31 March 2008

War! Huh! What is it good for?

I've never really felt that enamored by the war movie genre, whilst my friends were watching their pirated versions of Platoon, Rambo Part II and Hamburger Hill I was being introduced to the madness of Monty Python, Carl Reiner/Steve Martin films and reveling in films more my age bracket. Blood and guts always used to make me heave and for many a year I was of the belief that all war films were of the macho posturing type, sweaty muscled men running through a barrage of bullets whilst firing off two machine guns at the same time without even earning a scratch for their heroics. It goes without saying that you won't see me in the queue for Rambo (4?), is it me or is Sly Stallone looking more like his mother with every passing year?

Sly (Jackie?) in Rambo

A couple of days back, sitting in my parents basement, my dad (a major war nut if ever their was one) asked if I'd like to watch a war film with him. My dad's tastes in films are well noted on these posts and it's because of him that I have this pure love for the cinema, so I always give him a fair shot even though I've been stung in the past by some of his previous choices, I'm still haunted by that memory of a Sunday afternoon ruined because he insisted we watch Farewell to a King. I needn't have been worried this time around, Days of Glory (or Indigenes) is a poignant and moving tale about how badly the North African soldiers were treated by the French authorities during and after WW2. The story focuses on a group of North Africans as they move from country to country, town to town, fighting for a country most had never stepped foot in.

Directed by French-Algerian Rachid Bouchareb, Days of Glory focuses on four of these indegenes (Natives) that enrolled in the French Free Army of the Free French Forces, formed to liberate France after the Nazi occupation in World War II. Facing discrimination every step they take from the authorities, fellow countrymen and troops alike, each recruit reacts in a different way to the oppression. The film takes it's time in showing the hostilities, both subtle and direct, directed towards the indegenes, from not being able to eat the same food as the indigenous country men to being looked over for promotion, even more horrifyingly they aren't allowed leave to see their families. One troop even has his letters censored when writing to his French (white) sweetheart, such atrocious and bigoted behavior sometimes feels over done but you can't exactly accuse this film of not wearing it's heart on its sleeve.

Group of North African soldiers fighting discrimination as well as the Nazi's

Obviously a subject close to the directors heart, Days of Glory can actually boast that it changed political policy, with the French government unfreezing all North African compatriots pensions soon after the films release. Despite the political tub-thumping and the almost zero growth of it's lead characters, Days of Glory works and leads to a wonderful ending with the defense of Alsace which will leave the viewer dumbstruck. I believe I was too literal in my dislike for war movies when I was younger and the last couple of years films like Full Metal Jacket, Paths of Glory and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp have become staple favourites of mine. With films like Days of Glory being made, I will certainly address my disdain for the genre in future.

28 March 2008

Branded to Kill - Watching the 1000 Greatest Films

No. 6 - Branded to Kill - (Seijun Suzuki, 1967)
Ranked - #717

Cook Rice! (Hanada)

Over the past couple of weeks I've watched films that I never thought I'd get around to (L'Avventura, Badlands), films that I probably would've passed by (Cabaret, The Grapes of Wrath) and films, such as this one, that I never would have seen in 100 years. Coming straight out of left field and smacking you right between the eyes comes a film dripping with so many ideas it doesn't always hit its mark but when it does you're in for a treat.

A cross between a psycho sexual drama, a Japanese generic gangster, avant-garde experimentalism, pop art and surrealism, Branded to Kill fires off one beautifully constructed, and twisted, scene after another. To add further mythology to this wonderful piece of film making is the added knowledge that this film led to Suzuki's dismissal from the Nikkatsu Company studios for making, and I quote what has to be the greatest quote I've ever heard, 'movies that make no money and make no sense'. Suzuki promptly and successfully sued the studio causing massive controversy which lead to him being blacklisted and not being able to make another film for 10 years.

The plot, for what there is of one, concentrates on Hanada (Joe Shishido) -boiled rice sniffing obsessive - a.k.a No. 3 killer, the third best hit man in Japanese organised crime, at the peak of his abilities his fortunes change when he meets Misako (Annu Mari), a mysterious woman with a death obsession. She gives him a difficult assignment that goes wrong, after a butterfly lands on Hanada's gun sight leading him to kill an innocent person. He now becomes the hunted and flees for his life from his former employers and the mysterious No.1 Killer.

