Before The Triplets of Belleville (2003) and The Illusionist (2010), Sylvain Chomet made the award-winning The Old Lady and the Pigeons (La Vieille Dame et les pigeons, 1997). The animated short features an impoverished and starving gendarme who dresses up like a giant pigeon in order to be fed by an old woman (and that barely scratches the surface of how hilariously bizarre the short gets). Chomet was inspired to make a film of his own after seeing Nick Park’s Creature Comforts (1989) and set upon his production after pitching the concept to Didier Brunner of the French animation studio Les Armateurs. Backgrounds were designed by Chomet’s comic book collaborator Nicolas de Crécy, although the two would later fall out over Crécy’s view that Chomet improperly copped his style for the designs of The Triplets of Belleville. The Old Lady and the Pigeons is silently comic and strangely surreal and establishes many of Chomet’s characteristic styles and themes, making it an easy access point to Chomet’s limited filmography. It is also a quick 24-minute scratch for those of us still itching to see his next film, The Thousand Miles, a Fellini-inspired story about the world’s most beautiful road race, Italy’s Mille Miglia.
The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents A Place in the Sun.
Based on Theodore Dreiser’s landmark novel An American Tragedy, George Stevens’ A Place in the Sun is a swooningly noir-stained melodrama featuring Montgomery Clift as a handsome young man eager to win a place in respectable society. His ambitious dream seems to fall into place when he accepts a job offer from a wealthy relation and falls deeply in love with a beautiful socialite (Elizabeth Taylor), however a secret relationship with a factory girl (Shelley Winters) and her pregnancy threatens his future and inspires his murderous impulses. Called “the greatest movie ever made about America” by Charlie Chaplin, Steven’s film skillfully alternates between affluent, sun-washed romance and shadowy, fateful film noir, crafting an idealized vision of movie love against a sour portrait of the American dream and what lies beneath it.
- New 4K digital master with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
- Audio commentary with George Stevens Jr. and associate producer Ivan Moffat
- New interview with film critic Imogen Sara Smith
- George Stevens and His Place in the Sun, a 20-minute documentary on the making of the film
- George Stevens: The Filmmakers Who Knew Him, archival interviews with Warren Beatty, Frank Capra, Joe Mankiewicz, Rouben Mamoulian, Antonio Vellani, Robert Wise, Alan J. Pakula, and Fred Zinnemann
- Theatrical Trailer
- Optional English subtitles
- PLUS: An essay by film scholar Laurent Jullier
Of these last ten films I’ve watched, high marks expectedly go to Claire Denis’ ephemerally masculine Beau Travail and Kenji Iwaisawa’s deadpan tribute to musical inspiration, ON-GAKU: Our Sound. This Easter holiday paired a re-visiting of Henry Koster’s delightful Harvey with a kiddie-version by the Children’s Film Foundation, Mr. Horatio Knibbles. Reports of the CFF film being nightmare fuel at Peanut Butter Solution-levels are definitely overstated, as Horatio is a quirky, if blunt, work of children’s entertainment and not much more. Still, one look at that screen grab and it’s hard not to resist the morbid curiosity it inspires.
- CoinCoin and the Extra-Humans (Bruno Dumont, 2018)
- Koko-di Koko-da (Johannes Nyholm, 2019)
- Tora-san’s Dream of Spring (Yoji Yamada, 1979)
- ON-GAKU: Our Sound (Kenji Iwaisawa, 2019)
- The Legend of the Stardust Brothers (Makoto Tezuka, 1985)
- Beau Travail (Claire Denis, 1999)
- Mr. Horatio Knibbles (Robert Hird, 1971)
- Harvey (Henry Koster, 1950)
- Little Dragon Maiden (Hua Shan, 1983)
- Runaway Nightmare (Mike Cartel, 1982)
The last film on this list, Runaway Nightmare, was screened during the American Genre Film Archive’s 10-hour marathon program, AGFADROME. An online fundraising event, AGFADROME was made up of five two-hours blocks each programmed by an AGFA member. Among the unhinged deep cuts, recent restorations, sneak peeks, and found footage mayhem were some MMC! favourites: the LAPD drunk-driving scare film, So You Think You Can Drink and Drive?; the Craig Baldwin-meets-Shinya Tsukamoto insanity of David Boone’s Invasion of the Aluminum People (1980); S. S. Wilson’s remarkable student film featuring killer reels of film, Recorded Live (1975); Damon Packard’s Dawn of an Evil Millennium (1988), a faux-trailer channeling some nasty, Carpenter-esque horror; and Bill and Coo (1948), Dean Riesner’s all-bird tale of a town terrorized by an evil black crow. If you missed AGFADROME, check out the American Genre Film Archive‘s website and support their project by picking up a disc, a shirt, or a download and by just making a donation!
