Monday, September 17, 2012

Senso/The Wanton Countess (1954)

The creatively rendered translation of this title ("senso" in Italian means without) is a heads-up for the melodrama that awaits viewers of this film. The movie follows an Italian countess, who, wanton or no, falls in love with precisely the wrong man (an Austrian soldier) at precisely the wrong time (during Italy's nineteenth-century war to oust the Austrian occupiers). A beautiful and powerful woman undone by love? It's no surprise that Tennessee Williams and Paul Bowles had a hand in writing the truncated English-language version.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Chat: Gallipoli

Tracy:  So I kept waiting for the war to start in this "war movie."

Natalie:  Me, too. I just grabbed the book and it starts "Peter Weir re-created the tragic and notorious World War I debacle of Gallipoli--a blundered campaign that sent thousands of Anzac soldiers to slaughter in 1915--with  atmosphere and harrowing action." I know we don't normally start with what the book says but that seems emblematic of the idea of this film; that it's a war movie that shows the folly of war. That's really hard to do when most of the movie is a bildungsroman that happens outside of all war action or even military company. And, very little of it was fighting. I didn't so much get the idea of waste or folly because there wasn't any context for me to grab on to.

Tracy:  Exactly! It was more sort of about these two dudes and their friendship and then how it was sucky that they had to go to war. If this was supposed to be about how futile the campaign itself was, that didn't come through. The battle itself did look fairly horrible, but there wasn't enough context to really be like why god why.

Natalie:  Yes! I told you earlier that I looked down for a bit and looked back up to see pyramids and had an honest moment of asking "are there pyramids in Australia?" I know there aren't but the film seems to foster that sort of confusion. There is no background on anything. I still don't really know where Gallipoli even is--I'm as confused as all of the Australians reading the newspapers who couldn't pronounce the place. It's as if Weir wanted to make a grand gesture hidden in a simple friendship story but he chose too obscure a cultural context to make that happen. I'm sure Australians know more about this--but this was a US hit.

Tracy:  Yeah--I only know about it because my dad is obsessed with the History Channel. And there were these weird comedic moments as well, along with some fairly racist treatment of the Egyptians, I thought. The battle undoubtedly was tragic and wrong, but the movie didn't earn the tragedy. Probably because Rupert Murdoch was involved.

Natalie:  HA! Rupert Murdoch. Agreed on the strange comedy and racism. My only note for the film? "bad music & 80s game sound effects."
Also agreed on the lack of earning the tragedy, of course.

Tracy:  Oh My God. That soundtrack was ri-diculous. Do you think it's just because Mel Gibson was in it? Like the same reason people still watch Mystic Pizza?

Natalie:  Ha! I've never seen Mystic Pizza. Apparently this is the film that made Mel Gibson the "serious" actor because he wasn't just being Mad Max (which I find MUCH more entertaining). The book tries to make it bigger, of course: "Weir distinguishes himself by creating a strong sense of time, place, culture clash, and intimate human drama while imbuing even simple acts with beauty and mystery, finding magical images that evoke excitement, high spirits, fear, and grief” and “But the film’s last image is a freeze-frame of Lee—Weir’s homage to a famous photograph taken by Robert Capa during the Spanish Civil War” which I assume is this one. That reference also seems confused. Not the same war, dude. Which reminds me! Apparently Weir took quite the poetic license with all of this and drastically changed some points.

Tracy:  Yeah. I guess he made the British a bit worse than they were. And it also annoys me when people are like "this war is just like this war." The only part I found interesting (not to say I wasn't entertained--just that it wasn't as complicated as I thought it was going to be) was the class distinctions between the cavalry and the infantry. But that just sort of gets mentioned sometimes and then dropped.

