#195 Shoot the Piano Player

Watched: August 26 2018

Director: François Truffaut

Starring: Charles Aznavour, Marie Dubois, Nicole Berger, Michèle Mercier, Albert Rémy

Year: 1960

Runtime: 1h 21min

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Charlie Kohler/Edouard Saroyan (Aznavour) is a piano player in a dive bar, but a former classical concert pianist. When his brother Chico (Rémy) seeks him out to shelter him from a couple of gangsters he’s pissed off, Charlie gets dragged back into the criminal family he’s avoided for years.

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“Just ran into the weirdest dude out there. Told me all about his marriage and his wife, completely unprompted. Oh, and also, I’m chased by some thugs and I need you to help me escape.”

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Simultaneously, the shy and slightly awkward musician strikes up a relationship with waitress Léna (Dubois), but the gangsters follow them one night and the couple are kidnapped. However, they get on surprisingly well with their kidnappers.

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Although not as well as Charlie gets on with his friendly neighbourhood prostitute next door

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They get out of that fix unharmed, but as the gangsters become more and more determined to use Chico’s family members to track him down, Charlie realises he must flee and leave his girlfriend behind. Lest she ends up like his first wife…

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“So, first there was the wife. That ended badly.” “How badly?” Well, she’s dead. Then there’s my neighbour Clarisse, but she’s more of a very good friend.” “How good?” “Oh, very, very good… But I swear I’m actually a good guy. Just very unlucky.”

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Shoot the Piano Player is very different from our last encounter with Truffaut, The 400 Blows. It’s a bit Noiry, with the flashbacks, the past the main character cannot escape, the general bleakness and the occasional voiceover narration.

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The trigger happy gangsters complete the picture (we loved them, although their casualness and easy conversation with their victims made them even scarier than your normal movie thugs)

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It’s often sad, dark and depressing, but there are some fantastic laugh-out-loud moments which help alleviate the whole affair somewhat. We’ve been missing the noirs a bit lately (there were so many of them for a while there!), so we really enjoyed this one. Worth watching for fans of French New Wave, Film Noir, thrillers, dramas, and Truffaut in general.

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Or fans of pianos. Or, indeed, people who hate piano players with a fiery vengeance.

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What we learned: Even super polite and likable kidnappers can be ruthless killers.

Next time: Spartacus (1960)

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#194 Saturday Night and Sunday Morning

Watched: August 25 2018

Director: Karel Reisz

Starring: Albert Finney, Shirley Anne Field, Rachel Roberts, Hylda Baker, Norman Rossington, Bryan Pringle, Edna Morris

Year: 1960

Runtime: 1h 29min

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Arthur Seaton (Finney) is an Angry Young Man who works in a factory and spends his weekends drinking, annoying the neighbours, and sleeping with his coworker’s wife, Brenda (Roberts).

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He’s also heavily into competitive drinking, which never fails to impress the ladies

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Even striking up a relationship with the charming and beautiful Doreen (Field) does nothing to break his illicit affair. However, he runs into trouble when Brenda becomes pregnant while Doreen is ready to go to the next level.

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After months (?) of courtship, she’s ready to actually let him in the door

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Arthur is immature and oppositional, but he’s charming and seems to have a good heart. Although it’s sometimes deeply buried… His greatest fear is to turn into his parents, who he feels have not really lived life – just survived it. Still, getting away from that life is harder than it seems, and while he has ambition, he has no real outlet for it, or any sort of plan to alter the direction of his life.

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It’s hard to save up for adventure and excitement when you drink up your paycheck every weekend

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Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is an early British New Wave kitchen sink drama (check out our terminology!), and the very sophisticated, educated and cultural Sister the Oldest actually read the book at some point. Oh yes.

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It was during one of her breaks from watching television, which are few and far between…

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It’s an engaging film, and we loved it. When it comes to social realism, none of them would be our first pick for weekend entertainment, but we never regret watching them. This particular one was also not quite as bleak as we were afraid it would be, although we suppose Arthur’s greatest fears were likely to come true judging by the ending…

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One man’s dream is another man’s nightmare. We’re just not sure which side of that Arthur is on right now.

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What we learned: Don’t let the bastards grind you down.

Next time: Shoot the Piano Player/Tirez sur le pianiste (1960)

#193 Psycho

Watched: August 4 2018 (and many other times)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Janet Leigh, Martin Balsam

Year: 1960

Runtime: 1h 49min

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Man with mommy issues goes on killing spree. Loved by critics.

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“Mommy issues? Who has mommy issues? I’m just a normal, stable, sane boy.”

