Sunday, 17 February 2013

Films This Week

(Click here to read my general introduction to the 'Films This Week' series of posts.)

Street Angel

Went to see Argo, which I really liked. Right from the off, it oozed with tension. But there was also something else at play: an old Warner Brothers logo, scratches, aspect ratio changes, storyboards…all things, one can't help but feel, that were designed to call attention to the film's construction. It may be a film about hostages, but it's also a film about filmmaking (despite playing out against a political backdrop, I'm not sure it can be said to be a film about politics – although perhaps it is a film about political films, about political representation in films… But really it plays as a cross between a thriller and a Hollywood satire). It feels almost like a bold statement against the crassness of much contemporary mainstream cinema: look, it's saying, how good mainstream films were in the 1970s – let's go back to making films like that. As much as the tension of the moment sucks you in, it never quite feels like it wants you to forget that you're watching a movie. And, while it's true that things get a little overcooked at times, this may be part of its reflexive schema, and there's no denying the pure, thrilling entertainment of it all (the pacing is superb). Furthermore, while the political backdrop may not ultimately seem to be what the film is about, it's far from broadly stroked: the Americans don't come out of it looking like the good guys (they interfered in another country's politics – and not for the last time). It's produced by Heslov and Clooney, and feels like something Clooney would direct (in the best possible sense).
Watched 7th Heaven. The first part of the film has a lot of charm, despite its air of schmaltz. There's a rich vein of humour, and plenty of striking visuals (the vertical move up to the apartment is breath-taking). It's a shame, then, that it builds to such a disappointing second half. Simply put, I lost interest when the war came. Perhaps I was put off by the sentimental religiosity, or perhaps it was simply the lack of emotional engagement I ultimately felt. The couple endures hell, but it has no weight.
Watched Street Angel. The design and photography were excellent (especially in the first ten minutes), and Janet Gaynor gives a very fine performance, but with the exception of one or two brief moments there was very little that interested me in the narrative. It probably doesn't help that the story cleaved so closely to that of 7th Heaven (with the roles reversed – here it is the woman who is the reluctant lover who relents, only to have to leave her partner directly after agreeing to marry them. There's even an interloper who tried to break up the relationship by saying that the absent partner is no better than they are… Is Street Angel supposed to be a remake of 7th Heaven?). The influence of Murnau well may be felt at times, but Borzage's films ultimately don't have the same impact. When all is said and done, Street Angel is nonsensical rubbish…beautiful though the images may be.
Went to see Chameleon Street at the BFI. I didn't think it was the clearest or (with one exception) the most dramatic storytelling, but the film's experimental edge felt incredibly fresh, even after all these years. It hasn't aged a day, and still feels incredibly bold and powerful. Truly original filmmaking.

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