Diary of an old cheeser

Hi there! Like other blogs, this is my chance to wax lyrical (some might say talk utter cr*p) about a) what's happening in my life b) all of my pet obsessions in particular music, tv, movies, books and other generally connected things, quite often of the retro, old and "cheesy" variety. Hence the title of my blog. Feel free to leave a comment if the mood takes you. There's nothing like a good chinwag about one's favourite topics and besides I love to meet new people! Cheers, Simon

Saturday, April 28, 2007

My top ten flicks

Okay folks. Stand by for a mammoth post from moi! I've been writing this one for simply ages...and now it's ready...and I hope you like it.

Aeons ago, my fellow Blogger Matty tagged me, with the task of writing a post on my favourite films, TV programmes, music albums...And so rising to the challenge, I begain writing about my favourite movies. But once I started I realised I had a rather a lot to say on the subject of film, let alone everything else! So I decided to just focus on movies this time round (I WILL return to music, TV etc at a later date) and am now proud to present...

MY TOP TEN FAVOURITE FLICKS!!

Here then are my fave raves, with a some background on each respective movie - what they're about, whose in them etc - as well as the reasons why I like 'em! Enjoy!! Cos I very much enjoyed writing it!!

I should quickly add that it was quite tricky for me to narrow down my favourite films to just 10 - I love so many! Therefore, I have added a "Bubbling Under" section at the end - those films that almost but didn't quite make the final cut...it wasn't easy!!

Oh - and one more thing!! - several of my mini film reviews contain SPOILERS!! You have been warned. Now sit, back, crack open the popcorn, and read on...

1. Bagdad Cafe
I haven't watched this for years but made sure I got it on DVD for whenever the need grabbed me. Quirky, humorous, touching, unconventional, rather plot-less, heart-warming...just some adjectives I'd use to describe this film.

In summary it's about a German lady called Jasmin Munchenstatner (great name) who gets dumped by her schwein of a husband in the middle of the Arizona desert. Poor old Jasmin checks into the nearby Bagdad cafe/motel/gas station run by the taciturn Brenda, who is also experiencing marital problems of her own. In addition there's a collection of weird and wonderful guests staying at the motel such as a lady tattoo artiste, an aged painter called Rudy who takes a fancy to Brenda. At first Jasmin and Brenda are suspicious of one another but a bond grows between them.

What's brilliant about the film is the transforming effect that Jasmin has on the inhabitants of the motel and the way she brings out the best in everyone, including Jasmin’s kids, an introverted but gifted pianist son, and her wayward daughter who romances motorcyclists and other bizarre types. And Jasmin even manages to win over lots of visiting truckers, increasing trade and making Bagdad Café THE place to stop off at. All of this isn't done in a sickly, sweet Pollyanna style though, rather, it's all fairly understated and subtle. Although I guess the show numbers at the end are slightly theatrical...but it's all done in the spirit of fun! I love the "Brenda, Brenda" number sung by Brenda, accompanied by the truckers on backing vocals. And there's lots of fun magic tricks. Magic can be found in the most mundane of places, it seems.

There’s some beautiful cinematography – the surrounding desert and landscape look amazing and even the run-down quality of the motel has a certain charm. It makes you want to pack up your bags and hitch a ride to the Bagdad Cafe - plus the chance to see the strange lights in the sky.

The characters are also delightfully idiosyncratic. The relationship between Brenda and Jasmin is also beautifully portrayed by actresses CCH Pounder and Marianne Sagebrecht. Both characters are initially wary and suspicious of one another at first and seem like total opposites, but an understanding and mutual respect gradually forms between them and by the end they're a great double act. Jevetta Steele's track “Calling You" is also lovely and one of my favourite ever theme songs to a movie.

2. Star Wars

An obvious one, but I couldn't leave it out. This far surpasses the recent "trilogy". I don't care how advanced special effects are now, what with CGI and all, the new "Star Wars" just doesn't hold a candle to the original. A lot of that is surely to do with the casting - Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford were all excellent in their roles and a million times better than the likes of Hayden "plank of wood" Christensen and co. Han Solo is a brilliant character and has some memorable banter with snobby Princess Leia. Mark Hamill’s Luke is endearing in an innocent-youngster-with-greater-things-ahead kind of way. C3P0 and R2D2 are surely the best droid double act ever (a kind of cosmic, robotic version of Laurel and Hardy – some have even argued they’re a gay couple – and what with Anthony Daniel’s snippy, bitchy personality there’s some credence to this). Darth Vader was – and always will be – one of the most menacing and powerful big screen villains – and in this movie is ably supported by horror movie stalwart Peter Cushing as the villainous Grand Moff Tarkin.

There's a simplicity and straightforwardness to the first "Star Wars" that the recent movies lacked - the new ones left me feeling "swamped" yet simultaneously underwhelmed - if that makes any kind of sense. The story is relatively straightforward and whilst it uses a great many special effects these are never allowed to stand in the way of, or supplant, the story. It's interesting that "Star Wars" uses a lot of classic good/bad archetypes as well. The end sequence in which the rebel alliance fly down a trench in an attempt to blow up the Death Star, is akin to many war films.

