I Walk Alone (1947)

walkI was rather frustrated by this one- a film noir starring Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas (the first of several films they would appear in together) which also features Lisbeth Scott, who was so good in Dark City, which I saw a little while ago, albeit here in a fairly insipid role that’s unworthy of her. This film on paper promises so much but I don’t think it really worked. It gets bogged down with the frustrations of Frankie Madison (Lancaster) who has returned to his old haunts of New York after 14 years in prison to find he has been betrayed by his bootlegging partner Noll Turner (Douglas). Turner has no intention of honouring their deal to share in the proceeds of the criminal business they partnered in and that Madison did time for. The film seems to get so burdened with it -Madison takes an irritatingly long time for it to dawn upon him that he’s being ditched- and gets further weighed down by the unlikeliest of sudden romances when he seems to make an unlikely connection with Turner’s girl, Kay (Scott), who is getting strung along and ultimately betrayed, too, by Turner.

Yeah Turner’s quite a cad, yet another who seems to think he can go clean and turn his criminal empire into a legit business. Indeed the basic plot is very familiar, a trope of many crime/mobster flicks. In Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America Max looked after Noodles interests while he did time inside but ultimately when his own ambitions turn to going legit he realises he has to cut Noodles loose in similar fashion to how Turner wants to cut Madison out here. In America, Max’s betrayal of Noodles is complete -he even gets Noodles girl- but here Turner proves undone by his overconfidence and his woman scorned.

Douglas is very good as the lousy slime-ball Turner; the actor had a natural bent to such roles and to me his intensity always made him a more convincing villain, or flawed anti hero, than a traditional leading man (see his magnificent performance in Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole). I think much of this is just Douglas’ strong personality, his obvious drive and apparent ruthlessness in the real world as an ambitious Hollywood player that leaked into his performances (or maybe I’m reading too much into it).

In any case, its impressive that Douglas manages to hold his own against the man-mountain Lancaster, whose massive physique is quite intimidating when measured against everyone around him. While he snarls and clenches his fists its easy to accept him as a thuggish brute, the brawn against Turner’s brains who realises he’s been wronged and sees violence as his only recourse, but his performance often slips over towards the over-dramatic, lacking the subtlety of Douglas, and as I’ve noted, there seems little convincing about his sudden romance with Kay. It feels tacked-on.

Ultimately the film fails to be the sum of its parts, but maybe my real issue is just that over-familiarity of the plot, which is likely more to do with all the films made in the decades since than a fault in the film itself, which may have seemed quite original back in 1947. I suppose what seems predictable in 2020 can sometimes just be the benefit of  hindsight from all the films between: the cross we film fans just have to bear.

Legends of the Fall and the Shelf of Shame

legends7Well, another post in the Shelf of Shame series, this time concerning my Blu-ray edition of Legends of the Fall, a film I thoroughly enjoyed at the cinema back in 1995, and subsequently watched several times on DVD, but which I hadn’t seen since, even upon upgrading to the Blu-ray edition, which remained unwatched since I bought it (near as I can tell, sometime in 2013). One of the most sobering things about this Shelf of Shame series is the realisation of how many discs I have that I have watched only once, if at all,  and also regards just how much time is flying past and how much of a waste of money that collection on the shelves might possibly be, in hindsight.

Can we judge the worth of a DVD or Blu-ray or 4K UHD by how many times we have watched it? Is that fair or misguided? Does £20 spent on Alien on UHD suddenly become more palatable had the disc been watched five times? Should the monetary expenditure be more reason to watch less ‘new’ stuff and instead return more often to rewatching old favourites? Of course its not just films on disc, I could just as easily be remarking upon CDs and books, all the objects we accumulate.

