "the perfect wife" Myrna Loy. The intertwining journeys faced by each of the veterans are often uncomfortable to watch, sometimes shameful and embarrassing, but the overriding message is one of hope: whatever adversities these men must confront, they can be sure to rely upon the support of their family, friends and the grateful United States government.

Gregg Toland's crisp deep-focus photography is excellent, but the major strength in William Wyler's drama are the characters themselves. Harold Russell, who actually did lose his hands in combat, was hand-picked from a military documentary on rehabilitated soldiers, and his performance works so well because it's genuine. Russell is clearly an amateur next to the neatly-balanced dramatics of March and Andrews – he even flubs his characters' wedding vows – but the emotion is authentic, and his pain heartbreaking. Fredric March won his second Oscar (after Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)) for his role as a banker who lost his commercial hardness in the trenches. A little disappointingly, his character doesn't figure prominently in the film's second half, his role somewhat reduced to that of a vector facilitating Andrews' melodramatic, but satisfying, romance with Teresa Wright. I would have liked the film to have more thoroughly explored Stephenson's detached relationship with his children, but evidently there were time constraints to be considered – having said that, though, the 172 minutes flies by effortlessly.
9/10

Currently my #3 film of 1946:
1) The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks)
2) It’s A Wonderful Life (Frank Capra)
3) The Best Years of Our Lives (William Wyler)
4) Duel in the Sun (King Vidor)
5) The Killers (Robert Siodmak)
6) Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock)
7) The Locket (John Brahm)
8) Crack-Up (Irving Reis)
9) The Dark Mirror (Robert Siodmak)
10) The Blue Dahlia (George Marshall)

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Target #277: East of Eden (1955, Elia Kazan)

TSPDT placing: #583

Directed by: Elia Kazan
Written by: John Steinbeck (novel), Paul Osborn (screenplay)

WARNING: Plot and/or ending details may follow!!! [Paragraph 3 only]

I haven't read John Steinbeck's novel "East of Eden," but I'm familiar with enough of the author's work to know that he wasn't a "glass half-full" kind of man. Steinbeck's characters appear to persist despite their misery, devoid of hope and comfort, and persevering out of sheer bloody-mindedness. This potentially poses a problem, because Hollywood has traditionally taken the stance that it is optimism, not pessimism, that sells tickets. This clash of sensibilities is seen readily enough in The Grapes of Wrath (1940), in which John Ford's assurance in the hardiness of American families sits at odds with Steinbeck's stark brand of realism. Nevertheless, Elia Kazan was an ideal candidate to adapt the 1952 novel "East of Eden," having already dealt with unflinching dramatic themes of family and societal conflict in the films A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and On the Waterfront (1954). The pair had collaborated previously, with Steinbeck writing the screenplay for Kazan's Mexican Revolution biopic Viva Zapata! (1952), starring Marlon Brando and Anthony Quinn.

Whereas A Streetcar Named Desire had been a completely stage-bound film, owing to origins on Broadway, East of Eden (1955) allowed Kazan to spread his cinematic wings, so to speak. Steinbeck had intended his novel, in part, as a tribute to the Salinas Valley in Northern California, and so location is everything. Cinematographer Ted McCord captures the setting in lush WarnerColor, the fertile green fields consciously opposed to the bleak inner conflict raging inside the heart of the film's protagonist. Despite being visually impressive, it is – as in all Kazan pictures – the director's genius for working with actors that really shines through. James Dean, in his major picture debut (and the first of only three lead roles), delivers one of the most heartbreakingly tragic performances I've ever seen. His Cal, the Biblical Cain to Richard Davalos' Abel, has endured a life without love, every misguided bid for his father's (Raymond Massey) approval met with indifference or remonstration, as though only to cement his self-belief that he is inherently "bad."

