Wednesday, 29 September 2010

The Old vs. the New

Given my druthers I would probably opt for older movies to many of the current releases, which will come as no surprise to 'them what know me'. However this is not to say that I don't keep abreast of recent releases -- eventually viewing most of them, and yes there have been a fair number that are more than likeable. Fitting squarely into this category is "(500) Days of Summer" (2009) which is as pleasant a modern fable as one could wish. The first feature film from director Marc Webb, it bodes well for his future career, but the movie works because of the charm and skill of its two leads, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (always impressive) and Zooey Deschanel. They shine amongst a largely no-name cast, apart from young Chloe Moretz (who would later make a big splash) playing Gordon-Levitt's young sister, blessed with the head of a 40-year old.

At the start the viewer is told that the film is a story of 'boy meets girl' but that it is not a love story; however this is only technically correct insofar as the movie does not give us the usual and expected neat ending. It is however definitely a love story as our hero falls heavily for a kooky co-worker named Summer and the film jumps back and forward in time over their 500 days together to trace the course of their relationship -- a deepening affection in him vs.a mere fun/friendship on her part. The film makes the point that one knows intuitively when warmth becomes love and that this can not be imposed from outside. Even in his make-time job as a greeting-card message writer, Gordon-Levitt's would-be architect eventually realises that one can not rely on other people to express one's deep emotions or to sway one's feelings. Eventually (no spoiler here) when he accepts he has lost his love, he meets a gal called Autumn; one only wonders if Winter and Spring will follow.

As mentioned above, the film clicks because of the likeability of its stars and because it feels 'real' rather than contrived. Possibly there was too much use of pop music for my taste to underline their supposed compatibility, but this is but a minor criticism of what is in fact a very charming film.

In contrast to the above, I have also over the past few days watched two German silents which I had not seen previously. Thank goodness here for the German satellite TV stations, since we are lucky to be offered even one silent a year on British stations nowadays. (Although there was a time, not that long ago, when this was not the case). The two films in question were "The White Hell of Pitz Palu" from 1929, the last and possibly the best of the German cycle of 'mountain' movies. It starred Leni Riefenstahl, later to become Hitler's favourite film-maker, and featured some of the most breathtaking high Alps scenery that one might imagine. The second film "Schlagende Wetter" (which loosely translates as 'Firedamp') was made in 1923 and only survives in patchy form, where stills need substitute for lost footage. However what magnificent footage it is -- a cross between sweet naturalism and emotive expressionism -- as the story culminates with a collapsing mine disaster trapping our mismatched lead players.

While discoveries like these are what keep my movie obsession alive, there is no way that I will stop trying to find latter-day delights to amuse and inspire me.
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