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Darkest Hour stands apart from more routine historical dramas.

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The Man Who Invented Christmas

Not particularly keen on nuance or subtlety, this is a film in which everything, especially Stevens’ decidedly manic take on Dickens, is pitched as broadly…

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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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* This filmography is not intended to be a comprehensive list of this artist’s work. Instead it reflects the films this person has been involved with that have been reviewed on this site.

The great movies (almost) nobody voted for

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OK, this is where it really gets interesting. Forget the consensus Top 50 Greatest Movies of All Time; let's get personal. Sight & Sound has now published the top 250 titles in its 2012 international critics poll, the full list of more than 2,000 movies mentioned, and all the individual lists of the 845 participating critics, academics, archivists and programmers, along with any accompanying remarks they submitted. I find this to be the most captivating aspect of the survey, because it reminds us of so many terrific movies we may have forgotten about, or never even heard of. If you want to seek out surprising, rewarding movies, this is a terrific place to start looking. For the past few days I've been taking various slices at the "data" trying to find statistical patterns, and to glean from the wealth of titles some treasures I'd like to heartily recommend -- and either re-watch or catch up with myself.

I know we're supposed to consider the S&S poll a feature film "canon" -- a historically influential decennial event since 1952, but just one of many. I don't disagree with Greg Ferrara at TCM's Movie Morlocks ("Ranking the Greats: Please Make it Stop") when he says that limiting ballots to ten all-time "best" (or "favorite," "significant," "influential" titles is incredibly limiting. That's why I think perusing at the critics' personal lists, the Top 250 (cited by seven critics or more) and the full list of 2,045 films mentioned is more enjoyable pastime.

It's wise to remember that, although the top of the poll may at first glance look relatively conservative or traditional, there's a tremendous diversity in the individual lists. Even the top vote-getter, "Vertigo," was chosen by less than one quarter of the participants.

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Andrew Sarris, 1928-2012: In Memoriam

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Andrew Sarris, who loved movies, is dead at 83. He was the most influential American film critic of his time, and one of the jolliest. More than anyone else, he was responsible for introducing Americans to the Auteur Theory, the belief that the true author of a film is its director. Largely because of him, many moviegoers today think of films in terms of their directors.

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#70 July 6, 2011

Marie writes: Gone fishing...aka: in the past 48 hrs, Movable Type was down so I couldn't work, my friend Siri came over with belated birthday presents, and I built a custom mesh screen for my kitchen window in advance of expected hot weather. So this week's Newsletter is a bit lighter than usual.

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Claude Chabrol, RIP. The master at midpoint

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Claude Chabrol, who died Sunday, Sept. 12 at 80, was a founder of the New Wave and a giant of French cinema. This interview, which took place during the 1970 New York Film Festival, shows him at midpoint in his life, just as he had emerged from a period of neglect and was making some of his best films.

By Roger Ebert

NEW YORK -- Claude Chabrol's "This Man Must Die" is advertised as a thriller, but I found it more of a macabre study of human behavior. There's no doubt as to the villain's identity, and little doubt that he will die (although how he dies is left deliciously ambiguous).

Unlike previous masters of thrillers like Hitchcock, Chabrol goes for mood and tone more than for plot. You get the notion that his killings and revenges are choreographed for a terribly observant camera and an ear that hears the slightest change in human speech.

For this reason, particularly, it's necessary to put up a squawk and insisted on the film's original subtitled version; without the rhythm of the sound track, the movie simply doesn't work. New Yorkers saw the subtitles, of course, but Allied Artists apparently decided to let the rest of the country see a wretched botch of a dubbing job.

I wouldn't be surprised if the dubbed version flopped; "Z" ran for months in its exquisite subtitled version, but flopped in the neighborhoods because a lousy dubbed version was substituted.

Let's face it. Movies by director like Chabrol or Costa-Gavras are intended for the more literate section of the movie audience. You can dub a spaghetti Western and nobody cares, but mess with Chabrol and you're eliminating the very quality audiences respond to in his work.

