I recently appeared on the LAMB’s second podcast, The Film Pasture, hosted by Pat of 100 Years of Movies. We, along with Steve from 1001Plus, spent the episode discussing that most illustrious and time-consuming of movie goals, the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book, that both Steve and I are working our ways through, although o course Steve is both much faster and further along his quest than I am. As it stands, I have around 800 films still to watch and review from the list (which, including all the films that have been added or removed over the years, stands at 1103 films), however many of the reviews I have written didn’t necessarily give the film a fair chance, or they’re just not very good reviews, so I may well go back and re-review some of them – something I intend to do shortly with 1903’s The Great Train Robbery.
I started working through the List to try and gain a better understanding and appreciation for film, and there are many films amongst its pages that I am genuinely looking forward to watching. For many it will be a re-watch of something I’ve loved before, or possibly something that’s fallen from my memory, but for others I long for the experience of seeing a bonafide classic for the first time – something I experienced last year with the likes of Casablanca and Brief Encounter. However, the compilers of the List are a bunch of stuck-up, pompous, cruel sadists, who have taken it upon themselves to pepper the List with some of the most tedious, aggravating and downright grotesque productions ever made, and they even go so far as to claim that these outlandish qualities are the very reason they’ve been included. As such I thought I’d exacerbate my apprehension for eventually watching these films by looking into the List and picking out those films that I’m least looking forward to. I’ve tried to separate the films out into specific categories, and given the most egregious entry from each. As I haven’t actually seen these films yet, this is all based upon rumour, reputation and reviews from others in the 1001 club.
Honourable Mentions The Color Purple
There are some films on the List that I know a little bit about, or that I’ve read the book of. I’m quite looking forward to watching To Kill A Mockingbird, because the book is great and I hear only good things about the film. The Color Purple, on the other hand, is the worst book I’ve ever read, possibly because I was forced to read it in college, but also because it’s thoroughly depressing and downright difficult to read, given the unintelligible vernacular with which it was scribed. Therefore, I’m really not looking forward to watching it unfold on screen, even if it is directed by Steve Spielberg. The fact that it stars Whoopi Goldberg and features Oprah Winfrey may have something to do with it too.
When I lived in London for a year I was a part of a small Film Appreciation class that only cost me £5.00 a term, which entitled me to sit a small room once a week and watch a film specially selected by our teacher, Peter. I figured it was a great deal, in that I’d essentially be watching 10 films for 50p a go, bargain! Especially when you consider that some of the gems selected included Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Rear Window. However, there were some odd choices in there too, like a Chinese farce called The Missing Gun, or Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima, both of which weren’t too enjoyable, for different reasons. The film that I enjoyed the least, however, was Nicolas Roeg’s Performance, starring Mick Jagger. The film seemed to be a perfect embodiment of everything in the 60s and 70s that I’d have disapproved of, as well as being an epileptic’s nightmare of flashing images and fragmented audio. It may well be that I’m remembering it all wrong, but I can’t say I’m looking forward to seeing if I’m right. Other films I’ve seen before but aren’t particularly looking forward to include Blade Runner (although I’m keen to give this another go, due to the massive following it has) and The Hangover, which was enjoyable the first time around but has suffered severely from repeat viewings.
9. Mulholland Drive
I’ve seen Mulholland Drive before, and I didn’t hate it. The problem is, I didn’t understand a damn thing that was going on either. Now, this is fine, until the day comes when I’ll be required to discuss the film in a cohesive manner (hopefully I’ll have learned how to do that by then), at which point I fear my brain may begin to melt through the nearest orifice and leave a nasty stain on the carpet. I was overjoyed that one of David Lynch’s other messed-up masterpieces, Inland Empire, wasn’t on the list, as that’s the first film I ever just gave up on watching halfway through, but alas it’s reared its grotesque, twisted, bunny-shaped head on another list I’m going through, so I’ll have to watch it there instead.
8. The Best of Youth
These days I hear a lot of people complaining about how long most of the ‘decent’ films are. In fact, almost half of this year’s best picture Oscar nominees were over two and a half hours long. That’s more than ten hours I spent in the cinema, just seeing four films. Geez. But that doesn’t even compare to some of the ridiculous films on the List. Fortunately I’ve knocked out a few of the longer ones – the 9+ hour Polish TV series Decalogue, the 7 1/2 hour insanely slow and bizarre Satantango – so the longest film I’ve got left is 2003’s Italian story of two brothers and their wildly different lives. It’s just over six and a half hours long, and my main issue is just finding that length of time to watch it in, seeing as I prefer to watch films in one sitting (which was impossible with Decalogue, seeing as it’s on four discs and my LoveFilm account at the time only allowed me two at a time), so it will need to be saved for a weekend when I’ll be alone, which doesn’t happen all that often, and there’s an awful lot of films that are going to require such time slots, many of which sound mind-numbingly dull. The Beautiful Troublemaker, for example, apparently spends a great deal of its four-hour run-time watching a man draw a picture, which at the end you never even see. You can chalk that up as one of the many honourable mentions.
Marnie is a film that I’m not looking forward to mainly because I’ve heard it isn’t very good. There are other examples of this – Aleksandr Dovzhenko’s Earth – but Marnie stands out because I’ll definitely have to review it for my Hitchcock series, as he directed it. It’s questionable as to why Marnie was included in the List, and even the entry in the book only picks out the fact that the ‘hero’ (Sean Connery) rapes the heroine (Tippi Hedren), and that the film is strange and unsettling”. It seems neither an important nor necessarily good film (I have in fact seen it, but recall very little), and as long as Hitchcock’s Psycho and Vertigo are included it seems pointless to count Marnie as well, seeing as it sounds like an amalgamation of those two, with maybe a little Notorious thrown in for good measure.
