Unforgettable films: Part One

My Film and Cinema category has been somewhat neglected of late. When I started this blog, short reviews of films by genre or country were one of the regular features. I stopped doing these, as I felt that I had played it out, and had nothing left to offer. Instead, I began the occasional series ‘Just been watching…’, looking at individual films in a random fashion, as I happened to watch them on DVD, or catch them on TV.

I follow a fair few other film blogs on the Internet. These dedicated bloggers deal with films and cinema as a single issue, and devote more time to watching films than I do, using services like Netflix, or watching on Smart TVs with an Internet connection. They obviously watch many more modern films that I can, and keep up to date with the trends. Many of them are avid fans of the recent crop of blockbuster films, or super-hero franchises, something I admit to avoiding.

Then there are the ‘Top’ film sites, those that like to showcase their opinion on the top ten or top twenty films loved by themselves and their readers. They also branch out into subjects like ‘Top Ten Horror Films’, or ‘Top Ten Romantic Dramas.’ There is nothing wrong with this approach, and it can often lead to healthy debate, lots of comments, and a big blog following. Good luck to them. Then there are the rather ‘serious’ sites such as Curnblog.com, where I have been pleased to have had eighteen articles published. They deal with all sorts of film-related issues, from new releases, to reviews of documentaries, and film fairs.

On this blog, Film and Cinema is just one of many categories. yet I am often asked to write more on the subject, and frequently asked to offer ‘Top’ lists, as a comment on other sites. I have studiously avoided ever stating what I consider to be the ‘best’ films ever made, or to provide lists of my own, in any forum. This is because I would simply find it too difficult to do. I would need countless categories to even begin to attempt it. Best German film? Best War film? Best Gangster film? And so on.
However, I am willing to add some recommendations to this post, films that I personally consider to be ‘unforgettable.’ This does not mean that I consider them to be the best films ever made, or that I am asserting that they are better than others in the genre. Just that for me, they are unforgettable.

Many of these have been covered elsewhere on this blog, so apologies for duplication.

Some films stay with you, and get better every time you see them. You can recall scenes at will, remember the lighting, the curl of cigarette smoke, even the view from a window. In 1982, I watched Ridley Scott’s new film, ‘Blade Runner.’ I had never seen anything like it, and left the cinema feeling completely overwhelmed. Next year, it will be thirty-five years old. Yet it is as fresh today as it ever was, and I can watch it again and again; whether the original version, or one of the numerous director’s cuts released since. I can see Daryl Hannah spraying black paint on her face, or the fear sensed by J.F. Sebastian, when he meets Roy Batty. I will certainly never forget this modern masterpiece of film-making.

I have watched a lot of war films in my 64 years. I could write a blog about those alone, and might just do that, one day. I have seen bad ones, great ones, and average ones. Some with subtitles, some made in the silent era, and others made in the 21st century. One has stayed with me far more than all of the others. Impossible to get out of my head. Images that are disturbing, yet fascinating, almost hypnotic in their sheer wonder. Elem Klimov made ‘Come and See’ in 1985. I didn’t get to see it for a long time after that, when I found a copy on VHS, later swapped for a DVD. This amazing film tells the story of a teenage partisan, fighting with Soviet forces against the Germans, during WW2. But that is too simple an explanation. The horrors, the surreal images, the documentary feel, all wormed their way inside my consciousness in a way almost impossible to explain. Once seen, never forgotten.

Musical films have been a popular genre ever since the appearance of talking pictures, and ‘The Jazz Singer.’ I have many favourites, not least the wonderful collaborations of Rogers and Astaire, and the eye-popping choreography of Busby Berkeley. Old or new, musicals charm audiences, and divide opinion too. To be honest, there are far more that I don’t like, than those that I do. But one has endured, providing images and memories that I can recall, as well as being able to repeat the lyrics of the songs featured. In 1972, I went to see the film ‘Cabaret.’ This cinema version had all the enjoyment of the stage show, and was able to escape the theatrical boundaries to expand the story. Liza Minnelli was not the obvious choice for Sally Bowles, but took the role and made it her own. I can recall her powerful rendition of ‘Maybe This Time’, or see her in her cheeky outfits, strutting around the stage. Like all the best films, I never tire of seeing it, and even though I own the DVD, I watch it whenever it is on TV.

