Yes, I Guess You Will

#15: Pather Panchali/Aparajito/Apur Sansar (Satyajit Ray, 1955/56/59) I was whining and cajoling and instigating about being too deferential to the canon the other day. Itís my turn now, so different rules. Iím exceptionally lucky to have seen these at the Cinematheque back-to-back-to-back in a sin- gle sitting something like 15 years ago--a little under six hours, plus a short break between each film. I saw them again on consecutive days a few years later, and last week I watched them all at home over the course of four or five days. But itís still that first encounter I think back to. There are certain screenings in my life that I carry around in my head the way you might remember famous bands you saw in your 20s, and seeing The Apu Trilogy (as itís gen- erally called) shown as the one long movie it essentially is occupies a place at or near the top of that list. I want to call it a time-lapse version of a human life lived, but thatís just what it feel likes when itís all over; in actual fact, Pather Panchali begins before Apu is born, and Apur Sansar only takes him up to about the age of 30. I could have limited myself to just Pather Panchali, which I think most people would agree is closer to perfection than the two later instalments. (Thereís one moment that doesnít hit me right--the fatherís reaction to Durgaís death--otherwise Iíd say it is perfection.) Chunibala Devi as the old aunt is like Charles Crumb: you will literally never encounter anyone else remotely like her in any other film. Iíll again link to the montage of Ravi Shankar music I used for the song countdown, which is basically Pather Panchali in miniature. You get our intro- duction to the boy Apu just past the 1:40 mark (a moment as joyous as anything I can think of), some nature footage around 4:00 that ranks with the riverboat sequence in Night of the Hunter, Durgaís otherworldly communion with the monsoon around 7:00, and the lingering sadness of the filmís final image. On its own, Pather Panchali just barely snuck into Sight & Soundís Top 10 list in 1992--the year of Rayís death, although I donít know if thereís any connection; he died in April, and I thought the poll was published early in the year--but dropped out again last time. Iím voting for the trilogy, though, because there are moments in Aparajito and Apur Sansar I simply would not want to be without. Iím thinking especially of Apu in Aparajito after his teacher gives him the books, and he starts breathlessly sharing his discoveries about eclipses and Africa with his mother. Again, joyous--the simplest, most joyous expression of opening oneís eyes to the world that youíll ever see. (A sly echo of the first film, therefore, a me- taphorical opening of oneís eyes rather than literal.) Or the scene where the children watch the puppet show, clearly the inspiration for a similar scene in The 400 Blows. And more death, of course, a part of Apuís journey in every film; in Aparajito, he loses both parents. Apur Sansar belongs to Sharmila Tagore, Apuís accidental wife as he struggles to find his place in the world as an adult--her and Alok Chakravarty as Apuís estranged son Kajal. You canít find a speck of information about him online (Apur Sansar was his only film), but the sequence of him running around with that silly mask on, or his cat-and-mouse maneuvering with his father at the end of the film, brings everything full circle back to the young Apu in Pather Panchali. Heís amazing. We can take this up later, but Iíve argued elsewhere that I agree with Sight & Soundís decision to combine votes for the first two Godfathers in their annual poll (which is how Coppola ended up fourth on the 2002 criticsí list). They donít do it with the Apu films, though, and Iím not sure what their rationale is there. If they had combined votes, according to Wikipedia, the trilogy would have ranked #4 on the í92 list, and #14 last time; in the Voiceís ďFilms of the CenturyĒ list done in 2000, it would have finished fifth combining votes for all three. #14: The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974) I used the word ďjoyousĒ three times in my last post. Not much joy here--Alan Garfieldís Wil- liam P. Moran is even funnier (and scuzzier) than his ad-man in The Candidate, but thatís about it for laughs. I wonít try digging up the quote, but somebody I once came across called Vertigo, Richard Lesterís Petulia, and The Conversation San Franciscoís great trilogy of ali- enation, or ennui, or existentialist despair, or one of those really grim philosophical dispo- sitions that people write papers about in grad school. The Conversation may also have been the film I was trying to remember earlier in this countdown when I said there was something else that had been blessed with serendipitous timing the equal of The China Syndrome. IMDB has its American release date as April 7, 1974, placing it somewhere in the middle of Alexander But- terfieldís testimony before the Watergate committee (July 16, 1973, when he revealed Nixonís in-house taping system) and Nixonís resignation on August 9, 1974. You could certainly say that that was savvy marketing on Coppolaís behalf, but seeing as he had completed the script for The Conversation as far back as the late Ď60s, Iíd say that whatever delays held up its completion as a film until 1974 transformed prescience into serendipity. I have often felt that The Conversation is an even better film than the first two Godfathers. Itís a meaningless comparison ultimately: one is small and moody and cerebral, the other is large and effusive and emotional, and itís almost difficult to reconcile them as being the work of one director. (Iím simplifying, of course--thereís lots of moodiness in the Godfathers, and if cerebral just means smart, then theyíre cerebral, too.) I believe Coppola has gone on record as saying he felt closer to The Conversation, but that doesnít count for much as far as my own response goes (besides which, artists are not always their most insightful critics). What is less open to dispute, Iíd say, is that itís either the definitive Nixon film, or at the very least one of two or three on which you might hang that title. And, as you may have guessed by now, thatís worth a whole when it comes to ranking my favourite films. The Conversation is a Nixon film not just because of the obvious, that Gene Hackmanís grubby surveillance expert is like a composite of Hunt, Liddy, Segretti, and all of Nixonís other low- level operatives, the plumbers and dirty-tricks experts who themselves functioned as a subver- sive extension of Nixonís paranoia. You donít need all the middlemen; in many ways, Hackmanís Harry Caul is Nixon himself. Heís socially inept, ultra-secretive, conspiratorial, shadowy and anonymous, and heís able to dissociate himself completely from the morality of his actions if called to account. Pestered by Moran about a job of his that once led to someoneís gruesome murder, Harry just brushes it aside: ďIt had nothing to do with me--I just turned in the tapes.Ē As Caul skulks around San Francisco in his grey, rumpled raincoat, trying to remain as invisible as humanly possible as he implicates himself deeper and deeper in some shady cor- porate power-play he only dimly understands, heís like a phantasmagoric embodiment of the last miserable months of Nixonís presidency. Heís Nixon and Nixonís henchmen rolled into one, try- ing to navigate his way through a maze as murky and unknowable as Watergate. (American films of the Ď70s housed all kinds of different Nixons, something I wrote about in a piece Iíll link to below.) I overdo the Nixon stuff, I know. The Conversation is just as spooky as a Big Brother parable, or as a foreshadowing of the YouTube/Facebook/Google world we live in today, where notions of privacy are (voluntarily and otherwise) slipping away. Thereís a recurring moment in The Con- versation where Harry is suddenly horrified to find his universe flipped on its head and him- self the one being surveilled--happens at least four times. If the film had been made today, heíd be a computer hacker who gets hit with identity theft. Hackmanís performance is one of the greatest ever, I think, while character acting never got any better in the Ď70s than Garfield and John Cazale (more on them in the linked piece). One last thing: much like Marathon Man, youíll always remember The Conversation for a single line of dialogue. You hear that line two different ways by the time the filmís over, and--ingeni- ously on the part of Coppola--the puzzle at the center of everything hinges on the difference. #13: The Heart of the Game (Ward Serrill, 2005) It may turn out otherwise, but Iím fairly sure this will be the