Rashômon (Akira Kurosawa, 1950)

A heinous crime and its aftermath are recalled from differing points of view.

If I remember correctly, Rashômon was the third Kurosawa film I ever saw back in 2002, right after Yojimbo and Sanjuro and just before The Seven Samurai. Since then I saw most of his well known films, some classics I have yet to discover but I can certainly advance that Kurosawa is one of my favorite directors of all time. Choosing which film is his best is an impossible task. Listing The Seven Samurai in my Top 10 doesn’t discredit the reach of Ikiru, Ran, Throne of Blood, High and Low, or Rashômon. It is a deliberate choice of one cannon instead of another one. In the case of my favorite directors it is a really tough choice to pick a movie and let all the others down. My relationship with Rashômon is very particular because I always thought that it was a lesser film compared to the aforementioned epic The Seven Samurai.

Since hundreds if not thousands of reviews have been written on the meanings and subtexts of this film, I would like to discuss of the place of it in Cinema History. First, it is a very Japanese movie set in traditional Japan involving samurais. A trademark of Kurosawa is the samurai stories. He is automatically related to those sword men. Then you have his greatest lead actor: Toshiro Mifune. Kurosawa was the director who gave him his first opportunity and he detected the talent of the intense and shy actor.

Shot within only three different locations, it gives a very theatrical aspect to the film. Theatre in Japan is a thing of tradition and to learn that Rashômon was the first real breakthrough of a Japanese film is interesting. We also feel that Kurosawa learned from his previous directorial credits and Rashômon was the hatching of his talent. The restriction of location is also palpable in Robert Altman’s Gosford Park, a film freely inspired by the subject of this piece. The constant rain also refers to the dramatic opening of the movie.

Then, you have the structure of the story which is told by four different witness of the crime: the victims, the witness, and the accused. The retelling of the story by the numerous characters is more or less cinematically linked to the Everest of cinema itself Citizen Kane where we are on a journey to discover who or what is Rosebud. In fact, Rosebud is the subtext for us to try to find who Charles Foster Kane is and we discover bits and parts of the character by the testimonies of the people who lived with him. In some way Rashômon is the Japanese Citizen Kane. This structure is also reused with vibrant colors in the wire-fu poetic Hero directed by Zhang Yimou.

The coming release of the Blu-Ray by Criterion Collection will bring back some attention on the masterpiece of one of the most gifted filmmakers from Japan. This honest and sometimes raw film about reality, crime, and storytelling deserves to be amongst the great titles Criterion gathers in its selective collection. A masterpiece I highly recommend.


The King of Comedy

The King of Comedy (Martin Scorsese, 1983)

Aspiring comic Rupert Pupkin wants to achieve success in showbiz, by resorting to stalking his idol, a late night talk show host who craves his own privacy.

The King of Comedy (1983) on IMDb


Sullivan’s Travels

Sullivan’s Travels (Preston Sturges, 1941)

A director of escapist films goes on the road as a hobo to learn about Life...which gives him a rude awakening. IMDb

This masterpiece by Preston Sturges is perhaps the finest movie-about-a-movie ever made. Hollywood director Joel McCrea, tired of churning out lightweight comedies, decides to make O Brother, Where Art Thou—a serious, socially responsible film about human suffering. After his producers point out that he knows nothing of hardship, he hits the road as a hobo. He finds the lovely Veronica Lake—and more trouble than he ever dreamed of. Criterion Collection

Written and directed by Preston Sturges Sullivan’s Travels is a delight as a comedy and a very autobiographical view of the show business about Sturges himself. Sturges is one of the many talented but oft-overlooked comedy directors that gained respect later in his career like Howard Hawks. In the case of Sturges, his films were recognized for their quality much later after his death. One of the first directors to only direct his scripts written without any collaborator and working with a “troupe” of actors. Just like Todd McCarthy wrote in his film essay about Sullivan’s Travels, Sturges was the first director to fully embrace and deserve the authorial billing on the title card.

The satirical comments towards Hollywood and the filmmaking business are some of the most personal elements Sturges has included in his movie. Making Sullivan (Joel McCrea), the director, more opaque than himself, he achieve to take his successful comedy director and plunge him into the lower depths just like Charles Chaplin put his little tramp. The obvious admiration of Joel & Ethan Coen towards Sullivan’s Travels brought them to make a film named after the film Sullivan was researching about with his travels: O’Brother Where Art thou?.

