Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ingrid Bergman and Italian Neorealism

Ingrid Bergman - Europa '51

This post is part of the 2012 Summer Under the Stars blogathon hosted by Jill at Sittin' on a Backyard Fence and Michael at ScribeHard on Film.

"People today only know how to live in society, not in community.  The soul of society is the law.  The soul of community is love." - Roberto Rossellini

Ingrid Bergman is widely known for her roles as Ilsa in Casablanca  and as Alicia Huberman in Hitchcock's great Notorious.  However, after this period of film-making in Hollywood, she collaborated with Roberto Rossollini on a film called Stromboli, terra di dio.  During the filming they had a widely scandelous affair and she became pregnant.  She eventually moved to Italy, married him and had a son.  (Later they had twin daughters, one of which is actress Isabella Rossallini.)  Together they collaborated on a total of five movies.

Two of these films--Stromboli and Europa '51--are both being shown on Turner Classic Movies as part of their Summer Under the Stars month-long salute.  They will air on Wednesday, 8/29/2012 in the afternoon...set your DVRs!  These films are part of a film-making movement that occurred in Italy immediately after WWII called Italian Neorealism.  Some of my all-time favorite films are from this period of film-making.  So please explore a little deeper with me into the world of passionate film-making.

Italian Neorealism

"If you ever have any doubt about the power of movies to effect change in the world...to interact with life and fortify the soul...then study the example of Neorealism." - Martin Scorsese

This--my fellow cinema friends--is the only incentive one should need to explore the world of Italian Neorealism.  Marty Scorsese himself is a huge fan and his work has been influenced by these directors.  So...what was Neorealism?  A genre?  A style?  A set of rules?

The best overview I've ever seen on Italian Neorealism is found in Martin Scorsese's four-hour documentary 'Il mio viaggio in Italia' (My Voyage to Italy.)  It's a retrospective of Italian cinema in the post-war 40s, 50s and early 60s...a large portion devoted to Italian Neorealism.  The whole thing is on YouTube (see the link below.)  You don't have to watch all of it, I'll give you minute-marks where Scorsese discusses the two films here with Ingrid Bergman.  However...I hope you'll watch all of it...I urge you to watch all of it.  Who better than Scorsese to discuss Neorealism and Italian cinema.  The documentary is broken up into two parts, each about two hours each.  Watch one part then the following night, watch the other!

There are a ton of wonderful films discussed in this documentary.  In the documentary, Scorsese answers the question I asked above (What is Neorealism?):
"Well, more than anything else it was a response to a terrible moment in Italy's history.  The Neorealists had to communicate to the world everything their country had gone through.  They needed to dissolve the barrier between documentary and fiction and in the process they permanently changed the rules of movie-making.
Altogether, these movies amounted to a prayer--that the rest of the world look closely at the Italian people and see their essential humanity.  That's why they had to be truthful.  There was no choice.  So Neorealism wasn't just a question of making the best of a bad situation...although it was that, too.  No sets?  Use real locations.  No money to pay real actors?  Use non-actors.  And since the people and the places would come right out of the landscape...so would the stories.  I mean, in fact there were sets and actors in many of these films, but what's important is that for the first time illusion took a backseat to reality."
To me, Neorealism films are sometimes tough to watch, usually an emotional experience (at least for me) and always a great movie-watching experience.

Both films are given a 1.5 star rating (out of 4) by Leonard Maltin, but I think they both deserve a viewing, if for nothing else to see Ms. Bergman in something other than what we're familiar with. Scorsese in his documentary admits that there are issues with Europa '51 (including poor dubbing by the Italian-speaking secondary characters) but says that the movie supersedes these technical issues.

Because there's not much more that I can say above and beyond what Scorsese does with these two films, I'll just point you to the YouTube video along with the minute marks where he begins discussing each film.

Stromboli, terra di Dio

Scorsese begins talking about this film at the 0:56 minute mark.

Europa '51

Scorsese begins talking about this film at the 1:18 minute mark.  For me this is a quite moving film as it deals with service, love and selflessness.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Doing the Right Thing

Father Barry

This post is part of the 2012 Summer Under the Stars blogathon hosted by Jill at Sittin' on a Backyard Fence and Michael at ScribeHard on Film.

On the Waterfront is easily one of the greatest film ever made.  It airs on Sunday, 8/19/2012 at noon EDT.  Because so much has been written about it already, I just recorded this video blog gush-fest about the movie.  Have a look...

Thursday, August 16, 2012

When Men Cry at the Movies

Freddie Bartholomew

This post is part of the 2012 Summer Under the Stars blogathon hosted by Jill at Sittin' on a Backyard Fence and Michael at ScribeHard on Film.

I'm an emotional guy...it says so here.  I cry easily when watching movies.  I know I'm not alone in this...movies are good at tugging at our heartstrings...at evoking emotion.

