Thursday, December 27, 2007

Yasuzo Masumura's Black Test Car (1962)

"In 1996, 84-year-old Michelangelo Antonioni left his sick bed to attend the 10-day retrospective of Masumura’s films in Rome. Antonioni told reporters that Masumura had always been one of his personal favorites among world-class directors." (from the Fantoma DVD bio).

If you're a film buff, you should have heard of Yasuzo Masumura by now. If you're a Criterion Collection fan, you should have heard of Fantoma DVD.

Fantoma DVD presents films with a level of quality and care (and extras) that consistently match Criterion's.

Yasuzo Masumura is a Japanese director from the same era as Seijun Suzuki and has in common his personal artistic approach to genre pictures.
While Criterion (and their cousin Home Vision Entertainment) have championed Seijun Suzuki's films, releasing many on DVD, it is Fantoma that has championed the equally deserving Yasuzo Masumura, lavishing as much care on the releases of his films as Criterion has on Suzuki's.

Already a big fan of Masumura, I was excited to find a new Fantoma release of yet another Yasuzo Masumura film, Black Test Car (1962). Happily it's on Netflix, and I've already queued it up. So far I had seen all of Fantoma's Masumura films. I think Afraid to Die (1960) is the place to start, and if I haven't enticed you on Masumura, it features a lead-role performance by Yukio Mishima!

For me Red Angel (1966) would be up next, an incredible World War II film. After that I like Manji (1964), Giants & Toys (1958) (not quite as amazing as its fantastic premise, but still well worth watching) and finally Blind Beast (1969).

For the uninitiated, I highly
recommend taking the Masumura/Fantoma leap now and rushing to watch Black Test Car with me, or start with one of the others! You can't go wrong.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Who is Louis de Funès?

If you've ever found yourself wondering, "Who is Louis de Funès?", watching this video will answer the question pretty definitively:

(No subtitles, but he's pretty mesmerizing even if you don't know a word of French!)

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Xmas from Seijun Suzuki and Jo Shishido!

The trailer for Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards
(1963, Seijun Suzuki).

Sorry there are no subtitles.

The Xmas tie-in may be flimsy, but it's always a good time to post a Seijun Suzuki trailer, especially from a film with a title this fantastic!

Merry Xmas all!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

World Premiere Movie!

My latest short film, "Slap," will have its world premiere on Dennis Cozzalio's Web site:

Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule

It will premiere at exactly noon (Pacific time) on Monday Dec. 17th.

Please watch it there and leave a comment!

Official announcement on his site here.

A big thanks to Dennis Cozzalio for doing this, and also a big thanks to him for his influence on this site's approach and design (use of pictures, etc.)! I learned a lot about how to write about film on the Internet from watching his blog grow from its infancy.

Sunday, November 04, 2007


Here's the 2nd film for my UCLA film class. This one has sound.

Elements (2007, Andrew Blackwood)

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Young Mother

There have been no posts for a long time, but my excuse is I've been taking a filmmaking class!

Here's the evidence, my first film.

It's silent on purpose, and the assignment was to make a film in a single shot without moving the camera. (A crazy fabulous UCLA Extension class.)

The Young Mother
(2007, Andrew Blackwood)

The Girl: Shauni Ray Weatherly
The Boy: Omar Chavez
The Woman: Luz María Utrera
The Man: Paul Damen
The Jogger: Paul Tifford, Jr.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Criterion vs. Bordwell - Time and a Frame of Film

There is a fascinating post up ("Reality at 25/24 Frames per Second") on the Criterion Collection's blog "On Five," in which Peter Becker discusses a problem with transferring Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980, Rainer Werner Fassbinder) because Fassbinder shot it at 25 frames per second for easier transfer to the European "PAL" television standard, which has a frame rate of 25 frames per second (instead of the theatrical standard 24 frames per second).

What would David Bordwell say, I wonder? Bordwell has written a fascinating article ("My name is David and I'm a frame-counter") about the care that some directors put into the exact timing of certain scenes, and how that pacing can be changed by the various home video transfer processes.

Criterion's concern is over DVD image quality, and I concur that I would not want to see the blurred frames or the unnatural movement that attempting to preserve the correct pacing would produce. However, I'm also a big fan of silent films, and I cannot stand when silent films are transferred at an improper frame rate, resulting in sometimes ridiculously faster movements, completely undermining the performances of the actors.

Not being technically informed enough to wade into this discussion, I'll give the benefit of the doubt to the decision Criterion is making here, because it is a single frame per second of difference, unlike when a silent film shot at 16 frames per second is outrageously presented at 22 or 24 frames per second.

But I really want to hear what David Bordwell might have to say about this perplexing conundrum (and enact the matchup promised in this blog entry's title!). I certainly know he'd like to see the correct pacing of the film footage at its originally intended projection speed, but would he give them a pass on this? Would he prefer some interpolated frames and blurring?! I can only guess that interpolated frames might be a higher crime, and that a 1-frame-per-second adjustment is probably a forgivable misdemeanor in David's book.

(Note: In David Bordwell's article, he mentions that this 25-frames-per-second film shooting rate is not uncommon in European productions because of the television transfer considerations. So this is not a unique problem. It just becomes more noticeable with especially long films like Berlin Alexanderplatz (15 1/2 hours), or Sátántangó (1994, Béla Tarr) that Bordwell mentions in his article (7 1/2 hours).)

David Bordwell, along with Kristin Thompson, writes an excellent blog here. Together they are also the co-authors of my indispensable film school book Film History: An Introduction as well as Film Art: An Introduction. A personal favorite blog entry by David Bordwell is "Shot-consciousness", in which he encourages everyone to look at how the shots in a film are framed, and how to appreciate shot composition as an integral part of the art of cinema.
(Since they are usually long, I recommend printing out Bordwell's articles for more leisurely reading and less online distractions.)

James M. Cain Tells It Like It Is

Perhaps James M. Cain's words below can serve as a partial answer to why the hope of the previous post is such a tall order. This feisty, fun quote is from the novel Serenade (1937) by James M. Cain (which, incidentally, is a fantastic book).

I didn't like Hollywood. I didn't like it partly because of the way they treated a singer, and partly because of the way they treated her. To them, singing is just something you buy, for whatever you have to pay, and so is acting, and so is writing, and so is music, and anything else they use. That it might be good for its own sake is something that hasn't occurred to them yet. The only thing they think is good for its own sake is a producer that couldn't tell Brahms from Irving Berlin on a bet, that wouldn't know a singer from a crooner until he heard twenty thousand people yelling for him one night, that can't read a book until the scenario department has had a synopsis made, that can't even speak English, but that is a self-elected expert on music, singing, literature, dialogue, and photography, and generally has a hit because somebody lent him Clark Gable to play in it.

Since we're having fun with quotes, here are two more, which are not about film, but espouse philosophies on art or literature that can be applied equally as well to any art:

Literature, as I see it, is good to the extent that it is art, and bad to the extent that it isn't, and I know of no other standard by which it may be judged.
- Dashiell Hammett, 1924, quoted in the introduction (by Robert Polito) of the Everyman's Library edition of The Maltese Falcon/The Thin Man/Red Harvest.

By the way, in addition to the various film adaptations of his novels, Hammett wrote one original screenplay in Hollywood (I intend to check this out at some point): City Streets (1931, Rouben Mamoulian) starring Gary Cooper and Sylvia Sidney. (The IMDB gives Hammett a lesser credit than "original screenplay," so I'm not sure if the introduction that mentioned this is correct or not.)

If the poet is pure in his habits, he will be pure in his verses as well; the pen is the tongue of the soul, and his writings will be as are the concepts engendered in his soul;
- Don Quixote
(1605, Cervantes) Part II, Ch. XVI, pg. 589
(Just combine that with Alexandre Astruc's caméra-stylo theory and you get the idea.)

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Zabriskie Point—When Will New Wave Cinema Live Again?

Zabriskie Point
(1970, Michelangelo Antonioni, USA)

This is what it's all about. This is one of those rare trailers that captures the magic of the incredible film itself. It's unfortunate that this film isn't available on DVD yet. Very occasionally it has played on the big screen here in L.A., which is how I was fortunate enough to see it (twice). (Thank you to the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theatre and to the LACMA film department.) If you're desperate to see it, there is a VHS version, but it's panned & scanned, which is of course a horrible injustice to the widescreen 2.35 image, but hey, at least the amazing film can be seen.

