"Delineating between documentary (the research-based lecture), fiction (the narrative segments), and meta-commentary (asides referring to events that may or may not have occurred during filming), Benjamin Christensen has created an enquiry into both the historical and contemporary role of “the occult” and “religion” in society. At the same time, he has also crafted an extraordinarily detailed example of the macabre, one that revels in dark corners, shadowy figures, hallucinatory specters, gnarled corpses, and grotesqueries that had rarely been seen before, and even now – eighty six years later – can hold its own against any modern computer generated effects. Häxan’s power to fascinate, disturb, entertain, and enlighten, have only grown over time, the true sign of a masterpiece."
Taking Father Home is a marvel of low-budget filmmaking: a debut feature film shot on a borrowed video camera for less than $5,000, using friends and non-professionals for actors, and all without the permission of the Chinese government. Director Ying Liang trumps every technical and economic limitation through his highly refined visual sensibility, as elegant as it is imaginative. And yet it’s rather limiting to consider the film only in terms of its “limitations”—Ying makes no excuses for its rough-around-the-edges quality, which only adds to its DIY attitude.
"Whereas the nurse of Casa de Lava and the narrator of Cargo represent the gaze of outsiders looking in, Kent MacKenzie’s docu-fiction hybrid The Exiles (1961) represents the insider speaking out. Examining the everyday lives of a Native American community in 1960s Bunker Hill, Los Angeles, the narration of The Exiles is culled from interviews with the film’s subjects. Recently rescued from obscurity by Milestone Films, The Exiles is nothing short of a revelation: a West Coast Shadows (1959), of sorts, in which MacKenzie captures the anxieties of assimilation and the tensions surrounding ethnic identity in a big city melting pot."
"Celia Johnson appeared in Lean’s next film (and first solo directorial effort) This Happy Breed (1944). Johnson is perfect as Lean’s middle-class muse, wide-eyed with dreams that would eventually be crushed by domestic disappointment. Ronald Neame’s creamy Technicolor photography elevates this story of “common people” to tragic heights: after his return from the first world war, a husband and his wife set down roots in a small town and start a family. Instead of the idealistic happiness of their dreams, the husband and wife become witnesses to their children’s disappointment, disaster, and even death. In This Happy Breed, the home becomes a landscape of human suffering, discontent, and uncertainty, all rendered through Lean’s exquisite direction and restrained performances of the cast."
"The line between what is and is not real in We Can’t Go Home Again is more than just a blur: it’s downright schizophrenic. And not just to the extent that its narrative mirrors the circumstances in which it was made – Nicholas Ray, weary after decades of Hollywood filmmaking, assumes a teaching position at the State University of New York at Binghamton and instructs his students through a collaborative feature-film endeavor – but to the possibility that what we are witnessing is the manifestation of Ray’s own mental breakdown."
"The Janitor is at once the result of a few days of furious filmmaking, working through the night, and inspired improvisation, and the accumulation of a lifetime of preoccupations, neuroses, and anxieties. Like his previous film, We Can’t Go Home Again, The Janitor continues to push the divide between the new and old “Nicholas Ray”—the revolutionary experimenter and the Hollywood auteur. But whereas We Can’t Go Home Again expressed Ray’s reluctant optimism—his hope for a younger generation—The Janitor is decidedly misanthropic..."
Cullen Gallagher is a Brooklyn-based writer, musician, and curator whose work has appeared in The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Life Sentence, Moving Image Source, Bright Lights Film Journal, Beat to a Pulp, NoirCon, Crimefactory, Film Comment, The L Magazine, The Brooklyn Rail, Fandor, Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Hammer to Nail, Spinetingler, Between Lavas, Reverse Shot, and Guitar Review. He records instrumental music as Modern Silent Cinema and plays in the hardcore band Night Squad.