Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids

Director: George Roy Hill

1969

“The iconic teaming of Paul Newman and Robert Redford was so magical – and so profitable, scoring the year’s biggest hit – that this offbeat character study/action comedy in Western trappings and bathed in cinematographer Conrad Hall’s Oscar-winning sepia hues has been a touchstone for bickering buddy pictures ever since.” (494, Angela Errigo, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

I went through a period where I watched films in genres or by directors that normally bore me to tears and discovered that actually there were a few I enjoyed, such as Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) and Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014). And it turns out that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is, so far, the only Western film I’ve watched that hasn’t bored me silly. But then I wouldn’t necessarily categorize it strictly as a western. It may have a number of the western tropes but in reality it is much more character driven. It’s really about these two men and their friendship that just so happens to take place against a western backdrop. And this is precisely why I found it entertaining rather than turgid like so many other films in the western genre.

There is lots of humour and having watched a number of buddy movies it’s clear that a lot of them have been influenced by this movie. The core trio of Butch (Paul Newman), Sundance (Robert Redford) and Etta (Katherine Ross) are brilliant, and in some ways remind me a little bit of the ‘golden trio’ from Harry Potter (J. K. Rowling) – they work best as a trio, each complimenting and at times reigning each other in. I actually really enjoyed watching Newman and Redford in their prime. Paul Newman is often held up as one of the truly brilliant actors of recent Hollywood and yet he is an actor whose work I have really not seen very much of so it was interesting to see him working his magic on-screen. They make a handsome pair of bandits as well it can’t be denied.

“[But] the film is immortal for its final image of the pair, freeze-framed as they run out into a shoot-’em-up with an army.” (494) Having never seen the film I had still been aware of this iconic final image. Now I have the context behind it and it makes the image so much more powerful.

butchButch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is an utterly disarming combination of smart, original screenwriting, handsome visual treatment, and star power. With all the jokes and poses, there is still real interest in the well-defined, contrasting characters.” (494) I couldn’t agree more with Errigo. If it had been otherwise there is a high chance I would have been writing yet another blog about how dreary and tedious I find western movies so this was a nice surprise. However apologies for the crapness of this post – I’m pretty tired and clearly my brain isn’t working all that well. Don’t let my inarticulate ramblings dissuade you from watching the film because it really is so much more than I have touched upon in this update.

Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Director: Stanley Kubrick

1964

Dr Strangelove is a brilliant black comedy that works as political satire, suspense farce, and cautionary tale of technology running away with us.” (422, Angela Errigo, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

I’ve always found Stanley Kubrick to be a bit hit and miss for me – A Clockwork Orange (1971) is very much a hit for me but it turns out that Dr Strangelove is the opposite. It’s not really my sense of humour so it took me quite some time to bring myself to watching the entire film the whole way through. That could however have had something to do with the political climate we’re currently living in.

I watched Dr Strangelove during the politically tumultuous year of 2016 when the UK decided to create Brexit by leaving the EU (something I’m still not entirely happy with thank you very much!) and then descended even further into madness when America decided to vote in Donald Trump as the President Elect!! This made the events within Dr Strangelove very much a cautionary tale and suddenly the stupidity of the government didn’t seem quite so funny as it could be argued that the possibility of an outcome like this is remarkably higher than it has been in the past. And after all as Errigo says, “[T]he information about a doomsday device is factual, as are the Strategic Air Command operations and the B-52 crew’s procedures. The computers that take the situation beyond human intervention have only become more capable. Be afraid. Be very afraid.” (422)

drstrangelovespokeartposterbig01“Seller’s sidesplitting three performances are legend but the entire ensemble gives a masterclass in exaggerated, perfectly timed posturing. Two images are unforgettable – Kong astride the H-bomb, yee-hawing all the way down, and demented Dr. Strangelove, unable to stop his mechanical arm from flying into the Nazi salute and throttling himself.” (422) Peter Sellers portrays three very distinct characters within this film, all of who are a bit ineffectual. There is no denying which one has become most iconic and that is the demented Dr Strangelove himself. However I found myself a little underwhelmed by the whole thing. The President is a simpering idiot who doesn’t seem capable of making any decisions himself – and for some reason comes across as very British. I’m not really a fan of anything that is over exaggerated (melodramas are a tortuous waste of time) so there really wasn’t very much hope of me finding this film funny. The film certainly seemed to have a resurgence last year what with Secret Cinema using it for their spring movie event, again thanks to the political climate, but for me it is one that fell short in almost every way. By all means do not let my views stop you from seeing this film as who knows you may come away from the experience with your sides aching from laughter and everyone should have the chance to discover that themselves.

