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November 30, 2006

Letters of Death

letters of death.jpg

Kapol Thongplub - 2006
A.G. Entertainment 35mm Film

More chilling than my first Thai movie seen in Thailand, is this news about the Bangkok Film Festival less than two months before it's scheduled opening. I'm planning to attend the festival, although it appears that it may be in a form different from that which was announced in October.

As for Letters of Death, it's a fairly entertaining bit of Thai horror that sticks to the formula. In this case a group of young people, all former classmates, discover that their fellow classmates have been killed under mysterious circumstances. A letter that each receives provides some clues as to who is behind the violent deaths. The film offers a few jolts, particular when one of the victims is trapped in an errant elevator. The scene is effective in a movie theater alternating complete darkness with brief flashes of light. Otherwise most of the death scenes are easily anticipated including what seems to be the obligatory death of a hot chick in a bath tub.

I saw the film at the best multiplex in Chiang Mai, the Major Cineplex, which is at the Airport Plaza Mall. It's a very nice theater, in a sensibly laid out mall, and a great improvement over its closest competition. Unfortunately, the theater is about twice as far away, and when the stores close at the mall, leaving the mall means walking through the parking garage to find your way out. I'm slowly learning how to navigate my way through this small city that is chock full of traffic at most hours, but has precious few walkways for pedestrians. And if my transliteration of Thai names and titles is off, please keep in mind that even the street names are never always spelled the same here.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 11:42 AM

November 28, 2006

The Savage Innocents

savage innocents.jpg

Nicholas Ray - 1960
Eureka! Region 0 DVD

Seeing The Savage Innocents twice, the second time with the commentary track, I am struck by how much stronger the film is visually. The stilted English language dialogue and the off-screen narration almost undo what is good about what turned out to be one of Ray's last, more personal, films. Thematically, the film has elements in common with They Live by Night with its fugitive lovers, as well as Rebel without a Cause with its protagonist who finds himself caught between societies and unmet needs.

In terms of films about Eskimos or Inuit, the accuracy of the film is a matter of faith. While author Hans Reusch based his book on research and plot points from the 1933 film Eskimo, Ray actually visited the Arctic before shooting. While it is also not clear how much of a hand Franco Solinas, some of the concerns of the film are also consistent with the writer who collaborated most famously with Gillo Pontecorvo and Costa-Gavras. The use of Asian actors to portray native North Americans wasn't really used again until Little Big Man, while the plot point of the Inuit men offering their wives as an act of hospitality was also used in Philip Kaufman's under-appreciated The White Dawn. At the very least, the DVD of The Savage Innocents is the opportunity to see Ray's film in the most complete version available, unlike the eighty-nine minute version that was released theatrically in the U.S.

The casting of Anthony Quinn is problematic primarily because Quinn was Hollywood's ethnic or primitive man, or both, throughout much of his career. This is a very physical performance with displays of brute strength. The animality of the the character Quinn portrays is seen in the first few minutes, leering at a couple snuggling in their igloo, and grabbing some nearby meat. As cute as Yoko Tani may be, her costume, among the tailored furs worn by the cast, suggests white fur hot pants, again inspiring some disbelief about any veracity claimed by the film. The main narrative is about the conflict between Eskimo culture and the laws and rules imposed by "civilization". While the dialogue and narration hammer the audience with the idea that Eskimos are unlike the presumed audience, the visuals sometimes suggest that everyone, whether white or Eskimo, is some kind of alien.

According to the commentary, The Savage Innocents was originally made in a 70mm version. Certainly this is a film that would benefit from being seen on a huge movie palace screen. The film is full of long shots, vast expanses of snow, ice and an almost white sky. Characters are often filmed from a distance, dwarfed by nature. In his perceptive New York Times review, Eugene Archer likened The Savage Innocents to a film by Antonioni. Nicholas Ray was one of the few directors who instinctively understood how to use the wide screen and was always comfortable with that format. With The Savage Innocents Ray shows his comfort also with a seemingly empty screen.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 02:03 AM

November 27, 2006

The Little Lieutenant

little lieutenant.jpg

Le Petit Lieutenant
Xavier Beauvois - 2005
Mars Distribution 35mm Film

In The Little Lieutenant, bedrooms, offices and kitchens are decorated with movie posters. Among the more easily recognizable posters are those for Saving Private Ryan, and Un Flic. At one point, the main character states that he was inspired to become a policeman because of the movies. Yet except for the final shot which appears to be deliberately modeled on the end of The 400 Blows, Xavier Beauvois studiously makes certain that his film is not an hommage to other cop films.

