Strombolian Films

I’m curious to hear about your experiences with films that you weren’t ready for when you first encountered them–films that required considerable effort before you could understand and love them. Nicole Brenez calls these Strombolian films; for her, Roberto Rossellini’s Stromboli (1949) was such a work. She writes in Movie Mutations: “These are films that resist, that one must surmount just as Ingrid Bergman scaled her volcano, and that change you forever…”

Wong Kar-wai’s Chungking Express (1994) was, for me, a key Strombolian film. The first time I watched it, I remember this: I reached for a pillow and hurled it at the screen! It was at the very moment that Faye Wong put on the Mamas and the Papas’ “California Dreamin'” for the umpteenth time. The film seemed to be caught in an infinite loop, uninterested in moving forward. At the time I had been discovering the pleasures of character-driven cinema–like Howard Hawks and Eric Rohmer–and in comparison, Wong’s film seemed to care not a whit about ‘advancing’ plot or character. The reigning mood was one of stasis.

A few years later, when I revisited the film, I was led to an important self-realization: that I had privileged and held as ‘natural’ a certain economy between form and content in a film work. According to this economy, matters of form and style–composition, cutting, rhythm, color, texture, movement, mood–had a specific function. They served something ‘higher’: narrative and character. Of course, this classicist criterion for judging an artwork seems embarrassingly restrictive to me today–but there was a time when I applied its yardstick to every film that came along. In fact, I suspect that such an economy between form and content is widely held as the norm by the viewing public at large today.

The content of Chungking Express might be about stasis, but its form–I realized upon second viewing–is all about movement! The film burns with stylistic bravura, most remarkably Wong’s signature stretch printing of action which smears colors and shapes voluptuously across the screen. The French critic Jean-Marc Lalanne has written:

In cutting and recomposition through editing each movement of the actors, the mise-en-scène invents a kind of ‘ballet mécanique’ of human movements, a choreography in which each gesture becomes abstract, loses its functionality in favor of a purely musical value.

Brenez’s notion of Strombolian films holds at least three lessons: (1) A viewing experience is often contingent upon where we happen to be situated–in our lives at a certain point in time–in relation to a work and its aesthetic; (2) It is important to revisit films that frustrated or disappointed us the first time around, and do so with a willingness–even eagerness–to struggle with the work while we simultaneously de-emphasize evaluative judgment for a little while; and (3) The resistance we encounter from an artwork can be put to great and productive use.

I’m wondering: What are your experiences of films that you weren’t ready for when you first encountered them? Please feel free to share.

Comments (72):

  1. Maxim

    February 22, 2009 at 12:58 am

    Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place, seen when I was 20 or so, made virtually no impact on me. I was looking for the pulp-cover thrills of noir or neo-noir (The Killing, The Hustler, The Big Combo – all of these had a mythic power over me at the time) and a story about a man who is really rather weak and lost, and the way that his infatuation with his own lostness causes him to fumble and lose what might be his last chance at happiness, meant nothing to me. It’s darkness was far too shaded with the greys of human life. Viewed again in my thirties it was a masterpiece of adult cinema, the kind of prolonged examination of failure that movies seem to be no longer capable of.

  2. Anonymous

    February 22, 2009 at 1:30 am

    Of course these things are all relative but Chungking Express was a film that had me electrified by the time the titles filled the screen, it’d be my Counter-Strombolian choice! My uber-Strombolian nemesis was Malick, first Days of Heaven, then Badlands. I couldn’t for the life in me empathise with all the acclaim lavished upon them, until, eventually, I understood a little more about staging, magic hour twilight and the rest of it.

  3. Anonymous

    February 22, 2009 at 1:39 am

    I’m not sure yet, but the intuition seems relevant enough, so I’ll talk about a Strombolian film that resists me but that I haven’t (yet?) come around to adoring. I was more or less educated by Hitchcock, raised on suspenseful thrillers and love stories, and Vertigo came as a big shock when I was 13 or 14. It was not full of suspense like the others, more contemplative, the romance was not furious like that of Notorious but eerie, somehow unreal and slightly off…
    But what’s interesting is that I never completely managed to rid myself of that 14 year old impression that the film was not right in some way, not quite the cool Hithcock films I had loved until then. Only recently did I realize that maybe that part of the film that eluded me, that resisted fitting into the “Hitchcock box” as perceived by my 14 year old self, was precisely the angle under which to approach it, to maybe find a grip for what made me so uneasy.
    So what I’m wondering is, can a Strombolian film be identified as such, even the first time? Can there be films that you can recognize are right now bigger than you can understand, but that you know will slowly unfold to your greatest pleasure? Films that can be identified as Strombolian even though you’re not quite sure now which slope you’ll climb to make it to the top? I haven’t seen Vertigo again since my semi-realization, so the question is still a mystery to me…
    A such film that I think (hope) I partially understood was Casa De Lava, which seemed unreal the first time, and when I revisited it the second time felt like I had always known it. That click seems linked to the experience of dawning understanding (however partial) to me.

  4. Marc Raymond

    February 22, 2009 at 1:58 am

    A few off the top of my head: CITIZEN KANE, which I fell asleep during when watching as a 18 year-old; TOKYO STORY, which was just too slow for me when I saw it as a 23 year-old; and TWO OR THREE THINGS I KNOW ABOUT HER, which I just didn’t get. I pick these because they’re now about my favorites.

    Most of these films I just wasn’t prepared for, either in terms of age or just in terms of knowledge and context going in, which is the key, I think. You need some understanding and appreciation of what your expectations should be.

  5. Anonymous

    February 22, 2009 at 4:12 am

    Well, for what it’s worth, I was one of the people who loved “Chungking Express” immediately: as someone who often gets stuck playing a song over and over, I adored Faye Wong’s doing so: had I ever seen anyone do that in a film before? (Later, I’ve realized that Wong’s “In the Mood for Love” — like Ray’s “In a Lonely Place” — have very little impact on young people: both films may require a few ruined relationships in one’s own life to be fully appreciated.)

    Anyway, rather than identify films that I saw before I had the intellectual training or cultural context to understand — which seem reasonable explanations for a lag in appreciation — I’ll note the phenomenon of coming around to appreciate popular, presumably accessible films that were easily dismissed –precisely because they seemed so obviously comprehensible on first viewing. But sometimes time reveals that one was not watching superficial films, but watching them superficially. For me almost all Westerns (except for Peckinpah) were tedious when I was younger: I had no interest in their dated mythology or annoying machismo (I was an American boy with little interest in guns, sports, or cars, among other conventional “male” things). Ford’s “The Grapes of Wrath” struck me as a great, moving film, but his “Stagecoach” was a dumb cowboy movie. But years later, required to view the latter for a class, I saw that Bazin was right: it was a perfect object (like a wheel, he notes), and soon after I realized that “My Darling Clementine” and “The Naked Spur” and “The Tall T” (among many others) were masterpieces of visual style, pacing, and human (not just action-driven) drama. Often viewed as a “boy’s genre,” I at least had to grow up to finally enjoy Westerns.

