Category Archives: 1

On seductive villainry in Louis Feuillade serials;

With the voting for top 50 pre-1920’s films coming up on the Criterion Forum, I’ve been loading up on films from the era in the last month or so. There has been some genuinely wonderful discoveries including the early British films of James Williamson, Cricks and Martin, and Cecil Hepworth, and Maurice Tourneur‘s marvellous Le friquet (1913).

Oh and Judex (1916), more outstandingness from Louis Feuillade. A grand serial that despite not reaching the dizzying heights of Les Vampires (1914) manages to succeed smashingly by not even trying for the same tone. It’s much more sedate and leisurely in its pacing, but this is perhaps the serial’s greatest strength, as it gives the viewer the opportunity to know the characters inside-out. Judex struck me as a much more personal work than Les Vampires, likely due to the prevalant familial themes of the work. The serial is about the reconciliation and restoration of individuals through the restoration of family. Because of Feuillade’s choice to emphasize character over action these themes end up working very effectively, where they might have been lost otherwise.

I’m now tackling a less than stellar French/Flemish intertitled copy of Feuillade’s Tih Minh (1918), which has been made watchable by the introductory French class I’m taking. I am definitely missing out on some of the nuances, but am enjoying it nonetheless. The general plot has the famous explore D’Athy returning home to France with a new wife (Tih Minh) and a Hindu book that has caught the attention of the nefarious Kistna, a wealthy and mysterious turban wearing gent. Kistna along with his partner in crime La marquise Dolores (kind of a Musidora-lite) have the power to cast out the souls of women, reducing their victims to mute imbeciles whilst there souls wander the seas. Tih Minh becomes one of his victims, forcing D’Athy and his sidekick Placido to uncover Kistna’s secrets.

The film is a bit lacking in visual style, but Feuillade’s direction is sturdy enough, and there have been several very striking sequences, one in particular finds D’Athy and Placido discovering a cell containing dozens of Kistna’s victims…all young attractive woman dressed in white robes, pawing frantically at our heroes. It’s quite an evocative setting, almost like a madhouse. Tonally the film is quite different from the other Feuillade’s (Judex, Les Vampires, and Fantomas), as it the hero is not blessed with secret powers or even much in the way of smarts…he’s just as clueless as the audience. Kistna as a villain lacks the sparkle and charm of Fantômas, or Musidora’s various permutations, and as such he is much more of a pure bad guy. There’s nothing really to root for on his end, Dolores isn’t particularly interesting, and Kistna fits pretty nicely in the Warner Oland mold of fat-white guys in turbans planning to rule the world.

I think a great deal of my enjoyment of Feuillade’s serials is the seductive qualities of the villains, I know with all three I’ve ended up rooting for the villain over the hero. So Tih Minh is a much different experience, and in some ways a bit of a disappointment so far.

Either way I’d still give my right spleen for a DVD release.

On two silent film stars; One remembered for all the wrong reasons and one forgotten for all the right reasons.

I watched two silent films yesterday, the 1919 melodrama Dollars and Sense, starring the now forgotten Madge Kennedy, and the 1927 comedy The Fair Co-Ed starring former Official Pre-War Actress of the Day, Marion Davies.

First up the Madge Kennedy experience. I’m a recent emigree to Toronto (from Calgary if you must know), and one of the great benefits of living here is the lively film community. Between the wonderful repertory programmes put together by the Cinematheque Ontario and the Toronto Film Society, and the repertory and indy showings at Bloor Cinema, Toronto is a a grand place to be a film buff. This says nothing of the odd one-off screenings that take place around the city, which is how I happened to see Dollars and Sense.

The Music Hall (formerly the Century, and Allan-Danforth theatre) celebrated it’s 90th anniversary (90 years, wow is there anything that old in Calgary?) yesterday and to commemorate it, they had a plaque ceremony and arranged a special screening of this Madge Kennedy film (the reasoning being that the theatre opened with the Madge Kennedy film Through The Wrong Door, which I presume is lost), replete with live accompaniment. I was very excited to see my first silent with live music, as I’ve been told it’s the pinnacle of cinematic experience. Well it didn’t disappoint, despite some significant technical problems and well the film itself.

