Saturday, February 18, 2023

Moments of 2022

Inspired by the now defunct Film Comment "Moments Out of Time" series and the great Roger Ebert's year end recap, this Moments of the Year list (now in its 24th edition) represents indelible moments of my film-going year. It can be a line of dialogue, a glance, a camera movement or a mood, but they're all wondrous examples of a filmmaker and audience connecting emotionally.


The long shot holding on the face of a jockey (Clifton Collins Jr) as he starts and finishes a race. The range of emotions curbed by splotches of dirt being kicked up into his face don’t lessen his array of feelings.  “Jockey”

A young girl munching precociously on chips in the backseat of a car and then her small arm protruding into the frame with a juice box for her mother to drink while she drives  “Petite Maman”

The diner scene between Jessica Chastain and “The Good Nurse” (Eddie Redmayne) as she tries to gently coax a confession from him. The unease slowly builds

"I don’t even know what you make at the factory!”    “You’ll know what we make at the factory, when you work at the factory!”     The comic line reading of the year by Toby Huss in “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story”

The dance title sequence.  “After Yang”

Pretty much any line reading of  Andrew Scott in “Catherine Called Birdy”

From a comfortable bedside reading to a tortured wounded soldier screaming. Just one of the many sublime (and heartbreaking) transitions in Terence Davies’ exploration of self identity in “Benediction”

A woman (pleading?) saying that the woman (Dolly de Leon) inching up behind her with a rock can work equally in their new household.   “Triangle of Sadness” 

“Everything Everywhere All At Once” and the Wong Kar Wai inspired wet, moonlit alley conversation between Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) and Waymond (Ke Huy Quan). Both are dressed to the nines, but the spare emotion expressed between them is heartbreaking

“Montana Story” and the performance of Eugene Brave Rock as a Native American car seller. It's a complex moment in the film. Can we trust him? 

Colin Farrell and his imitation of Werner Herzog. “After Yang”

“She Said” and the numerous shots of tense bodies carefully poised around a speakerphone intercom

The first meeting between Jakob (Tom Schilling) and Cornelia (Saskia Rosendahl) in “Fabian: Going to the Dogs” as she emerges as a shadowy figure bathed in blue light behind, and the quick succession of future images that will mark their torrid love affair. Perhaps the most romantic moment all year

A man hitting on two women at the bar as Modjo plays and his line of “I have a lot of money. A lot of money….” and they perk up to him.     “Triangle of Sadness”

The waves taking a baby’s body with it.  “Bardo, False Chronicles of a Handful of Truths”

An empty bed. "Sr."

The needle drop of ethereal music as a young girl floats on a boat. "Petite Maman"

Strobe lights on a dance floor. A father and daughter oscillating in time. A long walk down an airport hallway and then out a door. The gutting final few minutes of Charlotte Wells' brilliant debut "Aftersun"


Friday, February 03, 2023

On "The Mind Benders"

Generally regarded as one of the first true paranoid thrillers, John Frankenheimer's "The Manchurian Candidate" dealt with the brainwashing of a Korean War POW (Laurence Harvey whose steely eyed presence seemed like the perfect tonic for an empty vessel) and his subsequent mission as a presidential assassin. It holds up even better today.

Released just a year later in 1963, Basil Dearden's "The Mind Benders" certainly hasn't gotten the same acclaim as Frankenheimer's effort, but it's no less terrifying. I'd even argue it's a much more insidious example of the ability of one human to crack open and infect the brain of another human. In Dearden's stratosphere, the purpose isn't world domination, but simply the nature of suggestion in wielding power over another.... which plays havoc and begins the dissolution of a happy marriage.

As he did a few years prior in Dearden's taboo breaking "Victim" (1961), Dirk Bogarde is the man placed in a precarious situation fighting for his very soul. Portraying Dr. Longman, Bogarde is a scientist involved in an experiment whose opening title card suggests the entire story is ripped from the annuls of American research documents involving isolation tanks and perception reduction. And if this doesn't sound so far out today where such tactics dot the fringe landscape of psychology, things don't start so well for one doctor involved in the experiment who rightly tosses himself off a moving train in the film's opening minutes.

Hoping to find out if this strange death is a matter of political subterfuge or just someone unable to deal with his own mind, Major Hall (John Clements) asserts himself in the experiment and convinces a research aide (Michael Bryant) to help him push the boundaries of isolation. Enter Henry Longman (Bogarde), another doctor on the experiment who volunteers to stay submerged for the longest amount of time possible.... a stoic step for science and the perfect excuse for Major Hall to play with his own limits of twisted psychology.

After a terrific paranoid-filled first half, "The Mind Benders" turns chamber-piece driven in the second half. The slight suggestions whispered about his wife (a wonderful Mary Ure) moments after a hectic decompression from 7 hours in the tank turns the film into an acidic story about the slow dissolution of self and relationships. Bogarde doesn't always drip with empathy in many screen roles, but here, he really allows the snide distrust to leak off the screen..... even as his wife is 8 months pregnant and struggling just to understand the seismic shift in her once loving husband. 

This abrupt shift from tangential science fiction elements feels odd at first, but once "The Mind Benders" settles on Longman and his wife's shifting power dynamic, the film's kitchen sink realism (a style dominating much of British cinema during this time) feels all the more powerful in showing how disruptive progressive science can be. He's not slated to kill a presidential candidate, but the final riverside boat party seems just as violent for the way he openly courts another woman (Wendy Craig) and flagrantly challenges the tenets of marriage. Longman's brainwashing may not be the equal of murder, but "The Mind Benders" makes a strong case that its something far more damaging.

Perhaps best known for the aforementioned "Victim" and the first film in his own production company, "The League of Gentlemen" (1960), Dearden isn't an extremely well known filmmaker, mostly noticed for his social justice films of the 50's and early 60's. While "The Mind Benders" doesn't seem to have a great cause, it's no less thrilling for how it utilizes genre to twist and burn into an expert examination on psychology. Based on the handful of films I've seen, Dearden deseres to be mentioned in the same breath as other contemporary artists of his time.