most obscure pick by any of us from this point forward. Relatively obscure; itís been rated by 669 people on IMDB (for purposes of comparison, Pulp Fiction has been rated by just under half a million, Welfare by 124), and you can link to 51 external reviews, including Ebert, the Voice, and Rolling Stone. So itís not exactly an experimental film from the Ď60s, or one of those Ukrainian silents from the Ď20s that were once all the rage with film undergrads. But I figure my yearly screenings in class have single-handedly accounted for 17% of this filmís viewership over the past half- decade. I havenít provided many plot summaries (or maybe just descriptions--this is a documentary) during this countdown so far, but as briefly as possible: The Heart of the Game follows Darn- ellia Russell, a high school basketball player, and Bill Resler, her coach, for a period that begins with the season before Darnellia arrives as a freshman at Seattleís Roosevelt High, and carries through to her graduation five years later. Yes--itís basically Hoop Dreams, which Steven listed earlier. I like Hoop Dreams a lot. I absolutely love The Heart of the Game. Darnellia and Resler are one of my favourite screen couples of all time. (It would seem as wrong to call her by her last name as it would to call him by his first.) Not in that way, no--nothing unseemly here, although we do learn that one of Darnelliaís teammates is indeed being sexually preyed upon by her private basketball instructor, a brief but powerful detour. Theyíre like a template for one of those opposites-attract romantic comedies: Darnellia an intense, quiet, intimidating, mercurial black teenager, Resler a dishevelled, philosophical, avuncular, wildly outgoing white 50-something whoís also--much to the amusement of Darnellia and her teammates--slightly unhinged. Or at least thatís the image he cultivates in order to get the most out of his players. They even ďmeet cuteĒ when Resler sidles up anonymously to Darnellia the day tryouts begin: ďThey tell me you play some basketball.Ē ďWho are you?Ē ďIím the coach.Ē ďOh.Ē Add long pauses and an appropriate level of disdain for full effect. I wonít detail the ups and downs of Darnelliaís time at Roosevelt, other than to say (just like Hoop Dreams) the film encompasses so much above and beyond basketball--and the basketball stuff is thrilling. Somewhere, I think it may have been one of those annual Time Out guides, I read a reviewer who brushed off The Heart of the Game to the effect of ďnothing you havenít seen before.Ē It struck me as just a supremely stupid comment. I mean, if you reduce the film to its basic trial-tribulation-big game arc, sure. Just like if you reduce Citizen Kane to ďguy who has everything loses it all,Ē it looks kind of ordinary on paper too. I had my students this year write fan letters just as school was ending, and I posted them using whatever addresses we could track down online. One of my girls wrote to Darnellia. We couldnít find anything for her, so I actually sent her a short message via Facebook explaining what weíd done and would she mind providing an address where I could send my studentís letter. Never heard back--she undoubtedly thought I was a nut. The letterís still sitting in my car. I just found the filmís website, though, and there looks to be a couple of options there. #12: Five Easy Pieces (Bob Rafelson, 1970) Bert Schneider, 1969: ďIf I could find a no-name American director who has the Bergman look and the Bergman feel, I could make a billion dollars.Ē Iím just making that up, of course, and Iím not even sure if, beyond an obvious Wild Strawberries homage, Five Easy Pieces has much to do with Bergman (ďOf course, the people are all wrong for BergmanĒ--Geraldine Chaplin in Nash- ville). Itís probably got more of an Antonioni feel. In any event, itís very definitely an American attempt as the Ď70s got underway to make a European-style art film of the 1960s. Con- tinuing on from The Graduate, Bonnie and Clyde, Easy Rider, and a few others that set the stage, I imagine Five Easy Pieces felt like something new at the time. I can only guess--my own history with FEP is blurrier to me than most of what Iíve listed. I remember seeing it with my first-year roommate at university, and how much he loved it--this would have been í79 or í80--and while Iím positive Iíd seen it a time or two on television before that, that was probably when it permanently lodged itself in my own imagination too. That Tom would have gravitated towards such a film doesnít surprise me; he may have been the most Bobby Dupea-like person Iíve ever known, an incredibly bright guy who lasted all of one year at UT before first heading back home to Indiana, and then drifting (back to Toronto, for a while) for a few years after that. He was similar in broad outline, anyway--maybe I just want to say Iíve known a Bobby Dupea, since Iím not much of a Dupea myself. Director Bob Rafelson turned into such a cipher after a couple of more films, Iím not sure how to explain the almost perfect pitch he achieves in Five Easy Pieces. Only once, when he has Nicholson tell off a pompous writer, does he (badly) telegraph anything. Rafelson quickly redeems himself, though, first in the incredible scene Iíll link to below, Nicholson trying to explain his whole life in a few halting sentences to his paralyzed, unresponsive father, then again in the how-could-it-end-otherwise? final scene. Nicholsonís monologue with his father contravenes a rule I think films are generally wise to observe: show, donít tell. Nicholson tries to tell--very poorly--and it works. (The Dupea family reminds me somewhat of the Berk- mans in The Squid and the Whale.) Watching Five Easy Pieces tonight, the ending seemed very much in line with those lingering, unresolved endings already discussed from The Graduate, The Heartbreak Kid, and The Candidate; just like in the latter, the third time Nicholson says ďIím fineĒ he does so silently. What else...LŠszlů KovŠcsí cinematography: even a decades-old VHS on a 17Ē screen looks pain- terly in the best sense. Some of my favourite shots are when Nicholson wanders around town the night after he hops on that truck with the piano. Try to imagine The Last Picture Show in colour--no less desolate, but a vivid wash of neon rather than dust. Karen Black and Susan Anspach are a couple of iconic actresses of their day who only make sense in the context of the Ď70s. Black, especially--sheís got to be up there with Shelly Duvall as the decadeís most unconventional conception of female beauty. The expression on Nicholsonís face when she starts counting sheep as a come-on to sex defies description. Billy Green Bush, Lois Smith, Fannie Flagg, theyíre all great. I will, of course, provide a second link, the diner scene. Iíve played it for my students many times, and I always tell them itís the key scene of the decade. May be true, may not be--it sounds dramatic, and I donít think itís an indefensible statement. I wonder sometimes whether actors have any idea that theyíre doing a scene that will become famous. Thereís a brief shot near the beginning of the diner scene, just after the waitress says ďNo substitutions,Ē of Helena Kallianiotes and Toni Basil looking on in such a way that it almost feels like theyíre bracing for something historic. I also love the punch-line to the scene back in the car, which is easy to forget after Nicholsonís show of bravado: ďYeah, well I didnít get it, did I?Ē His toast, that is. New decade. #11: Les Quatre Cents Coups (FranÁois Truffaut, 1959) Just this past Sunday, I was at the Jays game where they retired Roberto Alomarís number. It was the first time the club has ever done that; my guess is itíll happen again 15 years from now with Roy Halladay. So what does that have to do with a half-century old French film? Well, Taxi Driver was slated for this spot a few weeks ago, before Steven listed it as his #30. I knew itíd be a tough one for me to drop, but thatís what Iím doing. Which is fine: itís a film that Iíve seen too many times, thought about too much, quoted too often, and written about enough. So if you can direct your attention over to the scoreboard in centerfield, youíll see that Iím retiring Taxi Driverís number. That also drops Scorsese from my list. Cíest la vie, say the old folks, etc. This will also give me a chance to amend something I think I was wrong about earlier, when I listed Shoot the Piano Player: ďI could have gone with The 400 Blows...but I still feel closer to Tirez sur le pianiste.