After uploading two of the most depressing British films I can imagine, I decided a nice counter-balance would be in order: a couple of bonus reviews of just about two of the damn cheeriest films in existence. It’s been my pleasure.
Yellow Submarine is a Beatles film, and this carries certain baggage. Above all, we must have the Beatles – this is the Beatles psychedelia express vaguely hiding as a children’s film after all, and insofar as they are the star of the show, they must be in the film. We must ask of any Beatles film then: what does it reflect about the Beatles as an entity? What is most surprising about 1969’s candy-coated art film, then, is how little a presence they have in the film, and how little import they play even as the narrative (insofar as it can be called one) is wholly about them. I don’t mean this as a negative – their aloof, detached standoffishness, their inability to take any problem seriously, and their seeming lack of interest in really doing much of anything seems wholly intentional. And it is subversive as all hell. Continue reading →
Equivocation, whatever it can do to abet the mind, can stultify the stuttering soul. Hyperbole, once or twice, may be the essence of wit. Permit me to speak to the winds without bourgeois constraint or prudence; it is what Charlie Chaplin, one of the most untrammeled purveyors of unrestricted emotion as a principle of good folk, would have wanted. City Lights may just be cinema’s greatest gift to the world: a truly, unabashedly sentimental masterpiece. By 1931, the time of the film’s release, Chaplin – a decade into his celebrity and his most prodigiously productive period – was confronting the flux of the world around him: in cinema, the shift from silent film to talking pictures, and in the world, a post-WWI decay threshing national boundaries into nothingness and instigating a worldwide depression. The only salve for Chaplin was the often sour sting of excessive sweetness, an emotional delicacy or an after dinner mint for some films that Chaplin preferred to envision as a main course. . Continue reading →
Four years later, I remain enamored of Hannah and Her Sisters, an apogee of Allen’s career, and something of an inflection point, or a balancing act. While his earlier films sometimes labor under pretenses to classical status – for instance casting themselves as Allen’s “Bergman” film”, his “Russian literature” film, etc – Hannah and Her Sisters casually commands the concerns and quandaries many of those earlier texts and artists engaged in, without Allen ever having to ennoble his meditations with unearned and overly-belabored comparisons to bygone figures that sometimes blot him from encouraging his own dramas when he chooses merely to recreate the dramas of others. At the same time, Hannah proves the mettle of Allen’s own intellectual and emotional gambits and thematic vexations without dipping, as so many of his later films did, into self-mocking-but-actually-self-exonerating parables of gender and class that quietly validate Allen’s own persona while pretending to loudly vilify him. While so many of the women in his later films exist to drive Allen forward in bas-relief, the titular figures of this film rhyme with, reflect, and inflect aspects of Allen’s consciousness but are not beholden to it. Nor do they take the position of symbolically representing Allen while having their eccentricities, personal quagmires, longings, and questions sanded-away to fulfill the tidy summation of a gendered archetype or a manifestation of a larger thematic issue. Of all the women in Allen’s cinema, they seem to, if not float free, vacillate in non-schematic ways and vibrate with their own energies. What a wonderful film.
Woody Allen has made many great films, and, as has become too obvious of late, many less than great ones. Generally, he’s at his best when things are at their most unsentimental and nervy – he’s on less sure footing when it comes to exploring purely positive, uncomplicated depictions of his characters. But for all his cynicism, Allen loves people. Or more appropriately, he uses his hate for people to deal out tough love for them, and this was never more-so true than in Hannah and Her Sisters, his only true masterpiece of mostly unaffected romantic sentimentalism and unapologetic sweetness (to go with his not insignificant number of masterpieces of far more troubled, anxious cynicism). Continue reading →
One of the unsung classic tragedies of American cinema, Make Way for Tomorrow is far less well known than director Leo McCarey’s other film from the same year, The Awful Truth. When McCarey won best director for that film, he famously accepted by saying “Thanks, but you gave it to me for the wrong picture!” A sly joke, but he was right.
The film is about family and communication, subjects relevant to just about everyone but which tend to be underexplored in cinema as they relate to the elderly. Barkley (Victor Moore) and Lucy (Beulah Bondi), faced with depression-era job loss and lacking income, find themselves with nowhere to go and call their adult children for help. One child agrees to house the two for the long-term, initially, but asks for three months to convince her husband. In the meantime, two other children agree to each take one; Lucy moves to New York with her son and his family while Bart moves three hundred miles away with a daughter. Soon enough, tensions emerge as the parents prove difficult for their ever-busy children. All the while, the child who had agreed to house the two indefinitely tries, half-heartedly, to convince her husband to no avail and soon gives up. It’s easy to see how Make Way for Tomorrow was an inspiration for Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story, the greatest film ever made about family. Continue reading →