Blade Runner…The Empire Strikes Back… Conan The Barbarian…. what?!
Many years ago -back in the ‘eighties- I jotted down a list of my top ten favourite films. Reading it today is a sobering experience. Was I ever so young and naive to list John Milius’ Conan The Barbarian in there? I guess the list mostly amounted to the ten films I was watching and re-watching back then; we had a limited access to films in those early videotape days, when the film listings in the Christmas Radio Times was a highlight of the festive season (the thought of being able to actually buy and own a personal copy of a movie even on pan-and-scan videotape was just a dream unless you had more cash than sense).
But still, we have to make the distinction here between ‘Favourite Films’ and ‘Best Films’; there is a big difference. I would hardly pronounce Blade Runner to be the best film ever made, but its certainly my favourite. That’s one thing that hasn’t changed since that list of long ago. Favourite films are subjective, chosen for the memories the films engender, the associations we make with those films; favourite films are those guilty pleasures that we can watch and re-watch, while some of the cinematic greats gather dust on our DVD shelves. Lists of favourite films can be like a Rorschach test, a simple list of ten titles that can be terribly more revealing than an hour’s conversation.
So, my favourite films. Reading that old list made me wonder what films I would put in a top-ten now, and how many of that old list would yet persist in the new one. Well, here goes, and we’ll start with just four of them for now-
Blade Runner – simply my favourite film as its the one that had the profoundest effect on me. It remains the most intense cinema experience of my life. So hard to explain what a thunderbolt it was back in 1982, now that we are living in its world so much that the film could seem mundane to contemporary viewers. Back when I had it on tape I watched it and re-watched it so many times. I’ll be the first to admit though, it had more charm back when it was a true cult fave shared by so few, compared to its more recent re-evaluation and acceptance as a classic. Where Blade Runner is concerned, my question is ‘where were you in’82?’ and everything follows on from that. Sometimes I’ll even watch the flawed 1982 cut, complete with voiceover and continuity errors, rather than the Final Cut. Which makes me wonder about Prometheus again- a rather broken film, the broken state of Blade Runner in 1982 (scenes out of order, horrible wires on the Spinners, awful voiceover, woeful ending) kind of puts Prometheus into perspective- regardless of Ridley Scott’s reputation, he’s evidently not averse to releasing films shockingly unfinished.
Vertigo – this film is like a dream-state, like one of those strange Philip K Dick real-world stories set in the 1950s that saw print after his death. It’s 1950s San Francisco is so detached from our contemporary reality that it seems as dreamlike and unreal as something out of a David Lynch film, its evocative score is utterly bewitching, the whole thing mesmerising. Unique amongst Hitchcock’s body of work, its an arthouse movie in the guise of mainstream thriler, a powerful study of the destructive power of love and obsession. Made half a century ago. Mind-boggling. How many of our current ‘hits’ will stand the test of time as well as this film that flopped so many years ago?
Once Upon A Time In America– of all the films in my list, this is likely my least-watched film, not due to any quality issues but rather the sheer enormity of it. This is a long film (getting longer in the restored version hopefully arriving on Blu-Ray next year) but more than that, it’s a very complex and demanding film. You have to pay attention and work with it. And you know, of all the films in my list, this is the one that changes the most, as I grow older and revisit the film. Its weird, but your own age and viewpoint effects how you read and interpret this film. In that sense I guess its truly a work of art, something banded about regards films but often undeserved. So first-time viewers heed my word of warning; don’t approach it expecting a gangster movie. It looks like one, and purports to be one, but it really isn’t. It’s more a study of the impact of time, mortality, age, so many things. Is any of it real, or is it all an opium dream? Pure Cinema.
Watchmen– including this one might seem surprising, but this remains the last time I left a cinema wide-eyed with a big grin of my face, buzzing from having seen a really great movie. Such experiences are truly rare, and its also the last time I actually went back to see a film twice at the cinema. I know its got its detractors, but for me its just so faithful to the comics, its just wonderful, impossible- I still have to pinch myself, its just too perfect. I mean, I enjoy Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight films, but they are not really Batman films, are they? They aren’t faithful to the comic, but rather are an interpretation of the Batman characters in an ultra-serious real-world scenario. Likewise the Spiderman films aren’t really honest to the original Stan Lee/Steve Ditko comics I loved as a kid. The 1960s originals had an innocence and charm unique to their era, which is lost transferring them to contemporary times. I much prefer Spidey swinging over that 1960s New York skyline and fighting waterfront gangsters and living in that unique world. A Spiderman film set in the 1960s visually akin to an episode of Mad Men would no doubt confound most people, but I’d love it. Besides which, it really annoys me how Spidey is so often unmasked in the films. It’s more about seeing the face of an expensive actor than being honest to the comic. On the subject of faces, the new Dredd film looks interesting and at least more faithful regards keeping the helmet on than the Stallone film was, but the dark over-serious tone of the Dredd trailer hardly seems to fit with the knowing British humour and pathos of the original strip. I know, films are a different medium and should make adjustments but what the hell, in that regard Watchmen is just damned fine and so incredibly faithful to the original, a comic brought to such vivid life, its a joy. The fact that the Directors Cut is even better than what I saw in the cinema is just icing on the cake. I still find it’s existence hard to believe, every time I watch it. I mean, can you imagine how bad it might have been? One version would have had Arnie as Doc Manhattan for crying outloud. No doubt he would have quipped “I’ll be back!” when he made his departure at films end…