Psycho

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

1960

“One of the most famous movies of all time, and quite possibly the most influential horror film in history, Psycho traded the supernatural beings of the genre’s past – vampires, werewolves, zombies, and the like – for an all-too-human monster. The film made “Norman Bates” a household name and guaranteed its director’s status as the master of suspense.” (374, Steven Jay Schneider, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Psycho was one of those films that I grew up knowing about – I mean how could you not know about the now infamous shower scene? And there’s definitely been a time or two when we’ve all nervously throw the shower curtain back to check it’s clear thanks to this film and the many inspired by it. But it was one that until recently I had not ever watched all the way through. The biggest surprise for me was that the iconic scene takes place really rather early on in the film – I was kind of like right well what happens now then? 03-psycho-screen“Never before had the central character of a commercial movie been killed off so brutally less than halfway through the film.” (374) As it turns out – a lot more unfortunate victims of the deranged Norman Bates – although for me none of them really stood out quite as much as Bates.

And speaking of Norman Bates what makes him so wonderfully scary is the fact that he is by every outward appearance a rather handsome and charming young man. tumblr_inline_n6booaMFG71rufn0nThe same cannot be said for his inner personality. Anthony Perkins is exquisite as the seemingly normal but really very disturbed leading man – which I would argue he certainly begins the film as, even if he doesn’t end up in that role as the film culminates. I found Janet Leigh to be slightly forgettable really with the exception of that scene – we all know which one I’m talking about right?! But then really she isn’t actually in the film for that long thanks to Hitchcock’s decision to time the murder when he did.

It was kind of strange watching the film as a whole because I had previously seen a number of clips of it, either in various programmes extolling the genius of Alfred Hitchcock (something I have to confess I am still sitting on the fence about I’m afraid to say!) or as part of my degree. You can of course see innumerable echoes of films that have followed Psycho in almost every single aspect from the soundtrack to the lighting, even to the creepy characters. While monster movies are great – don’t get me wrong I love a good vampire movie (and I do mean good – none of this sparkly Twilight crap!!) I have always found horror films where the ‘monster’ is a regular joe and could be the person standing next to you or living in your house to be far more terrifying. And the slew of excellent movies that scare the living daylights out of me thanks to their normal guy killer all stem from this film.

Not only did Hitchcock establish so many of the visual cues of the horror genre but he also capitalised on the power the soundtrack can have to the genre with that shrieking musical cue for the shower scene. Horror films are infinitely more terrifying when you have the soundtrack and in some ways the music added in post-production can make or break a scary movie. All the films that really left a mark on me after watching them have had some  very tense musical scores. The legacy of Hitchcock’s visual cues should not be sniffed at either as I have recently be watching Pretty Little Liars and they basically recreated one of the final scenes of Norman Bates in the police cell. It’s a simple thing and a very subtle nod towards the godfather of suspense that I’m not sure many people would actually catch. anthony-perkins-as-norman-bates-in-psycho

“Clearly this British-born filmmaker had found a way of tapping directly into America’s collective psyche: by making his monster so very normal, and by uniting sex, madness, and murder in one spooky and sordid tale, he effectively predicted the headlines of many of the coming decade’s top news stories.” (374)

À bout de soufflé

Director: Jean-Luc Godard

1960

Breathless

“Whether through accident or design, Godard’s low-budget, on-the-fly shooting style produced remarkable innovations.” (370, Adrian Martin, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

sjff_01_img0006I first watched À bout de soufflé  for my film degree as part of the history of film module. And it turns out that while I cannot speak any French I can actually understand an awful lot of it, meaning that I didn’t have to rely wholly on the subtitles in order to follow the narrative. I still watch À bout de soufflé  in my spare time even all these years after being a little Fresher at university and enjoy it every time.

