Tag Archives: 1001 movies

XL Popcorn – Rocco and His Brothers

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 939/1009Title: Rocco e i suoi fratelli (Rocco and His Brothers)
Director: Luchino Visconti
Year: 1960
Country: Italy

Well it is the late May bank holiday as I write this, so figured it would be a good opportunity to cross off one of the very long films that are left. Rocco and His Brothers has been staring at me for a long time due to it being almost three hours and technically being an Italian neo-realist sports movie. The sports nature of the film, it would turn out, is important for plot but not exactly what would be considered a defining characteristic.

As Italy was continuing to modernize following the Second World War, there was a movement of families from the poorer south to the richer north. We meet such a family whose matriarch and four sons move up to Milan to join the elder son who has already started to put down roots. The film deals primarily with how the middle and second oldest brothers (played by Alain Delon and Renato Salvatori) deal with the change and how both are frankly incompatible.

Let’s just get this out of the way, Simone (played by Renato Salvatori) is up there with one of the worst film characters I have seen. By worst, I am not talking poorly written, acted or conceived – but as in I cannot remember the last single character I saw onscreen where I was wishing them dead so consistently.

He steals, rapes, blackmails and murders and just expects his brothers to just take care of everything for him – knowing they won’t want to burden their mother with his many sins and even when she does find it out, she will back him rather than criminal justice. Simone and his relationship with Rocco is the main thread of this melodrama, with the other three brothers taking on supporting roles. Also important is Nadia, a prostitute who gets caught in a terrible triangle where one side offers love and the other offers misery.

As a film, it is long but it is also incredibly well made. I would have loved to have seen these relationships play out for longer as part of a mini-series as I feel there is more to know about two of the three brothers who don’t get as much screen time. Since it is nearly, three hours long, it is definitely a good idea to put in some sort of intermission – even if it is just to take stock of what you are going through watching this family unit.

XL Popcorn – The Elephant Man

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 938/1009Title: The Elephant Man
Director: David Lynch
Year: 1980
Country: USA

Yesterday it was goodbye to Fritz Lang, today it’s the last of three David Lynch films on the 1001 list. I do question why Mulholland Drive was tossed off the list as part of the purges of 2000s films, but that’s a discussion for another time. In the three Lynch films that are actually part of the list, you see some very different styles. Blue Velvet as a sexual thriller is worlds away from this tragedy and whatever Eraserhead is.

However, despite The Elephant Man being one of Lynch’s straighter offerings – there were some things in here that were unmistakably him. The final narrative as we ascend into the stars, the fixation with the Victorian steam pipes and gas works and the fact that this was shot in black and white (as I learned when reading on Deep Endhe doesn’t always see the point in colour photography) are all things you see in a number of his projects. Shows that if he wanted to make something commercially minded and with artistic merit, he is more than capable – but sometimes it is more fun for him to put his art and vision first.

The Elephant Man is not a wholly historically accurate portrayal of the life of Joseph Merrick. For one thing, they refer to him by the incorrect name of John Merrick as is apparently incredibly common. The ending is also a truncation to maximize the tragic, but it is also done so poignantly and beautifully that it is excusable. After all, this is a man who suffered great injustice in terms of his physical destiny and in the way people treat him – not a historical figure whose shadow looms large in politics to this day.

I had been forewarned (and spoiled heavily) about the emotional impact this film had, including the ending. Not entirely sure it did any good other than have me left a minor mess rather than a puddle on the floor like when I first watched Coco and The Curse of the Golden Flower.

The Elephant Man is a brilliant film that, despite getting some major nominations at the Oscars, still feels under-loved. Maybe it is the difficult subject matter and the horrific make-up that John Hurt went though 9 hours daily to have applied and removed? If not, I am not sure why such a different take on a historical biography, that has John Hurt proving him to be one of the most flexible actors of his generation, is not more loved. Hell, I question it losing so may awards to Raging Bull. But that’s just me and I am so glad that I have finally seen this.

