Cinema that was invented in the last decade of 19th century, flourished in the 20th century and for the most part,it was the most popular and in a way the most creative art format, borrowing from other art forms. After the invention of television, and the production of TV films in the second half of the last century, and later on the internet media and the new age of digitalism and online streaming or stealing of the movies, at least over the past couple of decades, Cinema has lost its glory. At the same time, while in the first half or most of the 20th century, Cinema was heavily in the hands of story tellers, photographers, and actors, who were all led by the filmmaker or the creator, in the last few decades of the past century and more so in the present 21st century, it is dominated by digital special effects and out of reality. So cinema as an art format has greatly transformed to a technical/digital industry. Along the many efforts across the globe to save this modern art against the box office sales pressure and capital demand, this site hopes to contribute a small part in this endeavor!
Cinema initially sprang from photography, so that later on and to this day, it is called “motion picture” or “movies”, while the term “film” could be used for both cinema and photography. In the beginning, cinema was simply, pictures in motion with no other adding arts or technology, such as sound, music, or else, but acting. That is why for the first few decades since the birth of cinema, the movies were “silent” and this art form had to rely basically on the power of imagery with all its cinematographic components and the filmmakers like painters on canvas had to do whatever they could to create a powerful moving picture on the screen in addition to silent acting without talk. In this endeavor, some relied on set design, the use of light and shadows, like the German expressionists, and some relied on editing like Eisenstein, and some relied mostly on acting and sensible realism like Chaplin. At the time and even today, it is easier to rate and rank a silent film, as there were no white noise of sound or talk and all were imagery and picture in motion to measure. Due to simplicity, originality and the role of these pure ingredients, the silent films are still on the top of many best films of all time, such as the works of Serge Eisenstein, Fritz Lang, D.W.Griffith, and Charles Chaplin.
The sound brought theatrical acting to the cinema despite strong oppositions of silent films’ actors who were great action actors, specially in comedy. While 1920’s were still dominated by the silent movies, the 1930’s were the era of infiltration of theatrical acting to cinema that lasted for several decades until the recent domination of special effects and interception of digitalism into cinema. Orson Welles, Humphrey Bogart, Catharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Vivien Leigh, James Dean and Marlon Brando were such actors who stemmed from theatre or acted as such. This continued to the modern era so that the newer actors such as Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Leonardo DiCaprio continued with such legacy. The theatrical acting while added rich flavor to the story telling and content through dialogues to the cinema, in many instances became very close to theatrical plays and robbed the cinematic experience and presentation, and limited the filmmakers in showing their talents. This is somewhat parallel to the digital cinema nowadays, where digitalism and special effects have totally stolen the rich cinematic creation.
Evaluation, rating and ranking movies, is not a matter of personal taste, likeness, or even a collective voting of majority, as the majority could be wrong and do not consider all the components of a film, with a delicate consideration of the differential factors. In other words, the role of camera, acting and editing are not the same and do not carry the similar weights as special effect. Unfortunately this has not been done closely in most rating and ranking of the motion pictures and the best lists, or awards such as Oscar. Beyond the different components of a film, that somewhat and singularly are recognized as in awards for script, acting, editing, directing, etc., the following factors in ranking the best films are essential. (Of course based on the following criteria, the earlier a film, the higher the rank would be, except the films that in addition to these factors, they have the “best impression” that could go beyond the time boundary. This is certainly very rare and on our list could include only a few rare films such as “The Battleship Potemkin”, “Man with a movie camera” and “Metropolis”, but these films are still frontiers in the time frame and only a few ranks above the other films made before them.
- Originality: No matter how well a film has been made today, if it is a copy of an original work, or an adaptation in one form or another, it would put it out of any best rank. An original work, even if not well done to perfection, it is still original and a creation that needs to be considered. Of course the earlier films fairly take on a lot of credits from this factor, but this may encourage the true filmmakers not to be copiers or followers but original and creative!
- Technicality: This factor should cover all the technical aspects of filmmaking from the story and script to the all works of camera, acting, editing, special effects, etc. The originality and proper application of each technique or component need to be considered in ranking.
- Impact Factor/Significance: This is the factor influencing other films, urging them to copy and experience the original work in part or in whole. This factor is not only the influence that an original work has on the industry, but on people in general and other forms of art and aspects of life as well. In conjunction with the influence that a film could have on other films or else, the significance of the film on cinema as a whole and on the history of this art medium is important and will be counted on.
- Survival: This shows how long a work, no matter how great, it will be remembered and looks fresh for years to come, specially in the eyes of the true cinema patriots.