The action and drama are downplayed. Forensics is quietly observed with the camera turning away, the opposite of the "C.S.I." explorations into every body cavity. Unlike a more onventional police film, there is no sense of triumph at the end. While the film does not not replicate the tedium of police work, what Beauvois conveys is the wearying toll of the job and the coping mechanisms used by the veterans.

Although the title refers to the rookie member of a team of Parisian detectives, the film also is about the respected veteran of the team, played by Nathalie Baye. While not formally the leader of the group, the others look to her based on her years of experience. Denied a supervisory position due to her past alcoholism, Baye has chosen to return to the streets rather than work behind a desk in order to re-validate her abilities. Baye's role also bears some resemblance to that of Helen Mirren's Jane Tennyson police series.

The Little Lieutenant is about people who may wish they were living in the movies. Instead, nothing in their lives ever lives up to expectations. Even victory is short-lived, and ultimately disappointing.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 10:18 AM

November 25, 2006

The Forrest J. Ackerman Blog-a-thon

I wrote this article back when the blog-a-thon was announced. What I did not know is that I would be without regular internet during this week. I am back at the world famous coffee house, my source for connectivity, although I have been assured I will have my own DSL line at my current home starting Monday.


I was maybe ten years old when I first came upon "Famous Monsters of Filmland" magazine in 1961. At the time, my parents were less than encouraging about my watching horror films in general, no doubt aided by my own over-active, and sometimes literal, imagination. That I was freaked out by the insistence of the kids next door that The Tingler was virtually a documentary probably played no small role in my parents' attitude. My parents were, however, somewhat more tolerant about my reading about horror films, although initially I snuck the first couple of copies of "Famous Monsters" I bought into my house.

As best as I can remember, the first copy I owned had this cover. Even if I couldn't actually see Curse of the Werewolf or the new (1962) version of Phantom of the Opera, I loved reading about them. Even if they scared me, I would try to see what I could on television, particularly anything starring the actor formerly known as William Henry Pratt.

But more than feeding my addiction to horror movies, what I owe to Forrest J. Ackerman is his planting an idea of film scholarship in my life. Even though it would be several years before I would actually see any complete films, I absorbed everything I could about Lon Chaney. Had it not been for Ackerman, I may not have made a point of watching the original Phantom of the Opera or Hunchback of Notre Dame on television in the Sixties, as well as seeing The Unholy Three on screen in San Francisco. It was also Ackerman who introduced me to Fritz Lang with stills from Siegfried and Metropolis. I also picked more obscure nuggets of information, such as the identity of The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

What this added up to for me was an informal, if very partial, history of film from the silent era, as well as a glimpse into how films were actually made. One of the articles I remember was about Eiji Tsuburaya, the man behind the Toho movie monsters. While "Famous Monsters" may have been aimed at a youthful audience, several of those readers grew up to be filmmakers. Among those paying tribute to Ackerman by putting him in cameo roles are Joe Dante and John Landis. Ackerman's influence on those who grew up to be film critics and historians is less clear. I can only state for myself that it was "Famous Monsters" that prepared me for a later time at New York University when I had to seriously view films films by F. W. Murnau and Paul Wegener. Others may write more scholarly pieces on Roger Corman or James Whale, but when it came to taking cinematic gods and monsters seriously, for many of us, Forrest J. Ackerman got there first.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 05:09 PM

November 23, 2006

EU Film Festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand

My original plan was to provide maximum coverage of the EU Film Festival. Life, as it often does, interfered. In this case, I got sick for a couple of days, my wife got sick, we moved from our one week home to what will be our home for the next four months, and we've had to spend some time purchasing various necessities. Additionally, I have no internet at the time of this writing except for today's visit to a world famous chain of coffee houses.

