A+ List: Do the Right Thing (also Napoleon)

For a 27-year-old film, Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing feels very much like the here and now. The only obvious difference is that when cops kill an unarmed black man, no one records it on their cellphone.

By focusing on a few blocks of Brooklyn’s Bed Stuy neighborhood over the course of one very hot day, Lee dramatizes and analyzes everything wrong (and a few things that are right) about race relationships in America. But it’s not an out-and-out lecture. Do the Right Thing is touching, funny, warm-hearted, and humane. Having just revisited the film after a long absence, I’m now putting it on my A+ list of films that I’ve loved over the decades.

But before I discuss Lee’s masterpiece in detail, let me bring your attention to a very different A+ movie: Abel Gance’s Napoleon.

Okay. Back to Do the Right Thing.


Hot weather results in hot tempers, and in an environment already marred by racial distrust, that leads to tragedy. There’s no obvious protagonist in this film. Everybody is right, and everybody is wrong. And almost nobody can see the other person’s point of view. I can’t watch this film without feeling that if only one person had just been a little more diplomatic, tragedy would have been averted.

But life-saving diplomacy feels unlikely on a hot day in race-minded Brooklyn.

Sal’s pizzeria serves as Do the Right Thing‘s epicenter. Sal (Danny Aiello) is a decent man, proud of his Italian-American background, his restaurant, and its overwhelmingly black clientele. But he also has a tinderbox of a temper. His son Pino (John Turturro) hates that clientele; an out-and-out racist, Pino badly wants to work in a different neighborhood. Spike Lee himself plays Mookie, the only local and the only African-American working for Sal.

Unfortunately, Mookie’s behavior confirms many of Pino’s stereotypes. He’s a lazy and undependable worker and an absentee father. His girlfriend, the mother of his son (Rosie Perez in her first major role), orders a pizza just to get Mookie into her apartment.

Do the Right Thing doesn’t stay inside the pizzeria. It introduces us to a vibrant community of richly-painted individuals. Ossie Davis plays Da Mayor, a friendly alcoholic who proves to have some surprising strengths. Davis’ real-life wife, Ruby Dee, plays the block’s wise but overly judgmental matriarch. Bill Nunn, with his hulking body and sad eyes, carries a giant boom box and a dark destiny. Other characters carry such nicknames as Smiley, Coconut Sid, and my favorite, Sweet Dick Willie. Future comedy star Martin Lawrence plays Cee.

Speaking of soon-to-be-famous members of the cast (there are several), Samuel L. Jackson plays the Greek chorus as a DJ broadcasting from the block. Looking out a picture window, he reports on what he sees between songs.

For all its inevitable tragedy, Do the Right Thing contains plenty of warmth and humor. When Sal and Mookie argue, we understand that they love each other.

Motion pictures lost a great cinematographer when Ernest Dickerson became a director. His work on Do the Right Thing won him a New York Film Critics Circle Award and should have won him an Oscar. He makes us feel the heat, the closeness of the environment, and the time of day.

Do the Right Thing stirred up plenty of controversy in 1989. I imagine it would stir up just as much if not more today–maybe more; that was before Fox News. Its brilliant, unsettling filmmaking leaves you thinking about race, bigotry both in your face and below your conscious thoughts, and the flaws inherent in the American experiment.

And oddly, it might also leave you wanting a pizza.

The Best of the Marx Brothers in one Blu-ray Box

The Marx Brothers used comedy to deflate the pompous and tear down the establishment. They turned respectable, upper-class society into anarchy and surrealism. They also made us laugh.

The brothers honed their comedy in vaudeville, jumped to Broadway, and made the leap to Hollywood at the height of the talkie revolution. They made their first five films at Paramount–the earliest surviving records of Marxist comedy that show them in their purist form.

Universal, which owns most Paramount films from that era, has restored these films and released them in a Blu-ray boxed set: The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection.

Finally, these films get the home treatment they deserve.