And of course I also love "Star Wars" because it's classic sci-fi, with many brilliant and inventive scenes. Who can forget the exciting opening sequence in which the Imperial Stardestroyer overcomes the Rebel ship and the stormtroopers invade, instantly grabbing the viewer's attention? The first sight of Darth Vader striding through the smoke? The death star blowing up Princess Leia’s home planet? The light sabre battle between Darth and Obi-Wan? Luke and Han in the Millennium Falcon gun cockpits, shooting up the Imperial TIE fighters? And the final climatic Rebel attack on the Death star? There are so many memorable parts to this film and its ability to thrill and delight hasn’t diminished over time. Along with Dr Who, "Star Wars" seized hold of my overactive 8 year old imagination and never relinquished its grip. I transmogrified into a bona fide sci-fi geek, and was transported to a galaxy far, far away. And now it’s far, far too late to reverse the process…

3. The Stepford Wives (the original 1970s version)

“I'll just die if I don't get that recipe”. “I was just going to get you coffee”. “It’s all so silly. It’s just my head!” “Joanna! How could you do a thing like that? I thought we were friends!” “Oh Ted, you’re the King…you’re the Master!”

Just a few choice quotes from the aforementioned movie. "The Stepford Wives" has acquired a cult status over time and rightly so. The 1970s version is far superior to the 2000s remake, and whilst the latter isn’t quite the abomination people made it out to be, it just doesn’t possess the subtlety or brilliance of the former. The movie is based on a bestselling novel by American writer Ira Levin and tells the story of a young mother and avid photographer, Joanna Eberhart, who, along with her hubbie and kids, moves from hectic New York to the seemingly idyllic rural town of Stepford. However Joanna soon starts to realise that there is something too perfect about Stepford, in particular the town’s wives, who are all unsettlingly devoted to domestic duties and their husbands, having no aspirations outside the home sphere. And the husbands all belong to an organisation called “The Men’s Association” which no-one knows anything about.

The film successfully builds on a feeling of paranoia, as we find out that those women who have been in the community for four months seem to undergo an overnight change in personality, becoming like the rest of the wives…creepy! Katherine Ross and Paula Prentiss are totally convincing as recent Stepford arrivals Joanna and Bobby, have a great camaraderie and I love their scenes together. “Ring dings and scotch – great combination!” “You and me are the best thing since Laurel and Hardy – they can’t break us up!” “I’m getting the hell out of Stepford! I’m not going to become like one of those – pan-scrubbers!” As the net starts to tighten, you really root for Joanna and Bobby and hope they won’t be next on the list to be “Stepfordised”. Oh, and English rose Nanette Newman (with an American accent) also plays one of the lobotomised wives, and is positively hilarious in her role. Anyone remember those Fairy Liquid adverts Nanette did a few years back? Rather ironic – playing a Stepford wife obviously stood her in good stead. I also love the Laura Ashley style outfits and floppy hats worn by the women – some of the 1970s styles look alternatively sexy and highly dated. And the fellas will be pleased to hear that there’s a fair abundance of cleavage too. The final scene, in which the wives all meet and greet in a supermarket, accompanied by delirious muzak, is simultaneously amusing and chilling, and keeps you guessing right up until the last minute.

4. All About Eve

It was my first boyfriend that got me into Bette Davis. Thanks Mark! Of course being gay and liking Bette tend to go hand in hand – well for the older homo anyway, many gay youngsters of today won’t have heard of her. Cretins! Bette is one of Hollywood’s great divas and whilst a lot of what she did tended toward melodrama, she was a decent actress to boot. “All About Eve” for me and many others is Ms Davis' finest hour. Bette plays Margo Channing, a theatre actress who’s about to hit the big 4-0. Margo is very much larger than life – as a lady of the stage she is theatrical in the truest sense of the term – she’s extravagant and inclined to grand gestures and big words. She also possesses a delightfully waspish wit. But behind all of the bravado is an insecure lady who’s terrified of getting old and losing both her attractiveness and her director boyfriend Bill as a result. Then along comes a young ingenue, Eve (brilliantly played by Anne Baxter), ostensibly a fan of Margo’s and looking to get her big break on the stage. Eve takes a job as Margo’s home help but it’s all part of Eve's plan to get ahead and scr*w Margo over in the process…the devious little madam!!

The film also boasts a superbly witty, bitchy script, supported by some great performances from the cast. Alongside Davis and Baxter, George Sanders is fabulous as the acidic theatre critic Addison de Witt and Marilyn Munroe makes her first ever screen appearance! And there’s some classic dialogue. One of Margo’s best lines is delivered when she’s holding a birthday party in her flat – the guests sense that trouble is brewing and Margo might throw one of her legendary wobblies:

Lloyd: “The general atmosphere is very Macbethish. What is about to happen?”

Margo (stops on stairs, turns and addresses her friends): “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”

And I love Margo's nasty quip to Eve near the end of the film, when Eve receives a theatrical award:

Margo: Nice speech, Eve. But I wouldn’t worry about your heart. You can always put that award where your heart ought to be.

Way to go Margo! If you're going to check out the films of Ms Davis this is a very good place to start indeed.

5. Blade Runner

Of course I had to get more sci-fi in somewhere, didn’t I? "Blade Runner" is a decidedly dystopian vision of the future, set in Los Angeles, 2089 (not THAT far away then). Harrison Ford plays Deckard, a detective who is assigned to hunt down a group of replicants, androids who bear an uncanny resemblance to real humans. The problem with being a replicant is that you have a very short life span, and this particular bunch of androids are rather unhappy at this prospect, so go in search of their creator in order to try and extend their shelf life, with unpleasant consequences…

Harrison F is on top form as the grizzled detective and is ably backed up by Daryl Hannah as Priss and Rutger "nutcase" Hauer as Roy Batty. The climactic scenes where Roy chases Deckard through derelict buildings and across rooftops are tense and totally nail-biting. And as for the bit where Roy grabs Deckard’s fingers and breaks his bones, I simply can’t bare to watch….yeuuuch!! In fact there are loads of exciting and tense bits in the film and it does tend toward the violent at times - the snake woman who beats the sh*t out of Deckard; the bit when Roy takes out the eyes of Tyrell, the man who created the replicants...double yeeeuch! Fortunately none of this is too gratuitous.

