Steamboat Bill Jr.
“The General” is Keaton‘s best all-around film, but the final sequence in “Steamboat Bill Jr.” is possibly the greatest 20 minutes in film history. Everything else that I have seen other than “The Navigator” is tremendous and interchangeable.
Jackie Chan wouldn’t exist without Buster Keaton’s craziness. Keaton’s films always have these crazy final sequences that are really elaborate and far-fetched. Keaton takes crazy bumps, and as far as I know was doing his own stunts. It’s pretty incredible to watch. The ingenuity and inventiveness of Keaton is still jaw-dropping today. Film provides a space for a character to interact with their environment in a way that is impossible elsewhere. I think Keaton really pushed the envelope in terms of what you can put on screen. Other than the fighting choreography, Chan is really just doing Buster Keaton.
“The General” was at the time the most expensive movie ever filmed(thanks mainly to a scene in which a bridge is blown up and a locomotive falls into a river), and it bombed horribly. I don’t get why. Kind of like “Bringing Up Baby“, I guess it’s a comedy that was ahead of it’s time. But seriously Buster Keaton falling over stuff, and things getting destroyed, that’s a formula for success. I don’t know what was so different in 1927, that that wouldn’t work. Buster Keaton was really popular, and yet the film that is regarded as his best, failed to make a dent at the time it was released. Stupid old people. Probably busy watching “Date Movie“.
On filmaffinity.com I gave this film a 9/10. It’s just great all the way through, definitely his most consistent effort. I recommend the shit out of this film.
15. Bicycle Thieves (Vittorio Di Sica, 1948)
Another from the fabled film class of 2002, which served as my introduction to the world of arthouse cinema. It was in this class that I first started thinking somewhat critically about film. It also kind of established a solid base from which I have since branched out.
That being said, I was already pretty open-minded to what existed outside of Hollywood. I was fortunate to have an older brother who force fed me Jackie Chan and Jet Li, and endlessly pimped Sergio Leone and Akira Kurosawa. There were some bumps in the road, like the time I threw a tantrum and refused to watch Akira. By the time I was 14 or 15, I knew that most movies really sucked, and that you really had to dig to find good cinema. Thanks to the teachings of my brother, I was unafraid to watch almost anything(although I still haven’t gotten around to Akira).
So on to this film. A strong argument could be made that this is the film that introduced foreign cinema to America. It was among the first of a wave of international films that achieved great commercial and critical success in the post-war US.
I think the main part of its appeal is that it’s a very simple story: poor-ass dude gets a job putting up posters, the only catch is he needs a bicycle, so him and his wive pawn their bedsheets to get his bike out of hoc. His first day on the job, the bike gets stolen. Him and his young son go searching through the streets of Rome trying to find the bike, but have no success. Then in total desperation he tries to steal a bike himself, and is quickly apprehended, all this taking place in front of his heartbroken son.
That ending is pretty heavy shit. Basically a man becomes the very thing he despises and does so in front of his kid. It’s all pretty devastating. Di Sica really uses everything at his disposal to create the sense of desperation the father feels. Post-war Rome is shown to be bleak and sparse, with dilapidated buildings and lots of rough looking dudes. Kind of like Compton with less gunfire. Di Sica also used non-actors in many of the roles, so everything feels very natural and unforced. The dialogue is simple, and there is no Hollywood touches. No promise of a better tomorrow is suggested, in the end the father is jobless, bikeless, and has lost the faith of his son. He is defeated. Most movies wuss out when it comes to endings. This one doesn’t. It’s just plain bleak.
On filmaffinity.com I rated the film a 9/10. It’s powerful but the exposition is bit drawn and keeps me from really investing myself in the film until the last half hour.