All five movies provide a wonderful female foil for Groucho. Margaret Dumont, the greatest straight man (actually a woman) of all time takes that role In The Cocoanuts, Animal Crackers, and Duck Soup. In Monkey Business and Horse Feathers, the beautiful and talented comedienne Thelma Todd spars with Groucho.

The Cocoanuts

Their first film–an amateurish effort with occasional scenes of brilliance–only hints at the laughs to come. But It’s fascinating to watch, if only for historical perspective.

The Marx Brothers first tried a long-form, story-based show in 1925 with the Broadway musical The Cocoanuts. In 1929, the Brothers filmed the play in a Queens studio during the day, while performing their second play, Animal Crackers, on Broadway at night. This is a very early talkie; the opening credits brag that you’re about to see “A Paramount Sound Picture.”

Cocoanuts suffers from the bad audio, static staging, and utilitarian photography of the transitional period–despite a few attempts at visual flair. The movie spends too much time on the stupid jewel-thieve plot and on the songs–none of which are song by the Marx Brothers (Harpo and Chico do get to play their harp and piano solos). Groucho’s usually brilliant timing fails him often in this movie; perhaps he wasn’t yet comfortable performing for a group of technicians trying desperately not to laugh.

But the non-speaking Harpo–the only member of the cast who didn’t have to worry about standing near a hidden microphone–gives his best screen performance. Whether he’s drinking ink, stealing handkerchiefs, or “swimming” across a perfectly dry room, he’s both hilarious and transcendent.

Animal Crackers

Like The Cocoanuts, the Marx Brother’s second movie is a crude adaption of a Broadway play. And yet it’s a vastly superior film, and one of their best.

For one thing, it’s a better play. Set in a big high-society party, Animal Crackers understands what Marxist humor is all about: taking all that is respectable and turning it upside down.

Technically, it’s nowhere near as crude as The Cocoanuts, with considerably better sound. And all four Marx Brothers now seem comfortable on a soundstage. Their timing is impeccable.

The new restoration brings back almost two minutes of previously missing footage–mostly risqué dialog removed by the Hayes Office years after the movie’s original release. It’s great to have it back.

Monkey Business

The first Marx Brother film not based on a stage play starts off as one of their best. But it fails to maintain momentum.

Here the Brothers play stowaways on an ocean liner. While the crew chase the stowaways, Groucho and Chico break into the captain’s cabin and insult him while they eat his lunch.

There’s a plot involving rival, good and bad gangsters. The bad gangster is married to Thelma Todd, which doesn’t stop Groucho’s flirtations. “Young lady, you’re making history. In fact, you’re making me, and I wish you’d keep my hands to yourself.”

But the movie slows down when everyone makes it to dry land and high society. Too many characters onscreen seem to enjoy the Brothers’ antics, which makes them less funny for the audience. On the upside, Groucho and Todd have another wonderful scene together. But the ending is a complete loss.

Horse Feathers

At Huxley College, the professors are pompous windbags with beards and mortarboards, while the students care only about football. But with Groucho running the college, nothing can be taken seriously. This is one of their funniest.

For the first time in a Marx Brothers movie, the plot doesn’t interfere with the fun. Necessary exposition runs by quickly and efficiently.

Horse Feathers does something unique musically for a Marx Brothers film. Each brother gets to perform their own rendition of the film’s romantic song, Everyone Says I Love You.

Unfortunately, some footage was lost over the decades. Jump cuts and lost words interfere with one of the movie’s best sequences, ruining the precision timing. Perhaps one day a complete version of this scene will turn up. Let’s hope so.

Duck Soup

The Marx Brothers’ masterpiece takes place high in the government of the mythical country of Freedonia. Could there be a better setting for attacking the self-important and pompous?

The film has no romance, little exposition, and even lacks the piano and harp solos in every other Marx Brothers movie. I won’t go into details on this one. I’ve already written about it.

How They Look

These films are over 80 years old, and for the most part they have not been well preserved. Universal presents all five movies in 1080p, pillarboxed to about 1.33×1.

