Hey, remember how I promised 1923 next? Yeah, well, that’s not happening. At least, not yet. Instead, I’m going the Michel Legrand route. I went to a retrospect screening of two Norman Jewison classics last week, a Steve McQueen double feature of The Cincinnati Kid and The Thomas Crown Affair. Neither one a 1964 flick, I know, but before the start of the screenings the crowd was pleasantly rewarded with some of Legrand’s famous scores playing on the speakers, a build up for The Thomas Crown Affair since that feature was edited in rhythm with Legrand’s music, something quite unheard of here in the States but common practice for anyone collaborating with the established composer in France. And it really paid off. So why not discuss my favorite film of 1964, for that matter? It’s arguably Legrand’s most iconic and, in my opinion, his best. There’s more than top craftsmanship at work in The Umbrellas of Cherbourgh. Everything coalesces into an exceptional fantasy, a world so unto itself that it’s hard to match its rare balance between buoyancy and pathos. Seriously, there’s a radiance to it all that keeps it very much alive and magical. That’s plenty enough for me to have it top a marvelous year inundated with music. So at number one it goes.
1. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Jacques Demy)
2. Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Stanley Kubrick)
3. A Hard Day’s Night (Richard Lester)
4. Bande à part (Jean-Luc Godard) and Gertrud (Carl Theodore Dreyer)
5. Marnie (Alfred Hitchcock)
6. Scorpio Rising (Kenneth Anger) and Woman in the Dunes (Hiroshi Teshigahara)
7. Charulata (Satyajit Ray)
8. The Naked Kiss (Samuel Fuller)
9. Red Desert (Michelangelo Antonioni)
10. Seven Days in May (John Frankenheimer) and Fail-Safe (Sidney Lumet)
A lot of liberties were taken with the top ten. In fact, so many liberties that the number ended up at thirteen. Let’s just look the other way, no? And so, moving on… ahem, you want to keep talking about music? Well then, buddy, hold my beer. There’s Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night, which captures and preserves everything behind the phenomenon that was, is, and forever will be the early Beatles. Then there’s Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising (its release year getting tossed around enough), one of the absolute best experimental movies and a strong influence on people like Martin Scorsese, who discovered that needle drops could be just as effective as film scores. There’s also a musical quality to Godard’s Bande à part (another Legrand score), you know, separate from that dance sequence that will always be the coolest thing ever in the entire freakin’ world, of course.
On the more genteel side, Gertrud and Charulata are reaped with character wealth, living up to the art house scene that was thriving at full form in this time period. Red Desert is gorgeous and a bit of a bore, which in my strange logic allows for it to feel like a subconscious experience, and thus all the more effective. The Naked Kiss is subversive lunacy. And Seven Days in May and Fail-Safe are cunning political thrillers made by TV veterans that brought their small screen experience to the big pictures. Seriously, there’s something about those two features that reminds one of those Kraft Playhouse shows, with their resourcefulness at telling a compact story in that heavy-punch drama way that TV specials became synonymous for.
Knowing me, you’d know that the 1960’s is my personal favorite decade, so those omitted from the list cut deep. And that’s after thirteen! There’s Roger Corman’s beautifully photographed Masque of the Red Death, shot by none other than the late Nicholas Roeg. There’s Billy Wilder’s odd, very odd, Kiss Me, Stupid, which almost made the list but, c’mon, I need to display at least some sort of self-restraint here. John Huston’s delirious Night of the Iguana, not perfect, but it’s got aging Richard Burton and Ava Gardner chewing up the scenery. There’s also The Pawnbroker, another Lumet output that’s just as good as anything around. And the list keeps piling up! There’s Peter Sellers’ best Inspector Clouseau movie in A Shot in the Dark, I Am Cuba, Nothing But a Man, The Americanization of Emily, Before the Revolution, Blood and Black Lace, Diary of a Chambermaid, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, The Soft Skin, Topkapi. Clearly, I’ll have to stop at some point, so why not here? But I will make a special mentioning for Lilith and The Pumpkin Eater, two time-stamped melodramas that I relish beyond comprehension. So check those out if you ever get the chance.
Next time, 1923? Maybe, just maybe.