La Dolce Vita (1960)

La Dolce Vita
Directed by Federico Fellini
Written by Federico Fellini, Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli, and Brunello Rondi
1960/Italy/France
Riama Film/Cinecitta/Pathe Consortium Cinema/Gray-Film
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Transvestite: By 1965 there’ll be total depravity. How squalid everything will be.

Life is bittersweet in this episodic tale about a man who cannot seem to find anything to hold onto in a world adrift.

Marcello Rubino (Marcello Mastroianni) is a tabloid journalist who works hand and glove with a pack of photographers (who would become known as paparazzi as a result of this film).  He spends much of his time collecting tidbits of gossip on Rome’s Via Veneto.  Marcello is also constantly up for a good time and collects a number of women from the same location.

The film follows a week in Marcello’s life as each wild night leads to a disillusioning dawn. Included in the episodes are his troubles with his clinging live-in-girlfriend, his encounter with a Swedish sex symbol (Anita Ekberg), a tentative relationship with an heiress (Anouk Aimee), an erzatz miracle, an intellectual salon, and an orgy.  All leave Marcello more depressed and less open to an authentic life than previously.

I don’t know what this says about me but I seem to have the same sense of humor as Fellini.  From the brilliant opening in which the Christ statue is borne by helicopter to the Vatican to the wistful ending, I am awestruck by the images and smiling throughout.  It’s the first of Fellini’s freak shows but I happen to find all the freaks amusing and rather endearing.  The film is more than just freaks, however.  Marcello, brilliantly portrayed by Mastroianni, is Everyman and we identify with his longing for something better and his desperation.  When you think of the scale of the production, it was quite an achievement.  The Nino Rota score is iconic.  Highly recommended.

La Dolce Vita won the Academy Award for 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.

L’Avventura (1960)

L’Avventura
Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
Written by Michelangelo Antonioni, Elio Bartolini, and Tonio Guerra
1960/Italy/France
Cino del Duca/Produzione Cinematografiche Europee/Societe Cinematographique Lyre
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Sandro: Why should we be here talking, arguing? Believe me Anna, words are becoming less and less necessary; they create misunderstandings.

The adventure in this hauntingly beautiful film is a young woman’s journey of self-discovery.

Anna (Lea Massari) is young, beautiful and rich.  She is also bored, dissatisfied, and conflicted about her engagement to Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti).  Sandro works as some kind of building consultant, having abandoned actual architecture.  The two have meaningless sex in lieu of communicating.  It’s hard to communicate with Sandro, who is seemingly a very simple sort of guy.

Anna’s friend Claudia (Monica Vitti) will accompany the couple on a yacht trip.  Along for the ride are two other couples, both of whom also have deeply conflicted relationships. Claudia is the witness to all this emptiness and despair.  She will be the only authentic human being we will meet in the course of the film.

The party visits a deserted rocky island where they continue to play out their psychodramas.  Suddenly, Anna has disappeared  Everyone looks for her with varying degrees of intensity.  Claudia is the most frantic.  But Anna is nowhere to be found.

Sandro comes on to Claudia before the yacht has even departed the island.  She flees to continue the search on the mainland.  He follows her.  Then they start searching together. Claudia eventually reciprocates his attentions but loving Sandro will not be easy.

This was my third viewing of L’Avventura.  The first time through I was just puzzled.  After a couple more tries at Antonioni’s films, I concluded that he made boring films about boredom.  The second time something clicked in me and I found the film fascinating and meaningful.  On this viewing, I was somewhere in between my two reactions.  The film seemed to drag on and on, yet every image was captivating and moving.  I love the ending when two characters seem able to grieve their losses.

I don’t know how fair it is to let a commentary influence one’s opinion about a film.  The one on the Criterion version is fantastic and explains so much.  It turns out that you have to pay attention to just about every detail in every frame to get the most out of this.  Nothing is there by accident.  When I watch the movie through this film historian’s eyes, it turns into a masterpiece.

Re-release trailer

Breathless (1960)

Breathless (À bout de souffle)
Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Written by Jean-Luc Godard; story by Francois Truffaut
1960/France
Les Films Imperia/Les Productions Georges de Beauregard; Societe Nouvelle de Cinematographie
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Patricia Franchini: We look at each other in the eye, and it’s no use.

I’m not a big Godard fan but I remember liking this one.  Sadly, it did not survive a repeat viewing.

