Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The White Hell of Pitz Palu (1929) - Directed by Arnold Fanck and G.W. Pabst

Popular in the 1920’s and 1930’s, the German Mountain Film, or Bergfilme is a bit of a lost and forgotten genre, with little critical examination applied to it to date as I’ve found. Perhaps it’s because it was so celebrated by one particular culture, the Germans, that it didn’t quite find as far of a reach, as there seems to be a cultural leaning and exploration on display that doesn’t quite ignite the intellectual rigor of other cultures. Sure there are modern examples of the “Mountain Film”, but they share little in common with the commanding visuals and mystical approach of the German Mountain Film of years ago. Of particular note is Arnold Fanck and G.W. Pabst’s The White Hell of Pitz Palu, a staggeringly shot and beautiful adventure film that stands as a remarkable achievement in on-location photography and action-oriented filmmaking.

Fanck was the most famous and innovative of the Bergfilme directors, and is credited with most of the on-location mountain shooting here, while reportedly it was Pabst who was credited with the set shooting and more melodramatic elements. This film starts out with a small crew climbing a mountain called Pitz Palu. The alipinist Dr. Krafft (Gustav Diessl) is leading the climb when his wife suddenly falls to her death. He blames himself for her death and sets about finding her body without much success. 10 years onward, a young married couple, Karl (Ernst Petersen) and Maria (Leni Riefenstahl) set out to climb the same mountain and it so happens that Dr. Krafft meets up with them and they climb together, with Krafft still determined to find his dead wife. A storm leaves the small group stranded on an icy outcrop of the mountain as Krafft tries to alert those down below of their whereabouts while the three of them try to stay warm to little success. A rescue team is formed to try and save them in a race against the clock. Sacrifice and devotion is examined as the three stranded climbers must determine how they will stay alive.

Fanck’s talent for filming action sequences and mountain climbing is quite breathtaking. Avalanches and dangerous precipices are filmed with remarkable positioning and angle, so much so, that one wonders how some of these shots were filmed, particular from down inside of glaciar crevaces. Often, the beauty and the treachery of ice and snow is co-mingled here in the frame. As climbers face impending death, Fanck’s sequencing of images is startlingly effective, particularly in the moment when several climbers are thrown from the mountain by an avalanche, Fanck quick-cutting from snow to open mouths, to bodies being thrown through the air. No less effective is Pabst, who was in his prime in 1929, also directing the fabulous Pandora’s Box. Pabst knows how to light Leni Riefenstahl’s face and also capture the raw emotion of fear, love, and desire that she displays throughout. Reifenstahl in fact gives a solid performance here in a film that would influence her as she soon began her infamous directing career.

When taken within the context of German history and culture, the film (and others like it) is a historical and social document of Weimer era Germany, containing seeds of the sort of socialist/fascist frame of mind that would overtake the nation in coming years. There is a mystical sense of nature, of enlightenment, of domination and the need to conquer that is inherent to the concept of alpine climbing, which is used here to forward a state of mind that incorporates these things along with an urge to commune with nature in an elemental, primordial way. One could interpret the content and perspective of this film through the lens of the coming era of Nazism, Aryan manifest destiny (Lebensraum) and superiority. Bergfilme seems to have at its core, a belief that the outdoors is sacred and by engaging with this sacred place, one will find enlightenment and power. Many have stated that the Bergfilme can be viewed through Nazism and although at times, this reference point can be ambiguous, it certainly doesn’t make for easy conversation. Reifenstahl would find infamy after making her own Bergfilme, The Blue Light (a spectacular film in its own right), which Hitler saw and inspired him to choose her to make his propagandist works. One of the reasons for a potential avoidance of films like The White Hell of Pitz Palu is in fact the associations it brings to mind. And yet, from a purely filmmaking standpoint, there are things to admire and recognize here….moments, feelings, textures, and the way the camera allows us to experience the glory of the beautiful mountainsides and the hell of being caught near impending death.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Prisoners (2013) - Directed by Denis Villaneuve

Prisoners is the rare procedural that has the ability to bury itself deep in one’s brain and embed itself there. Even weeks later, the film keeps lingering in my mind, reminding me of the truly haunting and genuinely disturbing film that it is.  It left me tense and on edge unlike few films ever do. Prisoners invites reminders of other memorable procedurals like Silence of the Lambs and Zodiac. Canadian-born director Denis Villaneuve, who a few years ago made the acclaimed Incendies (a film I thought became too convoluted for its own good), shows remarkable growth here in his first Hollywood film, having a good sense of pacing, compassion for human emotions, and subtlety with regards to very sensitive material. From the very first moments, the film pulls you in and doesn’t let up, making you tense and on edge for nearly 2 ½ hours.

