The Master Builder (1958, UK)
My favorite way to view Ibsen’s Byggmester Solness is as a preview of the rise (and – spoiler alert – fall) of fascism. The connection seemed obvious to me the first time I saw it. Solness believes that certain chosen people have the power to bend the world to their will, and he wishes for the sort of sturdy viking’s conscience that allows you take what you like without feeling bad about it. So he’s a proto-fascist. Later I learned that this is not a common interpretation. Don’t ask me why. Watched it all.
Ivan Brovkin na tseline (1958, USSR)
Not all late 50s Soviet movies portray the hardships of Soviet life as a sort of anvil that you forge beauty and greatness on, they’re not all surprisingly sentimental movies where the humans are more human precisely because the factories are brown and the bureaucrats gray, where the system isn’t perfect but the next generation will set it all right, (you can see it in their eyes). Some are also reflections of that grayness, like this p.c. story about the patriotic youth on the collective farm. Watched: 11 minutes.
The Trollenberg Terror (1958, UK)
Headless corpses, radioactive clouds, walking dead, and clairvoyant girls. The horror sound movie didn’t start with the Universal “classics” in the 1930s, but in the UK in the late 50s. There was little worth watching inbetween, (trust me on this). Now there are both good horror movies, like the Hammer ones, and enjoyable mediocre ones, like this. Watched it all.
The Man Upstairs (1958, UK)
The madman on the top floor wanders about at night, freezing, erratic, causing a nuisance for his neighbors. Everybody sees something different in him, something that confirms their own view of the world. Political and philosophical points are made over him. An entire civil mini-society is created from the struggle over what to do with him. But in the end he’s still just a madman who wanders about at night, freezing, and erratic, oblivious to the meaning he holds for others. Watched it all. I think this may be the first British message movie done in that cramped, stage-like style of American movies like Fourteen Hours. I like that style.
Cairo Station (1958, Egypt)
Drinking, partying, men who collect softcore pornography, flirtatious girls without hijabs. And one or two religious busybodies who stand in the background and complain about how scandalous it all is, ha ha. Want to guess who had the last laugh? Watched: Bits and pieces.
Vynalez Zkazy / The Fabulous World of Jules Verne / Deadly Invention (1958, Czechoslovakia)
There’s not really any Jules Verne here, except in the sense that the movie creates a world populated by illustrations from Jules Verne books, and is shot in such a way that every scene looks like an illustration in a 19th century novel. Watched it all. The story isn’t much, but the visuals – unbelievable. Don’t miss it if you enjoy (the fun-loving form of) steampunk. There’s also a bit of foreshadowing of Terry Gilliam here.
Vertigo (1958, USA, Hitchcock)
Woman is an inscrutable being, mysteriously connected to all womanhood before her, and also possibly trying to use you for her own evil ends. At least the exciting Kim Novak type is. For the man who has lost all taste for adventure, there’s always the safe Barbara Bel Geddes type to fall back on. Watched it before, and again now. This movie made #1 of a recent all-time movie list. Ranking movies is an odd undertaking that has little to do with loving them, but if you have to choose a number one, it should be a movie without flaws, and with a few touches of greatness. This is that – the opening titles (above) are one of thouse touches. But nobody is ever going to truly love a movie like this. That’s reserved for movies with more greatness, and more flaws.
Aphrodite, Goddess of Love (1958, Italy)
True Italian peplum! Well, basically a Hollywood Bible epic, with the usual early Christians and the obligatory decadent banquet scenes etc. Boring. Watched: 26 minutes.
The Time Element (1958, USA)
Rod Serling! In a proto-Twilight Zone TV movie! See, there are two tracks of science fiction, one fantastical, and one idea-oriented. Ideas dominate in novels, especially in the best of the 1940s and 50s, but Serling brings that track over to television with The Twilight Zone. And this is a preview of that, a time travel story that would have made a typical short story for the time, not brilliant, but good enough. Watched it all.
Throne of Blood (1957, Kurosawa)
The warlord’s court is full of soldiers and guards, trained to kill, and armed to the teeth, every one of them, but when they all start murdering each other for no good reason at all, sure, let’s blame it all on the one woman character in the entire movie! (Who said watching movies from a feminist perspective can’t be fun?) Watched it all. I like this better than the Scottish version.
Woman Basketball Player No 5 (1957, China)
Chinese youth are full of life and a little bit “naughty”, or at least that’s the word the subtitles use. Watched: 8 minutes. For some reason, watching late 50s Chinese movies makes me feel a little bit peckish.
