Movies reviewed this week: Look Back in Anger, Penda’s Fen, Thirst, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Howling: New Moon Rising, Rabid, Working Girls, and Foreign Intrigue.
9/12/2022: Look Back in Anger (1959): ***1/2
That was a rough watch. Burton’s at his angry best as Jimmy Porter, and both Claire Bloom and Mary Ure keep up with him in what are more difficult parts. There’s no arc to Porter’s character, which is fine for what the movie is trying to say, but it’s tough on my enjoyment. John Osborne: “The world is shit.”
I really liked S. P. Kapoor and the window into yet more classism. The sound design was great, from the diagetic jazz early on to the train sounds echoed by dirt against a grave. This was a rough watch, but a well-crafted one.
I’ve seen two movies in the Criterion Channel’s fall 2022 British New Wave collection, and both of the protagonists are lower class men without much to sympathize with in their character. Their ambition and anger is clearly justified, but nobody’s going to come out of this liking them much. It’s an interesting note and I’m curious as to what I’ll see as I work through the rest of the collection.
9/15/2022: Penda’s Fen (1974): ****
“Stephen, be secret.
Child be strange, dark, true, impure, and dissonant.
Cherish our flame.”
For about fifteen minutes I thought this was going to be a ponderous exploration of fascinating British mysticism centered around an unpleasant protagonist, but then the dense layers began to reveal their design and it got really, really good. Even now, as I’m thinking up witticisms about hands, I’m still realizing the depths of this one. Of course the scene with the hands is a direct consequence of Stephen’s dream sequence: he was touching that which he shouldn’t have been touching.
If you are looking for an eerie British movie about the nature of Christianity and paganism, how they overlap, and how they both might relate to environmental concerns and queer transformations, I highly recommend this. Oh, and the composer Edward Elgar. Who was born lower class and who was a Roman Catholic. Man, this movie is intensely thoughtful and complex.
Prompt: a movie from six different countries (UK)
9/16/2022: Thirst (2009): ****
Two great movies to start the Hooptober challenge! I can only assume that they’ll all be this good.
I wasn’t totally sold on this to start; the early sequences felt a little slow, maybe a little mannered. I should have had faith in Park Chan-wook, since if he knows how to do anything, he knows how to build and release tension. Also, what was I thinking? Song Kang-ho wasn’t going to stay dull forever, no matter how boring his Sang-hyun was at the start.
Also also, Kim Ok-vin was phenomenal and I need to see more of her work when October is over.
What Thirst really nailed, for me, was the madness of being a vampire. That last half of the film is really about Sang-hyun’s descent into madness and the way he slowly but surely gives up. In the end, he commits one of the most grievous of Catholic sins: I can’t read that as anything other than total surrender. Kim Ok-vin’s Tae-ju, meanwhile, is not entirely moored from the start.
Blend in a fair bit of sharp commentary on Korean society and you’ve got a pretty good vampire flick. Oh, and I think that might have been the best vampire conversion scene I’ve ever seen. It’s taking the #4 spot on my vampire movie list.
Prompt: a movie from six different countries (South Korea)
9/17/2022: Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960): ****1/2
This was my favorite of the Criterion Channel British New Wave collection so far, although I’m only a few films in. Albert Finney is intensely dynamic as Arthur, just a bundle of angry energy. I also really enjoyed the documentary feel that Karel Reisz brought to this.
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is about class, but it isn’t about class warfare. We don’t see the upper classes here, although of course they’re what Arthur is rebelling against even if he never says so explicitly. I think that’s at least as interesting as the upward mobility theme I’ve seen in the first two movies in the collection.
And Arthur’s an asshole, but Finney gives us enough understanding of his inner life so that there’s some room for sympathy. It helps that he isn’t just trying to become one of the people in charge.
9/17/2022: Howling: New Moon Rising (1995): 1/2
I would like to say that this movie is redeemed by producer/director/writer/star Clive Turner’s obvious love for Pioneertown and for the residents thereof. However, it’s not.
Prompt: the worst horror sequel from the 90s
9/18/2022: Rabid (1977): ***
Early Cronenberg but distinctly Cronenberg in the austere vision of mutations gone horribly wrong. The structure of the movie is startlingly effective: society becomes fractured just as Cronenberg’s depiction of the spread of the plague shatters. My second favorite moment is when Rose’s friend Mindy leaves Rose in the apartment and encounters the plague in full swing. There’s something really effective about the way the infection can no longer be tracked.
The best moment is the final shot. Nice despair. This is probably why it’s a pandemic movie, not a vampire movie.
I was amused by the touches of automotive fandom. There’s an alternate universe where Fast Company was a massive hit and every now and then people wonder why action Director Cronenberg threw in that bizarre organic touch in Fast and the Fury.
Prompt: five films from David Cronenberg (et al)
9/18/2022: Working Girls (1986): ***1/2
Unique in that it tells a story about sex workers with absolutely no titillation, which is more than worthy of noting. That’s not what really grabbed me about it, though. What drew my interest was the story this movie tells about class, labor, and commodification. It’s a movie about using objects as social signifiers: women comparing shoe brands, yes, but also customers trying to signify affection by giving the workers gifts. Or the pharmacist who signals his opinion of Molly’s status by noting how much birth control she’s buying.
Educational status is both a threat to the economic signifiers (“don’t condescend to me”) and irrelevant. Molly may have gone to Yale, but it doesn’t mean a thing when compared to the wealth of reasons why she’s seen as an object. She’s not just a sex worker, she’s a sex worker who has to hide her actual sexuality even from her co-workers. When a Harvard-educated customer shows up, the Ivy League connection is just an uncomfortable moment.
Yet in the end economic success also isn’t meaningful; Lucy shows us that. Lucy makes good money off the women, but it won’t ever enable her to step up a class no matter how many shoes she buys. When she’s showing off her purchases, the last and most precious item is silk panties, because that’s the only real hold she can get on society.
This, the thesis of the movie: education doesn’t matter. Money doesn’t matter. Class mobility is an illusion; the system is designed to keep people exactly where they are. It’s all about who pays who, as explicitly explained by Molly’s second to last customer.
Her last customer does offer her a way out. But it’s just changing owners, so if she takes him up on it, it’s just another illusion of escape.
9/18/2022: Foreign Intrigue (1956): **
Man, this should really be good. Plenty of good actors, interesting setup, and some crisp dialogue here and there. The choice of twist towards the end really drains all the tension out of the plot, but Sheldon Reynolds wasn’t making much use of it anyhow.
Not, by the by, a noir. You could recraft it into a pretty good tabletop RPG scenario, though.