Seen and Unseen: The Fallen Idol (1948)

The 1948 film The Fallen Idol, directed by Carol Reed, is a film of watching and being watched, of seeing and not seeing, of incomplete knowledge and lies and misunderstanding. It begins with the very first shot: a close-up on a young boy (Bobby Henrey), his face framed by a balustrade, as he gazes down at the brisk comings and goings of the numerous adults far below him, on the ground floor of his house. His house, as it happens, is an embassy in London, and most or possibly all of this bustle is due to the fact the ambassador (Gerard Heinz) — his father — is about to depart on a brief trip in order to bring the boy’s mother home from an eight-month-long hospital stay. Servants race to bring the ambassador’s bags out to his car; last-minute changes are made to the travel arrangements; preparations for the woman’s homecoming are discussed. Even when the boy, Phillipe (often called Phile, pronounced with a short i), descends the stairs partway in order to get a closer view, nobody appears to take the slightest notice of him save for one man: Baines (Ralph Richardson), the butler. Despite being occupied himself, Baines makes a point of acknowledging and entertaining the little onlooker. A playful hop when he empties an ashtray into the fireplace, a wink — small things, maybe, but enough to make Phile smile and to suggest the warm friendship between the two. It’s Baines, too, who says, “Master Phillipe, sir,” as the ambassador is leaving, as if to remind him to bid farewell to his son. One gets the sense that he might well have forgotten otherwise.

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The Adventures of Pete & Pete: “Grounded for Life” (1994)

At the risk of overgeneralizing, it seems reasonably safe to say that any television series that features a metal plate in a woman’s head and a preteen boy’s tattoo in its opening credits, presenting them as equals with the rest of the show’s main characters, is bound to be at least a tad offbeat — and that’s not even accounting for the fact that the two of those other main characters are brothers with the same first name.

Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of The Adventures of Pete & Pete.

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Father’s Day: The Thursday (1964)

Robertino Dino Car

“Am I young for a father?” Dino Versini (Walter Chiari) asks his girlfriend, Elsa (Michèle Mercier), in the opening scene of Dino Risi’s 1964 film The Thursday (originally Il giovedì). Dino is forty and looks it, so the inquiry seems more than a little silly. Is it simple vanity that compels him to pose this question, a barely veiled attempt to elicit a compliment on his appearance, or does it spring from a deeper insecurity? It’s just possible, also, that at least some part of him genuinely regards himself as someone too youthful to be the parent of an eight-year-old-boy. Today, for the first time since his marriage broke up five years ago, he’s going to spend time with his son, Robertino (Roberto Ciccolini). Although he may not realize it yet, their reunion will force him to confront both his image of himself and the image he tries to project to the world — whatever difference there may be between them.

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A Letter Written by Hand: The Green Room (1978)

Blurry

“There have been many, too many, deaths around me, of people I’ve loved, that I took the decision, after Françoise Dorléac died, never again to attend a funeral, which, as you can well imagine, does not prevent the distress I feel from casting its shadow over everything for a time and never completely fading, even as the years pass, for we live not only with the living but also with all of those who have ever meant anything in our lives.”

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Six Favorites from the Sixties

6 from the 1960s Blogathon

If I had to pick one decade as my favorite for movies, I think I would have to go with the 1960s. Picking my six favorite movies from that decade? That’s a little more difficult. (It’s hard enough to limit myself to six favorites from a single year of the decade.) After much debate, I’ve decided on the following films (listed chronologically), though there are probably about two dozen other titles that could just as easily have made the cut.

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Late Autumn, Late Ozu

Photograph

Throughout Yasujirô Ozu’s body of work, familiarity and change are ever-present. On one hand, there’s a certain comfortable sameness about them, especially on a superficial level. An Ozu movie — save, perhaps, something from the earliest years of his career — always looks unmistakably like an Ozu movie, so consistent and distinctive is his style: the low camera placement, the static shots, the way the actors face the viewer directly as they speak. The sense of familiarity goes beyond the purely visual as well. Again and again, one finds repeated themes and situations, taking place in similar milieus, involving similar characters played by many of the same performers. Still, for all of this familiarity, the world in which these characters live is fundamentally unstable. Things change, inevitably, in ways both dramatic and mundane: people die, children grow up and leave their parents, workers are transferred to faraway cities, friends drift apart. It’s sad, but that’s just the way things are. (“Isn’t life disappointing?” as a young woman in 1953’s Tokyo Story famously puts it.)

