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On recalling the pioneering work of Walt Disney in injecting into the medium of cinema the element of fantasy, we are faced with films in animation to which only limit placed is at creative level. When you run out of inspiration you killed it. For a genius like Disney it was reality with no holds barred. Cinema as art is delineation of reality by a contrived eye as much as a jaundiced liver gives an altogether view of the world. Animation does the same service to cinema as the genre of fairy tales is to literature.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves – 1937

“I definitely feel that we cannot do the fantastic things, based on the real, unless we first know the real. This point should be brought out very clearly to all new men, and even the older men.” Disney 1935/Letters of note: How to train an animator
Before Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Disney studio had been primarily involved in the production of animated shorts of which Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphonies were the staple fare. Disney was ready for bigger things he embarked on a feature with a budget that totalled ten times the cost of producing an average Silly Symphony.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was to be the first full-length cell animated feature in motion picture history. Both his brother and business partner Roy Disney and his wife Lillian attempted to talk him out of it. He had to mortgage his house to help finance the film’s production, which eventually ran up a total cost of $1,488,422.74, a massive sum for a feature film in 1937, The Hollywood movie industry referred to the film derisively as “Disney’s Folly” while it was in production.
On August 9, 1934, twenty-one pages of notes—entitled “Snow White suggestions”—were compiled by staff writer Richard Creedon, suggesting the principal characters, as well as situations and ‘gags’ for the story.
As Disney had stated at the very beginning of the project, the main attraction of the story for him was the Seven Dwarfs, and their possibilities for “screwiness” and “gags”. Walt Disney had suggested from the beginning that each of the dwarfs, whose names and personalities are not stated in the original fairy tale, could have individual personalities.
Along with a focus on the characterizations and comedic possibilities of the dwarfs, Creedon’s eighteen-page outline of the story included the Queen’s attempt to kill Snow White with a poisoned comb, an element taken from the Grimms’ original story. After persuading Snow White to use the comb, the disguised Queen would have escaped alive, but the dwarfs would have arrived in time to remove it. So it had to be discarded.
It had first been thought that the dwarfs would be the main focus of the story, and many sequences were written for the seven characters. However, at a certain point, it was decided that the main thrust of the story was provided by the relationship between the Queen and Snow White. For this reason, several sequences featuring the dwarfs were cut from the film.
Even in discarding reality, art for clarity sake has no substitute but be true to itself.
Noted filmmakers such as Sergei Eisenstein and Charlie Chaplin praised Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as a notable achievement in cinema; Eisenstein went so far as to call it the greatest film ever made. The film inspired MGM to produce its own fantasy film, The Wizard of OZ in 1939. Another animation pioneer, Max Fleischer produced Gulliver’s Travels in order to compete with Snow White. There were many clones that tried to cash in on the Snow White’s phenomenal success.

Snow White’s success led to Disney moving ahead with more feature-film productions. Walt Disney used much of the profits from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to finance a new $4.5 million studio in Burbank.

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95 min. French black and white

Aka. Les Bas-Fonds is one of the curiosities in the history of cinema that Jean Renoir who has been busy making Une Partie de Campagne left it for directing a film, theme of which was apparently against his grain. Une Partie is like a painting of his father come to life where nature takes hand in determining the life of a nubile girl in her first love. The lovers surrender to nature and to their emotions, but social circumstances determine otherwise. What had in the Gorky’s gutter play to wean him from the Maupassant story? In 1936 the rise of Hitler in Germany and the Popular Front in France created within the French Left a new sense of solidarity with the Soviet Union. In that context the Russian immigrant producer Alexander Kamenka asked Jean Renoir to direct a film of Maxim Gorky’s play The Lower Depths. Renoir accepted the offer and before agreeing to take on the project, Renoir insisted that the film be set in France (not Russia), and that some drastic changes be made to the plot. The most significant change was the ending; the tragic denouement in Gorki’s play was replaced with a happier ending, in keeping with the mood of the time.
Trivia:
Renoir was obliged to write to Gorki to receive permission for these alterations to the story, which was duly given (although Gorki died a few months before the film was released).
Plot