Spring is here, Easter is this weekend, MMC!’s next imagined release is taking typically longer than expected, and it’s been some time since a post have gone up, so now seems like the perfect opportunity to offer something cute, furry, and vaguely off-centre. With that in mind, let’s take a moment to appreciate Fyodor Khitruk’s trilogy of short films adapting A. A. Milne’s beloved tales of Winnie-the-Pooh for Soviet audiences!
Khitruk’s trio of Vinni-Pukh films — Winnie-the-Pooh (1969), Winnie-the-Pooh Pays a Visit (1971), and Winnie-the-Pooh and a Busy Day (1972) — were made out of Soyuzmultfilm studios and without the director having seen Disney’s theatrical short Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (Wolfgang Reitherman, 1966). Khitruk’s initial interest in the character came from English editions of Milne’s stories and he was only exposed to Boris Zakhoder’s Russian translations later. Zakhoder served as screenwriter to the Trilogy and he frequently clashed with Khitruk as Zakhoder promoted an approach faithful to the original stories while Khitruk sought to transform the material. The films reflect Khitruk’s vision, doing away with the authority-figure of Christopher Robin and presenting Milne’s characters living forest creatures, not stuffed toys brought to life. Pooh remains rather dim, but he is far more assertive and boisterous than Disney’s bear. The animation is wonderful, merging the primitiveness of children’s drawings with the clean abstraction of mid-century modernism and the earth-toned colour palettes of the ’60s and ’70s. The films adapt three stories from Milne’s original 1926 book, avoiding stories from Milne’s 1928 sequel, The House at Pooh Corner, which introduced the Tigger character. If these adaptations are new to you, congrats! You are now free from the adorable hegemony of the Disney films!
It’s another month of Criterion announcements and another example of MMC!’s Collection wishes coming true. This month sees the Criterion Collection announcing the release of Martin Bell’s Streetwise (1984) and Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell (2016) in a collected edition. MMC! imagined this release back in 2015 and it’s good to see we accurately predicted the inclusion of some short film work and Cheryl McCall’s 1983 Life magazine article. Once again cineastes, you’re welcome!
Screenings of Masaki Kobayashi’s The Human Condition (1959) were scheduled at MMC! headquarters in April, but those plans will be delayed to June to coincide with the release of Criterion’s blu-grade in June. Also coming in June will be an upgrade of MMC! favourite and past Top Ten entrant Pickup on South Street (Sam Fuller, 1953), a stand-alone release of the excellent Olympic documentary Visions of Eight (1973), Dee Rees’s queer coming-of-age story Pariah (2011), and an electrifying and exhaustive collection – The Signifyin’ Works of Marlon Riggs.
The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Straight Time.
In this highly underrated classic of ’70s crime cinema, Dustin Hoffman shrewdly stars as Max Dembo, an ex-con just released from a six-year stretch in prison for armed robbery and struggling to go straight while under the oversight of his smug parole officer. Despite finding a job, a home, and even a girl of his own, Max remains trapped in an unrelenting criminal system until he breaks free with ruthless, criminal abandon and tragic consequences. Adapted from Edward Bunker’s No Beast So Fierce, featuring a score by David Shire, and boasting a terrific supporting cast including Theresa Russell, Harry Dean Stanton, Gary Busey, M. Emmet Walsh, and Kathy Bates, Ulu Grosbard’s Straight Time is a lean and bitter portrait of inevitable recidivism.
- New 4K digital master with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
- Audio commentary from 2007 with director Ulu Grospard and actor Dustin Hoffman
- New interviews with actors Hoffman, Theresa Russell, and Kathy Bates
- Straight Time: He Wrote It For Criminals, a 1978 documentary on writer Edward Bunker and the making of the film
- Theatrical trailer
- English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- PLUS: An essay by novelist Jonathan Lethem