 

XL Popcorn – Secret Beyond The Door…

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 937/1009Title: Secret Beyond The Door…
Director: Fritz Lang
Year: 1948
Country: USA

When I was picking out my final films based on prolific directors, I pretty much forgot about Fritz Lang. The moment his name flashed on screen I got a bit annoyed at myself for having not noticed this film. Oh well, it doesn’t really matter now I am getting so close to the end and there is something nice about crossing off another major director.

Secret Beyond The Door… is the final of five Lang films on the list and the third one that I have watched since starting the blog. Sadly, this is also the weakest of the five – but when the other titles include M, Metropolis and The Big Heat it becomes a bit ridiculous to even start comparing. Thing is though, where the other four films on this list felt like originals, Secret Beyond The Door… actually felt like he was trying to emulate – specifically emulate the work of Alfred Hitchcock.

Of the Hitchcock filmography, I would rank Rebecca and Suspicion among my favourites. However, because both of these films live somewhat rent-free in my head, I immediately saw how Secret Beyond The Door… was taking elements from both and not doing them quite as well. Sure there are original touches that are brilliant, such as the wholesale collecting of rooms where murder took place, but it lacked what having Joan Fontaine in a lead role could bring.

What also did not help was how this film ended. The ending, again, has shades of Suspicion about it. However, where Suspicion decides to keep you in the dark as to whether the suspicions of his intent are completely founded, Secret Beyond The Door… stops short of the murder and yet she still remains with him. At least in Suspicion you remain slightly unsure and can leave things to interpretation.

It’s not the best way to end a selection of movies of one of the best directors of the era. However, that is not to say that this was a bad film. I did enjoy this, it was just that I like other films of his better. It made for perfect evening viewing as I was icing my back after pulling it yet again. At some point, I really need to get myself some sort of box set.

XL Popcorn – The Bank Dick

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 935/1009Title: The Bank Dick
Director: Edward F. Cline
Year: 1940
Country: USA

Did this list need multiple W.C. Fields movies? No, I don’t think it did.However, I feel I may be in the minority here. Kubrick rates this among his favourite films and it has 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. Yet, I really did not like this movie. For a comedy, I exhaled out of my nose once and that wasn’t even anything to do with Fields.

For a film that’s just an hour and change, The Bank Dick feels incredibly long. It’s a convoluted ‘comedy’ that manages to see the lead take on the role of an unemployed drunk, accidental bank robbery foiler, film director, bank security guard and some sort of fraudster. All the while feeling humourless and with the overuse of comic sound effects.

Honestly, I have nothing more to say about this film. I did not like it and wanted it to be over pretty soon after it started. At least it wasn’t too long in real terms, just in the toll it paid on my attention span.

XL Popcorn – Deep End

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 934/1009Title: Deep End
Director: Jerzy Skolimowski
Year: 1970
Country: UK/West Germany

When I think of British films of this era, all I can think of are those ‘gritty’ movies where Michael Caine wants to blow the doors off. Probably why I didn’t pick this for a while. Well, I guess it must be influence of the West German money and the Polish director that this doesn’t feel that British other than some of the attitudes towards sex. That is to say, unlike a lot of British films of this era, I really liked Deep End.

At the centre of this film are two colleagues at a swimming baths: one a boy fresh out school, the other a beautiful young woman who becomes the object of his lust. What starts as a simple schoolboy crush becomes this all encompassing possessiveness resulting in him becoming a stalker and trying to ruin her relationships so he can have her.

I would love to know some contemporary thoughts on Deep End surrounding the way this possessiveness develops. There is no doubt that she flirts with him a bit at the beginning, likely thinking he’s just a young boy and no threat whatsoever. The fact that he goes to the extents he does by the end is pretty scary – and I just know that some contemporary critics would have said she ‘lead him on’ when in fact he just doesn’t know how to take no for an answer.

Both Jane Asher and John Moulder Brown are great in this, but Jane Asher really steals the show. In the slightly grimy backdrop of the swimming baths, Asher is this screen siren with beautiful red hair and an magnetic attitude. The transformation of their characters and their interactions as this film goes from slightly smutty comedy to borderline psychological horror drama is a testament to them as actors and to Skolimowski in having this film walking such a line. God this was so much better than the film I saw next.