As with The Best of Youth, Napoleon is a film I’m dreading because it’s really damn long, however it’s over an hour shorter than Youth. The reason I’m dreading it more is because Napoleon is a silent film, which I’m OK with in short doses, but I’m not sure how I’ll cope by the five-hour mark. It could just be me being lazy, as I find I have to work harder with silent films to ascertain what is going on, due to the minimal dialogue accompanying the scenes. Other such silent epics I’ve yet to see include 1923’s The Wheel, Dr. Mabuse, Intolerance and of course Birth of a Nation, which is not only silent, but also, I hear, horribly racist. Huzzah.
5. Blonde Cobra
When it comes to films, for me it’s narrative or bust. Which doesn’t mean that a good story can be replaced with a nice set of boobs, as that’d make both Justin Lin and Michael Bay my favourite directors. No, what I mean is that I only really like films that have a plot, so experimental works tend to leave me cold and confused. The likes of George Kuchar’s Hold Me While I’m Naked and Bruce Donner’s investigation into editing with Report are two such examples that I’ve watched and since blocked from memory, but alas there are more yet to come, including Ken Jacobs’ Blonde Cobra. The book tells me that this is not only an experimental film, but an experimental semi-documentary about a real-life experimental comedian, by the name of Jack Smith. The film is compiled of footage of him, as well as imageless black sequences over which Smith’s stories and routines are played. He doesn’t really sounds like my kind of performer (one of his ‘jokes’ is as follows: “Why shave, when I can’t even think of a reason for living?”), and this most definitely doesn’t sound like my kind of film. Apparently this is considered to be a masterpiece of the New York film scene, but if this is the best that sect could produce, why exactly is it being remembered?
4. The Crying Game
As a film fan I find it incredibly difficult to avoid major spoilers. Some, like The Sixth Sense, The Empire Strikes Back, The Usual Suspects, Soylent Green or Planet of the Apes are almost impossible not to know from birth, so integral are they to popular culture, but others, like The Crying Game or Chinatown, are harder to know the truth behind, as they don’t tend to get brought up as often. I don’t know how, but I’ve known the twist of The Crying Game for a long time, and I fear it’s going to ruin my first viewing of the film. There’s absolutely nothing I can do about it, so I may as well just knuckle down and watch it before anything else gets spoiled, but I think I’m hoping I’ll forget what I know.
3. Hotel Terminus/The Sorrow and The PityOK, so we’ve covered really long films, and we’ve covered really long and silent films, but what about documentaries? There’s nothing wrong with a good doc, and Hoop Dreams is a great example of one that’s both long and decent, even though it’s about a subject I have no interest in (basketball/sport in general). No, the problems lie when the length gets silly (here four and a half hours), and the subject matter is not only something I’m not overly passionate about, but is also horribly depressing. Fortunately I’ve already watched Shoah, the longest film on the list at 9 1/2 hours, which is entirely new, non-archive footage of interviews about the holocaust, but if I hadn’t watched it that would most certainly be on here. As it happens Shoah was a fascinating watch, but it isn’t an experience I can readily recommend or say I’ll be repeating again, which I’m pretty sure will be the case for Hotel Terminus, centred entirely around one previously elusive Nazi, and The Sorrow and The Pity, about a French town during world war 2, which I’d only previously heard about in Annie Hall. I completely understand the need to feature a documentary about such events, my only issue is why do we need so many? I think including them is worthwhile, but when you consider there’s at least three others – Night and Fog has a similar subject matter, but is mercifully only 32 minutes long – I start to wonder whether including these films just makes the List-compilers feel better about themselves.
A lot of films on the List feature scenes that are often described as unforgettable, however this isn’t always meant as a compliment. Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible, for instance, contains a 9-minute long rape sequence that is apparently so visceral and realistic that once seen it can never be excavated from your memory. I’m all for films inspiring conversation and even being genuinely terrifying or disturbing, but mentally scarring? No thank you. I find it difficult enough to sleep as it is, without being forced to relive a rape scene every time I close my eyes. Other potentially mentally damaging films I’m not overly looking forward to include A Clockwork Orange (more rape), The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (the stills I’ve seen are just freaky), Freaks and Haxan.
1. Salo, or 120 Days of Sodom
This was the easiest no. 1 pick since Jurassic Park miraculously found its way to the pole position of Top 5… Dinosaur Movies, and if anyone has seen Salo, then I’m sure you’ll understand why. From what I can tell, it sounds like two hours of watching people being tortured and raped, with some feces-eating thrown in for good measure, and truly I cannot think of a worse thing to watch. It sounds like it’s on a par with the likes of A Serbian Film, and possibly worse than The Human Centipede, neither of which I have any intention of ever seeing. When it comes to Salo, I may well do what I did with In The Realm of the Senses, as discussed on the Film Pasture, where I stuck with it for as long as I could (approximately 10-15 minutes), before I ejected the disc from my DVD player and weighed up the decision of either posting it back to LoveFilm, or just destroying the disc there and then and bleaching my PlayStation. Other disgusting films I’m not looking forward to include The Idiots, Naked Lunch and Pink Flamingoes (with more feces eating).|
A bit of a niche list this week, sorry about that non-1001ers, but it’s one I’ve been meaning to post for a while. All you club members, what are the films you’ve got to go that you’re putting off? And what else do I have ahead of me that’s worse than this lot, if that’s possible?