Classic films can be a bit daunting when you don’t know where to start. French New Wave? Italian Neorealism? German Expressionism? What do they all mean? Sometimes you don’t need to jump in the deep end with the 6-hour epics — there are classic films that are just as accessible as those made today, with the added bonus of operating as an easy gateway into the world of classic film. All it takes is that one movie — so we asked our regular writers: What film got you into classics?
There are few film series as iconic as George Lucas’s ‘Star Wars’. It has spanned generations and shows no signs of stopping, with ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ coming out in just a few weeks. This franchise has given us heroes, villains, an iconic film score, and JarJar Binks. To celebrate May the Fourth, Much Ado is looking back at our favorite ‘Star Wars’ moments and why they resonant with us.
Llewyn – Binary Sunset, ‘Episode IV: A New Hope’
‘Star Wars’, for me, has always been about the spectacle of adventure and discovery first and foremost. These movies, like the serialized “Flash Gordon” entertainment they are inspired by, are an escape from mundane reality and into a world of whimsical beauty. When we first meet our hero, Luke Skywalker, he is a moisture farmer on Tatooine searching for a higher purpose. This iconic moment, closing off the first act of the film, shows Luke looking off into the setting dual sunsets of his home planet. The iconic John Williams score kicks in as we close up on Luke’s face. What awaits him out there in the galaxy, past these burning stars? Will he ever get the opportunity to rise up? Is that in his destiny? This is a true defining moment for this franchise, one that represents empathy, hope, curiosity, and ambition. Regardless of where we come from in life, maybe we are destined for more.
Mary Beth – Fight Above the Sarlacc Pit, ‘Episode VI: Return of the Jedi’
Whenever I think of Star Wars, this is the first scene that comes to my mind. Just thinking about those quick, deep notes that play as the camera cuts to each character right before Luke jumps gives me goosebumps. Then, he jumps, R2D2 shoots out Luke’s lightsaber, and all hell breaks loose. Chaos reigns as Luke, Lando, Han, and Chewie all push their guards into the Sarlacc’s gaping maw. And who could forget Princess Leia? While the men are brawling, she single handedly strangles Jabba the Hutt with the chains used to imprison her, all while in a bikini. Talk about iconic. Even in the face of tentacled pit monster, the Force will always win.
Kareem – Luke confronts Vader, ‘Episode VI: The Empire Strikes Back’
‘The Empire Strikes Back’ is a brilliant film, which gradually builds and builds in terms of world building, excitement and narrative tension. All of that climaxes in the arguably most well-known moment in modern pop-culture. But the impact of the infamous twist doesn’t come out of nowhere. There is some truly masterful filmmaking that leads up it – especially in terms of sound design.
Kershner decided to show an, for the franchise, extremely rare degree of restraint in terms of score. Instead; we get a audial texture consistent of Vader’s breathing, the humming of machinery and the sounds of colliding lightsabers. While there is dialogue too, there are moments, where human silence reigns, and we see these characters being subjected to the mystery of their surroundings, and perhaps to the circumstances, that brought them, a father and a son, into a situation that poses them as enemies to each other.
Mary Beth – Snokes’ Throne Room, ‘Episode VIII: The Last Jedi’
I’m weak for monochromatic set design, so you can imagine how Snokes’ throne brought me to my metaphorical knees. Rick Heinrichs, production designer for ‘The Last Jedi’, said that the idea behind the design was “to make anybody looking at it, whether they’re Resistance or anybody else, go weak in the knees.” I would say that goal was achieved. Besides the production value, this scene is a turning point for Rey. Her struggles throughout ‘The Last Jedi’ challenge what we’ve seen throughout the ‘Star Wars’ franchise, where good and evil, Jedi and Sith, were binaristic ways of thinking; we always knew who to cheer for. But now, it isn’t so clear. As Kylo Ren raises his hand and asks her to join him, there is doubt about what she will do. But she won’t succumb to his manipulation, knowing that despite coming from nothing, she still has an important part to play in this story.
