the traveler's resource guide to festivals & films
a site
part of Insider Media llc.

Connect with us:

Jack Angstreich

Film Society Recap of Kawakita Prize Winners

The Film Society of Lincoln Center's salute to filmmakers who have won the Kawakita Prize spotlighted three films each by eight directors, with all the prints imported from Japan.

Akira Kurosawa's absorbing Stray Dog was presented in a print inferior to those shown in New York recently, so I didn't stay to see it again. The print of Rashomon was better, not pristine, but with good tonalities. This work is not quite the masterpiece it is often reputed to be but it has many fine sequences, such as the woodman's walk through the forest at the film's beginning — it is interesting that the image of sunlight seen through the treetops was an early influence on Stan Brakhage. The print of Ikiru — a much more ambitious film — was even more impressive. This film, featuring an extraordinary performance by Kurosawa stalwart, Takashi Shimura, is remarkable for the conflicting reactions it has aroused from formalist critics — praised by the Catholic humanist, André Bazin, but dismissed as a sentimental, metteur-en-scène film by the advocates of la politique des auteurs, yet championed as one of the greatest, postwar Japanese masterpieces by the Marxist, Noël Burch in a radical analysis.

Nagisa Oshima has also been extravagantly praised by Burch, especially for the disjunctive, intense editing of a film like Violence at Noon, long unseen in New York; it was screened in an excellent 35-millimeter print. Formally, this film contrasts with the longer-take styles of Boy and The Ceremony, both presented in good, color prints, although one reel of Boy appears to have been misprinted in soft focus. While the stylistic strategies of Oshima vary greatly, the films are united by a thoroughgoing approach to critiquing modern Japanese society by way of his attraction to extreme material — these films featuring rape, murder, suicide, child-exploitation, incest, etc. Oshima composes sensitively for the widescreen frame, a trademark of the Japanese cinema of the 1960s.

Kaneto Shindo's The Island is also beautifully photographed, in black-and-white; the attractive cinematography is elegantly complemented by rhythmic editing which structures the entire film, unencumbered by dialogue, and reinforced by a fine score. Possibly, more remarkable is Onibaba, Shindo's surprisingly disturbing, poetic horror film, forcefully shot in black-and-white widescreen; the print screened here was outstanding. Discerning a directorial vision uniting Shindo's disparate filmography has thus far defeated this viewer; A Last Note, an odd, quasi-Chekhovian elegy adds to the perplexity. The film is notable as the last appearance of the great Japanese actress and Ozu regular, Haruko Sugimura.

Shohei Imamura's early masterpiece, Intentions of Murder relates its bizarre story by recourse to eccentric, black-and-white, widescreen compositions. After his stylistically innovative works in the 1960s, Imamura shifted to a more classical style, as can be seen in his serial-killer drama, Vengeance is Mine, distinguished by a career performance by Ken Ogata. This classicism reaches its apotheosis in Black Rain; it's a pity that the print of this film was warped, preventing any possibility of having the full frame in focus.

The inclusion of three works by documentarian, Sumiko Haneda, seemed to me to be a questionable choice. I didn't stay through the full three hours of Ode to Mt. Hayachine but it was refreshing to see a film of this kind which eschewed the format of television documentaries. Overall, this sober, straightforward, observational approach was employed effectively in Akiko: Portrait of a Dancer. Haneda's attempt to retell a classic Japanese tale by means of  documentary images in Into the Picture Scroll: The Tale of Yamanaka Tokiwa seemed to this viewer to be an aesthetic disaster.

Kon Ichikawa's vivid and moving A Full-Up Train, photographed in the standdard ratio, now seems exceptional considering the director's expressive engagement with the widescreen frame in his most celebrated works. Ichikawa's left-wing sympathies provide an interesting contrast with the reactionary outlook of the author, Yukio Mishima, who provided the source material for the director's Conflagration. But I was even more impressed to re-see the heart-breaking Her Brother shot with a muted color palette by the great master cinematographer, Kazuo Miyagawa, and graced by gloriously subtle performances by Masayuki Mori and Kinuyo Tanaka; the print it was presented in was lovely.

Yôji Yamada is surely a less distinguished director than the others in this series, with the exception of Haneda; however, the three films by him presented here — Where Spring Comes Late, Tora-san's Sunrise and Sunset, and The Yellow Handkerchief, all featuring the talented actors, Kiyoshi Atsumi and Chieko Baisho — although conventional in approach were surprisingly touching. Yamada clearly has a feel for portraying the Japanese underclass and combining sentiment with humor. Additional pleasures could be found in the moving presence of Chishu Ryu as the grandfather in Where Spring Comes Late and the measured, lead performance of Ken Takakura in The Yellow Handkerchief.