Example of the array of visual techniques as seen in Branded to Kill

That in a nutshell is it, the plot that is, for what else takes place is neither plot nor narrative, I'm not sure if this is a case of style over substance because I got so much from this film, it's certainly not conventional and definitely not to everyone tastes. The imagery in this film is immense, from Misako's apartment strewn with dead butterflies pinned to the walls to the grotesque sequence where we see a man have his glass eye taken out of it's socket; which evokes that startling image of the eye being slashed in Un Chien Andalou. The Cinematography, composition and editing speak volumes about Suzuki's 'auteur' status, this is film making with a unique voice.

Misako and Hanada in the former's apartment surrounded by dead butterflies

Up until Branded to Kill Seijun Suzuki was incredibly prolific in the Japanese studio system, churning out some 40 films over a 15 year period in the time he worked with them. He was part of a core of directors for Nikkatsu that churned out mainstay pictures in the 1960's which were either ultra-violent yakuza (gangster) flicks or sado-masochistic soft-core sex movies, which were called pinku eiga, for which Branded to Kill has elements of both. Suzuki began to find his own voice in those generic films and before Branded to Kill was made he had been warned a couple of times by his studio bosses, defiantly he made Tokyo Drifter in 1966 and then the straw that broke the camel's back, Branded to Kill, in 1967.

Honestly this isn't the most accessible of films, some people will find this incredibly frustrating whilst others will flat out hate it. After I had watched this film it took me a day to work out if I had actually liked it or not, such was the intensity of the ideas I still really don't have much of a clue what I have just seen. I know it'll need more than one viewing, I think this is one I'll put on every year or so and slowly digest new ideas. The more I think about this film the more I like it, there are touches of sheer class throughout the film and although it doesn't, narratively speaking, make much sense, visually, cinematically and as a piece of art this screams genius.

27 March 2008

Cabaret - Watching the 1000 Greatest Films

No.5 - Cabaret (Bob Fosse, 1972)
Ranked - #270

Divine decadence darling! (Sally Bowles)

No sooner had I written a post lamenting the wave of remakes than I come to a film in the top 1000 of greatest films (as listed by They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?) which in itself is a adaptation of Christopher Isherwood's 'Goodbye to Berlin' which had been dramatised for both stage and screen as I Am a Camera. After success as a Broadway hit in 1966, Cabaret was taken up by fledgling director Bob Fosse (again, a director whose work I haven't previously seen - this is becoming something of a habit with me) and shot on location in Germany.

Set in Berlin in 1931, two years before Adolf Hitler came to total power, Cabaret paints a picture of a society in free fall, escaping through alcohol and drug abuse, casual sex and, in the case of Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli), through her belief that she'll make it as a film star. Away from all the filth and poverty is the claustrophobic and rancorous Kit-Kat club, where our heroine Sally works as (an amazing) cabaret star, which drives the narrative forward with brutally honest songs, though softened with ever so knowing grace, choreography and humour, such as this example here) depicting the state of society and it's current transformation to a Nazi regime.

Liza as Sally in Cabaret, I think the word you're looking for is Wowee.

Bob Fosse, a trained dancer and something of a child prodigy handles the songs and dance routines in Cabaret with aplomb, the decision to shoot them in a cramped nightclub gives the numbers gravitas. The themes, context and ideas are second to none, without someone of his calibre behind the camera this film could have easily fallen into farce. Installing the film with a naturalistic feel, the Kit-Kat club comes to embody the entire state of Germany at that time and the songs are the problems and issues faced as well as the future (solutions) issues yet to come.

However, is Bob Fosse as astute when the songs aren't rolling? I know that without the songs Cabaret was still a worthy watch, I felt that the casting was spot on and the naturalistic look of Germany of that time spoke volumes outside the club as much as it did in it. You have that feeling however that he's not entirely comfortable without the musical element, sometimes the action feels lumbered and tedium of our heroes (Michael York and Liza Minnelli) minor problems start to grate.

Thankfully the songs are a triumph and for me it's the best musical I've ever seen, if it wasn't for West Side Story that is. Witness the horrifying power of Tomorrow Belongs To Me which made the hairs on the back of my neck bristle or the pure show stopper that is Mein Herr. Praise must also go to Joel Grey in a scene stealing performance as the Master of Ceremonies, the all seeing eye and peruser of a changing Germany, his knowing grin smugly predicts the changing mores and philosophies of this blighted county. What Cabaret does so well is highlight what happens to a country when it's forced into a corner, through respirations, desperation and repression Germany looked for answers in the darkest of dark places.

Angelic looking Aryan boy singing Tomorrow Belongs to Me

Although Hitler is never actually mentioned, he hovers threateningly in the background like a spectre, a ghostly vision that becomes more corporeal towards the end of the film. In fact it's that very end shot that left me breathless, the camera pans an array of brass instruments, just as it did in the beginning of the film and reflects the image of the audience watching the cabaret, this time around though half the audience are wearing the uniforms of the Nazi party.

