C is for CAPTAIN BLOOD (1935)
If you enjoyed the slew of recent seafaring tales but wanted a little more pirate and a little less CGI, then I couldn’t recommend Michael Curtiz’s romp Captain Blood more highly. It could have nothing to gain from the powers of modern technology, no need for blue screen, green screen or any other colour screen. The swashbuckling adventure takes us on a good Doctor’s Journey from law abider and upstanding citizen of 16th C England via warfare, slavery and pillage to pirate of the Caribbean.
Each member of the cast is as enjoyable as the next, Errol Flynn in his first leading role holds his own as the dashing hero while Olivia De Havilland matches his wry effeminate smile tooth for tooth. George Hassell plays the unwittingly useful but loveable governor Steed while Basil Rathbone and Lionel Atwill provide us with seething villainy. Good dialogue especially from Blood and his crew provide charm and humour, enriched by a particularly moving performance from Ross Alexander.
The well crafted cinematography of the film is thanks to Ernest Haller, who also leant his talents to Gone With the Wind, Rebel Without a Cause and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? One of the films highlights is a beautifully filmed and choreographed duel between the protagonist and fellow pirate lord Levasseur, complete with jagged rocks and crashing waves. The score was provided by Erich Korngold. the same composer who would later go on to work with Michael Curtiz, Eroll Flynn, and Olivia De Havilland on many other pictures (The Sea Hawk, Adventures of Robin Hood, Elizabeth and Essex).
This is a good Sunday afternoon film for most ages, then again, it is a great Tuesday morning or even thursday tea time film. Check it out before some massive studio snatches it up and re-hashes it into a CGI blinging, three-dimensional, space adventure. Captain Blood ticks all boxes of a great piratical adventure with flourishing swords, piles of plunder and of course the strong moral code (or at least set of guide lines).
For further pirate needs see The Crimson Pirate, starring ex-circus performer Burt Lancaster.
Close-Up tells the true story of Mr. Sabzian, a man with a love for cinema, who is struggling to support his family on the small income gained from his meagre job. A chance encounter with a woman on a bus leads him to tell an extraordinary lie – that he is Iran’s premier film-maker, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, director of Gabbeh and Kandahar etc – a lie which ultimately results in his imprisonment and being put on trial for fraud.
The ambiguous line between truth and lie, reality and illusion is at the centre of the story and here we have a film within a film, with the ‘hand of the author’ clearly visible in various scenes (the voice of the director; the sound boom in the corner of the screen; the whirring of the camera; the clapperboard etc), and it is unclear which parts of the film are documentary, which parts reconstruction. With the form mirroring the content perfectly, Kiarostami in characteristic fashion weaves together fact and fiction until it is virtually impossible to tell them apart, adding to the questions concerning the nature of identity – for instance, the distance that so often exists between the ideal self and the real self – as well as the relationship, which is more implicitly explored, between trust and value.
To a certain extent, of course, we are all impostors, daily engaged in the struggle of the truth and lie of ourselves; our interior and exterior lives often mis-matching as we conceal our vulnerabilities and project a self we don’t always feel, protecting ourselves from emotional attack and vying for status amongst our peers. Whilst Sabzian’s own project – his dream of being able to use art as a vehicle for self-expression – is thwarted, he becomes the subject of another’s artistic venture – Kiarostami’s. Visiting Sabzian in jail, Kiarostami asks if there is anything he can do for him, and Sabzian replies “You can make a film about my suffering” and later, when on trial, he tells Kiarostami “You are my audience.” Kiarostami, in making the film grants Sabzian a space in which he can speak for himself, to have a voice and to be the author of his own story. Sabzian’s own art, his own opportunity for expression must therefore come through within the project of another, and he does so before the court and the judge, before the camera crew and therefore before the world with the beautiful honesty of an imposter who, having been caught red-handed, has the courage to reveal themselves, to speak the truth from his soul as it were. Even whilst his detractors accuse him of acting – for the camera, for the court, for life and the ‘world stage’ – he reveals himself as more genuine than most as he drops the mask and the daily dodge that we so often renew.
C is also for Coffee and Cigarettes (2003) and Clueless (1995).