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Summer Under the Stars: Hour of the Wolf (1968)

Muse and Artist

Early on in Ingmar Bergman’s 1968 film Hour of the Wolf, painter Johan Borg (Max von Sydow) urges his pregnant wife, Alma (Liv Ullmann), to pose for him so that he can sketch her. He instructs her on how she should sit, how to arrange the robe she’s wearing, what to do with her hair. “If I patiently drew you, day after day…” he says as the scene fades to black. The artist and his muse — but their roles undergo something like a reversal once Johan vanishes and Alma is left to try to make sense of what happened, to share her perspective on the man with whom she lived for seven years. Perhaps she didn’t know him as well as she thought; perhaps, in a strange sense, she knew him too well.

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The Show Must Go On: The Entertainer (1960)

Archie Sign with Jean

Outside a theater in an English seaside town, an artist’s rendering of a grotesque face, massive in scale and positioned over the words “Archie Rice: The One and Only,” grins down at passersby. Scarcely anybody gives it even a moment’s glance, but one young woman, Jean (Joan Plowright), stops in the middle of the crowded sidewalk to gaze up at it. The expression on her face suggests a certain fondness for this strange figure, with perhaps the slightest touch of ambivalence. This ambivalence grows as she looks at the other promotional materials on display depicting the one and only Archie (Laurence Olivier) — no less grotesque in photographs than in drawings — posed with scantily-clad showgirls and proclaiming him “T.V. & Radio’s Sauciest Comic,” until she’s become downright glum. Obviously, Archie Rice is a public figure, but in private life he happens to be Jean’s father — and yet, different though they are in many ways, it’s not always easy to tell precisely where the public figure ends and the private man begins.

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The Dark Side of Brighton: Brighton Rock (1948)

Palace of Fun

Brighton today is a large, jolly, friendly seaside town in Sussex, exactly one hour’s journey from London.

But in the years between the two wars, behind the Regency terraces and crowded beaches, there was another Brighton of dark alleyways and festering slums. From here, the poison of crime and violence and gang warfare began to spread, until the challenge was taken up by the Police.

This is a story of that other Brighton — now happily no more.

The 1948 (or 1947, according to some sources) film Brighton Rock, directed by John Boulting and based on Graham Greene’s 1938 novel of the same name, follows its opening credits with this written statement, which scrolls over a shot of a multitude of happy holidaymakers relishing the sun, sand and surf. No doubt its primary purpose is to reassure potential tourists who might be put off by the film’s unsavory depiction of the city, yet it also establishes the theme of duality that will run throughout the story.

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Déesses Fatales: Duelle (1976)

Hotel

Jacques Rivette’s 1976 movie Duelle opens with a textbook film noir scenario: One night, a mysterious woman named Leni (Juliet Berto) — who’s even dressed in 1940s-style clothing, despite the fact that the film seemingly takes place in the era in which it was made — arrives at a Paris hotel and requests a specific room. She explains to Lucie (Hermine Karagheuz), the porter on duty, that it’s the room in which her former longtime lover Max Christie (or Lord Christie, as he’s often called) stayed a year ago. “I’ve lost his trail. I must find him again,” she insists. Lucie never met him, but she’s heard about him from another employee: that he left big tips, that he was often there with a girl by the name of Stern, that he only came to the hotel after visiting a nearby hostess club called the Rumba. Leni decides to seek further information there, and she also hires Lucie to investigate. To anyone familiar with noir conventions, it should come as no great surprise that Leni turns out to be a femme fatale — but the form that takes isn’t quite so conventional.

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