The Rear-View Mirror: The Godfather (1972)

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!

You could easily forget how reluctant Michael Corleone initially is to take over the family business. There are many reluctant heroes in the movies or in literature; reluctant villains are much rarer and often don’t see themselves as villains. They are set to do what seems necessary, blaming the times or the circumstances, acting for the greater good – and it’s their definition of ‘necessary’ that movies like Coppola’s The Godfather are really about. Continue reading

Slow Night, Slow Fright

There is a point beyond which suspense does not increase. It’s a point that every filmmaker and editor should know, and avoid. In the words of a theatre director I once knew: “If you think your timing is just right, you are too slow.” He said this about most scenes, although maybe some scenes in horror movies are allowed to go on a little longer until the tension almost reaches tipping point, but even for horror flicks, there must be a limit to how long an audience is scared by ominous rumbling and blurry shadows moving in dark corners. It’s likely that horror movies depend more on suspenseful arcs than other genres. Obviously, writer and director Oz Perkins thought he would shoot his second feature I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House a tad too slow, because slightly slower means slightly scarier, right? Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: Philippe Petit (1974)

He is up there in the air, 417 meters above ground, a mere speck to his random audience, so you could easily mistake him for a plane or a bird. He might appear semi-abstract to you. Legend has it that, as a Parisian teenager, he had to go his dentist, but found a picture of the not-yet-built World Trade Center in New York in a magazine and drew a line between the two roofs. He left, his toothache all but forgotten, and he perfected his considerable talent as a tightrope walker and waited for the towers to be built. Until then, Philippe Petit worked his way up, from juggling and unicycling in Parisian streets to walking the tightrope between the two towers of Notre Dame, to doing the same thing between two towers of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. And then the Twin Towers got built, and in 1974, Petit was ready for them. Or they were ready for him. Continue reading

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

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

Boats and Borders

Markus Imhoof’s early feature film Das Boot ist voll (The Boat is Full) from 1981 was an immediate success. It won prizes at the Berlinale in 1981 and got nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film a year later, but didn’t win. It made waves at the box office, and it still turns up on many top ten lists of best Swiss movies, and rightly so. The title is a cowardly statement by a leading Swiss politician about the refugee situation in Switzerland during the Second World War. The movie is about six refugees who jump off a train going to Nazi Germany, trying to find shelter and safety on the other side of the border in Switzerland. Three of them are children, but there is also a spirited woman named Judith Krüger who is looking for her husband who is in a detention facility somewhere in this country. There is an old man named Lazar Ostrowskij who has lost his wife during the escape attempt from the train, and since he can no longer be a husband, he is a grand-dad to the three children, although it’s hard to remember who is related to who. The sixth refugee is a deserting German soldier, and the other five are reluctant to be in the same room with him. Judith Krüger soon realises that they have to reshuffle their relationships in order to pass for a real family so they can either stay in Switzerland or get transit visas. Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: Housekeeping (1980)

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!

There is no other year that has such a wealth of movies to choose from than the year 1980. I could fill the whole post just with movie titles, but I will give you only a short list to start from: Raging Bull. The Empire Strikes Back. The Shining. Airplane!. The Blues Brothers. Berlin Alexanderplatz. Ordinary People. Breaker Morant. Altered States. Coal Miner’s Daughter. Atlantic City. Friday the 13th. Used Cars. Shogun Assassin. Little Lord Fauntleroy. Le dernier mètro. Fame. Private Benjamin. American Gigolo. ffolkes. La Boum. And of course the immortal classic Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe. Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: TRON (1982)

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!

Like Wargames a year later, TRON tried to get behind that new and slightly unsettling thing called computer. And the more fearful among us somehow thought that that machine would treat us the same way that the first picture cameras would treat us: they would steal bits of our souls. Not that we told anyone that we were afraid of them, but hey, if you get sucked into them (by ways not quite clear), then the frisbee of death would kill you. Or you would get erased. A whole new world of danger. Continue reading

Faint heart, strong ambition

Vice is not a comedy. It’s not a drama either. It has platypus-like qualities, so it’s probably best to describe it as a mash-up of a Michael Moore style documentary and a bumpy farce with a very talented cast. It’s bumpy because it not only jumps around in time, attributes real footage of carpet bombing to Cheney’s daydreams, and suddenly lets fake credits roll at half-time, but also because it’s almost as eclectic as Adam McKay’s earlier opus The Big Short. Consider the scene in which Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) and his wife Lynne (Amy Adams) recite from Macbeth in their bed. That’s funny, with an undercurrent of dread. Continue reading