Prisoners was written by Aaron Guzikowski, who is unknown to me, but here presents a fascinating story regarding the disappearance of 2 girls from their street on Thanksgiving Day. The parents, Keller (Hugh Jackman) and Grace (Maria Bello) and Franklin (Terrence Howard) and Nancy (Viola Davis) immediately notify police and begin searching for the children while their older children tell the parents about a strange RV that was parked on the street and has now left. Enter Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) who immediately begins the search and finds the RV, along with a strange man named Alex Jones (Paul Dano) behind the wheel. Alex becomes the prime suspect in the kidnapping case. However, while in custody, there is a lack of evidence brought forward to convict him of any crimes. As one day turns into the next, Keller decides to take the case into his own hands, searching for leads and pushing to find his daughter and her friend through alternative means. Keller and Loki both pursue what they believe in and clash with each other, as the film builds a swirl of moral confusion. Villaneuve examines both vigilante justice and the police procedure to such a degree that we as the audience might wonder what decisions we would make if we were in the same situation.

Sometimes these kinds of films can be exploitative. Obviously placing children in peril can set up a sort of uncomfortable, voyeuristic entertainment, whereby the situation can be manipulated so that the audience is subjected to as many unnecessary and outrageous details as possible. One of the best things about Prisoners is the way Villaneuve refuses to allow for the sensationalizing of the kidnapping. We never see the kids taken. We never even see the kids in captivity. Taking a page out of Hitchcock’s book, Villaneuve understands what you DON’T see can actually add more suspense. Also taking another appropriate clue from Hitchcock, Villaneuve is a fan of the MacGuffin or Red Herring. I don’t really want to go into it in detail, but there are surprisingly effective red herrings in the film, that, despite the running time needed to flesh them out, turn out to be some of the most suspenseful and unnerving elements in the story. Though the film is long, Villaneuve keeps things moving and constantly shifting and changing, particularly with respect to the characters of Keller and Loki. Played convincingly and emotionally by Hugh Jackman, Keller represents a father who is willing to push ethical and legal extremes to get answers for his cause (Political overtones apply as subtly layered analogies). Gyllenhaal is equally effective as the jaded yet determined cop Loki. I was particularly impressed with the performances of both actors who give my favorite performances of their careers.

Master cinematographer Roger Deakins lends his keen eye here. Lots of rain, shadows, and low, natural light are utilized to create unsettling atmosphere, and Deakins has made an astonishing number of films where his muted tones take on a strange beauty. It is some of the best photography of 2013. Johann Johannsson’s minimalist and foreboading musical score also adds to the gnawing suspense. One can see that Villaneuve took this film very seriously, perhaps far more seriously and subtly than one would expect from a film in this genre. I like this film far more than the works of David Fincher. Fincher has a tendency to wallow a bit too much in deviant filth for some reason. Villaneuve is content to let the unknown aspects of the plot to bury into our brains, and along with the acting, the music, and the cinematography, craft a truly memorable genre piece with the rare ability to rise above straight-up execution. I can’t recommend this film more highly. It is a near-perfectly executed procedural….memorable and just about the best of its kind that you are ever likely to see. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Laurence Anyways (2012) - Directed by Xavier Dolan

One of the immediate and lasting perceptions about this film is just how engrossing of a character study it is and how seldom it’s ever about the bigger picture, be it political or civil rights or about the religious implications of non-traditional relationships. Director/writer Xavier Dolan almost makes an overt intention of making the film be  about people and not about agendas. At heart, the film is sincere and heartbreaking love story about two souls and their shifting relationship through the years, one which sees them starting out as a heterosexual couple, and then morphing and changing based upon the desire of the transgender woman living as a man, to become the woman she has always been. If Laurence Anyways is any indication, we are witnessing the voice of a filmmaker with distinctive flair and a warm respect and admiration for the development of characterization shown through the messiness of relationships. It’s thus one of the most beautiful movies released in the U.S. in 2013 (2012 in Canada), a glorious and unabashed paean to love stories and the joys, fears, and tears that give them such emotional and humanistic resonance. 

Dolan’s story immerses us in the lives of Laurence Alia (Melvil Poupaud) and Frederique Belair (Suzanne Clement), boyfriend and girlfriend who live in Montreal. Their moments together early in the film reveal an unbridled love for each other and a spontaneous and physical affection for the other that is rather infectious to watch. They are almost so giddy it borders on silliness. Throughout the early course of the film, we witness moments where it appears that Laurence has a deep and abiding yearning for femininity and to become feminine in ways that his outward appearance does not project. He confesses to Frederique that he is actually a woman deep-down and desires her love and support to help through the transformation to become a woman. Frederique reluctantly and painfully agrees to support Laurence, but their relationship is strained because of the shifting waves of adjustment.  Dolan focuses on their on-again, off-again relationship over the course of many years through Laurence’s transformation, and is largely concerned with the things that all of us must contend with in regards to loving relationships: change, trust, commitment, fear, misunderstandings and all that makes love so gorgeous and often volatile. None of these things are related to sex, per se, as Laurence still wants to be with Frederique even after he has begun the transformation. Dolan asks tougher questions, however, which look more into gender expectations, social conventions, and identity.

If one thing is clear, it is apparent that Dolan is filled with a flashy attitude and an unhinged abide for emotive acting, eye-popping visual sequences, and a deft feel for incorporating resonant soundtrack choices. From the first sequence, it is apparent that Dolan has a definitive heart-on-his-sleeve style, one that is unafraid of seeming carefree with an unbridled cinematic flamboyance. Dolan gets away with it because his perspective is clearly sincere. All the extreme color cues, the slow-motion, the melodramatic pop-songs come across as exhilarating, joyful and emotionally-cued as they are coupled with an understanding and sensitive portrayal of individuals that goes way beyond the superficial. These elements are used to underscore the emotion brought from the actors and from the story. Dolan’s brashness hearkens to Fassbinder and Kubrick; he’s not afraid of these illusions and makes a deliberate intent to recall them. Indeed the use of red and pink neon colors remind me of Fassbinder and the slow-motion and use of music remind me of Kubrick, but Dolan’s sympathy for his characters comes across as far more compassionate than either of those directors would have allowed for. Laurence Anyways is filled with many bravura and memorable setpieces that balloon the running time to 161 minutes, but it’s amazing how often Dolan is able to justify the length. There is a tragic lament for this heartbreaking love story, and the colorful, sometimes endearingly messy sequences add weight to the sincerity of the storytelling, making the story of Laurence and Frederique into something of an epic romance. There’s even one particularly outrageous sequence that has Dolan overlapping slow-motion imagery of Laurence in the rain and Frederique in the shower paired to the most dramatic moment of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony! It requires a certain amount of guts to pull this off without pretension. After I watched this rapturous sequence I knew this film was going to be quite something. I suppose these elements may not work if one does not feel the emotion of the characters. But because I was so immersed, moments like this added an emotional depth that becomes even greater than the sum of the parts.

Of the two lead roles, Suzanne Clement actually has the most memorable performance as she must continually react to the changing landscape of her relationship to Laurence. Her crumbling emotional state is captured by Clement’s raw openness, which is somewhat exemplified by her mass of red-dyed hair. Paupaud must often appear controlled and internalize so much as Laurence struggles for expression and emotional stasis. Remarkably, the film is focused on at least one of them in every scene in the film and they carry it for the length. Yves Belanger’s cinematography is often staggering and overwhelmingly beautiful. I've never seen any of his work before, but I was rather overwhelmed by the beauty of the shots and compositions. Some ideas don’t necessarily add up to anything more than gloriously bizarre moments, like the clothes raining from the sky….but more often than not, the visuals strike key emotional chords. Although I don’t think the film is flawless, it has an engaging and open style that more than makes up for any deficiencies along the way. This is one of the most beautiful and lovely films of 2013; memorable, unique, and as bold and moving as any film made last year. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) - Directed by Martin Scorsese

One of the definitive trends in film from 2013 was the obsession with money, partying, and excess. Gatsby, Spring Breakers, The Bling RingAmerican Hustle, Pain and Gain, and now Wolf of Wall Street have all touched on a certain nerve I suppose. Maybe we’re to the point with our recent recession where we can look at money or the lack thereof with a certain distanced perspective. I would have a hard time believing any of these films being released even a few years ago. All hell breaks loose though, in Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street, his most mayhem-induced film since 2002’s Gangs of New York. In fact, it might be his best film in a few decades. I must admit, coming off of Hugo, Wolf comes as a rather swift punch in the gut. If it weren’t for the overarching comedic angle, the film would probably suffer under its own excesses. As it stands though, the film likely wouldn't exist without the comedy, as it appears Scorsese and his lead actor Leonardo DiCaprio are intent on portraying a brazen satire of a man who capitalized on our own nation's greed and topped it with a greed that was even more excessive than those from whom he swindled. 