Take 2

Ah yes, the remake. That fabled shoe-in guaranteed success for the Hollywood producer. Can't think of any new ideas? Don't fret my little producing chum, sit down and watch this. You like it? You do, that's marvellous, so why not remake it? We can do it in ultra-super-sonic surround sound with super-duper special effects and with massive superstars, it'll be better than the original! We can make it better! We must! So what is it with the remakes? Of course like any other film fan I have pondered in the past, 'what film would I like to see remade?' but when it comes down to it I don't want any of my favourites touched. What lead Gus Van Sant to remake the classic Psycho is beyond me, surely he should've known better than to even go near it and to do it shot-by-shot as well AND with Anne Heche. It beggars belief.

I come to this post after reading this month's marvellous Sight & Sound which featured an article on the Michael Haneke American remake of his own film 'Funny Games'. Haneke gives a reasonable list of reasons why a remake is important, for one he believes his original Austrian version didn't reach the audiences he hoped would watch it by chance, meaning this time around he hopes that more mainstream audiences will see the film and take on the message of violence in cinema. I have to admit I haven't seen neither but I know the unremitting horror that people felt when they watched the original 10 years ago and I can't help feeling that the world has changed so much in that time that the message has gone past it's sell by date, we're surrounded by more graphic scenes of violence than ever before and I'm afraid Haneke's English language remake won't make a single difference.
scene from the original 'Funny Games' (1997)

I'm sitting here trying to think of one remake that I've actually preferred to the original, in recent times we've had, 3:10 to Yuma, Alfie, The Wicker Man, Carrie, Dark Water, Day of the Dead, Solaris, The Stepford Wives and The Producers just to mention a mere drop in the ocean. Of course people's argument for this tend to be 'there isn't nothing wrong in updating a story for modern audiences' and course to a point that makes sense. Generations have passed their stories down through the ages and they've been retold, rehashed and made more palatable and resonate for a modern day listener, is cinema really any different? Why shouldn't we remake, for example, Citizen Kane with Ryan Renolds pining for his snowboard Rosebud? Or The Grand Illusion feat. Westlife as the P.O.W's? Or shouldn't we be thinking, if a story/film is told so well in the first place shouldn't we let it speak for itself?

However, and let's not fool ourselves, the main reason for the remake is the almighty dollar and the horror film, right now, is where the money is. Taking something as perfect and as genuinely horrific as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and remaking it is sacrilege and has no intentions of being as good as it's predecessor. As one can tell I'm pretty downbeat about the remake, I'm a fan for leaving films where they are in their history and legacy of cinema. Remakes of films such as The Manchurian Candidate and the forthcoming The Birds make my blood boil, although deep down I know it doesn't detract from the splendor of the original, even to be mentioned in the same sentence is enough to send me in to a foaming at the mouth rage.

So am I alone in the film blogging world? How about you, do you feel as if remakes are valid? Do we need them? Maybe there is a film you would love to be see remade, maybe you've already cast it. If so, let me know.

18 March 2008

Nothing quite like a love-in

Never one to ignore a call from a fellow brother-in-arms, I'm moved to contribute to FinalGirl's worthy post about the wave of cynical reactions to her love, our love, of movies. We probably differ in many ways, in taste of movies perhaps (although the championing of little Brit darling Neil Marshall is way up my street, The Descent is one of those gems that most people will never see), maybe we differ in how we watch, talk and think about film but we are united in one thing; a true and wondrous love for film. So in order to celebrate this day (and I wonder if this could be an annual thing from now on) I lay my soul out to bare and praise the joy of cinema.

How to explain my love for film? I feels like my love has been with me since birth but as I delve into my past I can see patterns emerge and one defining moment shouts out louder than any other and that's the night I watched Naked by Mike Leigh on late night tv. This was perhaps around 1994, maybe earlier, I had got into the habit of watching late night film (student's perogative), mostly, if I'm all too honest, in the vain hope of seeing some naughty foriegn sex scenes. So you can probably see why I jumped at the chance to watch something called Naked. Naked! Great! I don't even have to try and work that title out, no hidden meanings or symbolism they've just spelt it out for me. Oh, how little I knew then.