I’m horrified that its been several years since I bought Legends of the Fall on Blu-ray and that I hadn’t watched it: for one thing, where indeed have all those years gone? On the other hand, one has to consider the worth of spending as much money as I have on discs if they are going to just sit there unwatched. I suppose a related inquiry would be, those films we enjoy and even love, how many times can we, and should we, return to them? I always feel its rather strange when someone says they only ever watch films once, but maybe they have a point. For my part though, I cannot imagine that: films are things I cannot help but return to, if I enjoy them. Even if this Shelf of Shame series would suggest some failure at that.

Its also very true that the only reason why I finally reached for this Blu-ray disc and actually watched it, was the release of the complete score on Intrada’s recent CD that arrived a few days ago. Listening to the score was a reminder of just how much I loved the film when I first saw it and of course that wonderful period from the late 1980s to the mid 1990s when James Horner’s scores were such a soundtrack to my life. I know there are many naysayers regarding Horner’s music in film-music circles, but for fans such as myself who were there pretty much at the beginning of his career, that period of Horner’s career is akin to people looking back to when The Beatles were making music.

legends2It is often true that rewatching films can offer a sense of perspective, looking at it from the vantage point of someone in 2020, older and (possibly) wiser, and naturally offering an inevitable giddy rush of nostalgia. Watching Legends of the Fall last night was a bewitching experience of impressions: the sense of tumultuous David Lean epic, huge breathtaking landscapes dwarfing the humans in nearly every frame. The great cast: a young Brad Pitt in one of his first leading roles, Anthony Hopkins, Aidan Quinn, Karin Lombard, who I recall appeared in a few films at the time (its funny how faces seem to appear in a number of films at a certain time that seem to then disappear- in her case, rather than disappear she simply moved to a successful series of tv roles I never saw). Of course there is the hauntingly beautiful Julia Ormond stealing the film from everyone around her with a wonderful performance. While watching the film I couldn’t help but imagine what a more ‘adult’ Star Wars prequel trilogy could have been, had it centred Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side around some Legends of the Fall-like doomed love story with Ormond as the object of his ill-fated affection (I could certainly more easily imagine a passionate and feisty Ormond as the mother of Leia and Luke than Natalie Portman). Above all else in the film, there is also that sweeping, overwhelming James Horner score that dominates the film in a way that scores really don’t anymore.

The funny thing was, even though it may have been ten or fifteen years or more since I last saw the film, I could still remember some of the lines just before they were spoken, and yet other moments came as quite a surprise, elements that I had quite forgotten. The film remains something of an oddity; even in 1995 when I first saw it, it seemed a film at odds with contemporary Hollywood; this is a film about myth, and legend. Its clearly not intended to be a true tale, its so larger than life its more a piece of modern myth-making, a tale of the early-20th century more in line with Sergio Leone’s filmography (as much a late-period Western as Once Upon A Time in America is a realistic gangster movie).

legends3That thought suggests a tantalising what-if: imagine what Sergio Leone could have done fashioning Legends of the Fall into one of his typical three or four-hour epics. It has all the elements of his films; a male-dominated list of characters with a chiefly male-dominated worldview, epic landscapes, huge battles scenes with hundreds of extras, a sense of larger-than-life fantasy, of Pure Cinema. With Leone at the helm, it would have certainly benefited from a better climactic gunfight- Leone was a master of them, turning them into operatic ballets of violence, whereas the one Legends of the Fall has ultimately feels clumsy, overwrought, relying on slow-motion to add gravitas and James Horner’s dramatic scoring.

legends1The story of Legends of the Fall is quite simple but unrelentingly dark when one considers it: I’ve always thought of the film as an overwhelmingly depressing piece (depressing in a good way, if that’s possible, like the grim denouements of so many Film Noir). At its very simplest, a beautiful young woman, Susannah (Julia Ormond), enters the lives of the Ludlow family living in the Montana wilderness, and destroys them, before finally blowing her own brains out from the guilt and sense of unfulfilment.