When considering the gap in quality between filmmaking today and the filmmaking of other decades, this one film starkly illustrates the gaping chasm. I think you can tell even just by the trailer. It's firstly a work by one of the great European filmmakers, but, having been made in America, it also represents the era of late '60s, '70s American filmmaking—the belated New Wave that hit these shores long after the New Waves of France, Japan and other countries—that is conveniently summarized for the uninitiated in Peter Biskind's book, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls (although start by watching the films themselves, many of which are listed at the back of the book).

American films of the '70s seemed to be elevated almost wholesale by the heady atmosphere of creativity and the freshness of these "New Wave" approaches, all tied to and amplified by the zeitgeist of the times. Even filmmakers with less than stunning talent glommed on to the movement and produced pretty interesting films, while the truly great filmmakers thrived (Robert Altman being perhaps the most prodigious example). The lesser filmmakers become easier to spot (if you couldn't tell that something was lacking in their '70s films) by their swift adoption of the conventions and tendencies of the subsequent decades.

It's already obvious why this blog is called Cahiers2Cinéma: it's a vain hope that something approaching what was started in the original Cahiers du Cinéma magazine (the breeding ground of the French New Wave) could ever occur again. Has anyone read Eisenstein's incredible Film Form? Since it won't do to attempt a filmic revolution by too specifically attempting to repeat the past, perhaps starting fresh with some of the deepest thinking on film will point a new way. Maybe the New Waves of the '60s and '70s didn't go far enough.

Of course, there are great films being made even now, and there are master filmmakers working, as always, but it is undeniable that a movement akin to these New Waves is not remotely in existence, nor is there a widespread awareness of and engagement with overtly artistic films by audiences. The arthouse film circuit (and the arthouse crowds themselves), which should be where this is all happening, especially at times when it doesn't ooze into the mainstream, is itself bereft, and with few exceptions wallows in an unambitious Sundance-poisoned mediocrity.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Unearthing Buried Boetticher

While I don't intend to focus too much energy on sharing the buried treasures I've found on DVD (a subject of an earlier post), but rather to discuss films in a bit more depth, it's still fun and may be of service to some fellow film fans, so here's another one:

Universal's Classic Western Round-up Vol. 2 features two Budd Boetticher films on its second disc, making a nice double feature. Both are in staggeringly beautiful Technicolor, brilliantly restored to an incredibly high quality, which was a big surprise on a set like this, which features few big names or titles.

The Boetticher films are The Cimarron Kid (1952) w/Audie Murphy and The Man from the Alamo (1953) w/Glenn Ford. Once again, the information about who directed these films is not available on, nor is it even listed on the back of the DVD case! (The back can be seen at

It's not for nothing that these are called buried treasures!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

John Ford and Gary Cooper Silents

In reference to the below post begging for more silent films on DVD and about how some very interesting films are buried on packaged sets, here are two items of good news:

Fox will release a "Ford at Fox" box set with at least five silents:
(Came across that on DVD Beaver's main page.)

Hiding inside the Gary Cooper MGM Movie Legends Collection is the 1926 silent The Winning of Barbara Worth (1926, Henry King):

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Sam Fuller's SHARK

Sam Fuller’s Shark is available on DVD from Troma Entertainment. The poor DVD transfer is a disservice, but not being able to see the film would be an even greater disservice. What is one to do in this situation? In an annoying intro to the film, the excitedly idiotic Lloyd Kaufman I believe said that they acquired the rights, meaning this was not a public domain situation. He seemed to imply in his frenzied delivery that the outtakes were not available so that a reconstruction of Sam Fuller’s original vision was not possible (the producers apparently interfered with this film, which is something I was vaguely aware of). That’s all well and good, but this seemed to me to be a transfer of a 16mm print of fairly poor quality. The sound especially was atrocious and sounded to me like a weak 16mm mono track. (This is supposition on my part.) The transfer of what is already a poor source seems only fair at best. Either the print itself is too dark or the transfer was not done properly to account for this, or a combination of both. In any case, many of the night scenes are unwatchable. The final evidence suggesting a 16mm print would be the 1.33 aspect ratio. This disservice to the film could have been avoided by hunting down a 35mm print and spending money on a proper transfer. My guess is they had this 16mm print in their closet and got the rights so they could make some money.
Is the film worth seeing anyway? Yes, it is good, solid Sam Fuller work. The interference by the producers (assuming it is true) has not taken away from Sam Fuller’s style. The fight scenes (although spoiled by this transfer since they take place at night) seem drawn from the same well as those in Pickup on South Street. The dialogue sounds clearly like Fuller’s throughout. The weakness is in the shark footage. Since this is just an Internet writing outlet, and since I need to remove excuses for procrastinating writing blog entries, I have not researched this, but I wonder what the quality of shark movies had been up to that point (1969). If it was breaking new ground, then perhaps some of the weakness of the shark scenes can be forgiven. In any case, whether it can be excused or not, they are in effect very weak scenes. Many times there are just lame shots of sharks swimming around with a big light shining obviously down on them. (It would be pure speculation to wonder if perhaps the likeliest interference by the producers was the insertion of as much poor shark footage as possible, especially since their movie is entitled Shark.)