    A more conventional response: after a first TV (pan and scan) viewing in my teens, “Lawrence of Arabia” was my definition of a dull costume drama: years later, a viewing of a 70mm print left me stunned (and realizing that the compositions were designed for a massive screen). Now I view it as a model of how to attempt history and biography on screen.

  6. Anonymous

    February 22, 2009 at 5:21 am

    One key Strombolian film for me is “Ordet”. I posted a piece about this film recently that highlighted this aspect of it, at

    A second one, first seen many years later, was “Stalker”–a film I originally hated so much and found so pretentious that I stayed to the bitter end of it only so that I could account for my loathing of it a little better. But it stayed with me for days, weeks, months, and even years afterwards, and today it’s my favorite Tarkovsky film.

  7. Anonymous

    February 22, 2009 at 7:59 am

    Girish, for someone as passionate about Godard’s films as I am, you might be surprised to know that I really disliked Breathless the first time I saw it. I thought it was amoral; I couldn’t understand the purposes of Godard’s experiments with form; and I thought the screenplay (if that’s the right term for it) was flat. It took a few revisits before the film worked its magic on me, and then the experience of watching Godard’s other films (especially those made from about ’60-’66) was like knocking down a row of dominos — once I learned to love Breathless, the rest just fell in place.

    I’d say my initial reaction and eventual change-of-heart were clearly an example of those three lessons from Berenz’s Strombolian idea. I too “restricted” what the film could do for me based on my then-current experience of the cinema and I think to some degree my own unwillingness to let go of previous conceptions of what a film should do. It was all a worthwhile learning experience, though.

    Another film I had great difficulty with — even after several viewings — was Scott’s Blade Runner, which I now count as a personal favorite.

  8. Anonymous

    February 22, 2009 at 10:45 am

    I think – from personal experience and the observed experience of others – that the high-end Strombolian films tend to be by Rossellini, Dreyer, Bresson, Sokurov and Tarkovsky. Common denominator there? I will go out on a limb and say it is the religion/faith/spirituality element (differently inflected, of course, in each case). And if a film lover is not, by nature, ‘a believer’, these films can be an absolute turn-off as religious propaganda! It’s only later – and sometimes with ingenious non-religious rationalisations! – that such viewers can ‘find their way back’ to these films.

    Low-end Strombolian pinnacle: why, SHOWGIRLS, of course !

    Intriguingly, Girish, I had exactly your experience of CHUNGKING EXPRESS (my initial put-down review of it is one of the few I will not be reprinting on my website!). In my case – as sometimes happens with me – it was seeing and loving another, different film by the same director (in this instance, FALLEN ANGELS, still among the 2 or 3 best Wongs for me) that made me go back and re-watch and re-evaluate.

  9. Anonymous

    February 22, 2009 at 11:06 am

    Scorsese’s RAGING BULL is one example for me. I saw that film after getting the full reputation of the film(Best-Film-Of-The-80s) and it didn’t do anything for me. But when I saw it again on TV with my brother it suddenly worked and I didn’t know why I didn’t like it the first time.

    I later had the same reaction to Rossellini’s films not for religious/spiritual reasons but more because they seem at first sight very didactic and declarative while designed to be about “truth”. The same with Cassavetes.

    One surprising example for me was Powell’s AMOLAD which most people love at first sight but for me it took me three viewings to realize how spectacular it was.

    A reverse effect is also films which are expected to be difficult and weighty but which you like at once. Antonioni was taught to me to be forbidding and challenging, I found his films very poetic and enigmatic. The same with Eisenstein’s IVAN THE TERRIBLE, I knew it was one of the three greatest films ever made from the very first frame onwards even if people have huge issues with it’s style and acting.

  10. Anonymous

    February 22, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    I actually had to see Seven Samurai a couple of times before it worked for me.

  11. Anonymous

    February 22, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    Can I play this game by following up on Arthur’s “reverse effect,” films that are expected to be difficult and hard to like but defy that expectation? I’ve always been a bit surprised by the characterization of Godard’s films as “difficult” and especially “cold,” as intellectual exercises that one probably will respect more than enjoy. While I know what people mean by such characterizations, I have always found moments in almost all his films funny (his sense of humor is greatly under-appreciated), sexy, sweet, and moving. Almost every film has moments that make me laugh — which I can’t say is the case for many so-called comedies.

    Also, for years I heard the common notion that “The Jazz Singer” was only important historically, but a bad, sentimental film: after finally seeing it, I still think it’s one of the best films to confront the rise of American mass culture, and Jewish assimilation. It’s hardly just the technical achievement it’s often reduced to. A masterpiece? No, but more than the awful film it’s often summarized to be, and a lot more honest about the function of ethnicity (including the popularity of blackface) in American culture than later Hollywood films would allow.

  12. Anonymous

    February 22, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    Adrian bringing up “Showgirls” as a candidate for a Strombolian film reminds me of still another in my case–“Basic Instinct”–which leads me to speculate whether there might be any subterranean relationship between religion and eroticism in these matters.

  13. Anonymous

    February 22, 2009 at 7:59 pm

    It took me three viewings of Renoir’s GRAND ILLUSION before I got onto its wavelength. Generally, it’s not religion or faith that hinders me but, as Girish hinted at, a tone that de-emphasizes traditional narrative structure. For me, GRAND ILLUSION feels like a series of vignettes that only gradually get threaded together, and the episodic nature felt initially like stasis rather than forward movement.

    A big “reverse effect” film for me is David Lynch’s MULHOLLAND DRIVE, which is not to pretend that I understand everything that’s going on in it. I was told repeatedly that it would be “difficult,” “detached,” and “incomprehensible,” but I was absorbed in all of them by the time 5 minutes had passed. I’m still trying to figure out why that is. But the difficulties posed by Lynch’s movie poses a fair question that I don’t see being addressed in this thread. We seem to have accepted the assumption that we should revisit films that we were disappointed by or actively disliked. But why? Given that we can never see all the films worth seeing in a single lifetime, and given that the demands of life can reduce the time available for movie-viewing, what’s the justification in spending time on movies we disliked? This question was posed explicitly by Jason Bellamy in a great dialogue at The House Next Door on MULHOLLAND DRIVE. I apologize for the following long quote but I think its point is worth addressing and directly challenges the assumptions of a Strombolian dialogue:

    The first time. See, there’s an understanding among film fans educated enough to have an idea of Lynch’s canon that his films can’t be digested in one sitting. In fact, it’s not just understood, it’s accepted. I find this fascinating. First of all, why do Lynch’s films get the benefit of assumed repeat examination? Just to grab a name, let’s compare Lynch to M. Night Shyamalan, as thoughtful (as in well-intentioned) a filmmaker as any. I saw his LADY IN THE WATER just once, but that’s all that I needed to recognize it as a jumbled failure. If I said as much, many would nod their heads and agree without hesitation. If I said the same about MULHOLLAND DRIVE, I’d likely be told that I need to see it again, that the film can’t be properly appreciated in only one sitting. Well, what if the same is true of LADY IN THE WATER? What if that film has been unfairly panned because most critics and moviegoers only sat through it once?