Naked, for those not in the know, is about a bleak a film as you're ever going to see, a defining and damning portrayal of late 20th century Britain and how the strong will always bully and belittle the weak. Focusing on a scattering of morally corrupt, lonely and dejected people, Naked hits you in the guts with its gritty realism, unremitting sourness and it's near apocalyptic images of a wasteland London. There is no one to love or feel emotions for, our protagonist, Johnny (brilliantly played by David Thewlis) has raped someone by the end of the first scene, even the characters on the periphery are so unlikable that you have no one to side with, Johnny is no hero but he's no villain either, he's neither or maybe both. The character of Johnny walks through the streets of London emotionally sucking the life out of everyone he meets, he's rude, cruel, nasty and vicious. God, I love this film.

For those who haven't seen it or for those that have and dismissed it as misogynistic and unpleasant, which some critics did back in the day, all I can say is Naked is the moment I feel in love with film. I'm still not sure what it was about that film, maybe it's the undiluted honesty, the mirroring of societies ills, it's unflinching and unapologetic graphic depictions of a morally bankrupt people, whatever it was it filled me with questions. I've watched the film several times since then and with every viewing more becomes apparent, I understand more about why it awakened that hunger for film in me. For that I have to say I'm totally grateful for being that horny young thing looking for a cheap thrill who ended up watching a British masterpiece.

I've been a fan of Mike Leigh ever since and although we've had several classics since then (Secret and Lies, Topsy-Turvy and Vera Drake) but nothing quite like Naked. So there you have it, that's the reason I love this medium, what about you?


17 March 2008

The Grapes of Wrath - Watching the 1000 Greatest Films

No.4 - The Grapes of Wrath (John Ford, 1940)
Ranked - #127

'If there was a law, they was workin' with maybe we could take it, but it ain't the law. They're workin' away our spirits, tryin' to make us cringe and crawl, takin' away our decency.' (Tom Joad)

When I read 'The Grapes of Wrath' by John Steinbeck some years back I was emotionally stunned and unable to get over what I had read, about the plight of the Joad family during the Great Depression, I went on to read more about this time period just to make sure it was all real.

Being born in England and raised in our school system we have enough of our own history to plow through before looking to America but I did know from documentaries, film stock and literature what happened during that time yet it wasn't until this book that the full horror hit home. The poetic prose of Steinbeck's epic novel stamped this tragic era forever on my brain, it left such a haunting and lasting memory that I came to this adaptation by John Ford with slight dread in my heart. At best I'm not one for adaptations, I believe it's either a book or a film, not both. Of course this is a blog about film and I should leave comparisons with the novel aside, which isn't going to be easy I know but I'll try, however any one wanting to compare the two should look here, where these lovely people have done the thinking for us.

John Ford is a giant of a director and has left such a lasting catalogue of great films that he has more films on this list than any other. The turnaround of the fabled studio system enhanced Ford's technique and he was able to stamp his authority, authorship and style on his pictures the longer his career went on. It was this quick turnaround that saw Steinbeck's classic novel come to the screen only one year after it was published, something that's not totally unthinkable today, think Harry Potter, but that a book was so critical and analytical about the contradictions and inequalities of the American Dream was made at all does take some beating. Hollywood producer Daryl F. Zanuck knew that it had to be made and purchased the rights for the novel within one month of publication for a whopping $75, 000.

The Grapes of Wrath focuses on the Joad family during the Great Depression that swept America in the late twenties which lasted right up until the second world war. I believe the film captures the period honestly and realistically, recreating the socio-economic impact, as well as the mid 30's drought, through one representative family, the Joads. Thrown of their own land the Joads, along with thousands of families, take to the road in search for work, food, shelter and their dignity. The hollowness of the American Dream is laid bare by the oppression the family meets along the way, from being turfed out of their home by a faceless bank to being forced to work for next to nothing by a plethora of unscrupulous employers taking advantage of the migrants desperation.

The style in which The Grapes of Wrath is filmed, quasi-documentary, only adds to the seriousness and accuracy that Ford was attempting to achieve in adapting Steinbeck's Pulitzer winning novel. Playing the story straight and by not pulling too many punches (accept for the novel's famous ending) Ford achieved a rare and beautiful thing with this adaptation by capturing the personal and the political in one swift and linear moment. The Grapes of Wrath is played to perfection, the performances by the excellent cast is almost reduced to a side note, and it remains a film that each new generation should watch, hopefully taking a lesson or two from it's sorry tale and applying them to the modern day.

