Saturday, May 22, 2010

My encounters with film

I watch too many movies. Netflix is to blame. It seems that, if Lynn and I don't have something from Netflix to watch each evening, we are a bit flummoxed, as the Brits are more likely to say (we watch a lot of British imports). Maybe it's an addiction.

If so, it is a pleasant one. Sometimes, it's like watching others' dreams unfold; and the more subjective, character-driven, and slow it is, the more I am likely to value a film. I seek less fast-paced action than reflective, even contemplatively silent, visual experiences.

The ultimate example of this would be the documentary 'Into Great Silence', filmed at the Carthusian monastery in the French Alps where, with no dialogue or voice-over, we watch, as if in real time, the daily lives of men at prayer. For me it is a spiritual experience, as it might not be for others.

But I cannot include this three-hour encounter with silence on my list of my favorite, most enjoyable films, which people often ask me to list. Doing so is a challenge since I have seen so many that I like, some of which I have seen repeatedly. This is always the test of a great film: whether I can enjoy it a third or fourth time.

This is the case with Visconti's 'Death in Venice,' which, because of the haunting music of Mahler and the visual beauty and slow pace, is a piece of pure cinema where dialogue is minimal and atmosphere everything. It's another example of finding silence in films that aren't silent in the literal sense.

How many times have I seen 'The Third Man"? The atmosphere of Vienna in 1947, highlighted by that zither, makes it the ultimate film noir and one that I watch again and again whenever it comes on TV. The appearance of Orson Welles in a shadowy doorway, with the cat, is always thrilling.

Also on my list is 'The Lion in Winter' for very different reasons: a witty screenplay and the superb performances by Hepburn and O'Toole in their prime. I never tire of 'Chariots of Fire' or 'Mrs. Dalloway,' the latter because of Vanessa Redgrave. I admire the skill and cinematography of 'Apocalypse Now'--one of the greatest of anti-war movies. 'Field of Dreams' is not only a sentimental favorite but memorable for the way "the other world" intrudes on the Iowa cornfield. 'Amadeus' has Mozart, which should be reason enough, but the whole production sparkles; so does 'Gigi.'

I never miss 'Witness for the Prosecution' when it appears on TV and always find the court appearance of Marlene Dietrich memorable. And I always enjoy 'Moonstruck,' which captures the essence of Italian-American NYC as I like it to be, with a nod to Shakespeare and Puccini.

So that's my list, in no particular order. The problem is there are so many great ones that I know I omitted, like Hitchcock's 'Rear Window' and 'Psycho' and all those filmed classics from British TV ('Bleak House,' 'Daniel Deronda,' 'Middlemarch,' 'Martin Chuzzlewit,' 'Vanity Fair,' etc., etc.)

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