A return to blogging obscurity

So it has a good long time since I’ve posted here…during which I’ve just about finished the TSPDT list (both the 2007 and 2008 incarnations), only 2 Stan Brakhage films stand in my way (The Art of Vision and Scenes From Under Childhood), as well as Louis Feuillade’s Tih Minh from the 2007 list. I initially had aspirations of blogging about all 1000 movies on the list, but a combination of laziness and a general lack of interest in writing about Gone With The Wind stopped me dead in my tracks. Not to slight Rhett or Scarlett, but does the world really need more people writing about Gone With The Wind?? I prefer to think not.

So with that as a thought, I’ve decided to take a different approach to blogging about film, and try and write about films that are forgotten or unknown or underrated. Part of this inspiration comes from the fact that as I worked my way through the list, I kept being exposed to more and more films, actors, directors, movements, national cinemas, genres, and eras, and rather than quelling my appetite for film, it just made me hungry for more. So I started seeking out all sorts of silent films and pre-codes, as well as documentaries and film-noirs. The discovery of the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress has exposed me to the world of home movies and orphan films.

So this is my intention: to write about the films I’m watching, the actors/directors/producers/cameramen/scenarists I’m digging, the lists I’m working on, the genres I’m exploring, and the eras I’m discovering.

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And when it’s time to do the dishes, where’s Ray Bolger? I’ll tell ya, Ray Bolger is looking out for Ray Bolger!

61. The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939)

The poster is kind of meh. I do appreciate that The Munchkins get a credit though.

Until last week, I hadn’t seen this movie since I was 9 I think, when my best friend convinced me to watch on a sleepover. I don’t remember what my response was, but I don’t think it left much of a mark. Actually most of what I knew about the film was due to it’s iconic nature. So I was familiar with the songs, and the flying monkeys, and the “I’m melting” bit, and the ruby-red slippers, and Toto, and Kansas, and “There’s no place like home“, and the urban legends about the original Tin Man dying due to the make-up, and the munchkin hanging himself, and how Dark Side of the Moon matches up perfectly, even though the film is twice as long. Stupid stoners.

So I felt like I knew the film intrinsically due to it’s pervasiveness in popular culture, yet I didn’t remember if I liked it.

So I remedied that by actually watching the film, and I was pleased. Judy Garland singing the shit out of things, munchkins, bright colors, monkeys, happy songs, Ray fucking Bolger, tornadoes, Frank Morgan at his cracked out best, and people melting. Can’t go wrong with that.

Best performance by a donkey since Eeyore.

60. Au hasard Balthazar (Robert Bresson, 1960)

This is a movie about a fucking donkey, and at the end I was balling my eyes out.

On filmaffinity.com I gave the film 8/10.

Cary Grant. I’d do him.

59. North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959)

The poster is pretty underwhelming (what’s up with Eva Marie Saint shooting a ray gun at Cary Grant’s bum?), especially for a Hitchcock poster. Thankfully the movie isn’t.

It might be Hitchcock‘s most fun movie from just a pure entertainment standpoint. It starts fast and doesn’t relent. The tone is never serious, and Cary Grant is adept at being both stylish and witty, while James Mason‘s villain is somewhat menacing but also very charming with a lot great lines. In some ways he kind of reminds me of Alan Rickman in Die Hard. He’s that kind of bad guy, a scumbag but somehow you kind of like him.

I think in some ways too it is Hitchcock’s most accessible film too. Again the speed at which everything happens draws the viewer in, and from there the pace is furious, with a lot of twists and turns along the way. I realize the film has its deeper complexities like all Hitchcock’s work, but I think it’s probably the best introduction to Hitchcock save for maybe Rear Window. I mean Psycho is good, but I can see where people would think it sucks(it’s black & white, it’s a bit slow, and the ending might not work for some), and I don’t like Vertigo very much at all. North by Northwest is so effective because it can be enjoyed simply as entertainment without subtext. I also think it feels very modern as well. Oh and Cary Grant is awesome.

I should let it be known that Cary Grant is my favorite male actor, and one of the few that I will watch in anything. Kirk Douglas is another, and perhaps John Cusack. I should note there are probably about a dozen actresses I will watch in anything, I guess it’s cos I watch films with my penis. But Cary Grant is basically the man in my books. He’s gorgeous, sauve, impecably stylish, witty, charismatic, pimp as hell and he can do a mean backflip. I’m not the first person to say this, but I want to be Cary Grant. He’s just so cool. I even bought a pair of the sunglasses he wears in the film(mine are black rimmed though). His allure is so strong to me, that although I am decidedly pro-knowledge, and absolutely fascinated by old school Hollywood gossip, I don’t want to know anything more about the real Cary Grant because it will somehow diminish his awesomeness. I know too much already, so I avoid gossip about him because I want to preserve the illusion. There is no one else I’ve done that for.

On filmaffinity.com I gave the film 9/10. Not Hitchcock’s very best, but maybe his most enjoyable film.

Manliness is next to Godliness.

58. Rio Bravo (Howard Hawks, 1959)

Now that’s a fucking poster. John Wayne wasting man, woman, and child(well no children exactly) with a rifle, all while Ricky Nelson looks on approvingly. Aside from the clash of the red font for the title, and the blue font for the actors, this poster is sublime. If I saw that poster today, I would think: “John Wayne killing people? Yes please.”

Anyway this film represents a number of firsts for me. It was the first John Wayne film I ever watched, the first Howard Hawks film I knowingly watched (I watched Bringing Up Baby on TCM one time without knowing who Howard Hawks was…yes I was once a very naive and sheltered boy), and I believe it was in the first batch of films I signed out of the library when I started all this list craziness. I think High Noon and The Seventh Seal were in that batch too.

