Breaking the Ice (1938)

31 Days of Oscar: Breaking the Ice (1938)

Breaking the Ice (1938)

Here’s another film where I went outside the TCM schedule to add a title. I wrote of Bobby Breen recently and this is one of his many films you can stream or save from The Internet Archive, all are in the public domain. I already knew that many of his films had an Oscar nominated song, so there was no guessing game and while the narrative of this one is better than most of his vehicles it is a little lacking in as much as there is some filler were we watch a lot of skating that really doesn’t impact the story in any great way. However, like all his films it ends well and enjoyable enough to watch and there is decent spacing and plenty of singing.

Oscar Nominations/Wins: 1/0
Score: 7/10

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Short Film Saturday: Shooting Captured Insurgents (1898)

This is one that requires a bit of an intro. I pasted below the explication offered by Change Before Going Productions, the awesome YouTube channel that hosts a number of early milestones in film online:

Shooting Captured Insurgents is a hyper-realistic re-enactment filmed during the Spanish-American War, and having the purpose of bolstering sympathy for the Cuban rebels (and antagonism towards the Spanish). The United States had previously entered the conflict in early 1898 after the sinking of the USS Maine battleship in Havana harbor left 258 of the ship’s crew dead.

In the film, Spanish freedom fighters are led in front of a Spanish firing squad and then executed. The movie would play with no explanation that the footage shown was not real i.e. staged, leaving the audience to believe they had just witnessed actual deaths.

Stella Dallas (1937)

31 Days of Oscar: Stella Dallas (1937)

Stella Dallas (1937)

Barbara Stanwyck is brilliant in this. Very deserving of her Best Actress nomination and frankly the only thing that truly makes the whole film worth watching. The film hits an unusual flatness as the romance fizzles and the marriage is in name only it all feels like a lot of window dressing to the next major conflict of the film. It’s about as enjoyable as it can be but not as good as it could be.

Oscar Nominations/Wins: 2/0
Score: 5/10

Tristana (1970)

31 Days of Oscar: Tristana (1970)

Tristana (1970)

This is an interesting film by Buñuel which stars Catherine Deneuve. It’s not great but the plotline is simple and accessible and the protagonist’s situation is easy to identify with. There is a pretty impressive closing montage, not to say too much.

Oscar Nominations/Wins: 1/0
Score: 6/10

The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936, Warner Bros.)

31 Days of Oscar: The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936)

 The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936)

More often than not I’m leery of biopics. They tend to all fall into form in one way or another. This one, however, is an engaging tale of a scientific crusader. Perhaps what’s most intriguing is that it’s not a cradle-to-grave tale, or even all that personal; it begins in Pasteur’s career and concludes at its pinnacle. Yes, his character is shown, and some of those around him do arc, but it’s most concerned with his work, which makes it in a way far more engaging.

Score: 8/10
Oscar Nominations/Wins: 4/3

The Letter (1940)

31 Days of Oscar: The Letter (1940)

The Letter (1940)

Better Davis and William Wyler were a pretty dynamic duo when they joined forces, however, this is not the best that duo can do. The situation and complications the protagonist finds herself in are fascinating and he cast is brilliant but the resolution is slightly lacking and a bit anticlimactic, the twists make it work.

Oscar Nominations/Wins: 7/0
Score: 7/10

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2016

Introduction

This is an idea I first saw on Rupert Pupkin Speaks wherein he lists his favorite “new-to-me” titles of the prior year. My viewings were down in 2016 overall but there were things worth noting, even things that were not brand new. Some are rather short and can be viewed in their entirety below. For those who prefer features and talkies those can be found toward the end of this post. Enjoy!

Shorts

Many of the older films I was able to see for the first time last year that left an impression on me were both silent and short. The first two are archival shorts of Native Americans.

Sioux Ghost Dance (1894)

Buffalo Dance (1894)

Many of these short silents inspired me to start on a theme commemorating film firsts. Here is the first time the Statue of Liberty was filmed.

Statue of Liberty (1898)

Demolishing and Building Up the Star Theatre (1901)

Pan-American Exposition by Night (1901)

Georges Méliès almost always makes an appearance.

The Temptation of St. Anthony (1898)

The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (1895)

Now, a short film by Mike Leigh. I need to see the rest of these five-minute titles.

Five-Minute Films: The Birth of the Goalie of the 2001 F.A. Cup Final (1982)

Faces of November (1964)

John F. Kennedy Jr. Saluting His Father at Funeral

I got and saw the Kennedy films set from Criterion. Two of them made enough impact to land on this list. One dealt with the aftermath of the assassination.

Karin’s Face (1984)

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Any newly seen Bergman is worth noting even if it’s shot that is a study in stills and dissolves focused on his mother’s face.

