Category Archives: 1968

Kuroneko (1968, Shindo Kanetô)

I thought I was going to start this post with a witty remark regarding the film’s use of repetitiveness to excellent overall effect, but then the movie ended and, by that time, much of the excellence had drained. Kuroneko is a gorgeous film–Shindo uses theatrical lighting effects for ghostly emphasis, which really works–and for a while it seemed like the writing was going to catch up. The film starts incredibly slow and doesn’t encourage much interest for the first forty minutes because of all that repetition. The scenes are different, but the same… They’re meant to show the passage of time in purely expositional narrative. In some ways, it’s a neat trick for adapting a short story (and I’m surprised Kuroneko doesn’t have that base), but it tries the viewer’s patience. Shindo is asking for advance with every repeat and then, at the end, when he comes up short, it hurts the film. It’s amazing too how he’ll come so close and he won’t make it. Instead of giving a solid narrative, he wants a haunting ending to the film. He could have had a haunting ending too… but he ended the film about thirty seconds early. In some cases, it’d be frustrating, but with something like Kuroneko, which constantly takes the “unbelievable character response” fork in the road, I no longer had my hopes up.

The other major issue with Kuroneko, and it’s probably my issue, is the lack of scariness. It’s a horror movie. Regardless of setting, Shindo’s fine composition, camera moves, and lighting techniques, his script follows many horror movie conventions. Lousy unresolved endings being the predominant feature of horror films. I’m just wondering whether or not a Japanese horror film, set in the pre-urban era, is something I could find frightening. It’s not my culture, it’s not a place where the uncanny would make it different because it’s already different. I kept waiting for Kuroneko to work, but I found I couldn’t traverse the historical, foreign barrier into the film. It might not be me, though. When Kuroneko‘s characters are acting ludicrously to milk another fifteen minutes in running time, their being in this samurai era Japan is essential for the viewer to remember, because as people–with real emotions–their actions don’t work. Only if one takes their culture into account, can disbelief at the littlest things be suspended. Unfortunately, a lot of Kuroneko ends up hinging on special effects and makeup. The special effects are good. The makeup’s overboard. It’s literal instead of discreet… even when it’s trying to be discreet.

The performances are fine. Otowa Nobuko is particularly excellent, since her character gets to emote the most. Nakamura Kichiemon is all right–his scenes with Taichi Kiwako are great–but his character flops around is much, it’s not like his performance was going to be anything more. They all manage to keep a straight-face, which is impressive, given just how theatrical some of the lighting gets. It’s usually pushing at the “too much” line.

I guess it’s a disappointment, not because of the long first act (thirty-five minutes of ninety-four), but because of the promising second. I really don’t like being able to chop a film up with acts so easily, but Kuroneko practically has title cards to signal them. Really good sound design. Forgot about the sound design… excellent sound design.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Shindo Kanetô; director of photography, Kuroda Kiyomi; edited by Enoki Hisao; music by Hayashi Hikaru; produced by Shinsha Nichiei; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Nakamura Kichiemon (Gintoki), Otowa Nobuko (Yone), Taichi Kiwako (Shige), Sato Kei (Raiko), Tonoyama Taiji (a farmer), Toura Rokko (a samurai) and Kanze Hideo (Mikado).


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The Bride Wore Black (1968, François Truffaut)

I watched this film on a recommendation, since I’ve mostly sworn off Truffaut. I’d read it was one of his Hitchcock homages (and anything has to be better than Mississippi Mermaid) but I really wasn’t expecting so much “homage.” Besides the Bernard Herrmann score, which is identical to his more famous Hitchcock scores, mostly Vertigo, Truffaut fills the first act with enough Hitchcock references, I almost thought I was watching a Brian DePalma movie. The film starts fairly bad–there are no sympathetic characters, except a child, his mother, and his schoolteacher, none of whom are particularly pertinent–and Truffaut asks a lot for his first thirty minutes. He expects the audience to watch not because it’s interesting, but because it’s Jeanne Moreau. Now, while this sort of practice drives old Hollywood films and some Hong Kong films today, Truffaut doesn’t do the extra work to make Moreau interesting. She does eventually get interesting, but it’s an hour in, when the film’s already beginning its long, predictable wrap-up.

