Booklets that accompany DVDs are one of the less visible and accessible outlets of film writing. I’ve spent the last week with a stack of DVDs and booklets borrowed from my college library. Let me share a couple of interesting excerpts from them here. Any favorite DVD booklets to recommend? Perhaps we could collect all your suggestions in the comments section.
(1) Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves (Criterion).
Sergio Leone was sixteen, in high school, and happened to be present when the film was being shot. He describes the experience:
All of a sudden [De Sica] said: “Well, here I would like to see a group of ten, fifteen red priests, those who do the Catholic propaganda.” […] The next day we shot the scene—beautiful also from a choreographic perspective—in which these red priests, caught in the thunderstorm, take shelter under the eaves of a building. Two of them are speaking in German to each other, so that the child, fascinated by the strange language, gets distracted and lingers on, listening to them. I was one of the two red priests involved in the conversation, which in reality consisted of saying some numbers, because we didn’t speak German. The rest of the group was formed by my classmates, whom I had recruited after De Sica said he had no idea how he could come up with fifteen teenagers.
(2) Maurice Pialat’s L’Enfance-nue (Masters of Cinema).
Kent Jones writes:
Pialat, much more than Michael Bay or Tsui Hark, was an action director. Which is to say that his films give us the actions of his characters within their environments, without any discernible master idea governing their every move. In each Pialat film, and L’Enfance-nue is no exception, continuity as we know it is deliberately and continually thwarted if not smashed, in order to expunge just such master-planning. One never knows when a scene will end, or indeed what will constitute a scene, and our tracking of time as some kind of guide (an unconscious procedure in any movie) is thrown out the window — as in a Terrence Malick film, any given scene could be taking place minutes, hours, days or months after the preceding scene, and crucial moments occur off-camera. There is no time for the film to build up any sort of thematic repository to which the viewer can return for psychic re-orientation, beyond the specifics of these people, as they are seen in this place at this time of year under these skies, and in this light […] we become genuinely attuned to the film as a series of precious moments, passing before our eyes at 24 frames per second. Many filmmakers before and after Pialat tried to reach this absolute level of proximity between fiction and documentary, actor and character, setting and place. For most, it happened only fitfully. Only Pialat, with his mixture of sublime sensitivity, brute force and a furious resentment that kept his creative machinery perpetually stoked, was able to sustain such a balance throughout an entire film.
(3) Hiroshi Teshigahara films (Criterion).
James Quandt on The Face of Another (the entire essay can be found here):
The confluence of artistic forces — West with East, Europe with Japan, traditional with experimental — is readily apparent in the sinister, glittering waltz Takemitsu composed as the signature music for the credit sequence of The Face of Another. More unsettling than the composer’s nerve-scraping electronic music, which is more conventionally ominous, the strangely “inappropriate” waltz not only emphasizes Takemitsu’s and Teshigahara’s respective debts to Western culture but also introduces an important, largely unremarked incongruity in the film’s visual strategies. By employing a traditional, even antique, form — the triple-time Viennese ballroom dance, popular for more than two centuries — for modernist ends, Takemitsu inadvertently evokes a formal tension in the film between its strangely outmoded aspect ratio (the squarish Academy ratio) and its arsenal of visual innovation: freeze-frames, defamiliarizing close-ups, wild zooms, wash-away wipes, X-rayed imagery, stuttered editing, surrealist tropes, swish pans, jump cuts, rear projection, montaged stills, edge framing, and canted, fragmented, and otherwise stylized compositions. Since the late fifties, most Japanese films (though not Ozu’s) had been made in widescreen, and a mania for the Scope format was widespread, so Teshigahara’s adherence to the old-fashioned ratio, emphasized by the black-and-white cinematography, is especially striking.
(4) Georges Franju’s Judex/Nuits rouges (Masters of Cinema).
Franju speaking about Nuits rouges to Tom Milne in 1975:
I have always been attracted by emanations of strangeness; in other words, by the insolite. I suppose this is why my films so often belong to the genre formally but somewhat loosely categorized by the term ‘cinéma fantastique’. Within this rather nebulous area, I distinguish three zones: le cinéma fantastique, properly speaking; le cinéma de l’insolite; and le cinéma de l’angoisse. The fantastique lies in the form; the insolite, in the atmosphere; the anguish, in the uncertainty, the unknown. The fantastique must be created; the insolite should emerge; and the anguish, be felt […] Then how does the insolite manifest itself in the film? It springs, surely, from elements calculated to clash with each other — action and oneirism, divertissement and drama […] The cinematic image is gifted with twin powers: the power of psychological insight and the power of attraction or fascination. As a spectacle, Nuits rouges exercises the latter, and should therefore be approached rather like those carnival sideshows which require you to rediscover your innocence.
A few links:
-- David Hudson has a tumblr page called Transatlantic.
-- (via Zach Campbell) Geoffrey O'Brien on Malick's The Tree of Life; and a terrific post and discussion ("Cases Closed / Problems Opened") inspired by the film at Zach's place.
-- (via Walter Biggins) At Cracked.com: "5 Annoying Trends That Make Every Movie Look The Same".
-- Catherine Grant collects links to "Terrence Malick Studies" in a post.
-- The welcome return of Jonathan Rosenbaum's "Global Discoveries" DVD column in the new issue of Cinema Scope magazine. An excerpt, on a new Edgar Ulmer 6-DVD box set: "It seems weirdly appropriate (yet also uniquely frustrating) that the box itself should be hard to open, the individual discs hard to pry loose from the container and almost equally hard to put back securely..."
-- Film Comment has a handy collection of Cannes Top 10 lists from various critics on a single page.
-- Recent website discoveries: The Film Doctor blog; Trevor L.'s tumblr page, Occupied Territories, and his blog Journey by Frame.
-- Michael Sicinski at Moving Image Source: "Cinephile fashions and the hybrid films of Nicolás Pereda".
-- (via the Cinetrix): Two pieces by Mark Rappaport at the journal Requited, "The Gong Show," and "Black Bra, White Bra".
-- At Sight & Sound: an interview with filmmaker Pere Portabella.
pic: Maurice Pialat's L'Enfance-nue (1968).