Friday, 20 March 2009

Vertigo (1958)

There are some films that I can watch over and over again, and still find new things in them, or marvel at their near-perfection. Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo is one of them. Of course it's a cliché, but if you have seen the film I imagine you are likely to agree. It mingles love and desire with death and obsession. To say anything else is to spoil it to who ever hasn't seen it, as it is impossible not to reveal something crucial - in fact, everything is crucial here. It's one of Hitch's most perfectly built films, and consequently, one of the most perfectly built films anywhere.

At the core of it, there is what I can only describe as one of my favourite performances. Kim Novak, who is usually a rather limited actress, shows here a fenomenal range. Compare the last 15 minutes of the film with what she showed us in the beginning. What is supposed to be the same, isn't really. Where before there was an aloofness, a distance, there is now despair, intense love, sorrow and as the film approaches the climax, fear. That this performance was not acknowledged at the time with an Oscar or even a nomination just shows how unfortunate can be to some of the Academy's choices.

In fact, the film only got two Oscar nominations, and lost both: Art Direction and Sound. Where are the nominations for Film, Director, Script, Actress or Edith Head's costumes which help define Kim Novak's amazing performance? "Gigi" won most of the awards of 1958, but as much as I like it, it can't really compare.

Or for Bernard Herrmann's mesmerising score, which I can't help but love, and have heard countless times. It is one of the most original, unforgettable film scores. So why wasn't this recognised? And then there is James Stewart. I often find him limited but here, playing a rather unpleasant, ungrateful character and despite the fact he's perhaps too old and certainly obscured by Kim Novak's perfomance (I might be in a minority here), it is one of his best performances. He certainly deserved the award more than David Niven (for "Separate Tables").

But if contemporary recognition failed, time has been kind to it. It hasn't aged and has been finally recognised as the masterpiece it is.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

A few resolutions for the next 365 days

I have been thinking about this for a few days, and decided to post it. In a sense it's an encouragement to do things I want to, not a list of things I should but won't do. This means cutting down on the copious amounts of sweets I devour or exercising more are automatically excluded, although I would like both to happen... Back to reality. This is a sort of declaration of intentions which will make me sound like a pompous ass... So here are my resolutions for the next 365 days:

1. Finish Vanity Fair - I have been reading the thing for nearly 2 months and only been through 350 pages out of 800. True, I have been promiscuous (thanks for the word Andreia, I loved it...) and been reading a French novel for French class, but nevertheless this is a shameful reading rate for me;

2. To read To Kill a Mockingbird, The Origin of Species (it's 150 years old and I have been devouring all Darwin programmes the BBC has chosen to show), the fourth volume of À la Recherche du Temps Perdu (in Portuguese translation, since I finish volume 3 quite a while back), a French novel outside French class and re-read Os Maias (hopefully a few more as well);

3. Read two books people have lend me around Christmas and I would like to return;

4. Read a few more living authors (Harper Lee is still alive, so that's one...);

5. Stop buying books until the unread list has been considerably reduced (at a glance, around 30 in shelves here in London, including 3 I bought yesterday). My gut instinct tells me I won't keep to this one...

6. Stop buying DVDs (kinda ties with point 5 only there are way more than 30...) - even less likely to happen;

7. Finally watch (since I already paid for them) Der Blaue Angel, La Règle du Jeu, The Lodger (1944), Cleopatra (1934) and The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind so I can return the DVD to its rightful owner;

8. Watch the whole Yes, Minister/Yes, Prime Minister again.

9. Write.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

xkcd - a webcomic

After nearly one year, I'm pretty sure my colleagues have a good understanding of my sense of humour when they send me links such as this. It's a webcomic and although I haven't fully explored it, here are two favourites. Click on the images to make them readable.

The first needs no explanation unless you haven't seen "The Princess Bride". So, go and see it.

(c) xkcd

The second is a bit more personal - it is the best description (in humorous terms, of course) of my days in Bristol, and a lot of my time since.

(c) xkcd

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Gun Crazy (1950)

As I watched "Gun Crazy" this afternoon at the BFI, inside my head I kept repeating "the female of the species is deadlier than the male". Peggy Cummins performance of a Bonnie-type character (as in Bonnie and Clyde) is one of the deadliest by an actress in any film noir, or any film for that matter. I think she's up there with Bette Davis (The Letter), Barbara Stanwyck (Double Indemnity) and Kathleen Turner (Body Heat). At moments, she's probably better than all three. She's sexy, manipulative, ruthless, scary, scared. But she's also in love with John Dall's character - or at least, charged with lust and desire - although she twists him at will.

For those who think that classic Hollywood only produced MGM-esque type of films, this, like "White Heat" are pretty good counter examples. The pace is incredibly fast, the script is tight, and although at moments you can see that the budget was not very large, they don't come often. As the 1940s ended, both films look back and project all things to come. The programme notes, mentioned this as one of the inspirations behind 1968's "Bonnie and Clyde". As I haven't seen that I can't comment, but I honestly wouldn't be surprised. It is really increadbly powerful. The only flaw I could find was Victor Young's music, which was too Max Steiner and inappropriate. At times it really reminded me of Max's score for "Now, Voyager".

If you're in London, go down to the BFI and take a look. It'll be on until mid-March as one of their extended runs.