Llewyn – The Boy and the Broom, ‘Episode VIII: The Last Jedi’
George Lucas, as infamous as he was for creating the prequels, once said that “[‘Star Wars’] is like a poetry, it rhymes.” Lucas’s Star Wars was about the Skywalkers, he centered an entire galaxy of characters on one specific family and their generational impact. Rian Johnson’s ‘The Last Jedi’ challenges all of those previous notions of legacy and patriarchy the prequels explored. In doing so, Rian gave the force back to the fans. Rey learns, same as we do, that you don’t need to come from a lineage of Jedi to become a hero. The ending scene to this subversive chapter in the ‘Star Wars‘ saga shows the abused child laborers we were introduced to back on Canto Bight, telling stories of the mythical Luke Skywalker before getting yelled at to continue cleaning. A boy, in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, grabs a broom using the force while no one was looking. The force theme plays as he looks into the sky. Sound familiar? This moment is a perfect encapsulation of everything ‘The Last Jedi‘ means. But as subversive as it was, it maintains the rhythm Lucas created.
Kareem – Holdo’s Sacrifice, ‘Episode VIII: The Last Jedi‘
Rian Johnson’s franchise-redefining masterpiece ‘The Last Jedi’ has an overarching refocus of the narrative towards the purpose, goals and the urgency of the rebellion. Since the prequels barely had a narrative of systematic rebellion, and the original trilogy tried to rather use it as a set-up for it’s grand, character-focused adventure arc, this might be only the second time (after ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’, which sadly didn’t quite hit the mark), that the rebellion as a concept is pulled into the spotlight. Johnson tries to grasp, what rebellion against a system means. It’s a fight that is very slight in terms of perspective. But exactly that last spark of perspective turns out to be the essence, and the task of the rebellion. When Admiral Holdo, wonderfully played by Laura Dern, crashes the commanding ship of the rebellion as the last remaining person onboard, into the First Order’s Star Destroyer, she unleashes the biggest spark imaginable. It’s a major breaking point in the narrative, and it reshapes the story arc of every other character in the film completely. Her altruism during that moment is specifically what keeps the rebellion alive.
As Megan has been off at BFI Flare, Kareem has kindly taken over the spotlight this month! Read on to hear his thoughts on the wonderful Maren Ade.
It’s a moment of overwhelming helplessness; Ines, an emotionally drained corporate consultant (and human being), lies on a couch of a Bucharestian club. Her body language is equal to, how Germans would say, “einem Schluck Wasser” (a gulp of water) and as the techno remix of “Safe and Sound” enters a phase of temporary tranquility before the beat drops, her eyes well up with tears as the words “I could lift you up” inhabit the entire room for a second – almost like a whispered promise of comfort, directly addressed to her. She looks over at Toni Erdmann, a wigged character with fake teeth, invented by her desperate father. She sees how helpless he himself is – the tears are an expression of the powerlessness against the emotional chasm between them. She knows how hard he tries, despite his feeling of impotence – maybe because he has no one else to turn to at this point. They are both deeply lonely people, torn apart by time, space and societal conventions of emotional self-oppression.
Toni Erdmann is a film about many things, but like German auteur Maren Ade’s entire body of work, especially about how disconnected we can be from each other and ourselves, and thus how lonely.
There is something wondrous about Vladan Radovic’s imagery in Daughter of Mine, Laura Bispuri’s warm and well-intentioned sophomore feature. The bright pink of candy cotton, the light blue of the sea, the flaming red of a girl’s head and all the other colours let the setting brim with beauty and liveliness. Everything looks gorgeous, but there is no stylization felt, the island of Sardinia is alive in a way that makes you feel the sand beneath your feet, the taste of salt water in your mouth and the warm sun on your skin.
In this landscape defined by nature, a story is told, that is fittingly defined by human nature – the story of the young Vittoria, excellently played the by incredible child (and first-time) actress Sara Casu, and her search for her “real” mother. At first everything seems to be fine in Vittoria’s life – she knows where her place is. Under the wings of Tina, a woman who tries to raise the girl as she seems to think is right, and with the aim to make her a good and stable person, she is protected and safe, but also isolated, as her interactions with her classmates show.
