Classic Movie Review: Pierrot Le Fou (1965)


Title: Pierrot Le Fou
Release Date: 5 November 1965
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Production Company: Films Georges de Beauregard
Summary/Review:

I struggle with these French New Wave films, especially Godard’s, so I’m a bit relieved that this is that last one on my list.  Although I think I may have been more receptive to Pierrot Le Fou had I been more in the mood for a weird, experimental film.  The movie is about a man named Ferdinand Griffon (Jean-Paul Belmondo, who just recently passed away) who leaves his wife and family and boring middle-class life in Paris to run away with his old girlfriend Marianne Renoir (Anna Karina).

She insists on calling him Pierrot, which he hates.  They go on a crime spree across France and are chased by both the police and gangsters from a right-wing paramilitary organization opposed to Algerian independence.  Pierrot le Fou was clearly an influence on Bonnie and Clyde. The movie is more of a montage than a linear plot, linking various vignettes together.  Some are comedy, some are eccentric, some are violent, and a couple are even musicals.
There’s a lot of overlapping narration from Ferdinand and Marianne, and references to philosophy and literature. I’m probably missing layers of significance but it all feels very pretentious.

Rating: ***

Classic Movie Review: Contempt (1963)


Title: Le Mépris
Release Date: 29 October 1963
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Production Company: Rome Paris Films | Les Films Concordia | Compagnia Cinematografica Champion
Summary/Review:

Contempt is a movie about making a movie.  In this case, German director Fritz Lang plays himself directing an adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey on location in Italy. Sleazy American producer Jeremy Prokosch (Jack Palance) thinks that Lang’s vision for the film is too artistic and wants to create a blockbuster instead, so he brings in French playwright Paul Javal (Michel Piccoli) to rework the script.  Javal’s wife Camille (Brigitte Bardot) accompanies him to the film shoot.  Early on it is established that they both suffer from a lack of confidence, Paul in his writing, and Camille of whether she is worthy of love.

Things are sent into motion when Paul has Camille ride with the lecherous Prokosch when going to his house for lunch, and then doesn’t show up himself until 30 minutes later.  Camille fears that Paul is offering her to Prokosch as a beautiful young woman in order to advance his career.  When Paul later sides with Prokosch over Lang on changes to the film, she is further disgusted with his lack of integrity.  The better part of the film is the argument between Camille and Paul, first in their unfinished apartment and later on the cliffs at Capri.

This movie feels like it’s the type of movie that American sketch comedy shows spoof when they do a sketch about European films.  Beautiful people in various states of undress argue past one another, shouting they’re no longer in love, while repressing why they feel that way.  For some reason, Bardot is completely naked for a good portion of the film with the camera lovingly panning over her bare bottom.  Bardot certainly has a lovely bum, but I’m not sure how presenting it to the audience repeatedly adds to the film’s plot.  This movie is supposed to be Goddard thumbing his nose at mainstream filmmaking, but it feels to me like it’s just a poorly made melodrama.  The constantly swelling music is inappropriate to the mood and Bardot and Piccoli seem to be acting wooden deliberately

I don’t know, I guess this is one of those movie I’m just not going to “get.”

Rating: **1/2

 

Classic Movie Review: Hiroshima, Mon Amour (1959) #AtoZChallenge



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter H

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

Title: Hiroshima, Mon Amour
Release Date: 10 June 1959
Director: Alain Resnais
Production Company: Argos Films | Como Films |
Daiei Studios | Pathé Entertainment | Pathé Overseas
Summary/Review:

Along with The 400 Blows and Breathless, this movie kickstarted the French New Wave.  Director Alain Resnais previously made the Holocaust documentary Night and Fog, and this movie similarly pulls no punches in using archival footage depicting the horrors of the atomic bomb detonation in Hiroshima.  The better part of the movie though focuses on a non-linear conversation between French Actress Elle (Emmanuelle Riva) and Japanese architect Lui (Eiji Okada) as the have a brief and passionate affair.  Note that their names are French for “Her” and “Him.”

They talk about Hiroshima and the bomb, and they talk about their own experiences during the war (which includes many flashbacks to Elle’s family home in Nevers, France).  The focus of the film is on memories and trying to remember while needing to forget.  It is a bit on the talky side and a bit pretentious as well.  I’m afraid it didn’t hold my attention all that well, but the lead actors are great and I liked the location work and the then innovative “flashes” of memory.

