The Naked Island (1960, Shindô Kaneto)

The Naked Island is about a family of four on a desolate, arid, and incredibly steep island. They have no motor boat and no clean water on the island, so every day they make multiple trips to the mainland for water. There’s a mother, a father, one boy who goes to school on the mainland, and a younger son who fishes. The Naked Island is not their story. They, along with the island, are the film, but the film is not them….

It’s hard to explain. There’s also no dialogue in the film.

The film reminded me of Tati, if Tati had made something dramatic. There’s a great deal of metaphor in the film and its entire treatment of the people removes their humanity, instead turning them into animals with a routine. It’s kind of like a Natural Geographic film about people actually. The film’s beautifully made, beautifully scored (the music is incredibly important), but the director likes foreshadowing a lot. It’s well-done foreshadowing–I’d never seen 8 minutes of visual foreshadowing kept up before–but it puts the audience on its guard. Still, the film is effective in very human ways, but it’s the director’s inflexibility–his adherence to his initial idea–that ultimately hurts the film. Instead of being about the struggle of the human heart, it’s a more generalized struggle of living things.

On an emotional level, The Naked Island could have been about an ant colony, not people. It doesn’t recognize any difference or know why one should differentiate between the two species. Still, it’s an exceptionally lovely film–even though the R2 Masters of Cinema release is the only instance of PAL speedup ever to bother me.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Shindô Kaneto; director of photography, Kuroda Kiyomi; edited by Enoki Toshio; music by Hayashi Hikaru; produced by Shindô and Eisaku Matsuura; released by Modern Cinema Association.

Starring Otowa Nobuko (Toyo, the mother), Tonoyama Taiji (Senta, the father), Tanaka Shinji (Taro, the elder son) and Horimoto Masanori (Jiro, the younger son).


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The Beaver Trilogy (2001, Trent Harris)

I may spoil some of The Beaver Trilogy, but it’s unlikely you’re going to come across it. It’s got song licensing issues, I’m sure, since it’s all about the love for Olivia Newton-John. I watched it today in a class and it might have been the best setting.

There are three parts to the film–The Beaver Kid, The Beaver Kid #2, and The Orkly Kid. The first part is documentary footage, which may or may not be for a Salt Lake City TV show, about a guy from Beaver, UT who does impersonations. He does John Wayne, a good Sylvester Stallone, Barry Manilow, and Olivia Newton John–in drag. The conclusion is the guy performing “Please Don’t Keep Me Waiting,” doing a good job with band accompaniment. It’s about twenty minutes of non-stop laughter at this… loser. The audience thinks the guy is a loser and we all laugh at him. The footage mocks him and we all join in.

The second part stars Sean Penn as the real guy from the first part. Shot on video, The Beaver Kid #2, is an abbreviated version of the first one, with Sean Penn doing an impression of the guy. It’s funny and though Penn is in his Spicoli period, it suits the character. Then at the end, when it sticks with the character after his big performance (with Penn not doing a good job singing, though at least trying, without a band), Harris turns on his laughing audience. We just got done laughing at this guy, who promptly goes home and puts a gun in his mouth. However, at the final moment, he’s saved by a newfound friend–albeit one who only wants him from his drag persona.

The Orkly Kid is shot on film and immediately different. Besides the superior Crispin Glover performance in the lead, it recasts the character from being a lovable guy around town to being the heckled and abused one. After all, the audience just got done mocking him, why shouldn’t his fellow characters? This third film changes the whole situation and, this time, the context doesn’t allow for the life-saving phone call at the end. There’s no relief for the viewer, who’s got to come to terms with his or her mocking of this character. Just because other people mock him, all of a sudden it feels kind of… wrong.

Harris is not a brilliant director or dialogue writer (though he did pick the perfect Olivia Newton-John song). The Orkly Kid comes off a lot like an after-school special, but the point of The Beaver Trilogy is the viewer and the viewer’s gradual realizations. It’s not even manipulative, except maybe at the end of the last film… Apparently, the idea to put the three films together didn’t come around until 1999 or so, which explains why Harris didn’t exactly catch on….

Like I said, I can’t believe this film will ever make it to an easily accessible media format, but it’s worth hunting down.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written, directed and edited by Trent Harris; directors of photography, Harris, Bill Fishman and Claes Thulin; produced by Harris and Elizabeth Grey Cloud; released by Strand Releasing.

Starring Groovin’ Gary (Himself), Sean Penn (Groovin’ Larry), Crispin Glover (Groovin’ Larry) and Elizabeth Daily (Carrissa).


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Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981, Steven Spielberg)

Maybe it was the viewing atmosphere… I also was obsessing about something I’d read from either Spielberg or Lucas claiming credit for “MTV-style” editing with Raiders. Once the film was edited, the two went through and snipped a few frames at each edit point to hurry the film along. As I watched Raiders tonight, it all did feel very hurried.