The story revolves around two characters that represent two ends of the society. One is titled and the other a common thief. The baron (Jouvet) has stolen 30,000 rubbles from the ministry and lost it gambling. Pépel (Gabin) has come to rob the baron’s luxurious house and finds nothing worth stealing there. The baron, returning home in a suicidal mood, interrupts Pépel’s theft. Here in their first encounter, each opens the eyes of the other to the possibility of change. Each glimpses a new possibility, the baron, a life without things; Pépel a life without thefts.
Soon the baron appears at the flophouse. The baron finds himself in the swim of things there. If thousand – rubble game in the casino had turned his world upside down he finds life there: he can still indulge his passion in the three-kopek game in the flophouse. If he has lost his class he has found his life. He sheds luxury and prestige without regret. When Pépel finds life in the lower depths unbearable and proposes to leave the flophouse, he asks the baron what he will do. The baron replies without hesitation, “I’ll stay here.” He has no desire to go. Unlike Gorky’s baron, his descent from aristocracy has not been degrading but liberating.
After Pépel leaves the baron’s home carrying the bronze horses he steals some apples, then gives them to a child and tells him, “And if someday someone tells you Pépel is a thief, you’ll set them straight.” The film ends with homage to Chaplin’s Modern Times as the lovers walk off down the road of life.
Acting: The film, apart from its dark theme, is carried by the acting of the two main characters. The Gabin-Jouvet pairing is a masterstroke, with both actors providing fine performances that are charged with conviction and humanity. Despite their different backgrounds and approaches to their art, the two actors complement each other perfectly, the down-trodden and passionate proletarian played by Gabin making a poignant contrast with Jouvet’s ruined but nonchalant aristocrat.
The scene where the two characters meet and, realizing the absurdity of the barriers which separate them, become friends is one of the enduring moments of the film, and is certainly in keeping with the ethos of the Popular Front.
The large supporting cast gives the film its richness and color, with notable performances from Suzy Prim, Robert Le Vigan.
I can still savour the wonderful opening shot of the film: Jouvet stands upright, the only figure on screen, in the centre of the frame, silent but with an occasional superior smirk escaping him as his unseen superior rebukes him for embezzling ministry funds to pay off his gambling debts; and the camera swings round him first to the left and then further and further to the right finally to reveal his superior reflected in a mirror.
This single opening shot keys us to all the important features of the film: the priority given to star persona and performance; the degree to which the narrative differs from (adds to, opens out) Gorky’s original play; and the significance of Renoir’s camera style of this time, characterized by deep-focus depth-of-field, the moving camera, and the revelation of off-screen space, the world extending beyond the limits of the frame” (brightlights films.com- Ian Johnston)
Akira Kurosawa and Renoir
Both Renoir and Kurosawa
 adapted it each with his distinct genius leaving its impress. Donald Richie calls Akira Kurosawa’s film of The Lower Depths a miracle of ensemble playing. In contrast Renoir makes of the play a vehicle for two fine actors, Louis Jouvet and Jean Gabin. The action of Kurosawa’s film occurs completely within the flophouse, as does the play, but less than half of Renoir’s Lower Depths takes place there. Still the flophouse remains, visually, the most interesting locale in the film, with its chiaroscuro lighting and dramatic shadows, its rough bricks, rude stairways, and old wooden posts that often divide the screen vertically or project diagonally across the frame and its length that lends itself so well to deep focus cinematography.
When Akira Kurosawa made his version of The Lower Depths in 1957 he had seen Renoir’s film. It was perhaps that which led him to try it himself. Unlike Renoir, Kurosawa follows Gorky almost scene for scene. In a style that resembles Renoir’s in its long takes and deep focus cinematography Kurosawa creates his flophouse as the locus of a world. But by the sheer vitality of the life in his film manages to overthrow the despair and pathos that permeate the play.
Kurosawa greatly admired Jean Renoir and his own decision to write an autobiography was prompted by reading Renoir’s My Life and My Films “and by the terrific impression Renoir left on me when I met him—the feeling that I would like to grow old in the same way he did.”
Kurosawa’s Lower Depths shows the power that could be achieved in cinema by staying close to the text and setting of Gorky’s work. Renoir did not see Kurosawa’s film until 1977. He watched it with great interest, then remarked, “That is a much more important film than mine.”
Although overshadowed by Renoir’s subsequent masterpieces (La Grande Illusion was made straight after this film), Les Bas-fonds is an impressive work, which, through its very evident humanity, remains a surprisingly modern film. This film was awarded the first Prix Louis Delluc in 1937.

