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Philistines! (Floating Weeds thread)


SansFin
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I have been waiting patiently for some person to note that TCM's Silent Sunday Night and TCM Imports are a very rare treat.

 

Both movies have risen to such heights that they waft in the thinnest atmosphere few others attain. They are both triple threats: they are incredibly important movies, they exhibit the best cinematography of any era and they are wonderfully touching, moving and thoughtful movies.

 

Alas, my wait was in vain. No one here seems to care about great art, great entertainment or great programming.

 

*A Story of Floating Weeds* (1934) is Ozu's seminal work. The story's depth transcends the melodrama of typical silents. Ozu's women are strong, enduring, funny and weak in love. The images speak in concise and yet rich ways. This is a simple tale of love, jealousy, betrayal, disillusionment and revenge captured on film by a master.

 

*Floating Weeds* (1959) is a rare example of a story so powerful it must be retold. The only great difference is the composition of the images because of the color and the pacing is slower. It retains the power, the tenderness, the rage and the deep human drama.

 

I wish the staff at TCM to know that this presentation is greatly appreciated by some of us even if the majority on this board are Philistines who do not know great and wonderful things when served up to them on a silver platter!

 

Edited by: SansFin on Jan 16, 2012 12:22 AM

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I am very happy to see that I was correct that some here do appreciate these wonderful movies.

 

I wish some person who is more eloquent than I and whose writing has strength would have posted to alert others and convince them to watch movies they might normally avoid because they are silent or foreign.

 

The greatest difference between the versions is that the 1959 version has a slower pace and is very nearly languid while the 1934 version is crisp and concise.

 

My greatest hope now is that the impending storm misses us so I do not lose the signal!

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I don't know if I am more eloquent than you, or eloquent at all, but I will try to put down what I think are the elements of Ozu's greatness. He is a master of composition, equaled only, in my mind, by William Wyler. His shots are apparently simple, but on examination reveal themselves to be carefully constructed. He uses almost no camera movement, no pans or tilts, and only rarely tracking shots. The camera is usually placed square to the major axes of the setting, minimizing diagonals and sharp angles, and low to the ground, especially indoors, at the level people habitually sit. In this he echoes the rectilinear elements of Japanese architecture, and the way the Japanese live in it. His visual composition reflects the method he constructs his stories, using simple elements, related in a restrained manner, repeated, layered, and gradually elaborated to create, in the end a complex and profound effect. Robert Osborn touched on this in his introduction to the silent version. His topics center on domestic themes, small struggles and crises, usually centering on marriage, that start off prosaic and low-key, and have you regarding the characters in them with mild detached interest; yet as the story develops, with the aforesaid methods of repetition, layering, and gradual elaboration, subtly drawing you in to their lives until by the end when the plot resolutions come, you are startled to realize how deeply involved you have become with them. The only other director to accomplish this is Satyajit Ray (who with Ozu and Wyler form my triumvirate of the greatest directors).

 

Of course, there is a lot I know I am missing, both visually and in terms of the story, because of my ignorance of Japanese culture. A lot of the symbolism, wit, and sublety that would be readily apparent to a Japanese audience is lost on me.

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Some things from the intros to both films that irked me...

 

"Spritual" - Ozu's concerns were entirely earthbound, spiritual life had little place in his films. One of the reasons Ozu has become a major touchstone for contemporary filmmakers is that he taps into some broader human feeling about every day life, something pretty much everyone can relate to. To return to Paul Schrader's model, I find nothing in common with Robert Bresson and Carl Theodor Dreyer, and on a personal level, I relate to and feel about Ozu's films in an entirely different way than I do with Bresson or Dreyer.

 

"Little influence of western cinema" - Highly debatable. You could just as easily put "eastern" in there (but then what is "eastern" cinema - I'd suggest it never existed.) Ozu wasn't interested in Japanese films growing up, it was American cinema that sparked his interest in filmmaking. The Japanese studios pursued the American production model in the 1920s and all of the young filmmakers of the period were focused towards the modern things and western style. When Ozu started out you can see clear traces of Harold Lloyd, Josef von Sternberg, and, especially, Ernst Lubitsch in his work but he eventually dropped overt homages. In his own words, "I have formulated my own directing style in my head, proceeding without any unnecessary imitation of others."

 

When Ozu wasn't distributed in the west in the 1950s for being "Too Japanese", I think the executives probably thought the genre Ozu worked in and the subject matter wouldn't interest Americans and Europeans. This was Shochiku afterall, the most stratified and regulated of the major Japanese studios. We would likely think the Japanese would have no interest in the common American television shows of the 1950s and 1960s - this is what the Shochiku executives basically thought of the films they made; plain entertainment for the middle class Japanese audience. Period films, Samurai films, and Chanbara are exotic and easy to promote to other cultures but a business man dealing with everyday family issues...they couldn't see the point. Simple shortsightedness.

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> I don't know if I am more eloquent than you, or eloquent at all, but I will try to put down what I think are the elements of Ozu's greatness. He is a master of composition, equaled only, in my mind, by William Wyler.

I think this is a rather odd statement. There's no greater admirer of Wyler's work than me, but even I wouldn't call him a "master of composition." The conception and framing of his shots were impeccable, as one would expect, but he was no great visual stylist like John Ford or Orson Welles. It is, in fact, precisely the quietly appropriate camera work in his films that has kept him from being a darling of the cineastes and Cahiers du Cinéma crowd like the abovementioed directors, as well as the likes of Howard Hawks, Anthony Mann and Nicholas Ray (who, for all their talent, stand in Wyler's shadow, as far as I'm concerned).

 

No, Wyler's greatness lay in his unmatched ability to elicit the best work of his writers and actors in service of the story, giving his films exceptional depth and truth in their emotional landscape. He was notoriously inarticulate at communicating to his actors how he wanted them to approach their parts and what he wanted them to do, but he knew what he wanted and would keep at it until that bit of magic in the performances he envisioned appeared.

 

 

With Wyler, it was all about that story and the film, and not about drawing attention to himself, which has been the downfall of countless directors more concerned with making it clear how brilliant they are.

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I believe there is a distinct difference in framing scenes. Western directors chose a box in which their tale is acted. Japanese directors make it part of the story. They treat the setting as a character.

 

The greatest influence of western movies on Japanese directors is raising the camera level and increasing the camera moves. It is traditional for the camera to be set at the eye level of a kneeling person and the action takes place as if on a stage.

 

I do not believe it is possible to identify or trace other western influences except where the director acknowledges them. If one director saw a thing he liked done in a western movie he might have adapted it for his own film and then a director who has never seen a western film see his countryman's film and likes the thing without knowing it was adapted and he incorporates a version of it into his work. Such adaptations, growths and evolutions happen in all aspects of cinematography, character development and plot.

 

I hope all enjoyed the rare treat TCM gave us!

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Wyler certainly didn't have the muscular style of directing of the likes of Ford, Hawkes, or Welles. But that doesn't mean his images aren't exquisitely constructed. The fact he is not more greatly appreciated by the Cahiers crowd, if I may take your assessment at face value, is more a reflection thier priorities in rating directors than on Wyler's lack of mastery. You only need to watch The Heiress to find evidence of the refinement of his compositions. Perhaps it is degree to which he integrates the visuals with the storyline that makes his ability less apparent.

 

And he could also knock out the action movies better than most. After all, he made Ben Hur.

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Whether characters are kneeling or not, one of the oldest and most basic truisms in filmmaking is that an eye-level camera is a boring camera. One eitther places its line of sight slightly above of below the characters' eyes.

 

And while modern directors may be all about pointless trackings and pannings and swoopings of their cameras, the classic Hollywood style, as exemplified by John Ford, was to just lock it down and let the scene play, unless one was following something that was, itself, moving. Ford rarely imployed tracking shots of stationary subjects (there are a few notable exceptions to this, of course).

 

A film frame also isn't about mere up-and-down, right-and-left, but front-to-back, and only great visual directors really understand this and know how to join their frames' foregrounds organically with the backgrounds. Ford could, and Welles, and John Frankenheimer, but the number who really knew how to make that background a living, breathing character were few.

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I only watched "A Story of Floating Weeds" (1934) silent last night because I wanted to see a true Japanese film made for their movie goers and not a bit concerned if the west likes or cares for it or not.

 

All Japanese movies I've seen so far is post World War II films like "Godzilla" and this movie showed us their old way of living. There was not a single English word anywhere.

 

Noticed the large filament loops in their light bulbs?

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I prefer the Silent version. The sound remake from the late 50's doesn't have the same Sweetness to it. Seems much harsher. And to literal, lacking the simplicity.The added color and dialogue didn't result in a better film. The original Silent was allot more touching. I was glad to see both of these shown on TCM.

 

I think TCM has played all of the OZU Silents that Criterion released on DVD not. So maybe it is a good sign that where with other Silent Box set's where TCM has only aired one or two films we will be seeing those neglected so far, sometime in the future.

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> {quote:title=gagman66 wrote:}{quote}

> I prefer the Silent version. The sound remake from the late 50's doesn't have the same Sweetness to it. Seems much harsher. And to literal, lacking the simplicity.The added color and dialogue didn't result in a better film. The original Silent was allot more touching. I was glad to see both of these shown on TCM.