    I want to be clear before I go any further that I support the idea of repeat viewings. I don’t think a film that one has grown to appreciate has lesser value than one that is adored immediately. At my own blog I have championed the idea of reexamining one’s position and being willing to admit initial error. But here’s the thing: If Lynch’s films are so complex that it takes more than one viewing to digest them, to the point that fans of the work might disregard an initial-viewing pan, what are immediate raves worth? In other words, if someone sees the film once and proclaims it a masterpiece, do you trust that reaction, or is it as incomplete as a one-viewing dismissal?

    I bring this up because, rightly or wrongly, the vast majority of film debate is based on singular viewings, not just with new releases but with older films, too. Serious film fans don’t bat an eye at reexamining something that challenges them, yet even we don’t withhold judgment of films we’ve seen only once, nor do we always go out of our way to offer the caveat that we might feel differently if we saw it a second time. We trust our instincts, and we should. They are honest. So, to hook back into my previous question: If a Lynch film doesn’t compel me to see it the number of times necessary to fully appreciate it, isn’t that a fault of the film and filmmaker, just like my abhorrence of the idea of suffering through LADY IN THE WATER a second time reflects the failings of that film and its creator? Has Lynch earned this stature with early successes? Does he have to re-earn it within each film, or is it a given at this point? Would MULHOLLAND DRIVE receive the same flexibility if released by an unknown artist?


    I think those same questions could apply to much of Rossellini, Godard, and others discussed here. I don’t have a definitive answer to the above queries, but I’m curious to know what criteria each of us uses for deciding when to re-view a disappointing film.

  14. edo

    February 22, 2009 at 9:08 pm

    Red River (the deflating ending), Make Way for Tomorrow (Beulah Bondi’s voice), Day of Wrath (mise-en-scene), Voyage in Italy (mise-en-scene), practically all the late Ozu I’ve seen (mise-en-scene)

  15. Anonymous

    February 22, 2009 at 11:33 pm

    Great topic, Girish!

    It seems that people have different definitions of Strombolian. I think for some, it can often be hard to differentiate between films you might actively dislike and have no positive feelings for with films you don’t feel you understand completely, but appreciate on some level.

    On that note, I like how Adrian calls Showgirls a Low-end Strombolian film!

    For myself, I often experienced confusion about films when I was younger. I can remember seeing Antonioni’s Blow-up for the first time for example when I was about 12 or 13. I was utterly mesmerized by it and enjoyed it, but obviously a lot of the film’s ideas and themes flew right over my head. I can remember actively telling myself that I should come back to the film again in the future when I was older and wiser. The young me actually knew that I was too young to “get it.” Of course Antonioni is now one of my favorite directors.

    More recently I had this experience with John Ford’s The Searchers. For years I actively disliked the film. I thought Wayne was a monster in it and the whole bloated thing just rubbed me the wrong way. Then one night I was home alone and The Searchers was about to play in widescreen on my local PBS channel. With nothing else to do, I decided to try watching the film again and loved it. I felt like I finally “got it” and I was able to fully appreciate the way Wayne became part of the film’s landscape.

  16. Alex

    February 22, 2009 at 11:43 pm

    I didn’t watch any movies before I was 30, so I don’t really have too many instances like the rest of you seem to have had, where your youth alone blocked understanding. I’m still not sure what’s going on in Straub/Huillet’s Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach, but I hope I didn’t reject it out of hand.

  17. girish

    February 23, 2009 at 2:48 am

    Thank you, everyone. These accounts are fascinating to read.

    Chiming in on Arthur and Corey’s “reverse effect,” there are, specifically, a number of “long take” filmmakers who get written about as if one must bring patience and fortitude to their films–I’m thinking here of Antonioni, Hou, Sokurov, Tarr’s Satantango–but when I actually encountered their films for the first time, I found them no less absorbing (and no more requiring of patience!) than any other cinema I had seen.

    Adrian–I didn’t know about that put-down review of Chungking Express!

  18. Anonymous

    February 23, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    Good idea to pose this question. I wonder, though, whether most times it is rather a conflict of characters, as we may have with people on a first meeting, than a question of timing or age or the right occasion to really see a film. And also, I wonder why do we see again a film we disliked or seemed not so good as everybody said? In my case, I don’t mind too much (I’m used to that) disagreements with general or historians’ consensus; what worries me, and prompts me to watch again a film is that I cannot stop wondering about it. That usually means that something in it appeals or intrigues me. Also, it happens when I feel disappointed by a filmmaker I very much admire. Or when I’m not quite sure I really grasp or fully understand the film (of course, you may not have that feeling and yet misunderstand it grossly).
    My most total error at first sight (or the most spectacular reversal) was with “Profession:Reporter”, which I thought very well-made and interesting to watch but finally empty and disappointing in the face of the claims of greatness I was reading/hearing around. But I kept thinking about it, and went to see it again, suddenly to rediscover it as my favorite Antonioni film, a place in which it remains after many further revisions more than 30 years later. A curious experience: I passed from loving and thinking I fully understood everything in Godard to liking but not understanding them on first viewing around the ’80s, just after “Sauve qui peut(La vie)”. I recall going in Paris to see “Nouvelle Vague” which had just opened and getting out fascinated, moved and yet so baffled I bought another ticket and watched it again, and then I felt it was clear.
    Miguel Marías

  19. Anonymous

    February 23, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    Oh, I forgot to mention the aggravating circumstance that when I managed to watch again “The Passenger” or “Profession: Reporter” my review of it had been published. When suddenly I loved the film I felt guilty of injustice, and ran home to re-read myself. Curiously enough, I could sign it again as it was. I knew it was, at heart, a negative review, but my depiction of the film was quite right. Strange!
    Miguel Marías

  20. Anonymous

    February 23, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    Miguel, spoken like a true and proud film critic: even when you disagreed with yourself, you admired yourself ! And quite rightly, too !!

  21. Anonymous

    February 23, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    No, really, Adrian. I don’t admire myself, or only retroactively: I find almost everything I wrote long ago much better than the best I can do now. In that instance, I was lucky enough to describe things as they are, and kept to myself my opinion. It would take knowing me very well, at the time, to read that review as quite negative. And read now, you can think whatever you want, without getting my opinion quite explicitly. Something of the kind happened also with Melville’s “Le SamouraÏ”, which did not convince me at first, I thought it too artificially elaborated. But I was rather cold and unimpressed, not agressive, and carefully tried to describe how the film worked, so that when I changed my opinion it was not something scandalous (only I had given it only one star out of four!). Now I think of it, it can be worse when you are enthusiastical and the the films disappoints you, luckily I did not that often, since rarely I wrote FOR without several viewings.
    Miguel Marías

  22. Ed Howard

    February 23, 2009 at 2:43 pm

    It’s funny that Nathan mentioned Vertigo, since that is the prime instance of this phenomenon for me, although for very different reasons than his. Vertigo was for some weird reason the first Hitchcock film I saw (at least in full) and I was left curiously underwhelmed by it. I didn’t know what to think, and I came away with this very weird impression of what Hitchcock’s cinema might be like. Later, watching Rear Window and North By Northwest made Hitch click for me in a big way, and when I revisited Vertigo a few years after that initial screening, it made a lot more sense. It is in some ways defined by its contrast with other Hitchcock films, by the way it plays with audience expectations for a thriller/mystery. I think it needs the context of other Hitchcock films to be fully appreciated.

