List: Future Shock

Next Thursday, Oct. 27, Turner Classic Movies will be airing films that represent 70s future shock. There are some great movies for that theme, but I thought it would be more interesting to broaden it to all time periods of film. So here’s my list of the great future shock movies.

Metropolis

 

5. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

The world is shocked by the presence of aliens, but these aliens don’t come to invade the earth. They come to heal it. They know that the real source of the world’s future shock is its fear and unwillingness to unite with other people.

 

4. Modern Times (1936)

Chaplin’s classic comedy shows fear of a very soon-coming future. The combination of mechanical advancement with increasing poverty gives the hilarious futuristic machines created in this film a somber and frightening backdrop in Chaplin’s own present time.

 

3. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Mostly a wondrous and beautiful look at the future, HAL represents all that is also scary about the future. The shock comes from getting the answer to the question the astronauts don’t really want an answer to: Can something humanity created become human and even replace humanity?

2. The Time Machine (1960)

The starkest look at the potential future, George Pal’s masterful adaptation of the H.G. Wells’ classic novel includes a future without the capacity for thinking, individuality, or love. As the result of centuries of cultural brainwashing, this is the thought of what the world will look like. It’s especially shocking for Americans right now, living in a country led by someone so insecure that he wants to make everyone like him (in both senses of the word “like”), creating some segments of the country that look a lot like this movie’s dismal vision of the future.

 

1. Metropolis (1927)

Fritz Lang directed the greatest of all silent films. A futuristic retelling of the story of the Tower of Babel, Metropolis shows how future shock is often the result of fearing that the past will repeat itself. With loads of biblical imagery placed in a sci-fi setting, Metropolis, like 2001 and The Day the Earth Stood Still, has a potentially hopeful view of the future. But it understands that shock must come before the hope, and that the hopeful possibilities can only occur if there is a Mediator willing and able to lead people through the shock and into the hope.

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List: A Star Goes Out

Two weeks ago I published a list called “A Star Is Born” like the three movie versions of the same story with that title. I listed movies about stars being born. In mentioning the 1954 version of A Star Is Born with Judy Garland, I said that it is just as much a story about a star going out (about the fading star who discovered her, played by James Mason) as it is about the birth of Judy Garland’s character’s stardom. So, here’s a list of the greatest movies about fading stardom, about a star burning out.

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10. Stranger than Fiction (2006)

Emma Thompson plays a has-been novelist trying to write one last great masterpiece, but a matter of morality gets in her way. The choice to let her most likely let her stardom die forever is clearly the right choice to make since the other choice inevitably involves the death of another person.

 

9. In a Lonely Place (1950)

Humphrey Bogart plays a screenwriter whose career is ended as a result of murder allegations. What follows is one of the great examples of film noir told through the eyes a man grieving many losses, including the loss of his career and potential loss of freedom though as the narrator, he tries to convince us that he’s innocent, but we’re not so sure.

 

8. Birdman or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (2014)

Playing Batman in the 1980s and 90s, Michael Keaton experienced the height of movie stardom in a superhero franchise that many actors also look at as the death of their art. That’s certainly the case for the actor that Michael Keaton plays in Birdman. Trying to regain a connection to his art, his star burns out.

 

7. Amadeus (1982)

Antonio Sallierri was never as great of a star in the classical music world as he could have. He believes it’s because of Mozart, when the reality is he was much more of a star than he could even realize, but he willingly burnt out his own stardom because of his jealousy towards the greater star.

 

6. I’ll Cry Tomorrow (1955)

The results of being a has-been are often destruction addictions. I’ll Cry Tomorrow very compassionately tells the story of Broadway and Hollywood star Lillian Roth (played by Susan Hayworth) from her tumultuous start as a reluctant child star forced by her mother to the eventual fall from stardom with tragic results.

 

5. Ed Wood (1994)

Bella Legosi had a similar path after his movie stardom ended as Lillian Roth’s. Legosi is played brilliantly by Martin Landau, hilariously realizing his macabre sensibilities while sensitively and beautifully portraying his mental and emotional trauma and drug addiction.

 

4. A Star Is Born (1954)

As Judy Garland’s character is the star born, James Mason’s is the star that goes out. He discovers her at the end of his career. A romance begins between the two of them along with a replacement of sorts where she takes his place in the limelight, but it’s his support that keeps her star alive and it’s her life that keeps him alive at all.

 

3. The Joker Is Wild (1957)

Joe E. Lewis was a famous singer whose career was cut short by gangsters who cut open his voice box. Ironically, Frank Sinatra gives one of the greatest acting performances ever put on film playing a man who couldn’t sing.  Joe E. Lewis tried to regain his stardom through comedy, but mostly his star went out and like many others on this list the results are tragic.

