Home Movies/Out on Digital: May 11, 2017
Playwright Arthur Miller may have intended The Crucible, set during the Salem Witch Trials, as a metaphor for McCarthy-era witch-hunting. The 1996 film adaptation retains Miller’s purpose with its dubious investigations of conspiracies involving witnesses who name names to save themselves. But the movie also provides total immersion in its Puritan setting—colonial New England as an outpost of late-medieval England ruled by a grim theology.
Winona Rider is wicked as the young woman at the center of the upheaval, emotionally wild and irresponsible, leading a group of girls in a circle of love spells and nude dancing in the forest. She might be a sympathetic rebel except for her eagerness to destroy everyone else in an effort to save herself from hanging. Witchcraft was a capital crime. Daniel Day-Lewis costars in this indictment of peer-pressure paranoia and rebuke to the notion that wisdom can be found in crowds.
The World’s Most Beautiful Swindlers
“These stories are not real” reads the opening title. The World’s Most Beautiful Swindlers is a 1964 collection of short films set in various cities and filmed by young, rule-breaking directors from Europe and Japan. Perhaps the most memorable is Jean-Luc Godard’s Marrakesh segment featuring Jean Seberg as a news reporter interviewing an existentialist counterfeiter. The mood throughout the omnibus is kicky and comical, set to jazzy rhythms. Serge Gainsbourg sang the title song.
The literary archetype of Hamlet surfaced in French New Wave director Claude Chabrol’s 1963 film, Ophelia. Somber in gray-toned black and white, visually austere yet fraught with sharp emotional irony, Ophelia’s despondent prince is heir not to Denmark but to an industrial fiefdom beset by strikes and class resentment. He is neurotic and unhinged as he pads around like a distraught ghost in a dark suit, convinced his uncle killed his father and married his mother.