Even Michel Poiccard (Jean-Paul Bemondo) himself realizes he is an a-hole.  He starts off the movie by stealing a car and killing a police officer.  For the rest of it, nearly every action is some kind of crime or callousness.  He fancies himself to be a Humphrey Bogart kind of guy but he doesn’t even come close.  He claims to be in love with young American student/newspaper vendor Patricia Franchini.  Clearly, this is only because she is undecided about him.

The story mainly concerns Michel’s efforts to get some money he is owed, bed Patricia, and drag her into his life of crime.  With director Jean-Pierre Melville as a famous writer.

This, like every other Godard film I have seen, is almost purely an exercise in style.  Since I find the style to be pretentious navel-gazing and winking at the audience, this movie left me cold except for the times I was yelling at Belmondo through the TV screen.  I think Michel is easily one of the most unlikeable protagonists in the history of cinema.

Shoot the Piano Player

Shoot the Piano Player (Tirez sur le pianiste)
Directed by Francois Truffaut
Written by Francois Truffaut and Marcel Moussy from a novel by David Goodis
1960/France
Les Films de la Pleiade
Repeat viewing/Netflix Rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

“Over the piano was printed a notice: Please do not shoot the pianist. He is doing his best.” – Oscar Wilde, Impressions of America 

Truffaut goes meta for his second picture, with shots taken from film noir and text that could be from Woody Allen.  It’s enjoyable if superficial.

Since the death of his wife, concert pianist Edouard Saroyan (Charles Aznavour) has worked in a dance hall under the name Charlie Kohler.  Despite his shy manner and slight stature, he is quite a favorite with the ladies.  He is raising his youngest brother Fido.

As the film begins, brother Chico runs into the bar fleeing a couple of gunmen.  He explains that he and brother Richard participated in a heist with the gangsters and made off with all the loot.  Chico runs out of the club one step ahead of his pursuers.  These now begin to follow Charlie to find out the location of their family home.  They kidnap Fido for the same purpose.

In the meantime, Charlie is forming a tentative new relationship with waitress Lena.  He does as much as possible to remain uninvolved but the gangsters are unrelenting.  We continue to follow the chase.

The film’s look borrows heavily from American film noir of the 40s and 50’s.  It has more in common stylistically with Godard’s Breathless than it does with The 400 Blows.  Truffaut clearly had a good time experimenting throughout.  All the characters are far more concerned with their relationships, or lack thereof, with women than they are with the crime plot.  Except when they are on the business end of their guns, these are some of the most laid back gangsters you will ever see.

Trailer

Spartacus (1960)

Spartacus
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Written by Dalton Trumbo from a novel by Howard Fast
1960/USA
Bryna Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Spartacus: [to Crassus, about the slain Antoninus] Here’s your victory. He’ll come back. He’ll come back, and he’ll be millions!

I am not big on 3 1/2 hour sword-and-sandal epics.  This one is so grand, however, that it keeps my interest.

Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) was sold away from his slave mother when he was 13.  He now is sentenced to a lifetime of brutal hard labor.  He rebels and is sentenced to death by starvation.  Luckily, Lentulus Batiatus (Peter Ustinov) spots him and think he will make an ideal trainee at his gladiator school.

The school is equally brutal and Spartacus shows talent as a scrapper.  While there, he falls in love with slave-prostitute Varinia (Jean Simmons).  One day, the aristocratic Senator Crassus (Laurence Olivier) shows up with his daughter and new son-in-law (John Dall) and pays Batiatus big money to entertain their party with a death match.  The event sparks a slave revolt that destroys Batiatus’s premises.  The gladiators, lead by Spartacus, march through the country to the sea, collecting recruits as they go.

In the meantime, there is a political feud between Crassus and the democratically-minded Senator Gracchus (Charles Laughton).  In addition, Crassus fell in lust with Varinia during his stop and the school and attempted to buy her.  He is not one to be frustrated for long.

The remainder of the film is devoted to all these complications plus the efforts of the Romans to put down the slave revolt. With Tony Curtis as Crassus’s house slave and John Gavin as Julius Caesar.

This is probably the least Kubrickian film that Kubrick directed, but his talent shows through in every frame.  The many crowd and battle scenes are magnificent.  It’s an interesting and not too melodramatic story about freedom fighters as well.  Just reading the cast list should give you an idea about the acting.  Recommended.

Spartacus won Academy Awards in the categories of Best Supporting Actor (Ustinov); Best Cinematography, Color; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color; and Best Costume Design, Color. It was nominated in the categories of Best Film Editing and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.

Trailer

Psycho (1960)

Psycho
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Joseph Stephano from a novel by Robert Bloch
1960/USA
Shamley Productions
Repeat viewing/My DVD collection
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Norman Bates: I think I must have one of those faces you can’t help believing.