Throughout this site, in writing on films and ranking them, the above factors will be delicately considered, though no evaluation or ranking could be rightful. Such comprehensive evaluation and ranking will hopefully encourage others to take on such or similar process in ranking and awarding, and avoiding a single factor such as the content of the story for political or trend of the time reasons!
Almost all available films in English or with English subtitles from the early years of inception of cinema in this list have been diligently reviewed. Since the originality criteria is very important and could affect the other criteria of technicality, impact and survival, this review has been so far until the year 1961. The following films that have been on some greatest films lists or have been ranked high or awarded by different organizations, have been particularly more carefully watched and reviewed. The films in blue color have been great, but not the greatest to be in our list, and the film in red color have been the greatest films of all time in our list:
1915:The Birth of a Nation
1920:The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
1922:Nanook of the North
1925:The Battleship Potemkin /The Gold Rush
1927:Metropolis /Wings/Sunrise: A song of two humans /The Jazz singer /Berlin: Symphony of a great city
1928:The Crowd/The passion of Joan of arc /The last command/The circus
1929:Man with a movie camera /Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog)/Pandora’s box /Broadway melody
1930:All quiet on the western front /Earth/L’age d’or/The blue angel/A’ propos de Nice
1931:Dracula/City lights/Grand Hotel/M/Cimarron/Frankenstein
1932:Cavalcade/A farewell to arms/Trouble in paradise/Freaks/Boudu saved from drowning/Scarface/Grand Hotel
1933:Baby face/King Kong /Duck soup/42ndstreet/Zero for conduct/Don Quixote/Land without bread/The Invisible Man
1934:/L’Atlante/It’s a gift/Three songs about Lenin/It happened one night
1935:/The 39 steps/Triumph of the will/The informer/The Bride of Frankenstein/A night at the opera/Top hat
1936:Modern times /The great Ziegfeld /Camille/The crime of Monsieur Lange/Swing time/Night mail
1937:La Grand illusion /Pepe le Moko /Snow white and the seven dwarfs /Humanity and paper balloons/The awful truth
1938:Alexander Nevsky/The lady vanishes/Pygmalion/You can’t take it with you/Olympia/Jezebel/The Adventures of Robin Hood
1939:Le jour se leve /The rules of the game/The wizard of Oz /Gone with the wind /Stagecoach/Ninotchka/Wuthering heights
1940:Fantasia/The great dictator /The grapes of wrath /Rebecca/Pinocchio/The Philadelphia Story
1941:Citizen Kane /The Maltese Falcon/How green was my valley /Sullivan’s Travels /The Lady Eve
1942:Casablanca /The magnificent Ambersons/Mrs. Miniver/Listen to Britain
1943:The life and death of colonel Blimp /Titanic /Shadow of a Doubt
1944:Going my way/Double indemnity /Gaslight/Meet Me in St. Louis/Laura/Arsenic and old lace
1945:Brief encounter/The lost weekend/Spellbound/Children of paradise/Detour/Rome, Open City
1946:The best years of our lives /It’s a wonderful life/The turning point/Notorious/My darling Celmantine/Beauty and the beast? /Gilda/A diary for Thimothy/The Killers
1947:Gentleman’s agreement/Out of the past
1948:The Fallen idol /Bicycle thieves /The treasure of Sierra Madre /Hamlet/Monsieur Vincent/Letter from an unknown woman/Red River/The red shoes/Macbeth/Germany year zero/La Terra Trema/Le sang des betes
1949:Kind hearts and coronets/The Third Man /All the king’s men/Late spring
1950:Rashomon/All about Eve/Sunset Blvd./The walls of Malapaga/The asphalt jungle/In a lonely place/Orphee/Los Olvidados
1951:Miss Julie/A streetcar named Desire /An American in Paris/The African Queen /Diary of a country priest/The River
1952:Forbidden games/Ikiru/The importance of being earnest/Umberto D. /The white sheik/High noon/The quiet man/The moor of Venice/Don Camillo/Limelight/Singin’ in the rain
1953:M.Hulot’s holiday/ Ugetsu/The wages of fear/Tokyo story/The war of the worlds/Julius Caesar/Shane/From here to eternity/The robe/ Roman holiday/The earrings of Madame De../The wild on/I Vitteloni/ Gate of Hell
1954:Seven Samurai/La Strada/On the waterfront/Journey to Italy/Rear window/Godzilla/ Twenty-four eyes/Johnny guitar/Sansho the Bailiff/A Star is born/Sabrina/Seven brides for seven brothers
1955:Richard III/Summertime/Pather Panchali/Oklahoma/Rebel without a cause /Samurai, the legend of Musashi/Smiles of a summer night/The night of the hunter/Les diaboliques/Marty/East of Eden/To catch a thief
1956:The Searchers / The ten commandments/ Giant / The king and I /The silent world /The Burmese Harp/ A man escaped / Written on the wind / And God created woman / Night and fog/ Apu trilogy (Aparajito) / Moby Dick/ Invasion of the body snatchers
1957:The seventh seal/ Wild strawberries/ 12 angry men/ Nights of Cabiria/Pyaasa/Sweet smell of success/Peyton place/Paths of glory/The cranes are flying/ Throne of blood/The bridge on the river Kwai