Animal Crackers, restored from a duplicate negative found in England,
looks breathtakingly beautiful from start to finish. The other four movies vary in quality. Some scenes look great; others look horrible. Most of the time, they’re acceptable but not extraordinary.

How They Sound

Universal presents these movies in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono.

The Cocoanuts suffers from a lot of noise and an extremely small dynamic range. But what can you expect from a 1929 talkie.

The other movies sound as good as one could reasonably expect, considering their vintage.

And the Extras

  • Resume feature: When you insert one of the three discs a second time, you have an option to return to where you left off.
  • Booklet: The Marx Brothers from Vaudeville to Hollywood: Adapted from Robert S. Bader’s book, Four of the Three Musketeers: The Marx Brothers on Stage. The article sticks mostly to money matters.
  • The Cocoanuts commentary: Anthony Slide talks quite a bit about director Robert Florey, whom he obviously reveres. But he also discusses the play, the movie, and the Brothers.
  • Animal Crackers commentary: Jeffrey Vance offers some interesting facts, but sometimes goes off topic.
  • Monkey Business commentary: Robert S. Bader and Bill Marx (Harpo’s son) talk about the Brothers’ stage work and how that effected the Paramount movies. Other topics include the Brothers’ personal lives, and Zeppo’s unusually large part in Monkey Business.
  • Horse Feathers commentary: F. X. Feeney offers some interesting bits of knowledge. But he also sits quietly for much of the time. I also noted some errors (the name Chico is pronounced chick-oh, not cheek-oh).
  • Duck Soup commentary: Leonard Maltin and Robert S. Bader provide excellent commentary about every aspect of the movie.
  • The Marx Brothers: Hollywood’s Kings of Chaos: 1080p; 80 minutes. This entertaining and informative documentary feature was made for this box set.
  • Inside the NBC Vault-The Today Show Interviews: 480i; 17 minutes. Not all that illuminating, but you get to see older versions of Groucho and Harpo, and quiver at the sexism in 1960s TV talk shows.

A+ List: Singin’ in the Rain (also Some Like It Hot)

You will not learn anything by watching Singin’ in the Rain. It will not make you a better person or help you understand the human condition. But for 103 exhilarating minutes, this movie will entertain you like no other.

Singin’ in the Rain contains several of the best dance routines in film history. And when no one is singing or dancing, it’s one of the funniest comedies of the 1950s. The movie’s perfect mixture of dancing and laughs earns Singin’ in the Rain a spot on my A+ list of great films.

But before we do our song and dance, let me direct you to another A+ comedy from the 1950s–and one that share’s Singin’ in the Rain‘s late 1920s setting: Some Like It Hot. You can read my Blu-ray review.

I caught Singin’ in the Rain Saturday afternoon at a Pacific Film Archive
Movie Matinee for All Ages. It was the first time I’d seen it on the big screen in at least 20 years. The audience response, with laughter and applause (and one little kid’s “Yeww!” at a kiss), added to the fun.

Singin’ in the Rain mines laughs from Hollywood’s sudden transition from silent films to talkies. It follows the fortune of a swashbuckling movie star who has to make the painful transition to sound (Gene Kelly, who also co-directed and co-choreographed the movie).

The talkie revolution wrought fear and confusion, which makes it a perfect subject for comedy. Two back-to-back sequences–of shooting an early dialog scene and suffering through a sneak preview–are inspired by actual early talkie disasters, and are all the funnier for it.

Of course, they’re exaggerated. Singin’ in the Rain should not be taken as a history lesson. Screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green telescoped changes in the movie industry that happened over four years into less than one. But who cares? This isn’t a documentary; it’s a musical comedy.

The songs, almost all of which had come from previous MGM musicals, get their definitive versions here. No one remembers a group of scared-of-the-microphone stars (including Buster Keaton) belting out Singin’ in the Rain in Hollywood Revue of 1929. But Gene Kelly’s solo performance–a soaking-wet man so happy he’s bursting–is dance-on-film perfection.

