Archive for ‘AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies’

April 2, 2012

City Lights (1931 – DVD)

“I’m not acting, almost apologetic, standing outside myself and looking, it’s a beautiful scene, beautiful, and because it isn’t over-acted”

Next in my Charlie Chaplin boxset is 1931’s ‘City Lights’ which was perhaps Chaplin’s own favourite film, and it was also Orson Welles’ favourite and is named as Sight & Sound Magazine’s 2nd greatest film ever.  I found it to be in the mould of Chaplin’s beautiful and emotional, heart-warming film ‘The Kid’.  ‘City Lights’s plot has two halves which Chaplin cunningly weaves together into one seemless narrative.

One side features Chaplin’s Tramp befriending a drunken and suicidal millionaire, although when he sobers back up he is less than pleased to see the company he’s been keeping.  One of the funniest parts of this scenario is the look of disapproval and anger on the face of the millionaire’s Valet who is forced to follow his master’s drink sodden whims and treat the Tramp as an honoured guest.  Many sparkling comic vignettes follow, the greatest being when in an eating scene The Tramp accidentally chews the streamers hanging from the ceiling along with his spaghetti.

The other side is a sweet and tender romance between The Tramp and a poor blind flower seller that he meets.  Unfortunately, not being able to see his ragged clothes, she mistakes him for a rich man who he continues to pretend to be, making use of his millionaire friend in order to impress her.  He later learns she is to evicted, so in the guise of the rich gentleman he rashly promises to pay her rent and also pay for an expensive eye operation.  This leads him into a series of scrapes as he fights to get the money including a hilarious rigged boxing match.  The final scene between  the flower seller and The Tramp is utterly heartbreaking.  Naturally I respect Orson’s opinion, but I wouldn’t say this was my favourite film, however I would say it was Chaplin’s best early Silent movie (That I’ve watched so far) although I still think 1947’s Talkie ‘Monsieur Verdoux’ is his best film overall.

You can watch the full film on YouTube below:

April 2, 2012

The African Queen (1951 – Blu-Ray)

“It’s a great thing to have a lady aboard with clean habits. It sets the man a good example. A man alone, he gets to living like a hog”

Next in my run through of Bogey classics is 1951’s ‘The African Queen’ which sits in the AFI’s top hundred films of all time.  It’s kinda like an anti ‘Apocalypse Now’, in this sweet tale two lonely souls fall in love as they traverse the dangers of a Jungle river, where as in the similarly Jungle river bound ‘Apocalypse Now’ the characters just go insane and start chopping of people’s heads!  So a tip for tourists; African river trip = romance / Cambodian river trip = plunge into nether regions of hell.

Unusually for the period, half of the film was shot on location in African and it was really worth the poisonous water, hornet attacks, illness and plagues of soldier ants that beset the crew.  As the Jungle scenery is gorgeously shot by master cinematographer Jack Cardiff, who gives the film a lushly colourful, painterly quality.  Humphrey Bogart’s performance as curmudgeonly riverboat Captain Charlie Allnut rightly won him the Oscar but Katharine Hepburn should’ve also received a gong for her portrayal of closeted Missionary Rose Sayer.  The Blu-Ray transfer is awe-inspiring and ranks alongside ‘The Wizard Of Oz’ and ‘Gone With The Wind’ as the best presentations I’ve seen on the format.  You can almost reach out and touch the African foliage, bare the searing heat  and feel the bristles of Bogey’s stubble.

March 29, 2012

Sunset Boulevard (1950 – DVD)

“We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces!”

I’ve been rather remiss in my watching habits as far as Billy Wilder goes, as I’ve only seen two of the respected Director’s films so far; ‘Double Indemnity’ and ‘The Lost Weekend’.  The dark genius of these films has led me onto the famous 1950 Noir ‘Sunset Boulevard’.  The fact that it was turned into a musical had me imagining a glitzy Hollywood romance film, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.  ‘Sunset Boulevard’ follows washed up hack screenwriter Joe Gillis played by a young William Holden as he’s dragged inexorably into the faded world of forgotten Silent-Movie star Norma Desmond, played by real-life Silent icon Gloria Swanson.  I’m unsure whether to call a film as dark and bitter as this a ‘Love ‘letter’ to Hollywood but that’s kinda what it is.  As it features a plethora of vintage Hollywood stars (Buster Keaton, Cecil B. DeMille etc) either playing themselves in cameos or playing twisted versions of their own personas.

Desmond exists in a crumbling Mansion lost in dreams of her glory days convinced they will come again.  She is looked after by her creepy valet Max (Played by acclaimed Director Erich von Stroheim) who prowls the gothic palace like the phantom of the opera.  On the run from the debt collectors Gillis accepts the job of editing a mammoth screenplay Desmond has written for herself and ends up staying at this ‘Haunted House’ of Cinema.  ‘Sunset Boulevard’ feels like the dark flip side of ‘Singin’ In The Rain’, in that film the characters make a glorious Technicolor transition into the Talkies but here Desmond is shuttered away from the reality that the world has forgotten her.  Gloria Swanson gives us a darkly camp and suffocating but ultimately sympathetic performance which makes this film unmissable.

March 18, 2012

Singin’ In The Rain (1952 – Cinema)

“I gave an exclusive story to every paper in town”

I got up early today to catch Curzon Chelsea’s Saturday morning screening of 1952’s Musical ‘Singin’ In The Rain’. Unaccountably I’d never seen it before or knew anything about it, outside of that parodic commercial from the 80’s where a scarecrow has a warming bowl of Knorr soup after dancing in the rain and mud. Many have noted Gene Kelly’s film’s inspiration on ‘The Artist’ which is certainly true, as the plot also concerns the fall and rise of Hollywood stars at the birth of sound.