Scorsese’s film is based on the memoir by Jordan Belfort, the notorious Wall Street stock broker, who through a sheer ability to sell just about anything to anyone, built himself an empire called Stratton Oakmont, where he profited on selling fraudulent stocks to unwitting victims throughout much of the 1990’s. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Belfort as an overdrugged, oversexed, macho fratboy who gains some early mentoring by a man named Mark Hanna (a rather funny Matthew McConaughey) who leads a brokerage firm where Belfort cuts his teeth. However, Belfort is left without a job after Black Monday in Oct of 1987. Forced to find his own path, Belfort seeks to start his own company that is built with several friends and acquaintances. The film shows us through shady and illegal means, just how Stratton Oakmont was able to rise in power and profit. But even more so, the film depicts with a certain degree of abandon just exactly what the profiteers did with the winnings, spending millions of dollars on drugs, hookers, parties, yachts etc. Most of the film’s running time is devoted to the absolute excessive lengths that Belfort went to in order to support his habits and addictions, with each subsequent scene topping the previous. Belfort is ultimately brought down when the FBI comes calling, and he is abandoned by his wife upon sentencing for fraud and money laundering, thus spending 4 years in jail. Perhaps Scorsese's most challenging moment comes at film's end where Belfort leads one of his motivational seminars as part of a second career, post-prison, where he earns money selling his insights and experiences. It's certainly an interesting conclusion considering what had come before it and perhaps fodder for those that have decried the film as condoning and lionizing the deplorable and immoral behavior of Belfort and his cronies. I would argue it's more a chilling moment than any sort of hero-worshipping, as it emphasizes the ludicrous nature of our own willingness to enable a criminal to reinvent himself as a wise, inspirational prophet. If you don't believe me, check out his website

There’s no denying that the film is wild, loaded wall-to-wall with swirling camera movements, rock songs, multiple scenes of DiCaprio giving loud and impassioned speeches (complete with ra-ra macho cheers from the office), hundreds of F-bombs and nearly as many breasts, lots of sex and scenes of DiCaprio doing drugs. It’s easy to call the film excessive and for many, the film may play as a noxious brand of celebratory, bad-boy behavior. I found it hard to ignore the fact that Scorsese clearly identifies Belfort as a cartoonish buffoon and all the shenanigans play as a grand comedy at the expense of the characters in the film. There is plenty of evidence here that Scorsese is clearly not condoning this behavior and in fact is decrying it through shaming the individuals. Perhaps the best evidence of this is when Belfort and his friend Donnie (Jonah Hill) end up taking more quaaludes than they initially intend to. Belfort begins a phone call at a country club, and is soon unable to speak or walk and can hardly crawl and roll his way out to his car. Watching DiCaprio roll around, nearly paralyzed from his excessive drug habit is one of the film’s funniest moments as we watch Belfort begin to succumb to his own excesses and finally begin to feel the first pains of consequence and loss of pride. Another sequence, has Belfort and his wife and friends aboard their yacht as they are in the midst of a violent storm in the Atlantic. Belfort’s biggest fear is not dying…’s dying sober……so he begs Donnie to find the qualuudes. Much like Kathryn Bigelow had to defend herself with the portrayal of torture in Zero Dark Thirty, Scorsese has had to do the same with Wolf of Wall Street. Lest we all forget though, what Bigelow said regarding her film….. “depiction is not endorsement”. I think the same applies here in Wolf of Wall Street, which is so clearly an abhorrant satire of greed and excess, and along those lines, it achieves an epic sort of comedy, building a framework of capitalist surrealism that lasts for most of the 3 hours of running time. There is clear disdain paid to Belfort’s actions, save for the few moments when Belfort is shown as a master salesman despite being a crook, and as we learned in the great heist pictures of Jean-Pierre Melville, even crooks can be masters of their craft.

