In this new series of articles, our writers are watching classic films for the first time. This time we have Nick Davie catching up on the classic 1941 Orson Welles epic Citizen Kane.
The seminal Hollywood classic Citizen Kane comes with a lofty reputation, as perhaps the most well-known and highly-rated film of the classical era. This is a film deeply entrenched within its hubris, almost impossible to avoid its cinematic legacy and technical mastery. It stylistically captures influences from European expressionist films, with compositions reminiscent of Renoir, and a taste for the grandeur of classical Hollywood studio films.
Telling the story backwards, this quintessential Welles parable follows the death and life of news magnate Charles Foster Kane (played by Welles). In a series of reflections from those closest to him, reporters chase the meaning of Kane’s final utterance, ‘Rosebud’. We are taken back to Kane’s childhood, where he is taken from his home and becomes a ward to a wealthy industrialist. Rosebud refers, obliquely, to this change: the final moments of childhood happiness and innocence, and the catalyst for a lifetime of self-indulgence and self destructive behaviour.
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This month’s retrospective focuses on one of Classic Hollywood’s most beloved actresses. Known for her sense of fashion and screen presence, Audrey Hepburn elevates each film she performs in from the dramatic The Children’s Hour to the thrilling Wait Until Dark. Dabbling into musical performances, Hepburn demonstrates a strong versatility in acting that one might not realize if one hasn’t delved into her filmography beyond the classics. Read below to join us in exploring Audrey Hepburn’s films in the latest entry in our monthly column:
Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
By Nick Davie
Perhaps Hepburn’s most famous performance, as the socialite Holly Golightly, often found frequenting New York’s Tiffany’s jewellery store, has her life altered when she falls for creative new neighbour Paul Varjak (George Peppard). The role of Golightly perfectly portrayed by Hepburn, who brilliantly combines the naivety and eccentricity of the 50s extroverted party-girl. Breakfast at Tiffany’s character Holly became the Hepburn prototype for her other notable roles, such as Regina in Charade and Gabrielle/Gaby in Paris When It Sizzles. The influential role of Holly Golightly would see Hepburn nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role at the Oscars and further embed her status as a cultural icon for years to come. The role is perhaps not credited enough for its nuanced observations about Golightly’s past that she so desperately tries to hide and deny. Whilst money-centric, naive and ostentatious, Holly hides her youthful marriage from new romance Paul, creating a witty back and forth between the pair. Though the film’s politics and portrayal of minorities are somewhat outdated and questionable on reflection, the performance of Hepburn in the adaptation of Truman Capote’s novella is still considered a career high-point. A role Capote himself had earmarked for Marilyn Monroe, an alleged Paramount double crossing led to Hepburn’s casting- Monroe would be left disappointed, but Hepburn etched furthermore into Hollywood history.
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Céline Sciamma is having a moment. Following last year’s festival debut and this year’s cinematic release of Portrait of a Lady on Fire, she is currently the subject of MUBI UK’s ‘Focus On’ retrospective. This programme explores Sciamma’s refreshing coming-of-age dramas centring around themes of sexuality, gender identity, and marginal lives. Portrait has been featured, as will Tomboy (2011) and Girlhood (2014). The most recent addition is Sciamma’s 2007 debut Water Lilies, a tender portrait of young love and self-discovery in the waters of a suburban French swimming pool.
Water Lilies was first selected for screening at Cannes 2007, in the Un certain regard programme that celebrates unorthodox storytelling. The film then earned Sciamma a Best Debut nomination at the 2008 Cesars, and stars Adèle Haenel and Louise Blachère were both nominated for Most Promising Actress. Water Lilies is a dynamic, idiosyncratic coming-of-age story that dips its toe into the waters of desire – and the confusion that follows this early discovery. A recurrent theme in Sciamma’s filmography is her unique and individual perception of lust, love, loss, and the resulting melancholic introspection. Her films overtly explore the complexities of womanhood, and her depiction of the female experience using the female gaze is rarely present in cinema.
