Saturday, March 3, 2012

My Quest To See the 1000 Greatest: #720 Thru #739

Here is a look at the latest batch of twenty films in my Quest to See the 1000 Greatest Films.  A complete look at my quest can be viewed HERE.

#720 - Les dames du Bois de Boulogne (1945) - (#508 on TSPDT)  This earlier, more story driven Bresson film seems a bit pedestrian when compared to his more artistic and aesthetic later work, but a well acted piece nonetheless - which I suppose is ironic since Bresson later wanted his actors, or models as he called them, to do anything but act.

#721/722 - The Golden Coach (1952) & French Cancan (1954) - (#507/484)  Back to back Renoir is pretty hard to beat.  These succulent, gorgeous films, both coming during the auteur's exile in the Hollywood, are simply beautiful to look at and beautiful to listen to.  Both playing games with the idea of stage and screen - what is real and what is not - these two films, along with Elena and Her Men (not on the list, but should be) make up a trilogy of sorts on this very same idea.  The River may be Renoir's greatest work outside of France, but these two come a close second and third.

#723 - The Fallen Idol (1948) - (#668 on TSPDT)  Before taking on My Quest, The Third Man was the only Carol Reed film I had seen.  My take on that was that Orson Welles had probably ghost directed much of the film since it seemed to be in his style.  Didn't really give poor Mr. Reed much credit, even though, upon finally seeing The Fallen Idol (about time, huh?), he surely deserves it.  Now perhaps Welles did give some pointers, especially the scenes involving old Harry Lime, but we can see here (in another adaptation of Graham Greene) that Reed had a filmmaking prowess all his very own.  A sly and twisted film that is highlighted by the always wonderful, and always dangerously sly himself, Sir Ralph Richardson in the titular fallen role.

#724 - You Only Live Once (1937) - (#809 on TSPDT)  Fritz Lang's second film after arriving in Hollywood, and a typically strong work of noirish Langian cinema.   With obvious influences upon Nick Ray's work, this film about an ex-con in over his head and the faithful love of his life, has got to be a major influence on They Live By Night particularly.  I know the Ray film is based on a novel, but certain moments do seem to be echoed in Ray's debut feature twelve years later.  But of course it is Arthur Penn's Bonnie & Clyde that owes the biggest debt here, being that this film is somewhat loosely based on the hold-up duo.  And of course stars Henry Fonda and Sylvia Sidney are both great in their roles.   I would surely place this at number two (below Rancho Notorious but above Beyond a Reasonable Doubt) of Lang's Hollywood output.

#725 - Limite (1931) - (#751 on TSPDT)   An experimental film from the early days of Brazilian cinema.  Well, anyone who follows this site and/or has read past entries in My Quest knows my somewhat strong aversion to the so-called art of experimental cinema.  Still though, this film does have some interesting moments to it, but as is the case with much of experimental cinema, it just goes on way too long.  Ah well, it least it was not Stan Brakhage.

#726 - Subarnarekha (1965) - (#808 on TSPDT)  Directed by Ritwik Ghatak, the man responsible for the beautiful Cloud-Capped Star.  This film tends to drag at times (some editing would have been welcome) but when it doesn't, it sings.  Ghatak may not have the passion of Guru Dutt or the humanism of Satyajit Ray, but he does have a flair for haunting faraway imagery. 

#727 - There's Always Tomorrow (1956) - (#717 on TSPDT)  Ya gotta love Sirk.  Granted, this is somewhat lesser Sirk, and for that matter, it is lesser Stanwyck too (and probably lesser MacMurray as well), but still a rather strong melodrama of the day.  Still though, I am not sure why this film is on the list and the far superior Magnificent Obsession is not.  But I suppose I could say that about a lot of films suspiciously missing from the list - but I will gripe about that some other time.

#728 - Louisiana Story (1948) - (#985 on TSPDT)  Such a simple film, a boy and his pet raccoon lazing their way through the bayou, with occasional visits to the world's friendliest oil rig, but so damn mesmerizing.  Flaherty's final film and the ethnographic documentarian's finest and most beautiful work.  I first heard of this film way back when I was just getting into the world of cinema, while perusing the BFI's Sight & Sound lists of the greatest films (it was on the original 1952 list, above Rules of the Game and Citizen Kane, the latter of which did not even make the list), but for one reason or another, I did not catch up on it only now.  Well, I suppose I can say it was worth the wait indeed.

#729 - ¡Que viva Mexico!  (1931/1979) - (#631 on TSPDT)  When one thinks Sergei Eisenstein, one probably does not automatically think of the history and culture of Mexico.  Yet, here it is.  Shot by Eisenstein in 1931 but never completed until 1979, thirty one years after the great Soviet director's death.  Edited and finished by Eisenstein's friend and colleague Grigori Aleksandrov, this film is by far the director's most romanticized and naturalistic film - though much of this could have been Aleksandrov's touches.  A fascinating piece of motion picture history that works as a look into the non-partisan side of the director (though there is a revolutionary section of the film) as well as his most pure and unadulterated cinematic work.   This film can stand alongside any of the director's Soviet works of the 1920's any day.

#730 - Faust (1926) - (#437 on TSPDT)  Though there is a stellar, bigger than life performance by Emil Jannings (what other kind of performance did the big man ever give!?) and an appropriately dark and demented feel that goes hand-in-hand with the cinema of German Expressionism, this is still my least favourite Murnau.  Of course even lesser Murnau is better than most other things, so take that as you may.

#731 - Great Expectations (1946) - (#335 on TSPDT)  David Lean's films tend to be long and drawn out and often quite tedious.  Granted, they usually look great, but still, for better and for worse, they have no real feel to them.   With that said, I must admit to actually enjoying this rather truncated version of the Dickens classic.  Even with its silly, happy ending.   Does this make me a bad person?  Oh well.

#732 - El Verdugo (1963) - (#344 on TSPDT)  The highest ranked of Luis Garciá Berlanga's three films on the list, yet also my third favourite of these same three films (actually my favourite of the Spanish comic auteur's three list films was kicked off during the last update, but that is another complaint for another day).  Still though, a quite funny tale of mishaps and miscreants galore.

#733 - Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959) - (#719 on TSPDT)  Tragic figure Guru Dutt's final film as a director (though he may have ghost directed others after this) is a look at the film industry in India, and more specifically, one director (played by Dutt, as was the norm in his films) and his attempt at creating art and loving the star that will eventually become bigger than he.  With similar motifs to Fellini's 8 1/2 a few years later, Dutt's film (a financial and critical flop which led to his quitting directing) is one of those works than can be called haunting without the term seeming all that clichéd.  Out of the eight films Dutt directed between 1951 and 1959, I would place this one second to his one near masterpiece Pyaasa.

#734 - Claire's Knee (1970) - (#388 on TSPDT)  I have got to admit that I am not a huge fan of Eric Rohmer (I would place him fourth, behind Godard, Truffaut and Rivette, if I were to list my favourite New Wave directors) but that does not mean I look poorly upon his films.  In fact, I think this has now topped Pauline at the Beach (in a way a very similar film) as my favourite of the auteur's oeuvre.  Probably the first Rohmer I would come close to laying the word great upon.  A strange little film that plays at being both innocent and demure, while also subtly sexually subversive.  Okay, perhaps not all that subtly.

#735 - The Naked Spur (1953) - (#695 on TSPDT)  Anthony Mann made a series of revisionist westerns with Jimmy Stewart that combined to change the face of the western that would eventually lead into the days of Leone and Peckinpah.  This film is the middle one of these five films and it is the one ranked the highest on the list (though still not that high).  Perhaps Mann's films do not have the physical beauty of some by John Ford, but as far as creating a compelling, oft-times psychologically twisted, story, then, Anthony Mann is your,

