Criterion Month Day 12: Black Girl

Black Girl (1966)

“For me, France is the kitchen, the living room, the bathroom and my bedroom.” Those lamentations of Diouana (M’Bissine Thérèse Diop) resonate in the entirely new context of 2020, as we’ve all been sheltering in place for more than four months now. Personally, this COVID mess started shortly after I got my own apartment for the first time and started trying to branch out and become a better person. Instead, a global pandemic and a bridge failing have left me feeling as isolated as I’ve ever been, my worst fears of living alone not only realized, but exceeded far more than I had thought possible. I wasn’t expecting to find a movie that so completely captured this vibe, but the 1966 French/Senegalese film Black Girl might just be the film for this moment.

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Criterion Month Day 11: Woman in the Dunes

Woman in the Dunes (1964)

Last month I wrote a list of my “Top 50 Favorite Horror Movies of the 2010s”. Something I noticed when reevaluating my favorite horror films of the last decade was the recent surge in “Transcendental Horror.” Movies like The Lighthouse and Midsommar that aren’t built on scares, rather existential dread. Movies that make you question your existence and if anything matters. The feeling of being trapped in life. I figured this was a recent phenomenon in cinema. Little did I know Hiroshi Teshigahara was making Transcendental Horror over fifty years ago.

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Criterion Month Day 10: The Fabulous Baron Munchausen

The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (1962)

The Fabulous Baron Munchausen might be the movie I chose to review for Criterion Month this year that I had the least knowledge of and the least context for. Which might be the best way to go into this movie, considering it truly feels like nothing else. I know that may sound like hyperbole, especially considering I’ve watched far too many movies to ever be truly taken off guard by what kind of images are capable of being brought to the screen. But Czech filmmaker Karel Zeman was clearly a one-of-a-kind visual stylist, even if he may not have the same recognition as many of the other pre-CG visual effects pioneers. Continue reading

Criterion Month Day 9: The War of the Worlds

The War of the Worlds (1953)

Why is this in the Criterion Collection? That’s the reason I picked this movie. I vaguely remember renting it from a video store (that’s now a bank) as a kid but wasn’t particularly engaged. Is it the first alien invasion movie? The Man from Planet X is earlier. Is it how the film uses an alien invasion to comment on the Cold War? The Day the Earth Stood Still and Invasion of the Body Snatchers do that better. It’s not even a good adaptation of HG Wells’ novel. What is this movie?

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Criterion Month Day 8: Kind Hearts And Coronets

Kind Hearts And Coronets (1949)

Post-war Britain didn’t seem like a particularly great time to laugh, and yet this was the period that saw the rise of Ealing Studios, who gave birth to some of Britain’s best comedies. Perhaps it’s appropriate that during these somewhat bleak times, these films indulged some decidedly dark themes. I haven’t seen a ton of these Ealing comedies (other than The Lavender Hill Mob and The Ladykillers), but other than their deliciously biting nature, there’s also a sophisticated and unsentimental quality that makes these movies hold up much better than a lot of comedies from this era. Then on top of that, a lot of them feature Alec Guinness having about as much fun as he ever had as an actor (sorry George Lucas), and it’s hard to get more fun than playing nine different characters in the same movie. Continue reading

Criterion Month Day 7: The Blood of Jesus

The Blood of Jesus (1941)

It’s weird to see an American movie from 1941 that’s so domestic. Despite there having been a depression and the beginning of another World War in the time between, the small town depicted in The Blood of Jesus doesn’t feel that different from the one in Body and Soul. What is different is this filmmaker’s approach to religion: while Oscar Michaeux had been skeptical and condemned hypocrisy, writer-producer-director-co-star Spencer Williams (later of Amos ‘n’ Andy fame) plays it deeply sanctimonious. And that makes it kinda hard to take seriously.

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