Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Meme time! I've been tagged by film blogger and Facebook friend Dennis Cozzalio, who, building on a tag from Joseph B. (who was tagged by Adam at DVD Panache), asks the following:
What are 12 Movies I’ve Never Seen and Desperately Want to See?
This is a question about shame and confession, desire and obligation. When I was in grad school, a friend wanted to start what she dubbed "The Moby Dick Book Club," where we'd gather to read and discuss those books we were ashamed to admit we hadn't read. An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education several years ago noted the academic habit of speaking about books you were "re-reading," fearful to admit that you hadn't read such-and-such famous text in the first place.
Movies are the same way, and twelve isn't nearly big enough a number. I was tempted just to place a link to my Netflix queue, except then you'd see that it includes things like Honey West and Jumper and Liza With A "Z", and there are some confessions I'm just not willing to make. I could also just say, "Everything by Renoir and Hitchcock, and Hawks and Ophuls, and Minnelli and Truffaut, and Altman and Michael Powell, and Keaton and Chaplin that I haven't seen yet," but that's too vague, and too easy. And of course, the minute I name twelve, I'll think of twelve others I want to see just as much.
With all those caveats out of the way, here are twelve movies on my must-see list, listed alphabetically.
Also, Dennis, about Ben-Hur-- don't do it, my friend! It's just not worth it, despite some great moments.
1.Aguirre, The Wrath of God: I knew a lot more about Werner Herzog's contemporary Wim Wenders when I first started taking film classes in college, but I find myself more and more interested in Herzog, particularly after watching him go mad in Les Blank's Burden of Dreams. But I've never seen this, perhaps his most famous film. I remember I first read about it in one of Roger Ebert's Filmgoing Companions when I was about thirteen, and Ebert's evocative descriptions made it sound like a journey into a physical and psychological landscape different than any I'd seen before; I almost felt like I was seeing it unfold in my head as I read his review: I could feel the dirt and sweat on my skin. It's always been on my list of movies to see, but I've never quite gotten around to it.
2.Alice in Wonderland (1933 version): Cary Grant playing Mock Turtle? 'Nuff said. As far as I know, it's unavailable. As far as I know, there's good reason for that. But the perversity of casting the greatest movie actor of all time in a misbegotten children's film, and then covering his head with a turtle costume is a remarkably awful idea; it's on a par with casting Fred Astaire in On The Beach and then enclosing him in race car, a decision that, as David Thomson rightly notes, only confirms the cinematic illiteracy of Stanley Kramer. And yet, I long to see Alice unfold, like a car crash, on my TV.
3.At Long Last Love: When Larry held his Burt Reynolds Blog-a-thon last spring, he and I emailed about this movie. I asked him if he was going to write about it, and he said he'd love to, except it was not available.
And that's a shame. Most of the movies on this list, famous or not, would probably be acknowledged as "good" according to various criteria of taste, technical achievement, innovation, historical importance, etc. This is the one movie that probably would be read as "bad," because of some combination of technical ineptitude, dislike of musicals, dislike of director Peter Bogdanovich (Peter Biskind has a field day mocking the movie in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, although I always sensed that was because Bogdanovich didn't fit into the mold of Drug-Addled Macho Genius that Biskind was so sweaty to valorize, as much as it was anything to do with the film itself), and its complete commercial failure.
But if Heaven's Gate can get a critical re-evaluation, why not show this some Love? Although he doesn't produce as much these days, Bogdanovich's run from Targets through They All Laughed has aged extremely well, and whether it's good or bad, I'd love to see how this movie-- with Burt and Cybill singing Cole Porter-- fits into his body of work.
4.Blondie of the Follies: Billie Dove is a figure that appears and re-appears in the first chapter of my dissertation, and this was one of her final films. She was a paramour of Howard Hughes, a well-known Follies girl, an aviatrix, and one of the silent era's best-loved starlets. She starred in this movie with Marion Davies, but when William Randolph Hearst saw a rough cut, he thought Dove was stealing the picture from Davies, and had it re-edited to make Dove look like a villain. Disgusted, Dove threw up her hands, married a wealthy real-estate mogul, and dropped out of the movie business. Not even David O. Selznick (who wanted to cast Davies as Belle Watling in Gone With The Wind) could get her to change her mind.
Is this movie any good? I have no idea, but I do like musicals, and I want to see it simply to see what all the fuss was about. It played on TCM once, several years ago, and I kicked myself that I forgot to set a tape. Its fascination is as much pedagogical, then, as cinematic, but I also love the idea of it as a genuine source of mystery, and as the answer to the question-- what did a lost silent film star look like?
(Fellow film blogger Jonathan has also expressed an interest in this film).
5.Children of Paradise: I have absolutely no idea why I haven't seen this film. I love the school of French Poetic Realism into which it's often placed. It offers the mixture of heady fantasy, historical realism, melodramatic romance and cinephiliac glamour that is my mother's milk. It's influenced generations of directors I admire. Everyone I know seems to mention this film, and love it.
Most embarrassing of all? I own this film. I bought it four years ago, and have always meant to watch it. But...but...but....I never have.