In any event, we're seeing the good version here, and it is one of the best Chabrol films since he began his new career as a student of murder. With Godard veering ever more erratically into left field, and Truffaut exhibiting an alarming tendency to get cute, it's actually beginning to appear that Chabrol will become the front-running French director of the 1970s - commercially, and maybe even artistically.

Yet as recently as 1967, in his "Interviews with Film Directors," Andrew Sarris was actually able to write about Chabrol in the past tense: "He quickly became one of the forgotten figures of the nouvelle vague . . . Chabrol found himself so demode by the mid-1960s that he was forced to accept commissioned projects to keep his hand in."

But just then, when his career as a serious director seemed most in doubt, Chabrol arrived at the 1968 New York Film Festival with "Les Biches." It was an artful combination of lesbianism and very Chabrolian irony, with a nice bit of murder at the end, which forced you to re-think all the characters. And Chabrol, the first of the New Wave directors to be hailed and the first to be dismissed, was very clearly back in business again.

Les Biches

"Les Biches" was the first film Chabrol made with Andre Genovese, a young Parisian who is, Chabrol says, the only producer he has ever been able to work happily with. They followed it with "La Femme Infidele" (1969), Chabrol's greatest critical success since "Les Cousins" a decade earlier. Then came "This Man Must Die," "Le Boucher," one of the hits of this year's New York Film Festival, and "Le Rupture," still unseen in the United States. ("We're certainly going to have to change that title for the American release," Chabrol notes cheerfully.)

Taken together, this group of films seems to announce that, at 40, Chabrol is finally realizing the great promise of his early career, There have been 18 Chabrol features so far, and they reflect a distinctly erratic chapter in the history of the New Wave. Chabrol was there at the very beginning, first as a critic for Cahiers du Cinema and then as the director of perhaps the first New Wave film. His "Le Beau Serge" (1958) preceded Truffaut's "The 400 Blows" by a few months, and when Godard's "Breathless" appeared the original triumvirate of New Wave directors was established. It still rules.

Chabrol's sensationally successful "Les Cousins" followed, also in 1958, and the next year he made "A Double Tour" and "Les Bonnes Femmes."

Although he was by then routinely linked with Truffaut and Godard, his style and taste in material didn't resemble theirs (nor did they resemble each other, of course, although they made a convenient grouping because of their common disregard for the existing writer-dominated French cinema.)

Chabrol's 1962 "Landru," from a screenplay by Francoise Sagan about a World War I mass murderer, can be seen in hindsight as characteristically Chabrolian but having little connection with the concerns of other New Wave directors. It was coolly professional and exhibited the fascination with murder that has been his subject in all the recent films produced by Genovese.

Le Boucher

"Landru" was a commercial and critical success, but "Ophelia" the same year was a failure, beginning a period of involuntary idleness for Chabrol. He married the actress Stephane Audran in 1962 (she was Jean-Louis Trintignant's former wife and had starred in "Les Cousins"). And then he announced a number of projects, but nothing came of them. In 1964 he directed the first of three comedy thrillers he considers potboilers.

All three were frankly jobs done for money, and if some auteur critics defended them, not many others found them worthy of Chabrol. A 1967 "comeback" project for Universal's European production division, "The Champagne Murders," starred Anthony Perkins and was praised in France. But the mutilated U.S. version was a disaster.

One night recently, Chabrol sipped a Scotch and soda in the Greenwich Village apartment of a friend, and talked about it.

"How do you become a director? First, you must start. Second, you must find a producer who is a human being. Andre Genovese is a human being. I can say of all my previous producers that I hated them and they hated me. Just before I met Andre, things were at their blackest. I was doing 'The Champagne Murders,' and the producer, so called, was a young man named Jay Kanter who was in charge of Universal's operation over there.

"He was a good agent, they told me. Why not? But as a producer he was a joke. After I finished the film, they brought in an editor who was described as a 'doctor.' He was supposed to make a film out of my film. So what did he do? He made a hodgepodge. For the English version, he cut out 20 -minutes, and inevitably they were the exact 20 minutes for which I made the film."

Chabrol spread his hands in a gesture of futility. "Editors have an uncanny ability to find what you feel is most important, and cut it out," he said. "I could have made a stink, but I wasn't in a very strong position just then. At least they let me have the final cut for the French version. Perhaps I'm not the purist I ought to be. When we were all writing for Cahiers, we looked at Hollywood films that everyone thought were commercial, and we discovered art and morality in them. Fifteen years later, with these recent films of mine, perhaps I'm taking art and morality and making them commercial . . ."

In a sense he's correct, although "commercial" is a word too negatively charged to describe the exquisite subtlety of "Le Boucher" or "This Man Must Die" (even if they are advertised as thrillers).

Perhaps professionalism is the quality that ought to be substituted; the early Cahiers critics appreciated that quality to such a degree that they actually prized directors whom accepted routine assignments and turned them out competently. Even today, when the budget is not exactly critical, Chabrol makes a point of telling you that John Ford shunned covering shots, and that every shot Chabrol takes is in the film.

Because Genovese respects this, Chabrol says, he gives Chabrol a free hand in making his films, and that, you see, is why the last three years have been so productive for Chabrol.

"Most of the French producers," Chabrol explained, "are like Zanuck. No, not like Zanuck. Like a little Zanuck. I have a certain regard for Zanuck himself. You know I used to work for him. That's right! I was the Paris publicity man for 20th Century-Fox in 1955."

Chabrol sipped his Scotch very seriously, for comic timing, and then allowed himself to grin. "When I quit," he said, "you'll never guess who got my job. I gave it to Jean-Luc Godard. Of course he was even worse as a publicity man than I was.

"He always made sure to have the lavatory key. He would come into the office and look busy for an hour, and then say he was sick. Then he would lock himself in the lavatory and read scripts. I know the feeling because I like to read all the time myself, when I'm not watching movies. During the war I was sent out into the country -- I must have been about 10 at the time -- and I read detective novels all day.

Ten Day's Wonder

"It was at that time I first read 'Ten Days Wonder,' by Ellery Queen, which will be my next film. In writing the script, I worked from the very same copy of Ellery Queen that I read 30 years ago.

"When I wasn't reading I was going to the movies. I saw 'Snow 'White' at least 10 times between 1937 and 1940 and I think it influenced my work, a little. It was a good horror film. The death of the witch was the best thing Disney ever did. Of course, murder always heightens the interest in a film. Even a banal situation takes on importance when there's a murder involved.

"I suppose that's why I choose to work with murder so often. That's the area of human activity where the choices are most crucial and have the greatest consequences. On the other hand, I'm not at all interested in who-done-its. If you conceal a character's guilt, you imply that his guilt is the most important thing about him. I want the audience to know who the murderer is, so that we can consider his personality."

Chabrol said he is rather happy right now about the way his career is going.

"With the films since 'Les Biches,' I think I'm on the right track. Not that I was ever on the wrong track, but I believe that period of idleness helped me think things over. You might consider a concert pianist, suddenly unable to give concerts. So he sits at home and practices for two or three years, until somebody hires him again. And then they don't think about the two years, they think about how well he plays . . .

"Certainly I'm happy right now making these films about murder. My interest isn't in solving puzzles, but in studying human behavior. Nothing else interests me so much. I'm not a chansonnier, a man obsessed with the events of the day. I am a Communist, certainly, but that doesn't mean I have to make films about the wheat harvest. I think Godard's political films have been messy. Right now, Jean-Luc seems to be going through a bachelor's crisis: Should I marry politics or remain free?"

Chabrol leaned forward to share a confidence.

"I'll tell you a Party secret," he said. "Spiro Agnew is a double agent. Of course, he doesn't know it, but that's the best kind of agent there is -- because he can never blow his own cover!"