XL Popcorn – The Thin Red Line

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 933/1009Title: The Thin Red Line
Director: Terrence Malick
Year: 1998
Country: USA

When I am finished with the 1001 list, I am going to be happy in the knowledge that I will never have to watch another war film unless I really want to. There are so many war films in the world and way too many on this list. And whilst there are some, like The Burmese Harp, that I end up loving – it’s still not a genre I am keen to see.

Still though, The Thin Red Line is meant to be one of the greats of the modern war genre – so it’s a film that I have been interested in. This is despite the last two Malick films I’ve seen being on either side of the enjoyment fence. I guess I hoped with this this being the big  Terrence Malick film to see, I would know either way what I felt for him as an auteur. Now that I have seen it – I am still not sure.

The Thin Red Line is a very Malick film. It meditates on every detail, sometimes a lot longer than it may need to – but there is a very distinct and human of view. Sadly, so much of the parts of this film just got lost in this philosophical miasma that he creates, which at times works and at others just feels incredibly self-indulgent.

Then you get the other side where it is intense and there’s a lot of explosions. Due to this more meditative stance in other parts of the film, you feel more for the losses that the US army make on this literal uphill battle. You also have film stars you recognize being killed off quickly, so it does feel like no one is safe other than Nick Nolte’s character.

There’s a lot to phrase, but also a lot that hindered. I don’t know if I will get a better understanding of Malick by watching more movies (maybe The Tree of Life?), but I guess you don’t need to get to know to know a director to appreciate them. At least this was not the original five hour cut. I don’t think I would have been able to deal with that.

XL Popcorn – Man with a Movie Camera

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 932/1009Title: Chelovek s kino-apparatom (Man with a Movie Camera)
Director: Dziga Vertov
Year: 1929
Country: USSR

There a lot of things we take for granted in modern movies. Certain shots, cutting methods and speeds. These are things that slowly filtered through cinema history with different film movements or landmarks acting as turning points. Then you get Man with a Movie Camera, which did so many of our modern tricks and, like Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis released a few years earlier that did similar things, was pretty much written off.

Watching this now, having recently watched The Bitter Tea of General Yen (which, remember, is only 4 years younger) there is a world of difference. Where General Yen is very much of it’s time and has a lot of hallmarks which make it feel like it still has a few toes in the silent movie pool, Man with a Movie Camera has more in common with the experimental movies of the 1960s and is better than most of them.

As the titles say at the beginning, this is a film without story or intertitles. The film shows life in a number of Ukrainian cities, represented in an idealised manner with the use of many different cuts and camera techniques. It almost follows a day cycle, but is more presented in themes of awakening, working and recreation. There was an interesting scene in the final section showing a woman training with a rifle by shooting a man labelled ‘Uncle Fascism’. What can I say, this is a time capsule of its era.

At just over an hour long, Man with a Movie Camera knows when to call it a day – although some critics of the time complained of over-stimulation due to the high shot count. To a modern audience, this works like an elongated music video when presented with the right soundtrack. I ended up watching it with scoring by The Cinematic Orchestra and it made for a really cool experience.

XL Popcorn – The Bitter Tea of General Yen

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 931/1009Title: The Bitter Tea of General Yen
Director: Frank Capra
Year: 1933
Country: USA

Well, that was uncomfortable. It’s weird to think that, upon release, The Bitter Tea of General Yen was controversial because it depicted a white woman falling in love with a Chinese man. Nowadays there is a very different source of controversy, the general racism towards Chinese people with titular General Yen being a white Swedish actor in yellowface. This general racism is a real stumbling block when watching this movie, which is even more of a sin given that it features Barbara Stanwyck.

