Tag Archives: Orpheus

Film on TV: November 9-15

ridethehighcountry.jpg
Ride the High Country, playing on TCM Friday, November 13.

A few interesting new ones this week. I haven’t seen Nicholas Ray’s Bitter Victory, playing on Wednesday, but it comes highly recommended by Jean-Luc Godard. So there. Then there’s Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder on Thursday, which I can’t believe we haven’t seen in this feature before, and Sam Peckinpah’s Ride the High Country on Friday – a film which sits, like many of Peckinpah’s films, right on the cusp between traditional and revisionist westerns – and Jean Cocteau’s poetic Orpheus late on Sunday. Finally, Sundance has both parts of Steven Soderbergh’s Che on Saturday, probably the first time it’s played on TV outside of PPV or premium cable.

Monday, November 9

5:30am – Sundance – A Woman Under the Influence
Gena Rowlands gives a tour-de-force performance as Mabel, a woman whose teetering madness threatens her marriage to Nick (Peter Falk). Their relationship edges back and forth between love, frustration, and anger with amazing quickness, yet it’s not clear whether Mabel’s instability is causing the problems, or the other way around. John Cassavetes directs with an unwavering camera, refusing to look away.
1974 USA. Director: John Cassavetes. Starring: Gena Rowlands, Peter Falk, Fred Draper, Lady Rowlands.

5:35pm – IFC – A Fish Called Wanda
It’s not a Monty Python picture, but with John Cleese and Michael Palin on board as participants in a zany crime story, along with ambiguous-relationshiped Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Kline, it has some of the same absurd charm.
1988 USA/UK. Director: Charles Crichton. Starring: John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, Michael Palin, Maria Aitken, Tom Georgeson.
Newly Featured!
(repeats at 3:30am on the 10th)

Tuesday, November 10

5:25am – IFC – Cléo from 5 to 7
Almost all New Wave films were directed by men, and there’s a definite undercurrent of misogyny in most of them – or at least a clear lack of understanding of women. Enter Agnès Varda, who took New Wave sensibilities, added in her own painterly touches, and a strong feminine perspective – and you get incredible films like this one, a spare story of a woman who discovers she has cancer. The mix of New Wave detachment and the evocation of the woman’s flittering emotions just under the surface combine perfectly to skyrocket the film onto my all-time favorites list.
1962 France. Director: Agnès Varda. Starring: Corinne Marchand, Antoine Bourseiller, Dominique Davray, Dorothée Blank, Michel Legrand.
Must See

Wednesday, November 11

5:15am – TCM – Bitter Victory
The major thing I know about this film is that it’s the one that prompted Jean-Luc Godard to write “Henceforth there is cinema. And cinema is Nicholas Ray” in his Cahiers du cinema review. And I love other Nicholas Ray films, so that’s enough for me to be interested in catching this one. TCM’s description: “A World War II commander jeopardizes his mission to endanger a colleague involved with his wife.”
1958 USA. Director: Nicholas Ray. Starring: Richard Burton, Curd Jürgens, Ruth Roman, Raymond Pellegrin.
Newly Featured!

6:55am – IFC – Three Times
Hsiao-hsien Hou directs this tripartite film – three stories set in three different time periods (1911, 1966, and 2005), each with the same actors, and each depicting a relationship that’s both very specific and individual and also sheds light on the mores of its respective time period. I liked the 1966 story the best, but they were all intriguing, and the contrast between them even more so.
2005 Hong Kong. Director: Hsiao-hsien Hou. Starring: Qi Shu, Chen Chang.
(repeats at 12:30pm)

Thursday, November 12

9:00am – Sundance – Le doulos
Jean-Paul Belmondo brings his signature style to Jean-Pierre Meville’s excellent crime film as a possible police informant working with another criminal on a jewel heist. These two men are played off each other in a sort of doubling motif – it’s often even difficult to tell which is which, due to careful cinematography and lighting work by Melville.
1962 France. Director: Jean-Pierre Melville. Starring: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Serge Reggiani, René Lefèvre.
(repeats at 4:30pm, and 4:25am on the 13th)

6:35pm – Sundance – The Squid and the Whale
Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney are married writers/academics who finally drive each other too crazy to keep living together, bringing their two adolescent sons into their turmoil when they separate. Everything about the film works together to create one of the best films of the past few years. Writer/director Noah Baumbach has crafted a highly intelligent script which is achingly witty and bitterly funny; the acting is superb all around; the music fits beautifully, and even the setting (1980s Brooklyn) is something of a character.
2005 USA. Director: Noah Baumbach. Starring: Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberg, Owen Kline.
Must See

8:00pm – TCM – Dial M For Murder
A bit of a lesser Hitchcock film to my mind, but still pretty damn good – and any chance to see Grace Kelly is worthwhile. Ray Milland plays her husband whose plans to have her murdered go awry when her self-defense skills prove too good.
1954 USA. Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Starring: Grace Kelly, Ray Milland, Robert Cummings.
Newly Featured!