Ē And indeed, such was true for years and years--through my 20s and 30s, The 400 Blows was just one of those canonical, good-for-you films that Iíd see periodi- cally, enjoy, and never give a second thought to. But the last two or three times, including another look soon after I listed Shoot the Piano Player, it has deepened in ways I wasnít expecting. Itís a film about a kid, but it took me a few decades to really see it. The first change was something I briefly mentioned in my Piano Player comment: the idea that I now experience The 400 Blows from the other side of a divide that I crossed somewhere along the way. Through my 20s and into my early 30s, even though I wasnít all that close to Antoine chronologically anymore, I retained enough of his adolescent sense of aggrievement that I still saw The 400 Blows more or less through Antoineís eyes. It wasnít teachers and parents giving me grief, but it was still me against the world, and I still felt put-upon and crowded from all sides, much like Antoine. Today, itís different. Watching Antoine now, I think of all the time I spend nagging at kids--getting on them about unfinished homework, telling them to turn around or stop talking or get back to work, making sure at every turn that they donít do the kind of silly things 12-year-olds do for fear of having the class slide off into something resembling the anarchic pillow fight in Zťro de conduite. I embody the drudgery thatís there waiting for kids when they come back from the weekend or summer vacation. Iím no longer Antoine, or even someone who can relate to Antoine tangentially; Iím now one of the people who makes Antoineís life miserable. As a teacher, and a pretty strict one by disposition--a control freak, essen- tially--I feel all of this acutely, but maybe I would have ended up on the other side of that divide anyway, I donít know. Thereís something else I find tremendously moving about The 400 Blows now, specifically having to do with the famous ending, something more elusive and harder to explain. If you watch a lot of films, and know something about film history--enough that youíre able to step back and take a longer view than whatever youíre watching at any given moment--certain images acquire the power to resonate far above and beyond their function within a film itself. I donít know if thereís an equivalent as far as music goes; songs are songs, and I hear them whole. But I remember sitting in a rep theatre three or four years ago, watching Antoine running along the beach as if for the first time, and when the camera swooped in and locked on that famous freeze-frame, I felt myself suddenly caught up in an awareness that film history was never going to be the same after this shot--that Truffaut had, in a single image, opened the door to all the New Wave films of the Ď60s, and more generally to the European art films of the Ď60s, which in turn would lead to all the American films of the Ď70s that mean so much to me, so on and so forth. No matter how much of a simplification that is, thatís exactly how it felt, and I still remember that flash of awareness vividly. So hereís the ending, plus the puppet show Antoine and his friend happen upon during one of their truancy adventures around the streets of Paris. You can clearly see the influence of a similar puppet show in Pather Panchali there, and Ray can also be felt in the way Truffaut presents Antoineís parents: an ineffectual, somewhat bumbling but well-meaning father, and a mother whoís resigned and businesslike to the point of seeming aloof at times. Wish I could add a third clip of Antoine on the gravity-defying carnival ride, but no luck. #10: Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007) I think with everything Iíve listed so far, and everything Iíll be listing after this, Iím able to quickly zero in on what it is I love about a particular film. (In my mind, I mean-- how well Iím then able to explain myself is a separate issue.) Not so easy with Zodiac, least of all why Iíve got it in my Top 10. Itís a serial-killer movie--an unusually long one (almost three hours), but superficially it has more in common with The Bone Collector or The Eyes of Laura Mars (or David Fincherís own Se7en) than with Citizen Kane or The Seven Samurai or what more typically ends up near the top of these lists. The easiest explanation is that the ranking is simply a reflection of how often Iíve watched Zodiac since it came out: after another look yesterday, Iím probably closing in on my 10th viewing. Eventually Iíll wear it out, the mistake I always make with my favourite films, but for now, based solely on what sabermetricians deri- sively call counting stats, it belongs in my Top 10. The less easy explanation is something I hinted at weeks ago: This is important. This means something. Youíve heard that already during this countdown. Itís the mantra voiced by two or three characters in Close Encounters of the Third Kind--by Dreyfuss, by Truffaut, and I think (not sure) by Melinda Dillon, too. You never hear the exact same words in Zodiac--Jake Gyllen- haal speaks a variation on them a couple of times when cornered as to why heís so obsessed with solving a case others have abandoned--but theyíre the foundation upon which a film that fascinates and puzzles me like no other the past few years is built. And, just as with Close Encounters, the something that is so important is a blank canvas left for you to fill in your- self. Steven and I had a bit of back-and-forth about this on his blog a while back. He thinks the failure (intentional or otherwise) to provide some sort of explanation for Gyllenhaalís obsession is a weakness of the film; for me, itís one of Zodiacís major strengths. Because of its length, Zodiac is a serial-killer movie like no other. Thereís time enough for it to be a meticulously detailed procedural--theories and facts and criss-crossing timelines accumulate inexorably (in the space of a minute or two, subtitles will hurl you forward hours, then weeks, then months)--but that largeness also begins to take on a dreamlike quality as the film progresses, creating space to wander around in and get lost. So you get sequences like the time-lapse construction of a skyscraper (with Marvin Gayeís ďInner CityĒ playing underneath), or the what-we-do-is-secret ďHurdy Gurdy ManĒ opening, where the visuals have a beauty and an intensity that belie the gruesome subject matter; a narrative where the killer will disappear for long stretches of time, becoming more amorphous and elusive with each passing year, almost to the point of abstraction; and a feeling for period that seems both unreal (Iíve never seen a recreation of the late-Ď60s and Ď70s that looks or feels anything like this) and absolutely right. One of the things I love most about Zodiac is the way the three leads play off of each other. Thereís something very classical and very satisfying about the way theyíre triangulated. Gyl- lenhaal, a veritable Boy Scout--Eagle Scout, to get technical--is on one side, Robert Downeyís sardonic drunk is on the other, and caught somewhere between them is Ruffalo, the Hawksian cop who just wants to be left alone to do his job with as little fanfare as possible. Thatís not really a triangle...I think Ruffaloís especially great. Downey is showy, as always, but I like him fine here, and Gyllenhaal projects wide-eyed befuddlement as credibly as the kid in Il Posto. Ruffalo, though--I think heís my favourite movie cop ever, and the way he interacts with his partner, played by Anthony Edwards, reminds me of Cooper and Truman in Twin Peaks. (Stuff you learn checking IMDB: Edwards was also in Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Heart Like a Wheel, where he was Shirley Muldowneyís son. Hadnít a clue.) I could single out another dozen performances, but Iíll limit myself to one: ChloŽ Sevigny makes a great hippychick circa 1970. In the end, Gyllenhaalís obsession is never explained and the killer is never caught. But as defined by Gyllenhaal earlier in the film, we are left to believe that, in a single instant, closure has come for him. Itís an amazing moment--perversely religious in a way, like Moses looking upon the burning bush up on Mount Sinai. #9: On the Waterfront (Elia Kazan, 1954) Stevenís #9 caught me by surprise--heís been saying that his Top 10 is ďpretty standard,Ē and while Streetcar is indeed a venerated, highly-awarded film, itís not to my mind something that turns up on those Sight & Sound lists we keep talking about. And, as Iím sure Iíve made clear by now, for me thatís a good thing. (Which is not to say that the films that do turn up on those lists are a bad thing...geez, here I am heading down that same dead-end road again.) Anyway, since heís got Brando at #9, Iíll drop my #8 one spot so I can have him there too. Hereís a brief history of three decades of American film thatís simplified to the point of be- ing meaningless: the Ď30s were stylish people in evening dress exchanging barbed witticisms; the Ď40s brought shadowy dread and film noir; and the Ď50s were wide open and epic--the films that come to mind when I think about the Ď50s are East of Eden and Shane, The Searchers and From Here to Eternity, The Ten Commandments and The Bridge on the River Kwai. The advent of Cinemascope obviously had something to do with that; for all I know, maybe Eisenhower did too. (He seemed like kind of a wide open and epic guy.) There are a few thousand examples to the contrary, but I donít want to undermine my theory with facts--The Night of the Hunter, to name one, has got enough shadowy dread for a half-dozen film noirs. On the Waterfront was not shot in Cinemascope, and its running time is a fairly modest 108 minutes. It certainly feels epic, though, especially in memory--its emotions and ambitions are large. I almost want to quote two words from Stevenís Streetcar comment--ďBut Brando...