Archive for April, 2013

#23 – The Spirit of the Beehive

Monday, April 29th, 2013 | Greg Herman

The Spirit of the Beehive (El espíritu de la colmena) (1973) – directed by Victor Erice

Country: Spain

Runtime: 97 mins

Availability: Hulu Plus


A friend of mine asked me the other day if I was going to talk about some of the aspects of the films on the list that I don’t really like. At first, I got defensive. I argued that I just really enjoyed these movies in particular and that I was expecting to like most of the movies because they are on a “best of” list. The last thing that I want to do with this feature here is to just list the things that I like about the films in Empire’s list. In the end, the way I see it, there was too much for me to like about Das Boot and Come and See to have the time or space to point out the parts that I didn’t like so much. However, this conversation with a friend got me thinking about whether I would unabashedly enjoy all the movies in the list and praise their cinematic influence and integrity or if I would not enjoy some of the films. I didn’t have to ponder this question much longer because I really did not like Victor Erice’s 1973 Spanish film The Spirit of the Beehive.

Now at this point, I wondered if I didn’t like it because I had missed something while watching the film or because I didn’t have enough of a frame of reference to the state of Spanish culture and government at the time of the film’s release. For the purposes of this article, I’m just going to look at The Spirit of the Beehive from a purely cinematic perspective because that’s all I really know how to do. At the very least, a film should be appealing on a purely entertainment level.

For a movie that only has a runtime of 97 minutes, I found The Spirit of the Beehive incredibly boring. It began promisingly with a very simple and foreshadowing title sequence. I had no idea what the film was about, but I was immediately cued into a child’s mind with crayon drawings of people, trains, a cat, etc. All of the drawings are of objects and images that are important throughout the course of the film, so these pictures act as sort of a summary of what’s to come. The melancholy, nostalgic and somewhat fantastical-sounding music also sets up the recurring themes of the film which center on child psychology and family life. It’s incredible how much information can be packed into a title sequence. Just for reference, my favorite opening title sequence is from David Fincher’s excellent Se7en which perfectly encapsulates the psyche of the serial killer who haunts the entire movie. Also, as a historical sidenote, Saul Bass is one of cinema’s greatest graphic designers who has crafted some of the best and most renowned film title sequences whether you knew they were by him or not. Check out his title sequences for Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Otto Preminger’s Bunny Lake Is Missing which The Spirit of the Beehive’s title sequence reminded me of.

So I know you’re asking yourself, why didn’t you like this movie? As is often the case, at least for me, it’s more difficult to write about why I didn’t like something than why I did like something. Boring is an easy enough word to say, but I’m going to try to be a bit more descriptive than that. I hinted at it before—and it’s important to note—that this film is about the psychology of a child. Six-year-old Ana (Ana Torrent) sees the 1931 American horror film Frankenstein and she has a difficult time reconciling the fact that Frankenstein kills a girl for seemingly no reason. This may sound mean, but I didn’t think the actress playing Ana did a very good job. Her performance was okay, but when I’m supposed to be delving deep into the psyche of a child, I need to feel enough of a connection to empathize with that character. That didn’t happen to me with this film. I felt more alienated than drawn into the story. I fully accept that this may be intentional, but the impression I got from The Spirit of the Beehive was that it wasn’t so I’m sticking to my argument.

The Spirit of the Beehive also had an incredibly loose narrative. I know for a fact that this was intentional, and I’m not the type of
person to dislike something for this reason, but let me explain why it bothered me more in this film than in others. Normally, if the plot feels meandering and pointless, as it did in this movie, the director is trying to get the viewer to focus on other aspects of the film, like the mise-en-scéne (a fancy French word that refers to the arrangement of everything that is seen in the image, including actors, props, set, etc.), cinematography or soundtrack. For some reason, in this film, it just felt lacking. Don’t get me wrong, the film was incredibly beautiful at certain, like in the scene featuring the image to the right. But, overall these stylistic aspects were few and far between did not make up for the other issues I had with the film. Heavy stylization can be used effectively to be the main point of a film, instead of the narrative, as it often is, but I felt that The Spirit of the Beehive lacked severely in both aspects. Also, did that shot embedded at the right make you think of a certain original 2010 summer blockbuster? (I’m looking at you, Inception) I hope I explained my reasoning for disliking the film well enough so that it’s understandable.