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Psycho probably needs no further introduction as it’s one of the most watched, loved and spoofed/homaged films of all time. Still, for those hermits who have been living secluded lives in the woods for the past 60 years but have also inexplicably stumbled upon this blog (hello, stranger! To be honest, you’re probably better off crawling back under that rock, given the current state of the world), we’ll give a very brief synopsis.

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In short, wood dwelling hermit: if you see this place, just keep driving. Or walking. Or riding your tame bear.

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Marion Crane (Leigh) is having an affair with Sam Loomis (Gavin) but they cannot afford to get married. When Marion gets her hands on $40 000 at work, she decides to steal the money and run away to elope with her beau. She is caught in a rainstorm and checks in for the night at the secluded Bates Motel.

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Bad, bad idea

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Marion is reported missing by her sister Lila (Miles) and wanted by the police for theft. Lila decides to investigate the disappearance herself with the help of Sam and private investigator Milton Arbogast (Balsam) who is also on the case. What they find is not what they expected…

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It’s not what anyone would expect, really

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There’s nothing not to love about Psycho. It lulls you into thinking that you’re watching just another crime movie, and then BLAM! Creepy horror film!

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Hitchcock also managed to insert a T-1000, but we feel that subplot is vastly underdeveloped.

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The shower scene is perhaps the most famous scene in cinematic history, and no matter how many times you’ve seen it or its various recreations, it still has impact. As does Norman Bates’ transformation from sweetly awkward and likable young man to creepy insane murderer.

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He actually seems quite charming at first, making Marion supper and all

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As mentioned in our last entry, this goes perfectly as a double feature with Peeping Tom, if you want a night filled with serial killers and crazy. And who doesn’t?

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“We’re off to see the killer! The wonderful killer of girls!”

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What we learned: We all go a little mad sometimes. Also, if it doesn’t jell it’s not aspics.

Next time: Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960)

#191 La Dolce Vita

Watched: August 5 2018

Director: Federico Fellini

Starring: Marcello Mastroianni, Anita Ekberg, Anouk Aimée, Yvonne Furneaux

Year: 1960

Runtime: 2h 54min

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Jesus is out flying in Rome, followed by journalist Marcello Rubini (Mastroianni) whose pursuit of religious iconography is momentarily distracted by a bunch of sunbathing girls on a rooftop.

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The failure of all major religions: not enough sex appeal

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We continue to follow Marcello as he chases stories, fame, love, sex and meaning, and on the way he encounters a series of more or less fortunate events.

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The most famous of which is fountain-bathing sex-symbol Sylvia (Ekberg)

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In addition to the failed seduction of Sylvia, Marcello hangs out with intellectuals at a party, sleeps with an aristocrat in a prostitute’s bed, and saves his girlfriend’s life when she tries to kill herself (because of his philandering).

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It’s challenging keeping your affairs secret when all your best friends are photographers and all your lovers are famous enough to get their pictures printed in magazines

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Among his other adventures are reporting on children who see the virgin Mary (and others killed in stampedes brought on by this), partying with daddy and some showgirls, kicking it with aristocrats and film stars, ghost hunting, lover’s quarrels, murder/suicide, drag queens and growing into a proper douchebag.

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We weren’t kidding about the douchebag thing

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There’s been so much said about La Dolce Vita by people much smarter than us that there’s really very little we can add. We loved Iris and the costumes, and while the movie is almost 3 hour long, it never gets boring. Marcello is somewhat hard to read, but the society falling apart all around him is oh so easy to see.

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Nothing says “disillusioned” like sitting down in the sand in a white suit

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It’s a fantastic movie and you can see its influence in numerous other films and other works of art. It’s one of those classics where even if you haven’t seen it, you still sort of have. However, if you really haven’t, it’s well worth your time.

What we learned: If your man is a serial adulterer, don’t try to kill yourself. Just leave him. You’re better than that. Live your life! Also, fucking paparazzi, man. Oh, and also modern society and stuff, etc.

Next time: Peeping Tom (1960)

#190 Eyes Without a Face/Les yeux sans visage

Watched: August 4 2018

Director: Georges Franju

Starring: Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli, Edith Scob, Juliette Mayniel, Béatrice Altariba

Year: 1960

Runtime: 1h 30min

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A woman dumps a faceless body in the middle of the night. The body is found and identified as Christiane Génessier (Scob) by her father, Doctor Génessier. Her face was destroyed in a car accident caused by the doctor and she is presumed to have killed herself.

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“Yes, yes, definitely my daughter. I would recognize her lack of face anywhere.”

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The body is buried and no one questions its identity, but what is the deal with all the missing girls in the area? The ones who resemble the presumably dead girl? The one with the ruined face and the surgeon father..?

