best film:  Persona. Persona is Bergman’s most avant-garde film. It is also his finest. It is cinematographer Sven Nykvist’s best work as well (that may be redundant- his best work was all with Bergman). The opaque narrative and doppelgängers have influenced everyone from Polanski, to Rivette, (Duelle) to Bunuel (That Obscure Object of Desire) to De Palma and Lynch (Mulholland Drive). The performances of Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann are superb, but it is Bergman, and his use of blocking/staging and lighting that make this an experimental and challenging masterpiece.

Bergman does in close-up here what Kurosawa had been doing in wider shots — sublime blocking

mirroring

silhouettes in the frame– Bergman’s work is surreal, complex, ambiguous

photography that is as beautiful as the film is mysterious

 

most underrated:   The Pornographers from Imamura. For the second time in three years (Intentions of Murder in 1964) Imamura wins this category. The Pornographers is his magnum opus—a top 100 film—and the TSPDT consensus can’t find room for it their top 1000. I’m also going give some love to Torn Curtain. My choice here for the most underrated film of 1966 is definitely Imamura’s work- that is clear- but Hitchcock’s film has some immaculate compositions (the two here are breathtaking) and it is far from a bad film (which in some circles it has a reputation for being).

again, I’m picking Imamura’s film as the most underrated– but these cinematic paintings from Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain are worthy of highlighting

like Vertigo– a shot of an art museum, that is worthy of being a painting in an art museum

  • Like Imamura’s previous work there’s an obsessiveness on Ozu-like framing, sex (very un-Ozu-like), animals (pigs, insects, fish here, eels later on in Vengeance is Mine)
  • Countless shots are through windows with natural obstructions in the frame—even curtains to make a frame within a frame- spectacular mise-en-scene– truly an artistic achievement
  • Imamura deliberately messes with the viewer’s expectations—it’s about a guy (and his pal) who are pornographers—but he doesn’t tell you if some of these quick vignettes are their movie or not. There also is a great scene where we have what appears to be non-diegetic music that shift to diegetic as they show a guy playing the flute
  • Like Bunuel there are no redeemable characters here- it’s all dog eat dog—absurdism

very busy mise-en-scene—lots of shots off glass and through fish tanks—it’s visual bravado and audacious – a clear aesthetic dedication to mise-en-scene like von Sternberg and Ozu—there’s 30-50 gorgeous set designs and arrangements

  • Japanese doors as framing (Ozu) and windows as framing (Renoir)
  • Wild spontaneous rock music and then a quick reverse tracking shot—odd and flashy
  • Talking carp from beyond the grave
  • The ending is very meta—two guys watching talking “do you think he dies?” let’s start the next movie”- brilliant
  • faces right in front of the frame during sex– it’s pretty remarkable that even during sex scenes Imamura is shooting it in-line with his aesthetic dedication (same for the bursts of action in his previous works including the car chase in Pigs and Battleships)
  • there’s a lineage to Renoir here with the shots outside of windows using the frame within the frame
  • obstructions– pillars, columns, window brackets, shots through a cracked door (shrinking the frame) or a curtain left open by a hair
  • there’s a comment here on commerce, capitalism and the divine comedy of it all– he’s always going broke putting a plan together to keep going– madness– as mad as his sexual obsessions– this is nihilism

Imamura, like Ozu, is a master of mise-en-scene– one of cinema’s greatest

 

most overrated:  Au hasard Balthazar from Bresson is #34 on the TSPDT consensus list. This is not something I can get behind. I get the allegory (it is the story of Christ) and Bresson’s distinct, stark storytelling style is something I admire and appreciate. But, the austerity and understated quietness of it of it pales in comparison to the more ambitious brilliance in Leone’s or Bergman’s masterpiece

 

gems I want to spotlight:   I’m picking two from Sergio Corbucci here- Django and Navajo Joe.

 

Corbucci’s Django ends with one of the best frames of the year- a jaw-dropper- that shot alone takes the film a rung higher

Django

  • Starts with the title song sung by Rocky Roberts which would be reused by Tarantino 36 years later- superb
  • Franco Nero’s titular character (hero? antihero?) dragging that coffin behind him- great imagery—a massive zoom by Corbucci (certainly his preferred stylistic choice) to introduce him
  • Nero’s performance (tight-lipped, blue eyes) and casting certainly owes it all to Leone and Eastwood. The premise itself (technically from Kurosawa’s Yojimbo) is essentially A Fistful of Dollars (preceding this by two years)—two rival gangs, Nero playing them in the middle. I hesitate to call it a meditation but it nihilistic, sadism
  • A few impressive instances of William Wyler-like depth of field—a shot of the saloon owner/bartender in the foreground and Django in the background at 23 minutes
  • Again- heavy zooms- Corbucci’s tool
  • The racist southerners clad in red – like the Klan
  • Tarantino again—the cutting off of an ear
  • As strong as the title song is—and it’s awesome—this film misses Morricone
  • A holy f*ck last shot– what a mise-en-scene design. An amazing frame that’s held for 60 seconds

