Thursday, May 28, 2009

Anytime Movies Reloaded: Wrap-Up

It's Spring-Break for me. Times are busy. The Summer Movie Season is already begun (and I'll be writing about the new ones) and the Film Festivals are grinding away like creaky mills separating wheat from chaff. It's as good a time as any to re-boot a feature I started years ago, when it was suggested I do a "Top Ten" List.

I don't like those: they're rather arbitrary; they pit films against each other, and there's always one or two that should be on the list that aren't because something better shoved it down the trash-bin.

So, I came up with this: "Anytime" Movies.

Anytime Movies are the movies I can watch anytime, anywhere. If I see a second of it, I can identify it. If it shows up on television, my attention is focused on it until the conclusion. Sometimes it’s the direction, sometimes it’s the writing, sometimes it’s the acting, sometimes it’s just the idea behind it, but these are the movies I can watch again and again (and again!) and never tire of them. There are ten (kinda). They're not in any particular order, but the #1 movie IS the #1 movie.

Making a list of this sort always has a way of bringing up more issues than it solves.

It's amazing what movies aren’t on the list. It’s amazing to me, and I made the list! “
Dr. Strangelove” isn’t here because “2001” is. A lot of defacto “classics” aren’t here. Where’s “Casablanca?” (Love it!) Where’s “Star Wars?” (Love that!) Where’s “The Godfather?” (Love…and respect...that!)

THX-1138” was a big influence. Not here. Where’s “Gone with the Wind?” (Easy. I hate “Gone with the Wind,” though I’ve seen it five times) There’s no Hitchcock (That’s interesting). No Spielberg (ditto). "The Wizard of Oz?" (Not here...not in Kansas, either!) No superhero movies (Not so surprising, really). No foreign films. Hmmm. “Seven Samurai” and “Yojimbo” (natch!) and “Nights of Cabiria” would have made the list, but my history with them is short, and I didn’t feel I could write about them well, so, no…unless you count “Once Upon a Time in the West” and it’s so influenced by American westerns, I don’t really consider it a foreign film.

I think “
The Wild Bunch” and “Silverado” are perfect screenplays. Not here. There’s a lot of John Ford films I love, and Howard Hawks. They get a delegate apiece. “It’s a Wonderful Life”—but not as wonderful as “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” And then there are the missing persons: Where’s Bogart? Cagney? “Patton,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Willy Wonka.” Hey, no musicals, though I think “Singin’ in the Rain” is a classic film. And “Goldfinger?” Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s a peccadillo, but it's also my list. Go make your own.

There were some interesting coincidences, Two films set in Monument Valley. Two with
Jean Arthur (and Thomas Mitchell). Three (four, actually) about “lost causes.” All different genres. Different decades.

The other thing is I called them “Anytime Movies”—not the typical “desert island discs,” (or, more appropriately for what they are, "OCD Movies"). Also, I think I’d want a desert island movie like a Time/Warner handyman film on “How to Build a Boat” or “25 Interesting Recipes You can Make Using Sand,” or that “Gilligan’s Island” episode where
the Professor makes a radio out of a cocoanut.

And none of these movies contain my favorite moment(s) in film. That one is pretty obscure.

It’s the last fourteen minutes or so of
Francois Truffaut’s Farenheit 451.” The combination of Ray Bradbury’s ideas (a literal translation of RB is usually problematic), Truffaut’s screenplay and direction and Bernard Herrmann’s yearning music make the most sublime moments of film I’ve ever loved. It’s the “Book People” sequence, where Montag, the Fireman who has rebelled against the repressive textless society and escaped never again to burn books (well, except for one) makes his way out of the city to a fragile wooded area (by a lake) and finds a village of people who have committed to memory one beloved book. As fall turns to winter, these people walk and recite their treasures. One little vignette has a little boy being taught a book by a man, dying, and in a fade, it is the boy who recites by himself, and there is a moment…a moment…when he can’t remember. If that kid loses the book…it’s gone. That moment has always chilled me right down to the bone far more than any horror movie could, because it shows the fragility of an idea…as fragile as a life. Maybe it’s the sense that those books will go on, life after life. Maybe its because these people have taken on one sacred thing to devote their life to, like monks of literature. Maybe because it’s an island of sanity in a world of madness. Maybe because it’s the perfect melding of picture and sound. But the cumulative effect makes me want to check in with the sequence every couple of months. To make it easy for me, here it is:

Now, once again, for the last time, here are my “Anytime Movies.”

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