Screening Log: 2/3 – 2/10

The House of the Devil (West, 2009) – The slow burn of Horror, every shot precisely retrograded to brilliantly reference a menacing slice of voyeuristic nostalgia. West uses silence  like a knife, peeling away his protagonist’s safety one layer at a time. The stalking credit sequence is not only a throwback usage of freeze frames, but a stunning photo album of one woman’s grey, empty, and conflicted universe. It provides a wonderfully diverse parallel to the film’s bonkers ending, a scattered and messy piece de resistance against the devil himself. Guess who wins?

The Bicycle Thief (De Sica, 1948) – For my money the best way to introduce Italian Neorealism to a group of non-film majors. Maybe it’s De Sica’s masterful use of the roving medium shot, but I’m always drawn to Bruno and his crumbling facade of strength. Also, one of the most depressing endings in film history, and rightfully so.

Rear Window (Hitchcock, 1954) – Hadn’t seen this in years, but decided to show it to my students for Hitchcock night. Still might be my favorite Hitch, the way his meticulously meandering camera scales walls and window panes like a thief in the night, subverting POV at every turn until we can’t trust anything we’ve seen. Basically a greatest/worst hits of martial bliss, with all the quiet and lovely moments in between. Still think each window represents a different future path Jefferies could take, as his reality slowly gets consumed by his perception of guilt, love, and responsibility. And has there been anyone more classically striking than Grace Kelly? Maybe the best American film of the 1950’s.

The Palm Beach Story (Sturges, 1942) – The best Screwball Comedy ever? Count me in. Sturges at his most charming and sublime, existing simply to hear wit seamlessly bounce back and forth like a tennis match in the clouds. Here’s another credit sequence that freezes, but this time to excentuate complex romantic history in all its zany glory. Sturges decides to end the film with another whimsical twist of fate, layering our perception of character times three. Brilliant in every sense.

Two Women (De Sica, 1960)

Sofia Loren won an Oscar for her performance as Cesira, the beautiful and determined mother of a saintly pre-teen named Rosetta. Both are driven from Rome by American bombings and the imminent battle of supremacy between the Allies and the Axis, Cesira deathly afraid her daughter will be caught in the middle. Ironically, they find danger anyways. Fleeing into the countryside, the two are seemingly hounded by every Italian, German, Russian, American, and finally Moroccan they meet. While Loren’s performance is the heart and soul of the film, the rest leaves a lot to be desired. The arc of the story is intentionally banal, building toward an ominous moment which ends up being a brutally shocking ending. What stands out most is the brilliant sound design that acts as the audio equivalent to De Sica’ s male gaze which stalks mother and daughter throughout. We hear the bombers, troops marching, cat calls from trains, jeeps racing by, and laughter from passing peasants. Like Cesira and Rosetta, we never forget the presence of the male perspective and it’s a suffocating realization. This aspect of Two Women is haunting and when the final violence strikes, the fear completely justified. However, the slow pacing for most of the film builds little character outside of the obvious, basically taking a neo-realist 101 approach to theme and execution. De Sica’s done better.