Stalker by Andrei Tarkovsky

Well if you haven’t heard of Andrei Tarkovsky, then it’s probably way too late to prove how cool you are to any fellow film buffs. Bergman once said, “Tarkovsky is for me the greatest, the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream.” Really. I spent my whole last semester of college watching only one of his films over and over and over (The Mirror).

Stalker is one of his most acclaimed films. Geoff Dyer wrote a book about it, and additionally came to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis last year to talk through the film with viewers. It was screened on an extremely rare 35mm print, and it looked amazing.

The film is about a man who illegally leads two men into ‘The Zone’, a government guarded area wherein lies legend of a room that will grant any wish. Stalker, the main character, has been there before. Though his life outside ‘The Zone’ is in shambles, he is the sole guide of the forbidden place. He was taught its rules. 

Perhaps one of the most slowly-paced films of all time, Stalker makes it up to viewers with some of the most beautiful images Tarkovsky ever captured. ‘The Zone’ is gorgeous, lush with overgrowth, trickling water and streams, and relics of man. Definitely a must-see for aficionados.

Hiroshima Mon Amour by Alain Resnais

Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour came onto the French film scene right at the beginning of the French New Wave. It’s one of his most famous films, and also one of his earliest. It’s about a Japanese man and a French woman who have a chance meeting in Hiroshima, and anguish over having to leave one another. They share their histories and the difficulties they’ve had in life. 

The film itself explores the dark undercurrents of people’s lives, and the will to continue despite hardships. The female protagonist very much reminds me of Ingmar Bergman’s female characters, as well as the overall tone of the film. 

Its cinematography is great, and the script is wonderful. A good watch, but beware mood-swings.

The Missing Picture by Rithy Panh

The Missing Picture is a documentary film by Cambodian filmmaker, Rithy Panh. A survivor of the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot’s regime, Panh recreates visions from his past with clay figurines and archival footage. The film’s poetic narration implores viewers to consider lost history and human suffering.

The challenge of this film is to fill the ‘missing picture’. Despite the scenes laid before the viewer, one must still struggle to see truth. Even so, the clay characters are the perfect metaphor for the real people they represent. These are people made from the earth, and then taken away from it.

For documentary folks, this is a must see, along with The Act of Killing by Panh’s cohort, Joshua Oppenheimer. Both are totally devastating and pushing the envelope on what it means to make a documentary. 

Under the Skin by Jonathan Glazer

People have been heralding Jonathan Glazer as the new Stanley Kubrick because of his new film Under the Skin starring Scarlett Johansson. The rumors are (mostly) true. This is my first Glazer film, and now I’m looking forward to watching his others, like Sexy Beast which brought Ben Kingsley an Oscar nod back in 2000. 

Much is left up to interpretation in Under the Skin, but what I took away from the plot is pretty basic. A mysterious alien race, through harvesting and inhabiting human bodies, pursues a subversive take-over of planet Earth. One alien, played by Scarlett Johansson, is charged with the duty of driving around Scotland seducing young men. After a few successful harvests, she preys on a disfigured man and begins to feel empathy. She explores the potential of her human shell, eventually running away from her responsibilities. 

There’s hardly any dialogue in the film, but an abundance of foreboding music and sound. The scenes in which Johansson picks up men on the street were totally improvised, and the men she picked up were non-actors. To be honest, this movie gave me the willies. I have not been scared of the dark since I was a child, but I could not be alone after I saw this. Beware.

Besides the main character, there is a gang of motorcyclists who clean up after ScarJo’s messes (that’s right, ScarJo). We don’t see much, but the long shots of them driving across the Scottish countryside (a la Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon) are devastating and beautiful. Unfortunately, we don’t learn much else about their duties. What else is happening in this world?

House of Wax (1953) by André de Toth

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House of Wax was the first 3D film ever made, and everyone should see it just for this guy with the paddle-ball. There’s a good minute or two of him smacking that little rubber ball right at the camera. It’s probably the best thing I’ve ever seen in 3D. The film is newly restored for modern technology, which makes Paddle-Ball Guy look great, too.

This was the first movie I saw with Vincent Price in it (not counting of course his narration over the Thriller music video). His performance is pretty awesome. He plays a brilliant wax sculptor whose work is set ablaze when his greedy investor sees that he can make a killing in insurance claims. Price’s character emerges from the fire badly disfigured and turns evil, harvesting local deaths for a new, even freakier wax museum. 

But he’s no Paddle-Ball Guy, and he’s your number one reason to see this movie. In fact… just watch this.

High and Low (天国と地獄) by Akira Kurosawa (黒澤 明)

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This film played at the Trylon Microcinema as part of an Akira Kurosawa series that included non-samurai films only. The film is the only Kurosawa film I’ve seen in Cinemascope. At first, it follows the dealings of a businessman in the women’s shoe business. He is about to invest his last borrowed dollar and become the majority owner of the corporation he loves when, quite suddenly, his chauffeur’s son is mistaken for his own in a kidnapping. 

During the first part of the movie, we are trapped in the man’s expensive home waiting for the next phone call from the kidnapper. In the company of his wife and son, he must come to a moral conclusion about whether to sacrifice his career for the mistaken victim. After that, the story turns to follow the police investigation and the activities of the kidnapper. Finally we get to see Tokyo, and it’s beautiful.

The film is long and tense, but the cinematography is gorgeous, and the performances compelling. Not to mention, you get to see other parts of Japan, like the beautiful seaside city of Kamakura. Check it out!

Statues Meurent Aussi by Chris Marker and Alain Resnais

"When men die, they enter history. When statues die, they enter art. This botany of death is what we call culture."

A super-rare 35mm print of this short film screened at the Walker Art Center as part of a program called Censorship in Colonial France. Seeing it was an incredibly rewarding, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Marker’s essayistic approach to filmmaking early in his career was remarkably eloquent, and Resnais’ editing style pristine. The film was made in 1953 and suffered censorship for being anti-colonial. It brings to our attention that and discusses the cultural implications of, while Western art goes to the art museum, African art is sent to the history museum. It goes on to recognize roles that African bodies were being assimilated into at that time in Western pop culture by cutting together footage of the Harlem Globetrotters, Mohammed Ali, and a Jazz drummer. The film is extremely moving and comes highly regarded by the famed film critic, Jonathan Rosenbaum. 

While the film print may be rare, one can view the film online here

Screening Cops by Buster Keaton on Super 8 at Salt (Lick & Wood) Grain’s Too Much House Makes the House Go House event!