Featured: My Criterion Channel Viewings – 9th Edition
Baby Face (1932)
Thanks to the interest of actress Barbara Stanwyck and her Pre-Code movies, some consider Baby Face a reason the Code was installed because of its flagrant sexuality with her character. After her father’s death, Lily gets out of the blue-collar setting and moves to the big city where she basically sleeps her way towards the top. But she starts to have feelings for a playboy who in turns shows he loves her, putting into question the desire to suck out wealth and power with his strong sexuality. Daryl F. Zanuck, working then with Warner Bros, created the story and sold it for a dollar to get it made for cheap because of the difficulties in the Depression. But it made a lasting effect in that era of open sex and violence before the curtain finally closed down on such “filth,” as they referred to it.
The Bad Sleep Well (1960)
Akira Kurosawa shifts from the samurai genre to the modern-day corruption of the country’s embrace of corporation capitalism and how the men at the top always cover their tracks. But for the son-in-law of the company’s Vice President, who persuaded his father to commit suicide, it is personal and seeks vengeance to expose the whole game. It’s loosely influenced on Hamlet but features multiple paths and all dead ends. Some say the ending is too depressing, but it’s a game of life people see that the big dogs guilty of corruption can put their minds at rest when they know their wrongdoings are no longer out in the open.
Stolen Kisses (1968)
This was the third of Francois Truffaut’s Antoine Donel story. Now as an adult, the character is discharged from the military as he is unfit and continues his struggle to fit in with society. Antoine keeps chasing girls and losing his job, but seems to have something down when he works out with a private eye agency, only to get caught up in his own misadventures. Converting to color, Truffaut made the film at the same time France was about to get caught up on their own little revolution, starting with the firing (then rehiring) of the head of the Cinémathèque Française, Henri Langois. The film’s opening shot of the cinematheque’s temporary closure featured a dedication to Langois.
Federico Fellini’s autobiographical film about his growing up in Rimini is full of eccentric characters, humor that slaps in the face of fascism, and actions that would have sent the boys as children to Hell under the watchful eye of the Catholic Church. They are episodes rather than a plot as the title is the Romagnol dialect translation for, “I Remember.” The characters are based on people he knew and even his parents and put out a circus act that completes a circle in Fellini’s life. It won Fellini his fourth Oscar for Best Foreign Film was the last commercial success he would really have in his career.
The Tin Drum (1979)
German New Wave player Volker Schlöndorff adapted the famed magic realist novel from Günter Grass and co-shared with Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now the Palme d’Or at Cannes. The protagonist, three-year-old Oskar, decides to stop growing by throwing himself down the stairs and lives his early adulthood as a child in the shadows of Nazi Germany and the war. His toy drum is a motif to his forever status as a child. Widely acclaimed and nominated for Best International Film at the Oscars, it was among the mainstream German New Wave hits that was a commercial success, even with a controversial sex scene that was subjected to legal censorship in both Canada and the United States.
Police Story (1985)
Jackie Chan before his American breakout has been a major blind spot, so luckily his widely popular Police Story series got a piece of Criterion’s blessing. And it is super easy to see why. Chan co-wrote and directed the film. He and his stunt ensemble really put their bodies on the line in this thrilling whydunit about a cop trying to protect a witness from the harm of gangsters being sought for drug trafficking. The car/bus chase sequence to start the film and the mall fights with the motif of broken glass is so natural for Chan to do, even if it meant second-degree burns on his hands when sliding down a four-story pole with hot lights wrapped around them. The sequel is also as brilliant and the special features from them on Chan’s career is massive.
La Haine (1995)
From its Cannes debut, this film came out like a rocket. Meaning “hate” in French, Mathieu Kassovitz’s black-and-white struggle about three young friends – a Jew, a Muslim, a Black – and how they cope in the aftermath of a riot over police brutality towards the black community. It is Do The Right Thing in French, exploring the realities of inner-city Paris and how they are seen by the police as troublemakers. The film even uses documentary footage of an actual riot that inspired the film. The French critics saw it as an eye-opening statement, earning Kassovitz acclaim and a couple of movies to make in Hollywood.
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