 

2. Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962)

In the saddest and most tragic movie on this list, Anthony Quinn plays a boxer whose last knockout forced him to quit. We follow him trying to find any work he can, being unsuccessful at everything he tries, never being able to be who he thought he was as a boxer. This movie was probably inspirational to the brilliant melancholy Simon & Garfunkel song, “The Boxer.”

 

1. Sunset Blvd. (1950)

And of course, Norma Desmond is the perfect example of a star going out. But unwilling to let her stardom die in her own mind, she is controlled by delusions, and she controls other people by those same delusions. When asked, “Didn’t you used to be big?” she responds, “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.” And of course when about to be arrested, she doesn’t pay attention to the police around her, all she sees are the cameras saying “I’m ready for my closeup.”

List: The Films of Anthony Perkins

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Turner Classic Movies’ Star of the Month for October is Anthony Perkins. I’ve only seen two his movies so this will be a short list. I’m listing his movies that I’ve seen along with a grade for his performance, not the movie as a whole. Despite my lack of better knowledge of Anthony Perkins’ filmography, I’m doing this list because what he does in just these two movies summarizes his greatness.

Psycho (1960; A+)

Unquestionably one of the greatest acting performances in film history, Anthony Perkins makes every word he speaks, every facial expression, and every bit of body language completely terrifying.

 

The Trial (1962; A+)

Everything Anthony Perkins does in The Trial is the reverse of what he does in Psycho. His character’s existence is one that knows nothing but fear. So every word he speaks, every facial expression, and every bit of body language in The Trial demonstrates the victimization of all that is terrifying.

 

 

List: “A Star Is Born”

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Tomorrow night, Sept. 29, Turner Classic Movies is having an “A Star Is Born” festival, showing all 3 popular versions of the story. When I first saw the advertisement on their website, I misunderstood it thinking it to be much bigger than the 3 versions of the movie. I was expecting to see many movies about stars being born. So we won’t get that on TCM tomorrow night, but there are enough great stars, both real and fictional, born in the movies, and they’re not just stars of the entertainment industry like the 3 movies we’ll see tomorrow night. So here’s my list of the best “stars” born in the movies.

 

10. Beatrix Potter, Miss Potter (2006; Renée Zellweger)

The author of the Peter Rabbit began her “career” drawing pictures of animals that she talked to. They were her only friends, but completely in a creative way, not a schizophrenic way. But it was a long road to sell those characters and to eventually become a star in the world of children’s literature.

 

9. Kathy Seldon, Singin’ in the Rain (1952; Debbie Reynolds)

From being a dancing girl who jumps out of cakes to providing the voice for a famous movie star who can’t sing or talk for herself without embarrassing everyone around, Kathy’s road to stardom isn’t as difficult as most in the movies, but it sure is delightful.

 

8. Babe, Babe (1995; Christine Cavanaugh)

This “star is born” genre has to have humble beginnings. You can’t get much lower than being born with the purpose of being eaten! But since Babe thinks he’s a sheeppig, he becomes a star in a sheepdog shepherding competition.

 

7. Harvey Pecker, American Splendor (2003; Paul Giamatti)

The American Splendor comics reflect Harvey’s depressed, bored, and lonely existence. But it’s exactly that existence that made him a star producing graphic novels that people could relate, and those people became a cult following that eventually elevated him as second only to Harvey Crumb.

 

6. Mia, La La Land (2016; Emma Stone)

Moving to L.A. to be a movie star but with nothing to show that she has what it takes, Mia sacrifices every other dream in life to be the “fool who dreams” and eventually makes it.

 

5. Mark Zuckerberg, The Social Network (2010; Jesse Eisenberg)

The only “star” on this list who’s completely unlikable and doesn’t grow up at all, Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg highlights the irony of the title, presenting Zuckerberg in a way that shows antisocial behavior as the way he became a technological “star” through the development of social networking.

 

4. Rocky Balboa, Rocky (1976; Sylvester Stalone)

Picked out of nowhere because of his nickname, the Italian Stallion, all the many Rocky movies have caused us to almost forget that the birth of this star was not the birth of a winner but of true athletic greatness that learned from the losses and never cowered in the worst of odds.

 

3. “Sugar Man” Rodriguez, Searching for Sugar Man (2012)

The most unique birth of a “star” on this list, this groundbreaking documentary introduces us to a Bob Dylan-esque folk singer from the 70s who lived his life for about 30 years thinking that his music never came to anything. But we also get to see the birth of his stardom in South Africa as an anti-Apartheid voice, so every stage of “Sugar Man’s” success and stardom was unknown to him for decades.

 

2. Vicki Lester, A Star Is Born (1954; Judy Garland)

Of course, I had to include the movie that gave this list its title (actually the original 1937 film did that, but George Cuckor’s version is by far the best). Esther Blodgett is a great singer but no contacts to make her dreams come true until a fading star comes along and makes her a star. So A Star Is Born is just as much about a star going out as it is about the star being born.