Moreau is going around killing sexist pigs (which actually has nothing to do with the plot–all the men in the film are sexist pigs) and part of the grabber is supposed to be the audience’s ignorance as to her motive. Unfortunately, once the motive is revealed and is innocuous and lame, the film loses a lot of potential energy. Worse (since it was only potential energy), after killing two of the men with detailed plans, the others go offhand (and in one case, off camera). Since all the male parts are bad guys and all the non-Moreau female parts are microscopic, there’s not a lot of interesting acting going on in the film. Michel Lonsdale, as a slimy politician, has a lot of fun and he gives the film’s best performance. Moreau is fine, but so distant, it’d be hard for her not to be fine. She’s not doing anything….

While I know Truffaut is the guy who brought Hitchcock back, I really don’t think he gets Hitchcock. I’ve never seen any of DePalma’s gratuitous Hitchcock films so I don’t know if he gets it either (I doubt it), but a lot of what works with Hitchcock is the characters. The extreme is probably Rear Window, when all of the characters are likable, but Vertigo is up there too–when the characters make you feel. Even when Hitchcock wasn’t getting it to work, wasn’t making people care about the characters (The Birds), he was at least trying. Janet Leigh and Martin Balsam give the two most important performances in Psycho, after all. Truffaut doesn’t get that aspect of the films. His characters are flat and he’s all about the set pieces throughout the film. The end is particularly bad, when Truffaut goes and shows he doesn’t think his audience has an iota of intellect.

I should have stuck to my boycott.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by François Truffaut; written by Truffaut and Jean-Louis Richard, based on the novel by Cornell Woolrich; director of photography, Raoul Coutard; edited by Claudine Bouché; music by Bernard Herrmann; produced by Marcel Berbert; released by Lopert Pictures.

Starring Jeanne Moreau (Julie), Jean-Claude Brialy (Corey), Michel Bouquet (Coral), Charles Denner (Fergus), Claude Rich (Bliss), Daniel Boulanger (Holmes) and Michel Lonsdale (Morane).


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Planet of the Apes (1968, Franklin J. Schaffner)

Planet of the Apes is, I’m fairly sure, the first film I’ve ever watched and known the director started in television. Franklin J. Schaffner has a lot of dynamic shots–helicopter shots, three dimensional motion and camera movement (which is rarer than one would think)–but none of them go together. It’s like watching a different movie every cut. There are also definite commercial breaks in the film and the first hour, until Charlton Heston speaks to the apes, is really a fifteen minute teaser drawn out with a lot of monologues, walking, and chase scenes.

When I started watching the film, I marveled at how bad Charlton Heston’s performance is. He actually gets better, but it’s one of those cases of not knowing if he actually gets better or if the viewer has just been conditioned to his performance. It’s kind of funny, though, to see über-Conservative Heston in a role basically advocating (small c) communism. That correlation is about the only one I could pull out of Planet of the Apes and I had to use a big pair of pliers. We’ve gotten used to seeing science fiction as metaphor and there’s none of it in Apes. It’s an incredibly straightforward approach, which could work well in the film’s favor, if it wasn’t so inconsistent with its characters and generally dumb.

The problem with the film–its stupidity–is in the package. The film asks the viewer to accept this ape civilization–a planet–which doesn’t seem to be larger than a city, doesn’t know anything about science except has verbose scientific terminology (how did they learn them?) and has working firearms–lots of them–but supposedly is opposed to killing. The characters, with the exception of Heston and the two good apes, flip back and forth, the worst being Maurice Evans’s. He goes from being the big bad guy, to just a guy, to sort of a good guy, to a bad guy, to just a guy. Or ape. Whatever. I think he’s supposed to be an orangutan, actually. He generally changes character between commercial breaks (oh, and Schaffner doesn’t know how to do establishing shots). The film’s about ideas (and running) and getting them presented is the only important thing.