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They’re certainly not having their faces removed and transplanted to Christiane. No siree!

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Doctor Génessier is riddled with guilt and hubris, and despite his daughter’s protests he’s trying to repair the damage he’s done, leaving in his wake a trail of faceless bodies. With the help of former patient Louise (Valli), he kidnaps young women, removes their faces, and tries to transplant them onto his own daughter who he keeps locked up in the house like the stray dogs he experiments on.

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At least the prisoners can take comfort in each other’s company

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We love everything about this film! The circusy music, the surgery shown in excruciating detail, the haunting mask and outfits of Christiane which make her look like a doll, and the ending with the gorgeous final shots – there’s nothing here not to love.

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She’s like the adorable ghost of a life-sized doll wandering about the mansion, bonding with animals Gothic Disney-princess style.

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Daddy is a giant douche whose pride is more important than the happiness of his daughter, even if he tells himself he’s doing this for her. Also, there’s some seriously shoddy police work going on – we mean, why would they send in Paulette (Altariba) for a consultation with the doctor without keeping an eye on her or instructing her to report back when she was discharged? Amateurs.

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“Yeah, this is what you get for shoplifting!”

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Terribly unprofessional police work aside, Eyes Without a Face is a haunting horror movie which should be on everyone’s to-watch list. It’s terrible and beautiful, and it reminds us of a twisted and dark fairytale. Love it!

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We prophesize a Disney remake

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What we learned: Looks aren’t everything.

Next time: La Dolce Vita (1960)

#188 Black Sunday

Watched: July 19 2018

Director: Mario Bava

Starring: Barbara Steele, John Richardson, Andrea Checchi, Ivo Garrani, Arturo Dominici, Enrico Olivieri

Year: 1960

Runtime: 1h 27min

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In 17th century Moldavia, Princess Asa Vajda (Steele) is sentenced as a witch by her brother and executed after having the “mask of Satan” nailed to her face. But before she dies, she curses her brother and all his descendants.

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To be fair, if someone tried to nail this thing to our faces, we’d probably curse them too

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Fast forward 200 years and two travelling doctors stumble upon her grave. One of them, Kruvajan (Checchi), is attacked by a bat which he kills over Asa’s tomb smashing the cross guarding it in the process. He then proceeds to remove her mask and spill blood on her.

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“Let’s open this tomb with the strangely preserved corpse and drip some blood on it” – a man who has never seen a horror film

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Kruvajan and his young companion Andre Gorobec (Richardson) then run into a mysterious young woman who bears a striking resemblance to the dead witch, Katia (Steele again) and Andre is smitten.

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It’s hard to resist a woman with two massive dogs

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After the meddling with the dead witch’s grave, the surviving members of the Vajda family start to experience strange phenomena, and it becomes clear that Asa and her companion Javuto (Dominici) are back for revenge.

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“Grrr rawr, I’m coming to get you, Barbara!”

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We’re back in our favourite genre with this horror film, and we have a bit of a thing for Mario Bava (especially Sister the Oldest), so naturally we loved Black Sunday. It’s an unsettling and atmospheric Gothic horror with gorgeous lighting and some very good effects. We loved Asa’s resurrection and Katia’s transformation, Barbara Steele’s eyes (emphasized by intense make-up) and the creepy castle.

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Not what most people associate with a “come hither look,” but strangely effective nonetheless

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Sure, there are some issues with this movie, such as the slightly iffy dialogue and the fact that everyone keeps treating Katia like an idiot child (even with everything going on and several corpses piled up, the men don’t really believe her when she claims to have seen someone in her room), but we still love it.

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In the men’s defence, Katia does tend to act a bit like an idiot child, so they may be justified

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Absolutely a must-see if you’re into Italian cult horrors. Which of course is everyone’s favourite genre, so why wouldn’t you watch it?

What we learned: Don’t remove all protective elements and then spill blood on cursed graves. Just don’t.

Next time: Breathless/À bout de souffle (1960)

#187 Beat Girl

Watched: July 11 2018

Director: Edmond T. Gréville

Starring: Gillian Hills, David Farrar, Noëlle Adam, Christopher Lee, Adam Faith, Oliver Reed

Year: 1960

Runtime: 1h 29min

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Jennifer (Hills) is a poor little rich girl with daddy issues and a need to distinguish herself and find her identity. She spends her time with sort-of boyfriend Dave (Faith), a musician with a magical guitar that can play all instruments, and his beatnik friends in a bar in Soho.

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As all teenagers, they are the only ones who have found the real answer to life. Skipping school and living for kicks, unlike those other squares!

