Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Ten Great Films of the Sixties Part 2


            Hello Blog, it's been awhile. One problem with being a student is time management.  This last semester was much harder than I expected, and as the split of this top ten list shows, it became clear that my project has become too bloated to maintain..  So for the sake of my grades made the decision to go on hiatus.  Now the semester has ended and thus I found time to finish this segment. That being said, it will be best if I do less lists and try do smaller precise reviews. Anyway back to the Sixties.

5. Lawrence of Arabia
            Based on a true story, Lawrence of Arabia is about the British Army officer T.E Lawrence, and how he unites many Arabic tribes in order to liberate the country during World War I.  The story is a traditional war epic, but the plot is about a man’s internal struggle for an identity. While he is loyal to the British Army, Lawrence has a greater bond with his Arabic comrades than any of his commanders; and this is where the true conflict lies within this epic.  Peter O’Toole plays the titular Lawrence of Arabia, David Lean gloriously directs the picture, and it is about 217 minutes long…
            In theory, an epic like Lawrence of Arabia should be easy to praise, but it is such an imposing film.  The fact that the film is long enough to require an intermission is enough to scare the hell out of anyone, including other film geeks.  That being said, Lawrence of Arabia is too magnificent to ignore. The spectacle alone is enough of a reason to watch Lawrence of Arabia.  Only a director as bombastic as David Lean could make the Sahara Desert look this beautiful.  The musical score by Maurice Jarre is unforgettable, filled with gentle, sweeping, exotic string chords. It is amazing that the entire spectacle does not swallow up the performers.  But the most important thing to know about Lawrence of Arabia is that the plot is powerful enough to justify the four-hour running time.
(Lawrence of Arabia is available on DVD, Blu-ray and Amazon Instant Video)

4. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
            If I wrote this list a couple years earlier, I could have wrote “Clint Eastwood” and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly would have sold like hot opium cake, but then Mr. Eastwood had to talk to that darn chair.  So lets talk about genre, again. To understand the importance about The Good the Bad and the Ugly requires a little understanding of “spaghetti westerns”. During the sixties, the Italian director Sergio Leone started a trend of making schlocky action westerns as an alternative to Hollywood westerns. Unlike Hollywood, spaghetti westerns were ultra-violent, stylish, and more importantly, starred some of the most badass badasses in cinema.
            The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is easily the most ambitious western of all time. The plot is an exercise in minimalism; there is a good guy (Clint Eastwood), a bad guy (Lee Van Cleef), and a … comedic neutral (Eli Wallach), all of which are searching for one big bag of Confederate Gold.  But as the hack writer once said “it’s about the journey, not the destination” and this journey is a sprawling epic.  We witness these three mad men shoot their way through prison camps, battlefields and other insane excuses to shoot through stuff.  Actually the violence of the Civil War provides an interesting catalyst as to how such outlaws come to exist in the West. With no stable government, one must survive through their instinct, wit, and many bullets.  This is not the romanticized west that people saw in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Rio Bravo, and Destry Rides Again and thank God for that.
(The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is available on DVD, Blu-ray and Amazon Instant Video)

3. Psycho
            Psycho is an iconic of a film, but often the shower scene is the only point of discussion, which is a shame because there are so many other things this film gets right. For example, the musical score by Bernard Hermann is so intense that it is practically weaponized.  Just reading the title can trigger the sound of his shrieking violins in the audience heads.  Both Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh give the performance of their lives (as the childish Norman Bates and tragic Marion Crane respectively) though they sadly earned little to no acclaim for their work at the time. But the greatest aspect of Psycho is how Hitchcock meddles with audience expectations with his camera compositions.
            This theme of voyeurism is apparent in Psycho from the very first shot. The film begins with the camera moving towards an open window, and then reveals the two main protagonists lying in bed.  This shot implies that Hitchcock is fully aware of the audience’s perverse expectations, which he lovingly manipulates to hell and back. Hitchcock at this point knew what his audience expects from a Hitchcock movie and he knew that thrills must be unpredictable.  This is why the first act plays like one of Hitchcock’s man on the run pictures (think North by Northwest and The 39 Steps) only for the main character to get killed in the shower.  Psycho is an exercise of teasing and defying audience expectations in order to make a truly distilled horror experience and that is why it is so brilliant.
(Psycho is available on DVD and Amazon Instant Video but it appears that the Blu-ray may be out of print)

