Wednesday, February 20, 2019

My Best Of 25 Films Selection, (never mind the Oscars)

In the 1970's the Boston area (Boston Cambridge, Brookline) was full of retro & art-house movie theaters featuring retrospectives of Foreign films, early Hollywood, auteur directors, and avant-garde short films. At some point the blockbuster films began to slowly but surely overshadow the indie film houses most of which soon went away. On Sundays and Thursdays I'd plan my day of movie viewing to see as many as 5 film screenings in a single day. Many of the theaters were located near the subway stops, making it convenient to catch a train to the next theatre if the timing worked out. Going to the movies on my own was a treat, a place where I could immerse myself in the flickering films before me. In NYC I would attend film screenings at Anthology Film Archives or at the New York Film Festival. Film took me to other places as I digested what made for a truly great memorable film. Later I worked with a crew of dedicated knowledgeable film devotees at an indie video rental store where David Mamet did his research and Ben Affleck browsed. While a student at SMFA I became assistant to the Film History professor who was also the director of film at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. He realized that my knowledge of film in some areas surpassed his own. He gave me the opportunity to create my own lesson plans and teach his course myself. Later he became the director of the British Film Institute where he recommended me to a publisher looking for a historian of animation and avant-garde short films to write a book on the subject. It was a point in my life that I had begun planning a different direction and a move to Taos, NM in order to further my painting career. Yet, film and its influence stays with me. This is a list of 25 of the most influential films for me and a little bit of why I've chosen them.

"North By Northwest" 1959
Alfred Hitchcock
In many ways North by Northwest is a reworking of Hitchcock's own "The 39 Steps" complete with his 'MacGuffin' device to move the plot along and keep the audience in suspense. The crop duster sequence, the chase over Mount Rushmore and the scenes in the United Nations all had me dreaming of seeing these places for myself. Through the years I have seen Rushmore, the UN, and been in a small plane in which I couldn't stop smiling, all because of this one film.

"La Belle et la Bette" 1946
Jean Cocteau
The story from a 1740 novel by Villeneuve has been told many times through film, this version for me is everything that it should be. Magical, romantic, pride, honor and defending others who through circumstances not of their own making need someone to stand up for them all come together here. Cocteau's pure artistry shines through in this 'fairy tale'.

"Night of the Hunter" 1955
Charles Laughton
Best known for his dramatic acting somehow Laughton chose to direct a film. You keep hoping that things will all turn out alright, but the evil that humans are capable of keep pushing forward and you become lost and begin to lose all hope for a happy ending. One of the later films of the 'Film Noir' category, it is the finest example of black and white filmmaking all shadows and mystery.

"A Clockwork Orange" 1971
Stanley Kubrick
A mind bending book through the eyes of one of the finest filmmakers. Kubrick keeps you watching and wanting more. Like the main character who's eyes are held open to keep him seeing the atrocities he has invoked himself, you can not look away. 

"Trainspotting" 1996
Daniel Boyle
Scenes that will stick in your head, music that will pump blood through your veins and characters that will make you shake your head and say to yourself, yes I know someone just like that. Choose Wisely.

"Blow Up" 1966
Michelangelo Antonioni
London in the swinging sixties and so much more. Eventually I visited London and went straight to the park in this film. I walked the perimeter carefully hoping to see something and to not see anything at all. London spreads out below the hillside here, you can take it all in from this point of view. Then too, there are the details, what if you blow up the photograph to see more, to see less. What's around the corner from where you're shooting pictures. I see what I learned from this film still to this day, keep looking, you will too.

"La Dolce Vita" 1961
Frederico Fellini
Alright I admit it, I wanted to be either Cary Grant or Marcello Mastroianni, or maybe both. My love of cafes and bistros and just walking through a city at night is because of this film.

"The Deer Hunter" 1978
Michael Cimino
In the mid-70's the Vietnam war had ended, the draft had ended and I was saved from going to fight in a place I knew that I would never survive. The nitty gritty effects of war are thrown up onto the cinema screen and it is not pretty, not elegant and not something anyone should be a part of. DeNiro and Walken at their finest. Friendships so strong that they only want to help each other and take the pain away from one another. I doubt that I can watch this film again, I believe it would now be too stressful because it immerses the viewer into a world that has many flaws.

"The Tree of Wooden Clogs" 1979
Ermanno Olmi
A small village has many parts to it, each and everyone participates, contributes and helps make the village work. A small village is a family. Here in Taos, it is a small village full of family. A truly beautiful film.

"Wings of Desire" 1988
Wim Wenders
I have been here, walking among you as if an angel or ghost. Pinch me, am I dreaming? How do I know you can see me, can you see me, do you hear me? I don't know, but I do want you to see and hear me. How do I do that? I keep trying. As I've said, I met Bruno Ganz at the New York Film Festival for the premiere of The American Friend. Ganz was this angel waiting for this roll to come along. 

"Close Encounters of the Third Kind" 1977
Steven Spielberg
They're here, it rings through you, and you know. I've never been to the Devils Tower, maybe I should go there someday soon. The obsession of a vision seems to drive Dreyfuss mad, but it's his vision. He creates various forms of art, he is inspired to create art through his vision. This is more than a space monkey film for me, it is about being a visionary and finding the right person in your life that understands and supports your vision.

