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Ten First Times


Kim Morgan has a list up of the top 10 old movies she saw for the first time in 2011. It’s an interesting list. The only one I’ve seen is “Other Men’s Women,” which has its limitations, but is enjoyable enough. Here’s my, probably less exotic, top 10 older movies I saw in 2011. For the sake of argument, we’ll say an older movie is at least 30 years old. I tend to mark 1967 as the dividing line between old and new movies, but I might as well play by the more expansive rules.

1. Victim, 1961
Basil Dearden’s brave film about anti-gay prejuidice in postwar Britain is incredible. Easily the best film old or new I saw in 2011.

2. La Jetée, 1962
The best science fiction film I’ve ever seen. Although to be fair, it’s not a genre I overly care for.

3. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 1920
As a silent film person, I don’t know how I had never gotten around to this before.

4. Rebecca, 1940
If anything, could Hitchcock be underrated?

5. Knife in the Water, 1962
I don’t know if this is Polanski’s best film, but it is pretty fantastic.

6. The Friends of Eddie Coyle, 1973
Fantastic and entertaining. Great role for Robert Mitchum.

7. The Mark of Zorro, 1920
True silent entertainment. The cheap amusements in their finest form.

8. Christmas in July, 1940
Preston Sturges–the best comedic director in film history?

9. In the Year of the Pig, 1968
Best old documentary I saw all year, powerful anti-war film.

10. Street of Shame, 1956
One of Kenji Mizoguchi’s great films about “fallen women.”

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  • Bartleby

    Preston Sturges–the best comedic director in film history?

    Yes. And it’s not even close.

    • C.S.

      Yep — not even close. As they say at the races, “daylight second.”

      But as to Hitchcock . . . no, he’s still overrated.

      • sparks

        No, Hitchcock isn’t overrated, just a few of his films are.

        • elm

          Exactly. Hitchcock created so many films and often didn’t seem to put the same effort into all of them. Good Hitchcock is as good as it comes. Bad Hitchcock was the Michael Bay of its day.

          • TL

            Totally disagree. Hitch always put the same effort in, but sometimes the material wasn’t up to snuff (e.g., Stage Fright, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Paradine Case) or was experimenting with a concept that was never going to work (Lifeboat, Rope, and arguably Dial M for Murder).

    • sparks

      Even if Christmas In July is considered lesser Sturges mostly, I believe, due to it being sandwiched between his first (The Great McGinty), and the marvelous The Lady Eve. He seems to never forget that motley group of crazies in his stock company are people and not cardboard cutouts as well. Sturges would also be near the top of the list of best comedic writers, as a look at The Good Fairy, Diamond Jim, Easy Living, and Remember The Night would show.

      I can’t assail any choice on this list, BTW. Erik needs to see more silents, though.

      • I may have seen more silents than every person who reads the blog combined.

        Ok, that’s probably an overstatement. But not by much.

        • SEK

          I was going to say something, but technically speaking, I’m not just a “reader” of this blog, so I’ll give it to you.

          • If anyone around here has watched more silents than me, it’s probably you. Though if that’s so, you should write about them more. Nothing is going to prime the readership numbers like in depth analysis of silent films.

            • SEK

              The problem is I’ve watched most of them in places like the UCLA Film & Television Archives, so I can’t do what I do with the close-reading because they’re strangely tight about reproducing stills. (And don’t much appreciate people taking pictures of them. Don’t ask.)

              • We had similar headaches at SF State. We could only watch them on Steenbeck tables.

            • Erik,

              My B.A. is in film from San Francisco State (my faculty adviser, Ron Levaco is the world’s foremost expert on Lev Kuleshov). I worked for two distributors: Audio Brandon Films and Films, Inc,, the latter of which had non-theatrical rights for the Janus Collection.