I would not recommend this film to others. I very well could be egregiously overlooking some incredible cinematic feats in this film or
subtle nuances of characterization, but them’s the brakes. With that said, if anybody watched this film and felt very strongly about it, one way or the other, I would love to start some discussion in the comments section you’ll find below. Tell me I’m dumb and that I just can’t appreciate movies that feel meandering (hey Professor Paul). Tell me how much you enjoyed one of these movies and why. Tell me about your dog that you’re super excited to see when you go home for the summer (and send pictures).

I’m going to go on a little hiatus over the summer, but I’ll be back for #22 in August in the fall. Check back in for my review of the legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 film Rashomon which uses an, at the time, innovative plot device of showing the same event through multiple character’s perspectives. Think of the narrative device used in Pulp Fiction. I haven’t seen Rashomon before and I’m incredibly excited. I hope you are, too.

Watch it here.


Most memorable line – Ana: “Why did they kill him like that?” [in reference to Frankenstein]
Ana’s sister Isabel: “Everything in movies is fake. It’s all a trick.”

Cadenza Q&A: Dylan Baldi of Cloud Nothings

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013 | Georgie Morvis

Two years ago, Dylan Baldi was stuck on the outskirts of the indie scene. Though his first two albums (released under the name Cloud Nothings) were well-received, his brand of lo-fi power pop failed to distinguish him from his peers. That all changed last year with the release of “Attack on Memory,” which signaled a new direction for Baldi. After writing his first two albums by himself, he involved his touring band in the songwriting process this time around, and what resulted was darker and bolder than his previous work. Critics took notice, as many of them placed “Attack on Memory” among last year’s best albums. Cadenza spoke with Baldi before Cloud Nothings’ show at The Gargoyle on Thursday.


Cadenza: I’ve read that in college you put your music on Myspace under different fake band names. Do you know why Cloud Nothings in particular received attention?

Baldi: “I don’t know. I guess people just liked the songs more than the other ones.”


Cadenza: You’ve discussed how your boredom with writing simple pop songs inspired you to move into darker terrain. Is that a path you see yourself continuing on in the future? Do you think it might go the other way at some point, where you’ll start writing poppier songs?

Baldi: “Well the songs are still poppy and catchy. It’s been a little bit more of an aggressive format. It’ll probably stay that way for the next record, at least.”


Cadenza: Why did you decide to tentatively title your new album “Body Music”?

Baldi: “We actually didn’t do that, but I guess it got on the Wikipedia page, which is really weird. But I’ve never, ever even said those words together in a sentence.”


Cadenza: You’ve mentioned how your new album is going to be noisier and feature fewer vocals, but the new songs you’ve played live seem to be similar to those on “Attack on Memory” in terms of abrasiveness and your use of vocals. Have you changed your plans or are these exceptions?

Baldi: “Those songs might not even be on the record. Those are probably going to come out in some other format, but the record itself is going to be a little darker.”


Cadenza: If you release your new record this year you’ll have put out an album each year for four years in a row. Is this kind of pace sustainable for you?

Baldi: “Yes, definitely. It’s the only way to feel like I’m actually doing something, and not just sort of wandering around aimlessly.”


Cadenza: You’ve said that you tend to get embarrassed by your old material after you release a new album, do you think you’ll eventually feel that way about “Attack on Memory”?

Baldi: “Probably, I like all the stuff that we’ve made, but I just always want to keep doing something new.”


Cadenza: Have you reached that point with “Attack on Memory” yet? 

Baldi: “Oh I’m not embarrassed, just sort of sick of playing the same songs over and over.”


Cadenza: You’ve mentioned that you deleted your band’s Twitter account because Twitter “weirds you out.” What about Twitter makes you uncomfortable? 

Baldi: “I just think it’s dumb, right? It’s a dumb website. I mean, it’s an okay website, I just don’t think anybody uses it for anything useful. And that’s fine, because most of the stuff I think about is very inconsequential, but it’s just a weird platform for expression.”


Cadenza: I’ve read that you played saxophone in high school. Do you have any plans to use saxophones on your records in the future?

Baldi: “Probably not, but who knows?”


Cadenza: I’ve noticed you’ve been growing your hair out recently. Do you plan on cutting it anytime soon?

Baldi: “No, actually. I just don’t like doing that; it takes too long.”


