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Sometimes it is easier to catch a film because of the director ... one usually catches an Ingmar Bergman film, because ... it is Ingmar Bergman, not because it features some star on the film. In a way, these directors are the stars themselves, and they deserve the mention. Their body of work is so different from the rest of what is available out there that most people that appreciate film for what it is, will search out these things, rather than because it is a Hollywood blockbuster of some sort, a place where a director's name can not be made, as the principal design is "entertainment" for the public and that means that there is no such thing as individuality when it comes to film making, and everything is centered around some "action" or "excitement" that supposedly you crave, like you would a beer, a cigarette, or some home entertainment.
There is a lot more to film than just that. But deciding what you like and want to follow might be elusive and strange. I imagine that one has to think of these people as painters, or writers, and you have no idea what the next moment will bring, and it usually surprises and catches you off guard.
That said, there are many directors in the history of film that are important. Not because they sold a million tickets, many didn't, but because what they did was indeed special and you still remember it many years later.
That said, I have added a small blurb about each director and some of their films, some of which I have reviewed here.
In general, I have some preferences, but it is hard to say that a Terry Gilliam is better than a David Lean, or a Peter Greenaway. They just do some very nifty and different things and all of them are special and a treat for the senses -- in different ways. There are some American directors that could be added here, but in general, I do not think their work is as valuable as that of others. The Coen's are good, but really soft compared to a Zhang Yimou, almost to the point of ... so what? ... Quentin Tarantino is over blown and really not that good a director, albeit he is very good at copying other directors. Martin Scorcese is very good, and I call him the master professor, as his stuff is very clinical, but there is a lot in there that is missing, when compared to many other films. In general, because of the atmosphere in America with their "Top Ten" fascination with money, it prevents many of these people from doing things that otherwise would be way more interesting. It's always weird to me that people think that "Pulp Fiction" is good, and they never saw a Jean-Luc Godard film, and realize that 75% of that film is all Godard ... and the only thing that is missing is the camera playing around and the music doing its own thing ... or better yet, the director yapping over the film! But other things in that film are down right straight out of a Godard film ... but will you ever see one?
Please remember that you can get a full list of their films and work at the Internet Movie Database. Without further ado ... here we go, and the order is not ... in any order.
Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down
Talk to Her
The Spanish director has made a name for himself with films that for American audiences are plain weird, sexy, crazy, strange and often times just plain ... you want to scream at him. They also have some excesses in them, and these are usually a part of the story, and a bit of the Luis Bunuel in them ... that is, what the characters do is crazy, eccentric and is just normal for them, regardless.
When you see three or four of his films, I think he has mellowed out, and is not as important now as he was 10 or 15 years ago. While it is nice for him to provide roles for Penelope Cruz, she is not the only one that shines in his films and in general, it is the women that stand out in all their films. One can easily see Assumpta Serna, Victoria Abril, and several other leading actresses, and realize that the women in his films have a freehand ... and the men usually don't.
I tend to think that his earlier films were better, even though Penelope Cruz has picked up her Oscar, and I say this as before, there was an interesting touch and kind of curiosity that his camera work and stories had, that were more fun to deal with, or at least weirder. And in the case of something like "High Heels", it is a much slicker made film than most others, some of which look like they were made with poor film stock and on a shoestring budget. If anything, at least we know that a lot of the focus is on the actors and their story, and in this sense, one probably should not think about that, but it's hardly difficult to think that in a David Lean film, the setting and quality of the film does not add to the work.
In some cases, these films are intense, and they can either turn crazy silly, or go downhill, into an impossible result or answer, and it is sort of the Almodovar theme, that life just goes on, regardless of what we do ... and much like one of his most famous countryman, Luis Bunuel, it is all about the character and his/her internal views and reactions.
That Obscure Object of Desire
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
Belle du Jour
The Phantom of Liberty
Un Chien Andalou/L'Age d'Or
El Angel Exterminador
This man, has a lot more than history on his side ... for not only was he one of the original "surrealists" in the 20th century, that helped define that movement, but he was in essence the film version of the ideas behind that concept. Unlike the other "surrealists" his work became international, while the others lagged behind.
