I saw this movie for the first time at the Elgin Theater on Eighth Avenue as part of a double feature with The Tenant a long time ago, when I was young and scared. I didn’t like it. But I was young and scared. Eighth Avenue used to be scary. I honestly don’t remember why I didn’t like it, but just a few years later I would be mocking my younger, uninformed self. I absolutely love everything about this movie, from its cheesiness (camera as murder weapon) to its sheer profundity (camera as murder weapon). Anna Massey should be a household name.
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
My parents took me to see this at a young age, probably at the 68th Street Playhouse. Let’s see how many defunct art houses I can name throughout this list (although back then, they were just called movie theaters). I was a little too young to fully grasp the extent of Buñuel’s satire and his vast imagination. I recall being vaguely disturbed by the lack of a concrete (happy) ending, not to mention the feeling of discomfort brought on by “not getting it.” Both my parents loved Buñuel, and I am grateful that they had the good sense to drag me to many of the movies they wanted to see. My guess is that they probably didn’t want to leave me sitting at home in front of the TV set with a package of Yodels, a scenario I put myself in often enough despite their efforts. Ah, the thrill of growing up with (and not being shielded from) the most unusual and unsettling of movies. Actually, the Yodels were pretty good too.
The Wages of Fear
I went to see this at Film Forum (thankfully not defunct) with my husband, Ira, and my mother several years ago. Before she died, the three of us used to go to the movies together, which was in and of itself a white-knuckle experience. My mom was a vocal spectator at the movies. Sighing, gasping, moaning, even uttering words of advice or disdain to the screen were not beyond her. It was often embarrassing. Even the most vapid milquetoast piece of crap could get a rise out of her. (She had discerning taste—after all, she loved Buñuel—but movies just made her emotional.) This film is not vapid, milquetoast, or remotely crappy—far from it. Between her and the movie, I was a wreck.
Pickup on South Street
I saw this at the Thalia, probably in the middle of winter. Heat was not its specialty. Richard Widmark manages to portray himself as twisted, conniving, pathological, sleazy, tragic, vulnerable, and handsome all at once in most of the movies I’ve seen him in, and never more exquisitely than in this, one of my favorite film noirs. Though I must confess, I’ve never seen Rollercoaster.
Speaking of twisted, tragic, handsome, et cetera: Warren Oates is quietly the centerpiece of this picture. Or is it Laurie Bird? Probably Laurie Bird. She’s certainly at least as handsome and tragic. I may be conjuring up Warren Oates’s character in Monte Hellman’s more straight-ahead Cockfighter. This film is more passive. It rambles across scenic America, unconditionally picking up ramblers and spitting them out, while inviting you to aimlessly contemplate what it all means. I’m almost positive we stayed at that very Best Western in Albuquerque on tour.
Au hasard Balthazar
Saw this at a Bresson retrospective at MOMA, popular dinner spot of many of NYC’s finest moviegoers. And who knew dinner could be so work-intensive, demanding to be unwrapped and rewrapped several times over? Now that I have Laurie Bird on my mind, I am seeing her resemblance and similarity to Balthazar’s Anne Wiazemsky. Maybe these two films have more in common than I would have thought. Both involve brown hair with bangs, drifters, and modes of transportation, although in the case of Balthazar the real tragic, beautiful victim is the donkey. You just don’t get more beautiful and tragic than a donkey. Let it be said that I did not liken James Taylor to a donkey.
The Spirit of the Beehive
I went to see The Spirit of the Beehive at Film Forum on a whim only a few years ago, when it was rereleased, and it immediately became one of my favorite movies ever. It opens with a town full of kids, all yelling “The movie’s here! The movie’s here!” while running alongside a truck carrying a print of Frankenstein to the church where it will be screened. From there, you are swept right into the life and story of a thoroughly compelling little girl with beautiful brown eyes, a sister, a cat, a big house, a fair dose of anxiety, and a lot of free time in stressful post-civil-war Spain.
The Silence of the Lambs
The second time I went to see this was only a few weeks after the first time. My band was on tour somewhere in Florida, and one person went to a multiplex to see The Silence of the Lambs while the three of us who had already seen it went next door to The Five Heartbeats. I think the opening credits of The Five Heartbeats were still on the screen when I knew I really did not want to sit through what promised to be a dreadful movie. I quickly calculated that I would be considerably more entertained seeing Silence of the Lambs again, even having just seen it, and ran out of one theater into another. I felt like I’d escaped from jail. Just great. Not surprisingly, this film warrants repeated viewings!
Being swept up in British pop culture and its swinging sixties scene is something that I am not close to alone in and yet may be hard-pressed to explain. Well, the British are so beautiful, and you can’t understand a word they’re saying. Screaming girls and Beatle haircuts may provide some distraction, but A Hard Day’s Night captures the mood of a traumatized postwar culture just as effectively as other, starker films of the “new” British cinema. In Billy Liar, Tom Courtenay’s Billy could be a famous Beatle in the making except that comedy writing is his calling, and the more eccentric and imaginative he allows himself to become creatively, the clearer it is how stifled he is by his family, his lack of self, and his generally dismal surroundings. The bleakness and futurelessness are so embedded in this character’s outlook and ultimate outcome that even the sway of Julie Christie’s modern vivaciousness and beautiful smile can’t compete with his inability to rise out of his own sorry lot in life. Just a little bit heartbreaking.
I don’t know many people who have seen this movie, but it’s great. Are you a dog person or a cat person? Forget Cat People with Nastassja Kinski and Malcolm McDowell—not that the two animalistic movies have much in common other than dangerous, large-fanged creatures and a bit of 1980s spandex. Who knows what possessed Samuel Fuller to cast that straight-shooting seventies TV star Kristy McNichol as the lead? But no arguments here! White Dog is suspenseful, poignant, and entertaining, plus it features some of your favorite Roger Corman all-stars!
Michael Barker’s Top 10
Michael Barker and his copresidents at Sony Pictures Classics, Tom Bernard and Marcie Bloom, have brought out some of the best and most successful independent and international films of the last two decades, from Women on the Verge of a Nervous Break…