Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Short History Of Metro Classics, With Pictures and Possibly Some Extraneous Lists and Additional Annotation Part 2: Autumn 2007

Hot off our resounding success with our summer series, we convinced our benevolent overlords to allow us to continue, this time in a more auteurist direction. Our second series focused on three great directors: Werner Herzog, Terrence Malick and Howard Hawks. The choice of Herzog and Malick was inspired by a discussion on the Filmspotting podcast. They had been watching a number of Herzog films a few months after they had seen Malick's The New World and were struck by the wholly opposite views of nature and humanity's relationship to nature that the two directors appeared to evince. Howard Hawks we picked because Howard Hawks is awesome. And we found this great photo of him wearing a tweed jacket.

This series also featured a Metro Classics first: two sets of double features. We paired FW Murnau's Nosferatu: A Symphony Of Horror with the remake of that film directed by Werner Herzog. We also played a pair of Howard Hawks's screwball comedies (Twentieth Century and His Girl Friday).

The series kicked off on October 24, 2007 with

Fitzcarraldo (Werner Herzog, 1982)

-- The story of the film's making is arguably better than the film itself. You can see it chronicled in Les Blank's excellent documentary Burden Of Dreams, where Herzog gives this speech:

Kinski always says it's full of erotic elements. I don't see it so much erotic. I see it more full of obscenity. It's just - Nature here is vile and base. I wouldn't see anything erotical here. I would see fornication and asphyxiation and choking and fighting for survival and... growing and... just rotting away. Of course, there's a lot of misery. But it is the same misery that is all around us. The trees here are in misery, and the birds are in misery. I don't think they - they sing. They just screech in pain. It's an unfinished country. It's still prehistorical. The only thing that is lacking is - is the dinosaurs here. It's like a curse weighing on an entire landscape. And whoever... goes too deep into this has his share of this curse. So we are cursed with what we are doing here. It's a land that God, if he exists has - has created in anger. It's the only land where - where creation is unfinished yet. Taking a close look at - at what's around us there - there is some sort of a harmony. It is the harmony of... overwhelming and collective murder. And we in comparison to the articulate vileness and baseness and obscenity of all this jungle - Uh, we in comparison to that enormous articulation - we only sound and look like badly pronounced and half-finished sentences out of a stupid suburban... novel... a cheap novel. We have to become humble in front of this overwhelming misery and overwhelming fornication... overwhelming growth and overwhelming lack of order. Even the - the stars up here in the - in the sky look like a mess. There is no harmony in the universe. We have to get acquainted to this idea that there is no real harmony as we have conceived it. But when I say this, I say this all full of admiration for the jungle. It is not that I hate it, I love it. I love it very much. But I love it against my better judgment.

-- Winner of the Best Director prize at the Cannes Film Festival; #64 on my list of the Best Films of All-Time and my #6 film of the 1980s.

October 31, 2007

Nosferatu: A Symphony Of Horror (FW Murnau, 1922) and Nosferatu, The Vampyre (Werner Herzog, 1979)

-- Our second Murnau film, making his the first director with two Metro Classics (he was of course tied with Herzog at the end of the night). Also our second Metro Classic Holiday Tie-In, as it played on Halloween.

-- Murnau's film was the first movie adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel Dracula. Because they didn't bother to secure the rights to film it, and the Stoker family threatened to sue, they changed all the names.

-- Herzog has called Murnau's version the greatest of all German films.

-- The making of the Murnau film is itself the basis for the film Shadow Of The Vampire, starring Willem Dafoe and John Malkovich. I haven't seen it, but I hear it's good. The idea is apparently that Max Schrek (who played the count) was actually a vampire that Murnau had discovered in some dark corner of Europe.

-- The Murnau film apparently would have been forever lost had Cinémathèque Française director Henri Langlois not discovered it from among a slate of old movies about to be destroyed. More about Langlois, the greatest of all repertory programmers can be found in the fascinating documentary Phantom of the Cinémathèque.

-- Murnau's version is my #1 film of 1922; Herzog's my #5 film of 1979.

November 7, 2007:

Aguirre: The Wrath Of God (Werner Herzog, 1972)

-- Herzog and star Klaus Kinski had a famously tumultuous relationship. At one point during the filming, Kinski threatened to walk off the set (out of the jungle) and Herzog told him that if he did, he would shoot Kinski and then shoot himself.

-- Speaking of Herzog and shootings, one of Mike's favorite Herzog stories is that while being interviewed for a magazine, Herzog was hit by a stray pellet from a BB gun. When the author offered to halt the interview so he could get medical attention, Herzog said no, that it was "an insignificant bullet."

-- #19 on my list of the Best Films of the 1970s and my #2 film of 1972.

November 14, 2007:

Days Of Heaven (Terrence Malick, 1978)

-- Malick reportedly wanted John Travolta to play the role of Bill, but he backed out due to scheduling conflicts with Welcome Back, Kotter. The part went to Richard Gere instead.

-- The film's famously stunning photography was filmed by three accomplished cinematographers. The original DP, Nestor Almendros (The Wild Child, My Night At Maud's) and camera operator John Bailey (DP for Ordinary People and Groundhog Day) had to leave in the midst of shooting and were replaced by Haskell Wexler (Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?, In the Heat Of The Night) , who attempted to recreate as best he could Almendros's innovative "magic hour" look.