Once the movie gets to the end and Heston’s wailing in the surf, I realized it actually could have worked. There was a big thing–during the opening, the twenty minute walk–about Heston wanting to get off the planet Earth because he hated the way things were going (war–yes, this film does actually star Charlton Heston and it has a big anti-war message, one about 150 feet tall). Anyway, there’s a metaphor there, about Heston returning to the Earth he dreaded, where everything he feared had come to pass, and so on and so on. I wouldn’t want to write it, but I would have wanted to see it. Or, at least, I know it’d have been better than what they did.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner; screenplay by Michael Wilson and Rod Serling, based on the novel by Pierre Boulle; director of photography, Leon Shamroy; edited by Hugh S. Fowler; music by Jerry Goldsmith; produced by Arthur P. Jacobs; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Charlton Heston (George Taylor), Roddy McDowall (Cornelius), Kim Hunter (Zira), Maurice Evans (Dr. Zaius), James Whitmore (President of the Assembly), James Daly (Honorious), Linda Harrison (Nova), Robert Gunner (Landon), Lou Wagner (Lucius), Woodrow Parfrey (Maximus), Jeff Burton (Dodge), Buck Kartalian (Julius), Norman Burton (Hunt Leader), Wright King (Dr. Galen) and Paul Lambert (Minister).


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Coogan’s Bluff (1968, Don Siegel)

In my youth, or until Entertainment Weekly misquoted me about it, I used to opine that film entered the modern era in 1968. I cited films such as 2001, Once Upon a Time in the West, and Bullitt. Coogan’s Bluff, released in October 1968 (who doesn’t love IMDb for release dates?), sort of goes against that assertion (which I’ve long since abandoned anyway).

Coogan is an anomaly in Eastwood’s filmography and maybe just in film in general. It’s not a Dirty Harry film–though Siegel’s direction is similar in both pictures–in fact, Dirty Harry was more of an identifiable character than Coogan is in this film. But Coogan is a character study… It’s incredibly different and almost impossible to explain. While there’s a chase scene, there’s also Eastwood getting beat-up a bunch (see, back in the 1960s, people could beat up Clint Eastwood, not anymore… he’s pre-iconic in Coogan), then there are these long, delicate conversation scenes between Coogan and his romantic interest (how did Susan Clark not take off as a dramatic actress? I half blame it on Universal and half on marrying the football guy). I think, in the end, I only decided it was a character study because we–the audience–aren’t privy to the most important time in the film. They just don’t show us….

Another interesting aspect is to see Eastwood’s progression as an actor. In Coogan’s Bluff, away from the Western setting, he’s obviously missing something. He found it quick though, given Dirty Harry and Play Misty and The Beguiled. But it’s a ballsy role–he gets his ass kicked all the time. The majority of his time is spent causing trouble and trying to get laid. It’s not surprising no one knows how to market this film today, post-marquee Eastwood.

Films like Coogan’s Bluff really spoke to me when I was a teenager because they did something different. Coogan doesn’t speak as loudly as it did–maybe it does, I can’t remember–but there’s some beautiful stuff in some of this film. Unfortunately, the Lalo Schifrin score works against it sometimes. So do the scenes when it’s too apparent they filmed on the Universal backlot, though the syncing is excellent in other parts of the film. And who thought the Cloisters would ever be used as an action showdown?

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed and produced by Don Siegel; written by Herman Miller, Dean Riesner and Howard Rodman, based on a story by Miller; director of photography, Bud Thackery; edited by Sam E. Waxman; music by Lalo Schifrin; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Clint Eastwood (Coogan), Lee J. Cobb (McElroy), Susan Clark (Julie), Tisha Sterling (Linny Raven), Don Stroud (Ringerman), Betty Field (Mrs. Ringerman), Tom Tully (Sheriff McCrea) and Melodie Johnson (Milie).