 

I prefer the pacing of the early version. It seems to me more precise.

 

I love the remake very much. I believe only the original can overshadow it.

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Seems some of this could work on the "Marilyn/Whitman" thread...

 

"What do you think of Ozu?"

"Eh! I prefer schnapps!"

 

I have not seen the films in question, and for all I know, I may never have seen an Ozu film.

 

So, THAT means I don't like "great art"?

 

Well, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH!

 

I don't care much for Jackson Pollack's work, either. THIS makes me a PHILISTINE?

 

Just how stuffed IS your shirt? Now, I'm not claiming the films you mention aren't of any interest to me. For all I know, I might enjoy them immensly. But please, please, PLEASE don't make any presumptions about anyone's appreciation of art simply because they don't respond to your tastes the way you THINK they should, Alrighty?

 

And is *Godzilla* the only post-war Japanese film the one poster could think of? Was not *Roshamon* post-war? I'm certain *Seven Samurai* was. Plus a whole host of other fine Japanese films. Ignorance of another country's culture shouldn't be too much of a barrier to a film's enjoyment. After a few viewings, it might get easier to catch the gist. After all, it took me four viewings of *The Full Monty* just to understand everything they were saying!

 

 

And although nobody really cares, I prefer WILDER to WYLER.

 

 

Sepiatone

 

 

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I was glad that TCM ran both films. I have the Criterion DVD with both versions.

I have to agree, I liked the silent version a bit better than the remake. Both films are very good, but I liked the pace of the silent version. I hope that TCM will be able to run some of the silent films of Mikio Naruse too. I recently got the Criterion boxed set of Naruse silent films, and they are really good too. :)

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> {quote:title=Sepiatone wrote:}{quote}

> I have not seen the films in question, and for all I know, I may never have seen an Ozu film.

> So, THAT means I don't like "great art"?

 

If you have not seen them you could not be expected to post about them.

 

It is people who have seen them and decided to not post that drove me to post. It is then a situation where either they do not appreciate the movies' artistry or they did not care to alert others to these masterpieces. I remember an old saying: "if you have a friend who drinks vodka and who knows you do not and they have never offered you any then find a new friend as that one does not like you very much". I felt that is what they were doing.

 

I had greatly hoped that someone who is eloquent would post in a manner which would elicit interest because I know there are people who are not interested in silent movies or foreign movies and so they would not normally watch these. I feel Ozu's work in general and these movies in particular transcend those classifications and that the great majority would feel enriched by the experience of seeing something outside their usual preferences.

 

> THIS makes me a PHILISTINE?

 

I am more than a little surprised that no one called me out about my use of the term. Recent archaeological evidence has shown that the Philistines were a cultured people and decorated even simple drinking bowls. It has been conjectured that their art was of the highest order for the era in that region. Their reputation as uncouth louts was created by their enemy as part of self-serving propaganda much in the same way the Romans vilified the Vandals.

 

I can not comment on the artist you mentioned as I have never heard of him or her.

 

> Just how stuffed IS your shirt?

 

It is a blouse and not a shirt and I have been told that while it is not "stuffed" it is filled very nicely. :)

 

> Now, I'm not claiming the films you mention aren't of any interest to me. For all I know, I might enjoy them immensly. But please, please, PLEASE don't make any presumptions about anyone's appreciation of art simply because they don't respond to your tastes the way you THINK they should, Alrighty?

 

I try to be efficient.

 

When I have posted in the past to alert people to movies they might not know the posts are nearly universally ignored. On the rare occasions when there have been many responses they were to argue with me about the movie's worth.

 

By taking that experience as standard I can extrapolate that the method which will provoke the most interest in a thread and therefore create the most exposure of the movies being aired is to come out of the box rip-roaring ready for a fight.

 

That theory has been proven as this is probably the longest thread which has sprouted from one of my posts.

 

It is the squeaky wheel that gets the grease and all that . . .

 

> Ignorance of another country's culture shouldn't be too much of a barrier to a film's enjoyment.

 

It is a feature of Ozu's work that you do not need to know a great deal of Japanese culture in order to connect to the characters because he shows what you need to know. His composition of scenes includes all of the forces affecting the characters. He directs the action in such a way that it is apparent what is done because of social norms and what comes out of the character's personality.

 

I found I had an excellent grounding in Japanese culture when I visited there because I had seen so many of his films. The same was not true of other countries and their films.

 

> After all, it took me four viewings of *The Full Monty* just to understand everything they were saying!

 

BBC America once had advertisements to advise people to use Closed Captioning so that American viewers could understand the accents.

