L13FC: 1960s British & U.S. Significant Films

Welcome back to Cindy’s Lucky 13 Film Club. I heartily give thanks to Pete from Norfolk, England who agreed to co-host this month. After a discussion about significant films, not necessarily Oscar winners or box-draw favorites, we hashed out the details and chose three favorites from each side of the pond. What do our choices show about society at the time? Please comment and feel free to turn this into a discussion board. What films would you add? 

PETE FROM BEETLEY asserts: 

The 1960s were an important time in the development of British Cinema. From the home-made epics to the emergence of the kitchen-sink’ dramas reflecting real life.  The ‘comfortable’ class-ridden films that had gone before began to fade away, as film-makers sought to portray life as it could be understood by the people who paid for tickets. With most of the poverty behind them, and the absence of the rigours of war and rationing, cinema-goers began to expect more, and they got it.

In the era of ‘Swinging London’ and the culture of pop music and fashion that defined it, I became a teenager and a film fan, at one of the best times in history to have been both.

I recall three films that, showcased what was going on. Changing attitudes to class, approaching the horror film in a very different way, and a fresh approach to the espionage genre.

Peeping Tom (1960)

In the same year that ‘Psycho’ was released, the esteemed British film-maker Michael Powell released this film about a disturbed serial killer. Set in London’s seedy glamour and soft-porn industry, it followed a troubled young man unable to control his impulse to not only kill, but to film those kills as they happened. The audience followed the camera into the terrors of the victims and then watched as he not only reviewed his crimes but also played old reels about his own abuse as a youngster. It proved too much for the time. Critics and censors were appalled, and the audiences were shocked beyond belief. Powell’s career was ruined by the uproar, and the film took many years to gain a cult following of those who appreciated just how radical and powerful it was.

 

The Servant (1963)

Joseph Losey made many films with the leading man, Dirk Bogarde. In this film, he is cast against type, as a nasty, manipulative manservant, keen to take advantage of his aristocratic and superior young employer, played to perfection by a young James Fox. To achieve his goal, he introduces an attractive young woman into the house, to act as a maid. He claims she is his sister, allowing his young master to believe he can take advantage of her. Once hooked on sex with the girl, (a suitably alluring Sarah Miles) the upper-class man has his life slowly dismantled by the scheming pair, as they destroy his relationships, and make him increasingly dependent on them both. With wonderful location filming in London, tight direction by Losey, and a powerful script, this film reflected changes in class attitudes driven by 1960s society. Foretelling the end of so much privilege by circumstance.

The Ipcress File (1965)

The first of the ‘Harry Palmer’ spy films saw Michael Caine emerge as a new kind of secret agent. Not an upper-class university educated gentlemen, or aristocratic fop, and not resident in the glamorous fake world of James Bond. This was the everyday slog of spies in the Cold War. They still have to overcome class prejudice from their superiors, but they are playing a new kind of game, one where winning is the only acceptable outcome. Ex-military, unimpressed, and wearily flirtatious, Harry was the perfect role for Caine, who ran with it to the sequels too. Although the film builds to a climax, it excels in the small details of Harry’s everyday life, and his interaction with his colleagues. When we went to watch this film, it was undeniable that things were changing in Britain, and we now had a new kind of hero.

CINDY’S CHOICES

Only three? Should I choose one from the start of the decade like Spartacus (1960) directed by Stanley Kubrick for an undeniable well-crafted epic? What about the film that gave the voice to the counterculture in 1969, Easy Rider? Which film reflected the terror and paranoia of the Cold War best? Dr. Strangeglove? Should I choose a film that typifies vibrant NYC and its spokesperson, the endearing Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s? I adore West Side Story. It is probably my favorite film of all time. I chose not to mention it here today. God that was hard!

Cool Hand Luke (1967)

The 1960s was about finding one’s inner strength. It was about non-conformity. Paul Newman as Luke Jackson does this best and becomes a martyr in the eyes of his Florida inmates. Directed by Stuart Rosenberg, what a cast and outstanding performances by Newman, George Kennedy, Strother Martin, J.D. Cannon, and Jo Van Fleet. Just look at that trailer to remind you. The film is art.