 

1. Eve Harrington, All about Eve (1950; Anne Baxter)

By attempting to be exactly like her stage hero Margo Channing (Bette Davis) and by weaving all sorts of deceit, Eve’s stardom is born at the cost of the very careers that made her own.

The Godfather Part III (1990)

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One of the most underrated movies of all time, The Godfather Part III is the perfect conclusion to a perfect trilogy. It’s rare for me to use the sentimental in a positive context, but I must do so with this movie. The first two Godfather movies show what makes the Corleone family tick. Family is the center of that. The Godfather introduces us to the Corleone’s highly developed but horrendously perverted and violent concept of family loyalty that they are all so strictly devoted to. The Godfather Part II tells us what happens when this vision of family isn’t honored. The Godfather Part III shows us how the Corleone family rebuilds and redefines its concept of family after so much of that self-perception was destroyed through the actions Michael found necessary in Part II against the very family he was supposed to lead as its godfather.

Michael’s children are grown, and of course, Kay left him in Part II. The rebuilding of the Corleone concept of family all starts with an attempt to rebuild his relationships with his kid, and even reconcile to some degree with Kay. He has tried to go legitimate. His business includes no crime of his own doing or ordering, but the rest of the family and the family’s allies have to much control that doesn’t allow him to stay legitimate for long. But while legitimate, he has his daughter (played wonderfully by Sophia Coppola) fully convinced that he’s always been a humanitarian and not a gangster. But his son has bad memories and is harder to convince. Though he’s willing to have a relationship with his father, he’s not willing to work with him no matter how legitimate that work might be.

But because the Corleone family is a dynasty of murder and corruption, it’s impossible for attempt Michael makes to rebuild his family to not equate a rebuilding of that crime dynasty. So he laments “just when I thought I got out, they drag me back in.” The juxtaposition between these two restorations is perfect irony. Michael’s good motives for the health of his family are genuine and inspiring while all serving as a backdrop for the evil he’s still responsible for whether he wants to be or not.

When confronted by a priest who knows the Corleone past but not of Michael’s direct involvement in it, he asks Michael if he wants to confess. Michael’s response to the priest and his meditation on his own regrets that we get to see right after tie together the whole brilliant trilogy in a very beautiful way. As we see Michael’s regrets we see that is, maybe for the first time in his life, finally being real with himself about how evil he is, how much harm he has caused other people, and the hypocrisy between how he presents himself and his family as a revered member of various Catholic charities and who he knows himself to really be. He and his whole family are given a chance at redemption, and the way Michael responds to that chance is what makes The GodfatherThe Godfather Part II, and The Godfather Part III one perfect masterpiece.

List: True Crime in the Movies

Turner Classic Movies is spotlighting films about real life crime in their programming this month. So, responding to that, here are my picks for the best films about true crime that I know.

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10. Goodfellas (1990)

The real life Wiseguys and Henry Hill’s decent into the underworld through his friendships with the other Wiseguys.

 

9. Psycho (1960)

While many details are changed, Norman Bates is a version of the real life murderer Ed Gein who committed his crimes in a small Wisconsin town between 1954 and 1957.

 

8. The Informant (2009)

Mark Whitacre was deeply involved with corrupt business politics and a lot of fraud and money laundering. Though he was far from innocent, he knew how to use all the ways to use his knowledge of corruption and truth to protect himself from the consequences.

 

7. Bugsy (1991)

The birth of Las Vegas through gang activity led by Bugsy Siegel.

 

6. The Joker Is Wild (1957)

Frank Sinatra gave his best performance ironically as a performer who couldn’t sing. Joe E. Lewis had been a great singer whose gang affiliations once funded his career and then ended it when he wasn’t willing to continue following their demands. His former partners cut his throat so he couldn’t make money singing for anyone else. Becoming a comedian and leaving his gang life, the realities of the life of crime he left behind are always with him.

 

5. Badlands (1973)

Kit and Holly are versions of the real life murder/romance spree of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate in 1958. Though Bonnie and Clyde broke a lot of ground cinematically, Badlands tells its story in a far darker way that feels much more real.

 

4. Compulsion (1959)

Along with Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope from a decade earlier, Richard Fleischer’s Compulsion recreates, though with different names, the case of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb.

 

3. M (1931)

Peter Lorre’s Franz Becker is based on the real life child murderer Peter Kürten, and the investigator is based on Berlin detective mastermind Ernst Gennat.

 

2. On the Waterfront (1954)

A real Waterfront Commission existed. All the major characters in the movies are based on real people. Terry (Marlon Brando) is based on the whistleblower Anthony DeVincenzo. Father Barry is based on a real waterfront priest, Father John Corridan. And the mob boss Johnny Friendly is based on Michael Clemente.