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When her rich architect dad Paul (Farrar) brings home his new French wife Nichole (Adam), Jennifer is less than impressed. She rejects all of Nichole’s attempts at forming a relationship, even though her new stepmom might just be the only one who really tries to understand the girl.

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It helps that the daughter and the new wife are practically the same age

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Paul is more interested in his vision of a future city he wants to build than he is in his daughter, which drives Jennifer to increasingly risky behaviour to get his attention. When a local stripper recognizes Nichole, Jennifer makes it her mission to dig up dirt from her stepmother’s past, which puts her on the radar of dangerous strip club owner Kenny (Lee).

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“I am Dracu… I mean, I am Kenny! Dammit.”

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We really enjoyed Beat Girl despite our sympathy for Jennifer being a bit limited. Maybe we’re too old to empathise completely with a spoiled girl playing at being special and shocking, although we can understand her motivation and we like that she shows some spunk and self-preservation, especially in her dealings with Kenny.

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Pictured: not the father figure you’re looking for.

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Still, she’s a bit of a pretentious bitch. However, we loved the opening scene, the music (by John Barry), the now dated slang used by the teenagers, and the very salacious strip tease.

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FYI, if you like women who know their way around a sheet, this is the film for you!

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It’s a well-scored and interesting perspective on the disenfranchised post-war generation and well worth watching.

What we learned: Play with fire and you’ll get burnt. Also, we need Dave’s magical guitar!

Next time: Black Sunday (1960)

#183 The 400 Blows/Les quatre cents coups

Watched: July 4 2018

Director: François Truffaut

Starring: Jean-Pierre Léaud, Claire Maurier, Albert Rémy, Patrick Auffay

Year: 1959

Runtime: 1h 39min

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Antoine Doinel (Léaud) is a pretty average kid. He lives with his self-centred mother (Maurier) and nice enough, but very strict, stepfather (Rémy) in a small apartment in Paris. He doesn’t do too well in school and occasionally gets in trouble, although his best friend René (Auffay) seems to be the instigator at least some of the time.

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“I’m thinking we should hire some hookers and then kill some puppies?” “Yeah, I was thinking more like skip school and go to the fair..?”

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After he’s caught skipping school and lying about his mother’s death to cover for it, Antoine runs away from home. It only lasts for a day or so though, but when his teacher later accuses him of plagiarising Balzac, Antoine runs away again. This time for a while, and with more serious consequences.

 

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“Copied” sounds so harsh. I prefer “inspired by.”

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Antoine is misunderstood and/or ignored throughout the film. None of the adults in his life take the time to listen to him, and his actions are very often misinterpreted and harshly punished, such as his homage to Balzac and his return of the stolen typewriter (which, granted, he did steal earlier).

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Considering the irony of being caught returning stolen goods…

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We loved The 400 Blows. While it’s a fairly tragic tale of a talented but misunderstood young boy who gets into all sorts of (quite serious) trouble, it’s not all bleak. We loved the P.E. sequence with the rapidly diminishing student body, the centrifugal carousel, the shrine to Balzac and the kids watching the puppet show.

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Not to mention the extremely disruptive students

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Without spoiling it, the ending is also (possibly) optimistic, with Antoine standing at several thresholds and between two chapters of his life. There are four more films made about the same character played by the same (wonderful) actor, and we’re tempted to make a night of it and watch them all. In about ten years when we’re done with everything on the list

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In case you were wondering, we do bring this amount of energy and enthusiasm to every single film screening. Every. Single. One.

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What we learned: Life is hard for kids. Also, parents have responsibilities beyond feeding their children.

Next time: Special Bonus Post! Oboy oboy oboy!!!

#174 A Bucket of Blood

Watched: April 6 2018

Director: Roger Corman

Starring: Dick Miller, Barboura Morris, Antony Carbone, Julian Burton

Year: 1959

Runtime: 1h 06min

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In a beatnik café, pretentious poet Maxwell H. Brock (Burton) is performing his latest work, to the fascination of busboy Walter Paisley (Miller). Inspired by the artists he surrounds himself with, and also driven by their ridicule of him, Walter decides to try his hand at sculpting.

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“So, how did we do this in Arts and Crafts again..? I just knead it for a while and then it turns out amazing? Can’t be more to it than that!”

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Realising that sculpting is harder than it looks, he takes a break to save his landlady’s cat who’s stuck inside the wall. However, stabbing through it, he accidentally stabs the poor cat. Naturally, he proceeds to cover the dead animal in sculpting clay and the next day he turns up to work with his new sculpture.