– Mark Matousek

#24 – Come and See

Sunday, April 21st, 2013 | Greg Herman

Come and See (Idi i smotri) (1985) – directed by Elem Klimov

Country: Russia

Runtime: 136 mins

Availability: Good luck finding this one


Elem Klimov’s 1985 Soviet war drama, Come and See, had a profound effect on me and left me visibly shaken. This film is set in World War II and follows a young boy named Fliora as he joins the Soviet ranks and undergoes the Nazi occupation of the Soviet Union. I’m having difficulty explaining what this movie’s about without giving anything away, but this film immediately sets the viewer up as being emotionally tied to Fliora (played by an incredible young actor named Aleksey Kravchenko) and his naivete concerning what war is. The film then destroys the character slowly, and the viewer watches in horror as the events unfold. Come and See is now one of my favorite films of all time—and has replaced Full Metal Jacket as my favorite war film—but it is so devastating and harrowing that I will never watch it again. It does not shy away from the horrors inflicted upon the Soviet townspeople at the hands of the Nazis, but rather it engages with them more honestly and brutally than I have ever seen before in any work, fictional or documentary. Come and See is a masterpiece.

To ease this tension a bit, let me give some quick background information on a common feature of world cinema films: the inability to sync lips moving with the dialogue emitted from the soundtrack. Contrary to popular belief (I think it’s popular belief, anyway), movies that we see in the theater are created on two separate channels: audio and visual. When a movie is being made, these two aspects are recorded separately and are combined in post-production, i.e. the editing room, to create a seamless product. In my opinion, this is a large aspect of keeping the illusion of film intact. When I first started watching foreign films, it was unacceptable when the spoken words didn’t sync with the image on screen. I often saw it as a marker of a film made on a cheap budget or short production schedule. Interestingly enough, most other countries don’t really care so much about this synchronization of their films. They are so used to it that they don’t notice it or see it as an issue. Spaghetti westerns—Italian films that use the genre conventions of American westerns—are particularly remarkable in this sense. For example, in Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (starring Clint Eastwood), many of the actors couldn’t even speak English, so they would count to 10 in Spanish instead of saying their lines and get dubbed over later. I raise this synchronization debate because Come and See is guilty of it. While it’s not egregious throughout most of the movie, it is noticeable.

Let’s go back to the actual movie, Come and See. As war films often do, this film has two central themes: naivete surrounding war (especially by children) and unintended casualties that inevitably result from the destruction. Come and See begins with a cold open (a technique that involves a movie or TV show beginning immediately before credits or a title sequence) in which two kids play war and dig for a gun in the sand so that they can fight alongside the Soviet forces. They have glorified the image of the soldier in their mind and have been conditioned to want to fight for their country. However, children are especially impressionable and latch onto ideas more readily than adults. They are kept in the dark about the vastly horrific aspects of war and are even more disillusioned by the actual experience than they would have been otherwise. Come and See explores this idea masterfully, and Fliora’s emotional devastation is reflected in his physical appearance as he looks like a wrinkled and crippled 70-year-old man by the end of the film. Unintended casualties are found in abundance in this film. While running away from his soldier campground early in the film, Fliora steps on a bird’s nest on the ground and crushes all of the eggs. In the next shot that shows the eggs, they are already swarming with flies. Animals dying and being covered by flies is a recurring motif, and it never ceases to be incredibly unnerving. Because of its ability to express these tried-and-true war themes in efficient and innovative ways, Come and See is the ultimate anti-war film.

I’m going to do my best to talk about the sound in the film because Come and See has one of the greatest soundtracks I have ever heard. When I say “soundtrack,” I am including music as well as dialogue, background noise and sound effects. Sound is one of the most salient ways that the film makes the viewer identify with Fliora. Thirty-five minutes into the film, there is a string of enormous explosions that Fliora gets caught up in. The sound of the explosions gradually becomes replaced by a loud ringing noise, and the viewer immediately understands that they are experiencing this through Fliora’s mind (a technique used as recently as in Roman Polanski’s 2002 film The Pianist). Throughout the rest of this film, this ringing will return periodically in tense situations to remind the viewer of this first experience and connect it to Fliora’s emotions as the events of the film unfold. It’s a unique way to give the viewer the subjective point of view of Fliora. The boy is left partially deaf throughout the rest of the movie, and his helplessness is both visual in the image of the film itself and auditory. Other impressive sound techniques used include layering the sound of screams with the sound of a raging fire and uplifting classical music. This film does a great job of disorienting the senses, just as war does.

