Dog Star Man (1962)

Dog Star Man
Directed by Stan Brakhage
First viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

 

There are a lot of movies made for nobody. – Stan Brakhage

I had hoped that Heaven and Earth Magic would be the nadir of 1962 films selected to be seen before I died.  My hopes were dashed by this mess.

There is no need for a plot summary.  The film contains neither plot, dialogue nor sound. There are brief shots of a man – possibly on drugs – and his dog staggering through a snowy mountain landscape.

I had been warned – correctly – in advance that this was missable but decided it was worth checking out for at least five minutes.  The Prologue appeared to be made from a reel of film that had been pulled from a fire at the last possible second.  It looked like clips from the salvaged film were edited together at random.  After ascertaining that there would be no sound, I continued with some work looking up every few minutes to verify that nothing interesting was happening.  For completists or those on LSD only.

Clip from the Prelude – the first minute is dedicated to a black screen

Heaven and Earth Magic (1962)

Heaven and Earth Magic
Directed by Harry Smith
1962/US
First viewing/YouTube
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

 

If you have only 1001 slots on a list, why waste one on this thing?

This is “art” and there is no discernible story and no dialogue.  It looks like Smith cut images out of very old publications and animated them with a stop motion technique.  The film is fairly repetitive.  Themes are fluids dripping, eggs cracking and giving birth to new images, and mallets destroying the images.

Well, I gave myself permission to fall asleep and actually stayed awake for the whole thing so that’s something.  There is no way I would have watched at all if it had not been for the List.  Admittedly, it’s like nothing I have ever seen before.  There is a way to make a beautiful film out of paper cut-outs.  It is called The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926).

Trailer for “expanded” version with live accompaniment

The Manchurian Candidate

The Manchurian Candidate
Directed by John Frankenheimer
Written by George Axelrod from a novel by Richard Conden
1962/USA
M.C. Productions
Repeat viewing/My DVD collection
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Bennett Marco: Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.

I consider this the best conspiracy movie ever made.  Pity about Janet Leigh’s character, though.

As the movie begins a unit headed by Major Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) is on a reconnaissance mission behind enemy lines in North Korea.  Marco credits Staff Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) with saving the lives of the survivors of the action and Shaw receives the Medal of Honor for his heroism.  After returning to the U.S., Marco suffers from weird recurring nightmares in which Shaw commits unspeakable acts during a gardening club meeting.  These are so distressing that his commanding officer orders him to take it easy.  Marco believes he is losing his mind until he is approached by one of his comrades who is having similar nightmares.  He becomes determined to ferret out the truth.

In the meantime, Raymond’s mother (Angela Lansbury) and step-father Senator Johnny Iselin (James Gregory) are basking in Raymond’s glory.  The Iselins are rabid Red-baiters and have ambitions to take the White House.  Raymond hates his mother for breaking up the great romance of his life and despises Johnny and his politics.  Anyone who has not had the story spoiled previously will be glad that I stop here.

One aspect of the movie that cannot be spoiled is Marco’s bizarre encounter with Rosie (Janet Leigh) on a train.  It is love at first sight on her part featuring dialogue that can only be described as surreal.  The Rosie-Marco romance is the one weak spot in an otherwise excellent and chilling movie.

All of the principal players are at the top of their game and Lansbury’s performance is unforgettable.  It’s unfortunate that she was competing for the Oscar that year with Patty Duke, who could not have been denied.  Every technical aspect is practically perfect as well.  Highly recommended.

The Manchurian Candidate was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Supporting Actress (Lansbury) and Best Film Editing.

Trailer

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
Directed by Robert Aldrich
Written by Lucas Heller from the novel by Henry Farrell
1962/USA
The Associates and Aldrich Company
Repeat viewing/Amazon Instant
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Jane: Blanche, you aren’t ever gonna sell this house… and you aren’t ever gonna leave it… either.

It’s as if Billy Wilder took Sunset Blvd. that one extra step over into horror territory.

As the movie begins, it is 1917 and vaudeville is in full flower.  Cute little Baby Jane Hudson is a popular headliner with her song and dance routine.  Her less-cute sister Blanche waits in the wings in some jealousy and resentment.  Off-stage Baby Jane is a demanding brat.

Baby Jane and Blanche grow up to be Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.  By 1935, Blanche is a beloved movie star.  Alcoholism and continued brattiness make Baby Jane persona-non-grata in Hollywood.  She works only because Blanche refuses to make films unless Jane does.  At the height of her popularity, Blanche is run down by a car and left paraplegic.  She becomes totally dependent on Jane for care, just as Jane is on Blanche for money.

By the time the story proper begins, both sisters are well into middle age.  Jane’s alcoholism and mental illness have only progressed.  She begins a war of terror on poor Blanche.  Now that Jane is able to duplicate Blanche’s voice and signature, the time appears to be coming when Jane will be able to dispense with Blanche altogether and launch her comeback.