It’s true that not very much happens in the narrative but really that is kind of beside the points. It’s not so much what is actually happening in the narrative that makes the film so memorable but rather how that action was captured and conveyed. It was indeed groundbreaking in the visual cues especially with the choices of cuts in editing.

The jump cuts were kind of ahead of their time and created an instantly recognizable aesthetic and rhythm to the film, even if they are somewhat jarring the first time you watch the film. I love that the film is in black and white – I think it enhances that feeling of Parisian chic that is very much an identifying tone of the film.  

There s a definite James Dean air to Michel – the tragic anti-hero – and he plays the part perfectly. He completely sees himself as a hero of the silver screen despite in reality being a petty criminal. On the other hand the female lead irritates me as she lacks any depth or identity away from the protagonist. Despite being the focal point for Michel she brings very little to the film. You cannot deny that she manages to look ‘tres chic‘ effortlessly though and not just the typical Parisian chic but coupled with the super stylish simplicity of the 1960s.

“Eschewing direct sound recording and using total postsynchronization not only led to an Orson Welles-style speed and inventiveness in the dialogue delivery, it also paved the way for a radical sound mix in which one can no longer spot the difference between ‘real’ sound happening within the story and sound imposed by the filmmaker.” (370)

While the  aesthetic of the film is, a sI have said before, instantly recognizable I think the reason I keep returning to À bout de soufflé over the years is the language. I love just listening to it. The dialogue is wonderfully fast paced as expected with French and there is a beauty to the language when spoken naturally that lures me back every year or so (generally after our annual holiday in France when suffering from withdrawal systems!)

À bout de soufflé is probably my favourite foreign language film – it’s certainly the one, of a very few foreign language films in my dvd collection, that gets watched multiple times. 

Once Upon A Time In The West

C’era una Volta il West

Director: Sergio Leone

1968

“With striking widescreen compositions and epic running time, this is truly a Western that wins points for both length and width.” (475, Kim Newman, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Once Upon a Time in the WestOk so it’s now official – I cannot abide films in the Western genre! They are so turgid and now horribly cliché. Nothing very much even happens in them, narratively speaking, which just irritates me. They wouldn’t be so tedious to watch if something even remotely interesting were to happen but every Western I have watched is so formulaic you can predict the outcome from the first 20 minutes.

Once Upon a Time in the West is considered one of the best films within the Western genre but it did nothing for me. It’s such a long film considering how little action takes place. I completely disagree with everything Kim Newman says about Sergio Leone’s ‘masterpiece’. “The opening – Woody Strode, Al Mulock, and Jack Elam waiting for a train and bothered by a fly and dripping water – is masterful bravura, homing in on tiny details for the shoot-out that gets the film going.” (475) The opening is almost painfully boring in its attention to the minutia of everyday life that takes up the first half hour or so of the film, without any dialogue.

The music takes on a number of identifying motifs in terms of characters – the insufferable strain of the harmonica for Charles Bronson’s ‘hero’ and the particularly feminine motif that signals any scene involving Claudia Cardinale’s, Jill McBain. While this device starts out well it quickly becomes annoying, almost battering the audience over the head with the soundtrack. I think it has the side effect of underestimating the audience; those watching should be intelligent enough to follow the narrative and characters without the aid of musical directions.

There are all the typical stereotypes that have become synonymous with the Western genre – there’s the corrupt ‘man’ taking the country and its people for all its worth; the unsavory ‘black hat’ cowboy with absolutely no regard for human life; the ‘white hat’ seeking vengeance and retribution for the wrongs he has suffered and of course, the female of slightly dubious moral standing.

However they never become anything more than those stereotypes. Leone doesn’t develop them into something deeper which resulted in me failing to connect to any of the characters and not really caring about their outcomes or subsequent demise.

There wasn’t a single thing about Once Upon a Time in the West that remotely captured my attention and I found it somewhat of a chore to watch but then I have yet to find a Western that I have enjoyed.

