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.

OTB#91: Sans Soleil

Sans Soleil. Chris Marker. 1983. ⚃

The DVD of this I bought has La jetée as the main attraction, and this movie as the extra. Which makes sense, because I’ve heard of La Jetée, but I haven’t heard of this movie. Which makes me excited.

I really love the central conceit of this movie: It’s a woman doing a voiceover, telling us (the viewers) mostly about what she’s (or Marker’s?) been told by some man. Or something: I don’t think it’s totally clear who “he” and “I” are in the narration at all times? Or is it?

This is a documentary, basically, about Japan, but this overt distancing results in an elegiac tone and imbues everything with importance.

But… this basically goes through all the worst exoticising bits you’ve already seen from any documentary about Japan. “Oooh, it’s so exotic!” you’re meant to say, and while this may be excused by being en early example of the genre, it’s still rather annoying.

The bits from Guinea-Bissau don’t have this problem. I think.

[time passes]

OK, it’s more complicated than that. I mean, what this movie is about. I can totally see why it’s on the OTB list, but… it’s still not completely clicking with me.

So I’m doing the Banana Daiquiri

I love banana, but I thought the booze/ice ratio was off…

… and it totally is. It just tastes weak? I feel there should be, like, twice as much booze in here. Lemme try that…

Nope, still feels unbalanced. It needs more flavour. Now it’s too boozy, but it still tastes mostly like ice.

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

OTB#91: Don’t Look Now

Don’t Look Now. Nicolas Roeg. 1973. ⚄

Oh, man. I have no recollection of having seen this movie, but every scene there’s a kind of primeval recognition. Could I have seen this, like, on TV as a child or something?

It’s deja vu all the way for me.

I must have been scared shitless while watching this.

So I can’t really look at this in any sensible way: I’m totally captivated by all the scenes, but I don’t know whether it’s because they’re really good scenes or because of my possible history with this movie.

ANYWAY.

This 2K restoration looks awesome, and it’s not even Criterion.

I do feel like it loses some tension about halfway through. It’s a wonderful descent into nightmare, but when turning into one sort of movie from another, it becomes something slightly more gimmicky. OK, that’s a too-strong word, but you feel there’s a… twist… coming up… Which cheapens it.

It’s great! But…

So the leftovers cocktail is Easy

But c’mon. C”MON! I like sweet stuff, but this is ridiculous.

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

OTB#91: Soy Cuba

I Am Cuba. Mikhail Kalatozov. 1964. ⚅

This is a movie I was completely unaware of, and I don’t seem to be the only one:

It really is a neglected classic.

It’s so weird! Movies this weird don’t usually end up on lists like these. Is it recently rediscovered or something?

I’ve never seen cinematography remotely like this. They’re using a fish-eye lens on a bunch of the shots, and they’re sticking the camera right into the faces of people, so people look distorted and nightmarish. (Especially the Americans, of course.) The camera never stops moving. And this is before the invention of the steadicam so they have to have had the steadiest camera operator in existence. And these are long, long shots.

Ah. Mike Leigh and Gaspar Noé voted for this movie. Makes sense.

It’s riveting. The sheer audacity of some of these shots is breathtaking. Some of them seem impossible to have happened, but they made them happen. Cars, carts, elevators, zip lines… the camera keeps moving against impossible odds.

The camera is moving, and so is the movie.

One technical thing I’m wondering about is why all the greenery comes off as iridescent white in this movie. Some special kind of filter? Anybody know?

Wikipedia has all the information:

Until the USSR collapsed in the early 1990s, I Am Cuba was virtually unknown. In 1992, a print of the film was screened at the Telluride Film Festival. The San Francisco International Film Festival screened the film in 1993. Shortly after the festival, three film professionals who had screened I Am Cuba at the San Francisco screening contacted friends at Milestone Films, a small New York film distributor specializing in the release of once-lost and neglected older films. Milestone screened a slightly blurry, unsubtitled VHS tape of the film and then went about acquiring the distribution rights from Mosfilm in Russia. In 1994, a friend invited Martin Scorsese to a private screening. Scorsese was amazed by the film, and when Milestone approached him to lend his name to the company’s release of the film, he was happy and enthusiastic to do so.

And the greens being white:

The film is shot in black and white, sometimes using infrared film obtained from the Soviet military[2] to exaggerate contrast (making trees and sugar cane almost white, and skies very dark but still obviously sunny).

The movie is amazeballs.

And there’s a documentary here. Here’s a pic of the cinematographer and an actor:

Yes.

Today’s drink-made-from-leftover-booze is the escalator.

The juicer I used to use broke down, so I got a Kenwood attachment juicer… think… that I’m using for the first time today. I haven’t counted, but there’s like ten pieces to it? It’s absurd. But nine of them go into the dishwasher, so that’s OK. It didn’t make a lot of juice from three apples, though, so I am disappoint. But perhaps the apples weren’t juicy.

Anyway, it’s deee-lish.