I also completely love the look of the future LA. It’s a distinctly Japanese interpretation, an urban metropolis overrun with huge towering skyscrapers, neon lights, and spaceships trawling overhead broadcasting huge advertisements. It’s also constantly dark - a prophetic comment on what pollution might do to the environment and given the way LA is now, not so hard to credit! - and it rains a lot too. What a lovely place – not! But for a movie made in 1982 the special and visual effects are very much ahead of their time – you really do believe you’re in a city of the future, it’s so well-realised.

There’s also a fabulous soundtrack from Vangelis, which suits the mood and atmosphere of the film perfectly. I love the opening sequence, with the gas jets flaring up over the landscape of the city and the point of view shots of the human eye, accompanied by Vangelis’ haunting tones. The love theme is a nice track too. Overall, for me this film demonstrates how visuals and soundtrack can be married together in an incredibly seductive way. “Blade Runner” literally dazzles the senses. It’s also a great film to watch late at night.

6. Edward Scissorhands

Touching and inventive, with a lot of resonance for anyone who has ever felt like an outsider, in a minority or misunderstood by the majority of society. Director Tim Burton has always made off the wall movies with alternatives themes and styles and this one is no exception. There’s also a gift of a performance from Johnny Depp as Edward, an actor who usually goes for off the wall characters and movies, and three cheers to him for that. I loved Depp in "Cry Baby", "What’s Eating Gilbert Grape" and the recent "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies, and he’s equally brilliant in "Edward Scissorhands". Although if you're hoping for his usual hearthrob looks you may be slightly surprised by his appearance in this film - he's virtually unrecognisable with a pasty, scarred complexion and back-combed Robert Smith style hairdo. But again bravo to Johnny for eskewing Hollywood and chosing to play such an uncoventional character.

And who is Edward Scissorhands? He's a young man created by a scientist, Frankenstein's monster style but intended as a force for good. However has large scissor-like blades for hands rather than normal human ones. Tragically the scientist who made him (played in a cameo by Vincent Price) dies before he has a chance to give him proper hands and Edward is permanently cursed with this fatal flaw. He lives all alone in a dark old castle on the fringes of society (this is fairytale stuff, mind...) But then one day, an Avon Lady called Peg (honestly!) comes calling and taking pity on his predicament, persuades him to come home with her. The community Edward arrives in - a normal, American suburb - is suspicious of him at first. But the theme of the film is all about not judging by appearances – as the tag line for the film reads: “The story of an uncommonly gentle man”. And Edward actually manages to turn his affliction to his advantage – he’s able to sculpt amazing looking trees and plants using his scissor hands and then graduates to cutting women’s hair, creating some truly outlandish and asymmetric “dos”, to the local females’ delight! But when later tragedy strikes and the townsfolk turn against poor Edward…

For me it’s possible to posit a gay reading of the film and it’s one of the reasons I can relate to it so well (I even wrote an essay on the film/topic on my MA at Sussex University years ago!) Edward is “different” to others and has an “affliction” (or certainly a condition that people perceive to be so). Yet, like gay men, he is able to turn his hand(s) to an occupation that affords him a certain amount of acceptance in the community – sculpting and hairdressing - just as gay men have traditionally tended toward artistic careers, as a way of validating themselves. And the hairstyles that Edward creates are totally camp! Camp being another “mask” that gay men adopt in order to gain acceptance.

Alongside Johnny Depp’s delightfully moving performance, there’s great support from Diane Wiest and Winona Ryder as Peg and her daughter Kim, who take Edward in and support him. While everyone else harbours their doubts about Edward, they stand by him. (Incidentally, what's happened to these two great actresses? I loved Winona in "Heathers" - a long time ago I know - and Diane was great in movies like "Hannah and her Sisters" and "Bullets Over Broadway"). In adddition the other local women characters are hilarious, a gossipy, cliquey bunch who are intrigued by and then attracted to Edward and all vie for the chance to be privy to his hairstyling skills. The character of Joyce is the funniest and sluttiest of all. When the local town nut tells the other women that Edward is "A perversion of nature" Joyce replies: "Well...isn't that the most exciting thing you've ever heard?" And the scene where Edward cuts her hair is a classic. Her reactions as Edward sends her hair flying can only be described as...orgasmic...and after this rapturous experience she declares: "That was the single most thrilling experience of my entire life".

There's a bit of a tragic ending (I won't say exactly what happens) but overall I think this film has a powerful message - accept people regardless of cosmetic differences.

7. Rosemary’s Baby

A brilliant piece of suspense and drama, with a very similar feel to "The Stepford Wives" (probably because this one is also based on an Ira Levin story). A young couple, Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse, move into a New York apartment in a building rumoured to possess supernatural qualities. At first all seems normal but then strange things gradually start occurring. A young girl staying with Rosemary and Guy’s neighbours commits suicide by jumping out of a window. Strange, eerie chanting sounds are heard from Rosemary and Guy's neighbours' flat. And the neighbours themselves, Minnie and Roman, seem like a pair of old nutcases. To add to this, Guy seems very pre-occupied with his acting career and isn’t giving Rosemary much attention. But then they fix things up and decide to have a baby, the solution to every heterosexual couple’s problems…or is it?