Ē-- and leave it at that, but when I first saw and fell in love with the film some 25 years ago, I discovered that there really was a lot more here than just him. For starters, weíve already got a director whoís placed two different films in our Top 10s--he was no slouch. Boris Kauf- manís cinematography, Leonard Bernsteinís music, Rod Steiger and Eva Marie Saint and Lee J. Cobb, thereís landmark work all over Waterfront. (Karl Malden, a little less so.) And if youíre so inclined, itís also a film that dives right into the great political issue of its day, McCarthyism and the ethical calculus of turning stateís evidence when cornered. But not exactly objectively: Waterfront is widely perceived as Kazanís self-exculpatory parable for his own role in the HUAC hearings of the early Ď50s. (I should mention here that Waterfrontís script was actually written by Budd Schulberg.) I read Richard Schickelís biography of Kazan, and without detouring into specifics, most of which I donít remember anyway, Schickel (a Kazan advocate) says itís a gray area. People still have very strong feelings about Kazanís testimony (and, as a consequence, Waterfrontís alleged role in excusing that testimony), on full display when Kazan was given his honorary Academy Award a few years ago, just prior to his death. I donít know--in the context of the film, detached from the events of Kazanís own life, Terry Malloyís testimony against the mob rack- eteers who control the docks is difficult to question. But I can see why the very clarity of Malloyís situation, and the fact that heís made to nobly agonize over his decision, infuriates Kazanís critics. The first scene Iíd show from Waterfront to illustrate Brando at work is not the cab ride he shares with Rod Steiger. The cab scene is tremendous--Iíll provide a link to that too. (Ideally, I could set this up so you could look at a triptych of Brando and Steiger alongside De Niroís quotation in Raging Bull, next to Mark Wahlbergís quotation in Boogie Nights of De Niro quoting Brando.) But my absolute favourite scene is Brando and Eva Marie Saint in the park. I canít think of a more perfectly acted scene in the whole history of movies--by both of them--or one thatís more romantic. It also has one of those moments that steps outside the film and seems to reach into the future: at 2:20, when Brando touches his nose and then says, ďWell, some people just got faces that stick in your mind.Ē On cue, Bernsteinís music reappears. Brilliant--absol- utely brilliant. (For purposes of comparison, Iíll also link to Bobby Bittmanís ill-fated On the Waterfront Again remake. Brando notwithstanding, this acting stuffís just not as easy as it looks.) #8: Goiní Down the Road (Don Shebib, 1970) I think all three of us hope for lots of comments every time we post. Iíll have to count on the Canadians in the group here, as Iím not sure if itís even possible to see Goiní Down the Road in the States. You could, if you wanted to, spend between $50-$80 for a copy on Amazon--a Canadian company named Seville put it on DVD a few years ago. (It currently sits at #145,239 on Amazonís movie/TV sales rankings, something I found pretty funny until I saw that I Wanna Be Sedated ranks #2,062,727 among books--now thatís funny.) I donít know if itís the kind of thing that Netflix ever makes available. It did have one bit of high-profile exposure to Americans four decades ago: Kael reviewed it for The New Yorker, later collected in Deeper Into Movies. Itís not much of an exaggeration to call Goiní Down the Road the Canadian Birth of a Nation-- maybe someone else would say that designation belongs to Don Owenís Nobody Waved Goodbye from a few years earlier, but I suspect there was a much more rapid expansion of the Canadian film industry after Shebibís film than Owenís. (Another film around the time of Goiní Down the Road, Claude Jutraís Mon Oncle Antoine, would have factored in too.) In saying that, though, I mean much more than just its role in clearing the way for other Canadian films to get made; what Iím really referring to is its place of privilege as a national epic, and the way it gets at some- thing very fundamental about the Canadian psyche. Truthfully, if I understood the first thing about the Canadian psyche, I wouldnít have stopped watching hockey 35 years ago. So let me ap- proach that idea from a different direction. When I listed Bruce Cockburnís title song on the music countdown, Mike Rawding posted this comment: ďNo word of a lie, Phil: this movie is the life story of my dad and his brothers and sisters.Ē There--that does a much better job of capturing what Iím trying to get at. Goiní Down the Road has some affinities with Midnight Cowboy. Itís the story of a couple of rubes who find themselves lost in the city, especially clueless as they try to process the cultural changes exploding around them. There are many more differences between the two films than similarities, but I wouldnít be surprised if Shebib had seen and was somewhat influenced by Schlesingerís film. Midnight Cowboy has 42nd St. for ambience, Goiní Down the Road has Yonge St. And thatís where I connect most deeply to Goin Down the Road as a Canadian: the romance that Yonge St. held for me as a teenager growing up in the shadow of Toronto in the Ď70s. I mean, my friends and I would actually take a bus downtown just to play pinball at Funland. There was Samís every Boxing Day, of course, and then when we were a little older--well, letís not get into that. The Taxi Driver screening I mentioned yesterday was on Yonge St. By the time I started university in Ď79, the Yonge St. of Goiní Down the Road was probably starting to dis- appear--I think there was some kind of clean-up after the Emanuel Jaques murder in í77. Iíve written before about the scene where Joey and Petey go into Samís--incredibly evocative of a moment long gone, and now, for the first time, I can link to it. Yonge St. is absolutely a central character in Goiní Down the Road. Quick story. I recently attended a Toronto Film Society double-bill where Don Shebib was sched- uled to speak beforehand. As I stood in line to buy my ticket, he was standing off to the side talking to somebody. I waited until they finished, then approached him, introduced myself, and said how much I loved Goiní Down the Road. I mentioned that I showed the Samís scene in my grade 6 class every year (on Erik Satieís birthday), reminded him that I had asked a question at a Q&A he gave a few years earlier (about the woman at the 10:40 mark), and said that I was planning to list Goiní Down the Road very high in a countdown I was in the midst of doing on Facebook. He politely thanked me, but didnít seem all that interested. The next day a friend e-mailed me this, which helped shed some light on his standoffishness. Disappointing--under- standable, but disappointing. Goiní Down the Road is the one time he got it exactly right, though, whether he ever makes his peace with that or not. #7: Spellbound (Jeffrey Blitz, 2002) Last documentary for me, meaning my favourite one ever. Iíve got an inside track that Steven and Jeff still have at least one each left. Spellbound is a film Iíve written about twice for Scottís site, first as my #1 film on a 2002 year-end, then again as my #1 on a decade-end list. I donít want to repeat a bunch of stuff I said there, so Iím going to link to those two pieces. Iím not tired; thereís just a finite amount of thoughts I have on this or any other film, and Iíve already hit the wall with Spellbound. This past week, I finished conducting a documentary poll on the message board Iím always making reference to. Spellbound snuck into the Top 40, barely--I gave it a lot of points, and someone else gave it a few. Crumb