In general, the most important part of "surrealism" is that it be allowed to "live" and "be" ... and this is difficult to do in film, as the camera is an external thing, and can not see inside of your head or mine. Well, in many ways, Luis Bunuel's films are almost all of them centered on what is inside of that head ... and shown in its detail ... with some interesting results, as one can see in the case of the two women in "That Obscure Object of Desire" ... or even more fun, when you watch "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" ... when the film pretty much goes through everyone's mind non-stop.
But there are other things in these films. He was brought up in a Dominican Monastery, and he is not totally against the idea/concept of God, but he is pretty much infatuated with people's reactions to their beliefs ... and they almost always fail, and I always thought that it was a way of saying ... you can not stand up to your beliefs! ... and these were always issues in his day, for comments and banning from the Catholic folks, which of course only helped his films. But there are two sides here, that even the church often does not talk about ... for all this "commentary" there is a side that is truly spiritual ... when a priest gives money to a kid that is pretty much going to be wasted on anything but what is needed, he says that he is not worried, he did his good deed, and he absolves the kid of any wrong doing, as if he were brought up in a place where right doings ... are simply not possible. A close friend of his in a documentary, once said ... "I never felt that he was attacking my faith ... I always thought he was simply testing my own faith ... " and I really think that a lot of these films have this in mind for you, not to mention some social this and that ... which sometimes gets brutal!
In the end, a lot of his work is nicely summed up in one of his last films, "The Phantom of Liberty" ... which is juxta posed with a lot of famous art pieces on the screen and this is not the first time this has happened. The famous picture of Christ laughing came from his film "Nazarin", which is a rather spiritual piece of work ... the priest is always nice and giving, and one day, someone returns the favor ... and he's stumped and frozen ... like he never thought anyone could be giving to him as well! ... or the more famous satire of his last supper in another film. Or his infatuation with the literary works ... his Robinson Crusoe is very good, but not appreciated by an American audience as it is not a talky film and does a lot of subtle things that other versions did not do ... it was quite a minimalist experience (if you will) and it has a nice bunch of images that juxtapose his predicament to his previous life ... and the stuff with the friend he makes is precious and way better than many other examples. Subtle too!
By far, there are two films of his that stand out in his history. They are "Los Olvidados" and "The Exterminating Angel" ... and even today, these films stand out some ... in many ways these films are very strong, and sometimes one has a tendency to think that these people are trapped and can not leave ... and in the latter film, they leave one trap to get into another ... something that almost all surrealists are afraid of ... but it seems to be a comment on social situations, at least, as opposed to an individual, specially an artist. And today's commercialism, is doing the same thing to you and your views of the arts and society.
Ginger and Fred
La Dolce Vita
Roma (Fellini's Roma)
This Italian film maker, stood out in his day because ... he was Fellini. That sounds crazy, and it is and is meant to be ... and that is probably as good a description of any Fellini film as you are bound to see and appreciate.
Fellini is not exactly about meanings and film making that is supposed to be "about something". It is about everything, and then about nothing, without exception, and there are times when there is a subtlety to it that is impressive, while it can also be ... a disturbing image ... in the end it is just an example of how we sometimes put into it a lot more than is really there, regardless of what it appears to be ... from another point of view (in this case camera view, or a child's view), some of these things would not have happened, and the very best of these is the amazing moment at the start of the "Intervista" film, where a long tracking shot of a helicopter catches a kid taking a pee in the river ... if it were filmed from the other side of the river, it would be obscene, but because it was from this side and a tracking shot and the helicopter happened to be carrying a statue of the Madonna with it, it becomes an insane image that had the Catholic Church up in arms ... but in essence, it is what Federico Fellini is all about ... he's a kid and he wanted to take a pee ... and it didn't matter what was around him when he had to take that pee! You either accept that kid's need, or you think the world's gone mad! And in Fellini's film the whole world has gone mad because that kid could not take his pee!
