- This piece was written over a year ago. It may no longer accurately reflect my views now, or may be factually outdated.
Film lovers are sick people.
A week and a half ago I walked out of my final undergraduate exam (and an hour early, no less). The weather’s not been sunbathe-worthy enough to fill all of my newly-free time, so I turned my attention to film.
I’m far better at marking films to watch at some point than I am actually watching them—between September–December 2016, I only managed two. With a watchlist currently standing just shy of 3,000—it would take just over eight years to get through them all, at a rate of one per day—I thought it was high time I started chipping away.
A week and a half later, I found my watchlist twenty-seven films shorter. To prove (to myself, at least) that I was actually paying attention, here are some thoughts:
Better to have loved and lost
The body loses water when you jog, so you have none left for tears.
I hadn’t seen a live-action Asian film since mid-2014 (Rashōmon) and I’d heard good things about Wong Kar-wai, so I checked out what seems considered to be a good entry-level choice. With my prior experience of Asian cop films amounting to Violent Cop, Hana-bi and Hard Boiled, I went in expecting something similarly dark and challenging. Instead, Chungking Express was a delightful and charmingly goofy piece. The writing is knowingly melodramatic and the characters absurd, such as the heartbroken policeman pondering whether his
memories could be canned [and] would they […] have expiry dates? and, later, another similarly heartbroken policeman berating his
emotionally charged towel for crying and trying to console his soap.
Speaking of romance, I now have a new go-to date film (sorry EuroTrip). I’m a big fan of Michael Apted’s Up series and was interested in Richard Linklater’s fondness for long-term filmmaking (e.g. the Before trilogy, Boyhood), so Before Sunrise seemed a good place to start. I was amazed to find out that the film wasn’t improvised (thanks, IMDB trivia section!), and the chemistry between the two leads is remarkable. It was just a very pleasant, warm and fuzzy film and, whilst I’m perhaps slightly disappointed that I know in advance that the duo’s story continues (rather than having to wait for nine years like the original audiences), I’m looking forward to seeing Before Sunset before long.
War, what is it good for? (Films, apparently)
At present there is no indication that the Argentine task force has changed course. Government House has asked everyone not to go out to Cape Pembroke looking for it.
For some reason, I watched an awful lot of war films. Of the two set during the Troubles, Bloody Sunday was a masterfully-shot, tense affair with the feel of a documentary (as is to be expected of anything Greengrass directs), whilst ’71 was a more functional chase thriller, elevated more by a unique setting than anything else. The final portion of ’71, in which Pte Hook finds himself stalked around an IRA apartment block, did remind me of both the end of End of Watch and the entirety of Dredd though, which can only be a good thing. An Ungentlemanly Act, meanwhile, is one of the few films made about the Falklands War, and its a rare war film that ends with a body count of one. The film is more interested in the buildup to the invasion and the ultimate surrender of the islanders to the Argentinians, but there is plenty of nostalgic DPM kit to go around.
Meanwhile, The Dam Busters and Battle of Britain each cover pivotal Second World War RAF operations. Battle of Britain’s aerial battles are a joy to behold, even if its ground-based scenes largely fall flat. I couldn’t stop picturing Star Wars’ assault on the Death Star during The Dam Busters’ assault on the Möhne dam, which made sense when I saw it cited as a major influence on the former (thanks again, IMDB trivia section!). The sombre ending of The Dam Busters, in which W/C Guy Gibson is torn between the elation of a job well done and sadness at the loss of many good men in its doing, is tempered somewhat by the glossing-over of the more than 6,000 civilians and PoWs who drowned when the dams were burst, but I suppose you can only expect so much from a film made so close to the event that the shape of the bomb itself was still classified. One thing both films have in common though: the painted-onto-frame AA tracers and flames look exceptionally dreadful.
Well, who hasn’t pimped their CV a bit? Mine says I’m a team player who’s good with people. Now piss off, you twat.
Moving on to more contemporary conflicts, The Patrol was a small yet effective affair depicting the deterioration of morale amidst a squad of Royal Marines in Afghanistan. The unseen Taliban enemy are never seen, and the film functions as more of a psychological horror than a war film, but it was exciting nonetheless. A rather cheerier depiction of life in Helmand Province came via (all three series’ of) Bluestone 42, a BBC comedy about an EOD team that manages to be both very funny and (at times) quite exciting. Any review of the show seems duty-bound to refer to it as a modern-day M*A*S*H, but having only seen the original film version I would say I was reminded more of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and just as entertained. Finally, Three Kings surprised me—I went in expecting Jarhead, and instead I got a heist movie mixed with a bit of Mad Max: Fury Road. Still, jolly exciting stuff, although director Russell does go a bit overboard at times with the Dutch angles.
I shot down a French plane. If the crew are officers, invite them here for lunch.
Grand Illusion was released only shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, and Rome, Open City only shortly following its conclusion. The former makes the case for the futility of war in which the commanding class of each nation have more in common with one another than with the men they send to fight and die, as shown when Rittmeister von Rauffenstein excludes Capt. de Boeldieu from a room search, asking only for his word that he has no contraband. When de Boeldieu asks why the other prisoners are not afforded such trust, von Rauffenstein sneers at their names. Rome, Open City, filmed with the Nazi occupation of Rome so recent a memory that a passer-by apparently drew his revolver upon coming across the filming of a scene in which the German soldiers round up an apartment block, is bleaker still: its final shot is a priest being tied to a chair and shot as the children of his parish look on.
