Classic Films

This week is the National Classic Movie Day (on 16th May), but because I am already committed to do a classic film blogathon on that day, I thought I would share today my own pre-celebratory post, listing all the classic (or just pre-1970s) films that I reviewed on this website. Click on the titles to see full reviews or tell me which classic film is your favourite.

The Lost Weekend (1945) Rosemary’s Baby (1968) Lifeboat (1944) 

La Grande Illusion (1937) Spellbound (1945) Psycho (1960) 

Les Diaboliques (1955) The Servant (1963)

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“Chico & Rita” Review

Chico & Rita (2010)

Before La La Land (2016), there was Chico & Rita, an adult Spanish animation which was nominated for an Academy Award and won the prestigious Spanish Goya Award for best animation. It tells the story of two star-crossed lovers, Chico and Rita, who meet and quickly fall in love in Havana, Cuba, and whose turbulent professional journeys make their love a real torment. Chico is a talented pianist with high ambitions and Rita is a stunning beauty with a voice of an angel and a desire to make it big. Pursuing the dreams of fame, both do not even realise how far from each other their destinies could take them. Even if crudely-drawn and sometimes frustrating to watch, Chico & Rita is still a charming story worth watching. Paying tribute to Afro-Cuban jazz and imbued with the nostalgia for the past, this animation is as much about trials of love as it is about passion for music.

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“Rabbit Hole” Review

Rabbit Hole (2010)

Based on a Pulitzer-winning play of the same name by David Lindsay-Abaire, Rabbit Hole is a film about a husband and wife pair, Howie (Aaron Eckhart) and Becca (Nicole Kidman), who live in suburban America and face a very difficult period in their life: they have lost their small child and are grieving. However, their coping strategies begin to diverge drastically, especially when Becca makes a contact with a teenaged boy who was involved in their son’s tragedy. Nicole Kidman gives one of the best performances in her career in this beautiful, nuanced film that sometimes feels like a slow train-wreck, but which ultimately says a lot about seeking solace in the most unexpected of places, overcoming hardest losses in life and finding hope.

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5 Films Based on Remarkable True Stories

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and there are many interesting films of this or last year which are based on true stories, including Mank, The Trial of the Chicago 7, The United States vs. Billie Holiday, Tesla, Hillbilly Elegy, The Dig and The Mauritanian. Crime and war films are often inspired by real stories (Catch Me If You Can [2002], The Pianist [2002]) and I previously compiled a list of 25 “Must-See” Biographical Films (see also my related list of 5 Great Films About Adventurers Based on Real Stories). Below are five films which were based on, or inspired by, real stories which, in turn, are simply remarkable.

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I. The Sound of Music [1965]

The Sound of Music, starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummermight have been a book and a theatrical musical once, but it was also based on an incredible true story. In her memoir titled The Story of the Trapp Family Singers [1949], Maria von Trapp tells the story of her family who originally came from Salzburg, Austria, but who were then forced to cross borders and emigrate to America to escape Nazi persecutions in Europe.

Even though the true story was dramatized substantially for the film, it remained true in essence. So, in reality, a young woman from a religious background did come to work in the Trapp family, but not as a governess, but as a tutor to one of the children (who were in reality ten in number, not seven as in the film). Georg von Trapp was the father in the family, and Maria (as this was the name of the woman/the author) came to love the children first (and only then the father) (source). Georg, who was in reality a much kinder person than in the film, did marry Maria, and the family eventually travelled to Italy and America, and not to Switzerland as in the film. The Sound of Music is also not the only film to be based on Maria von Trapp’s memoir. Previously, Wolfgang Liebeneiner directed a German film The Trapp Family [1956], which was also based on The Story of the Trapp Family Singers.

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Short Animation: My Love (2006)

Since my previous post was about Russian animations, I thought I would share this 2006 animation coming from Russia. My Love, based on a novella A Love Story [1927] by Ivan Shmelyov, tells of a sixteen year-old boy’s sexual awakening one summer in the nineteenth-century Russia. Longing for a “spiritual union” and “pure love”, the boy becomes torn between a young and pretty servant girl Pasha and an older and richer woman living next door. There are themes in this beautiful animation of the innocence of first love and the dangers of pursuing unreachable ideals. The animation comes from Aleksandr Petrov, previously known for The Old Man and the Sea [1999], and uses the same wondrous paint-on-glass-technique. Aleksandr Petrov’s work especially shines in the presentation of images that fuse reality and fantasy.

3 Russian “Fairy Tale” Animations

Previously I made this list where I talked about some Russian winter animations, so today I thought I would talk about other examples from the Russian/Soviet animation history. The three animations below were all made by the Soyuzmultfilm Studio between 1947 and 1964, and are good examples of animations made for children in the USSR that are based on fairy tales.

I. The Scarlet Flower [1952]

This animation is based on a story of 1858 by Sergei Aksakov who, in turn, re-worked the tale of Beauty and the Beast . In The Scarlet Flower, three daughters of one wealthy merchant request from their father overseas presents. The eldest daughter wants a diamond tiara, the middle daughter – a mirror that only shows the beauty of a person looking in it, and the youngest, Nastenka, says that she wants the Scarlet Flower. The father gets the presents for his two daughters in his travels, and the present for Nastenka he picks in the surroundings of one strange, enchanted castle. The hidden master of the castle is so angry at the father for taking the Scarlet Flower that he demands that the father sends one of his daughters to him.

