Scorpio Rising (1963)

Scorpio Rising
Directed by Kenneth Anger
Written by Ernest B. Glucksman
1963/USA
Puck Film Productions
First viewing/YouTube
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

 

[on unemployed filmmakers] It seems much easier for these people to rent my films, look at them and make notes, than to give them a job. — Kenneth Anger

By far the best part of this gay-Nazi-biker experimental short is the music.

Filmmaker Kenneth Anger made friends with some Brooklyn bikers and made this homo-erotic film.  The bikers are shown fondling their bikes, provocatively dressing up in leather, and indulging in “party games”.  There’s a lot of flashy cutting between these images and such things as a Lutheran Sunday School movie about the life of Christ.

Along with the film, there is a version with Kenneth Anger’s commentary on YouTube.  I thought this was more interesting than the film itself.  In it, the director claims that these guys came up with all this stuff themselves.  He also implies that they did this in front of their girlfriends.  I don’t believe it for a minute.  On the other hand, the whole thing is accompanied by some great, lively hit songs of the early sixties.  That’s the part I liked. Oh, and it’s less than half an hour long.  Certainly missable.

The Nutty Professor (1963)

The Nutty Professor
Directed by Jerry Lewis
Written by Jerry Lewis and Bill Richmond
1963/USA
Paramount Pictures
Repeat viewing/Amazon Instant
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Dr. Hamius R. Warfield: Kelp, it’s human nature. Kelp, people just don’t like teachers blowing up their kids!

I was not amused.

Despite the fact that he is a moron, Dr. Julius Kreb (Jerry Lewis) is a genius chemistry professor and beloved of all his students.  Beautiful Stella Purdy (Stella Stevens) takes a special interest in him and he in her.  Kreb decides that he needs to boost his sex appeal. Since the gym is not for him, he searches for a chemical solution.

Eventually, he stumbles across a formula that tranforms him into the swinging but obnoxious lounge singer Buddy Love.  Stella is both strangely attracted and repelled by his creation.  And Love transforms back into Kreb at the most awkward moments …

The running time of The Nutty Professor gave me ample time to analyze why I can’t stand Jerry Lewis.  I think it’s basically that his persona is of an infantile idiot.  All comedians play the fool but Lewis takes it that one step further into imbecility.  Bud Abbott strikes me the same way.  I like my comedians clever but eccentric.  The one positive about this movie is there is no food humor, which features prominently in some of his films I like even less.

Trailer

Barren Lives (1963)

Barren Lives (Vidas Secas)
Directed by Nelson Pereira dos Santos
Written by Nelson Pereira dos Santos from a novel by Graciliano Ramos
1963/Brazil
Luis Carlos Barreto Producoes Cinematograficas
First viewing/YouTube
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

“Poverty is the worst form of violence.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

I found this story of abjectly poor itinerate workers compelling but very sad.

As the film begins, a family – father, mother, two small boys and a faithful dog – is walking on a seemingly endless path through dry cattle country.  They carry all their scant possessions with them.  By this point, they have so little food they are compelled to kill a pet parrot for a bit of meat.

Finally, they arrive at their destination, a now-vacant house once occupied by a friend or relative.  This is much better than the road, particularly now that it has started raining and they settle in.  But before long a local farmer comes to evict them.  Fortunately, the father has skills as a cattle herder and is hired by the farmer so they can stay.  He will be paid one quarter of the calves born in his care.

Mother’s one dream is of a real bed.  It is hard to save when the family owes its soul to the company store.  Things look up briefly when the family buy Sunday-best clothes and shoes with some of their earnings.  But before long, injustice and ignorance rob mother of her dream and the family is forced to move on.  It is implied that they will end their lives, but not perhaps their poverty,  in a big city.

The film is virtually dialogue free but it kept my interest throughout with some effective film-making.  The overwhelming feeling is a sense of pity and hopelessness.  It is not a film I can say I enjoyed but I will remember it and am glad I watched it.

Trailer – no subtitles

 

The Birds (1963)

The Birds
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Evan Hunter from the story by Daphne de Maurier
1963/USA
Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Annie Hayworth: Don’t they ever stop migrating?

Not my favorite Hitchcock but undeniably made by a master.

Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) is a rich San Francisco socialite.  As the story begins, she goes to a pet shop with the intention of buying a mynah bird for her aunt.  While there, Mitch Brenner approaches her as if she was a sales lady and asks about buying love birds.

