Before I start, a quick update and apology. I haven’t been particularly active on this blog for the last few weeks because we’ve been in full election mode here in Australia. I’m extremely pleased to say the very conservative previous office holders have been ousted (mostly by very angry women) and replaced by a more moderate bunch who (I sincerely hope) will make some real changes to improve the lot of ordinary Australians, address our very real concerns around climate change and start to bring funding back to the sorely depleted arts sector.

Consequently, I’ve a veritable backlog of movies to review and hopefully, I’ll get through it soon ❤️

Vampyr (1932)

Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer. Screenplay by Christian Hul and Carl Theodor Dreyer (loosely based on stories by J. Sheridan Le Fanu).

Released a decade after F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922), this vampire tale was Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer’s follow up to the incredible The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928). It was also Dreyer’s first talking picture, though it still relied heavily on title cards and only used minimal dialogue. This was primarily because of the multinational cast and crew but I think this works very much in the film’s favour, especially compared to the extended theatrical silences in Tod Browning’s Dracula (1931).

Very loosely based on Le Fanu’s book of five stories, “In a Glass Darkly”, the film concerns Allan Grey, an aimless young man with a strong interest in the occult, who wanders into a village where a vampire has several people in its thrall – including the beautiful daughter of the local lord. What ensues is like a surreal nightmare, enhanced by the soft focus filming of Rudolph Maté. Throughout, the framing is quite superb but it particularly stands out in scenes with Léone, the lord’s gravely ill daughter (played beautifully by the tragic Sybille Schmitz) and Allan’s dream of his own burial.

By modern standards, Vampyr isn’t really horrifying but certainly full of atmosphere. Nevertheless, this 90 year old film still holds up, managing to simultaneously entertain and make me feel uncomfortable, like a dream I can’t quite wake from.

Vampyr is available to watch on YouTube and with a run time of merely 74 minutes, well worth the time investment.

The Balloon

The Balloon (1956)

Directed by Yuzo Kawashima. Screenplay by Shohei Imamura and Yuzo Kawashima.

My favourite streaming service, MUBI have been doing a retrospective of Kawashima films the last few weeks and I hadn’t seen this one before.

Like much of Kawashima’s work, this black and white feature is a classic melodrama in the style of Powell and Pressburger or Douglas Sirk – that is, nuanced, complex, tragic but ultimately, uplifting. It concerns a successful camera manufacturer in post-war Tokyo and his family – adult rakish son, disabled but lovely daughter and his dutiful wife form his household. This is juxtaposed by the son’s mistress (who befriends the disabled sister), a shady nightclub owner (who knows the parents) and the femme fatale, who sings in the nightclub and becomes the son’s new lover. Complex, right? It gets better. The father once lived in Kyoto and returns there on a business trip, meeting the daughter of the family who helped him in a time of great need, immediately after the war, and he starts to dream of better days and a better future.

It doesn’t look much on paper, but Kawashima manages to pull all the threads of this most complicated narrative together in a way that is simply beautiful. Straddling the old and new ways of life, this is a film that looks back with regret but looks forward with hope. The framing and photography are lovely, much improved from his previous film Till We Meet Again (1955) and the script is surprisingly lean, yet gives opportunities for each of the characters to shine.

The delicate balance of gender and generational difference (a feature of Kawashima’s oeuvre of this period) is on full display here, and the ending is just gorgeous. I can’t believe I hadn’t seen this film before!

Recommended for anyone who has an interest in Japanese cinema, film history or just enjoys a complex, well-told story.

Night Tide

Night Tide (1961) Directed by Curtis Harrington

I was lucky enough to see a 2017 HD restoration of this black and white movie recently on MUBI, the movie streaming service for those of us who like to look beyond mainstream cinema.

Written and directed by the late, great Curtis Harrington (Queen of Blood, What’s the Matter with Helen? and Killer Bees among others), I consider this more a quirky melodrama than a horror film, with a story of love and yearning at its heart. On shore leave, a young and lonely sailor (Dennis Hopper) becomes enamored of a beautiful young woman (Linda Lawson) he meets at a jazz club in Venice Beach. She plays a mermaid in the local carnival, but she is shrouded in sadness and mystery.

I can certainly see the cult appeal to film lovers like me – this is the kind of thing that played late on Friday night TV when I was kid and there’s a big nostalgia element for me. The score is by the celebrated David Raskin and the beautiful black and white cinematography by Vilis Lapenieks.

And even here, in one of his first starring roles, Dennis Hopper is a standout. This is a stunning restoration of a really sweet, moody and melancholic B-movie. If you get a chance to see it, do it!