Two idiosyncratic (and independently made) spins on the gangster film take the spotlight in this week’s Friday Night Double Feature, now playing on the Criterion Channel on Filmstruck. In John Cassavetes’s The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976), Ben Gazzara stars as a suave gentleman’s club owner deep in debt to the mob and feeling the squeeze. Quentin Tarantino loved Timothy Carey’s eccentric turn in that movie so much that he auditioned him for a role in his gritty and stripped-down first feature, Reservoir Dogs (1992), in which six criminals (among them Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, and Steve Buscemi), all of them using color-coded pseudonyms, try to get to the bottom of who’s to blame after a botched diamond heist.
Also on this week:
The conventions of continuity editing became standardized over a hundred years ago, and they remain the dominant style of editing in popular cinema around the world. In the latest episode of Observations on Film Art, a Channel-exclusive series that gives viewers a ten-minute dose of film school every month, scholar Jeff Smith examines the classical cutting of William Dieterle’s Faustian satire The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941). Smith finds that, in the film, Dieterle and editor Robert Wise make textbook use of such common editing techniques as crosscuts, dissolves, and eyeline matches, while at the same time demonstrating the expressive possibilities of the continuity system's so-called rules. Check out a preview of the episode here.
The sounds of legendary jazz musicians permeate these two gems. In their experimental animated short Begone Dull Care (1949), filmmakers Norman McLaren and Evelyn Lambert create a kaleidoscopic visual representation of the music of jazz pianist Oscar Peterson, whose vibrant rhythms are mirrored by an array of abstract drawn-on-film images. Louis Malle’s impeccably crafted debut feature, the Jeanne Moreau-starring crime thriller Elevator to the Gallows, boasts an improvised score by Miles Davis that heightens the seductively forlorn atmosphere of the film’s Parisian nightscape.
This wry, melancholic comedy from Aki Kaurismäki, a response to the ongoing global refugee crisis, follows two people searching for a place to call home. Khaled (Sherwan Haji), a displaced Syrian, lands in Helsinki as a stowaway; meanwhile, middle-aged Finnish salesman Wikström (Sakari Kuosmanen) leaves his wife and his job and buys a conspicuously unprofitable restaurant. Khaled is denied asylum but decides not to return to Aleppo-and the paths of the two men cross fortuitously. As deadpan as the best of the director’s work, and with a deep well of empathy for its down-but-not-out characters (many of them played by members of Kaurismäki’s loyal stock company), The Other Side of Hope is a bittersweet celebration of pockets of human kindness in an unwelcoming world. Supplemental features: an interview with Sherwan Haji, footage from the press conference at the Berlin International Film Festival, and a new video essay by filmmaker Daniel Raim, and more.