Sunday, March 29, 2015

#554: Way Down East

Directed by: D.W. GRIFFITH
1920, TSPDT Rank #994

D.W. Griffith went all-out on this film - which must have been one of the first epic modern melodramas - making a huge film which did not rely on historical spectacle or grandiose battle scenes to add to its impact. And despite its oddly-timed comic interludes with bumbling caricatures of simple-minded Easterners, this film, like Griffith's other major works, remains quite powerful and compelling today, and Griffith's attempts to continually push the envelope of cinematic technique are plentiful throughout. Never one for subtlety, Griffith crafts an undeniably moving depiction of the shame which women have often endured as a result of their mistreatment by dishonest men, and drives his point home with the support of Lillian Gish's tour-de-force of a performance. The film definitely serves as a window into what gender relations were like in the early 20th century, making the film historically relevant today on a number of different levels, as well as being considerably more watchable than the average film of its era due to Griffith's innovative filmmaking style.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

#553: Man of the West

Directed by: ANTHONY MANN
1958, TSPDT Rank #992

Man of the West was one of the first westerns I can remember truly liking when I was younger, and oddly enough, it's a film that represents of the death of the mythological western outlaw. Made on the heels of a falling out between Anthony Mann and James Stewart, who had made five westerns together earlier in the '50s, Gary Cooper serves as a replacement for what would have been Stewart's character in this film. While watching it for the first time in years, and having now seen all of the Mann-Stewart westerns, I kept trying to imagine Jimmy Stewart in this role and kept coming up short. This seems like a role better suited to Cooper's quiet, mysterious demeanor. It seems difficult to gauge exactly what he's thinking throughout the film (the same kind of ambiguity that made Mann's westerns with Stewart so great), but he always seems to be troubled in some way - torn between loyalty to the deteriorating outlaw who raised him and the honest life he's built for himself since. Eventually it becomes clear that violent death is the only solution to the conflict and tension between the characters - and the aching hopelessness that lurks beneath the film's surface is what makes it one of the strangest and most unique westerns ever made. To me, it feels like a cross between John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and Monte Hellman's two 1960s westerns with Jack Nicholson (The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind). It was definitely ahead of its time, and along with many of Mann's other westerns, proved to be a major influence on the many revisionist westerns which followed in subsequent decades.

#552: The Last Picture Show

1971, TSPDT Rank #290

In the documentary The Last Picture Show: A Look Back, included on the supplements for the film in the Criterion box set America Lost and Found: The BBS Story, director Peter Bogdanovich relates a conversation he had with Orson Welles about Greta Garbo. In response to a comment Bogdanovich made concerning the lack of truly great films in Garbo's filmography, Welles said, "Well, you only need one." In the context of Bogdanovich's career and legacy, The Last Picture Show is definitely his "one great film" (although I've long considered his first film, Targets, to be one of the great masterpieces of the 1960s). His filmmaking career went downhill pretty quickly afterward, which isn't altogether surprising, considering the immense amount of effort and control he exerted over this film - and the overwhelming success that came as a result. It's the type of early peak that's difficult to continue living up to, but in view of Welles' comment, maybe it's not necessary. Bogdanovich might not have made any more masterpieces throughout his career, but he'll always be remembered for this film about the lost and lonely people of a small Texas town in the dawn of the television era - which certainly isn't a bad thing. The film has a strangely plaintive timelessness. It doesn't really fit in with other films of its own era, or of the era in which the film is set. It's certainly an anomaly amongst films by the likes of Bob Rafelson and Dennis Hopper in the Criterion BBS box set. The characters in the film have parallels in many other films and books - but never before had they seemed as rich and human as this. It's a very original and powerful film - a lone, wistful monument that seems destined to stand for posterity as Peter Bogdanovich's most valuable contribution to cinematic history.

Monday, March 23, 2015

#551: Daisies

1966, TSPDT Rank #407

This film plays like a kaleidoscodic mixture of dada and silent comedy, made by a female Jean-Luc Godard in 1960s Czechoslovakia. It follows the misadventures of two young women and their attempts to "be spoiled" in reaction to a "spoiled world" - with flashes of radical feminism and surrounded by a whirlwind of truly inventive, energetic filmmaking. Like its heroines, Daisies is primarily interested in obliterating commonly accepted constructs of order and behavior - destroying meaning rather than creating it. Therefore, while watching it, I suggest just letting go and enjoying the ride. It's probably one of the greatest cinematic visions of anarchy ever attempted.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

#550: The Innocents

Directed by: JACK CLAYTON
1961, TSPDT Rank #405

Here's a film that I've been meaning to see for years, as a big horror enthusiast. It's a very strange and unsettling film based on Henry James' novel "The Turn of the Screw", and featuring masterful usage of black and white cinematography, editing, lighting, and sound design. With a screenplay co-written by Truman Capote, the film is a potent mixture of Henry James' signature examination of peoples' perceptions of others with a lot of twisted psychosexual overtones. A very deceptive and haunting ghost story - highly recommended to fans of understated horror. I won't say anymore about it, so as to preserve the experience of watching it yourself... alone... in the dark...

2015 list update

Well, the new update of the list went up on the TSPDT site some time last month - so you can go check that out at for more details. Definitely some interesting changes this year. For my part, I am up to 550 movies seen with the new update - so it's back to business as usual, along with a pretty decent boost to my previous total. Now I'll proceed with the new post - thanks for reading, as always.