The film describes Tristan as the rock against which all the others broke themselves against, but that’s missing the point that Susannah is almost like a snake entering the Ludlow Eden in the films beginning. Admittedly she intends none of this, she’s just being true to her nature- beautiful and kind, but she’s finding her place in the world where she becomes an unhappy catalyst of doom. Its funny how Tristan later considers that he may be damned, and has pulled everyone he knows into this damnation, but that could just as easily have been a monologue of guilt spoken by Susannah.

But isn’t Legends of the Fall great? Sure, its not perfect, and it rushes things (a conscious decision of director Edward Zwick, who preferred to pace it as a stream-of-consciousness, of a tale spoken to someone over a campfire and consequently sweeping the narrative forwards with little reflection). But its a hell of a movie- that’s MOVIE in great big capital letters, full of passion and epic moments- yeah, Pure Cinema in the Sergio Leone vein, a win-win in my book.

Curious fact I hadn’t realised before: the novella the film was based on was written by Jim Harrison, who was also the author of the short story Revenge that was turned into a Tony Scott film from 1990 that I later discovered on VHS rental and seems largely forgotten now but which I really liked. It featured a beautifully haunting score by Jack Nitzche which is one of my most treasured CDs. In retrospect, both films share common themes so the connection is not surprising, but I hadn’t been aware of it before. You learn something new all the time (really must read that Jim Harrison novella that inspired Legends of the Fall).

End of Year Report, 2019.

Didn’t get my Replicant Pleasure-Model in the mail, nor did my new car launch vertically into the air for a commute to work in the sky-lanes… and neither was I able to book my holiday Off-World, so thanks for ‘nowt, Ridley…

But 2019 did come with some great television shows and movies. That said though, there were plenty of clunkers and disappointments.  I think what I shall remember most of 2019 is that it was clearly a year when television content surpassed movies in quality by a pretty wide margin.

In my previous post I mentioned that I watched three seasons of The Expanse this year, which was pretty amazing and certainly one of my favourite shows of the year, but there was plenty of other quality shows. Some clunkers too, mind- February brought the first (and thankfully last) season of Nightflyers, a truly abominable creation that so soon after having enjoyed the brilliant The Expanse brought my sci-fi viewing crashing back down to Earth. At the time I was confident it would be the worst piece of television I would see all year, but I was innocently ignorant of Another Life coming later in April. The fact that Another Life has been granted a second season is just mind-boggling and very, very scary.

Certainly the good outweighed the bad, though, if only because you can afford to be judicious with so much content available across Netflix and Amazon Prime. By March I’d also see season two of The Crown, the first outing for The Umbrella Academy, season one of Stranger Things and Love, Death & Robots, a ridiculously entertaining anthology show that was a Fantasia for sci-fi geeks like me, and totally beautiful.

Regards movies though, I had really struggled to see anything really memorable until April, when I saw both Bad Times at the El Royale and Spider Man: Into the Spider-Verse. El Royale really impressed me on a rental, so much so that a few months later I bought the 4K disc. Then in May John Wick Chapter Three: Parabellum blew my mind on a rare trip to the cinema, an absolutely dizzying action-fest that instantly put itself as prime contender for my Film of the Year. In an era of politically-correct naval-gazing and various worthy agendas being shoved in my face all the time, Wick was refreshingly old-school, unfashionably simple action-movie nirvana. May also brought Avengers Endgame, another rare cinema outing that this time proved hugely disappointing. I’m really curious to see if a rewatch will revise my opinion of the film, but even though I bought the 4K disc of the film when it came out a few months back, I still haven’t actually watched the disc. I keep thinking I should watch Avengers Infinity War first, maybe the two films in a double-bill over a weekend, but the length of the darn things proves rather daunting. All those Marvel geeks who watch all these movies often and know them inside-out are made of sterner stuff than I. Watching Captain Marvel just once, when the 4K disc came out in July , left me pretty burned-out on all things Marvel- the thought of the ultra-fans watching and re-watching that one is just plain scary.

