Follow by Email

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

My Top Ten Films of All Time (6) - LE CRIME DE M. LANGE (Jean Renoir, France, 1936)

US Rialto Pictures DVD cover  of pre-reatoration edition
Editor's Note: My tech-smart brother has created another Film Alert website to collect up some older stuff and has also assembled  the Top Ten selections I have thus far revealed. You can go to this Wordpress site for all the details. Now read on...

 I was taken aback just a little while ago when the esteemed Joseph McBride indicated significant distaste for Jean Renoir’s 1936 Le Crime de M. Lange. McBride was of the view, and I hope I’m not misrepresenting him, that the film sanctioned murder and that couldn’t be condoned in any circumstances.

So in returning to a viewing of the film this thought was quite to the fore. You have to get almost to the end of the film before the moment occurs when the evil Batala, a man who has stolen from his workers, debauched a young female on staff, importuned many others, fled from capture and then returned in the guise of a priest, with a view to resuming control of his now successful  business and no doubt doing it all again. Lange was and remains the most valuable employee and the man whose imagination has transformed the cheap printing business into a powerhouse publisher living off the adventures of Lange’s creation Arizona Jim.  

In the scene in question, Batala has returned and meets Lange alone in his former office. He outlines his plans for taking control once more and openly scoffs at Lange’s defence of the new worker co-operative. Batala leaves and the camera lingers on Lange as he stares at a desk drawer which we know contains a pistol.  Batala then comes across Valentine, Lange’s love and again attempts to importune here. Lange rushes down the stairs pistol in hand pushes Batala away and shoots him. Lange is raced away by Valentine and they flee. The film has unreeled in one long flashback until now. It returns to the present and Lange is judged by a jury of his peers… 

I saw the film again most recently when an astonishing new restoration was unveiled at Bologna’s Cinema Ritrovato just last July. 

My thoughts then, written mere moments after: The young man who introduced the screening of Jean Renoir’s Le Crime de M. Lange (France, 1936) on behalf of the now rights holder Studio Canal said it had been the most difficult restoration the company had ever done. 

Those who attended the first screenings in Australia back in the early sixties, when it was part of a MUFS Night Season, recalled only too well the quality of the 16mm copy on display. It wasn’t much better when it was shown on SBS sometime in the 90s. 

Some of those who attended the MUFS screening were actually back at Bologna's Arlecchino Cinema for the packed to the rafters premiere of the restoration that for many was the last of their jobs to tick off from this year’s highly successful selection. Glad to get that out of the way!

Valentine (Odette Florelle) and Lange (Rene Lefevre), make their escape
From the moment of the first credit there was a near instant sigh. Now we could see it and even more hear it properly. The stories of Lange, Valentine, Batala, Charlie and Estelle made me weep all over again. Once again Renoir’s paean to spontaneous community action, of people joining together in common cause and resisting ‘oppression’ lit up our lives. I’d forgotten the character of the young son of the owner who arrives to survey his business to be told that it is being turned into a co-operative. “What is a co-operative?” he asks blankly before he is informed that the man leading the effort is also the author of his beloved Arizona Jim serials. Enough said and Meunier joins the throng.

Jules Berry as Batala, Le Crime de M. Lange
It is I think Renoir’s greatest film and one of the handful of the very greatest thrown up by the cinema itself. Here’s Truffaut from the (Bologna) catalogue: Of all Renoir’s films Monsieur Lange is the most spontaneous, the richest in miracle of camerawork, the most full of pure beauty and truth. In short it is a film touched by divine grace.

The 4K restoration work was done by Bologna’s incomparable L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory. …
I hold out hope that after screenings at Bologna and then at the 2017 New York Film Festival someone will find room for the restored version to be screened down here sometime soon. Then can come the Blu-ray edition and we can all hold a permanent record in our homes of this priceless work of art.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

On Blu-ray - David Hare reports on the arrival of two, and soon three, of Anthony Mann's great film noirs HE WALKED BY NIGHT, T-MEN and RAW DEAL

Coming fast on the heels of Melville's great hymn to solitude, with Jef in Le Samourai, here is the grandfather of existential and moral solitude in American cinema, Anthony Mann. Amongst the solitary men and relatively few women who populate Anthony Mann's universe, the first three screens are the very beautiful face of Richard Basehart as a sociopathic impulse killer in Mann's second Eagle Lion Noir with colleague and co-auteur, the titanic DP John Alton,  He Walked by NIght (1948.)

