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Vertigo was named the greatest film of all time earlier this year by Sight and Sound. Celebrating this, Martin Scorsese did an interview for the BFI talking about what impact Vertigo had on him,  as he was one of the many filmmakers and critics that voted for the film. There are quite a few clips that can be found on Youtube of Scorsese talking about Vertigo, and he talks about the film passionately, not as a world renowned filmmaker but a humble fan. But as I was watching the brand new interview clip, I realised that just as he used the shower scene in Psycho as a template for the fight scenes in Raging Bull (see first video clip), he also based a lot of Taxi Driver on Vertigo. I feel stupid for not noticing it before as Taxi Driver is one of the favourite films. The way James Stewart is obsessed with Kim Novak, the hypnotised expression on his face as he pursues her and of course Bernard Herrmann’s score. There are many parallels between Vertigo and Taxi Driver, Travis’s obsession with Betsy, his escalating psychosis. I’m not saying that they are both similar films, but the influence of Vertigo can clearly be seen. In the second clip, Scorsese talks about the fact that what makes Vertigo a true classic is not the story or plot but the character and the following of his obsession. Taxi Driver also happens to be one of the great character studies on film and we also follow his obsession. As an aspiring filmmaker myself, it is always inspiring to see great directors being influenced by and paying homage to the great directors before them.


 

Takeshi Kitano is now known all over the world as a; renowned filmmaker, comedian, singer, actor, film editor, television presenter, screenwriter, author, poet and painter. A true renaissance man, but although already a legendary comedian in Japan during the 70s and 80s, his international career as a filmmaker began when veteran Yakuza film director Kinji Fukasaku (Battles Without Honor and Humanity, Battle Royale) stepped down from directing Sono otoko, kyōbō ni tsuki after falling ill, the producers suggested Takeshi Kitano (the lead star) take the director’s position as a joke. Kitano who was Japan’s biggest comedian took the role seriously and completely rewrote Hisashi Nozawa’s script which was originally supposed to be a cop comedy into an ultraviolent gangster film about a sociopathic police officer.   Released in 1989, the film didn’t do as well as expected and was only a moderate financial success mainly due to the fact that the Japanese audiences who were used to Kitano as a comedian and prankster couldn’t take him seriously as a dramatic actor. But Sono otoko, kyōbō ni tsuki (Violent Cop as it is known as in America) marked the beginning of his critically acclaimed career as a filmmaker.

Sonatinehis fourth film as writer/director is about Murakawa (Kitano) a yakuza who is sent to Okinawa along with his gang to settle a dispute between two rival clans, he soon realises that it was a set up by his Boss and decides to hide out in a nearby beach house and wait for the trouble to blow over. It was a commercial failure in Japan as Kitano was still only perceived as a comedian and the audiences were not ready to accept him as a serious gangster noir character. However, European audiences were not aware of Kitano’s status as a legendary comic so the film was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival where Kitano’s deadpan performance was being compared to the characters in Jean-Pierre Melville films. According to Jean-Pierre Dionnet a French writer and cinephile, someone convinced Alain Delon to watch Sonatine arguing that Kitano was a fan of La Samourai but he disliked the film and Kitano’s performance, stating that ‘he only has three facial expressions’. In 1995 however, Sonatine entered the Festival du Film Policier de Cognac in France where it received critical acclaim. The film was released in American theatres in 1998 by Miramax and in 2000 Quentin Tarantino released a subtitled video edition as part of his ‘Rolling Thunder Pictures’ collection which also featured Chungking Express directed by acclaimed Hong-Kong art-house filmmaker Wong-Kar Wai as Tarantino wanted to introduce contemporary Asian cinema to Western audiences .