So, you already know that by being a "kid", gives Fellini the right to be nuts ... and he was. It is impossible to judge a lot of his work as it differs tremendously and sometimes I think he did so on purpose ... he didn't want people guessing what he was doing, or wanted to do ... and to be perfectly honest, I don't think he knew, or cared, anyway ... he was making a film, and it would be a Fellini film ... and that was that, and unlike a lot of other film makers, in Italy he made a fortune having fun with Rome and in special the Catholic Church ... and if you ever want to see an insane fashion show, catch the end of "Fellini's Roma".
But there are a lot of things that are right on. One thinks that "Orchestra Rehearsal" is just one of those ... do anything you want kind of things and I'll film it, and the whole orchestra is a mess ... and totally obsessed with anything except the music ... and in the end, it is a German director that brings them together to play their music well. It might be the only time that Fellini has ever said anything of the likes of "opinion" ... as usually he does not opinionate much, he just lets his characters run amuck. But this film caused a stir because it was a German that had to dominate the Italians into doing something right. And it wasn't soccer!
Don't come to see a Fellini film for meanings ... come for an evening of fun and enjoy someone that actually made fun of a lot of films, because they were so "serious" and "pointed" in the political commentary areas, and this is not something that Fellini gave a darn about ... it's too bad that Hollywood is so greedy that it can not have fun unless they are making money!
The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen
The Fisher King
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
The Brothers Grimm
The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus
The Zero Theorem
The only American in the Monty Python group of folks, Terry was the cartoonist and the only artist in the bunch, by definition. His work was about using images and doing a lot of multimedia stuff that later became an art form. The thing that is more amazing is that he has taken the art of the "cartoon" and turned it into an inner fascination, and in his films the blending between reality and fantasy is a turn of the head to the left and away we go ... as is seen in "The Adventures of the Baron Munchausen" ... and perfected later. But it does make his films, sometimes very difficult and odd, and ... what was that all about? style of thinking that would go through your mind.
These things make for films that can either be really good, or ... crazy ... and no one gets it. And they can be unreal. But when the folks involved "get it", the result is magic, and the kind of magic that you and I and our kids dream about, but are afraid to take on sometimes. "Brazil" is nutz, and the ending is insane, because you know that the fantasy has won out in this man's head and he's gone, and thus, it doesn't matter what they do to him for the film to show us ... we could never see it all inside his mind and the social monsters have already scrambled his mind so we will never know.
But it is an extreme example of the level of insanity/fantasy that we can see, and these characters are about. I never felt any different than many of those characters, often times confused, misguided, and often making mistakes because of it ... and we see it all here first hand.
Terry Gilliam did not "come of age" as a director until he did "The Fisher King", and then "12 Monkeys", both films that got him a lot of attention, and included some awards for his performers, and attention to the work itself, which up until then was something of a cult status, in a way.
In the earlier work, he is an adult "cartoon", and you see these things to enjoy the cartoon, not anything else, despite its pointed ways. It's hard to think of the Baron's stories as serious, but they are all done with total fun and then some, and the actors are given a free reign, which he is capable of putting together.
His later work, is getting tougher, or Terry has become completely impossible to see and appreciate. I'm not sure that eccentric comedies can get any better, specially when Terry has already exploited the cartoon medium as well as anyone ever could or did in film history, but in the end, his attempts to do the work he wants to do has been screwed up, including the movie studios. His one major project that has never been done is about Don Quixote, and I can already see the massive social commentary possible, and how the film is not something that a lot of film studios want to deal with, and sadly, until the day that he does his dream work, the rest will seem ... not as good. At least not as satisfying. I kinda think that he should just shoot the main parts, and cartoon all the rest ... and do what was done with the film about "Steppenwolf", where so much of the important parts became a cartoon ... when it wanted to get political, it simply used a cartoon ... and while for today's film audience this is a bit of an escape, in the end, it is better than the expensive alternative. And today, the blend of things is so much easier to make digitally, than it was before.