The fourth screen (below) from the same movie posits a contrapuntal, equally beautiful, face in solitary repose, of Scott Brady as the cop. Basehart's nemesis. Viewers with sharp eyes might spot in Brady's face the genetic DNA for the great psychotic badman, Lawrence Tierney, in fact Brady's brother, who played some of the heaviest, most perverse bad boys in Dark cinema, and apparently in life.

Screen five comes in two planes lit with a typically single light source by Alton, showing newcomer geekboy and future Dragnet Maestro, Jack Webb (right) fooling around with some nitroglycerine while a drily composed Roy Roberts looks on with Zen blankness. Final two screens are again lit with a single light source from the 1947 quasi procedural T-Men. This was Mann's and Alton's first picture together and the first title released by newly formed and short lived Eagle Lion Pictures.

The last two screens are among the always analytically fascinating two shots of men in Mann's films, with their innate simmering violence, competition, threat and attraction. The only single element in the frame, in addition to the actors, is the light from the floor, and the low angle which amplifies and enhances it, and the relationship between the characters is inevitably perilous, ultimately lethal, an effect purely expressed with such elemental means.

The steam room scene in T-Men relates to a similar steam room killing but one with much more explicit homo text in Don Siegel's great The Lineup ten years later in 1958 in which Eli Wallach allows himself to be picked up for sex by William Leslie before shooting him after extracting the information he needs about a missing drug cache.

Mann's films and especially these first two Noirs are very centrally related to 40s maleness and a male "ethos" engaging with violence, identity submission and power, and they are underlined by their director's thematic obsession, solitude. Just as Melville's great work will resonate two decades later with Delon, Belmondo and Yves Montand in similar leads. Only in Mann's third great Noir with Alton, and my favorite, Raw Deal (1949), the great solitary character is a woman, played by the sublime Claire Trevor, one of two women sexually enthralled by Dennis O'Keefe's Joe, a convict who plays homme fatale to her and his case worker Marsha Hunt. Mann gives Claire Trevor, one of my favorite actors, the last great Mizoguchian high angle crane shot, filmed by Alton from way above the set with just enough light to identify the now static action as Claire is returned to her solitude, slumped over the body of her dead Joe. Raw Deal is one of the greatest Noirs for me, and Claire's is one of the greatest female performances in American movies. 
T-Men and He Walked by Night have just been released on Blu-ray in superb new restorations from prime 35mm elements by spiffing new kid on the block label from the US, ClassicFlix. This outfit has brains behind it like Alan K Rode, Julie Kirgo, Todd McCarthy and other film culture heavyweights and has put out this year's lion's share of Noir reissues in unbeatable transfers. Along with ongoing Noir released from the Fox catalogue through Kino Lorber label this and last year, the Dark Film legacy has had a massive boost in exposure through 2017 much of it on HV for the first time, and pretty well all of it in prime audiovisual quality. These two Manns with be joined by their third and last Eagle Lion title, Raw Deal from 1949 which is out on Classic Flix December 5.. 
The Alton Mann movies seem more and more invaluable to me every time I watch them. For one thing there is surely no more symbiotic partnership in American movies than these two. The only other director who appreciated Alton's genius nearly as much was MInnelli, and he engaged him to shoot, in full 3 strip studio lit Technicolor the 1952 An American in Paris ballet. The découpage of that 12 minute sequence exists in a sphere of its own in the American Musical as one of the greatest chromatic experiences in synesthesia between music and color in the movies. Kelly and Caron partner and swoon between sheer kinetic and fluid volumes of red, blue, purple, yellow and white, coming into and out of pitch black into a MInnellian mix of crane, track and dolly which take the extremes of color expression with articulated light to their peak possible expression in cinema.

Editor’s Note: David Hare posted the above on his Facebook page from whence I have pillaged it and reset the photos. After the post it was the subject of some interesting comment which you’ll need to head to his Facebook page to access. David himself added this comment below:

The Biggest surprise is the print source He Walked by Night in quality terms. I read a couple of reviews of it that were faintly praising but I have no such reservations.  Maybe three or four shots are "softer" than the surrounding excellence but it has clearly been sourced from a fine grain 35mm vault print. Some of Classic Flix restorations have come from British 35mm prints sourced from the BFI. T-Men's best previous video incarnation was the 35mm collector's print from Cary Roan released on Roan/Image Laserdisc back in the 90s. But it had a badly processed transfer and the encode has viewing defects like horizontal banding, and murky blacks It's barely watchable. Raw Deal was the best of the three Noirs and the clips from it in the Nina Mann doco on the T-Men disc looks spectacular. This label is clearly well connected.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Japanese Film Festival - Barrie Pattison reviews TEIICHI: BATTLE OF SUPREME HIGH (Akira Nagai, 2017)

Well the single figure audiences elsewhere this week make a striking contrast to the Japanese Film Festival's near full houses. Some sessions seem to be booking out. The audiences I saw there were overwhelmingly Asian.  I note the excellence of the promotion, with a presentable booklet available more than a month beforehand and a warm up retrospective - only the ham fisted Seijun Suzuki but still. 