    I agree completely with Corey’s sentiments on Godard: for such a supposedly “difficult” director, I have never had any problem enjoying Godard’s films on a visceral, superficial level, even as I struggle with the complex webs of meaning in his work.

    And thanks to Walter for bringing up my discussion with Jason Bellamy about Mulholland Dr. Jason makes a good point that there are so many films to see that revisiting films we hated the first time doesn’t always seem worth it. The example he used was Lady in the Water: why does everyone assume that a Lynch film automatically deserves a second viewing and a Shyamalan film does not? I’d say, though, that a “Strombolian” film, for me, is one that insistently tugs at the consciousness even if my initial impression of it was negative: a film I can’t get out of my head, whose images and ideas linger. I think we can often tell which films might be enriched and deepened by revisiting them, and which films would likely only confirm our initial opinions. At least for me, I often identify these types of films even on first viewing. I’m rarely moved to revisit films I outright hated the first time, but I often find myself returning to films that provoke more ambiguous and troubling reactions, films where I recognize something at work even if I’m not enjoying or understanding the experience at the time.

  23. Marc Raymond

    February 23, 2009 at 3:29 pm

    I should add that most of my struggling moments these days are in seeing the supposedly difficult film in the first place. There are so many films I want to see and yet have to mount the strength to climb the mountain. This is especially the case with video (if a film is playing in a theatre somewhere it’s much easier to motivate myself).

    I agree with Garish that many of the so-called “difficult” films by directors like Hou always enthrall. Appreciating someone like Ford is actually more difficult for me (or at leastvmore of an effort).

    However, I did recently see THE MIRROR and it really didn’t work for me. Perhaps related to Tarkovsky and spirituality and myself as non-believer.

  24. celinejulie

    February 23, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    –These are the films which I had’t loved much in my first viewing, but “after a few years” I found that I really loved them in my second viewing:

    1.LES CHOSES DE LA VIE (1970, Claude Sautet)
    2.GOLDEN MARIE (1952, Jacques Becker)
    3.THE LEFT-HANDED WOMAN (1978, Peter Handke)
    4.L’ENFANCE NUE (1968, Maurice Pialat)
    5.MAD DOG AND GLORY (1993, John McNaughton)
    6.MOONSTRUCK (1987, Norman Jewison)
    7.VAN GOGH (1991, Maurice Pialat)
    8.DEATH OF A TEA MASTER (1989, Kei Kumai)
    9.SERIE NOIRE (1979, Alain Corneau)
    10.THE SKY IS YOURS (1944, Jean Gremillon)

    In my case, I started becoming a film addict in 1990’s by falling in love with “strange” or “outrageous” films, especially films made by Derek Jarman, Peter Greenaway, David Lynch, Luis Bunuel, or Pedro Almodovar. So I didn’t appreciate much some films which are “not strange”, especially films made by Sautet, Becker, Pialat, or Gremillon. However, after a few years I find that I am able to enjoy greatly the latter type of films. I guess my life experience and my film knowledge (or film sensitivity) gained during these years may be the factors.

    As for the case of THE LEFT-HANDED WOMAN and DEATH OF A TEA MASTER, I guess my physical condition during the watching might be a factor, too. I felt these films were too slow, and I felt very sleepy in my first viewing of them. So before I went to see them for the second time, I had had enough sleep and had drunk some coffee. This time I didn’t felt sleepy, but I felt they were so sublime.

    –The follwing films are the films which I saw only once and didn’t love instantly, but after a while I realized that it might be because I went to see them with “wrong expectations” or because I just didn’t know how to appreciate the specific styles of the films. I believe I may love these films much more if I have a chance see them for the second time:

    2.CALM PREVAILS OVER THE COUNTRY (1976, Peter Lilienthal)
    3.CLEAN SLATE (1981, Bertrand Tavernier)
    4.NEW BLOOD (2002, Cheang Pou-soi)
    5.RIZAL IN DAPITAN (1997, Tikoy Aguiluz)
    6.SILENCE, WE’RE ROLLING (2001, Youssef Chahine)

    When I was watching THE BEAUTIFUL WASHING MACHINE, CALM PREVAILS OVER THE COUNTRY, and SILENCE WE’RE ROLLING, I felt that they were very different from any films I had seen before. I didn’t know how to adjust my feelings, emotions, thoughts, or wavelength to respond correctly to these types of films which I was not accustomed to. But when I had a chance to see ALEXANDRIA…NEW YORK (2004, Youssef Chahine) and BEFORE WE FALL IN LOVE AGAIN (2006, James Lee), I found that I greatly enjoyed them, and I think it is partly because I knew in advance what to expect from the films of these directors.

    Some articles also made me realize I may have missed something in the films I saw. I went to see NEW BLOOD, hoping it would be very scary and exciting like most horror films, but it wasn’t. After that, I read some reviews (including Olaf Moller’s) which praised this film’s “bleakness”, so I realized I had had wrong expectations for this film. RIZAL IN DAPITAN is one of the first Filipino films I saw about ten years ago. It didn’t impress me much at that time. But after I found that this film is listed in Noel Vera’s list of 100 BEST FILIPINO FILMS, I realized that I was too young when I saw it.

    –Special case 1:
    In the Bruce Bailie’s retrospective in Bangkok in 1999, I felt so-so when I was watching Bailie’s films for the first time. But after a few days, I went to see these films for the second time, and I felt ecstatic. I guess my first experience of his films had changed my wavelength, so that I could enjoy his films in the second viewing.

    –Like Corey Creekmur, I didn’t like any Westerns at all when I was a child, and I still try to avoid them until now, though I love THE SHOOTING (1967, Monte Hellman) and SERAPHIM FALLS (2006, David Von Ancken).

    –Though critics can convince me to re-watch some films that I didn’t like because I might have overlooked some important things in it, this reason does not work for me every time. I know I have some personal problems with Yasujiro Ozu’s films, so I’m not going to see them for the second time, because I am sure I will never be able to really love them.

    –Special case 2: Strombolian music videos.
    When I was a teenager in 1990, I bought a pirated videotape containing both Vanilla Ice’s and Laurie Anderson’s music videos in the same tape. I couldn’t enjoy Anderson’s music and her videos at all, so I taped something over them and kept only the Vanilla Ice’s section in the tape. Several years later, I deeply regretted what I had done in 1990.

  25. Fernando F. Croce

    February 23, 2009 at 8:14 pm

    Great subject, Girish.

    One of my favorite things is finding a brilliant movie inside the one I had for some reason been underwhelmed with earlier on (hey, better late than never). Two films that are absolutely magnificent that I’m ashamed to say I at first dismissed are Malick’s Days of Heaven and Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. When you’re 17 and on a constant Scorsese rush, contemplative films strike you like le cinema du papa. Indeed, my second viewing of the Kubrick was downright transformative in that it dawned on me that the film’s rhythms were not going to adapt to me, I was going to adapt to the film’s rhythms. Voyages that are offered. I haven’t turned one down since.

  26. Anonymous

    February 23, 2009 at 8:56 pm

    The first time I saw Orson Welles’s F FOR FAKE it struck me as a laughably shoddy, self-indulgent mess. On second viewing five years later it felt like a slyly self-aware near-masterpiece, equal parts playful and profound.

    VAMPYR and DUCK SOUP were 2 oldies that I couldn’t really get into when I first saw them college; the former was “too uneventful” and the latter “too stage-y.” Nowadays I can’t think of a film that beats VAMPYR for dreamlike atmosphere or DUCK SOUP for sheer density of laughs.

    And while I’d never call it a favorite film, I’ve grown quite fond of WILD AT HEART after initially detesting it; it strikes me as a ridiculously over-the-top goof, and while I’m still not sure how much of that ridiculousness is on purpose, it is pretty damn funny whatever the intent.

    In all these cases I think my initial reactions stemmed, at least in part, from the disconnect between what I was seeing and what I thought movies were “supposed” to do – some kind of vague internal checklist that didn’t seem like it was being filled out properly. Also in the cases of Welles and Lynch, I think I was thrown by how little the films “felt” like the directors’ earlier work, which I had seen and enjoyed. Preconceptions can be a bitch to overcome.

  27. Anonymous

    February 23, 2009 at 8:58 pm

    I like that celinejulie mentioned how “Some articles also made me realize I may have missed something in the films I saw.”

    This is one of the reasons why I enjoy reading film criticism. A good critic who I enjoy reading will often open my eyes to some aspect of a film that I hadn’t noticed before.

  28. Anonymous

    February 23, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    This news about New Yorker Films is sad, Girish.

    On a side note, I’ve been trying to slowly compile a list of my favorite DVD releases from 2008 and I’ve been extremely disappointed to discover that so many of my favorite DVD companies such as BCI, No Shame, etc. have disappeared in the last 12 months. The current economy is devouring distributors left and right.

  29. Anonymous

    February 23, 2009 at 10:47 pm

    McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Generally, I find Altman’s films either wonderful (a few), or (mostly) horrible, self-indulgent and overrated messes (and sometimes, like Nashville, my opinion changes back and forth every time I see the film).

    With McCabe, I kept trying every two years or so from my teens on to “get it,” always shutting it off before it even got halfway through, thinking it belonged to the latter group, but something made me keep coming back to it. Finally, in my early thirties, I GOT it. I really think I had to grow into it in some way.

    An opposite reaction — a film that seemed great when I was young but matured “out of” is Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, which now seems his shallowest and slightest work (it took me a while to “grow into” Barry Lyndon, but not as long as McCabe).

  30. Anonymous

    February 24, 2009 at 3:54 am

    Fernando reminds me that at my first viewing of “Eyes Wide Shut,” in a crowded cinema of people who seemed to like it, I thought the film was a disaster, and painfully embarrassing. I have no idea why I was motivated to pick it up when it was released on DVD (perhaps because by then Kubrick had died), but after a few minutes of watching it again, I was riveted. I’m still not sure what happened in that case…

  31. Anonymous

    February 24, 2009 at 4:57 am

    I remember not quite getting Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation when I was about 16 . As I recall, I disliked the ending because it was downbeat and ambiguous. After subsequent viewings, I discovered that the bleak ending and lack of closure was an asset instead of a flaw and now consider it one of my top movies of all time. David Shire’s melancholy solo piano score is also a personal favorite.

    Also, I thought Five Easy Pieces was kind of boring the first time I saw it, but got into it more on the second viewing. Sometimes you can’t always trust first impressions.

  32. steevee

    February 24, 2009 at 5:13 am

    The first time I saw BARRY LYNDON, I found it unbearably cold and misanthropic. (At the time, I loved Kubrick’s work through 2001, but thought he went downhill afterwards.) On a second viewing, I found it much warmer. I think the difference is that one has to identify more with the filmmaker – or at least with the narrator – than the characters to get much out of the film.

    On my first viewing of BEAU TRAVAIL, I hated it. And I had already discovered Claire Denis at that point – I was quite fond of I CAN’T SLEEP and NENETTE AND BONI. It struck me as an empty exercise in ogling young men. Perhaps this is where Jonathan’s connection of Strombolism and eroticism comes in. On a second viewing, the ogling no longer seemed empty at all, but a reinvention of cinema along the lines of a heterosexual female gaze.

  33. Peter

    February 24, 2009 at 6:13 am

    My most Strombolian film moment was actually watching Stromboli for the first time. I think it was that powerful ending, where Ingrid Bergman makes her way up the side of the volcano. Overwhelming.

  34. Anonymous

    February 24, 2009 at 8:27 am

    Hi girish!

    I have too many of these kinds of films to catalog — which is actually something I’m kind of happy about. I’d rather take a another look at something I actively disliked (or have simply forgotten) than re-watch something I remember as being… mildly interesting or satisfying. As others here have observed, the films don’t change over time, but the times do (and we do). Either way, I figure, I win — I either better understand what turned me off (or left me cold or confused) previously, or I discover a “new” movie I hadn’t appreciated before.

    Others have mentioned “Eyes Wide Shut,” and that was the first title that came to mind for me. I was furious when I came out of the theater (could Kubrick really have thought that “orgy” was erotic or scary?) and talked and e-mailed about it length with friends, almost all of whom felt similarly, for more than a week. By then, I knew I was being drawn back (in-)to it. And, when I saw it again (having been cleansed of my preconceptions), I think I really saw it for the first time. I realize now that I’d been initially disappointed in every Kubrick movie released since “2001” — but now “Barry Lyndon” and “The Shining” are among my favorite films. “EWS” isn’t quite there (yet), but it keeps pulling me back…

  35. Peter

    February 24, 2009 at 8:29 am

    Girish,I seem to have misunderstood what you meant by “Strombolian”. My first encounter with Rossellini’s film was a powerful sense of recognition and understanding.

    A Strombolian film I have seen once but as yet have not come to grips with is Cassavetes’ “Love Streams”. I can see its greatness but as yet I cannot say that I am able to fully appreciate it in the way I can “A Woman Under the Influence” or “Husbands”.

  36. celinejulie

    February 24, 2009 at 2:16 pm

    –Oops, I made a mistake. I’ve seen L’ENFANCE NUE only once. It should have been in the list of films I need to watch again.

    –I like what Fernando wrote very much: “it dawned on me that the film’s rhythms were not going to adapt to me, I was going to adapt to the film’s rhythms.”

    This kind of thing happened to me while I was watching THE BIRTH OF LOVE (1993, Philippe Garrel). I felt a bit uneasy during the first half of the film, then I decided to let my mind flow with the rhythm of the film, and then I started to see/feel/experience the film’s beauty.

    –Some lists by Cahiers du Cinema makes me want to re-watch some films by Brian De Palma and Clint Eastwood. Maybe I overlooked something in them in the first viewing.

