Saturday, June 23, 2007

Janus in June/July: More vintage Soul Food at Cinematheque

Of the three Soul Food masterpieces on offer to date in Pacific Cinematheque's Janus Films retrospective, I only managed to catch DAY OF WRATH, but it was well worth it. I'll have to catch up with the Bergmans on the smaller screen: fortunately both of the Bergmans (WILD STRAWBERRIES and SEVENTH SEAL are available in pristine Criterion versions at Videomatica (where else!). Oh, and by the way, Videomatica's special summer deal has kicked in again, I believe it runs through to late July: I think you pay forty bucks, which allows you to rent up to twenty films during a twenty day period? Something like that. So if you're down for some serious movie watching, that's an amazing deal! Their rentals normally range from $3.99 to $6.99 a movie, so if you see five to ten movies in your allotted three weeks, you're ahead of the game: rent all twenty, that's two bucks a pop! I did it last summer, and saw a remarkable number of lasting favourites (THE BIG COUNTRY and some of those amazing Jacques Tourneur titles come immediately to mind).

Well, 50 Years Of Janus Films: Essentials Of World Cinema continues at Cinematheque through to the end of July, and again the menu includes a some tempting gourmet offerings for the soul. RASHOMON is featured on the 2005 A&F 1000 list of Spiritually Significant films, and TOKYO STORY has been selected for all three of the A&F lists: the quintessential work of Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu, one of the three central subjects of Paul Schrader's seminal book "Transcendental Style In Film." Fellini's LA STRADA has been celebrated for many years as one of the great spiritual fables of cinema, and while Cocteau's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST might seem a strange choice for a list of spiritual films (though no one would question its place on a list of film masterpieces), here's what Ronald Austin wrote in IMAGE Journal #20, which was all about film and spirituality;
"Jean Cocteau, one of the earliest of the film poets, upon returning to his faith late in life, remarked in a letter to philosopher Jacques Maritain that 'what comes from God is always shocking, and what shocks my contemporaries is the idea of order.' When Cocteau wrote those lines, over fifty years ago, he was obviously not referring to the stale order of academic convention or conformity. The academy of today, in fact, proclaims a rule of fundemental disorder, the vanishing of the foundational. This perception of Cocteau, a rogue modernist, suggests something on the horizon. The order to which he refers is the wondrous design we hear in Bach and Mozart, the 'inscape' of Hopkins, and the intuition of deep structure that has inspired the leap into mysticism of may contemporary physicists." Ronald Austin, IMAGE 20, pg 4

Japan 1950. Director: Akira Kurosawa
Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Machiko Kyo, Masayuki Mori, Takashi Shimura, Minoru Chiaki
Kurosawa's hugely influential modernist masterpiece was the film that introduced the Japanese cinema to the West; it now stands as a cultural touchstone, with a title that has entered the international lexicon as a synonym for the subjectivity or multiplicity of truth. In medieval Japan, four witnesses to a rape and murder give mutually contradictory accounts of the incident. Expertly paced and superbly acted, the film features magnificent cinematography by Kazuo Miyagawa, the master of camera tracking who also shot Mizoguchi's sublime Ugetsu. Kurosawa regulars Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura head the fine cast. Rashomon was a surprise winner of the Golden Lion at Venice in 1951. Japanese officials had been reluctant to enter the film, fearing it would be misunderstood by foreigners; Kurosawa himself thought that a film reflecting contemporary life might better serve as an introduction to his country's cinema. Rashomon went on to win an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, and spawned Broadway, Hollywood, and American TV remakes; Alain Resnais would cite it as the inspiration for his Last Year at Marienbad. “One of the most brilliantly constructed films of all time ... A hallmark of film history” (James Monaco). B&W, 35mm, in Japanese with English subtitles. 90 mins.
Saturday, June 23
Monday, June 25
Available at Videomatica

