Sunday, October 16, 2011

My Quest To See the 1000 Greatest: #650 Thru #659

Here is a look at the latest ten films in my Quest to See the 1000 Greatest Films.  These ten films were seen between Sept. 27 and Oct. 8.  A complete look at my quest can be viewed HERE.

#650 - All That Heaven Allows (1955)
(#287 on TSPDT) This Douglas Sirk directed masterpiece is one of the most deliriously succulent films I have ever seen.  A melodrama of the highest melodramatic caliber indeed, but more than mere melodrama.  More even than mere Sirkian melodrama.  The film looks and feels as if it is a painting - but even more than that.  Sirk's view in this film, about a wealthy widow and mother of two, and her dalliance with the local gardener, and how this effects so many people in such a seemingly negative way, is that of an all-exclusive, insular world where no outsider dare pry.  It is almost as if, and this surely sounds corny, all the action - all the Sirkian melodrama - takes place inside a very complicated and convoluted snow globe.  I have not seen either Written on the Wind or Imitation of Life yet, but at this date, this is my favourite Sirk - and I am falling deeper and deeper in love with Mr. Sirk's cinema with each passing film.

#651 - Zorn's Lemma (1970)
(#946 on TSPDT)  Blah blah blah.  Egad, how I loathe most experimental cinema.  Brakhage, Anger, Deren, even Jacobs on occasion.  I can take Kubelka and Snow, but that is about it.  All I see in experimental cinema is a bunch of blips and bloops and bleeps.  I don't think it is an artistic sensibility, because I quite enjoy experimental art, and the creative blips, bloops and bleeps of people such as Picasso, Kandinsky and Rothko (three of my favourite artists!).  When it comes to this same approach in cinema though - ooooh boy.  Which brings us to Hollis Frampton's Zorn's Lemma - basically 56 minutes or so of shots of letters in signs (road signs, store signs, graffiti signs, and so on and so on) all placed alphabetically.  Seriously!?  I could do the same damn thing with my own camera.  What the fuck is the big deal!?  Give me art dammit, not repetition.

#652 - Queen Kelly (1929)
(#862 on TSPDT) Erich von Stroheim.  Some have called him a mad genius of cinema.  Others have called him a pretentious fraud.  Still others have called him a money-wasting bastard.  That last group consists only of those studios foolish enough to deal with such a mad genius of cinema.  His films have been famously truncated and/or destroyed by angry producers who wouldn't know good cinema if it bit them on the fucking foot, as they say.  Queen Kelly may not be one of von Stroheim's masterpieces (it never reaches the levels of Greed, even in the eventual brutalized cut made behind von Stroheim's back) but it surely shows what such a great and artistic talent can accomplish at the end of the silent era.  I suppose even lesser von Stroheim is better than...well, you know how it goes.

#653 - The Man in the White Suit (1951)
(#859 on TSPDT)  Quirky and whimsical, but with the most debonair English politeness, this typical Alec Guinness vehicle is very very droll, and ever so reserved (as the Brits, and much of their cinema is, the gorgeousness of Powell/Pressburger aside of course), while at the same time being ever so irreverent (another quality of British cinema, this time P&P very much included).  Perhaps not as deep and dark and sinister as something by Joseph Losey or Carol Reed even, but Alexander Mackendrick, who incidentally made one of my all-time favourite films, The Sweet Smell of Success, does give the film the bit of an oomph it needs to jump out in front of typical British cinema (The Archers not included).  The best part though is Sir Alec (before becoming the regal knight we all know today) playing something, or someone, somewhere in between Charlie Chaplin and Maxwell Smart.

#654 - An Affair to Remember (1957)
(#463 on TSPDT) Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, in a film that is considered to be one of the most romantic films ever made.  I probably wouldn't go quite that far, but the movie is good - up to a point.  The chemistry between Grant and Kerr is actually quite fantastic, and the first act of the film, when they are together aboard the cruise ship, plays out almost as if it were a screwball comedy (director Leo McCarey did have some experience in said genre), but the picture gets a bit tired once they are apart and pining for each other.  A remake of McCarey's own Love Affair from 1939 (an almost duplicate copy in most respects, sans Grant and Kerr), An Affair to Remember is a good enough picture, but even this old sentimentalist thought it a bit on the melodramatic side - and this is coming from a noted lover of Melodrama.  But at least it isn't Sleepless in Seattle - and that certainly is something.