There are many more things that I would like to talk about with this film, including the most harrowing scene ever captured on film, the use of laughter as a defense mechanism and the frequent direct address of the audience through breaking the fourth wall, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

Come and See is not for the faint of heart. It is one of my favorite films of all time, but I would never watch it again. I have seen numerous very disturbing films in my career as a film student, and nothing has ever hit me as hard as this film has. This is one of the greatest achievements in (anti-)war drama I have ever come across, and I highly recommend it to everyone who is mildly interested in World War II, the effects of warfare on children and nature, or the psychology of a soldier. Come and See is a film that has affected me greatly, and I will never forget the emotional experience I underwent as I watched it.


Funniest line – Random soldier: “Don’t tickle me, or my fart is going to flatten Europe.”

(There are apparently a lot of fart jokes in world cinema)


Most memorable line – German soldier: “Not every race has a right to exist. Inferior races spread the contagion of communism. You have no right to be. And our mission will be accomplished. If not today, tomorrow.”


Check in next week for the review of the 1973 Spanish film The Spirit of the Beehive. I’ve never heard of it nor have I seen many Spanish films, so this will be a new experience for all of us. And good news! It’s on YouTube: The Spirit of the Beehive. I’d love for you guys to watch it so we can talk about it in the comments. Question the things I say and call me out when I’m being too dumb or pompous about something.

#25 – Das Boot

Sunday, April 14th, 2013 | Greg Herman

Das Boot (1981) – directed by Wolfgang Petersen

Country: Germany

Runtime: 209 mins

Availability: YouTube is awesome


Let me preface this review by saying you should never watch a movie in multiple parts. It is detrimental to the effect the movie will have on you and it hurts the natural viewing process. Any film professor/major will say that. Now, with full disclosure, I stopped and started watching this film like 3 times. The length was daunting and I planned on watching it all the way through because I set aside enough time for it, but it is just really difficult to watch something for so long. I apologize for this lack of professionalism, but I cannot promise it won’t happen again because I have decided to restrain myself from looking at the whole list and there very well could be another monstrous film.

Now onto Das Boot. It’s difficult to talk about German director Wolfgang Petersen’s 1981 film Das Boot without discussing the length so I’ll get that out of the way first. At three and a half hours, this movie is ridiculously long, hence the breaks I took while viewing. With that said, Das Boot is impeccably paced, especially for a so-called bottle movie (a film that takes place almost entirely in one location [Think The Breakfast Club]—in this case, a submarine). In its lengthy runtime, approximately two hours and 45 minutes of it take place on the U-96, a German U-boat commissioned by the German government during World War II. However, by spending so much time on the submarine, the U-96 becomes as much of a character as the humans that make up its crew. By the end of the film, the U-96 seems to have a character motivation of its own: namely, the will to survive and persevere until the end of the world. This is an incredible feat, and it is not something that I’ve seen in many, if any, films.

That’s not to say that the members of the crew aren’t also well-established themselves. Most notably, Herbert Grönemeyer is incredible as Lieutenant Werner. Das Boot uses the classic film technique of bringing an outsider into the world of the film as a stand-in for the viewer (the person watching the movie). Lt. Werner is a reporter who has never been on a U-boat before, and the viewer is immediately aligned with him as the character who is out of his comfort zone as the viewer is. This film trope has been used as recently as Zero Dark Thirty through Jessica Chastain’s character when she is immediately dropped into a brutal interrogation. We follow Lt. Werner as he is given a tour of the submarine—through impeccable Steadicam (handheld camera that produces fluid and smooth shots) sequences—and become more comfortable with U-96 as the character becomes a respected member of the crew. Other crewmembers will also give him information (and, consequently, give the viewer information) on certain U-boat protocol that’s not readily understood, like the recurring sound of the sonar that they use. He also acts as a liaison into the personal lives of the other characters, such as the Chief Engineer (Klaus Wennemann) who is uncertain if his wife will survive her illness before he goes ashore or the 1st Watch Officer (Hubertus Bengsch) who writes letters to his pregnant fiancée daily even though he has no way to mail them to her from underwater. Lt. Werner himself is a fascinating character, and his development throughout the film reflects the viewer’s as well.