If this sounds a tad tame, trust me, it’s not. I forgot to mention that Satanism plays quite a large part in this movie too. I will say no more. Suffice to say “Rosemary’s Baby” is an excellent psychological thriller and you’ll be rewarded for your patience in watching it.

Mia Farrow is gorgeous as Rosemary and looks fabulous in a variety of 60s outfits (although I confess I preferred her with bobbed hair rather than the severe Vidal Sassoon crop she sports later on). She’s also a charmingly innocent heroine, increasingly confused and isolated by the turn of events (and she’s far more likeable in this than the neurotic whinger she turned into in all those Woody Allen movies later on). Like Joanna in "Stepford Wives", Rosemary is the moral centre of the movie, but the film cleverly exploits her (and the audience’s) paranoia – are events really conspiring against her? Or are all of her anxieties inside her own head? We only really find out the truth at the climax.

John Cassevetes manages to be suave and twatt-ish at the same time as husband Guy and by the end of the film you can’t stand him – a testimony to his convincing performance – you really want Rosemary to escape his clutches!

And there’s a brilliantly whacky performance from Ruth Norman as Minnie – nutty as a fruitcake – whilst Sidney Blackmer as husband Roman has an unsettling quality about him.

The beauty of the film is the slow build up of tension. Apart from the girl who falls out of the window, there’s no blood or people getting stabbed or anything like that. This is an altogether more subtle and clever movie. And there’s one particular sequence which never fails to scare the sh*t out of me – Spoiler alert! - in which Rosemary has a bizarre and very surreal dream. Could it be something to do with the chocolate mousse Minnie gave her for supper? Anyway Rosemary passes out on her bed and suddenly finds herself on the deck of a ship, naked (a typical dream hallmark!) Suddenly a storm comes up and Rosemary descends below, but instead of the inside of a ship it looks more like some kind of crypt with a fire burning and a large bed in the room. There’s a group of people clustered round her, all of them naked, Guy, Minnie and Roman amongst them. Then someone paints Rosemary’s body with red, bizarre looking symbols and a devilish-looking creature gets on top of her and proceeds to rape her! When she wakes up it transpires that Guy “had his way” with her whilst she was unconscious – nice! What’s been going on…?

Watch and find out if you dare.

8. Muriel’s Wedding

"When I lived in Porpoise Spit, I used to sit in my room for hours and listen to ABBA songs. But since I've met you and moved to Sydney, I haven't listened to one Abba song. That's because my life is as good as an Abba song. It's as good as Dancing Queen" - Muriel speaking to her friend Rhonda, on her evolving existence.

This is a fabulous rites de passage film with a star turn from Toni Colette as Muriel, a lady who has gone on to do many other great things!

It's like a sour, ironic version of “Neighbours” with equal helpings of camp and kitschness. Muriel Heslop is an overweight, unemployed young woman living at home with her couch potato brothers and sisters, downtrodden Mum and tyrannical, overbearing, politically ambitious Dad. To make up for the lack of excitement in her life, Muriel fantasises about weddings. She believes that finding the man of her dreams, wearing a beautiful dress and walking down the aisle will make her into a better person and she’ll get the much-needed respect she lacks. (Well, it helped me a fair bit I guess although I did draw the line at wearing a dress – Elton John be damned). Muriel is also a major ABBA fan and it’s the references to the Swedish supergroup that give the movie its fun and camp appeal. Like a typical introverted no-hoper, Muriel sits in her bedroom, festooned with ABBA posters on the wall, listening to “Dancing Queen” on her cassette player, dreaming of something better. A scenario quite a few of us can probably relate to!

But like most ugly ducklings, Muriel blossoms as the movie progresses. She starts out as an awkward, asocial geek with little confidence but by the end has undergone something of a transformation and it’s this that’s so heartening to watch, seeing her grow as a person. At the beginning you can’t help feeling sorry for Muriel: she's jobless, has no self-confidence or boyfriend and then her so-called girl friends decide she’s not cool enough to hang out with them any more, and oust her from their circle. But then Muriel meets the independent Rhonda (played by Rachel Griffiths, lately of “Six Feet Under”) an old school chum who takes her under her wing and you want to cheer – Rhonda is feisty, independent and likes Muriel for who she is unlike Tanya and her other fake, bitchy mates. I adore Rhonda’s put down to Tanya:

"Stick your drink up your arse Tanya, I would rather swallow razor blades than drink with you. And by the way, I'm not alone. I'm with Muriel".

The sequence where Muriel and Rhonda perform their own version of ABBA's "Waterloo" in a talent contest is an absolute gem, with the girls doing all the right moves, and I adore the "side profile" shots, an ABBA trademark if ever there was one.

The use of ABBA songs in other parts of the movie is inspired and hilarious - the bit after the contest when Muriel and Rhonda lie down on the grass, looking up at the stars whilst singing "Fernando"; the moment during Muriel's "wedding" when her bridesmaids sashay down the aisle of the church to the strains of "I Do, I Do, I Do", to the consternation of the congregation.

