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Bigger Than Life (#110 of 4)

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Budd Wilkins’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Budd Wilkins’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Budd Wilkins’s Top 10 Films of All Time

Bearing in mind the fundamentally mercurial nature of any such list (at least as far as I’m concerned), apt to alter its constituent membership with the swiftness of a weathervane buffeted by hurricane-force winds, I hereby present the 10 films that rank as my current favorites.

My Favorite Film Festival of 2011: Alive and Well, In Love and War, at the TCM Classic Film Festival

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My Favorite Film Festival of 2011: Alive and Well, In Love and War, at the TCM Classic Film Festival
My Favorite Film Festival of 2011: Alive and Well, In Love and War, at the TCM Classic Film Festival

I suppose it’s inevitable that some of the bloom would have come off the rose that was last year’s first annual TCM Classic Film Festival. I am, after all, a year older, and the time spent in between the first festival and this year’s model has found life getting more complicated, with less room for the study of cinema, classic or not, than my selfish patterns would prefer. But just because I may be mired in a sophomore slump of sorts doesn’t mean that in 2011 the TCM Festival was equally bogged down. Familiarity hardly bred contempt this time around, or complacency. If anything, there was a certain comfort factor built into the festival for me this year, a feeling that, while not radiating the kind of freshman excitement generated by last year’s fun (and my own initiation into the rites of festival film-going), certainly resonated with the buzz of discovery, of learning, about films unfamiliar, and blessedly, seemingly genetically remembered, and even of the value of an adrenaline rush of straight-up nostalgia. Without a doubt, this 2011 edition was the film festival experience of the year for me.

Nicholas Ray Blogathon: Poet of Violence

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Nicholas Ray Blogathon: Poet of Violence
Nicholas Ray Blogathon: Poet of Violence

“Violence is never an end, but the most effective means of access…[having] no other purpose than to blast away the accumulated debris of habit, to create a breach—in brief, to open up the shortest roads.” —Jacques Rivette, “Notes on a Revolution” (1955)

I. Introductory

The films of Nicholas Ray, more than any other contemporary American director’s, were singled out by the up-and-coming Cahiers du Cinéma crowd (on the cusp of their own splashy Nouvelle Vague) as justification for their politique des auteurs—more a personal stance on critical practice than dogmatic superstructure, and long since codified and ossified by academic film criticism into hierarchy-happy “auteur theory.” What attracted critical minds like Jacques Rivette, Eric Rohmer, and others to Nicholas Ray and his oeuvre—bored stiff as they were by the risk-averse, respectable, and ultimately neutered “cinema of quality”—was the stamp of the personal and the element of danger they discerned in his films, whether that meant the improvisatory handling of actors with a touch deft enough to coax remarkable performances out of even non-professionals; the “superior clumsiness,” cited by Rivette in “Notes on a Revolution,” resulting in “a discontinuous, abrupt technique that refuses the conventions of classical editing and continuity”; or the purely visual flourishes Ray relished—ranging from the sweeping, vertiginous helicopter-mounted shots in They Live By Night to disorienting, subjective POV compositions like the “rolling camera” during a car crash halfway through On Dangerous Ground, its very title indicating the source of Ray’s critical appeal.

5 for the Day: James Mason

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5 for the Day: James Mason
5 for the Day: James Mason

In Sheridan Morley’s biography of James Mason, practically all of his co-stars described him as a quietly unhappy man, restless, ill at ease, indecisive, a skittish pacifist, and a classic loner. He could be driven to physical violence if provoked, and this aggressive streak was mined in the trashy Gainsborough costume films that first made him a star in Britain in the forties, where he played brutes who gave raven-haired Margaret Lockwood “a good thrashing.” To quote Shaw’s Henry Higgins, Mason had thick lips to kiss you with and thick boots to kick you with, and he could have relaxed into easy stardom in this mode, but he was ambitious for more meaningful work than he could find in the impoverished British cinema. He went to Hollywood in the late forties; always too opinionated for his own good, Mason never quite established himself as a star player, but he managed to make a large and varied impact on some of the finest films of his time. He generally brought a kind of heightened immediacy and intensity to his scenes, letting off flares of irritation, bitchery, anguish and menace that worked best in short-ish takes, so that unlike many actors of his country and generation he was not a man of the theater but totally a man of the cinema.