DiCaprio’s Belfort belongs to the same sort of addictively watchable, macho egos like Welles’s Citizen Kane or Daniel Day Lewis’s Daniel Plainview. DiCaprio actually fares very well here, and even better than I was expecting. I tend to feel that DiCaprio has very little range as an actor as a general rule. He can usually only play a certain type of person, and his work in Wolf of Wall Street is right up his alley. With that said, he is nearly completely unhinged in this film, adding a hysteria of giddiness that borders on creepiness. This is clearly not the type of role nor film that will win any sort of awards, but DiCaprio stretches himself here with a reflexive parodying of his own acting history, and excels in this type of broad comedy. DiCaprio has become Scorsese’s modern day muse, much like DeNiro was back in the 70’s and 80’s. I think the allusion is appropriate, as Wolf of Wall Street, plays as a continuation of the kinds of stories that Scorsese has made a career out of. Much like Travis Bickle or Jake LaMotta, Jordan Belfort is a modern incarnation of the misguided efforts of men who have a delusional sense of grandiosity that Scorsese has long been interested in. These elements are seen also in The King of Comedy and Goodfellas among others. Wolf of Wall Street falls neatly in line with all of these films as elements, themes, and characters overlap/delineate in fascinating ways. No doubt, many of Scorsese's characters can be viewed through a fractured “anti-hero” type of lens.....anti-hero only applying in a pejorative term in my opinion. One can almost say that Scorsese has built a career examining the stories of scumbags and has been prone to controversy all along the way going back to Taxi Driver or Mean Streets. With the heavy strain of testosterone and machismo on display, Scorsese's films can often suffer from a sense of misogyny. I do think the treatment of women in this film is rather harsh. Scorsese has probably never written a good part for a woman in his entire career though, so this is nothing to be surprised about. It troubles me though, that many folks are missing the fact that Wolf of Wall Street is a satire, one hell-bent on going to extremes to potentially even call us, the American people out. Are we seriously believing that Scorsese aims to glorify this criminal? Good luck finding evidence of that contention if it's your perspective. If there's anything contentious, it's probably Scorsese's indictment of our own willingness to support Belfort. On one hand, we want crooks like Belfort to go to jail for a long time, yet then once he gets out of jail we’re willing to buy tickets to his seminars and pay him to speak at corporate events? How bizarre is that? No wonder we continue to be taken by the likes of Belfort and Madoff. Our own greed as a society feeds the greed of others, who are usually always smarter and craftier than us. This isn’t the sort of film that I have a great deal of affection for. It’s grossly over the top and profane. Yet these are sort of the necessary means to an end and it's likely the film would not be as successful a satire without these elements. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

My Recap of 2013 (Old Releases)

This has become my favorite blog post to work on at the end of each of the last 3 years. It gives me a chance to revisit all the great older films that I saw over the year and acknowledge the special first time viewings for me of films that have quickly made an impact on me. For the third year in a row, I am compiling my year in review and looking back on the films I saw in 2013 (a new high total of 330 films) and handpick several films, performances, directors, and genres that made the biggest impact on me. As usual, I will only highlight films or performances that I saw for the first time, and these films are ones that were released prior to 2013. Therefore no films from the last year will be represented here, though I will revisit new releases from 2013 in an upcoming post.

10 Best films made prior to 2013:

10. Jubal (1956) - Delmer Daves: One of the best recent releases from Criterion, this magnificent re-telling of Othello out west has intense performances from Borgnine and Steiger, and Ford is smooth and heroic as a man fending off the sexual advances of Valerie French. Gorgeous cinematography in massive 2.55:1 aspect ratio.

9. Life is Sweet (1990) - Mike Leigh: Easily the funniest and most endearing comedy I saw this year. The simple joys of watching family and friends interact with each other yields lots of laughs and heart.

8. The Fire Within (1963) - Louis Malle: Clear-eyed examination of a life on the brink of extinction with simply nothing left to do to but watch, listen and wait.

7. Odd Man Out (1947) - Carol Reed: Epic film noir with an Odyssey-like portrayal of a man spending a fraught-filled night trying to survive. As beautifully photographed as anything else from this era.

6. The Burmese Harp (1956) - Kon Ichikawa: Vies as the most moving anti-war portrait ever made. There is simply no shortage of catharsis and humanism here the final speech where the monk's letter is read to his former soldier comrades is incredibly moving.