The Sweet Smell of Success (1957, USA)
A small-time press agent with big ambitions sucks up to the city’s most powerful asshole columnist, because the only place to be in society for a status-starving sociopath is right at the top, baby, right at the top where you can stamp on the fingers of all the other greedy bastards. Watched it all. This is like an unclean version of All About Eve, where the glamour has gone away, and all you’re left with is a bare-knuckles street fight over status and power.
3:10 to Yuma (1957, USA)
There was a remake of this a couple of years ago. What a sad thing that is, to make a remake of a perfect movie. You don’t have the luck of the original, all those little touches that just happened to turn out right. You don’t have a boyishly evil Glenn Ford. All you have is a few scraps of plot, and a famous title. What a sad, sad thing. Watched it all.
Raznye Sudby / Different Fortunes (1957, USSR)
Forget France and Italy. Russia in the 50s is the place for young people to be in love. Even the steel plants look romantic. Watched it all. The world of the Soviet Dream is amazing, and, in this case, oddly capitalistic: Newlyweds make ends meet by taking extra jobs, and forego creative dreams by becoming workers and bureaucrats, because whatever else you can say about communism, none of the characters in these movies believe that it is magic, that it creates wealth out of thin air. (That belief is reserved for modern welfare state dependents.)
Mito Komon (1957, Japan)
The Old Lord of Mito travels around Japan dressed as a commoner, to right wrongs, detect evil plots, and kick some ruffian ass with his mighty staff. Watched it all. Now this is the fun-loving yet stylish Japan that I love. So do the Japanese, who have been watching a television series based on this character continously for 40 years.
Nature Girl and the Slaver / Liane, die weisse sklavin (1957, West Germany)
Arab slave traders target tribes in the deepest, darkest part of modern-day Africa. Luckily there’s a German and a jungle-raised white teenage goddess around! Watched: 4 minutes.
The Tin Star (1957, USA, Mann)
As law and anarchy westerns go, this one is a bit on the preachy side, with a too-hatable racist asshole personifying anarchy, but Anthony Perkins is unforgettable as the boy-sheriff who commands so little respect that he’s more likely to be shot by his own posse than to catch any evildoers, and the “cynical” bounty hunter Henry Fonda is only moderately annoying. So I approve. Watched it all.
The Good Soldier Svejk (1957, Chechoslovakia)
In the novel by Jaroslav Hasek, Svejk is a seemingly feeble-minded patriot who mocks Austro-Hungarian authority by complying with it. It’s not so odd that he became a national hero to 20th century Czechs. It’s a bit more surprising that the Communists allowed him to remain so, and to be filmed. Or was Svejk too big to brush off, so they thought they might as well embrace him and pretend that his subversion was only aimed at the previous tyrants? Watched it all.
Teenage Doll (1957, USA, Corman)
Girl gangs roam the streets, acting tough and speaking like the kids these days apparently speak. Watched: 6 minutes. Some of the early Roger Corman movies are quite fun, but the one way in which they all stand apart from the other movies of their time is in their title sequences. There’s nothing else like it.
Boy on a Dolphin (1957, USA)
Hugo Friedhofer was the greatest movie composer of the 1950s. Listen to this. And to this, (yes, I know the tune isn’t his, but listen!) And to this. But he usually worked on shitty movies. I have the soundtrack to Boy on a Dolphin. Listening to it starts a movie running in my head, the most beautiful movie I’ve never seen. It’s magical. This .. isn’t. Watched: 27 minutes.
Vaclav Smil – Energy (2006)
Most of the energy we use has its origin in sun rays, which are inefficiently captured by photosynthesis, and then slowly makes its way to us through the food web, (and, more slowly, through fossils fuels), and which are also the source of wind and hydro power. History is the story of how of how one of Earth’s life forms directed an increasing amount of this energy towards its own ends, at increasing levels of efficiency, and what follows will hopefully be the story of how we move on from the temporary fossil-based bootstrapping phase to something more permanent.
Recommended: Strongly. I love these sort of condensed topical overviews. They’re like extra long encyclopedia articles.
See, this is why I decided to get involved in the climate debate in the first place, because if I didn’t, it would be left to people like this, second-rate artists and intellectuals pushing their talents to the limit by making the profound statement that gosh, climate change is so important, and we should do, like, something, I don’t know what, but I’ll do my part by spreading awareness. Oh, you don’t see how this image of an ampersand spreads awareness about climate change? Well, it does.
Recommended: Dear God no. (Oh, and to the one or two contributors I’m friend with on Facebook, I probably didn’t mean you. But you have to admit that overall this book is fucking useless.)