"Battleship Potemkin" 1925
Sergei Eisenstein
Montage, or editing to create dynamic synergy and motion. Eisenstein at his absolute finest, a visionary filmmaker pouring his heart into putting films together that would make an audience gasp. His films stand the test of time, scenes and imagery stay with you because that is what the best of cinema and art should do.

"Lust For Life" 1956
Vincente Minnelli
I enjoy watching films about artists, even the overly dramatic ones such as this. Douglas and Quinn engage and battle one another, but for what means. One sees it his way the other his own way, time has given perspective that they were both right. Madness and genius has never been depicted so brilliantly on film.

"Ballet Mécanique" 1924
Fernand Leger/Dudley Murphy
An artist makes a film and decides to make art. Lager makes it look like he never wanted to stop working on this film, that he was exploring the possibilities. Illusions and delusions mesh together here creating movement and rhythm.

"Un Chien Andalou" 1929
Luis Bunuel/Salvador Dali
Do not watch this film, no wait watch it again. Did you see what I saw, you were tricked the way a magician will trick you every time. Dali puts his surrealism twist on a bit of cinema that you can not ever forget.

"Meshes of the Afternoon" 1943
Maya Deren
If you are to study cinema, then you need to see Deren's masterwork of dreaming and repetition. Maybe it's because I was thinking of this film that I dreamt about a man reading a book. As he read a page front and back he would then rip the page from the book and discard it. His partner asks why he was doing this, he tells her that he has a problem with losing his place and reading pages over again, so he rips the pages out as he finishes them in order to not repeat reading them. 

"Mothlight" 1963
Stan Brakhage
Upon meeting Mr. Brakhage I told him that Mothlight was the most incredible film I'd ever seen. Soon after this he'd sent me a 16mm copy of the film as a gift. I put the film on a pair of rewinds and looked at it frame by frame. Breakage placed moth wings, grass and natural objects onto the film surface, printed this and recreated the flickering motion of a moth to a light. Simple, elegant, mind bending.

"The Owl Who Married a Goose" 1976
Caroline Leaf
Of all the dedicated animators I've met leaf was simple about it all, she used sand on an underlie surface and moved it around while shooting one frame at a time. The tale of an owl and a goose as mismatched as could be, became a beauty to behold. Today the political correct ones would never let a film like this be created, thankfully leaf has left an enduring legacy and honoring of a unique culture and their storytelling.

"Bambi" 1942
David Hand and Disney Staff
How many reasons can I give to say that yes Bambi is one of my all time favorite films. Full of animals of the forest, full of joy and the sadness of death. Color schemes, the complications of animating four legged animals and the pureness of the animators hands shine through. Hand in hand with Smokey Bear I truly wish that people really would prevent forest fires. 

"Pinocchio" 1940
Hamilton Luske and Disney Staff
I've met five of the Disney 'nine old men' before they passed away, at the Telluride Film Festival in 1978 I met Wolfgang Reitherman who spoke about animating Monstro the whale and other grand characters in this film. For years I thought that I would wake up one day and my cat Cactus Pete would become a 'real' boy. Pinocchio makes me believe that all things are possible and to stay away from people who will try to take you down the wrong path, but mostly that dreams can come true. 

"Princess Mononoke" 1999
Hayao Miyazaki
Action adventure in an animated film, character development to the point that you were riding on that wolf with her. The great stag forest spirit, everything in the forest is alive and I know this only too well. A walk in the forest is meditative and spiritually healing. Miyazaki is the real deal when it comes to animation master. I let an opportunity slip away to interview him many years ago when he was visiting the Disney studio in Florida, a regrettable mistake on my part.

"In the Land of the War Canoes" (aka Head Hunters) 1914
Edward S. Curtis
Early documentary film by the american master photographer Curtis. Sure he had them be more dramatic, but isn't it worth his effort that he recorded an indigenous people on film for all time. Curtis has many flaws but love of saving a big piece of culture isn't one of them.

"Cave of Forgotten Dreams" 2011
Werner Herzog
I'd have paid Herzog to be a part of the film crew on this documentary. Enter a cave by flickering light, what do you see, you see the beginnings of storytelling and cinema before your eyes. I'd like more of this please.

"A Damsel in Distress" 1937
George Stevens
Music, dance, romance and comedy. Burns and Allen were such a great comedy team that I smile to this day thinking about Gracie Allen. Burns was her straight man and he egged her on, but she never told him that his viewpoint was wrong, just that hers was a different way of seeing something. Astaire as charming as ever, he knew that typical filming of his dancing would have cropped off his legs, he worked with directors to convince them that a long shot was the best way to film him. He was right and others took notice. There are many reasons we call our shop Two Graces, there are many wonderful and meaningful graces out there, goodnight Gracie.

"It's a Wonderful Life" 1947
Frank Capra
I truly believe that I am blessed to be a sort of George Bailey, that I have a Clarence watching over me and the love of my wife making for a wonderful life. Stewart in the lead roll brings you along for the ride and puts you in his shoes. Along with his other 2 Capra films they show us the humanity we all seek among us. As meaningful and endearing as film can be.

For friends and mentors Shunsuke Yamaguchi, Dan Braun, Deac Rossell and Bob White.

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