Thursday, June 19, 2014

Film Studies 101

Now that I can talk about going back to school, I'd also like to share a bit of preparation I'm doing to a) re-adjust to academia, it's lingo, trends, etc... and b) to better educate myself in film, as I've never formally studied it.  

As for the latter, I asked the film professor I'm going to be working with for a list of films he teaches on in undergrad courses.  He agreed to in return to the link for the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which I readily obliged.  He held up his end by giving me the lists he uses in his survey classes.  In total, there are about 50 films, some of which I've seen (a few of which I'll be passing on for now) but I wanted improve my percentage.  

A few of the films are available to stream, some others my friends offered to let me borrow, but many still seemed hard to come by.  Until a friend's sister and brother-in-law needed a house-sitter.  Lucky for me, said brother-in-law is a film critic and has amassed an impressive dvd library.  It was inspiring and now I definitely want to start my own Criterion Collection.

So for one glorious weekend, I had a house and this library all to myself.  So my self-appointed mission for the weekend was to watch as many of the films on my list as possible.  The only rules were: they had to be ones I'd never seen before and ones that I didn't readily have access to.

All that said, I thought it might be good to give you a little run down on each film [Disclaimer: These are hardly reviews, more like "initial thoughts"].  Alright, in viewing order:

1)  The Lady Eve - A very good romantic comedy caper.  It hits all the classic notes - girl and boy meet on a cruise, girl is trying to con boy, girl ends up falling for boy - without falling into trope (though maybe creating trope?). 
Outstanding feature: Edith Head costumes
Favorite performance: Barbara Stanwyck as Jean / Lady Eve
Recommend it: Yes, widely
Misc: I could see Amy Adam's being influenced by this for her role in American Hustle

2)  Thin Red Line - One of the best war movies I've seen - especially due to Malick's philosophical questions paired with jaw-dropping cinematography and a superb cast.
Oustanding feature: You mean other than Jim Caviezel's eyes?  Malick's cinematography is some of the finest ever.  [Trivia: after shooting over a million feet of film, the original cut was six hours long]
Favorite performance: I can't decide between Sean Penn and Jim Caviezel (I'm pretty sure this was his audition to play Jesus)
Recommend it: Yes - especially as a war movie
Misc: The score for this film was marvelous - and I was grateful to discover only after-the-fact that it was composed by Hans Zimmer (he wouldn't have been my first guess).

3)  Trouble in Paradise - An even earlier romantic comedy caper - I liked it, though not as much as The Lady Eve.
Outstanding feature: Fur! Ok, kidding... kind of.  The camera showed only what was necessary, often implying rather than showing.
Favorite performance: Herbert Marshall
Recommend it: Yes
Misc: Rather steamy for a 1932 film ;)

4) Breathless [Originally: À bout de souffle] - Hello new-wave!  I could see what this film was trying to accomplish and can appreciate that, but it didn't align with my tastes - except for Jean Seberg's pixie!
Oustanding feature: popularized the jump-cut
Favorite performance: Jean Seberg
Recommend it: Only to film enthusiasts
Misc: One of my favorite quotes - 
Patricia: Greatest Ambition?
Parvulesco: To become immortal... and then die

5)  The French Connection - A gritty exploration of the anti-hero.  Though iconic, content here was not compelling to me. 
Oustanding feature: the train chasing scene - classic sequence
Favorite performance: Gene Hackman
Recommend it: Depending on the person
Misc: Based on a true story, the film included a lot of actual officers who were actually involved on the French Connection heroine bust.

6)  The 400 blows [Originally: "Les quatre cents coups" a French idiom "to raise hell"] - The first ever French New-Wave film, The 400 Blows was released at the Cannes Film Festival in 1959 to wide acclaim--and it's easy to see why!  This film is stunningly tragic and tragically stunning. And I preferred this to Breathless.
Outstanding feature:  Inventive imagery - where Malick's cinematography captures the grace of moving pictures, Truffaut's cinematography moves the audience with the subject
Favorite performance: 14-year-old Jean-Pierre Léaud
Recommend it:  Yes - especially to film enthusiasts
Misc: Another beautiful score!  Also, this film is dedicated to one of my favorite film theorists: André Bazin. I can see Wes Anderson being very influenced by this film and it's main character.

7)  Rushmore - This one wasn't actually on the list.  It was a fun one because Wes Anderson!  I loved it just as much as I expected to.  Jason Schwartzman - a long-time favorite of mine - makes a marvelous film debut in this examination of community-making and belonging.
Outstanding feature:  In this, Anderson's 2nd feature film, his now-familiar style emerges with flair - people moving in and out of shots, hand-written letters, intimate close-ups, filming through windows, long pans, etc.
Favorite performance: Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray - these two play marvelously off one another.  Personal theory: it's because they've mastered the hilarity of silence.
Recommend it: Yes, to mature audiences
Misc: Full of Coppola in-jokes [the whole trivia section of IMDB is delightful].  Also "I saved Latin. What did you ever do?"

8)  American Graffiti - I doubt anyone had any idea at the greatness this seemingly easy-going film contained.  Early performances by Richard Dreyfuss and Harrison Ford, written and directed by George Lucas, produced by Francis Ford Coppola - this film is a powerhouse.
Outstanding feature: Set on a single night, the plot and characters are carefully interwoven in an excellent balance.
Favorite performance: Both Richard Drefuss and Ron Howard do an excellent job.
Recommend it: Yes
Misc: Filmed in sequence in 29 nights so that characters appear tired as the actors grew tired.

9)  Bonnie and Clyde - Another iconic film, this is so much more than a film about a bank-robbing duo.  Exploring the true story's 1930 setting, Bonnie and Clyde is a romanticized story of disappointment.
Outstanding feature: This is the first film to show a bullet being fired and hitting it's target in the same shot (before, the norm had been to show a gun firing and then cut to the affect)
Favorite performance: Warren Beatty and Faye Dunway
Recommend it: Yes, some mature moments
Misc:  Bonnie Parker's wardrobe is classic - pencil skirts, sweaters, and berets forever!

For all the intense films, it was a wonderful weekend!  I'm so glad I got the opportunity.  

What were your impressions of some of these films?  Let me know in the comments and let me know if you have any related recommendations.


  1. I haven't seen American Graffiti, Bonnie and Clyde, Breathless, The 400 Blows, The Lady Eve, but I really want too! Especially, I want to see The 400 Blows, I have been really wanting to watch a Truffaut!

    I'm so glad you liked Rushmore! I love Wes Anderson's work! It is definitely one of my top 3 favorite Wes Anderson movies.

    And The Thin Red Line, yup, it is pretty darn amazing. As a photographer myself, I have so much respect and admiration for Malick's cinematography. His movies are always so beautifully shot. Days of Heaven is actually impressively shot also, as he only uses natural light for the whole movie (and there are quite a few evening shots). But as far as overall Malick movies go, The Tree of Life and The Thin Red Line are my favorites! The only two movies of his I haven't seen are Badlands and The New World, eventually I will. :)

    Great post, by the way! I look forward to more like it and hopefully I can watch somre of them with you!

  2. I love this! The Thin Red Line was already on my to-watch list and now I've added The 400 Blows and The Lady Eve onto it. My knowledge of classic movies is, I'm sad to say, fairly limited. I love The Godfather Trilogy and several Audrey Hepburn movies but, yeah, I think that's pretty much it. Urgh, that's so not good!