The film is excellent–exciting, well-written, beautifully directed–but nothing sat, nothing resonated. I expected a transcendent experience (similar to the one Star Wars produces), but found myself very aware of the film. Not obsessively–I wasn’t watching the clock to see how long each sequence went and I didn’t time how long Indiana Jones and the audience were deceived about Marion’s death, but I did notice all the work being done in the film. Primarily, John Williams’ score. From the first sequence–when Indy’s running in South America to the plane–Williams’ score does more work than anything else in the film. It’s not bad–it’s a great score–but I just couldn’t separate my observation from the experience. The film just didn’t force me to do it.

Similarly, lots of little moments in the script do a lot of work in the shortest time possible–the rapid-fire humanization of Indiana Jones, his comedic accidents, the establishing of Indy and Sallah’s kids–it’s all fast and it’s all precise, and maybe it’s too fast and too precise for this presentation. The Raiders of the Lost Ark DVD is the cleanest DVD presentation I have ever seen. It doesn’t look like a movie, it looks like a Pixar digitalization. There are no DVD artifacts, which is fine, but there is no film grain either, which is bad. Raiders plays like one of those shows recorded on video back in the 1980s and 1990s, when everything just looked a little off. And Raiders shouldn’t look off.

I haven’t seen the film in eight or nine years and then it was in optimal settings–without looking for the Spielberg/Lucas editing innovation–on LaserDisc. I’ll have to watch Raiders again in similar conditions, but it was a rather unsentimental experience, which I wasn’t expecting from a film I’ve probably seen twenty times.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Spielberg; screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan, based on a story by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman; director of photography, Douglas Slocombe; edited by Michael Kahn; music by John Williams; production designer, Norman Reynolds; produced by Frank Marshall; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones), Karen Allen (Marion Ravenwood), Paul Freeman (Dr. Rene Belloq), Ronald Lacey (Major Arnold Toht), John Rhys-Davies (Sallah), Denholm Elliott (Dr. Marcus Brody), Alfred Molina (Satipo), Wolf Kahler (Colonel Dietrich), Anthony Higgins (Gobler), Vic Tablian (Barranca), Don Fellows (Col. Musgrove) and William Hootkins (Major Eaton).


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Newsfront (1978, Phillip Noyce)

Newsfront is hard to describe. It’s a sincere attempt to lionize Australian newsreel cameramen, mixing in melodrama, bad music, and some good performances and direction. It’s a film very excited with itself–there’s beautiful production design and costumes of late 1940s to middle 1950s Australia–and very sure of itself. It unabashedly ends with a shot of the newsreels superimposed over the dutiful, incorruptible newsreel cameraman, turning his camera to get the real news, while grandiose music swelling.

On one hand, the film’s so unaware of itself, it’s hard to find fault with the melodrama, on the other hand, it’s so incredibly melodramatic–music frequently swells in ludicrous places, during two person conversations, ruining potentially good moments–it’s hard not to get upset with the film. There’s wasn’t much potential to Newsfront, so it’s hard to get too angry and the film’s barely varies in quality throughout (the end strikes a nasty hit, however), but it’s somehow very watchable.

The film beautifully mixes original newsreel footage with black and white photography, but then for scenes without the newsreels, switches to color. While the color shows off the production design, it ruins the visual continuity of the film. Newsfront‘s direction is particularly bothersome, because many of Noyce’s shots are unspeakably wonderful. Except he has a habit of moving the camera–swirling it around the room–during conversations, drawing all the attention to the camera movement, forcefully pulling the viewer’s attention from… the story.

Besides Bill Hunter’s infinitely perplexing existence as a heartthrob (is this guy really considered good-looking by Australian standards, I can’t believe it, William Bendix was better looking), he turns in a decent performance as the ostensible protagonist. It’s not enough to surmount the script, but it’s good. Chris Haywood is good as his sidekick and has a few nice scenes. Bryan Brown shows up–a young Bryan Brown–and turns in some good work. The film’s also got a really good death scene in it.

I watched the recent Blue Underground DVD release and I can’t think of a better looking presentation of a 1970s film. Maybe the Australians just take better care than anyone else, but this transfer was wonderful. Blue Underground’s run by Bill Lustig, who produced for Anchor Bay back when Anchor Bay was really something. Newsfront is a beautiful disc.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Phillip Noyce; written by Noyce, David Elfick, Bob Ellis and Phillipe Mora; director of photography, Vincent Monton; edited by John Scott; music by William Motzing; production designer, Lissa Coote; produced by Elfick; released by Roadshow Entertainment.

Starring Bill Hunter (Len Maguire), Wendy Hughes (Amy Mackenzie), Gerard Kennedy (Frank Maguire), Chris Haywood (Chris Hewitt), John Ewart (Charlie), Don Crosby (A.G. Marwood), Angela Punch McGregor (Fay), John Clayton (Cliff), John Dease (Ken) and Bryan Brown (Geoff).


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