Away from movies, April brought us the big television disappointment of the year, with season eight of Game of Thrones. In hindsight, it could only ever disappoint, it had hyped up the conclusion and all the show’s mysteries and intrigues over several seasons to such a degree, it was inevitable that it would all just implode. Didn’t think the crash would be quite so spectacular though. Having bought all the Blu-rays already, I bought the 4K disc set of season eight anyway, and am hoping that when I get the courage to watch it again after all these months the pain will be less, I can make my peace with some of the wilder crazier twists and maybe manage to see something in all the episode three murk now its in 4K UHD. We’ll see.

Much better television followed in June: and no, I’m not talking about season two of Star Trek Discovery, but rather it was the month when I caught up with Chernobyl, a breath-taking and harrowing series that was pretty much perfect. Discovery was far, far from perfect- it ably demonstrated that while much television can be great, it can also out-dumb and out-stupid anything Hollywood movie studios can do.

In August, I caught up with both Aquaman (a film that proved DC could still make worse movies than Captain Marvel) and Shazam! (a film that proved DC could actually make great, fun superhero movies). Aquaman would be another of those terribly busy movies that tried to fit three films into one, like some kind of Readers Digest edition of an actual film trilogy. It doesn’t work, it just gives me an headache. I watched the 2017 remake of Flatliners, and although I thought that was diabolically appalling, I had no idea I’d also see the Jacobs Ladder remake later in the year, a film which would make the Flatliners remake seem a classic and put me in a total dark funk for a weekend.

Returning to television shows, August also sprung a major surprise with the quite excellent The Boys over on Amazon. The quality television continued into September with the long-awaited (by me, anyway) disc release of the third season of True Detective, which I really enjoyed (I love all three seasons of that show- yes, that includes the maligned second season) and Carnival Row, another Amazon show that was much better than I’d expected, even if it did leave me pining for the superior (and sadly missed) Penny Dreadful.

Sheesh, all these seasons of television shows and all their complicated multi-layered narratives. I suppose I should be glad most movies turned out to be rather less demanding, more simplistic and comfortingly predictable. A prime example would be September’s Ad Astra, which I was expecting to be a high-concept sci-fi take on Apocalypse Now. Well, it was certainly a sci-fi take on Apocalypse Now, almost literally so, but with lunar space pirates and a mad Space Baboon, it was rather more Event Horizon than 2001: A Space Odyssey. A disappointment then, and another example of the lack of confidence of movie studios to challenge and provoke audiences as much as HBO etc do on television. I would imagine that had HBO made Ad Astra as a ten-episode serial, it would have proven far more enticing and thought-provoking.It would probably look just as good too- the gap between television and cinema in regards of visual effects is obviously still there, but its much narrower than it used to be, and television more than makes up for any deficit there by better script writing. November’s The Lion King would prove to be a startling reminder of what visual majesty only cinema budgets can presently afford, but the same months Spider Man: Far From Home ably demonstrated that cinema could just get dumber and dumber even as it got prettier.

November also presented us with The Irishman, a Martin Scorsese gangster ballad that incredibly came to us via Netflix (I prefer ‘ballad’ to ‘epic’ just because its more, well, thoughtful and mature than the joyously questionable glorification of Goodfellas). The idea that a $150 million Scorsese flick could just drop onto Netflix on a Friday night still feels dizzying and possibly game-changing. I really enjoyed the film (its certainly more Once Upon A Time in America than Godfather or Goodfellas).

