Celebrating Great Films

Monday, January 27, 2014

City Lights

#34 at the time of writing.

A tramp falls in love with a blind flower girl, and woos her with the help of an unreliable millionaire friend.

My reaction to this (American) film was pretty much the polar opposite of my reaction to Metropolis, a contemporary German film that I watched last year. Metropolis felt messy, overacted, unsubtle - but awesome, epic, stylish. City Lights is neat, gentle, sweet - but... well... just a little bit dull.

The movie calls itself out as a pantomime, and it certainly excels at that, with Charlie Chaplin's wonderful comic timing, choreography and pathos carrying the story along. I watched it with my nearly three-year-old daughter and she loved it.

Anyway, I am clearly in the minority with my under-enthusiasm. Orson Welles said this was his favourite movie; Albert Einstein attended the American premiere and George Bernard Shaw the British one. The American Film Institute ranks it as the 11th best film of all time.

This was Charlie Chaplin's first film made during the sound era. He faced extreme pressure to make the film as a talkie, but such was his popularity and power in Hollywood that he was able to complete and release the film as a silent (albeit with recorded music) at a time when the rest of the American motion picture industry had converted to sound.

Charlie Chaplin, ever the stickler, allegedly re-shot the scene in which his character the Little Tramp buys a flower from the blind flower-girl 342 times, as he could not find a satisfactory way of showing that the blind flower-girl thought the mute tramp was wealthy.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street

#53 at the time of writing.

I really enjoyed this film. It brims with relentless energy, wit and unfettered amorality. The mostly-true story of Jordan Belfort, an unscrupulous stockbroker who got phenomenally rich cooking the books in post 90's recession America, this movie is a tour de force.

The constellation of stars in this film deliver powerhouse performances, but Leonardo di Caprio particularly excels, delivering his wonderfully written lines with explosive yearning and gurning. Terence Winter's script, under Martin Scorsese's direction, is a masterclass in irony.

The film caters to a generation who grew up on Trading Places and Gordon Gekko, and has grown weary of stories about yet another rogue banker who has brought down yet another company too big to fail, with the main character more than once making a joke of skipping over the technicalities of his fraudulent activities - because we've heard it all before.

Greed, drugs, sex and debauchery are unabashedly glamourised (it has the dubious accolade of featuring the word "fuck" more than any other film in history), with the tone remaining comic and frenetic throughout the three-hour running time - no doubt masking considerable suffering and utterly failing to condemn some seriously bad behaviour. This analysis says it all.

Jordan Belfort, the real one, made $1,000,000 on the movie rights...