Here is a full list of the films I watched in 2012: http://bit.ly/10AYW7x

Below are some random thoughts from the year: connections I made, auteur-based observations, etc. Grammar etc. is bad so please forgive.

Elia Kazan was always desperately trying to infuse cinema with the perceived grandiosity of the other arts. I wonder if he ever respected cinema on its own terms. The Steinbeck dialogue in Viva Zapata! is rich, but blatantly unsuitable. The Pinter dialogue in The Last Tycoon is often very clever, but it adds a remoteness to the film that makes it dull and interesting. Gentleman’s Agreement is a terrible film.

Lubitsch’s Design For Living doesn’t work. The Criterion blu-ray contains a version of the stage play which makes for an interesting comparison, and illustrates Lubitsch’s problems. The play utilised the ambiguity around the sexual nature of their three-way relationship. The film can’t do this, so overtly describes how they don’t have sex – which makes it both absurd, and strangely also more crude in a horribly puritan way. The film is also miscast.

Some fascinating films that are too dense to completely comprehend in one viewing: Marketa Lazarova, Mirror.

Michael Shannon is technically an accomplished actor, but I find it disturbing that he’s become the go-to guy for characters with mental problems. Take Shelter, for example, doesn’t know whether to be a psychological thriller about a ‘crazy guy’ or a more serious drama about a man with psychological problems. Shannon is such a good actor that the film leans towards the latter, but that makes the film more tasteless because the film wants to revel in a more genre-led approach. Shannon instils him with such humanity that we feel bad for wanting him to go off the wall crazy like Jack Nicholson, and for the film to be a more detached study of a ‘psycho’.

Has there ever been a good film adaptation of Faust? The Murnau one is a bit of a mess. Despite some impressive production design, it descends into Midsummer Nights Dream-style farce in the middle and is tonally all over the place. Also way too faithful to original text. Sokurov’s version is visually interesting, but far too liberal with the original text. Goodness knows what Sokurov’s is about, but it’s not about the temptation and fall from grace of the original story. He seems to have other concerns. An interesting film to watch, in its almost theatrical, revolving tableau style. Another tableau film I saw this year was The Colour of Pomegranates, but in this case the tableau is fixed rather than endlessly moving.

Paris Nous Appartient. This is a strange film that seems to connect Rivette’s fascination for theatrical worlds and mysteries with a kind of Left-wing paranoid thriller. The mixture of acting and theatricality with paranoia and mystery is a theme in common with Lynch in Inland Empire and Mulholland Dr. (MD is a very similar film to Celine and Julie). Hitchcock also saw the theatrical world as a place for mystery and murder (Murder, Stage Fright) although that’s largely down to the plays the films were based on. The Lives of Others is another film that mixes theatre and paranoia.

Watched a few Pialat films and while A Nos Amours is excellent, I wasn’t as convinced by some of his others. We Won’t Grow Old Together is well acted and watchable, but I probably prefer Bergman’s approach to this kind of material (Scenes From A Marriage). I need to give A Mouth Agape another go. Pialat’s storytelling style is very interesting though – the way he presents seemingly random disconnected episodes one after the other to build a picture of his characters. Which strangely reminded me of…

Marriage Italian Style, which is a clever film. It’s the only film I can think of which creates comedy out of its plot editing. With a narrative that flits around different time periods, the laughs come when we realise what’s been going on in-between the pieces of the story that are presented to us.

Vincente Minnelli. I’m interested in the flashes of psychotic, abstract melodrama that occur in his films, usually at the end (Some Came Running, Two Weeks In Another Town). Some Came Running is a very intriguing and insightful analysis of the post-war male. The emphasis on dialogue and characterisation, with very little actually happening, makes you wonder if it was influenced by New Wave cinema or Cassavettes, but it may simply be the tradition of American theatrical dramatists that inspired Minnelli.

Night Moves is often cited as an under-appreciated 1970s classic. Perhaps the reason it’s under-loved is that thematically it is identical to Chinatown.

Dames du Bois du Boulogne is an interesting film but when viewed in the context of Bresson’s oevre it doesn’t make much dramatic sense because the transcendental awakening occurs to a minor character. The film is all about the central character who is an arch manipulator, but she doesn’t have a moment of catharsis or awakening. On its own terms the film is a success, and very interesting for illustrating Bresson’s developing style within a more conventional format. I made an observation that perhaps such turning-point films in auteur canons are growing in stature. Dames seems to grow in reputation each year. Antonioni’s turning-point films La Signora and Amiche (which also resemble Dames in other ways) were also well received when re-released by MOC, including a notable appreciation by Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian. Other examples? Andrej Rublev? Sawdust and Tinsel?

Renoir is fascinated by the duality of man (like Kubrick). Cowardice and heroism (This Land Is Mine), honour and duplicity (Swamp Water), respectability and immorality (La Chienne), humanism and animalism (La Bete Humaine), poverty and richness (Boudu) all exist in conflict within the same central characters.

Renoir is also fascinated by dinner scenes. Meal times are the settings where social relationships and status are described and set.

I still hate Grand Illusion and believe Colonel Blimp renders it worthless. Themes and issues it presents, such as the apparent nobility of war and the camaraderie and brotherhood of man during wartime, are dismantled in such superior fashion by Blimp that I find GI to be almost unwatchable.

Renoir’s This Land Is Mine has very similar themes to Bergman’s Shame. (A cowardly man becomes brave in the face of war, in inverse to characters around him who become more cowardly)

The Serpent’s Egg is an under-rated film. I can understand why people don’t think it works, because the ‘explanation’ at the end is like something pasted in out of a thriller/horror film. But I think it works perfectly. In Nazi Germany, as in human history when looked at in retrospect, a series of disconnected occurrences and miseries can often seem cruelly random, but when you analyse it the manipulative hand of human evil is usually the root cause.

Early Hitchcock. Having watched all his early works now, it’s amazing how quickly Hitch developed from TMWKTM onwards in 1935. The jump in quality between Number 17 and TMWKTM is startling. Each of his early films has something – one good aspect – but none of them are perfect. The Lodger has the expressionistic stuff but otherwise is a bit light and fluffy, Murder has some wonderful invention but is a bore, Blackmail is also inventive but virtually plotless. The Manxman is good and more tonally balanced, but restricted by its uninspiring source material. Number 17 is an exercise in style and nothing more. The Ring is probably his most accomplished and satisfying from this period; certainly the best silent.


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