Ariel runs the wonderful Sinamatic Salve-ation Blog. I give it the recommend. She is a gal of highly refined and fascinating tastes. Big fan of pre-code films(and has rec'd a few to me that I need to see). This is a very cool list.
TOP 11 of 2011
OK, so I go see a lot of movies. And when I say a lot of movies, we’re talking WAY more than the average bear. And they are, more or less, in the theater. I’m one of those strange creatures who has cancelled her Netflix account because I was actually spending too much time in the movie theater and it became a waste of money. But I digress. The theaters I tend to frequent the most are not the Arclight, Mann’s or AMC, but the New Beverly and the Cinefamily. While these theaters do run newer features quite often, a good chunk of their fare is older stuff which gives me a fantastic chance to see films I’ve never seen before or films I may have seen before but never on the big screen (the best way to view a motion picture).
When I’m not at the theaters, I generally eat my cinematic meals at TCM. No commercials and they have some of the most remarkable programming ever. This year I have discovered some real treats and I’m a sucker for old movies. So between the New Beverly and TCM, I’ve been pretty much sated for movies. Don’t believe me? Well, I’ll prove it. Here is my list for Favorite Older Films Seen for the First Time i11 for ’11!
1. TO BE OR NOT TO BE (Ernst Lubitsch, 1942)- on Thursday, December 15, 2011, my life was changed forever. I saw what was destined to become one of the funniest movies that I have ever seen in my life and possibly one of my “desert island” pictures. My sides hurt. I cried with laughter. I was filled with absolute joy. My face was aching because I was smiling too much. Jack Benny. The incomparably beautiful Carol Lombard. Felix Bressart, an old-school character actor whom I simply adore. If you don’t love this picture, you may need to seek professional guidance. The introduction by Joe Dante and Leonard Maltin (it was part of Edgar Wright’s The Wright Stuff III: Movies Edgar Has Never Seen Before series) was legendary and the whole experience was like a dream. I was slightly embarrassed to have said that I had only seen Ninotchka before (Lubitsch-wise), but now I am so excited! I have so many more great and perfect films to see!
2. PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID (Sam Peckinpah, 1973)- I’m not going to lie. I judge my cinema on visceral reaction first, intellectual reaction second. I watched this film at home and I BAWLED MY EYES OUT. Then a few days later, I spent the ENTIRE day watching this movie. I just pressed play, over and over and over again. I couldn’t get enough. I still can’t. There is something so viciously incredible to me about this film. It’s sexy in all the right places, to my eyes and ears. The meticulous combination of aural, visual and narrative that Peckinpah put together in this…just works for me. It does help that I’m a big Billy the Kid fan and I like that story, but that was only the selling point that got me to watch the piece. At this stage in the game, I cannot imagine my life without the film. I freely admit that 2011was, to an extent, my Year of Peckinpah. This last year I have explored him more expansively than ever before and…wow. What a joy it has been! Delicious!
3. BRIGHTON ROCK (John Boulting, 1947)- What can I say about a Graham Greene story that hasn’t already been said? Well, on this one, I could write a great deal. I was so floored when I came out of the theater. Just blown away. I have never seen anything like this and I am a huge film noir nut. Richard Attenborough’s Pinkie Brown is one of the meanest, bitterest, most child-like and STRANGE main characters I have ever met in all my days of film-viewing and man, oh, man. I wanted to kiss him for it…but I was terrified of what might become of me, should I get too close! The print that the New Beverly got was pristine. It was one of the most gorgeous things I have seen since the Clint Eastwood double I had seen earlier in the year, which had super-exquisite prints. Due to the fact that I’m training to do film preservation and archiving, a good film print is like a really good meal or a winning lottery ticket to me. And Brighton Rock? WOW. Not only was the content brain-melting (I still think: I cannot believe I saw that film! It was so great!), but the visuals were simply out of this world.