    –Another Strombolian film for me is HEAVEN OF GLASS (1987, Nina Grosse). I felt very blurred and vague after I had seen it the first time. I felt as if I had seen a 3-D film without the glasses. Later I realized that I shouldn’t have focused my mind on “the story” and “the action of characters”, but I should have focused my mind on “the atmosphere” and “the mood of characters”. I fell in love with this film in the second viewing.

  37. Anonymous

    February 24, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    I just recalled a strange case. Liking Losey in general (at times very much, at least some of his films), I was unable to understand the prestige of “Time without pity”, considered among his best by people whose judgement I respect such as Douchet. For years I saw it again whenever it crossed my path, and still did not like it. I found it at the same time dull and hysterical. Suddenly, a month ago, I found the Criterion DVD under a pile and watched it again, not hoping any improvement. Mysteriously, I finally connected with the film, syntonized with its rhythms and tones, with its hurry and desperation and anguish and anger. I had thought it false, fake, artificial, now I could suddenly believe what I was being told. I even found Leo McKern believable, instead of a grotesque caricature. And recognized in the young Alec McCowen the hungry cop in “Frenzy”. Well, not that I think now that it is a masterpiece but… rather close to that, among the greatest Losey films. What blinded me repeatedly to it for years? Did I over-react to some of its features, or counted as failings of the film things I disliked very much about the characters? Can one be somehow incompatible with some films? Maybe… after all, why not?
    Miguel Marías

  38. The Siren

    February 24, 2009 at 7:51 pm

    Count me as someone who’s had a number of these experiences too. To name just three, Brazil, Raging Bull and The Vanishing are all films that I found off-putting on first go but was able to appreciate and, in the case of the Scorsese, love on second viewing.

    I have a handful of films I hope to give a chance to join this category as well, among them The Trial, which I think I saw under bad circumstances, before I could appreciate it.

  39. Anonymous

    February 24, 2009 at 11:14 pm

    A Strombolian film that I can recall right now is Jean Eustache’s The Mother and the Whore. I was too young to even begin to understand it (this was two years ago) and I was repelled by what I deemed to be the amateurishness and uninterestingness of its form. It was only when I discussed the film, and read about it as “truth-film” that I came to like it.

  40. Uncle Gustav

    February 25, 2009 at 2:08 am

    I saw Last Tango as a teenager in the 1970s, and was too young to appreciate where Brando and Bertolucci were going. After all, at that age, I was undoubtedly there for “the butter scene.” I drew a blank and found it a complete waste of time.

    The next time I saw it I was around thirty and found Last Tango to be a revelation. Brando and Bertolucci had exposed things that were very real, things that had much sway in my life at the time.

    The next time I saw it I was around fifty. 45 minutes into it, I ran out of patience. Brando and Bertolucci had made the film at the age I was at. Yet I felt the issues it raised, or at least the presentation of those issues, was immature for someone in their fifties who would have had more life experience to define and deal with them.

    All I could think was, how is he screwing her with his pants on?

  41. Filipe Furtado

    February 25, 2009 at 4:49 am

    For my personal shame I strong dislike both Breakout and New Rose Hotel when I first saw them in the late 90’s.

  42. Alex

    February 25, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    To discuss the topic at a different angle:

    Aren’t what we are talking about here hermeneutics? Strangely, I just recently put up the following quote from Maimonides on my blog that confronts the same issue:

    “You who consider that you understand a book that is the guide of the first and last men while glancing through it as you would glance through a historical work or a piece of poetry: collect yourselves and reflect, for things are not as you thought”

    Guide of the Perplexed, 1.2

  43. Anonymous

    February 25, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    Re-reading this string of comments, do I feel a pattern of guilt because at one point or another (or forever) we have not liked at all (or even as much as we were supposed/told to) a certain film most people or someone we respected admired? This strikes me: some films (or historians and critics) disappoint us, yes we feel guilty. Should not worry us more to be unjust or unfair or cursory or inattentive or ununderstanding towards a film nobody else (or almost) has paisd attention to, has been a failure at the box office, or remains ignored or forgotten? Frankly, “Citizen Kane” will not suffer if a continue to feel it is not half as good as twenty other films made in 1941 (I do like it, but I’ve never considered it for inclusion in any list, even of the six best Welles); instead, if I don’t look closely at “The Mortal Storm”, “Three Comrades”, “History Is Made By Night”, “The Inside Story” or “The River’s Edge” and say how much I love them and try to explain why, I will be losing a lot and maybe others will not feel the curiosity needed to try and see them, and maybe love them as well. 40 or 45 years ago, the few people who considered Sirk or Jacques Tourneur, Straub or Godard (often the very same) great filmmakers were considered fools, crazycats, snobs, formalists or whatever, something we could have avoided had we joined the choruses then praising either Zinnemann or Francesco Rosi (both of which, mind, have made some pretty good films).
    Miguel Marías

  44. Anonymous

    February 26, 2009 at 12:58 am

    Hermeneutics definitely play a part, Alex.

    Thinking about this on-going thread and the current discussion going at Hell on Frisco Bay has reminded me of the simple fact that most of us get out of a film exactly what we put into it or go into it with. For some that can be hard to rationalize and except.

    I was also suddenly reminded of my own experience with Tarantino’s films over the years, which I’ll share.

    My first experience with Tarantino was seeing Reservoir Dogs on video after it’s initial release. I tend to shy away from anything over-hyped and critics were convulsing over Tarantino so I was suspicious. My response to the film was extremely negative and it wasn’t helped by the fact that I was exploring Hong Kong action cinema at the time and had just seen City of Fire, which Tarantino aggressively borrowed from to make Reservoir Dogs. I wrote Tarantino off after that, but for one reason or another (critical hype?) continued to watch his films whenever I caught them playing on TV. But I only became more and more bothered by the way each new Tarantino film seemed to resemble a Frankenstein’s monster that was stitched together from the best scenes of other movies.

    Now it’s typical of critics to point this out and discuss Tarantino’s influences, but for years and years most didn’t notice.

    After a few critics started beating up on Tarantino following the release of Grindhouse I suddenly felt some measure of empathy with him. After all, I obviously love b-movies/cult films myself and no one can deny that Tarantino doesn’t love movies. I decided I would try to appreciate Tarantino’s films as tributes to the movies he enjoyed instead of original works of art. And when I finally saw Grindhouse recently I really enjoyed it. I would even argue that Death Proof is his best film.

    Have my opinions about Tarantino completely turned around? No, but the next time I get the opportunity to watch one of his earlier films I will try to dismiss the critical hype that’s surrounded him for years, as well as my own expectations, and be more open to the experience. I’m not sure that I’ll ever like Pulp Fiction, but I might try giving it another look and a year ago I wouldn’t have considered it.

  45. Anonymous

    February 26, 2009 at 3:55 am

    “All I could think was, how is he screwing her with his pants on?”

    Good question, Flickhead!

    One of the very earliest pieces of feminist film criticism I read in the mid 70s that made a big impact on me – made me laugh out loud, in fact – was a survey by the great Australian critic Meaghan Morris on various ‘women and cinema’ issues of the day, and this is exactly what she marvelled at and mocked: what she called Brando’s “zipless fuck” in LAST TANGO ! Quite an image for a male 15 year-old cinephile to retain, all these years later!!