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“Dead Cat” is an instant success, admired by art lovers and drug enthusiasts alike

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Walter’s newfound success leads to admiration from his crush Carla (Morris) and other patrons of the café, and a lady gives him some heroin as a gift, as one does. This in turn leads to an attempted arrest as an undercover cop follows Walter home and tries to book him for drug possession. Afraid, Walter hits him over the head with a frying pan, killing the cop instantly.

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What do you do when you accidentally kill a cop? Why, cover the body in clay and pass it off as a life sized sculpture, of course!

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Walter gradually goes from underestimated and accident-prone simpleton to calculating killer who lets every small slight become justification for murder. He is, however, not smart enough to avoid killing people he knows and is known to dislike.

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“It is so sweet that you made a sculpture of a strangled woman who looks exactly like the one who spent last night insulting you very publicly. I simply must kiss you!”

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Leonard (Carbone), the owner of the café, is the only one to see through his newly discovered talent, but he is making money off of Walter’s work and has a vested interest in keeping up the illusion. But how long can this go on? And who is next on Walter’s kill radar?

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“This severed head has been bothering me all week, so I clayed it!”

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A Bucket of Blood is the farcical version of House of Wax. The concepts are similar, but this one is more comedic and strangely also more sinister in many ways. Walter is the epitome of the stereotypical “good guy” – he sees himself as sweet, kind, underestimated and misunderstood, but if he’s rejected by someone, or made fun of, he becomes violent and murderous while simultaneously justifying his actions in his head.

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“I’m a famous and celebrated sculptor now, so you must date me. Unless you’re just a bitch and a whore!”

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We loved his first attempt at sculpting Carla’s face, the extremely pretentious Maxwell and the morbidity of the whole film. We also understand perfectly why Roger Corman made so many films based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe – it’s a match made in heaven! Or probably hell, to be quite frank.

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“If it’s hell, can I still be king..?” “Of course you can, Mr Futterman.”

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What we learned: It’s not easy being surrounded by (pretentious) artists if you’re not one yourself. And also a simpleton…

Next time: Ben-Hur (1959)

#160 Ashes and Diamonds/Popiół i diament

Watched: February 12 2018

Director: Andrzej Wajda

Starring: Zbigniew Cybulski, Ewa Krzyzewska, Waclaw Zastrzezynski, Adam Pawlikowski, Bogumil Kobiela (apologies for any spelling mistakes that may have occured)

Year: 1958

Runtime: 1h 43min

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Three guys with machine guns are lying in wait by a chapel. They kill two guys that come driving by, one of whom dies falling through a chapel door (and catching slightly on fire somehow). However, it turns out that the assassins have hit the wrong targets…

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“There is more than one car on this road? How inconsiderate. They can blame themselves for getting killed.”

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It’s the end of World War II in Poland, and the assassins, Maciek Chelmicki (Cybulski) and Andrzej (Pawlikowski) are after communist leader Szczuka (Zastrzezynski) who has recently returned to his home country. They decide to try again at local hotel Monopol, where Maciek takes a room and starts flirting with barmaid Krystyna (Krzyzewska).

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As Maciek picks the best, most romantic, and most atmospheric spots for dates, he is naturally successful in his pursuit of Krystyna.

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His newfound love, coupled with exposure to the grieving loved ones of his unintentional victims and the bodies of the dead men themselves, combine to change Maciek’s view of the world. He goes to his friend and superior officer Andrzej and tells him he doesn’t want to carry out this assassination. He wants to settle down with Krystyna and live in peace.

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Just him, his girl, and loads of shots. What a life!

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However, Andrzej is not sympathetic and tells Maciek backing out now will make him a traitor and that he’ll just have to tough it out. How will this all end?

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Rambo-style!

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Ashes and Diamonds is the third installment in Wajda’s war trilogy, and the second one on the list after Kanal. We loved the part in the crypt and Maciek’s decidedly ’80s vibe (we think it’s the sunglasses he sports and how the shadows often give the illusion of a mullet).

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The ultimate hipster – rocking a mullet before it was cool

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Like its predecessor, this film is quite weird and somewhat unsettling at times, with damaged women acting as saviours for damaged men, and lots of religious symbolism. Also, we found the dancing in the end reminiscent of Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. We really enjoyed it, and at an opportune moment, we will go back and watch the first film in the trilogy, A Generation (1955) even though it didn’t make the list.

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Seriously though – doesn’t this look like it could be a still from some 1980s cop movie..? The young, charming maverick paired up with the old, cranky, by-the-book veteran?

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What we learned: Shit always floats to the top. Also, we do not know enough about Poland 1945.

Next time: Dracula (1958)