The Tin Star (1957)

10 05 2008

I hate Hollywood, I hate Westerns, but I’ll be damned if I couldn’t help but love all of this. Sure, it pretty has all the terrible textbook narrative elements that I associate (and loathe) with Hollywood cinema from the time period, but it also feels more aesthetically in line with a film like Kon Ichikawa’s Fires on the Plain. Theatrical, silly, melodramatic, plot-heavy — so on and so forth. Anthony Mann, at least judging from this film, isn’t some wild innovator but instead, someone who is able to work within the means of the studio and still create one of the “artiest” movies I’ve ever seen.

A bounty hunter, Morg Hickman, brings a dead body into town to collect his reward. The sheriff in town, Ben Owen, is young, naive, and considered to be a temporary replacement. Waiting for his money, Hickman notices just how terrible Owen is for his job and attempts to help him out a little. Meanwhile, Hickman is also befriended by a little boy, Kip, and his single mother, Nona. As his new relationships grow, Morg finds himself caught up in the events of the town, which (obviously) leads to more than a couple gunfights.

This is very much a shallow film, both in it’s character types and cause-and-effect structure. It is conventional, in every sense of the word. However, Henry Fonda’s carefree performance lends the film a perhaps false feeling of character psychology. Much has been said about Mann’s “deeper” Westerns but I think that probably lies more within the acting than any technical choice. Here, Fonda is so cynical and deadpan that he perfectly establishes the mood for the film itself. The theatrical style perfectly complements the fairly minimalistic tone. This could all very well be accidental on Mann’s part but combining all this with the painterly landscapes that are present throughout all of the film, and you’ve got yourself something special.

Identification of a Woman (1982)

10 05 2008

While certainly not on the same level as his earlier masterworks, this is still very much an Antonioni film. While most of his post-70s works have been rightfully categorized as failed experiments, this is, perhaps, his true last film. In a sense, this is a “best-of” collections of the films made during his glory years. He isn’t really breaking any new ground, but it is nice to see him juggle his usual themes for one last time, even if it means that the film occasionally resembles 80s erotica.

A film director, Niccolo, seeks the perfect woman, for his upcoming movie and for real life. First, he becomes engrossed in Mavi, who he is accidentally introduced to by his sister. They are in love, but like seemingly all of the characters in Antonioni’s world, they are also lost. The couple’s relationship seems to vanish into thin air and Niccolo’s attention now shifts towards Ida. Ida and Mavi couldn’t be more different but on paper, their relationships with Niccolo are similarly confusing. Despite the deep psychology present throughout the film, Niccolo decides, based on his recent experiences, to make a science fiction film.

Though his career would last for another 25 years, Antonioni would not come much closer to recapturing his original vision after this film. This is the last film he made before his stroke in 1985 which paralyzed and prevented him from speaking. While this is indeed his true final film, it also is plagued by many of semi-porn indulgences that push Antonioni’s post-stroke work into the realm of self-parody. Thankfully, this has a lot more to offer than the final segment in Eros. The type of character psychology present here is pretty much on the same level as that in the trilogy. The whole “director’s relationship with women” concept seems to be something that extremely affected Hong Sang-soo seeing as how almost all of his films are based around a similar concept.

On the technical side, this is pretty much perfect. Amazing cinematography, as one can expected from Antonioni, but this seems to be an achievement even for him. This probably has more to do with progression in lighting and film stock than it has to do with any aesthetic choices. Colorful and moody, sure, but the composition of shots isn’t all that different from those in L’Eclisse. All in all, a wonderful trip down memory lane for Antonioni and his fans, but I personally can’t see the film operating as much more. A fine way to spend a couple hours, but not as earth-shattering as something like, say, L’Avventura.