So here I am in Thailand writing about European films. My goal was to hopefully find some interesting films that needed to be covered. At the same time, I have to wonder what's really behind this film festival which seems to have a goal of selling the concept of the European Union to a Thai audience. The first problem is that the films I've seen featured characters so idiosyncratic, in environments not always the most inviting, that one would prefer to run from Europe and Europeans. The other problem is that most of the audience for these films, at least here in Chiang Mai, is made up of a sparse number of ex-pats and tourists. So again I have to wonder who is really benefiting from this show.

I should also note that even though these films are presented under the auspices of the European Union, like all movies shown in Thailand, one has to stand for a couple of minutes to pay respect to the King of Thailand, with a well-worn reel that precedes every film showing. The theater doors remain closed with audience members standing outside until the anthem is over before seating can resume.

Also, because this is Thailand, as is the custom in many places, while there are bathrooms, there is no toilet paper at the theater's facilities. You learn quickly when visiting Thailand to bring your own paper or a supply of one baht coins (assuming the vending machine can dispense the three sheets) or you are literally shit out of luck. This is also a multiplex that defies description, the best I can say is that it is a combination maze and mobius strip, Dr. Caligari meets M.C. Escher.


Friday: The first film I saw Rain Falls on Our Souls, is about as sappy as the title would suggest. This film from Slovakia tries to make a statement about the horrors of institutions and conformity, cross-cutting between a prisoner, Joko, and a young school girl, Kika. Joko escapes from a hospital where he is receiving emergency treatment, and steals a car where Kika is hiding. The two go on a road trip, with Kika finding her faith while Joko finds freedom. Neither the story, nor the way it is filmed is in any way intersesting which is disheartening considering what filmmakers like Milos Forman and Ivan Passer did with greater restrictions.


Bye Bye Blackbird is officially from Luxembourg, but is an English language British co-production. Centered around a circus in pre-World War I Europe, the film is a triumph of set design and camera angles. The main character, Josef, is a trapeze artist. Unlike Carol Reed's Trapeze which essentially filmed the action from the point of view of audience, the high wire acts in Blackbird are filmed with the artists breaking in and out of the screen, or using disorienting angles to suggest an environment literally less grounded for the performers. The film is less interesting on the ground. Josef is caught in a triangle with Anna, the starring trapeze artist and owner's daughter, and the mysterious gypsy, Nina. Against this is the story of the circus owner, an aristocrat by marriage, who sees his old way of life disappearing. Blackbird also becomes less interesting when it shifts completely into allegory, when Josef loses his ability to fly in his feathered costume, and remains with the circus as caged bird.

As the circus owner, Derek Jacobi is compelling as usual, a great actor who has never achieved the star status of some of his peers. Nina is played by Johdi May who first got noticed in 1988 in A World Apart. One of the clowns is portrayed by French actor Michael Lonsdale. The director, Robinson Savary received the 2005 Fipresci Prize for Best Director and will hopefully be heard from more decisively in the future.


Less artistic but clearly more entertaining is Simon by Eddy Terstall. The comedy-drama gets some milage from the odd couple pairing of a straight, cheerfully obnoxious and decidedly non-PC drug dealer and a shy, gay dentist. The film is made up of flashbacks after Simon runs into Camiel, almost as he had fourteen years previously. The film pokes fun at Amsterdam drug culture, vacations in Thailand, and the Netherland's legalization of gay marriage. The narrative takes a more dramatic turn in examining Simon's life with brain cancer and his choice of euthenasia. The film concludes with the idea that life is essentially about taking chances, a point not to be missed with a shot of Simon taking a high dive from a cliff into a river.
While Simon can be argued to be a life affirming film, as part of this festival, this and the preceding films did little to sell me on wanting to go to what appeared to be strange countries populated by people who are mildly eccentric if not plain crazy.


