Monday, October 25, 2010

Day One and Beyond

Officially, as I write this, it’s now Day Three. I’m four titles in and expect to add a fifth before the day is out. Though I’m trying to stay away from being rule oriented and, as some who are dear to me have pointed out, I have a tendency to overexplain things, its occurred to me that I need to make one thing clear with regard to the contents of these writings. In the interest of embarking upon a freewheeling discussion, and because none of these films are less than 34 years old, there will be spoilers. Spoilers aplenty. They’re on the table and may even be encouraged. Fair warning.

I embarked upon this journey Sat., October 23, just after 8P.M., with a screening of the 1955 film, The Ladykillers. Thanks to Bricken and Eric for helping me launch this thing and getting off to a good start. I followed this up on Sunday with a Cold War triple feature of I Am Cuba, Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, and Seven Days in May. The only thread(besides the obvious one I already mentioned for the ’64 titles) that I’ve noticed is a healthy distrust of authority.

The Ladykillers is a pitch black comedy featuring, among others, Alec Guinness(who, as my guests and I noticed, didn’t seem exactly 22 years younger than he did as Obi Wan Kenobi) and Peter Sellers. It’s about a gang of criminals who plan a robbery but are each undone as a result of crossing paths with a cheerful little old lady. It simultaneously sends up both proper English culture and the respectability of Ealing Studios who, though very highly thought of and revered, was never as subversive as this with their other works. As one person involved in the project remarked, “There are six main characters and five of them end up dead. And it’s a comedy.” Though the themes running through it include robbery and murder, there is still a sense of right and wrong. The bad are punished. The good triumph. But that doesn’t necessarily mean all’s right with the world. Per the running theme I’ve noted, the authorities are unwittingly duped by their own incompetence.

I Am Cuba is a curious relic. It was financed by the Soviet Union shortly after the Cuban revolution and shown briefly in both countries. I’ve placed it on the list here based on when it was made, though technically it wasn’t shown in the U.S.A. until 1995, thanks to efforts by Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola. It is most definitely a work of propaganda. It’s anti American and anti imperialism. At one point a would be sniper is made to be a hero and a martyr. It’s also a beautiful and fascinating film. And American imperialism had it coming. The reason this survives and is worth revisiting is because it’s not so focused on the solution but on the problems. No matter what your opinion is on Castro, the conditions under Batista were intolerable and there was ample justification for revolution. Again, though, it’s also a beautifully shot film. Though somewhat languidly paced, some of the imagery is mesmerizing.

Dr. Strangelove is the first title on the list that I’ve seen before. The first time was on VHS in the late ‘80’s. I watched it twice in the three day rental period. I saw it again a few years later on the big screen, probably a restored print for some anniversary release. That may have been 15 to 20 years ago. To say I was looking forward to it is an understatement of great magnitude. All these years later, its lost none of its power or relevance. It is both completely a product of its time and utterly timeless. Stanley Kubrick started out developing this script as a drama, but discovered that, as the strategy of nuclear warfare was completely absurd, the idea of shifting to satire just seemed perfect. I can’t think of another film that is this hilarious and terrifying. I found myself looking up Kubrick, as I was looking forward to several of his titles on this list. I knew he was far from prolific, but I was still moderately surprised to see that, in a career that spanned nearly 50 years, he only directed 16 films. This is not only one of his greatest, but one of the very great films.

It would be hard for any film to follow the previous entry, but Seven Days in May is still very good. It’s more of a straight drama, though works well as a companion piece to Strangelove. Both contain fictional presidents and generals set against tensions with U.S.S.R. But they also highlight the conflict between politicians who want to keep the peace, however tenuous, and military figures chomping at the bit to jump into war. In Strangelove, Sterling Hayden’s Gen. Jack Ripper subverts the system to start a nuclear strike that triggers the destruction of the human race. In this one, Burt Lancaster’s Gen. Scott is engineering a conspiracy to overthrow the president. Arguably, the latter is almost more frightening as Hayden’s character is clearly batshit, while Lancaster is just the kind of charismatic seemingly reasonable figure that could make people side with him. Curiously, things seemed reversed in the recent Bush administration, with Bush excitedly pushing war and his general urging reason. Unfortunately, we seem to be back with this dynamic in the current administration. Recently, I saw Bob Woodward plugging his latest presidential book on Charlie Rose. It was a little unnerving to hear the way he described the generals pushing Obama around and not even making any real effort to try scaled back plans in Afghanistan. Of course, the media coverage of this only talked about Woodward’s speculation that Hillary Clinton might replace Joe Biden on the ticket in 2012. Guess Kubrick was right. Absurdity is the only way to make sense of any of it.

So don’t trust the authorities. Whether it’s the incompetent bobbies in The Ladykillers, a ruthless dictatorship in I Am Cuba, or the squabbling politicians and generals who insist that the only way to avoid nuclear holocaust is to build more nuclear bombs. Feels like we’re off to a good start. Up next is A Hard Day’s Night, Fail Safe, My Fair Lady, and then its off to 1965.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Day 1 approaches and The List

I'm planning to begin Day 1 on Sat., October 23 with a screening of The Ladykillers followed by a cold war triple feature on Sunday. I'll post soon. I realized, in case you want to play along at home, that I should post the list in its entirety once. This is, as mentioned before, in order of release date, which is the order I'll be screening. More to come!

The Ladykillers
I am Cuba
Dr Strangelove
Seven Days in May
A Hard Days’s Night
Fail Safe
My Fair Lady
The Pawn Broker
Cat Ballou
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
A Man and a Woman
Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf?
Don’t Look Back
In the Heat of the Night
Bonnie and Clyde
Wait Until Dark
Cool Hand Luke
In Cold Blood
The Graduate
The Producers
2001: A Space Odyssey
The Party
The Odd Couple
Rosemary’s Baby
The Thomas Crown Affair
The Lion in Winter
Easy Rider
Midnight Cowboy
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Five Easy Pieces
Little Murders
McCabe & Mrs Miller
Carnal Knowledge
The Last Picture Show
The French Connection
Straw Dogs
A Clockwork Orange
Harold and Maude
The Hot Rock
The Godfather
The Candidate
Everything You always wanted to know about Sex but were afraid to ask
Jeremiah Johnson
The King of Marvin Gardens
Last Tango in Paris
The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean
The Long Goodbye
High Plains Drifter
Paper Moon
The Day of the Jackal
American Graffiti
Bang the Drum Slowly
Mean Streets
The Way We Were
Don’t Look Now
The Last Detail
The Sting
The Exorcist
Blazing Saddles
The Great Gatsby
The Conversation
The Parallax View
The Longest Yard
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three
Murder on the Orient Express
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
The Godfather Part II
Young Frankenstein
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Dog Day Afternoon
Three Days of the Condor
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Taxi Driver
All the President’s Men
The Bad News Bears
The Omen
The Front
Marathon Man
Bound for Glory

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Welcome to The Untitled George Clooney Project or 100 Films in 100 days(ish). A few months ago I felt a little bit of malaise setting in regarding the films I was seeing. To put things in context I see a fair amount of films in theaters and a greater number using my Netflix account. I'd noticed a pattern lately. Most of the titles I'd been looking most forward to were TV shows such as Mad Men, Battlestar Galactica, Breaking Bad, etc. I'd been trying to have a significant number of titles be actual films, but my inspiration was waning. More often it seemed that films I had little excitement about were showing up on my queue. Perhaps films that had been languishing in obscurity finding their way to the top due to neglect. Some better than expected, some adequate, rarely anything outright bad, but in more than one instance I found myself scratching my head as to how it found its way there. And then I rented Sam Peckinpah's Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. This was the sort of film I should be spending my time with. I found myself wanting to go through a list of films that I was excited to see. I toyed with having a Monday Night Screening series at my house. I ran it by a couple of friends who seemed enthusiastic, but we all got busy. I thought maybe I should pick a director like Peckinpah or Altman or Ashby or Scorsese(the list goes on) and run through the complete works. But that seemed too easy to tire of. Oscar winners? Too much pretention and populism. Oscar doesn't connote quality as much as being in the right place at the right time. If you've got an awards season budget, you might be on this list. The AFI list? Similar problems. Both of these lists shared plenty of titles I'd look forward to coupled with films I would dread.

And then I remembered something I'd seen a few years ago. George Clooney had sent his friends 100 DVDs of his favorite films from what he deigned to be the best or most remarkable or something period in recent cinematic history. All but one between 1964-1976. I sought out this list and discovered I'd seen around 60 of them and among the titles were some of my all time favorites. They also had a remarkable eclecticism from splashy musicals to drama to documentaries to silly comedies to experimental foreign films to, well, you get the drift. I wouldn't have to worry about lack of shift in tone.

So here's what I decided to do. I'm going to watch all 100 films in chronological order in 100 days. Or maybe more. Probably more. It could be 200. I certainly hope it isn't 300. The number is a guideline to urge me to completion, not to enslave me to this blog. I understand that life might get in the way. I'm not going to call in sick to work for this blog. I'm not going to end my social life for this blog. If certain things cause extreme delays, well, I'll write about that. Perhaps a certain amount of navel gazing and reflection on my personal life and worldview will ensue. But I'm far too full of self-loathing to really believe something just about me would even sustain my interest, let alone yours. Maybe I've shared too much already. Anyway, here are the guidelines.

I'm not really big on rules, but I have to have some sort of approach so I know what rules to break. As stated before, I'm going to watch all 100 films in chronological order. The dates are determined by the earliest screening date as reported by IMDB. If I get some of these a little wrong, I'm not interested in having a debate over it. If somehow, they're a lot wrong, please let me know. I'm doing this almost entirely through my Netflix account, so if there are ever any delays, I may invert a couple of titles in the interest of efficiency. I'm not going to sweat seeing a film that was released in October followed by one from July if I have to. I'll be watching all of these films on a 42" 1080p plasma TV with a Bluray player. If I choose to watch any elsewhere, my rule is the technology has to be as good or better. I live in New York City where there are frequent revivals, so a screening at the Film Forum is certainly an upgrade. This would also be an example where I'd be willing to fudge the order a bit in order to have the best experience possible. But most of these screenings will be taking place in the living room of my one bedroom apartment in Astoria, Queens. I hope to have a rotating guest list of people to join me in the screenings in the interest of providing as many variables as possible. I think that does it for rules, guidelines, what have you.

I have no formal training in writing or in film history, but I am an avid film buff and I admire and consume film criticism. Perhaps the most frequent reviews I seek out are those of Roger Ebert. I was going to say apologies to Armond White fans, but Armond White's kind of an asshole. So fuck you Armond White fans. If you've ever read any Armond White, you know he can take it. I don't always agree with Ebert, but I like his writing style, and I've read enough of him to know his voice. Sometimes I'll even read a bad review that makes me want to see the film because I know his baggage. Perhaps the most glaring example of this is one of my favorite films of all time, Blue Velvet. There are those who think that film criticism can be an objective medium. But everyone brings their own baggage to criticism, be it general tastes or actors or directors we just don't care for. A good critic will recognize and cop to these biases. The ones he can recognize in himself anyway. And that's something I'll strive for, especially in the films that are my favorite or otherwise. Kubrick's one of my favorite directors. I've always thought Pollack was a bit overrated. These are just a few examples that I want to put on the table whenever possible. Hopefully, whatever personal details I share about myself as well as my worldview, such as it is, will inform my writing as well. I have a few other ideas as to how I'll frame my posts, but perhaps its best that, from here on out, I just let this project begin and define itself as it evolves. Day one is approaching.