Rating: **1/2

Classic Movie Review: Lola(1961)


TitleLola
Release Date: March 3, 1961
Director: Jacques Demy
Production Company: Rome Paris Films
Summary/Review:

Lola is a well-crafted film that tells the intertwining stories of several people over a few days in the port city of Nantes. The titular Lola (Anouk Aimee) is a cabaret dancer with a young son hoping for the return of her one true love, the boy’s father. She has a casual relationship with an American sailor, Frankie (Alan Scott), but does not return his affections. She also becomes reacquainted with Roland Cassard (Marc Michel), a childhood friend she hasn’t seen “since the War.” Roland also declares his love for Lola.

Roland is also a point-of-view character, and is a moody slacker who can’t hold a job. At the same time he meets up with Lola, he is offered a sketchy job by a barber who wants him to deliver a briefcase to Johannesburg.  Add into the mix Cécile (Annie Dupéroux), an outgoing girl celebrating her 14th birthday, who makes the acquaintance of both Roland and Frankie.

The intertwining of the stories and characters is admirably done and the characters are all well-acted. The movie feels like a musical production without the music. On the downside, Roland is yet another example of the narcissistic and toxic men who seem to be the protagonists of every French New Wave film.  There’s also a certain creepiness to a grown man and a teenage girl having a seemingly platonic outing  to an amusement park but the way it’s filmed frames it as a romance.

Lola is a movie that was clearly something new when it was created, but nevertheless feels old fashioned.  I enjoyed it but I didn’t love it.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Starstruck (1982)


Title: Starstruck
Release Date: 8 April 1982
Director: Gillian Armstrong
Production Company: Palm Beach Pictures | The Australian Film Commission
Summary/Review:

Jackie Mullens (Jo Kennedy) is an aspiring pop singer in Sydney, Australia where her family run an hotel bar beneath the footings of the Harbour Bridge.  Her cheeky 14-year-old cousin Angus (Ross O’Donovan) wants to be her agent and works to bring attention to her career. After securing a backup band at a local club talent night, Jackie and Ross set their sights on getting a spot on the tv talent show hosted by celebrity kingmaker Terry Lambert (John O’May).  Things don’t go well as the there are setbacks and betrayals, and then Jackie finds she must win a talent contest to save her family bar.

The movie is extremely corny, but in an irresistibly charming way.  Kennedy and O’Donovan are likable characters even when they’re being idiots.  And the New Wave music and fashions make this movie a terrific time capsule.  The group choreography that goes along with the musical numbers is awkward, and for some reason reminds me of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but it’s still enjoyable.

If you’re like me and wonder if a 1980s Australian musical had any involvement from the Finn Brothers, you would be correct.  Tim Finn in fact wrote one of the most memorable songs of the film, “Body and Soul.” (Watch the video for the great song and extremely awkward group choreography).

Rating: ***1/2

Classic Movie Review: Cleo, From 5 to 7 (1962)


Title: Cleo, From 5 to 7
Release Date: April 11, 1962
Director: Agnès Varda
Production Company: Ciné Tamaris | Rome Paris Films
Summary/Review:

Watching lots of New Wave, New Hollywood, and other 60s art films, I’m seeing a pattern of movies that glorify the renegade man. Over and over these men defy convention, yes, but are also obnoxious, abusive, and sexually aggressive – in short, dudebros.  So it’s refreshing to see a New Wave-style film by a woman director that focus on a woman lead character who spends much of the film interacting with other women.

Cleo (Corinne Marchand) is a rising pop singer who is waiting for the results of a medical test which will tell her if she has cancer or not.  Over a two-hour period (close to the film’s 90-minute run time), Cleo visits a tarot card reader, goes shopping with her maid, has a brief visit from her lover, rehearses with her composer and lyricist, meets her friend Dorothée (Dorothée Blanck), and finally goes to a park where she encounters a soldier on leave from the Algerian conflict, Antonie (Antoine Bourseiller).  Antoine agrees to accompany her to the doctor if she will see him off at the railway station.

Cleo is depicted as being somewhat vain, but a recurring theme is “beauty is life,” reflecting how people are conditioned to value a woman for her beauty. Cleo’s meanderings through the film are given poignancy by the fact that she is facing her mortality.  The movie is also a great time capsule of Paris in the early 1960s.  I was particularly impressed by an extended scene in a taxi cab that simply showed the view of the city’s winding streets at a radio news report speaks about Algeria and other current events.  The whole movie is beautifully composed as a film and features top-notch acting all around.