1958:Ashes and diamonds/Ivan the terrible, part II/Cat on a hot tin roof/Mon Oncle/Vertigo/Touch of evil/The hidden fortress/The old man and the sea
1959:Ballad of a soldier/Fires on the plain/Floating weeds/The 400 blows/Some like it hot/Ben Hur/Anatomy of a murder/Black Orpheus/North by Northwest/Hiroshima, my love/ Pickpocket/Il generale Della Rovere/The human condition/Moi, un noir/Rio Bravo/The Great War/A summer place/Apu Trilogy (The World of Apu)/The Unsent letter
1960:L’Avventura/The virgin spring/Breathless/La Dolce Vita/Psycho/The apartment/Two women/Eyes without a face/Rocco and his brothers/When a woman ascends the stairs/Purple Noon/The magnificent seven/Peeping Tom/Jason and Argonauts/ Spartacus/Cimarron/Ocean’s Eleven/The World of Suzie Wong/ Elmer Gantry
1961:Il Posto/Viridiana/West Side Story/Through a glass darkly/The long absence/Yojimbo/Splendor in the grass/Chronicle of a summer/La Notte/Breakfast at Tiffany’s/One, two, three/The Hustler
It has been said here before that a great film impresses right from the start, for the first few minutes, as it does “West Side Story” from the first minute. Only second to “Singin’ in the Rain” that still needed build up more than a few minutes, “West Side Story” with its fast and engaging tempo from the start to finish still remains one of the greatest films of all time.
Adapted from the book of Arthur Laurents and the Broadway musical of the same name directed by Jerome Robbins, the film was directed by Robert Wise who called in Robbins also for collaboration as he did not have any experience in directing musicals. With some inspiration also from the Shakespeare’s Romeo Juliet, a better modern version addressing some American social issues beyond its musical genre, and drama nature of love and hatred. The film stars Natalie Wood in her second major feature role after “Rebel without a cause”, though she played in “Splendor on the grass” at the same year of 1961 as well. Other than her, there are no major stars in the film, but many members of the two gangs of “Sharks” and “Jets” all play well in a concerted fashion that the film needed.
A Great Musical Drama on the Screen:
Filmed mostly indoor and in the studio, the film opens with an amazing and novel aerial presentation of the New York City West Side neighborhood where the story happens. Then with no hesitation or build up, the musical starts with the finger snapping, an overture and prologue music score by an orchestra composed of 90 musicians (triple of its stage production) with a mix of classic and jazz instruments, conducted by Leonard Bernstein and Irwin Kostal, who changed some of the Broadway’s scores. Robert Wise with the editing of Citizen Kane in 1941 to his credit, before starting directing and already have made great works such as “The Body Snatcher” in 1945, “Born to Kill” in 1947, and “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in 1951, makes this masterpiece in 1961 and repeats another great musical, “The Sound of Music” in 1965 again in collaboration with Ernest Lehman who wrote both films’ screenplay. Jerome Robbins, a Broadway veteran with great stage works such as “Peter Pan”, “the King and I”, “Bells are Ringing”, and “Fiddler on the Roof” assisted Wise in creating this greatest musical.
The two gangs of “Jets” all white kids, and the “Sharks” all Latino immigrants from Puerto Rico, are an example of racial conflict in the New York City. Here in the film, the fights for the most part before the final conclusion, are in the form of singing and dancing challenge or preparation for the final real fight or “Rumble” happening at the end. The film being all musical action in a dramatic milieu, carries on the least unless necessary dialogues, sticking to the visual nature of cinema. Multi-colors in the costume and the surroundings adds to the visual power and impression of the film, while the score, the songs and the perfect choreographic dances complement this masterpiece.
For a long while the two gangs under their leaders, Riff (Russ Tamblyn) for the Jets and Bernardo (George Chakiris) for the Sharks tease each other in challenging dances. Despite their conflict and hatred towards each others, both gangs are together against the police whenever step in to intervene and control them. Another power of the film is its collective acting of all the gang members who act, dance and sing, not relying on one or two main protagonists. But as in Romeo and Juliet of Shakespeare, the film needs to center on two characters to make it a love story as well. Here first Tony (Richard Beymer), a friend of Riff and co-founder of Jets who has left the group appears in the film, when Riff invites him to come back and participate in their upcoming dance challenge. Then Maria (Natalie Wood), the sister of Bernardo on the Shark side appears on the screen, in a dialogue with Anita (Rita Moreno), Bernardo’s girlfriend showing her excitement to go on for the dance that she perceives it only as a party, having fun and showing off her beautiful white dress that Anita had just made for her.