And it’s not even the film’s best number. That, in my opinion, goes to Donald O’Connor’s solo, Make ‘Em Laugh. He falls, he jumps, he hits on a dummy and then gets into a fight with it. He runs up walls and backflips off of them. His astonishing acrobatics and comically rubber face puts this number is a league of its own. When you watch the number, you don’t know if you should laugh, enjoy the catchy song, or just be amazed at O’Connor’s physicality. Soon you give in and enjoy all three.

Those are just the solos. Kelly and O’Connor do a great duet, also comic, in Moses Supposes. Ingénue Debbie Reynolds (who had no significant dance training before being casted–although you wouldn’t know it by watching the movie) joins them for the upbeat Good Morning.

And then there’s The
Broadway Ballet. Running almost 14 minutes, it tells its own fable of gaining fame and losing love, completely separate from the film’s Hollywood-set story. There’s no dialog and little singing; the story is told in pantomime and dance. It’s sad, funny, spectacular, and sexy. Kelly is the only performer in the Ballet and the rest of the movie.

Kelly was the type of actor/director who put the overall movie above his own ego. He lets O’Connor steal the show. And when he’s not stealing it, Jean Hagen does as a silent movie star with a voice like fingernails on a chalkboard.

The great dancer Cyd Charisse turns up in The Broadway Ballet. She dances with the litheness of a cat…or a snake. Her dance with Kelly is so sexy I’m not sure how it got passed the censors.

Behind the camera, we can thank Stanley Donen, Kelly’s collaborator in directing and choreographing. Most of the songs were written by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown in the first decade of talking pictures. Freed went on to become the best producer of musicals in Hollywood history, and Singin’ in the Rain was his greatest achievement.

Singin’ in the Rain–originally shot in Technicolor’s three-strip process–was screened at the PFA digitally off of a DCP. The image quality was decent, but nowhere near as impressive as other three-strip-to-digital transfers I’ve seen. The audio was a relatively new 5.1 mix; I would have preferred the original mono, but the surround version is okay.

New haunted series at SFMOMA

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) recently gave its Phyllis Wattis Theater an upgrade. And now they’re combining forces with the San Francisco Film Society for a three-weekend series of Modern Cinema, with an emphasis on films both haunted and haunting.

SFMOMA and SFFS aren’t the only organizations involved. The festival will focus on films preserved and made available by Janus Films and the Criterion Collection. And the Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul joins the mix, with a weekend dedicated to his work and the films that have inspired him.

Although neither organization is using the word festival, I’m counting the series as one because each weekend provides enough cinema to become an intensive experience.

The first section, Haunted by Cinema, runs Friday, October 7 through Sunday the 9th. Despite the name, these are not necessarily scary movies. They’re films that “have haunted the creative world since they were first screened—the works whose influence can be felt in all the films that followed.” They include such well-known classics as Rashomon, The Seventh Seal, and L’Avventura. But they also include lesser but still influential works like Mysterious Object at Noon and Black Girl.

Rashomon

Unfortunately, that first weekend will conflict with the Mill Valley Film Festival. It’s hard to find a film festival-free weekend in the fall.

The second section, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, concentrates on the filmmaker, his films, and the films that inspired him. It starts with An Evening with Apichatpong Weerasethakul, where he’ll talk and screen shorts. In addition to Weerasethakul’s work, the weekend will include The Spirit of the Beehive, Knife in the Water, The River, and Viridiana. This section runs from Thursday, October 13 through Sunday the 16th.

The River

The final section, Haunted Cinema, is the fun one. It runs Friday, October 21 through Sunday the 23rd--as Halloween in approaching. The movies include Picnic at Hanging Rock, Ugetsu and Carnival of Souls.

The newly improved Phyllis Wattis Theater sports two 35mm projectors (for archival prints), a 4K DCP-compatible digital projector, Meyer Sound, and its own entrance separate from the Museum proper.

