204 posts categorized "Criterion Collection"

April 23, 2022

ROSEMARY'S BABY — THE CRITERION COLLECTION

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

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ColeSmithey.comFrom Krzysztof Komeda’s perfectly haunting musical motif to its sublimely Gothic urban atmosphere, in and around Manhattan’s Central Park West neighborhood, “Rosemary’s Baby” is one of the most well-crafted and viscerally effective horror films ever created.

Based on Ira Levin’s novel, the paranoid narrative taps into primal fears regarding childbirth, rape, and cults, i.e. organized religion. Deceptively, the film’s most poignant theme is that of indoctrination through rape.

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Rosemary’s painful transformation is shocking. The film’s opening, just two months after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., spoke to America’s ongoing national sense of horror and outrage about the ongoing spate of political murders that included JFK, and his brother Bobby Kennedy.

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Roman Polanski’s precise compositions are enduring for their keen degree of detail. Intimate close-ups and liquid camera moves create a seamless filmic palate of Gothic fantasy. Contrast and context expand from such scenes as where the Satanists celebrate 1966 as “year-one.” Here is a dark capsule of all religious idolatry. Evil nuance and maternal suspense boil. Hitchcock’s visual influence shows up when Rosemary pours a milkshake of witch-juice down the kitchen drain. The plot unfolds like a great mystery novel. Rosemary solves an anagram from a book’s title, which provides a secret clue to her fraught predicament.

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Polanski makes expressive use of Manhattan’s famous gothic-styled Dakota apartment building at 72nd and Central Park West, where John Lennon would be shot down just over a decade later.   Screen Shot 2022-04-23 at 11.31.52 PM

From the film’s enigmatic aerial opening sequence (overlooking the Dakota) to cinematographer William Fraker’s brilliant work, “Rosemary’s Baby” is everything a horror film should be. Every frame communicates an undertow of creeping subtext about a Christ child for Satan born of human flesh.

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Mia Farrow is impeccably cast as Rosemary, a frail newlywed bride to Guy Woodhouse, an ambitious New York actor (gleefully played by John Cassavetes). The young couple moves into an apartment inside the Dakota where a group of witches and Satanists have set up shop.

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The walls are paper-thin. Before they can even unpack, Cassavetes’s wisecracking character takes the bait offered by Minnie and Roman Castevet, an elderly couple of next-door neighbors, to join their Satin-worshiping group behind Rosemary’s back. Ruth Gordon’s scene-stealing performance as Minnie is at once comical and foreboding. Guy’s acting opportunities open up almost immediately when he wins a role by default due to the sudden blindness of another actor. What makes it all worse is that Guy is a likable person. You can’t help but empathize with him. 

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Most inventive are the film’s surreal dream/nightmare sequences that terrify Rosemary. During one such sequence, the heavily drugged Rosemary realizes that the ritual rape she experiences before a group of nude Satanists is “not a dream.” Polanski goes so far as to show the demon beast as he lies on top of the vulnerable young woman. Before William Friedkin shocked ‘70s era audiences with “The Exorcist,” Polanski had set the table with “Rosemary’s Baby.”

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The palpable sense of dread, suspicion, and conspiracy that Roman Polanski creates puts a sour taste in the viewer's mouth that remains for days after seeing the film. The sense of grotesque suspense that Polanski generates is suffocating. As the second installment in Polanski's "trilogy of apartment films," ("Repulsion" was the first, “The Tenant” was the last.), "Rosemary's Baby" pulsates and seethes with the quaking fear of an unknown birth. If ever there was a pro-birth-control horror movie, this is it.

Not Rated. 137 mins.

5 Stars“ColeSmithey.com“

Cozy Cole

Cole Smithey on Patreon

BODY AND SOUL — THE CRITERION COLLECTION

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal! Your generosity keeps the reviews coming!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

ColeSmithey.comWriter-director Oscar Micheaux’s 1925 silent melodrama comes alive with a modern musical score by Paul D. Miller.

Add to this Jim Crow-era film’s inventive time-flipping structure, interracial familial underpinnings, a pair of identical twins (played by Paul Robeson), and you’ve got a hefty social study told from a visionary African-American filmmaker.

Paul Robeson gives a larger than life performance.

Wow.

ColeSmithey.com

The hard-luck story speaks to societal problems that still face America in the 21st century.

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"Body and Soul" is not a small cinematic gem; it is a magnificent diamond. 

Not Rated. 102 mins.

5 Stars

Cozy Cole

Cole Smithey on Patreon

THE THIRD MAN — THE CRITERION COLLECTION

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal! Your generosity keeps the reviews coming!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

 

ColeSmithey.comCarol Reed’s British noir suspense thriller, based on Graham Greene’s screenplay, is set in post war Vienna — a bombed-out shell of a city divided into American, Russian, French, and British zones.

This is one tricky place to navigate, especially if you’re a newly arrived stranger. Vienna is a splintered microcosm of Europe, a once lavish place being ravaged of its most prized possessions by comers of all stripes.

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Joseph Cotton’s dapper Holly Martins arrives in Vienna with the promise of a job from his old college pal Harry Lime (played by Orson Welles). However, Lime’s funeral is the only welcoming Holly gets in his new Eastern European home. Holly’s experience as a pulp novelist gives him a nose for intrigue. His friend’s supposed accidental death after being hit by a truck raises burning questions that Holly investigates in a Vienna seething with corruption, much of which comes from its active black market.

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No one can be trusted. Could Harry have been involved in black market dirty-dealings? A porter tells Holly of a “third man” at the scene of Harry’s death. Perhaps Harry’s girlfriend Anna (Alida Valli) has some answers.

ColeSmithey.com

Reed’s ace cinematographer Robert Krasker uses an expressive toolbox of visual devices — from harsh noir lightening to severe Dutch angles — to create an otherworldly atmosphere of foreign conspiracy, suspense, and lurking menace. The film’s dark mood is supported by Anton Karas’s intricate but elegant musical motif that recurs throughout the picture.

ColeSmithey.com

A porter (played by Paul Hoerbiger) tells Holly of a "third man" that helped carry Lime's body away from the accident site, only to turn up murdered the next day. Holly eventually discovers the truth about his old friend's nefarious underworld activities. Holly finally meets with Harry Vienna’s famed Farris Wheel in one of cinema's most beloved scenes, during which Orson Welles delivers a truly cynical monologue that was at least partially improvised. Effortlessly wielding subtext and theme lines as if they were darts, Welles play the villain, speaking from the depths of capitalist greed that would consume the globe long before the end of the century. 

ColeSmithey.com

"The Third Man" has one of the greatest chase sequences ever filmed — and it doesn’t involve cars. The sequence, set in an underground sewer, is still taught in many film classes as a textbook example of what constitutes an impressive chase scene. Even better than its centerpiece sequence of high-tension escape, is the film’s final scene between Holly and Anna. Never before or since has a snub resonated so much, or hurt so bad. 

Not Rated. 99 mins.

5 Stars“ColeSmithey.com“

Cozy Cole

Cole Smithey on Patreon

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