For someone who is not a professional critic with access to free screenings of upcoming films, as well as for someone who has a full time job that takes up quite a bit of my free time, I see quite a few movies. MoviePass has certainly helped that; I now have the luxury, nay the duty, to see more marginal films that I would not necessarily have gone out of my way to see in years past due to the defrayed cost of the ticket (Good examples of this from last year include Hyde Park on Hudson and Killing Me Softly, neither of which I would have been likely to see without the advent of my MoviePass subscription). I do my best to keep up on current film, though my access to the art house slate is somewhat limited by my aforementioned lack of professional critic-ness. Boston is a major secondary market, and we usually get just about all of the mid-major indie releases that are big enough to expand past New York and LA, but sometimes things just miss us (Coriolanus, a film I love, never actually opened anywhere I could conceivably get to during its national expansion. Had to wait for DVD). Still, I’m in a pretty good place for seeing as many films as I can without a place at the critics’ table.
What I haven’t done is seen enough classic films. This is a clear and serious weakness in my film background, and as I watch more movies and grow to realize that film to me is the dominant artistic medium of our time, it is scandalous to me that I haven’t seen the films I haven’t seen. Sure, I had taken an excellent German Silent Film class as an undergrad that forced me to see such wonderful pictures like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Metropolis, The Last Laugh, Nosferatu, the original 1932 Scarface (it wasn’t all German) and M, and my love for those films led to me independently seeking out ancillary films like Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (which remains one of my all time favorites) and The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, but I didn’t branch out very much beyond that. Sure, I saw Citizen Kane a few years back because it’s CITIZEN KANE GODDAMNIT, and I also watched King Kong and some other classics, but there were so many films that I was actively embarrassed I hadn’t seen.
The final straw came when I started listening to Filmspotting, a wonderful podcast/radio show out of Chicago that covers new and old releases each week, but also occasionally will record legacy shows about the Top X films of a given year, or the like. In honor of the results of the 2012 edition of the Sight and Sound poll, Filmspotting decided to record a two-parter about their top ten films of all time (bringing in Chicago Tribune critic Michael Phillips to join the party, who has fast become one of my favorite curmudgeonly podcasters). Listening to that podcast (ans subsequently checking out the overall Sight and Sound results, which I remember browsing when it was initially released due to the brouhaha over Vertigo surpassing Citizen Kane for the number one slot) made me realize how woefully underfed my classic film diet is. I needed to make a change.
Shortly after listening to the podcast, I made a list of 52 classic films I needed to see. Most were from the 70’s and earlier, though I also had to include some Scorcese gems and Miyazaki films that are a little more contemporary to ensure that I was covering my bases genuinely. My main focus was on classic directors I had neglected: the Billy Wilders, the Alfred Hitchcocks, the Kurosawas, as well as films I just felt like I needed to see. Luckily, we live in the modern age, which means I can legally see just about all of these films without actively paying a dime through my Netflix and Amazon Prime streaming subscriptions in concert with the Boston Public Library, which is a wonderful place for any cinephile to get a free education (as long as you are patient and put things on hold ahead of time).
I’ve seen ten or so films so far as part of the marathon, and have decided to put up the list on the site, which I will update each time I see another film on the list (found here). Unsurprisingly, just about everything I’ve seen so far has been wonderful in its own way, though I will readily admit that I found Lawrence of Arabia to be a bit overlong (though I have a feeling I will get a new appreciation for Michael Fassbender’s riff on T.E. Lawrence in Prometheus the next time I watch it). The runaway favorites have been a pair of black and white comedies from Howard Hawks and Billy Wilder, His Girl Friday and The Apartment. I’m still amazed by how fast everyone in His Girl Friday (especially Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell) talks. I wouldn’t necessarily put it above the wonderfully screwball Arsenic and Old Lace in the Cary Grant comedy pantheon, but it is wonderful, as well as available on both Netflix Instant and Amazon Prime streaming for free. The Apartment seems almost shockingly ahead of its time in its subject matter, and provides some textbook Jack Lemmon sad sackiness, as well as adorable Shirley MacLaine goodness.
This project has been a very good decision so far, and I hope it continues to bear fruit, providing me with both the film education I need combined with some great film experiences.