finished first. Something came up as the countdown progressed that seems to me to be very pertinent to Spell- bound. Without getting too specific, there was some carping that things like Anvil! The Story of Anvil* (about a hapless metal band) and The King of Kong (middle-aged guys addicted to Ď80s video games) were landing in the Top 40, while there was nothing in there from the likes of Frederic Wiseman or Chris Marker. There seemed to be the suggestion at one point--it was hard to tell, and someone said I was misinterpreting--that documentaries were valid only in propor- tion to the seriousness of their subjects. Shoah and Night and Fog and Winter Soldier were in the Top 40 too, plus films about murders and child abuse and labour strife, but they shared space with the likes of Spellbound, about a National Spelling Bee for kids. And that seemed to bother some people. When I think about the many documentaries Iíve seen the past 15 years--I always use Crumb as a convenient benchmark, after which Iíd estimate that half the new films Iíll see in any given year are documentaries--the ones that make the deepest impression on me are often those that come completely out of left field. The King of Kong would be one example, as would A League of Ordinary Gentlemen (the decline and fall and attempted resurrection of professional bowl- ing), Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey (that insane background music you hear in Ď50s sci-fi films), Mayor of the Sunset Strip (Zelig bangs a gong), and Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy (a guide to amateur scrapbooking). The subjects of these films, and many others like them, are not of world importance. The people in them tend to obsess over nothing. They take place in universes parallel to the one I inhabit. I feel like I do come out of them a better person, but not in the way that you might feel that after seeing Night and Fog or a Frederick Wiseman film. Iíve quoted Bruce Springsteen during this countdown, so I may as well quote Shakespeare, too (I know approximately as much about one as the other): ďThere are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophyĒ--thatís the flash of awareness I get as I watch a Russian guy from a hundred years ago produce sound by waving his hand between two pieces of metal. Spellbound follows eight kids as they try to outlast each other spelling words that neither they, nor nobody else, will ever use for the rest of their lives. Some of them are as likeably kidlike as can be, a couple are unusually intense, and at least one deserves a documentary of his own, although Iím not sure I could handle even five minutes more of him than what you get here. The first half of Spellbound gives you each kidís story, while the second half is given over to the competition. Were you to step back and give a momentís thought to what youíre see- ing, it would all seem rather inconsequential and maybe even a little corny. I never step back, and I donít think you will either. As the field continues to narrow, and one by one the eight kids drop out, you may even begin to feel as if the fate of the world hangs in the balance. *As I mentioned on the thread, now my official choice as greatest title ever. #6: Sweet Smell of Success (Alexander Mackendrick, 1957) Hereís another film set in a universe parallel to the one I inhabit. The people speak some- thing resembling English, but itís a language unto itself. At least I think it is--I may have just dreamed it in a dream. As memorable first screenings go, Sweet Smell of Success is way up there for me. The film seemed to be completely out of circulation for a time in the Ď80s--it was almost certainly Kael who first got me interested, and there was also the kid in Diner (a film I otherwise hated at the time--it looks okay now) who wandered around in a daze quoting lengthy sections of dialogue verbatim. Anyway, one day it suddenly showed up at 3:00 in the morning on CFMT, a local station that was primarily given over to a variety of ethnic programming. They sometimes ran movies deep into the morning, though, and whoever was picking them did not seem to have anyone looking over his shoulder; Iíd caught The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Repulsion on there at a similar hour. Sweet Smell of Success was everything Kael promised and more--it just completely knocked me out, and when I was finally able to see it on a big screen a few years later, and able to appreciate James Wong Howeís noirish cinematography, it was that much better. Like On the Waterfront, itís a film that is bound up with the McCarthyism of its day. Burt Lancasterís J.J. Hunsecker is a gloss on Walter Winchell, and heís also a stand-in for McCar- thy himself--heís in the business of destroying lives, possessed of an absolute power that corrupts and disfigures him absolutely. (Winchell was a McCarthy supporter.) Tony Curtisís Sidney Falco is sort of Roy Cohn, Hunseckerís lapdog underling, although Cohn did not seem to be terribly conflicted over his actions in the way that Falco is. The political allegory is there, and it does deepen the film, but people like me donít obsess over Sweet Smell of Success because of its political subtleties. As brilliant as Lancaster and Curtis are (if someone had wired up Nixon like they wire up Vincent D'Onofrio in The Cell, I think his id would have mani- fested itself as a monster on the order of Hunsecker), theyíre not the main attraction either. Sweet Smell of Success is about Clifford Odetsí words--a torrent of them, so caustic and acer- bic and insanely funny that youíll be quoting them for the rest of your life: ē Now you take Sidney here. If Sidney ever got anywhere near Susie, I'd take a baseball bat and break it over his head. ē J.J., you've got such contempt for people, it makes you stupid. ē You're dead, son. Get yourself buried. ē Son, I don't relish shooting a mosquito with an elephant gun, so why don't you just shuffle along? Just a sampling, skipping the Manny Davis line Iíve already made reference to three or four times during these countdowns. The dialogue in Sweet Smell of Success mesmerizes--while youíre dimly aware that nobody youíve ever met or ever will meet in your life actually talks like that, you enter the filmís world and it washes over you. I know that Iíve been waiting years for just the right moment to drop the elephant gun line on someone who especially crosses me. Thereís one glaring weakness in Sweet Smell of Success (the fact that I have it at #6 anyway tells you something about its strengths): the Martin Milner/Susan Harrison relationship on which Lancaster and Curtisís machinations pivot. Theyíre just so wholesome and earnest that they seem to have been parachuted in from some other film. Their time on screen is relatively brief. The best that I can say about them is that their dragginess brings the corrosive rot of Hunsecker and Falco into sharper relief--and when Milner is required to confront them directly, heís actually not that bad. The rest of the supporting cast is fantastic. Thereís David White from Bewitched as Otis Elwell (ďI canít even think of a bad reasonĒ), Joe Frisco as Herbie Temple (ďYou tell him I stutterĒ), Barbara Nichols as Rita the Cigarette Girl (ďI donít know, itís a big apartmentĒ), and, my favourite, Emile Meyer as the fat cop Kello (ďSidney, I want to chastise youĒ). There I am quoting dialogue again. Canít help it. For a clip, hereís the filmís most famous scene (about two minutes in), a companion of sorts to Waterfrontís cab ride--they even manage to both make reference to the Polo Grounds. Listen to Lancasterís voice at 3:15 when he says ďI want that boy taken apart.Ē His voice doesnít rise above a whisper. As they say about Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, I bet his pulse never rises above 85, either. #5: All the Presidentís Men (Alan J. Pakula, 1976) This is the last film on my list Iíve actually been looking forward to writing about. My next two have been listed already, and my #1 and #2 Iíve written about before. Other than stray com- ments on the message board, though, Iím pretty sure Iíve never written a word about All the Presidentís Men, which has slowly but inexorably made its way into my Top 10 over a number of years--going all the way back to its original release, really. I say Iím looking forward to writing about it because, more so than the music countdown, where my comments sometimes only addressed songs at a 45ļ angle at best, here Iíve been trying to zero in on what exactly it is I love about the films Iíve been listing. So now I get to find out what it is I love about All the Presidentís Men. A good place to start is Richard Nixon, 37th president of the United States. Have I mentioned that I have a long-standing fascination with Nixon? Every other film, you say?