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5 Films That Were So Evidently Influenced by Andrei Tarkovsky

All art, of course, is intellectual, but for me, all the arts, and cinema even more so, must above all be emotional and act upon the heart.” (Andrei Tarkovsky)

Andrei Tarkovsky (1932 – 1986) was a Soviet director and screenwriter known for his cinematic masterpieces, including Solaris [1972], Stalker [1979] and his debut Ivan’s Childhood [1962]. He inspired generations of film-makers, and Steven Dillon, a film historian, even went so far as to say that “much of subsequent film” was influenced by Tarkovsky’s work. Always favouring long takes, Tarkovsky belonged to a group of film-makers (for example, others are Robert Bresson (Pickpocket [1959]) and Yasujiro Ozu (Tokyo Story [1953])),that explored spirituality, the transcendental and the metaphysical on film, often focusing on morality or religion, and sometimes employing certain very vivid imagery to convey that. A list of films that were inspired by Tarkovsky’s work in some way or another will probably be never ending, but here I would like to focus on just five of them. Another thing to note is that Andrei Tarkovsky himself drew influence from such directors as Ingmar Bergman, Luis Buñuel and Akira Kurosawa, and this list is not to disparage any of the films listed, which are very good, but to simply draw similarities with Tarkovsky’s work and style.

I. Melancholia [2011] by Lars von Trier

Lars von Trier’s Melancholia is a work of beauty. Sublime and thought-provoking, Melancholia focuses on one well-to-do family that starts getting to grips with the fact that the end of the world may be near. Another planet is on the collision course with Earth and members of this family, who have a straining relationship with each other, respond differently to the news. Tarkovsky’s influence (including almost his entire filmography) can be seen or felt in almost every other shot of Lars von Trier’s 2011 work.

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Recently Watched: Films: Dark Waters (2019) & Thank You for Smoking (2005)

Dark Waters (2019)

Directed by Todd Haynes (Far from Heaven [2002], Carol [2015]) and based on a magazine article that tells of a true story of one corporate lawyer who challenged a multi-billion chemical empire, Dark Waters focuses on Rob Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) who travels to his home town in West Virginia to discover evidence of gross environmental damage caused by a huge corporation, DuPont. His neighbour’s cattle is dying, water is turning dark and people have health problems in the area. Bilott picks up a Tennant case, thinking it will be over in a matter of months, but the case snowballs over the years as more horrific secrets are uncovered. The concerned lawyer, who is always supported by his wife Sarah (Anne Hathaway), is passionately searching for answers and explanations as the corporation first refuses to admit responsibility and then makes it difficult for numerous victims to seek justice and restitution.

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David Lynch: “Rabbits” (2002)

Rabbits is a series of short surreal films with the overall running time of forty minutes. It features three humanoid rabbits (two female and one male) in one single room. They sit on a sofa, enter and go out of the room, talk to each other and recite poetry. Through eerie music, rabbits’ nonsensical dialogue and strange visions, the viewers may discern that something truly unsettling has happened, is happening or is about to happen. Rabbits is a good example of a minimalist experimental short which uses the lightning, music and the theme of inexplicability to create feelings of uneasiness and barely perceivable fright. Here, inexplicability is key. Uneasiness lies in the inexplicability. Watching the film, the viewers may start pondering: “what is that?”, “what is happening?”, “what is the meaning of all this?” The meaning just about escapes us, even though we definitely sense that the three rabbits are being terrorised by something. The precise cause of what is going remains unclear and the underlying fear is transmitted to us through the specific “trigger words and phrases”, including “coincidence”, “a man in a green suit”, “I hear someone”, “It was red”, “We’re not going anywhere” and “I’m going to find out one day”. These words and phrases stand for some hidden distress. David Lynch proves once again that inexplicability and strangeness alone will sustain the interest.

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Out to Sea: Kramer’s Ship of Fools (1965) & Hitchcock’s Lifeboat (1944)

I. Ship of Fools (1965)

“When I think of the things I have seen on this ship. The stupid cruelties. The vanities. We talk about values? There’re no values. The dung we base our lives on…We are the intelligent, civilized people who carry out orders we are given. No matter what they may be. Our biggest mission in life is to avoid being fools. And we wind up being the biggest fools of all” (Dr Wilhelm Schumann in Ship of Fools).

Based on a novel by Katherine Anne Porter, Ship of Fools tells of a passenger ship sailing from Mexico and bound for Germany. On board, the people are from all walks of life and classes, from a Countess (played by Simone Signoret) who lost everything to desperate Spanish farm workers. They are also one artistic couple having a serious relationship trouble, a middle-aged Nazi sympathiser, an aging southern belle (played by Vivien Leigh), who is in search of “something”, and a troupe of Spanish dancers, among others. The film focuses on each of those in turn, taking rounds, and could be said to represent a series of “film vignettes”, rather than a straightforward plot moving to one cinematic climax. Directed by Stanley Kramer (Look Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)), who always promoted films with important social issues, Ship of Fools is distinguished by its unusual presentation, incredible cast, and the acting of Simone Signoret and Oskar Werner.

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