#27: 30 classic films: 3 down, 27 to go

It would have been better to make headway on this challenge in the winter; now the clocks have gone forward and I’m no longer getting up at 5am for my job, I can feel the call of London nightlife grow louder.

1. The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

The opening sequence of this film hasn’t dated at all. There’s something clean and modernist about the block colours and the silhouette horses running across the screen.

As someone who loved earlier Westerns like High Noon and Stagecoach as a child, it took me a while to get used to the long, slow shots and lack of dialogue for the first five minutes. Also everyone looked blatantly Italian and it was hard to remember we weren’t in Sicily. But why shouldn’t they look Italian? If the characters in earlier Westerns look more northern European (ie blonde haired and blue-eyed) that probably says more about Hollywood than it does about the immigrant population of the Wild West.

But what’s really interesting in this film is the dynamic between the characters. Whereas earlier Westerns (although I’ve hardly got a comprehensive knowledge of the genre) made clear who was good and who was bad and relied on action, the power balance – and audience sympathy – in The Good The Bad And The Ugly is constantly shifting. In a lawless desperate place, it seems to say, even the notion of being good is relative.

Despite that there is a highly symbolic, almost Faustian scene near the end where one character is balanced on a gravestone, hands bound and noose around his neck next to a pile of money. It’s beautifully agonising to watch.

Also, I actually never believed anyone who said Clint Eastwood was once good-looking until I saw this film.

2. When Harry Met Sally

I’m not the biggest fan of rom-coms. Despite Meg Ryan being the go-to-girl for seemingly most rom-coms of the 90s I managed to avoid them. They’re so predictable. I know that’s part of the charm but when you watch characters so two-dimensional they’d fall over in a strong breeze making mistakes that even someone who’d lived in a cave with no human interaction wouldn’t make in a social occasion, it’s hard to care.

The type I particularly hate are the ones where a ridiculously awful and unattractive male character ends up getting off with a fit, dumb girl who forgives him his awful behaviour and doesn’t seem to mind that she’s way out of his league. Not that it doesn’t give men hope but it would be nice to see some films the other way round (and I don’t mean transformative rom-coms where the ‘ugly’ girl just takes off her glasses and hey, presto! she’s a hottie.)

Fortunately, When Harry Met Sally is none of the above (apart from featuring Meg Ryan). Yes, Harry is boorish and shallow at first, but Sally is uptight and neurotic: they’re as bad as each other.

Anyone who’s been to the cinema in the UK lately will have seen the spoof of the famous orgasm scene:

Which kinda stole the thunder of the original scene:

Thankfully society is a little more enlightened about women’s sexual pleasure than in 1989 so maybe the fact women fake their orgasms isn’t so surprising (although there are probably still some men out there who don’t want to believe it).

But even without this scene the film is great: the characters really develop and change over the years but you also see their friendship develop. The dialogue is snappy – the characters actually converse instead of driving the plot forward – and you really care what happens to them.

3. Hannah And Her Sisters

There’s an amazing steak restaurant in Toulouse called the Entrecote. When the waiter takes your order, all you say is ‘well done’, ‘medium’ or ‘rare’. You get a salad on the side and that’s it. If you like steak, brilliant. If not, you should go somewhere else.

Woody Allen is a bit like the Entrecote. Although I haven’t seen loads of his films, it’s easy to spot common themes without much variation: wealthy liberal types angsting about art and relationships with good dialogue and the backdrop of (usually) New York.

I recently watched Midnight In Paris which seems to embody everything I hate about rom-coms and Woody Allen in one film (plus it stars Owen Wilson as Woody Allen’s mouthpiece which is massively irritating).

So I was pleased to discover Hannah And Her Sisters actually has some charm to it.

There are some awful overbearing men in this one: the arrogant Elliot driven purely by desire, the tortured, controlling artist Frederick whose wounded pride forces him to say at one point when he’s being dumped “I should have married you, years ago, when you wanted to!”

The bond between the three sisters is fantastic – the dialogue crackles when they’re together – and it’s interesting to see how the bonds between characters contract and expand throughout the film.

What should I watch next?

I’m using through this IMDB list but if anyone wants to suggest a classic film for me to watch, I’m all eyes!


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