In adapting "East of Eden," another director might have aimed for sheer scope, winding up with something not unlike Gone with the Wind (1939) or Duel in the Sun (1946). Instead, Kazan plays his strengths, and it's a telling sign that the film's most powerful moments unfold, not in the outside environments that McCord captures so well, but between four walls – inside homes, sheds, and brothels. Dean's character skulks mousily in the corners, fearful about making eye contact, as his articulate, proper brother Aron makes unconsciously-condescending remarks, perpetuating roles that have been drummed into both since childhood. Only Aron's sweetheart Abra (Julie Harris) understands Cal's torment at the hands of his cold, naive family members, but by then it may already be too late to same him. At under two hours, East of Eden perhaps doesn't explore its characters and their motivations as fully as it might have – for example, Aron's metaphorical "slaying" at his brother's hand isn't give enough exposition – but nonetheless stands as a beautiful and astonishingly powerful piece of storytelling.
8/10

Currently my #7 film of 1955:
1) Du rififi chez les hommes {Rififi} (Jules Dassin)
2) The Ladykillers (Alexander Mackendrick)
3) Bad Day at Black Rock (John Sturges)
4) Kiss Me Deadly (Robert Aldrich)
5) Mr. Arkadin {Confidential Report} (Orson Welles)
6) The Big Combo (Joseph H. Lewis)
7) East of Eden (Elia Kazan)
8) Les Diaboliques (Henri-Georges Clouzot)
9) Nuit et brouillard {Night and Fog} (Alain Resnais)
10) Rebel Without a Cause (Nicholas Ray)

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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Target #276: Wagon Master (1950, John Ford)

TSPDT placing: #623
Directed by: John Ford
Written by: John Ford (story) (uncredited), Patrick Ford, Frank S. Nugent (written by)
Starring: Ben Johnson, Joanne Dru, Harry Carey Jr., Ward Bond, Charles Kemper, Alan Mowbray, Hank Worden

By 1950, John Ford had already fully-developed the ideas and motifs that would form the core of his most successful Westerns. Always present, for example, is a strong sense of community, most poignantly captured in the Joad family of Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (1940). Within these communities, even amid Ford's loftier themes of racism and the pioneer spirit, there's always room for the smaller human interactions, the minor friendships and romances that make life worth living. Wagon Master (1950) came after Ford had released the first two films in his "cavalry" trilogy – Fort Apache (1948) and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) – and it covers similar territory, only without the military perspective and, more damningly, the strong lead of John Wayne. Ben Johnson and Harry Cary, Jr. are fine actors, but they feel as though they should be playing second-fiddle to somebody, and Ward Bond's cursing Mormon elder, while potentially a candidate for such a role, isn't given quite enough focus to satisfactorily fit the bill.

In Wagon Master, Ford seems so comfortable with his tried-and-tested Western formula that any character development is largely glossed over. Ben Johnson's romance with Joanne Dru is treated as an obligation more than anything else, and Harry Cary Jr's charming of a Mormon girl is so perfunctory as to be almost nonexistent in the final film, leaving one to ponder the survival of deleted scenes. Only in Charles Kemper's charismatic and shamelessly-villainous Uncle Shiloh does Ford try some different, and it works, even with his being surrounded by a troop of insufferably hammy slack-jawed yokels. Where Ford does succeed is in orchestrating the conglomeration of three distinct races of Americans – the values-orientated Mormoms, the easygoing horse-traders, the eccentric travelling showmen – into a cohesive community of pioneers looking towards a bright future. This apparent harmony is thrown into disarray by the arrival of Uncle Shiloh's gun-toting outlaws, who exploit the lawlessness of the Western frontier but ultimately lose out to the noble cowboys who "only ever drew on snakes." Ford reportedly considered Wagon Master among the favourite of his films, and perhaps this has something to do with the absence of big names like John Wayne or Henry Fonda. Armed only with his stock selection of usual players, Ford is able to generate a sense of community by avoiding placing focus on any one character, though most of the Mormom travellers still remain completely anonymous. Despite being undoubtedly well-made, I can't help feeling that this film only does well what other Ford pictures did even better: the terrific majesty of the the Western frontier was presented more beautifully in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon; the romances and friendly squabbles among community members took greater prominence in Fort Apache; the early relations with Native Americans, only hinted at here, were more thoroughly examined in The Searchers (1956); the bold pioneering spirit of the early settlers was explored more movingly (albeit by Henry Hathaway and George Marshall) in How the West Was Won (1962). Wagon Master is pure John Ford, but it isn't a landmark.
6.5/10

