Saturday, February 15, 2020

CEDDO (1977, SENEGAL), MANILA: IN THE CLAWS OF LIGHT (1975, PHILIPPINES)

Ceddo

From the CIA World Factbook
Senegal
Granted independence 1960
Population 15 million
95% Muslim 5% Christian
Official language: French
Interesting export item: Fish, Groundnuts
Imports: Fuels

The only Senegalese movies in any edition of the 1001 book are two movies directed by Osuman Sembene (Moolade, about female genital mutilation and Ceddo). Ceddo is about what goes on in a local village when the coming of the slave trade occurs, as well as attempts to convert the people to Christianity and later Islam. Neither of the outside factors are portrayed sympathetically, which is a good thing. I'm interested in movies that come from a different perspective than I'm used to and Ceddo is a good fit into this category of film.

Manila: In the Claws of Light

From the CIA World Factbook
Philippines
Became a self-governing commonwealth in 1935
Population  105 million
80% Roman Catholic, 8% protestant
Official languages: Filipino, English
Interesting Export Item: Coconut Oil
Interesting Import Item: Plastic

The only film from the Philippines in the 1001 book is Manila: In the Claws of Light. It is about a young villager named Julio who comes to the big city of Manila to find out what happened to his girlfriend, Ligaya. He has to toil in a construction job for almost no pay and later even considers being a male escort to make ends meet. After being in Manila for over a year, he finally encounters Ligaya, who has been caught up in a sexual slavery ring during most of this time. Her life is further complicated by her giving birth and being blackmailed by her pimp into not running away.

Not unlike some other dramas of the type, this one is once again interesting in coming from the point of view of a Filipino filmmaker who is not afraid to show many of the problems inherent in his society, including the exploitation of male construction workers and girls taken into forced prostitution.

You have to admire both of these directors, who have made films that their respective governments could not have been enthusiastic about the citizens of their respective countries seeing.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

RED PSALM (1972, HUNGARY), THE ASTHENIC SYNDROME (1989, SOVIET UNION)

Circle of unity in Red Psalm

Well, comrades. I must say Red Psalm depicts a lot of solidarity amongst the peasant workers being put down by the business interests and using the army as an instrument to fight against them. They do this through a lot of singing "Long live the workers! Long live the rights of workers society! Let's dance and celebrate the cannon of the liberator!" The camera is always moving and there are many effective scenes of the people moving one way hand in hand while the camera goes in the opposite direction. The scene where the army opens fire is enhanced by the lack of blood depicted. The people fall down, but fall down as one.You hear me brothers and sisters?

And remember comrades, don't be distracted by our sisters occasionally taking their clothes off!


Random trumpet blowing in The Asthenic Syndrome

Okay, comrades. I wish I got more out of The Asthenic Syndrome. The black and white section of the story shows a woman who has lost her husband and is going through grief. The larger color second half shows a teacher who suffers from the titular affliction of falling asleep at inappropriate times. The story isn't presented in an easy to fathom narrative most of the time. At least it's not too capitalist.

Both of these films might gain from repeated viewings. Red Psalm may bring you to its camp by sucking you into it's rhythm. The Asthenic Syndrome may be more palatable with a context of what to look for established in your mind before diving back in.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

THE OSCAR (1966)


What better way to get into the mood for tonight's Academy Awards presentation than watching the 1966 film The Oscar? Okay, there may have been better ways to tell you the truth, but this is the path I have chosen! I knew the reputation of this film was not a good one ever since I had my old copy of The Golden Turkey Awards where Tony Bennett was given the Golden Turkey for Worst Performance by a Popular Singer performance in a movie. More on him in a minute.

The plot of the movie involves a (for lack of a better word) asshole named Frankie Fain (played by Stephen Boyd) who tries to make ends meet in strip clubs and such with his girl (Jill St. John) and loyal sidekick Hymie (Tony Bennett). At one point, they get taken in on a trumped up prostitution charge which they eventually get out of, but Frankie's girl breaks up with him and Frankie heads out on his own.

Frankie gets involved with a fashion designer named Kay (Elke Sommer) and is discovered to really have some star appeal by a talent scout (Eleanor Parker). Yadda yadda yadda, Frankie becomes a big movie star, but never seems to quit being a prick. His career takes a downward turn until he nabs an elusive Oscar nomination. He plants a story in the paper (with the help of an unsavory detective played by Ernest Borgnine) about the old prostitution rap. You see, people will think one of the other nominees planted that story and Frankie will get the sympathy vote, right? That Best Actor Oscar will put Frankie's career back on the right track...if he wins....