Features

City of the Dead (1960)

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As much as this film relishes the artifices of more classical horror techniques its rooting itself in historical precedent and wanting to carve a fictional enclave amidst historical happenings is highly commendable indeed. One might watch this film and consider it to be dated. However, with older films that is a conversation that is mostly moot to me. All films are created for the times in which they exist, even ones borrowing older techniques. Timelessness is an alchemistic accident that cannot be manufactured.

Primary (1960)

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Also in the Robert Drew & Associates box set from Criterion is a feature called Primary which focused mostly on Kennedy’s campaign to try and win the Wisconsin primary.

Kamikaze 1989 (1982)

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“This is a film that stands as a unique statement on an artistic level. It’s being set but seven years in the future, whence the Berlin Wall would fall, also gives it a curious undertone that it likely didn’t possess upon its initial release. It societal relevance may be more culturally relativistic than some other films, but its function as allegory seems as it could spring eternal with increased intensity based on the changing tides of the world’s sociopolitical currents.”

Antonia’s Line (1995)

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“As if this film needs more accolades it is indeed one of those Academy Award winners that quote, truly deserved it, unquote. It’s a film that’s so good that I find it nearly an affront to it to discuss the feminist merits of it in the context of a standard review. Watch it, you’ll know what I mean. It’s spectacular.”

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Blu-ray Review: Kamikaze ’89 (1982)

Kamikaze ’89 was the subject of a crowdfunding campaign that I supported vehemently on this site. Were it merely one of Fassbinder’s final films, it would’ve earned my support regardless; however, there’s more in the film worth noting than just that. This newfound exposure is definitely warranted. As Film Movement Classics was in the midst of restoring the film and wanted some aid getting it up on the big screen where it belongs. That effort proved this film did have an audience and it saw both repertory arthouse, physical, and digital release last year.

This is a film based on the novel Murder on the 31st Floor by Per Walhöö, which has seen a number of cinematic adaptations first in the USSR in 1972 and 1980 respectively both on TV, then in 1981 in Hungary, then this version in 1982. The plot ostensibly revolves around a murder investigation the machinations and convolutions of which are giallo-like but it’s the underpinnings of a system on the edge of collapse and the portrait of a society in an uncomfortable middle-ground between dystopia and utopia that give it its emotional resonance, and its melange of capitalism and communism food for thought.

As something of an anomaly in Fassbinder’s filmography, he did not adapt or direct this film, but was lead actor. However, one thing you will glean from Nick Pinkerton’s wonderfully insightful essay on the film (preferably read after having watched it) is that Fassbinder directed by proxy through Wolf Gremm, which can be seen in a few ways. So, if you know Fassbinder’s work it will still feel very familiar.

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The score is a trance-inducing orchestration by Edward Froese of Tangerine Dream fame (for more on that score the Blu-ray booklet also features an essay by Samuel B. Prime about it), bringing its eerie familiar yet vacuous other-worldliness to life was Xaver Schwarzenberger the same DP who brought Berlin Alexanderplatz to life. The film also features a small role performed by the legendary Franco Nero, and Fassbinder mainstay Günther Kauffmann.

Kamikaze ’89 does feature the minimalistic futurism of films like Fassbinder’s own World on a Wire or Godard’s Alphaville one wherein the implication of future happenings is more about societal structure rather than awe-inspiring technological advancements. This tale is also cloistered in as much as it takes place in and around one particular edifice and its mysterious and unfindable 31st floor.

This is a film that stands as a unique statement on an artistic level. It’s being set but seven years in the future, whence the Berlin Wall would fall, also gives it a curious undertone that it likely didn’t possess upon its initial release. It societal relevance may be more culturally relativistic than some other films, but its function as allegory seems as it could spring eternal with increased intensity based on the changing tides of the world’s sociopolitical currents.

Bonus Features

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Aside from the aforementioned essays there is plenty of added viewing including:

  • A feature-length documentary by Wolf Gremm Rainer Werner Fassbinder: The Last Year.
  • And an additional documentary Wolf at the Door, a filmic memoir by director Gremm.
  • Feature length commentary by Regina Ziegler
  • Radio ads voiced by John Cassavetes
Gold DIggers of 1933 (1933, Warner Bros.)

31 Days of Oscar: Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)

Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)

Gold DIggers of 1933 (1933, Warner Bros.)

I remember when I sent away for a headshot of Anna Chlumsky when I was young this was listed as being her favorite movie. Recently in reading about the Pre-Code era I was reminded of this title. The opening number “We’re in the Money” became a standard, but many forget that it was a very topical Depression Era song. The musical sequences directed by Busby Berkeley are magical but by and large there is a disconnect between them, the occasional commentary and the light, escapist fare that is the thrust of the film.

I forget my guess regarding this film’s nominations, but its nod for Sound Recording is well earned as the audio is crystal clear – not always the case in this time period, as sound was still in its infancy.

Score: 6/10
Oscar Nominations/Wins: 1/0