I hope it is not excessively revisionist to speculate that Suzuki Seijun might be the greatest filmmaker presented in this series. Tokyo Drifter is a stylistic tour de force which one imagines Cahiers du Cinèma would have celebrated had the film been screened in France in the 1960s. Branded to Kill, although somewhat slighter and more in thrall to an exploitation formula, was, nonetheless, thoroughly engrossing. Despite the considerable reputation of the director's later, art film, Zigeunerweisen, after two viewings I still find the film, except for a few poetic moments, thoroughly unengaging. All three films were presented in good prints.

Lindsay Anderson Retrospective at Lincoln Center

The Film Society of Lincoln Center's tribute to Lindsay Anderson was centered around Never Apologize, a video-recording of Malcolm McDowell's one-man show about the celebrated director. Although not exactly cinema, this video does frequently entertain and provides some insight into Anderson as an artist. McDowell's impersonations are often memorable as is his human appeal. McDowell's publlc appearances at several shows splendidly enlivened the retrospective.

All six of Anderson's theatrical features were screened. This Sporting Life — shown in a superb, presumably archival print — Anderson's first feature, seemed to this viewer to hold up as his strongest, distinguished by Denys Coop's fine black-and-white cinematography. The film's complex narrative structure, influenced possibly by Resnais, now seems under-appreciated; the film seems a more modernist and less purely naturalistic work than is usually described. The performance of Richard Harris remains spellbinding amidst that of several other excellent players.

If . . . . lost some of its impact by being screened in a less-than-pristine print. I have wondered whether the film might have been stronger if public school life were granted some validity, thus at least provoking a tension for the viewer in appreciating the conflict between the rebellious students and the establishment. As it is, what affection Anderson reportedly retained for his alma mater is visible principally in Miroslav Ondříček's lovely color photography; to this viewer, the monochrome sequences, although effective at creating an ambiguous, quasi-dreamlike relationship with the color scenes, would have been more intense if they had not been printed on color film.

O Lucky Man! would also have considerably benefitted from a newer print. One aspect which held up rather well for me was Alan Price's rock score both as music and as a structuring device. But the film does develop something akin to a worldview in its relationship to If . . . .; however, it is difficult to see how this notion of authorial vision can be extended to the films outside of the Mick Travis trilogy which seem to lack a unifying language.

The wear-and-tear on the print of In Celebration, from Kino, was somewhat less distracting. As a recording of a gripping stage-play, the film communicates something of the interest this must have possessed on the stage but I think Anderson fails to render the material truly cinematic and the abilities of the extraordinary cinematographer, Dick Busch are largely underused. The atmosphere of the house is well conveyed, however, and the actors are all outstanding with Alan Bates as scintillating as he's ever been.

Typically, there was no warning that the color in the print of Britannia Hospital had begun to fade and so I didn't stay to re-see it this time. However, the print of Whales of August had very intense color which brought out the natural splendor of the film's setting on the coast of Maine but, once again, the experience would have been more satisfying if the print had been more pristine — shots of the sky speckled by dirt on the celluloid undermines the effect of the photography. I was ultimately moved by the relationship of the two sisters played by Bette Davis and Lillian Gish and there were a few arresting moments such as cut to a low travelling shot of the feet of the two sisters as they walk out on their porch.

Anderson never became the major figure promised by his early short films. His admiration for John Ford was the occasion for the inclusion of two films by the great master. My Darling Clementine was shown in another damaged print (from Fox) but the tones of Joseph MacDonald's photography were well-preserved. One greatly laments the extensive cuts imposed by Darryl Zanuck whom Ford supposedly admired. The film features one of the few effective roles of  Victor Mature as Doc Holliday while Henry Fonda is magnificent as Wyatt Earp. One of the best war film's, They Were Expendable was shown in a gorgeous, pristine archival print from George Eastman House. Both films feature Ford's melancholy nostalgia, the sense of worlds constantly ebbing into a forlorn pastness as they unfold before our eyes. Ford's often overlooked sobriety can be appreciated when one considers that the Donna Reed character disappears, never to be heard from again in the course of the film, a memory almost as soon as she appears.

2006 New York Film Festival Reviewed

The 2006 New York Film Festival opened with The Queen, by Stephen Frears, which was notable for its excellent performances — especially that of Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II — but also confirms the view that this director can be a subtle stylist with a real command of visual rhetoric.

Alberto Lattuada's interesting and entertatining Mafioso, from 1962, was revived in a gorgeous new print.

Tian Zhuangzhuang's sumptuously photographed The Go Master seemed to me curiously opaque even after a second viewing — although less so, the second time — but I recommend this to anyone who has followed the career of this remarkable filmmaker.