Rating: ****

Classic Movie Review: Breathless (1960)


Title: Breathless
Release Date: March 16, 1960
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Production Company: Les Films Impéria | Les Productions Georges de Beauregard  | Société Nouvelle de Cinématographie (SNC)
Summary/Review:

There was a big deal about a remake of “Breathless” with Richard Gere, that I remember seeing scenes from as a kid.  There’s also the song by Jerry Lee Lewis. But I honestly had no idea to expect from this alleged French New Wave masterpiece. Alas, it’s another movie from the Sixties which tries to glamorize the life of an obnoxious, sexually aggressive, and criminal dudebro (dude-frère?).  In this case, Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) steals a car in Marseilles, kills a police officer who chases him, and uses his American girlfriend, Patricia (Jean Seberg), to shield him from the police.  It’s very self-indulgent and frankly kind of boring.  The movie is recognized for its innovation in cinematography and broad influence, but I just don’t care enough to muster up any thoughts on what this movie does right, because it was so dull and awful.

Rating: **

Classic Movie Review: The 400 Blows (1959)


Title: The 400 Blows
Release Date: 4 May 1959
Director: François Truffaut
Production Company: Les Films du Carrosse
Summary/Review:

The title of The 400 Blows comes from a French idiom that most close in meaning “to raise hell” in English.  It is one of earliest movies in the French New Wave movement, when young filmmakers discarded the conventions of classical film-making for experimental filming and editing techniques, documentary-style realism, and subject matter of a more personal nature.

The 400 Blows is the story of Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud), a young teenage Parisian boy based somewhat on director  François Truffaut own childhood.  Antoine is presented as a troublemaker, but his offenses – passing around a pin-up photo in class, scribbling a poem on a wall, and skipping school for a day out with a friend – seem mild compared with the draconian response from authority figures.  He has a love for the author Balzac (and makes a shrine to him that he comically sets fire to by mistake) but when he writes an essay inspired by Balzac he’s accused of plagiarism rather than homage by his teacher (Guy Decomble).

Antoine’s mother (Claire Maurier) is strict and short-tempered with him much of the time. His father is a bit more easygoing, but doesn’t connect well with Antoine.  Neither are around much, leaving Antoine and his friend Rene (Patrick Auffay) to their own devices.  If anything, this movie depicts Antoine as a resourceful and resilient teenager, but with no adult willing or able to recognize his talents. He ultimately drops out of school, runs away, and takes up petty thievery.  When he fails to pawn a typewriter stolen from his father’s office, he is caught while trying to return it, and sent to juvenile detention center.

The plot of this movie could have been used for an After School Special, but without melodrama and moralism, it is a gritty depiction of real-life situations. Truffaut does a great job depicting the working class reality of post-War Paris, from the worn-out school room to Antoine’s cramped apartment (so small that when Antoine lays out his bed for the night, it blocks the entry door).  All the characters are flawed, none above judgement, but they also all can by sympathized with.

The movie feels bleak, but it’s not without hope.  Antoine’s joy in going to the movies is a particular detail that shows the autobiographical detail of how Truffaut found his way out of his troubled youth.  The last scene of the movie offers a moment of joy and release, while the fear of what comes next still ominously present.  I guess if you want to find out, Truffaut and Léaud made 4 more films over 20 years, continuing Antoine’s story, although I also think this movie can stand on its own with an ambiguous ending.

Rating: ***1/2

Music Discoveries: The Clash


In Music Discoveries, I find artists and bands that I’ve liked but have only listened to a small portion of their output, and do a complete listen of their discography. In the case of the Clash, this is a band I have listened to a more extensively but nevertheless have still found new-to-me music.

Back when the Clash was an active band I was a child who decidedly did not like punk music. Of course, I didn’t really know what punk music was since I basically equated it with heavy metal (and honestly I didn’t really know what heavy metal was either). I first became acquainted with the Clash like many mainstream Americans with their 1982 hit songs “Rock the Casbah” and “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” In 1989, I was reading a “Best of the 80s” issue of Rolling Stone that ranked the Clash’s London Calling as the #1 album of the decade (despite being released in December 1979). I got a copy from the library and gave it a listen, surprised by what I heard and more surprised that I loved it.

A couple of years later, I started college and many of the people in my dorm listened to the Clash so I got exposed to their other recordings, including the more raw punk of the earlier days. And so, five years after the Clash broke up, I became a fan.

Lately I’ve been trying to learn more about the band by listening to a podcast produced by the BBC and Spotify called Stay Free: The Story of the Clash hosted by Chuck D of Public Enemy fame.  That prompted me to give the Clash the Music Discovery treatment.

