John A. Douglas

Living Passionately In the World of the Moving Image

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Top Five (April 26, 2009)

April 26th, 2009 · 1 Comment · Top Five (4/26/09)

People always ask me what my favorite movies are. Although my Top Five list changes from time to time, these five movies will almost always be in the Top 10:

Shane (1953) directed by George Stevens, with Alan Ladd and Jean Arthur.

Shane is a gunfighter but he could just as easily have been a knight or a samurai. Like the knight and the samurai, the mythology of the gunfighter has grown thanks to the storytellers of each generation. Shane is not a real person but a hero as defined by the storytellers and he is a darn good one. “Shane,” the movie, was built around the limits of actor Alan Ladd which meant a minimum of dialogue – a good thing for a western and it worked wonderfully for “Shane.”

“Shane ” is made up of a series of memorable scenes edited together to make a most memorable movie – a movie I have to look at every ten years or so to fulfill my desire to see the beloved Shane. l would look at it more but it is like eating chocolate – eat too much at one time and it can backfire on you killing your desire for more and I would never want that to happen with “Shane.”

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) directed by Sergio Leone, with Claudia Cardinale and Henry Fonda.

“Once upon a Time in the West” was directed by Sergio Leone who also directed the three Italian westerns which starred Clint Eastwood. The Eastwood films were good but “Once Upon a Time in the West” is a masterpiece. It too is a western and except for a couple of shots in Monument Valley it was shot entirely in Spain and Italy. Unlike most westerns, this one has a woman as the principal character and she is played by Italian actress Claudia Cardinale. Backing her up are Henry Fonda, Jason Robards, Jr., Charles Bronson, Woody Strode and Jack Elam – as delicious a cast as one could imagine. Leone’s visual images are all beautiful. No one used the wide screen as well as this Italian director. In fact all the elements of this motion picture are first rate from thee editing to the musical score. A word of warning – looking at this film on anything but a large theater screen will serve to diminish the effectiveness of this film by a large amount.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) directed by Stanley Kubrick, with Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood’ T2001: A Space Odyssey is the best movie I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen a lot. This science fiction tale about the next evolutionary step of mankind reveals new information to me each time I see it. I appreciate the fact that the film does not treat me like a three year-old and seems to care little whether or not I understand all it has to tell me. As a result I am still struggling over aspects of the film and enjoying the process.

I love science fiction and I love space operas but it is wonderful when a science fiction film comes along where problems aren’t solved with a blaster, a ray gun or a laser pistol.

Napoleon (1927) directed by Abel Gance, with Albert Dieudonne and Gina Manes.

“Napoleon” is a silent French film made in the 1920s but it looks as if a movie director from the year 2009 went back in time and made this movie using all the filming techniques that were developed between then and now. The last 20 minutes of this four hour film were actually shown in a version of Cinerama which has three projectors running at the same time giving the audience a panorama not to be believed.

When I saw this film at the Chicago Theater in Chicago, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra played the musical score compoed by Carmine Coppola who also conducted the orchestra. It was absolutely thrilling and is an experience I shall not forget and a good thing, too, as I suspect that the film will never again be seen in its full grandeur.

Battleship Potemkin (1925), directed by Sergei Eisenstein, with Aleksandr Antonov and Vladimir Barsky.

The emotional impact of the scene on the Odessa steps is one that never fails to have an effect on me. When the scene is over I find my whole body relaxing from the tension generated by the scene. It doesn’t matter that I’ve seen this silent film well over a dozen times and know very well what is going to occur and how it all will end. “Battleship Potemkin” is the product of a man who was in complete control of his art thus he is able to reach across the ages to makes me feel something for the characters in his motion picture story. That man was Russian movie director Sergei Eisenstein and you can’t go wrong with any of his films.


One Comment so far ↓

  • Bill

    That’s a very interesting list!

    Of those five films, I’m familiar with only two of them: Shane and 2001: A Space Odyssey. I’ll have to look up the others.

    Thanks for the recommendation!

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