Carnival of Souls

It also has drink holders. At the press conference I attended, they kept talking about the drink holders. But they also showed us a digital clip from Carnival of Souls; it looked fantastic.

Twelve of the films will be screened in 35mm. The remaining 14 will be digital. They’ll be showing The River on film; I hope it’s the same 1952 dye-transfer print I saw last year.

A+ List: North by Northwest (also Notorious)

A glib advertising man with two ex-wives and a drinking problem becomes the victim of mistaken identity. Foreign spies want to kill him, and the police want to arrest him for the murder of a man killed by the spies. Clever witticisms won’t help him this time.

Alfred Hitchcock made thrillers more frightening and thoughtful than North by Northwest. But he never made one more entertaining. Hitchcock and screenwriter Ernest Lehman provide almost as many laughs as thrills, and balance them deftly. Sheer entertainment value earns this movie a spot on my A+ list, where I honor the great films that I’ve loved for decades.

But before we dangle Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint off of Abraham Lincoln’s nose, I’d like to bring your attention to one of those more frightening and thoughtful Hitchcock films that belongs on my list: Notorious. You can read my Blu-ray review.

Okay, back to North by Northwest:

Hitchcock made quite a few movies about regular people caught up in the dangerous world of spies. He made even more about innocent people accused of a crime they did not commit. He combined these two plot tropes three times. In North by Northwest, he combined them for the third, the last, and best the time.

We barely get to know advertising executive Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) before evil foreign spies mistake him for American counterspy George Kaplan–a man that they very much want dead. Then the spies kill a man and Thornhill is blamed for the murder. So Thornhill must now avoid the bad guy and the police while trying to find out the real story and prove his innocence.

Lehman wrote Thornhill, and Grant plays him, as a witty but shallow opportunist with little regard for the truth. “In the world of advertising, there’s no such thing as a lie. There’s only expedient exaggeration.”

As the story marches on, he finds something–or someone–he really cares about: Eve Kendall, played by Eva Marie Saint. An actress associated with serious drama and working-class characters (for instance, On the Waterfront), Saint stepped out of her onscreen image to play one of the best so-called Hitchcock blondes–beautiful, glamorous, poised, and outwardly cold–until she turns up the heat.

I’m a sucker for suave, aristocratic, unfailingly polite villains–the sort who would treat you with every courtesy before killing you. James Mason plays that character to perfection in North by Northwest. As Vandamm, the head of the foreign spies, he’s the sort of man you would like to have at your dinner party–assuming there’s no one there he might need to permanently silence.

Vandamm is as witty as he is ruthless and polite. Much of the film’s humor comes from his banter with Thornhill:

Vandamm: Mr. Kaplan, you are quite the performer. First you’re the outraged Madison Avenue advertising executive who claims that he has been mistaken for someone else. Next, you play the fugitive from justice supposedly trying to clear himself of a crime he knows he didn’t commit. And now, you’re the jealous lover spurned by love and betrayal.

Thornhill: Apparently the only performance that will satisfy you is when I play dead.

Vandamm: Your very next role, and you’ll be quite convincing, I assure you.

Hitchcock and Lehman knew when to be funny, when to be suspenseful, and when to combine the two. There’s no humor in the famous crop-dusting scene, and no suspense (well, not much) in Thornhill’s and Kendall’s comic flirting. Interestingly, the broadest, silliest gag in the whole movie comes just before the nail-biting climactic sequence.

Visually, North by Northwest takes its audience on a journey by train, bus, and plane from New York City to Chicago to South Dakota’s Mt. Rushmore (a more accurate title would have been West by West North). This was Hitchcock’s fifth and last film shot in Paramount’s large-frame VistaVision format. The higher definition helps enhance the scenery, even when that scenery is part of the rear-projection special effect.

VistaVision also helps emphasize the film’s glamour and its uniquely modern architecture. The film was a major influence on the early James Bond movies.

According to Alfred Hitchcock, “Some films are slices of life, mine are slices of cake.” North by Northwest is a rich, dark chocolate cake served with vanilla ice cream.

