Wednesday, January 15, 2014

That Darn List

One day in 2010, I sat down and watched A Personal Journey With Martin Scorcese Through American Movies, a 1995 special. As Scorcese listed off films from the 40s to 60s which fascinated him, I was amazed at how many were pictures I was unfamiliar with and just how arresting most of the featured film clips were. It was from this special I learned of Kevin Brownlow's Hollywood, which subsequently increased my interest in silent films. After both specials, I had quite a checklist of films I wanted to see.

Therefore, I decided to truly delve into cinema. I added to this wish list movies I had wanted to see since I was a teenager; I included the films of directors/stars I was particularly fascinated by; I included personal recommendations from friends. Still, it wasn't enough. I looked up recommendation lists by genre on IMDB & Wikipedia, taking particular note of genres I didn't normally watch. I consulted various other websites, such as Cockeyed Caravan. By the end, the films I wanted to see numbered well into the hundreds.

To watch those films, I resorted to borrowing from friends, libraries, performing online rentals, checking Youtube, Netflix, Google Video and and buying up quite a lot of films from Amazon & Alibris. Last night, I watched the last film from the original list.

Now, I originally assumed the last picture I would watch would be Peter Lorre's Der Verlorene (1951) because it's obscure, expensive and hard to acquire with subtitles. However, I had my own copy of Der Verlorene by 2011, thanks to a rare film dealer. Instead, the hard-fought battle was for a copy of King Vidor's the Crowd (1928). Surprisingly, it is not in the public domain. More surprisingly, the rights holder has never released it on DVD, even though (at the very least) a transfer from VHS would be possible. Perhaps they're just waiting for the resources to attempt a decent restoration of the film? The Big Parade (1925) received a restored DVD/Blu-Ray release last year and was part of the same VHS set the Crowd belonged to. In the end, I tracked down a reasonably-priced copy of the VHS edition of the Crowd.

Glancing over everything I watched, I would rank these films at the top; many of them will be very familiar to film fans, but at least it meant something to scratch them off my list:

About a Boy (2002)
The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)
Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
Being There (1979)
Cape Fear (1962)
Captains Courageous (1937)
Crime and Punishment (1935)
The Crowd (1928)
The Defiant Ones (1958)
Les Diaboliques (1955)
The Fallen Idol (1948)
A Few Good Men (1992)
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Gandhi (1982)
Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)
The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
Grizzly Man (2005)
Gun Crazy (1950)
High Noon (1952)
Hoop Dreams (1995)
The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932)
Ikiru (1952)
Journey Into Fear (1943)
Kagemusha (1980)
The Killing Fields (1984)
The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)
The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944)
Mr. Death: the Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. (1999)
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
Of Mice and Men (1939)
One That Got Away (1957)
One, Two, Three (1961)
One Week (1920)
Our Man in Havana (1959)
The Ox-Bow Incident (1943)
Ran (1985)
The Right Stuff (1983)
Robin and Marian (1976)
Sanjuro (1962)
Scarface (1932)
Sleuth (1972)
The Spiral Staircase (1946)
Stage Door (1937)
Stand by Me (1986)
The Thin Blue Line (1988)
Three Comrades (1938)
Time After Time (1979)
To Be or Not to Be (1942)
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Unforgiven (1992)
Up (2009)
The Verdict (1982)
Der Verlorene (1951)
Wait Until Dark (1967)
Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
Yojimbo (1961)

These films, however... these I kind of regret watching:

Cat Women of the Moon (1953)
Men Are Such Fools (1938)
Midnight (1934)
Platinum Blonde (1931)
The Sign of the Cross (1932)
Solaris (2002)
Swing Your Lady (1938)
The Vanishing (1993)

Boy, Plantium Blonde... so far, the only Frank Capra picture I've disliked.

Exploring film genres I didn't normally watch yielded a few nice surprises; I was indifferent to the western genre before and made a concerted effort to give the genre a chance... it didn't really pan out, but I found at least a fistful of films I'm willing to say I enjoyed. While musicals were a part of my upbringing (being a music teacher's son), I'd had exposure to the genre, but felt I'd seen enough; Scorcese helped convince me to try out Busby Berkeley's films, which turned out to be immensely entertaining and replete with surprising visuals.

However, my greatest take-away from this experiment was the documentary film genre. I wouldn't have watched the Thin Blue Line if it hadn't appeared on various lists of "greatest documentaries" and... wow. I wound up watching all of Errol Morris' documentaries during the last 5 years (and read his book) and he's easily become my favourite living filmmaker. In turn, it's opened up my eyes to how interesting documentaries can be; rather than being simply educational (or polemical), they can reveal interesting stories and (in Morris' case) expose just how puzzling and random people are.

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