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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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A naïve cashier who is far above his social class and cultivated falls in love with a tramp who milks the old fool for what is worth. Her only concern is to keep her pimp and the arrangement leads to a course that has disastrous consequences for all concerned.
Renoir took the story and created a poignant film that established his reputation as a film maker. It was his first sound film and what with prevailing Hayes code,1930 (‘No picture shall be produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it’) La Chienne was never shown in the United States until 1975, 44 years after its original French release.
Duration:91 minutes,
Black and white,
Director: Jean Renoir
Plot:
A meek and unassuming office clerk, Maurice Legrand (Michel Simon), teased at his workplace and terrorized by a virago of a wife at home, declines an invitation from his co-workers to turn the evening’s dinner banquet festivities into a night of carousing. His excuse is that he was to be home before his wife’s midnight curfew. On the way home, he encounters a young man abusing a young woman and quickly interferes to stop it. Gallantly he hires a taxi to take them home. After leaving Dédé (Georges Flamant) he walks through the seedy section to her dump. Before he takes leave he lets her know his intention.
The scene quickly lays down the premise of the film. Social morality and individual morality are two sides of the same coin. Legrand who will refuse to let down his public image however ridiculous, to be called a whore monger is not averse himself to set up a tramp in a quiet apartment.
Lucienne Pelletier, nicknamed Lulu (Janie Marese) lets the aging cashier keep her in such circumstances so she has Dédé on hand. Maurice keeps giving money and artwork to Lulu, forgiving her even after he finds out that she’s been selling paintings by “Clara Wood” that are earning high prices. There is a subtext in the private life of Legrand who discovers Adèle’s “dead” husband Godard (Roger Gaillard) is not dead. Renoir with tongue in cheek humor delineates the character who is an out and out scoundrel. His game is blackmail. He has come back demanding Legrand buy him off. While he was sacrificing his life for the country Legrand had stolen his wife, something that will never go down well for his public image. To his shock the unhappily married Legrand is all too eager to simply step aside. Renoir seems to comment: in the eye of the society the sergeant is a hero, a martyr. It would rather keep a lie in circulation than condone the man who replaced him in his bed.
Coming back to the story this episode shuts up Adèle (Magdeleine Bérubet) who had carped eternally about hero of her husband. Legrand is at last free.Maurice Legrand quickly moves to the apartment he had set up for his mistress. It comes as a shock for him to discover the sad truth: she loved him only for what she could get out of him.
In one unforgettable cinematic moment Legrand turns up unnoticed at the apartment while a crowd in front of the building is raptly watching street singer perform. He kills the tramp and walks away unnoticed. Soon the lover-boy arrives driving up in such ostentatious manner breaking up the crowd.
‘The film’s conclusion suggests that Legrand, a respectable member of bourgeois society and a white collar worker, doesn’t have to pay for his actions,… when there’s a far less respectable scapegoat at hand’. The film ends with a weirdly tragicomic epilogue, in which Legrand and Godard meet up as hobos, years later, both of them gruff old men cackling about their shared fate. When Legrand confesses that he has become a murderer since they last met, Godard simply stares at him for a moment and then shrugs, “it takes all kinds.” ‘La Chienne ends with Legrand telling Godard, “life is beautiful.” They walk away together. (ack: only the cinema/April, 2,2012/seul-le-cinema.blogspot.)
Michael Simon again would take the role of a tramp. He appears in Boudu Saved From Drowning.
To quote Peter Bogdanovich ‘Of all the great filmmakers, Renoir is most the humanist poet, the one director who only made pictures about people—not stereotypes, not archetypes, not myths, but real people’. People are not suspended in vacuum but in a milieu that is contrived. In cinematic medium social consciousness of the director dictates visual clues to give it specific gravity:using deep focus photography Renoir gives life of the people going on around the main personages and using repeated imagery of mirrors and reflections we also see them as though under a microscope. Adèle’s keeping her monthly dividends inside a mirrored wardrobe; the shot of a shaving Legrand that pans to the image of the opened wardrobe as he pilfers money, surprising Lulu and her pimp in bed we see him in reflection as the intrusive third party, each object acquires a power of its own.
The film opens and ends as though we are taken through the proscenium of make believe. I shall end with Bogdanovich: ‘The seeming simplicity of Renoir—he never calls attention to himself, yet it is so clearly his eye through which we are seeing the world—belies an amazing complexity in his understanding of people, of the human comedy.’
Trivia:;”In the film Michel Simon falls in love with Janie Marèse, and he did off-screen as well, while Marèze fell for Georges Flamant, who plays the pimp. Renoir and producer Pierre Braunberger had encouraged the relationship between Flamant and Marèze in order to get the fullest conviction into their performances – (Flamant was a professional criminal but an amateur actor). After the film had been completed Flamant, who could barely drive, took Marèse for a drive, crashed the car and she was killed. At the funeral Michel Simon fainted and had to be supported as he walked past the grave. He threatened Renoir with a gun, saying that the death of Marèze was all his fault. “Kill me if you like”, responded Renoir, “but I have made the film”wikipedia)