The Irishman did show, though, just how much has changed during 2019. Streaming services are all the rage now, and really will prove more of a Big Deal in 2020. The prevailing move by studios towards streaming and away from physical media, and indeed away from traditional vendors like cable and satellite television providers, is just a gathering storm that gets windier by the month. For someone like me who likes to own my favourite films and television shows and enjoys special features and commentaries, its pretty worrying. I can see a future not far away where streaming and pay per view is everything. Its clearly inevitable, but its a future where The Irishman can’t be purchased on DVD or Blu-ray, a future where you’ll probably need to subscribe to Disney+ in order to watch future Star Wars and Marvel movies in the comfort of your own home (and I’m pretty certain that premium content on Disney+ will eventually require additional purchases in-app to watch; it may start as a subscription service but it’ll inevitably evolve into a pay-per-view service when alternative avenues like physical media are gone). Hopefully that’s more 2029 or 2039 though, and I’ll be past caring as long as I have a Blu-ray player working.

 

 

The Irishman

irish1I’m curious regards how people will remember The Irishman– whether it will be for the quality of the film itself, the remarkable cast laden with all sorts of cinematic baggage, the CGI employed in de-ageing said cast, or the fact that the film ended up pretty much straight onto Netflix as if it were some direct to video flick. I’m pretty sure all that ‘direct-to-video’ nonsense is hardly relevant now, as Netflix have put some pretty substantial films straight onto its servers, all sorts of films, some good (and some bad, its true) with all sorts of high-calibre names attached to them, but there’s still a feeling of shock and wonder that the latest Martin Scorsese film with THAT cast turned up on the telly last week. The times, they are a changin’.

Far as I was concerned, Netflix seems the perfect place for a film well over three hours long without men in capes or women in spandex and explosions going off every twenty minutes- is it wrong of me to suggest that there is no place for films like The Irishman in cinemas anymore but one has to wonder. Certainly watching it at home affords a greater degree of comfort and control over that running time- instead of dashing off to the gents and hoping we don’t miss anything, we can at least pause the stream (ahem, film, not that OTHER stream) for nature’s comforts and perhaps a fresh cup of tea, beer, whatever. And of course some of us have screens that give us a better image quality than some cinema screens anyway, and without distractions of mobile phones or bored chatting etc.

Regards the film itself, I have to confess strangely mixed feelings. Part of this is nothing really to do with the film at all, but rather the inevitable comparisons to old classics in the Scorsese filmography, particularly with the cast he has assembled. Surely its inescapable, particularly with both Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci involved, I mean there’s two huge movies casting their long shadows rights there, and there’s then the odd nostalgia of seeing De Niro and Al Pacino together in a film, harking back to Michael Mann’s classic Heat. Seeing all of them and the clear signs of the passing of years, it can’t help but be distracting. I mean, Harvey Kietel for crying out loud, who also shared the screen with De Niro in Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, even manages a (understated) cameo. Its like this is a Greatest Hits package or something. How can a filmbuff not watch this film with equal parts thrills, giggles and horror?

And there’s the rub- there’s the feeling, for me at least, that this is not just a movie. There’s a kind of meta-reality going on here that feels almost as self-knowing as a Quentin Tarantino joint. Its good, but its also uneasy enough to give one pause.

Those comparisons to old classics are valid and telling, too. Goodfellas is the prime one, and its very interesting how much darker and melancholy The Irishman is. To me this new film carries the weight of mortality and time constantly, from the familiar mobster setting, the ghostly young faces of De Niro and company flitting like unworldly shadows of their past cinematic tales, and the relentless perspective of the End of All Things (so many characters appear onscreen alongside text describing the manner and dates of their deaths it almost feels like a running joke).