The weird thing is that Terry started doing multi media stuff, which was the very first "digital" idea and concept, and he has, apparently forgotten about it. Making his films sometimes too hard and harsh and difficult to live through and appreciate. But in between, you can not sit here and say that "The Fisher King" and "12 Monkees" are not good, but in the end, they come off as total Hollywood schlock that happens to fit the style that Terry works with well, and that is characters that live within the world that they are in, though not quite in it.
The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover
Drowning by Numbers
8 1/2 Women
The Pillow Book
There probably is not, a director out there that is so ... oh, you just want to get so mad at him ... and then ... what the heck was that all about? But none of his films can be said to be great, because no one "gets" anything from it, that might be considered "film" in the way of entertainment that you and I are used to seeing. So, if you want a film to enjoy and have fun for the evening so you can go have your glass of wine, and then go home, maybe have a little sex and then go to sleep, I will guarantee you right now, that Peter Greenaway, and Gaspar Noe, are NOT, the kind of work that you want to see ... because these films tap into your idea and vision of what you think film is.
Peter's films are exactly that ... films. They are not a story about this or that, even if you could state so ... they just "happen" and what takes place in it is not as important for the characters as their reactions to it.
The first film that really went overboard and took you for an insane ride, was "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover" ... which has one of the most insane endings, that reverses things to an amazing degree, and that something will have the film society totally upset, because it is a savage indictment of men and their controlling images and ways ... and film itself, is the biggest offender of it all, and while the last shot (literally) of the film is not necessary at all for you to enjoy the film, because at that point nothing else matters. The whole thing has already lived and died ... and that's that. But it is an ending that will have a lot of people really upset and gone off the deep end with comments, that are usually chauvinist, and then some.
He has a couple of other films that are amazing to watch, albeit they are not exactly the kind of films that most people can enjoy, because as usual, there is more happening in them that is readily visible.
"Prospero's Books" is the most amazing Shakespeare that you will never see. It's pure Bard, and let's just say that this is what the Bard wanted to write that he could not show on stage at all. But this point of view is quite difficult for many to enjoy without a "Shakespeare in Love" story and a nude scene in it. The film is a total "dance" of movement and images that never stops and a lot of Shakespeare is like that when you read it, unless you are an English major and your professor does not allow you that freedom because you don't have "tenure", or are a "full professor". It's mesmerizing in its imagery.
"The Pillow Book", is by far, his best film when it comes to "mental" material. The film is in two parts, and what is hard is that they are playing out at the same time with the little side image (just like TV's PIP) and this is really disconcerting for most film go'rs that are not used to seeing or discussing film that does not tell you out front what it is about. Most people don't usually do that anyway, so why would you think that a film can help you in that respect? Or a novel, or a painting, or a piece of music? ... and that is the hard part in this film. As a visual treat, there is very little not to appreciate here. Let's just say that what is inside the PIP is the person's mind going off in different directions than what we expect, and that these are not always consistent, or in sync, with what you are seeing, making it very difficult to figure out what is really going on in your head ... ooopppss ... the character's head! And I think that is the point of the film.
Peter's films are also known for some insane acting and amazing characters. It's really hard not to like Helen Mirren in "The Cook ... " and not appreciate Michael Gambon running a muck as well giving her everything and then some until she turns the tables. For a director that supposedly tells his actors their every step and movement, it's hard to believe that these two monsters did not know what to do or that Peter's ability of cutting and filming is capable of taking any line, or comment, and put it in the film, and it works amazingly well. To watch Sir John Gielgud do Prospero, is a mesmerizing sight and never has the wording, or the poetry, ever been so alive in your mind ... his reading is so clean and sweet as to actually invite you to dream away, and that the film does.
I Stand Alone
Enter The Void
And following in a Peter Greenaway tradition, is the French version of it. And one of the most difficult people to discuss and consider.
Warning. Watching these films by Gaspar, is not something that is suggested, if your taste in films tends towards entertainment. There is a lot here to like, but there is also a lot here that is really difficult and hard to appreciate and simply say ... that's a film for you, not Jack Sparrow. In other words, these films are hard on your noggin, and if you are not used to seeing films that are this experimental and so different than the norm, my advise would be to stay away from these films. They are really tough to live through, and most people did not and walked off the theater the two times I have seen these in a theater.
In the end, these are not films ... they are that person's inner experience. And Gaspar is deadly, and un-compromising, in its application and basically, this is film in the first person, and Hollywood is an entertainment factory, to make you think, or believe that this is what happy and fun is all about. In these films, reality explodes right in front of you, the same way that Television first hit us with Vietnam images and IRA images in the late 60's ... in full color and a total exhibition of our ways. And unlike any film maker out there, Gaspar does not give a shit about what you think and his films, after all, since they are inside that person's mind and vision, like any literary tradition, shouldn't either. So, make sure that you want to see one of his films, because it is very likely that you will be walking out half way through it ... these are harsh and you have to learn how to separate yourself from it all ... and you also have to learn one major important thing ... how manipulated we have been by the social medium that thinks that entertainment is what you need and nothing else matters. And there are many places out there in the world that are NOT that easy, or that much fun, and you will never escape the hell of that street class that you were born into, as an example. Only in America, can you over come that and become a rich sports hero ... but, in general, isn't that just a movie fantasy that you have accepted?
My first example was "Je Suis Seul" which had a title in the Film Festivals of "I Stand Alone" .... as opposed to the actual literal translation of the title, which would be "I AM ALONE" ... which is exactly what the film is about, and it is one of the most brutal and unrelenting attacks on everything and the kitchen sink, almost to the point of it being a cartoon, non-stop where you can take anything to its extreme possible moment and event. Let's just say that this is what a film is like, when it is all shot in first person, and the rigors and visions and desires and ideas, sometimes are totally out of sync with society and its reactions, and the film just rips right through it all ... and non-stop. And to make sure that you get out of your "movie" and "entertainment" ideas, the film does one other thing through out to get you off your slumber, and this will certainly un-nerve you to no end. In the end, you will sit there and go ... wow ... what is this all about, and the only thing you can say, is that a madman just ran a muck and we see, hear, feel, and are attached to that "persona". Let's say that this is ... everything you ever wanted to do, that you couldn't. And it is right there.
And it rips into you, if you think you are coming here to "entertain" yourself -- the single value that lowers the expectation of what film can be, specially when it is literature ... no one liked Jean Genet either, or many other writers, but there they were ... and the same thing applies to Gaspar's work. In general, film history is "serious" film, much of which could be considered "literature", but when you get into the schlock side of things, you lose the ability to know better and how much any film can do to help you understand yourself better.
"Irreversible" is another film that is really hard to stomach, and again, this is all inside the man's mind, and his point of view, and inside her mind, coming the other way. The film kinda starts in the end, and ends in the beginning, and it uses hallucinations and other moments as its transitions and as such it has a way of un-nerving us, as this is something that might happen to us when in shock or in extreme moments of pain, for example. But it is a quite insane film, and again, it is non-stop, brutal, and it does NOT allow you a breather. And the camera use is magnificent and totally with it and beautifully captures that ugliness and everything else ... You just have to see it to believe, but be forewarned ... this is NOT entertainment. This is literature and this is like the Camus's, Sartre's, Genet's of today ... and it is not something that we are capable of appreciating when you are stuck on the "entertainment" mode.
Don't Look Now
The Man Who Fell to Earth
Bad Timing, A Sensual Obsession
This is a director that started out in England as the Cinematographer for various well known film makers, John Schlesinger being the one that is most visible. In the end, what made John Schlesinger a very good director, was probably Nicholas Roeg, and his visual style of doing the work. But then, don't forget, that just like the music in those days, everything was becoming so visual and so colorful with television exploding in the 2nd half of the 60's, that in the end, I think that a lot of people felt that they had to do something "different" than before to help get some attention.
It didn't take long. One of his first films, was done with Donald Cammel, and it was "Performance". It still is not a film that is appreciated, probably because it was way too literate and its style of presentation was quite literary, contrary to the normal film exposition and narration, that you see the story developing right in front of you. In this film, it is a very different attitude towards the way that things happen and are seen. And the visual nature of the film is really the very first example of what became known later as MTV ... with the exception that here it is not just about the naked women and their sexiness walking across the camera's eye .... it's something else. It also helps that Nicholas Roeg had an eye for music and how to interpret it in film, which is something that nowadays is only done with a meaningful song telling you what that part of the film was all about. In other words, you end up remembering Forrest Gump because of that song or so, and the time and place when that song was created is no longer important because it is associated with a new event.
"Walkabout" is a visual treat from beginning to the end, and it is almost sad that it has to create a "story" for it. It works as "cinema verite" without a story, and in many ways, it is a better film without the story. Later, Nicholas Roeg did "Castaway" from the Lucy Irvine novel (not to be confused with Tom Hanks story and film which is from somewhere else). This film also had the visual calm-ness and photographic style of his in terms of the scenery, which is gorgeous to say the least.
It was his next film that got him noticed, for the wrong reason! "Don't Look Now" is a very good film, that sadly gets lost in the scenery. With one exception. The connection of the film with the psychic sisters ends up confusing the film, and sadly, kills it. but in between, you get one of the loveliest and prettiest and probably most erotic love scenes ever done by anyone. But it is a very enjoyable film, though the ending is sad.
The film of Nicholas Roeg's that is the one I think is the best, and the one that stands out the most and is the best written of them (other than Performance, but he didn't write that, but augmented it a lot), and also the one that is a bit more challenging in its themes, without being necessarily pushy, but in the end, it makes a distinction that is very much what Nich's films are all about ... and you have to know the difference between something in your head, and outside of your head. It has fabulous performances by Theresa Russell, Harvey Keitel and Art Garfunkel, who apparently came to think that film was not for him ... but I tend to think that he should have done more of it. The film is called "Bad Timing, A Sensual Obsession" and it incorporates the arts very well in a manner that adds another dimension to the film altogether.
Later films, were interesting, although it could be said that they were strange. "Insignificance" is a lot of fun and interesting. "The Man Who Fell to Earth" is very good, though a film that many might not like the political ramifications of it. "Track 29" is obsessive but funny in its own way. And from those days on, many of these films were very difficult to find and catch. "The Witches" is a kid story that did really well, and it is very enjoyable and fun to watch, even if its premise and style is off beat. Nicholas' segment in "Aria" is nice, but I did not think that it had the strength and beauty that Nich had displayed before.
A very visual film maker with the emphasis on seeing the characters differently with the camera than what you are used to. Some of it is very effective, as the camera on Theresa in "Bad Timing, A Sensual Obsession" could be considered exploitive, but in the end, it is less "erotic" in the film that what MTV does these days. It's a part of the story, and one gets the feeling that's just the way that Milena is and that's that, and you are simply seeing it for what it is, not for her showing off, or the camera doing a peeking kind of thing.
Jean Luc Godard
Godard's King Lear
Pierrot Le Fou
Jean-Luc Godard is not the hardest director to discuss. He is
also not the easiest to say anything about, because he fits into the bad boys
club that will immediately turn it around, so you can not pigeon hole his style,
and ideas ... he might even tell you he has none, although he is a film
director, he was well known already as a film critic, and has been associated
with Francois Truffaut and other directors as a part of the French "new Wave' in
the middle 60's of the 20th century.
Godard, has forever, spent his time making fun of film, and its traditions of what is perceived to be a style, and he makes no secret to tell you something about a film that did something different. But watching his films, can be a very difficult experience for many folks, specially folks that are attached to "action films", because it kinda shows you, in funny sort of ways why cinema has distorted our lives with its shots and visuals ... and ... life is not cinema! Never has been! Specially when you factor in ... you don't get paid to fake it! (How Godard that is of a thought!) ... and people being attached to it, or the "star" behind it.
