Tuesday, April 27, 2010

1960: SOME FAVOURITE FILMS FROM 50 YEARS AGO. Every year I post a little listing of my 10 favourite films from fifty years previously. Note that I do not say best films but just the ten that are my particular favourites; films which I have revisited again and again like old friends. So here is my 1960 film festival. Grab your popcorn.
THE APARTMENT - Funny, acidic, touching. The best film Oscar winner for 1960. Directed by Billy Wilder with trademark sourness coupled with a paradoxical light touch for comedy. Shirley MacLaine has never been more effective on the screen (with the possible exception of THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY). Jack Lemmon has seldom been more heartfelt. Fred MacMurray has seldom been slimier; not even in DOUBLE INDEMNITY.
BREATHLESS - Jean Luc Godard's tradition-shattering, ground-breaking film which carried the banner for the French New Wave. It initially left me a little cold but subsequent viewings have warmed the film to me. The radical editing style truthfully changed the way films were made. Jean Seberg rocketed to international stardom with her American-accented French while Jean Paul Belmondo became a cinematic god; rubbing his Bogartian lip and sneering at life.
CITY OF THE DEAD - Unofficially the first Amicus film in everything but name. Intensely moody modern witchcraft tale with more than a passing echo of PSYCHO; however both films were being made almost simultaneously and apparently there was no cross-pollination (especially knowing the locked-down Hitchcock set seems to have been impervious to leaks). Dripping with fog and an almost Lovecraftian atmosphere of dread.
HOUSE OF USHER - The first in the ultra-successful line of Poe films helmed by Roger Corman for American International Pictures, USHER started as it meant to go on. Vincent Price, with bleached-white hair to indicate his ultra-sensitivity to everything, was perfectly cast as Roderick Usher. The best of the Poe films.
JAZZ ON A SUMMER'S DAY - The very first concert film ever made. A (perhaps too artfully-shot) document of the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival featuring towering giants of music such as Louis Armstrong, Dinah Washington, Mahalia Jackson, Thelonious Monk, Anita O'Day, Chuck Berry, and many more. Some "intimate" shots of audience members were, admittedly, staged but the glorious colour photography of the surrounding Newport location (capturing the boat races as well) is lipsmacking. And, of course, the musical performances are to die for.
L'AVVENTURA - The first in the loose trilogy of existential films helmed by maestro Michelangelo Antonioni, this film must have been something of a bombshell upon it's original release. The normal expectations of a film audience were completely smashed and filmic storytelling was forever altered. The emergence of Monica Vitti as Antonioni's muse also makes this film monumental. Breathtaking black and white photography.
THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN - Quite simply one of the best "caper" films ever made. Top notch cast of British character actors and a sure hand of directing from Basil Dearden. An absolute classic and probably very influential on all caper films to come.
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN - Classic western with a classic cast. Based, of course, on the classic Akira Kurosawa film SEVEN SAMURAI. Yul Brynner was famously upstaged at every turn by Steve McQueen. Ably directed by John Sturges. And then of course there's that iconic music!
PSYCHO - Admittedly one of the most influential films on the horror genre. For some years I was somewhat less impressed due to extreme familiarity but in recent years the almost jewel-like craftsmanship of the film rewards repeated viewings. Classic Bernard Herrmann score perfectly elevates Hitchcock's black and white "nasty" movie.
THE VIRGIN SPRING - Often held in less esteem than many of Ingmar Bergman's other films of the period, JUNGFRUKALLEN remains a film that hits hard with a powerful punch. And truth be told, the eponymous scene in the final reel actually brought an audible gasp from me. How many films can you honestly say have done that?
So there they are. The 10 films from 50 years ago I like the most. Time to fire up the DVD player and watch 'em!

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