On the evening of the dance competition, while the dance has started, suddenly everyone blur out when Tony’s eyes fall on Maria whom he notices at once in attraction. Both eyes shining at each other and when Tony approaches Maria and they start dancing in each other arms, everybody in the background of the dance floor go in slow motion, so the camera focuses on this couple who are getting acquainted. This innovative technicality, one after another, the blurring of the scene then the slow motion of the blurred background adds further to the power of the film and building up a strong core center for the story, interjecting the drama component to the film and introducing its principal protagonists.
When Maria discloses her love of Tony to Anita who is her best friend other than being her brother’s girlfriend, she who’s surprised tries to discourage her of the relationship with the cofounder of their enemy gang. She raises right on time a pressing and still unresolved major social issue of America, that all immigrants are foreigners, and are treated as such by the whites no matter how long they lived in the country: “When immigrant always immigrant”! This leads to the song of “America” singing by all the members of the Sharks between the boys who still hate the whites and do not give in to the subordination as immigrants, and having strong pride in their cultural root, and the girls who show their already blend in attitudes into the American culture.
This is Hollywood at its best, a film that could be made only in America, while dealing with its issues. When Maria reminds Tony of the complexity and impossibility of their love affair and the fact that he belongs to Jets by telling him “You’re one of them”, he responds “But I’m not like them”, she argues back “But you’re not like us”! The film is not just a content story, nor a musical show like its stage version, but the camera is in charge and works in different needed angles, close ups, long shots, and more importantly to create more action and thrill, the characters often move towards the camera that was a novelty until then.
The film other than raising the minority and immigrant issues in America , addressing the other social issues such as delinquency of the teens who spend most of their times on the streets. In an encountering musical scene with the cops, the Jets blame their parents for not loving and caring for them at home, due to their own problems so having made them a so called “social disease”. There are quite several popular original songs in the film other than “America”, such as “Something’s coming” and “Maria” sang by Tony, “Tonight” sang by Tony and Maria, “I feel pretty” by Maria, “One hand, one heart” and “Somewhere” by Tony and Maria, and “A boy like that/I have a love” by Anita and Maria. The scenes in the dress shop where Maria and Anita work, between Tony and Maria who play mama and papa to get their agreement on their relationship, then playing their wedding and making vows, is another precious and original moment in the film.
The Rumble night starts with an eye catching sunset scene, while each of the fighting groups sing in preparation for their fight, with the song of “Tonight” in parallel away from them singing by Tony and Maria who plan to stop the Rumble and making peace between the two gangs. As the gangs start their fight, Tony arrives to the scene to stop them, but the fight between Riff and Bernardo by then has progressed to fighting with knives. When Riff has been stabbed by Bernardo, Tony out of anger enters to the fight and impulsively stabs Bernardo to death. Here the musical and drama has already reached its tragic point.
Maria unaware of what has just happened is shown in the next scene in her daydreaming dance, when Chino, one of the Shark boys arrives and breaks the sad news to her. Instead of only mourning for her brother, when she asks if Tony is alright, it upsets the boy who leaves screaming at her: “He killed your brother”. Tony arrives and tries to explain what had happened, but Maria in grief and anger keeps hitting him and calling him a killer. Realizing the tragedy that has shattered their love dream, they are both singing the song “Somewhere” that someday they hopefully could find a new beginning, a new forgiving so redeem their love.
Maria plans to farewell with Tony before he submitting himself to the police for killing her brother, when she is interrupted by a detective who arrives in her place for interrogation. So Maria sends Anita to tell the news to Tony who is hiding at the downstairs of a drugstore, but she is stopped by the Jets who attack and about to rape her that they are stopped by the owner of the shop. Anita upset of what had just befallen on her, in anger lies that Chino has killed Maria that makes Tony angry running out yelling for Chino to come out to fight. When Maria suddenly arrives to the scene, Chino in real comes in and shoots Tony. Maria holding Tony lying on the ground dying in her arms, sings their song of “Somewhere” again as their love and dream have died as well. In the final scene, Maria in tears and angst lectures the two groups that hate killed her brother, her lover and Riff and that how long they want to linger on with their hate. The film ends in the seemingly final peace between the two factions who all carry Tony’s body away.
