The Compleat Ingmar #34: Port of Call (1948)

Port of Call doesn’t make a great first impression. In the context of Bergman’s complete oeuvre (if movie watching had a progress bar, we’d be somewhere between 80% and 90% through his filmography), its first fifteen, twenty minutes or so is more striking in its images than its storytelling, as the latter seems oddly impersonal, almost generic. Once past the initial hurdle of a decidedly middling beginning, however, there’s more to like about Port of Call than is immediately apparent.

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A Damn Fine Espresso: June 2022

We’ve talked about movies and music before, and for our June Espresso episode, Sam and Matt pick up the tune again, talking about two films they’ve recently seen that are all about the music. Sam watched Ennio, the 2021 documentary about iconic composer Ennio Morricone, directed by Giuseppe Tornatore (of Cinema Paradiso fame), while Matt caught Academy Award winner Summer of Soul (2021) at the cinema, which combines the genres of documentary and concert film to celebrate artists from Mahalia Jackson and B.B. King to Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone and Nina Simone – and talk about the relevance of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival to African American culture and politics. Sam and Matt also discuss what, for them, makes a good film about music and musicians, and what is necessary for a musical performance to come to life on film.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #83: Talking and killing

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

I made my first kill before the age of 10. By the time I was a teenager, I must have killed hundreds. By the time I reached the age of 20, I expect the number was somewhere in the five-digit range, at least. And I suspect that the same is true for so many people these days, at least in the west – because murder is just a click away.

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Criterion Corner: Irma Vep (#1074)

In 2021, we did a podcast episode titled “Second Chances” (which we’re hoping to turn into something of an annual thing). In it, we discussed films that, for one reason or another, didn’t work for us but that we’d been wanting to revisit because we thought it might’ve been a case of “It’s not you, it’s me”: that we watched these films with the wrong kind of expectation, or that we lacked the right lens through which to watch it.

Sometimes, though, there can be films (or books, plays, poems, TV series, albums, games etc. etc.) that simply work on a wavelength that we’re not receptive to. This doesn’t mean that they’re bad or that we’re wrong or stupid for not liking them. I’ve long believed that most art that is interesting won’t be for everyone. Ideally I can still get something out of culture that isn’t for me, but generally this is a matter more of appreciation than of enjoyment. Often these are works that I prefer to discuss or read or watch a good video essay about rather than to watch.

But these works still tend to leave me with lingering doubts, especially the ones that have elements or aspects that I genuinely do enjoy: a scene, a performance, or perhaps a shot that sticks in my mind. And the same can be true for certain directors: I don’t generally like their work, but there’s something about it that makes it difficult for me to just conclude that they’re not for me.

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The Compleat Ingmar #33: Thirst (1949)

It’s a difficult act to follow Persona, and Criterion probably made the right choice when it decided to follow Bergman’s monolithic masterpiece with a number of his earlier, smaller films, in which he was trying to find his voice as a director. Thirst is one of those films. It’s by no means bad – in fact, some of the later films that are more clearly Bergman’s work are probably worse films (and yes, All These Women, I’m looking at you). However, it is a film that in the context of Bergman’s filmography feels like he was trying his hand at themes and techniques that he’d later use to better effect.

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A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #57: Summer of Directors – Dario Argento

And our Summer of Directors continues: after celebrating the tactility of Jane Campion’s films last month, we continue with a very different kind of physicality, with the variform violence done to bodies and minds in the phantasmagoric cinema of Italian filmmaker Dario Argento. Join Sam, Julie and Alan as they dissect a trio of Argento’s films, from giallo classic The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) via Deep Red (1975) – a film called by some the best giallo ever made to perhaps the most famous film by Argento, the supernatural horror film Suspiria (1977). What makes these films potent to this day? How important is plot to an Argento film? How much of a successor was the director to Alfred Hitchcock? Just what is “impure cinema”? And just how does our gang draw a direct line from classic movie musicals to Dario Argento’s films?

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Fathers, sons, and requiems

In 1984, my dad took me and my sister to see Amadeus at the cinema. We would go to see a movie, usually something from the Disney catalogue of animated features, as a family once a year, but this wasn’t part of the annual ritual. My dad was an avid hobby musician and he loved Mozart’s music, so he wanted to see the film with his children. I was nine at the time, and I’m sure my dad didn’t expect the mature themes or the scatology. I don’t really remember seeing any other films just with my dad when I was a kid, rather than with my mum or both my parents, but Amadeus stayed with me. As a pretentious little nine-year-old, I loved it – less so for Mozart’s impish, infantile irreverence than for the drama and the dark humour. Or perhaps that’s me projecting into my younger self, 38 years after the fact.

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A Damn Fine Espresso: May 2022

In the mood for a little cup of culture? Tune in for our May espresso, in which Alan and Matt discuss the latest addition to the MCU, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Spoiler: While they both enjoy the MCU, they were less than taken with Sam Raimi’s return to superhero movies. They both agree, however, that the MCU would benefit from having more Benedict Wong in it. After their discussion in January, following the release of Spider-Man: No Way Home, Alan and Matt talk about the MCU at this point, what pitfalls it would do well to avoid, and what their hopes are for the coming Marvel attractions. But: how do Ingmar Bergman and LEGO figure into all of this? Well, there’s only one way to find out!

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Criterion Corner: The Piano (#1110)

I first saw The Piano at the cinema in 1993, when it originally came out. The film felt intense and erotic and physical. It felt adult – though, looking back, I’m surprised by how many films I’d seen as a child and teenager that I’d consider adult. Not because of nudity or sex, although they definitely featured those – I’m thinking of the likes of Milos Forman’s Amadeus or Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor -, but because of the characters and themes, and because they were more than happy to leave things unsaid. They were ambiguous. Certainly, I also spent the ’90s watching things like Aliens and Die Hard and Jurassic Park, and I enjoyed those (though I never loved Jurassic Park, which always felt like a more family-friendly Jaws to me, and Jaws should never be family-friendly) – but where these now feel familiar, like cinematic comfort food, The Piano still has that strange intimacy that is both thrilling and discomforting.

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A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #56: Summer of Directors – Jane Campion

Never mind that May is still firmly spring in most people’s minds: we are launching the Summer of Directors, a series of podcasts, each of which is dedicated to one particular director, and we’re doing so with an episode dedicated to two-time Academy Award winner Jane Campion, who first took the little statuette home for her original screenplay for The Piano (1993) and, more recently, as the director of The Power of the Dog (2021). We’ll be looking at those two films in particular, focusing on the ways in which Campion portrays and questions gender roles. How does Holly Hunter’s Ada McGrath make her way in 19th century New Zealand as a woman displaced in many ways? How does Campion portray male and female modes of communication? And how do we read that marvellously ambiguous ending? Moving on to The Power of the Dog, we look at different kinds of masculinity – and how Campion’s film may have unusual, fascinating things to say about what kind of masculinity is finally more resilient. Join Matt, Julie and Sam as they explore all the black and white keys on Jane Campion’s keyboard and all the kinds of music she elicits from them!

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