Criterion Sunday 156: Hearts and Minds (1974)

Undoubtedly this is a powerful piece of filmmaking about a war (the Vietnam War), though its lessons can be applied to many subsequent conflicts. To see former generals note that the strategy of continuing a war that killed so many people barely had any effect on the resolve of the native people to keep fighting against the foreign incursion is surely something that should have been remembered after 2001 as well, but the nature of modern warfare — the way it is played out in the media, the access they are given — has fundamentally changed. There are sequences here that are scarcely believable, like the soldiers filmed joking with each other while with respective women at a brothel. But there are other sequences — interviews with veterans, generals and politicians alike — that shed light on the attitudes that went into the war: a desperate desire to hold onto resources, and to keep face with allies even as the philosophy that propelled them to intervene (the Domino Theory about the spread of Communism) was largely debunked. The filmmaker here uses all the now familiar techniques of cannily editing footage to prove the institutional lies of the American forces, as well as occasional editorial asides that almost joke with the audience (a father who’s lost a son hymning the leadership of Nixon while a subtitle pops up at just this point to say “filmed in early 1973”). It remains a relevant film and an excellent one, for all the bias one might accuse it of, not least for the interview with the bomber pilot that runs through and concludes the film, which is beautifully poignant and powerful.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Peter Davis | Cinematographer Richard Pearce | Length 112 minutes || Seen at a friend’s home (DVD), London, Sunday 14 May 2017

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Criterion Sunday 153: Général Idi Amin Dada: Autoportrait (General Idi Amin Dada, 1974)

An odd documentary, with a double focus. On the one hand this is the Ugandan dictator’s film, as he gives directions to the camera and stages scenes, rambles on about his political philosophy and shows all the strings to his bow — political speechmaker, military commander (in a particularly underwhelming run-through of a prospective attack on Israel), tour guide to the African wildlife, and even accordion player. The other side of the film is Barbet Schroeder’s inserts, a pre-credits sequence of mass killings, a mention during a particular grumpy meeting that Amin holds with the foreign ministry that the minister was found dead a few weeks later, questions about his views on Hitler after producing a letter sent to the IOC following Munich. It’s chilling in its way, this genial fool and the damage and death he caused, but always relevant.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director/Writer Barbet Schroeder | Cinematographer Néstor Almendros | Length 90 minutes || Seen at a friend’s home (DVD), London, Sunday 16 April 2017

Criterion Sunday 59: Il portiere di notte (The Night Porter, 1974)

When the Wikipedia entry namechecks “Nazisploitation” in its write-up, you expect to hate a film (or you expect to love it; to each their own). The Night Porter is certainly troubling — dealing with the sado-masochistic relationship between a former Nazi officer and a young woman he had abused during the war — but it’s clearly meant to be. It also treads a lot more delicately than that inelegant portmanteau word I started with. It’s the late-1950s, and Dirk Bogarde’s Max is working as a porter at a hotel and expecting to be called to trial for his wartime activities any day. There’s a circle of acquaintances and lawyers who are helping him to avoid the worst charges, and there’s a dark sense that maybe this is how it was in the aftermath of World War II for the disgraced Nazi officers. When Charlotte Rampling’s Lucia arrives at his hotel, they make eye contact and immediately you get the sense of some dark past, which is brought out through flashbacks. It’s a nasty film but not one that wallows in the nastiness; its characters are compromised, but perhaps not as much as you feel they should be; and there’s an uneasy way it works towards a resolution — the only resolution perhaps that the film could have, realistically.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director/Writer Liliana Cavani | Cinematographer Alfio Contini | Starring Dirk Bogarde, Charlotte Rampling | Length 118 minutes || Seen at a friend’s home (DVD), London, Sunday 25 October 2015

Criterion Sunday 28: Blood for Dracula (1974)

© The Criterion Collection

Of the two roughly-matched Paul Morrissey Euro-horror films starring Udo Kier and Joe Dallesandro, I think I slightly prefer this one, dealing with the Dracula story. Kier, of course, is the titular count, and Dallesandro is Mario, a peasant with socialist principles who works for an aristocratic Italian family. The increasingly sickly Count has come to Italy to seek virgins to replenish his blood, and happens upon the di Fiore family with their four daughters. Of course, despite the protestations of the mother (a delightful Maxime McKendry), it turns out that at least two of them are no longer so thanks to Mario’s charms, and so Dracula finds himself increasingly unsatisfied. Given the provenance and the largely Italian cast (including the family patriarch played by neorealist director Vittorio de Sica), there’s a sort of campy charm that suffuses the whole enterprise with a faint aura of ridiculousness. Kier remains a superbly haughty villain, seeming to channel Gary Numan in his gothic vampiness, while there’s a cameo appearance by Roman Polanski in a tavern scene. Some of the sexual politics are deeply dubious (Mario’s relationship with the youngest daughter is particularly problematic), though given the care Morrissey has taken with the adaptation of both films, one could certainly see this as a critique of certain underpinnings of the original story — though this hardly makes such elements any the more pleasant to watch. However, for those who are well-versed in the Dracula mythos, this certainly does provide an interesting take on it.


FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director/Writer Paul Morrissey | Cinematographer Luigi Kuveiller | Starring Udo Kier, Joe Dallesandro, Maxime de la Falaise [as “Maxime McKendry”] | Length 103 minutes || Seen at a friend’s home (DVD), London, Sunday 15 March 2015

Foxy Brown (1974)


FILM REVIEW || Director/Writer Jack Hill | Cinematographer Brick Marquard | Starring Pam Grier, Antonio Fargas | Length 94 minutes | Seen at home (Blu-ray), Thursday 5 September 2013 || My Rating 2.5 stars likeable


© AIP

I’m by no means an expert on the so-called ‘blaxploitation’ genre, but this particular title seems to get a lot of play in popular culture. Quentin Tarantino, after all, sampled the title character’s name — not to mention its actress, Pam Grier — for his own Jackie Brown, and generally Foxy is considered an icon of embattled black femininity striking back at an unjust system. Yet for all the rhetoric around it, the film itself is a rather sleazy little piece of low-budget exploitation cinema, as is perhaps hardly surprising.

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