She is clearly out of her depth but goes along with him.  It turns out Mitch knew who she was all along and was playing with her due to a dislike developed when he saw her in court.  Melanie decides she will get even by buying the love birds for him (?!) but finds she must deliver them in the small seaside town of Bodega Bay where he spends the weekends with his mother (Jessica Tandy) and younger sister (Valerie Cartwright).

Melanie continues her lying ways.  She winds up staying overnight in the house of local teacher Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette) who is still carrying a torch for Mitch after a failed love affair years previously.  By all movie logic, Melanie and Mitch must fall in love and they do.  But their romance does not amount to a hill of beans next to an unexplained phenomenon which is causing birds to mass together and become killing machines.

I’ve been considering why I have never really warmed to this movie.  I think it’s because the characters do not appeal to me.  I find both Melanie and Mitch to be almost insufferably smug.  Really the only character I really like in the movie is Pleshette’s.

That said, there’s some very effective horror to be had here.  It probably works best the first time around.

The Birds was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Effects, Special Visual Effects.

 

Contempt (1963)

Contempt (Le mepris)
Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Written by Jean-Luc Godard from a novel by Alberto Moravia
1963/France/Italy
Rome Paris Films/Les Films Concordia/Compagnia Cinematografic Champion
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Camille Javal: If you love me, just be quiet.

Meta.  Godard. Ugh.

Arrogant American Producer Jeremy Prokosh (Jack Palance) has hired director Fritz Lang (played by himself) to direct a production of Homer’s Odyssey.  He is disappointed in the lack of sex and, well, “more” in the current script and hires playwright Paul Javal (Michel Piccoli) to jazz it up.  Prokosh shrewdly assesses that Paul will be seduced by the money he needs to keep his beautiful wife Camille (Brigitte Bardot).

Soon Prokosh sets about seducing Camille with what looks like Paul’s passive assent. Nothing much else happens but what seems like hours of pointless marital arguments and philosophizing about cinema.

This irritates me more than any Godard film I have seen to date.  By far the best part is the long nude scene with Bardot that opens the film, though I am scarcely in the demographic that can enjoy that fully.

The rest of the film is filmed with too clever movie references (Paul has to wear a hat all the time like Dean Martin in Some Came Running, etc.) and deadly dull philosophy.  The nadir is a scene that stretches an argument between Camille and Paul to 34 deadly minutes – it’s one of those “You don’t love me any more” “what makes you say that?” “no you don’t” “yes I do” fights – that made me glad I don’t own a revolver to shoot out the TV screen.

There is some nice music and the cinematography is gorgeous.  This is the biggest budget and most successful film that Godard made.  It is somewhat comforting that even he hated it.

8 1/2 (1963)

8 1/2
Directed by Federico Fellini
Written by Federico Fellini, Tulio Pinelli, Ennio Flaiano, and Brunello Rondi
1963/Italy/France
Cineriz/Francinex
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Guido: When did I go wrong? I really have nothing to say, but I want to say it all the same.

One of the few meta films that succeeds for me on every level.

Director Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni) attempts to take refuge from his many problems at a health spa.  He is pursued by his entire production company and various aspirants for parts in his film.  All these people want to know is what the film, which is actually in production, is to be about.  Guido is unable to tell them or to escape them.  To add to his problems both his mistress (Sandra Milo) and his long-suffering wife (Anouk Amie) have joined him.

Guido tries to escape into childhood memories and various fantasies.  But he is constantly plagued by an internal and external critic who get the better of him before the glorious ending.

Fellini and I are on the same wave-length, at least through 1963, and I have loved this film since the first time I saw it.  I don’t think the black-and-white cinematography and production design has ever been bettered.  I find Guido’s creative and personal troubles and their resolution immensely satisfying.

8 1/2 won Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Costume Design, Black-and-White.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Director; Best Writing, Story and Screenplay, Written Directly for the Screen; and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White.  Nino Rota was clearly robbed for his fantastic score.

American trailer

Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962)

Cleo from 5 to 7 (Cléo de 5 à 7)
Directed by Agnes Varda
Written by Agnes Varda
1962/France/Italy
Cine Tamaris/Rome Paris Films
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us. Joseph Campbell

The second time around seemed much funnier than the first but just as satisfying.

Cleo (Corrine Marchand) is a beautiful up-and-coming pop singer.  On this particular day, she is waiting to find out the results of medical tests that may show she has cancer.  The story plays out in almost real time over the last two hours before she is to get hold of her doctor.  Starting with a fortune teller, all signs point toward illness and death.  Cleo spends part of her remaining time making frivolous purchases, complaining, and otherwise indulging her ego and other vices.