              I beg to differ. Just sayin’

            • For the record, I saw Abel Gance’s Napoleon when you were less than three, Erik. So there! ;-)

              • Mark Centz

                I saw it in 1974 or 75 in it’s incarnation as a talkie, Bonaparte and the Revolution. ,loved it, seeing it again with the Coppola score made me wince. Next time I see it it will be with the sound off, since unfortunately the talkie seems to be forgotten or more likely Zeotrope is keeping their version as a domestic exclusive. Kino or Milestone Films, hello?

        • sparks

          Since that bit of bluster heralds a tapemeasure contest, I’ll defer since I don’t find too many silents from the period c.1900-1912 particularly watchable. I have seen a large number of silents released 1912-29, but the decade I focus most of my energy on is the 1930s.

    • Mark Centz

      Buster Keaton deserves a seat at this table. And Charlie. Certainly the Miracle of Morgan’s Creek all by itself gets him into the discussion. Or The Lady Eve.

      • KadeKo

        Among the film geeks here I feel safe in confessing my particular taste for silent movies with live music.

        Buster Keaton’s “The General”, with a live cellist (and some audio effects, all live) soured me on about every CGI “thrill ride” of the modern era.

    • Anonymous

      The Lady Eve. Funniest movie ever.

    • Mark Centz

      I have a friend who’s a fan of Buster, a projection tech who keeps this photo on his wall at home, was driving from California to Seattle last week and stopped for a meal in Cottage Grove Orygun and was surprised to discover that The General had been shot there. That’s some skookum film making.

      • sparks

        You won’t hear me say a word against Keaton.

  • howard

    the friends of eddie coyle is an outstanding film full of period atmosphere but it’s an even better book.

    • DrDick

      Agreed on both counts.

      • hylen


  • If anything, could Hitchcock be underrated?

    Depends who you ask.

    • C.S.

      Look, I know I’m keeping bad company here, but it is possible to be a liberal film buff with a penchant for genre films . . . and still think Hitchcock is overrated.

      • For which fims?

        • Or films?

          • And in what sense? It’s fun to say Hitchcock’s overrated but that’s not much more than a trolling effort if you don’t explain it.

      • TL

        At the risk of being dogmatic, no it’s not possible to think that Hitchock is “overrated.”

        I have no problem if you don’t like Hitchcock. I can certainly see how his sensibilities wouldn’t line up with every person. But from an objective standpoint, he essentially wrote the book on film style and grammar that we’re still using today.

        Same deal with, say, DW Griffith. Many of his films range from repugnant to overly sentimental, but it’s impossible to overrate him given his seminal influence.

        • Ed

          Griffith created the basic grammar of film, a more fundamental contribution than Hitchcock’s. His sensibility is deeply Victorian, like Chaplin’s, but a picture like Broken Blossoms retains much power and beauty.

          You can admire Hitchcock’s skill without having much use for his sensibility, something which is particularly true of his later pictures. It is possible to say he’s overrated by the Hitchcock groupies and auteurists.

          Rope might have worked better with Hitchcock’s original casting wish list, although probably nothing was going to make the actors at ease with the concept. You can see how uncomfortable they are.

          • I would say the far more important grammar of film was created by the Soviet filmmakers like Eisenstein, Kuleshov and Dziga Vertov. Editing is the one component of filmmaking that did not incorporate another art form and there were no greater pioneers in editing than the Soviets.

            • Ed

              Griffith is where the movies start. It’s just that simple.

              • Actually it’s not. Griffith’s greatest influence was from the theater and the staginess of his earliest work is obvious.

                The role of editing has been what distinguishes and has helped film grow as a medium.

              • I will grant Griffith credit for bringing narrative to film and he is intrinsic to any serious study of the medium’s history, but his role in creating the syntax of film IMHO is small.

  • Captain Splendid

    I saw Network for the first time maybe 3-4 years ago. I was a little nervous, worrying that all the lofty praise I’d heard over the years would lead to unrealistic expectations, and generally wondering if I’d left it too late and it would be too dated.

    Saying I was blown away really doesn’t do the film justice. Where did Chayefsky get his crystal ball from anyway?