Album: The Clash
Release Date: April 8, 1977
Favorite Tracks: “Remote Control,” “I’m So Bored With the U.S.A.,” “White Riot,” “Career Opportunities,” and “Police & Thieves.”
Thoughts:

The Clash come in with a roar on one of the most remarkable debut albums of all time.  This is The Clash at their most raw, most punk rock, and yet already melodic enough to be appealing to squares like me. They even cover a reggae song, “Police & Thieves,” which was innovative at the time. The album also stands as a legacy of the social unrest, inequality, and racial strife of the UK in the 1970s.

Rating: ****1/2


Album: Give ‘Em Enough Rope
Release Date: November 10, 1978
Favorite Tracks: “Guns on the Roof,” “Drug-Stabbing Time,”
Thoughts:

The sophomore effort feels more stripped down and raw than the debut, although the second side is poppier (and “Drug-Stabbing Time” sounds deceptively cheerful).  Lyrically there’s a broadening of topical issues beyond the band’s experiences in London to global political events.  This album doesn’t grab me as much as The Clash, but it’s still quality.

Rating: ***


Album: London Calling
Release Date: December 14, 1979
Favorite Tracks: “London Calling,” “Hateful,” “Rudie Can’t Fail,” “The Right Profile,” “Lost in the Supermarket,” “Guns of Brixton,” “Death or Glory,” “Revolution Rock,” “Train in Vain”
Thoughts:

It’s hard to find anything new to say about what many people consider one of the greatest albums of all time, except to say it is one of the greatest albums of all time.  It’s hard to single out my favorite songs, although “Lost in the Supermarket” has always resonated with me. I wonder what it would’ve been like to hear this album for the first time in 1979.  It must’ve been so unexpected for most listeners of the time.

Rating: *****


Album: Sandinista!
Release Date: December 12, 1980
Favorite Tracks: “The Magnificent Seven,” “Hitsville, U.K.,” “Somebody Got Murdered,” “The Sound of Sinners,” “Lose This Skin”
Thoughts:

Almost a year to the date of releasing a double album, the Clash follow up with a triple album! Sandinista! is reminiscent of the Beatles “White Album” in it’s diversity of musical styles, large list of guest musicians, and the sense that one could pare down this sprawl into a great single album, but what would you cut?  The new wave and “world music” sounds of the album seem to be years ahead of the rest of music world.

Rating: ***1/2


Album: Combat Rock
Release Date: May 14, 1982
Favorite Tracks: “Know Your Rights,” “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” and “Straight to Hell”
Thoughts: The band’s best-selling album is more radio-friendly with tracks like “Rock the Casbah” and “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” but I don’t think the band compromised too much for commercial success. Other tracks on the album like “Know Your Rights” hearken back to their early punk rock sound. And then there’s music that doesn’t sound like anything else ever made, like “Straight to Hell,” one of my all-time favorite songs by any band.
Rating: ***1/2


Album: Cut the Crap
Release Date: November 5, 1985
Favorite Tracks: none
Thoughts: This is the much-maligned final album of the disillusioned remnant of a once great band.  The songs are formulaic, recorded over cheezy 80s synth with shout-along choruses that sound like a crowd of drunken football supporters.  It’s not terrible, but it it is boring, which is about the worst thing one can say about the Clash.
Rating: *


My Clash All-Time Top Ten Songs

Aramagideon Time (Live at Shea Stadium)

(NOTE: The live performance combines Armagideon Time with The Magnificent Seven which is not evident from the YouTube clip)

I’m So Bored With the U.S.A.

Know Your Rights

Lost in the Supermarket

Remote Control

Revolution Rock

Rudie Can’t Fail

Somebody Got Murdered

Straight to Hell

(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais

Album Review: Remain in Light by Angélique Kidjo


Album: Remain in Light
ArtistAngélique Kidjo
Release Date: June 8, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Born Under Punches
  • Crosseyed and Painless
  • Once in a Lifetime
  • Houses in Motion
  • but really, the whole album

Thoughts:

In 1980, the Talking Heads released the seminal New Wave album Remain in Light which incorporated African rhythms and instrumentation into post-punk rock music.  Angélique Kidjo takes the music back to Africa by covering the entire album.  And, wow, it’s absolutely breathtaking! Even if you’ve listened to the Talking Heads album again and again, these feel like fresh, brand-new songs!

Rating: ****1/2