We all have stories from our youth. Their veracity is usually up for debate, but the stories are there, napping in the shadowy parts of our brains. Amarcord — a Northern Italian phrase for I remember — is Federico Fellini’s story. It has a small town, and fascists, and befitting the frenzied concupiscence of teenage boys, a coterie of beautiful women serving as little more than objects. Looking backwards in time is a finicky venture, and for Fellini bears out all manner of misremembrances in service of his dark comedy, which is often about the way those inevitable misremembrances make our stories better.
Category Archives: Classics
The plot of Help! is absurd and absurdly simple: An eastern cult can’t perform its sacrificial rite without a gaudy ring that, as it turns out, was sent to Ringo and is now stuck on his finger. Led by a screw-eyed Swami named Clang (Leo McKern), the cult hunts the Beatles and the ring around the globe — whenever possible, tomfoolery abounds. It’s a story made for a 20-minute cartoon, yet Director Richard Lester, in his second outing with the boys, somehow found a way to stretch it into a full 92-minute feature.
Way back in 1982, Vertigo debuted on BFI’s Sight & Sound Poll of Best Films at number 7. Since then it has slowly ascended, finally summiting the list in 2012, displacing the oft-thought irreplaceable Citizen Kane. No list is gospel, but the collaborative nature of the Sight & Sound, along with its tenure and visibility within the world of film lend the list a weight that few can counter. Which makes Vertigo a legitimate contender for the throne—the protean, elusive, much debated Best Film of All Time. Except, here’s the thing: it’s not.
Only recently has the bond between war and honor begun to fray. For millenia men have treated that most basic equation as gospel, but we’ve reached a point where the anti-war proselytizing, the media exposure, and the blurred lines between right and wrong have engineered a far more nuanced view. The realities of war have been planted deep into the fiber of our consciousness, allowing us to ponder the ways that it can adversely alter a man, even degrade him, without the interference of combat’s putative virtues. T.E. Lawrence is a man changed by war, and this volatile metamorphosis from intellectual dandy to merciless leader of desert warriors lies at the center of David Lean‘s arresting classic, Lawrence of Arabia.
While plenty of Alfred Hitchcock‘s films deal directly with death and murder, Rebecca is far subtler, exposing the auteur’s affinity for meticulously composed tension and manifest paranoia. Joan Fontaine plays the film’s endearingly naive protagonist, an orphan working as a companion to a haughty socialite (Florence Bates). When she meets the tall, dark, and handsome Maximilian de Winter (Laurence Olivier), the two fall into a whirlwind romance and an impromptu wedding, before journeying to Maxim’s sepulchral Manderley estate in the south of England. Here, happiness is impossible, as the new Mrs. de Winter can’t enter a room or open a drawer without uncovering evidence of Maxim’s late wife, Rebecca. Fontaine’s Mrs. de Winter is a meek innocent, trapped by love and a hostile housekeeper—played with thrilling eccentricity by Judith Anderson— craving nothing but the affection of her mysteriously distant husband.
Rebecca is a laborious tale that unfolds like a film noir, while releasing a steady drip of anxiety that maintains the essence of a thriller. It profits from a strong script and a bevy of grand performances, but is, first and foremost, a Hitchcock film; languishing in the sort of visceral angst that thrives in our everyday fears.
Singin’ in the Rain is not a complicated film. Like a circus or a carnival or a baby’s birthday, it bathes you in its technicolor glow with the sole purpose of bringing a smile to your face. Gene Kelly (a remarkably spry 40-year-old Gene Kelly, at that) plays Don Lockwood, a silent film A-lister unsettled in his success and longing for love. He bounces and grins and sings his heart out, enchantingly dedicated to creating a world where three friends doing an animated musical number at one in the morning is perfectly ordinary. And the result is astounding, as Singin’ in the Rain remains, all these years later, a paradigm of pure, effusive joy. The trio of Kelly and co-stars Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds compliment each other beautifully, with each player’s standout talent given its moment in the spotlight, and each performance as effortlessly executed as it is technically incredible. O’Connor is Cosmo Brown, Lockwood’s cartoon of a best friend and fellow Hollywoodite, and a 19-year-old Debbie Reynolds plays Kathy, the doll-faced innocent whose talent and general abundance of personality (relative to 1952) ensorcel the romantic Don Lockwood.
Don and Kathy harmonize their way to a happy ending, and Singin’ in the Rain certainly charms its way into your heart, but the biggest takeaway for a modern audience has to be the joy of watching such deftly executed schmaltz. Like a few other Hollywood relics, this is a high point of an entirely extinct era of film, and remains a thoroughly delightful and utterly timeless flick.
The “hero” as a concept or storytelling device is, and always has been, fluid. Some of us prefer the pure altruist—the Superman who does right simply because he knows what right is. Others need their heroes to be flawed or tragic, like Hamlet—angling for the light even as their blemishes define them. Others hanker for antiheroes, preferring Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle, a psychotic knight in rusty armor. Indiana Jones is enigmatic in his heroism; vacillating between all heroic traits, occasionally embodying all at once. His position as an archaeologist leads him to scour the globe in the interest of saving and protecting precious antiquities. Yet isn’t the quest for history-defining curios inherently a quest of self-triumph? Dr. Jones, over the course of his story, is at once selfless and selfish, motivated one minute by his moral compass, and the next by the fame and glory latent in uncovering history’s secrets.