The Buffalo Film Seminars IV
Fall 2001 Series
Conversations about Great Films
Bruce Jackson & Diane Christian
(free monitored parking in the M&T lot opposite the theater's Washington Street Entrance)
(for the plain vanilla list of films and screening dates click here)
for a list of all BFS films to date, sorted by season, title and director, click here
In everything that follows, if you click on the underlined text it will take you somewhere else, sort of like Dorothy clicking her heels only it won't be home, it will be someplace new. If you want to come back here, click on your browser's BACK button.
The links beneath the film entries will take you to sites we found interesting or informative. For actors, crew and other production details, click on the film title itself for the Internet Movie Database listing. Other links will be added throughout the fall. If you come upon useful links to any of these films, their crews, their subjects, or their relations, please send them along so we can add them.
A caveat re the Tim Dirks links: Dirks provides interesting brief comments, then does great summaries of the plots, including accurate extracts from the script. If you haven't seen the film before, we'd suggest you DO NOT look at Dirks until after the screening—otherwise he'll spoil the pleasure of the plot.
THE SOUND OF SILENCE
Our first two films—The General and Pandora's Box—are from what is often called the "Silent Era," the years before film had soundtracks and theaters had equipment that could read and amplify those tracks. But, in fact, early films were rarely silent: small theaters had piano players or organists, and large theaters had full-scale orchestras. The cases that held the reels of film delivered to theaters often contained musical scores from the studios. Pre-soundtrack screenings differed every time, depending on the mood, skill, and imagination of the live musicians. Audiences had the double pleasure of seeing the film onscreen and having a live performance go on at the same time. And so shall we. Jonathan Benjamin will accompany The General on August 28, and Philip Carli will accompany Pandora's Box on September 4. Each of these accompished and highly-regarded musicians will join us for our post-film discussions.
August 28 Buster Keaton & Clyde Bruckman, The General 1927
(accompanied on piano by Jonathan Benjamin)
One of the all-time great film comedies with a train chase that has never been surpassed and stunts by Keaton that would make Jackie Chan envious. Keaton plays railroad engineer Johnnie Gray who has two loves in his life: his locomotive (The General) and his ladylove (Annabelle Lee). It's loosely based on a real Civil War event, but that hardly matters. This is the Great Stone Face at his best. Selected for the National Film Registry.
Ranjit Sandhu's encyclopedic essay on The General
Buster Keaton filmography
Another Keaton filmography, with links for the films
Film Forum's Keaton page with lots of great links and clips
Sept 4 Georg Pabst, Die Büchse der Pandora/Pandora's Box 1929
(accompanied on piano by Philip Carli)
Few films come close to Pandora’s Box for psychological and erotic depth. Louise Brooks is magnificent as Lulu in this film based on two plays by Franz Wedekind. Her look led to a comic strip (“Dixie Dugan”) and a social craze (flappers). Easy to see why Charlie Chaplin, CBS chief William Paley, and many others were crazy for her.
The Louise Brooks Society page
A scene-by-scene breakdown of Pandora's Box
Sept 11 Mervyn LeRoy, Little Caesar 1930
The first great gangster film. Edward G. Robinson is superb as Rico Bandello, a fictionalized blend of Chicago’s Al Capone and Brooklyn’s Buggsy Goldstein. Selected for the National Film Registry.
Tim Dirks on Little Caesar
Sept 25 Ernst Lubitsch Trouble in Paradise 1932
Considered by many critics the great Lubitsch’s best film. “It is about people who are almost impossibly adult,” wrote critic Roger Ebert. “So suave, cynical, sophisticated, smooth and sure that a lifetime is hardly long enough to achieve such polish. They glide.” Herbert Marshall and Miriam Hopkins aren’t just suave; they’re also crooks who fall in love. And Kay Francis is a rich widow who would like to buy a piece of the action and, failing at that, is content to rent it for a night or two. Hollywood made some great movies before The Code cluttered things up. With Edward Everett Horton and Charles Ruggles. Selected for the National Film Registry.
Tim Dirks on Trouble in Paradise
All kinds of great Lubitsch stuff....
Oct 2 Preston Sturges, Sullivan’s Travels 1942
This is a movie about a Hollywood director who goes out into the world to find meaning when he finds himself blocked on his new movie, Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? “Sullivan's Travels,” write Tim Dirks, “is generally considered one of writer/director Preston Sturges' greatest dramatic comedies - and a satirical statement of his own director's creed.... Sullivan's Travels satirizes Hollywood pretension and excesses with Sturges' particular brand of sophisticated verbal wit and dialogue, satire and slapstick....This journey film mixes every conceivable genre type and tone of film possible—tragic melodrama, farce, slapstick, romance, comedy, action, and even musical, in about a dozen sequences. The film's title is a vague reference to Gulliver's Travels.... The film tells of the 'mission' of a comedy director (Joel McCrea) to experience suffering in the world. After some failed attempts and companionship with an aspiring blonde actress (Veronica Lake) on the road, he succeeds in losing his freedom, identity, and money. In a prison work camp, he finally realizes the uplifting power of a Disney cartoon.” Where's there to go from that? Sullivan finds out. Selected for the National Film Registry.
Tim Dirks on Sullivan's Travels
Oct 9 Billy Wilder, Sunset Boulevard 1950
"All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my closeup," says Gloria Swanson as faded film star Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard's unforgettable final scene. "This movie," wrote critic Roger Ebert, "cuts to the bone." It's a great film noir about Hollywood insiders and outsiders, starring William Holden as a writer hoping to make it and Eric von Stroheim as an old-time director who has lost nearly everything. The film received eleven Oscar nominations and three Academy Awards and was selected for the National Film Registry.