Navajo Joe

  • A prolific period for Corbucci – this is one of the four films he made in 1966—they almost all borrow from Sergio Leone’s superior films and feature music from Ennio Morricone
  • You have to get past Burt Reynolds as a Native American and the title character. The film does not have a great critical reputation and the critics are wrong here. It was panned upon release, also working against it is Reynolds who for decades would make fun of this movie (making fun of the wig, claiming he signed up thinking he was working with Leone saying Corbucci is “the wrong Sergio”— Corbucci claims he thought he was getting Marlon Brando). Sorry Burt- this is an excellent film and the only ones you made better than this were Boogie Nights and Deliverance
  • Reynolds clearly chased Eastwood his entire career. Tried to direct, followed him from TV to spaghetti western here, box office champion and extremely popular in the south and rural America
  • Revenge narrative and disruption of the Native American Eden in the opening as the film’s villain scalps a beautiful innocent woman
  • Reynolds is actually very good in the performance as well. It’s mostly a physical performance and his athletic background (a college football stud at FSU until a knee injury) pays off. He probably has less than 100 words of dialogue and doesn’t speak at all for the first 18 minutes
  • Corbucci is not Leone—not the perfectionist Leone is—Corbucci made four films in 1966 and Leone made seven his entire career.
  • Tarantino loves this movie of course- uses the score in Kill Bill, uses the narrative arc as inspiration for much of Leo’s Rick Dalton character in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood—score one for Tarantino over the critics here. He’s right, they are wrong
  • The score is simply one of Morricone’s best which has to put it with one of the best of all-time. I can’t picture this movie without it. Morricone is billed as Leo Nichols for some reason- not sure why—and if you’ve seen Alexander Payne’s Election (great use of it there) or Kill Bill as I mentioned you’ll recognize it. Masterful.
  • Strange to see Fernando Rey as a good guy straight priest after Bunuel’s Viridiana
  • It is not a great script- but the “which one of us is American” speech by Reynolds’ titular character is sharp—poignant—“where was your father born?”
  • Zoom camera movements – strong style choice consistent with the era and Corbucci’s choice as a go-to aesthetic

 

 

trends and notables:

  • The culmination of The Man with No Name trilogy from Leone—one of the best trilogies in cinema history—made in three consecutive years (all in the top 10 of their respective with a MS grade or higher). The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly has Morricone’s score, one of the best of all-time, and with the final dual shootout in the graveyard—one of the best examples of editing in cinema’s history

perhaps the single best shot from Leone’s masterpiece- film filled with great shots in what is also a groundbreaking film in terms of film editing

Rossellini in Stromboli, Polanski in Knife in the Water, and yes- a stunner from Leone here

the epic showdown- Leone’s very low average shot length, Morricone’s score…

…going in close and closer

… to extreme close-ups…

…resulting in one of the greatest displays of film editing

  • To add to that- the spaghetti western is a little movement at this point with the dueling Sergio’s leading the way- Corbucci and Leone. They take an American genre and make their own—messing with conventions- post-modern. This isn’t John Ford’s West. Leone is not alone in finding out that dubbing everything does free up the camera a bit like they had in silent cinema.
  • 1966 is one of the low points for Hollywood/American cinema. There are a lot of awful films during this stretch, a generation of great auteurs were fading. 1966 marks the last archiveable film for Hawks and Ford. Welles only archiveable film from here on out is The Other Side of the Wind which wouldn’t really see the light of day until Netflix in 2018. The New Hollywood was about to begin (1967) so hitting rock bottom here in 1966 and needing a regime change makes sense. Mike Nichols (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf) is a breath of fresh air- and this is his debut. His second film would be the following year (The Graduate) and it and he would be a major figure in that New Hollywood movement. His film here is the only American film in the top 10 of 1966.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?— a massive resume-builder for veterans Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton– and a ground-shaking debut behind the camera for young Mike Nichols

  • Cinéma verité- Gillo Pontecorvo (Italian)- Battle of Algiers is a major film in the movement of realism—in 1966 we are in the second, third, and fourth generations in terms of filmgoers and cinephiles (it is no mistake that many of the greatest directors of this period are former critics) so for Pontecorvo to create a film that people think is potentially newsreel footage, or a documentary, or at the very least worthy of a comparison with Rossellini’s war trilogy from twenty years prior- is an important event

Pontecorvo’s Battle of Algiers is a major film in the movement of realism

Antonioni crosses over to the English language with great success – Blow-Up (a film that will reshaped and remade by Coppola and De Palma), a little less so for Truffaut with Fahrenheit

  • We can talk about the “roll” or “hot streak” certain directors are with Godard, Antonioni, Bergman, etc—he never worked enough to have that said about him- but any year that Tarkovsky has a film released is a big year. Tarkovsky made seven (7) features in total (this his second)—all of his films were top 5 of the year caliber (MS or MP)

perhaps not as chic as Godard, Antonioni or Fellini– but Tarkovsky (Andrei Rublev here) and Bergman put their stake in the ground for serious, often religious and/or philosophical filmmaking

devastatingly beautiful imagery for almost the entire 3 1/2 hour running time

even more so than Dreyer or Kubrick (who had slower starts)- Tarkovsky never missed in his career