His face opened into a beatific smile. He finished his Scotch. He sighed. "Now we go back to France to make a film about murder again," he said. "In this one, I kill everyone, but it's no big deal. They're living at the beginning and dead at the end. In between, there's a story about a man who breaks the Ten Commandments, one by one. Catherine Deneuve will star, and of course Orson Welles will play God." I have many Chabrol reviews online. Use Search on my home page. Here is my Great Movies Collection review of Le Boucher. From the Telegraph, the best Chabrol obituary..

Chabrol's 50th and final film: "Inspector Bellamy" (2009)

☑ All of my TwitterPages are linked under the category Pages in the right margin of this page.

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#32 October 13, 2010

I think, at a child's birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endowit with the most useful gift, that gift would be curiosity. - Eleanor Roosevelt John Singer Sargent: 'Carnation Lily, Lily Rose' (1885-86) Tate Gallery, London

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In memory of Claude Chabrol (1930-2010)

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In honor of the late Claude Chabrol, one of the great filmmakers of the French New Wave, co-author with Eric Rohmer of the first book on Alfred Hitchcock, maker of moral thrillers and autopsier of the dis-ease of the bourgeoisie ("Les Biches," "La femme infidel," "Le boucher," "La rupture," "Violette Nozière," "La cérémonie"...), here is my Opening Shot (and closing shot) piece for "La femme infidel:

A fairy-tale home in a wooded setting. Two women sit an an outdoor table in the shade of some tall trees. The camera glides across the lawn silently (we can't hear what they're saying, just barely audible laughter) at an oblique angle that takes us closer to the women, but not directly toward them. A big black trunk passes startlingly across the screen in the foreground. Then a smaller trunk comes into the shot, mid-distance, and nicely frames the image. That's all there is to the opening shot (which lasts less than 10 seconds), but to understand the context we have to consider the rest of the brief pre-titles sequence.

Continued here...

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Claude Chabrol, RIP. The death of a master

May Contain Spoilers

Claude Chabrol, who died Sunday, Sept. 12 at 80, was a founder of the New Wave and a giant of French cinema. This interview, which took place during the 1970 New York Film Festival, shows him at midpoint in his life, just as he had emerged from a period of neglect and was making some of his best films.

Claude Chabrol's "This Man Must Die" is advertised as a thriller, but I found it more of a macabre study of human behavior. There's no doubt as to the villain's identity, and little doubt that he will die (although how he dies is left deliciously ambiguous).

Unlike previous masters of thrillers like Hitchcock, Chabrol goes for mood and tone more than for plot. You get the notion that his killings and revenges are choreographed for a terribly observant camera and an ear that hears the slightest change in human speech.

Continue reading →

#28 September 15, 2010

From the Grand Poobah in Toronto: It was slightly chilly and I threw on my Toronto International Film Festival jacket and hurried out of the hotel. Only an ooh and an ahh from behind me at the Elgin Theater alerted me that I was wearing my official Roots 20th anniversary jacket. Since 2010 is the festival's 35th anniversary, that's not bad, n'est-ce pas? I hope that at the theater my T-shirt wasn't peeking out.

The Grand Poobah writes: I carry a little Canon S60 digital camera so small it tucks in my jeans pocket. Sometimes, all by itself, it will take a great photograph. Here are Lena and Werner Herzog. She is the acclaimed photographer. This was taken shortly after Herzog and Errol Morris held their lively onstage conversation, which I video recorded from the front row.

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Avatar, the French New Wave and themorality of deep-focus (in 3-D)

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In 1959 Jean-Luc Godard famously proclaimed that tracking shots are a matter of morality -- an inversion of fellow Cahier du cinéma critic Luc Moullet's formulation that "morality is a matter of tracking shots" ("morale set affaire de travellings," sometimes translated as "morality is in the tracking shots"). The evangelical theorists behind what became known as the French New Wave had a tendency to ascribe moral values to cinematic style and technique.¹ André Bazin and the late Eric Rohmer, especially, championed the moral as well as aesthetic superiority of mise en scène over montage, of Hawksian "invisible cutting" over dictatorial Eisensteinian editing, and of deep-focus over a more selective, shallow depth-of-field. Bazin praised directors such as Orson Welles and William Wyler (in collaboration with cinematographer Gregg Toland) for staging shots so that "the viewer is at least given the opportunity to edit the scene himself, to select the aspects of it to which he will attend."