  46. Peter

    February 26, 2009 at 6:51 am

    One of my biggest blind spots has long been the films of Howard Hawks. I have never really enjoyed them for some reason, whereas I love Frank Capra’s work.

  47. Peter

    February 26, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    Apropos films made in 1941, I enjoy watching Sherman’s “All Through the Night” more than I do Welles'”Citizen Kane”.

  48. Alex

    February 26, 2009 at 5:20 pm

    “Thinking about this on-going thread and the current discussion going at Hell on Frisco Bay has reminded me of the simple fact that most of us get out of a film exactly what we put into it or go into it with. For some that can be hard to rationalize and except.”

    I think this again points back towards what Maimonides is saying: the book (or film, in this instance) can be written or designed to function on more than one level. Maimonides does indicate that his Guide for the Perplexed is written in such a way. Thus, a film can be designed such that those who are not reflective see only what they are already prejudiced to see in the film (for example, viewing In a Lonely Place as just another thriller, which it is on a superficial level). Those who are reflective may find more (things “not as they thought”).

    We can see this also in Plato’s Dialogues, where two things often occur:

    1. The subject theoretically under discussion is superficially praised, but actually undermined. Thus, (for instance) Socrates will be discussing and praising courage, but his definition of courage will be utterly unlike (and indeed completely at odds with) what is normally thought of as courage.

    2. Only a few of Socrates’ interlocutors are able to be open to his teaching, and most either exit the dialogue early or are simply unable to understand Socrates’ strategy in No. 1 above.

  49. Anonymous

    February 26, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    Please excuse the pedantry, Adrian, but surely Meaghan Morris knew she was quoting the most famous phrase from Erica Jong’s once-famous feminist novel “Fear of Flying” when she applied it to “Last Tango in Paris.” Nonetheless, she is indeed a great critic!

  50. Anonymous

    February 26, 2009 at 7:45 pm

    Corey wrote: “surely Meaghan Morris knew …”

    And just as surely I didn’t !!

    But that was certainly the first time in my life I encountered the memorable expression.

  51. Gareth

    February 26, 2009 at 10:01 pm

    I was also struck by the same thing as Miguel, the recurrence of words that implied shame or embarrassment, apparently because of the inadequacy of initial response. For me, it’s an interesting response, since there’s always a process of learning at work: in other words, it’s difficult to imagine being embarrassed by my work-in-progress of a previous era since it has simply been replaced by another work-in-progress!

    On the actual question, a film that has not resonated with me anything like as much as I expected is Mizoguchi’s Sancho the Bailiff, despite being bowled over by any other films I have seen by the director. While others find it tremendously moving something prevents me from finding it as engaging as his other work; even a stunning big-screen print didn’t help (yet?).

    I have also found it difficult to fully give in to some of Sembène’s work; I’m still uncomfortable at some of the ways in which he works with actual historical events, which seems to be a stumbling block to yielding to the worlds of the films.

    On the flip side, when I watched Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s films in order last year, I expected to find them far more daunting on first viewing, but have found all of them utterly absorbing, filled with extraordinary humanity.

  52. Anonymous

    February 27, 2009 at 12:48 am

    Gareth, I agree with you about “Sansho”. Certainly a great film, yet it is for me comparatively cold, unmoving besides other Mizoguchi films which are for me far greater, such as “Miss Oyu” or “Lady of Musashino”, “Chikamatsu Monogatari” or “Akasen Chitai”, “Shin Heike Monogatari” and several more, none of them overly sentimental or prone to excess. Perhaps “Sansho” is too distant, too uniformly, relently paced, less modulated to communicate further than its plot and its moral/political implications, perhaps obvious and too general?. But then, there being a lot of Mizoguchi to choose, I’d never worry at having a preference for one of the so-called “lesser” ones. Why not? Happens to me with a lot of filmmakers too. And can you help it? Should you? Why?
    Miguel Marías

  53. Anonymous

    February 27, 2009 at 4:35 am

    I can remember disliking Hiroshima Mon Amour when I had seen it for the first from Netflix. As celinejulie has said about her experience, my budding interest in cinema also came from viewing strange films by the likes of David Cronenberg, David Lynch and Shinya Tsukamoto. The root of my interest came from things that you might describe as “surreal” or “dreamlike”, which stemmed from the literature I liked reading at the time.

    When I watched Hiroshima Mon Amour again for a second time a year later I had a drasticlly different experience and actually enjoyed the film immensely. I had seen many films in the period between viewings where I continually challenged my expectations for what movies could be, the most important being the form in which the narrative is told, and I guess by the time the film was rewatched I had reconstructed those expectations into something more… I don’t know, constructive!

    It’s not one of my favorite films. But it’s one of the few films I have seen where I did not like it intially, only to feel compelled to rewatch it down the road. I think the urge to see it again came after finishing W.G. Sebald’s “The Rings of Saturn” (both share similar themes). I must admit, there was a satisfied moment for me when I realized that my tastes had changed quite a bit, and for the better.


  54. Anonymous

    February 27, 2009 at 4:58 am

    When I was a teenager, a public television series screened classic Japanese films, and I saw “Sansho” for the first time, and thought it might be the best film I had ever seen. It was also one of the first times I felt I appreciated the power of the soundtrack (the famous use of the mother’s voice, later analyzed so brilliantly by Michel Chion). This led to a life-long love of Mizoguchi, but I’m not sure any of the other films quite match it (“The Life of Oharu” perhaps comes closest). I actually find it somewhat difficult to watch, because I know it will be emotionally wrenching, but in a deeply fulfilling way. This is all to say — without condemnation — that I’m simply baffled by any claim of the film’s “coldness”! Sorry, Girish, for posting on what for me is the most un-Strombolian of films!

  55. Peter

    February 27, 2009 at 6:07 am

    Corey, I agree with you about “Sansho”. It is my favourite Mizoguchi, along with “Ugetso”. I find it to be a warm and very engaging and moving film. To be honest, I am not a huge Mizoguchi fan really, as I cannot connect with most of his films, finding them a bit cold and distanct, with the exception of “Sansho”, “Ugetso” and perhaps “The Life of Oharu”.

    I prefer Ozu, Shimizu, Yamanaka and Naruse.

  56. Anonymous

    February 28, 2009 at 6:32 am

    This is an easy one for me. Oliveira’s The Convent, which I despised with every ounce of my being upon first viewing (it was also my first exposure to Oliveira). Something drew me back over time. I now consider it just one of his many masterpieces and I consider him to be one of the all time great geniuses. No reversal could possibly be more severe than that.

  57. Peter

    February 28, 2009 at 9:24 am

    It can be quite a magical moment when we finally grow into a film or piece of music, when we move from incomprehension to appreciation and love.

  58. Anonymous

    February 28, 2009 at 5:20 pm

    Too immature, sexually and in other ways to “get” Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses when I saw it at its NY Film Festival opening in 1974. About twelve years later I saw it on a date with a slightly older female friend and we agreed it was one of the most moving depictions of heterosexual love we’d ever seen put on film.