This isn’t to say that the film is all character development; there are a ton of awesome explosions in Das Boot. At a budget of the equivalent of $18.5 million, the film was the second most expensive German film of all time at the time of its release. I would bet that three quarters of that budget went to the explosions in this film, which are repeatedly astounding and jaw-dropping. (Imagine this but more forceful and over and over again: Underwater explosion) The contrast of the silence accompanied with being underwater and the blast of light that comes from the exploding torpedoes is arresting and gorgeous at the same time. Acknowledging beauty in destruction is a sobering realization. The final scene is one of the most beautiful array of explosions I’ve ever witnessed in a film, but the reality of the situation makes it painful to watch and left me feeling like I had a knot in my stomach—not unlike how I feel every time I watch an episode of Breaking Bad.

As for Das Boot’s connection to Germany (this is an exploration of the term “world cinema,” after all), the film is not subtle about its feelings about the National Socialists and the soldiers who fought for their country. Interestingly, Petersen chose to not delve into the specific politics of the crewmembers of U-96. However, he does show them and the German generals—who say things like “We’re well prepared. In all modesty, of course, but not bad at all” when there is an enormous buffet in front of them—as a dichotomy. The men on the submarine don’t fight for Nazi ideology. They fight for their country. The men who fought on U-boats in World War II knew that it was pretty much a suicide mission, but they did it for Germany and for their families. A constant theme that runs through this film includes the notion that they recognize their efforts are futile, but they will never ever give up until the war ends or they are killed.

Das Boot is a fantastic film, and it is a perfect example of the old adage: never judge a film by its length. It captures the general German sentiment surrounding World War II through the microcosm of U-96 and its inhabitants. The film humanizes the soldiers on board, and I rooted for them to survive, knowing full well how hopeless their mission was. I would not recommend Das Boot to a casual movie watcher, but if you’re interested in a nuanced look at the state of Germany in World War II and/or curious as to how a movie that’s over three hours long could be good, you should definitely check it out.


Funniest line – General: “How’s it feel beneath the surface? Submerged? While the enemy lurks above?”

Crew member: “Dark. And real quiet. As long as nobody farts.”


Most memorable line – Captain: “All you need is good people.


Next up: I’ll be watching and reviewing #24, a 1985 Russian film called “Come and See.” Wikipedia says that it’s a war drama as well as a psychological thriller so that should be pretty exciting. It also is set in Russia during the German occupation in WWII, so we will get to see how another country represents National Socialism in film. Feel free to follow along by just reading the reviews or actually watching the movies with me. I’ll post here if the movie is readily available on Netflix or YouTube. This one, however, is not easy to find so good luck.

Around the World in 25 Movies

Sunday, April 14th, 2013 | Greg Herman

British film magazine Empire is widely considered one of the best mainstream film magazines in circulation today. In 2010, writers for the magazine put together a list titled “The 100 Best Films of World Cinema.” For the record, world cinema is defined here as any and all non-English films. Now, I’m a film and media studies major at Wash. U. (We have a Film and Media Studies department?) Yeah, I watch movies for credit, and I know your major is harder than mine. I’ve seen a lot of movies, ranging from 1980s slasher films, to art cinema along the likes of François Truffaut and Terrence Malick, to the time in junior year of high school when I exclusively watched movies from the “List of films considered the worst” Wikipedia page. Hopefully I’ve gained something from all of this. This feature, in some ways, is as a way for me to see what I’ve learned and to share it with you loyal readers.

The premise of this feature is that, starting at #25 on the “Best Films of World Cinema,” I will watch every film until I get to #1. I will give my honest opinion and hopefully put some of the film knowledge that I’ve learned at Wash. U. to good use. Some of the films I have seen before, and I am expecting to revise my opinion of these films as I hopefully garner a greater understanding of their social and historical context. Others are films that I have actively avoided due to intimidating running times or general fanboy overenthusiasm. This will be an exercise in gaining a better understanding of the incredibly broad concept of “world cinema” as well as in trying to gain a better understanding of my nebulous taste in movies. Feel free to follow along with me on a weekly basis.

First up is Germany’s 1981 film Das Boot, a film that falls under the category of movies I have actively avoided. With a daunting running time of 209 minutes, this film is a marathon, to put it simply.