And one day, from 1960 on, he startled everyone, by making films, and starting with "A Bout de Souffle" ("Breathless" in America), with Jean Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg and he started right away by using what was known in those days as "jump cuts" (advances in of point of view and timing), and also the likes of "asides" that were the rage of English Theater at the time. he was also, using some of the conventions that became known in the film style called "film noir", which begs most of us to say, that these B films were called such because they had not enough funding to be able to do the more usual things that a "normal" film would do. For example, the star is never in the dark, and you can always see them! And one would not do halfshots of stars and break the Hollywood traditions of making sure that these stars were appreciated and respected.
In general, the best part of Godard, is that he is totally unpredictable, and that he intentionally will force you to look at two different things on the same set of situations, and one of his most famous one is the pendulum camera movement in a film that makes you realize that even in a bar, you kinda do the same thing while talking to your friends, while not as blatant as the camera movement ... which makes you go ... wait ... wait ... what about them ... and the pair are talking about breaking up! ... but that camera is going that way, looking at other things while you hear the same couple!
If you come to see Godard, out of curiosity, make sure you leave behind everything you know about "film" ... but you will soon find that you have no idea what that is ... and these films will test your patience to have fun, and then you will crack up at the intellectual and literary side of all this, which is the fun'est part of his films. You never thought ... wait ... noooooo ... oh my gawd ... never thought that ... and 10 minutes later another shot does something similar/else that makes you do the same thing.
All in all, a lot of fun, and he is a veritable bad boy kid with a camera in his hands. And he does that with scripts for the actors too ... you can almost tell when one of them goes ... what the heck do I do here? And a voice over says ... you act, of course, it's what actors do! Now wait until you hear the music in the wrong place and it being changed ... !!!
Aguirre, The Wrath of God
Where the Green Ants Dream
Heart of Glass
Little Dieter Needs to Fly
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Of all the unusual film makers, there is one that stands out and sometimes it's not even the weirdness or the things that make you grunt and many times, not like a film. In the case of Werner Herzog, in most of his films, it's the music that stands out, and how he makes that music stand up in each and every film.
Many of the early films had music by Popol Vuh, a group created by Florian Fricke that started out as electronic and eventually went acoustic with a heavy dose of the spiritual in it, right from the start. Their first couple of albums were meditations more than they were music per se. And then "Aguirre, The Wrath of God" appeared and right from the opening incredible long shot and Popol Vuh's music, what Werner Herzog became mostly known for, is right there in front of you ... he will allow the music to make you feel things and create the mood and story for you, and nowhere is this more visible and clear than in this film, and eventually the ending sequence. When you hear it in the album, it seems to just be a free form piece. When you hear it in the film, with the visuals, you find out how Werner allows the music to dictate the material you see and how to make it flow, even if it is towards the end of the story.
Coupled with the style of acting by Klaus Kinski, many of these smaller films stand out incredibly well, and strong. In "Aguirre", it's hard to believe, that most of the acting is all free form and adlib, and yet, when you see it with the music, you can only say ... wow ... that is something else!
Later Werner Herzog does the same thing, and uses Wagner (in "Nosferatu"), and the effect is just as good, and the visuals are impressive and help create the pictures of the early 20th century stages and films ... strong colors, huge sights, and the designs/shapes dominate the scenes.
There are some films, that are (possibly) less important, or not as good, but the films still come off strong, even if Klaus Kinski in a couple of them probably overdoes the free form acting and no script thing. But this might be a preference, and the whole thing a well defined detail in the scene that the actor might have a better feeling for, than most directors, or outsiders in the production. And the best directors, quite often, allow for these things to take place and make the most of it ... just about every major actor could probably tell you when the free feelings and words start. It helps specify more what the concentration levels are about, than the actual film story and work is really about!
That said, in his later years, Werner Herzog has done a few documentaries, and they are worthwhile, although they do not have the charm and strength that the early films did when the music was so strong and notable.
Highly recommended work, although there is a possibility that many folks won't like these films because they are not all about "action", and sometimes a word is what carries the next several minutes. And the only person that can film those minutes, is, of course, Werner Herzog. You just about live and feel those moments and what they mean to the folks in the story. And the music, more often than not, makes it even stronger.