5. Warlock (1959) - Edward Dmytryk: Multi-layered western is one of the best ever to examine the mythology of the west and the insidiousness of violence and whether any kind of violence can ever be justified. 

4. Street Angel (1928) - Frank Borzage: Almost impossibly romantic, this is Borzage's most gorgeous and swooning romance. Gaynor and Farrell have tremendous chemistry and cement themselves as one of the great screen couples.

3. Voyage to Italy (1953) - Roberto Rossellini: As a personal document, Rossellini's romantic lament for his relationship with Bergman is wrought here in beautiful devastation. It's also a cinematic vision of the future of European cinema.

2. Seven Men From Now (1956) - Budd Boetticher: Boetticher's best film is also perhaps the most perfect distillation of western themes and motifs ever made. A beautiful film with fine performances from Scott, Russell and Marvin.

1. Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980) - Rainer Werner Fassbinder: One of cinema's most ambitious works was also one of the most intimidating to even begin. At 15 hours in length, this television series has been rightly called Fassbinder's best film, and it's definitely worthy of being in the discussion as one of the greatest works of all time. Performance and filmmaking here are in lock-step the whole way for maximum effect and potency. There is nothing else that one can compare this to. It's an unforgettable work on a scale and magnitude rarely attempted. 

On the other side of things, here are some acclaimed films that I did not connect with for some reason:

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010) - Weeresethakul
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992) - Lynch
Ruggles of Red Gap (1935) - McCarey
Repo Man (1984) - Cox

Here are the top 5 performances by an Actress (no particular order):

Barbara Sukowa - Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980)

Ingrid Bergman - Voyage to Italy (1953)

Janet Gaynor - Street Angel (1928)

Alison Steadman - Life is Sweet (1990)

Madhabi Mukherjee - Charulata (1963)

Here are the top 5 performances by an actor (no particular order):

Kirk Douglas - Lonely are the Brave (1962)

Charlton Heston - Will Penny (1968)

Maurice Ronet - The Fire Within (1963)

Gunter Lamprecht - Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980)

David Thewlis - Naked (1993)

Director I spent the most time with in 2013:

Frank Borzage - 11 films

Through the course of viewing many of Borzage's greatest films, one thing became abundantly clear: Of any director who has ever been interested in the power of love, there was never another director more consumed with displaying the transforming and redemptive powers of such love. Though rife with what today would mostly be considered rather ridiculous amounts of sentimental melodrama, Borzage in fact is most interested in placing his lovers in situations where they are forced to outlast a fate that wishes to tear them apart. These lovers must perservere through toil and strain and if their love is pure enough, they will come through to the other side. This beauty, tragedy, and redemption is best viewed in his works with Janet Gaynor, like Street Angel, 7th Heaven and Lucky Star. It would be hard to imagine a circumstance in which Borzage's works would ever find a major revival but this speaks more to our jaded views toward romanticism than anything. 

(out of 4 stars)
7th Heaven (1928) - Borzage *** 1/2
After Tomorrow (1932) - Borzage ***
Bad Girl (1931) - Borzage ***
A Farewell to Arms (1932) - Borzage ** 1/2
Liliom (1930) - Borzage *** 1/2
Lucky Star (1929) - Borzage *** 1/2
Man's Castle (1933) - Borzage ***
Moonrise (1948) - Borzage ***
The Shining Hour (1938) - Borzage ***
Strange Cargo (1940) - Borzage ** 1/2
Street Angel (1928) - Borzage ****


Though I'd seen tons of westerns over the years, I realized I had to dig deep to prepare for the top 50 westerns countdown that I participated in at Wonders in the Dark. In preparing for my ballot, I ended up watching a total of 112 westerns over the course of the year, with many new viewings of unheralded films like Will Penny, Hombre, Cemetery Without Crosses, and Hell's Hinges among lots of others. One of the endlessly fascinating things about studying western film cinema, is just how themes, storytelling and filmmaking adapted to the genre over the years to keep up with new ways of thinking as far as social and psychological elements are concerned. Watching so many of them in such a short period of time added many new insights to the genre for me and helped synthesize the cinematic history of the western in a unique way.

So that was 2013! Thanks to all of you who read my blog and commented here this year. Here's wishing everyone a fabulous 2014.