Friday, July 10, 2009

A Short History Of Metro Classics, With Pictures and Possibly Some Extraneous Lists (*And Now With Additional Annotation) Part 1: Summer 2007

It's been over two years now since a tweed-wrapped movie geek with an unnatural fondness for lists (right) and a slightly spastic rock n' roll drummer (left) decided to liven up their jobs as movie theatre managers by pestering their bosses for months to let them program their own schedule of repertory movies one night a week. After consulting wikipedia to learn how to write a business plan, they got the OK, and with the help of a great many people at Landmark Theatres (film bookers, publicists, advertisers and one cranky old projectionist (below)) they managed to keep this strange ball a-rolling far longer than anyone had thought possible.

In the six nine-week series we've had since then, we've played 57 different films, ranging in time from 1919's The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari to 2005's The New World. We've played films from the US, Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, and co-productions between the USSR/Cuba and the US/Taiwan/Hong Kong/China. We've played war movies and musicals and westerns and comedies and dramas. Silent films, Studio-Era Hollywood films, art house films, foreign films, New Hollywood, Neo-Realist, German Expressionist and minimalist indie films. Films everyone has seen and films no one has heard of. Even one film I'd never seen.

Here's a look back at our inaugural series, wherein we played one movie from each decade from the 1920s through the 2000s. It all began on June 27, 2007 with:

Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans (FW Murnau, 1927)

-- The first of three Classics directed by FW Murnau, and the first of four silent Classics

-- After the international success of The Last Laugh, Muranu was lured to Hollywood by William Fox and given carte blanche to make this film, much like Orson Welles got a dozen years later at RKO to make Citizen Kane. Similar to Kane and the early sound era, Sunrise represents a summation and culmination of the various filmmaking techniques developed throughout the silent period.

-- Winner of the first Best Actress Oscar (Janet Gaynor) and Best Cinematography as well as a special Best Picture award for Unique and Artistic Production.

-- #7 on the 2002 Sight And Sound Critics Poll of the Greatest Films of All-Time; #82 on the 2007 AFI list of the 100 Greatest American Films; #10 on my 2008 list of the Greatest Films of All-Time.

July 4, 2007:

Duck Soup (Leo McCarey, 1933)

-- The last film to feature the Four Marx Brothers, as Zeppo retired from filmmaking afterwards.

-- A relative flop at the time for The Marx brothers, it led to the end of their relationship with Paramount after five films. They went on to make some of their most successful films over the next few years at MGM (A Night At the Opera, A Day At The Races), but those movies aren't nearly as good.

-- The first Metro Classic Holiday Tie-In, this satire of nationalism played on Independence Day. Hail Freedonia!

-- #5 on the AFI's list of Greatest American Comedies, #60 on its list of Greatest American Films; #21 on my list of the Greatest Films of All-Time, #2 on my list of the Best Films of the 1930s.

July 11, 2007:

Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942)

-- The first of three Metro Classics that star Humphrey Bogart or Claude Rains, the first of two Classics that star both Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains, and the first of two Classics directed by Michael Curtiz.

-- Winner of the Best Picture Oscar, as well as Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay; #3 on the AFI's list of the Greatest American Films and #1 on their list of Greatest American Romantic Films; Voted the Greatest Screenplay Of All-Time by the Writers Guild Of America; #3 on my list of the Best Films of All-Time, and my #1 film of the 1940s.

-- Highest grossing film in Metro Classics history. By 20% or so; it really isn't close.

-- Boston Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein is the grandson and grandnephew of screenwriters Julius and Philip Epstein.

-- The score by celebrated film composer Max Steiner was Oscar-nominated, despite reusing many of the same themes Steiner used when scoring John Ford's 1934 film The Lost Patrol, which was also set in North Africa and for which Steiner was also Oscar-nominated. This bugs me.

July 18, 2007:

The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)

--The first of only two John Wayne Classics, and the only Classic directed by John Ford. Which is ridiculous because he's, like, the greatest American director ever.

-- #11 on the 2002 Sight And Sound Critics poll of the Greatest Films of All-Time, though it was #5 on the 1992 poll; #12 on the AFI's list of the Greatest American Films of All-Time and #1 on the AFI's list of the Greatest American Westerns; My #9 film of all-time, and my #4 film of the 1950s.

-- The first Metro Classic to be shown on film.

-- The first of five Metro Classics that feature racism as a major theme, along with Do The Right Thing, The New World, Dead Man, Black Narcissus and I Am Cuba.

-- The first of seven westerns to be Classicized.

July 25, 2007

Blow-Up (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966)

-- The first of two Classics directed by Antonioni, it was shown five days before his death at age 94.