The most Oscar winners of all musical films and the fourth in the most Academy awards winning of all films of any genre, ranking 41 in 1997 and 51 in 2007 on AFI greatest American Films of all time, and number 2 in the AFI’s greatest musicals of all time, and ranking 3rdin the 100 films with passions, “West Side Story” has pleased all from the lay viewers to the harshest critics.
In closing remarks “West Side Story” one more time will be redefined based on the following criteria:
- Originality:“West Side Story” is only second to its original musical stage play and second to “Singin’ in the Rain” among the musical films of all time. The film despite being an adaptation from a book and stage play of the same name, is original in some aspects. It is original in the film version with some changes from the book and the Broadway show to fit better on the screen. Its camera work, mostly close ups with the characters moving towards the lens, its stage plan and costumes, its collective performance and above all its scores, the songs and the perfect choreographic dances, puts the film not among the best musical dramas, but on the list of greatest films of all time.
- Technicality:The technicality of “West Side Story” as detailed above is in its well done script adaptation, its music score, sounds, songs, set design and decoration, choreographic dances and some novel camera work and editing. The film collective performances, a rarity in cinema is another great technicality of this masterpiece.
- Impact Factor:The influence of “West Side Story” has been on many filmmakers including Robert Wise himself that moved to make another great musical, “The Sound of Music” four years later and other musical films in the coming years.
- Survival:“West Side Story” has survived well to this very day as it is still entertaining and unrecognizable by the viewers never seen the film before that has been created almost eight decades ago.
While Hitchcock’s “Psycho” released in September of 1960 in US, and was hailed by many as a prototype of all horror films, in April of the same year another British filmmaker, Michael Powel released his masterpiece “Peeping Tom” in England. “Psycho” threw off a few critics such as Bosley Crowther of The New York Times for Hitchcock’s sleazy work (though his Psycho was more matured than “Rear Window” and “Vertigo”, wonder how they were over-rated”). “Psycho” also offended the British critic C.A. Lejeune who permanently left The Observer as a film critic. But the negative impact of “Peeping Tom” specially by the critics at the time for its horror, violence and sexual content was so huge that ended Powel’s career in England.
Michael Powel who wrote and directed films from 1930’s mostly on the subjects of wars, opera and Ballet, and hailed and awarded by many agencies around the world, perhaps shocked almost all for “Peeping Tom” that was out of his work league and insulting to many moralistic critics. “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp” of his that is ranking 34 of the greatest films of all time in our list, are followed by several other great films of his in collaboration with Emeric Pressburger, such as “49thParallel” and “One or Our Aircraft is Missing” all the three films surprisingly in the same year of 1943, “A Matter of Life and Death” and “The Red Shoes” both in 1948, “The Tales of Hoffmann” in 1951, “The Battle of the River Plate” in 1957, “Luna de Miel” in 1959 all the recognized and awarded films across the globe.
It took more than two decades until 1981 that BAFTA (The British Academy of Films and Television Awards) forgave him for “Peeping Tom” and awarded him a fellow of the academy. This recognition now that the world of cinema had softened their moral judgments and many similar horror and anti-moral films all over the world had been made and released, followed by other agencies such as a career award of Gold Lion by the Venice Film Festival in 1982, a fellowship award by the British Film Institute (BFI) in 1983, a Honorary Doctorate Award by the Royal College of Art in 1987, Akira Kurosawa Award from San Francisco International Film Festival in 1987, and finally in recent years an English Heritage Blue Plaque in 2014.
A few great filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola from the beginning recognized the genius of Michael Powell and his films, admitted his influence on their works, and “Peeping Tom” did not throw them off. Indeed Martin Scorsese has considered the film along with 81/2 of Federico Fellini as the only two films one could say about filmmaking and it painstaking process: “I have always felt that Peeping Tom and 8½ say everything that can be said about film-making, about the process of dealing with film, the objectivity and subjectivity of it and the confusion between the two. 8½ captures the glamour and enjoyment of film-making, while Peeping Tom shows the aggression of it, how the camera violates… From studying them you can discover everything about people who make films, or at least people who express themselves through films.”
An Unconventional Shocking Masterpiece:
The problem still to this day in appraisal, critic, awarding or disregarding a film is heavily based on the content of the film, that if pleases and of the trend of the time, would be approval and hail otherwise disapproval and disgust. That’s what exactly happened in 1960 to “Peeping Tom” and Michael Powel who could have created more great films if not judged moralistically. In fact the film portrays an example story of a serial killer and voyeuorist who can exist anywhere and at any time. But the film goes beyond telling and showing such story graphically just to frighten people for box office purposes like “Psycho”. The film analyses the character of Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm) beyond his present killing obsession, probing to his past and discovering his own subject of a victim of abuse by his psychologist father from early childhood.