The film also does a great job of satirising Australian society, particularly its tawdrier aspects. The very name of Muriel's home town, Porpoise Spit, conjures up images of your typical tacky resort town. The guys all have names like "Chook". The girls are vain, shallow and self-obsessed. And the typically Aussie Heslop family are all played to perfection. Muriel's Dad is particularly well-realised - a bully who constantly puts his family down and is also carrying on behind his wife's back with beauty consultant Deirdre Chambers - leading to the oft-quoted line - "Deirdre Chambers! What a coincidence!" What a RAT more like. And you really feel pity for Muriel's Mum, Betty, who is cruelly sidelined and for whom things ultimately don't work out well atall. Which kind of leads to my final point - although the film might seem very frothy and silly at the outset, it's actually got a lot of depth and heart, and ultimately there's a more serious intent. In another instance, party girl Rhonda falls prey to cancer and loses the use of her legs and you identify with her sense of abandonment, when Muriel clears off to marry a handsome South African swimmer, leaving Rhonda in the lurch. But friendship wins through in the end and that's what matters most...

9. Picnic At Hanging Rock

I remember reading a review of this movie years ago which described it as "An eerie piece of whimsy", and my Mum saying: "Sounds like you, Simon"!! I think she's right though - I haven't changed that much!!

I hesitated a little about including "Picnic" in my Top Ten. I rewatched it recently and it wasn't quite as brilliant as I remembered it. It's a bit of an acquired taste and would be probably be considered by some to be: a) slow-moving b) uneventful c) boring! Whilst I agree with a), I beg to differ on b) and c). Just as the critic described it all those years back, it is both eerie and whimsical, with other positive aspects too. The thing that viewers probably find most frustrating about "Picnic" is its lack of proper denouement - at the conclusion, there are so many questions left unanswered. But paradoxically that's one of the things I love about it - the air of unsolved mystery and the fact that not everything can be easily explained away, making the whole incidents of the movie even more unsettling. And yep, I think "Picnic" could actually be considered a horror movie for this reason (albeit without much gore and blood).
Actually I haven't even said what the movie's about have I?

"Picnic" is based on a real-life event (making it even more disturbing). On 14 February, 1900, a group of schoolgirls from Appleyard college picnicked at Hanging Rock near Mount Macedon, in the state of Victoria, Australia. During the afternoon, several of the party disappeared without trace and were never found again. The film mirrors these occurences, showing the build up to the picnic and then what happens afterwards.

From the opening scenes of the girls dressing for their day out in their college rooms, it's a beautifully shot movie, with excellent period recreation. Being 1900 and the Victorian age, this is a time of high moral standards and strictness regarding appearance and dress, and you can't help but laugh at/feel sorry for the girls of Appleyard College and the restricting attire that they have to wear - long dresses and hard shoes on a blazing hot Summers' Day! As they're about to set off on their trip, the headmistress, Mrs Appleyard, tells the girls that they can only remove their gloves once they have passed the local village!

I love the opening shots of the girls brushing their hair and doing up each others' corsets - blimey, those things must have been painful - beauty comes at a price. The scenes at Hanging Rock itself are also very strange and filmed in a gripping way. At first all seems normal, with the girls all sitting at the bottom of the rock, enjoying their picnic and a very gooey Valentine's cake. But then four of them, led by blonde beauty Miranda, decide to investigate the rock more closely (the headmistress had forbade them to do this). As they draw closer to it, we hear a strange, low rumbling sound and the girls (gasp!) take off their shoes and stockings and continue their ascent to the rock. One of the girls, the dumpy and whiny Edith, decides to remain behind, and shouts at the others to stay but they walk off, oblivious - it's like they've somehow been hypnotised and are drawn (against their will?) closer and closer to the rock. Weird!! And creepy viewing. Later, the party returns to the college, with the news that three of the girls and one of the teachers, Miss McCraw, have totally vanised and cannot be found!
As I said, the remainer of the film is focussed on the aftermath of the disappearance of the girls/teacher. And we see a horrible kind of "unravelling" occur - the events at the rock somehow curse the lives of those involved in the incident (I suppose like a slightly less catastrophic version of those "Final Destination" films, where death catches up with those people who were originally fated to die). One of the missing girls, Irma, is actually found later, but has no memory of what happened to her. When she returns to the college after a period of convalescence, the other girls attack her, demanding an explanation, somehow blaming her for what happened! Several parents withdraw their children from the college, tuition fees remain unpaid and the school soon falls into debt. The college servants gossip about what happened up on the rock. The staunch Mrs Appleyard begins to crack up and starts drinking! And then at the end, one of the schoolgirls, Sara, is found dead in a greenhouse. Was Mrs Appleyard responsible? Or did Sara kill herself? We never really know. Finally, we hear in a voiceover, that the dead body of Mrs Appleyard was found at the base of the Rock, having committed suicide. Yikes! Was it because of her guilt over the disappearance of the girls? Guilt because she murdered Sara? Or did things just get too much for her? Again, it's all left open-ended and mysterious.

There's beautiful imagery in the film - in addition to the scenes I've mentioned, I love the bits in which we see Michael (a young aristocratic boy) dreaming of the vanished Miranda (it's implied that he was in love with her), remembering how he saw her crossing a stream on her way to the rock, and then visualising her metamorphosising into a swan! (It's also thanks to Michael that Irma is found). There's other lovely bits like the moment when Miranda opens the gate to the grounds of Hanging Rock and a flock of birds suddenly fly up into the air in a burst of sound (suggesting that something has been/is about to be disturbed and emphasising a sense of foreboding).


I also love some of the characters, even if some of them are quite sketchily drawn and we could have got to know them better.

Miranda, as I said, is the beauty of the film, but it's also suggested that she somehow knows her fate when she says to Sara: "I won't be here much longer", again hinting that something sinister is about to happen. I also love the scene when she turns to wave to the French teacher, Mademoiselle De Poitiers, as she and the girls begin their walk to the rock (also seen in a moving slow-mo flashback at the end). And Mademoiselle says: "Now I know that Miranda is a Botticelli angel". Mmm, quite a flattering comparison!