-- Loosely remade by Francis Ford Coppola as The Conversation, and by Brian DePalma as Blow Out. While the Coppola film is very good (and features and excellent performance by Gene Hackman), neither film is better than the original.

-- The first of two Classics starring David Hemmings. The other one seems like it should be very different, but really, it isn't.

-- The band playing in the nightclub scene is The Yardbirds, featuring Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck. Antonioni had considered using both The Who and The Velvet Underground, but doesn't seem to have been able to afford either of them.

-- Oscar nominee for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay; #24 on my list of the Best Films of the 1960s.

-- A last-minute replacement film after we were unable to get Jean-Luc Godard's Pierrot le fou, it nonetheless did excellent business.

August 1, 2007.

Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)

-- Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader both claim this is a loose remake of John Ford'sThe Searchers, though I don't really see it beyond a few incidental details.

-- Winner of the Palme D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival; received four Oscar nominations, including Picture, Actor (Robert DeNiro), Supporting Actress (Jodie Foster) and Original Score (Bernard Hermann), losing Best Picture to the surprisingly similar Rocky (both films arguably enact the wish-fulfillment fantasies of crazed loners); #92 on my list of the Best Films of All-Time, #13 on my list of the Best Films of the 1970s.

-- One of five Classics with political assassination as a plot point, along with Casablanca, I Am Cuba, Rome Open City and The Manchurian Candidate.

August 8, 2007:

Do The Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)

-- The first Classic I wasn't able to watch as I had to manage the theatre instead. I think Mike was out of town this week as well.

-- #96 on the AFI's list of the Greatest American Films of All-Time; #25 on my Best Films of All-Time list and my #1 film of the 1980s; Oscar nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Danny Aiello) and Best Original Screenplay but not Best Picture, which was won by a film with a very different approach to the subject of race-relations: Driving Miss Daisy.

-- The film makes frequent use of Public Enemy's song "Fight The Power" and on the film's DVD commentary, each individual speaker is introduced by Chuck D, which is awesome.

-- Much like The Searchers, the film is often misinterpreted as it refuses to simplify the issue of racism. The repeated motif of the film, that of the need for balance between Love and Hate (an allusion to Charles Laughton's Classic-worthy film Night Of The Hunter) tended to get ignored at the time in favor of the film's more incendiary moments. The film is about the struggle and seeming inability to do the right thing, and Mookie's return to help repair the pizza parlor is just as significant as his decision to incite its destruction.

August 15, 2007:

Miller's Crossing (Joel & Ethan Coen, 1990)

-- Far ahead of its time, this is the first Classic that has yet to appear on an AFI list or get any Oscar nominations. It is, however, #29 on my list of the Greatest Films of All-Time and my #3 film of the 1990s.

-- The first of only three films noirs we've Classicized. We should play more of them.

-- Mostly inspired by Dashiell Hammett's novel The Glass Key and its 1942 film adaptation starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake), the film also contains elements of Hammett's Red Harvest, which was the main source of Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo, which was itself remade by Sergio Leone as the Classic A Fistful Of Dollars.

August 22, 2007:

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee, 2000)

-- We had four banners for this film hanging in the lobby of the Metro for almost nine years until Mike took them down (without my knowledge) in order to put up a display for Up.

-- The highest-grossing foreign language film in US history, it received 10 Oscar nominations and won four, including Foreign Language Film, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score and Best Art Direction. It lost Best Picture to Gladiator, which still makes me angry.

-- Cheng Pei-pei, who plays Zhang Ziyi's villainous master/maid starred in King Hu's ground-breaking 1966 kung fu film Come Drink With Me, one of the first films in the genre to focus on a strong female protagonist. Ang Lee conceived this film as a tribute to Hu's films, especially his 1971 masterpiece A Touch Of Zen.

-- #73 on my list of the Greatest Films of All-Time, #6 on my list of the Best Films of the 2000s.

-- As much as I love the film, and I've seen it many times, I still have no idea what to make of the ending.


Mikey said...

I was at Do the Right Thing. I saw the late show with Lindy and Greta. I don't know why you didn't see it, maybe we had band practice.

Admit it, that Up banner looks dope even if it's sorely lacking in Zhang Ziyi.

sean said...

I didn't see any of the last three weeks, having to work them all. I don't remember why.

The CTHD banners were institutions. They should never have come down.

Mikey said...

Oh great, is this website going to turn into a forum for you and me to continue our bickering outside of the workplace?

I'm sure our legion of readers are now doubly excited.

sean said...

They come for the movies, they come back for the witty banter.