I would give anything to have seen this, uncontaminated, on opening night.  I knew the ending before I ever saw the film and had seen it several times before this viewing.  Then again, familiarity only leaves room to appreciate the excellencies of all its elements.

As the film begins, Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) is enjoying the “last” of her lunch-time liaisons with Sam (John Gavin), a divorced lover who cannot afford to marry her.  She announces she can’t take any more hiding.  When she returns to her work as a secretary in a real estate agency, opportunity falls into her lap in the form of $40,000 cash with which a client is paying for a property.  He is such an old lech that she feels little guilt in misappropriating the money, which she has been tasked to deposit in the bank.  She heads for Sam’s place in California.

On a dark and stormy night, she is forced to stop at an isolated motel en route to her destination.  There she befriends the awkward young manager Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins).

When Marion fails to report to work on Monday, her sister (Vera Miles) and a private investigator (Martin Balsam) begin to search for her and the missing $40,000.  With Patricia Hitchcock as an irritating co-worker.

This far from my favorite Hitchcock.  The ending is anti-climactic and the climax is gimmicky, especially when you are expecting it.  But the elements are all so brilliant!  The famous shower scene is breathtaking, especially when the camera descends on Leigh’s frozen eye as it ends.  The score has never been topped.  Perkins was unfortunately so convincing that he was mostly condemned to reprising this role for the rest of his career. Highly recommended.

Psycho was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Supporting Actress (Leigh); Best Director; Best Cinematography, Black-and-White; and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White.

Trailer

Black Sunday (1960)

Black Sunday (La maschera del demonio)
Directed by Mario Bava
Written by Ennio De Concini and Mario Serandrei from a story by Nikolai Gogol
1960/Italy/USA
Galatea Film/Jolly Film/Alta Vista Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Princess Asa Vajda: You, too, can feel the joy and happiness of hating.

Director Bava shows off his skills as a cinematographer in this graphic witchcraft/vampire film.

The setting is Moldavia.  As the film opens, Princess Aja (Barbara Steele) is being burned at the stake as a witch along with her faithful servant Ivan.  The last punishment before the fire is lit is to place a spiked mask of Satan on her face.  Aja’s brother brought the charges against her and as the flames rise higher she curses her entire family and its descendants in Satan’s name.

Segue to two hundred years later, in what looks like the 19th Century.  Two doctors are traveling to a conference and come upon a ruined crypt when their carriage breaks down. There Dr. Krujevan discovesr the coffin of Aja.  He accidentally cuts his finger and the few drops of blood are all Aja needs to begin to come to life.

Outside the crypt, the travelers meet Princess Katia (Steele again), Aja’s descendent.  They proceed to an inn but Krujevan is called to the home of Katia’s father Prince Vajda.  Little does he know that the coachman sent for him is actually Ivan.  So begins Princess Aja’s revenge.

Barbara Steele is very good in her dual role.  Her Princess Aja is truly evil and scary.  There are a lot of moments that will make your skin crawl.  The film looked beautiful on Blu-Ray. I watched the Americanized version.  Recommended to horror fans.

American Trailer

 

The Young One (1960)

The Young One (La Joven)
Directed by Luis Buñuel
Written by Hugo Butler and Luis Buñuel from the story “Travellin’ Man by Peter Matthieson
1960/Mexico/USA
Producciones Olmeca
First viewing/Netflix Rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Tagline: “Don’t be frightened Evvie….”

This is a good movie about race relations in the United States.  Since Buñuel was at the helm, it also contains heaping helpings of sexual hanky panky.

The jazz musician Traver (Bernie Hamilton) lands on an island in his boat.  He is escaping the groundless charge of raping a White woman in town on the mainland.

The island is a hunting reserve with two cabins on it.  One belongs to the game warden Miller (Zachary Scott).  Since her grandfather died, the other is occupied by Evvie.  Miller begins by basically treating Evvie like his servant.  Unfortunately for her, he notices that she has blossomed into young womanhood and his attitude radically changes.

While Miller is on a brief trip in town, Traver and Evvie strike up a rapport.  She gives him Miller’s food, a rifle and ammunition.  When he accidentally shoots a hole in his boat, she gives him supplies to repair it.

Miller returns and spends much of his time thereafter hunting for Traver and seducing Evvie.  When Miller finally catches up to Traver, they too strike up a tentative understanding.  Then a minister and a redneck arrive.  The redneck is ready to kill Traver on sight.  The minister believes in his innocence.  The minister’s main agenda, however, is to protect Evvie from her abuser.