It was one of those glorious screenings of old classic movies were all ages came along for the fun including (Well behaved) kids. The digitally restored Technicolor print looks spectacular, so much so that a crane shot with dozens of lit-up broadway signs actually got a few astonished gasps from the audience. The song and dance numbers are literally jaw dropping in their ingenuity and fun. My favourite was Donald O’Connor’s ‘Make ‘Em Laugh’, where he seamlessly blends slapstick pratfalls into his tap dancing. In fact for me, with his rubber faced antics he steals the whole show away from Gene Kelly.

The children in the row in front of me were giggling throughout at the visual gags while all the adults cackled at the showbiz digs. I came out with a smile on my face and a spring in my step. It’s gotta be a good sign when you hear a bloke unabashedly whistling the theme song in the gents after!  When in the name of God are they gonna release it on Blu-Ray because I need another hit of this kind of magic.

March 5, 2012

The Gold Rush (1925 – DVD)

“The picture that I want to be remembered by”

This is part two of my Charlie Chaplin box set indulgence after his first feature ‘The Kid’. This is his third and perhaps most warmly regarded silent 1925’s ‘The Gold Rush’.  The Tramp or ‘The Little Fellow’ as Chaplin calls him in the narration, is a prospector in the bleak winter of the Klondike gold rush. It’s very much like ‘The Kid’ in tone with the same perfect blend of inventive visual gags and heartbreak. Only this time the gags are on a whole new daring level of sophistication.

The amount of humour he squeezes into one three walled shack is astounding. The setup where the hungry character cooks and eats his boiled boots as if he were a gourmet is rightly famous. What I wasn’t expecting was how powerful the romantic plot still is. The bit where The Little Fellow has saved all his money for a New Years dinner with the sophisticated Girl he has worshipped from afar, only for her to stand him up is heartbreaking. Especially when Chaplin has a close up of him looking mournfully out of his door into the cold darkness and hearing the faint sound of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ from the rest of the happy townsfolk… it almost had me blubbing.

Next I’m gonna skip forward a few films and try one of Chaplin’s later talkies.

March 4, 2012

To Kill A Mockingbird (1962 – Blu-Ray)

“Some men in this world are born to do our unpleasant jobs for us… your father is one of them”

Legendary classic though it is, I’d never seen 1962’s ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ although it did feel like I had.  Scenes, lines, music, characters and story elements are so ubiquitous in popular culture that I already felt familiar with it through sheer osmosis.  When I saw the new 50th Anniversary Blu-Ray in HMV I had to have it. The Blu-Ray disc comes within a thick hardbound scrap-book full of ephemera related to the film including reproductions of; the shooting schedule, Peck’s own script notes, stamps, storyboards, posters, press clippings and congratulatory even telegrams. It’s one of the most beautifully packaged presentations I’ve seen or owned (‘Apocalypse Now’ is still the best though), the kind of tactile experience that you just don’t get with a download.

Now onto what you get on the disc itself; most impressively you get two feature-length documentaries (So that’s three films for the price of one folks!), a Producer/Director commentary, an assortment of clips and featurettes and best of all (For film-geeks like me anyway) a documentary on the meticulous frame-by-frame restoration of the film undertaken by Universal Studios.  Which brings me onto the staggering image quality which maybe the best preserved black and white film I’ve yet seen on Blu-Ray.  In short, go out and buy it now!

Of course the film itself is incredible too, starting with the gorgeously shot opening credits.  As towering, brave and decent as Gregory Peck’s Oscar-winning presence is it’s the naturalistic performances from the children that steal the show.  Director Robert Mulligan’s decision to shoot the film entirely from a child’s-eye perspective is inspired.  This allows us the viewer to intimately see their seemingly idyllic Southern town existence slowly being eroded by the dark underbelly of racism.

Universal have lavished the same Blu-Ray treatment on to a number of other films as part of their Centenary, including 1930’s ‘All Quiet On The Western Front’ so I’ve already put that on my shopping list.

January 28, 2012

Apocalypse Now (1979 – Cinema)

“There were too many of us, we had access to too much equipment, too much money, and little by little we went insane” – Francis Ford Coppola, Cannes 1979

The opportunity to see Francis Ford Coppola’s newly remastered 1979 epic ‘Apocalypse Now’ on the big screen was one that could not be missed. The screening I saw at the BFI’s NFT1 featured crystal clear surround sound and a majestically large screen to witness the full-scale of this masterpiece. The film is presented exactly as it was shown in 1979 without any credits before or after, the lights simply go down as the sound of rota blades begin to swirl around your head and your journey into the “Heart of darkness” begins.

I must have watched my ‘Apocalypse Now’ DVD 30 times over the years, but now for the first time I saw it as it was meant to be seen, in the cinema. The final scene where Kurt’s army bow down to their new god had a dreadful power I’d never experienced before and seeing the film with an audience revealed how much dark humour there is. I was obviously excited to see the helicopter attack in all its Wagnerian glory and the deafening explosions and sweeping camera shots didn’t disappoint. This sequence highlights the profound conundrum Coppola placed at the film’s heart, that war is inhuman but it’s also thrilling on an primeval level.

Also, finally the super-deluxe Blu-Ray box set I’ve been drooling over from America is coming to Region 2 on the 13th of June. It features not only the original and extended cuts but also the award-winning ‘Hearts Of Darkness’ documentary and what looks like about 3 days of bonus materials chronicling the film’s arduous production.

Here’s a few of ‘Apocalypse Now’ related mp3s:

Nicky Wire – Break My Heart Slowly mp3
UNKLE – UNKLE (Main Title Theme) mp3
Flash Cadillac – Suzie Q mp3