I think it might also be the first classic western I ever watched, save for High Plains Drifter (which though entertaining isn’t especially classic). My brother always tried to get me to watch the Leone westerns, but I just didn’t care. It’s only with my watching Rio Bravo that I discovered how totally bitching the western genre can be. Dudes shooting each other while acting manly is something I find entertaining.

My appreciation of the western is rooted in my appreciation of the gangster film, they both make me feel gangsta. When I watch John Wayne I live vicariously through him. He talks tough, has the occasional witty line, shoots suckers left and right, and comes out on top. That’s a combination that appeals to me.

As an aside, when I was a kid, PBS used to show an Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet marathon each Christmas, and for whatever reason I would watch it. The show wasn’t especially funny, and obviously being a 1950’s family sitcom it was sappy as hell, but I still dug it. If I have to name a reason why I watched and enjoyed it, I suppose it would be that Ricky Nelson was cool (and a hunk too!). I mean he was handsome, charming, and he played rock n’ roll, he’s like James Dean without the undercurrent of rebellion and sexual frustration.

Anyway since then I have kind of admired Ricky Nelson, I used to take his CDs out of the library, and his cocaine addiction, and death in a plane crash satisfy my interests in the seedy and the macabre. My admiration for him is such that I’ve even forgiven him for this. It’s kind of a shame he became a victim of excess, because he is damn good in the film.

Exhibit A:

John Wayne and Ricky Nelson are enough to make the movie, but then add in Dean Martin as a cowardly drunk and Walter Brennan as Walter Brennan, and you have awesomeness coming out of every pore. Such gloriously fun stuff.

I should mention that I adore Walter Brennan. I mean sure his politics made John Wayne look like a commie, and sure he cackled with delight when Martin Luther King got shot (alledgedly), but dammit he is just so much fun to watch. He is one of those actors like Edward Everett Horton, Charles Ruggles or even Guy Kibbee where you see there name in the credits and you know the film will be decent at the very least, simply because of their presence. They might have a couple lines or maybe a couple of scenes, but you know they are always going to be quality.

Awesomeness of the highest quality.

On filmaffinity.com I gave the film 10/10.


May the force be with you.

57. Pather Pachali (Satyajit Ray, 1955)

This is one of the greatest directorial debuts ever, along with Orson WellesCitizen Kane, and Rouben Mamoulian‘s Applause (which is criminally underrated, and really I will look for any excuse to mention it). Just a wonderful film.

Just a simply great film, the first of the Apu Trilogy, which rivals the Star Wars Trilogy as the greatest movie trilogy I can think. Lord of the Rings can go suck a duck.

It’s interesting that the movie was shot on an extremely low budget, oh let’s say 80 rupees or so, and didn’t have a script, and yet turned out fantastic. I think it’s a mix of a wonderful talent in Satyajit Ray, and serendipitous good fortune.

The story follows Apu, a young Indian boy growing up in poverty with an older sister who is quite rebellious, a father who dreams of being a writer, a headstrong grandma, and a mother trying to keep it all together. Man that sounds like a movie blurb.

All that really happens is tragedy, but it’s powerful, and never melodramatic. It’s also somehow inspiring that people carry on with strength and conviction and belief. It’s also wonderfully shot in black and white.

I wish I could have found the original poster art. I bet 1950’s Indian film posters are the shit.

On filmaffinity.com I gave the film 9/10. It’s great, the sequels are great, and Satyajit Ray is great. Watch this film.

The 30’s were violent too.

56. The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969)

I am a sucker for movies where everyone dies. I’m not a huge fan of violence or anything, but I like when the hero dies, and everyone else does too. I like the macabre, and I like sad endings so when the hero, plus everyone else dies, I tend to take notice, and usually it ends up as a positive for the film.

I have read that the ending for this film was heavily influenced by the long forgotten 1932 gangster film The Beast of the City. Now I am a huge fan of the film, having watched it recently and being enamored by it, especially the ending. Tragically the film has never been released on either VHS or DVD, and I happened to stumble onto it through my regular search for pre-code films on eMule.

Anyway, I uploaded the ending on youtube from the version I had, so here it is:

To me that’s a fantastic ending, I watched it for the first time without any knowledge or expectations, and was completely shocked to see something so violent, and so macabre take place in a 1932 film. Hell even today films don’t often end like that.

What I love about that ending is how sudden, brief, and completely destructive it is.

Now contrast that to The Wild Bunch.

This film has everyone die, and die violently, excessively and in slow-motion.  Basically the final 15 minutes of the film features our heroes getting wasting in slow motion by a gatling gun. On one hand the absolute slaughter is kind of cool and unexpected. When I watched it, I remember thinking: “I can’t believe how violent this is”.

But in 2008, something seems passe about filming everything in slow-motion. I think slow-mo has gone the way of the Dodo in terms of being a relevant and effective technique. I mean it was done to death over the past 20 or so years, and now it just seems like a joke. Maybe in 1969 it was fresh, but I can’t view it as anything but passe.

It’s the opposite of The Beast of the City in the sense that where Beast contains a sudden jolt of violence designed to shock the viewer, The Wild Bunch revels in the violence, and draws it out as long as possible, in a sense it is a precursor to the Tarantino films which glorify and sensationalize violence.

I can’t deny the influence of The Wild Bunch, because clearly action/crime/western film etc.  that has come since has been in some way influenced by the spectacular violence of The Wild Bunch, but I am not sure that’s a good thing.

On filmaffinity.com I gave the film an 8/10. It’s a solid western, that is most noteworthy for the ending. The fact that I disagree with how the ending was shot, doesn’t really diminish my appreciation of the story or the characters.