2. Bonnie and Clyde
            The tagline for Bonnie and Clyde summarizes the story pretty well “They’re young… They’re in love… and they kill people.” While this was enough to get the kids into the drive-ins, it does not really describe the impact it had on cinema. In short, Bonnie and Clyde is the catalyst for the New Hollywood Era, and possibly the first modern American film (whatever that means).  So how did this happen and what does it mean? Well if D.W. Griffith, Sergei Eisenstein and the German Expressionists discovered the rules of filmmaking; and the French New Wave filmmakers as well as rebels like Luis Buñuel were stretching and breaking those rules in order to the possibilities of filmmaking, then the creators of Bonnie and Clyde were some of the first to use all of these conventions to create a something unique and precise.
             Bonnie and Clyde is also famous for its portrayal of violence, in that it was very frank and constant.  The special effects team is famous for their liberal use of squibs, tiny explosives used to imitate bullet impacts, which makes for some very realistic wounds and gore. The film looked at violence for what it was, horrific and gross, but never condemned the characters for their actions.  The film portrayed the titular characters as funny, confused and angry, like the kids at the drive-ins.
(Bonnie and Clyde is available on DVD, Blu-ray and Amazon Instant Video)

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey
            During my writers block I was playing Mass Effect 3 with a friend and of course we were talking about bad endings.  Eventually he said “the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey was bad.” I said “Really? I thought it was brilliant.” And he replied “Whatever, I also like wearing fishnets.” I'm paraphrasing but the point is that you are on my side.
            So the thing with 2001: A Space Odyssey is that many talk about how innovative it was for Hollywood filmmaking without explaining that this film is a capital A Art film. The film is slow, quiet, and it begins with a prologue about apes learning to use tools, Star Wars this is not.  It was made in 1968 when everyone, especially artists, was as high as Lucy.  Beyond French New Wave cinema and proto New Hollywood there were these extreme and psychedelic films that meant to play as a philosophical or psychological riddle. This is how films like Daisies and Belle De Jour came into existence in the first place. One of the reasons why 2001: A Space Odyssey became so (in)famous is that it was one of the first to be made by a big Hollywood studio (MGM).  Imagine if Disney produced and distributed the Tree of Life as a blockbuster.
            2001: A Space Odyssey is in many parts a light show, a puzzle and a poetry slam, a film to be experienced, and reflected upon. Never mind the story of the film, it does not make sense; it will never make sense, and try instead to focus on finding themes in the plot.  Many people often come from this movie with their own idea about what it means; and converse (argue) with each other about these theories, such pretension is part of the fun. Then there is the fact that the film looks absolutely gorgeous with nearly ageless special effects and Stanley Kubrick unparalleled camera compositions.
            Kubrick is good at making people feeling uneasy with his camerawork.  Images like the ambiguous Monolith and all seeing red eye of Hal 9000 are representative of his style.  Like the ocean in Jaws, Kubrick showed space as territory so unknown that it is terrifying to comprehend.  Yet space and space travel is portrayed as a sandbox for pioneers a land of opportunity.  Kubrick relishes on the details of space travel like commercial flight, Velcro shoes, super computers, and computer tablets.  He shows humanity as so daring that we continuously break through boundaries for the sake of knowledge. In a way it makes perfect sense why 2001: a Space Odyssey was made in the 60s. The decade was defined by raw ambition. What better way to make tribute to such ambition than this film?
 (2001: A Space Odyssey is... available on DVD, Blu-ray and Amazon Instant Video)

Well that's that. Do you agree? Disagree? What are some films from the Sixties that you love?
Click here for Part 1


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