  • There is a nice class of incoming actors as well. Jack Nicholson is in his first archiveable film (The Shooting) but we’re still a few years away from his breakout in Easy Rider. Liv Ullman’s first archiveable film is here in 1966 (more on her below). Robert Redford had actually been doing television for a few years now but The Chase with Jane Fonda and Brando is his first archiveable film. The great John Hurt gets his start in the archives playing a small role in best picture Oscar winner A Man For All Seasons. It is a big year for newcomer Vanessa Redgrave with all three of her first archiveable performances (Morgan, Blow-Up, Georgy Girl) coming in 1966

Vanessa Redgrave here in Blow-Up

best performance male   Either Anatoliy Solonitsyn (as title character Andrey Rublev) or Eli Wallach give the best male acting performance of the year in 1966.  Wallach is just one of the standouts in Leone’s The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly worthy of mention in this category of course (so we’re including Lee Van Cleef and Clint Eastwood). Wallach has the heaviest lifting to do in the film and he’s mesmerizing- but that’s not to detract from his co-stars- I don’t think the film works as well if Leone casts others in those three roles. Next I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight the work of Richard Burton in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned Burton before in this category (he’s wonderful in 1964’s Beckett as is Peter O’Toole as well). Anyways, Virginia Woolf is the perfect vehicle for Burton’s acidity.  His scenes verbally sparring with Elizabeth Taylor are pure acting masterclass. Lastly, David Hemmings deserves mention for his work in Blow-Up. Unlike Burton, this is largely a non-verbal performance and Hemmings is our vehicle for Antonioni’s exploration the entire time.

 

best performance female: There are three towering performances in this category in 1966 and you could any of the three as the winner here. Liv Ullmann (Persona), Elizabeth Taylor (Who is Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) and Bibi Andersson (Persona again) are all on my top 100 actresses of all-time list (#7, 25, and 80 respectively) and they do their career-best work in 1966. Andersson was mentioned here before in 1957, Ullmann is the newcomer to the Bergman stable of talented players, and Liz Taylor is a powerhouse in a transformational role. Taylor is a child actor (first archiveable film is 1943) turned celebrity knockout and icon. She’s the biggest female star on the planet in 1966. She put on weight here for the role, wore makeup to make her look older (she’s actually only 34 here believe it or not) and took a risk with a first-time filmmaker…it paid off.

harsh lighting, garish close-ups, added weight and extra makeup– a commanding performance from Elizabeth Taylor

career best work from Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann in Bergman’s Persona

 

top 10

  1. Persona
  2. The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly
  3. The Pornographers
  4. Andrei Rublev
  5. Blow-Up
  6. The Battle of Algiers
  7. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
  8. Au Hasard Balthazar
  9. Django
  10. The Nun

Rivette’s The Nun– proof that Anna Karina could do great work without Godard

Frankenheimer nodding to Caligari here in Seconds— this is Frankenheimer’s sixth archiveable film since 1962

Archives, Directors, and Grades

A Man And a Woman- Lelouch HR
A Man For All Seasons- Zinnemann, HR
Alfie- Gilbert HR
Andrei Rublev- Tarkovsky MP
Au Hasard Balthazar- Bresson HR
Black Girl – Sembene R
Blow-Up – Antonioni MS/MP
Closely Watched Trains – Menzel HR
Cul-de-Sac- Polanski R
Daises – Chytilová R
Django – Corbucci HR
Duel at Diablo- Nelson R
El Dorado- Hawks
Fahrenheit 451 – Truffaut R
Faster Pussycat Kill, Kill! – Meyer
Funeral in Berlin – Hamilton R
Gambit – Neame R
Georgy Girl- Narizzano R
Grand Prix- Frankenheimer R
Harper- Smight R
How To Steal A Million- Wyler R
Khartoum-Dearden, R
Kill, Baby… Kill!- Bava R
Le Deuxième Souffle – Melville
Masculine, Feminine- Godard R
Morgan: A Suitable Case For Treatment- Reisz R
Navajo Joe – Corbucci R/HR
Nevada Smith- Hathaway R
Persona- Bergman MP
Sand Pebbles- Wise R
Seconds- Frankenheimer HR
Seven Women- Ford HR
The Battle Of Algiers- Pontecorvo MS
The Bible: In the Beginning… – Huston R
The Big Gundown- Sollima R
The Chase- Penn R
The Fortune Cookie- Wilder R
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly- Leone MP
The Hawks and the Sparrows- Pasolini R
The Nun – Rivette HR
The Pornographers – Imamura MP
The Professionals- R. Brooks R
The Rise of Louis XIV- Rossellini R
The Shooting – Hellman R
Torn Curtain- Hitchcock HR
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf- M. Nichols MS

 

 

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-See- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives