film online academia about
features sports trade reviews technology police life travel opinion
Five Classic Films
 
What would you do if you were surrounded by a roomful of famous directors - the likes of Kurosawa, Hitchcock, Kar-Wai, Ray, Scorsese, Coppola and Gilliam? I was. In a dream that is. Kubrick took out a .38, pointed it at my temple and said, "Viddy well, little brother! Enuff of the old Ludwig Von. You have 10 hours to live and five films to watch. What will it be?"
 
Here's my list of five must-see films. Of course it was thought of at gun-point so forgive me if there are a couple missing.

 

1. Title: The Godfather (1972)
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Memorable Lines: Michael Corleone: "It's not personal, Sonny. It's strictly business."
Tagline: A Mafia epic, "The Godfather" is a compelling family saga. It is not so much about power itself, but about the transfer of power.

Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) is the epicentre of deceit, murder and larceny. Corleone has this ability to grant people's wishes - anything they want - a service that no one else can provide.

Of course this talent comes with the territory. His visitors range from the lowliest undertaker to a famous singer but they all have something in common. After Corleone has granted his favour they will always be in his debt and one day, he will collect.

In this arena, blood is thicker than water. Sonny Corleone (James Caan) is pretty much second in command along with his adopted brother Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall). The pair make a good team with Sonny providing firepower while Tom plumps for calm decisions (this is why Tom is the advisor to the Godfather).

Smarter than both of these two is hero Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), purposefully kept on the sidelines by his father. The drawback of this pyramid of power is that narcotics are the next big thing and Corleone has a strict policy of non-involvement with drugs.

Brando turns in a great performance and keeps viewers on their feet, always trying to figure out his next move.

In comes Sollozzo who wants to sell drugs in New York. Corleone objects and an attempt is made on his life. Sollozzo (Al Lettieri) then kidnaps one of Don Vitos advisors, and tries to make him force Don Vitos son to agree to sell drugs, but the plan goes wrong when Sollozzo finds out that Don Vito is still alive.

Director Coppola skillfully and effortlessly draws you into the underworld. A monster, Michael is slowly born and groomed for the paternal position and we gleefully cheer his triumph.

2. Title: Raging Bull (1980)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Memorable Lines: Joey LaMotta to Jake LaMotta: "If you win, you win. If you lose, you still win!"
Tagline: Raging Bull focuses on Jake LaMotta 's rage and violence that makes him virtually unstoppable in the ring. The same anger also drives Jake to beat his wife and his brother Joey, and sends Jake down a self-destructive spiral of paranoia and rage.

Raging Bull is not so much a film about boxing, but one about a man with paralyzing jealousy and sexual insecurity.

The screenplay leaves the nitty-gritty of fight strategies out on purpose. For Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro), what happens during a fight is controlled not by tactics but by his fears and drives.

Jake is stubbornly determined to claw his way to the top. However, he wants to achieve victory on his own terms, with only the help of brother Joey (Joe Pesci). There is a wife but no love or understanding between them. The result is that in-between training bouts (mainly sparring with Joey), Jake spends his time looking for seduction opportunities.

It arrives when he spots Vickie (Cathy Moriarty), a well-developed 15-year-old, sunning herself at the community baths. A stunner who attracts attention, even from Joey, her head is turned by Jake's flash car (a product of his prize-winnings). Following a brief courtship, akin to extended foreplay, Jake seduces Vickie in his parent's house and winds up dumping his first wife.

In a powerful scene, Vickie (Cathy Moriarty), unwisely describes his opponent as "good-looking". Jake, consumed by rage, pounds the man's face into a pulp. After the punishment is delivered,

Jake looks not at his opponent, but into the eyes of Vickie who gets the message. Jake is paranoid about Vickie cheating on him. During the film he tortures himself with such fantasies. Every word, every glance, is twisted by his scrutiny. He never catches her, but he beats her as if he had; his suspicion is proof of her guilt.

When the film ends, Jake has become a pathetic figure, and Jake's life is full of despair. Watch for the boxing scenes captured in nauseating close-up, each sledgehammer blow is examined in horrifying detail, each cut, bruise and breakage testament to the "sport" that is boxing.

3. Title: Brazil (1985)
Director: Terry Gilliam
Memorable Lines: An arresting officer says: "This is your receipt for your husband... and this is my receipt for your receipt."
Tagline: "It's just a state of mind".

Brazil is a classic often left out from critics' list of must-see films. It presents a nightmarish view of the future and early on we see a sign hanging on an office wall declaring, with some irony, "suspicion breeds confidence."

