This 2017 new year is supposed to be a turning point about audiovisual entertainment.
Sounds pretty interesting for the new artistic possibilities. More ideas, more liberties and a lot of potential new projects.
In 2009, James Cameron had already initiated this process with Avatar in Imax 3D, he totally changed the way to watch a movie in theaters. But it's really since 2016 that the Virtual Reality gets itself talked about. There's like a kind of excitement around this new tool that we discover very quickly. Because of the technology who evolves so fast.
Then it's necessary to take into consideration our past for few minutes with the help of an article, and to look back on our communal international cinema history. All this by way of another classic cinema history with 10 unsung films you pretend to have watched, but actually never seen!
Blow Out, Brian De Palma (1981) – United States
We've always been reviewing De Palma's filmography by focusing on glorifications, praises and tributes to Alfred Hitchcock. What a shame… Because there's much more to say about the other belief who justifies Brian's cinema.
Blow Out is a perfect example because it is undoubtedly the most complete work as a study about the understanding of De Palma's films.
John Travolta plays Jack, a soundman for Z movies. Among an owl and people conversations, Jack tapes quite by chance a car accident of an important governor.
After decoding the soundtrack, he realizes that it's absolutely not a simple accident.
In this movie is established the De Palma's artistic universe, where continuously, he calls his art into question and also the veracity of his communication tool which is cinema. Manipulation and interpretation, the director of Scarface gets into position between the Classic and Modern Cinema, searching tirelessly this balance between the sincerity of images and the illusion we can give them.
"Film lies all the time… 24 times a second"
Ugetsu, Kenji Mizoguchi (1953) – Japan
Kenji Mizoguchi is for Japan what Murnau is for Germany or Rossellini for Italy. Japanese culture being, of course, very distinct from the occidental culture. That's why it's time to highlight this unsung cinema with Mizoguchi, which is a real reflection of the japanese ancestral culture.
In Ugetsu, Genjuro is a potter who lives in a very small and remote village with his wife and his son. Genjuro meets a princess in town, they finally marry but he realises that he's on the road to ruin.
One of the most striking fact in Ugetsu is about the composition of the frame in every shots. The proximity with characters is really gripping.
During one hour and a half, Mizoguchi illustrates perfectly the whole japanese culture, between art and ancestral savoir-faire, the samurai myth, geishas, spectres and other superstitions. However, there is one thing in common with a news topic, and Kenji Mizoguchi tries hard a kind of dimension, it's the importance of women’s lifes in our society.
The 400 Blows, François Truffaut (1959) – France
If we had to quote just one essential movie from the French New Wave, we'd probably talk about Breathless by Jean-Luc Godard. But the fact remains that François Truffaut's The 400 Blows is well and truly the first one of this cinematographic revolution.
Antoine Doinel is a young and lost kid. He decides to skip school and begins a downward spiral of lies and later stealing.
“What’s cinema?”. The questioning is maybe the biggest leitmotif of the French New Wave. About Art, the link between the latter and money, the cinema itself, its rules…
These filmmakers are fascinated by a very classic cinema but with the idea of: "We love what you've done but that's not what we want to do". As a result, it gives a very Modern Cinema, reflexive by its mise en abyme, that spectators don't used to see in theatres. Jump cut, jerked sequences, dialogues deliberately approximated, the French New Wave tells stories in a different way.
Mentioned as one of The 50 films you should see by the age of 14 by the British Film Institute, The 400 Blows is one of the greatest movie of the movement.
Dersu Uzala, Akira Kurosawa (1975) – Japan/Soviet Union
Akira Kurosawa is maybe the biggest figure of the japanese cinema. Let's focus on this huge director. But with the help of a very different feature from the rest of his filmography, Dersu Uzala.
From the autobiographical story of Vladimir Arseniev, a soviet officer in charge of establish the topographics plan of the Ussuri valley. That's where he met Dersu, a Golde native hunter. The latter cannot live anymore in mountains and moves to Vladimir's house.
Here's one of the most personal movie from Akira Kurosawa. Because there's a very strong documentary dimension about it. We could even imagine that Kurosawa himself plays in his movie, illustrated by this total station, like a camera and its tripod, that Dersu and Vladimir always keep with them. Some panoramas are just wonderful and Kurosawa tries hard to show that. But he also reveals how dangerous and authoritarian this natural beauty can be.
Don't claim to know Kurosawa if you still didn't see this masterpiece.
Girl with a Suitcase, Valerio Zurlini (1962) – Italy/France
There's really something charming about italian cinema. Probably the most beautiful from after World War II, between 1945 and 1980 it gave birth to some absolute masterpieces. Roberto Rossellini had paved the way of the italian neorealism with Rome, Open City.
But there's also Valerio Zurlini with less of directing, most of the time in french coproductions, but certainly in a very italian style.
In Girl with a Suitcase, Claudia Cardinale plays Aida, a young women from province. She meets Lorenzo, a young boy from a middle class background. He falls in love with her and involve himself in an impossible idylle.
Zurlini has tendency to make his feminine characters very desirable, but mostly inaccessible. But that's also what is very attractive about his cinema, we love to just contemplate his characters and the setting around them. After all, that's the way to watch a movie.
Johnny Got His Gun, Dalton Trumbo (1971) – United States
There's a lot of reason why Johnny Got His Gun could have never been showed to the general public.