Mrs Appleyard is a great character and scary with it (as some head teachers can be). I love her big, piled up hair, almost a pre-1960s beehive and her elaborate dresses. She represents the essence of prim and proper Victorian values, and yet we sense that there's more to her than meets the eye and even she can't keep it together toward the end of the movie. What's going on underneath the surface? I like the scene when she's having dinner with Mademoiselle De Poitiers, and getting drunk and talking about Worthing (seaside resort in South England!) and how it didn't change for 20 years - she obviously finds the reality of what has happened to hard to face. She's excellently played by Rachel Roberts.

One of the most intriguing characters of all - and again not taking up much screen time - is the Maths teacher Miss McCraw, who disappears early on - played by actress Vivien Gray, none other than the iconic character Mrs Mangel in "Neighbours"! She looks notably younger as Miss McCraw (this was a pre-"Neighbours" role) but her her character is a real oddball - rather like the nerdy, academic teachers we all had that were a bit "off the planet". Later on, we hear that the last that was ever seen of Miss McCraw was her clambering up the rock in her Victorian pantaloons! What was she doing? Trying to find the girls? Weird again.

An intriguing movie then, with a poetry of its own. Oh, and I almost forgot - like many of the other films I've talked about, it has a beautiful soundtrack - in particular the haunting pan pipe music theme tune.

10. Brief Encounter

Terribly (in a positive way), quintessentially English. No, "Brief Encounter" is not about a woman's experiences buying underwear in Marks & Sparks. It's a 1945 black and white British movie, and concerns a married woman, who, bored with her married life, has a "brief encounter" with a dashing Doctor (also married). Except this encounter actually goes on for several weeks. And it's a totally brilliant weepie! If you like old-fashioned B & W movies with a fine sprinkling of romance, and a major dose of old-fashioned English morality, look no further than this. Oh and if you're into steam trains and railway stations, chances are this film will appeal as they feature rather a lot in "Brief Encounter". More on those aspects in a bit...

For me, one of the major strengths of Brief Encounter lies in the characters and performances, in particular that of housewife Laura Jesson played by classic English actress Celia Johnson, who is brilliant in the role and provides the central narrative of the film in the form of a first person voiceover that tells us (but not the other characters) what Laura is really thinking and feeling. This device works very well as a kind of confessional tool.

Celia J is a striking-looking actress with her big eyes and immensely expressive, emotional face. She also has a superb cut glass accent that makes her so right for the part of the well-to-do Laura and some of her dialogue is a total hoot - "I felt gay and happy...", "We were very gay during lunch..." (Let's just say that the definition of "gay" was rather different back then). And yet Laura isn't a stuck up snob, she's a normal English lady that you can't help but sympathisise with. Her husband, Fred, whilst kind and generally nice, is rather dull and unemotional and his biggest thrill in life is doing the daily crossword. Laura and her hubbie even sleep in separate beds - obviously not a very physical marriage then! So you can kind of understand her frustration. Celia J is excellent at conveying the conflict someone in her situation would feel - torn between her duty as housewife and her growing passion for Dr Alec. I have to say I didn't find Alec all that attractive myself, but then, this was 1945.

Talking of the period, this is what makes the movie so interesting. Morals and standards of behaviour in the 1940s were obviously very different to now, and two married people having an affair was strictly forbidden. It's this that creates the sense of pressure and the fact that the love affair can't last. "Brief Encounter" was actually remade in 1975 with Richard Burton and Sophia Loren playing the roles of Alec and Laura (and pretty pants it was too - avoid) and in that updated version they - gasp! - actually have sex - showing the shift in morals over time. But this really takes away the point of the whole story. The power of the original film derives from the fact that Laura and Alec both want to "do the deed", such is the extent of their love for one another, but social mores and pressures stop them - they want to succumb to their feelings but can't! With this aspect taken away, the story surely loses all its sense of drama and conflict. The original is a masterpiece of restraint and yet you can positively feel all the frustrated passion seething away beneath the surface.

And as I said earlier, the film makes extensive use of railway stations and trains. It's where Alec and Laura meet for the first time and then part. The circumstances of Laura's first encounter with Alec sound rather humorous but could probably happen to any of us: Laura gets a piece of grit caught in her eye from a passing train and Alec has to remove it for her - leading to their first proper conversation - and the rest is history. The steam trains and location look so quaint now, making this a wonderful period piece. The cinematography is gorgeous too - there's something about B & W movies that is just so romantic and "Brief Encounter" is no exception. One of my favourite scenes is one near the end, when Laura has said goodbye to Alec for the final time and is in the depths of despair. As she sits in the station refreshment room, the camera tilts at a crazy angle (signifying her state of mind?) and she rushes out onto the platform. As the whistle of an approaching train gets louder and louder Laura steps forward - seemingly to throw herself in front of the train. At the last moment she stops herself and the train rushes past, its lights illuminating her crazy, wide-eyed face, the wind blowing her hair askew. The whole scene is totally dramatic and brilliantly shot and lit - I love it.

There's also a funny subplot involving a flirtatious relationship between the hoity-toity station refreshment manager, Myrtle Baggott, and ticket inspector Albert Godby (great names!) which is a kind of humorous version of Laura and Alec's relationship and helps to lighten the tone of the film slightly. Mrs Baggott is a truly brilliant character with her airs and graces and bitchy retorts, and the dialogues between her and Albert are a delight.