15 March 2008

Night of the Demon - Watching the 1000 Greatest Films

No. 3 - Night of the Demon (a.k.a Curse of the Demon) (Jacques Tourneur, 1957)
Ranked - #700

'It's in the trees! It's coming! - (Professor Harrington)

Part of the appeal of watching the films on this list was the vast array of cinema that I never thought I'd get around to seeing. Night of the Demon never entered the frame to be honest, it was a film that I had heard referenced and said in passing but it didn't leave an imprint on my mind. Is it wrong to admit that the name Jacques Tourneur didn't ring any bells originally? That was until I did some research and realised that he was behind a lot of celebrated work. It's almost shameful to admit such a thing but that's the whole point of taking up this challenge, I wanted to learn more about cinema's rich history and with each film my knowledge grows. There are many directors on the list that I've at least heard of but I must confess that Tourneur was not one of them, so the lesson begins.

The Night of the Demon first and foremost is my type of horror, that's to say that it's more about the psychological than the physical, more about the internal fear than the boogie man jumping out at you. Apart from the bookending of some shockingly bad special effects of the 'demon', which had been inserted at the request of the studio bosses, Night of the Demon produces a masterclass in deeply disturbing images, I don't know about you but the sight of Julian Karswell (Niall McGinnis) in clown makeup whilst summoning up a storm just about frightened the bejesus out of me. The use of sound is something of a revelation, that nightmarish sound effect used whenever the demon approached was so effective that I once said 'oh no' out loud, to the amusement of my wife who incidentally, was hiding behind a cushion.

The film follows renowned new world (America) rationalist, Dr John Holden (Dana Andrews), take up the investigation of Karswell's devil worshiping cult after the original investigator dies, in what is labeled an accident but was in fact killed by the aforementioned demon, bad special effects and all. Karswell wants Holden to leave the investigation alone and to walk away, when Holden refuses Karswell slyly passes Holden a parchment inscribed with runes, to whom the owner has now been chosen and will be at the mercy of the demon, Karswell then informs Holden, when they next meet, that he will die in three days time. As the film progresses Holden's original rational beliefs are tested to the core and the psychological terror increases bit by bit, scene by scene.

The atmospherics of this film are immense, camera movement is limited to well framed shots and intense close-ups, in cases when the demon begins to appear extended long shots demonstrate the sheer scale and size of the imposing and terrifying evil coming out of the darkness. I felt I was watching a film beloved and doted on by it's film makers, such well constructed and finely tuned films as this are hard to come by, Night of the Demon is a treat and should be hunted down by any serious student of film, it also remains a shining example of that rare of rarest things; an actual scary horror film.

14 March 2008

Guilty Pleasures

The Teenage Movie

All film fans have guilty pleasures, we can't all watch Seven Samurai or La Grande Illusion whilst praising the editing of Sergei Eisenstein or marvel at the cinematography of Tarkovsky. We have to have a rest now and then, we're not machines you know. So what do we do when we're not watching the best our art has to offer? When all we want to do is sit around the house in our pants eating popcorn out of bowl that's balanced precariously on our bellies? Why we indulge ourselves of course, we turn off our brains and watch crap, pure unadulterated crap. Ahhh, isn't it better just to admit to it and say it out loud?

The teenage movie to me is indulgence at it's greatest as you get to revel in all those films that you identified with and loved so much as a kid. The teenage movie isn't exactly that definable, I mean what is a teenage movie? Is Back to the Future a teenage movie? It has teenager's in it. I think. They do look a little older than that now I think of it. I really can't tell what is or what isn't, I just know that I have films that define a certain age in my life and that my parent's felt alienated from. I suppose this is why I don't see something like Back to the Future as part of this genre, it seemed to speak to a vaster audience than say Ferris Beuller's Day Off did, which for me is a seminal teenage movie. I believe it's the self-satisfaction and overall smugness that Matthew Broderick brings to far too popular and likable Beuller that send me into raptures about that film. No doubt that something like Fast Times at Ridgemont High could only be obtainable to a certain age group, if you happen to be over a certain age limit this totally brilliant film will miss you by, I know it's been said before but just how good is Sean Penn, as the complete and utter stoned waster Jeff Spicoli, in this film?

As a bloke, now in his early 30's, (only just mind you), my era was the supposed initial brat pack era which saw films such as The Breakfast Club, St Elmo's Fire and Pretty in Pink make stars (some all too brief) of the likes of Emilio Estevez, Molly Ringwald, Andrew McCarthy, Judd Nelson and Ally Sheedy but those weren't the movies that I typically identified with. Now as that 30 year old it's too late for me to open my heart to them as so many other people of my generation have. I generally liked the goofier films like Weird Science, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and The Lost Boys, of which, regarding the latter, I so hope this news here is true, imagine the Corey's back on the big screen? It's enough to make you shudder and cheer at the same time. If you want to glimpse the trailer then look here.