    • I agree because Network is great, but also because Substance McGravitas should be in a thread agreeing with Captain Splendid. Jeeves, bring in the brandy.

  • Gus

    Sorry to say Rebecca’s the only one on this list I’ve seen. I really want to see La Jetee, though, ’cause I understand it’s the inspiration at least for 12 Monkeys.

    • DrDick

      I watched it after seeing 12 monkeys and it is well worth the effort.

    • Malaclypse

      It is the inspiration for Twelve Monkeys, and it is way cool. It is not, however, the best science fiction movie ever. There Erik is both woefully and objectively wrong.

      • norbizness

        It’s that one with Kirk Douglas and the small-headed android, right?

      • DrDick

        I agree that it is far from the best Sci-Fi movie ever, though it is very good.

    • BigHank53

      I saw it before seeing Twelve Monkeys, oddly enough. Well worth finding. Not even close to being the best SF film, but it’s not Erik’s genre, after all.

      • If it matters, my second favorite sci-fi film is Tarkovsky’s Solaris. And Metropolis if that really counts as science fiction.

        • Malaclypse

          It does. And now that you are semi-local, you are required to see Metropolis with this band performing.

          • KadeKo

            King Vidor’s “The Crowd”? Anybody?

            Incredible acting, years ahead of its time in depiction of the fun, fast, urban and urbane Roaring Twenties as Not All That.

            Look for traces of it in “Christmas in July”, “The Bicycle Thief”, and “The Apartment”. Oppressively effective silent demonstration, of emotional immaturity and, later, grief.

            Had a studio fight over the director’s preferred ending, and the happy ending. Wouldn’t be Hollywood without it.

            It also may be the first time a movie has pulled off the “Did I mention I’m pregnant?” trick
            (per Roger Ebert’s Glossary), no mean feat in that age.

            • KadeKo

              I’m sorry; this post was supposed to be at the bottom, not a reply.

              But, I had to miss that (MassMOCA, right?) and was kicking myself over it.

          • snarkout

            Mal and Kadeko, I saw Hitchcock’s Blackmail with Alloy Orchestra doing the score, and it was fantastic. I actually like their score for Man with a Movie Camera a little less than the first score for it I heard, but the movie is so great that I don’t mind.

            • sparks

              Yikes. I detest Alloy for mainstream films. Their score for Keaton’s Steamboat Bill, Jr. is the worst I’d ever heard. Very little better is their score for The General.

              • cheap wino

                I thought I was the only one. Their stuff is far too arty for the subject. Too smart by half, it almost ruins the experience. Luckily Keaton’s genius overcomes.

                • sparks

                  I still need to turn the sound down or hunt up the old Kino VHS of Steamboat Bill, Jr. that has Gaylord Carter’s organ score.

                  At least I have a Blu-Ray of The General with the Carl Davis score on it.

                  My view of the usual musical suspects who show up on disks:
                  Alloy – Anathema unless for Avant-Garde
                  Club Foot – cute/irritating
                  Mont Alto and Robert Israel – solidly competent, but a bit lacking in imagination
                  Carl Davis – better, but not unassailable (one score of his I really don’t like)

                  This doesn’t include silent music done by solo artists like Jon Mirsalis, et. al.

        • Seen Stalker?

          • Yeah, I liked Stalker fairly well. Plot moved a little too quick for me….

            I liked Solaris better. Mirror and The Sacrifice are two of my all-time favorites, so I am very pro-Tarkovsky.

            • TL

              Watched Stalker last night — fantastic. In serious need of restoration though, based on the DVD that I saw. Get on that, Russians!

              • strannix

                If it makes you feel better (it did me) … I saw a 35mm print just a few months ago here in Chicago, and it looked terrific. The sepia scenes especially were so rich that I could hardly believe my eyes.

                • TL

                  That makes me feel a little better, but also worse that the DVDs floating around are so poor when better elements are available.