Tuesday: Maximum Velocity was at least as good as anything I covered at the Miami Beach Italian Film Festival last month, which is to say that at best it was mildly diverting. The story about a car mechanic who races on the side has been a film staple since at least Howard Hawks' The Crowd Roars. The mechanic, Stefano, takes on an apprentice, Claudio, who is more technically adept forcing Stefano to update his methods, and also helps create a faster race car. The film wants to be the Italian equivalent to the recent Fast and the Furious, but budget and technical restrictions make it closer to the Roger Corman movie of the same name. Again, citing the Hawks template, a girl gets between the bonding of the two guys. I was also reminded of Robert Bresson's L'Argent with its cause-and-effect display of unraveling relationships following each of the characters act of dishonesty. The film offers a different Italian locale with the beach setting of Ostia.


Blue Moon is one of the rare road movies where the characters, and by extension, the audience, go in unexpected directions. A prostitute, Dana, and a courier, Johnny, steal their mutual client's Cadillac and head east from Austria through Slovakia. After Dana disappears, Johnny seeks her out, eventually winding up in the Ukraine where he discovers her twin sister, Jana. The film is something of a commentary on how historical events affect people personally, with characters seeking validation through money, religion or the memory of ideals - those of Lenin's U.S.S.R. or the dream of a place called America.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 03:29 PM | Comments (2)

November 17, 2006

Casino Royale


Martin Campbell - 2006
MGM/Columbia Pictures 35mm Film

I've been in Chiang Mai, Thailand since Monday afternoon. As it turned out, my first real opportunity to see a film meant seeing the movie that has taken over most of the screens here. Thursday evening, I went to Chiang Mai's major mall where I could see James Bond in English with Thai subtitles.

It's been over forty years since I've read Ian Fleming's novel, so I'm in no position to comment on how much more faithful this version is to its literary source. It has been almost as long since I saw the previous film of the same name, memorable for Woody Allen as Jimmy Bond and Dusty Springfield singing "The Look of Love". I've seen almost every Bond film in a theater except for a couple with Roger Moore, and read every Bond book by Fleming. That plus a laptop and a blog are my particular qualifications for weighing in on a film everyone will be writing about.

There is a scene where Daniel Craig looks as if he's hoping he can fill Sean Connery's tuxedo. He can't. Nobody can. But this new Casino Royale does have a couple of good set pieces in the beginning.

The stark black and white opening is riveting. It’s not a great stylistic innovation as much as a suggestion that James Bond franchise, as many have argued, would be a lot more interesting had the producers been willing to concede the formula to a strong visual stylist such as Quentin Tarantino who has openly begged for a crack at Bond, or someone like Martin Scorsese or John Woo. For several moments, Martin Campbell gets things right before losing control, with a really good two hour film becoming a sloggish two and a half hours.

The opening sequence with Daniel Craig chasing after a bad guy through a construction zone in Uganda is also eye-popping for the constant motion and complex action. Running and jumping through stairs, girders and traffic, this second set piece is a reminder of why we loved watching James Bond films in the first place. This is the kind of sequence that blows away such Bond wannabes as Mission Impossible III. Having Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter is a nice contemporary touch, and I hope he becomes a regular part of the film series as he was in the novels.

As for Craig being the embodiment of Agent 007, I will only say that I like him better than Roger Moore or George Lazenby. I am one of the few people who thinks Timothy Dalton wasn’t given a fair shake. I did like Pierce Brosnan, but "Remington Steele" gave him years of practice. I like the idea of a rougher James Bond, heavier on the action, lighter on the quips. My favorite Bond is From Russia with Love. I also like the idea of re-filming Ian Fleming’s novels - the better films were the more faithful to the books. As far as who plays James Bond, Craig will do fine after this first run. But I am one of those many people who prefers the Connery Bond films. Nobody does it better.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 08:45 AM | Comments (3)

November 14, 2006

Children of Men


Alfonso Cuaron - 2006
Universal Pictures 35mm Film

Last Saturday was my last night in Berlin. It was also my birthday, and as I usually do to celebrate, I went to a movie. Across the street from where I was staying, at the Berlin Sony Plaza is the CineStar theater. What makes this theater somewhat unusual is that the theater makes a point of showing English language films in English. Even German Tom Twyker’s new film, Perfume, was the English language version. The screens are actually underground requiring two sets of escalators after buying reserved seats, the seating is stadium style with good sized screens, and surprisingly, I saw an English language film in Germany with no subtitles. The only downside to this film-going experience was seeing about as many commercials as one sees at an American multiplex.