Finally there is a fabulous soundtrack in the form of a gorgeous classical score by Rachmaninoff - Piano Concerto Number 2 - which works so well in the context of the film - it's sad, romantic, melancholic - fitting the mood perfectly. This works particularly well in one scene where Laura and Alec talk in the station refreshment room, with the music providing a kind of commentary on their underlying feelings for one another.

A mini masterpiece! (Victoria Wood actually did a very funny and well observed skit on "Brief Encounter" a few years back. Rather than a piece of grit, Ms Wood gets a mince pie stuck in her eye and her friend Dolly gets her skirt ripped off by a passing train leading to her declaration "I can't believe I'm showing my gusset in a refreshment room!" And the ending is deliciously unexpected, with Ms Wood and Dolly eying each other up across a table: "But what I really can't explain, dear, dear Fred, is how I came to run away with Dolly...")

And that's that! Erm, did you notice how my mini-review of each movie got longer and longer?! Ahem! Not so "mini" eh. But that's what I'm like, when I'm writing about something I enjoy I have a tendency to get carried away, as we all can...thanks for bearing with me, folks! Hope you liked my musings! And, finally, what of those films that didn't quite make the Top Ten? Here then is my "Bubbling Under" list:

Mildred Pierce (Joan Crawford film noir classic, brilliantly shot with an Oscar winning turn from Joanie and a bitch of a daughter called Vida)

Whatever Happened To Baby Jane (Joan Crawford and Bette Davis grand as two rival actress sisters in a battle of wits and brutality)

Dressed To Kill (Brian De Palma classic with a killer transvestite on the loose and slutty Angie Dickinson taking her knickers off in a taxi)

Carrie (Introverted teenager with telekenetic powers gets a cruel prank played on her by classmates and goes crazy)

The Purple Rose of Cairo (Mia Farrow as a downtrodden waitress in the 1930s who gets romanced by a character who steps out of a movie - honest!)

Hairspray (Fun and frothy John Waters movie set in 1960s Baltimore, starring the late, great drag queen Divine and a plumper-than-now Ricki Lake as her daughter, Tracey Turnblad!)

Cry Baby (Another John Waters classic starring the gorgeous Johnny Depp as a 1950s biker from the wrong side of the tracks, wooing a good girl)

Eyes Wide Shut (Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman pyschological mystery, in which Tom goes on a dark night of the soul after Nicole confesses her fantasies about shagging a sailor)

Fininto!

NOW. Having ranted on about my fave raves, I am tagging the following peeps:

Boz
Caress Morell
Flaming Nora
Lubin
Matty
Minge
Samarcand
Steve
Thomas
Timewarden

Yep, you guessed it, I'd like all you to do a post on your Favourite Ever Films, on your own blogs/journals. Of course it doesn't need to be erm, of such epic proportions as my post! A list of your fave films with some brief lines on each will more than suffice. I look forward with much anticipation and excitement to hearing about your fave movies!! Cheers guys and gals!!

20 Comments:

  • At 10:23 pm , Blogger Andrew Glazebrook said...

    Lots of great films on that list, though never seen Bagdad Cafe !

     
  • At 6:04 am , Blogger TimeWarden said...

    Another major post, Simon, and certainly a list I would never have predicted. One of your top ten also appears in my list. In fact, it was top of my list until recently when I had a major rethink one day and decided maybe it wasn't my all-time favourite after all. I'll give you a clue. It's not "Star Wars"! I've never really been a fan. I thought I liked "The Empire Strikes Back" until I watched my tape about five years ago and decided not. I haven't seen any of the prequels! I think, like pop music, it's partly an age thing... what is likely to have a lasting appeal. Anyway, challenge duly accepted although sorting out an order could be trickier than which films to include! How did you decide you preferred one over the other?

     
  • At 10:35 am , Blogger Steve said...

    Totally with you on Bladerunner and Muriel's Wedding. I'm a big Toni Colette fan. I will have a muse and a flick through my DVD collection and come up with my top ten over the next few days... great idea for a post!

     
  • At 8:26 pm , Blogger Old Cheeser said...

    Andrew - you must give "Bagdad" a go - it's adorable! And very quirky. I wish there were real places like the Bagdad Cafe - as opposed to Little Chef...

    Timewarden - interesting that you say that!! I'm not so easy to gauge then. What did you think my choices would have been? Sci-fi, sci-fi, and yet more sci-fi?? (ha ha). Mmmm now I would hazard a guess that the one from my list that's in yours is....erm...Blade Runner?? (Of course I might be assuming here too!!)

    Interesting too that you're not really into Star Wars. I'm a bit surprised actually - why do you not like them?

    Thanks muchly for taking up my challenge! With regards to the order of films in my list, I didn't order them in terms of preference - I pretty much like them all as much as each other, and I would be hard pressed to categorise them like that...It was hard enough narrowing it down to 10, as I said!

    Steve - Glad you like those movies too! Yep Toni is a great actress and has chosen some interesting and unusual roles. Thanks for responding to my challenge too!!

     
  • At 10:42 pm , Blogger Boz said...

    Fantastic list, Cheeser!

    I'm working on mine...

     
  • At 4:43 am , Blogger TimeWarden said...

    I didn’t necessarily expect your list to contain nothing other than sf movies although I’m sure we could both produce a top ten excluding all else! I just didn’t have you down as a major fan of “Brief Encounter” or “Picnic at Hanging Rock”, as fine as those films undoubtedly are, but I think it’s good to subvert expectations!!