As for the technical problems, well the film was screened using a DVD made from the Library of Congress print, and the first 25 minutes of the film featured a ton of skips, and freezing of the DVD, which was frustrating. I felt really bad for the musicians who did there best to try and play along, but gosh there must be no worse feeling than to be so helpless on stage. Thankfully the tickets were only a buck, so no one could feel rightfully cheated, and after a brief intermission to address the technical difficulties, things ran smoothly the rest of the way. The audience of 750 strong was very forgiving as well which turned what could have been a downright disappointment into a memorable night.

As for the film itself, well it’s your standard well-worn (even by 1919 standards) melodrama of a woman (Madge Kennedy) torn between the poor baker that she loves (Kenneth Harlan) and the sleazy but well-off theatrical manager (Willard Louis) who can provide a means to an end. In this case it’s the bakery/bread line that Harlan struggles to keep afloat during a prolonged illness. Kennedy offers herself to Louis in order to ensure the survival of Harlan’s business. The direction by Harry Beaumont is dutiful but uninspired, and there’s nothing to suggest that this film was anything other than a mediocrity, even in its own time. Perhaps the only noteworthy thing about the film is the twist ending (I hate to spoil it, but you’re never going to see the film, so whatever). Louis who for most of the picture, appears lechorous (complete with beady eyes and smarmy demeanor), ends up being the saviour, as it is revealed that he has orchestrated a wedding ceremony for Harlan and Kennedy, rather than making Kennedy his kept woman. It was a twist that elicited gasps and applause from the audience including myself, as I was full on expecting your typical slug ’em in the jaw fistfight with Kennedy’s honor at stake.

Despite the meh quality of the film, it was a lot of fun watching a film in such an environment, and thankfully people were into it. I’d love to have the chance to watch a film with 750 foks on a regular basis.

As for Kennedy, well best as I can tell she was a minor star in the late 10’s-early 20’s for Samuel Goldwyn (soon to be MGM), who later turned character actress working steadily into the 70’s. I’d had never heard of her before last night, and although she has about 6 or 7 existing silent films, none have votes on imdb, and they don’t appear to have a following either. If her performance in Dollars and Sense is any indication, she’s not a particularly memorable performer, she shows a bit of personality, but she  isn’t particularly striking. She was also the victim of the transition from the much more Victorian-esque 1910’s to the Roaring 20’s. With a year or two, Kennedy’s look was completely dated, and I see no evidence that she made much of an adaptation.

So with that I’m thinking she’s not well remembered for a reason…she wasn’t particularly memorable.

Now for the complete opposite, the divinely talented, well remembered, but criminally misinterpeted Marion Davies.

I will admit full out that I am a Marion Davies booster, I think she’s fabulous, to use 1920’s parlance: she’s the bees-knees. She’s a great looking gal and a brilliant comedienne, one those rare actresses who mixes beauty with a knack for self-effacing comedy. In essence she didn’t take herself too seriously. Imagine if Jenny McCarthy didn’t suck, and you’d have something close to Marion, a stunning gal who’s willing to play the fool.

Sadly (at least for me), her reputation and career has been irrevocably linked to her long-time affair with the newspaper magnate, William Randolph Hearst, and the fictional depiction of Hearst in Orson WellesCitizen Kane. In the Welles’ film, Kane falls for a shrill, untalented but good hearted chorus girl named Susan Alexander, whom he builds an opera house for and tries to turn into a star…with spectacularly bad results. Alexander is a dismal failure despite Kane’s best attempts at promotion.

Despite the fact that Susan Alexander is in fact a composite character based on multiple sources, Davies has long been seen as the primary source. This would not be a problem, were it not for the iconic nature of Kane, and the belief by some folk that it is the greatest film ever made. This combined with the belief that Kane is Hearst has lead many people to assume the film is essentially a biography, so therefore Susan Alexander must be Davies. The problem with this is the fact that Alexander is portrayed as a talentless idiot, whereas Davies was in fact a marvellous and very bright performer. But the legend has been built up over the years, that Davies was nothing but a prop for Hearst, as he built her up in his newspapers, financed her movies, and in essence fabricated her career.

The story becomes increasingly fascinating because so much of it is true, Hearst did use his newspapers to promote her, and he did provide lavish budgets for her films, he in essence did try his damnedest to make her a star. But a funny thing happened…she became a star on her own merits. By the mid 1920’s Davies was one of the top stars at MGM, her films made money, and they were often very good. She made bonafide classics like Show People and The Patsy, and a bunch of fun vehicles like The Red Mill and The Cardboard Lover. Not to mention that her career spanned well into the talkie era, as her last film was in 1936 when she 40. She had a movie career that spanned over 20 years. You can’t have that much success through sheer hype and publicity.

But nonetheless the legacy of Hearst and Kane overshadows her considerable talents. Thankfully in recent years with the advent of Turner Classic Movies, her films are becoming more accessible, and she’s even had several released on DVD through the Warner’s Archives. I think as more people see her work, the myth will be diminished, and hopefully die its rightful death.

Now onto The Fair Co-Ed, of which I managed to pick up a copy of dubious origin recently (it appears to be a camcorder dub from a screening).

Marion stars as a conceded college freshman who in trying to woo Johnny Mack Brown, manages to become a basketball star and piss off just about everyone. She does this by being catty, petulant, and smug…gleefully boasting about her list of beaus, refusing to pass the ball to her romantic rival, Jane Winton, and showing off at every turn. The film is pretty much a William Haines vehicle, with Marion playing the typical Haines role of the spoiled athlete who alienates everyone (except the loyal sidekick), quits the team, but has a change of heart…just in time to win the big game. The plot is threadbare and totally formulaic, but Davies is just so great to watch that it ends up being a hoot. Maybe it’s because I’m a dude, but I find Marion’s cocky schtick friggin’ adorable, where Haines’ bit can be pretty grating.

The opening sequence is an odd one, where it is revealed that the students at Bingham University are banned from using automobiles, and so as a means of protest they ride all sorts of ridiculous contraptions to campus, ranging from Brown’s chariot, to a 4-person bike, to some sort of wagon-dealie. The sequence ends up with the crotchety Dean (who says stuff like this and this) vowing never to give in.

There’s also a pep rally sequence that features a massive bonfire and a bizarre tribute ceremony…that may or may not involve human sacrifice…as a means to appease the basketball gods and pave the way for a Bingham victory. This is the climactic scene where Marion begins to realize how many people she’s pissed off, as she is the recipient of a whopping 3 Raspberries!

The final big game sequence is quite fascinating primarily due to the depiction of basketball circa 1927. The game is absolutely chaotic with every player rushing for the ball, and the game looking more like a rugby match than anything. I thought it was interesting how there was jump ball after every basket, and that during a climactic foul shot, Marion only gets one shot rather than the customary two. I thought it was also fascinating how women’s sports was treated without condescension (although the competition aspect plays second fiddle to the love story) and that there was not evidence of a men’s team. Everyone was supportive of the team because it was from their college. An unexpected depiction for 1927.

Anyway Marion wins the day by making the climactic basket…which causes at least one spectator to fall to his death. She also gets her man.

Fun stuff, that will hopefully be restored and see the light of day via TCM.

Your Official Pre-War Actress of the Day is…

So I’ve decided to adapt my wonderfully popular Pre-War Actress Power Rankings from my Facebook page to my blog, for all the world to enjoy.

The deal is simple, the “Official Pre-War Actress of the Day” will be rated upon the following qualities:

1. Quality – as in strength of films and performance

2. Versatilty – can she sing, dance, act, do comedy etc.

3. Ballingness – is she hot? is she sexy? is she merely cute? Ballingness=Hotness.

4. Personal Life – as I talked about at length here, I am immensely fascinated by dirt, by death, and the macabre. Points are awarded for scandal, adventure, mysteriousness, activism, and other noteworthy aspects of life. Personality counts too.