I hadn’t seen this for decades, possibly since its theatrical release,  It improved greatly from my memory.  Davis is completely fabulous in this movie!  She has found the ideal part that allows her to pull out all the stops and chew the scenery with relish.  And I love it. Crawford resented Davis for her Oscar nomination but she deserved it. I believe Crawford’s part could have been played by any middle-aged movie star.  This movie is a hell of a lot of fun and warmly recommended.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? won an Academy Award for Best Costume Design, Black-and-White.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Actress (Davis); Best Supporting Actor (Victor Buono); Best Cinematography, Black-and-White; and Best Sound.

Trailer

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

To Kill a Mockingbird
Directed by Robert Mulligan
Written by Horton Foote from the novel by Harper Lee
1962/USA
Universal International Pictures/Paluka-Mulligan Productions/Brentwood Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Rev. Sykes: Miss Jean Louise. Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passing.

Robert Mulligan made a practically perfect novel into a practically perfect movie.

It is 1930’s small-town Alabama and most everybody is poor but making do.  This includes country lawyer Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck), a widower, and his children 10-year-old Jem and 6-year-old Scout.  The Depression is not depressing the kids any and they spend much of their time daring each other to conquer their fears.  The prime target is the Radley House, where a mystery man named Boo lives.  He is allegedly a horrible sight who must be chained in the basement.  Scout spends much of her time fighting to be included in the boys’ pranks.

Life changes for the Finch family when Atticus is hired to defend a black sharecropper accused of raping a white woman.  The majority of the townspeople think that lynching is too good for the man.  Complicating matters is the drunkenness and downright evil of the woman’s father, Bob Ewell.  Atticus’s strategy must be to accuse both Ewell’s of lying.  He loses the trial but not the animosity of the Ewells.  Probably all my readers know how this ends but I will go no further.

I read the novel when I was quite young, maybe twelve, and it really made an impression on me.  In previous viewings of the film, Peck seemed far too pompous in his delivery for the image of Atticus I had in my head.  I softened considerably to his performance on this re-watch.  All the other characters came off exactly as I had imagined them. The courtroom scenes are stirring but my favorite parts are the kids acting like kids.  The casting director did a hell of a job finding the child actors.

To Kill a Mockingbird won Academy Awards in the categories of Best Actor; Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium; and Best Art Decoration-Set Decoration, Black-and-White.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Picture; Best Supporting Actress (Badham); Best Director; Best Cinematography, Black-and-White; and Best Music, Score – Substantially original.

Trailer

Lola (1961)

Lola
Directed by Jacques Demy
Written by Jacques Demy
1961/Italy/France
Rome Paris Films

First viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Life is a cabaret old chum … — “Cabaret”, lyrics by Fred Ebb

Refreshing proof that the French New Wave didn’t need to take itself so deadly seriously.

The plot is about first love and cycles through many examples, making it somewhat convoluted to summarize but not too hard to understand.

Roland Cassard is bored and chronically late for work.  He thinks he needs to see the world and when he is fired, he seeks employment with a shady hairdresser who needs someone to travel for him.  In the meantime, Roland meets a 14-year-old named Celine and her mother and, more importantly, another Celine, who was a childhood sweetheart. She is now a cabaret dancer who calls herself Lola (Anouk Aimee).  He falls in love with her but she is still in love with her first love, the father of her child.

The main clientele of the cabaret is American sailors.  One is infatuated with Lola.  He befriends the young Celine who falls in love with him.  Events continue to spiral.

This movie is a lot of fun.  It is stylish without being in any way meta or pretentious. The restoration looks stunning.  I had not expected the Michel LeGrande score, the theme of which became a hit – “Watch What Happens”.

Restoration trailer

Last Year at Marienbad (1961)

Last Year at Marienbad
Directed by Alain Resnais
Written by Alain Robbe-Grillet
1961/France/Italy
Cocinor/Terra Film/etc
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

X: Empty salons. Corridors. Salons. Doors. Doors. Salons. Empty chairs, deep armchairs, thick carpets. Heavy hangings. Stairs, steps. Steps, one after the other. Glass objects, objects still intact, empty glasses. A glass that falls, three, two, one, zero. Glass partition, letters.

Possibly the most self-consciously arty film ever made.  Can’t beat the images though.

The movie is set at a baroque and sumptuous hotel that appears to be a converted palace or chateau of a bygone era.  The plot is the easy part.  A handsome man tries to convince a married beauty that they had an affair a year ago at the spa of Marienbad.  He would like to renew the relationship.  She denies the affair or ever having been in Marienbad.  None of the characters are ever given names.

There is not so much dialogue as long, poetic soliloquies. Nothing is resolved by the end.