4. THE DEVIL IS A WOMAN (Josef Von Sternberg, 1935)—Ok, so here’s where I’m going to nerd out a little bit. Please oh please forgive me! So in regards to the film itself- sweet heaven is it a fascinating piece of cinema! Marlene Dietrich (in my opinion) has never ever looked so beautiful in all her life and it is so desperately engaging as a story that you cannot help but love it. And just as much as Von Sternberg loved her, so does that camera…wow. Beyond that, I got to see this film at the TCM Film Festival with Katie Trainor presenting it. Trainor is the film collections manager at MoMA in NY, and she’s a rock star. So she told us all sorts of cool factoids about the print. It was the PREMIERE of a brand new restoration from MoMA (oh man, my knees got weak!) and it was simply lovely. Like, make you WEEP lovely. So here are the fun nerdy bits: when the film was made, Spain was unhappy with the political depictions in the film and threatened to ban all Paramount pictures from their country. Instead of risking this, Paramount simply destroyed the master. Yeah. Not cool, right? Guess who saved a copy in her own personal vault? You got it. Marlene. She said it was her favorite film that she had made. So many years later, she brought it out and then they made a new restoration on polyester stock this last year. So amazingly cool!
5. THIS IS THE NIGHT (Frank Tuttle, 1932)—So if you know me, you know I like nothing more than a good pre-code film. When I saw this one at oh-my-god-it’s-too-early-to-be-alive-o’clock at the TCM Film Fest (in a sold-out theater), it instantly became one of my favorite films. In fact, it showed a few months back on TV, and I recorded it then, too. Who knew that you could laugh THAT hard THAT early in the day? The big draw is likely to be that it’s Cary Grant’s first picture. And he is absolutely fantastic, no argument there. But don’t let that overshadow or take away from the pleasure and joy of all the other actors. Charlie Ruggles is beyond brilliant. Roland Young is amazing, and the two women (Lili Damita and Thelma Todd) are simply wonderful. Smart, charming and vivacious, this film appears to every sense like a glass of expensive and bubbly champagne, minus the headache or after-effects. Just an amazing film.
6. WENT THE DAY WELL? (Alberto Cavalcanti, 1942)—OK, so I got to see this amazing piece twice this year. Both on the big screen. Yeah, I’m spoiled. It’s a great thing; I appreciate it, and do not for a second take it for granted! I saw it for the first time at the TCM Film Festival and the second time at the New Beverly, and each time it only got better. But similar to THE DEVIL IS A WOMAN, at the TCM Film Fest, I got extras alongside the screening: Kevin Brownlow, the only film preservationist to have scored an Academy Award, was presenting. Hearing him speak was like a dream come true for me, as he is one of my heroes. The film itself is as dark and nihilistic as you would expect a wartime Graham Greene piece to be, but it was thrilling to see that film and have it accompanied by historical context and preservation information.
7. BEWARE, MY LOVELY (Harry Horner, 1952)—Robert Ryan is out of control in this film. He is out of control handsome, out of control in his great acting, just…out of control. I saw this the night I really discovered how desperately in love with Robert Ryan I really was. It was a double feature of this and CAUGHT (Max Ophuls, 1949) which made me nearly melt into my seat. I really have to thank the Film Noir Festival for showing me the sexy, noir-y Robert Ryan that I was unfamiliar with. First of all, the man is scary! Don’t mess with him! He’s not balanced! I was familiar with him from DIRTY DOZEN and BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK, films of that ilk, but…he plays a very different character in these films. And I like it. Also, this film features Ida Lupino (whom I worship), and was made by her production company as well. BEWARE, MY LOVELY is 77 minutes of the most claustrophobic, taut, unsettling filmmaking I’ve seen in some time. And it was all done for little to no budget. Such a keeper!
8. WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? (Narciso Ibáñez Serrador, 1976)-This movie was recommended to me by a friend and I cannot thank him enough. Wow. I watched this at home, and it’s like nothing else I’ve ever seen. I like CHILDREN OF THE CORN and strange killer kid films, but…this one takes the cake. I will hazard a guess and say that it’s due to the fact that it’s because it’s foreign, from the ‘70’s and simply doesn’t have any rules to follow so it makes up its own. My advice: don’t do any research on this, just watch it. Then read the excellent article that the Horror Dads did talking about it, on Movie Morlocks. This is a film where the less you know, the more you’ll enjoy it.
