OTB#91: Beau Travail

Beau Travail. Claire Denis. 1999. ⚅

Somebody described Denis as “the best living director today” a few years back, and that’s what it takes to get on the Official The Best list if you’re a woman. (At #91.) There are no further female directors on the list.

I’ve seen this movie several times before, and it’s absolutely fascinating. It’s got a camera (courtesy of Agnès Godard) that’s a very specific gaze, further amplified by cutting away to the locals constantly looking at the soldiers in bewilderment. It’s a chamber drama, but Denis refuses to let it remain that way by showing us the life outside the camp all the time.

It’s relentlessly tense.

It’s got the best final scene of any film ever, but it’s more than that: The use of Britten’s music interspersed with songs popular in 1999 is hypnotic. And it seems like it’s going to be a movie where not much happens, but it’s got a lot going on, only… subtly.

It’s one of my favourite movies. I tried getting it in 2K for this re-watch, but (SCANDALO) nobody’s released it on Blu Ray yet? What’s up with that?

If that happens, I’ll re-watch it once more.

Oh, I forgot to mention that it’s loosely based on Billy Budd, and if you’re expecting a naturalistic drama: This is not that. It’s slightly like an opera with less shouting. Or perhaps a ballet with extra shouting.

Today’s leftover cocktail is Alexander The Great

… and I finally got rid of a bottle. Then again, this means that I can’t do any further cocktails that has to have creme de cacao… Is the final cocktail for this series going to be vodka diluted with more vodka!?

Anyway, it’s delish.

This blog post is part of the Officially The Best series.

OTB#91: Opening Night

Opening Night. John Cassavetes. 1977. ⚅

Gina Rowlands! I love her.

I’ve had my doubts about Cassavetes before. I mean:

But this is brilliant.

Everybody behaves so awfully towards the Rowlands character (including the Cassavetes character (her husband, after all) slapping her), that it starts getting… is like Cassavetes trying to say something to her?

I hoped there would be a twist and Rowlands would just pull out an AK-47 and go Rambo on them all, because it’s relentless.

And mesmerising. Such a weird movie. You think you know what it’s about, and then it’s totally not. So I guess you may suspect that it’s unstructured, but it’s just… It all fits together, sort of, in a way that’s difficult to express.

It was really disliked when it was released:

Opening Night was critically panned in the US on its release. The review in Variety that appeared after a press screening concluded, “One must question whether more than a handful of moviegoers are interested in the effort, whether audiences have not already seen enough of Cassavetes’ characters … He’s made these films before and not many seemed interested in them.” When it opened in New York, the film was not reviewed at all in most newspapers and magazines.

But then Euros re-discovered it, and now everybody loves it.

Today’s leftover cocktail is Liquorice Whisky Sour, and the liquorice liqueur hadn’t gone off, but I had to use some pliers to get the cap off. Sugar, man. It hardens over the years.

Hm! I love liquorice, so I think this didn’t have enough, really. It’s just a slight hint, but it basically tastes like a normal whisky sour. And that’s never a bad thing.

This blog post is part of the Officially The Best series.

OTB#91: The Gold Rush

The Gold Rush. Charles Chaplin. 1925. ⚄

Man, this has been beautifully restored by Criterion. It’s a 2K release, and it looks super sharp. OK, some of the shots are a bit blurry, but it generally looks great. Much better than the transfers I saw back when I was a child.

Because I think it’s been a while since I’ve seen this. Like a decade or four?

And wasn’t this silent?

Oh, I’m watching the re-release:

In 1942, Chaplin released a new version of The Gold Rush, modifying the original silent 1925 film by adding a recorded musical score, adding a narration which he recorded himself, and tightening the editing, which reduced the film’s running time by several minutes.

This is really good, though. I know I’m stating the obvious, but it’s been a long while since I’ve seen early Chaplin, and I didn’t remember it being this… ambitious? I mean, the sets look to great! That intricate picaresque cabin, for instance, with all those planks going every which way, for instance. The recurring gags, getting funnier all the time. That wonderful over-the-top acting.

It’s very watchable still, and I totally get why Aki Kaurismäki voted for this movie.

I again tried to get rid of the creme de cacao, so I went with a Brandy Alexander.

But it really should have had the two different types of creme de cacao like the recipe specifies. With just the white creme de etc, it’s too one note.

This blog post is part of the Officially The Best series.

OTB#91: The Deer Hunter

The Deer Hunter. Michael Cimino. 1978. ⚂

This won all the Oscars, which immediately makes me suspicious. And I have seen it before, but I was probably… twelve…? at the time (probably got it on VHS some years after the release). And I remember absolutely nothing about it except that it’s sweaty and there’s some Russian roulette.

Let’s see what happens!

This movie makes me realise that I’ve always gotten John Savage and Christopher Walken confused… and that this movie is probably where the confusion comes from. And this picture makes me realise that Cimono cast two versions of himself:

Only prettier.

Cimino leans really, really hard into the whole garrulous working class thing…

Cimino famously drove a film studio onto bankruptcy with his next movie, so I wondered whether that made people reevaluate this one:

Sarris added, “I was never taken in … Hence, the stupidity and incoherence in Heaven’s Gate came as no surprise since very much the same stupidity and incoherence had been amply evident in The Deer Hunter.”

