Tag Archives: 1001 movies

XL Popcorn – My Man Godfrey

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 631/1007
Title: My Man Godfrey
Director: Gregory La Cava
Year: 1936
Country: USA

Again I have found myself watching a film thanks to the You Must Remember This podcast. The episode in question was about the life and tragic death of Carole Lombard and how, despite dying at the tender age of 33,  she managed to become a name worth remembering.

It has been so long since I saw a comedy for this list (and even then Prizzi’s Honor feels like it probably shouldn’t count), especially a good old-fashioned screwball comedy. It’s so gratifying to know that there are still some very funny films left for me to see on the 1001 list. Although I wonder how many there are that will have me laughing out loud like My Man Godfrey did.

The whole set-up of this film is rather preposterous. During a scavenger hunt,  socialite Irene (Carole Lombard) pays a homeless man to help her win and outdo her sister. As a way of showing her gratitude she gives him, the titular Godfrey (William Powell), a job as the family’s new butler. The family is insane, Godfrey isn’t all he appears to be and Irene is a lovable attention seeker.

There was a real fashion in the late 1930s to have comedies that send up the richer classes as being utterly ridiculous people. If you remember that this was the time that America was still having to deal with the Great Depression then it makes sense that the public would want to take the richer classes down a peg or two. The Best Picture win for You Can’t Take It With You in 1938 is a testament to how much of a trend this was… despite the fact that it is nowhere near as good as My Man Godfrey. However, you can only go against what is presented to you.

Powell and Lombard, who had been through an amicable divorce a few years before this was filmed, work fantastically well as a double act. It’s almost on the level that Powell reached with Myrna Loy in The Thin Man, but not quite. However, using The Thin Man as a benchmark, My Man Godfrey is a much tighter production with a madcap ending and a fawning Spaniard being thrown off a balcony. Honestly, who could ask for more.


XL Popcorn – The Lady From Shanghai

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 630/1007
Title: The Lady From Shanghai
Director: Orson Welles
Year: 1947
Country: USA

I get it now. I wasn’t sure about Orson Welles after The Magnificent Ambersons and started to be convinced with Touch of Evil – now, having seen The Lady of Shanghai, I am properly convinced about Orson Welles as a great director. I wouldn’t necessarily rank it as one of my favourite films of all time, but it was so interesting to watch.

Honestly, I only chose to watch The Lady From Shanghai this morning because I have become addicted to the You Must Remember This podcast. I recently listened to a rather heartbreaking episode about Rita Heyworth and her marriage to Orson Welles… so I just had to see this.

At the time of its original release The Lady From Shanghai was a critically mixed and a financial failure. The cutting and bleaching of Rita Heyworth’s hair is given as a reason for this flopping, similar to how the cancellation of Felicity is sometimes blamed for Keri Russell cutting off her curls. Utterly ludicrous, if true as Heyworth truly rocks the platinum blonde look.

The thing is that I can see how a film like this may not have appealed at the time. The narrative is slightly confusing at times as the murder plot develops layer after layer after layer… which basically makes this a film noir with extra steps. It’s another one of those Wikipedia films, something that you see when you look at contemporary reviews; minus the references to the non-existent internet.

What makes this film special is Rita Heyworth’s performance and the technical brilliance of Welles’ direction. Despite the well known fact that Heyworth hated Hollywood there is no denying that she is a talented and magnetic actress. She is able to demonstrate steely resolve and melancholic fragility with ease. There’s a bit where she is singing on the boat and the hopelessness of her situation breaks your heart.

Then there’s the final sequence in the fairground, something that has been oft-repeated but never topped. We start with Welles’ character running through a funhouse only to end up in a shoot-out in a hall of mirrors. The way that Welles framed every shot and found new ways to play with reflection and overlay makes this a treat for the eyes. The way that mirrors shatter with every gunshot and we constantly switch perspectives gives this almost stationary scene the illusion of frantic movement.

Having seen The Lady From Shanghai I know that I need to rewatch Citizen Kane and Gilda. Both are regarded as the best works by Welles and Heyworth respectively, but neither appealed to me when I watched them over a decade ago. Considering their influential natures on cinema in general it’s time for me to do a re-evaluation.