10:00pm – TCM – Rear Window
Hitchcock, Stewart, and Kelly mix equal parts suspense thriller, murder mystery, romance, voyeristic expose, ethical drama, caustic comedy and cinematographic experiment to create one of the greatest films of all time.
1954 USA. Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Starring: James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Thelma Ritter, Raymond Burr.
Must See

10:30pm – IFC – Gangs of New York
It’s hard to argue with the concept of a Scorsese/diCaprio/Day-Lewis trifecta in a story about Irish gangs at the dawn of New York’s existence, though I found myself underwhelmed with it.
2003 USA. Director: Martin Scorsese. Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Leonardo diCaprio, Cameron Diaz.

Friday, November 13

8:00am – TCM – To Catch a Thief
Not one of my personal favorite Hitchcock films, but certainly one of his classiest, most sophisticated entries. Cary Grant is a notorious cat burglar, Grace Kelly the Monte Carlo socialite he woos. It’s one of Kelly’s last films, and she’s already looking like the princess she was about to become.
1955 USA. Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Starring; Cary Grant, Grace Kelly.

12:00N – TCM – Gigi
Maurice Chevalier’s “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” might come off as more pervy now than it was originally intended, but as a whole Gigi stands as one of the most well-produced and grown-up musicals made during the studio era. Vincente Minnelli gives it a wonderful visual richness and sophistication, while music from Lerner & Loewe (usually) stresses the right combination of innocence, exuberance, and ennui for its decadent French story.
1958 USA. Director: Vincente Minnelli. Starring: Louis Jourdan, Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier, Hermione Gingold.

3:30pm – Sundance – Bob le flambeur
Jean-Pierre Melville’s noirish crime film about an aging gambler/thief who takes on one last job – knocking over a casino. Melville was the master of French crime films, and an important figure leading up to the New Wave – Godard name-checks this film in Breathless, mentioning Bob le flambeur (Bob the Gambler) as an associate of Michel’s.
1956 France. Director: Jean-Pierre Melville. Starring: Roger Duchesne, Isabelle Corey, Gérard Buhr, Daniel Gauchy.
(repeats at 10pm on the 15th)

8:00pm – TCM – Ride the High Country
In the 1960s, Sam Peckinpah contributed to the beginnings of the revisionist western, taking complicated heroes and violence to new levels – in Ride the High Country, Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott (who had both starred in many westerns throughout the 1930s and 1940s) play jaded cowboys hired to transport gold who get caught up in a family feud that forces them to confront their own differences and troubled pasts. It’s a fairly simple plot on the surface, but goes much deeper than you’d expect.
1962 USA. Director: Sam Peckinpah. Starring: Joel McCrea, Randolph Scott, Mariette Hartley, Ron Starr.
Must See
Newly Featured!

1:35am (14th) – Sundance – Black Book
Paul Verhoeven invests Black Book with just enough of his signature over-the-top brashness to give the WWII story of a Dutch Jewish woman infiltrating the Gestapo for the Resistance a healthy dose of panache. Every time you think it won’t go the next step, it does, and it’s ravishingly entertaining the whole time.
2006 Netherlands. Director: Paul Verhoeven. Starring: Carice van Houten, Sebastian Koch, Thom Hoffman.

3:30am (14th) – TCM – The Night of the Hunter
If there’s ever a film that defined “Southern gothic,” it’s this one. Underhanded “preacher” Robert Mitchum weasels his way into a young widowed family to try to gain the money the late father hid before he died. But what starts off as a well-done but fairly standard crime thriller turns into a surreal fable somewhere in the middle, and at that moment, jumps from “good film” to “film you will be able to get out of your head NEVER.” In a good way.
1955 USA. Director: Charles Laughton. Starring: Robert Mitchum, Lillian Gish.
Must See

Saturday, November 14

10:00am – TCM – White Heat
James Cagney in one of his most powerful roles as the slightly (okay, make that more-than-slightly) unbalanced criminal Cody Jarrett. Probably counts as one of the last truly great Warner crime films, too.
1949 USA. Director: Raoul Walsh. Starring: James Cagney, Virginia Mayo, Edmond O’Brien, Margaret Wycherly.

