Sunday, July 17, 2011

What I've Been Watching: 2nd Edition, Part 1

I'm Going Going, Back Back, to Classics Classics

      If you're curious, you can find my debut "What I've Been Watching" segment here.

City Lights (1931) - Charlie Chaplin

Widely considered to be the crowning jewel of Charlie Chaplin's auspicious career, City Lights illuminated his greatest gifts. Performing as The Tramp, his most beloved and recognized character, Sir Charles demonstrated a rarefied adeptness for physical comedy, slapstick humor and visual pizzazz. For those who doubt his creative genius, enjoy a lifetime of purgatory. And unlike "Andy" Dufresne from Shawshank State Penitentiary, you won't have a rock hammer. Charlie's virtuosity, if you'll take me at my word, arose at the very outset of City Lights: the iconic opening scene featured The Tramp on the Statue, which demonstrated his unrivaled flair for performance. Through a nuanced veneer of inventive acrobatics, Chaplin both captivated and horrified the crowd. And few actors of any era could ever capture the impossible, non-compartmentalized essence of a character—an essence empathized with striking vibrancy—without seeming contrived. Chaplin, as director and lead actor (basically, lead everything) could do so without breaking a sweat and probably without even showing up on set. Performances, we can almost-uniformly agree, are measured and quantified differently. The criterion, while graded in universally established principles, is pliable across generations. But no critic, past or present, revered or rejected, can overstate the greatness of Chaplin. His legacy is carved into the granite faces (since we're talking about Hollywood, expect those faces to be glittered) of Mount Rushmore. Ultimately, City Lights, an enduring staple of the silent film era, defined the standards for romantic comedy. And it ended, arguably, with the greatest and most touching moment ever transcribed to film: The Tramp asked, "You can see now?" "Yes, I can see now."  10 out of 10

The Shining (1980) - Stanley Kubrick

Film aficionados, pedigreed or not, are entitled to very few absolutes. Guilty of confusing opinion with fact, fan-aficionados diverge into what I'll term "Cinema-Limbo," the idea, de facto in its imposition, that, if you disagree with somebodies opinion, which has been derived from personal, self-attributive standards, then you're wrong. To refute is to assert blasphemy. Therefore, in lieu of, and, in juxtaposition to these impossibly high standards, I will state my first infallible Opinion-As-Fact(s): I believe Stanley Kubrick is one of the five-best directors of all-time. I believe The Shining is one of the scariest movies of all-time. I also believe these statements are irrefutable. Kubrick's obsessiveness, endlessly documented, is instrumental to his genius. Like Michael Jordan's presence in the NBA, Stanley Kubrick is a gift to cinema, straight from The Nile. He is a storytelling savant, a technical perfectionist, and a psychological magician. And The Shining illustrates the versatility, and surreality, of his Classical Music, Beethoven-inspired symphonic oeuvre. The images are haunting. The music is terrifying. The characters are indelible; who among us can erase from memory, Jack Torrance's descent into madness. The acting is superlative; "Here's Johnny!!" The narrative, based upon Stephen King's novel of the same name, is peerless. The film's legacy is indefatigable; Martin Scorsese ranks it as "one of the greatest horror films." And Stanley Kubrick's magnificent imprint is undeniable. In the absence of further approbation, I encourage everyone to watch it (I'm sure most of you have seen it, like myself, multiple times). If you haven't yet de-virginized your eyes to a psychotic Jack Nicholson, well, then, after you've finished watching it, come right back here. And, as if conjured up by the demonic spirits inhabiting Overlook Hotel, feel free to curse me. Spoil me with your grievances: why in-the-hell did you recommend this movie to me? Did you not realize I would watch it by myself, at night? How could you not know I live in a secluded neighborhood? How dare you be so bold? Well, in the spirit of humility (i.e., saving you from weeks of nightmares), The Shining deserves a disclaimer...if those last three conditions apply to you, then watch it at a friend's house, during the day, in the heart of suburbia. You'll still shit your pants. 10 out of 10

An Andalusian Dog (Un Chien Andalou 1929) - Luis Buñuel & Salvador Dalí

Experimental. Revolutionary. Shocking. Un Chien Andalou is a triumvirate of sensations, a fitting claim, without doubt, because of the employment of three central tenets: an abstinence of plot (it's a disjointed, super-short narrative), a breakthrough in montage, and an abundance of dream-like imagery. Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali co-opted a way-ahead-of-their-time film that established the standard for surrealism in cinema. The most famous in Buñuel's filmography, an amazing feat considering this was his very first film, Andalou blazed a trail for experimental filmmaking. Buñuel's purpose was to "alienate" the audience, not "please" them, a realization that is affirmed, immediately, by his famous cutting-open-an-eyeball shot; Premiere magazine ranked it 10th out of "The 25 Most Shocking Moments in Movie History." Film Scholar Ken Dancyger contends that Un Chien Andalou "may be the genesis of the filmmaking style present in the modern music video," which cements its legacy as both a blessing and a curse; bipolar ideas synonymous with the film's experimental construction. It was a groundbreaking work of antagonistic art, during a time, the 1920's, when the surrealist movement was taking shape. And Dali, the famous surrealist painter, was instrumental in "dreaming-up" the revolutionary script. Any filmgoer, who enjoys the work of David Lynch, an insurgent filmmaker in his own right (he sets the standard for present-day surrealism in cinema), must pay heed to Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali. For Andalou, the forbear of dream logic, is, according to Roger Ebert, "The most famous short film ever made." Who am I to disagree with the master of criticism? 10 out of 10


