Friday, 23 December 2011

two oldies but goodies

Two amazing movies: one of the best ever documentaries; one of the most visually exquisite films ever made. First, The Thin Blue Line (1988), directed by Errol Morris the true story of the murder of a policeman in a Texan town. A grim and absolutely riveting chunk of lowlife exposing a dreadful miscarriage of US justice, it involved a mixture of corruption, malice and incompetence that resulted in the wrong man being convicted and despatched to Death Row. Uniquely and admirably, the filmmaker's dogged investigation into this crime proved instrumental in the innocent's belated release and the actual killer's eventual arrest and conviction. Apart from its vital crusading element, the film is brilliantly assembled – interviews trenchant and edgy, photography, editing and music all terrific. (The latter is by Philip Glass, what's more!) Gripping, grotesque and often blackly humorous, it's an indictment of ignorance, prejudice and the complete folly of judging by appearances.

A very different but equally extraordinary picture is Színdbad (1971), the wonderful Hungarian film directed by ill-fated, highly talented Zoltan Huszárak – dead at fifty and still scarcely known outside his homeland. The excellent Second Run outfit this year released a dvd of his single masterpiece: it's a film of breathtaking visual beauty, humorous, poignant and in the best sense truly colourful. In just 90 minutes, the eponymous protagonist is shown reflecting on his life of sensual indulgence: memories of food and women predominate, since Színdbad's a greedy connoisseur of both. Yet the singleminded pursuit of pleasure can't ever distract him from the awareness of time passing and of ageing, nor from the inevitability of that final encounter which always comprises the last voyage of every Sinbad. The film adapts some fictions dating from 1911-1912 by a well-known Hungarian author Gyula Krúdy – poetic, avant-garde for their time and, by reputation, extremely difficult to translate. It seems though that Huszárak accomplished the near-impossible in movie terms: if the narrative on first viewing appears baffling here and there, this stunning film absolutely holds the interest throughout. Spellbinding colour photography and editing, a fine central performance, and some of the strangest and most lingeringly beautiful images and sequences ever: think Ophuls, Renoir, Michael Powell, than whom there's no higher praise!

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