Adapting Shakespeare: Ran and Chimes at Midnight

400 years after his death, people still love William Shakespeare. I can think of no other story teller whose works have remained popular so long. His talent, obviously, has a lot to do with it. But so is his adaptability. His plays, written with almost no stage directions, give actors and directors countless interpretations.

Most Shakespeare productions, either on stage or in film, stay loyal to his work. A production of Hamlet may be shortened, and set in a time and place that the Bard of Avon could never imagine. But the dialog would all come from Hamlet.

But some imaginative directors can take a Shakespeare play–or five of them–and create something totally new.

Within a few days of each other at the Pacific Film Archive, I caught two of the most imaginative, and two of the best, Shakespeare adaptations ever recorded on film. Not coincidentally, they were made by two of the 20th century’s greatest filmmakers: Orson Welles and Akira Kurosawa.

The PFA didn’t screen these films as part of a Shakespeare series. They were just classic films that had recently received beautiful, new digital restorations. Both films were screened off 4K DCPs.

Chimes at Midnight

Orson Welles stuck almost entirely to Shakespeare’s language in his 1966 retelling of the Falstaff story. But he didn’t stick to one particular work. The dialog comes from five separate plays.

Most of Chimes at Midnight comes from the plays Henry IV, Part 1 and Part 2, with a smattering of dialog from Richard II, Henry V, and The Merry Wives of Winsor. From these plays, it tells the tragi-comic story of Sir John Falstaff and his doomed friendship with Prince Hal–the future King Henry V.

Years before I knew that this film existed, I wanted someone would make it. Henry IV, Part 1 is my favorite Shakespeare play. I never cared much for Part 2, except for the brilliant ending that closes the story much better than anything in Part 1. Welles combined the two plays to use the best from each of them.

Quick rundown on the story: King Henry IV (John Gielgud), struggles with a rebellion and his own guilt in the overthrow and murder of Richard II. He also worries about his oldest son, Hal (Keith Baxter), who’s spending his time drinking, carousing, and whoring with a bunch of lowlifes led by a fat, drunken, lying knave named Sir John Falstaff (Welles). Inevitably, Hal will have to set aside his wild ways and take on his royal responsibilities.

It would be tough to find a more perfect actor to play Falstaff than Orson Welles. He was extremely overweight by the 1960s, and yet he still had that star charisma. His Falstaff is rowdy, tricky, mostly joyful, often funny, and inevitably heading for disaster. Like Shakespeare’s tragic heroes, he’s a good man with a tragic flaw. But his flaw is his zest for life.

The cast also includes Jeanne Moreau, Fernando Rey, Margaret Rutherford, and Ralph Richardson’s voice narrating from Holinshed’s Chronicles.

As is true with so much of Welles’ work, Chimes at Midnight was made with very little money. Shot in Spain in black and white, it’s a remarkably beautiful film for its budget. Welles and his collaborators create a battle with a smattering of extras, shoot the castle scenes in old, crumbling ruins, and re-imagine the ultimate Merry Olde England pub and bawdy house.

But the low budget shows itself in the soundtrack. Almost all of the dialog had to be post-dubbed after the shooting–and not always with the same actor who had played the role onscreen. The lips don’t always match, and the sound is often too clean for the onscreen environment. I found this a big problem early on. Eventually, I got used to it.

I might not have gotten used to it if it wasn’t otherwise such an excellent film.

Ran

William Shakespeare created his saddest, most hopeless tragedy in King Lear. And Akira Kurosawa loosely adapted it in his saddest, most hopeless film, Ran.

Kurosawa altered the story considerably. In the most obvious change, the three daughters become three sons. When your story is set in 16th-century Japan, giving land and castles to daughters would have been unthinkable.