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

OTB#91: L’Année dernière à Marienbad

L’Année dernière à Marienbad. Alain Resnais. 1961. ⚅

I’ve seen this at least a couple of times before. The last time was in 2015 according to Emacs… I regret not rebuying it on 2K. It’s such a beautiful film, and I’ve got it on a windowboxed DVD, so the resolution is like nil by nought. And the transfer isn’t particularly good either; there’s a lot of horizontal judder from seemingly worn-out sprockets. Or just bad machinery.

And the subtitles are YUUGE.

OK, for any subsequent movie I’ve seen before, I’m rebuying it on 2K. Gotta have more of dem pixels.

ANYWAY.

Rewatching it now, I do understand why it’s not #1 on this list. It’s hypnotical and dreamy and wonderful, but it’s so close to being risible. Just a slight tweak, and it’s a parody of French art cinema.

I still love it. The roving camera, the humourlessness, the theatricality, the literariness of it all.

Brilliant.

Here’s the cocktail for this movie.

It’s tasty! But then I always like cream/citrusey things.

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

OTB#91: Le Samouraï

Le Samouraï. Jean-Pierre Melville. 1967. ⚃

I have apparently bought the Spanish version of this, but fortunately there’s also a French soundtrack. But no English subtitles! Subscene to the rescue! What would we do without pirates? Just watch Michael Bay movies?

Oh, wow. Alain Delon.

I don’t think I’ve seen any films by Melville? But I like his name.

This blu-ray version looks wonderful. Was Melville one of those “use ‘natural’ light only” guys? Well, not natural lights, but only lights that would be present otherwise? Because some of the scenes are really dark. But wonderfully moody. Noir.

I’m a bit confused as to why this is on the list of 100 best films of all time. I mean, it’s good, but… Is it one of those movies that’s interesting historically, so you have to have it on the list?

Or is it just that Alain Delon is so cool? Because he is. And the flat he lives in is picaresque perfection.

It’s a gorgeous movie; all blue and grey, and it’s Paris, and it’s Delon, but I’m not feeling it. Which is odd, because this is just my sort of movie.

The ending is beyond perfection, though.

I’m so out of practice in making real cocktails. I don’t have any citrus and my fruit press is broken… But I found this all-booze cocktail, that uses two of my boozes (and some wine).

It’s tasty!

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

Officially The Best

I’ve always wanted to watch all the movies on the Sight and Sound list of movies. First of all, it’s a poll taken of working directors, and that in itself makes it interesting. Secondly, the film that won was neither Citizen Kane nor Vertigo, which immediately makes it seem more relevant.

I’ve jokingly referred to the list as “the official list of best movies” in the past, but I’ve come to realise how apt that is, really: It’s a very staid list of movies. Directors do not seem to have very adventurous taste in canon.

There’s no Eraserhead, Tromeo and Juliet, You and Me and Everyone We Know or India Song on this list.

I’m not familiar with all the movies on the list, especially not in the latter half of the list, so I hope there are some surprises in store, and it’s not just Serious Worthy Cinema.

Uhm, writing that, it sounds like I’m going to hate-watch a bunch of awful movies, right? But that’s not what I mean at all. I’ll bet you that every single one of these 106 movies are going to turn out to be really good, and I love Serious Worthy Cinema. It’s just that I hope there are some surprises in here, too.

I have to call out the selection of Bergman movies on this list, though: They’ve chosen Persona (it’s magnificent), The Seventh Seal (sure), Hour of the Wolf (great) and Fanny & Alexander (of course). But no Cries and Whispers!? What?!?! That’s absurd! And again, perhaps, points towards the stodgy selection: It’s a movie with four female protagonists, and that’s what Bergman was interested in most of his career. Three of the four films selected here are more male centred, which is untypical of Bergman, but typical for lists like this.

And speaking of women: I haven’t counted how many films with female versus male directors there are, but I’m going to guess that there’s more than 90% male. Hm… is it possible that Beau Travail by Claire Denis is the only one with a female director?

*sigh*

There’s also the critics’ list, which looks like a straight permutation of the directors’ list (and it has Vertigo as #1), but there are some differences. For instance, it’s got the wonderful Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles by Chantal Akerman, and it’s got Wild Strawberries by Bergman, and Imitation of Life by Douglas Sirk, so it is, objectively speaking, a better list than the directors’.

Whodathunk.

Here’s the number of films per decade on the list:

I think… we can probably guess what the mean age of the voting populace is based on this, eh? 70% of the films are from the 50s/60/70s, with an obligatory nod to the movies from the 20s and 30s that have to be included, and virtually shutting out all other decades.

And, I mean, I’m all for 50s/60s movies, but I’m rather sceptical of the 70s selection.

Anyway, let’s get started… And let’s do them in reverse order, starting with the movies that shared 91st place. And there’s sixteen of them, so we’re starting with the 106th movie.

Oh, and to increase the difficulty setting on this thing, I’m going to go through all the booze I still have from that project where I made one cocktail from each country in the world. I still have a closet full of the stuff, and some of it has probably gone off by now. So I’ll be testing the liqueurs and then using this page that lets you type in ingredient name, and it spits out recipes by the dozen. And I’ll be buying No New Booze. And I mean it this time!

(Well, except vodka and rum. All drinks have vodka or rum and I’m almost out.)