                  My first encounter with Tarkovsky was “The Mirror” on DVD, which is soft and grimy looking like the DVDs of Stalker. With the stunning quality of the Blu-ray’s of Solaris, Andrei Rublev, and The Sacrifice, I can’t help but feel like I’ve only seen a fraction of what I should have seen on Mirror and Stalker.

            • Sven Nykvist on shooting The Sacrifice. Good stories, good site.

  • DrDick

    I have seen most of these and enjoyed them. Street of Shame, especially for the time and place, is absolutely awesome.

  • TL

    Mine from 2011, in no particular order and ignoring Erik’s 1967 cut-off:

    1. The Battle of Algiers
    2. To Be or Not To Be
    3. M
    4. Ordet
    5. Amarcord
    6. Fanny and Alexander
    7. Andrei Rublev
    8. Seven Chances
    9. Sansho the Baliff
    10. Barry Lyndon

    And 5 “classics” that I weren’t my cup of tea:

    1. Children of Paradise
    2. Midnight Cowboy
    3. Intolerance
    4. Greed
    5. Rio Bravo

    • norbizness

      I remember when going through the Criterion titles on my old blog, I had one enthusiastic commenter say “Children of Paradise. Holy Shit! SEE IT! TELL ME YOU LOVE IT!!!” Three hours later, I could only wonder what the fuck that mime’s problem was.

      • TL

        Thank God — I’m not the only philistine on the internet. It’s an impressive technical achievement but it didn’t resonate at all.

      • Ed

        Les Enfants du Paradis is one of the great pieces of romantic filmmaking. I can understand not having a taste for that sort of thing but anyone can appreciate the grace and maturity of the direction and writing, and the acting is just out of this world. Jean-Louis Barrault is so hyper-sensitive that you may want to slap him but he makes up for it by his beautiful mime, an art not normally to my taste. One of the few occasions where the other characters keep talking about X’s extraordinary gifts and you can not only believe it but see it demonstrated in front of you.

        • Not to mention that it was mine during the Nazi occupation, but I will.

          • It was made during the occupation, not mine. Sorry.

    • That’s a good list for sure. Battle of Algiers is one of the 10 best movies ever. Sansho the Baliff is amazing. To Be or Not To Be is pretty amazing it its own crazy way (Jack Benny impersonating a Nazi and saying “We do the concentrating and the Jews do the camping” in 1942 can leave one speechless).

      I don’t much care for Barry Lyndon. Rio Bravo has grown on me over the years. More stampede!

    • Marek

      God, I love “To Be Or Not To Be.” And Battle of Algiers.

      I love posts like this; I’m inspired to see more movies. Instead of reading blogs all the time.

      • I started “The Horse Soldiers” last night. Some of those John Ford films are just hard to watch. This despite my love of William Holden. This movie is completely ridiculous. I have an hour to go, will finish it tonight.

        • Yossarian

          Is “Rio Bravo” the one with Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson, where they sing “My Rifle, My Pony, and Me?” God, I love that moment. And that film.

          • Oh yeah, I actually haven’t seen that. I was thinking of Red River.

            • Yossarian

              As a guy in his early 30’s who was completely unaffected by Westerns growing up, you could have knocked me over with a feather when I ended up watching some of those John Wayne movies and suddenly realized more than a few of them were actually great.

              • sparks

                As a guy some years older who was fed a steady diet of film and TV Westerns from birth until my mid-teens, I could say I don’t care if I ever see another one. The good ones I’ve already seen, along with plenty of bad.

  • Tom

    We need more of these lists in the entertainment media. Much more interesting and enlightening than the ten best of the last 12 months, which puts an undue focus on things which aren’t really very memorable and only of interest because they are current. This is much more about finding and appreciating art; most year-end lists are about commerce.

  • I saw Metropolis and Citizen Kane for the first time in 2011.

    Wow. And Wow.

    The scene in Kane in which young Kane and his estate’s manager get into a shouting argument, when the old man rises and Kane reflexively and even tenderly helps him into his coat, even as they keep shouting heatedly at each other…wow. It’s just brilliant how that few seconds fill in years of back story.