    I think the “Star Wars” films aren’t amongst my favourites because I tend towards the more visceral sf. Lucas’s films are more akin to adventure which is probably the reason I’m not keen on the “Indiana Jones” trilogy either. I appreciate their quality but prefer stuff with a harder edge. Not keen on Spielberg films altogether with the exception of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. I loathe “E.T.”! And “Star Wars” can partly be blamed for the decline in popularity of “Doctor Who” which couldn’t compete with the American SFX budget!!!

     
  • At 1:28 pm , Blogger Old Cheeser said...

    Boz - cheers matey! And look forward to reading it...

    Tim - yep, well it just goes to show people can be unpredictable and subversive eh?! I do like lots of Sci-fi but it would be kind of boring if every single one of my top ten hailed from that particular genre. However I think if you look at those movies I've chosen for my top 10 there are certain threads that run through them - romance, mystery, fantasy, drama, melodrama and something fairly off-kilter...

    Mmm I can see what you're saying even though I still love Star Wars - maybe that's cos I'm an old softy! So do you like movies like "Aliens" and "The Terminator", I guess you could class those as having a harder edge? I thought they were great movies. As for Spielberg, he has certainly been accused of being schmaltzy and sentimental in his movies - "ET" is very watchable but shot through with that American "I love you" sentimentality that can really grate sometimes, for sure.

     
  • At 2:36 pm , Blogger matty said...

    Excellent films!!! I do so love Bagdad Cafe, All About Eve and Muriel's Wedding!!!

    I know I should love Hanging Rock -- I can see the artistry. But, I have yet to be able to get thru it. I think it is Zamfir's pan flute. I'm just not sure. But, as you wrote, '...an acquired taste.'

    Oh, I've been tagged. I've done this one before. Would it be OK if I did a top 10 of something elese? But, what could that be?!??!

    kisses,
    matty

     
  • At 3:19 pm , Blogger Old Cheeser said...

    Cheers Matty!! Indeed, "Hanging Rock" ain't for everyone. It's me and my weiiiird tastes.

    Doh! Silly me! It was you that tagged me in the first place wasn't it?!! Okay then, you have my official permission to devise a Top 10 all of your very own! On a related note, how about a Top 10 favourite actors/actresses? Or Top 10 favourite TV shows? The choice...is yours.

    OC xx

     
  • At 10:36 am , Blogger Samarcand said...

    'Tis done! Well, the first part anyway. I've done tv shows to begin with, because that's the one that came to me first. I'll try and do the others soon.

     
  • At 10:39 am , Blogger Samarcand said...

    And just thought. How about a list of your ten ten books? I mean, your a scrounging dole-wallah at the moment, so you've got nowt else to do!

     
  • At 3:13 pm , Blogger thomas said...

    Hey Simon - I never knew you liked "Baghdad Cafe", or "Out of Rosenheim" (the much better title of the movie in Germany). I love that film too, the main actress is fab, she's quite famous in Munich!

    "Rosemarys Baby" is definitely in my Top Ten too but give me a few days to write something up.

    ...though i'm wondering whether "Ab Fab" is still in your Top Ten TV shows...now there's a challenge!

     
  • At 3:39 pm , Blogger Old Cheeser said...

    Samarcand - Well done, pet! As we were saying before I think there was a bit of confusion as I only asked for your Top Ten Films this time round and you've gone and written about your fave TV progs! Never mind. It's all good, as they say. And your choices said sooo much about you!

    And a list of Ten books would make for a good future post, for sure. I really do NOT know what you mean when you refer to me being a scrounging dole person. It's sooo not true! I am a househusband / gentleman of leisure / in between jobs. * (*delete where applicable)

    Thomas - Yep I love that film! Marianne is a bit of a celebrity in Germany isn't she?

    Of course, write something up when you have the time - look forward to reading it.

    You could be right about AbFab too...one for future inclusion. Aaaah I remember those viewing sessions in Brighton...

     
  • At 11:20 pm , Blogger matty said...

    Hmmmmm....

    I guess I shall do my top 10 TV Shows. ...yes! That shall be my next post!

     
  • At 6:30 pm , Blogger Old Cheeser said...

    Matty - Top 10 TV shows would be simply suuuuper! I look forward to reading that one.

    OC xx

     
  • At 1:35 pm , Blogger thomas said...

    I've done it now, "Querelle" is and was my Number One - even though after 30 + viewings I might have lost my critical faculties if I ever had any ;-)

     
  • At 11:53 pm , Blogger Old Cheeser said...

    Cheers Thomas, I will go check it aaarrrrttt! Never seen "Querelle", must watch it some time.

    Of course you have critical faculties, you did the Sexual Dissidence MA for gawd's sakes!! Admittedly it was a long time ago. My critical brain has maybe gone a bit soggy too. Then again, does Michel Foucault actually apply to real life?

     
  • At 7:23 pm , Blogger matty said...

    I did it! I finally did it! I posted my list of fave TV shows! Sorry it took me so long!

    kisses from gaytown,
    matty

     
  • At 5:43 pm , Blogger Palm Springs Savant said...

    WOW- Excellent post, I must say. I love Mildred Pierce btw. I just did a post on 7 classic movie lines...stop by and say hello sometime!

     
  • At 3:21 pm , Blogger Old Cheeser said...

    Palm Springs! Thanks for your kind comments. Yep Mildred P is a classic. Liked the look of your blog, I will return in due course! A real life Hollywood boy eh?

     

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