Currently my #15 film of 1950:
6) Destination Moon (Irving Pichel)
7) All About Eve (Joseph L. Mankiewicz)
8) The Asphalt Jungle (John Huston)
9) Gone to Earth (Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger)
10) Panic in the Streets (Elia Kazan)
11) Stage Fright (Alfred Hitchcock)
12) Rashômon (Akira Kurosawa)
13) The Killer That Stalked New York (Earl McEvoy)
14) Armoured Car Robbery (Richard Fleischer)
15) Wagon Master (John Ford)

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Sunday, July 5, 2009

Target #275: A Streetcar Named Desire (1951, Elia Kazan)

TSPDT placing: #356

Directed by: Elia Kazan
Written by: Tennessee Williams (play & screenplay), Oscar Saul (adaptation)

Elia Kazan was noted during the 1940s as one of America's most creative stage directors, and yet he'd also proved his film-making prowess on such films as the film noir thriller Panic in the Streets (1950). Naturally, he was a prime choice to adapt Tennessee Williams' acclaimed 1947 play "A Streetcar Named Desire" for the screen. Eschewing the naturalistic visual style of his previous film, Kazan unashamedly directs A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) as a filmed play, utilising a small, intimate cast and few sets. The film's success spawned a number of Tennessee Williams adaptations, including Baby Doll (1956) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), the first of which was directed by Kazan. A Streetcar Named Desire also launched the successful Hollywood career of one of the all-time great actors, Marlon Brando, whose mesmerising performance as Stanley Kowalski (and especially his inimitable cry of "Stella!" at the foot of the apartment stairway) continues to resonate even with those who have never seen the film in its entirety.

Blanche DuBois is an intriguing character because she is a tragic victim despite bringing much of her fate upon herself. Having shamed herself in scandal following the loss of her family home, Blanche arrives in New Orleans in complete denial of her moral failings. While desperately maintaining a facade of upper-class respectability, Blanche continually speaks of her brother-in-law Stanley with utter condescension, deriding his Polish heritage and working-class habits. Only by disparaging others can she sustain her self-enforced illusion of lingering youth and grandeur, and yet every attempt at remaining young ironically makes her seem as old as Norma Desmond. But Stanley is also a brute, exuding primitive cruelty and sexuality through every sweaty pore. Had he understood Blanche's psychological condition, and offered kindness instead of resistance, her breakdown might have been averted. Stanley's pig-headed selfishness is despicable, and yet – like Blanche – his behaviour seems to arise not from deliberate cruelty, but from child-like naiveté, an obliviousness towards the consequences of his actions.

There's no doubt that A Streetcar Named Desire finds its performers at the peak of their work, but, even so, I consider it a minor miracle that such contrasting acting styles were able to coexist so comfortably. Though Marlon Brando had previously performed the role on Broadway to great acclaim, the studio-appointed casting of Vivien Leigh provoked some consternation among the crew, who feared a clash of "classical" and "method" acting styles. Leigh, speaking with a Southern accent that is, I think, inherently theatrical, accentuates every twitch of insecurity in the emotionally-decaying Blanche DuBois. Brando, on the other hand, was a student of Lee Strasberg at the Actors' Studio, an influential proponent of method acting, and his Stanley Kowalski speaks in an often- incomprehensible drawl that works precisely because you can imagine hundreds of uneducated New Orleans workers speaking in the same manner. The gamble on Leigh proved successful, with she and co-stars Karl Malden and Kim Hunter taking home Oscars for their fine work; Brando lost out to Bogart in The African Queen (1951).
8/10

Currently my #4 film of 1951:
1) Strangers On A Train (Alfred Hitchcock)
2) The African Queen (John Huston)
3) The Man in the White Suit (Alexander Mackendrick)
4) A Streetcar Named Desire (Elia Kazan)
5) The Lavender Hill Mob (Charles Crichton)
6) The Day The Earth Stood Still (Robert Wise)
7) The Thing from Another World (Christian Nyby, Howard Hawks)
8) An American in Paris (Vincente Minnelli)
9) Royal Wedding (Stanley Donen)
10) Roadblock (Harold Daniels)

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