Captains Courageous(showing on 8/18/2012 at 8:00pm EDT) with our star of the day, Freddie Bartholomew is one such movie that can get my tears flowing.  That made me think: are there certain kinds of movies or certain movie situations that can create this emotion in me?  In men in general?

Remembering something Kevin Costner said from a DVD special on my Dances with Wolves DVD, I think the answer is yes.  What he says is this (and I'm paraphrasing) a lot of men commented to him that they cry at the end of the film when Wind In His Hair shouts to Dances With Wolves.  My thought is this: in the movies when two men become close friends and then at the end of the movie one man leaves or is killed, that has the ability to evoke emotion in a man viewing the movie (or anyone I guess.)

Let's explore three movies where this happens, shall we?:

In this movie when Lt. Dunbar first meets Wind In His Hair (Rodney A. Grant,) there is fear in his heart.  Wind In His Hair is a fierce warrior and shouts out in a foreign tongue "Do you see that I am not afraid!"  Indeed, it's so shocking to Lt. Dunbar that after the Indians ride off, he passes out.

Wind In His Hair is fearful about why the white man is here in the native American territory and is pensive when Kicking Bird (played memorably by Graham Greene) attempts to bridge the language and culture gap between the tribe and the white man.

Over the course of the film, Lt. Dunbar and Wind In His Hair become friends and gain respect for each other.  At the end of the film, when Lt. Dunbar decides to leave the Indian camp for their safety, Wind In His Hair cannot say goodbye personally as Kicking Bird does, he must shout down to Dunbar from up on a ridge "Do you see that I am your friend? Can you see that I will always be your friend?"

And then (for me) the water works come.

This is one of my favorite Italian films.  (The Italians make a mean film!)  It's about the friendship between a young boy (Toto, played by three actors in the film [as a boy, a young man and an adult]) and the man who runs the projection machine in the small town's theater (Alfredo, played by the great French actor Philippe Noiret).

It's a coming-of-age film...the young boy's father is off at war and his mother is in denial that he's probably dead and not coming back.  So this projectionist takes Toto under his wing and acts as a surrogate father to him while he grows up in this small town.  Toto learns the projectionist job and eventually runs the theater.  He serves time in the military, falls in love with a girl from town, then goes off (reluctantly) to study film in college.  At the end of the movie he's a hot-shot movie director in the big city, and learns that his friend Alfredo has died.  (OK, technically this happens at the very beginning of the film and most of the film is flashback...stick with me here.)

He returns home to his small town (after being away for some 20+ years) for Alfredo's funeral and it's here where the film pulls out seemingly every sentimental device: he reunites his aged mother, he meets all of the old townspeople whom he grew up with at the theater, etc. I won't give too much away...but it's almost over the top.  Almost.

Meanwhile during this strumming of the heartstrings, your humble blog author cries 99 tears.

And the final scene in the whole movie...the very last image you're left with is the push over the cliff...you think you've cried your eyes out up to this point...and then you get hit with this final scene.  Brutally sentimental and so beautiful.  To me, this is the best final scene of any film ever made.  It speaks to one thing: love.

This is a love-letter to the art of cinema.

(Note, this isn't the final scene that I discussed above...just a nice scene between Alfredo and the boy Toto.)

  • Captains Courageous
This is a similar coming-of-age story to Nuovo Cinema Paradiso as it's the story of a boy (Harvey, played by star of the day Freddie Bartholomew) who's taken under the wing of an adult (Manuel, played by a young Spencer Tracy with curly hair!)

What makes this a little better is that the boy undergoes a transformation as he works on a fishing schooner on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.  At the beginning of the film, he's a spoiled, well-to-do schoolboy who thinks anything he wants should simply be delivered into his lap.  He manipulates others for his own gain.  As a person watching this, you'll want to smack him...trust me, you will.

Through an accident he ends of up on the fishing boat and he's in for a rude awakening here.  The hardworking fishermen don't have time to coddle him like he's used to.  On the fishing boat (the "We're Here"), Captain Disko quickly gets fed up with his demanding demeanor and hauls off and slugs the kid in the side of the head.  As a person watching this, you will cheer when this happens...trust me, you will.

Thus begins his transformation.

Through Manuel he learns about what's important in life and how to treat a fellow person.  When Harvey admits to fouling the lines of another fisherman in order to win a contest, Manuel has to hide his smile because he's proud that Harvey's growing into a fine young man.  When Manuel dies near the end of the film, Harvey is separated from his friend just as he and Manuel have become close friends.  Manuel had become a substitute father for Harvey.  

Here too, there is some sentimentalism...Harvey wants to keep some of Manuel's possessions, he lights some candles in the church for Manuel and he attends the funeral for all of the fishermen who have died this season, and then for me...the floodgates open.

These are just three examples of films where there is a strong friendship between two men that grows over the course of the film and then there is separation.  For me this makes the movies extra-emotional.  There are plenty more examples where these came from (see war movies for lots of examples.)