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Dodes’ka-Den;
Die Freudlose Gasse;
Austeria;
The L-Shaped Room

Benny

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Three years ago, BBC Culture ran its first major critics’ poll, to find the 100 greatest American films. Two further polls looked for the best films of the 21st Century and the greatest comedies ever made – and those also ended up with films from the US in the top spot.

This year, we felt it was time to direct the spotlight away from Hollywood and celebrate the best cinema from around the world. We asked critics to vote for their favorite movies made primarily in a language other than English. The result is BBC Culture’s 100 greatest foreign-language films.

(I have put an asterisk against films I have seen. Some I have watched again and again-b)

100. Landscape in the Mist (Theo Angelopoulos, 1988)
99. *Ashes and Diamonds (Andrzej Wajda, 1958)
98. In the Heat of the Sun (Jiang Wen, 1994)
97. Taste of Cherry (Abbas Kiarostami, 1997)
96. Shoah (Claude Lanzmann, 1985)
95. Floating Clouds (Mikio Naruse, 1955)
94. Where Is the Friend’s Home? (Abbas Kiarostami, 1987)
93. Raise the Red Lantern (Zhang Yimou, 1991)
92. Scenes from a Marriage (Ingmar Bergman, 1973)
91. Rififi (Jules Dassin, 1955)
90. *Hiroshima Mon Amour (Alain Resnais, 1959)
89. *Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)
88. The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1939)
87. *The Nights of Cabiria (Federico Fellini, 1957)
86. La Jetée (Chris Marker, 1962)
85. *Umberto D (Vittorio de Sica, 1952)
84. *The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Luis Buñuel, 1972)
83. *La Strada (Federico Fellini, 1954)
82. *Amélie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001)
81. Celine and Julie go Boating (Jacques Rivette, 1974)
80. *The Young and the Damned (Luis Buñuel, 1950)
79. Ran (Akira Kurosawa, 1985)
78. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee, 2000)
77. *The Conformist (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1970)
76. Y Tu Mamá También (Alfonso Cuarón, 2001)
75. *Belle de Jour (Luis Buñuel, 1967)
74. *Pierrot Le Fou (Jean-Luc Godard, 1965)
73. Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929)
72. *Ikiru (Akira Kurosawa, 1952)
71. Happy Together (Wong Kar-wai, 1997)
70. L’Eclisse (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1962)
69. Amour (Michael Haneke, 2012)
68. *Ugetsu (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953)
67. *The Exterminating Angel (Luis Buñuel, 1962)
66. *Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1973)
65. *Ordet (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1955)
64.*Three Colours: Blue (Krzysztof Kieślowski, 1993)
63. Spring in a Small Town (Fei Mu, 1948)
62. Touki Bouki (Djibril Diop Mambéty, 1973)
61. *Sansho the Bailiff (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1954)
60. Contempt (Jean-Luc Godard, 1963)
59. Come and See (Elem Klimov, 1985)
58. *The Earrings of Madame de… (Max Ophüls, 1953)
57. Solaris (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972)
56. Chungking Express (Wong Kar-wai, 1994)
55. *Jules and Jim (François Truffaut, 1962)
54. Eat Drink Man Woman (Ang Lee, 1994)
53. *Late Spring (Yasujirô Ozu, 1949)
52. *Au Hasard Balthazar (Robert Bresson, 1966)
51. *The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Jacques Demy, 1964)
50. *L’Atalante (Jean Vigo, 1934)
49. Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979)
48. *Viridiana (Luis Buñuel, 1961)
47. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu, 2007)
46. *Children of Paradise (Marcel Carné, 1945)
45. *L’Avventura (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960)