It tells the tale of Sam Lowry, a harried technocrat, in an Orwellian vision of the future where the populace are completely controlled by the state, but technology remains almost as it was in the 1970s.

As a civil servant, Lowry one day spots a mistake passing through the truck-loads of paperwork that come through his office. This blunder leads to an innocent man being arrested and though Lowry tries hard to correct it, the error gets bigger and bigger and he is simply sucked in with it.

Director Gilliam's attention to detail is incredible. This is a world of the future where the amount of paperwork is frightening. Filing cabinets the size of houses line every wall. Thousands of men run around shuffling and filing paper.

These scenes are just fabulous. Everything is also evidently connected by a massive duct system. These ducts are everywhere and what their purpose is exactly, no one knows! It is a very funny (and scary) vision of a world overwhelmed by bureaucracy.

Watch for Lowry's flights of fantasy - a form of escape by visions of beautiful women. There are other moments of brilliance; shock troops drilling through a ceiling; and Robert De Niro wrestling with the almost obscene wiring and tubing inside a wall.

Be warned, you may want to watch it more than once. Athough brilliant, this film could catch you off-balance at times.

4. Title: Chungking Express (1994)
Director: Wong Kar-Wai
Memorable Lines: Tony Leung talking to a bar of soap: "You've lost a lot of weight - you need more self-confidence!"
Tagline: If my memory of her has an expiration date, let it be 10,000 years.

Surprisingly, this film would not have reached American audiences if Quentin Tarantino's new company Rolling Thunder hadn't bought the film rights. Auteur Kar-Wai spins two completely unrelated stories in one, both plots involving wacky policemen who are willing to do all kinds of out of the ordinary, absurd things in the name of love.

The two cops lives link together through a snack bar called the Midnight Express. The first cop uses its phone to call his ex-girlfriend's family, denying that he's calling for her. The second cop meets a girl (Faye Wong) who works there. When she's not grooving to "California Dreaming", she sneaks into his flat each day for some maniacal housecleaning. Punk pixie Wong is definitely worth watching.

Don't miss taking a close look at the street outside Leung's apartment, which is not a street at all, but an outdoor escalator going up the hillside.

Chungking Express has enough wit and pace to keep any crowd entertained. Its an original, in its raw energy, as well as in its elliptical depiction of displaced souls. Its unique blend of eastern and western film techniques from cinematographer Christopher Doyle also bring out the seamy underbelly of the city, and make the viewer sympathize with the characters and their situations.

5. Title: A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Memorable Lines: Alex DeLarge: "And the first thing that flashed into my gulliver was that I'd like to have her right down there on the floor with the old in-out, real savage."
Tagline: Being the adventures of a young man whose principal interests are rape, ultra-violence and Beethoven.

Though it turns 28 this year, Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece is just that - a masterpiece.

A Clockwork Orange has lost none of its power to shock and outrage. In this near-future setting, the outlets for teenage enthusiasm are few and far between. Disenchanted, youths form ritualistic gangs fight battles and engage in vandalism.

Told through Alex DeLarge's (Malcolm McDowell) first-person narrative, the script is refreshing and sure beats what writers are churning out these days. Cult leader Alex and his followers known as "droogs," dress in phallic masks and boiler suits making them look like they just walked out of a mental asylum.

On a typical night, they stop by the Korova milk bar, and down some drug-laced milk that "sharpens them up for a bit of the old ultra-violence" before heading on a crime-spree. Reasons for his violent behaviour are not given and we are forced to accept Alex as he is. Not one to disrupt the cinematic experience, you won't find details of their crimes here.

Kubrick presents the violence in a dizzying, heightened fashion that makes it alarmingly attractive. With close, hand-held camera shots, he invites us to join Alex as partners in crime.

Next we see Alex double-crossed by his pals, arrested and jailed. Then comes along an experimental government program, "aversion therapy", where his eyes are pried open with clamps, and is flushed with drugs and forced to watch violent films.

From then on, when he is exposed to any violence he feels sick. The only 'cure' clears his memory of not only his savage crimes, but everything else as well: his ability to live in society, to have sex, and to make his own decisions.

Once released, Alex has trouble re-adjusting. By the end of the film, you can't but help root for him. Kubrick's bizarre juxtaposition of music (classical) with violence creates an air of ambivalence. The profusion of erotic symbols and his camera trickery will also be remembered for a long time to come.

     

|  print  |  film  |  online  |  academia  |  about  |