I suspect it's the length-- at 190 minutes, and coming in two parts, I've never found the energy to sit down and watch the whole thing (although, somehow, I found four hours to watch Ben-Hur-- oh, the pitfalls of wasted youth!). It's not just the length, though. Ben-Hur was part of my goal, over the course of one year, to watch every Best Picture winner I'd missed (only the somnambulant Around The World In 80 Days thwarted me)-- it was part of a large process, and as such, I didn't really care what kind of mood I was in when I saw it. I so want to love Children of Paradise, though, that I want to find exactly the right time and place and mood to see it in, and that's just never happened. Of all the films on this list, though, it's the one that holds the most fascination for me.
6.Darling: Julie Christie, Laurence Harvey, mod fashion, Swingin' London: Darling contains some of my favorite pop cultural signifiers, but I've just never gotten around to it, perhaps because I was suspicious that John Schlesinger (auteur behind the heartbreaking Midnight Cowboy and the utterly unsubtle Marathon Man) was the right man to capture the period. I'm wary of heavy-handed allegories about the corrupting powers of bourgeois pop, but all that stuff I mentioned above might make it a fair trade-off.
7.The Earrings of Madame de...: This actually just came yesterday from Amazon, in a spanking new transfer from the Criterion Collection, and I can't wait to tear it open and toss it in the player (we'll see how nice my cinephiliac desire plays with my guilt about actually getting work done this week). I fell in love with Max Ophuls three years ago, when I saw Letter From An Unknown Woman and Lola Montes back-to-back on a hot summer night. Teaching Montes a couple of years later in a cinephilia class only increased my admiration. Everything I've read about Ophuls mentions Earrings, and my heart skipped a beat when I read that it was finally being released on American DVD. The challenge I now face with it is to see whether or not it lives up to my hopes: it's one thing to be surprised by a movie, but to be disappointed after such a long waiting period? That's far more crushing.
8.Last Year At Marienbad: It's only recently that I've come to appreciate Alain Resnais's work.
I blame Pauline Kael's hilarious takedown of his films in "Predilections of the Art House Audience"-- I can't agree with her reading of Hiroshima Mon Amour now that I've seen it, but the essay spoke to me in its dissection of pompous art-house denizens, and I still think of it when I hear people praising There Will Be Blood. For years, this meant I glanced warily at Marienbad across the room, and hoped it didn't come over and talk to me.
Having seen Mon Amour, I'm now very curious to see this later masterwork, not least of all because it inspired the pre-credits sequence of From Russia With Love.
9. Lubitsch Musicals: This is actually a four-disc box set released through Criterion's Eclipse label, which includes the following films: The Love Parade, Monte Carlo, The Smiling Lieutenant, and One Hour With You. Having read about them in Rick Altman's essential The American Film Musical, I know the films, especially 1929's The Love Parade, hold historical importance as some of the earliest and most sexually sophisticated of all Hollywood musicals; they also offer the underrated charms of Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald, whose pleasures I'm re-engaging with this week as I teach their best pairing, Rouben Mamoulian's Love Me Tonight.
But mostly, I'm hoping this box offers prime Lubitsch, as there are few pre-Code pleasures more sensuous or engaging than an Ernst Lubitsch movie. I suspect none of these films can match Trouble In Paradise in the sheer bliss department, but I'm thinking there's still a lot of bliss to be had here.
10/11. A Star Is Born/The Magnificent Ambersons (original versions): In the comments section of an earlier post, good friend Dave mentioned the allure of the lost movie-- the one that, due to the ravages of time, the pique of its makers or the cultural blindness of its financiers, no longer exists in its original form, or even at all. These are two of the most famous examples of heavily edited films from the Classical period of Hollywood, and what I'm longing for here is the impossible-- to take a time machine back to 1954 and 1942, respectively, and see them in their original cuts.
Yes, I know there was a restored version of Star released in 1983, and it's a wonderful treasure and I own it. But-- with all due respect those who worked on the fantastic restoration--and as great as it is to have the restored soundtracks on lost scenes, to bring back cut numbers and to cleverly match them with still images-- none of that can ever match what it must have been like to see it all unfold as a single piece. It's arguably Judy Garland's best performance (certainly her saddest), and certainly James Mason's (as sublime as he is in North By Northwest), and George Cukor's mise-en-scene is so perfectly proportioned, so artfully balanced between melodrama and underplaying. Chopping it up seems like a crime.
I can't add anything to what 66 years of mournful cinephiles have said about Ambersons. But man, it's such an exquisite corpse, even in its butchered form, that I can only imagine how great the lengthier version was. Perhaps neither of these movies could ever live up to the myths in our heads-- maybe, like the lost past of the Ambersons, with that onomatopoetic last name, their imagined lost greatness is more attractive than the reality. But that's a gamble I'd love to take.
12.Such A Gorgeous Kid Like Me: If I were to make a list of my favorite directors, Francois Truffaut would be right near the top, with only Renoir and Howard Hawks ranking higher. This is the only feature of his I've never seen, and as far as I know, it's never been available on video in the U.S. Truffaut admitted that it was slight piece, done mostly as a favor to the star, Bernadette Lafont. But the definitive Truffaut biography by Antoine de Baecque and Serge Toubiana, while not really praising the film, suggests that it's at least trying to be a madcap farce, and the idea of one of my favorite filmmakers tackling a screwball structure is just too good to resist.
Chimes At Midnight
Elena and Her Men
Juliet of the Spirits
Pepe Le Moko
Tales of Hoffmann
Waltzes From Vienna
I'll tag Bob, Brendan, and Girish. And if anyone else wants to play, feel free to pick this up as a meme on your blog (but please cite the chain of links I noted up top), or to list in the comments section.