Finally, she is so worried and fed up that she yanks off her hair piece, changes clothes, and heads off to see a girl friend.  The friend drops Cleo off in a park where she meets up with a young soldier who, though about to go off to war himself, is content to hear about the troubles of his new acquaintance.

I just love the sly way that Varda plays with expectations in this film!  I also liked the expose of the utter silliness that lies behind much feminine glamor and beauty.  I kept yelling at Cleo to do something about her hair.  When she did, my heart soared.  Another plus is the Michel LeGrand score.  I highly recommend this movie which puts the “new” in New Wave.

Trailer

L’Eclisse (1962)

L’Eclisse
Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
Written by Michelangelo Antonioni and Tonino Guerra
1962/Italy/France
Cineriz/Interopa Film/Paris Film
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Piero: I feel like I’m in a foreign country.

Vittoria: Funny. That’s how I feel around you.

In which the “modern” dilemma seems to be an inability to articulate one’s reasons.

The setting is Rome.  As the story begins, Vittoria (Monica Vitti) is attempting to break up with her fiance Ricardo.  The scene is absolutely packed with pregnant pauses as Vittoria is determined to leave but cannot explain the necessity for doing so.  She only knows it is over.  She goes to the stock market to announce her decision to her mother, an investor, but mom is caught up in the frenzied buying and selling and Vittoria sadly cannot get through to her.  Here we briefly meet Piero (Alain Delon), the mother’s broker, who is also totally obsessed with the game.  Vittoria later fails to get any comfort from her girlfriends.

At lose ends, Vittoria allows Piero to pursue her.  Brief surrender to a love affair with the materialist can hardly satisfy her restlessness.

Using mostly non-verbal cues Antonioni perfectly captures the disgust and confusion of a chic young woman.  The process is interesting and beautiful but the film left me with an empty feeling and I doubt I will be watching it again.

Restoration Trailer

The Exterminating Angel (1962)

The Exterminating Angel (El ángel exterminador)
Directed by Luis Buñuel
Written by Luis Buñuel and Luis Alcoriza
1962/Mexico
Producciones Gustavo Alatriste
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Rita Ugalde: I believe the common people, the lower class people, are less sensitive to pain. Haven’t you ever seen a wounded bull? Not a trace of pain.

What does it all add up to?  I don’t know but the images are unforgettable.

After an opera performance, the wealthy Edmundo and Lucia Nobile invite 20 of their closest friends to a midnight supper.  What they don’t know is that their many servants are, one by one, feeling compelled to take the night off.  By the time dinner is served, the only remaining servant is the butler.

Dinner finished, it is now high time for everyone to go home.  But all find it impossible to leave the dining room.  They fall asleep on the floor and assorted sofas.  The next day they eat leftovers but after that food and water run out, moods worsen, and these cultivated people descend into savagery.

Buñuel was one of the original surrealists and well knew how to create a true nightmare world.  From the beginning, when scenes repeat themselves over and over, to the end nothing is explained.  The inability to leave the room is almost like a dream from which the sleeper cannot seem to awaken.  Of course, Buñuel indulges in his favorite pastime of taking both the upper class and, eventually, the Church down a peg.  I like this movie though it is not one I will return to on a regular basis.

American re-release trailer

Mondo Cane (1962)

Mondo Cane
Directed by Paolo Cavera, Gualtiero Jacopetti, and Franco Prosperi
Written by Paolo Cavera and Gualtiero Jacopetti
1962/Italy
Cineriz
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

“What we don’t understand we can make mean anything.” ― Chuck Palahniuk

Time and experience have made this shockumentary much less shocking.

This film contrasts “bizarre” behavior of primitive tribes with equally “bizarre” behavior of Western Europeans.  The ultimate message seems to be that humans are pretty disgusting.

Much of the primitive footage comes from Papua New Guinea, where I lived for three years.  The customs are indeed very different from our own but familiarity has made the people seem like just folks doing things the way they have always been done.  One of the problems that I have with the film is that the narrative provides a lot of the shocks.  The footage allows for a number of interpretations of which the film makers select the most “disgusting”.

I definitely could have died without seeing this once, let alone twice.

Mondo Cane was nominated for Best Music, Original Song for the song “More.”

Trailer

Frank Sinatra sings “More”- audio only