  1. Terrific stuff here, MV, and I'm proud to say I've seen all of these films. I love Chaplin - a hell of a _______ (fill in with whichever masterfully handled film job he performed on his movies) City Lights is a good old fashioned movie in the very best sense of that phrase. The Shining is a chilly and chilling tale of madness and the evil that can live on in a place. As a confirmed Stephen King Constant Reader I do have to point out that it's not really a very good adaptation of King's story - but when the results are as scary and funny and terrifying and entertaining as Kubrick's The Shining is, you have to go with it. And the novel sits ready to re-read any time should I want to experience the story in a Kubrickless fashion again. Un Chien Andalou - I got to experience this film in one of my myraid film courses in college - probably about a week or two after Battleship Potemkin and about a week or two before Rules of the Game - I don't think the class was called Hollywood Fluff 101, shall we say. It is a bit of an assault on the viewer - but it did lay the groundwork for cinema style that also provides substance - from two legendary artists. I'm really enjoying this series of posts Matty!

  2. This is an impressive list and I have happily seen every one on here. The eyeball shot from Un Chien Andalou gave me the squicks. I actually used it as an argument to a teacher when he talked about the escalating grossness and violence in movies today (that being back in 1990, LOL).

    I stand with Craig on The Shining. The interpretation of King's novel is not the best and as an author it makes me cringe. I've learned to divorce it from King's story and think of it purely as a Kubrick story using King's characters and setting. It is a very chilling film and one that I have seen many times, thoroughly enjoying it with each viewing. Redrum, Redrum!!!

    This is an outstanding series you've got going here and I look forward to reading more. Your breadth of knowledge continues to blow me away. I feel sometimes like you are opening a new world to me.

  3. Believe it or not I've never got to see THE SHINNING, but I did watch CITY LIGHTS and it is one of Chaplin's best movies, if not THE best one!

  4. @ Craig

    You are the man! I'm just merely doing my job as an "online critic." Thank you so much for the continued support and praise. I am truly grateful to have met you, Melissa and so many other wonderful people who pay attention to my ramblings.

    Chaplin is a hell of a MOVIE STAR, in every sense of the phrase (directing, writing, acting, everything)!

    I am glad that you and Melissa, as staunch proponents of film and literature, could divorce the limitations of Kubrick's adaptation (in terms of King's novel) from its purely cinematic identity. Because, as an adaptation, it's atrocious. King, himself, denounced Kubrick's film immediately after seeing it (over time, his disdain has lessened considerably). But, as a film, it is outstanding. And neither of us can ever bemoan or diminish the brilliance of Kubrick. He has his unique vision. He's a perfectionist. He's stubborn. And, most of all, he's a genius of visual storytelling. Even Stephen King realizes this despite his own gripes with the integrity of the adaptation.

    Oh wow! I could totally see Andalou being the central focus of a course study in a film class. It's a prerequisite for surrealism, dream logic and nonlinear, disjointed storytelling.

    Haha, LOL-"Hollywood Fluff 101."

    And I just watched Rules of the Game (after years of only seeing bits and pieces of it), so you can expect my abridged write-up in Part II!

  5. @ Melissa

    Thank you so much, Mel! I really appreciate your feedback and support (I know I say this to you a lot, but kindness never gets old). And I'm thrilled by the idea that I'm "opening you up to a new world." That's incredible praise and I'm truly grateful to have readers like yourself :)

    The eyeball shot was a seminal moment in cinema. And, to think it happened in the 1920's, I mean WOW! Your teacher must've been dumbfounded. There is no better example of extreme shock value in film than that eyeball shot. I wish I was in that class with you because I would've piggybacked your argument, 100%.

    You and Craig are absolutely correct. The adaptation does not adhere to the novel whatsoever. In fact, I believe King was mortified and appalled by Kubrick's interpretation (though, over the years, he's grown less disillusioned). But, as a film, it is remarkable. The atmosphere, tone, cinematography, everything about it, is amazing. I guess, as a writer and moviegoer, it's best to compartmentalize our loyalties. It doesn't do proper justice to the source material, but it does incredible justice to the moviegoing experience.

  6. @ Dezmond

    Dezz, whenever you're up for a scary adventure, watch The Shining. Just make sure you have some friends around because its not for the feint of heart. Don't be surprised to find yourself shielding your eyes and ears. But, despite the terrifying atmosphere, its still a terrific film.

    So glad to hear you've watched City Lights. Chaplin never gets old.

  7. Some very nice classic movie picks, Matt!
    Very agree with The Shining, that's truly one of best thrillers ever. Jack Nicholson rules!

  8. Not a huge fan of The Shining. Watched it again recently and found it to be a bit too dated for today's standards. Jack was amazing that's for sure.

  9. @ Jaccstev

    Thanks! How scary and psychotic is Nicholson. Unbelievable transformation. In real life and in interviews, he comes across as so much more calm, cool and collected.

  10. @ Nebular

    Dated????? No way. But I won't launch into an extended tirade. I'll just state I disagree wholeheartedly. But such is your opinion and such is mine.

    Thanks for the comment! Jack is one of the greats, no question.

  11. I re-watched City Lights recently. Definitely my favourite Chaplin film. The final scene still evokes a powerful response. Plus, it's my journals namesake. :)