The movie is undermined because these shark scenes, including the opening one, lack power, danger, thrills or scariness. Fuller often liked a grabber of an opener to set the movie hurtling into motion. In light of that it seems very likely story structure-wise that the opening was Fuller’s idea (it is certainly unconventional, opening with quiet, calm underwater scenes with no music, no credits, no story, no explanation or context for what we are seeing) and that the blame for the weakness of its execution this time must rest with him. (I’ll report back if I can research further the specific interference by the producers.) It prevents the movie from being great, perhaps even sinking it a notch lower than decent. But all the scenes of dialogue and plot are still excellent, high-quality Fuller to me, and would perhaps be even more engaging with a proper transfer of what appears to be some truly excellent cinematography and especially with the full and properly audible sound track. The cast is also pretty good with personal fave Arthur Kennedy and Barry Sullivan backing up a young and vigorous Burt Reynolds. (One other amateurish touch is Reynolds’ beard appears to change too much in thickness in some early scenes. Producers? I guess admirers of Sam Fuller will always want to blame it on someone other than Sam!)

I’ll have to hunt for an other-region DVD that may be of better quality (perhaps DVD Beaver knows of one).

After writing the above paragraphs, I watched the DVD’s bonus materials, which did a pretty good job of explaining some of the background of the film and what exactly happened to it. (Unfortunately, I delayed writing this for some time after watching these pieces, so I apologize for any inaccuracies.) It seems Fuller did finish the film and deliver a cut, but that the producers (independent Mexican ones) recut it, editing scenes by chopping parts up to tighten them up, or something to that effect. In any case, from what was said in the bonus interviews, it doesn’t sound like the studio was responsible for the poor shark scenes that undermine the film. What I mention above as being the strong Fuller aspects seem to have shone through despite what editing was done to them. Perhaps they would have been even stronger without the interference. (The main informative interview on the DVD was with Jerome Rudes, one of the collaborators on Fuller’s posthumous autobiography, A Third Face.)

Saturday, July 07, 2007

More Digging

Just a quick addendum to the previous post, regarding how some works by great directors can get buried on packaged DVD sets.

I was delving into the filmography of Andre de Toth and watching all his titles that were available on DVD (on Netflix specifically). When I had finished, I went through his filmography on the IMDB and clicked on each title I hadn’t heard of to learn about some of his other films. Lo and behold I stumbled upon two Andre de Toth-directed westerns on a Randolph Scott triple feature DVD set from no less than Warner Brothers: Man Behind the Gun/Thunder Over the Plains/Riding Shotgun. The first film is by Felix Feist, and the second two are by Andre de Toth. Since I had recently watched some excellent Andre de Toth-directed Randolph Scott westerns, this was quite an exciting find. (It’s not on Netflix, though, so I haven’t been able to watch them yet.) Warner Brothers also has one other Randolph Scott triple feature set: Colt .45/Tall Man Riding/Forth Worth; and two John Wayne triple feature sets: The Telegraph Trail/Somewhere in Sonora/The Man from Monterey and The Big Stampede/Ride Him Cowboy/Haunted Gold. There were no tremendously exciting surprises for me amongst the directing lineups of these sets.

In all the sets, browsing on Amazon did not yield the directors’ names. The only options were to check each title in IMDB individually or go to, which allows you to view the back of a DVD case clearly enough to see directors’ names (although many sets won’t have that information there). Individual titles on IMDB do indicate if they are on DVD, although I’m not sure how reliably (perhaps a distributor may operate below IMDB’s radar or do a bad job of listing the contents of their package). In the case of these two Andre de Toth westerns, the IMDB link to the DVD was how I stumbled upon this set.