But apparently not much, even though there’s this:

More recently, film critic Mark Kermode challenged the film’s status: “At the risk of being thrown out of the ‘respectable film critics’ circle, may I take this opportunity to declare officially that in my opinion The Deer Hunter is one of the worst films ever made, a rambling self indulgent, self aggrandizing barf-fest steeped in manipulatively racist emotion, and notable primarily for its farcically melodramatic tone which is pitched somewhere between shrieking hysteria and somnambulist sombreness.”

It’s kinda clumsy and indulgent. Like the drop of red wine of the bride’s white wedding dress. COULD IT BE SYMBOLIC! There’s not much plot to talk of: It’s mostly just coincidences (like Nick and Michael both happening to be in the same roulette… bar).

OK, I’m whining too much. There’s a lot of very pretty shots in here. And Robert de Niro, for once, doesn’t play his usual character, and he’s fascinating to watch here.

Heh. The only scene I did remember almost didn’t make it into the movie:

According to Deeley, Cimino questioned the need for the Russian roulette element of the script

As “get rid of some booze” recipes go, the Funky Monkey is fantastic: It’s all stuff I need to get rid of. I bought that rum on a whim because they suddenly had twenty different single plantation rums in the shop. And it’s… it’s… harsh. It’s harsh, dude.

But it’s wonderful here! I cuts through all the heavy and sweet flavours here, and it ends up being amazingly balanced. Nom nom nom.

This blog post is part of the Officially The Best series.

OTB#91: Zéro de Conduite

Zéro de conduite: Jeunes diables au collège. Jean Vigo. 1933. ⚃

Since there are 16 movies tying for “last place” on this top 100 (all at #91), it means that I’ve got some leeway in choosing the order of movies. So the next film alphabetically was The Deer Hunter, but that’s over three hours long!? And I’ve got things to do tonight. So I’m watching this Jean Vigo movie instead, which is only 44 minutes long.

The only other Vigo thing I’ve seen is L’Atalante, which was spiffy… but so weird.

And again, this is weird. I know, Vigo isn’t going for naturalism or anything, but it’s so odd.

Oh, it’s historically important:

Though the film was not an immediate success with audiences, it has proven to be enduringly influential. François Truffaut paid homage to Zero for Conduct in his film The 400 Blows (1959). The anarchic classroom and recess scenes in Truffaut’s film borrow from Vigo’s film, as does a classic scene in which a mischievous group of schoolboys are led through the streets by one of their schoolmasters. Director Lindsay Anderson has acknowledged that his own film if…. was inspired by Zero for Conduct.

I don’t know… It feels like pretty undigested disgust for Vigo’s school situation (presumably) vomited onto the screen.

I wonder whether this would have been as famous as it is if it hadn’t been banned for over a decade in France. I mean, it’s good, but…

This blog post is part of the Officially The Best series.

OTB#91: The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. John Cassavetes. 1976. ⚂

OK, the weirdest thing about the list of 100 best movies I’m doing is that Cassavetes has four movies on it.

I mean, there’s nobody on here with more movies than Cassavetes.

I wonder whether that’s an artefact of the age of the participating voting directors… or is Cassavetes the best director ever? I’ve only seen a couple of his movies.

And whenever I see his name, this song starts playing in mah branes:

So what’s my take on Cassavetes? Hm…

Well, everybody’s faces are so shiny. Cassavetes is like the 70s distilled.

Oh, this is the version I’m watching:

The film’s original release, at 135 minutes in length, was a commercial disappointment and the film was pulled from distribution after only seven days. At a May 17, 2008, George Eastman House screening in Rochester, Gazzara said he “hated” the original cut; “it’s too long”, he had told Cassavetes.

Eventually, Cassavetes decided to re-edit the film, and it was re-released in 1978 in a new 108-minute cut. The 1978 version is the one that has been in general release since that time, though both versions of the film were issued in The Criterion Collection’s John Cassavetes: Five Films box set, marking the first appearance of the 1976 version since its original release.

Perhaps I should have been watching the shorter version, which may be the one everybody’s seen.

Because, yes indeed, this is very slow. But I usually love slow movies, so perhaps not.

[time passes]

Well, I can certainly that this is something that would bomb at the box office. Large parts are set in a strip club… but while strip clubs are usually depressing, this one is downright morbid. It’s like a bizarre cabaret thing. Is it all a metaphor for Cassavetes’ movies!?!

Everything here is depressing, really. It’s a very 70s movie.

The plot is slightly convoluted and doesn’t make much sense: Why’d the mobsters go after a somewhat high-profile guy (a club owner) for their killer? You’d think they have dozens of guys ready to go without all the shenanigans.

But apart from the movie not making much sense, there are some really gripping scenes. I do not understand why this movie made the list, though. Is it because of the slightly complicated history it had when being released? People love rediscovered movies, whether they’re any good or not.

On the other hand, Bruce LaBruce voted for this movie, so I’m probably wrong.

There’s scenes here I really like; that are utterly original. But I just lost interest in this movie like fifteen minutes in. Perhaps I should have watched the short version.

The leftover cocktail for this movie is Elderflower Martini #2. Although I seem to have quite a lot left of all these. I guess I’ll have to drink like 12 elderflower cocktails to get rid of that bottle…

This is interesting. The elderflower almost clashes with the bison grass, but then the vermouth kind of muddles the waters… There’s a lot going on, and it’s not unpleasant, but it’s not really a winner, either.

By the way, does anybody know of a version of Futura with better keming? The “AV” in the first image looks … bad. I’ve bought two versions, but they both have this problem.

This blog post is part of the Officially The Best series.