During the After World War II period, for many years, a lot of filmmakers were blacklisted by the mccarthyism and anticommunism like Joseph Losey or Charlie Chaplin. Among them, there was Dalton Trumbo with his unique film called Johnny Got His Gun.
The movie, discovered by Pierre Rissient for the french release, was refused for Cannes Film Festival, Rissient had to ask for help to big personalities like Jean Renoir and Luis Bunuel to be accepted. The movie finally won the Jury Prize.
Dalton Trumbo and his Johnny Got His Gun, both victims of an absurdity at some point of time, are a perfect example of a great cinema who never saw the light of day.
Joe is a young soldier of the World War I during which he lost his legs, his arms, his hearing and wear a disfigured face devoid of the possibility to just talk. The army's medical corps takes it out on him to keep him alive, by experimenting with a kind of therapy ignoring that Joe is well and truly conscious of his situation.
Beyond his engagement for peace, Dalton Trumbo had a real style, very atypical. We would have loved to see more from him…
Night and the City, Jules Dassin (1950) – United Kingdom
Dalton Trumbo wasn't the only american filmmaker to be blacklisted. Excluded from the United States, Jules Dassin didn't go without directing one of the greatest Film Noir of the History. Let's talk a little bit about Night and the City.
Harry Fabian is a key figure of London. Showy and cheeky he tries hard every day to develop a new way to make a lot of money. He finally decides to own the monopoly of wrestling in London. Then he formulates a plan who's going to turn against himself, for the umpteenth time.
Despite Night and the City is the oldest film of the list, it doesn't look a day older. The Dassin's directing and Mutz Greenbaum's photography are aesthetically beautiful.
But we remember the performance of Richard Widmark, who raises the film. Reflected by this incredible wrestling scene, where Harry just can assess the damages of his delusions of grandeur.
This movie was considered, at its released in 1950, as a big fail. Then it's time to catch up and discovering, for some people, this cinema's masterpiece.
The Killing, Stanley Kubrick (1956) – United States
If we had to scrutinise every movies directed by Stanley Kubrick, we would probably find a lot of references to many previous films and filmmakers. Max Ophüls for some great travellings, Orson Welles in his modernity. However, there is no one movie who looks like to another one in the Kubrick's filmography. But it's time to take an interest in one of his first unsung feature, The Killing.
Johnny Clay, assisted by several partner in crime, planned to hold up a racecourse. This plan goes like clockwork. Everythings happen as intended, at least, up to a certain point.
Alfred Hitchcock said that the most important about a movie is the editing. Kubrick's The Killing is perfectly controlled. But in this perfect spiral can insert some undesirable pieces. That is all the plot of The Killing.
In this film noir who seems to be very common, we find some key scenes who raise the film, beyond that classicism of the film noir genre. It's in these distinct sequences that we could have noticed that Stanley Kubrick wouldn't be like other directors.
Au Hasard Balthazar, Robert Bresson (1966) – France/Sweden
Maybe the most important film of the list. Robert Bresson, and his Au Hasard Balthazar, is a big classic of the "Cinematograph", a term that he enjoyed in order to distinguish between his Art and Cinema.
Robert Bresson is probably one of the biggest inspiration of many directors. So it's more than important to keep him in mind.
The guiding principle of Au Hasard Balthazar is a donkey. From his birth to his death, we follow his journey, that he shares with Marie, a young girl from the Pays Basque. The donkey moves from owners to owners, from misfortune to misfortune.
Despite being an animal, men around the donkey demonstrate much more savagery against him. When you watch a movie directed by Robert Bresson, it's totally understandable and conceivable that a part of spectators can get bored in front of this kind of feature that we don't film anymore. But if you have the chance to be in the other part of spectators, it is assured that Au Hasard Balthazar will be the most touching movie of your life.
Take your chance.
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, John Cassavetes (1976) – United States
During the major period of his career between 50's and 80's, John Cassavetes represented this filmmaker who didn't hesitate to make films for him and his crew before everything.
But he was the only one who practised his art in this way, judged too much perilous and not profitable enough by the collective consciousness of the hollywoodian industry.
Ben Gazzara plays Cosmo Vitelli, a manager of a cabaret in Los Angeles. Because of gambles, he finds himself with a debt to the mafia. They propose him to reduce this debt by killing a chinese bookie.
John Cassavetes is opposed to a kind of hollywood academism and its business. And this modernity, in his cinema, gives to him a sincerity.
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie is very striking. Like this scene where Ben Gazzara breaks the fourth wall after he killed the bookie.
Learn to know Cassavetes's cinema and you will learn another story of american cinema.
It's pretty judicious to finish this article with a movie directed by John Cassavetes. Because he's a huge reference of the american independent films.
Cinema is an international language, since its creation, and the independent cinema contributes to this more than ever. As before adding value to movies with low budget, its principal virtue is the cultural openness, by discovering an international unsung cinema. John Cassavetes said: "Grow older means losing more and more what was destined to us when we were young, especially the unknown". A lot of people are afraid to fight the unknown. Remain young at heart push us to be interesting in something unusual.
Generally, cinema, and especially independent cinema, learn us some new ways to detecting and understanding the world around us by the look of a director and his crew.
That's why we have to keep watching older movies, new movies, from stranger countries, big-budget films or low-budget films. It's that open-mindedness who will keep the whole beauty of cinema.
Don't be afraid!
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