    • Gregg Toland was one of the great cinematographers. There were brightly lit scenes with with wide depth of field and real ice sculptures. An amazing achievement.

  • Paul Gottlieb

    legal and social attitudes towards homosexuality have evolved so much that it’s hard to realize what a courageous and controversial film “The Victim” was in it’s day. Some people felt that Dirk Bogarde was risking his career by taking the role.

    On the other hand, attitudes haven’t changed that much: The Home Office just reaffirmed its refusal to grant Alan Turing a posthumous pardon

    • LoriK

      Turing gets a stamp, but no pardon? WTH?

  • partisan

    My ten choices for 2011:

    1. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
    2. The Child (2005)
    3. The Circle (2000)
    4. Cria Cuervos (1976)
    5. The Devil, Probably (1977)
    6. Ulysses’ Gaze (1995)
    7. Black Cat, White Cat (1998)
    8. The Story of Women/Women’s Business (1988)
    9. My Winnipeg (2007)
    10. Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003)

    Also, Breathless, Contempt, Pierrot le Fou, The Tree of Wooden Clogs, Distant Voices, Still Lives and The Long Day Closes all remarkably improved on a second viewing. Most underrated movie I saw last year, the Elizabeth Taylor Cleopatra.

    The best ten old movies I saw for the first time in 2006 were much more impressive:

    1. Shoah
    2. Grand Illusion
    3. The Seven Samurai
    4. Cries and Whispers
    5. Ordet
    6. The Leopard
    7. His Girl Friday
    8. Pather Panchali
    9. Persona
    10. The Band Wagon

    • partisan

      I forgot that Sansho the Bailiff and The Chronicle of Anna Magadelena Bach also improved mightily on a second viewing.

  • Ed

    I remember when Taylor died there was an attempt in some quarters to reappraise “Cleopatra.” It’s still bad. (It is, however, watchably bad.)

    • Mark Centz

      Saw it in a gorgeous 70 MM presentation last year, and I’d agree that with Burton onscreen it’s not good, but the first half with Rex was better than average for a toga flick. Liz held up her end without any trouble.

      • Ed

        Yes, the first half is better. The writer-director, Joseph Mankiewicz, was much more at home writing smart remarks for Harrison than composing love lyrics for Liz ‘n’ Dick. I think Taylor’s performance is poor, particulary in the first half where she’s too heavy, too old, and The Voice is particularly grating. (She does get thinner and better as the movie goes along, so she improves as the rest goes downhill.)

        Reportedly Burton’s best stuff wound up on the cutting room floor. The movie was heavily re-cut and the footage apparently destroyed, so there will never be a true restored version.

        I also think the movie is mostly very ugly to look at. Costumes, production design – spectacular waste of money…..

  • Jestak

    Interestingly, my “watched for the first time” list for 2011 also includes The Mask of Zorro (Fairbanks version)

    Here’s ten more from a lengthy list:

    Sunrise (1927)
    College (1927)
    The Old Fashioned Way (1934)
    Rope (1948)
    The Phenix City Story (1955)
    Forbidden Planet (1956)
    Mon oncle (1958)
    Two Way Stretch (1960)
    Prime Cut (1972)
    Mad Max (1979)

    As we’re recalling comedy greats, I’ll note that my list includes Buster Keaton, W. C. Fields, Jacques Tati and Peter Sellers.

    • sparks

      Some first timers for me:

      You’d Be Surprised (1926)- Missed this very fun (titles by Robt. Benchley and Ralph Spence) Raymond Griffith film before, but finally got a DVD from Grapevine.

      Womanhandled (1925)- The Old West, with cowboys, Indians, roundups, but like none you’ve ever seen. From Gregory LaCava.

      Guilty As Hell (1932)- Did you ever think Quirt and Flagg would be even more loathsome people once they got out of the Marines? They are!