His father studying “Fear” in him by frightening him in different ways such as throwing a lizard in his bed and filming his reactions, exactly like what he is doing in his adult life, filming his female victims before and after killing them. Powell with his genius of filmmaking that had been established all over the world with his previous great works, and with the assistance of his cinematographer, Otto Heller and the score of Brian Easdale creates such a celluloid milieu that’s a shocking, analyzing and understanding experience rarely seen in cinema.
The film is seen through the camera of Mark most of the time that was an invention and originality at the time. Mark who works as a camera assistant in a film studio and as part-time photographs soft-porn female photos above a newsstand shop for sales in the shop and other similar places, re-experiencing his own childhood filming by videoing his female victims while letting them to watch their own torture and death. His subject like his scientist father whose books on Fear, Mark still has kept in his home studio is also “Fear”. The fear is also evident on his own face parallel to the frightened looks of the victim. He films throughout the process of killing and aftermath even the police investigation and carrying the victims by ambulance to the morgues.
While in the same year of 1960, Jean Luc Godard in France with his “Breathless” and Federico Fellini in Italy with his “La Dolce Vita” were experimenting a new wave cinema, Michelangelo Antonioni from Italy as well with his “L’Avventura” became the leader of such new cinema. Godard’s Breathless was innovative and reactionary but was an empty experience, Fellini’s La Dolce Vita was a free floating wild exploration into the petti-bourgeoisies extravagant lives with not much message and interpretation, both not leaving an impression on the mind at the time of viewing and later. Antonioni starting cinema with the master of neo-realism, Roberto Rossellini in 1942, started his innovation in 1955 with “Le Amiche” (The Girlfriends) using long shots and still frames camerawork and cinematography, opposite to the jump cuts of Godard, adding another neo-realism to the cinema. This new neo-realism looked farther deep into the inner world of humans condition, completed the outer façade of the first neo-realism movement of Rossellini and De Sica.
Antonioni with his “L’Avventura” reached the ultimate in his new style and delved into the void, emptiness and alienation of humans, specially the middle class and rich. This is clearly shown from the opening scene in Anna (Lea Massari) who looks totally lost and alienated not just from his diplomatic father (Renzo Ricci), but from his fiancé Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti), and even her girlfriend Claudia (Monica Vitti) to whom she seems to be the closest, and also to the rest of friends and crews of the yacht. She feels and is lonely and nothing makes her happy even her impulsive sexual act with her fiancé while Claudia waiting for them downstairs, so all departing for a Mediterranean cruise . She seems to be lost even to herself and obviously not understood by others, even Claudia and more so Sandro who is pushing her to get married, while she wants to be left alone, despite not desiring to lose him. Right after the rejection of her request by Sandro, she physically disappears and all the rest in fright looking for her on a small desolated rocky island where the group have just docked.
This void, emptiness inside and alienation from others are seen in other passengers as well such as Corrado (James Addams) and Giulia (Dominique Blanchar) in an opposite manner, that the man is ignorant of the woman, the only one who observes and feels her surrounding. The inner feelings of human is shown by Antonioni not through dialogue that often the film does not have much, but with its long shots and still frames cinematography that may look like a silent film. This style of filming annoyed Orson Welles who disliked Antonioni’s long shots by exclaiming “I don’t like to dwell on things. It’s one of the reasons I’m so bored with Antonioni – the belief that, because a shot is good, it’s going to get better if you keep looking at it. He gives you a full shot of somebody walking down a road. And you think, ‘Well, he’s not going to carry that woman all the way up that road.’ But he does. And then she leaves and you go on looking at the road after she’s gone.”
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“Some like it Hot” that supposed to be filmed in color per Marilyn Monroe’s contract, was filmed and released in black and white, as it looked overdone even to the taste of Monroe, when she viewed a clip in color. Wrote and directed by Billy Wilder with the collaboration of I.A.L. Diamond on the screenplay, the film was unconventional and original in several aspects and a surprise on the screen at the end of 1950’s when released. Wilder who started his film career in screen writing from late 20’s grew as a filmmaker by early 1940’s with great films such as “Double Indemnity” in 1944, “The Lost Weekend” a year later, “Sunset Boulevard” in 1950, “Ace in the Hole” a year later, “Stalag 17” in 1953, “Sabrina” and “The Sven Year Itch” in two years in a row, “Some like it Hot” in 1959, “The Apartment” a year later, and “The Fortune Cookie” in 1966. Although his last feature was “Buddy Buddy” in 1981, he was not productive much from the mid 60’s. He wrote almost all of his films’ screenplays as well to the end, but studios did not hire him much since the age of 60’s that soured him, but he lived long to the age of 95.