So without further ado…Your Official Pre-War Actress of the Day is…

Marion Davies

Quality – 8/10                                                                                                                                                                                                                   I’ve seen her now in 7 films I think, with almost everything being good. Her two silents with King Vidor, Show People and The Patsy are marvellous, and demonstrating Marion at her self-effacing, engaging, comedic best. Not So Dumb, her talkie with Vidor is abysmal, and the other talkies I’ve seen her in are solid, but not remarkable. It would seem her silent work is where its at.

Versatility – 7/10                                                                                                                                                                                                                 She’s a brilliant silent comedienne, probably my favorite, and she made the adaptation to talkies quite well, as she was still regularly starring in films until she retired in 1937. She could sing and dance a little too. But I’ve yet to see her do straight drama.

Ballingness – 9/10                                                                                                                                                                                                      She’s quite attractive, and she has a cuteness when she does comedy. A very expressive face, which is always cool with me.

Personal Life – 10/10                                                                                                                                                                                                   Most famous as the longtime mistress of newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. He basically made her a star, and tried to establish her as serious actress. She’s the basis for the Susan Alexander character in Citizen Kane. She’s gotten a bad rap as being a talentless trophy wife, but she was actually very good at comedy, and deserves a much better legacy. Either way she was very close to a very influential man in American history. She was also a noted humanitarian, and famously gave Hearst over $1 Million dollars when he was facing bankruptcy.

Favorite Role – Peggy Pepper in Show People (1928). Marion as an aspiring actress who gets her break in comedy, but decides she wants to be a serious actress. Her mimicking of Gloria Swanson is completely inspired.

Greatest Moment –

Her Lillian Gish is astonishing.

Professional Sports Equivalent – David Beckham (overshadowed by famous partner, and both unfairly criticized for it)

On WWII Documentaries & Riley Rossmo

During WWII, a ton of major Hollywood directors were called into service in order to create films documenting the war effort. If you check out the filmographies of the major directors of the era you’ll see titles jump out like George Cukor‘s Resistance and Ohm’s Law (za?), Josef von Sternberg‘s The Town (nothing says Americana like von Sternberg), and famously John Ford‘s Sex Hygiene (an engrossing…and graphic educational film about the horrors of STDs).

My personal fave (although no director is credited) is The House I Live In, starring Frank Sinatra:

Frank Sinatra talking about “Nazi werewolves” is a recipe for success.

As you can see, the tone of these films is all over the place, some are instructional, some entertaining, some documentative, and some overtly propagandistic.

Anyway I’ve checked out 2 in the past couple days (well 3 including the first 2 episodes of Frank Capra‘s Why We Fight, but I wanna write about that one when I’ve seen it all):

The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress (William Wyler, 1944)

This documentary is one of the more highly regarded WWII documentaries produced, helped in large part by the fact that Wyler himself was flying the missions documented in the film. One gets a sense of the palpable danger Wyler and the men he’s documenting faced. We see the Memphis Belle fly on bombing missions of the German countryside and engage in dogfights with German planes. We see men injured and we see the damage done. The film closes with sobering and haunting narration thanking these men for the destruction they are unleashing upon Germany, destruction like this:

There’s something about association of destruction and heroism that I find troubling. I realize that essentially war lauds those who kill the most men, but usually that aspect is downplayed or ignored in favor of some aspect of bravery, courage, or selflessness. So the film closing with a note of gratitude regarding the astonishing destruction being inflicted upon Germany, stands out as a hell of a jolt.

Nazi Concentration Camps (George Stevens, 1945)

Much different in tone from Memphis Belle, this film is documentary footage of the concentration camps, filmed after the defeat of Germany. The intent of the film rather than to serve as propaganda, was to document as accurately as possible the atrocities of the camps, and in fact the film was shown at the Nuremberg Trials, offering damning evidence of Nazi war crimes.

As such the film isn’t constructed with any concern for cinematic or entertainment value (not that holocaust footage should be entertaining, but something like Alain ResnaisNight and Fog is obviously structured to enhance the audience experience and is replete with cinematic technique). It makes for an interesting film, though pretty boring…it sounds ghastly to say such a thing, but the footage simply exists as footage. It’s purpose is to serve as evidence and nothing more.