The theme, as in all of Resnais work I have seen to date, is memory.  I think he tackled the subject better in his documentaries, particularly All the Memory in the World (1956).  The viewer is distracted here from the theme or the story by the stunning camerawork.  The shots are all composed within an inch of their lives and lit exquisitely.  The Blu-Ray looks phenomenal.  This was my second viewing.  I doubt whether there will be a third.

Last Year at Marienbad was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen.

Restoration Trailer

Splendor in the Grass (1961)

Splendor in the Grass 
Directed by Elia Kazan
Written by William Inge
1961/USA
Warner Bros./Newtown Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Wilma Dean: My pride? My pride? I don’t want my pride!

Elia Kazan makes both doomed young love and small-town Kansas look absolutely beautiful.

Deanie (Natalie Wood) and Bud (Warren Beatty) are high school seniors in the throes of first love.  He is the son of the richest man in town, who positively dotes on him.  She is of more modest parentage.

When they get within three feet of each other sparks fly and their make-out sessions are hard to stop.  Both have been taught that “good girls” wait until marriage.  Deanie is under the additional burden of her mother’s belief that “good girls” don’t even have the feelings she gets when she is with Bud.

Bud’s desire is so strong that he decides the only way to fight it is to stop seeing Deanie. This leaves Deanie with a broken heart and eventually drives her right over the edge.  With Pat Hingle as Bud’s father and Audrey Christie as Deanie’s mother.

What saves this from being a typical psychological drama of the era is Kazan’s skillful direction, Boris Kaufmann’s great cinematography and the acting.  Wood plays her part with great delicacy – it may be her best work.  I’m not always a fan of Beatty’s.  He’s fine here.  Worth seeing.

Splendor in the Grass won the Academy Award for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen.  Natalie Wood Was nominated for Best Actress.

Trailer

The Exiles (1961)

The Exiles
Directed by Kent McKenzie
Written by Kent McKenzie
1961/USA
Pathe Contemporary Films
First viewing/Netfix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

“Like a man who has been dying for many days, a man in your city is numb to the stench.” ― Chief Seattle

This is an interesting, if depressing, semi-documentary look at the alienation of Native Americans adrift in the big city.

The action takes place from late afternoon to early morning of a single day in the Bunker Hill neighborhood of Los Angeles.  We first meet the profoundly lonely Yvonne who is expecting a longed for baby, fathered by a man whose primary interest in her appears to be getting fed and cadging loans.  We then meet the men, who long for nighttime when the real drinking can begin.  Yvonne is dumped at a movie theater.

The men proceed to get as drunk as possible and start to pick up women.  Fistfights and run-ins with the law ensue.  When everybody is loose enough they proceed to Hill X where, after the bars close, the Native Americans drum and dance with abandon.

This was made on a low budget and the sound was post-dubbed which can be a little disconcerting.  It didn’t mar the experience too much for me.  I thought McKenzie did quite well at capturing a way of life and bringing the best out of his amateur actors.  The aimless, hopeless existence portrayed is both heart-wrenching and depressing.

I grew up in Greater Los Angeles and enjoyed the images of a lost time.

West Side Story (1961)

West Side Story
Directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins
Written by Ernest Lehman from the musical play by Arthur Laurents and Jerome Robbins; lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
1961/USA
The Mirisch Corporation/Seven Arts Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Action: When *you* was my age? When my old man was my age, when my brother was my age… You was never my age, none of ya! And the sooner you creeps get hip to that, the sooner you’ll dig us!

This movie was made for musical comedy/ballet/opera geeks like me and I love it.

This is famously Romeo and Juliet updated to reflect gang life in New York City.  The Montagues and Capulets are replaced by the Jets, a gang of working class “white” teenagers, and the Sharks, a gang of Puerto Rican immigrants.  Tony (Richard Behmer), who is trying to go straight after having been leader of the Jets, falls in love with Maria (Natalie Wood), the sister of Bernardo (George Chakiris) the leader of the Sharks.  The Jets and the Sharks are already locked in gang warfare and the attentions of Tony to Maria only escalate matters.

The feud leads to tragedy of Shakespearean proportions.  With Rita Moreno as Bernardo’s girlfriend and Russ Tamblyn as Riff, Tony’s friend and new leader of the Jets.

I assisted the director of my high school production of West Side Story and it has a special place in my heart.  But besides nostalgia, I continue to think that the music is some of the best ever written for the stage. Bernstein’s score gives me chills in places.  I can see how some might find all the pointy toed dancing by gang members and their girls ludicrous but I just sit back and enjoy it.  Rita Moreno absolutely deserved her Academy Award even if George Chakiris remains a puzzlement.  Highly recommended to others like me.

The Blu-Ray that came in the mail contained a song-specific commentary by Stephen Sondheim that I ate up.

West Side Story won ten Academy Awards – Best Picture; Best Supporting Actor; Best Supporting Actress; Best Director; Best Cinematography, Color; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color; Best Costume Design, Color; Best Sound; Best Film Editing; and Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.  It was nominated for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.

Clip