Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Blue Collar (Paul Schrader, 1978)


Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel and Yaphet Kotto play three downtrodden Detroit car factory workers torn apart by the system they despise (and which pointedly despises them). Several scenes feel overtly 'written' - for their convenience to the plot trajectory more than their dialogue. But the dynamic between the characters is easy and organic. It's the reason the film is infinitely more likable and engaging than the glut of ambitious, self-serious political exposés from this period.

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Marat/Sade (1967)


Few people claim to understand the motivation or exactly what's happening at the core of Peter Weiss' play about the Marquis de Sade and Charenton Asylum inmates' staging of a play about the assassination of Jean-Paul Marat. As directed for the British stage by Peter Brook however, it caused a sensation and sold truckloads of tickets on the path towards Broadway and a Tony.

Brook's movie adaptation is presumably faithful, since the stark stage setting is retained, the performances (by the original Royal Shakespeare Company players) are pitched for the back row and the dense, elliptical dialogue doesn't betray a whiff of a movie producer. Brook doesn't 'open up' the play in traditional - and traditionally catastrophic - terms, but he does adopt a loose, bracing visual style that justifies it as a worthwhile work of cinema. Between the stylish visuals, committed players and the unhinged, arresting nature of the play itself, there's plenty to absorb here. But you don't shake the feeling that you're missing out on the much more intense experience of seeing it on stage.

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Princess Yang Kwei Fei (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1955)


Kenji Mizoguchi's first colour film was this soap opera about an 8th century emperor's romance with a pretty kitchen-hand and the underhanded politicians that destroy it. It's delicate to look at (and listen to), but otherwise simplistic and leaden.

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