 

> And although nobody really cares, I prefer WILDER to WYLER.

 

Billy Wilder or Gene Wilder? :)

 

I hope you truly did not take great offense or feel hurt by my post. It was not my intention to insult any specific person. I am a gentle soul. Most of the time. I mean I probably could be if I ever tried. I am over-the-top outrageous at times strictly for comic or sarcastic effect. I do this in person to great effect and I am rarely misunderstood. My failing is that I am not yet so proficient in writing English that I can make plain my tone and for that I humbly apologize.

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I also prefer the silent version, an opinion I haven't changed since the first time I saw these films, among the most beautiful looking films Ozu ever made and one of his best silents. The color Floating Weeds probably ranks at the bottom of my list of Ozu's color films (but as Ozu is first and foremost among my favorite artists that simply means its still better than 99% of the stuff out there.)

 

But I think part of the problem might be what Criterion did to the colors - it isn't as bad as their DVD of Good Morning, but they've completely altered Ozu's clearly defined color palette. The ordinary reds seem oversaturated and it seeps into the skin color which should look simply like average Asian tones. The blues too seem overdone; an Ozu sky should be pale blue with the slightest hint of green. The result is that everything seems quite harsh and garish where they should be soft and pleasing. Floating Weeds seems more deliberate and heavy than Ozu normally is, so an inadequate color reproduction really can affect the film adversely.

 

Most of the Criterion color Ozus seem afflicted to some degree, only Late Autumn seems completely untouched (Equinox Flower and An Autumn Afternoon look okay despite the boosted reds but the new BFI Blu-rays have nailed the colors down properly.) It'll be interesting to see how the eventual BFI Blu-ray release of Floating Weeds looks.

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Where are you from, Sans? Somethng about the way you write betrays either a classic education or a foreign influence. Truth be known, I don't drink, and get annoyed with people I know who know I don't drink that keep pushing liquor in my face. *Those* are the friends I should change ( as most of them are in-laws, changing them can get expensive!).

 

 

MY rant, Sans, was in the wording of your original post, which made it sound(to ME, anyway) that you had disgust for anyone who didn't like Ozu like you did. My apologies if this wasn't the case. If the thread was simply an inqiry of who here had seen the presentation, and gee, what did you think? I wouldn't have replied. Simply because I hadn't. But I can appreciate your frustration on other levels. But here's an old idea that still works: when you're angry at someone about anything, sit down immediately and write them a letter. Say everything you feel at that exact moment. But don't send it right away. Read it a day or two later, and then decide if you still want to send it. Chances are you'll wind up tearing the letter to shreds.

 

 

Your comment about not having a "stuffed shirt" but rather a nicely stuffed blouse now has me intrigued.

 

 

And either Wilder will suffice!

 

 

Sepiatone

 

 

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> {quote:title=Sepiatone wrote:}{quote}

> Where are you from, Sans? Somethng about the way you write betrays either a classic education or a foreign influence.

 

I am from Odessa in Ukraine. In school we had the option to learn to understand and speak a foreign language or to read, write, understand and speak it. I chose the first because I loved American movies and we watched a movie each week!

 

I learned to read English several years later as part of my work. I have always loved to read and this allowed me to also read untranslated works. I quickly fell in love with Shakespeare, Bacon and Milton whom I had never truly understood before then. It opened also the world of modern British and American fiction.

 

I had never seriously tried to write English before I came to America. It is a requirement if I am to become a citizen. My esso is a writer and he has helped me in many ways. He made me join this forum so that I would have a reason to write it frequently and to write it in ways that were not mindless exercises.

 

> Truth be known, I don't drink, and get annoyed with people I know who know I don't drink that keep pushing liquor in my face.

 

Those are also friends who do not like you.

 

> MY rant, Sans, was in the wording of your original post, which made it sound(to ME, anyway) that you had disgust for anyone who didn't like Ozu like you did.

 

I believed that starting the tirade by calling people Philistines would defuse any hint of true animosity. Would you take a person seriously if they marched into a room and called all there Philistines? The worst case is that you might question their sanity. I would never say or write any thing if I was worried that people would know how crazy I am.

 

It is my fault and you have my apologies that my writing did not convey the tone which I meant it to exhibit.

 

> Your comment about not having a "stuffed shirt" but rather a nicely stuffed blouse now has me intrigued.

 

I thank you for the sentiment. :) You should perhaps know that I have been engaged for forty years to the man who posts here as Capuchin.

 

> And either Wilder will suffice!

 

That is good to know! I would hate to have to chose between *Avanti* (1972) and *The Woman in Red* (1984) as which is my favorite movie of that type. :)

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