If you haven't seen any of these films, seriously consider seeing them...they're each great in their own way.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

2012 Summer Under the Stars - Toshiro Mifune


Toshiro Mifune

This post is part of the 2012 Summer Under the Stars blogathon hosted by Jill at Sittin' on a Backyard Fence and Michael at ScribeHard on Film.

I wanted to take a few moments to discuss (via video) why I love the film Rashomon which stars Toshiro Mifune.

A few notes after I recorded my video of things that I missed:

  • In the beginning I said the movie is on Thursday evening...it's actually on Thursday at 7:45AM.  Set your DVRs! (If you miss it, the entire movie is available on YouTube.)
  • I said the Kurasowa shot in direct sunlight...what I meant was that he shot directly into the sun.
And now, without further adieu: here's the clip.  Please excuse all of the 'ahs' and pauses.  I had notes but was kind of shooting from the hip!

Here's another clip discussing Rashomon that I found on YouTube (there are lots more):

Robert Altman weighs in on Rashomon

Saturday, August 4, 2012

2012 Summer Under the Stars - Sidney Poitier

Sidney Poitier

As part of the 2012 Summer Under the Stars blogathon, I’m writing my very first (of hopefully more) classic film blog posts.  For my first topic I chose to write about Sidney Poitier.  Why Poitier?  One word: passion.  I love the passion he brings to every role he's in.  His characters are so believable...you root for them...you want them to succeed. I wanted to talk briefly about two of my favorite Poitier movies: A Raisin in the Sun and To Sir, With Love.

A Raisin in the Sun

"Child, when do you think is the time to love somebody the most, when he's done good and made everything easy for everybody. Oh no, no, that ain't the time at all. It's when he's at his lowest and he can't believe in himself cause the world done whipped him so. When you start measuring somebody child, measure him right, measure him right. You make sure you've taken into account the hills and the valleys he's come through to get to wherever he is." - Lena Younger

If you’ve never seen this film I urge you to tune in Tuesday evening at 8pm EDT, it’s a power movie. Poitier plays a married man living in a low-rent apartment in the South Side of Chicago with his mother, sister, wife and son.  I’ve only seen this film once before but it grabbed me immediately--got its hooks in me--and I had to watch it play out.

At the outset, we learn that the family’s father has passed away and they’re about to receive an insurance company settlement for $10,000.  The first part of the movie explores how each family member has a dream about what to do with the money.  The family has a lot of unfulfilled dreams, which a little money can seemingly help.

Walter Lee Younger (Poitier) has a scheme to invest the money into a liquor store.  Lena Younger (the mother, played brilliantly by Claudia McNeil) decides to spend part of the money on a down-payment for a new home in an all-white neighborhood.  She gives the rest to Walter with instruction that $3500 is for him and $3000 is to be used for his sister’s college education.  He decides (foolishly) to give all of it to his ‘friend’ to invest in the liquor store.  What happens next is akin to Nights of Cabiria...we (or at least I) get this gut feeling that something’s going to go wrong.  And it does...Walter’s ‘friend’ disappears with all of his money, including the money meant for this sister’s education.

As luck (and prejudice) would have it, the good folks of the white neighborhood want to buy out the Younger’s home that they just purchased.  At first Walter agrees that this is the way he can recover some of his family’s money.  When Mr. Lindler (played by awesome character actor John Fiedler who’s been in seemingly everything...most remembered by me in 12 Angry Men) later arrives to get the paperwork signed for the house, Walter delivers an impassioned speech about his family and decides not to sell the house after all.

It’s a wonderful movie that explores the unfulfilled dreams of a family as they deal with the prejudices of race and economic status.

To Sir, With Love

Did you ever have a teacher that made a difference in your life?  Not just one that helped you with school-work, but one that helped you with life?  I did and I hope you did, too.  It’s a wonderful thing when a mentor helps to make you a better person.  That’s the premise behind this great film.

It’s a film about how a fill-in school teacher in a lower-class East-end London school transforms the students in his charge.  The film has a fairly desperate beginning...the teachers and students don’t seem to care about each other...there’s a tall and solid brick wall between the two groups and that’s the way they both like it.  Also in the beginning of the film, the students absolutely loath Mr. Thakeray (Poitier): he’s black, they’re mostly all white; he wants to teach them, they don’t want to learn; he’s a substitute teacher...we all know the special attention they get!  But a funny thing happens as the film progresses...he slowly wins the students over through love, respect,  and some discipline...and by the end of the film they’re proud to be his proteges.  What’s interesting to me is that love and respect is something that these kids don’t seem to have at home...maybe they assume that’s how all adults will treat them.

Even if you’ve never seen the film, if you’re ‘of a certain age’ (ahem), you’ve no doubt heard the song by the same name by 60’s British pop star Lulu.  “...how do you thank someone, who has taken you from crayons to perfume?” is the line from the song (the song is also sung in the movie) that best sums up how these previously irascible kids now want to show their gratitude towards their teacher.  He has turned them from children to young adults...and watching this transformation is so heartwarming.