      Hotel Haywire (1937)- Very minor, but the last Sturges script I needed to complete my viewing. Lynne Overman has always been a favored comedic character actor of mine.

      Let’s Go Native (1930)- Insane Leo McCarey musical. Everything but the kitchen sink – fun but don’t expect coherence or a good romantic leading man.

      The Vice Squad (1931)- Paul Lukas turns snitch in a story about entrapment, the legal kind. An issue film from a studio not known for them and very good.

      Sing And Like It (1932)- Crazy/silly from one of the better noncanonical comedy directors of the ’30s, William Seiter.

      Her Man (1930)- Hookers, gangsters, murders, squalor, Helen Twelvetrees, Tay Garnett, what’s not to like?

      That’s a few of what was new to me off the top of my head. I went mostly for comedy last year.

      • sparks

        Typo: Sing And Like It is from 1934.

  • The best early Polanski IMHO is Cul-de-sac.

    Is anyone as big a fan of The Saragossa Manuscript as I am? How about Man of Marble? Anyone seen any films by Marta Meszaros or Miklos Jancso?

    One of my favorite Istvan Szabo films is Confidence, released in 1980? Has anyone seen it?

    In Japan, Kurosawa and Mizoguchi get most of the attention, but I think Masaki Kobayashi and Mikio Naruse deserve so much more. In Italy, the director deserving more attention I believe is Francesco Rosi. The Mattei Affair, Christ Stopped at Eboli, Three Brothers and Hands Over the City are not to be missed.

    • partisan

      I’ve liked the three Jancso movies that I’ve seen. Man of Marble did not leave that big an impression on me, I’m afraid. I’m a fan of Floating Clouds, and I admire Harakari and Kwaidan. I haven’t seen The Human Condition and from what I’ve heard The Tokyo Trial appears to be a bit of a whitewash. I like Salvatore Giulliano and The Mattei Affair, but I was disappointed by Three Brothers.

      • If you liked Harakiri, you’ll probably also enjoy Samurai Rebellion.

      • I think Man of Marble is absolutely wonderful. Man of Iron is pretty good too. Plus Lech Walesa!

    • My favorite Szabo is Love Film, which is an all-time favorite.

      • 25 Fireman’s Street is also pretty good.

  • strannix

    In alpha order, with my cutoff being 1978, when I was born. I figure that anyone can automatically descibe a movie as “old” if it was made before they came into the world, because it means that they didn’t have a chance to see it new.

    Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (Scorsese, 1974)
    The Asphalt Jungle (Huston, 1950)
    Badlands (Malick, 1973)
    Dog Day Afternoon (Lumet, 1975)
    Easy Rider (Hopper, 1969)
    Fail-Safe (Lumet, 1964)
    The Hitch-Hiker (Lupino, 1953)
    Le samouraï (Melville, 1967)
    Rosemary’s Baby (Polanski, 1968)
    Went the Day Well? (Cavalcanti, 1942)

    And to follow the example of TL above, 10 that I really didn’t like:

    The Fugitive Kind (Lumet, 1960)
    Klute (Pakula, 1971)
    The Landlord (Ashby, 1970)
    Last Tango in Paris (Bertolucci, 1972)
    The Misfits (Huston, 1961)
    Play Misty for Me (Eastwood, 1971)
    Spellbound (Hitchcock, 1945)
    To Catch a Thief (Hitchcock, 1955)
    Two-Lane Blacktop (Hellman, 1971)
    Week End (Godard, 1967)

    • cheap wino

      How is it that Alice Doesn’t live here any more is such a forgotten film? Hell, it spawned the super popular sit-com Alice (though it was absolutely nothing like it). Now, it seems to have disappeared down the memory hole.

      • TL

        I can only speculate that it’s because it’s such an outlier in Scorsese’s filmography that Scorsese-ites (Scorseseans?) don’t pay much attention to it, but his presence makes it a little too arty for mainstream audiences (not that they’d go out of their way to watch a 70s movie anyway).

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