Italy 1954. Director: Federico Fellini
Cast: Giulietta Masina, Anthony Quinn, Richard Basehart, Aldo Silvani
Fellini's international breakthrough, and his first unquestioned masterpiece, came with La Strada , a film which won a Silver Lion at Venice and the first of the director's four Academy Awards for Best Foreign-Language Film. Giulietta Masina gives one of cinema's most memorable performances as Gelsomina, a simple-minded peasant girl who is sold to a brutal circus strongman (played by Anthony Quinn) for a plate of pasta. Richard Basehart (of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea fame) co-stars as the Fool, a gentle tightrope-walker who befriends the beleaguered heroine. Although ostensibly neorealist in form, La Strada 's highly allegorical, profoundly spiritual quality marked a departure from the strict tenets of neorealism, and drew angry attacks from critics on the Left. The Catholic press, for its part, hailed the work as a genuinely Christian parable of suffering and redemption. “Rarely has a film expressed so completely its director's sense of the wonder, fantasy, surprise, and mystery in the simple lyrical moments of life” (Peter Bondanella). “For all its sentimentality, this overshadows virtually everything Fellini has made since La Dolce Vita ” (Geoff Andrew, Time Out ). B&W, 35mm, in Italian with English subtitles. 107 mins.
Thursday, July 5 – 9:20 pm
Friday, July 6 – 7:30 pm
Saturday, July 7 – 9:20 pm
Available at Videomatica

TOKYO STORY (Tokyo monogatari)
Japan 1953. Director: Yasujiro Ozu
Cast: Chishu Ryu, Chieko Higashiyama, Setsuko Hara, So Yamamura, Haruko Sugimura
“One of the manifest miracles of the cinema” (Penelope Gilliatt, The New Yorker), Tokyo Story is generally acknowledged to be Ozu's supreme masterpiece, and widely considered one of the greatest films ever made. (It polled in the top five in the 1992 and 2002 instalments of Sight and Sound's once-a-decade survey of international critics; a 2005 piece by Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian cited a mounting body of opinion naming Tokyo Story as, indeed, the best film of all time, “beating Charles Foster Kane and his sled.”) A sad, simple, economical tale of generational conflict, told in the consummate Ozu style, the film concerns an aging couple who journey to Tokyo to visit their married son and daughter, only to find that their presence seems to be an imposition on their rather insensitive and apparently too-busy offspring. Tokyo Story offers a perfect example of the quality of mono no aware — a sad but serene resignation to life as it is — that informs Ozu's work. “Ozu's vision ... is emotionally overwhelming, and arguably profound for any engaged viewer; it is also formally unmatched in Western popular cinema” (Tony Rayns). “A picture so Japanese and at the same time so personal, and hence so universal in its appeal, that it becomes a masterpiece” (Donald Richie). B&W, 35mm, in Japanese with English subtitles. 135 mins.
Wednesday, July 11 – 7:00 pm
Thursday, July 12 – 9:35 pm
Friday, July 13 – 7:00 pm
Available at Videomatica

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (La belle et la bête)
France 1946. Director: Jean Cocteau
Cast: Jean Marais, Josette Day, Marcel André, Mila Parély, Michel Auclair, Nane Germon
“Perhaps the most sensuously elegant of all filmed fairy tales” (Pauline Kael), La belle et la bête is the great Jean Cocteau's most popular film, and one of the masterpieces of fantastic cinema. Sumptuous, surreal, and thoroughly enchanting, this poetic retelling of Madame Leprince de Beaumont's famed 18th-century story stars Jean Marais, in extraordinary cat-like make-up, as the gruesome, castle-dwelling Beast. Josette Day is delicate Beauty, whose love transforms monster into man. (“Give me back my Beast!” Greta Garbo famously exclaimed over the hero's ultimate morph into prosaically handsome Prince; Cocteau said his aim was “to make the Beast so human, so sympathetic, so superior to men, that his transformation into Prince Charming would come as a terrible blow to Beauty, condemning her to a humdrum marriage and a future that I summed up in that last sentence of all fairy tales: ‘And they had many children.'”) The film displays Cocteau's celebrated talent for rendering a “realism of the unreal,” and features a virtuoso visual style modelled on classic Dutch painting, the work of Vermeer in particular. The black-and-white cinematography by veteran Henri Alekan (Wings of Desire) is stunning; the art direction by Christian Bérard, who also designed the costumes, is pure magic. Unforgettable. “Cocteau's fairytale set standards in fantasy that few other filmmakers have reached” (Tom Milne, Time Out). “ B&W, 35mm, in French with English subtitles. 96 mins.
Thursday, July 19
Monday, July 23
Wednesday, July 25
Available at Videomatica

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