Jacques Tourneur – Out of the Past (1947)

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Out of the Past is so perfect a film noir that it is considered practically a textbook example of the genre. In his first starring role (it had previously been offered to John Garfield and Dick Powell), Robert Mitchum plays Jeff Bailey, the friendly but secretive proprietor of a mountain-village gas station. As Jeff’s worshipful deaf-mute attendant (Dick Moore) looks on in curious fascination, an unsavory character named Joe (Paul Valentine) pulls up to the station, obviously looking for the owner. Jeff is all too aware of Joe’s identity; he’s been dreading this moment for quite some time, knowing full well that it will mean the end of his semi-idyllic existence, not to mention his engagement to local girl Ann (Virginia Huston). In a lengthy flashback, the audience is apprised of the reasons behind Jeff’s discomfort – and thus begins a tale of treachery, betrayal and intrigue that extends into the present day and turns Jeff’s life upside down. Out of the Past was remade in 1984 as Against All Odds, with Jane Greer cast as the mother of her original character. Continue reading

Jim Jarmusch – Night on Earth (1991)

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A collection of five stories involving cab drivers in five different cities. Los Angeles – A talent agent for the movies discovers her cab driver would be perfect to cast, but the cabbie is reluctant to give up her solid cab driver’s career. New York – An immigrant cab driver is continually lost in a city and culture he doesn’t understand. Paris – A blind girl takes a ride with a cab driver from the Ivory Coast and they talk about life and blindness. Rome – A gregarious cabbie picks up an ailing man and virtually talks him to death. Helsinki – an industrial worker gets laid off and he and his compatriots discuss the bleakness and unfairness of love and life and death. Continue reading

Nicholas Ray – 55 Days at Peking (1963)

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from rottentomatoes:
Samuel Bronston produced this extravagant blockbuster, shot in Super Technirama 70. Nominally directed by Nicholas Ray (who makes a brief appearance as the U.S. ambassador), Ray was taken off the film and replaced by the more pliable directorial touches of Andrew Marton. Charlton Heston stars as Maj. Matt Lewis, the leader of an army of multinational soldiers who head to Peking during the infamous Boxer Rebellion of 1900. As the film unfolds, the foreign embassies in Peking are being held in a grip of terror as the Boxers set about massacring Christians in an anti-Christian nationalistic fever. Inside the besieged compound, the finicky British ambassador (David Niven) gathers the beleaguered ambassadors into a defensive formation. Included in the group of high-level dignitaries is a sultry Russian Baroness (Ava Gardner) who takes a shine to Lewis upon his arrival at the embassy compound with his group of soldiers. As Lewis and the group conserve food and water and try to save some hungry children, they await the arrival of expected reinforcements, but the tricky Chinese Empress Tzu Hsi (Flora Robson) is, in the meantime, plotting with the Boxers to break the siege at the compound with the aid of Chinese recruits. Continue reading

Jennifer M. Bean, Anupama Kapse, Laura Horak – Silent Cinema and the Politics of Space (2014)

In this cross-cultural history of narrative cinema and media from the 1910s to the 1930s, leading and emergent scholars explore the transnational crossings and exchanges that occurred in early cinema between the two world wars. Drawing on film archives from around the world, this volume advances the premise that silent cinema freely crossed national borders and linguistic thresholds in ways that became far less possible after the emergence of sound. These essays address important questions about the uneven forces–geographic, economic, political, psychological, textual, and experiential–that underscore a non-linear approach to film history. The “messiness” of film history, as demonstrated here, opens a new realm of inquiry into unexpected political, social, and aesthetic crossings of silent cinema. Continue reading

Ben Safdie & Joshua Safdie – Heaven Knows What (2014)

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Based on the experiences of Arielle Holmes — a homeless teenager with a ferocious Jersey accent — the film stars Holmes as Harley, a fictionalized version of herself: a heroin-hooked panhandler unable to get either the junk or her wicked boyfriend Ilya (wan Hollywood star Caleb Landry Jones, startlingly unrecognizable) out of her system. Locked into the relentlessly repetitive cycle of the addict’s life — the never-ending search to score, the squabbles with dealers and fellow junkies, the violence ever ready to erupt as either farce or tragedy — she is still driven by a strange (and surely self-destructive) desire for beauty, the explosive moments of rapture that puncture the drabness of her existence. Continue reading

Jonas Mekas – Lost, Lost, Lost (1976)

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Lost Lost Lost
Walden may have been Mekas’ first diary film, but the film that incorporated Mekas’ earliest footage was the one that told the story of his postwar arrival in America, Lost Lost Lost. The film is divided into two parts: the first concerns life in the Lithuanian community of Williamsburg, and the second chronicles Mekas’ move to Manhattan and his integration into the independent film and art scenes of New York.

Here Mekas is at his most deeply personal. He describes the loneliness and struggle of those early years with mournful music and spoken laments: “Long, lonely days; long, lonely nights. There was a lot of walking through the nights of Manhattan. I don’t think I have ever been as lonely.” Mekas also closely follows the lives of his fellow Lithuanian immigrants. During a gathering in Connecticut, he explains, “occasionally we used to escape to Stonybrook, places where immigrants exchanged their memories. We all gathered there, we all lived on memories there.” As the first section progresses, however, a tension develops between Mekas and the other immigrants. Though Mekas sympathises with them, he grows increasingly disenchanted with their hopes to reform and return to Lithuania. By the end of the reel, he leaves the community in Williamsburg and moves to Manhattan. Continue reading