DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Night and Fog

Despite numerous other documentaries on the subject, as a masterwork of craft and technique, Alain Renais’ landmark Night and Fog still evokes the mind-boggling obscenity of the Holocaust with maximum impact. Renais forces us to witness the horror and digest those horrible images which, once seen, never leave one’s mind. While the breadth of Claude Lanzmann’s work is missing from Night and Fog, Renais’ vision in documenting the Holocaust is close to being the first and final word on the subject.

Night and Fog (1955) dir. Alain Renais
Documentary

By Alan Bacchus

Night and Fog became one of first and most notable films to document the Holocaust on film. Alain Renais, known mostly as a French New-Waver, began as a documentary filmmaker and despite his influence on cinema, Night and Fog might be his most lasting and influential work. While Claude Lanzmann’s landmark Shoah documentary, at 9+ hours, is the most comprehensive and earth-shattering, in its scant 32mins running time Renais just scratches the surface of the tragedy and yet succinctly conveys the hideous contradictions and mind-boggling atrocities of the Nazis.

Renais takes a chronological approach to his narrative, starting with pre-War fascist hysteria, including familiar images from the Nuremberg rallies and other Reifenstahl footage and moves through the war years of 1939 and 1945 and the now familiar chain of events which led to the murder of millions. Renais employs then-famous French actor Michel Boquet to voice writer Jean Cayrol’s written narration with a distinct angered frustration. Of the archive of images and film at filmmaker’s disposal Renais opts for an anecdotal approach as opposed to a conventional ‘story.’ As such contradictions emerge from his astute arrangement of image and sound.

Hanns Eisler’s antithetical and serene score compliments the serenity of the modern colour footage of the vacated death camps rotting away untouched. Obscene details and observations of the genocide are listed off without traditional narrative connection. The painstakingly detailed prisoners logs of the Nazis and the consistent cursive handwriting of the guards who kept the journals drill into our brains the absurdity of their record-keeping process through this endeavor. The now-familiar photographs of the mounds of shoes, eye glasses, hats and even women’s hair stockpiled in a barn convey the scope of death which occurred.

Perhaps most disturbing images occur near the end, and it’s not the graphic horrors of bodies, or the emaciated survivors rescued after the War, but the rolls of cloth made from human hair or paper made from human skin – images presented to us without explanation but effectively represent the incomprehensibility of the tragedy.

Night and Fog is available on Blu-Ray from the Criterion Collection

Monday, 20 June 2016

Here Comes Mr. Jordan

Alexander Hall’s thoroughly delightful ‘heavenly’ comedy, a Capra-esque tale of a deceased boxer who’s given a second chance at life by his angel/mentor Mr. Jordan by being able to inhabit the bodies of other recently deceased persons, is perhaps most famous for its notable remake as Warren Beatty’s ‘Heaven Can Wait’. But as produced under the studio system (Columbia), Mr. Jordan represents that unmistakable pre-war Hollywood magical combination of swift screwball comedy, dry black humour and high concept fantasy.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

The Naked Island

Two lowly Japanese farmers repetitively climbing an intense incline slope from the seaside shore to the top of a mountain to water their measly crops is the signature image of Kaneto Shindô’s social realist experimental film. Shindô observes his characters' backbreaking work with the same kind of salt of the earth honour as in the Soviet propaganda films if the 1920’s. Shindô’s cinematic eye triumphs over his self-imposed dialogue-free obstruction to achieve a woefully tragic slice of Japanese peasant life.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

In a Lonely Place

As a Hollywood screenwriter burdened with a hair trigger temper and seemingly psychopathic predilection to violence, Humphrey Bogart delivers one of his great late-career performances. 'In a Lonely Place' marries the mysterious tension of the unknown in Hitchcock’s 'Suspicion' and 'Shadow of Doubt' with director Nicholas Ray’s interest in brooding and damaged enigmatic characters.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Strike up the Band

Mickey Rooney is an electrifying dynamo in this foot-tapping, often astonishing musical which helps cement for me why the pre-war period was the absolute creative peak of Hollywood. This Rooney/Garland vehicle, the second of many musical pairings charts the journey of the young teenage pair to make something of their fledgling big band. The magic of the Busby Berkeley choreography matched with Rooney’s electrifying performance, as singer/dancer/actor /musician and Judy Garland’s youthful energy gives this film a pulse rarely seen in movies today.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Only Angels Have Wings