Sullivan’s Travels starts as a comedy but slowly merges into drama. It brought a degree of sophistication that few comedies have ever reached. It is self-conscious of itself, while playing on the unlucky and unwealthy consciousness of people who lived a difficult life, Sturges sees and defines comedy. He demonstrates how this Art is essential to everyone’s lives. It might not be his most hilarious film but it is a very thoughtful and keen film.

One of the most inviting elements of Sullivan’s Travels is the pleasant presence of Veronica Lake. This beautiful blonde was nineteen years old at the time she starred in Sullivan’s Travels. She was that young and that sexy but one thing people don’t know was the fact that she was six months pregnant during the shooting. But it was all covered up with brilliant costumes and camera trickery. Lake also brings the right counter balance to Joel McCrea’s earnest performance. Plus, her presence lifts the beauty of the film.

This masterpiece is a must see especially for any fans of comedies. I highly recommend it.



Helvetica (Gary Hustwit, 2007)

A documentary about typography, graphic design, and global visual culture.

The first instalment of Gary Hustwit on design and the humanized world surrounding our contemporary urban lives is about typography and more specifically on the font Helvetica. Presented as it is it seems like a “geek” documentary about a very technical subject. Well, it is far from being bothering and the relevance of the subject is not put in your face but you quickly get it with all the brands and publicities presented that features the font and its many forms.

Without voiceovers and letting all the right time to the type designers to explain their points of view, we have the witness of those how were working at the time the font was designed. They are called modernists of the post-War period. It is interesting to get the many views on the evolution of the designs of types and how some “schools” or “waves” have evolved.

It is impressive to discover how just a simple choice of type can change our vision about something. It is interesting to observe how products, brands, advertising, and plain and simple consumption is now the center of our lives and how it is presented and sold to us is related to Helvetica. Recommended.


Our Hospitality

Our Hospitality (John G. Blystone & Buster Keaton, 1923)

A man returns to his Appalachian homestead. On the trip, he falls for a young woman. The only problem is her family has vowed to kill every member of his family.

Buster Keaton with his second full length feature film shows sparks of genius on the eve of being the great master he was during the golden era of his career from 1923 to 1928. In 1928, he sold his rights to MGM and lost control over his films.
Opening with a prologue telling the facts of a feud that historically occurred between the McCoy and the Hatfield, Keaton transposes with his John McKay/Canfield opposition. Being the only heir of John McKay, the young McKay (Keaton) inherits the family’s estate twenty years after the tragic feud that got both the latest son of each family killed in a gun battle. On his way back from New York City, the place he was raised away from the menace of the Canfield family, young McKay meets Victoria (Nathalie Talmadge, Keaton’s wife) and falls in love for her. What he’ll later discover is that she is the daughter of the Canfield clan.

Set in the 1830’s, this period piece romance drama and comedy uses many different tones and elements of humor. First, it exploits the changes in society without being really a physical type of humor. Keaton slowly sets his story and brings us to his climax. With a long sequence in the train where the young couple meets and get along each other. Filled with many subtle but very keen gags, this sequence is pure genius and astonishing for a Keaton comedy. It is the final moments of the movie with the chase and the waterfall scene are still gripping and are key moments of physical comedy. They are what we ask for in this kind of superb comedy. A Keaton enthusiast acquainted to The General or Sherlock Jr. and even Steamboat Bill Jr. will be a little disoriented in front of the low key elements of comedy of the first half of the film. But once into the film the geniality of Buster Keaton’s mise en scène and gags will get the most of any cinephile willing to let himself appreciate intelligent comedy.

As a whole, Our Hospitality doesn’t have the quality of the aforementioned films but it proves that Keaton and Blystone (co-directing) had the flair and talent to switch from two reels to feature films. The biggest flaw is the lack of character depth and even the young McKay doesn’t really have much background. Victoria and his family is one-dimensional and we only know that they hate the McKays. Another aspect of Our Hospitality is that we feel that Keaton is still exploring and testing the pacing of a 75 minutes movie. However, Our Hospitality is far from being a disaster it is an inspired very good gem. Recommended.


The 13 Best Movies About Music

 As a serious music enthusiast and amateur musician, my life is filled with music. Every kind and every genre possible from The Beatles to Black Sabbath while going into Mastodon, Animal Collective, Santigold, Deltron, Buddy Rich to Bob Dylan I love this sublime art.
To narrow the genres and the infinite possible movies, I choose to pick only movies that have the music as almost a character. So Musicals aren’t really concerned here even if The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is entirely sung. Neither does the Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger masterpiece The Red Shoes is present.
One must add that those are personal choices and are listed only to open a discussion and learn a little bit more about your Music film tastes as for your musical tastes too.

Without much further rambling here are the thirteen best movies about music:

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