#655 - Nosferatu (1922)
(#103 on TSPDT) Some say this is the scariest vampire movie ever made.  I don't know if I would go quite that far - Dreyer's Vampyr is much creepier - but it is one of the most artistic ones.  Then again, what more would one expect from the camera of F.W. Murnau.  There are great stories about the making of the film (watch Shadow of the Vampire) and granted, they are probably quite apocryphal, but they do make the film more interesting to watch.  Did mad Max Schreck really think he was a vampire or was he just playing mind games?  Did Murnau believe it or was he too playing head games?  Was Schreck batshitcrazy?  Was he an actual vampire!?  Who knows.  What we do know for sure is that he plays a damn fine vampire, a la Count Orlock, on screen.  I have yet to watch the Herzog remake (which is not on the list), but that will come soon.  As for the Murnau original, perhaps not the scariest, or even the moodiest (again, Dreyer's Vampyr), but still quite an expressionistic tale indeed.

#656 - Leave Her to Heaven (1945)
(#976 on TSPDT) I must admit - I love me a good melodrama.  I don't care how unmanly that may sound - it is true.  Just look at my drooling over the Sirkian melodrama that starts this section of the list off.  Directed by John M. Stahl (speaking of Sirk, he would go on to remake not one, but two Stahl melodramas - though not this one, so I parenthetically digress), the film stars Gene Tierney as a conniving, backstabbing, murdering whack job - but a whack job with the sexiest overbite you ever will see.  Quite cheesy at times, and way over the top (but delightfully so!), and leading man Cornell Wilde couldn't, as they say, act his way out of a wet paper bag (do they actually say that?), but for Tierney's performance alone - and for the evil inside of her pretty little body (do not go swimming with this girl!) - it is well worth the watch.  I do love me a good melodrama.

#657 - Cul-de-Sac (1966)
(#888 on TSPDT) Polanski's third film, and his first in the UK, is a tale of gangsters, guns and gender roles.  Starring Donald Pleasence and Françoise Dorléac (the tragic older sister of Catherine Deneauve) as a young couple who are taken hostage by gangster Lionel Stander, Polanski's psychosexual thriller is a riot in its strangely inappropriate dark humour.   Oh yeah, that's right, it's Polanski.   A fun romp that plays with the ideas of repressed sexuality (as he did the year before in Repulsion) but instead of taking it to the dark extremes he did in the parenthetically aforementioned Repulsion, he goes all out hilarious.  Okay, perhaps I am among the minority by thinking this (many would say dark and even disturbing) film is a laugh riot - but I cannot help it.   Dorléac is drop dead sexy, but in an impish kind of way, Stander is gruff and almost a parody of the gangster role and Pleasence, surprisingly lean and lithesome in the role, is somewhere between a rabid jackrabbit and a frightened door mouse.  Perhaps not Polanski's finest work, but surely his most fun.

#658 - The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
(#288 on TSPDT) Appropriately big-shouldered and very bare knuckles, very John Huston, Asphalt Jungle is a fun film noirish like heist movie - and it has Sterling Hayden too.  Ha!  What more could a guy ask for?  I tend to be a bit cool to Huston's films - having never disliked one, but having never loved one either - and I would say this doesn't change that status at all.  Probably my favourite Huston actually (I am pretty cold on The Maltese Falcon - not even in my top ten film noirs) and adding Sterling Hayden to the boiling pot just makes it all seem even better.  Hey, we also get a young Marilyn Monroe in a relatively bitty role - about two or three years before anyone really knew who she was.  I also quite enjoyed Jean Hagen in her role as a down-and-out dame in love with Hayden's big lunk.  I know her only from her Singin' in the Rain role, and this was a surprising change (even though this film and role came first).

#659 - Lessons in Darkness (1992)
(#910 on TSPDT)  I must preface this entry with the fact that I really don't like Werner Herzog all that much.  This one wasn't all that bad though - even if I did begin to wander off midway through.  Trapped somewhere in between some Dystopian diatribe and an avant-garde edition of Dirty Jobs, this rather brief (just 50 minutes) pseudo-doc, performance piece look at the Gulf War certainly has its moments (Herzog's penchant for the melodramatic actually works well here as he narrates over a landscape that is all-too real while simultaneously seeming as alien as can be) but drags too often, even at its mere 50 minutes, to go above and beyond the typical latter-day Herzog. Then again, as far as Herzog goes (I do quite like Aguirre, the Wrath of God and Cobra Verde - I've yet to see The Enigma of Kasper Hauser and Fitzcarraldo) I suppose this is pretty well done - even with the moments I wandered off.


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