44. Cleo from 5 to 7 (Agnès Varda, 1962)
43. *Beau Travail (Claire Denis, 1999)
42. City of God (Fernando Meirelles, Kátia Lund, 2002)
41. To Live (Zhang Yimou, 1994)
40. *Andrei Rublev (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1966)
39. Close-Up (Abbas Kiarostami, 1990)
38. A Brighter Summer Day (Edward Yang, 1991)
37. Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001)
36. *La Grande Illusion (Jean Renoir, 1937)
35. The Leopard (Luchino Visconti, 1963)
34. *Wings of Desire (Wim Wenders, 1987)
33. *Playtime (Jacques Tati, 1967)
32. All About My Mother (Pedro Almodóvar, 1999)
31. *The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006)
30. *The Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)
29. Oldboy (Park Chan-wook, 2003)
28. *Fanny and Alexander (Ingmar Bergman, 1982)
27. The Spirit of the Beehive (Victor Erice, 1973)
26. Cinema Paradiso (Giuseppe Tornatore, 1988)
25. Yi Yi (Edward Yang, 2000)
24. *Battleship Potemkin (Sergei M Eisenstein, 1925)
23. *The Passion of Joan of Arc (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1928)
22. Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, 2006)
21. A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, 2011)
20. The Mirror (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1974)
19. *The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966)
18. A City of Sadness (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 1989)
17. *Aguirre, the Wrath of God (Werner Herzog, 1972)
16. *Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927)
15. *Pather Panchali (Satyajit Ray, 1955)
14. Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels (Chantal Akerman, 1975)
13. *M (Fritz Lang, 1931)
12. Farewell My Concubine (Chen Kaige, 1993)
11. *Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard, 1960)
10. *La Dolce Vita (Federico Fellini, 1960)
9. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000)
8. *The 400 Blows (François Truffaut, 1959)
7. *8 1/2 (Federico Fellini, 1963)
6. *Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966)
5. *The Rules of the Game (Jean Renoir, 1939)
4. *Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa, 1950)
3. *Tokyo Story (Yasujirô Ozu, 1953)
2. *Bicycle Thieves (Vittorio de Sica, 1948)
1. *Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa, 1954)
(Ack: BBC/culture/story)

There are some that I have not seen; also are some films that ought to have been included. Well what I have missed would not make my life less complete; nor would critic’s missed make my enjoyment any less. I am thankful for all the films that consumed my thoughts, enriched my world and for memories.
Benny

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Our generation can be truly called the film generation. Our modern world having survived quite a few cataclysms like two World Wars, the great Depression   can still be accessed. Lessons from history thanks to it are not forgotten if not really learned. I do not intend to discuss this aspect but rather film as art. For those who consider film as their bread and butter my approach may seem that of a lounge lizard. Nevertheless I am an artist. While I am an amateur in the Seventh Art my life I take in all seriousness to be lackadaisical about this medium. I have pursued it with the monomania associated with a butterfly collector who in order to add to his collection, would pursue one rare specimen to the ends of the earth. I have skipped a 1962 University exam in order to see The Streetcar Named Desire in its last run. For me exams were part of preparing for a career but a film meant much more. Like the doomed heroine Blanche I pursued the magic of art in life in whatever form I could distil, amateur or not.