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

In answer to my question about the Cold War, The Manchurian Candidate hit a nerve. It raised fears that top-secret missions existed and fanned the flames of fear and paranoia. Angela Lansbury as Eleanor Shaw was frightening while Frank Sinatra gave one of the best performances of his career.

Psycho (1960)

Alfred Hitchcock pushed the envelope with his most famous film. He filmed Janet Leigh in her bra and slip. The central character was female; she had a steamy affair and embezzled from the bank. The toilet flushed for the first time in film. A trifecta of taboos inferred: transvestitism, incest, and necrophilia. Who can forget Bernard Herrmann’s score with violins that pierce the air like a knife? Or Hitchcock’s filming of angles, the play with light and dark, and the awesome editing montage during the shower scene? The exterior and interior shots of the house? Those top shots of the stairs? Doesn’t everyone cringe at one of the best final shots in film history–the stare of Norman Bates played by Anthony Perkins? Well done, Janet Leigh, for starring in two out of three of significant films from the 1960s.

Your turn!

Thank you, Pete! Don’t forget to visit Pete’s blog soon. You can find him in Beetley HERE.

L13FC: The Actress as Saint or Sinner

Welcome back to this month’s discussion about the film industry. Have some fun and join in the conversation.

In literature and in film, females in the Judeo-Christian world throughout the ages have been portrayed as either saint typified by the Virgin Mary, or as fallen Eve, the sinner/seducer usually using her sexuality to control her situation. When I look at lists of popular actresses in the history of motion pictures, I’m struck by how that dynamic is visualized on the screen. It’s either or. That image stains the actress and it’s hard to shake it. In addition, with few exceptions, the youthful actress is innocent and naive while the mature woman is bitter and manipulative. If the actress has a long career, there are two faces to her. Good while young. Bad when older. Generally speaking, more actresses than not are cast in roles which fall into these two stereotypes.

Take one of my favorite actresses of all time, Shirley MacLaine. Her best films in youth portray her as sweet, innocent, and the adorable girl-next-door. Then she hit forty and the last half of her long career, she’s played nothing but cantankerous, conniving, and bitchy or “strong” women. I bet you can think of a dozen actresses who followed a similar path.

Best Classic Saint: Audrey Hepburn

Best Classic Sinner: Elizabeth Taylor

Then there are actresses who are remembered as one-dimensional. You associate her as the seducer/sinner or she was the embodiment of wholesome goodness. When they tried to veer away from their image, the public was disappointed. Meryl Streep is an interesting exception. She had the saintly features in youth, but she frequently played a sinner. Many of her characters from her earlier career were entangled in affairs or rejected maternal expectations. Then as Streep aged, she fell into the pattern of playing the mature woman who plays extreme personalities, often as the viper. Why is Streep considered the best actress of all time? Didn’t Katherine Hepburn buck the two stereotypes, too? Is there a correlation?

We’ve heard of child actors who can’t bypass their child image. We’ve heard of male actors who are only remembered for their villains. My question then: when you think of actresses and their best roles, do you find a pattern within yourself that prefers the saint or the sinner? 

I see a shift today where more actresses are playing roles that blend mental and physical strength combined with ethical clarity. And they look hot in their clothes, too. Emily Blunt’s characters are like that. Many of Jennifer Lawerence’s characters have the right combination. It is the modern scriptwriter who is changing the visual identity of what it means to be a woman. Do you see it?

L13FC: Brian De Palma

Welcome back to the Lucky 13 Film Club and three cheers to my English buddy, Pete, for accepting my invitation to co-host this month’s discussion. We wanted to extend our admiration of Brian De Palma to you and encourage you to respond to everyone’s ideas in a positive way. Please join the conversation. Why is your favorite De Palma film memorable?

