Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Front Row Film Festival

I had been contemplating some kind of From the Front Row film festival blog series thing, when along came Piper from Lazy Eye Theatre with the 12 Movies Meme.

I'm not usually a fan of blog-a-thons and things of that nature. But since I was already on the same wavelength, I thought why not?

Here are the rules:

1) Choose 12 Films to be featured. They could be random selections or part of a greater theme. Whatever you want.
2) Explain why you chose the films.
3) Link back to Lazy Eye Theatre so I can have hundreds of links and I can take those links and spread them all out on the bed and then roll around in them.

4) The people selected then have to t
urn around and select 5 more people.

I'm not going to select five people, I don't do chains or chain letters or anything like that so I'm not going to do it on a blog. But I will link back to Lazy Eye Theatre.

I'm trying to go with a crash course through film history here, but that's impossible to do in just 12 films (I may be doing this again soon), so here are some personal favorites:

DAY 1: LOVE AND HATE
1. THE BIRTH OF A NATION (D.W. Griffith, USA, 1915)
2. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (Robert Mulligan, USA, 1962)


What better way to kick off the Front Row Film Festival than with the film that started it all? D.W. Griffith's epic masterpiece, The Birth of a Nation, may not have been the first film ever made, but it may quite possibly be the most influential. With a running time of nearly three hours, Birth of a Nation was the first major feature length film, and pioneered many filmmaking techniques that are still being employed today - most notably the stunning final sequence which intercuts between three battles going on in three different locations. Some feared that this switching back and forth between story lines would confuse audiences, but it didn't. And cinema hasn't been the same since. However, it is also one of the most virulently racist films ever made. But despite its abhorrent content (the KKK are treated as heroes), its influence and skill of craft cannot be denied, and as such it must be recognized for what it is - the first cinematic masterpiece.

So to balance it out, I've chosen a film that condemns the hate and intolerance that Birth extols - Robert Mulligan's To Kill a Mockingbird. Tender and loving where Birth of a Nation is ignorant and abrasive, To Kill a Mockingbird is above all a haunting tale of childhood and innocence lost in the face of blind hatred. It's the perfect antidote for theunfortunate racism of Birth of a Nation.

DAY 2: THERE'S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS
3. SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly, USA, 1952)
4. SUNSET BOULEVARD (Billy Wilder, USA, 1950)



Two films about Hollywood, two vastly different approaches. To lighten the mood after the heavy drama of Day 1's films, let's start off with one of the all-time great musicals, Singin' in the Rain, Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly's colorful, toe-tapping musical comedy about the end of the silent era of filmmaking, and the dawn of the sound era. It's a movie for people who love movies.

But if Singin' in the Rain is the bright, happy crowd pleaser, then Sunset Boulevard is the bitter pill that comes after. A razor sharp satire (condemnation?) of Hollywood excess that chronicles the deterioration of an aging silent movie star unable to cope in a world of sound. I
t's a much colder, darker take on the business than Singin' in the Rain, but it is the quintessential movie about movies, which makes it a must for any true lover of film.

DAY 3: THE ART OF GROWING OLD
5. WILD STRAWBERRIES (Ingmar Bergman, Sweden, 1957)

6. IKIRU (Akira Kurosawa, Japan, 1952)

If To Kill a Mockingbird is the quintessential movie about childhood, then these are equally unsurpassed in their examinations of old age, although coming from two vastly different points of view. Bergman's Wild Strawberries is a haunting mediation on life from an elderly professor coming to terms with his own mortality, as he reflects upon his life up to that point. Kurosawa's Ikiru is more sentimental but no less masterful, as it follows an aging office bureaucrat who discovers he is dying of cancer and realizes that his life has amounted to nothing, and wants to leave behind a lasting legacy.

Both films ultimately end up with a positive outlook on life, although they take very different roads to get there. Either way, both films are extremely rewarding and deeply moving examples of life as it should end.

DAY 4: THE ARCHERS
7. THE RED SHOES (Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, UK, 1948)
8. THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP (Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, UK, 1943)

Nobody makes films more lushly produced than The Archers, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, and these two films represent these legendary partners at their very best. Starting out with their best known work, The Red Shoes, based on the story by Hans Christian Anderson and one of the most beautiful films ever made. It is a consummate work about devotion to one's art, featuring some of the most breathtaking ballet work ever put to film in full Technicolor glory.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, on the other hand, is a heartbreaking epic tale of a career soldier, who lives through three wars only to find himself left behind and irrelevant as modern warfare takes a brutal turn he no longer understands. It could easily fit into Day 3's line-up, but it is about more than just growing old. It's about love, friendship, war, politics, and life itself. They just don't make them like this anymore.

DAY 5: MAGGIE SMITH IS A GODDESS
9. THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE (Ronald Neame, UK, 1969)
10. GOSFORD PARK (Robert Altman, UK/USA, 2001)

What From the Front Row film festival would be complete without a tribute to my favorite actress? Showcase here are my two favorite Maggie Smith movies - The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, for which she won her first Oscar as a charismatic teacher undone by a jealous student, and Gosford Park, the film that started it all for me, in which she plays the delightfully haughty Lady Trentham.

DAY 6: THE GREATEST FILMS OF ALL TIME
11. SEVEN SAMURAI (Akira Kurosawa, Japan, 1954)
12. THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (Carl Th. Dreyer, France, 1928)

That's right, I've been saving the best for last - in my opinion the two greatest films ever made, Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai and Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc. When it comes to films like this, the less said, the better. These are films that must be experienced, and on the biggest screen possible. Seven Samurai is THE epic film, a thundering spectacle about a ragtag group of samurai raising to protect a village from marauding bandits that practically wrote the book on fusing action with intimate character development - using bits of American westerns and techniques pioneered by D.W. Griffith to create an action spectacle for all time.

As for The Passion of Joan of Arc, there isn't much to say that I haven't already said. This is quite simply the greatest film of all time, and the most emotionally overwhelming theatrical experience I have ever had. And it also features the all time greatest screen performance in the form of Maria Falconetti, whose face conveys more emotion than pages of dialogue ever could. Dreyer's camera is unforgiving in its incessant close-ups, which enhances the claustrophobia and heightened emotions - which are further enhanced by Richard Einhorn's stunning oratorio, Voices of Light, which was added to the film upon its rediscovery in 1981.

It is the supreme work of film art, yet to be surpassed nor is it ever likely to be equaled.

4 comments:

nick plowman said...

One festival pass, please.

J.D. said...

Me too, please. I don't even mind that it's overly Criterion! In fact, that's what turning me on to it! Seeing The Red Shoes on the big screen would be worth a Norbit/Meet Dave double feature in the bowels of hell while being whipped with a giant bloody Twizzler by Karl Rove ANY DAY.

Night 5 is also very damn awesome.

Matthew Lucas said...

Criterion is my life :-P

The Mad Hatter said...

I wouldn't miss this line-up of screenings for the world. Good choices all!