Along with Ferris Beuller and Fast Times, for me the ultimate teenage movie was Savage Steve Holland's miniature classic Better off Dead. As black as any black comedy before or since, Better off Dead tells the story of Lane Meyer (played by a very young looking John Cusack) and his suicidal attempts after the break up from his shallow girlfriend who leaves him for the ultimate school jock. For me this has everything a successful teenage movie should have, wacky characters, surreal imagery, black humour, a little love story and, most importantly, be totally unobtainable to the uninitiated. So what's your favourite teenage movies?


12 March 2008

L'Avventura - Watching the 1000 Greatest Films

No. 2 - L'Avventura (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960)
Ranked - #38

'Who needs beautiful things nowadays Claudia. How long will they last?' (Sandro)

Again I come to a film having never previously seen the film-makers work and once again I can't believe it's taken me so long to do so. In this case I actually owned a copy of Blow-Up for 18 months, well I say owned, I had actually borrowed it from a friend at work and, well you know how these things turn out, there it sat, gathering dust, looking at me as if to say 'put me in the video you illiterate bum, take out that worn out copy of Betty Blue and give me a whirl'. There it remained, taunting me daily, reminding me of the weekly clap-trap I would put on instead and then gladly I gave it back to my mate declaring it to be one of the greatest films I've ever seen. I didn't even blink when I told that lie. This idea that I should have seen these films by now has in the past paralysed me from actually watching them, I'm not really sure why but that's now remedied and I going ahead with gusto.

The more wary of you would have noticed that this is not indeed Blow Up but L'Avventura, a film I've been dying to see since I glimpsed it on that Martin Scorsese documentary about Italian cinema. Naturally as my Italian is as good as my Swahili I didn't trust my literal reasoning that it simply translated to Adventure and I was right to do so, as there is more to the title than initially suggested. L'Avventura is Italian slang for something meaning 'a one night stand', a brief sexual tryst with no strings attached, a meaningless encounter with no feelings involved.

L'Avventura follows a well off troupe of socialites as they embark on a cruise of the Mediterranean when they stop off at a group of islands, jutting rocks poking out of the sea, for a swim and exploration, when one of there party, Anna, goes missing. It's here that some people have trouble with this film believing they're embarking on a thriller, yet what Antonioni reveals in L'Avventura is far more sinister than a missing person mystery; it's the fact that most people really don't care. It's nothing to them, like their sexual relationships, jobs and conversations, there is no real depth of feeling or emotion. The reaction to Anna's disappearance symbolises (and boy is there a lot of symbolism in this film, most of it rather unsubtle, take for instance Sandro's extended key chain) this generation's lack of morals, it's instability is finally exposed in the films closing image.

For me this was a beautifully shot film, I swooned over the imposing and beautiful cinematography (thank you Aldo Scavarda) and having read more on the making of the film, notably it's difficulty in getting made at all, my appreciation for this film is immensely magnified. It remains a stylised film and intense character study of a lost generation with nothing but sexual encounters, meaningless chatter and too much money that has stood the test of time. On a personal note I have no problem with these heavily laden symbolic films yet some people do, yet I get immense enjoyment in decoding the symbols, I got great joy in realising the two books Anna left behind where the a copy of the Bible and 'Tender is the Night' by F. Scott Fitzgerald (now there's a lost generation). I almost squealed with glee at the discovery. I pretty sure that's a little sad on my part but by god I don't care.

Badlands - Watching the 1000 Greatest Films

No. 1- Badlands (Terrence Malick, 1973)
Ranked - #166

'Name's Carruthers. Believe I shoot people every now and then. Not that I deserve a medal' - Kip Carruthers

I have such a soft spot for 70's American Cinema, after all this is the cinema I was introduced to as an influential teenager by an earnest father, I feel as if I truly understand this era of film making more than any other period and it was with this eager anticipation that I turned to Badlands.

All the defining motives and themes that I associate with this era are here; isolation, political and moral apathy, identity crisis, casual violence, what Malick brings to this period, I somehow I feel I can identify with, is that sense of 'this is life' narrative, where no action is berated or celebrated. Kip kills, Holly narrates whimsically, people die, life goes on. It's this simple technique, used in a defined all-American movie genre, the road movie, that I found so fascinating. Our two protagonists are so lifeless, characterless even, that they seem all the more real and alive for it and it's this technique that makes the character of Kip all the more dangerous.

This was also my first Malick film, a director that was something of a mystery to me, of course I had heard of him, mostly about his disappearance from film-making for 20 odd years, however his legacy was an enigma. What strikes you first, and foremost, with Malick's work is his scope of space, the lingering wide panned shots of an abandoned and desolate America as Kip and Holly make the direction less journey, which punctuates with the resonance of a poet.