9. THE OUTSIDE MAN (Jacques Deray, 1972)—Wow. I saw this film back at the New Beverly at the beginning of summer on a double bill with THE LIMEY (which I’ve seen before, still love it!), and I still can’t stop thinking about it. If you’ve been looking for a ‘70’s action film that is as methodical and languid as it is existentially exploratory, you found it. As a native Angelena, seeing the main character silently explore my city circa 1972 was pretty cool. As a huge fan of the crime genre and ‘70’s cinema, this film pretty much hit my sweet spot. I wish that I could’ve had them run it for me again and again. I would love to see it a few more times. Tragically, this is one of those films that is a rare one, and I was one of the very lucky few who got to see it at the Bev, seeing as it has no other venue of release (so far as I know, at the moment). If it does, someone please let me know! I’d love to have it!
10. PRIME CUT (Michael Ritchie, 1972)—I love Lee Marvin. Everyone praises POINT BLANK (John Boorman, 1967), and I do love that film, but to me, PRIME CUT is where it’s at. Visually stunning, narratively bizarre yet workable, and the interplay between Marvin and Gene Hackman is just superb. I was lucky enough to see this on 35mm as well, up at AFI at a special screening that I got into, with 5 other films. That was a day that was well beyond my wildest dreams, and this film was like nothing I had ever expected. For crime pictures, you generally figure them as being set in a large metropolitan area. It’s crime film logic. PRIME CUT defies that. I think that is what I adore about this film. It goes against most of the “rules” we, as viewers, think genre films need to follow. In other words, this is REALLY my kind of film. Even if this had been the only older film I had seen for the first time this year, I think I would’ve been ok with that. It was that good.
11. WESTWARD THE WOMEN (William Wellman, 1951)—Oh, westerns. How good you have been to me this last year! So the other night I had this choice: New Beverly to catch up with some newer films or what TCM was calling “Women of the West.” I chose the latter. It was a wise decision. With the exception of one of the musicals shown that night, I was pleased with every film I saw. However, one in particular stood out and that was WESTWARD THE WOMEN. First of all, it was from a story written by Frank Capra, so perhaps I should’ve known that there would be social commentary. How much of it, however, I had no idea. This is one of the strongest feminist pieces I have seen in a long time. While the premise is a little wonky in that department (the women have signed up to travel across country to marry men they’ve never met) it’s so inconsequential to the meat of the film that the viewer practically forgets the objective of their expedition until the conclusion of the film. I’ve always been a fan of Wellman’s work. I loved ROXIE HART (1942) and SAFE IN HELL (1931), NIGHT NURSE (1931) is one of my all-time favorites, and who doesn’t love THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931), WESTWARD THE WOMEN was just another to put on my list. I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t have seen it if it weren’t for TCM, so I’m very pleased that they decided to program it. It’s an incredibly special film with some great acting from Robert Taylor, Denise Darnel and especially the always-wonderful character actress Hope Emerson (I love her! And she’s just great in this!). If you get a chance, this one comes highly recommended. I got super lucky on this one for sure.
IN MEMORIAM Special Mentions
So Ken Russell tragically passed away this past November, which was a great loss to the cinema. Not only was he a great filmmaker, but he was also a great provocateur. I was lucky enough to see three of his films on the big screen shortly after his passing. UCLA showed a 16mm print of Lair of the White Worm (1988), which I had seen before (but never on a big screen), and the New Beverly showed a simply brilliant double feature of Women in Love (1969) and The Music Lovers (1970).
Shot back to back, one would think that these films would be similar. They could not be more different.