As a palate-cleanser, The Wipers Times is easily the second-funniest thing I’ve ever seen about the First World War (with first place of course going to Blackadder Goes Forth), and managed to find a new angle on a rather played-out war in the tale of the production of the Viz of Verdun (you can have that line for free, Mr Hislop). This is now the third film I can think of in the small subgenre of ‘media-focused war films’, joining Good Morning, Vietnam and the recent Their Finest (neither of which I have seen yet).
Leave them kids alone
Education in Britain is a nubile Cinderella: sparsely clad and much interfered with.
Speaking of the late Robin Williams, Dead Poets Society is one of those films that you watch, and suddenly hundreds of past references and parodies suddenly and retroactively make sense. It’s reputation is perhaps more than the film actually deserves, although it was still a fairly entertaining couple of hours. It also managed to be the most upbeat and optimistic school-based film I saw, despite a tragic suicide at the end. That’s because the other school films I saw were British, and thus unfathomably bleak.
Kes set the tone early on, as Billy Casper gets beat up by just about every person he meets, and then has his beloved pet kestrel murdered. Then, in if…., an entire class of Billy Caspers are routinely abused by the lecherous older students. And then everyone gets shot. I’m really starting to get that Cougarton Abbey joke from Community now.
Alas, it could be worse—any of those youths could have ended up in some of Britain’s charming historical alternatives to education, as seen in Made in Britain and Scum. Both cover young offenders in Thatcher’s Britain in varying levels of horror. Made in Britain seemed rather tame after Scum—where the rape in The Shawshank Redemption was implied, Scum’s very much is not.
Send these, the homeless, temptest-tost to me…
No matter how many books you read, there is something in this world that you never ever ever ever ever fucking understand.
Not that things get much better for anyone once they’re out of school in Thatcher’s Britain, however. Naked has a mesmerising antihero protagonist who only gets redeemed from utter despicability by the introduction of a mirror image with wealth, against which we can compare Johnny and see that
oh, it could be worse then. Meanwhile, Cathy Come Home and I, Daniel Blake show that for all the promise of the British welfare state, we haven’t really got much better at it in the past half-century. Both feature their eponymous protagonists being progressively worn down by polite governmental bureaucracy until one dies and the other has her children stolen from her at a train station.
That’s not to say that options are limited here in England—you could also ruin your life with drugs, as seen in Withnail & I, or random football violence, as seen in The Firm. Neither choices look entirely appealing, although Withnail (and ‘I’) would surely be more amusing companions than Gary Oldman’s Bex.
After all that, Streetwise showed the power of documentary in a harrowing hour and a half of drug addicts, child prostitutes and a generation abandoned, all taking place in plain sight in of America’s richest cities. Where Kids shocked, Streetwise stuns by showing the true face of lost youth. Hearing 14-year-old ‘Rat’ tell equally-young ‘Tiny’ that
[y]ou can take the ‘ho off the street, but you can’t take the street off the ‘ho, it is clear that something has gone really quite wrong. Their embrace in a jail cell later is touching for its glimpse at the vulnerability that they both attempt to mask with bravado—the same vulnerability that leads Dewayne to hang himself just before the end of the film.
Don’t give me that. I’m sick and tired of facts! You can twist ’em anyway you like, you know what I mean?
I’d thought initially to try going through my watchlist in ratings order. Whilst that didn’t last, 12 Angry Men certainly did not disappoint. I’ve always enjoyed a good bottle episode—Star Trek‘s incredible submarine thriller Balance of Terror stands out in my mind—for their need to excite and entertain using only the tools of sharp writing and strong performance. This is definitely the case here, with a sharp script delivering the former in spades and a uniformly impressive cast of 1957’s finest actors the latter.
After that came creepy 50s fairytale The Night of the Hunter, with an masterful performance throughout by Robert Mitchum—with a voice, to borrow a phrase,
like a velvet finger soaked in warm honey being gently worked around your earhole—and even two child actors who manage to be cute without being precocious.
Prior to Do the Right Thing I only knew of Spike Lee as
that chucklefuck who complained about Flags of our Fathers, so I’m not entirely sure why I decided to watch his début. I’m glad I did though, as now I know him as
that chucklefuck who complained about Flags of our Fathers, but also made at least one really solid film beforehand. I’m still not sure where exactly I stand on the ending—did Mookie do the right thing?—which is always a good sign.
I ended things with an unplanned Roman Polanski double-feature: Chinatown followed by Rosemary’s Baby. The former was an excellent demythologisation of the hard-boiled detective genre—a genre I love—whilst the latter managed to still be a thoroughly engrossing experience despite being a horror—a genre I am utterly ambivalent towards.
Watching so many films in such a short amount of time, it was weird to see how many little connections they all had to one another. Little connections such as
Dead Poets Society and Scum each having a young person commit suicide, an immediate authority figure’s recent callousness directly responsible for their death,
The Dam Busters, Battle of Britain and Grand Illusion each featuring a scene in which the view of an empty dining table was used to show the cost of war,
Pina being shot as she runs towards the camera in Rome, Open City, and Evelyn being shot as she drives away from it in Chinatown (in both instances, with the women’s children are present),
Radio Raheem in Do the Right Thing delivering his own take on Robert Mitchum’s
…and so on. Not sure what to take from it, but I thought it was amusing.