There is a sense of hopelessness and an idea of 'how small we really are' in the wide scope of the universe in those shots. The aimlessness and opaque narrative are backed up with an emotionless voice-over from Holly, who tells the story as if she didn't really live through it, it's this detachment from self, from society, that spells out 70's America, when the nation seemed to collectively question itself for the first time, in cinema at least.

Not a bad soundtrack either by all accounts, especially that haunting theme tune

For those who haven't seen it before I hope I haven't been spoilerific, I have tried to avoid giving away plot details in too great a point. If you do see it, or have already seen this seminal piece of cinema, then let me know your views, if you agree, disagree or just want to shoot the breeze then please leave a comment.

11 March 2008

Watching the 1000 Greatest Films Project

April 10th 2009:Update: Rest assured I am still continuing apace with this marvellous project, I'm now a quarter way through the list, I've been introduced to some incredible pieces of work and it's my full intention to continue what I started. However, this year has seen me take on the massive 'Counting Down The Zeroes' project, chronicling a decade of film with the help from the blogsphere, and there will be no room for The Soul Focus in 2009. It's a small price to pay but I will be still reviewing these films and begin posting about them beginning in 2010. Thanks for your patience.

December 18th 2008:
Update: The latest list of The Greatest 1,000 films has just been made available here, at They Shoot Pictures, Don't They? Why not peruse the list yourself, in the meantime, I'll make amendments to my own list, thankfully it doesn't seem, on first glance, that I've covered any of the 96 films omitted.

Being the film freak that I am, I totally obsess over film lists compiled by critics, academics, film directors and industry people alike. I've searched high and low for a list of films that I feel met my feverish and freakish desires and then I come across this brilliant

They Shoot Pictures, Don't They? is not only a great website on all matters film related they've also complied the list to end all lists.

Simply put they've taken every list out there and put them in one place, then tallied up the average score and compiled the ultimate list from the result, giving us a complete 'great 1000 films.' Of course, films are subjective and I have to admit to questioning a fair few inclusions but like it or not this is a definitive critic list and for all film fans alike, this should be taken seriously.

So, in short, I've made it my mission to watch them all, well at least try to anyway, and to be honest I've got a long, long way to go. My first tally was an unbelievably low 178!

In the coming weeks, months, years (and this will take years!) I will be keeping a blog of my efforts and reviewing each and every film. In each post you will see two numbers, the first number in bold will correspond to how many films I have now seen and the second number in red corresponds to it's ranking on the 'They Shoot Pictures, Don't They? Greatest films list.

So without further ado, let's get this thing started. Here's to some very happy viewing.

Update: October 30th 2008 - The Soul Focus

In order to give each film to undivided attention I believe they truly deserve, I have introduced a new feature titled 'The Soul Focus'. The concept is simple, I've come to the conclusion that in watching these 1000 films, I don't feel that I'm getting to the very core of what makes them special, unique or even why they' are held with such high regard in the film community. In doing my research for each film, I omit so much stuff in order for the review to flow naturally that I've come to the conclusion that I'm doing that film a disservice.

So, with 'The Soul Focus', I will choose a new film every week and give it my undivided attention, I'll concentrate on the nuances, slowly dissecting each film, striping away until I come to my review at the end of the week. This will act as a continuation of my 'Watching the 1000 Greatest Films' projects but from now on each film will be examined back to front, front to back. I hope you enjoy the new format, thanks.

Previous Posts : Click any of the posts below to read my reviews.

18 - Sweet Smell of Success - Alexander Mackendrick, 1957
(Ranked - #155)
In essence the Sweet Smell of Success is as cool as you're going to get, all hip and swing, effortlessly edited and strung together by several components that compliment, and bind this otherwise seedy little noir of blackmail, deception and betrayal.
17 - Distant Voices, Still Lives - Terrence Davies, 1988
(Ranked - #420)
With understated grandeur, Davies has produced a British classic, one that despite it's fixed identity of place will resonate with people all over.
16 - Bridge on the River Kwai - David Lean, 1957
(Ranked - #204)
Lean's epic is filmed on a grand scale yet totally able to concentrate on the nuances of character and narrative, never losing touch with the essentials of the story and giving us a film full of visual flair and grandeur.
For all the film's problems, Peckinpah still gives us a stunning looking film on the screen, proving once again that his style and staging are second to none.
14 - Gone With The Wind - Victor Fleming, 1939
(Ranked - #62)
Fleetingly brilliant, all together entertaining yet ever so slightly over-rated, it's easy to see why this film has lasted the test of time and is adhered as the pinnacle of a golden age of film making in Hollywood.
13 - Paris, Texas - Wim Wenders, 1984
Ranked - #299)
Loss, alienation and isolation have rarely been captured with such poignancy; from the searing music of Ry Cooder to the light shades of red that radiate throughout, Paris, Texas lulls it's viewer into submission with it's refined and delicate approach.
12 - The World According to Garp - George Roy Hill, 1982
Ranked - #998)

In adapting straight from the novel, GARP fails to translate any sort of semblance or meaning from Irving's work, what delights and enraptures on the page won't necessarily do the same on the big screen.

