Noriaki Tsuchimoto – Minamata: Kanja-san to sono sekai AKA Minamata: The Victims and Their World (1971)

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Quote:
In the small town of Minamata in Kyushu, far from the metropolitan center, the fertilizer company Chisso built a factory to take advantage of cheap labor and commenced dumping mercury-filled wastewater into the nearby sea. Soon residents began exhibiting symptoms of a mysterious illness, a happening that would eventually develop into the worst case of environmental pollution in postwar Japan. Noriaki Tsuchimoto visits the patients and their families who sued Chisso and listens to their voices. His camera gently lifts the veil that had obscured them and reveals their reality. MINAMATA: THE VICTIMS AND THEIR WORLD is impressive in how it stands on the side of the patients, not only providing a collage of individual portraits, but also an understanding of the their everyday lives.

One of the monuments of Japanese documentary, MINAMATA: THE VICTIMS AND THEIR WORLD played at many international festivals, winning an award at Locarno. Continue reading

Hiroshi Teshigahara – Suna no onna AKA Woman in the Dunes (1964)

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Jumpei Niki, a Tokyo based entomologist and educator, is in a poor seaside village collecting specimens of sand insects. As it is late in the day and as he has missed the last bus back to the city, some of the local villagers suggest that he spend the night there, they offering to find him a place to stay. That place is the home of a young woman, whose house is located at the bottom of a sand pit accessible only by ladder. He later learns that the woman’s husband and child died in a sandstorm, their undiscovered bodies buried somewhere near the house. The next morning as he tries to leave, he finds that the ladder is gone – he realizing that the ladder he climbed down was a rope ladder which is anchored above the pit – meaning that he is trapped with the young woman as the walls of the pit are sand with no grip. He also realizes that this entrapment was the villagers and the young woman’s plan for him to stay there permanently to be her helper in the never-ending task of digging out the sand, which if not done will swallow them alive. Continue reading

Len Lye – Free Radicals (1958)

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Free Radicals

Directed by Len Lye
US 1958, revised 1979, 16mm, b/w, 4 min.

Quote:
In arguably his greatest film, Lye reduces the medium to its most basic elements by scratching designs on black film. He used a variety of scribers ranging from dental tools to an ancient Native American arrowhead, and synchronized the images to traditional African music (a field tape of the Bagirmi tribe). The film won second prize in the International Experimental Film Competition, which was judged by Man Ray, Norman McLaren, Alexander Alexeiff and others at the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels. In 1979 Lye further condensed the film by dropping a minute of footage. Stan Brakhage described the final version as “an almost unbelievably immense masterpiece (a brief epic).” Continue reading

Dudley Nichols – Government Girl (1943)

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Plot:
Washington DC in the war. The machinery of government is a hive of endless if not seamless activity. Arnament production is the name of the game, by fair means or foul. Ed Browne, more used to making cars in Detroit, is having to try and get planes made in this maelstrom. Luckily or unluckily, he finds he has a secretary who knows the political ropes – and her own mind. Continue reading

F.W. Murnau – Der Letzte Mann AKA The Last Laugh (1924)

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Jannings’ character, the doorman for a famous hotel, is demoted to washroom (bathroom) attendant, as he is considered too old and infirm to be the image of the hotel. He tries to conceal his demotion from his friends and family, but to his shame, he is discovered. His friends, thinking he has lied to them all along about his prestigious job, taunt him mercilessly while his family rejects him out of shame. The man, shocked and in incredible grief, returns to the hotel to sleep in the bathroom where he works. The only person to be kind towards him is the night watchman, who covers him with his coat as he falls asleep. Continue reading

Carl Theodor Dreyer – Ordet AKA The Word [+extra] (1955)

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Plot:
A farmer’s family is torn apart by faith, sanctity, and love—one child believes he’s Jesus Christ, a second proclaims himself agnostic, and the third falls in love with a fundamentalist’s daughter. Putting the lie to the term “organized religion,” Ordet (The Word) is a challenge to simple facts and dogmatic orthodoxy. Layering multiple stories of faith and rebellion, Dreyer’s adaptation of Kaj Munk’s play quietly builds towards a shattering, miraculous climax.

Review:
‘Powerful’ doesn’t do justice to this 1955 exploration of life, death and faith from Danish master Carl Theodor Dreyer. Based on Kaj Munk’s 1932 play, ‘Ordet’ is an austere, realist work on one level as it joins a farming family in their Jutland home over a short but devastating period of time. Continue reading