Christian Petzold tells emotionally rich, often female-led stories, which he intertwines closely with the settings they are located in. But he is most of all known for the stunning conclusions of his narratives – these moments have often been considered the best parts of his work, films like Phoenix and Barbara seem to only come full circle during their last beats. The reason for that, is Petzold’s way of letting the temporal and spatial aspects of the narrative fade into the background for a moment, narrowing his gaze down on the humanist, universal and timeless truths that the characters are confronted with.
With Transit, a mainly Marseille-set story about a man that gets caught up in complications of love and identity while trying to flee Europe as a refugee, it seems like he wants to reshape the way he tells these stories – it is a logical and very bold step forward in the context of his body of work.
Franz Rogowski and Paula Beer in TRANSIT. All rights to Schramm Film / The Match Factory
The film is an adaptation of Anna Segher’s World War II novel with the same name, but while the narrative is similar in general plot points and dialogue, the film removes it from its original historical context and reframes it into a modern-day setting. One would expect Petzold to adjust the story to that new setting, but he doesn’t. It’s very strange and feels borderline kafkaesque, but it works immensely well. The narrative manages to comment on its real-life context by highlighting universality instead of being specifically descriptive – the refugees of today’s Europe get a part of their story told too, even though the book template is broadly based on the experiences of refugees more than 70 years ago.
Trauma can be unbearable.
Joe has been trough a lot and his life is not exactly what you would call relaxed in any sense of the word. He is some sort of enforcer, his jobs eventually all leading to a point where his fist (or his hammer) will smash someone’s face in. One day he is assigned to retrieve a young girl from a sex trafficking ring, a job that disrupts his routine and thus his life, which palpably (and solely?) rests on latter.
This is not a completely new narrative at first glance, but it shows once again that cinema often finds its essence and its highs in the ‘how’ and not in the ‘what’. Not to say that this movie hasn’t got a brilliant story to tell, in the contrary – the narrative heights it reaches, affected me much more than I expected. But scottish indie darling Lynne Ramsay outdoes herself specifically from a directorial perspective, by creating a staggering crescendo of audiovisual composition, downright pressing the viewer further onto his seat with each passing minute and absorbing him on a level that is only achievable by a master of the cinematic language.
Here at Much Ado About Cinema, the focus tends to be on films – which is great, but that’s not all cinema amounts to. 2017 was also a great year for television, and there’s a lot of arguments to be made concerning the prestige of the format; with the popularity of netflix and the prominence of many highly-regarded directors flocking to the small screen, television is experiencing something of a resurgence in reputability. With this in mind, Much Ado will be incorporating more coverage of the medium as we head into 2018, and we thought we would begin with a look back on our favourite shows of 2017, from the surprising, to the disappointing, to the consistently brilliant.
To most, American Gods might seem no different than many other fantasy series that are on cable TV, or even the network: it has cool visuals, is based on a book series, and written in hopes of captivating its viewers via carefully crafted plot twists. Built on the already complex premise of Neil Gaiman’s book of the same name, creator Bryan Fuller and his team of writers manage to succesfully carry a transition between two mediums of storytelling by doing that one wouldn’t expect from such a genre, and focusing on the people that fantasy world rather than what makes the world a fantasy one. Of course, the fact that people are mostly the main reason that this world is magic does provide help on this subject to them, but even the visual work here is always about what it tells of instead of what it might show. Fuller might be best known for his visual perfection of Hannibal, but his work here can be even argued to exceed that. Eight episodes, each not longer than an hour, work as book chapters of their own — and they all have their own prologues in most cases, little, thematically coherent cold openings that tell smaller stories with little to no consequence, but are still able to create an impactful parallel with the bigger picture. When looked from afar, American Gods is a masterpiece of filmmaking and production — and that might even be enough for it to be considered as one of the best outings of the year: but the real present opens itself up when one begins to examine the work closely, and finds themselves in a labyrinth of significant questions abot love, life, belief and fate.
– Deniz Çakır