Pete’s opinion:

Blow Out. (1981)
I am starting with this film as I like it so much, and think it is grossly underrated. There is some real skill here, and the recurring use of sound and film editing, film techniques within a film. De Palma makes the most of going over the same thing time and again, with subtle changes that show the developments to the viewer, as they are discovered by the character of Jack (John Travolta) on screen. The director also shows his skill for pacing, as we happily wait for the painstaking research to play out before us, then get swept along by the excitement of the finale.
The split screen helps too, building tension, and saving running time in the process. Then there is the theme of ‘the scream’, one that runs through the whole film, and the idea of filming important scenes against the background of real events and large crowds, in vivid colour.
Body Double (1984)
This film stayed with me and is actually a lot better than it feels when you are watching it. The
story is secondary to the real purpose of the film though. That is De Palma playing fast and loose with an unbridled homage to the work of Alfred Hitchcock. For film fans, it becomes a delight to spot the references, many of which are about as subtle as being hit with a cinematic brick. At times it feels like the director has taken the films of the man he admired so much, and inserted them into Body Double in order of preference. They are so blatant, all that is missing is a title sequence appearing ahead of the scene. We have the voyeurism of Rear Window, the close-up collusion of Rope, and the use of the telephone from Dial M For Murder. Throw in some Vertigo and Psycho scene-alikes for good measure, and all we seem to be missing is the seaside scene from Rebecca, and the fairground from Strangers On A Train. But don’t let that put you off. It is a dedicated homage, cranked up for the 1980s.
Carlito’s Way (1993)
If the first choice was innovative, whilst derivative, and the second an outright homage, my third
choice is all about casting, and locations. This modern gangster film is far superior to De Palma’s overblown and out of control Scarface, made 10 years earlier. By this time, the director had grown into making something more serious, and despite using the same lead actor, Al Pacino delivers a fine performance that is a world away from hysterical Tony Montana. A barely recognizable Sean Penn captures the style and greed of the period as the friend and lawyer Carlito rely upon, and smaller roles from Luis Guzman and a testy John Leguziamo are memorable, too. Locations are bitingly authentic, from the run-down cafe early in the film, to the prison barge holding the Mafia boss, and the nightclub owned and run by Carlito. Everything smacks of authenticity, and if any of them were sets, I surely didn’t notice. Even though I knew some just had to be. This is my favourite De Palma film, with its sense of impending doom running all the way through.
Image result for casualties of war sean penn split screen image
Cindy’s thoughts: 
Remember in Casualties of War when the sarge, Sean Pean, was shaving looking into the camera like it were a mirror in front of him while soldiers talked about him without his knowing? I like how De Palma transitioned from the split screen to placing one image, usually a character, in the foreground. It happened later again when Michael J. Fox’s character is being transported via helicopter. It happens in many De Palma films. The trick forces the audience to focus on two stories going on at once.
Image result for carrie split screen image
The split-screen is a trademark technique. Repeating the stars from one film to the next is another trademark. John Travolta. Al Pacino. Melanie Griffith. Sean Penn. Can you sum up Brian De Palma? We know his stories are a parasitical obsession with Hitchcock. His stories are passionate displays for conspiracies and voyeurism. The scores are loud and melodramatic, and I am entertained when I watch them.
Image result for mission impossible one image of cruise hanging mid air
Mission Impossible is the best of the long franchise. Carrie is a horrifying film adaptation, probably the best of Stephen King’s novels.
My favorite De Palma film is The Untouchables. Robert DeNiro was electric as Al Capone. Jim Malone (Sean Connery) as the mentor to Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) was charming and Ennio Morricone‘s score sizzled. The best trick of DePalma for me, however, is his use of contrasts. He takes a beautiful setting–the hill country of Vietnam, the Canadian Rockies, the beauty of architecture, like sweeping stairs and velvet drapes, and inserts a horrifying situation or tragic character, the “humpbacked and crooked”, the two extremes, to create a binary experience. While De Palma films may seem like period pieces from the 80s and 90s and not as great as films from the 60s and 70s, I am nostalgic for them. He filmed on location in interesting places. I miss the  De Palma tricks, the colorful, melodramatic scores, and the corrupted souls fumbling around in the dark with the hope of redemption that rarely comes.
What’s your favorite De Palma scene? 
Thank you, Pete, for co-hosting! Check out Beetley Pete’s blog which can be found HERE.

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