The Emperor Jones is not a great film, and its source play is not a great work of drama, but both are important, and both have small moments of greatness - in the film’s case, mainly through the titanic presence of Robeson subverting some of the well-intended, but ultimately destructive, tendencies of O’Neill’s character portrayal.
The word ‘amen’ is the ending to most prayers, and in its original meaning, in Hebrew, it means ‘as it goes’ or ‘so be it’. The fact that the title also includes the definitive period sets up the tension of the film, which follows the lives of two non-Jewish men in Germany, who try to subvert the Nazi death camp machine. But, as in most little man vs. faceless corporation tales, the two little men are crushed.
When the film premiered, it was actually taken as a comedy, and Amin was furious, and threatened to kill all French citizens living in Uganda unless Schroeder cut requested parts. Schroeder did, but restored the film once Amin went into exile. The whole project was apparently Amin’s idea - a sort of vanity hagiography because he felt he was not respected in the West.
Of the three films, the Lee film was a solid, paint by numbers bio-documentary, the Christ film was not only wrong on virtually every historical claim, featured ‘experts’ who are nothing but apologists, but was shoddily made on almost every cinematic level, but the film on the 75-year-old Rivers was shockingly good, detailing her highs, lows, good and bad points, and with a depth and profundity that is rarely seen in such films.
The film’s ending, while a narrative failure, considering the film’s beginning, is an interesting commentary on the shallowness of American life (then and now), as it celebrates the shallow, the idea that mere persistence ends up with reward, and that other people’s desires are meaningless. And, at film’s end, Ben is in no better emotional and psychological shape than he was at film’s start, save that he now has a mate to share in his anomie.
The best part of the package, though, is Visions Of Space: God’s Architect, an hour-long BBC documentary on Gaudi, hosted by art critic Robert Hughes. As with many of the writings and documentaries of his, Hughes adds little to our knowledge of Gaudi, but this film does a great deal more of explaining and showing Gaudi’s work to its best advantage.
The film was a joint Soviet-Cuban production, meant as blatant propaganda for the Communist cause, but Kalatozov’s film so rhapsodised Cuban sexuality and reveled so in its visuals, that even its backers as Mosfilms, the Soviet State film company, pulled it after a short distribution period. It was critically denounced both in Cuba and the Soviet Union.
The film has many good moments, such as when Allen tries to pawn his Medal Of Honor, only to have the shop owner show him many other such medals that no one wants. Another is in a barbershop, after his first escape, when Allen narrowly escapes recognition by a dimwit cop who describes him to the barber, as neither recognise he fits the description.
He is amazed to see not only that information was omitted, but that this operative fabricated the details of a whole play Dreyman and his cohorts were supposed to have written for the 40th anniversary of East Germany’s founding.
The Travelling Players takes its sweet time before revealing its true nature. Nearly ninety minutes go by before a viewer will try to stop taking things on face value, and realise that the film’s drift through time (often veering back and forth in a single scene or dolly shot), and its blackout sketches, are not meant to be taken literally in any way
The camera always seems to look at its lead character’s life slightly askance, as if it was somehow recapitulating the clearly warped view of life Mouchette owns. In essence, the film called Mouchette recapitulates the point of view of its character Mouchette, which allows the viewer to both ‘feel’ a bit of the character’s warp, while also being able to step back and intellectually distance oneself and ‘understand’ the character’s warp.
This film, while political, is not a slice of realism. It has symbolism and allegory throughout. British racism, as example, towards natives and Indians, is never shown, but it existed. Ichikawa’s aim was to clearly demonstrate the quest for humanity, embodied in Mizushima, but aimed at the viewers.
Many critics saw the film as an allegory of the then contemporaneous fall of the Soviet Union, but, nearly two decades later, the film’s resonance shows, again, how shortsighted most critics are. Mere politics do not define this film, for it is a transhuman essay on loneliness.