Just another revelation that there are some potential buried treasures out there on these packaged DVD sets. (Perhaps I’ll build up to a more meaningful post sometime soon!)

Saturday, June 09, 2007

More Silent Films on DVD, Please

Well, that certainly was a feeble commitment! But now I'm back.

I've realized I have to set aside specific time for blog writing and will do so.

In the meantime, let me say I watched an excellent silent film by John Ford, called The Blue Eagle (1926).

Here is the fabulous original poster:

I was watching a VHS copy of an airing from an AMC Film Preservation Festival from way back when. Although a significant naval battle sequence is missing, and occasionally in early scenes a 16mm film print had to be used, this held up as a stunning example of top-drawer Ford. (All the more so when the scenes were in 35mm.)

With the recent success studios seem to be having in packaging films in box sets organized by stars (Robert Mitchum Signature Collection, Tyrone Power Swashbuckler Box Set) or themes (Film Noir Classics Collection, Literary Classics Collection), it would be amazing if they could start doing this for silent films. There are certainly enough surviving films to justify a John Ford silent film box set. I know more than enough exist just from the bunch that I taped off the AMC Film Preservation Festival. There is a Hitchcock box from Lionsgate with several silents, so the ball may already be rolling. However, I remember my disappointment upon listening to the audio commentary for Warner Brothers' DVD of The Racket (1951, John Cromwell) (part of the Film Noir Classic Colleciton Vol. 3) and hearing repeated references to the Howard Hughes silent original (1928, Lewis Milestone) that the commentator (Eddie Muller) had obviously had the good fortune to see! What a shame that wasn't shoehorned onto the same disk.

Shoehorning may be a stroke of luck for the more esoteric film enthusiasts, as studios can wedge films they consider unreleasable as standalone titles into combo sets with other more popular movies. I just had the good fortune to see the 1933 Mystery of the Wax Museum (Michael Curtiz) on the flip side of Warner's House of Wax (1953, Andre de Toth) DVD and, even though I know it did exist on VHS in the past, I couldn't help but think that I was very fortunate to even be laying eyes on this 2-strip Technicolor rarity, obviously included mainly because of its relation to the more famous remake.

I had similar feelings about the TCM/Warner Bros. DVD "Forbidden Hollywood Collection Volume One" that contained Baby Face (1933, Alfred E. Green), Red-headed Woman (1932, Jack Conway), and Waterloo Bridge (1931, James Whale). Probably the latter was the toughest standalone sell, having no bankable classic star. You can find your own examples, but one other I watched recently was the Cary Grant Screen Legend Collection from Universal which is comprised of five films that I couldn't see ever being released standalone, yet here they are presented in pretty good quality by a major studio. I bought this one and so far have only watched Thirty Day Princess (1934, Marion Gering), but I had the pervasive feeling that I was lucky to be seeing a Sylvia Sidney vehicle from her prime that was something other than Hitchcock's Sabotage or some of her Fritz Lang films.

Obviously there are still countless films of interest that they haven't figured a way to shoehorn into more salable packages or groupings, but the trend may be of help. (It goes without saying that, like the explosion of TV-on-DVD, the more manageable and more versatile DVD format itself makes this all possible.)

One of the few negatives is that when the films are not standalone releases, you sometimes have to dig or be looking for something specific, otherwise you only come across certain important films as a stroke of luck. (If you're a Raoul Walsh enthusiast, there's one of his in the Cary Grant Screen Legends Collection. There's a Douglas Sirk film in the Rock Hudson Screen Legend Collection.) Universal's Screen Legend Collections are particularly troublesome in that even on the back of the sets you can find neither the year the films came out, nor the directors. Even on or DVD Empire the information is not readily available, and one is reduced to researching the titles individually on IMDB.

But going back to the desire to see a John Ford silent film box set, and more silent films in general packaged together and released, one name that pops into my mind is John Gilbert, who would be well worth a silent film box set or two—or even three—since many of his silent films survive—and that's just counting the major star vehicles from his prime. Although I have a feeling if I poke my nose into one of the Garbo collections I'm going to find at least one Gilbert there.