11 - A Bout De Souffle - Jean Luc Godard, 1960
(Ranked - #29)

Minutes into the film you can sense the text book being ripped up and even 45 years later it appears more daring, original and dangerous than a whole year's worth of Hollywood product.

10 - Scarface - Brian De Palma, 1983
(Ranked - #571)
A case of style over substance, for all it's pop-art, trash aesthetics I can't help getting past the air of self-importance; why so dour and serious when in reality this is an exercise in trash fun?
9 - Strangers on a Train - Alfred Hitchcock, 1951
(Ranked - #273)
Hitchcock's greatest virtue as a story-teller was that he's able to tell an improbable tale such as 'Strangers on a Train' with simplicity and believability.
8 - The Big Sleep - Howard Hawks, 1946
(Ranked - #258)

a film so rich in dialouge that the complexities of the plot are put aside as one searing razor-sharp line after another keeps you firmly glued to your seat.
7 - The Lady Eve - Preston Sturges, 1941
(Ranked - #127)
if you like your comedy with a mix of the high-brow and low-brow, the sublime and the ridiculous scattered with witty dialouge and slapstick in equal measure then look no further.
6 - Branded to Kill - Seijun Suzuki, 1967
(Ranked - #690)
A cross between a psycho sexual drama, a Japanese generic gangster, avant-garde experimentalism, pop art and surrealism, Branded to Kill fires off one beautifully constructed, and twisted, scene after another.
5 - Cabaret - Bob Fosse, 1972
(Ranked - #357)
Cabaret paints a picture of a society in free fall, escaping through alcohol and drug abuse and casual sex.
4 - The Grapes of Wrath - John Ford, 1940
Ranked - #119)
Ford achieved a rare and beautiful thing with this adaptation by capturing the personal and the political in one swift and linear moment.
3 - Night of the Demon - Jaques Tourneur, 1957
(Ranked - #694)

it also remains a shining example of that rare of rarest things; an actual scary horror film.

2 - L'Avventura - Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960
(Ranked - #33)

It remains a stylised film and intense character study of a lost generation with nothing but sexual encounters, meaningless chatter and too much money, that has stood the test of time.
1 - Badlands - Terrence Malick, 1973
(Ranked - #179)
All the defining motives and themes that I associate with this era are here; isolation, political and moral apathy, identity crisis, casual violence.

10 March 2008

I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship

A life through film. Hmm, yep, that just about sums me up.

As a kid I couldn't get enough of film, I would wait by the front door for my dad to get home from work where, in his backpack, would be the latest grainy copied VHS tape, what would it be today? E.T? The Karate Kid? The Wizard of Oz? Every week or so he'd bring home a classic old movie for my mum and despite not knowing what was really going on in those films I'd snuggle up in her arms and watch Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodger glide, James Cagney wince and Cary Grant swoon on to our screen. The images, the score, the lighting, the acting, everything enraptured me about those films and still hold a power over me today.

In my early teenage years my dad would tape films for me late at night (on some occasions even wake me up when everyone had fallen asleep) that opened my eyes even further, I watched some great films on those VHS recordings; The Godfather, The Wild Bunch, The Taking of the Pelham 123, The Searchers, Taxi Driver, every film spoke to me in a way that I didn't know was possible, nothing in my life up to that point ever engaged me like those films. Around the age of 14 I began to go the cinema almost every week, I'd watch anything (and I mean anything), I remember queuing around the block for several hours just to watch Batman and no wonder with all the bloody hyperbole - see the trailer below for just a mere snippet of the advertising campaign that run riot and made me believe I was going to watch the greatest film ever made! It fell somewhat short, even at that impressionable age I remember not being totally sold by it but hey, we still have that Jack Nicholson performance.


My life really has been all about film, I've loved it, studied it (at college and university but that's for later blogs) and If it wasn't for idle chatter about the film 'Farewell my Concubine' I wonder sometimes if I would have got together with my wife. Film has educated, entertained and inspired me for over 20 odd years now and it's my sincere hope to meet anyone who feels the same way.

For now, laters.