Monthly Archives: February 2011

Paris, Texas

Director:  Wim Wenders

USA, 1984

“I knew these people . . .”

A man is found wandering in the wilderness in Texas after disappearing four years previously.  He reunites with his son.  The man then seeks to reunite his son with his mother, realizing he can never again be apart of the family.

That is the basic plot of the film.  It is beautifully told with tender care and acute observation.  It is one of my favorite films.  I have seen it several times, and it haunts me each time I think about it.

Here is probably the best scene of the film.  It takes place toward the end of the story.  The man has tracked down his wife, who is working at a peep show (absolutely no sexual content in this scene, or the movie for that matter).  She doesn’t know who he is (at first).

This scene affects me every time I see it.  I think the dialogue is great.  So simple, yet so poetic.  The lighting and the camerawork and the editing very effectively convey the feeling and the emotion of the scene.  The music (a wonderful score by Ry Cooder) nicely compliments the image.  This is a great example of visual storytelling.

I would highly recommend this film.

Rating: 10/10

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How we watch films

As much as I try to watch good films, I try to be a good watcher of films.  That takes practice.  It also takes understanding.  You must understand something of how films work, and how they are constructed.  I wrote before on visual storytelling.  I am quite the novice in this area.  David Bordwell is not.  He is an eminent scholar and professor of film studies.  His blog at Observations on Film Art is wonderful reading if you want to learn to be a better film watcher.  He recently invited a guest blogger who studies what our eyes do when we watch a film.  The article is very fascinating.  I recommend reading it, as well as the articles it links to.

The article speaks about the film There Will Be Blood.  I really enjoyed this movie.  It is one of the better films of the present century.

The Passion of Joan of Arc

Director:  Carl Th. Dreyer

France, 1927

The Faces.  It is the faces that haunt you.  The faces of the judges are haughty and sanctimonous.  They sneer and despise.  They are fearful and confused.  The faces of the guards are ignorant and crude.  They are leering and mocking.  They are full of cruel, carnal glee as they torment their prey.

And we see the face of Joan–soft, sweet and innocent.  Seldom are we able to peer into such deep and honest emotion as we do when look at the face of Joan, played with such amazing skill by Maria Falconetti.  She shows a vast range of emotion–from fearful to peaceful, from shocked to amazed, from delighted to despondant.  Her face will haunt you for a long time.

The power of this film comes from Dreyer’s incessant use of close-ups.  They have been used many times before and since, but never with more artistic skill.  The film was shot on an elaborate, expense set, but we rarely see it.  Dreyer’s purpose with the film was not to make a period piece.  He did not want to focus on the externals.  He wanted to focus on the emotional and spiritual core of the story.  This is where the close-ups are effective.  By focusing almost solely on the faces, any artiface and distraction is removed.  All we can focus on is the characters and the spiritual struggle taking place.

The film is ostensibly about the conflict between organized religion and personal piety.  It illustrates this with remarkable skill.  However, Dreyer is so skilled he is able to obtain so much more from the story.  He is able to showcase one woman’s courage and devotness during a period of extreme persecution.  This is not an explicity religious film.

This film is generally regarded as one the greatest, if not the greatest, silent films.  It is one of my favorite films.  It is an absolute masterpiece.  Whatever you think of silent films, you should set aside your preconceptions and watch this film.

Rating: 10/10