Filmstruck diary, vol. 1

I am loving Filmstruck (the streaming collaboration from Turner Classic Movies and the Criterion Collection).  It’s not complete by any means (Hulu had a larger selection of Criterion titles) but I don’t mind that.  A little bit of narrowing down and curation steers me to titles I otherwise might not watch and thereby expands my horizons, whereas if they had everything under the sun available I would ironically be more likely to stick with my narrower preconceived agenda.  Filmstruck has definitely helped me spend my film-viewing time more productively: more world classics, fewer forgettable new releases.   I decided to keep a little diary of the titles I watch.   It’s hard to go wrong with such excellent curation so most everything has been great.


I had actually never seen this before.  I try to save one or two films by great directors so I have something to look forward to.  I was saving this and finally decided to pull the trigger.  I quickly realized that this is where the Dardenne brothers bit their whole style from.  I was thoroughly awestruck by the film.  The money-begets-evil premise, borrowed from the first half of a Tolstoy novella, might have been unbearably trite in the hands of a lesser filmmaker.  Bresson takes it to an unexpectedly feverish and dark place.  Of course the execution is immaculate.

Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne (Bresson)

Early Bresson.  The Cocteau dialogue is a great pleasure, and you can see Bresson’s style developing.

Mouchette (Bresson)

Staggering masterpiece.  A companion piece to Au hasard Balthazar.  I realized that the ending of Fat Girl directly quotes a central scene here (trying to be vague to avoid giving plot points away to people who haven’t seen either or both).

Lone Wolf and Cub series (6 films, multiple directors)

The shogun’s executioner–an invincible swordsman– is betrayed and becomes a rogue assassin along with his young son.  I had only seen the dubbed American recut of the first two movies, Shogun Assassin, which is garbage compared to the Japanese versions.  I enjoyed these movies so much!  I wish there were 20 of them.  Tarantino quotes this series extensively (unsurprisingly).   Each of the six movies has a distinct quality, ranging from eerie spirituality to raunchy exploitation, and they are all fantastic.  I love that any time someone questions whether this is an appropriate situation for a child, Ogami’s explanation is simply, “My son and I walk the demon way in hell together.”

Pigs and Battleships (Imamura)

Hadn’t seen this.  Fucking loved it.  Wow, did I love it.   It made it clear to me how much Sion Sono (who I am a big fan of) gets from Imamura.  It’s about the relationship between the occupying American military and the locals (particularly the yakuza) in postwar Japan.  This movie is at a fever pitch from start to finish, but there’s a definite crescendo.  Spinning overhead shots, pigs everywhere.  I was particularly struck by the way the American Navy is portrayed—like cartoonish barbarians in sailor suits.

Death Race 2000 (Bartel)

An utter delight as always.  A high point of the 70’s cult aesthetic.

Sisters (De Palma)

I’m a De Palma superfan so of course I love this.  Lurid, hyper-stylized Hitchcock pastiche.  It’s an immature work, but not in a bad way.  It feels like he’s overflowing with ideas and has no restraint.

Le Samouraï (Melville)

One of my favorite movies ever.  I see it as a keystone of the great tradition of movies about a man (or woman) who lives by a code.  Since the last time I saw it I’ve thought a lot about the ways that Jarmusch paid homage to it in The Limits of Control and Ghost Dog, and it was interesting to revisit it in that light.

Mystery Train (Jarmusch)

Hadn’t seen this in ages.  It’s fun, but a minor work.   It’s a quirky, Elvis-centric anthology film.  Joe Strummer is great.

Andrei Rublev (Tarkovsky)

I’ve seen this four times now.  It’s not a movie to approach lightly.  I made a huge leap this time in my understanding of the film.  I previously thought most of the segments were only loosely connected, but now I realize that they trace a very particular theme: Rublev’s initial inability to represent suffering or dark themes and the development of his ability to do so.  He first awakens to darkness through the events surrounding the Tatar raids (particularly the fall of the holy fool), and then his will to create is rekindled by the bell-making experience.

Pather Panchali (S. Ray)

Beautiful and devastating.  Lyrical portrait of life and death in poverty.  I haven’t gone any deeper than this into S. Ray but I intend to.  Big blind spot for me.

Party Girl (N. Ray)

I dig Nicholas Ray but hadn’t seen this.  His CinemaScope compositions are incredible.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Demy)

Someone somewhere compared La La Land to this and it grossed me out and made me want to sit down with the real deal.   Don’t watch La La Land, watch this.

Beauty and the Beast (Cocteau)

Pure joy revisiting this.  I recommend it to every living person without reservation.

Spirit of the Beehive (Erice)

Hadn’t seen this.   Haunting movie about a young girl in Franco’s Spain who sees Frankenstein and starts to retreat into fantasy.   Guillermo del Toro clearly borrows heavily from this film.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle (Yates)

It kind of pained me to see Robert Mitchum as a rat but this is top shelf 70’s hard boiled crime cinema.  I hadn’t seen it.  Was very surprised to learn that Yates also directed Krull, which I’ve always had a soft spot for.

Certified Copy (Kiarostami)

I love this movie, and I’ve seen it many times.  I think the mistake a lot of people make is focusing too much on the theorizing about authenticity that takes place in the first half of the film.   I take the importance of the theorizing to be not its content per se, but rather the characterization it achieves and also the way it relates to the film’s overall structure.  This is not a didactic movie, though it could easily be mistaken for one.  I was particularly struck this time by how incredibly abrasive a lot of the acting is (purposefully so) and by the persistent visual focus on reflections.

Secrets and Lies (Leigh)

Hadn’t seen this since back when it came out .  It was probably the second Mike Leigh film I saw, after Naked.  It’s about a successful black woman who seeks out her birth mother and (much to both their surprise) finds a working class white woman.  I love Leigh’s work and this is no exception.  Brenda Blethyn is much shriller than I remember, which is hard to take but effective.  It’s a viscerally intense movie.

Viridiana (Bunuel)

Hadn’t seen this in a very long time.  Idealism crushed by depravity and vice.   This is essential Bunuel for sure.  It’s on the less flashy side for him but it’s thematically central.

Diabolique (Clouzot)

Hard to beat France in the 50’s for suspense movies.   This is one of the best.  It crosses into horror territory and was clearly very influential for Hitchcock.

Vampyr (Dreyer)

For me this rather than Nosferatu is the greatest early vampire movie.

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