In 1997 Hana-Bi, a film about a police detective (Kitano) who quits the force to take care of his terminally ill wife, was an unexpected international success. The Film won the Golden Lion at the prestigious Venice Film Festival and numerous other awards and nominations worldwide. The universal acclaim of Hana-Bi established Kitano as one of the top Japanese filmmakers of his time. After many art-house hits like Kikujiro, Dolls and Zatoichi, Kitano was seen a one of the world’s most prominent living filmmakers. In 2003 he was listed as being one of ’The World’s 40 Best Directors’ in a poll by a panel of critics in The Guardian alongside some of the most influential filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese and Wes Anderson. In 2010 he was named a Commander of the Order of the Arts and Letters of France, whose recipients include the likes of T.S. Eliot, Bob Dylan and Clint Eastwood. Nagaharu Yodagawa, Japan’s most famous movie critic referred to Takeshi Kitano as ‘the true successor to Akira Kurosawa’. At the age of 65, he still continues to write, direct and act (among other things).

It’s summer so naturally I’ve been watching a lot of films. Now there are three things I’ve planned on doing this summer or rather three film-makers I wanted to focus on in particular. Those are Luis Buñuel, Jean-Pierre Melville and Alfred Hitchcock. Now its fairly easy to get hold of Hitchcock’s films (well most of them anyway) but finding films by Buñuel and Melville can be a bit of a challenge unless you try to order them over the internet. However, the library in my school happens to have a couple of films by these two directors. Try and imagine my excitement. I started with Buñuel. I watched The Milky Way, a surrealist ‘road movie’ satirizing religion which Buñuel calls the first in his ‘search for truth’ trilogy (which also includes The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and The Phantom of Liberty). After that I watched That Obscure Object of Desire which I believe was his last film in 1977 about a wealthy old man who becomes obsessed over a mysterious young women. One thing to note about this film is that it uses two actresses for the character of the young women Conchita, the film switches between the two actresses between scenes and sometimes even in the same scene. According to the films Wikipedia page-

”In his autobiography, My Last Sigh (1983), Buñuel explains (pp. 46-47) the decision to use two actresses to play Conchita:

In 1977, in Madrid, when I was in despair after a tempestuous argument with an actress who’d brought the shooting of That Obscure Object of Desire to a halt, the producer, Serge Silberman, decided to abandon the film altogether. The considerable financial loss was depressing us both until one evening, when we were drowning our sorrows in a bar, I suddenly had the idea (after two dry martinis) of using two actresses in the same role, a tactic that had never been tried before. Although I made the suggestion as a joke, Silberman loved it, and the film was saved.”
If I remember correctly I think the next film I watched was The Phantom of Liberty which I have to say is my favourite. I don’t think I have ever seen a film before with such a unique narrative structure which is on the fence between being experimental and mainstream. The entire film is essentially a number of short stories linked together by a minor character from the previous story and on top of that there is also a fair amount of surrealism which makes it even more fun to watch. The last film of his I watched was The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie which is about a bunch of upper-class people being  continually interrupted while trying to have dinner together. This one is probably his most famous film and many people have also said it to be his most accessible. I think that after watching The Phantom of Liberty, this one feels a bit tame but I’m sure if had I seen Bourgeoisie first and then went on to see The Phantom of Liberty it would have been a better experience because the trilogy builds to this great finale with Liberty. 
My second director on the list was Jean-Pierre Melville who was an independent French film-maker now famous for his minimalistic gangster dramas and a number of French Resistance films. I started with his last film, Un Flic about a detective played by Alain Delon trying to catch a gang of bank robbers which he directed in 1972, a year before his death in 1973. Then I saw  L’armée des ombres, his widely acclaimed French Resistance film which I enjoyed much more than Un Flic. After watching these two films, I was starting to really get to grips with the style of Melville. To go from the exuberance of a week of watching and re-watching Luis Buñuel films to the bleak minimalistic films of Melville with there long takes, little dialogue and distinctly cold colour palette, it takes a little while to adjust yourself. The next film I saw was Les Doulos, a brilliant film-noir gangster film with great performances from Jean-Paul Belmondo and Serge Reggiani, and beautiful film-noir style cinematography with very interesting use of shadows and tracking shots. The following film I watched was Le Cercle Rouge which is a fantastic gangster-heist film with Alain Delon. John Woo in his essay on the film for its Criterion Collection DVD release said that ‘Le cercle rouge is a classic gangster film…with little dialogue and a lot of atmosphere’. I’m still in the process of watching more films by Melville but the most recent one I have seen was an earlier film which he made in 1956 called Bob le Flambeur about a middle-aged gambler who on the verge of going broke plans a major casino heist. This ones a clear homage to American film noir and probably his most ‘mainstream’ film I’ve seen. It’s got great characters and is really fun to watch.
Now those were the two big directors whose films I’ve watched for the first time this summer but I’ve been so familiar with the works of Alfred Hitchcock that I sometimes take him for granted and tend to forget what a genius he is. The British Film Institute here in London is doing a  Hitchcock Festival this year appropriately named The Genius Of Hitchcock, from June to October. They’re screening almost all of his films including a few newly restored silent films like The Lodgera film which is considered by many including Mr Hitchcock himself to be the first true Hitchcock film. To celebrate the films of Hitchcock myself, I’m going to do the Alfred Hitchcock Challenge, it’ll work exactly the same as the Ingmar Bergman Challenge, where I watched one Bergman film per week. I’ve started this week with the film The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) the american remake starring Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day. I’m not going in chronological or alphabetical order here so the way I watch these films will be quite random. Below there will be a list of films I have already seen, many of which I’ve seen more than once; Psycho, Rope and Dial M for Murder, I’m sure I’ve seen at least 10 times. Next week will be the 1944 film Lifeboat