This English-language film at first did not seem to me like classic Buñuel.  Upon further reflection, the black humor and perverse sexuality are characteristic.  For one thing, we get shot after shot of legs and feet.  The race relations part is refreshingly complex.  Miller is deeper than your average bigot and eventually recognizes the many things the men have in common.  The sex part is pretty cringe-worthy but also complex.  We are left wondering whether Evvie is a woman or a child and even about the future of the “relationship”.  It makes one feel slightly dirty.

Clip

Rocco and His Brothers (1960)

Rocco and His Brothers (Rocco e i suoi fratelli) 
Directed by Luschino Visconti
Written by Luschino Visconti, Suso Cecchi d’Amico et al
1960/Italy/France
Titanus/Les Films Marceau
Repeat viewing/my DVD collection
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

 

Mom loves the both of them/ You see it’s in the blood/ Both kids are good to Mom/ “Blood’s thicker than mud” – “Family Affair”, Sly and the Family Stone

Three hours of sadness and beauty are almost overwhelming in this retelling of the Cain and Abel story.

After the death of her husband, Rosaria Parandi (Katina Paxinou) leaves the rural South of Italy with four of her boys to join her eldest son in Milan.  She finds that son at a party celebrating his engagement to Ginetta (Claudia Cardinale).  None of the celebrants are happy to learn that Vincenzo now has a family of six to support, find work for, and house.

They learn of a scheme by which they can hire an apartment, stop paying rent, get evicted and become eligible for public housing.  It is then that the prostitute Nadia (Annie Giradout) comes into their lives.  She is just looking for a warm place to hide out from her father. Almost immediately, brother Simone (Renato Salvatore) falls for her and she exploits the situation.

Jobs are scarce in Milan and boxing promises a way out of poverty for the talented few. Simone is spotted at a gym and taken on by a promoter.  He wins his first fight and the prize money and acclaim immediately go to his head.  He gets in even deeper with Nadia. Unfortunately, Simone is basically lazy, hard-drinking, and  a coward in the ring.  His gentle brother Rocco (Alain Delon) is enlisted to keep an eye on him during training.

Rocco eventually is called up to military service.  More than a year passes and he runs into Nadia by chance.  She has just been released from jail.  He sees past her hard exterior and gives her hope.  When Rocco is discharged from the army, they meet again and fall in love.  Rocco has toughened up in the service and is now, by far, a better fighter than Simone.

Rocco’s relationship with Nadia drives Simone mad and threatens to destroy the entire Parandi family.

There are a couple of themes running through the film.  The first is the alienation and dislocation of a generation of migrants from rural to urban Italy and the toll this takes on traditional values.  Only the youngest of the Parandi brothers are left with any chance of truly assimilating.  The second is the Cain and Abel tragedy.  The matriarch has trained the boys well that the family is everything.  Rocco absorbs this lesson most completely and winds up sticking to Simone despite his degeneration and the truly horrifying series of crimes he commits against both the law and his family.

I was dreading the length of this film but it kept my interest all the way through.  Visconti breaks the story into episodes featuring each brother and that helps.  Although this is in the neo-realist style it also has the sweep and majesty of Visconti’s more operatic films.  I would give anything to see this in the restored version.  The acting is great.  Highly recommended.

Restoration trailer

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Directed by Jim Sharman
Written by Jim Sharman and Richard O’Brien from O’Brien’s original musical play
1975/USA
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation/Michael White Productions
Repeat viewing/Amazon Instant
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

 

Lips: [singing] Science fiction… double feature/Dr. X… will build a creature/See androids fighting… Brad and Janet… Anne Francis stars in…”Forbidden Planet”/Whoa-oh-oh-ohh/At the late-night double feature picture show

This movie loses a lot when not viewed at a midnight showing with a lot of similarly loaded fans.

Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (a nubile Susan Sarandon) are stereotypical young sweethearts from middle America.  After she accepts his marriage proposal, they set off in search of the professor whose class brought them together.  On a dark and stormy night, their car breaks down on a deserted road.  They see a light in the window of a castle in the distance and decide to walk there in search of a phone.

On arrival, they find a party in progress.  Weird guests are joining tranvestite Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry) to celebrate the animation of his creature, Rocky.  Brad and Janet’s sexual initiations and assorted mayhem follows.  With Meat Loaf as an “ex-delivery boy”.

I had an almost shot-for-shot memory of every detail of this movie.  Most of it is quite stupid and out of control.  However, the songs are still wonderful and it was a fun blast from the past.  Tim Curry is amazing!

Trailer