Natalie:  Apparently, the British wouldn't have been as involved in that particular aspect. I'm only going off of what I found on the ever-reliable wikipedia. I wish it were just a simple, coming-of-age story that focused on these two boys with only running in common who become friends out of some sense of loyalty (to nation in one case, and the friend in the other) and left out the attempt to make it about how silly war is. I think it could have been a much better movie, that might have actually said something about the absurdity of war because we'd have been attached to the pair and heartbroken when they died. The attempt to make it more conceptual and bigger ruined it for me--mainly because it wasn't pulled off but I think the simpler story would be better than the more complicated were it successful

Tracy:  I think you're right. As is, it's this sort of weird blend. For a while it's a picaresque road movie and then, fuck, we're in the shit.

Natalie:  Right? But no context for the shit so we don't know how bad or not the shit is. The walking across the desert alone seemed more dangerous to me.

Tracy:  Right! But that was played for laughs. As was, and this really bothered me, when they went and tore up that Egyptian's shop for cheating them, and then the dude was all, "oh, wrong shop." What a dick.

Natalie:  I know! And it was 1981, time to not be racist about Egyptians--as you pointed out before. I didn't hate it but it seems mediocre rather than a "must watch."

Tracy:  Yeah. I think it must be the Gibson factor. I'm on the fence about booting it, just because it seems everything deems it one of the Big Two of Australian cinema. Sort of like why we had to watch The Cow.

Natalie:  Well, at least it was miles better than The Cow. I don't really care enough about it to boot it, especially when there are much worse on the list. What's the other of the Big Two?

Tracy:  Agreed on all counts. The other is Breaker Morant which is basically a filmed play about a court martial in the Boer War. I liked it a lot better than this.

Natalie:  Huh. Is that one on the list?

Tracy:  Not sure--might not since it was a teleplay?

Natalie:  I don't see it--since I figured out as I hit "enter" that I could just look.

Tracy:  It streams though, if you're ever bored and feel like watching a court martial about the Boer War. For some reason.

Natalie:  I'll remember that if I ever have that thought

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Gallipoli (1981)

This Peter Weir film detailing (sort of) the disastrous Australian bayonet charge on Turkish machine gunners in WWI is famous, from what I can tell, for two reasons: it's one of the Big Two of Australian New Wave cinema (the other being Breaker Morant), and pre-crazy Mel Gibson co-stars. It was nominated for a Golden Globe and is generally critically acclaimed, but really, I think it's the Gibson factor that nabbed it a spot in the Big Bad Book--it's certainly not that bizarro soundtrack.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Chat: The Seventh Seal

Tracy:  So want to talk dour-faced Swedes?

Natalie: Yes! Dour faced-Swedes. My experience with Swedes is that they're much nicer that Bergman wants to let on.

Tracy:  If not the hour before. Yeah--the one Swede that stayed with us when I was in high school just wanted to drink Akvavit and sing loudly. Not so much ruminate on death. Or Death, as the case may be.

Natalie:  Ha! Right. Death. So, this is one of the very few--like I can't think of another one but I'm just going to assume it's happened--foreign movies where I've had to watch it with the English dub rather than read the subtitles. But I had to so I could multitask or I was going to be asleep before Death showed up the second time.

Tracy:  Like I said in the blurb, all I ever knew about this movie was the chess scene, so I didn't understand how it was possibly going to be as long as it was. I literally just thought they would play chess, talk about philosophical things, von Sydow would presumably lose, the end. Sort of like My Dinner with Andre except My Chess Match with Death. So the other stuff the witch, the actors I could never really get with.

Natalie:  Yeah. I might have preferred just a chess game with Death and some sort of uber-philosophical debate between the two. It seemed like the rest of the people just muddied the waters and then that the pure, faithful, hard-working, young family got to live just made it all silly. If you're going to have a profound commentary about Death with a capital D, I think you have to talk about how random and unfair it is; not how predictable and simple everything is that it would take the cheaters and villains and old and leave the faithful pretty young.

Tracy:  Especially when your context is the plague! I mean, talk about random and unfair! I guess the fact that the artist's visions ended up saving them was supposed to mean something, but it seemed a little overdetermined. And why did their kid never wear pants? I did think the squire guy was funny at times.