Not scheduled to open stateside until Christmas, The Children of Men makes for an interesting bookend to V for Vendetta. Both are big budget films from major studios that as slightly disguised science fiction attack the politics of George Bush and Tony Blair. Children of Men takes place in 2027 but is clearly a slight exaggeration of life in 2006. The film can also be read as an extension of the political subtext of Y Tu Mama Tambien, brought up to the forefront. With the clout gained from making a Harry Potter film, Alfonso Cuaron had an agenda that he was able to address with a vengeance, more directly dealing with the disparities of between classes, races and nationalities, using P.D. James' novel for some basic narrative elements.

The British government that exists in Children of Men is more savage in its indictment of alleged terrorists, including an expulsion of all non-British citizens into internment camps. Cuaron simultaneously looks to the past of Nazi Germany and the more recent past of ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, Abu Ghraib, soldiers who work for Homeland Security, and posters encouraging citizens to inform on suspected illegal aliens. This is also a future where cars sometime require jump starts. One scene that could be described as fantastic involves Danny Huston job to preserve the last remaining examples of Western art, including a recontructed "David" from Michelangelo missing a leg, Picasso's "Guernica" on his office wall, and the Pink Floyd pig floating outside. Into this mix is a young woman who finds herself pregnant and in danger, both for being an illegal alien and to keep from having her baby used for political purposes. Cuaron looks at political idealism lost, held onto, rediscovered or corrupted.

While Clive Owen is the reluctant protector of the pregnant young woman, and former idealist with a renewed sense of mission, Michael Caine is the heart of the film. As one of the most visible stars who made his mark in the Sixties, Caine's presence is a kind of signpost of an era of both turbulence and idealism. Underneath the uncharacterist hippie hairdo is the familiar grin, with Caine as last true believer from the Viet-Nam era. The soundtrack provides an aurel commentary with late Sixties and early Seventies nuggets from Deep Purple and King Crimson, as well as odd cover versions of The Beatles and Rolling Stones.

Children of Men does not offer the wish-fulfillment fantasy of V for Vendetta. The conclusion is guardedly optimistic. The premise that "the future is now" is a familiar trope for science fiction. In the hands of Alfonso Cuaron, the message in Children of Men is both urgent and eloquent.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 10:55 AM | Comments (1)

November 11, 2006

Plenty of Horn, and a brief Fleury


Yesterday was primarily devoted to seeing the works of two women artists. First up was a retrospective of Rebecca Horn at the Martin-Gropius-Bau. Lumena decided that of the various exhibits and museums available in Berlin, that this was high priority and the most rare opportunity. We ended up not watching any of the films Horn has made. Watching a film about Horn was cut short by Donald Sutherland's comments. Sutherland, who has acted in Horn's films used the word "sensual" several times to describe Horn's art, but Lumena felt he crossed the line talking about the "ejaculation of paint" or words to that effect.

What we saw were primarily a collection of Horn's mechanical artwork - books flapping like birds on top of glass cases with wire and odd bits inside, contraptions that created abstract paintings, a self-playing cello, and a chair that fitfully danced the tango. Some video work was included, such as the shot of a person wearing a mask with pencils sticking out from his face, creating art by brushing his face back and forth on the white surface. One of Horn's "costumes" resembled a giant pea pod made of feathers. Horn's poetry also accompanied much of the exhibition.

Just around the corner from where we are staying, we also visited the DaimlerChrysler Contemporary Gallery. I had previously walked past the entrence without realizing it, with just a couple of small signs by the entrance in a large, old building. The prime motivation was to see the videos created by Sylvie Fleury on behalf of Daimler. The short works were shown as a triptych, three screens across the wall. While some of the videos just were of models standing around while the cars went up and down the lifts, one funny piece involved some girls who removed shoes from the trunk of a Mercedes and drove off with one of the girls in the trunk. Hopefully Fleury's work will appear online. Sometimes the three screens were of simultaneous activity, but sometimes not. Seeing the work on three screens on one direct field may not have been the best way to see this work. What is certain is that if this part of an advertising campaign, it was very indirect. But then having an art gallery with free admission may be an indirect advertisement on behalf of DaimlerChrysler.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 07:28 PM

November 10, 2006

Appointment in Berlin


Reading about the Berlin Film Museum in no way hints at this disorienting experience. Covering two floors, the design can be described as a cross between two of the most famous German silent films, Metropolis and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. I walked on a steel bridge on the third floor, virtually open above the second floor, facing large screens with the images of actors and actresses smiling or winking in huge close-ups. From there I entered a room with several television screens at tilted angles.