irishSo where this leaves me regards judging the film, I don’t really know. I did enjoy it, and I think I admired it more than loved it (Goodfellas was an easy thing, it was so much fun, but this film is darker, colder, more KNOWING, somehow). I really do think that, ironically (considering its length and rather morbid mood) that this film needs time. It needs repeat viewings and the benefit of time to digest it, imbue it with a perspective. Taken away from the CGI trickery and the Netflix hoopla, the film may get a reputation for itself, and hopefully one distanced from those echoes of other films. The cast are as one would hope, quite excellent. De Niro hasn’t been this good for years, and am I the only one looking at him in this and comparing it to Once Upon A Time in America? In that classic (and equally morbid and reflective) film, De Niro was young and the passing of in-film decades required that make-up made him look old- here he is old and requires trickery to make him young. Its the inverse of that old classic Leone film and quite fascinating to me. I couldn’t take my eyes of him. Pesci is a real surprise, and is clearly a better actor than I remembered him to be without the wild over-acting of his more excessive roles, he carries real weight in the under-stated performance here. Pacino is clearly having a ball, in what may likely be his last great role- not because he’s not capable of more of them, but that movies with such roles he deserves are so rare. Kietel is possibly wasted in what amounts to a cameo, but the cinematic weight behind him imbues his scenes with a kind of… I don’t really know what it is, but you can feel it, just seeing him and De Niro and Pesci at the table. Legends. Ghosts.

God only knows what this film will be like in ten, twenty years when some of these actors pass on. Already such a dark film and carrying all that weight of nostalgia, I cannot imagine what that future perspective will feel like.

 

Last week: Once Upon a Time

onceThis last week I’ve been contemplating re-watching Sergio Leone’s masterpiece Once Upon A Time In America. I say ‘contemplating’ because its a formidable work to really take in- the restored cut released a few years ago on Blu-ray totals 251 minutes, which is just over four hours. That’s not four hours of big CGI action and stunts that can pass by without any effort regards actually thinking about what you’re watching- this is four hours of complex, bravura film-making at a sometimes glacial pace that shifts backwards and forwards in time across decades, between reality and opium dream. This is four hours that requires attention and respect. You don’t put Once Upon A Time In America on just to pass the time with a favourite movie. This film is an experience, and a sometimes demanding and daunting one. I’m sure some people hate it. I love it.

But I don’t watch it very often. Some films you can watch and rewatch quite regularly but America isn’t one of them- its just not that kind of film. I think its a film that should be savoured, and every time I do watch it, its a wonder to behold. As I grow older I find myself increasingly wondering how on Earth it even got made. America could never get made today. It just wouldn’t get done. I don’t think something, anything like this film, could ever get made now. Maybe it was the last of its kind.

Louise Fletcher. The first film I ever saw her in was Brainstorm. I loved the film but it was largely dismissed even at the time it came out, remembered now mostly for the tragic real-life story behind the scenes, a film practically disowned by the studio that made it and had to be forced to release it. Louise Fletcher was brilliant in Brainstorm, a revelatory performance for me; I thought she was wonderful. A few years later, having been familiar with Once Upon A Time In America for awhile through a VHS rental and later buying a VHS copy on a trip to London, I became confused by reports that she was in the film. I couldn’t remember her being in it, surely I would have noticed her. I put it down to bad information/poor journalism, but her name kept on coming up related to the film.  Eventually I learned that she actually had been involved, but that her role had been completely cut out. A film that was already 226 minutes long in the versions I had seen (I have always had a morbid fascination with one day seeing the infamous 139-minute cut but never have) somehow managed to cut her part out of it, an Oscar-winning actress? America is that kind of movie. Huge, monumental, astonishing, ridiculous.

The cast that is in the film is remarkable, but the stories about what the film might have been are equally remarkable, really- the film took so many years to make,  and over its lengthy gestation all sorts of names were connected for a time. Once upon a time, America featured Gerard Depardieu as Maz, and Richard Dreyfuss as Noodles (and James Cagney as the old Noodles? Crazy). Once upon a time, Tom Berenger was Noodles (and Paul Newman the old Noodles, even crazier!). Once upon a time, Brooke Shields was Deborah.

America always had Ennio Morricone scoring its music. Indeed, the music existed before the film was even made- Morricone wrote much of the score’s themes before it was shot and Leone filmed scenes to match the music. Once upon a time, films were made that way. Its why the score is as important as any cast member of the film; the score is the films soul.