As David Bordwell summarized:

Their "deep-focus" style, he claimed, produced a more profound realism than had been seen before because they respected the integrity of physical space and time. According to Bazin, traditional cutting breaks the world into bits, a series of close-ups and long shots. But Welles and Wyler give us the world as a seamless whole. The scene unfolds in all its actual duration and depth. Moreover, their style captured the way we see the world; given deep compositions, we must choose what to look at, foreground or background, just as we must choose in reality. [...]

[Bazin wrote that deep-focus] "forces the spectator to participate in the meaning of the film by distinguishing the implicit relations" and creates "a psychological realism which brings the spectator back to the real conditions of perception."

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Name That Director!

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Click above to REALLY enlarge...

UPDATED 01/28/10: 2:25 p.m. PST -- COMPLETED!: Thanks for all the detective work -- and special thanks to Christopher Stangl and Srikanth Srinivasan himself for their comprehensive efforts at filling the last few holes! Now I have to go read about who some of these experimental filmmakers are. I did find some Craig Baldwin movies on Netflix, actually...

Srikanth Srinivasan of Bangalore writes one of the most impressive movie blogs on the web: The Seventh Art. I don't remember how I happened upon it last week, but wow am I glad I did. Dig into his exploration of connections between Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" and Jean-Luc Godard's "History of Cinema." Or check out his piece on James Benning's 1986 "Landscape Suicide." There's a lot to look through, divided into sections for Hollywood and World Cinema.

In the section called "The Cinemaniac... I found the above collage (mosaic?) of mostly-famous faces belonging to film directors, which Srikanth says he assembled from thumbnails at Senses of Cinema. Many of them looked quite familiar to me, and if I'm not mistaken they were among the biographical portraits we used in the multimedia CD-ROM movie encyclopedia Microsoft Cinemania, which I edited from 1994 to 1998, first on disc, then also on the web. (Anybody with a copy of Cinemania able to confirm that? My Mac copy of Cinemania97 won't run on Snow Leopard.)

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Lisa Nesselson from Paris: On the man who made you think you spoke French

May Contain Spoilers

Paris, Jan. 11 -- The phone rang at 5:30 p.m.. It was France's around-the-clock cable news station France24 asking if I could speak about the death of Eric Rohmer, live, in about 10 minutes. The news was very fresh in France and this was the first I'd heard of it.

Except for François Truffaut and Louis Malle, who both died relatively young, the most prolific talents of the French New Wave era are still at it. Claude Chabrol makes at least one film a year; Jacques Rivette and Alain Resnais released new features in 2009; Agnes Varda is busy mounting conceptual installations when she's not making her delightful documentaries; Jean-Luc Godard is still tinkering away on digital video.

You begin to think they're immortal -- that much like symphony conductors who live to ripe old ages because waving their arms around is excellent exercise, that "pointing into the distance" pose so characteristic of film directors may be a boon to their longevity.

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Eric Rohmer: In Memory

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We've lost a gentle and wise humanist of the movies. Eric Rohmer 89, one of the founders of the French New Wave died Monday Jan. 11 in Paris. The group , which inaugurated modern cinema, included Jean-Pierre Melville, Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, Agnes Varda, Alain Resnais, Jacques Rivette and Louis Malle. Melville, Truffaut and Malle have died, but the others remain productive and creative in their 80s.

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Why do zombies prefer to eat only living flesh, anyway?

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Q. I just viewed Charlie Chaplin's classic "City Lights" for the first time, in film a class. After letting the film's spell settle on us, my professor asked us to consider the final scene: specifically, what does the Girl really "see"? Most of our answers felt pretty obvious -- she sees the truth that the man she had loved is the Tramp, and not a millionaire, she sees that he is still the same person she loved and she accepts him, etc.

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