The museum exhibits film excerpts and artifacts from the beginning of film history to the recent present. Among my discoveries were Melies' contemporary Gaston Velle, as magical and in color. According to the museum, Fern Andra was the first to demonstrate the arts of self-promotion, setting the stage for Gloria Swanson, Marilyn Monroe, Paris Hilton, etc. A room devoted to Fritz Lang appropriately had a wall full of television screens featuring excerpts from Spies and the early Dr. Mabuse films. The room devoted to Nazi era film was unsettling, including artifacts regarding Jud Suss. Marlene Dietrich had rooms showing off some of her costumes, letters and photographs including a shot of her with Anna May Wong and Leni Riefenstahl. In a room devoted to several key German actors, what got my heart beating was the exhibit of photos, letters and film excerpts of Romy Schneider. For me, the admission price was more than worth it to see some footage from the "Sissi" films that introduced the then seventeen year old star.

The museum also has exhibits devoted to science fiction films which I found of moderate interest. More fun, though again not directly having anything to do with German film, was the Ray Harryhausen exhibit with models from several of the films associated with the special effects innovator. Even after all these years, even with the advent of state of the art computer generated effects, the sword fighting skeletons from Jason and the Argonauts continues to thrill.

Two floors below the Film Museum is the Arsenel Cinema. I saw Ernst Lubitsch's The Oyster Princess, considered the first major example of "The Lubitsch Touch". With German titles, I lost the verbal humor of the film. Evaluated strictly on a visual level, there are cute moments, people looking through keyholes, high society and servants dancing a wild fox trot, and an early scene with Ossi Oswalda destroying everything in a room during a temper tantrum. I'm not sure how much more I would have liked the film had I seen it with English titles. For me, the Lubitsch films I like have been from The Love Parade through Cluny Brown. The film was shown with live piano. At the very least, I could enjoy that I saw in Germany a film made by the guy who filmed Hitler at a delicatessen.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 12:37 AM | Comments (2)

November 09, 2006

Moviegoing in Amsterdam


Last Tuesday night, we went to the Tuschinski Theatre. The theater had been recommended by a guide book, blogger Peet Gelderblom and the woman who runs the bed and breakfast we stayed at. As I understood it, and tried to explain to Lumena, what movies were playing there were besides the point. Unlike American movie theaters, this theater and the theater around the corner did not have big marquees visible from a block or more away. You had to actually be in front of the theater, noticing the posters, to realize that you were at your destination.

Inside the large lobby are tables for drinking coffee or a Heineken before the film. The ceiling light is a large circle that constantly changes color. Getting to one of the theaters inside is something of a maze, though the theater itself is understated and modern. There is also an inner lobby that was darkly lit and looked like a scene from the Arabian nights. We were going to see Babel but a wonderful Indian dinner at a restaurant called "Shiva" took longer than planned. Instead we saw Scoop, with Scarlett Johansson chanelling Woody Allen, and Woody Allen channelling Bob Hope.

On Wednesday morning, we went to the Stedelijk Museum. Still under construction, one could see pieces by Andy Warhol and Carl Andre on the third floor, sometimes with one large piece in a room, and no crowds. The primary reason we went was to see a couple of short films by Daria Martin (seen above). The two films combine dance, sculpture, and geometric shapes. Wintergarden literalized the motif of the "ties that bind" with yarn and rope connecting the women in the film.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 12:31 PM | Comments (1)

November 06, 2006



Frank Capra - 1928
Columbia Pictures 35mm film

While there are plenty of films to see, I am for now just taking some time off to be with Lumena. We did discuss catching some new Japanese films at the Dejima Japanese Film Festival, but chose instead to go back to the Netherland Film Museum, which is within walking distance of where we are staying. Ever since going to the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, Lumena has developed an interest in seeing silent films in a theatrical situation with live music.