 

Saboteur (1942)

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

Rope (1948)

Dial M for Murder (1954)

Rear Window (1954)

To Catch a Thief (1955)

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

Vertigo (1958)

North by Northwest (1959)

Psycho (1960)

The Birds (1963)

A couple of months ago I started this think called the Ingmar Bergman Challenge where I watch one film by Bergman every week. I stuck to it for a while but then sort of abandoned it because of college work, now I think I should put an end to it because I could never keep up with it partly because of college work and partly because I’ve pretty much watched all the Bergman films I could get my hands on. Most recently I’ve seen The Virgin Spring which was based on a Swedish folk story, although I enjoyed watching it I couldn’t help noticing the films similarities to the Wes Craven horror classic ‘The Last House On The Left’ I looked into it and it turns out that Craven did in fact base his film on The Virgin Spring which was made more than a decade before Last House. The last film I’ve watch was Persona, I was aware that this was considered by many to be Bergman’s greatest work so I was really looking forward to it. After watching, I was really lost for words, it was like transported into an era where films like that could be made, films just about people with such emphasis on the human aspect. I thought it was a great way to say goodbye to Bergman films at least for now. Below is the complete list of films I have watched, I must say that Wild Strawberries (pictured) still remains my favourite and others that I really like are Summer With Monika and The Seventh Seal.    

  • The Seventh Seal (1957)
  • Wild Strawberries (1957)
  • The Magician (1958)
  • Through a Glass Darkly (1961)
  • Summer with Monika  (1953)
  • Winter Light (1963)
  • Autum Sonata (1978)
  • The Virgin Spring (1960)
  • Persona (1966)
  • Summer Interlude (1951)

When I watched David Lynch’s Eraserhead for the first time a few years ago I thought I’d never watch anything as crazy or weird as that but after watching Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo: The Iron Man last week, I stand corrected.

