Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Soul Food Tidbits: Sight & Sound, June 2006

Lots of tantalizing Soul Food crumbs in the most recent Sight & Sound magazine to hit these shores. (S&S is maybe the premiere movie mag in the world: for decades they've reviewed every film that reaches big screens in the UK, with expert in-depth commentary contextualizing the most interesting releases and, of course, their acclaimed once-a-decade Top Ten Poll).

IKIRU is by far my favourite Kurosawa, perhaps his greatest non-samurai flick. This month S&S profiles Shimura Takashi, whose performance is the heart and soul of the film: a partial version of their profile is available online, as is my IKIRU review for Christianity Today Movies.

There are a couple Wim Wenders films I'm waiting to see. Most eager to check out LAND OF PLENTY (see COMING SOON), but also interested in DON'T COME KNOCKING – all the more interested having read the S&S review, which is available online. Check out an appreciation of this and other Wenders films by Official Pal Of Soul Food, Jeffrey Overstreet, at his Looking Closer site.
Wenders' masterpiece was WINGS OF DESIRE. In the process of shooting it, the German auteur found his way to faith: there's a great interview with WW in IMAGE Journal, conducted during the writing of DON'T COME KNOCKING, that gives the skinny.
That IMAGE interview was conducted by Scott Derrickson, whose EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE messed with some genre expectations last fall, taking supernatural evil seriously. Not everybody loved it, but I surely appreciated a lot of what it was on about: I'll post my musings for you to check out. The June Sight & Sound brings the latest Derrickson data; "Legendary Pictures, the production company behind SUPERMAN RETURNS and BATMAN BEGINS, is reportedly developing a movie based on John Milton's PARADISE LOST, with Scott Derrickson on board to direct." Hell yeah!

Another official Friend Of Soul Food Movies gets a lovely kudo in the Sight & Sound review of a new Yasujiro Ozu DVD collection, where Brad Stevens notes "There are also intelligent sleeve notes by Doug Cummings." Doug's been immeasurable help as I work on my book, introducing me to Bresson (well, to his movies, anyhow) and loaning me copies of hard-to-find films like WERCKMEISTER HARMONIES, REPENTANCE, THE GREEN RAY, ROSETTA, LA PROMESSE, and Carl Theodor Dreyer's early work THE PARSON'S WIDOW.

There's Dreyer, too, in the June S&S, with two new DVD releases in the UK;
GERTRUD: "Dreyer's late masterpiece, made when he was 75 years old, has the emotional depth and intensity of one of Henrik Ibsen's plays. Gertrud is a tragic heroine: a woman caught in a marriage to a narcissistic politician. When she tries to break free, she is betrayed by her young lover and left in limob… Contemporary Dan ish director Lars von Trier has cited Dreyer's movie as a profound influence on his onw work and is reported to be planning a documentary about it…" They also cite Henri-Georges Clouzot: "Dreyer's world is a spiritual one. Through the drama unfolding on the screen, we can detect another drama, which is the world of good and evil, the world of grace and tolerance."
DAY OF WRATH: "Made in the middle of World War II, Dreyer's tale about oppression in early 17th-century Denmark can't help but appear as an allegory about the Nazi era… Old women accused of witchcraft are tortured and burnt to death by staunch, upright Christians who don’t even begin to question their own behaviour. Almost inevitably, Anne, the young wife of the priest who oversees the burnings, soon ends up accused of witchcraft herself."
Dreyer is as hard to pin down as he is fascinating. His ORDET claimed a very high spot on the Arts & Faith "100 Spiritually Significant Films" list which I curated a couple years back, THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC may be the great silent-era soul food offering, and LEAVES FROM SATAN'S BOOK "gives us the story of Satan and his involvement with the evil turning points of the world's history, culminating in a powerful look into the life and death struggles of the human race via War, condemnation, etc." (Videomatica)
Yet, as Doug wrote in an email, "Dreyer is complicated. ORDET is a very committed Kierkegaardian film but DAY OF WRATH is a very cruel picture of religious bigotry. So, you’ve got to be careful. Clearly, the views of the characters are not the views of Dreyer himself. But I think he had an extraordinary sympathy and a sense of religious story telling. I saw his LEAVES FROM SATAN’S BOOK a couple of years ago and I think he was just fascinated with stories about religion. His screenplay for the Jesus film is well worth reading. It never got made but it’s very interesting and a great loss that he never did make it. But whether he went to church, I doubt it." (Doug's website, filmjourney, is undoubtedly one of the best Soul-Food-related sites on the web: he's a genuine authority on world cinema, particularly folks like Dreyer, Tarkovsky, Bresson and the Dardennes, and frequents film festivals such as Palm Springs, Toronto and Flickerings.)

Finally, S&S writes up several brand new quasi-indie films that I want to see, THE DEVIL & DANIEL JOHNSTON (which premiered at Pacific Cinematheque, so we'll probably have to wait now for the DVD to hit Videomatica), THE KING (opening this weekend at Tinseltown: 12:20, 3:05, 5:25, 7:55, 10:30), and...

DOWN IN THE VALLY (Edward Norton co-wrote, produced and starred), which has a "freewheeling, unhurried feel reminiscent of mid-1970s New Hollywood films like FIVE EASY PIECES." Says Norton: "It's a deconstruction of the spiritual bankruptcy we live in, and in that sense I'd see it as a companion piece to FIGHT CLUB, even if its texture is very different."

BRICK, just for fun, which grafts hard-boiled film noir argot and story-line onto a contemporary high-school milieu. No apparent God Stuff, but I'm a sucker for Chandler, and once went to high school, so… The synopsis and review are online at SIGHT & SOUND BUT BE WARNED: the synopsis summarizes the entire plot. I recommend you skip straight down to the review. That's what I do, given my allergy to spoilers.

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