So we went with Submarine. The film was shown with a live quartet, cello, contrabass, guitar and accordian. The accordian player also supplied some sound effects. The theater, one of two in the Film Museum, is a little jewel box with plush seating, and a screen high enough for clear viewing for all.

Submarine seems more in spirit with the films of John Ford or Raoul Walsh. The camaraderie and practical jokes make up the relationship of sailors Jack Holt and Ralph Graves, a bond almost destroyed by vamp Dorothy Revier. The one scene that seems most Capra-esque is of Graves seen trapped in the submarine, with the small shadow of a cross on the left side of the screen. As the titles were in Dutch, I don't know how much of the narrative I really lost. The special effects, primarily a model submarine under water, look primitive by today's CGI standards. The sight of Dorothy Revier adjusting her stockings has withstood the test of time.

Capra also isn't someone thought of in association with "montage". In Submarine are a couple of scenes designed to echo each other, first with Revier dancing with Holt, and later with Graves. Capra immerses us into the jazz age with close-ups of musicians, followed by shots of dancers seen from the knees down. Both scenes end with shots of a broom pushing the debris from the floor, from the right in one scene, from the left in the second scene. Graves and Revier, embracing in the waves, though standing, seems to anticipate the more famous embrace of Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity.

I'm not sure how much of Submarine was considered cliche even in 1928. What was most interesting was to see love expressed as violence between the two (or could we say three ?) pairs of lovers. The relatively frank (pun intended) sexuality is a glimpse of what Capra could do before his career was reduced to annual presentations of It's a Wonderful Life.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 06:23 PM

November 04, 2006

Lust for Art


Yesterday was my first full day in Amersterdam. My partner, Lumena, and I did the tourist thing for the day by going to the Van Gogh Museum. As it turned out, part of the permanent collection was unavailable for viewing until December. It was still worth it to see work I hadn't seen previously, especially Van Gogh's almond blossom paintings like the above example, and Van Gogh's direct imitations of Japanese paintings. Seeing Van Gogh's copies of Japanese art inspired the idea of a double feature of one of the films about Van Gogh, possibly Lust for Life with Mizoguchi's Utamaro and His Five Women. Maybe it's over-simplifying things but both films are about artists who deliberately went against the standards of their time, and chose unfashionable subject matter, Van Gogh with his peasants, Utamaro with his prostitutes.

Lumena and I tried to visit the Netherland Film Museum. No exhibits were going on at the time. We did go to a Record Store where Lumena had picked up a couple of DVDs for me last year. I picked up four movies not available stateside: Renoir's Toni, Ophuls' Earrings of Madame De . . ., Tati's Jour de Fete, and Nick Ray's Savage Innocents. Had they had English subtitles, I would have gotten Malle's Zazie and Tony Gatliff's Exiles. I never even bothered to browse the stores extensive Asian or horror selections.

Today is low-key. Just walking through the open markets near where we are staying. Otherwise just overcoming the double whammy of jet lag and the change of weather from hot and sweaty Miami Beach to the constant cool here in Amsterdam.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 08:22 PM | Comments (1)

November 02, 2006

My Adventure


I am writing this from the Dusseldorf, Germany airport. In a couple of hours, I will be flying to Amersterdam. This is my first time in Europe, save for my time at the Zurich airport on my way to and from Jerusalem. I will be in Amsterdam for almost a week, followed by four days in Berlin, to be followed by a flight to Bangkok and my ultimate destination of Chiang Mai, Thailand. In short, I am going on an adventure.

I will be continuing to write about film, although for the next couple of weeks my entries may be more sporadic. I plan on visiting film museums in Amersterdam and Berlin as well as catching some films. I also hope to look more deeply into Thai cinema. In the next day or so I hope to have a better internet connection so I can write more substantial entries. I may not write as frequently as did in the past month, but my goal is to provide some entries that will inform and entertain.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 01:33 PM