Critical of too much camera work and cinematography of Hitchcock and Orson Welles, Wilder remained a story teller and script director. But he was one of the best whose style of story telling on the screen delighted even the toughest film critics and he was forgiven for not producing much of camera work and cinematography. Therefore Wilder was another live example of great filmmakers who proved there is no rigid and pre-defined format for any art including cinema, as long as the piece flows smoothly, attracts, entertains and accolades. Wilder was also an actor director who in “Some like it Hot” was able to get the best performance from the three popular actors of the time. While the film won many accolades all over the world including Golden Globe Awards, British Academy Film Awards, National Board of Review Awards, Writers Guild of America Awards, and Laurel Awards, it lost for the best film, director and actor at Academy Awards to the religious epic “Ben Hur”.
Beyond a Comedy
“Some like it Hot” has been hailed by many and awarded mainly in comedy category, but the film is beyond just a comedy. Its opening scene is happening in the prohibition era of 1929, with a mob car carrying a coffin full of booze chased and attacked by a police car in a relentless shooting. So at the start, the film appears as a gangster movie with thrilling car chasing and drifting. Then its comedy flavor shows soon when the bullets makes holes in the coffin and the whiskies start dripping out, when the two funny and exaggerated looking mobs stare at each other in surprise.
When the police captain first in disguise breaks into the funeral parlor where liquor-full coffin was carried in, we are back in the real Chicago in the prohibition era, where in the back room of the funeral home, there is an extravagant and illegal booze, music, dance and gambling party. Here for the first time we see Jack Lemon (Jerry) and Tony Curtis (Joe) as two musicians on cello and sax playing in a band. They are the first who see the police captain’s badge and just before the raid, they pack to flee.
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“12 Angry Men” is a film that set the foundation for the courtroom trial films, challenging the legal justice beyond “the reasonable doubt”, and the forefather of the single set films. “12 Angry Men” is in fact a play of 96 minutes that happen in a jury room other than a few minutes of the opening and ending scene. It proved that a single set and all dialogue film could be displayed on the cinema screen and still be powerful, gripping, heart pounding and cinematic. With the power of examination and logical arguments, the film could be a teaching example for the students of law as it was influential on the Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor in pursuing her career in law.
Adapted from a play by Reginald Rose who also wrote the screenplay, the film was directed by Sidney Lumet as his first major feature debut. As another example of power of acting, the film starring Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, E.G.Marshal, , Ed Begley and Jack Warden is a tout de force of performance. A box office disappointment at the time, the film was hailed by the critics from the start to this day, winning the Golden Bear Award at the 7thBerlin International Film Festival, lost to the patriotic war film of The Bridge over the River Kwai for the best director, best picture and best screenplay.
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt:
A trial film outside the courtroom, in a jury room, with nameless characters, the jurors by numbers, the others by descriptions, e.g. the boy, the father, the old man, etc., “12 Angry Men” is a prototype film on several fronts. An obvious crime to all the witnesses and the 12 jurors, except one, the film implicitly is critical of the judicial system. A system that its verdict could be swayed one way or the other, costing the life of a person. The juror 8, played convincingly by Henry Fonda, with his always quiet and calm acting at the outset of casting verdict, goes against the others, just to have a reasonable discussion before sending a boy who killed his father to the execution.
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“Wild Strawberries” of Ingmar Bergman is another metaphorical and philosophical film masterpiece, like “The Seventh Seal” surprisingly both created in the same year of 1957. This was only possible at the hands of Bergman whose prolific and excessively productive life career could achieve such, unheard before in the history of cinema. “The Seventh Seal” dealt with a nation or continent at the medieval period of European history, lost faith through the deception of the papacy, casting the doom of death on their people by war added to epidemic death befell on them by plague. At a parallel philosophical and metaphorical with a hue of surrealism, “Wild Strawberries” addresses the life of an achieved human, who despite all his knowledge, fame and accomplishments, at the end looking back at his life in the search of true meaning of his existence. While “The Seventh Seal” is more metaphysical and philosophical depicting the search of human lost in faith for the ultimate truth of God, life and death, “Wild Strawberries” is more psychological and philosophical in the search of the meaning of an individual in a lifetime, while it could be generalized to all.
