2015-05-16

The Red Shoes

Note : this review is my contribution to the blogathon My Favorite Classic Movie hosted by Rick at Classic Film & TV Café.

The Red Shoes (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1948)

A young ballet dancer is torn between the man she loves and her pursuit to become a prima ballerina.

As debatable as this affirmation can be, The Red Shoes is The Archers’ masterpiece. And I’m standing firmly on my position about this opinion. Even if they have a bunch of other outstanding films like Black Narcissus, A Matter of Life and Death, and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, the great dancing sequences and the superb composition of frames and the tremendous acting of Moira Shearer and Anton Walbrook, just to name those two, makes it one of the most re watchable movies of all time.

Previously, I wrote The Archers which is the name of the company of co-directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Together they directed nineteen films and half of them are considered as classics and five of the whole lot are at some level masterpieces. We’ll however concentrate our attention on The Red Shoes and its qualities.


With its careful treatment by the Criterion Collection, cinephiles of today can watch it in a condition that is as good as at the time the film was released in 1948. On the question of his favorite film of all time, famous great director Martin Scorsese has often answered The Red Shoes and places it with Jean Renoir’s The River as the two best Technicolor films of all time. His admiration of the film is so strong that the sets and his signature in his film New York, New York are directly inspired by The Archers’ film.

Talking about The Red Shoes’ influence, you have Dario Argento’s masterpiece Suspiria that borrows the vivid colors and aesthetics of its dancing predecessor. Argento’s violent film also has a visual beauty in his Hitchcock horror. In the latest years, the Darren Aronofsky batshit crazy Black Swan film which the story is also about a female ballerina dancer has obviously been projected the crew to get some of the elements and feels. Especially the relationship between the dancer and the director is different but shows how strong this element can be in the life of a ballerina.

It is a sumptuous film that Powell and Pressburger did in The Red Shoes and the production and the final are proving me right when I state, once again, that it is their masterpiece. It’s been ten years since the first time I watched The Red Shoes and I can vividly recall every scene from this first watch. Since then, it became a favorite of mine and this is why choose to pick this movie as my favorite classic film for the first National Classic Movie Day.




2015-05-13

Starship Troopers


Note : This review is my contribution to the Film Preservation blogathon hosted by Ferdy on Films, This Island Rod, and Wonders in the Dark. Please donate generously.

Starship Troopers (Paul Verhoeven, 1997)
Humans in a fascistic, militaristic future do battle with giant alien bugs in a fight for survival.

Over the years, the many films of Dutch film director Paul Verhoeven have passed the test of time and became cult films. Just think of Robocop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct, and Showgirls for his work in Hollywood and his early European productions are underground hits with strong sexual and violent images.

Starship Troopers is more a virulent critic of America, the use of medias, and the way action movies are representing a right wing perception of life. The story is accessory to Verhoeven’s message of second level one liners and overbearing violence. In the films of Verhoeven, violence is not really stylised or cool, it is in your face just like when Peter Weller dies in Robocop before being in the robot. Even in Starship Troopers, Verhoeven has a way to present violence that does not appeal even with all the saturated frames of blood and special effects. With a production of 105 millions of dollars, Verhoeven achieved a level of imitation of fascism and opulence that only Albert Speer’s architecture could have been compared to.

Many sequences are shot by shot exactly like Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will documenting Nazi reunions of the German party. The irony and satiric tone of Starship Troopers makes it such a great piece of anthology that it is almost frightening to think that American ideologies are not that far from what the film represents.

Curiously, at the time Starship Troopers was released, the critics and the public were not that warm about the film. Probably not ready for such an examination of their foreign politics, the turning of the 21st Century with the sad and condemnable events of September 11 may have demonstrated to the face of the world America’s belligerent politics.


As a film enthusiast, or as I like to call myself a cinephile, I really enjoyed Starship Troopers for its second level of reading and how he uses the action sequences to demonstrate a point. They are also really entertaining and this is one of the best part of this film. It has both values that few films of the genre have. In fact, I like most of Verhoeven’s films and I would watch Robocop, Total Recall, or Starship Troopers anytime knowing that it will be a good time and that I will find a little detail I haven’t seen before. They have great watch value and it adds a little omph to the whole thing.


2015-05-11

Music Review : Blur – The Magic Whip (2015)


Music Review : Blur – The Magic Whip (2015, Parlophone)

Forever for mainstream music listeners Blur will be linked with their hit Song 2 and for a few more their singer will be remembered as the mysterious voice behind Gorillaz. Blur’s new album, The Magic Whip, features twelve new songs of alternative rock that would not stay in the 1990’s just as their aforementioned hit.

After many listens, The Magic Whip plays as an average album with certain highs and some lows. However, as the album goes the song Ong Ong will be my soundtrack for the summer and it is probably the most radio phonic song of the whole record. Not many hooks and a lot of filling titles in an album lacking real depth or, let’s say it like that, it needed more meat around the bone.


6.1

2015-05-08

Music Review : Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell (2015)


Music Review : Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell (2015, Asthmatic Kitty)

Carrie & Lowell is my first experience with singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens and I must say his acoustic indie rock hooked me at the first listen. The melancholy and sadness of this record reminded me how the first records of The Weakerthans brought me into a place inside where those feelings are OK to be felt and even a little comfy.

Stevens writes about his late mother who died in 2012 on Carrie & Lowell. Carrie is her and Lowell was his stepfather. Just as he writes « the past is still the past » on Should Have Known Better, he tries to accept and pass his mourning. In fact, this same song is maybe the happiest of the album with the « My brother had a daughter » when on the other songs he writes sometimes about suicide, blood, masturbation, and violence.