There’s a couple of interesting things I did notice though. The first few minutes of the film are spent reading the affidavits of several witnesses, including George Stevens and John Ford, who swear that the footage is authentic and has not been altered in anyway other than the editing of 80,000 feet of film into about 6,000. Now I’m not sure if this was a standard legal practice, or if it was done to reinforce to any doubters that yes, this did actually happen.

Secondly there are multiple instances in the footage, of German officers, soldiers, and civilians being forced to view the piles of dead bodies and the charred remains of those long since disposed of.

A good friend of mine, the wonderfully talented comic book artist, Riley Rossmo, author of everyone’s favorite Sasquatch detective comic, Proof, and Seven Sons, a marvelous adaptation of the famed Chinese folktale of 7 Chinese Brothers, espouses a belief in what he calls “the power of shame”. It’s a doctrine that dictates that sometimes the best form of instruction and correction is to shame people by showing them how there actions are affecting others. Essentially make the person feel so bad that they won’t do it again. This can be as simple as bending over really slowly and with great difficulty to pick up someone else’s garbage, essentially forcing the litterbug to confront the error of their ways.

I realize that “the power of shame” in the context of the holocaust is perhaps a little trivial, but essentially I believe that’s what is going on in this documentary. Forcing to people to face the results of their actions is the best way to ensure contrition, awareness, understanding, and remorse. To ignore or gloss over the truth, only breeds misinformation and lies, while ensuring that justice cannot be served.

On the 3 that got away (Or why I’ll never be free of “The List”)

As I talked about briefly here, I spent the better part of the last 2 and a half years working on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They 1000 Greatest Films list. I’ve virtually completed both 2007 and 2008 permutations and will probably plow through the 2009 update when it happens this December.

Anyway I thought I’d explain a bit about the 3 films that got away…or the films I just couldn’t find anywhere:

1. Tih Minh (Louis Feuillade, 1918)

This serial about anarchist gangs trying to run Paris (or at least I assume so…given the subject matter of Feuillade’s prior films Fantomas and Les Vampires…and the lack of synopsis anywhere). Feuillade is a wonderful filmmaker, full of fun and invention. Les Vampires is a fascinating and compelling film, and the film’s villainess Irma Vep (played with gusto by the oddly sexy Musidora) might be the first great female character in all of cinema. She’s smart, devious, charming, and well-rounded.

As for Tih Minh, I know very little about this film other than Feuillade is an awesome director and Jonathan Rosenbaum loves the shit out of it.

I will add that I do have an incomplete copy (it’s 350 minutes when it should be 410 or so) of this film that’s unsubbed (if only I could read French or Belgian)…maybe someday I’ll try and watch it. But I’ve learned that it’s better to wait sometimes and see a film in a relatively good form, rather than try and suffer through for completion’s sake.

The film was also left off the 2008 update.

Chances of an official DVD release: Good, as the French company Gaumont has release 3 of Feuillade’s serials, and a newly restored version of Tih Minh has been shown in the past few years. Though I might be like 50 when it happens. Gaumont is bloody slow.

2. The Art of Vision (Stan Brakhage, 1965)

Brakhage is possibly the most lauded and written about American avant-garde filmmaker. His career spanned almost 50 years, and his reputation is unquestioned.

This film is a 4.5 hour re-working of his earlier avant-garde film Dog Star Man, incorporating the same footage, but through looping it, re-editing, and using multiple projectors creating an intense and immersive experience (or boring I guess).

I’ve seen Dog Star Man…and it still resonates with me…the rhythm of the imagery still appears to me occasionally. Dog Star Man is readily available having been released on the Brakhage DVD set put out by Criterion a couple years ago.

Chances of an official DVD release: Almost nil. 4.5 hour avant-garde films just don’t have commercial prospects. Even by a name such as Brakhage, it’s just too long to release on DVD. Furthermore I don’t even know when this was last screened…it seems to be one of those pictures that gets screened every 10 years or so. I suppose I might be able to track down a print somewhere…but for the time being this one is out of reach.

3. Scenes From Under Childhood (Stan Brakhage, 1967-70)

Hey more Brakhage, this one is composed of 4 sections each about 45 minutes long. I don’t know much about the film or its content. I’m just going to assume there’s some flashing and disjointed images.

