The local library was rebuilt a couple of years ago, and it is absolutely beautiful. Raised up on stilts with parking beneath, floor-to-ceiling windows look out across a sports field and picnic area where men play bocce, kids play soccer, and all sorts of people walk and jog around the running track. Beyond, the north shore mountains rise up, their peaks touched by snow.
It’s a lot prettier than Blockbuster. But that’s not why the library has out-competed the video store. The real reason is variety: their single aisle of movies has a great collection of wonderful old Holywood movies, and the best from around the world: Japanese films, French films, Chinese, German, Russian. The best bit is you can just grab a handful that look interesting, and only watch the good ones.
When I discovered the library I went mad, and in one spring had an education in film. I’ve dug my comments out and included them below.
Movies I Really Liked
All About Eve
A bit slow, but the characters are very well done. Far better than the overrated Sunset Boulevard.
The Bicycle Thief / Bicycle Thieves
Wonderful post-war Italian movie with the best movie title of all time. Although it crossed my mind at the time, I wish I’d heard this hint before I saw the film: Watch the boy. He’s there for a reason.
The Big Sleep
Fantastic Bogart flick, best of the noirs, and my favourite from the local library. How did they get all that innuendo past the censors? Never mind it’s perfectly crawling with beautiful women. But whatever you do, don’t try to follow the plot. I thought I was stupid until I checked the web and found that no-one has ever fully figured it out.
I figure this should be on the list just for reference. It’s my favourite film of all time.
All you ever need to know about L.A.
Okay, so I didn’t get this one from the library and it really isn’t that old. But I do love it, and in my books it’s second only to Casablanca. It’s quirky story of love – two stories really – and needs to be watched more than once. Don’t worry, if this movie is for you you will need to watch it again, and you’ll love it even more the second time. Whatever you do, don’t give up in the first half, and don’t watch the second half alone. They need each other somehow. (It suddenly occurs to me that the movie mirrors its subjects.)
La Dolce Vita
A classic Italian film full of memorable scenes. I can see why the director is famous, but the three hours do drag on. If you do see it, watch it for the art and for the perfect snapshot it gives of a place and time. After reading a bit more about it, I can see there is probably more here than I noticed the first time around. That is, if I ever take the time. One angle to watch for is the role of spirituality and religion in the modern world.
From Here to Eternity
Army flick with a (deservedly) classic sex on the beach scene. The rest of it isn’t bad either. And as with many old movies, the characters are honest-to-god adults.
Nothing terribly special, but I enjoyed it.
About Shangri-la. I didn’t think it was that good until I found it stuck with me. Haunting.
The Manchurian Candidate
Who knew Angela Lansbury was so evil?
The Night of the Hunter
Old horror flick that isn’t so horrible, but the dreamy cinematography is to die for. Actually most of the movie is like a dream sequence (apparently inspired by German expressionism).
Brilliant Hitchcock film about a guy who has a broken leg and spends all his time looking out his window at other apartments around a courtyard. He thinks he witnesses a murder. Thoroughly enjoyable, and his GF rocks.
The Kurosawa film. Intelligent and brilliantly directed. Obvious precursor to modern action flicks.
Excellent & fun Japanese movie all about a woman learning to be the best ramen chef. Full of perfect little vignettes about food.
A ghost story every bit as good as The Others. Better really – I find the few modern stories I’ve watched have let me down.
Other Worthwhile Films
The African Queen
Straightforward but fun adverture story and romance. Different in that the love interests are middle-aged.
Well done story, but suffers from an unsympathetic lead character.
The Ipcress File
I watched this because I have a book of games that discusses strategy for a defunkt game called The Sigma File, based on the spy films of the 1950s and 60s, and which mentioned this movie by name. Don’t ask me why – there appears to be no connection whatsoever. What this 1950s spy flick does have is loads of funky 50s music and crooked-angle camera shots than you can shake a stick at. The director’s overenthusiasm is most entertaining (though I bet it was tedious at the time).
Subtitled “The Shadow Warrior”, it’s Kurosawa’s film about a thief who becomes the double of a great lord. Unlike most such films (The Prisoner of Zenda, Dave, et. al.), it takes the subject matter seriously, and brings up some very interesting questions about identity. Unfortunately, despite having lots of time (it’s slow at nearly three hours) it doesn’t follow up as much as I would have liked. Watch it for its beauty – for someone so famous for black and white, Kurosawa was truly gifted with colour. Incidentally, I’m certain this is where the designers of the computer game Shogun: Total War got their inspiration from.
Walt Stillman (Barcelona, Last Days of Disco) somehow always manages to be so promising but somehow a little unfulfiling. It’s amusing how his characters are always the same.
The Picture of Dorian Grey
I haven’t read the book, but the movie was quite good.
Sweet Italian film about a shy guy. Well, maybe that’s what it’s about – I’m not convinced, and suspect it was really about the old communist. Anyway, I found it a little unfocused. Watch for what I believe is a reference to the scene where the rich folks are talking philosophy with a tape recorder in La Dolce Vita.
The Shanghai Gesture
How on earth could anyone think that lady looks Chinese? Nicely cynical.
Somehow this film reminds me of La Dolce Vita. It has the same theme, the same sense of a place and a time. The famous “Are you looking at me?” scene also made me think of The Vanishing. It’s beautifully made; unfortunately I found I didn’t connect with the main character.
The Third Man
A decent if over-rated Orson Welles flick. Post-war Vienna is the star of the piece. Great directing and a mesmerising credit sequence at the beginning.
Touching and universal.
Trop belle pour toi (Too Beautiful For You)
The French always seem to make interesting films. This is not one of their best efforts, but it’s different nonetheless. Most films are bound together by their plots, and the scenes show what really happens. That’s not the case here. This movie is concerned with emotion and truth, not plot and reality. For that it’s worth watching. Otherwise, if you’ve been mixed up in an affair it might mean more to you than it did to me.
Supposedly Hitchcock’s masterpiece. I preferred Rear Window, but still this is very good. Look out for the funky camera angle from the bell tower.
Films I Didn’t Like So Much
The Cabinet of Dr Caligari
An intriguing silent film with art deco (I think) sets. Unfortunately, I find silent films about as accessible as American football. But it is interesting if you have the patience.
Nearly as dull as its reputation. Ah well, I don’t appreciate Shakespeare either.
Kurosawa’s first colour film. It was just too arty for me, but my parents liked it.
The Hidden Fortress
Kurosawa’s film that inspired Star Wars. Pretty slow going for the first half, although it does pick up a little and there’s a fantastic samurai sword fight midway through
An old love story. But I didn’t care much for the characters.
Starts wonderfully, but ends up being a little bit too clausterphobic and predictable. You just want to take the main character by the scruff of the neck and shake some sense into him.
A heist flick set in Istanbul. Nothing really special.