Jul. 18, 2012 - Issue #874: Musician’s Survival Guide: Songwriters on Songwriting
The Story of Film (Episodes 5 & 6)This week's installments of Irish film scholar Mark Cousins' absorbing and addictive 15-part history of innovation in movies sweep us through the key achievements of the '40s and '50s, an incredibly fertile period for both Hollywood and the rest of the world.
After whirlwind introductions to Italian neorealism and wunderkind Orson Welles, Cousins' deftness with concision, with selecting individual works that serve as emblems for entire movements, is fully on display in episode five's detour into film noir. Cousins digs deep into the tangled roots of the noir style before wisely singling out Joseph Lewis' Gun Crazy (1950) and its hugely influential bank robbery sequence filmed entirely from the back seat of a car as a perfect example of noir's particular economy, sustained tension and sudden brutality. Cousins follows this quick case study with some typically smart comments on noir from Paul Schrader and some fairly cliché comments from Robert Towne. Episode five wraps up with a visit to Cousins' own part of the world: a jaunt through the postwar masterpieces of Powell and Pressburger, some admiring words from Terence Davies on Emil Jennings, and an ode to The Third Man (1949), lassoing elements of noir, British cinema and even Orson Welles into an appreciation of this one iconic film.
Cousins declares the '50s as the decade of melodrama. We also might think of it as the decade of the two Rays, Satyajit and Nicholas. The former was the director of Panter Panchali (1955) and The Music Room (1958), a master of that other Indian cinema, the one that started engaging in troubling social realities even before Italian neorealism. Cousins describes how Ray discovered one of his stars living in a brothel, an emaciated, stooped, deeply lined elderly woman who needed a shot of morphine a day in order to do her unforgettable work in Panter, which made such an impression globally that it screened in New York for six months. The latter was the great American director of Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and Johnny Guitar (1954), a western riddled with gender reversals and a thinly veiled critique of the HUAC hearings. The two Rays made some of the most revered and widely seen movies of the decade, but Cousins also directs our attention to lesser-known, but equally important and strikingly like-minded work being done in Egypt by Youssef Chahine or in Mexico by Emilio Fernandez and Luis Buñuel, who rebooted his dormant film career with Los Olvidados (1950), a mesmerizing weave of street gangs, the disabled and the homeless, of quasi-documentary and dream.
But the '50s were saturated with great work. Cousins also manages to cram in the emergence of Akira Kurosawa and celebrates his glorious atmospheric effects, such as the mobilized forest in Throne of Blood (1957) or that same film's memorable death scene, in which Toshiro Mifune is turned into a human pin-cushion—a sequence Cousins sees as lovingly echoed in Sonny's death in The Godfather (1972). But that still leaves the hidden subversion of Douglas Sirk, the influence of psychoalanysis, the popularization of method acting by Marlon Brando, James Dean and Montgomery Clift, and the films of Kenneth Anger. The '50s seem uncontainable, but Cousins does an excellent job of drawing together many of its key developments, the ones that would build in pressure and start to explode in the following decade.
Sun, Jul 22 – Wed, Jul 25
Directed by Mark Cousins
Metro Cinema at the Garneau
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