Top Ten Movies: 1966

Blow Up 2

Ah, such were the days when college freshman ransacked art house theaters, lurking in cramped little rooms full of budding green-horned intellectuals searching for discussion springboards in critical studies courses. And what a time! Up on screen they encountered pinnacles of sorts, movies tearing apart at the screen in radicalizations. It’s not an exaggeration then to read down at this list and note that any of these titles on any other given year could have easily ranked at the very top. But alas, the days of Persona and Au Hasard Balthazar are misty-eyed over. Not that there aren’t bona fide masterpieces – whatever that means – today. It’s just not the same scene, man. Far too many wonderful outlets prohibit a singular, dogmatic mentality to rule supreme. No Godardian deity to enshrine en masse or Sarris/Kael arena to pit oneself against as fervent cineastes nervously flip through the pages of Cahiers du Cinéma in defense of Louise Brooks and Allan Dwan. Hell, I wasn’t even born yet and I miss it. But we do still have the movies. And at the top are two of the best damn pieces of celluloid we’ll always have around. Masculin-Féminin captures said youth thriving in said habitat, all raised fingers in opinions, chugging down coffee, and chain smoking-cigarettes en route to bed for both sex, and, most importantly, more bon mots. The movie’s ethnographic (yeah), iconoclastic, and fun. Perhaps Godard’s most disarming, not that it isn’t dark (just picture a Disney star today casually discussing abortion). But then there’s Blowup, which takes it one step ahead by stripping away post-adolescent energy and leaving the remains, nihilism, knowing damn well that that’s where the generation was headed to anyway. Pretty hard to top that, don’t you think? And so at number one Antonioni stands in a hellishly impressive year.

1. Blowup (Michelangelo Antonioni)
2. Masculin Féminin (Jean-Luc Godard)
3. Persona (Ingmar Bergman)
4. Andrei Rublev (Andrei Tarkovsky)
5. Au Hasard Balthazar (Robert Bresson)
6. Chimes at Midnight (Orson Welles)
7. Seconds (John Frankenheimer) and The Face of Another (Hiroshi Teshigahara)
8. The Birds, the Bees and the Italians (Pietro Germi)
9. Cul-de-sac (Roman Polanski)
10. The Taking of Power by Louis XIV (Roberto Rossellini) and Nayak (Satyajit Ray)

A sucker for buxom 60’s blonde expatriates dabbling in glitz town, – and who isn’t!? – The Birds, the Bees, and the Italians was a wonderful discovery for me in the Virna Lisi cannon, and, quite possibly, the very best of the commedia all’italiana genre. It speeds way through three story lines on crack, with each premise topping the one that preceded it until it reaches a mother of a politically incorrect conclusion. Seconds is the All That Heaven Allows with Rock Hudson playing the Jane Wyman role, while Hiroshi Teshigahara’s The Face of Another shares an eerily similar premise to the Frankenheimer drama, which nevertheless is executed just as, get this, surgically. Cul-de-sac has always given me the impression of being Polanski in “pure” form and The Taking of Power by Louis XIV is remarkable in its nonchalant take on a period piece. Seriously, it’s so relaxed that it feels like you’re watching a cinéma vérité reel that just so happened to be filmed in the 17th century.

Those that missed the top include The Battle of Algiers, which on many days is better than most of the stuff I’ve got up here. Seriously, I’m beginning to regret its omission. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, whose reputation I’ll let speak for itself. And Black Girl, Ousmane Sembéne’s claim to international recognition and an incisively frigid piece that’s less than an hour long. Oh! And Monte Hellman’s The Shooting for several reasons, one being Jack Nicholson’s Byronic-like wardrobe and Will Hutchins, ah Will Hutchins. But the list keeps rolling off. There’s John Ford’s oddity Seven Women, somber and strange, really strange. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, an actor’s workshop dandy. Closely Watched Trains and Daisies, Czechoslovakia’s outlets. Wings, Larisa Shepitko’s outstanding debut. Who Are You, Polly Magoo?, a stamp of the time, along with Modesty Blaise, Alfie, and Georgy Girl. Roger Corman’s surprisingly perceptive The Wild Angels. Shohei Imamura’s The Pornographers. Alfred Hitchcock creating a tense scene on how hard it is to truly murder someone in Torn Curtain. And Seijun Suzuki with two wild tales of – surprise, surprise – youth in Fighting Elegy, and, my personal favorite of his, Tokyo Drifter. Lastly, I’d like to make a comment about Robert Downey Sr.’s Chafed Elbows. The comment being that if you like midnight movies here’s one hell of a way to sleaze still-photo storytelling. I wonder what Ken Burns would do with that.