#736 - The Nutty Professor (1963) - (#884 on TSPDT)  Many, some of them may have been French, have called Jerry Lewis a comic genius.  After finally seeing what is considered his greatest work toward such a moniker, I do not think I would go quite that far.  Funny as hell?  Sure.  But a comic genius?  Probably not.  But still funny as hell.  Some of the nuances that Lewis puts in to his nerdy prof and his alter ego Buddy Love is quite funny.  With some of the same comic timing that people such as Groucho Marx and Buster Keaton have shown throughout their careers, Lewis has created a very enjoyable romp with The Nutty Professor (a film that has since been ruined for younger generations thanks to Eddie Murphy's God-awful remakes) but I would leave the comic genius tag with the aforementioned Groucho and Buster.

#737 - A Woman of Paris (1923) - (#795 on TSPDT)  This was Chaplin's first dramatic work and the first time he did not appear in (other than a quick, unrecognizable cameo as a train porter) a film he directed.  And just so no one was taken unawares, Chaplin had even prefaced the film, and all its ads, with this fact.  But alas, the film was a box office flop.  The people wanted the Little Tramp dammit!!  Actually, the fact that the film, with its subtle acting and progressive storyline (censored in many cities and towns), was way way way ahead of its time, may have had something to do with the film's flopping.  Nah, it was probably the whole no Little Tramp thing.  I quite liked it though.

#738 - Tabu, A Story of the South Seas (1931) - (#228 on TSPDT)  This Muranu film (co-directed of sorts with Robert Flaherty), the director's final film, released just after his death, is the highest ranked film in this update, and for the most part (excepting the two Renoir and Flaherty's own Louisiana Story) deserves to be.  A fascinating look at tribal culture and law in the form of a tragic romance.  History tells us that Flaherty was not happy with Murnau's screenplay - calling it too westernized - but even with this dissent, the combination of the German auteur's directorial prowess and Flaherty's naturalistic filmmaking style, make for a surprisingly intriguing work of cinematic art.  I suppose considering this is a film from these two men, I should not be all that surprised at its bravura standing.

#739 - Anatomy of a Murder (1959) - (#872 on TSPDT)  Jimmy Stewart is one of those actors who never seem like they are acting.  He is just smoothly natural with a homespun charm that covers up how sharp-witted and powerful of an actor he truly is.  His performance in this Otto Preminger film is one of his finest, but such a great film as this - one of Preminger's finest as well - is already quite spectacular, even without Stewart.  But yeah, he certainly makes it better.  Many in the field of law have called this the most accurate look at a court trial ever put onto film, but more importantly, much more importantly (who wants truth when they can have the artifice of the most beautiful fraud in the world - yeah, I said it), is that Preminger has sewn together a succulent and quite devious motion picture experience, and one of the main contributing factors (along with Some Like it Hot and Psycho) to the eventual downfall of the Hays Code in Hollywood.


Ed Howard said...

I love experimental film, but I was not crazy about Limite either; some nice shots, but something just seemed to be missing, it didn't achieve the poetry it was going for. Not much to do with Brakhage, of course, though some of his very early and uncharacteristic psychodramas do tread through vaguely related territory.

Anatomy of a Murder is fantastic, good to see some appreciation for it. I get the feeling that, like a lot of Preminger's big "issue" movies, it's a little unfashionable these days, but it remains fantastic.

Always great to see Rohmer and Mann getting some love too. Those Mann/Stewart Westerns are one of the great Western cycles, and I'd say The Naked Spur is one of the best. In their way, they're very beautiful films, too.

Kevyn Knox said...

Overall I think Man of the West (obviously not one of the Stewart cycle) is my favourite Mann western. I got to see both that and Man From Laramie in a double feature at Film Forum on my 42nd birthday. I have yet to see Bend of the River and Winchester '73 though.

And who cares about something like Anatomy of Murder being thought of as unfashionable by some. They obviously know not of what the speak.

MP said...

Nice section of films! I'm glad you liked this Rohmer! I am a fan of his work!
French Cancan is so likable! I can't believe how many great films Renoir managed to craft during his career!
Got to agree of Anatomy of A Murder: great film!

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