Thursday, July 18, 2013

Bully For You, Chilly For Me

Hey everybody. Over at GreenCine, I have a write-up of Delmar Daves' JUBAL and 3:10 TO YUMA, which came out in May from the Criterion Collection. However, I'm taking a break from my Criterion reviews to focus on another unhealthy obsession: making lists of movies. 

Over at the Muriels site, our noble leader Paul Clark is in the process of inaugurating the Muriels Hall of Fame, a compendium of films that we the Muriels voters think deserve some hallowed position in filmdom's Valhalla. He breaks it all down much better in his initial description.

So far, the Hall has some very prestigious (if familiar) inductees: THE SEVENTH SEAL, VERTIGO, NORTH BY NORTHWEST, PSYCHO, YOJIMBO, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, CASABLANCA, THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC, REAR WINDOW, and M. There are six more to be unveiled over the next few days.

I figured that at this point I'd go ahead and unveil my own ballot to you, the imaginary reader of this blog.

The first round called for us to just hammer out a list of ten films we thought were great. Easy enough. Except I already did this last year in The Skuriels, the Sight and Sound-ish poll we held jointly with the Skandies voters. I wanted to avoid repeating myself, so this time I tried to dig up stuff that I thought was great, if not Best Ever-worthy. These were my off-the-beaten-path choices (admittedly, my picks aren't too far from Sight and Sound orthodoxy. None of the films listed here are likely to be unknown to anyone who considers themselves an Avid film watcher. My tastes are obsessive but not that obscure.)

Initial Ballot

I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING! (1945; Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger) - I chose this one mainly because it was my introduction to the Archers. It's not as bursting with ideas as something like THE RED SHOES or COLONEL BLIMP but it drips with the atmosphere of its Hebridean setting. It's an extremely haunted film and one of the few films to effectively capture the old, weird feeling of folklore. (See also Powell's THE EDGE OF THE WORLD.)

LAND WITHOUT BREAD aka LAS HURDES (1933; Luis Bunuel) - The film that finally sold me on Bunuel. This weird bit of "ethnofiction" - social documentary pushed beyond hyperbole - is a fine synthesis of his irreverence, his religious obsessions, his surrealist DNA (minus the insufferable Dali-isms of UN CHIEN ANDALOU), and his very serious insights into human nature. This 26-minute satire masquerading as a documentary contains more truth than the entire filmographies of many of today's ripped-from-CNN, stock footage compilers masquarading as documentary filmmakers. (Other contenders for this spot were Forough Farrokhzad's similarly-themed THE HOUSE IS BLACK and Bunuel's surprisingly reverent Christ allegory NAZARIN.)

NIGHT OF THE DEMON (1957; Jacques Tourneur) - This made my Skuriels ballot, too. Heavy on atmosphere, light on gotcha! scares... this'll always be the kind of horror film I prefer. I wish more filmmakers could achieve the high strangeness of this M. R. James adaptation. (Mark Robson's THE SEVENTH VICTIM unsettles in a similar way.)

SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943; Alfred Hitchcock) - Had to include Hitchcock since he's a big part of the reason I got dragged into this pit of cinephilia. This is probably my favorite film of his, maybe because it's one of the last of his masterpieces I watched when doing my initial Hitch marathon. I think Joseph Cotton's Uncle Charlie is one of the most blandly chilling personifications of evil committed to film. Teresa Wright also deserves a lot of credit for imbuing her confused small town girl with a strength that another actress may have missed. (If I had to pick another Hitch for Hall of Fame recommendation, I might go with FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT.)

PAISAN (1946, Roberto Rossellini) - Lean, mean, and dirty, like the war-wrecked people it depicts. This is neorealism's finest hour (well, 134 minutes) and is a revelation every time I watch it again. How he managed to pull off any one of these vignettes - and then build them into a loving, coherent mosaic - is a miracle. (This is a hard one to posit an alternative for. I'm going to throw out two others - Gremillon's LUMIERE D'ETE and Henri-Georges Clozout's LE CORBEAU - that manage the same oppressive, claustrophobic alienation that PAISAN achieves.)

RIFIFI (1955; Jules Dassin) - The infamous silent bank heist scene here is enough to commend it. It's been heisted itself many times and still no one can quite get the tension right (it has a lot in common with the climax of A MAN ESCAPED). Dassin made about six other great films (and a few more good ones) but this is him at the height of his powers. It's the pinnacle of one of my favorite subgenres -- the French crime film. (For an American film, Robert Wise's ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW comes very close.)

THE NAKED SPUR (1953, Anthony Mann) - Had to include a Western so I went with the one where Jimmy Stewart's the crazy bad guy. The way his eyes flash while he's trying to wrestle that corpse out of the river at the end portend his work in 1958's VERTIGO. (See also THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALENCE, THE MAN FROM LARAMIE, WINCHESTER '73... I could make a list of just ten Jimmy Stewart-starring Westerns to be honest.)

A MAN ESCAPED (1956; Robert Bresson) - See my thoughts here. (This is Bresson's best film. No substitution is possible.)

THE RED BALLOON (1956; Albert Lamorisse) - This is a perfect film - no fat on it. (I almost entered Murnau's NOSFERATU for the same economy in its storytelling.)

THE MUSIC ROOM (1958; Satyajit Ray) - I wrote this up for GreenCine. It's a recent discovery but one of the few films I've seen for the first time recently that have really stuck in my mind. (The other, more obvious, end-of-an-era offering that belongs in any film hall of fame is Welles MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS.)

So those were my ten hall of fame picks. After these were submitted, Paul shot back a list of 76 films, 18 of which I hadn't seen (one of these I hadn't even heard of)*. From these, I was to pick ten. Here, then, is the fascinating result:

Unranked Final Ballot
1. A Man Escaped (1956, Bresson)
2. I Know Where I'm Going! (1945, Powell/Pressburger)
3. Rififi (1955, Dassin)
4. The Killing (1956, Kubrick)
5. The Night of the Hunter (1955, Laughton)
6. Nosferatu (1922, Murnau)
7. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943, Powell/Pressburger)
8. The Red Shoes (1948, Powell/Pressburger)
9. Sansho the Bailiff (1954, Mizoguchi)
10. The Searchers (1956, Ford)

Happy to put in three votes for Powell/Pressburger. And happy that three of mine made the final cut.

Okay... this was just an exercise to get words sputtering back out. As always, it's an honor and a lot of fun to participate in the Muriel voting. I look forward to seeing the final results. I have LORD OF THE FLIES, BABETTE'S FEAST, LIFE OF OHARU, MARKETA LAZAROVA, and LIFE IS SWEET pieces that should post (either here or over at GreenCine) over the next week or two. Cheers.


1 comment:

  1. Clear some room in your queue- at least one of the movies you haven't seen will be inducted. I will say no more.