XL Popcorn – The Public Enemy

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 629/1007
Title: The Public Enemy
Director: William A. Wellman
Year: 1931
Country: USA

It’s been an awful long time since I’ve seen an old gangster flick with James Cagney. I still find it hard to look at him without thinking of his role in Yankee Doodle Dandy which might just speak for the impact of that role rather than his role in this film. Or maybe I mean we have some classic gangster Cagney in this film, but maybe that’s just me.

The Public Enemy is one of those big influential films in the crime/gangster genre. It tells the story of career criminal Tom Powers (Cagney) from his delinquent childhood to his eventual death as an adult (not too much of a spoiler considering all these films end in the death of the gangster). As with 1932 version of ScarfaceThe Public Enemy tries to disguise this story of murder and bootlegging as a cautionary tale – the end card alone is ridiculous – but I guess you just did what you had to do back then to make your movies.

As films go it’s a pretty standard early 1930s gangster flick. Compared to a lot of films nowadays the overall acting is pretty average. James Cagney is the ultimate standout and Jean Harlow is the ultimate disappointment (for someone so iconic in 1930s cinema she really isn’t the best actress). The rest of the cast range from passable to good with a few just dipping into amateur. On the whole, this was actually quite a distraction and stifled some of the enjoyment that I got from this film.

Now, there are two scenes that I want to highlight because they show quite an interesting comparison into what was deemed acceptable and not acceptable at the time. The first is the famous scene where Cagney’s Tom shoves a grapefruit half into the face of his girlfriend. I was geared up to see something more violent, but the connotation that this could be one of many acts of abuse is enough to make you feel uncomfortable. Especially when you consider how much it would hurt to have grapefruit juice squeezed into your eyes.

The other scene is one towards the end of the film. Due to gangland incidents, Tom and the rest of the gang are hauled up in a safehouse until the heat dies down. The woman who runs the place (a fairly poorly acted character called Jane) essentially takes advantage of Tom who, even in his drunken state, says no to her advances. It’s clear by the next morning that she was able to get her way and, thanks to his inebriation, he has no memory of what transpired. Nothing in that scene was seen as controversial when it aired and probably isn’t seen that way now… but I think I stood on that soapbox when I saw The Wedding Banquet so I’ll step off now.

On the whole it’s an interesting film to see just where gangster films started to evolve. If you are able to come in realising that this is a film from 1931, with all the baggage that entails, then it’s a good way to spend 83 minutes.


XL Popcorn – Fellini Satyricon

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 628/1007
Title: Satyricon
Director: Federico Fellini
Year: 1969
Country: Italy

During our recent trip to Stockholm we went to a photographic exhibition centred around the relationship between people and their horses. One of the photos on display was of the horses involved in the making of the earthquake scene of Satyricon and so I finally got the reason that I needed to give this a go.

Now. Going from the picture in the 1001 book, I was expecting a film that would be a bit weird. Not possibly upsettingly weird like Salo; more like the final disturbing 10 minutes of The Shining. Honestly, with this as a yardstick, Fellini did not disappoint.

It would appear that, when making Satyricon, Fellini was seeking a way to stay true to the spirit of a Roman text about the various adventures of a man that usually ends up with him having sex to get out of a scrape. It’s the ultimate exercise in organised chaos that, because of the fragmented nature of the surviving text, ends up being a bit disjointed. Then again, that’s pretty much the point.

Everything from the out-of-sync dubbing to the filters on the camera serve to make this film feel otherworldly. I use otherworldly because it’s a kinder word than ‘barmy’, which Satyricon is also. Afterall, this is a tale where the protagonist ends up being chased by a man dressed as a Minotaur, kidnaps an oracular hermaphrodite, narrowly escapes an earthquake and has sex with a goddess to cure his impotence. I could go on, but I think you get the point.

Since this veers so much between plot fragments Satyricon really is a film where it helps to have the Wikipedia page open. I don’t think you’re meant to quite be able to follow the thread of the story line as it plays like a game of exquisite corpse put on celluloid. We begin in a Roman bath watching two men arguing about their lovers and end on one of them being offered a pile of money in exchange for an act of cannibalism. I mean, I watched this film intently and I still puzzle as to how we ended up with this conclusion some 2 hours later.

There are still three more Fellini films left for me to watch: Amarcord, La Dolce Vita and Juliet of the Spirits. I think that whatever film I see of his will end up feeling positively grounded after Satyricon. Then again, that’s what makes for a legendary director: someone who puts their mark on different genres and someone whose films are still interesting to talk about, even if you wouldn’t particularly rate them highly.