2:00pm – TCM – Oklahoma!
I can’t begin to guess how many times I watched Oklahoma! growing up, but it’s well into double-digits. It’s a nothing story, about minor conflicts between farmers and cowboys, a couple of young lovers, and the obsessive farmhand who wants the girl for himself. It’s the way the music and dancing is integrated that’s wonderful (and groundbreaking in the 1943 play the film is based on).
1955 USA. Director: Fred Zinnemann. Starring: Gordon MacRae, Shirley Jones, Rod Steiger, Gloria Grahame, Gene Nelson, Eddie Albert, Charlotte Greenwood, James Whitmore.

2:00pm – Sundance – Che (parts 1 and 2)
Sundance is getting an early shot at Steven Soderbergh’s opus about South American freedom fighter Che Guevara, starring Benicio Del Toro as the titular character. I haven’t watched it yet, but it’s apparently worthy of Criterion release next year.
2008 USA. Director: Steven Soderbergh. Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Demián Bichir, Carlos Bardem.
Newly Featured!

12:00M – Sundance – The Discreet Charm of the Bourgiousie
Luis Buñuel made a career out of making surrealist anti-bourgeois films, and this is one of the most surreal, most anti-bourgeois, and best films he ever made, about a dinner party that just can’t quite get started due to completely absurd interruptions.
1972 France. Director: Luis Buñuel. Starring: Fernando Rey, Paul Fankeur, Delphine Seyrig, Stéphane Audran, Jean-Pierre Cassel.
(repeats at 7:40am and 4:15pm on the 15th)

Sunday, November 15

6:45am – IFC – My Life as a Dog
Lasse Hallstrom gives us this simple but effective coming-of-age story, focusing on the every day life of a young boy as he’s sent to live in a provincial village after acting out at home.
1985 Sweden. Director: Lasse Hallstrom. Starring: Anton Glanzelius, Tomas von Brömssen, Anki Lidén, Melinda Kinnaman.
(repeats at 2:50pm)

2:15pm – TCM – Wuthering Heights
William Wyler’s moody 1939 version of Emily Bronte’s moody gothic novel, with Laurence Olivier as the moody Heathcliff. It’s moody. Get it? Interestingly, I’m more impressed generally with Geraldine Fitzgerald’s Isabella than Merle Oberon’s Catherine/Cathy, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen it.
1939 USA. Director: William Wyler. Starring: Laurence Olivier, Merle Oberon, Geraldine Fitzgerald, David Niven, Flora Robson.

4:35pm – IFC – Primer
Welcome to sci-fi at its most cerebral. You know how most science-dependent films include a non-science-type character so there’s an excuse to explain all the science to audience? Yeah, this film doesn’t have that character, so no one ever explains quite how the time travel device at the center of the film works. Or even that it is, actually, a time-travel device. This is the sci-fi version of getting thrown into the deep end when you can’t swim. Without floaties.
2004 USA. Director: Shane Carruth. Starring: Shane Carruth, David Sullivan, Casey Gooden, Anand Upadhyaya, Carrie Crawford.
(repeats at 5:25am on the 16th)

11:00pm – IFC – Pulp Fiction
Tarantino’s enormously influential and entertaining film pretty much needs no introduction from me. Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta give the performances of their careers, Tarantino’s dialogue is spot-on in its pop-culture-infused wit, and the chronology-shifting, story-hopping editing style has inspired a host of imitators, most nowhere near as good.
1994 USA. Director: Quentin Tarantino. Starring: Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson, John Travolta, Tim Roth, Bruce Willis, Ving Rhames.
Must See

2:00am (16th) – TCM – Orpheus
Orpheus, a poet in post-war France, finds himself caught up with Death in the visage of a beautiful woman and her minions. When Death takes his wife Euridyce, Orpheus follows them into the underworld–but is it really Euridyce he desires, or is it Death herself? Director Cocteau was as much a poet as a filmmaker, and that poetic sense is in full force in this lovely film.
1950 France. Director: Jean Cocteau. Starring: Jean Marais, María Casare, Maria Déa, François Périer.
Newly Featured!