Art in its essence is man’s touch with reality of his world that has more than one point of view. Palaeolithic art of a running horse discovered in Lascaux or a Bison charging (Altamira) are examples where his touch with reality forces him to fix the physical aspect of what makes up his world; in order to succeed in hunting a bison for instance, he needed an accurate knowledge of it as well as to capture its spirit by magic as it were. A filmmaker as an artist does in essentials the same as his stone-age ancestor. He works as a chronicler of his world in which his point of view may take several positions: his world vision licked into shape by life experience and also his role as a translator of the spirit of his age. Of the second let me merely say film art gets its force from that spirit of his age one of which is technology. Technology has made development of film possible but the basic principles of film, remains the same. Modern art for example did not change art but allowed the artist another vision. Cubism in the way Picasso demonstrates it, say Demoiselles d’Avignon, is about the genre of painting nudes but its meaning rather extended. His art, his experience of formal kind is clothed with elements of primitive art. A filmmaker similarly experiments in art and his technique may change with the help of technology as we see films of today. What with the electronic age is not Neo-Realism of Rossellini of Vittorio de Sica as dead as a Dodo? As Stanley Kauffman says in his essay on The Film Generation (A World on Film-the New republic) a film ‘has its roots –of content and method-in older arts. yet it is very much less entailed by the past than these arts.’

Reel Life is a movie list as a collection of 120 best films chosen from world Cinema with a preponderance for American and European films. There are a few Japanese and Russian films, which I am familiar with. There are equally significant films from many other countries but here again it is my personal preference dictated the list.

2.

I am an old man. But don’t get me wrong; it calls for a celebration of sorts. This present book of movie list is the summing up of my lifelong fascination with films. Many passions that convulsed me from time to time, I can now recall with a smile, were over-prized and with age I have given their due place as part of learning process. It cannot be without reason the films included in this book hold an abiding interest in me. Movie list is the reel life for me. As I rerun images from films in my mind’s eye I see their significance all the more clearer. My second childhood isn’t a bad thing at all if a worldview could sort it out better.

How do I know it for sure? Of course second time around I do not swallow everything that my eyes see as I had done once. Magic of the movies tempered with life experience makes this phase something to celebrate, explore (of the art behind the medium) and to seek perhaps some aspects that sets Truth in a way I can subscribe to.

Is Truth out of place in a medium that is as contrived as cinema? ‘The Mongrel Muse’ as Raymond Durgnat would call it in his ‘films and feelings’ is a synthesis of arts. If arts do hold any connection to life, in a moral sense or aesthetically, film also must bear relation to Truth. While I watch a film I am fully engrossed and not conscious my being except as a vehicle for various emotions or thoughts, of which I can only vouch for after having experienced them. Somewhat like our dream-state. Life for me, as a moviegoer does not cease but I have absorbed from the experience, a heightened sense of Truth, despite those flickering images so contrived to pass for real.

As a child what made me lap them up and what do I now with a sure sense of purpose are altogether different. So be it.

Much of what is presented in the Reel Life is collated from existing reviews, essays and information provided by others, and I have acknowledged the source wherever I could. However each film bears my worldview and my attitude to life and art. Somewhat like a book packaged from writers whose contributions forms a part but not the whole. My choice of films itself tells its own story. My life experience and its conscious thrust over the material justify my work. In short the book is my reel life.

If the reader should find the List incomplete, I alone am to blame. Out of thousands of films I have merely picked 120 best films that for some reason or other had better claims on me. For example The Blue Angel has been remade in 1959 with Curt Jürgens and May Britt in the roles played by Emil Jannings and Marlene Dietrich. I have chosen the original version of 1930 for the wonderful performance of Emil Jannings. Personal tastes in this case decided what to be included or left out. I hope to follow this up with a second book.

(Selected: My Reel Life/introduction-2014)

benny

 

 

 

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The second volume of My Reel Life is available through Lulu Press. 120 films from world cinema are covered in My Reel Life. It is priced at 16 Euro. pages 360

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For those interested check out http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/bennymkje

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For those who  are interested in reading my appreciation of classic movies 120 of them here is your chance: Check out

http://www.lulu.com/shop/benny-thomas/my-reel-life/paperback/product-21846402.html

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L'Atlante
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