Classic tales, somewhat unheard of in todays vernacular of visual effects, star-studded names, and lost, within a frequent stream of new films.
Cinematically enthralled people will know a Goddard from a Fellini, a Hitchcock from a Scorsese. People reel off the names of films and directors and expect everyone to have watched and understood every philosophy of a film. But what about those who fear a dip in the cinematic ocean and those who fear to revisit the past? Where does one begin?
If one is to begin chronologically, then the 1920’s is a good place to start. Docks Of New York is the 1928 Josef von Sternberg silent. A classic tale of a woman in trouble seeking nothing but suicide, who falls into the arms of Bill (George Bancroft). They stare into one another eyes. The waterfront is a backdrop to the evocative and the obstreperous lovers and friends on the night before their voyages. Luc Sante on Criterion, described the film as: “deliberate pacing, its unostentatious but exquisite framing, its delicacy cloaked in apparent gruffness, its devil-may-care romanticism.”
In the same decade, German expressionist film Nosferatu (1922), made it’s dark and sometimes blue tinted appearance. Then, master of the early talkies Rouben Mamoulian, brough Applause (1929), his first feature film to screens. Prior, Mammalian was notorious on the Broadway scene, but Applause, brought skills in camera movement and sound to an entirely new level of innovation.
“Shooting Applause Mamoulian experimented with long tracking shots and unusual camera angles (including what still seems a daring but dramatically effective overhead shot in the first reel), and invented multi-channel sound when he insisted on using two microphones in the same scene…“
-UCLA Film & Television Archive
When you move into the 1960’s, there certainly a plethora of films not to be forgotten. 2001: A Space Odyssey, Psycho and The Graduate are all infamous for their own accolades in filmmaking, but how many have had the joys of watching The Apartment, 1960. Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine) is any working-mans dream on a New York early morning in the office elevators, whilst a will they/won’t they plot plays, interweaves, and at times, brings us to tears.
The story is one which would not seem too dissimilar from something in today’s society. Visually, this piece of cinema is at its greatest. The opening shots are a tim favourite, whilst the immense depth of field and beauty of black and white. It is in fact, the last Black and White picture to have received Best Picture at The Academy Awards until Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist took the award in 2011. In terms of plot and style, it is a piece of classic hollywood Storytelling. Nothing is not thought out. Everything is seemingly perfect in relation to exposition, integration and inference-making. Stylistically, it’s beautiful and the characters are loveable in the deepest moments of hurt.
George Lucas put together, what would become a group of notable names, for his 1973 American Graffiti.
Modesto, California and summer night is all Lucas needed to make a classic. That, and a beautifully crafted scrip and visuals to match. A $700,000 received over $50 million in earnings, for a coming-of-age tale. It resembles Star Wars in its backstory, and is a great example of limitations played out at best. The ability of a film to become great, is in using a limit of locations, characters and unnecessary plot points, made possible by the strength of its makers. Lucas, with the help of frequent collaborator Francis Ford Coppola, who produced the piece, and directors of photography Jan D’Alquen and Ron Eveslage, crafted a nostalgic, funny and charmingly astute piece of cinema.
December 19, 1979, Kramer vs. Kramer premiered, with Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman playing in this most violent, violent-less film. Manhattan is the backdrop to this dramatic adaptation, originally a 1977 novel of the same name by Avery Corman. The film went on to win five Academy Awards at the 52nd Academy Awards and remains a classic, heartwarming tale of family, where the ideas of motherhood and fatherhood are challenged in a decade of modernisation.
Moonrise Kingdom, 2012: Wes Anderson’s tale of young love, many not seem as one to be considered underrated, nor forgotten. Nevertheless, in recent time, it may have fallen under the radar of his most distinguish works. That of The Grand Budapest Hotel and Fantastic Mr Fox. Moonrise Kingdom takes more children into his whimsical spotlight than in any other Anderson film. Renegades, misfits and lost within a fantasy of perfection in the wild. Elegantly stitched together by sweet words and notions. Turning upon themselves with small chases and minor battle scenes. Something never to go a miss with Anderson.
“Can you keep a secret? I’m trying to organize a prison break. I’m looking for, like, an accomplice. We have to first get out of this bar, then the hotel, then the city, and then the country. Are you in or you out?”
-Lost In Trasnlation
Is there not something in all of a Coppola’s work that is so undeniably compelling. Is it a family trait? Is it merely a stylistic choice made by a group of related filmmakers?
Nevertheless, Lost In Translation is complex tale, spinning a classic romantic-comedy/drama plot, into a diverse pool of thought. It’s sincere and the narrative is straight forward, and ambiguous. Defining goals is unnecessary. It’s a fantasy story. Nothing happens, and so much happens. It all depends on how you choose to view it. In the same way, one can declare Coppola’s work as European art cinema with elements of a traditional Hollywood cinema. It is again, in the eye of the viewer. But from the moment you are greeted by Charlotte’s (Scarlett Johansson) lace-undergarment adorned bottom, you are enticed by what will soon become a string of sarcasm, Tokyo lights, cultural contrasts and handsome cinematography.
There is something realistically erotic despite the lack of physical-sexual connection between Charlotte and Bob (Bill Murray). Loneliness becomes a funny tale of coping. Both Bob and Charlotte are detached from themselves, the world, and in part, each other. Charlotte travels to Kyoto to visit a temple, reacting no differently than had she have remained in her room. What strikes her is how he down reaction, or lack of, came as such disturbance. She calls Lauren who we know nothing of other than in name, and within a matter of seconds, relays such dialogue that is so explicit and yet it is exclusive to Charlotte and goes entirely unnoticed to Lauren:
“It’s really great here…”
“There were these monks and they were chanting…. I didn’t feel anything”
“… I don’t know who I married”
She then cries.
Did she settle for what was once love. Did she assume that adapting would be easier? Did she ever have a plan? Does she fall in love with Bob? There is barely a stereotypical shudder of character. Is that which makes the characters so compelling? There is enough coincidece and enough predictability and we are still left wanting more and wanting to know more. Nobody is too skinny or too happy, though one could argue that John is ecstatic with the work he is producing and the life he is leading in Tokyo. Neither character in this film are stereotypical. They’re semi-successful, beautiful in character and not overly styled to realistic perfection. And we don’t always understand whether its love, friendship or loneliness.
Sofia Coppola is a filmmaker of filmmaker blood. She is of course also, a director, writer, actress, producer, model, other things. She is a storyteller joining the club of todays great storytellers: Wes Anderson, Woody Allen and Spike Jonze alike. Bill Murray has become of course, a trend within himself.
“Lost in Translation received critical acclaim and was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor for Bill Murray, and Best Director for Sofia Coppola; Coppola won for Best Original Screenplay. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson each won a BAFTA award for Best Actor in a Leading Role and Best Actress in a Leading Role respectively. The film was also a commercial success, grossing $119 million from a budget of only $4 million.”