XL Popcorn – Lolita

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 627/1007
Title: Lolita
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Year: 1962
Country: UK/USA

I recently had the delights of updating the 1001 Movie page because of the latest edition of the book. For the first time ever, my numbers have remained static as I had seen as many of the entries that came in as those who went out. I still live in hope that there will be a complete overhaul of the list since years like 2011 are chronically under-represented, but I may have watched everything before that happens.

Anyway. How do you make a movie out of Lolita? I know that’s a bastardised version of the tagline, but it’s a valid question. You’re talking about adapting a novel where a grown man has sexual relations with a 12-year-old.  They couldn’t even do that in the 1997 version let alone in the years of the Hays Code. Still, you have to credit Kubrick for trying… and making the compromise of her being played by a 14-15 year old Sue Lyon.

As someone who has read the book, it was interesting to watch Kubrick’s take on it. The biggest issue with this adaptation, at least for me, was the loss of the unreliable narrator. Humbert Humbert is a charmer and charlatan who spins a web of fiction around his real story that he tells through a series of monologues. That was the true beauty of reading Lolita and is incredibly hard to do in visual media. So, I can’t blame Kubrick for leaving it out.

In it’s place Kubrick is a lot more explicit in showing us the Humbert’s cruel and psychotic side. Rather than him narrating his plans to drown his wife (Shelley Winters did wonders with this role) he laughs at the note she leaves declaring her love for him. Similarly, we now have no history or context for Humbert’s hebephila… it just appears that there is something special about Lolita rather than this being a pattern of his. Again, something is lost.

What I cannot deny is the level of acting on display by the four leads. Of course Peter Sellers steals the entire thing because, you know, it’s Peter freakin’ Sellers. However, I have to give huge props to Sue Lyon who is able to stand her group despite the fact that she is surrounded by seasoned actors. Such a pity that her career stalled within a few years of this being released.

I’ve said things that would make it sounds otherwise, but I did enjoy this take on Lolita. It isn’t completely true to the book, but neither was The Shining. In all of these changes I only have one big gripe that I wish would be edited out since we no longer live in the Hays Code world. As a cheap epilogue it is announced that Humbert dies of heart complications as he is awaiting trial (since in Hays Code world a murderer must be seen to be punished or killed). It’s such a throwaway and I cannot help but wonder if it was the inspiration for this sight gag in The Simpsons:

It’s a small thing that marrs the ending of a good film. I didn’t think this was as great as I have been led to believe, but I guess that’s the issue with reading the book first. So much was lost in the translation from book to screen and Lolita suffers for it.


XL Popcorn – Bob Le Flambeur

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 626/1007
Title: Bob le flambeur
Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
Year: 1956
Country: France

There are certain genres of films that require more interest and attention than others because of their tendency to make cuts and  leaps. Film noir is truly the epitome of this.

I remember trying to watch The Big Sleep after staying up late for the Oscars… well to say that Wikipedia was employed regularly to keep me abreast of the developments is an understatement. My lack of attention due to sleep deprivation stopped me from enjoying this film as much as I could have. Still, not the film’s fault. With Bob le flambeur it was quite the opposite.

For a noir film that inspired Ocean’s Eleven due to the casino heist storyline I cannot believe how little this film interested me.  I have a tendency to disproportionately love film noir and yet every scene and attempt at a witticism just left me cold. Maybe it’s the fact that this isn’t a straight noir, but contains some early elements of French New Wave that turned me off? I don’t know.

It’s a pity because I enjoyed the other Melville film that I’ve seen (Le Samourai) and, on the surface, Bob le flambeur is a film that should have ticked a lot of boxes for me. I mean, I started writing this about 2 hours after watching this… and I can’t remember much other than a casual attitude to domestic violence, the idea of a gambler finally getting a win and something to do with lifts stopping at 5 am. That’s the level of impact it made on me.

Oh well, can’t win ’em all.


XL Popcorn – Persona

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 625/1007
Title: Persona
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Year: 1966
Country: Sweden

With Persona I am now halfway through the ten Ingmar Bergan flicks. The only one I watched for this blog was The Hour of the Wolf… which I don’t think I really got. I still liked it, but it wasn’t the horror movie that I would have expected for a Halloween viewing.