But another alteration takes Ran into a deeper space than Lear. Kurosawa tells us something about the aging warlord’s past. The Lear figure Hidetora (Tatsuya Nakadai) is now a senile old man, but was once a cruel and fearsome warrior. He attacked and destroyed his neighbors without pity, killing his rivals, forcing their daughters into marriage, and blinding children who might one day want revenge.

He’s carrying some very bad karma, and he will pay for that karma before the film ends. So will his sons–two of which are as bad as he used to be. Many innocent people will suffer as well. Kurosawa shows no optimism in Ran. The evil will pay for their sins, but that’s of little comfort to their victims. (The title, Ran, loosely translates into English as chaos.)

While turning Lear’s two evil daughters into evil sons, Kurosawa also created one of cinema’s great villainesses in the oldest brother’s wife (Mieko Harada). Seemingly the proper Japanese high-born wife, she manipulates her husband and, after his death, her brother-in-law in her desire to destroy Hidetora’s family. We understand her reasons; Hidetora killed her family and forced her into marriage, but she doesn’t care how many good people must die for her vengeance.

Kurosawa and his collaborators created a stunningly beautiful film in Ran, but it’s often a strangely ugly beauty. The exceptionally gory battle scenes run with a bright red, and a sense of unnecessary yet inevitable death. A castle siege, with no sound except haunting music, may be the best medieval battle scene ever filmed.

I discussed Ran at greater length in 2010–also after a PFA screening. It was screened then off a new 35mm print which I described at the time as “beautiful.” Was that better than the new DCP? How should I know; that was six years ago. But I’d call the digital version beautiful, as well.

Late Spring at the Pacific Film Archive

As people grow, the way they relate to their family inevitably changes. Some fight the change, and others accept it.

I went to the Pacific Film Archive Wednesday night to see Yasujirô Ozu’s 1949 masterpiece, Late Spring, about a young woman resisting change. She wants to stay with her widowed father, but he senses that it’s time for her to make a life without him.

Noriko (Setsuko Hara) is 27, and seems completely happy living with and taking care of her father (Chishû Ryû). No other actor in the history of cinema could radiate kindness and joy like Hara, and she makes us know with absolutely certainty that she’s contented in her life.

But her father worries about her. Most women her age are married. If things don’t change soon, she will be lonely after he’s gone. So, with the help of friends and family, he searches for a suitable husband and–with far more difficulty–convince her to marry.

Today, a film about a woman being pressured into marriage would carry a strong feminist message: A woman can lead a full and happy life without being chained to a man. I’m not entirely sure if Ozu felt that way when he made Late Spring. Probably not, but the film actually works within that point of view. After all, she doesn’t meet that perfect man. But Ozu never looks down on the father and the others trying to bring Noriko to the alter. They’re clearly acting on what they believe are her best interests.

Besides, Noriko is already chained to a man she loves–her father.

Noriko’s reluctance to change makes her judgmental of change in others–a surprising character trait on someone so warm and friendly. She calls a divorced male friend “dirty” (with a smile) because he remarried.

Late Spring is shot and edited in Ozu’s patented simple, elegant style. Especially in interiors, he kept the camera low–only a few inches from the ground–and rarely moved it. You take in the room and see how everyone reacts to each other.

Ozu’s slow editing pace helps bring you into the world of the characters. He shows us a tea ceremony, trolley rides, Tokyo and rural streets, and a good bit of a Noh play. As an American born in the second half of the 20th century, I found these moments fascinating and enlightening. But I couldn’t help wondering how these scenes may have effected Late Spring‘s intended audience. For them, much of this must have felt like boring old life.

While Ozu’s camera stays on day-to-day life, much of the story is concealed–another common part of Ozu’s style. For instance, we never see the man everyone is pressuring Noriko to marry.

Late Spring has recently benefited from a new 4K restoration, and the PFA screened it off a 4K DCP. I’m getting a little tired of praising the latest 4K restoration; starting with Children of Paradise in 2012, they’ve all been gorgeous. Late Spring’s restoration had a few washed out moments, but other than that, it looked great.

Late Spring will screen again on Sunday, July 17, 5:00.