Woman on the Beach is an engaging new film by the director of the extraordinary The Turning Gate; the film is notable for its peculiar use of zooms for which the director offered, interestingly, little justification in his press conference.

Todd Field's Little Children is a well-made film with some strong acting and a somewhat offbeat, though not unimpressive, visual style.

I didn't see Marc Recha's Autumn Days, but Abderrahmane Sissako's Bamako is an intelligent examination of the economic contradictions of the Third World; its use of video transferred to film is a liability, however.

Otar Iosseliani's humorous Garden in Autumn was more effectively transferred from video and is a delightful work if, probably, not among the director's very finest.

I was unable to see the new print of Warren Beatty's Reds, nor did I see Michael Apted's latest, 49 Up,  but Manoël de Oliveira's Belle Toujours, a kind of sequel to Luis Buñuel's  classic, Belle de Jour, is another elusive but satisfying late work from this great master.

I was not pleased with the video-to-film transfer in the newest opus of the legendary Alain Resnais, Private Fears in Public Places — for which reason I did not stay to the end — and the use of video in Jafar Panahi's Offside was no more acceptable, but this was a charming, if possibly minor, further excursion into feminist territory, this time with a kind of boisterous comedy.

I did not see Satoshi Kon's anime film, Paprika, but Syndromes and a Century, by Apichatpong Weerisethakul, is another exquisite puzzle from this fascinating talent; it featured glorious photography and is notable, again, for its unusual narrative structure.

The festival centerpiece was Pedro Almodovar's very enjoyable Volver but it confirmed me in my view that this director has never truly been a major artist despite his evident and abundant merits.

The Host, by Bong Joon Ho, has, it seems to me, been slightly overpraised and, to my mind, is something of a disappointment as a follow-up to the director's Memories of Murder, one of the greatest of all Korean films but this is certainly worth a look.

I could not accept the video-to-film transfer of The Journals of Knud Rasmussen, by Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn, for which reason I did not stay to the end; nor was I pleased with the use of video in David Lynch's Inland Empire either, but I must confesses that viewing this was a powerful and memorable experience.

Falling by Barbara Albert, partly a meditation on the collapses of radical political aspirations, is a quite fine generational study and should further cement the director's growing reputation.

Triad Election by the amazing Johnny To evinced the usual craftsmanship we have come to expect from this brilliant filmmaker but the film did not have quite the impact of several others among his recent works.

I did not see Our Daily Bread, by Nikolaus Geyrhalter, another disappointing video-to-film transfer, nor These Girls by Tahani Rached, however, I did rather appreciate Climates, by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, another film shot on video — partly a portrait of romantic alienation — but one conceived with considerably subtlety and sophistication.

Emmanuel Bourdieu's Poison Friends was also shot on video, but it benefitted from a very clever and original screenplay and was sensitively and creatively executed.

Sophia Coppola's Marie Antoinette was certainly, visually handsome and was notable for its interesting, paratactic approach to storytelling; I don't yet have a strong view on its ultimate merits but, again, I think it deserves to be seen.

Lino Brocka's powerful, indeed shocking, Insiang, from 1976, a melodrama with a certain political acuity, was revived in a very good print and this was especially welcome since the film has been so difficult to see here for so many years.

Guillermo del Toro's magnificent Pan's Labyrinth was the closing night film; this breathtaking fantasy was perhaps slightly limited in its achievement by a certain simplicity in its dramatization of fascism but this approach has a generic justification in the film's debt to melodramatic forms.

Special events included, among others, a screening (on video) of Alejandro Jodorowsky's El Topo and also of a beautiful print of the same director's The Holy Mountain, which seemed to me to be mainly a historical curiosity despite its considerable cult reputation.

I attended an excellent Directors Dialogue with Stephen Frears on The Queen.

This year's Views from the Avant-Garde included, among many other impressive works: an excellent Saul Levine program of 8mm films in new 16mm restorations; the landmark films Cat's Cradle and The Riddle of Lumen by Stan Brakhage, presented in disappointing restoration prints, as well as the beautiful, Nodes; a gorgeous new film by Nathaniel Dorsky, Song and Solitude; a program of 35-millimeter Kenneth Anger restorations which varied in visual quality; a beautiful new film by Jim Jennings, Silk Ties; a fascinating retrospective program of the work of the Italian filmmaker and artist, Paolo Gioli; and a very strong Ernie Gehr program with a magnificent new 35-millimeter restoration of Serene Velocity.

This year's retrospective sidebar was a tribute to fifty years of Janus Films, a wonderful series present almost entirely in amazing, newly struck prints.

Newsletter Sign Up

Upcoming Events

No Calendar Events Found or Calendar not set to Public.