Thursday, January 29, 2009

The 50s

Gaston's Films

Vertigo
Singin’ in the Rain
Seven Samurai
The Searchers
Seventh Seal

Honorable Mention:
Rashomon


Azimuth's Films

Best Films, 1950-1959

1. The Searchers
2. Seven Samurai
3. La Dolce Vita
4. On the Waterfront
5. The Seventh Seal

Notable Films, 1950-1959

6. Rashomon
7. Vertigo
8. A Streetcar Named Desire
9. High Noon
10. Sunset Blvd.

4 comments:

T. Azimuth Schwitters said...

Things are getting a little bit harder. Let's start with the movies we agree on:

1. SEVEN SAMURAI. Kurosawa's best film, and a story that with a profound impact on cinema. I mean, without this movie, we would never have gotten A BUG'S LIFE. What kind of world would that be? With this pick, we're also summing up early Asian cinema...which, at this point, I'm okay with.

2. THE SEARCHERS. John Ford's best film, John Wayne's best film, and one of the best direction jobs, ever. Gotta be here: best movie in the Western genre, this decade or any other.

3. THE SEVENTH SEAL. Here's our European film pick. Bergman never does another movie this good, and dammit, ya gotta have an obvious allegory on here at some point, don't you? Anyway, the movie looks awesome, the story is awesome, and the direction is top notch. Here's my only beef with this selection: if we only get one European movie, it's hard for me to choose this one over LA DOLCE VITA...although I think I can do it. Italian cinema stays vibrant for a few decades here, and although this is Fellini's best film, 8 1/2 is pretty damn great, and as long as it finds a place in the '60s list, I'm okay with leaving LDV off of this one. But it hurts.

4. Now things get difficult. I'm sort of surprised I didn't put VERTIGO in my top 5--it speaks to how good a decade I think this was. In my mind, it's Hitch's second best film (behind PSYCHO), but I can see arguments that flip the two. The big question: how many decades need a representative Hitchcock film? Can the '50s go without a nomination, or is that slighting the man too much? Right now, I'm inclined to take VERTIGO in exchange for (the recently discarded) LA DOLCE VITA.

5. ...but here's where we're going to have a debate. SINGIN' IN THE RAIN or ON THE WATERFRONT? OTW, I think, is the better film--but SitR is the best musical ever. Whattayado? Here's my argument for OtW: It's the best leading performance from Brando that has a chance at making any of these lists. Whether you agree with me about his overall stature or not, he's certainly one of the top 2 or 3 actors of all time. Shouldn't one of his films (when he was a leading man) make this kind of list? Additionally, this is Kazan best film, and a movie that adapts several of the stylistic strengths of '40s noir to entirely different ends: it's smart, it's incredibly well written, it features a great performance from Brando and solid performances from Malden and company, and it looks fantastic. It has also remained affecting, even to this day. I think it needs to be on this list, and if it doesn't take SINGIN' IN THE RAIN's spot, whose spot is going to take? Holy shit, the '50s was an amazing decade for world cinema...there's just no comparison. Every one of the movies in my top 10 here are in my top 45 of all time. That's pretty awesome. As for SINGIN' IN THE RAIN...make your case, sir: I'm listening, but I'm far from convinced.

THUS FAR:

1. SEVEN SAMURAI
2. THE SEARCHERS
3. THE SEVENTH SEAL
4. VERTIGO
5. ON THE WATERFRONT / SINGIN' IN THE RAIN

the loser for the 5th spot takes HONORABLE MENTION honors.

Verification word: SLAPHOR. Yes. SLAPHOR. A pretty amazing conflation of terms, if I do say so myself.

Gaston Monescu said...

Almost as good as mine: spottiswoode.

Gaston Monescu said...

Okay. Now we're getting down to brass tacks.

1. There's a problem with your logic. According to my essential-meter, On the Waterfront should be going against Vertigo, NOT Singin' in the Rain. Sorry, but we don't get to make a list without including the best musical ever as well as one of the top meta-Hollywood ruminations Hollywood has yet produced. Dramas go against dramas. The fact that Singin' is THAT entertaining is pure gravy. It's definitely the funniest musical ever...has one of the best expressionistic passages of any film in its genre (The Broadway Melody section)...and the SINGLE most energetic dance and song performance in "Make 'em Laugh." So, sorry. You don't get to axe this one, OR banish it to the Honorable Mention pile. My fave film ever as well as a historically significant pic that has the critical weight behind it. It stays.

2. Vertigo and On the Waterfront in a deathmatch. Here's the question. Does Psycho make Vertigo obligatory? I think Vertigo is FAR AND AWAY the better film. Psycho is a ticking time bomb of efficiency UP UNTIL the murder of Marion Crane. The final Crane house sequence is fantastic, but the second half of the film is definitely in the Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin corner: it has been judged and found wanting. Vertigo, on the other hand, ups the ante in its second half, transforming its eerie melodrama into a flat-out neurotic pyro show.
So, we can't write off Vertigo for Psycho's sake. Can we write it off for On the Waterfront's Sake?
Here's my reasoning. These are the two films to choose between: both American, both auterist visions, both with defining roles for their lead actors and strong performances from female leads. Vertigo is intensely psychological, its fascination with mental instability and gender politics all worked out at the palpably personal level. On the Waterfront was itself a political animal from the beginning, a rough allegory for Kazan's name-copping, and Terry is victim of both the gangs who kill his brother and the church who uses his body to effect change. It's far from uplifting, but it's politics are aimed outward...in a crucial decade like the 50s.
Now, I don't think there's any question that Vertigo is a better film. Kazan just isn't the director that Hitchcock is - on this or any other picture - and the script for Vertigo (not to mention that f*ing awesome Bernard Hermann score) is superior to OtW.
BUT...there's no way OtW is LESS essential than Vertigo. Brando's performance alone unleashed a thousand method actors. Its political stance is still felt, and its name conjures up an important period of Hollywood filmmaking. Vertigo needed resuscitation after a long period of obscurity. It's MORE essential in that it's a better movie but not more important or influential.
I'll give the round to OtW, but you keep your hands off Singing'!

My revised list:
Seven Samurai
The Searchers
The Seventh Seal
Singin' in the Waterfront
On the Waterfront

Honorable Mention:
La Dolce Vita
Vertigo (tie)

T. Azimuth Schwitters said...

Case made, sir, case made--a strong defense of SINGIN' IN THE RAIN that made me feel guilty and downright ignorant for slighting it. What are you, a rhetoric teacher? And, in the end, I think you're right about V/OtW: VERTIGO is the better film, but Hitchcock is all over these lists, and the politics of the film are (as you say rightly) internal vs. the external politics of WATERFRONT. I'm totally content with the revised list. Moving on, then.

P.S.-if you're curious why I'm pushing these lists so hard the last few days, it's because I have an idea for our next conversation/posting war: best final shots, ever. I'm thinking the miracles of YouTube and Vista's editing suite could allow us to actually compare the clips...and the thought of bouncing the last shots of THIRD MAN, STRANGELOVE and PSYCHO off each other (along with who knows how many more) has me a little giddy. What do you think?