Every month, A Place for Film brings 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 reflects the varied programming that can be found at the Cinema and demonstrates 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.
Jesse Pasternack, contributor | The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927)
Some of my favorite films are examples of a director finding their voice for the first time. These movies can come early in their career, like Orson Welles’s first film Citizen Kane (1941), or later, like Akira Kurosawa’s twelfth film Rashōmon (1950). For Alfred Hitchcock, that film was the 1927 thriller The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog.
This film takes place in London. A serial killer known as “The Avenger” is killing blonde women. It is against this backdrop that a mysterious man credited only as “The Lodger” moves into a house that is home to Daisy, a beautiful blonde woman. Her parents begin to suspect that their new lodger is the infamous serial killer…
This film is fascinating because it contains so many images that Hitchcock would use later in his career. The first shot is a close-up of a screaming woman, which prefigures the famous close-up of Janet Leigh in the shower in Psycho. A later shot of the title character in handcuffs prefigures what happens to Robert Donat in The 39 Steps. You can feel the young Hitchcock striving for something great inside of him and slowly, fitfully, finding it.
The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog contains themes that Hitchcock would repeatedly explore. These themes include a fascination with murder, an innocent man being accused of a crime, and obsessive desires. It also, unfortunately, features a voyeuristic view of sexuality that reminds you of sexual harassment allegations made against Hitchcock by various female actors. The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog doesn’t reach the heights that Hitchock’s later work would attain. But seeing him tell a story of suspense for the first time, with almost all of the imagery and themes that would define the rest of his long career, is a thrill of its own.
You can actually see The Lodger at IU Cinema on November 2 as part of the series The Days of Silent Cinema: Le Giornate del Cinema Muto at Indiana University.
Note: trailer unavailable.
Jack Miller, contributor | News from Home (1977)
This month, I enjoyed attending the various screenings held around town in celebration of women filmmakers. I’d like to highlight some of these titles, as I fear some of them may be a little underseen: Tamara Jenkins’ Slums of Beverly Hills (1998), a comic period piece about growing up poor in and around ‘70s Los Angeles; Dorothy Arzner’s Christopher Strong (1933), a Pre-Code romantic tragedy with a wonderfully idiosyncratic early Katharine Hepburn performance; and of course the somewhat less underseen but always worth-mentioning Nouvelle Vague classics of Agnès Varda, Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962) and Le bonheur (1965). I also had the opportunity to host a private screening of Chantal Akerman’s 1977 experimental feature News from Home with some of my friends. In some ways, Akerman’s beautiful and bereaved New York movie was the most interesting work that I watched this month.
News from Home is driven forward and structured by a fairly simple formal apparatus: it juxtaposes shots of New York City in the summer of 1976 with the letters of Akerman’s own mother back home in Brussels, which are recited by the filmmaker on the film’s soundtrack. Akerman had moved to the city from her native Belgium in 1971, and it was there that she first began to make films and to become acquainted with the work of other avant-garde filmmakers at Anthology Film Archives. She then returned to the American city a few years later (after making her legendary structural-horror film Jeanne Dielman in Europe), and shot this film with her longtime cinematographer Babette Mangolte.
Curiously, News from Home provides a great deal of information about Akerman’s mother and about her attitude toward her daughter’s international move, but it withholds the letters that Akerman presumably wrote back to her mother in reply, leaving the filmmaker herself in a mysteriously incoherent space. I was moved by the film’s aesthetic resistance of the typical cinema vérité methods that were popular during this period, instead highlighting the gauzy visual abstraction of street lights and the geometric patterns of the city’s architecture. The film is a powerful reflection on self-imposed exile and what it means to leave behind one’s roots.
Michaela Owens, Editor | On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) and Late Night (2019)
Thanks to TCM’s James Bond series this month, I was able to finally go beyond the Sean Connery years and let me tell you, it’s been… fascinating. Being able to compare all of these movies has been a fun exercise, but I also realized what a rigid formula they have and it’s part of why I don’t love this series as much as I thought I would. (The frequent misogyny and racism, of course, are not great, either.) After a while, the formula’s restrictive nature just seems to get in the way, which really becomes obvious when you watch the films one after another in quick succession. This is why 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service shone so brightly for me.
The film gives you a lot of the Bond touchstones, but it also subverts your expectations in many ways, such as Peter Hunt’s more experimental direction (the first fight scene’s jump cuts absolutely threw me for a loop). The cinematography has to be the most beautiful in the entire series, too. What really makes OHMSS stand out, though, is Diana Rigg’s tragic countess, Tracy, the woman who finally wins Bond’s heart. Rigg gives this film its soul, making the ending that much more of a gut punch. George Lazenby’s casting may have been maligned in 1969, but he proves to be a fantastic Bond and his scenes with Rigg are why I can say I haven’t stopped thinking about OHMSS ever since I first laid eyes on it three weeks ago.
While my September was mostly about a certain spy, I got my much-needed strong-female fix from Mindy Kaling as I rewatched The Mindy Project, binged her new limited series Four Weddings and a Funeral (so good!), and finally saw her delightful film Late Night. With an impeccable lead performance from Emma Thompson and a sharp script that delivers the kind of complicated, smart female characters we need in film, Late Night is, in a nutshell, about two very different and very capable women who are forced to fight for the careers they love. Directed by Nisha Ganatra, it’s just the perfect movie to get cozy with on a rainy day.