Chances of an official DVD release: Like 100%, my understanding is that there will be a second Brakhage collection put out by Criterion in the future and that Scenes… will be included. Fingers crossed.

So there you have it…the 3 films that will keep me searching.

On WWII, Hollywood & The Homefront

In my current list obsessed state, I’ve been working through the NFR list at a furious pace (I’m up to about 360 of the 500), which lead me to watch a couple of WWII documentaries filmed by Hollywood directors (William Wyler and George Stevens respectively) aimed at helping the war effort.

I’m very much intrigued by the relationship between Hollywood and WWII, as there was virtually universal support by Hollywood of the war effort, with various directors and actors enlisting (James Stewart, George Stevens, William Wyler among many others) and many actresses getting involved in humanitarian efforts (Myrna Loy), selling war bonds (Carole Lombard), or simply by being dutiful wives living in humble army accomodations (Gene Tierney). This in addition to the wealth of war pictures made during the period…all of which seemed to aimed at villifying the heinies and glamorizing the allies.

I’m struck by the contrast between that era and modern times…where U.S. involvement in war is marked by public dissent, political strife, and an almost universal opposition by those in the arts and in Hollywood. Furthermore the art created about war during these times is always critical, cynical, or satirical. No one makes good ol’ fashioned propaganda no more.

I’ve been wondering about what caused such a radical shift in ideology among the arts community…from united support to dissidence. Obviously the calamities of Vietnam and the radicalism of the 1960’s did a great deal to undermine the sense of patriotic fervor regarding the war. Interestingly in stark contrast to WWII, Hollywood generally avoided making pictures that dealt with the Vietnam war effort. John Wayne‘s ridiculously patriotic “The Green Beret” was one of the few films of the era to depict the American involvement in Vietnam, and was met with general disdain upon its release. The younger generation was not interesting in mythmaking about the war.

I think the dissolving of the studio system in the early 1950’s also did a great deal to shift Hollywood’s war ideology. With actors, directors, producers, and writers no longer bound to a singular studio, it became much more difficult to present a cohesive ideology in the movie industry. More daring films could be made, and the talent wasn’t obligated to toe the line for fear of reprisal.

I realize I’m overly sentimental and nostalgiac in writing what I’m about to write, and the fact that I didn’t live during WWII means I can only see it through rose-colored glasses, but a big part of me wishes we could go back to that time again. Reading various accounts of Hollywood folk from the era, I’m struck by the level of cohesion there was amongst the movie industry, the media, and even the general public. The sense was that the war was worth fighting, that licking those japs, or kicking those krauts…or even “sinking the japanazis(!)” was a goal that everyone could get behind. It was good vs. evil. I’m in awe of the idea of unity and teamwork and of a supportive homefront. I like the idea that it was honorable and right to serve your country dutifully, knowing full well the risks. Jimmy Stewart enlisted, ditto Ted Williams, and neither were given cushy promo gigs, they both fought admirably in real battles. They gave up highly paid, highly publicized jobs in order to serve. That strikes me as rather heroic.

I’m aware that the homefront wasn’t as unified as I imagine. I know that the U.S. didn’t enter the war for 2 years and that there was a huge support for maintain an isolationist policy…that American involvement in the war was purely out of self-interest. I know that anti-semitism was still going on in America, even as it was being fought against overseas. I know there were the Zoot Suit Riots, and segregation both at home and in the service. I know there was sexism and opposition to women in the workplace. I know that there were Japanese internment camps and anti-German sentiment. I get all that.

But I want to believe in the myth that people at one point worked together, that fighting for your country didn’t make you a murderer or a baby-killer, I want to believe in John Wayne and unity. I want to believe things were simpler once upon a time. I want to believe in America (I’m Canadian by the way).

The list and the damage done.

I have a love/hate relationship with lists. Particularly movie lists. On one hand my movie watching experiences for the past couple of years have primarily been the result of trying to complete the TSPDT 1000 Greatest Films list, with the result being that I’ve stoked my passion for film, and been inspired to pursue a career path (that of film archivism). I’ve also learned a lot about the world, about history, and even daresay a few things about myself.

