Summer is all but over, and it’s not quite Oscar season yet. New releases are thinner on the ground than autumn leaves in May, but fear not film fans: Pacific Film Archive has two very different but equally worthwhile motion pictures with which to tempt you this weekend.
Fistful of Dollars (Per un pugno di dollari, 1964) was the film that single-handedly kicked off the spaghetti western craze, which spawned well over 500 films before the genre petered out in the mid ’70s. Love it or hate it, it’s an important film — not least because it marked the arrival of a significant new talent (and the focus of PFA’s current series ‘Something To Do with Death’), director Sergio Leone.
Few would suggest that Fistful of Dollars (screening on Friday, Sept. 23 at 8:15 p.m.) is the equal of Leone’s classics The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West (both of which have also screened in the series). Nonetheless, it’s thoroughly entertaining, was beautifully shot in southern Spain, and (of course) includes an unforgettable original score by Ennio Morricone (actually credited on screen as the pseudonymous ‘Dan Savio’ – as with Leone, Morricone would become a household name thanks to this film).
And then there’s Clint Eastwood, who parlayed his performance as the serape’d Man With No Name into a career that still continues today. Unsurprisingly, Eastwood is pretty affectless here, but that was the gimmick: who is that masked-man-with-no-mask? What secrets lie behind the emotionless stare? When you compare his work here to that of other spaghetti stars such as Robert Woods, George Eastman, and Brad Harris, you realize how good Clint genuinely was as the man of mystery.
Though not credited as such, Fistful of Dollars was a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1961 feature Yojimbo – which brings us rather tenuously (okay, very tenuously!) to the second of this weekend’s films. Screening on Saturday, Sept. 24 at 8:00 p.m., 1958’s Equinox Flower (Higanbana) is not one of Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu’s best known films, but any admirer of the filmmaker will want to see it.
Ozu’s specialty was gentle but realistic tales of ordinary Japanese life, often leavened with light humor and highlighted by his signature ‘tatami shots’. Equinox Flower relies on the same basic ingredients, but adds a new one: it was the first film Ozu shot in color.
The post-World War II years were a time when traditional Japanese mores stood in sharp contrast with the ‘modern’ ways imported by the victorious Allies. The film stars Ineko Arima as Setsuko, eldest daughter of salaryman Wataru (Shin Saburi) and Kiyoko (Kinuyo Tanaka), who think Setsuko is on the cusp of becoming an old maid. Luckily, they have the perfect guy in mind to solve her ‘problem’.
Setsuko, naturally, wants nothing to do with an arranged marriage, thus setting into motion Equinox Flower’s tale of generational conflict. It mayn’t be as exciting as watching The Man With No Name match wits with two outlaw gangs in the Old West, but it’s a wonderfully warm and tender viewing experience that will satisfy all Ozu fans.
Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly. Read more from Big Screen Berkeley on Berkeleyside.
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