cinema quickie

Cinema Quickie: Anthony Mann

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Check out the films of one of the architects of the noir aesthetic, Anthony Mann. A stage actor turned film director, Mann made over forty films in a career that spanned nearly thirty years. After a short stint as an assistant director at Paramount, he cut his teeth making B films for several other studios. Mann began making films for the Eagle-Lion studio in 1947 and shortly thereafter began his most important collaborative relationship with Hungarian cinematographer John Alton. In films such as T-Men, Raw Deal and He Walked By Night the pair created the visual blueprint for what become the genre of film noir. They were both eventually hired by MGM and, after achieving the high point of their visual stylization with Border Incident, worked together only a couple more times.  

Mann is probably best known for his psychological or “adult” Westerns. Working frequently with James Stewart, the director crafted brutal films with a visceral edge unlike any previously seen in the genre. In films such as Winchester ‘73, Bend of the River and The Naked Spur, Stewart turns in performances which are borderline maniacal as he portrays heros every bit as treacherous and violent as their villainous counterparts.  The hallmark of these films, and indeed much of Mann’s work in general, is the graphic, often close-up manner in which the pain and agony that the protagonist must endure and overcome to attain his goal, is depicted.

Anthony Mann’s consistency and ability to work in many genres was rewarded by the studios in the later part his career by their allowing him to work on the big epic productions such as Spartacus, El Cid, and The Fall of the Roman Empire,that were in vogue at the time. Though these films are competent and well made, they lack the creativity and originality of his earlier genre work.

Even as his work became more and more diverse, elements of the noir style remained prominent in Mann’s work displayed in films such as The Furies, The Glenn Miller Story and Man of the West. His films can be cited as influencing the work of Sam Peckinpah, Jean-Luc Godard, and Martin Scorsese among others. 

Selected Filmography: 

  • Strange Impersonation (1946)
  • Desperate (1947)
  • Railroaded! (1947)
  • T-Men (1947)
  • Raw Deal (1948)
  • He Walked By Night (uncredited) (1948)
  • Reign of Terror (1949)
  • Border Incident (1949)
  • Side Street (1950)
  • Winchester '73 (1950)
  • The Furies (1950)
  • Devil’s Doorway (1950)
  • Bend of The River (1952)
  • The Naked Spur (1953)
  • The Glen Miller Story (1954)
  • The Man from Laramie (1955)
  • The Tin Star (1957)
  • Man of the West (1958)
  • El Cid (1961)
Cinema Quickie: Jim Jarmusch

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Check out the films of American independent cinema mainstay Jim Jarmusch. After dropping out of the NYU graduate film program, Jarmusch turned his final academic short into his first feature, Permanent Vacation. Clearly seeing the talent that Jarmusch had to offer, German filmmaker Wim Wenders gave the young director 40 minutes of film stock to get him started on Stranger Than Paradise, a film that would go on to win the Camera d'Or at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival and subsequently be credited for instigating the modern American independent film movement.

Jim Jarmusch’s working method consists of extensive pre-shoot rehearsal time often focusing on scenes that are not intended for the screen in order to develop believable characters with real idiosyncrasies. His films are expertly methodically paced and exhibit a droll, wry humor. His characters, always the impetus for plot and not vice versa, are those that live on the margins of society and who find themselves organically pulled into adventure usually structured around “the road.”

The crown jewel in Jarmusch’s ouvre is the expressionistic post-Western, Dead Man. Working with arguably the most talented collection of collaborators of his career, including actors Johnny Depp and Gary Farmer (among countless other stars in small roles and cameos), Neil Young to provide the film’s minimalist score and longtime cinematographer Robby Muller, the director created what is easily one of the best American films of the 1990s.

While Dead Man may stand alone, Jarmusch has three more masterpieces in Down By Law, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai and Broken Flowers, but the director’s unique sensibilities make each and every one of his films worth watching.

Feature Filmography:

  • Permanent Vacation (1980)
  • Stranger Than Paradise (1983)
  • Down By Law (1986)
  • Mystery Train (1989)
  • Night On Earth (1991)
  • Dead Man (1995)
  • Year of the Horse (Neil Young & Crazy Horse documentary)(1997)
  • Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)
  • Coffee and Cigarettes (2003)
  • Broken Flowers (2005)
  • The Limits of Control (2009)
Cinema Quickie: Nicholas Ray

Check out the work of Hollywood Golden Age master Nicholas Ray. A major influence on the French New Wave, in particular Jean-Luc Godard who once said “The cinema is Nicholas Ray,” the director made thirty films in a career that spanned more than three decades. His most famous and most commercially successful film was the James Dean starring, Rebel Without a Cause, but Nick Ray made another three handfuls or so that can legitimately called masterpieces, at least on some level.

Having began his filmmaking career in his mid-thirties, Ray had seemingly mastered his craft by his third feature. In a Lonely Place, touches on several themes that permeate the filmmaker’s work such as the allure of the “dark side” of human behavior as well Ray’s own critique of himself through the films he made and the characters he created.

His greatest gift as a director was in the way he worked with actors. It is nearly impossible to find a poor performance in a Nick Ray film. The Hollywood gossips would suggest that this was, at least in part, due to the director’s bisexuality and his willingness to use sex as a tool to coax the desired performance from his leads. From a visual standpoint, he was one of the early masters of CinemaScope and widescreen composition as well as the use of splashy, expressionistic color. In terms of content, Ray’s cinema often focuses on the lifestyles of those, through their own choices or those of others, live outside of the mainstream. As a filmmaker he managed to take the in house studio genre stylistics and create films that were unequivocally his own.

Johnny Guitar is perhaps Ray’s greatest film, and certainly most audacious, with its popping colors and gender reversals. Some call it the most flamboyantly baroque western ever made and it is cited by everyone from the aforementioned Godard to Martin Scorsese as a major influence. This film began the peak of his career which continued with Rebel Without a Cause and the psychological nightmare tale of a teacher on cortisone, Bigger Than Life. Unavailable on video until Criterion’s release of it in recent years, the James Mason starring Bigger Than Life, is every bit as much of a must see as the two films Ray before it.

With drugs and alcohol taking their toll, Ray’s career began to fade in the Seventies with work being harder to acquire but the last two projects he was involved remain interesting at the very least. We Can’t Go Home Again was Ray’s last directing effort, made with student collaborators from SUNY Binghamton. Lightning Over Water or Nick’s Movie,as a different cut was called, is Ray’s collaboration with Wim Wenders to document the end of his life. 

 "I’m the best damn filmmaker in the world who has never made one entirely good, entirely satisfactory film.“

-Nicholas Ray

Selected Filmography:

  • They Live By Night (1949)
  • Knock on Any Door (1949)
  • In a Lonely Place (1950)
  • Born to Be Bad (1950)
  • Flying Leathernecks (1951)
  • On Dangerous Ground (1952)
  • The Lusty Men (1952)
  • Johnny Guitar (1954)
  • Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
  • Bigger Than Life (1956)
  • The True Story of Jesse James (1957) 
  • Bitter Victory (1957)
  • Wind Across the Everglades (1958)
  • Party Girl (1958)
  • The Savage Innocents (1960)
  • King of Kings (1961)
  • We Can’t Go Home Again (1976)
  • Lightning Over Water (1980)