Night and Fog

Hiroshima Mon Amour

Three weeks before Alain Resnais died this past March, he had premiered his newest film, Life of Riley, at the Berlin Film Festival, which he completed at the age of 91. Resnais enjoyed a uniquely prolific streak of filmmaking in his later years that laughed at the prospect of retirement or death. For a moment it seemed possible that Resnais himself would continue to exist as ceaselessly as the memories that preoccupy his characters; thankfully, with his incredible body of work, Resnais is etched into eternity. Resnais continued to experiment with the limits of cinematic form over fifty years after his career-defining work on Night and Fog, Hiroshima mon amour, and Last Year in Marienbad. The past decade of his career proved that age is no excuse for artistic resignation or repetition – while not nearly as well-known, more recent works including Private Fears in Public Places, Wild Grass, and You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet! challenged the medium with as much audacity and confidence as his canonical earlier works. Debating the status of “reality” in Last Year in Marienbad is one thing; explaining the ending of Wild Grass is another matter entirely. So here is a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from a mind that always exists in both the past and present.

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Shoah Film

Looking for any excuse, Landon Palmer and Scott Beggs are using the 2012 Sight & Sound poll results as a reason to take different angles on the best movies of all time. Every week, they’ll discuss another entry in the list, dissecting old favorites from odd angles, discovering movies they haven’t seen before and asking you to join in on the conversation. Of course it helps if you’ve seen the movie because there will be plenty of spoilers. This week, they revel in the evil banality of the Holocaust, its survivors and its perpetrators. In the #29 (tied) movie on the list, Claude Lanzmann whittles 350 hours of footage into a 9-hour experience of peaceful fields and conversations about death camps. But why is it one of the best movies of all time?

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Criterion Files

Warning: some spoilers ahead. For a company known for its arthouse fare, The Criterion Collection is not short on great horror films. From early oddities like Haxan to silent classics like Vampyr to classic B-movies like Corridors of Blood to cult classics like House to newer visions like Antichrist to the just-released Rosemary’s Baby, The Criterion Collection can provide a unique encyclopedia of the development of the horror genre across nations and decades. But while the horror genre specializes in fear, tension, and disturbing visions, it doesn’t have a monopoly on any of these categories. Violent revenge films, psychosexual dramas, depictions of real-life political struggle, documentaries that capture terrible moments in history, and movies that depict the quick dismantling of social structures all employ devices and emotional effects similar to that of the horror film, most notably dread, disturbing imagery, shocking juxtapositions, and perhaps the major defining component of the horror film: the tense anticipation of a horrible event. Here are ten terrifying non-horror films from The Criterion Collection.

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Culture Warrior

Of all the things associated with its reputation, probably the most immediately apparent aspect of Claude Lanzmann’s incredible Holocaust documentary Shoah (1985) is its daunting, mammoth running time of nine and a half hours. While Shoah has, then and now, been lauded as an incredible achievement in cinema, its running time has contributed to an understanding of the film as primarily a project of historical documentation. In using no archival footage and only capturing the contemporary lives of Holocaust survivors, historians, scholars, and the occasional aging Nazi functionary complicit in evil’s banality, all juxtaposed with extensive footage of the ruins and landscapes of the Polish grounds where these crimes against humanity took place, Shoah is typically understood to be an important means of making permanent the words of those involved long after their lifetime. Shoah is certainly a service to the preservation of history, and watching it twenty-six years after its original release (add a decade or less to the time when many of its subjects were originally filmed), I couldn’t help but wonder how many of these individuals have since passed on, which makes me thankful that Lanzmann made these efforts in the first place. Shoah’s contribution to history is an essential one that should never be underestimated, but this shouldn’t prevent us from examining and appreciating Shoah as an incredible cinematic achievement as well.

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Criterion Files

One major aspect of the Nazi propaganda machine that gained their support from the German people was their promotion of nostalgia. And like any form of nostalgia (and especially in nostalgia’s frequent political function), this was a selective nostalgia, decidedly exploiting certain tropes and icons of German history and heritage. A major component of this nostalgia was the promotion of nature as the means of returning to pure German identity. Nature provided a convenient contrast to the values that the Nazi party wanted to work against, and it’s opposite – the urban center – was the focal point of all they problems they perceived Germany as having been misguided by, most explicitly centralized in the supposed decadence of 1920s Berlin. The political, aesthetic, and sexual aspirations (not to mention the diversity) of the Weimar period posed a threat to the ideals of tradition, uniformity, and the assumed hierarchy of specific social roles. This nostalgic and romantic preoccupation with nature is readily available in German cultural products of the 1920s and 30s. Anybody who has seen Inglourious Basterds (2009) is familiar with the “mountain film,” or “bergfilme” genre that had peaked by this point. This genre was popular years before the Third Reich took power, and its prevalence speaks volumes to the German peoples’ preoccupation with nature leading up to the Hitler’s rise to power. Leni Riefenstahl, perhaps the most famous of Nazi-era filmmakers, starred in mountain films and went onto make Olympia (1938) and Triumph of the Will (1935), a […]

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Criterion Files

Alain Resnais is one my favorite filmmakers, and it’s largely because of his early work. Between Night and Fog (1955), Hiroshima mon amour (1959), and this week’s film, Last Year at Marienbad (1961), Resnais’ late 50s-early 60s work represents a sort of trilogy meditating on the themes of trauma and memory. While these first two films address these subjects specifically in regard to resonating painful memories of WWII (the subject of Night and Fog being concentration camps, and Hiroshima mon amour clearly being Hiroshima), Marienbad’s narrative avenue towards this subject isn’t rooted in globally relevant history. Rather, Last Year at Marienbad switches gears to tell a story of memory loss between two socialites at a baroque hotel, one of whom (the man, played by Girgio Albertazzi) remembers a brief but passionate affair from the previous year, while the other (the woman, played by Delphine Seyrig) doesn’t.

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This week’s Culture Warrior helps you fill out your Netflix queue.

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published: 12.23.2014
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published: 12.22.2014
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published: 12.19.2014
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