When I was first taken to the cinema as a child, we never missed a chance to see the big films of the day, generally referred to as ‘Epics.’ I loved them all, from ‘The Ten Commandments’, to ‘How The West Was Won.’ In later life, I had cause to reflect that many of these films were not very good. Wooden acting, dodgy special effects and unconvincing sets can all be seen now, with the benefit of experience. However, one remains in my memory. Every scene, every set-piece from the intimate scenes, to the huge battles. I can forgive it almost anything, as I have never forgotten it. One line from the film has passed down into everyday use, and featured in many spoofs too. I just have to type this line, and you will immediately know the film I refer to. “I’m Spartacus…”

CGI has transformed everything we used to understand about films. Love it or hate it, the possibilities are endless. No need for thousands of extras in a film like ‘Troy.’ Just paste them in on a computer later on. Why build expensive sets, when the actors can just perform against a screen, and you can paint in the surroundings later? Anything from Ancient Rome (‘Gladiator’), to the far reaches of an imagined galaxy. (‘Avatar’) The only limitation is imagination. In 1963, computers were the size of houses, and if film-makers wanted special effects, they had to be produced the hard way. Stop-motion filming, using tiny models, with actors having to imagine the foe that they were fighting, or fleeing from. But to my 11 year-old self, they were no less exciting. Fifty-three years later, I can still recall every effect conjured up by the marvellous Ray Harryhausen, for the film ‘Jason and the Argonauts.’ From sword-wielding skeletons, to the flapping harpies. Simply magical.

I could equally do this post just about foreign films. I have watched many in my time, and almost half the films in my DVD collection have subtitles. As soon as I was old enough to go to the cinema on my own, some of the first films I sought out were made in Russia, Japan, or France. There are just as many of these wonderful films that I have never forgotten, so it is hard to choose just one to feature here. For imagery alone, as well as as an almost insane performance from Klaus Kinski in the lead role, I have to mention Werner Herzog’s spellbinding 1972 film, ‘Aguirre, the Wrath Of God.’ This story of European conquistadors in 16th century South America never ceases to impress, and to remain in the memory. Thrilling location filming, near-impossible conditions and scenes including Aguirre being mocked by (real) monkeys, add up to a truly unforgettable cinema experience.

Some films are intended to make you feel sad. They are known as ‘tear-jerkers’ in the industry, deliberately playing to your sentimental side, or presenting a tragic situation designed to cause upset to the sensitive viewer. One example of this type of film might be ‘Love Story’, the 1970 film starring Ryan O’Neal. Better films are content to tell a story, to show it in an unflinching way, and let the viewer conclude that it is sadder than anything contrived to make them cry. Based on real events in Ireland, ‘The Magdalene Sisters’ is a 2002 film written and directed by Peter Mullan. It shows the harsh treatment and sexual abuse dealt out to poor young women who have been incarcerated in a Catholic laundry run by nuns, for the simple reason of having had sex, or becoming pregnant. Watching this film is like being put through an emotional wringer, as the marvellous cast pluck at your every heart-string. It is not only unforgettable, it relates events which were shameful in the extreme. This is not ancient history. It is not even Victorian history. The film is set in 1964.

We all like a good laugh now and again. Comedies were the most popular films in the silent era, and continue to attract huge audiences today. My own favourites include most of the hilarious Marx Brothers films, and nearly everything starring W.C. Fields. More modern chuckle-inducing fare would see my shoulders moving to ‘Animal House’, ‘The Blues Brothers’, and ‘Hot Fuzz.’ Then along came this film. A foul-mouthed talking bear, humans having sex with cuddly toys, and a buddy-buddy relationship steeped in hilarious set pieces and snappy exchanges of dialogue. Against everything I held dear, I had to admit that I loved it. I laughed a lot. Real laughs, not chuckles. I have watched it more than once, and still laugh every time. I even enjoyed the sequel, and that’s saying something. If you haven’t got it yet, it is ‘Ted.'(2012) Here’s a trailer.

