by NIR SHALEV
The Bad Sleep Well (1960) and Hamlet (1996)
The Bad Sleep Well is Akira Kurosawa’s corporate takeover film version of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It takes place in contemporary Japan and is gorgeously shot in black and white and in Cinemascope. It begins in the middle of Shakespeare’s story, where the Hamlet character (played by always trustworthy Toshiro Mifune) attempts to scare his bosses into betraying their guilt over having had a hand in the sudden “suicide” of his father. It resembles a fever dream and it contains a lot of expository dialogue that develops many characters throughout and reveals a great corporate conspiracy. And yes, there’s a ghost involved in the plot but not in the ethereal way.
Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet is the only film version of Shakespeare’s play that encompasses the play in its entirety on celluloid. It’s close to four hours in length, shot on 70mm film stock, and takes place during Victorian England. The castles and costumes used in the film are gorgeous and yet they’re all overshadowed by the magnificent performances of Kenneth Branagh (Hamlet), Derek Jacobi (Claudius), Julie Christie (Gertrude), Kate Winslet (Ophelia), Michael Maloney (Laertes), Judi Dench, Charlton Heston, Jack Lemmon, Rufus Sewell, Timothy Spall, Brian Blessed, Gérard Depardieu, Billy Chrystal, Robin Williams, and more and more….
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) and Shutter Island (2010)
Director Robert Wiene and famed German actor Conrad Veidt (of Casablanca fame) teamed up for a delirious, deranged, and delightfully dream-like venture into the mind of a psychotic. We don’t know it until the very end but once the giant plot twist is in place, it explains everything that we’ve just watched: the crooked and deranged architecture, painted on cardboard models of houses and streets; the story of a deranged doctor whose somnambulist Cesare (Veidt) can predict the future of people’s lives and then make their deaths happen; and the masterful German expressionistic vibe, look, and feel of the entire project that will remain burned into the minds of everyone who watches this film.
Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island was a tad disappointing because I managed to predict its ending simply by watching the trailer to the film. I was immediately reminded of Caligari and almost made a (winning) bet with a friend of mine as to what would happen at the end. It’s an eerie film, terrifically shot with exquisite details that showcase perfectly the decade of the 1950s, and it has a huge twist ending with a smaller, more impactful twist ending topped on. It must be followed up with Caligari, though.
Metropolis (1927) and Metropolis (2001)
Coming after his other masterpieces like Destiny (1921), Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (1922), and Die Nibelungen (1924), Fritz Lang’s Metropolis hit audiences and critics with a punch.* Its audacious architectural designs of the perfect metropolis and the terrible underground Worker’s City is still a marvel to behold; the story of finding the mediator between the head and the heart; and the crazy inventor Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), who builds a Machine Man in order to take over the upcoming underground rebellion all contain indelible images.** The scope of the city, built entirely with miniature models, the inventiveness of its futuristic look, and its iconic Machine Man design will never be forgotten amongst science fiction fans and cinephiles in general.
Osamu Tezuka’s famous Astroboy manga and anime adaptations are known as classics today, but perhaps his grossly underappreciated Metropolis manga was even more groundbreaking because it had real messages behind it. This 2001 animated film version, seen by unfortunately few people, contains some of the most magnificent animation and graphics that I’ve ever seen in the medium. It also contains a world that completely sucks in the audience. Instead of just the metropolis and the underground city, five layers of cities, known as Zones, exist beneath the ground. Even though they’re mostly populated by human beings, robots also share the living space. The robots are basically the “colored” characters in this world and take on terrific amounts of prejudice. But the story deals with the city/cities creator replacing his deceased daughter with a machine replica in order to feel happy again. This film is a must see for anime fans, for sci-fi fans, and for anyone who will take my word on it: it’s great.
*In an interesting cinematic what-if, Fritz Lang was supposed to direct Caligari but stepped out in order to shoot a two-part, Indiana Jones-type action/adventure film called The Spiders (1919-1920).
**There’s a fascinating essay composed by famed author H.G. Welles that spells out his dislike for the film and its failure to make sense. It’s a fun read!
New releases this week: Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff, Double Dhamaal, Mars Needs Moms, Paul, Super, Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam, Your Highness