--okay. He only actually appears once* in All the Presidentís Men, and his placement is just perfect: right at the end, on a TV monitor nobodyís watching inside the offices of The Washington Post. Heís just back from China and making a triumphant appearance before Congress, and his return coincides perfectly (Hollywood does like to massage timelines) with Woodward and Bernstein having just achieved a major breakthrough in their Watergate investigation. He looks distracted, but I may just be projecting. There have been two films the past few years where I saw a number of reviews that compared them to All the Presidentís Men: Zodiac and The Social Network. (Both, of course, are David Fincher films--no more on him, promise). Zodiac because it was similarly a meticulously detailed proce- dural enacted on a large canvas, and there was also the newspaper angle linking them together; with The Social Network, it was the challenge of documenting living history that more or less happened yesterday. I would endorse the comparisons on both counts. No matter how many times I watch All the Presidentís Men, I become completely immersed in the minutia of Woodward and Bernsteinís detective work as if for the first time; like the three principals in Zodiac, they make their way through a labyrinth of setbacks, small gains, and sudden moments of clarity. As to the second point, I applaud the risk Pakula took in diving right back into Watergate at a time when I imagine most of the American public was Nixoned out to the point of exhaustion-- even though it was probably commerce and star availability that dictated that decision. Iíve read that journalism schools filled up to capacity after The Post led the way in bringing down Nixon. That romantic notion of the investigative journalist as hero is on full display in All the Presidentís Men, the culmination of Murrow and Cronkite beforehand, a moment worlds away from the regard in which the media is held today. (Rather loud descendents like Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi keep the moment alive, I suppose.) Hoffman and Redford carry it off with just the right balance of movie-star dash, gonzo scrambling, and odd-couple tension. (ďIs there anywhere you donít smoke?Ē) Kael had problems with what she perceived as the filmís fix- ation on Bernsteinís Jewishness, and I can see that, but Hoffmanís pretty great nonetheless. Character actors--three of my remaining films are pinnacles of character acting, beginning with this one. Jason Robards won the Academy Award as Ben Bradlee, everybody remembers Jane Alexander (just nominated, but she did get a job in the Clinton administration), Jack Warden and Martin Balsam and Ned Beatty are inner-circle Hall of Fame character actors, and Robert Walden as Donald Segretti is oddly affecting. Best of all, Hal Holbrook. When Steven posted The Third Man the other day, I started thinking how it was a perfect segue into All the Presi- dentís Men and the character of Deep Throat, who has the same elusiveness as (and is shot very much like) Harry Lime. Iíve also got to mention the woman at 1:22 of the trailer; sheís as mythical to me as the Erik Satie woman in Goiní Down the Road. So hereís some of Holbrook, followed by the trailer. If I could link to anything, my first choice would probably by the famous overhead shot inside the Library of Congress (referenced in The Simpsons--makes me laugh just thinking about it). If you had to distill the idea of a vast, unknowable conspiracy into a single image, that would be the shot. *I've since corrected this; he in fact appears three different times in the film. #4: Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944) I cannot hide from myself any longer; for the first time, I have no choice but to pull the trigger on something already listed (by Jeff, back at #33). There are movies throughout the course of film history that serve as benchmarks, with very much of a before-and-after feel about them. The Birth of a Nation is an obvious one, and so are Breathless and Bonnie and Clyde. Itís debatable whether you can point to anything more recent that deserves that designation, but Pulp Fiction might be viewed as a dividing line of sorts, at least in terms of how many imitations followed in its wake. The clearest before-and-after film of all, of course, is Citizen Kane. In terms of my own movie timeline, Double Indemnity is a benchmark--it divides film history in half the way Citizen Kane does in pretty much every official version of events. Itís no acci- dent that itís the earliest film on my list; for me, Double Indemnity is the first film that feels completely modern to me, that establishes a tone--fatalistic, weary, caustic, sometimes mean--perfectly aligned with titles all over my list, from Sweet Smell of Success to the Ameri- can stuff from the Ď70s right up to No Country for Old Men. Thatís in no way meant as a knock on Citizen Kane, and Iím sure thereís lots of stuff from before Double Indemnity that caught the same tone--I think there were French gangster films from the Ď30s that get written about in those terms. Iím speaking 100% subjectively here: Double Indemnity has a look and a language that feels completely new to me, and it points the way forward. My favourite moment along those lines--to me, the emblematic moment in any film noir--is when MacMurrayís Walter Neff gets home the night of the murder, double-checks that he dotted every last i and crossed every last t, and as soon as he realizes that yes, heís in the clear, that heís just conspired to commit the perfect murder he always fantasized about, he has a sudden moment of clarity: That was all there was to it. Nothing had slipped, nothing had been overlooked, there was nothing to give us away. And yet, Keyes, as I was walking down the street to the drug store, suddenly it came over me that everything would go wrong. It sounds crazy, Keyes, but it's true, so help me: I couldn't hear my own footsteps. It was the walk of a dead man. No idea whether thatís found in Cainís original novel or whether itís an invention of the film, but itís such an amazingly vivid articulation of formless dread; itís another one of those mo- ments that leaves the film behind and, I think, says something very profound about...I hesitate to say ďthe modern world,Ē because Iím quite sure people have been experiencing various kinds of formless dread since the beginning of time, so Iíll just say life in general instead. ďSud- denly it came over me that everything would go wrongĒ--thatís good enough for Camus and all those French philosophy guys. (The two-way street between existentialism and film noir has been analyzed plenty.) I donít think I could pick a favourite performance from among Double Indemnityís three princi- pals. Two of them are archetypes. MacMurray is the forerunner of such noir patsies as Edward G. Robinson in Scarlet Street, Kirk Douglas in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, and Elisha Cook Jr. in The Killing--not as pathetic as someone like Robinson, he nominally takes charge at times, but thereís never any question as to whoís yanking whose chain (so to speak). I like Barbara Stanwyck a lot in Meet John Doe, but her Phyllis Dietrichson is a different creature altogether--she ought to sprout razor-sharp tentacles every now and again, like those femme fatale monsters in movies like Species or Splice. And as great as they both are, Edward G. Rob- insonís Barton Keyes is a complete original. His whirlwind monologue on all the different ways one can commit suicide--ďsuicide by leaps, subdivided by leaps from high places, under wheels of trains, under wheels of trucks...Ē--is a masterpiece. Some of the back-and-forth in Double Indemnity is, like in Sweet Smell Success, somebodyís fe- vered invention of a whole new language. (When I showed the climactic confrontation between Neff and Dietrichson to my class last year--yeah, I know, probably not advisable--one of my students asked, ďWhy do they talk like that?Ē) My favourite exchange among many: ďI wonder if I know what you mean?Ē ďI wonder if you wonder.