So, why would this film be on the list? It probably helps that this was directed by Frank It’s A Wonderful Life Capra, but also it was daring at the time to depict an inter-racial romance. Sure, he is in yellowface. Sure, he has essentially kidnapped her and this is a Beauty & The Beast Stockholm syndrome style of romance. And sure, the romance really makes no sense whatsoever given that the film takes place over a week and she (a missionary) sees him signing off on the mass execution of his prisoners.

However, groundbreaking is groundbreaking and for the yellowface of the lead, it was a rare film in this era to employ a large number of actors of East Asian descent – including the beautiful (albeit Japanese) Toshia Mori. In a different time, this film would have been the making of Mori who gives the best performance in the ensemble and makes the best of a role that is also steeped in stereotype.

I honestly expected a lot more from The Bitter Tea of General Yen given that it is a Frank Capra production. It was different to see him use more camera tricks compared to his other films I saw from later in his career. However, this just has not aged well and is interesting to see as a specific piece of cinema history about the depiction of inter-race relations, but other than that there are better films that could have been included in the 1001.

XL Popcorn – Hereditary

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 930/1009Title: Hereditary
Director: Ari Aster
Year: 2018
Country: USA

This is one of two remaining modern horror films that I have left to watch for the 1001 list, the other being Paranormal Activity whose inclusion on the list is… suspect (but I’ll go more into that when I eventually get around to watching it). Hereditary is part of this newer breed of horror movie whose horror elements, whilst still very much there, are not the be all and end all. Like a sort of horror-fusion film, in this instance a family drama horror… like if Ordinary People had a second half full of the occult.

Hereditary being a feature directorial debut by Ari Aster is absolutely insane given how everything works straight out from the go – the fact that he also wrote this script shows how talented he is as all these family relationships felt so real. Real, but with demonic possession, a desecrated corpse and seances. The fact that it is so drama focused rather than scares is what makes the ramping up in the final hour so incredible, but conversely what would have turned off a lot of cinema goers who were expecting a fright-fest.

I do hope that those who stayed through the grief counseling and the shots of impeccably made maquettes would have least walked away with a shocking new level of respect for Toni Collette. It’s not like she as a multi-Oscar nominee would need to prove her acting chops to anyone, but the fact that she broadly got left out of award season in 2018 is criminal and must be down to the general bias that many major industry people have against horror as a genre. I mean, if you don’t think of this film in terms of the many ways she broke your heart, pissed you off and freaked you out… well I am not sure we saw the same film.

Hereditary also does the main things that I like to look for in a horror film and I seldom see – things that I won’t go into because spoilers. What I will end on is that, this a brilliantly shot and incredibly acted horror film that deserves the critical praises and should be something many are watching on Halloween for years to come. It would only be fair to see this become a horror classic.

XL Popcorn – Tongues Untied

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 929/1009Title: Tongues Untied
Director: Marlon T. Riggs
Year: 1989
Country: USA

This film is a landmark for multiple reasons. On a more practical list-based level, Tongues Untied is the final film on the list I had to check off that was under an hour – wish I could say the same of films over three hours. In a broader sense, Tongues Untied is landmark in queer black cinema in how this experimental documentary weaves in narration with slam poetry and what it means to be a gay black man. Whilst the focus is on being gay and black in American, there are broader themes that are sadly seen around the world.

Although progress has been made, watching Tongues Untied really brings it home just how little things have necessarily moved on in the last 30 years for queer people of colour. Most of what was said still applies and so most of the poems and shots could be broadly used today with little need for updating. The only thing that would mercifully be needed would be an update around the AIDS crisis which, although not over, is far more controlled in 2021.

I know that, as a queer individual, the impact of Tongues Untied will have likely been greater – but it is hard to deny that this is both a well made and different way to show off the experience of those at this particular intersection. I could have done without the slow motion vogueing sequence going on as long as it did – but that’s just a minor quibble here.

The fact that this still has power today is such testament to director Marlon T. Riggs and those who collaborated with him on this project. It’s an interesting take on a documentary whose controversy was solely down to racism and homophobia. Probably has had little viewership for just this reason, which is a crying shame as it has so much to teach and experience. Even if just for the many types of snap.