The weekend is here, and I am up to the letter ‘F’. Thanks again to everyone for your suggestions and additions, and to those of you who are reading, but not commenting.
On this occasion, my daily choice was not cast in stone, so I was able to approach ‘F’ with an open mind. I had forgotten just how many good films started with this letter, so was once again surprised to be presented with such an array of choices. I had over 25 films on the ‘potentials’ list, and the eventual selection was difficult, as was my own final choice. I am expecting some great suggestions, so don’t let me down!
I will start with an overlooked British classic, and the wonderful Ralph Richardson, in Carol Reed’s neglected adaptation of a Grahame Greene story, ‘The Fallen Idol’ (1948). This amazingly ‘small’ film deals with the attraction of a young boy, the son of a diplomat, to an older man in 1940s London. As a neglected child, young Philippe (Bobby Henry) latches on to the family butler, Baines. (A flawless Richardson) This tale of lies, intrigue, adultery, and possible murder, seen through the eyes of a disillusioned child, is British film-making at its best. And the quality never ages.
Going back in time, we have the sublime ‘The Front Page’ (1931). This manic comedy gives us an insight into the sensationalist journalism of the 1930’s, and given the present state of the Press, it never ages. And it has Edward Everett Horton in it too. Enough said.
Moving on to a World Cinema classic. Herzog’s difficult project, ‘Fitzcarraldo’ (1982) is another film that almost defies description. Klaus Kinski stars, as the man determined to get his riverboat up the River Amazon, and bring opera to the natives. If I tell you that Herzog tried to actually kill Kinski during this production, you might get some idea of the intensity that pervades this very different film.
The modern era, and a film that is unsettling as it is beautifully made, Michael Haneke’s Austrian thriller, ‘Funny Games’ (1997) took serial killer films to a different level. This tale of two upper class bored young men, who turn to pointless killing, and terrorising an innocent family just for kicks, took film-watching to a whole new level. Disturbing, compelling, and fascinating in the extreme. Despite a later American remake, this German language film remains firmly planted in my mind. And not in a good way.
In a similar vein, I had to consider the long-banned ‘Freaks’ (1932). Todd Browning’s film used real disabled actors to portray circus sideshow freaks, at a time when even this was considered to be unacceptable. As a result, it was banned by the censors for decades. But I would argue that this uncomfortable film has its merits, as the group of despised ‘Freaks’ take their revenge on the able-bodied members of the circus who betray them.
On to a mainstream gangster drama that has a real place in my heart. Robert Mitchum called upon all of his talents in one of his later films, to portray the hapless criminal in ‘The Friends of Eddie Coyle’. (1973) This cracking crime thriller from Peter Yates also stars Richard Jordan, Peter Boyle, and Alex Rocco, in a tale of a police informer, illegal arms dealers, and the criminal fraternity in Boston at the time. Films dealing with these themes never get better than this, and it almost took my top spot.
A war film next, and a Vietnam War classic. Filmed in part (surprisingly) in East London, in a disused gasworks, ‘Full Metal Jacket’ (1987) is something of a masterpiece, directed by one of the greats, Stanley Kubrick. This is a film of two halves, as the new recruits are terrorised by their drill sergeant during training, (a simply wonderful performance from R. Lee Ermy) before being thrown into the fighting for the city of Hue. (Amazingly rendered by the use of those deserted London Docklands) Convincing, with an authentic feel, this stands out as one of a crop of Vietnam War films that included ‘Platoon’, and ‘Hamburger Hill’. Telling performances are delivered by Matthew Modine, Vincent D’Onofrino, and Adam Baldwin too.
On to my final choice for ‘F’, and my top pick for today. Before writing this post, I had not even considered this film. But it is one that keeps returning to my mind, for reasons I don’t really understand. Never shown on TV here, as far as I know, but available on DVD, ‘Farewell My Concubine’ (1993) is a Chinese film that took my breath away when I saw it at the cinema. I bought the VHS tape, and watched it again, becoming increasingly infatuated by the complex tale, and the wonderful visual and aural experience it provided. It is the only Chinese film to ever win the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and it got the Golden Globe too. And I for one know why. It is a feast for the senses, and a marvellous story too. An intricate historical drama, directed by the brilliant Chen Kaige, and starring some of the best Chinese actors to ever walk on to a film set. You may never have heard of it, but I urge you to seek it out. It is amazing, and Li Gong is in it too.
Here’s a trailer.