Since the early days of cinema, film-makers have tried to scare the paying audience. Send them home with nightmares, and visions of monsters lurking in the shadows. The public have paid untold millions to be frightened out of their wits, and writers and directors have continued to pile on the gore, the scares, and the horrors. As time has passed, events and visions that would once have been considered to be unspeakable, or tasteless in the extreme, have simply become run-of-the-mill. My own opinion is that the scariest things are those unseen. The manifestation of the fears that we all have in our own heads, imagining uncomfortable situations from which there is no escape, or are beyond human comprehension.
In 1999, a low-budget horror film took America by storm. With a small cast, negligible special effects, and the new idea of ‘found-footage’, ‘The Blair Witch Project’ had hardened audiences running from cinemas, and even managed to frighten hackneyed old film critics. I decided to see it when it was released here. I still can’t forget it. This is how to make a scary film, with little money, but a lot of talent.

I hope that you enjoyed the first part of this look at unforgettable films. There will be at least a part two in due course, if not more.

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40 thoughts on “Unforgettable films: Part One

  1. I’m reading them in reverse order, Pete and loving them all.Some fabulous ones here too (I haven’t watched TED, now added to my list). Cabaret is fabulous (mind you, I do love musicals, but not all) and it makes you think that some people have been born to play a part…(although saying that, I saw an adaptation of the musical in Barcelona with a singer I wasn’t very convinced about before I saw here there and she was fabulous too. Now she’s become a beloved and recognised actress but it’s a great script, fabulous songs, and a very meaty part). Thanks, Pete!

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  2. The emotions, or the memories, or the visual impact, the individual reasons that make a film stick with different people, I always find that fascinating. It is also a sort of an experiment, reading a text like this, and trying to figure out what kind of person is the one making the selection! For example, I would have never imagined that you’d like Ted. Seth MacFarlane’s irreverent brand of humor is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I spent several seasons of watching (and thoroughly enjoying) American Dad (not Family Guy though). Looking forward to the second part!

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    1. Family Guy is my favourite comedy show on TV. (Not that I have many others, saving The League of Gentlemen.) Stewie is one of my favourite characters ever, and I mainly watch it for him, and the film references.
      These articles do give that sense of a ‘reveal’, I understand that Nandia.
      My past and present life, my age, opinions and habits are broadcast on this blog for anyone to see. Despite that, I am perhaps nothing at all like anyone imagines.
      Very best wishes, Pete.

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  3. Ah Blade Runner, my all time favourite movie, I have the 3 different versions! Still can’t make my mind up which I prefer. And Jason & The Argonauts wow, haven’t seen that since I can’t remember, the skeletons!! LOL. Brill posts these Unforgottons. 🙂

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  4. Pete, I have “Blade Runner,” “Spartacus,” “Aguirre, The Wrath of God,” and “Cabaret” on DVD. For some reason, I’ve never taken to “Cabaret.” I much prefer other musicals (“My Fair Lady,” “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Chicago,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Grease,” “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” and even Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”) I haven’t seen “Ted.” Some of my favorite comedies are “Adam’s Rib,” “The Seven Year Itch,” “The Out-of-Towners,” “Intolerable Cruelty,” and “Young Frankenstein.” I also haven’t seen “The Blair Witch Project.” I do have a decent collection of horror films (including a few by director Dario Argento), some of which I classify as creature features (e.g., “The Fly”), supernatural (“e.g., “Drag Me to Hell;” “The Exorcist”), or gothic (e.g., “Innocent Blood”). I saw “Jason and the Argonauts” (and “One Million Years B.C.) as a child. Good stuff! I like this type of post, Pete. I remain very interested in “Come and See.”

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    1. Thanks, David. There are more to come in this series, to satisfy my ‘why don’t you write more about films?’ readers. ‘Ted’ is very much an acquired taste, as is it rather childish. (But fun…)
      ‘Come and See’ might well be one of the best films ever made. At least in my humble opinion.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  5. Great piece, Pete. There’s nothing like watching a good film for escapism (at home). Jason and the Argonauts brought back great happy memories and Spartacus was brilliant. I think the Vikings is great too despite a few suspect NY accents in Saxon Northumbria!

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  6. The slow build of tension on “Blair Witch” ends with that devastating final shot – and my wife and I always paraphrase “Blade Runner” when we go out to dinner: “wake up, time to dine…”

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