It's Oscar night. The Best names are read out. And the winner is....Frank...
As the name is read, Frankie stands up before presenter Merle Oberon finishes reading out the name...Sinatra! The real Frank Sinatra is actually there to pick up the Best Actor Oscar he never won in real life as the picture ends with a stunned Frankie Fain unconvincingly trying to put on a brave face. For all the flaws in the film, I did like this gotcha ending very much.

But let's face it, The Oscar is basically a soap opera in the Sidney Sheldon/Jacqueline Susann school with extremely broad performances and a pretty over-the-top rags to riches story. I would say it doesn't date well, but it was pretty much panned in 1966, too.

Stephen Boyd tries to reason with
Tony Bennett in The Oscar

Unpacking the Oscars from The Oscar:
Surprisingly, the film itself was nominated for two Oscars: Best Production design (losing out to Fantastic Voyage, which also starred Stephen Boyd) and Best Costume Design (Losing out to A Man for All Seasons). Edith Head was the costume designer for The Oscar and also appears as herself in the movie. Edith won eight Oscars in her career, including five in the six years between 1950-1955.

Stephen Boyd was never nominated for an Oscar, not even for his most famous performance as Massala in Ben-Hur.

In 1955, Frank Sinatra (cameo in The Oscar) was nominated for Best Actor in The Man With the Golden Arm but lost out that year to Ernest Borgnine (the private investigator in The Oscar) for Marty. Sinatra's co-star in that film was Eleanor Parker (who played the talent scout in The Oscar). According to Sinatra's biography, he didn't take the loss well. Sinatra did win Best Supporting Actor in 1953 for From Here to Eternity.

It's also interesting that Peter Lawford has a small role here as a washed-up actor turned maitre'D a couple of years after he was kicked out of Sinatra's Rat Pack.

Other Oscar winners with small parts or cameos in the film include: Broderick Crawford, Ed Begley Sr., Walter Brennan and Joan Crawford.

Bob Hope appears as himself as the Oscar master of ceremonies.

Not surprisingly, Milton Berle's dramatic turn as Frankie's agent didn't get him an Oscar nod or many other dramatic roles in the future.

Columnist Hedda Hopper appears as herself. She passed away the year the film was released.

#TheOscarSoWhite: About the only person of color in the whole film is Jack Soo as Fain's servant. I did like Jack in the little he got to do here.

Harlan Ellison? I was shocked when I saw acerbic writer Harlan Ellison's name on the screenplay credits.
Harlan's quote about the film: "I knew my film career was over the night I saw The Oscar. I practically wept!"

Anthony Dominick Bennedetto: Tony Bennett is widely recognized as one of the great singers of the twentieth century. And I'm not here to rag on Tony Bennett's performance in The Oscar. He is obviously trying so hard in the emotional scenes at the end of the film! Trying so damn hard! A for effort...like I said, a legendary singer.


Saturday, February 8, 2020

ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (1930), 1917 (2019)


In the trenches in All Quiet on the Western Front

There is a lot of criticism of a lot of the early Best Picture Academy Award choices, but the 1930 Best Picture choice of All Quiet on the Western Front is a decision that has stood the test of time. Even prickly alternative Oscar writer Danny Peary thinks the Academy got this one right.

The film is of course based on the anti-war novel by Erich Maria Remarque and depicts a group of young soldiers excitedly joining the German army during World War I only to find their dreams of heroism brings them mostly horror and death. I don't think that there were any war films like this in the early talkie era and one can only imagine the impact the sounds of warfare had on audiences of the time.

Read the book...see the movie.. then.go do something to make the world a better place.


Corporal Schofield (George Mackay) tries to get a message
 to the front in 1917

All Quiet on the Western front was only ten years removed from the end of World War I and this year we have another Oscar contender one-hundred years removed from the event. The film is 1917 and is director Sam Mendes's recount of stories passed down from his grandfather Alfred Mendes about the Great War.

The story depicts about soldiers in the British Army who have to get a message to company commanders to cancel an attack that aerial surveillance has discovered to be a set-up from the enemy. 1917 follows these soldiers (Schofield and Blake) as they try to make it to the front in time. The film is noted for being shot in one take and that is a most impressive technical trick. The set design is really stunning. I may watch this whole film again and just try to catch everything that is going on in the background! There has been some criticism that the movie is made for the video game generation. Maybe a little. I can see 1917 on Nintendo being a thing...But  it's still an impressive work and the latest Awards Watch post has 1917 as winning Best Director and Best Picture. Roger Deakins should be a shoo-in for the Cinematography Award and the picture may clean up on many other technical award categories. Except editing, of course. We'll see on February 9th.