My journey through Roger Ebert’s The Great Movies has led me to some interesting films that I might not otherwise have seen; Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy is a master work of Indian cinema, but I wouldn’t have gotten to it without help. Likewise with Broken Blossoms. Invariably these movies have been interesting for what they represent, even if I didn’t necessarily connect with them as much as Roger did. My tour guide through film shakes things up a bit now, however, recommending The Decalogue, a 1989 Polish television mini-series from director Krzysztof Kieślowki. Each of the ten episodes – co-written by Kieślowski and now-member-of-Polish-parliament Krzysztof Piesiewicz – features a different cast of characters in and around a large apartment building enacting one of the Ten Commandments – Roman Catholic-style. This type of cinematic television was not uncommon in Europe in the 70’s and 80’s, and its influence is now crossing the Atlantic with the new wave of prestige anthology series like True Detective and Fargo.
the great movies
318 – Days of Heaven (1978)
Roger Ebert’s The Great Movies has brought us to an interesting place: the early days of Terrence Malick’s directorial career. Malick has since become a very sensory filmmaker, for whom style has become more important than any story element could ever hope to be. Tree of Life and The New World are beautiful films, but that beauty isn’t supporting much of a narrative. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as I find The New World to be quite effective, but it is interesting to juxtapose the movies Malick makes now with his second film – Days of Heaven.
306 – City Lights (1931)
My journey through Roger Ebert’s compilation of The Great Movies has exposed me to a lot of films I might not have otherwise seen, but we haven’t hit a silent comedy yet. We’ve seen silents (Battleship Potemkin, Broken Blossoms) and comedies (All About Eve, The Apartment), but the two have yet to meet. That’s kind of funny if you think about it, because I’m sure when most people think of silent film these days they think of the comedies. And rightly so. I’m not a total rookie when it comes to this genre, but I’ve never seen City Lights. Of the three big stars of the era – Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd – Chaplin is my least favorite. But it’s like picking a least favorite child: almost impossible (though my parents never had that difficulty). And for good reason; City Lights is a great showcase for the filmmaker.
264 – Citizen Kane (1941)
My Great Movies momentum has slowed immensely in the last few months. Roger Ebert’s list is (sadly) not getting any longer, but other commitments keep me from diving in as whole-heartedly as I would like. Nothing could keep me away forever, not even as daunting a task as watching Citizen Kane for the first time.
247 – Chinatown (1974)
Directed by Roman Polanski from a script by Robert Towne, Chinatown is yet another beloved film that I am ashamed to admit I had not seen until now. Luckily Roger Ebert’s The Great Movies gives me the perfect opportunity to correct these injustices. Chinatown’s reputation precedes it – the famous final line is forever etched in the cultural zeitgeist, and the controversial twist is still a disturbing shocker for those who have managed to remain unspoiled. But apart from being an excellent example of neo-noir, Chinatown is also a fascinating relic of two bygone eras.
203 – Casablanca (1942)
There are two types of people in the world: those who have seen Casablanca, and those who claim that they have. Well, I am proud to say that thanks to Roger Ebert’s The Great Movies, I have moves from the latter category into the former. Casablanca – much like Gone with the Wind (which I’ve definitely “seen”) – is one of those time-tested classics that is maybe too famous for its own good. The 1942 film from director Michael Curtiz has been referenced and parodied so many times that you almost begin to wonder “what’s the point?”
187 – Broken Blossoms (1919)
Oh boy. This one is gonna be rough. The next entry in Roger Ebert’s The Great Movies is D.W. Griffith’s Broken Blossoms. Aside from being one of the pioneers of the feature film format, Griffith is probably best known for The Birth of a Nation, a movie heavily derided for its racist depiction of African Americans and its glorification of the Ku Klux Klan. Griffith learned his lesson after that one, making films like Intolerance and Broken Blossoms, which attempt to show a more accepting view of other ethnicities.
182 – The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
After an extended break I am back to my classic film education via Roger Ebert’s The Great Movies. Tonight’s entry is The Bride of Frankenstein, director James Whale’s sequel to his 1931 film, Frankenstein, based on the novel by Mary Shelley. This is an interesting case, as Ebert has not declared the earlier film “great,” but because I am a responsible writer (and because both are relatively short) I watched both movies for this review.
157 – Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
My journey through The Great Movies – curated by the late Roger Ebert – brings me next to Bonnie and Clyde, the 1967 film directed by Arthur Penn and written by David Newman and Robert Benton. The film follows the infamous criminal couple from their first meeting in 1931, to the inevitable conclusion of their crime spree. At the time it was an exercise not only in pushing the boundaries of appropriate content in film, but also the boundaries of the form.
153 – Body Heat (1981)
After one of the earliest examples of film noir, the next entry in Roger Ebert’s The Great Movies – Lawrence Kasdan’s Body Heat – is a great instance of neo-noir, the pseudo-genre that has grown out of those movies like The Big Sleep from the 40s and 50s.