Hard to imagine Akira Nagai's  Teiichi no kuni/Teiichi: Battle of Supreme High emanating from any other source - in fact it’s edging on for startling to find it coming out of Japan.

The young school boy is bullied by the son of his businessman father’s arch rival until his girl chum karate kicks the snotty thug. Our hero only wants to play piano despite his dad's exhortations to man up and get on with the business of being Prime Minister of Japan which dad missed subsequent to the time he lost his high school president election by one vote.

Grown to be Masaki Suda, the kid arrives at the uniform- wearing high school, a place of military order which is clearly exaggerated for comic effect. It’s just that we don’t know how much. The Expats I saw it with were falling about at bits of serious business that clearly meant something more to them.

'an uber-mensch with shoulder length blonde hair'
Teiichi:Battle of Supreme High
The current high school president will be replaced by one of three, a privileged youth who proves inarticulate, a kid who only wants to get rid of the ritual, faction-dominated school pecking order and an uber-mensch with shoulder length blonde hair who takes down neighbourhood toughs when they rough up his class mates.

The new school boy rivals’ path to glory will be determined by throwing their support behind the winning candidate. However, things are complicated by the arrival of a popular nice guy scholarship boy. Meanwhile the lead is talking to the kung fu school girl via cups on string ‘phone because that can’t be tapped and counted against his prospects.

The film has been compared to the Reese Witherspoon/Alexander Payne Election (USA, 1999) but the proceedings are more formalised, more grotesque as the action moves between the homes with their ambitious fathers (mums don’t get much action), the school with donation conscious management and the tribal loyalties among the kids. Raising the school flag is an enormous deal, a previous flag boy having failed and been required to commit virtual hara kiri, making him ineligible for any future status in the ruthless climb to power.

The lead’s gay-boy sidekick is bugging the opposition and the dads are going to the slammer over a racket involving US auto producers – compare the Argentinian movie reviewed recently Summit.

'near naked boy drummers' Teiichi: Battle of Supreme High
Throw in a couple of extraordinary musical numbers, one with near naked boy drummers and one a re-staging of the circular victory dance which gave an historic Shogitai power. The striking cast all contribute vivid characters but it’s hard to separate the players’ skill from the bizarre Manga originated story line. Production values are super pro.

The dynamic is how much of what we are shown as grotesque and exaggerated actually reflects reality, rather than any suspense from the outcome of the elections. This one arrives at the same time as Bad Genius with the two films having a community - both studies of ridiculous school ambition peopled by academic high achievers who never seem to spend any time in the class room - not unlike the football player heroes of thirties Hollywood college films.

Oh yes….. and…. “A frog that spends its time in a well knows nothing of the ocean - but it sees the sky.” There’s also a Chairman Mao quote but I didn’t write it down in the dark.

Whether there is an audience here for this one despite its excellences is speculative.

The Current Cinema - John Snadden recommends tracking down THE OUTLAWS (Kang Yoon-sung, South Korea, 2017)

Fans of violent, gritty Asian crime films shouldn't miss THE OUTLAWS, a South Korean gangster pic showing around Oz at selected multiplexes and Melb's Chinatown cinema. It's down to single daily sessions at most theatres but is well worth making an effort to see. 

It details a crime spree which raged in Seoul's Chinatown District in 2004, where Chinese triad gangs attempted to take over the protection rackets being operated by local Korean gangsters. Korean cop Suk Do (Ma Dong-seok from TRAIN TO BUSAN) and Mainland crim Chen (Yoon Kye-sang) are forces of nature separated by the law. 

Ma Dong-seok (centre), The Outlaws
It's very violent (how it avoided an R-rating is beyond my under-standing) but once it hooks you it just doesn't let go and barrels along at a tremendously enjoyable pace. The seedy neon-lit locations and their brutal inhabitants are, at times, reminiscent of the best work of HK helmers such as Ringo Lam (FULL CONTACT), Johnny Mak (LONG ARM OF THE LAW) and Johnnie To (A HERO NEVER DIES). There's not a gram of fat on this film and it has a story line which never tries to be anything else but a hard-as-nails crime narrative. In short, it's a visceral, brutal brilliant movie! 

Don't miss it!
Yoon Kye-sang, The Outlaws