I want someone to write a book about Once Upon A Time In America, a huge definitive book that delves into its long pre-production, its filming, its reception, its failure,  the death of the genius behind it, and its long road to reappraisal. Maybe that book would be as daunting to write (and read) as the film can be to watch.

The longest current version of the film is 251 minutes long, but it could yet be even longer. Leone’s initial cut was 269 minutes long, and I understand the missing 24 minutes exists, but cannot be incorporated into the film because of rights issues. Rights issues. Even the behind the scenes of the film is ridiculous. 35 years and Leone’s original vision is yet incomplete. Its like the plot of a movie, larger than life. Fitting enough I guess, as the film is always larger than life, more an ode to American myth, and Cinematic myth, than any reality. In just the same way as his Westerns are bigger than any real West.

I wish Leone had lived longer, and had been given opportunity to have made more films. Cinema is the lesser for his loss. But the irony of course is that America is the price of that loss, because the film and the troubles behind it are what is widely accepted as contributing to his untimely passing.

I’m sitting here writing this. I should be watching America.

Our favourite films (Part One)

I’ve tried this sort of post before, in which I write about my favourite films and why they are my favourite films. Its a subject that really does interest me. There are good films, great films, average films, terrible films, we can judge films and drop them into one of those categories but whether we fall in love with them or not… something happens. Some connection. Its easy to explain why I might love a really good film, quite another to explain why I love a film that I know intellectually is pretty bad.

It is also true, I think, that our favourite films say everything about us. I’ve often thought that you can tell a lot about someone by looking at the books on their bookcase -presuming of course they even have a bookcase, or read books, which nowadays isn’t necessarily so- and that logic works just as well for someone with a film collection on DVD or Blu-ray that might reside on a shelf. Although, God knows, it would have to be a hell of a big shelf to house all my films on disc… okay then, imagine you have a shelf for your ten or twenty favourite films. What would they be?

This part is kind of fun, if sometimes frustrating. Ten or twenty favourite films. Its not really as  easy as you might think. Well, naturally, one film on that shelf of mine would be Blade Runner, my very favourite film that I have carried around with me since 1982, such a long time it seems it’s existed forever. Its not the best film ever made but it is my favourite….

Yeah, let’s be clear here: these are favourite films, not what you should  consider to be the best films ever made. That’s two seperate lists, really. I sound like some kind of film geek here, but it’s an important point. I know most of my favourite films are not perfect, and are nowhere near as important in the grand scheme of things as many other films. Now, some of my favourite films are indeed great films (that’s ‘Great’ with a capital ‘G’) which is a happy coincidence but that’s really all it is, coincidence.

We love the films we love for all sorts of different things. It might be the time in which we saw them, what they meant to us at the time, it might be how they made us feel, what emotional connection they made with us, it might be the connection they give us with the past and when we first saw them, the people we saw them with, the people and the places they remind us of.

So in my case, what would that shelf over there look like if I just put my very favourite films on it? Blade Runner, The Thin Red Line, Vertigo, The Apartment, Citizen Kane, The Assassination of the Outlaw Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Taxi Driver, Its A Wonderful Life, Once Upon a Time in America, How to Murder Your Wife, Glengarry Glen Ross, Alien, Jaws… it’s pretty easy at the start, but once you start limiting oneself to ten or even twenty, it gets pretty hard when you start to realise which films you might be omitting.

Hmm. This really needs more thought.

I think back to a list I made back in the early 1980s, I think I even have it somewhere in the back of a notebook up in the loft. It had a lot of films from that period of time. Blade Runner, Conan the Barbarian, The Empire Strikes Back, Citizen Kane, 2001… with time, all these lists can be embarrassing. What, I loved that film? I haven’t seen it in years! You know how that goes. I don’t expect we should love, say, the same ten movies for all our lives. There’s plenty of new ones to usurp old ones, afterall, or at least, you’d like to think there might be. Wouldn’t it be boring if there was nothing new to fall in love with and undo the sanctity of the list?

