Monday, May 29, 2006

1929/30 All Quiet on the Western Front

Stars: Lew Ayres, Louis Wolheim, John Wray, Slim Summerville and William Bakewell

There is something ominous in watching a movie about World War 1, made before the spectre of World War 2 was even a notion of occurring. The characters in this war epic are followed from their schooldays, through basic training and into the war. They grow and become hardened by the war and change from being naively patriotic, to questioning why they are there. It is incredibly anti-war, with occasional lapses into melodrama and shmaltz. It is about the German occupation in the first War, but doesn'’t dwell on the how and why of the war. But simply the decision to War is made by government officials, but it is the foot soldiers, who know little of the machinations far above them, who fight the faceless enemies. These enemies, who they surmise, are just as mystified by the reasons they are there; hungry, cold, tired and desperately wanting a reason for their involvement.

Lew Ayres, playing the lead role of Paul Baumer, seemed to be ultimately inspired by the film, and in subsequent years by being a conscientious objector in WW2. Unfortunately, this earned him the ire of the American public, and many theatres refused to show his work in future years. His portrayal of the motivated youth, turned cynical and tired soldier became his legacy.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

1928/9 The Broadway Melody

Stars: Charles King, Anita Page and Bessie Love

When I purchased this movie, it was part of a set of "“Best Picture -– Musicals"”, and shares company in its box with "“My Fair Lady"” and "“Gigi". So my standards were high. Unfortunately.

The only thing that really makes this a musical, is the fact that there is indeed one song sung in it. Over and over again. It follows a sister act -– ludicrously lacking in talent -– but with get up and go aplenty. They try to make it on Broadway, but the charms of the younger sister are soon the only thing that makes it -– and only because she is pretty holding a banner during one musical number on the stage.

Hyper-critical as I maybe, the older sister played by Bessie Love, was delightful. She delivered her lines as naturally as if she was living the moment in front of the screen. I was happy to note that she got a nomination for her performance. Sadly, much of her real career was delivered in silent films, and by 1931, her major work was over. She spent the remainder of her career appearing in small and ever more forgettable roles.
1927/8 Wings

Stars: Clara Bow, Charles Rogers and Richard Arlen

The inaugural Best Picture Oscar went to this silent epic about a group of friends from a small town, making good in the war. The storyline is pretty simple, but underscored with a number of fighter plane scenes that must have been ludicrously difficult to film. Not being a connoisseur of the silent era, it was interesting to see how I would be wooed by the characters, using no voice, and only the backing of a bad musical soundtrack. To tell the truth, this was my first silent movie, and more than likely will be my last.

It wasn'’t awful, but the over-acting was extraordinary. The apparent rivalry between the two main leads was over some woman whose indifference to both of their affections was in contrast to the over-attentiveness of the long-suffering Clara/Mary. The most disturbing thing for me in this movie is to note how much our social tolerances have changed. When David leaves for the war, he faces the awkward goodbyes with his rather stiff parents. No loving embrace from his father, or tears from his mother. But shockingly, he kissed his mother goodbye. On the mouth. Eww.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

In the beginning....

I don'’t know what made me decide on this as something I just HAD to do. Maybe it was a lack of something else that would probably be far more fulfilling on some sort of emotional or spiritual level. Maybe it was a sense of achievement that I needed to acquire. But I decided to go to the Movies. Not just once, but 77 times. I do love the Movies, but what made me decide to make some sort of resolution around I shall never know. I set myself the task of seeing every movie that has won the "Best Picture"” Oscar since inception.

I must admit that I was surprised what movies did NOT make the list of the so-called best-ever movies. Where was Citizen Kane, The Ten Commandments or African Queen on this list of winners? How did An Affair to Remember, Singing in the Rain or A Clockwork Orange not make the cut? Would I agree with the judges decisions with the selected movies being worthy of going down in history as something significant? No matter what the reasons, I wanted to see all the supposed "best's’"” and judge for myself.

Over the years of movie watching, there were many on the list that I had already seen. But some of them were a long time ago and my memory of them biased by time. So, I thought it best to rewatch all of them -– despite any recent viewing -– with a fresh approach.

And so began my year at the movies.

First came the acquisition of the movies. Some I owned. Some I could rent from my local and ever-faithful "“Blockbuster"”. Many I knew I would have to purchase. I began by looking over the list of movies. Briefly I was daunted by the task I had assigned myself. Briefly. But I was more bothered by the fact that there were so many that I hadn'’t heard of. I didn'’t like to think that I was so ignorant that so many movies had escaped my attention or notice. My youth was not spent wasting time on sports and such, but in watching old movies. But generally they were old movie musicals. I abandoned my reality and preferred a life where one could sing and tap any care away. Clearly, some of the cheesy musicals of days gone by had not been recognized as cinematic masterpieces -– although they certainly are amongst those movies that people remember and recognize. Then again, maybe it is just me.