On Dangerous Ground (1951)
A film noir directed by Nicholas Ray (and Ida Lupino, who stepped in when Ray became ill). Robert Ryan plays a cop known for getting criminals to talk by using brute force, which is even wearing down his police peers. He gets sent to literally cool down while investigating a murder in the snowy countryside.
Ida Lupino, in a decent role, is amazing as always.
Watching this, I realized how much I love crime and western movies in snowy settings. Pale Rider (1985) and Shoot the Piano Player (1960) come to mind, the latter likely influenced by this movie.
I love me some Ethan Frome, too, a book that made me look at literary setting in a different way and one that made something like the endless Gothic descriptions of nature somehow enjoyable in The Castle of Otranto.
A Bernard Herrmann score at once enthralled and distracted me because I’ve listened to it and most of his work for fun, so it was like that feeling you get hearing a song tied to personal memories in a soap commercial.
“9 Variations on a Dance Theme” (1967)
An absolutely gorgeous short film by Hilary Harris with a few caveats:
- This is a dance/art film. If that already wrinkles your snout, don’t bother.
- If you have any questions about what critics mean when they write about the male gaze of the camera, compare this short to Maya Deren’s dance films.
Where Deren wanted the body to have a dreamy weightlessness, Harris highlights the physicality of dancer Bettie de Jong.
Harris–I believe–benefits from lighter cameras which allow him to revolve completely around the dancer where Deren would often use edits. Harris benefits from both approaches. He can get extreme close-ups, move around the dancer, and play with the editing. He is able to get a kind of 3D experience of a dance and the dancer’s physicality. It’s exciting–considering that in real life, because of the distance to the stage, dancers tend to look two-dimensional.
McNeil Robinson’s music ebbs and flows like the variations of the dance and the editing. Harpsichord opens the score, sounding improvised and using silence similar to Gagaku court music that becomes denser as the harpsichord begins to accompany Bonnie Lichter on flute.
The Fireman’s Ball (1967)
Miloš Forman is one of those directors that I forget about and then freak out when I see his name on a film and remember what he’s done. He’s probably best known for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and Amadeus (1984).
Ball was filmed in Forman’s native Czechoslovakia, and was banned for years because of its satire of the bureaucratic Communism. The movie is about the annual fireman’s ball in a small town and the arguments and thievery therein. It’s a slow film with most of the cast being older and I believe untrained. They’re great.
It’s remarkable how easily the story could be transplanted to small-town America.
The movie at once reminds me of another Czechoslovakian New Wave darling, Daisies (1966), but without the freneticism, and the Slaughterhouse-Five (1972) adaptation that nobody seems to like but me.
The ending was perfect poetry with a dash of dark humor.
The Dark Crystal (1982) The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (2019)
The original was a re-watch with the kids after we saw Resistance. Even though these are dark films, my kids loved them. The last I heard was that the new outing was going to be computer-generated and I wasn’t interested. I was pleasantly surprised at the amount and level of puppetry and in-camera work here that’s blended with the digital effects. These are spectacular movies.
Fantasy isn’t a genre I feel like I get into much, outside of dark fantasy like these. I really like Grimm’s fairy tales and the like, but I don’t read a lot of adventure fantasy. I’m sure there’s stuff out there for me, I just haven’t found it.