The exotic lands of South America provide the location for one of the big adventure films of Hollywood’s most famous year (1939). Cary Grant as an adventure-seeking enigmatic airline pilot running mail into dangerous regions of an unnamed town in the Andes established his Hollywood star status as a true leading man, game for comedy, romance and adventure. Howard Hawks’ recurring themes of male comraderie and his knack for wordy rhythmic dialogue elevate this straight-ahead actioner into something memorable and resonant.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Over the Edge

A sublime time capsule of the era, Over the Edge, exists as a rarely-seen cult classic, plugging nihilistic punk-like anger into the conventions of a teen rebel movie. Based on an actual incident in which the teenagers of a dreary Midwestern town unite and use anarchic violence to take over their school, director Jonathan Kaplan and his team create an angst-fueled ride of adolescent rebellion. The soundtrack featuring Cheap Trick, The Ramones, Van Halen and the Cars, exemplifies the pitch perfect American suburban flavor of this film.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Sorcerer

What a strange and wonderful picture, a thrilling remake of Clouzot’s Wages of Fear, made with the documentary-like realism which embodied most of Friedkin’s films. At a cost of nearly $22m of 1977 dollars, Sorcerer exemplifies the hubris of those celebrated 70’s mavricks who at the beginning of the decade shook up the studio system with the New Hollywood movement then through a series of expensive flops saw the end of the progressive scene at the onset of the 1980’s. Sorcerer survives magnificently over time as one of Friedkin’s best films, now revered by cineastes around.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Southern Comfort

Walter Hill’s Cajun siege picture, for a long time barely registering on the cultural radar, for cinephiles now sits nicely in the highly influential late 70’s-early 80’s period of Hill’s filmography. At once a retelling of the wolfpack themed pictures Hill nearly perfected around this time ('Alien', 'The Warriors', 'The Long Riders'), but also sharp allegory to American foreign policy, 'Southern Comfort', like all of Hill’s films resonates on multiple levels – historical and social commentary, cinematic legacy and a good old fashioned movie thrills.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Sweetie


Sweetie, the title character of Jane Campion’s idiosyncratic and typically Aussie -quirky first feature, is the house guest from hell, the firebrand bi-polar sister of Kay who shows up unwanted at Kay and her boyfriend's door thus disrupting her attempt at a regular life of independence from her thoroughly messed up family.  Strange but inspired, Sweetie admirably showed the signs of a director with a unique voice and laid the thematic sign posts for Campion's future works.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Blackhat


It’s impossible not to watch a Michael Mann film these days without the context of his previous work in mind. Because virtually each and every one of Mann’s films connect so intimately with one another in theme, character and tone. Blackhat is no exception, a crackerjack procedure crime picture about a different kind of thief, tracking a different kind of criminal essentially retelling the cat and mouse chase antics of obsessive cops and robbers on ultra-grey sides of good and evil as in Mann’s previous films.

Friday, 12 February 2016

The Gold Rush



The second of Chaplin’s feature films (after 1921’s 'The Kid') loses nothing over time, easily gliding past all technical innovations (sound, colour, widescreen, 3D). And with Chaplin’s natural gifts as a filmmaker and performer, he crafts a hilarious adventure epic with heartbreaking emotional sentimentality.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

The Hunger

Overwhelmingly beautiful but cold, Tony Scott’s The Hunger, once dismissed back in the day, now resounds as a seminal film of the vampire genre. Consciously aloof, Scott seemed to be striving for what Ridley Scott strove for in his early days, expressive, moody and supremely visual tone pieces. For better or worse Scott would never make a film this again, quickly moving into the Bruckheimer brand of cinema.

Friday, 29 January 2016

52 Pick Up


This underseen Elmore Leonard-penned project about a prominent LA industrialist blackmailed for his infidelity cruises through the seedy LA crime underworld in the same way Chinatown and other LA-based noir films before it. But as a time capsule of the decade, for better or worse, it’s also burdened with the vulgarities of 1980’s cinema.