WOMEN IN LOVE (1969)
When I was in my late teens, someone said that D.H. Lawrence was a misogynist writer and anti-female. I had always seen his books on the bookshelf, and heard that Lady Chatterley's Lover was a classic, so I wanted to see what the hubbub was about. What I soon discovered that Lawrence was significantly more nuanced than that, and whoever told me that initial statement was a damn fool. I began with Chatterley and quickly ate up every work that Lawrence had ever published. Funnily enough, around that same time I was working at my first video store in Santa Cruz, and was busily developing a severe obsession with Ken Russell and Nicholas Roeg. The irony of this situation is that, although I was discovering both Russell's work and Lawrence's work within the same time period, I never watched Women in Love.
Skip forward to this year and Russell's sad death. I saw the double bill announced, and I promised myself that there was nothing that would keep me from this event.
The film itself is unlike any of the rest of Russell's work, yet it maintains the spirit and sensibilities of "Russell-ism." Breathtakingly beautiful, the film was shot by Billy Williams, the same man who shot Sunday, Bloody Sunday (1971) (which is another amazing film you should see if you haven't!), Voyage of the Damned (1976) and Gandhi (1982). Additionally, the fresh faces of Glenda Jackson, Jennie Linden, Alan Bates and Oliver Reed are bright and expressive in a way that is rather extraordinary in a film that ranges from the very sexy and light to the sensationally dark. This picture has, within its boundaries, nothing you would expect from a "quiet little British story." It may seem like it from the outset, and perhaps even from the narrative, but it is in the manner through which it is constructed and the powerful figures and acting that takes place within its walls that make it stand out. It is a fantastically disquieting film in the most gorgeous manner. The New Beverly spoiled me, of course, by providing a simply delicious print, so I felt even more lucky in that sense.
THE MUSIC LOVERS (1971)
So I knew about Lizstomania (1975) and I had recently bought myself a VHS copy of Mahler (1974) (but have not seen as of this date), so I was well aware of Russell's affinity for classical music and his personal penchant for somewhat "restructuring" classical musicians' histories. Then again, if one looks at any of Russell's films, the Russell-verse is simply a restructuring period, I suppose, so it falls right in step with that methodology.
This film is also a thing of beauty. Again, we bear witness to the youth of Glenda Jackson. And really- there are very few women who could compare with her striking look in the early '70's. In my world (and Russell's, I feel) she is just a creature of the most extraordinary allure and attraction. It is probably why he chooses to create such a nightmarish storyline for her within the context of the film. It is just as fascinating to watch beauty as it is to watch beauty destroyed. The Music Lovers is an incredible, incredible film. It very quickly made its way to my favorites list. Richard Chamberlain is another figure who I haven't seen a great deal of, but he is simply astonishing in this picture. The film, like much of Ken Russell's work, is a kind of meditation on art, sanity, and sexuality, and where they all commingle. His use of music and photography by Douglas Slocombe (The Lion in Winter-1968, Italian Job-1969, Raiders of the Lost Ark-1981, and a million more excellent films!!) only underscore the excellence of the film. Summarily, it is supposed to be a story about Tchaikovsky, but the real story lies in the visuals, the themes, and the nightmare that is unfurled as the film slowly lays itself out. When I went to see Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011) I said that I wanted to read the book. When I saw this, I immediately wanted to procure some Tchaikovsky. I will admit that I am embarrassingly low in classical music. Uncle Ken would've been very unhappy at my music collection. But that, to me is one of the signs of a good film. If it causes you to want to do more research or somehow gets you to expand yourself culturally, the art has been effective and done its job. Also of note: the New Beverly did a lovely job with this as well- the print of this was so good it brought tears to my eyes. Crisp, clean, bright 35mm film. Yummy!
And those are the 11 for ’11. I could’ve had a bunch more. For example, I discovered Johnnie To and Milky Way Productions this year. And I saw a good chunk of Korean films as well. But those are far too recent for this list. So hopefully you guys will check some of these out if you haven’t seen ‘em. I think they’re worthwhile. And if not, at least keep watching movies and support your local repertory filmhouse. That’s beyond worthwhile. That’s history.
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