I’ll be on hiatus for a couple of months but will return with 2010. In the meantime, enjoy some Chantal Goya and the wonderful Yé-Yé music I so passionately adore.

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The Underrated: The Go-Between (1970)

I’m a product of Generation Y, otherwise notoriously referred to as a “Millennial.” Sadly, I admit that I fit the description all too well. Just yesterday I forgot my phone in the house for the very first time. Once I realized this, the syndromes instantly started kicking in. Apart from the twitching, hyperventilation, and dizzy spells (I also forgot my smelling-salts), I didn’t know what time it was! Wrist-watches can only be found in museums now, right? Anyway, I would absentmindedly dig into my pocket thinking that it was there and pull out an empty Jolly Rancher’s wrapper, inducing misty eyes and a sense of failure. How on earth was I going to know what was happening in the world!? Nope, the umbilical cord had been severed. I roamed the streets feeling like the subject of a Bruce Springsteen song. The fact that it was sixty degrees, which in SoCal translation basically means that the second Ice Age is upon us, sent a shiver down my cell-phoneless body. But luckily, I made it home just in time before the trauma was at the therapy stage. Now I just need to worry about this dependency issue. But like, it’s not a big deal because I can give it up whenever I want.

So what am I getting at? If there’s one thing that I am assuredly grateful about technology, it’s that it has allowed me to access films that I would never have had the exposure to  continually revisit years before. Up until VHS really, if you watched a movie in the theaters that was that. You wouldn’t be able to catch it again unless there was a revival or if it happened to come out on T.V. Those movies that weren’t popular would get cast away into the depths of archive oblivion. But now, DVD’s, Blu-ray’s, On Demand, Netflix, Hulu, TCM, etc. has made it possible for films from all over the globe and throughout time to see the light of day once again. This segment of my blog will be devoted to those movies, the ones otherwise neglected or relatively unknown, in hopes of bringing some curiosity from the reader to check it out. Hopefully, recommend it to others. The theme here is to spread the love because God knows these films really need it.

The Go-Between (Losey, U.K., 1970)
1970 The Go Between Poster

It won the Palme d’Or in the 1971 Cannes Film Festival. Andrew Sarris named it the best movie of the year. It’s included in BFI’s top 100 British films. The renowned Margaret Leighton got her only Academy Award nomination as a supporting actress for this movie. And yet, Joseph Losey’s The Go-Between hardly gets mentioned at all today, which is a sad case for a movie that deserves all of its accolades.

The story is adapted from L.P. Hartley’s novel of the same name. The screenwriter, Harold Pinter, had collaborated with the director twice before. But unlike The Servant and AccidentThe Go-Between is rooted more in classical theater than in the abstract cinematic experimentation of the 1960’s. It tells the story of Leo, a young boy staying over his friend’s summer home in the country at the turn of the 20th century. He falls in love with his friend’s sister, Marian Maudsley, and does everything he can to please her. She takes a liking to Leo and asks him to privately deliver messages to a neighboring farmer, Ted Burgess, of a lower rank than her upper-class family. Leo gladly accepts until he curiously reads one of her letters. Heartbroken, he discover that she’s having an affair with Ted, a man he’s also befriended by now. Since their relationship is disapproved by Marian’s family, who is engaged to another “approved” gentleman, Leo finds himself in an delicate position with the lives of two lovers at stake.

What distinguishes The Go-Between from standard melodrama is the manner in which the story is told. Rather than an objective perspective chronicling events, an older Leo recollects his youth. The childhood pains of his first love are all there but the tragedy derives from Leo’s remembrance. Now imprinted with the wisdom of life experience, he understands how unfair the circumstances were. It was an injustice to him and to the two lovers that he played such a key role in the future of Marian and Ted’s relationship. The fact that the outcome was determined by a child haunts the older Leo. It’s an indelible experience that he can’t shake off. And yet, there’s a reserved beauty in its quiet lucidness. Yes, memories can be painful but it’s always the ones that hurt the deepest that make life feel most lived.

Directed by: Joseph Losey
Produced by: John Heyman and Norman Priggen
Screenplay by: Harold Pinter
Based on The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley, a 1953 novel
Starring: Julie Christie, Alan Bates, Dominic Guard, Edward Fox, Margaret Leighton, Michael Redgrave, Michael Gough
Cinematography by: Gerry Fisher
Music by: Michel Legrand
Country: U.K.
Release Date: December 1970 (U.K.) and November 13, 1971 (U.S.A.)
Running Time: 118 minutes

And here’s a link to Michel Legrand’s hauntingly wonderful score: