Here I am trying to live, or rather, I am trying to teach the death within me how to live.- Jean Cocteau
Here is what I said before part one of this series which I have by the way decided will have three parts:
The title says it. I take a favorite director and pick my three favorite films he's done or did. Then I write something though sometimes off topic and not necessarily about all three films. I'm calling this part one which suggests that there will be parts to follow. When I don't know. Who can know such things. Truly.
Roberto Rossellini. Roma, citti aperta (1945). Stromboli (1950). The Flowers of Saint Francis (1950). Neo realism as it was meant to be. The human drama. In World War II. In a lonely fishing village. Among monks. The evil the beatified the depraved the tortured. I've never seen a spectacular shot within a Rossellini film but I've seen the spectacular. How do you film desperation or fear or moral decay or certitude? Seems impossible but he did it. There was magic in his style in that he created such depth and drama so effortlessly to our eyes and senses. It just sank in. Sinks. His films don't won't age.
William Wellman. Wild Boys of the Road (1933). Heroes For Sale (1933). Westward the Women (1951). Someone asked me the other day what films most captured the spirit of John Dos Passos and his novels that comprised the USA Trilogy. I said the pre code films of William Wellman which include Wild Boys and Heroes. Like Dos Passos these stories had the power of relevance truth honesty and authentic American style characters often bucking up against the rich and powerful. The struggle of individuals to survive in a cold mechanized and heartless society. Usually finding strength and comfort in numbers. Wellman was a truly American film maker who never bent his films in the direction of easy popularity. He didn't soften characters or stories. There is a timeless quality in his films just as there is in the novels of Dos Passos.
A Clockwork Orange (1971). 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Barry Lyndon (1975). Here comes the kitchen sink. Stanley did not play ladies and gents. Everything went into the picture all his energy and creativity and attention to detail. And it showed. What spectacular visions. Creations of worlds. Beautiful to behold even when what was taking place in the was repellant. The people were props used masterfully. Kubrick had a way of exaggerating characters to help fill the frame and fill out the story. Films that lasted in your mind and heart and ideas and wow.
Louis Malle. Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987). Elevator to the Gallows (1958). Murmur of the Heart (1971). What is he? New Wave? Noir? There are war pictures. Romances. Family drama. Philosophical meditations. There is Jeanne Moreau in the rain. There is a young Jewish boy being taken away by Nazis. There is oedipus. Lurking lurching loving and leaving and moving and heaving. Camera left and stage right and the eyes of man wandering the city. The artful director and the precise moment captured that lives a lifetime in our memory and can never be wiped away. That indelible moment. That moment. The expression. That sigh. That sign. That director. That man Malle.
Aki Kaurismaki. Ariel (1988). Le Havre (2011). Lights in the Dusk 2006). My Finnish brother. don't come to his films looking for beautiful people or action scenes or special effects. Come for the humanity and the simplicity and the beauty of human experience. The luck good and bad of being alive and going through whatever comes. How people handle the mundane and the interruption of that by the wildly unexpected. Dude is very Finnish. My father told me the Finnish proverb about a man being chased by a bear. He is relieved to come upon a river knowing the Bear won't follow him. Half way across the river he sees another bear waiting for him on the other side. He laughs.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). Meet. John Doe (1941). It's A Wonderful Life (1946). A softer gentler America then Wellman but a liberal sentimental fighting underdog loving one. Capra was a Republican but his films were often about battles with powerful establishment figures. A neo fascist tycoon in John Doe a predatory banker businessman in IAWL and a corrupt political machine in Smith. One man taking on the vested interest against impossible odds. Very American characters played by the likes of Gary Cooper Barbara Stanwyck James Stewart and Donna Reed. Good clean believable dialog. Easy to root for stories.
Francois Truffaut. Jules and Jim (1962). Shoot the Piano Player (1960). 400 Blows (1959). Exuberant and stylish but never showy. An attention to the little movements and the short seconds that can fly by unattended. But he was a joyful director with a free floating and happy camera. Grounded in his art and telling the story just so. Just so that we would appreciate -- almost like he did -- what an amazing story he was telling.
Charlie Chaplin. City Lights (1931). Modern Times (1936). The Great Dictator (1940). The pathos. The little tramp. The comic genius. The pratfalls the chases the choreography the cute man the pretty girl the darling child the adorable mutt the pulling of heart strings...the tear -- never two. Then the silents ended and Charlie adapted but never yielded. Still mostly silent realizing that words can be so limiting. The sheer brilliance of the above three films. The painstaking attention to detail that created the large gaps between pictures but resulted in such fine craftsmanship. Such great art. No one to compare him with before during or after.