FB100: #94 – Orpheus

This post is part of a project to watch the Film Bloggers’ 100 Favorite Non-English Films.

Orpheus screencap

Orpheus
France 1950; dir: Jean Cocteau
starring: Jean Marais, María Casares, Maria Déa, François Périer
screened 3/1/08, Criterion DVD

“The death of a poet requires a sacrifice to make him immortal.”

Unrelated to Orpheus, but a milestone nonetheless, this is the 500th post on this blog. Woohoo! Okay, back to the business at hand.

Previous Viewing Experience: Have never seen it before.

Knowledge Before Viewing: I know absolutely nothing about the story; but it forms a sort of trilogy with two other Cocteau films, Blood of a Poet and The Testament of Orpheus. I have actually seen Blood of a Poet, but a LONG time ago, and I mostly didn’t get it because it’s on the surrealist side. But I’m looking forward to Orpheus (despite the appearance of having put it off for, like two months), at least in part because Cocteau’s La belle et la bête is one of my all-time favorite films.

Brief Synopsis: Orpheus, a poet in post-war France, finds himself caught up with Death in the visage of a beautiful woman and her minions. When Death takes his wife Euridyce, Orpheus follows them into the underworld–but is it really Euridyce he desires, or is it Death herself?

Initial Viewing Response: Jean Cocteau was as much a poet as a filmmaker, and his films are poetic to their very core. The acting, writing, narration, music, visuals, and effects all come together to create a heightened mood — not realistic in any normal use of the word, but hyperreal. Or you could say surreal, I suppose, though Orpheus is much more closely aligned with the fairy-tale mood of La belle et la bête than the surrealism of Blood of a Poet. Although I should probably rewatch Blood of a Poet because I could be misremembering it horribly (in fact, I tend to get it mixed up in my head with Buñuel’s Un chien andalou, which may be a disservice to both of the films).

In any case, as you may have guessed, the story transplants and modifies the Greek Orpheus myth, in which the poet/musician spent so much time with his music that he ignored his wife, Euridyce. When she died, he went into the underworld to get her, and Hades allowed Euridyce to return to life with Orpheus on the condition that Orpheus could not look at her until they reached the world of the living. Impatient, Orpheus turned to look at her as they came near the exit of the underworld, and she was reclaimed by Hades. In Cocteau’s version (which may be another version of the myth, I’m not sure), the stipulation said that he could never look at her again, ever. And in any case, by that time, Orpheus was too infatuated with Death to be much interested in Eurydice at all. Another layer is added by the character of Herteubise, Death’s chauffeur and messenger, who falls in love with Eurydice while Orpheus is obsession over Death.

I won’t say I completely understand the film (did Death change her mind somewhere in the middle about what she wanted, or was the entire thing an elaborate plot on her part to balance Orpheus’s poetic obsessions with his domestic life?), but it was mesmerizing and beautiful to watch. And if you don’t know by now, I might as well say: I appreciate films more for the experience I have while watching them and the images they engrave on my consciousness than for pretty much anything else, and usually, the more ambiguous the point of the film, the more beautiful I find it. Cocteau’s special effects are simple and obvious, but they’re some how much more effective (and affective) than more elaborate, realistic effects would have been. Orpheus’s difficulty walking in the no-man’s land between the two worlds, the double-exposures revealing Death’s entry into this world and the glimpses of the other through mirrors, the filmed-backwards shots of Orpheus putting on the underworld gloves which suggest that time may not be working as we expect–all are clearly heightened, obvious effects, but they fit in perfectly with the poetic tone of the film.

There are a lot of things to think about; many quotes and ideas could be followed down philosophical rabbit trails, from the quote I used about about the immortality of a poet depending on a sacrifice (isn’t it in some ways true that poets must die before they can live forever–very few great artists are recognized as such during their life), to the connection of mirrors with death (Herteubise suggests that every time we look in a mirror, we see death). The problem with thinking TOO much about the film is that I’m not sure it makes logical sense, at least not in our normal definition of left-brained, linear logic. The motivations of Death and Orpheus aren’t aways clear (much less so than the more realist Herteubise and Euridyce, which is actually probably intentional now that I think of it), nor is the process for moving between the two worlds. Yet it somehow manages to make mystical sense, if you don’t try to impose propositional logic onto it.

Reflective Response: I think I’m going to ditch the reflective responses. A few days isn’t enough time to process these films, so the experiment in comparing immediate to reflective responses was flawed in theory.

Picspam