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by Jordan Cronk and Calum Marsh

2 Nov 2011

Jordan Cronk: Critics often speak of the “big three” of the Japanese film industry: Akira Kurosawa, Kenji Mizoguchi, Yasujiro Ozu. A problem presents itself, however, when ensconcing these very different filmmakers into a single stratum of excellence: a canon of titles begins to take shape before eventually becoming identified with each director’s collected filmography. In the case of Ozu this is a particularly easy bit of critical shorthand to fall prey to. Across a 50-plus film career, Ozu managed a singularity of vision that is unmatched in the history of the medium. His thematic inclination—the plight of the middle class Japanese family unit—coupled with perhaps the most effortlessly formalist visual aesthetic ever conceived—static, low-angle camera setups; sharp cutting; “pillow” shot inserts; and very little else—not to mention the closely related, seasonal stamps given many of his films, marks his catalogue as one of a unified, personal vision. Thus his most widely-seen films tend to represent the whole of a career that in fact spun variations on a theme as fruitfully and as diversely as any other, more genre-restless filmmaker you could name.

So we have Tokyo Story, then, the film which introduced Ozu to the West, and just as Seven Samurai is to Kurosawa and Ugetsu is to Mizoguchi, it’s become widely representative of the man’s achievements, often times at the expense of equally rich and rewarding efforts made throughout his almost forty-year career. And that’s no mark against the quality of Tokyo Story, by any standards one of the greatest films ever made, but more of an indictment of critical group-think that frequently propagates convenient notions of narrative and longevity with unfair disregard to budding bouts genius or refined displays of maturation. The latter’s perhaps the easiest to ignore, which makes the sublime tranquility of Ozu’s final film, 1963’s An Autumn Afternoon, that much easier to overlook. As a crowning work it’s arguably one of the most perfect encapsulations of one filmmaker’s myriad tendencies and inarguably a capstone to a career which in many ways thrived on understatement.

by Jordan Cronk and Calum Marsh

19 Oct 2011

Calum Marsh: Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki is hardly a household name in this country, but his influence on contemporary American cinema simply cannot be overstated: beloved by Hollywood’s best and brightest and borrowed from liberally by more auteurs than you can count, I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to suggest that the comedy world has been to some extent defined by Kaurismäki’s contributions to it, even if sometimes indirectly. His authorial voice is so clearly defined (and consistently sustained) that it’s easy to spot imitators, though few have the gift for comic understatement that seems to come to him so naturally.

His most widely renowned disciple, the iconic indie legend Jim Jarmusch, practically built his career on copping Kaurismäki’s trademark deadpan, and as far as all that much-loved “sad and beautiful world” stuff goes, Jarmusch, to his credit, is probably the next best thing to his idol. But if you begin to account for the strong influence Jarmusch himself has had on lesser contemporaries—everything from Zach Braff’s entirely lame debut Garden State to the filmography of Jared Hess counts here, as far as I’m concerned—you get a pretty clear idea of just how deep Kaurismäki’s residual influence runs.

by Jordan Cronk and Calum Marsh

5 Oct 2011

Jordan Cronk: I think it was somewhat inevitable when we started ReFramed that early on we would opt to cover films that one or both of us have a strong personal connection with or, barring that, one’s which we are simply appalled for as major works that have yet to be recognized as the masterpieces they truly are. And this has certainly happened (see: Frenzy and Family Plot; also: California Split). Recently, however, we’ve discussed some critically canonized works (The Green Ray; Stalker) that for one reason or another haven’t been embraced by larger audiences the same way that cinephiles tend to champion them.

The trend could be said to continue this week as we approach Edward Yang’s 1991 New Taiwan Cinema landmark, A Brighter Summer Day. The difference in this case being availability: never before released on R1 DVD (and with very few legitimately manufactured discs in any region), and caught in what’s become a year’s long restoration and distribution project, A Brighter Summer Day currently stands as perhaps our most obscure pick yet, despite its standing as one of the critically defining works of the ‘90s and perhaps the touchstone of the Taiwanese New Wave movement. But with the film’s long rumored arrival on Criterion DVD still apparently in the works (with the restored print still touring, many were hoping it would surface in 2011, but that doesn’t seem to be the case), A Brighter Summer Day stands one of the best chances yet at actually being “reframed” by a more general cinephilic audience in the very near future.

by Jordan Cronk and Calum Marsh

21 Sep 2011

Calum Marsh: Andrei Tarkovsky is certainly no stranger to critical acclaim, and, unlike many of the other filmmakers whose largely misunderstood works we’ve deigned to celebrate in these pages, his oeuvre’s place within the annals of cinema continues pretty much unquestioned. As far as reputations are concerned, Tarkovsky towers above even the most widely respected luminaries of the industry, and vocal detractors, if he could be said to even have them anymore, are few and far between. And so there’s a sense in which Stalker, Tarkovsky’s slow-burn sci-fi masterpiece and what I consider to be his supreme artistic achievement, is something of an unusual selection for us.

But I think you’ll agree with me, Jordan, when I say that our ReFramed series isn’t just about notably divisive films—it’s also about films which for one reason or another ought to be considered and approached in a new way. And Stalker is just such a film. Though it’s widely respected as an arthouse classic, and though it routinely appears on critics’ best-of lists and film school syllabi (and likely will for generations to come), I get the sense that for many viewers, Stalker has lost the freshness and vitality which makes its greatness so enduring.

by Jordan Cronk and Calum Marsh

7 Sep 2011

Jordan Cronk: Out of all the original Cahiers du cinema critics-turned-filmmakers, the recently deceased Eric Rohmer is perhaps the least appreciated, despite having arguably the widely accessible (stylistically speaking) catalogue. He was certainly the classicist of the group—and thus perhaps the most subtly groundbreaking—but his body of work is a rather extraordinary, single-minded entity unique to cinema history. And the six films which make up his mid-career “Comedies and Proverbs” series are at once his least seen but to my mind most universal, three dimensional creations. His recently restored 1986 feature The Green Ray—currently touring the States under its original title, Le Rayon Vert—is equal parts centerpiece and standalone masterpiece, the single most moving, mysterious, and transcendent film in a career with no shortage of worthy candidates.

This, of course, is only an opinion that’s very recently begun to take a more prominent foothold in the critical community, many still preferring the more rigidly formalistic style perfected in his early Six Moral Tales series. But I’m curious to hear where you fall on this spectrum, Calum—and to hear how you think The Green Ray fits into such a vast filmmography—since there are arguments and pleasures to be made and appreciated amongst both periods—and that’s to say nothing of the subsequent Tale of Four Seasons series, which is richly rewarding in it’s own right.

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