Ē I think Billy Wilder is the third director to place two films on my list, with one more to go. The Apartment and Sunset Boulevard are famously dark films, but for me, Double Indemnity is even darker. Like Sunset Boulevard, itís (almost) narrated by a dead man. The film begins with you knowing that, yet somehow thereís still this paradoxically awful feeling throughout that everything will go wrong. #3: The Godfather I & II (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972/74) Not the first (Jeff had I at #36), and I think I can safely say not the last, either. I didnít know whether to use an ampersand or a slash in how I rendered the titles, or whether or not to include ďPartsĒ in there. If III werenít such a sodden mess, Iím sure everyone would simply go the Apu (or Ď50s science-fiction) route and call it The Godfather Trilogy. Another jersey (or jerseys) that Iíve been trying to retire from my travels as a film-goer. I saw I in the new Lightbox theatre a few months ago, part of their own 100-greatest rollout to celebrate their launch, so I feel like Iím finished with that one. They didnít play II for some reason; if that should turn up one day at the new place--and that day may never come-- Iíll give that another go too. And thatís it--no more meetings, no more discussions, no more Sollozzo tricks. As I once wrote somewhere else, the best approximation I can give for how many times Iíve seen the first two Godfathers is some percentage of my life. TV doesnít help-- I stumble over them somewhere once or twice a month. I want out, I really do. I was very interested in Sight & Soundís decision to combine votes for the two films in their 2002 poll. I assume theyíll do the same next year, but going by some of the pushback Iíve en- countered in my own discussions on the matter, maybe theyíll back off. As I mentioned in my Apu comment--and please, chime in on this--I think they made the right decision. The main argument against combining them, as I understand it, is that you may have people voting for I who donít think nearly as highly of II, or vice versa. And in almost any other analogous case, Iíd agree with that; even with the Apu films, thereís a meaningful gap in how much I like the first compared with the other two. (I cheated by listing them together--there are parts of the second and third I just wouldnít want to lose.) Youíd have to survey all the people who cast individual votes for I or II in the Sight & Sound poll to know for sure, but I strongly suspect that almost everybody who voted only for I loves II almost as much, and that those who voted the other way, II but not I, are in the same boat. (For a dissenting view, go back to Jeff's Godfather comment and follow the link to his page.) So I doubt that actual Godfather voters were bothered by the decision, but I can see where someone who would have preferred to see something else in the top 10 would be. I know--Iím shadow-boxing around the films themselves, because 1) Iím invariably going to repeat stuff Iíve written and said elsewhere, and 2) I assume that everyone else knows them inside-out too. Theyíre just such a fact of life by now. I remember last spring being in the store down the street where I go to buy lunch sometimes, and I made some obscure reference to The Godfather in a conversation with John and Andrea, the storeís owners. It was an incomplete allusion, almost a test, and I looked immediately at John (Italian) to see if he could complete it. Of course he did. If you watch movies for big themes, the first two Godfathers have them. Like Citizen Kane, and like one of my two remaining choices, it aspires to say big things about America. Itís not just my being Canadian that makes we want to sidestep that stuff--as you may have noticed, Iím just not in general a theme guy when it comes to movies. (Now and again Iíll figure something out about some film that I think other people have missed, and Iíll feel really pleased with my- self.) Iíve always been fascinated by the way Michaelís end in II--hunkered down inside his compound, surrounded by his henchmen, obsessed with destroying not everyone (or so he says) but ďjust my enemiesĒ--eerily mirrors the final days of, sorry, the Nixon presidency, which came about just a few months earlier. But I also realize that both films mostly draw their material from Puzoís novel, and also that films take a while to get made--the made-to-order parallel to Nixon was probably accidental. You could just as easily see Hitlerís last days instead. So the themes are there for me, even though I donít dwell on them, and so is Gordon Willisís extraordinary cinematography (especially in I), a million little details in the art direction (you can spot a poster for a Jake LaMotta fight at one point), towering lead performances, and of course the audacity of Coppolaís direction. Meticulous, deliberate audacity--the audacity of someone who has total control of every second. With of all of that, I once again find that the supporting performances in the first two God- fathers are what have made the most lasting impression on me over the years. If you could map out a filmís characters in a hierarchy according to screen time--something like the way the Corleone family is rendered on that chart during the Senate hearing--I and II would have more unforgettable performances at the sixth, seventh, and eight levels than any film ever made. The senator who says ďNo, Iíll allow itĒ with regards to Michaelís prepared statement--heís somewhere down around the seventh level, and I wait for that line every time. The way Johnny Ola says ďAnisette,Ē Enzo the bakerís touching loyalty (ďFor your father--for your fatherĒ), the Cuban diplomat who introduces everyone down in Miami...there are just so many of these bit parts scattered everywhere. Iíve gone even longer than my usual longwinded entry. Single most memorable screening of my life: seeing I and II back-to-back in the early Ď80s at the Nostalgic, a ridiculously tiny upstairs rep theatre (long gone) that seated maybe 60 people. That was the night that did it for me, and it's another reason why, 30 years later, I want to list the two films together. #2: Rosemaryís Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968) Come--come see the child. When I did a Top 10 for Radio On in the mid-Ď90s, this was my #1; same thing on my ballot for the aforementioned Lightbox poll, and same again for a list or two I posted on the message board. No special reason why itís not #1 this time. I guess I just wanted something different there. Rosemaryís Baby has something elemental in common with The Godfather and Jaws, albeit on a smaller scale: it was critically acclaimed (even more now than then), made a ton of money, and was a cultural phenomenon of sorts. The first time I saw it was around í73 or í74 on TV; it was a ďnetwork premiere,Ē a big deal when they used to do that sort of thing, and I think I even remember the network--NBC. I managed to Google some online corroboration in the way of a user comment: ďI also remember how much they hyped the network TV premieres of movies back in the seventies. It seems like they publicized Rosemary's Baby for weeks before it ran one Saturday night on (I think) ABC. The commercials were so ubiquitous that CBS countered with one of their own, show- ing a baby carriage on a mountaintop, just like the Rosemary's Baby logo. Lightning flashed and thunder roared as the camera moved in to show Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart and Carol Burnett inside the carriage, dressed as babies and shouting ĎWatch us instead!íĒ We disagree on the network, but we both remember it as a certified event. (That commercial sounds great!) Thirteen or 14 at the time, I watched most of the film through splayed fingers, except for the ending, where the fingers were no longer splayed. Which is pretty funny when you think about how comparatively mild Rosemaryís Baby is when placed alongside its progeny, most obvi- ously The Exorcist. Mild in terms of what you actually see, that is--in terms of mood, itís got as much foreboding and dread as anything I can think of. Unless you experience it as a really good comedy, like Pauline Kael did. Itís what you might call a hybrid. Let me completely contradict my Godfather comment and point to something thematic that I love about Rosemaryís Baby. (Maybe I sidestep themes when theyíre in plain view, and only like the ones I invent myself.) In a weird way, Polanskiís film accidentally speaks to what was probably the most chaotic year of the past half-century better than numerous other films that self- consciously aspired to something similar. Accidentally, because it would have of course been filmed in 1967, and also because itís a film about a bunch of seemingly harmless octogenarians who keep active by trying to conjure up the living Satan so he can impregnate a mortal woman and begat a son--it doesnít directly address the issues of the day. And yet, and yet...itís also about something unseen and awful, something beyond comprehension. Itís about betrayal, and helplessness, and malevolent plots. And, appearing six days after Robert Kennedyís assassina- tion, and a couple of months after Martin Luther King Jr.