Blindspot Series 2016: Persona (1966)

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Persona (1966)
Written, directed, and produced by Ingmar Bergman
Cinematography by Sven Nykvist
Edited by Ulla Ryghe
Music by Lars Johan Werle
AB Svensk Filmindustri
Hulu streaming (1:24)

The basic story in Persona is fairly simple: a famous actress Elizabet (Liv Ullmann, below right) has suddenly and for no apparent reason stopped speaking. A young nurse named Alma (Bibi Andersson, below left) is charged with caring for Elizabet. That’s the simple version.

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Blindspot Series 2016: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

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The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)
Written and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Produced by Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger and Richard Vernon
Cinematography by Georges Perinal
Edited by John Seabourne
Music by Allan Gray
The Archers Films
Criterion Collection DVD – borrowed from Ann G. (color; 2:43)

Every now and then you encounter a film that speaks to you in vastly different ways depending upon your age and life experience at the time you see it. Roger Ebert spoke to this often when discussing his long-term relationship to the film La Dolce Vita (1960).  Such films never change, but our life situations and ways of thinking do, tricking us into believing that we’re seeing a different movie at age 40 than we saw at age 20, for example. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is one such film, yet whereas La Dolce Vita takes place over the course of only seven days and nights, Colonel Blimp covers decades.

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Blindspot Series 2016: Johnny Guitar (1954)

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Johnny Guitar (1954)
Directed by Nicholas Ray
Produced by Nicholas Ray
Screenplay by Philip Yordan (Ben Maddow and Nicholas Ray, uncredited)
Based on the novel by Roy Chanslor
Cinematography by Harry Stradling
Edited by Richard L. Van Enger
Music by Victor Young
Costumes by Sheila O’Brien
Republic Pictures
Olive Films Blu-ray (1:50)

Nobody really knew what to make of Johnny Guitar when it was released in 1954. Martin Scorsese says as much in his introduction on the Olive Films Blu-ray edition of the film. Audiences “didn’t know what to make of it, so they either ignored it or laughed at it.”

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Blindspot Series 2016: Sunrise (1927)

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Sunrise (a.k.a. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans) (1927)
Directed by F.W. Murnau
Produced by William Fox
Screenplay by Carl Mayer, from an original theme by Hermann Sudermann
Titles by Katherine Hilliker, H.H. Caldwell
Cinematography by Charles Rosher, Karl Struss
Edited by Harold D. Schuster
20th Century Fox
(black-and-white; 1:34)
20th Century Fox Blu-ray

It really doesn’t matter whether you’ve seen a plethora of silent films or none at all before coming to F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise; you’re going to come away from the experience impressed if not astounded. As Roger Ebert points out in his Great Movie column in 2004, early silent films contained little if any camera movement, mainly due to the fact that the cameraman was cranking the camera by hand, making movement next to impossible. Jump to the present, where you can literally carry your camera in your pocket and film anything anywhere. Sunrise and its camera movement manages to impress regardless of how you come to it: as a seasoned silent film veteran or a beginner.

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Not only was the fluid camera work innovative and far ahead of its time, its visual experimentation was (and still is) extraordinary, using superimposed images (creating ghost-like characters), model trains, matte paintings and more. But where Murnau achieves greatness is in  combining a visually engaging experience with a simple, yet powerful story.

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George O’Brien plays a farmer who has fallen on hard times, but that hasn’t stopped him from having an affair with a seductress (Margaret Livingston) from the city. The dark woman encourages the man to do away with his wife (Janet Gaynor, winner of the very first Best Actress Oscar for Sunrise as well as Seventh Heaven and Street Angel – they often gave the award back then for a body of work, not for an individual performance). Not only that, the woman from the city has concocted a plan for how to kill the wife. All the man has to do is carry it out. A simple trip in a rowboat will do the trick.

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I won’t tell you any more about the film because that’s really all you need to know. The beauty and genius of the film works on so many levels and – although it’s nearly 90 years old – it still looks and feels fresh. The film is filled with humanity without being sappy, melodramatic without becoming clichéd. Sunrise is literally one of the films you must see.

Ebert states, “I imagine it is possible to see Sunrise for the first time and think it simplistic; to be amused that the academy could have honored it. But silent films had a language of their own; they aimed for the emotions, not the mind, and the best of them wanted to be, not a story, but an experience.”

At the very first Academy Awards Ceremony in 1928, Sunrise also won Oscars for Unique and Artistic Production and Best Cinematography, and was nominated for Best Art Direction.

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You can find two Blu-ray editions of the film. I own the 20th Century Fox Blu-ray release from 2014, but the region free Masters of Cinema editions (2009 and 2011) received better reviews at blu-ray.com.

5/5

(Photos: The Red List, Blu-ray.com)

Blindspot Series 2016: Pickpocket (1959)

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As I mentioned last month, I hoped to start my own Blindspot Series in 2016: 12 classic films I’ve wanted to see but haven’t. I’m starting my series today with Pickpocket.

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Pickpocket (1959)
Directed by Robert Bresson
Produced by Agnès Delahaie
Screenplay by Robert Bresson
Cinematography by Léonce-Henri Burel
Edited by Raymond Lamy
(black-and-white; 1:16)
Hulu Plus streaming

I wonder what kind of direction Robert Bresson gave his actors. From what I gather, Bresson didn’t use professional actors and while that may have been trying at times, it was probably a stroke of genius. Did he just give them a situation and tell them things like “Behave like you think a pickpocket would behave just before attempting to lift a man’s wallet” or something like that? I have only seen  two of his films: this one and A Man Escaped (1956), which came right before Pickpocket. Both films have an almost documentary feel in places. Part of that is due to the “actors” and part is due to Bresson’s unconventional manner of filmmaking.

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