 

1. In Cold Blood (1967)

Richard Brooks’ adaptation of Truman Capote’s book follows every moment of the events that led up to the heinous Perry Smith/Dick Hickock murder of a rural Kansas family.

List: Countercultural Classics

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Throughout September, Turner Classic Movies is having a spotlight each week on films that represent countercultural phenomena of the 1960s. I love that idea, but I’m not limiting my list to movies from or about the 60s. These are movies from all film eras representing an individual’s or small group’s involvement in a much bigger countercultural movement. Those movements are parts of very different dominant cultures (both real and fantasy cultures) as well, unlike the American focus of TCM’s spotlight this month. So, here are the greatest countercultural films of all times.

 

10. Conrack (1974)

A white teacher accepts a job on a South Carolina island community  in the 1960s that is entirely black except for the mailman. Separate but equal is no longer law, but this island has no choice but to be separate. The teacher’s job is much more than just teaching but helping the whole town see that there is life outside their island and more importantly pushing those off the island to see that there’s life on the island, to respect that life, and to give them the same opportunities that the white people on the mainland have. Pat Conroy created a countercultural movement built on love and equality that most of the mainland wouldn’t get behind.

 

9. The Motorcycle Diaries (2006)

Depicting an early part of Che Guevera’s life when he was still a young doctor, we follow him and his friend on a trip they took that helped to form many of Che’s convictions and philosophical beliefs. Through that we get to see the very start of his movement.

 

8. The Robe (1953)

It’s hard for Americans to think of Christianity as ever being a countercultural movement, but The Robe reminds us of what its earliest existence was like. When its main character, the fictional character Marcellus Galio (Richard Burton) confronts the very real, very mad Caligula, we are confronted with the truth of how deeply the faith offended the world it developed in.

 

7. Holiday (1938)

George Cuckor’s romantic comedy starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant may seem like a strange film to call a countercultural classic. But the family that the movie is about represents a very rigid devotion to American capitalism. The break from that rigidity that the couple in the movie seeks reflects a lot of what was seen in America after WWII, growing and becoming the most prominent in the hippy movement. Back in 1938, this movie shows characters who wanted to identify themselves by who the are rather than by what they do, the very heart of American counterculturalism. So I thought it important to include this movie here as it predates all these movement and so may have even played a role in some of them.

 

6. Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (1931)

Just as a young couple begins a romantic relationship, the girl is promised by tribal leaders as a sacrifice to the gods. The couple’s fight against tradition does not get a whole lot of help, but the help they do get creates a small movement to stand against the murderous tradition and to protect their love.

 

5. Freaks (1932)

The types of people rejected from “normal society” that found themselves in the freak shows of circuses create a rebellion in Tod Browning’s compassionate film that, despite the title, allows us to see them as people not freaks. Their movement is a movement against discrimination and stereotype and for inclusion. “Gobble gobble munch munch. Gobble gobble munch munch. We accept her, we accept her, one of us, one of us.”

 

4. Loving (2016)

The Lovings, as the couple whose case ended all American laws opposing interracial marriage, never fought their battles for themselves alone. Mildred, as played by Ruth Negga, expresses hope that everything they go through will help others. Richard, played by Joel Edgerton (in last year’s best acting performance) is much quieter in how he fights the fight, but his fight is also for much more than his own family and even bigger than the struggles other families in similar situations. His fight is for the very concept and reality of love itself. And of course their struggle did create a movement in court and in all society that helped make it so interracial marriage in general would not stay a countercultural movement as it was for them..

 

3. Searching for Sugar Man (2012)

“Sugar Man” Rodriguez wrote and performed brilliant Bob Dylan-esque folk music in the 1960s and 70s that was a very important part of a countercultural movement, just not the one he knew about. His music and lyrics fit his own time and location in Detroit very well, his own desire for a countercultural movement that he never saw come to fruition. What he never imagined was that copies of his music serendipitously became popular in South Africa and influenced the anti-Apartheid movement. Getting to see “Sugar Man” perform in South Africa many years later once he finally realized that he was a star is one of the most inspiring scenes in film history in this monumental documentary.

 

2. Easy Rider (1969)

This one goes without saying, and is obviously why I picked the picture I did to introduce this list. Breaking away from hippy culture Wyatt and Billy create a counter-countercultural movement. Their movement includes mostly drug dealers, and while they claim to share ideals with the hippies are actually ruining the hippy movement and falling much more in line with the darkest side of American capitalism that they’re supposed to resisting. The hypocrisy of their movement makes for a profound view of counterculturalism.

 

1. Woodstock (1970)

And the documentary Woodstock is the most profound of all film views of counterculturalism. Far more than a concert film that shows the events of those days of the festival, Woodstock encompasses the hippy movement, and in many ways Woodstock is the hippy movement.