Songwriting may be something difficult but for others it is just as easy as breathing. The whole album seems like Stevens is breathing those lyrics and writes about his life and his inner feelings. 

Subtle touches of instruments are in the background of Sufjan’s guitar and his whisper of a voice. Making Carrie & Lowell a minimalist jewel that unfolds slowly with every new listen.
At first, Sufjan Stevens might not be the artist that I usually go towards but his Cat Stevenesque quality that also reminded me of George Harrison and a bit of Paul Simon. Strong songwriting and a few chords just to be with the simplistic yet efficient music.


8.2

2015-05-04

Les maîtres fous (The Mad Masters)

Note : This review is my contribution to the Shorts! blogathon hosted by Movies Silently from May 2nd to the 4th of 2015. Please visit the links and enjoy the readings of the other great writers participating.


Les maîtres fous (The Mad Masters) (Jean Rouch, 1955)

The effects of colonialism are exposed in this film on indigenous Africans via specific rituals developed as a reaction to the colonial system. The film turns into a crazy elaboration on both the madness of such a political system and man himself.
Banned in Niger and British territories like Ghana, Jean Rouch’s Les maîtres fous is a docufiction about ethnology and colonialism. Rouch was himself a well known ethnologist and developed the genre ethnofiction. At the time when Rouch directed and presented his film nations were about to get free from their masters. Movements of nationalism and liberation were budding all over the world. In 1958, Niger for example gained its Independence.

Les maîtres fous presents the sect of the Haukas that initiates its participants with possessions and representations of the behaviors of their masters. In a way they try to emulate the actions of their oppressors and simulate and expiate their sufferings. As they do this afterwards the Haukas are shown working with big smiles and happiness despite the poor condition of hard work.


Another explanation of this tradition is an African interpretation of the rituals as it is a way to take their rivals power and eat it. For non-African people this interpretation seems difficult to understand but many rituals executed in Africa are old of hundreds, if not, thousands of years and are anchored deep into the collective mind of these people.

Jean Rouch with his docufiction seems to be exploiting a sensationalist behavior that gives a racist vision of colonialism. Well, let’s face it, colonialism was the act of Imperialist nations wanting to spread their culture and conquer the world with ideas, language, religion. It was also a way to get resources at almost no price with cheap labor. Sure racism has many masks but colonialism was one of them. Discarding the locals’ culture and imposing your own can’t be good for your politics and men.

But Rouch wants to show the reaction of the locals after many years of colonialism in their home land. No surprise the film was banned; it depicted without any filter the direct effects of nations on the verge of their independence living under the leaders of imperialist nations and making benefits on the hard work and land of their locals.

As a film of 36 minutes, Les maîtres fous was less disturbing that I thought it would be. It is straight to the point and narrated by Rouch himself. What’s interesting with documentaries, in this case a sixty years old one, is that it is a document depicting a slice of history very specific to a part of the world where few documents are available since history was more an oral tradition than our academic interpretation of the discipline. It is important that such short films and documentaries are preserved for generations to come to understand the past and the variety of ethnicity.



2015-05-01

Music Review : Bell Witch – Four Phantoms (2015)


Music Review : Bell Witch – Four Phantoms (2015, Profound Lore)

Following their first effort of 2012, Longing, the funeral doom duo of Dylan Desmond on bass and Adrian Guerra on drums delivers one of the greatest piece of music of 2015 with Four Phantoms.

Those four behemoth songs are spanned over an hour like a slow paced walk through the Fangorn Forest. Like the slow moving Ents, Bell Witch gets to the point with a precise yet almost minimalist sounds of loud restraint. Letting each other have their own moments and not stepping on each other’s toes, Desmond and Guerra form a nice symbiotic core that elevates their sound into more diverse territories like drone music. As the instrumental side of their music takes more depth we feel a maturity and a hatching in their song structures.

The album is immersing and takes us on a trip in a strange dark place. Just like the ballad in the aforementioned forest it’s meditative also like the Bell Witch myth, very haunting. The use of diverse vocals gives a nice texture to the different levels of sounds and slow-tempos. As often with doom or stoner records redundancy is the dragging element but here there is no redundancy in this whole hour of Bell Witch.


As I discovered lately Bell Witch’s Longing, the comparison with Four Phantoms is fresh and easy to do. Their new album might be ranked amongst the greatest albums of funeral doom of all time. With this new release the influences of Om, Sketicism, Esoteric, and many more are less perceivable and we feel we are in the presence of a genuine record from two masters at their craft.

8.9

2015-04-30

Music Review : Raised Fist – From the North (2015)


Music Review : Raised Fist – From the North (2015, Epitaph Records)

Sweden’s hardcore punk titans of Raised Fist are back with another record titled From the North that could situate them geographically from the other popular hardcore acts. In the early 2000’s hardcore and metalcore genres had been emerging and gained a wide spread popularity until emo and all its sub genres took the stage.

Back with a more mature record Raised Fist shifted their almost metal sound of old school hardcore is slowed down to let to more rock tempos than the usual fast songs. It is also a more commercial shift of their music and their release on Epitaph Records might be one of the explanations for this.


From the North is a solid effort and feels like a good album in the discography of Raised Fist. However, the evolution from Sound of the Republic has molded into more vast audiences and as a fan of their earlier releases it took me longer to get acquainted to From the North

6.5
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