Natalie:  Yes! I'd almost forgotten about the plague and the self-flagellants! Totally unfair but we don't see much of that. That did seem a little overdetermined--the artist and his painting and whatnot. YES! That kid totally needed pants of some variety. The squire guy was funny sometimes. But, also, what was up with the "witch"? She seemed just tossed in there too. Overall, it seemed a Monty Python approach to the plague: let's toss EVERYTHING in there--but not funny like Monty Python and, ultimately, less of a commentary, I think.

Tracy:  Hah! I'm not dead yet! Yeah--I very much got the sense that it was supposed to be a philosophical commentary, but I honestly have no idea what it was supposed to be. And what of the reference to the apocalypse? How does that fit? And are Death and the Devil the same thing?

Natalie:  I have no clue at all. Apparently, it was based on a short story by Bergman? But now I can't find where I read that. It seems like Bergman gets it but, like a Freshman paper, he hasn't filled us in on all of the jumps he's made in his head.

Tracy:  No kidding! I predict I will never read that short story. Does the book drool all over it?

Natalie:  Nope--I was wrong-ish; it was a play. I'd read it on the super reliable (but this time well-cited) Wikipedia: "Bergman originally wrote the play Trämålning (Wood Painting) in 1953/1954 for the acting students of Malmö City Theatre. The first time it was performed in public was in radio in 1954, directed by Bergman. He also directed it on stage in Malmö the next spring, and in the autumn it was staged in Stockholm, directed by Bengt Ekerot who would later play the character Death in the film version." So the book . . . . "The image of a black-robed, white-faced death . . .playing chess on the beach with a weary, questioning crusader . . . is as deeply ingrained in the collective memory of moviegoers as King Kong atop the Empire State building, Humphrey Bogart spurning Ingrid Bergman . . ." Really? I'd never seen a clip of this before. I know you had. But as big as King Kong?

Tracy:  And in all seriousness, I didn't remember it was on the beach, anything. I just remember it because of Bill and Ted. And I cannot IMAGINE this as a radio play.

Natalie:  And, then, after bemoaning that that scene has become emblematic of the movie (when they just promoted it as such, too): "Actually, The Seventh Seal, although rooted in the big themes of Bergman's great period, is a very playful, frequently comic picture, a medieval fable influenced by Bergman's enthusiasm for the samurai movies of Kurosawa and as concerned with celebrating simple pleasures as indicting complicated torments." We didn't mention that dude was a Crusader. That adds unexplained complications to the film, too.

Tracy:  Celebrating simple pleasures? I don't remember that part. And yeah--the Crusader thing is a thing, which the movie only really dealt with through that weird rapey guy.

Natalie:  I agree but the book, concludes: "Bergman is always angry and saddened by human evils, especially when sanctioned by supposed religion, but the film also celebrates physical and spiritual love, communal artistic expression, food and drink, and natural beauty." That sounds like a better movie than the one we watched.

Tracy:  I know! That's twice in a row that they've described a movie in a way that obliquely references a movie we saw, but in no way resembles it in practice! I get why it should be in there--Bergman, Death, etc.--but I didn't enjoy it.

Natalie:  Right? I get the inclusion--if only because it is referenced and spoofed so much--but we can't make it more grandiose than it is. He just didn't make an argument, or even really pose a question. He just presented all of this stuff and said "here, and the 'bad' guys are gonna die."
It reminded me of La Strada, actually.

Tracy:  Me too! And we all know how I felt about La Strada.

Natalie:  Yeah, ditto the feeling. So, keep it for Bergman? We did already have Fanny & Alexander and I thought that was much better than this--if much longer.
But register our discontent

Tracy:  I also preferred F&A. But yeah, I say keep it because it is influential, and it's nice, well, "nice" to see the context, but I am not content.

Natalie:  Agreed. And NOW we get to watch pre-crazy Mel for the next entry!

Tracy:  Yes. Watched it today since the mother and aunt are coming tomorrow. Looking forward to discussing whether we can see the latent crazy lurking in Mel's eyes.

Natalie:  HA! I bet we can just a little . . . .