Thursday, March 01, 2007

My favourite is transparent


Crag Hill invited me to name my 10 top movies. I’m assuming he means fictional films. I’ve been thinking about this.

I certainly have spent many times in front of flickering screens amazed, filled with wonder, sadness, joy, excitement. Also, I’ve felt comforted in the way that one feels eating comfort food. I’ve felt revulsion and astonishment – not necessarily at good films (One very late night, I watched most of Jackass 2 with my two teenage sons and we were revulsed and amazed for most of it.)

I’ve been entranced by actors or actresses. I remember, as an undergrad, being completely taken with the English countryside, country dancing, and Natasha Kinski’s lips in Tess of the D’Urbervilles.

My wife and I have spent many evenings watching movies. Great films or what seemed like a good idea at the time. We once watched Somewhere in Time, starring Christopher Reeve. It was a bittersweet intensely romantic film. Really a bit of melodramatic fluff, but we were twenty and we watched it at 4 in the morning and then went down to the Beaches to watch the sunrise over Lake Ontario. We watched it again a year or so ago. Though it is isn’t a good film, it somehow has a special place for us. Like many films, based on our memories of it and our associations with watching it.

As a nine year old in Ireland, I loved Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I loved the dotty grandpa’s little telephone-booth sized shed where he had his dotty fantasies (It is a bit like the screenwriter, Roald Dahl’s shed at the end of the garden where he wrote his books.) I was in love with the Dick Van Dyck’s romantic lead, the character of Truly Scrumptious. I’ve watched many many movies with my kids, sharing their growing sense of the world while sharing my favourite movies, or discovering others. I remember many early mornings, half asleep and in the half light watching Raymond Briggs’ entrancing The Snowman. I loved the soft animation, the gentle sense of wonder, the beautiful music.

But I’m at a bit of a loss to name my ten favourite films. Most of their names are gone from my mind. I guess I could do some research. There was a Polish (?) film about an American soldier and a Polish woman who fall in love. He promises to meet her and take her back to the US. They are supposed to meet at the train station. He is late and she thinks that he was never coming. She lives a bleak, unrequited, life. The film is very grey except for her vision of the US, in vivid sunset reds, of dancing near the Grand Canyon. At the end of the film, she gets a letter. He has died and left everything to her. He always loved her. What is moving about this film is the amazing, fleeting, colour image of the beautiful US that appears just once in the film. It is her vision of what their life could have been.

But, though I could name many great movies, I’m not sure that I could commit to my favourite. (What is my “favourite colour?” When my little students ask, I always tell them, “Transparent.”) My grandfather and I used to play this game where we would try to name a soccer-team’s worth of the top composers. It was easy for the first few, but then who makes the last few spots?

In any case, here are some of my current favourite films.

I recently watched Everything is Illuminated and loved its quirky, off kilter beginning and then it’s mysterious, poetic, moving conclusion.

Many of the Coen brother’s films. Raising Arizona, O Brother Where Art Thou?, Barton Fink, The Hudsucker Proxy. I am a hudsucker for their cinematography, their sense of humour, their compassion, their oddball characters, their use of music, and how they weave their sensibility throughout all aspects of the film. I love those places where there is a quasi-philosophic, half-ironic, half serious speech or voice. The characters go into visionary, seer, mode. The final speech in Raising Arizona where the main character (Nicholas Cage) imagines his family gathered round him, his children and their children, imagines the passing of the years, the happiness that he hopes for. The old cowboy’s voiceover and the scene at the bowling alley in The Big Lebowski. The clockkeeper in the Hudsucker Proxy.

The Fellowship of the Rings, from Lord of the Rings. I’m not interested in the war scenes, but the other scenes, particularly those in the Shire. I guess I should be embarrassed to admit that I’m always interested and captivated by visions of the rural folk past. Tolkien was extraordinary in weaving folklore, myth, legend, and the flavour and aesthetic of a variety of cultures into his work. The film has a brilliant, resonant score. When I talk about LOTR, I always reminder a fantastically acerbic article by the Toronto writer Lynn Crosbie where she writes of her horror of being cornered by some sandal-wearing hippy, high on hash brownies who speaks to her of hobbits.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It got even better when I took a course on Arthurian literature while at York University. It is woven through with brilliant allusions. ‘She turned me into a newt…………………I got better.”

Paris, Texas. Wim Wenders heartbreaking, excoriating film with (hmm, this is a pattern) Natasha Kinski and Harry Dean Stanton. Ry Cooder’s bone rattling slide guitar score is a potent image of the heartbreak in the film.

I used to love Woody Allen. I recently saw Bullets over Broadway and enjoy its self-referentiality.

Likewise, Charles Kaufman’s Adaptation.

Whale Music based on the book of the same name by Paul Quarrington.

Shadowlands about C.S. Lewis.

I'd agree with Crag about The Enigma of Kasper Hauser, Being John Malcovich, Harold and Maude (haven't seen that since I was a teen) and Waking Ned Devine. I haven't seen Local Hero in ages either.

But, I’m off to do some more research. I’ll get back to you. I’ll seem really smart.

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