2017 Summer Movie #31 – Battles Without Honor and Humanity: Hiroshima Death Match, or Deadly Fight in Hiroshima (Kinji Fukasaku, 1973): This is the second of the five films in the Yakuza Papers, or Battles Without Honor and Humanity, series Fukasaku released in 1973-4. It picks up with the story of the post-war Yakuza gangs in Hiroshima. Lots of murders and blood. The point seems to be the de-mythologizing of these gangsters. There is little in the way of heroism here, not even anti-heroes. The violence is chaotic, brutal, and de-humanizing. The aftermath of every fight is a shot of bloody corpses like chopped meat in a “ripped from the headlines” image. The closest thing to a hero in this is the main character, a gunman named Yamanaka (Kinya Kitaoji), who is rather callously used by a Yakuza boss in his fight with another faction. Even his eventual death – although we are told he is still remembered as a great yakuza in Hiroshima – is shown as meaningless and ugly.
2017 Summer Movie #32 – The Ship That Died of Shame (Basil Dearden, 1955): What makes this movie interesting is that it deals with post-war England a bit differently than most films of the time. It shows the sort of heroes of WWII that couldn’t find a way into civilian life. Richard Attenborough is excellent as a man who willingly embraces corruption. George Baker is the more stalwart everyman who made a bad decision. The title refers to a central conceit – that the former navy patrol boat that is being used for smuggling is becoming increasingly unreliable – a moralistic tone that makes the film less interesting. If something is going to break in a story due to choices, it should probably be a person. Dearden is competent but not interesting in his direction.
2017 Summer Movie #33 – Black Narcissus (Michael Powell, 1947): Wow. This is a film to watch – and I mean watch. The story here is almost secondary to the visual and also somewhat problematic in its depiction of gender and race. Still, this is an example of when problematic art should be engaged with because of its merits rather than rejected. This was seen at the time as a technical masterpiece of early Technicolor film, and rightly so. Powell and noted cinematographer Jack Cardiff construct a film where color, angle, shot composition, and art direction tell a story of growing madness and isolation. You can see the legacy of this film in everything from David Lean’s famous sequence of flowers in “Doctor Zhivago” to Martin Scorsese’s use of extreme close-ups in “the Color of Money”. Add to this memorable performances by Deborah Kerr and Kathleen Byron and you have a masterpiece. Watch this movie!
2017 Summer Movie #34 – The Red Shoes (Michael Powell, 1948): This is one of the classic dance films and “behind the stage” films. Another collaboration between director Michael Powell and cinematographer Jack Cardiff, this film is a beautiful example of how color and light create art in films. An absolute must see for anyone who care about film.
2017 Summer Movie #35 – Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff (Craig McCall, 2010): This is a decent documentary about Jack Cardiff released around the time of his death in 2009. As documentary film goes, this is more interesting for its subject matter than for its film style. It is mostly interviews with Cardiff himself and commentary by many figures, especially Martin Scorsese who is a huge fan of his work. Cardiff was the first (and for a long time, only) Technicolor cameraman in Britain and went on to a distinguished career as a cinematographer and director. His film credits range from classics like “Black Narcissus” and “The African Queen” to less classic films like “Conan the Destroyer” and “Rambo: First Blood, Part 2”. This film is at its best, for me, when he is discussing the creative and technical issues of his work, but it is also fascinating for his stories about the people he worked with over the years. Really good.
2017 Summer Movie #36 – Battles Without Honor and Humanity: Proxy War (Kinji Fukasaku, 1973): Number three in the series features battles between underbosses who are associated with higher bosses. Again, many people die. I’m not sure I understand why most of the characters in these movies are doing what they do. I am sure that these crime bosses couldn’t have dealt with Fredo Corleone in a fight, let alone Michael, Sonny, or Vito.
2017 Summer Movie #37 – Victim (Basil Dearden, 1961): In most ways this is a fairly standard suspense film. There is blackmail which leads to suicide and a murder. What maks all this stand out is that it deals with homosexuality. This is the first English language film to actually use that word and is one of the first to deal with the issue openly. By modern standards the film isn’t particularly “daring” but in 1961 the context was quite different. Dirk Bogarde gives a great performance as the main character and took on the role of a closeted (even from himself, in many ways) gay man at a time when he was Britain’s biggest male lead – an act that took some professional courage. Dearden’s work is competent, but not that exciting – which is true of most of his movies. What makes him interesting as a director is his choice of subject matter, in this and in many of his other films.
2017 Summer Movie #38 – The Captive Heart (Basil Dearden, 1946): This film was one of the first POW films made in Britain after the end of World War II (oddly enough, the British film industry wasn’t big on producing films about British soldiers in captivity while the war was still going on). This is pretty much a patriotic salute to Britain’s wartime heroes, but is made a bit more interesting due to the fact that one of the writers, Guy Morgan, had spend time as a POW. The film shows us a bit of the sense of isolation and abandonment these men felt – but then goes back to stiff upper lip and musn’t grumble. It is also intriguing because they filmed part of it in an actual POW camp in British-occupied Germany. Outside of these things the film is pretty conventional, but is entertaining is you like 1940s era British films (which I do).
2017 Summer Film #39 – Battles Without Honor and Humanity: Police Tactics (Kinji Fukasaku, 1974): The fourth film in the series sees a war between large yakuza groups being fought by the local gangs in Hiroshima and Kure (the situation set up in the third film). Growing violence is contrasted with the booming economy in Japan and increasing public outrage stoked by press coverage pushes government officials and the police to take action. As near as I can tell from the movie, the dramatic new “tactics” on the part of the police involved watching known yakuza and occasionally arresting them for crimes. By the end of this film the major violence is over because the instigators are in prison and the police have negotiated a truce between the rival factions. The lead detective we see in much of this comes across as a Japanese Columbo – messy hair, wrinkled raincoat, and all…
2017 Summer Movie #40 – Frieda (Basil Dearden, 1947): Dearden made “Victim” in 1961, which was an indictment of the laws against homosexuality in Britain. That makes this film especially interesting. The titular character is the German bride of an RAF pilot who brings her to his home in England during the waning days of the war. The movie centers on the intolerance and hatred she finds in that community, on the idea of assigning collective guilt for the war, and on the dehumanizing of an enemy. Like so many of Dearden’s films, we have a fairly conventional movie, but one that deals with a very interesting subject.