Every month A Place for Film will bring you a selection of films from our group of regular bloggers. Even though these films aren’t currently being screened at the IU Cinema, this series will reflect the varied programming that can be found at the Cinema, as well as demonstrate the eclectic tastes of the bloggers. Each contributor has picked one film that they saw this month that they couldn’t wait to share with others. Keep reading to find out what discoveries these cinephiles have made, as well as some of the old friends they’ve revisited.
Michaela Owens, editor | A Stolen Life (1946)
What’s better than a 1940s romantic drama starring Bette Davis and Glenn Ford? A 1940s romantic drama starring two Bettes and Glenn Ford! A Stolen Life has become one of my favorite Davis films, a swooning melodrama about twin sisters Pat and Kate. Pat is a selfish maneater; Kate is a sensitive, quiet artist. When Kate falls for down-to-Earth Bill (Ford), Pat swiftly steals him and they marry. Kate tries to move on, but when tragedy strikes, she may just have a chance to be with Bill after all.
I’m sure some of you rolled your eyes at that plot description, but A Stolen Life unashamedly commits to its story, as does its cast. Dane Clark is great as a brooding artist who befriends Kate; Charles Ruggles gives an uncharacteristically serious performance that is really marvelous; Walter Brennan is terrific as a crotchety lighthouse keeper; and Glenn Ford is perfection as the man caught between the sisters. You can understand how he would get dazzled by the flirtations of glamorous Pat, but you also ache for him to realize what he has with Kate.
Of course, the person holding this whole film together is Bette Davis. She infuses both sisters with their own idiosyncrasies and layers — sometimes I can even detect different vocal inflections. (I also love this delicious moment from Pat and Bill’s wedding.) It’s really a captivating performance from Davis. But then, why should we expect anything less?
Note: the trailer oddly doesn’t tell you Davis is playing twins, making her character look schizophrenic. It’s pretty bizarre since all of the other marketing materials don’t shy away from touting Davis’s dual role.
Katherine Johnson, contributor | The Girl with All the Gifts (2016)
Based on the novel of the same name by Mike Carey, this film fits with the current trend of popular culture about zombies, the undead, and flesh-eaters. Despite its pretty typical storyline (here a focus on the children affected by a zombie apocalypse), The Girl with All the Gifts benefits from a great cast and an interesting twist on the usual social commentary of zombie stories. As The New York Times critic A.O. Scott says, “[t]he ambiguous humanity of zombies — the porousness of the boundary between us and them — is a staple of the genre;” however, this film also seems quite timely, begging us to consider how the world, as we have made it, will always be that of the children.
Warning: contains violence.
Laura Ivins, contributor | Our Heavenly Bodies (1925)
When I took my seat before the IU Cinema screening of Our Heavenly Bodies (Hanns Walter Kornblum, 1925), all I knew about the film was that it had live musical accompaniment. I always like live musical accompaniment. What unfolded before me felt like a cross between a Guy Maddin film, one of Bruce Connor’s found footage films, and Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon (1902). A sci-fi film essay on astronomy that could’ve been made 10 years ago, but was made during Weimar Germany. What is this? How did such a film come about? Who is this Hanns Walter Kornblum?
After the screening, I attempted to find more information about the film, but just kept coming across the same promotional blurb over and over. One exception appears on the Sloan Science & Film website. They published a 2016 interview with astrophysicist Bob O’Dell, who discusses the scientific context of Our Heavenly Bodies. O’Dell confirms that the film does an excellent job conveying scientific knowledge of the cosmos in 1925, and he mentions the film took over two years to complete. However, we don’t get any background on Kornblum, what inspired him to create the film, and how the film was financed.
Even without context, the film was a fascinating experience. The music created a mesmerizing background to our exploration of the heavens. We watch 1925 muse on the knowledge of its past and present, and watch it dream about the future of space travel, a future we’ve partially realized.
Jesse Pasternack, contributor | The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976)
I’ve been meaning to watch this movie for years since I read Phillip Lopate’s great essay on it for the Criterion Collection. It did not disappoint. This movie — I watched the longer 1976 version as opposed to the 1978 cut — is a gangster film as well as a great self-portrait of sorts of writer-director John Cassavettes. One of my favorite things about the films Cassavettes made is how they move in loops and coils more often than they move in straight lines. Cassavettes loves to include random conversations that don’t propel the narrative forward but feel truer to life’s rhythms and make the characters more vivid. The cinematography is great at capturing Los Angeles’s grimy beauty, and Ben Gazzara gives a titanic performance as the lead. Fun fact: cult character actor Timothy Carey appears in this film and is credited by his full name – Timothy Agoglia Carey.
Warning: contains some language and brief nudity.
Nathaniel Sexton, contributor | We Won’t Grow Old Together (1972)
Reminiscent of the cynical realism of Pialat’s coming-of-age love story À nos amours (1983), but more fragmentary, i.e. narratively disjointed, and all that more bleak for its middle-aged filmmaker protagonist and his younger, working-class mistress. Pialat viscerally produces the sense of an endless breakup to an over five-year affair mostly by cutting aggressively between the mercurial moods, angers, jealousies, and desperations of the unfortunate pair. Their delusion cannot be tracked as the moments between each changing feeling is eclipsed by the gutter of the cut, lost between scenes, almost unreal, unimaginable. How can a romantic couple hate each other one moment, say the cruelest things to one another, and then propose marriage the next?
For Pialat’s characters, it’s not inconceivable they might do this in a single scene, but it makes perfect sense they may do this over a week or two, or longer. Pialat discards any concern for a neat patterning of time and cuts, without any code or sign of the passage of time, no title card to inform us “two months later.” In this way, the movements of a relationship truly become insensible, beyond understanding, and even where Pialat’s characters are miserable or despicable, this essential mystery to the changing feelings of love and relationships makes Pialat’s grim tale immediately human, even where it becomes a sort of timeless hell, where no one can be kind to anyone and selfishness and lack of self-awareness are nightmarish prisons.
Note: trailer can be found here.
David Carter, contributor | Showgirls (1995) and Starship Troopers (1997)
Revisiting a director’s filmography you’re vaguely familiar with but not knowledgeable of its context or intent is always a good thing to do if you have the time. There are directors that you learn are visionaries or have significant importance to a certain era of filmmaking once you become cognizant of their work, but prior maybe you just know their work as anonymous entertainment. Paul Verhoeven is most certainly one of those directors for me. Having grown up with TV edits of his Hollywood output from the late ’80s and ’90s I had no idea until about 6 or 7 year ago that he was one of the most heralded Dutch filmmakers of his time and that he had been making commercially successful but subversive Hollywood blockbusters and thrillers that granted him a level of control in the studio system that is frankly unthinkable now.
Recently I’ve been going film by film in his filmography starting from 1985’s Flesh + Blood all the way to 2016’s Elle. (I’d love to watch his Dutch films if they weren’t out of print. Feel free to send me the OOP Anchor Bay box set with them in it.) While it’d be easy to talk about RoboCop, Total Recall, or Basic Instinct I think his two commercial failures that eventually led him to disappearing are much more interesting. Showgirls has attained a legacy of a cult-camp classic and Starship Troopers was misunderstood upon release as a cheesy, dumb shoot ’em up. Time however has been kind and revealed that both these movies were blistering satires (pretty much all of his Hollywood film are satires and send-ups) about the way we treat women as commodities and fascism (Starship Troopers is much more successful in this regard). I highlight these two as well because this is about as much freedom as you’ll ever see a director have to pursue their vision. Because of that we got a slightly misguided but operatic sexploitation flick and an actual masterpiece about propaganda and fascism that’s eerily prescient.
Warning: the first trailer contains mature content.