Tim Dirks on Sunset Boulevard
Sunset Boulevard web site
Oct 16 Henri-Georges Clouzot, Le Salaire de la peur/Wages of Fear 1953
William Friedkin remade this in 1977 as Sorcerer, with hugely expensive special effects and Roy Scheider for his star, but they didn't come close to the astonishing tension created by Clouzot's direction and editing, Armand Thirard's electrifying cinematography, and Yves Montand's brilliant first film performance. We'll see the restored version, 20% longer than what Americans were permitted to see when the film was released here nearly 50 years ago.
James Berardinelli's commentary on Wages of Fear
Roger Ebert on Wages of Fear
Oct 23 Charles Laughton, The Night of the Hunter 1955
Roger Ebert says this is "One of the greatest of all American Films." Leonard Maltin describes it as an "Atmospheric allegory of innocence, evil and hypocrisy, with psychotic religious fanatic Robert Mitchum chasing homeless children for money stolen by their father. Mitchum is marvelously menacing, with Lillian Gish as wise matron who takes in the kids. Starkly directed by Laughton; his only film behind the camera." The film credits writer James Agee with the script, but it was really written by Laughton days before shooting began. Based on Davis Grubb's novel. Selected for the National Film Registry.
Oct 30 Alexander Mackendrick, Sweet Smell of Success 1957
Tim Dirks on Night of the Hunter
Roger Ebert's review of Night of the Hunter
Success doesn't get much grubbier than this. "Searing Clifford Odets-Ernest Lehman script about ruthless, all-powerful columnist J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) and smarmy press agent (Tony Curtis), who'll do anything to curry his favor. Vivid performances, fine jazz score by Elmer Bernstein, outstanding camerawork by James Wong Howe that perfectly captures NYC nightlife." "Sweet Smell of Success is one of those rare films," wrote Roger Ebert, "where you remember the names of characters because you remember them—as people, as types, as benchmarks." Selected for the National Film Registry.
Roger Ebert on Sweet Smell of Success
Damian Cannon's review of Sweet Smell of Success for U.K. Movie Reviews
Kirk Hostetter on SSoS as film noir from 24 Frames Per Second
Nov 6 Luchino Visconti, Il Gattopardo/The Leopard 1963
The version of this film released in the US forty years ago was badly cut and mangled. This restored print of Visconti's magnificent epic, based on Lampedusa's novel, set in Sicily in 1860, shows why the film has long been so highly regarded by European critics. Burt Lancaster is superb as the prince coming to terms with Garbaldi's unification of Italy, and Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale are one of film's great romantic couples.
Nov 13 Bernardo Bertolucci, Il Conformista/The Conformist 1970
Bertolucci’s best film. Jean-Louis Trintignant is superb as Marcello Clerici, the central character of Alberto Moravia’s novel about a man who so wants to belong he manages to betray everything and everyone except the fascists, for whom he is merely an instrument. Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro is perhaps best known to American audiences for his work on Coppola’s Apocalypse Now and Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor, but his work on The Conformist is as great as either.
World Cinema page on The Conformist, with several good links
Bertolucci bio note from Baseline's Encyclopedia of Film
Alberto Moravia bio note with bibliography
Nov 20 Nicolas Roeg, Don't Look Now 1973
Nicolas Roeg, cinematographer for François Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451 and David Lean's Dr. Zhivago, directed 20 films, three of them memorable: The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), Walkabout (1971) and Don't Look Now. Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie are grieving parents of a drowned child. They go to Venice, where Sutherland works on the restoration of a Byzantine church. Something happens to them there. This horrific and erotic film, almost perfectly misunderstood by critics when it was released, is now regarded as a masterpiece.
The Mosaic of Roeg's Lost Masterpeice
Nov 27 Terrence Malick, Days of Heaven 1978
Terrence Malick has directed only two other feature films: Badlands 1973 and Thin Red Line 1998. All three are haunting, resonant, and beautiful. The great Cuban cinematographer Néstor Almendros won an Academy Award for his work on this film, but the award should have been shared with Haskell Wexler, who shot at least half the film but for some unexplained reason received only a minor credit. Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, and Sam Shepard are caught in a desperate triangle of love, survival, and death, and Linda Manz, as character and narrator provides the exquisite perspective of a child's vision. Roger Ebert describes Days of Heaven as "one of the most beautiful films ever made. Malick's purpose is not to tell a story of melodrama, but one of loss. His tone is elegaic."
Roger Ebert on Days of Heaven
Dec 4 Terry Gilliam The Adventure of Baron Munchausen 1988
There really was a Baron Munchausen, and he fought for the Russians against the Turks in the 18th century. A book was written about him by a jewel thief who may or may not have known him, and tales about him circulated orally as folklore. There may be some truth in some of the tales but—who cares? Terry Gilliam has woven a delightful rambling narrative about the fantastic Baron and he has populated it with grand characters played by John Neville, Eric Idle, Robin Williams, Uma Thurman, Sting, Jonathan Pryce, and others. Gilliam, who was the American member of Monty Python's Flying Circus, the great British television and later film team of the 1970s and 1980s, says that Munchausen is the third part of a trilogy, the other two parts of which are Time Bandits (1981) and Brazil (1985). Does that matter? Probably not. This is a grand and hilarious movie, a rollicking and imaginative end to the fourth in this series of terrific movies.
Keith James Hamel's Images Journal article on Gilliam
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