How did I discover this obscure Japanese Cyberpunk film from the 80s you ask? Well I was watching the Mark Cousins documentary ‘The Story of Film: An Odyssey’ (which is fantastic by the way, I think a film lover would totally dig it) and I think it was episode 13 where a clip from a strange black and white Japanese film was shown – it was called Tetsuo: The Iron Man and Cousins described it as a cult Japanese Cyberpunk film. Now I’ve been busy for the past couple of weeks with college work so I had to put movie watching on hold (even the Ingmar Bergman challenge) but when I saw this 30 second clip on this documentary, I knew that it was far too interesting to let it pass. I went on the internet straight after the show and YouTubed ‘Tetsuo’ and could you believe my luck – the entire film was uploaded on there for public viewing free of charge and I immediately clicked on it, it was a little over an hour long and I had a class in about 2 hours so I decided to watch it seeing as I was home alone with no one to disturb me.

Now let me just make it clear that I don’t scare easily, I’m a huge fan of horror films and it’s very rarely I find a film that actually really scares me – the last one was Takashi Miike’s Audition which I saw last year on TV but Tetsuo was so (emphasis on the so) bizarre and creepy that I actually couldn’t watch it all in one go. I watched the film stopping every 10 minutes or so to take a breather, check if my hands were still flesh, have a sip of water and then continued again. If that hasn’t made clear how insane this film is I don’t know how else to convince you (maybe the screenshots will help).

I’m pretty sure Tsukamoto is a borderline schizoid because I don’t see how any normal person could come up with something like this. This film is a nightmarish Acid trip on celluloid. It was total madness and mind-blowing and also immensely creative as a film be it the subject matter or the special effects not to mention it was inspiring to see a really low budget film to have such an impact. I was initially going to start this article by stating that Tetsuo makes Eraserhead look like a children’s film but that was in the heat of the moment, now that I had time to reflect I don’t know which is more disturbing. Nevertheless, I’m glad I took a break from my college work to watch this, it really gave me something to think about for the whole week (and I’m still thinking about it now). If you’re bored with watching the same old stuff and want something different (to understate it) then I really suggest you give Tetsuo a chance, it should be right up your alley. I saw it on YouTube, the whole film was on one video but I tried to find the video again this morning and it wasn’t there, maybe it got deleted because of copyright but the film is still there on YouTube to watch in parts, I’m writing this because I assume it might be hard to get a copy of it on DVD. And you may also want to check out David Cronenberg’s Videodrome which I understand served as inspiration for Tetsuo. Well that’s it from me for now, be excellent to each other. Adios.

This is the noir thriller Frantic, directed and co-written by Roman Polanski. Now, when you think of Polanski as a filmmaker, you think of such masterworks as Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown, and The Pianist to name a few, however one film not many people mention is Frantic. When released in 1988, although a critical success it didn’t play well at the box office and I guess through time it had been forgotten. That’s a shame because Frantic is a fine film, its Polanski’s homage to the great Hitchcock thrillers.

The pacing of the film is slow but not in a way that it bores you but in a way that it teases you. The story’s unravelling keeps you guessing till the very end. It’s very refreshing to watch now in 2012 because we’re used to thrillers being fast and ‘in your face’. Frantic is a classical thriller.

Set in Paris, the film stars Harrison Ford as a surgeon who finds himself in the middle of a terrorist plot when his wife gets kidnapped. Like a true thriller it has you on the edge of your seat from the very beginning, it’s full of twists and turns, weird characters and mistaken identity – Ford is the epitome of the Hitchcockian leading man. He plays the ‘out of his element’ doctor who is determined to find his wife no matter what, brilliantly. The expressions, the delivery is all spot one, Cary Grant couldn’t have done it better himself. The scenes on the roof are simply fantastic (and wonderfully reminiscent of Vertigo).

Along with the streets of 80s Paris, Ennio Morricone’s chilling score gives this film a disturbing atmosphere. It’s as if something is not quite right, it has almost a surreal dreamlike feel. When I heard it, it was very different because I’m used Morricone being a composer for Spaghetti Westerns and this was very modern and hip but there is still that special touch – the Morricone stamp on it which makes it special.

All in all, it is an under-appreciated thriller with an absorbing plot, great acting and a memorizing soundtrack. It should’ve gone down as one of the greats but unfortunately didn’t. I highly highly recommend.