As a side note, you can always buy the Popol Vuh albums for many of these films, with the exception of "Nosferatu" that had a lot of different music more than likely due to its external/foreign investors that likely did not want to show the same previous thing again, and likely wanted to use something that was better known. There are two albums, and a couple others that say "Soundtrack" and they do not have all the music in the film, by Popol Vuh ... like you need to listen to Wagner yet again!
Raise the Red Lantern
The Story of Qiu Ju
Curse of the Golden Flower
No one stands out more these days in Chinese film, than Zhang Yimou. The amount of work that he has done, and what he has done to help the Chinese Film Industry, probably rates him as one of the most important of them all. But, when you watch any of these films, you might find not enough budget but you will rarely find any thing in these films that does not seem right and that does not stand out, and a lot of it has to be credited to the actors and what he brings out in them, which I think is likely to be a reaction to the old traditions of film and theater that China has carried for a long time, that by Western standards was stodgy, and stiff. It seems like in Zhang Yimou's hands, the emotions are now able to be seen and carried out, and it appears that the Chinese Folks that spend their time censoring many of these things, likely fell asleep, as in most ways, these films are not really political, although it's really hard to not see, or infer, a political feeling and ideology, that carried the film "To Live" to its conclusion and destruction of everything that could be considered "life".
Zhang Yimou, tends to place the whole responsibility on an individual's hands, and they all pay the price for it. Some survive and some do not. I suppose that this is what most films are about ... but the measure of Zhang Yimou's success is actually seen by many others that followed in his feet and are still doing a lot of work and appear in many of the world's Film Festivals.
Probably the best known of his films is "Raise the Red Lantern", although one wonders why the other films do not get as much attention as they deserve. "To Live", is probably too political, even though it does not point fingers, but it shows how a bunch of families disintegrate over many years. It is not a pretty sight, and in some ways that is the only "judgment" that Zhang Yimou makes in the film, even though you could easily say the Red Army this and that person that and so on and so on ...
His films, at least from "Raise the Red Lantern" on, tend to be very well designed and worked. It reminds me, of David Lean, in that the set itself is also an important part of the whole thing, and you keep seeing it all the time in the background, or in relationship to the person in the front, which ever concubine has her turn this week, or day. To my eyes, "Raise the Red Lantern" is very "geometric" in the sense that all the moves are stiff, square, straight, and in many ways it helps make the comment about this Chinese Imperial group and their style of living, and then places this new concubine in the wrong place and against the wrong group, which proves fatal. This contrast is a bit strange, and one would think that it limits things, but the "space" that the whole thing takes place in is so small, that you rarely think that, and that helps make the film really nice.
His films, also seem to be very well defined in terms of acting, and Gong Li, is almost always very special in his hands and always great to watch, and perhaps the film "Shanghai Triad" was the only one that she did not seem to shine, but then, in the story, it is about taking her down anyway! So, in a way, it does not matter how good or bad she looks or stands out, and I think that Zhang Yimou defined that intentionally.
The earlier material prior to "Raise the Red Lantern", seems to be a "smaller" story, that is more about this person or that person, a worker let's say, and their individual situation. If it has any political comments to make it would be that the "authorities" tend to create some situations that are not exactly handled very well, but it is their job to do this and that, and of course, these come apart and destroy everything in "To Live".
All the films are strongly acted and compared to our own style in the West from "The Actor's Studio" on (for example), they are a bit behind the times, but the effort is very good, and fairly well done, and it helped develop some nice work by other folks in Chinese films that worked for Zhang Yimou, and went out on their own later.
One would get the feeling in watching these films that the Chinese authorities are all over the films and making sure that the stories and content does not go past a drawn line in the floor, but if that is in there, I have never felt that it was a line that they wanted to break, and while this could be considered a bit of just stay back and be safe, in some ways, the thought might be that a film, is better than no film at all ... and thus the stories become "personal" and not socially inclined, although it is really hard to not think that with "To Live", however, I imagine that many folks had already admitted to themselves that something during that time did not work, and went wrong and there was not a whole lot that anyone could do.
Worth seeing and very special films. Do not miss these in Film
Chang Kar Wai
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