Written by: David Brook
UPDATED – See bottom of the page
We film bloggers and movie buffs can often (or at least would like to) come across as all knowledgable fountains of cinematic knowledge who seem to have seen every film under the sun and have an opinion on all of them. However, this can never be the case. It’s physically impossible to watch every film ever made as our life span simply can’t keep up with the vast history of films in existence and the constant stream of new releases. Our only reconciliation with this fact is in our quest to watch all of the ‘important’ films at least. This is still extremely difficult if not impossible though. There are thousands of great films out there (plus who defines ‘great’?) and even the hardest of cineast have their ‘gaps’.
This is a problem that troubles my obsessive mind constantly. I’ve got a long list on my computer called the ‘hall of shame’ where I keep adding ‘must see’ films whenever I’m reminded of a supposed classic I’ve yet to see. I was toying with the idea of having a month where I make myself watch one a day in an epic marathon, but I worried that this would dilute my pleasure of watching them, plus I’d struggle to find the time.
But then I stumbled across a post over at Eternal Sunshine of the Logical Mind from my Row Three cohort Bob Turnbull. He had teamed up with Ryan McNeil from The Matinee and James McNally over at Toronto Screen Shots to come up with the idea for the Blind Spot Series 2012 and it was just what I was after.
Basically the idea of the Blind Spot Series is to list 12 films that you feel you really should have seen and then over the course of a year you have to watch them all and update your readers on your progress. A bunch of bloggers are joining in the fun, so I threw my hat in too. A film a month sounded much more doable, the only problem was choosing my 12. My ‘hall of shame’ is currently 81 films long and growing. However I made life easier on myself by only picking films I already own or know can be legally watched for free online. That way I had no excuse not to watch any of the films, plus it meant I could hack away at my pile of 500+ DVD’s that I’ve bought but not watched yet (I might need some more marathons to get through those!).
Anyway, enough jabbering, I’m sure you get the idea. Here’s my list:
1. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
2. Bicycle Thieves
3. Black Narcissus
4. Breathless (A Bout de Souffle) (1960)
5. City Lights
6. Distant Voices, Still Lives
7. Jules et Jim
8. Nosferatu (1922)
10. Rio Bravo
11. Seven Samurai
12. Short Cuts
No sniggering at the back at some of the classics I’ve missed please – I’m sure you’ve all got some embarrassing omissions too. God knows how a samurai movie fan like me hasn’t seen Seven Samurai though.
I’ve tried to make the list nice and varied. I’m not going to necessarily watch the films in that order by the way, I just thought I’d number them to make it neater.
So keep your eyes out on the site for updates on my mission. I’ll try and do short write-ups or at least haiku reviews of each film and update this post.
If anyone else wants to join in the fun, feel free.
Distant Voices, Still Lives – My first Terence Davies film. I thought it was beautifully made and highly cinematic, especially for what could have just been another bland kitchen-sink drama. The only thing that put me off though was all the incessant singing – I liked the use of the songs at first, but they were non-stop and by the end they were getting on my nerves. That said, the film is gorgeous and I would certainly recommended it, it’s just a little repetitive in it’s use of music.
Black Narcissus – It’s a horribly overused cliche, but they don’t make them like this anymore. I don’t just mean that in a nostalgic sense though, I feel films have changed for the better in terms of performances and now attain a greater naturalism overall, but this is the old-style at it’s best. Yes it’s melodramatic and those of a politically correct nature may find issue in places, but it’s so beautifully crafted and passionately displayed that it’s a joy to watch. Powell and Pressburger truly are among Britain’s greatest cinematic treasures.
Breathless (A Bout de Souffle) (1960)
I had an odd reaction with this one. It has an incredible youthful vibrance to it, yet I found it very slow. I think the lack of narrative and clear depth made it feel meandering even though on a scene by scene basis it had a lot of energy. It’s clearly a great film – it just dragged a bit for me, mainly in the first half.
I was a little disappointed with this. I think I was expecting more extreme expressionistic imagery or maybe it was the bad transfer and dodgy score that the version I saw had, but it didn’t have the impact I was expecting after all the hype. The film is still very good, don’t get me wrong. Some of the imagery is fantastic and I liked all the intercutting it did between characters which kept it moving at a fair pace, but it felt more dated than some of the other silent classics I’ve seen recently.
This could possibly be my favourite Chaplin film so far. The narrative is totally random, but it works so well scene by scene and the core romance is handled brilliantly enough to make it work. Simple, beautiful, touching and of course still very funny. I loved every second of it.
I’ve been late to the game with Ingmar Bergman in general (scared off by how bleak his films looked) and of the three of his films I’ve seen I’ve been mightily impressed each time so I really need to keep delving through his back catalogue. This is probably my least favourite it must be said, but I still thought it was great. Being rather experimental and impenetrable at times, I probably didn’t pick the right night to watch it (I was extremely tired) and a re-watch will likely raise my opinion on the film. It’s a fascinating watch, with some stunning visuals and at the time quite radical techniques to create a disturbing study of the nature of performance (amongst other things).
Alongside City Lights this was probably my favourite film of the blind spot series. It’s bleak, raw and simple but oh so beautiful.
Ryan McNeil brings together his and everyone else’s entries over at The Matinee every month. Check it out here: http://www.thematinee.ca/features/features/blind-spot-series/