Celebrating Great Films

Thursday, June 20, 2013


#89 at the time of writing.

A contemporary review of this film by H. G. Wells accused it of "foolishness, cliché, platitude, and muddlement about mechanical progress and progress in general." I wholeheartedly agree - but his damning criticism ignores all that is amazing in this movie.

With Yevgeny's Zamyatin's We having appeared a few years earlier, and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World just around the corner, this kind of dystopic vision was clearly all the rage in 1927. But never before had science fiction been brought to the silver screen so ambitiously.

Epic sets, a cast of thousands, the world's first cinematic humanoid robot, a plot that still resonates today, and all dripping with art deco style. Yes, the acting is hammier than a pigsty and the plot is often overtly silly, but it's a fascinating glimpse into the mindset of the past.

The hordes of German workers marching like machines presages Nazi displays of power. Indeed, it was one of Adolf Hitler's favourite films. Propagandist Joseph Goebbels also took the film's message to heart. In a 1928 speech, using some of the language from the film, he declared: "The political bourgeoisie is about to leave the stage of history. In its place advance the oppressed producers of the head and hand, the forces of Labor, to begin their historical mission."

Famously, due to some over-enthusiastic cuts by the studio after the film foundered at the box office, a quarter of this film was thought lost to the ages for nearly eighty years - until in 2008 the manager of a Buenos Aires cinema club discovered an uncut reel in the archives of his local Cinema Museum.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Third Man

#75 at the time of writing.

In 1999 the British Film Institute selected The Third Man as the best British film of the 20th century. Having finally seen it for the first time, I can understand that accolade.

Right in the first few minutes, with Anton Karas's jaunty zither theme setting the tone, and an opening scene that signals the seemingly effortless genius of Graham Greene's script, this film announces itself as something special.

The slower pacing of golden oldies in comparison to modern movies sometimes puts me off, but here the pace was just right. I was glued to the screen by the stylishly skewed camera angles (so-called Dutch angles), the angsty post-war historical backdrop, the cleverly twisty unravelling of the mystery, and the wonderful noir-ness - but above all I enjoyed spending time with the characters.

Without wishing to give anything away, I especially enjoyed the very last scene - I thought it perfectly fitting - and I was surprised to see that Graham Greene wanted the opposite to happen. I'm glad that director Carol Reed and producer David O Selznick got their way in the end.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

My Neighbour Totoro

#159 at the time of writing.

I enjoyed this the first time I watched it; it felt light on plot but very zen - the journey was atmospheric without there needing to be much of a destination. However since my two-year-old daughter fell in love with it and demanded to watch it with me every morning for a week, my appreciation has grown deeper and deeper.

The DVD box back does a good job of summing up my feelings towards this film: "Conceived as a family film without conflict and suffused with the carefree pleasures of the summertime... My Neighbour Totoro shows Japanese animation's famous Studio Ghibli at its very best, and is an elegy to two ever-fading miracles: the fairytale world of childhood and the disappearing countryside."

This was originally released as a double bill with Grave of the Fireflies - another film I'd love to watch (and also on IMDb's Top 250). The 25th anniversary edition is in cinemas now.

This was also one of Roger Ebert's favourite movies. He said: "...it would never have won its worldwide audience just because of its warm heart. It is also rich with human comedy in the way it observes the two remarkably convincing, lifelike little girls... It is a little sad, a little scary, a little surprising and a little informative, just like life itself. It depends on a situation instead of a plot, and suggests that the wonder of life and the resources of imagination supply all the adventure you need."

Totoro, the forest spirit, now features in Studio Ghibli's logo and even made a cameo appearance in another all-time great "children's" film, Toy Story 3.

(Whatever you do, don't click on this.)