  59. Janice

    March 5, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    I found this article via a link by Danny Leigh of the Guardian( and yur writing makes me giddy with the pleasure of language.

    To the subject at hand – I’m not sure if this quite fits, but Dogville had me ready to throw something at the screen by the end of the film. Not because I disagreed with the content or was irked by the style so much as the…voiceover by John Hurt. I admit to having resistance towards things in a film which are deliberately meant to hurl me out of cinema-induced hypnosis, but something about the narrator explaining things that could have been easily shown or worse, by the end, that we were actually seeing or hearing (ie, talking over Nicole Kidman’s Grace and saying the exact same lines she was saying). I left the theater annoyed and actually mad the director “got in the way of the actors” (which, in reality, meant that he got in MY way.)

    I’ve not seen the film again in full but over the past five years it’s one of the few films that continues to “unfold” in my mind, as new insights about it emerge. The main one being the one I came too when I’d given it a few days after screening to realize the brilliance (or manipulativeness) of it, of Von Trier making me leave the theater angry – just as the film made so many critics angry, but each one of them for a seemingly different reason. (I had been angry at the film for “interfering” with my having a proper emotional connection or response to the characters, when in fact I was – just not the response I wanted or was used to at the cinema.) Was I, were we (the critics, etc), any different than the villagers in the film? If I was so willing to get worked up about a movie voice-over, was I in any position to pass judgement on the characters? Manipulative this may be, but when has cinema not been? Point to Von Trier – the human animal is much the same the world and time over, a predictable creature; everyone has to shoulder some of the blame for where we are and no one is getting out of here alive.

  60. Ignatiy Vishnevetsky

    March 5, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    Coming late to the discussion, as I usually do, after weeks of reading the fascinating comments:

    The great Strombolian film of the last few years, for me, was Miami Vice, a movie whose praises I think I’ve previously sung in the comment section of this blog. I’d no reaction when I first saw it–maybe mildly bemused indifference–but, over time, it developed into a mad fascination and then a genuine admiration. I don’t rewatch movies very often, so the fact that I’ve now seen it 5 times is something of a feat. And every time I discover something different.

  61. Anonymous

    March 6, 2009 at 10:45 am

    Hello to everybody!

    I’d like to propose a question to argue: the films we don’t like in some parts of them, and we like in another ones. I can explain 2 examples from my own experience:

    In “2046”, liking very much the story of the writer featured by Tony Leung, I find senseless the part that shows us the plot of the futurist tale or novel, and not relationed with the other part.

    Or in “Death in Venice”, for me a rather deceiving film that poses the question of beauty in an empty way, and not moving in general; however I like indeed indeed some moments, when Dirk Bogarde dies in the beach.

    So, even if not considering “Death in Venice” a very good film, for me some isolated sequences makes it deserve the consideration of a good one, even when after having seen the first 80-90 minutes, I would calify it as simply bad.

    Tomas Sanchez

  62. Anonymous

    March 6, 2009 at 12:30 pm


  63. girish

    March 6, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    Nathan, could you post a link? I can’t seem to find it.

  64. Anonymous

    March 6, 2009 at 8:45 pm

    Just wanted to say that I really enjoyed reading Adrian’s piece on Suburbia in the new issue of Rouge. It’s a movie that’s near and dear to my heart. I’ve wanted to write a more indepth piece about it myself for awhile, but so far I only managed to post a brief blurb about it at Cinedelica.

  65. Gopal Venkat

    March 31, 2009 at 5:42 pm

    Nice post, Girish. Thanks.

    There appears to be an implicit acknowledement in the comments that one needs “multiple” viewings to “concur” with the “critics’ viewpoint”

    However, I am more in concurrence with Walter Biggins’ comment

    I cannot watch the same movie through 5 sittings just to “concur” with “critical” opinion.

    Depending on my mood, I can either watch “Die Hard 55” or “Rashomon” or “Some like it Hot”.

    There are movies that may so appealing to me, that I may watch it a second or third time…

    Then, there are movies made by GODARD (who’s my current PINATA) – that I cannot connect to – and that’s that!
    (“Breathless” and “Pierrot le Fou” are what caused him to become my PINATA)

  66. Joel Bocko

    April 16, 2009 at 1:02 am

    Au hasard Balthazar. I first discovered this movie around ’98, when I was fifteen. Perusing a book called “The Great Movies” by William Bayer I stumbled across a photo of a donkey in a crowd of sheep. I was intrigued, and upon reading the description, even more so. Between Bresson’s Catholicism, the use of a donkey, the descriptions of a spare, economical, yet rich style…this became my premiere Holy Grail film for about five years.

    In that time, I looked for it everywhere, continually disappointed. I ordered a VHS copy which did not play on my VCR once it arrived (in retrospect, it was probably PAL, a distinction I did not understand at the time). Finally, in the fall of ’03 the film was being screened at the Film Forum in New York, accompanied by lavish praise from the city’s critics.

    Going in, I had a sense of foreboding, a feeling that after all this waiting I would be disappointed. And indeed, I was. The film left me totally cold. From a distance, I admired its austere cinematography, but the characters were so frigid, the storytelling so eliptical, and the donkey so disappointingly non-central (or so it seemed at the time). I had already seen Bresson’s Pickpocket, which I liked, so I did not think his style would be an obstacle, but it was.

    Years later, I revisited Balthazar and warmed up to it a little more, coming to accept it as the film it was rather than the film I had hoped for. Now it is a film I admire greatly – those qualities which initially drew me to it are in the film, but since I’d known about them for years beforehand, it was the surprises (many of them unpleasant ones) which I noticed on the first screening.

  67. Joel Bocko

    April 16, 2009 at 1:04 am

    (As an addendum: one could even say that the disappointment of my first viewing has been incorporated, in my mind, with the film’s own tragic tale of disappointment – adding an extra, unexpected, and perhaps unjustifiable aura of poignance which I am nontheless thankful for. It makes the film seem even sadder – as if it wasn’t already sad enough…)

  68. Joel Bocko

    April 16, 2009 at 2:15 am

    And one more comment, late to the party as I am.

    I want to chime in on the discussion of Vertigo about mid-way through the thread. Several people call it their Strombolian film, one which took several viewings to “get” because it wasn’t like other Hitchcocks.

    Actually, I had an interestingly opposite reaction to Vertigo. I was completely immersed in it on my first viewing. I think it was my third Hitchcock – I had already seen The Birds, whose first half I found boring, and Spellbound, which I loved (even though it’s usually considered subpar Hitch, I still like it). Much like Spellbound, Vertigo was a movie with a dark psychological underpinning and a mystery to solve – with a surprise at its end. I immediately recognized it as a masterpiece, and one I related to deeply.

    Then when I watched North by Northwest and Rear Window, I was disappointed. The Hitchcock that Ed describes was not the one I was as interested in – I wanted puzzles to solve, and deep dark undertones, not light-hearted romps with Cary Grant or mysteries solved by the audience before James Stewart! (Of course, in time I’ve come to appreciate this other Hitchcock as well.)

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