benny

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Pen Portraits-Sergei Eisenstein
Sergei Eisenstein (1898-1948)
film director
Despite his career frustrated by many reasons beyond his control Eisenstein ranks as one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. Through his films, his vivid theoretical writings and a wide cultural experience he shared as an artist and as a pedagog his impact goes farther than any other. Luckily for him he found cinema in its unlettered state of a cross between drama and a peepshow where the novelty was moving images against cheap painted backdrop. His groundbreaking Strike (1924) still has vitality and extravagance of the avant-garde; Therein you see how he assimilated wide range of cultural influences from Chinese theater, fairground and Freud. The Battleship of Potemkin a reconstruction of an incident in the 1905 revolution, which combined realism, drama through cinematic means- and documentary style reporting transcended realty of an event (that was chaos to anyone who lived to experience it). What Eisenstein did was to assemble various events and meld them into a feel of reconstructed reality through montage. This film established his reputation worldwide. Thereafter he completed only one film Alexander Nevsky(1938). He could complete only two of the three part grand operatic bio-pic, Ivan the Terrible(1942-1946).

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The camera for the purpose of a cinematic narrative serves as an all-seeing eye. Even the God Almighty has a script of sorts,- poetic justice it is known in common usage, and why not for cinema? It is written by camera using light as its pen. The film Vampyr is about a young man Allan Gray who descends upon a desolate village by the river. He has his fishing gear and is nattily dressed to indicate he is not one of the locals.
Here the first two sketches show him stepping onto the land and in the other he is knocking at the door of an inn. The camera follows him at eye level creating an intimacy with the viewer. It is narrating visually his movement from A to B. The title cards have already supplied some information as well as those additional details we gather as to his dress and deportment. Mr. Gray is a visitor and he is very much onto occult world. His purpose there is to find more about the supernatural world of vampires, werewolves etc., With this much the viewer is mentally prepared for what to expect. It is a spooky world all right for the impressionable young dreamer to pass through a twilight world where the real and surreal worlds are not clearly marked.

Not much has happened while following simple movement from A to B. We see in the thumbnail sketches 2 to 4 the cutout of the dark victory (the Still#1 of yesterday) and camera pans to show us the board below. It bears just one word ‘Hotel’ and is dimly seen.

The camera is all seeing eye and it has now quietly taken position to give us a glimpse of him as an outsider seeking lodging for the night. #5

The camera is still at eye level and not intrusive so we go along with him. The shot is now from the road to indicate his knocks are not answered. Suddenly we see the skylight creaking and a child asking the man to go around. See sketch #6 The sudden jerk of the camera angle to pull the viewer’s eye up gives the first jolt of the unexpected.
The camera had already hooked us with a few images along the movement and the sequences where he is told to go around establishes a continuity from the point B.
In order to achieve this the sudden unusual angle of the dark rooftop with a girl at the skylight gives the movement
an emotional ‘go, go command.’ Naturally we are also gripped with the mystery as to what is to follow. It is only possible since we have become an accomplice of the camera eye as we followed Mr. Gray from A to B
Hold of the all-seeing eye is built from sequence of images. It creates rhythm and the emotional responses created by it are like a bank that we have opened up. Suspension of disbelief to use a term coined by the poet Coleridge. It is dynamic and it is what the eye intends to exploit. The fear of the secluded inn with an uninviting door, getting no response to the knocking has been partly transferred to us. We have also become involved spectators. The ordinary intimacy of camera tracking a character and the unexpected ,where a skylight opens instead of a door which one in normal circumstances expect,are as much mysteries thrown to us.

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