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Eugene Kang: With the lack of new releases readily available to cinephiles hungry for content, many of us have looked to the past to catch up on some beloved classics or continue our film education. The Criterion Channel is an invaluable asset for such adventurous moviegoers, and the good folks there have brought back a popular series from last year: Columbia Noir. While noir films (or “melodramas” or “crime dramas” as they were called back then) were certainly not exclusive to Columbia Pictures, the studio played host to some of the most interesting works from recognized auteurs such as Orson Welles and Fritz Lang to directors who were mostly underappreciated during their lifetimes but have since grown in reputation (Joseph H. Lewis and Nicholas Ray, the director of our chosen feature). In a Lonely Place follows screenwriter Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart) who hasn’t had a success since before World War II. He has a short and violent temper and is generally antisocial, and to make matters worse, finds himself embroiled in a murder in which he seems to be the most likely suspect. Everyone he interacts with is affected by him negatively, no one more so than his neighbor Laurel (Gloria Grahame). I personally have seen the film before, but I was wondering what your experiences with this film, Bogart or noir in general have been to provide some context for our discussion?
Henry Baime: I’ve seen loads of noirs and most of Bogart’s most well known films but there were a few pretty notable films I’d missed out on that I’ve been trying to catch up on recently. In a Lonely Place was one of those films that I hadn’t seen until I moved it to the top of my watchlist to prepare for this discussion. Though The Maltese Falcon remains my favorite Bogart film and my favorite noir and I don’t really see that ever changing, In a Lonely Place was superb and Bogart just might be better there than in anything else.
Nick Davie: I had only seen a handful of Bogart’s films, and this was my first viewing of In a Lonely Place, it was a great film noir experience and I was absolutely transfixed by Bogart as Dix. I didn’t want to go in totally blind to this, I read that Louise Brooks (Lulu), one of silent cinema’s stars and a friend of Bogart described his performance as Dix as the closest he ever came to himself on film. Like Henry, my favourite noir is The Maltese Falconbut I absolutely loved In a Lonely Place, it seemed like so much of the information we got from plot to script was used so well and nothing felt wasted.
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Pleased to announce I have joined the great team of writers at One Room With A View, look out for words over the next few weeks and months, unsure as when due to the Covid-19 pandemic but it is exciting to join another great film community. Please check out their site, linked above and their twitter.etc linked via the site.
Also working on something for Cineccentric, regarding Criterion releases and having a closer look at Joseph Losey on Mubi…
Cast: Roberto Benigni, Steven Wright, Joie Lee, Cinqué Lee, Steve Buscemi, Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, Joseph Rigano, Vinny Vella, Vinny Vella Jr., Renee French, E.J. Rodriguez, Alex Descas, Isaach De Bankolé, Cate Blanchett, Meg White, Jack White, Alfred Molina, Steve Coogan, Bill Murray, William Rice, Taylor Mead, RZA, The GZA
Available on: Mubi (UK) – Prime Channel
The aptly titled anthology film is a series of 11 short stories set in various American cafés and diners, featuring many of Jarmusch’s regular collaborators. Traversing the vast wilderness of the soul, the mythology of Nikola Tesla, champagne nostalgia, and awkward family ties amidst the constant consumption of coffee and cigarettes. Perhaps vestigial and spiritual products of a bygone era of Americana and its surviving remnants, the ‘cup of joe’ and ‘smoke’ are still with us, but perhaps there exists a nostalgia for a time the two lived closer together. Now more consigned to the on-the-go cup and designated area, 17 years later the film stands firm as a tribute to these iconic products and their spiritual impact on American culture.
Cast: Haley Lu Richardson, John Cho, Parker Posey
Available on: Amazon Prime
An absorbing architectural drama that would be South Korean-born American writer and director Kogonada’s first feature film. Having spent several years making video essays on film, Kogonada’s debut is a tale of soul-searching amidst the buildings of Columbus, Indiana. Bearing nuanced similarities to Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation and the wistful thematic elements and leitmotifs used by Yasujiro Ozu. Deep platonic care grows between two people at different stages of their lives, finding solace and reprieve in each other.
A young, enthusiastic but somewhat inertly wounded Casey offers Jin, also hurting, the son of a dying famed architect a cigarette, the pair strike up an awkward by-chance friendship. Whilst remaining a poignant ode to the reverence of architecture, this motif that informs their relationship has a different meaning for both protagonists but still connects the pair. Defying tropes, the characters are well written, particularly Casey, rejecting the manic pixie dream girl format, is granted welcomed agency, functioning as a tour guide for complex brooding Jin but she herself is also navigating around negation of pain, self-discovery, and modernist buildings.