Friday, September 29, 2006

My Movie Meme

Henry Fonda has his way with Claudia Cardinale in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST.

A MOVIE THAT CHANGED MY LIFE: Sergio Leone's ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST was the Big One. I've told this story before, but I went to my local theater one Saturday when I was 12 to see the latest Elvis Presley movie, CHARRO!. OUATITW was the co-feature. I must have got there late or something, so I decided to come back the next day (Sunday) to enjoy it from the beginning. When I got there, I discovered that the theater had reversed the showtimes, so I had to see OUATITW anyway; an idea that didn't exactly thrill me because I didn't care for Westerns. To make a long and already told story short, I became enthralled by the movie to the extent that I felt branded by it. It put hair on my chest. And when the movie ended, I could suddenly see how ephemeral the Presley co-feature couldn't help but be, and I made what I count as the first adult decision of my life: I got up and went home. To this day, I have never seen CHARRO!.

A MOVIE I'VE SEEN MORE THAN ONCE: Tons of them, including many I don't particularly care for. Much moreso than the maxim "reading is re-reading," I find that watching movies is re-watching movies. Among the movies I believe I've seen more often than any others: ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, WOODSTOCK, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, WOMEN IN LOVE, TOMMY, WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE ASTOUNDING SHE MONSTER, THAT THING YOU DO! (which I feel is a nearly perfect movie), the Bava films of course, and a goodly number of the classic Universal horror films. We're talking as many as 20 times in some cases. Looking over that list in printed form, I have to say that -- with a few exceptions I can still understand -- I could have picked better movies to obsess over! Very often when a movie affects me deeply, I deliberately keep my distance from it, prefering to cherish the memory rather than wear it out. Four of the titles I chose for my SIGHT & SOUND TOP 10 in 2002 I have seen only once.

A MOVIE I WOULD TAKE WITH ME IF I WERE STUCK ON A DESERT ISLAND: I think Charlton Heston in THE OMEGA MAN had the right idea with WOODSTOCK. It's got drama, humor, idealism, a huge cross-section of humanity, and great music. It's not just a movie; it's company.

A MOVIE THAT MADE ME LAUGH: I have a perverse sense of humor and things like W. C. Fields' THE FATAL GLASS OF BEER and the "Black Cat" episode of Roger Corman's TALES OF TERROR resonate especially well with my funny bobne. Feature-wise, however, three stand out: Preston Sturges' UNFAITHFULLY YOURS, Bruce Robinson's WITHNAIL & I, and Richard Kwietniowski's LOVE AND DEATH ON LONG ISLAND. All three have an aggressively literary bent in their dialogue, so that all three would have been just as funny on the printed page; none of them is particularly cinematic, but all three feature great performances.


Fritz Lang discusses the day's rushes with producer Jack Palance in CONTEMPT.

A MOVIE THAT MADE ME CRY: Strangely enough, Jean-Luc Godard's CONTEMPT. There is an exterior moment after the episode in the screening room, in which Fritz Lang walks pensively across the wide screen as Georges Delerue's tragic theme music swells; the combination kills me every time. That's how much I love movies.

A MOVIE I WISH HAD NEVER BEEN MADE: I agree with whomever had the insight that great art is a lie (an invention) that tells the truth. Ergo, any film that tells lies to propogate falsehoods and to take cynical advantage of public ignorance I find, by definition, repugnant. So my answer is THE PATH TO 9/11.

A MOVIE I'VE BEEN MEANING TO SEE: Movies I've been meaning to see are the bane of my existence. At the moment I have about ten bankers boxes, containing 50 DVDs each, stacked high in a corner of my dining room. Discs I've bought, discs sent to me by friendly correspondents, and, of course, review screeners. Every one of them is screaming "Watch me!" at the top of their imaginary lungs, and some are (ouch) box sets.

A MOVIE I RECENTLY SAW: The 1929 version of SEVEN KEYS TO BALDPATE, starring Richard Dix (who reminds me a great deal of George Reeves). It ran on Turner Classic Movies yesterday morning and it ran about 10 minutes longer than my Dish TV menu screen said it would, so my recording cut out before the movie was over.

Irène Jacob models for a bubble gum ad campaign in RED.

A MOVIE I WISH I'D MADE: Krzysztof Kieslowski's THREE COLORS trilogy, particularly RED. I felt immediately at home in this movie, and somehow saw most of its levels at once, but this didn't do anything to exhaust my fascination with it. A perfect mesh of the commercial and the metaphysical, it captures the daunting magic of meeting someone who gives your life unsuspected depths of meaning -- a recurring theme in my own work. Jean-Louis Trintignant probably ties with Oliver Reed as my favorite actor (they star in more of my favorite films than anyone else), and I'm very smitten with Irène Jacob; I love the way their characters seem to represent real people while at the same time boldly occupying a more symbolic plane, and the bolero theme written by Zbigniew Preisner gives the whole a vaguely apocalyptic tense that is highly dramatic and would sadly be fulfilled by the retirement and quick death of Kieslowski. As a Gemini with a deep interest in music, I am in some ways even more drawn to THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE... but my senses tell me that RED is the more complex and satisfying achievement.

In closing... apropos of some of the finest films it has ever been my pleasure to see -- one of which (L'ECLISSE) is certain to make my next SIGHT & SOUND Top 10 list -- a very Happy 94th Birthday to Michelangelo Antonioni. Buon' compleanno, Maestro.

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