Speaking of horror, Persona is another of Bergman’s films where I’ve seen horror listed as a sub-genre. This time I did not take that too seriously and I think it helped. What I didn’t quite expect was for this to be such an art film. I know that The Seventh Seal has the chess game with Death and that Fanny and Alexander has elements of magic… but this takes artiness to the next level. Not just because of that crucifixion clip, but in how Persona keeps breaking the fourth wall and playing with the idea of this being a film.

It’s really hard to describe Persona. It’s one of those films where I have seen a large number of interpretations that all have their own merits. On the surface of it you have a film about a nurse (Bebe Andersson) looking after an actress (Liv Ullman) who has had some sort of breakdown. For most of the film they are isolated in a remote cottage on the coast where the void left by actress’s silence leads to the nurse filling it with her own secrets.

As a description that is completely pants, mainly because such a surface description for a film like Persona is utterly pointless. The great fun with watching a film like this is to see where Bergman and his imagery takes you. He creates such an atmosphere of uncertainty in that everything you see feels like it is part of some grand deception and in the end that is what Persona is. Well, to me it is.

Having seen this I subscribe to the interpretation that Alma (the nurse) and Elisabet (the actress) are one and the same person. Bergman frames so many of the shots so that their faces overlap and when we are introduced to Elisabet’s husband he mistakes Alma to be his wife… despite the fact that they are standing with each other.

The question, therefore, becomes who is the real person and who is the persona? Or are there two people with one projecting on the other? For me, it being just Elisabet in that cabin with a nurse makes sense. The character of Alma comes from Elisabet’s subconscious and her regrets. If the beginning and ending is to be interpreted a certain way – I think that Elisabet hurt this son she never wanted and had some sort of breakdown.

Through Alma’s monologues Elisabet is coming to terms with the fact that, unlike the roles she plays on stage, being a mother is a role and a truth that she can’t excise from her life. It’s like she has been trying to reject the gender norms of female parenthood and this experience is the whiplash of it all coming crashing down on her.

Then again those are my thoughts. Persona doesn’t have a single interpretation and that’s what makes it a great film. It stays with you and makes for a great talking point.


XL Popcorn – The Adventures of Prince Achmed

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 624/1007
Title: The Adventures of Prince Achmed (Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed)
Director: Lotte Reiniger
Year: 1926
Country: Germany

Animated movies don’t always get a lot of love from ‘best film’ lists. For someone who ranks animation as their favourite type of film and TV show… this is  a bit of a problem. By the time I started this blog there were only two animated entries left for the 1001 movies list: Heaven and Earth Magic and The Adventures of Prince Achmed. I have been sitting on these final two animated entries for almost four years – and it’s time to cross off the first one.

The Adventures of Prince Achmed is special. On the surface it would appear that this film earns its place on the 1001 list because it is the oldest surviving feature length animated movie. The two older feature length animations have been lost, which is a sad yet common issue with older movies.

However, I would contend that The Adventures of Prince Achmed earns it’s place through sheer innovation, hard work and merit. The work that Lotte Reiniger had to put into this film is mind-boggling. Due to the need to photograph 24 frames of animation per second, this movie took 3+ years to make.

Each frame of The Adventures of Prince Achmed is a work of shadow-puppetry art. You could probably print each one and put them on a wall. Despite telling one of the stories from The Arabian Nights, the style of the stop-motion shadowpuppetry comes from South-East Asia. This means that everything has a tinge of the exotic, which is the ideal aesthetic for a story of genies, sorcerers and flying horses.

Depending on the copy you have The Adventures of Prince Achmed varies between 1 hour and 1 hour 20 minutes in length. I watched the shorter/quicker version, which adds an extra frenzy to the battle scenes. What can I say, it worked well this way… especially for the best set piece of the film.

If you have seen The Sword in the Stone you will probably remember the shape-shifting fight. Well, that came from this and done through morphing shadow puppets no less. I can not even imagine the level of planning that went through the execution of that short scene. Then again I cannot begin to imagine how you would make one of these articulated puppets, let alone produce a simple sequence.

The place where The Adventures of Prince Achmed falls down is the story. It’s not even that it’s incredibly dated and rapey, but it’s cliched and simple. Then again, does that matter? Well no, it doesn’t because we’re here to watch something unique in the history of cinema an, ultimately, that’s where it wins out. It’s a hoot to watch and, as an animated film lover, it is an essential part of cinematic history.


