Elegant Beast (Yuzo Kawashima, 1962)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Elegant Beast.

In this contemporary melodrama scripted by Kaneto Shindo, director Yuzo Kawashima creates a scathing depiction of greed and hypocrisy in a society facing rapid modernization and Westernization. The small apartment of the Maeda family is transformed by inventive and meticulous cinematography into a claustrophobic battleground where cheating, embezzlement, and corruption are natural occurrences and where the Maedas are turned from swindlers to swindled by a beautiful but mercenary accountant played by Ayako Wakao in a virtuoso performance. Little know outside of Japan, Yuzo Kawashima’s Elegant Beast is an underappreciated masterpiece in filmmaking and a bitter statement on what it took to get ahead in post-war Japan.

Disc Features:

  • New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New interview with critic, filmmaker, and festival programmer Tony Rayns
  • New program with Eric Nyari on the film and its restoration
  • Trailer
  • New English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: An essay by Japanese film scholar Tomoyuki Sasaki

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Manhatta (Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler, 1921)

I recently watched Redes (Emilio Gómez Mariel and Fred Zinnemann, 1936), from the first Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project box set, and Kent Jones’s visual essay which makes reference to Manhatta (1921), a documentary short made by photographer and Redes-cinematographer Paul Strand and painter Charles Sheeler. The short is not included in the WCP set (although it was included on the now OOP DVD set, Unseen Cinema), and so I thought I would share it here at MMC! The short is inspired by Walt Whitman’s poem “Mannahatta” and is considered the USA’s first experimental film. Strand and Sheeler link their respective art forms (painting and photography) to cinema by preferring dynamic angles and compositions over movement, using editing and intertitles to express a monumental day in Lower Manhattan. The result is a visually engaging and invaluable document of the time.

A Brief History of John Baldessari (Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, 2012) and Ed Ruscha: Buildings and Words (Felipe Lima, 2016)

I like asking – if your life required narration, who would you want to provide it? No one has ever chosen Tom Waits, which is too bad because he does have a great voice.  I like the idea that Tom Waits’s voice is a natural starting point for this micro-portrait of artist John Baldessari. It’s an entertaining short, full of wry humour and clever edits and Looney Tunes momentum thanks to its classical score. This is me enjoying A Brief History of John Baldessari (Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, 2012).

Very much in the same vein is Ed Ruscha: Building and Words (Felipe Lima, 2016), another micro-portrait of another California artist narrated by another celebrity. This time it’s Owen Wilson, and while he’s no Tom Waits, he has pretty good voice for this too.  I wouldn’t second guess anyone choosing him to narrate their life. Lima’s short takes a similarly machine gun approach to surveying the artist’s vast catalogue, and expands the talking head count along the way. It’s all enough to make you move to California and start exploring the artistic possibilities of label makers, road paint, or portraits of diner specials.

A Short History of the Highrise (Katerina Cizek, 2013)

NFBMore recently, the National Film Board of Canada has found success in the face of dwindling government funding by refocusing its resources on its streaming site and on interactive web documentaries. One of the most successful of these multimedia film projects is Katerina Cizek’s Highrise (2009), an interrogation into the life of residential highrises that includes various web-based documentaries and a number of derivative works. Presented below are 4 short films that serve as the centrepiece to A Short History of the Highrise (2013), an interactive documentary examining the global history of vertical living. The first 3 films are constructed from the archives of The New York Times, while the last film is made from photos submitted by Times readers. A Short History of the Highrise alone counts a Peabody Award and an Emmy amongst it decorations, while the larger Highrise project has won various other prizes including 2 Webby awards, multiple Canadian Screen Awards, and another Emmy.

As per the NYT:

In the first episode of a four-part series, “Mud” traces the roots of the residential highrise, from the Biblical Tower of Babel to New York’s tenement buildings.

As per the NYT:

In the second episode of a four-part series, “Concrete” explores how, in New York City and globally, residential high-rises and public housing attempted to foster social equality in the 20th century.

As per the NYT:

In the third episode of a four-part series, “Glass” examines the recent proliferation of luxury condos and the growing segregation between the rich and poor.

As per the NYT:

In the final episode of a four-part series, “Home” comprises images submitted by New York Times readers, who show their lives in high-rises around the world.

How to Build an Igloo (Douglas Wilkinson, 1949)

NFBThe National Film of Board of Canada sometimes gets a bad reputation for being … educational! And if someone were to come up with a title parodying the NFB’s edifying aims and culturally sensitive nationalism, How to Build an Igloo could easily be that film, but Douglas Wilkinson creates a fascinating short that unpacks the ingenious design and skillful handiwork of this modest architectural wonder. How to Build an Igloo (1949) is another somewhat ubiquitous title, a film that many Canadians, including me, were exposed to as children, although most of us have never put these instructions into practice!

As per the NFB:

This classic short film shows how to make an igloo using only snow and a knife. Two Inuit men in Canada’s Far North choose the site, cut and place snow blocks and create an entrance–a shelter completed in one-and-a-half hours. The commentary explains that the interior warmth and the wind outside cement the snow blocks firmly together. As the short winter day darkens, the two builders move their caribou sleeping robes and extra skins indoors, confident of spending a snug night in the midst of the Arctic cold!