SASY Wrap #6 – The Unwrapable Sassington

Because we love fun, we always try to shoehorn “SASY Wrap” into the subtitles of these roundup posts, but I’m guessing the reference here is lost on a lot of readers. It’s a reworking of The Unbearable Bassington, a short novel by the early 20th century British writer H.R. Munro, better known as Saki. Though not as good as his short stories, the novel is still a razor-sharp dig at British society — particularly upper-middle class society —  a comedy of manners with some real teeth and heartbreak. And that’s why it seemed so appropriate for this SASY Wrap, as Great Britain finally enters the picture with a bang. Nearly half of the 10 films we will discuss here are British movies that alternately question, criticize, and celebrate Britain. But it is not just the British who are ascendant in this period; in a welcome reversal from our last batch of 10, nine of the films below are not American productions (well, maybe eight and half depending on how you classify Once Upon a Time in the West). Nine of the films below were also made during the second half of World War II, showing that as the Nazis were being pushed back a new artistic flowering was happening across Europe. But before we get into all that, as tradition demands, our  respective (and for once quite different) rankings of the last 10 films:

S.

J.

1. Brief Encounter (1945) 1. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)
2. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) 2. Day of Wrath (1943)
3. Day of Wrath (1943) 3. “I Know Where I’m Going!” (1945)
4. Rome, Open City (1945) 4. A Canterbury Tale (1944)
5. A Canterbury Tale (1944) 4. Rome, Open City (1945)
6. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) 6. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
7. “I Know Where I’m Going!” (1945) 7. Ivan the Terrible, Part I (1944)
8. Ivan the Terrible, Part I (1944) 8. Brief Encounter (1945)
9. Children of Paradise (1945) 9. Children of Paradise (1945)
10. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) 10. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

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#102 (tie) – Ivan the Terrible, Part I (1944), dir. Sergei Eisenstein

Ivan the Terrible

C.C.C.People Power. Tsar Ivan Groznyy absorbs the will of the people as they march to beg his return to the thrown in one of countless powerful images from Sergei Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible, Part I.

Sergei Eisenstein is one of the great directors. A pioneer of montage editing, inventive camera placement, and rousing action set pieces, Eisenstein was also a deeply cerebral filmmaker and a Marxist deconstructionist of film technique who put together some of the best theoretical pieces on movies ever written. In many ways he represented the leading edge of experimental Russian cinema in the cultural renewal that followed the Bolshevik Revolution. But like many of his contemporaries, things didn’t go so well for the director after Stalin came to power, and his film output dwindled. Still, with World War II raging and the Soviet Union suffering the brunt of the casualties, Eisenstein was called on to create a series of films meant to inspire the Russian people against the Germans. The director set out to craft a trilogy about Ivan the Terrible, the first tsar of all Russia, using the 16th century monarch as a representation of the supreme power of the State and a symbol of unity for the Russian people. Ivan the Terrible, Part I (Ivan Groznyy, 1944) was considered a triumph upon its release, and features some of the most stunning visuals found in any film, as it tackles the opening years of Ivan’s reign from his coronation to his first major victory over the scheming nobility. But Eisenstein’s success was short-lived. Though Part II was finished, it did not meet the approval of Stalin, who forbade the film from being released. Stalin also pulled the plug on the production of Part III, of which little footage has survived. Eisenstein passed away not long after. (99 min.) Continue reading