-- Winner of the Best Director award at the Cannes Film festival, and the Oscar for Best Cinematography; #12 on my list of the Greatest Films of All-Time and my #2 film
of the 1970s.

November 21, 2007:

The New World (Terrence Malick, 2005)

-- The most recent film to be Classicized, it was only two years old when we played it the night before Thanksgiving, making it also our third Metro Classic Holiday Tie-In.

-- The film makes frequent use of the prelude from Wagner's opera Das Rheingold, a tune also used by Werner Herzog in his version of Nosferatu.

-- One of many recent films by highly respected directors to star Colin Ferrell. He has also been (and will be) in films by Steven Spielberg, Woody Allen, Michael Mann, Terry Gilliam, Peter Weir, Oliver Stone and Neil Jordan.

-- #49 on my list of the Greatest Films of All-Time and my #2 film of the 2000s.

November 28, 2007:

The Thin Red Line (Terrence Malick, 1998)

-- Had the misfortune of being released six months after the critical world and the general public had gone crazy over Steven Spielberg's WW2 film Saving Private Ryan, a film it is superior to in every way. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Picture, Director, Cinematography and Adapted Screenplay, but failed to win any of them.

-- The initial cut of the film was five hours long, and many prominent actors saw their parts reduced or eliminated altogether as the film reached its final form. These actors include: George Clooney, John Travolta, Mickey Rourke, Billy Bob Thornton, Lukas Haas, Gary Oldman, Bill Pullman, Martin Sheen and Viggo Mortensen.

-- Star Jim Caviezel is from Bellingham. When the movie was playing at the Varsity Theatre, his parents came buy to see it and bought their tickets from me. They were very nice and excited that I liked their son's work.

-- #80 on my list of the Greatest Films of All-Time and my #11 film of the 1990s.

December 5, 2007:

His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks, 1940) and Twentieth Century (Howard Hawks, 1934)

-- We originally were going to pair His Girl Friday with Hawks's Bringing Up Baby, but apparently the question of who owned the theatrical rights to that film was in dispute at the time so we were unable to book it. Twentieth Century I thought worked as a good replacement (as both are films about previously married couples that worked together, with the ex-husband in both films attempting to win back the woman for professional and romantic reasons), but Mike really didn't care for the film. As a vegan, he found John Barrymore's hamminess off-putting, I guess.

-- His Girl Friday is a remake of a movie version of a stage play (The Front Page). In both of the first two versions of the story, the Hildy character (Rosalind Russell) was a man. The first version of the story I saw, however, was a terrible 80s film set in a TV newsroom and starring Kathleen Turner, Burt Reynolds and Christopher Reeve.

-- Twentieth Century, along with Frank Capra's It Happened One Night (also from 1934) is often credited with creating the prototype of the 1930s screwball comedy. It seems to me that comedy doesn't generally age well (comedies from the 60s often make very little sense to me, and kids today don't seem to love the comedies of the 80s the way I do). I've a theory that screwball comedy is the only comedy era thus far that is timelessly classic no matter when you were born.

-- His Girl Friday was ranked #19 on the AFI's list of the Greatest American Comedies; it's my #26 Best Film of the 1940s.

December 12, 2007:

The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks, 1946)

-- One of the screenwriters for this adaptation of Raymond Chandler's novel was William Faulkner. I just recently read my first Faulkner novel (The Sound And The Fury), it was really good.

-- One of the other screenwriters was frequent Howard Hawks collaborator Leigh Brackett, who wrote an early draft of The Empire Strikes Back. I like to think that the reason that film is by far the best written Star Wars film is because of her influence. The relationship between Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford in that film is very Hawksian: lots of snappy dialogue between two strong, intelligent, professional characters.

-- The film was the second collaboration between Hawks, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. After the success of their first film together (To Have And Have Not, which we probably should have run as a double feature with this, instead of the screwball double feature), they re-shot a number of scenes to sexy-up Bacall's character and make her interplay with Bogart more like that of the first movie.

-- The movie doesn't really make a whole lot of sense, but if I remember correctly, the book does. The film just couldn't be as explicit about what was going on with the younger daughter for censorship reasons.

-- #36 on my list of the Greatest Films of All-Time and my #7 film of the 1940s.

December 19, 2007:

Red River (Howard Hawks, 1948)

-- Christian Nyby was nominated for the Best Editing Oscar for this film. Nyby went on to direct The Thing from Another World, a film produced by Hawks that is so indistinguishable from the films Hawks directed that it's generally just considered "a Howard Hawks film".

-- After seeing the film, John Ford was reported as saying, in reference to John Wayne's performance, "I never knew the son of a bitch could act!."

-- Prominently featured in the fine documentary The Celluloid Closet, as the interactions between Montgomery Clift and John Ireland (especially when they inspect each other's guns) have a none too subtle gay subtext.

-- Named the #5 American Western by the AFI; my #14 film of the 1940s and #74 on my list of the Greatest Films of All-Time.


Mikey said...

Twentieth Century is so damn shrill! I was literally covering my ears during some scenes. It might be the worst film we've played over the course of these two years.

That or Pickpocket.


sean said...

I liked them both a lot more the second time I saw them, which was when we played them.

But I liked them the first time I saw them as well.