The Compleat Ingmar #4: Wild Strawberries (1957)

Admittedly, I wasn’t a big fan of the second and third film in Criterion’s Bergman collection, Crisis and A Ship to India, but they were interesting as stepping stones towards the director’s more accomplished later films – and Wild Strawberries is definitely an illustration of those works and, after Smiles of a Summer Night, the second highlight of the collection.

Wild Strawberries

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Mostly human

Michael Pierce’s feature debut Beast is less than the sum of its parts. It has very, very strong scenes, but just because the pearls are all beautiful doesn’t mean they belong on the same necklace. Here’s a list from memory: the moment when Moll (Jessie Buckley) runs away from her own birthday party to go dancing. The moment when she meets Pascal (Johnny Flynn) for the first time and is smitten with him, because he looks as wild as she wants to be, and he might be her ticket out of the stuffy surroundings of a small town on a small island called Jersey. The moment when Moll lies into the grave of a dead girl, pretending to be her. The well-meaning cruelty of her mother (Geraldine James). Moll’s apology to the girl she hurt back in school. The whole funeral sequence. Continue reading

A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #21: The Big Sleep

d1ad56da-abce-4afe-9f45-79294aede9e3For our April episode, we’re revisiting a classic from Hollywood’s Golden Age, featuring one of American cinema’s golden couples: The Big Sleep, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Will you finally find out who killed the chauffeur? Now, that would be telling… In addition, Mege reports from a somewhat uncanny dancing school in 1970s Berlin after watching the recent Suspiria remake, Julie investigates the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films and Matt goes slightly cubist after visiting a nearby Pablo Picasso exhibition.

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The Rear-View Mirror: All the President’s Men (1976)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

The Watergate scandal and its complexities holds many stories worth telling. The story of how Martha Mitchell tried to blow the whistle and got ridiculed, or the story of democratic candidate Edmund S. Muskie who was undermined by the Nixon administration and lost his cool. Or the story of the hilariously monikered whistle-blower “Deep Throat” – yes, after the Linda Lovelace porno – who was finally outed in 2005 as Mark Felt, FBI associate director. All the President’s Men is the story of Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman), or “Woodstein”: two journalists who tried to make the public aware of the scope of Watergate, as if anyone at the time really cared. Later Gore Vidal would famously quip to Dick Cavett that he “…must get my Watergate fix each morning”.

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Here’s looking at you, and you – and you, Agnès

It’s a comical image: the gigantic works of art, plastered on the side of buildings and in one case even a towering stack of shipping container, and looking at them, the tiny, old woman with her white-and-red hair who helped bring these gargantuan images about and document them on film… though while she may be tiny and old, she most definitely isn’t frail. In fact, she stands as tall as anyone and anything in the film.

Visages Villages

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Art vs. -ism

Reader, it’s not easy for me to describe why I like Never Look Away so much, so let me start with the title. The movie’s original title is Werk ohne Autor (Work without Author), which is much better, since it’s a movie about a fledgling painter who seems to see himself as a mere conduit for his paintings than an active artist. A title like Never Look Away suggests that it’s about the Holocaust, although that is not so wrong either. The movie was written and directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who also wrote and shot The Lives of Others, an excellent movie, and the slightly disappointing The Tourist. Werk ohne Autor is loosely based on the life of German painter Gerhard Richter, who has seen the movie and disapproves of it. Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: Dispatches (1977)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

Michael Herr’s Dispatches is a slim book, but it’s so densely written that I couldn’t get through it in one day. It’s his own personal diary from the Vietnam war, condensed into such sparse prose that you will have to set it down eventually. Herr throws you into the the mess of war and explains only what is crucial for the rest of the text so that the reader is set to feel very much like a newly drafted soldier joining the conflict – you have basic training, but no clue about the area they drop you in. The reason for that immediacy might be that Herr is not really a novelist, but a journalist. He volunteered to go to Vietnam, joined the reserve there in 1967, returned to the US, had a nervous breakdown, couldn’t write anything for five years and finally published this book in 1977. Continue reading

The Compleat Ingmar #3: A Ship to India (1947)

Apparently Bergman wasn’t a huge fan of the first film he directed, Crisis (1946), which he called “lousy, through and through”. He wasn’t much kinder to his third, A Ship to India (1947), referring to it as “a major disaster” – except when his producer Lorens Marmstedt called to urge him to cut the worst parts, at which point Bergman rose to his film’s defense: “I informed him that I had no intention of cutting even one foot from this masterpiece.” Bergman may have been young and relatively inexperienced, but obviously he already had an ego to match a much more accomplished director.

A Ship to India

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The Rear-View Mirror: Halloween (1978)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

Psycho never scared me. I think the main reason for this is that I came to it too late: by the time I saw Norman Bates dressed as his mother, stab-stab-stabbing his way through various cast members, I’d seen all the quotes, echoes, parodies. (You can’t be a teenager watching several seasons worth of The Simpsons without seeing an average of 17.3 parodies of Psycho. It’s a scientific fact.) To some extent, I ended up watching the film and feeling that, meh, it’s all been done before – which is unfair and inaccurate, because so often and in so many ways, Psycho did it first. I still enjoy the film for the sheer craftsmanship that Hitchcock and his collaborators put into the film, and for the impish glee with which they establish the female lead – only to kill her off. But no, Psycho never scared me.

Halloween, though? Halloween scared the living daylights out of me.

Halloween

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… to miss Treme

I have never been to New Orleans, and while I would like to go there, it is unlikely I’ll be traveling to the United States in the next couple of years. As a result, I cannot even begin to say whether Treme, David Simon’s four-season HBO series, delivered an accurate depiction of the city. More than that, I’m definitely not entitled to claiming that I care about New Orleans based on having watched a TV series. But I can say that I have come to love the series’ version of New Orleans – and that’s due in no small part to Simon’s unique brand of storytelling.

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