The list says everything about who we are NOW, and old lists, if we kept them, say everything about who we were THEN.

Films can be incredibly tangible, powerful connections with the past. Take Ridley Scott’s rather low-key film White Squall. Certainly, it’s not one of my favourites, I recall only mildly enjoying it when I first saw it. But, and here’s the but- I remember seeing it with my fiance the afternoon before we were to be married. More clearly than the actual movie, perhaps, I remember walking out of the multiplex cinema into a big car park and it was raining, a real storm in fact and remember thinking about what was happening the next day (the big day turned out fine, by the way). I have not seen the film since, not since that day so many years ago. Why I’ve never watched it again I’m not sure, but I am absolutely certain that if/when I do ever watch that film again, it will throw me right back to that afternoon and walking out into that storm.

I think my favourite films are like that. Films I have made an intense emotional bond with, and with which I connect in all sorts of ways and engender all sorts of memories and nostalgic connections with. The best films, our favourite films, they are a part of us, which is why it’s more an emotional connection than an intellectual one. I am pretty sure music buffs will say its just the same with their favourite albums and songs.

Whenever I think of Blade Runner, I’m not really thinking of the 2007 Final Cut, although that is clearly the definitive version. I’m really thinking of that original voiceover version, staying in the old ABC cinema to watch it twice that first Saturday afternoon, watching it in a double-bill with Outland early in 1983 (and being shocked at someone walking out midway through Blade Runner), and having it on a VHS (ahoy, pirate!) copy for Christmas 1983, and darn near wearing that damn thing out. I remember staying up late on Boxing Day, the rest of the family asleep upstairs, and me watching Harrison Ford entering the Bradbury building, the eerie music, the moody lighting, just wallowing in it, thinking it was the best Christmas present ever.

So anyway, I think this all deserves more thought and I’ll return to this a little later, perhaps with a selection of my favourite films and what makes them favourites.

Anybody out there got ten, or even five favourites that they can easily share?

Morricone Magic

tendaI’ve been listening to some of Ennio Morricone’s great soundtracks on the commute to work of late. Started with his score for La Tenda Rossa (The Red Tent) which features one of the most gorgeous love themes you’ll ever hear, progressed to Once Upon a Time in America and then onto Once Upon a Time in the West and then the psychedelic kitsch of the bizarre but achingly beautiful score for Veruschka.

I remember buying the Once Upon A Time in America soundtrack on CD way back when CD was pretty new, in the Virgin Megastore up Brum. The assistant at the counter commented “great movie, that,” when I handed him the disc to buy it. Back then the film was still pretty unknown following its failure at the box office, and I had bought it on VHS in London a few months before (horrible pan and scan, and likely an ex-rental). We chatted a little while about the film. Funny the things you remember. It was great just to meet someone who had even seen it, let alone loved it.

gssBooklet.inddLast, so far, listened to in the car is Morricone’s Guns for San Sebastian, which was a western from 1968 starring Anthony Quinn and Charles Bronson. I’d watched the film many years ago and the score always stayed with me (even when a kid great scores had a profound impact on me when watching films). When the FSM edition was released some ten years ago I ordered it instantly, but hadn’t listened to it for some years since, somehow lost in the piles of CDs I have. What a phenomenal score it is- huge, thunderous with a heartfelt and stirring main theme/love theme as only Morricone could manage. I’ve read that the score is widely considered a rehearsal for his more popular score for Once Upon A Time In the West, and you can hear that, particularly in the use of frequent Morricone muse  Edda Dell’Orso. But it’s a great score albeit inevitably lost in the long shadow of Once Upon A Time In the West. They just don’t make films, or film scores, anything like this anymoreHell of a thing, listening to such rousing music prior to walking into the office and then finding reality hit you in the face. It’s just not decent.