XL Popcorn – Forbidden Planet

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 623/1007
Title: Forbidden Planet
Director: Fred M. Wilcox
Year: 1956
Country: USA

I was about to say how it feels like a long time since I last watched a science fiction film for the 1001 film list – then I remembered that Stalker would fall into this category. Other than that, the last sci-fi film I saw for the list was Arrival and that’s just a co-incidence.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that science fiction is a fairly under-represented genre on lists like this. Easy to see how it happens. Many of these films are cheap, bad, beyond cheesy or some combination of the three. Then again you get films like The Fly, Alien and The Thing which are both science-fiction and exceptional.

Forbidden Planet makes it onto the list as one of the big science-fiction progenitors. We have a robot as a fully formed character instead of just a tool, we are on a planet many millions of miles away from Earth and humans have perfected a faster-than-light ship. All these are things that hadn’t really been done before… and it feels so obvious now.

Watching Forbidden Planet did, at times, feel like I was watching a lost episode for Star Trek. I’ve seen the Kirk-less Star Trek pilot and it felt more on the level of seriousness of Forbidden Planet than what the show ended up becoming.

Similarly, the visual effects Forbidden Planet felt very much like those in Star Trek some 10 years later. They were very impressive for a film coming from 1956 hell some of the model work is better than some of the effects we see in films from 20 years ago.

Then there is the soundtrack, the first completely electronic soundtrack in cinema history. I know right! It’s one of those soundtracks that helps to make things feel alien and (for the 1950s) futuristic. Hearing this must have felt like a revelation at the time, or at least made this feel even more alien.

Whilst it is great that there is all these steps forward in film making, there are a few things in this film that bugged me. The tour of the alien facility, for example, had way too much exposition for little gain. A pity because some of the sets that they built for this sequence were fantastic.

Also a lot of the tension that could have been generated with this unknown creature just never materialised. Everything was solved way too easily… which makes me wonder if that’s due to editing or because of science-fiction storytelling at the time.

This would also be an opportunity to go into the sexism in this film… but after recently watching Pillow Talk my eyes have really been re-opened to the sexism of the times. It would be worrying if this were made now considering how there is a remark about it serving the woman right if she got raped.

So yes. Forbidden Planet really is an interesting film to see in terms of film history and it is worth seeing just for Robby the Robot and (hunky) Leslie Nielsen. It takes itself a bit too seriously at times, but I guess that’s the price you pay for a non-camp 1950s science-fiction film.


XL Popcorn – Zerkalo

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 622/1007
Title: The Mirror (Zerkalo)
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Year: 1975
Country: USSR

So here we are with the final of the four Andrei Tarkovsky entries on the 1001 movie list. Between this and Stalker I am going to have to admit defeat. I think that what these other people are seeing is just going over my head. It’s not that I dislike any of the films I have seen (on average I’ve given them 7/10), but I think there is something I am missing.

I am not exaggerating when I say that all of his entries on the 1001 list are extremely well regarded. Zerkalo itself finished in 9th place in a 2012 poll voted by directors to find the best movie of all time… which may go a long way to explain why I never had the urge to become an arthouse movie director.

All this preamble to try and keep some cinephile credit when Zerkalo actually turned out to be my favourite of the four.  Weirdly I think it helped that I have previously watched the 2002 film Russian Ark and read In Search of Lost TimeWhy? Well, Zerkalo is not so much a film as it is a meditation on memory. As with other pieces of modern art, the narrative is delivered as a stream of consciousness which allows for some fallibility and the ability to jump around in time/narratives/memory.

The film itself is Tarkovsky doing a loose autobiography of his father. I want to place an emphasis on loose because the film includes a woman levitating and things that, as a boy, the protagonist would not have been privy to. Still, we catch a glimpse at episode of this person’s life as well as the life of his mother.

There is no story in this film. To try and find a story or a concrete throughline is to both miss the point and become frustrated. I can see why people would dislike this if they went into the film without prior warning of it being one of those films. I mean, if I went into this expecting a ‘normal’ film I would have come out rather perplexed. As it is I came out with questions and the wish that I hadn’t watched this by myself.

So yes, that’s another of the big league directors crossed off the list. There are still many great directors to be crossed off in the 380+ films I have yet to see (including Alfred Hitchcock, Max and Marcel Ophuls, John Ford and Ingmar Berman), but that’s the joy of making my way through the list.