In search of the meaning of one’s life and seeking Redemption:
Isak Borg (Victor Sjostrom), a retired medical scientist after telling his life story briefly as a narrator in the opening scene, dreams in his sleep, getting lost in the streets when out for his daily walk. He notices the street clock has lost its hands, so was his pocket watch, as time has lost its momentum. Wandering around, he runs into a faceless man, who by his light touch falls down and breaks to bleed. Then a carriage carrying a coffin passes by him, but its wheel breaks off and the coffin rolls off to the street. He approaches to the coffin, where a hand of a dead man is out and suddenly grabs him, when he notices it is him, dead. This Freudian dream that its interpretation is inherent in the opening image of the film, is a prologue to the rest of the film about the search for the true meaning of one’s life, or what has been really important in an individual’s life, with an introspection and looking back at the end.
Waking up from his alarming dream, professor Isak suddenly decided to drive his car to the ceremony of an honorary award to him at the university instead of the pre-arranged flight to the destination, that disturbs his housekeeper, the old Ms. Agda (Jullan Kindahl) who has been in his service over 40 years. His daughter-in-law, Marianne (Ingrid Tulin) who has been staying with him for a brief period, wakes up while him having breakfast and asks to accompany him in the car as she had decided to go back home. We find out later, when the professor stops by his parents’ old summer cottage to refresh his past memories why he suddenly decided to drive to the ceremony than to fly.
“The Seventh Seal” of Ingmar Bergman that won the Jury special prize at Cannes Film Festival in 1957 is a start of the Swedish filmmaker’s metaphorical, allegorical and poetic film style for the first time into the world of cinema. Although Surrealism in cinema starting in the silent era with “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” of Robert Wiene, then “Un Chien Andalou” of Luis Bunuel had brought an intellectual format and content to the art of film, it was not until Bergman when cinema started to become a medium of intellectual experiments and expressions. This started with “The Seventh Seal” and followed in the same year of 1957 with “Wild Strawberries” by Bergman himself again, until other filmmakers worldwide, such as Michealngelo Antonioni, Federico Fellini, and Jean Luc Goddard among others followed the suit in their own fashions.
But Ingmar Bergman’s prolific career, spanning from 1938 with a theatrical production at age 20 until 2003 with his last feature, Saraband and his last radio theatre show in 2004 at age 86, just three years before his death at age 89 is unmatched. With 45 feature films directing, with 50 screenplays, 24 documentaries, 11 television films, and more than 150 theatrical and radio shows, Bergman is the most active directors of all time. Not just for his extreme activities, producing more than one work every single year in different media, he is perhaps the only filmmakers who has had hands on any genres, from drama, to comedy, thriller, fantasy, action, and on different subject matters of philosophy, psychology, metaphorical, poetic, and more. He has created his own original styles and work such as in “The Seventh Seal”, but also has directed many adaptations of great classics on stage and radio from Shakespeare to Albert Camus, Verdi, Tennessee Williams, Cervantes, Edward Albee, Eugene O’Neil, and many more.
Bergman is also one of the very few filmmakers with more than a few masterpieces such as “The Seventh Seal”, “Wild Strawberries”, “The Virgin Spring”, “The Pleasure Garden”, “Persona”, “The Passion of Anna”, “Cries and Whispers”, “Scenes from a Marriage”, “The Magic Flute”, “Autumn Sonata”, “Fanny and Alexander”, and his last feature “Saraband” at age 84. He is also one of the few who deservedly won three times the best foreign films at the Academy Awards, one Golden Bear from Berlin Film Festival, one Cesar award, seven awards from Cannes Film Festival, six best foreign film awards from Golden Globe, and seven Guldbagge awards from the Swedish Film Festival. Bergman has also made several of great Swedish actors known to the world, such as Bibi Anderson, Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann, Ingrid Tulin, Harriett Anderson, Jorgen Lindstrom, Victor Sjostrom, and more.
Fear of Death or longing for the Truth:
It has been suggested by some critics that “The Seventh Seal” is an existential nihilistic perspective on life. But Bergman’s films such as this and “Wild Strawberries” that somewhat related, are not nihilistic in the philosophical sense of this school of thought to believe life void of any objective meaning, so to be skeptical and pessimistic like Kierkegaard. In fact as we read further into the story of the film, there have been feelings of deception and betrayal through the crusades by the papal rules, sending the knights to fight in the name or for the glory of God, while hiding the truth and the real intention of the religious wars in the medieval time.
The knight Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) and his squire (Gunnar Bjornstrand) return home after long years of crusades in the 14thcentury to witness their homeland Sweden like many other parts of Europe has been ravaged by the Black Plague. With this opening text introduction, the film opens with a big black bird, symbol of doom, flying over in a cloudy sky in the black and white color, with another following text prologue:
“And when the lamb had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in the heaven, about the space of half an hour. Then the seven angels prepared their seven trumpets to sound”. This passage from the book of “Revelation”, the last chapter of the New Testament, anticipating the end of the world or “Apocalypse”.
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