So in general the list has been a good thing. But conversely, lists have become the framework by which I watch movies. The films I seek out now are listed somewhere by someone, so whether it be the list of the top 298 silent films, or the films listed in the wikipedia pre-code article, or Jonathan Rosenbaum’s Alternative American 100, or even something as logical and unarbitrary as watching all of Myrna Loy’s existing films, virtually every film I watch is dictated by a list I’ve got going on.

It’s alternately enriching and restricting. Hell it’s addicting. It’s the most seductive form of bondage I can envision…and that includes real live bondage.

Currently the list that’s captured my interest as of late is the 500 films that have been deemed significant and worthy of preservation by the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress. I should explain a bit about the NFR. Every year for the past 20 years (I think that’s right), the NFR has listed 25 American films to be slated for preservation. What makes the NFR fascinating is that alongside the standard Hollywood canon, you have exploitation films like the notorious Mom & Dad (wanna see this so bad), or corny but endearing home movies like Disneyland Dream, or films that were only recently discovered like Evidence of the Film and The Making of An American. They also single out films made on the margins of the industry by minorities, so 1940’s Chicano flicks (Verbena tragica), Asian-American silents (Curse of Quon Gwon) and the work of black directors like Oscar Micheaux and Gordon Parks are given legitimacy and recognition alongside Hollywood legends like William Wyler and John Ford.

I really admire what the NFR does, because it manages to cover all aspects of American film, while raising awareness about issues of lost films, orphan films, home movies, and the general issues surrounding preservation and film archives.

A return to blogging obscurity

So it has a good long time since I’ve posted here…during which I’ve just about finished the TSPDT list (both the 2007 and 2008 incarnations), only 2 Stan Brakhage films stand in my way (The Art of Vision and Scenes From Under Childhood), as well as Louis Feuillade’s Tih Minh from the 2007 list. I initially had aspirations of blogging about all 1000 movies on the list, but a combination of laziness and a general lack of interest in writing about Gone With The Wind stopped me dead in my tracks. Not to slight Rhett or Scarlett, but does the world really need more people writing about Gone With The Wind?? I prefer to think not.

So with that as a thought, I’ve decided to take a different approach to blogging about film, and try and write about films that are forgotten or unknown or underrated. Part of this inspiration comes from the fact that as I worked my way through the list, I kept being exposed to more and more films, actors, directors, movements, national cinemas, genres, and eras, and rather than quelling my appetite for film, it just made me hungry for more. So I started seeking out all sorts of silent films and pre-codes, as well as documentaries and film-noirs. The discovery of the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress has exposed me to the world of home movies and orphan films.

So this is my intention: to write about the films I’m watching, the actors/directors/producers/cameramen/scenarists I’m digging, the lists I’m working on, the genres I’m exploring, and the eras I’m discovering.

May the force be with you.

57. Pather Pachali (Satyajit Ray, 1955)

This is one of the greatest directorial debuts ever, along with Orson WellesCitizen Kane, and Rouben Mamoulian‘s Applause (which is criminally underrated, and really I will look for any excuse to mention it). Just a wonderful film.

Just a simply great film, the first of the Apu Trilogy, which rivals the Star Wars Trilogy as the greatest movie trilogy I can think. Lord of the Rings can go suck a duck.

It’s interesting that the movie was shot on an extremely low budget, oh let’s say 80 rupees or so, and didn’t have a script, and yet turned out fantastic. I think it’s a mix of a wonderful talent in Satyajit Ray, and serendipitous good fortune.

The story follows Apu, a young Indian boy growing up in poverty with an older sister who is quite rebellious, a father who dreams of being a writer, a headstrong grandma, and a mother trying to keep it all together. Man that sounds like a movie blurb.

All that really happens is tragedy, but it’s powerful, and never melodramatic. It’s also somehow inspiring that people carry on with strength and conviction and belief. It’s also wonderfully shot in black and white.

I wish I could have found the original poster art. I bet 1950’s Indian film posters are the shit.

On I gave the film 9/10. It’s great, the sequels are great, and Satyajit Ray is great. Watch this film.