 

 

 

Mary Poppins

Director: Robert Stevenson

1964

Much like with The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939) Mary Poppins is a film that I really have to be in the mood for in order to appreciate it. And after having watched Saving Mr Banks (John Lee Hancock, 2013) which covers the culmination of Disney’s long courtship with P.L. Travers, I was definitely in the mood to watch the finished article. “As far back as 1938, Walt Disney had been trying to but the rights to the Mary Poppins books.” (428, Edward Lawrenson, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Mary Poppins and Bert singingMary Poppins is magical and like most Disney films was a staple of my childhood. I loved Dick Van Dyke’s Bert, dodgy cockney accent and all. He is the everyman and very much facilitates the telling of this story. I think there’s a small part in every child watching Mary Poppins that wishes they had a nanny like her, someone they could go on magical adventures with.  Jane and Michael Banks sometimes grate on me but then you know me – I have something of an issue with child actors for the most part. Mrs Banks is wonderfully scatty and far more focused on her campaign for equal rights then her children, at least in the beginning anyway. Despite this you can’t help but feel affection for her.

“Set in a stylized version of Edwardian England – and including some groundbreaking sequences combining live action and cell animation – the film features Julie Andrews as the eponymous nanny employed by the affluent Banks family.” (428) As a child I loved the animated elements of the film for the fun they portrayed. Now as an adult I still love the animated elements of the film and marvel at the technical genius of the technique used, especially considering when the film was produced. These elements still fit fairly seamlessly into the film, even in a time when computer graphics and special effects are advancing incredibly fast, which is a testament to the skill of the artists. I particularly enjoy the penguin waiters who even now produce multiple belly laughs whenever I watch them. 

“With the action interspersed with the Sherman Brothers’ infectiously catchy songs, it ultimately sees Mary Poppins bring the Banks children closer to their well-meaning but negligent parents, with the help of friends that include the happy-go-lucky chimney sweep Bert (the much maligned, cockney-accented Dick Van Dyke)” (428) The songs are indeed insanely catchy and stick with you for days afterwards. They do always bring a smile to my face when I hear them.

West Side Story

Director: Robert Wise & Jerome Robbins

1961

West Side StoryWhat an overblown unnecessarily long film West Side Story is – especially when you consider it was made long before 3 hour films became so commonplace. I mean it even had an intermission for goodness sake – something that I was expecting and resulted in me thinking either my DVD player or TV (or quite possibly both) had broken … the most exciting part of the film. As you may have guessed I’m not exactly rushing out telling everyone that they simply must watch West Side Story as soon as (and as often as) possible. In short the entire film dragged making its 2 and a half hour run feel more like five hours!

The singing is a tad iffy at times and it’s not one of the many musicals that I routinely sing or even listen to. The most famous song, “America” is at times unintelligible to me due to the very affected Puerto Rican accents a number of the company are sporting. The only thing less believably Puerto Rican than the accents is Maria herself played by Natalie Wood. She looks nothing like her female companions and is much too pure and innocent. Her naivety winds me up no end which doesn’t help with my enjoyment of the film.

West Side Story stumbles by casting charisma-free Richard Beymer in the lead (the Colonel wouldn’t let Elvis play Tony) and can’t exactly pass the winning Natalie Wood off as Puerto Rican.” (384, Kim Newman, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) Tony has absolutely no charisma what-so-ever which again is to the detriment of the film. He’s a drippy, soft character and I cannot understand how he was once the leader of the Jets.West Side Story Sharks

The only feature that held any of my attention was the Shakespearean element. Even at a young age it was obvious that West Side Story was Romeo and Juliet set to music. Now I see more of the Romeo and Juliet characteristics – although many of them have been altered. “An early instance of the Shakespearean approach to teen drama, getting in on the act decades before it was trendy, this Oscar-winning filming of the Broadway musical hit relocates the story of Romeo and Juliet among New York street gangs, with the Capulets and Montagues morphed into the Puerto Rican Sharks and the Polish Jets.” (384) Tony and Maria are clearly meant to be the tragic star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet although in reality Tony is more like the Mercutio character, whose death is the trigger for the events of the original play. The Sharks and the Jets replace the Capulets and Montagues. The one key difference is that Maria survives the film. The idea of transplanting two warring Italian families into an urban setting as two rival street gangs is an interesting one, that sadly has not been realized to its full potential here but one that I think Baz Luhrmann improved on in Romeo + Juliet (1996)

I was not very taken with West Side Story. it was much too long and far too dramatic for my liking. And for all the drama there is little tension or real jeopardy to the entire film. There isn’t even really much humor to lighten the mood. I can’t see myself watching West Side Story by choice again.