ís--with the Democratic convention just around the corner, not to mention everything else that was going on around the world--it has a line that, once again, leaves the film behind: ďThis is no dream--this is really happen- ing.Ē I hear that line as a bookend: thereís the close-up of Janet Leighís eye in Psycho at one end of the shelf, and ďThis is no dream--this is really happeningĒ at the other. The first performance that people recall from Rosemaryís Baby is the one that won the Academy Award, Ruth Gordon as Minnie Castavet. I love her, of course--hearing her bray ďThe carpet... the carpet!Ē is music to my ears. Mia Farrow should have won every award out there. Sheís win- some and beautiful (aside from that Vidal Sassoon monstrosity and all the chalky make-up), and youíre so much on her side at every point along the way that itís basically a first-person narrative. I just finished a John Cassavetes (not to be confused with Roman Castavet) series at the Lightbox, which included Rosemaryís Baby among all the films he directed himself. I like him fine here, although I find him a little blander than everyone else. (Not just the charac- ter--him.) I think the two old British guys, Sidney Blackmer and Maurice Evans, are great, though. Stanley Kauffmann called Evans ďan elocutionary dudĒ for lines like ďWell, weíll assume Dr. Sapirstein knows whereof he speaks,Ē but I think heís missing all the magical Bewitched goodness in such rhetoric. Polanskiís direction needs a book, not a comment. If I had to pick a favourite moment, Iíd probably go with the way the camera glides up and away from Cassavetes and Farrow the first time they hear the chanting through the wall. Or the entire impregnation sequence, a disturbing and masterful assemblage of dreamlike fragments. Or Laura-Louise sticking out her tongue right near the end--it really is a great comedy. Quiz: which three actors (to the best of my knowledge--I may have overlooked someone) appear twice in my top 10? One of them is Sarah Palin entry-level easy. The second is more difficult, but itís not like heís hard to spot in either film. The third, the one that pertains to Rose- maryís Baby, well, if you donít know the answer already, donít waste a minute of your time trying to figure it out. You wonít. No clips on YouTube (none that are English, anyway), but there are three different trailers. Iíve linked to what seems to be the very first. It has less actual footage than the other two-- much less than the one that obviously went out with a reissue, taking note of Gordonís Academy Award--but itís the weirdest one, and most effectively captures the mood of the film, I think. #1: Nashville (Robert Altman, 1975) In case you were asleep at the wheel (or, perhaps, tending to your life), Jeff and I gave this away this morning. Odd place to begin: unlike many of the films Iíve listed--more than half, Iíd say--I donít re- member the first time I saw Nashville. I dimly remember that it was indeed in a theatre, but thereís part of me that thinks it would have been a strange film for a 14- or 15-year-old to be seeing first-run. Yet that must have been the case; I doubt that it would have showed up on network TV until the end of the decade, and Iím positive I thought of it as being among my favourite films as I began university in í79 (underscored by the fact that I wrote about The Long Goodbye later that first year). About 15 years ago, Scott had someone interview David Edelstein for, after Edelstein (who I think is excellent) had just written a piece in GQ or somewhere about how he didnít think Nashville had held up that well. I started to write a long response, kept getting hopelessly bogged down as I tried to refute the objections he raised, and when I finally got about three thousand words (of mostly preamble, I remember) into it, my old Mac conked out. The disk where I had the piece couldnít be converted, and it ended up being the only big piece of writing Iíve ever lost. To help me avoid the same fate, let me take the easy way out and compile a list, like Jeff did for one of his picks. Nashville is like a perfect storm of so many things that Iíve been fixated on throughout this countdown: 1) The Ď70s. Go back to early in the countdown where we tried to place films like Bonnie and Clyde and Close Encounters on a timeline of ďNew American Cinema.Ē Well, Nashville is the mid- dle of the middle. I think itís fair to say that for a lot of people who consider the Ď70s the greatest decade ever for American film, Nashville is the exact midpoint of a line that stretches from Bonnie and Clyde to Heavenís Gate--maybe not the literal apex of that line, but squarely in the middle chronologically and, at the very worst, pretty close artistically. (Maybe I need to diagram that out...See what I mean about getting bogged down?) 2) Nixon. Yes, itís another Nixon film, another one where heís hovering there invisibly the whole way. When Carradine contemptuously says, ďKill anyone today, Sarge?Ē thatís a Nixon mo- ment through and through; when the Tennessee Twirlers meet Barbara Jean at the airport, thatís Nixon too. Haven Hamiltonís Nixon (ďhis eyes flashing with paranoid gleam as he keeps the audi- ence under surveillanceĒ--yes, Iíve got Kael close by my side), Allen Garfieldís slobbishness and Ned Beattyís hapless everyman always make me think of Nixon, and Hal Philip Walker is Nixon in that he just blathers on and on, and probably even accidentally makes sense now and again. Finally, the filmís it-donít-worry-me conclusion is such a perfect punch line to the Nixon pres- idency in a dozen mysterious ways that I donít think Iíve ever even tried to clarify in my mind why I think that. And I wonít make the attempt here. 3) Kael. Her pre-emptive review of Nashville is her signature piece--more even than her reviews of Bonnie and Clyde, Last Tango, the Godfathers, The Sound of Music, Shoah, or anything else that invariably gets mentioned whenever sheís under discussion. To go along with my favourite movie, thatís my favourite movie review ever. I canít think of another instance where a film critic was so hard-wired to the moment, to the director, and to the film. Nashville and Kael are inseparable for me. 4) Supporting performances. Iíve probably talked more about supporting players than leads dur- ing this countdown, and Nashville is comprised of nothing but--in a way, the term has no meaning here. Only Tomlin and Blakley were nominated--vote-splitting is the only explanation for how Lee Grant managed to win for Shampoo--but Iím ready to hand out another seven or eight right here, starting with Henry Gibson. I donít know that thereís a single performer from among Nashvilleís ensemble of 24 who I donít enjoy when theyíre on screen...I donít even mind Shelly Duvall. I even look forward to some of the really small parts that support the ensemble. The Smokey Mountain Laurels, the bartender at the Demonís Den, the guy at the lunch counter who engages Keenan Wynn, Frog, I love them all. 5) Music. If thereís a main complaint about Nashville, one Iíve addressed before, itís that Altman has contempt for country music, or, at the very least, condescends insufferably to it. I think there was a time when I would argue that point, but now Iíd just say yeah, probably-- some condescension for sure. It still doesnít bother me, though, for the simple reason that I like most of the songs too much. I can think of one case where I read someone who loved the film but thought some of the songs were horrible. I donít know--a couple, sure (discounting Gwen Wellesí stuff), but thereís so much music throughout, I think youíve got to like a decent percentage of it as music to really love the film. My favourites: ďDuesĒ (of course), ďSince Youíve Gone,Ē ďTrouble in the U.S.A.,Ē ďMemphis,Ē and ďIt Donít Worry Me.Ē And, in context, Iíd add ďIím Easy.Ē See if I can keep this to 1,000 words. The whole filmís on YouTube, and anyone who chooses to watch it that way for the first time will disappoint me greatly. Ned Beatty joins Brando, Balsam, and Curtis in making his second appearance in my top 10; newscaster Howard K. Smith has the unusual distinction of playing himself for the second time in my top 20. Iíll link to the same clip I used for the song countdown. I bet Iíve said this at least a dozen times already, but now Iím telling the truth: my favourite scene ever. Thanks to everyone who read along, and to Steven and Jeff for signing up. Before we started, I told them some lie about why it would be helpful to me to post Wednesdays and Saturdays. In actual fact, I just wanted to make sure I was in a position to do this: End of countdown. End of cinema.

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