Five Film Favorites: Overwhelming First Viewings

Since it’s easy enough to find plenty of articles listing the authors’ best pictures of 2010, I won’t duplicate the exercise here.

Instead, at the end of the year I’m thinking about how so many of us ponder what we might want to do differently in the new year ahead. In the doing some of us swear things off and make resolutions to change. Then, of course, we customarily fail to live up to those resolutions. Usually, it doesn’t take long.

Which suggests to some observers it’s a waste of time to make New Year’s resolutions. Well, I disagree. Whether we have the strength to follow through or not, contemplating making a positive change in attitude or behavior seems like a good thing to do, any time of the year.

This week’s list is about change, in that it’s a list of movies that changed me. Each of them absolutely bowled me over when I saw them for the first time, which I will say more about below the list.

“8½” (1963): Directed by Federico Fellini; Cast: Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimée

“Blow-Up” (1966): Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni: Cast: David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles

“Chinatown” (1974): Directed by Roman Polanski; Cast: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston

“The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” (1972): Directed by Luis Buñuel; Cast: Fernando Rey, Paul Frankeur, Delphine Seyrig

“Napoleon” (1927): Directed by Abel Gance; Cast: Albert Dieudonné, Vladimir Roudenko, Edmond Van Daële

It was in the summer of 1964 that I first saw “8½” at the Beach Theater in Virginia Beach. I was 16 years old when I watched it alone to kill some time. As I hadn’t seen many foreign films, it was utterly fascinating but I hardly knew what to make of it. So, I went back the next day and saw it again.

“Blow-Up” played its first run in Richmond at the Loews (now the Carpenter Theatre at Richmond CenterStage) in 1966. After seeing it, I remember arguing about the movie with a group of friends in front of the theater. Some of the others thought it was overly artsy and made no sense at the end. While I loved it, I was hard pressed to make a convincing case of why. The process made me want to see more foreign films.

In the summer of 1974 “Chinatown” made its Richmond premiere at the Biograph Theatre, which I then managed. First watched it before it opened with a small audience; it was a critics’ screening which included a few friends and members of the theater’s staff. As it ended I was sure I had just seen the greatest movie ever made and couldn’t wait to tell the whole town.

Now I’ve seen it countless times and it’s still my all-time No. 1 favorite feature-length film.

My first viewing of “Discreet Charm” was at the old Cerberus in DeeCee in late-1972. After it ended I stayed and watched it a second time. I can still laugh out loud upon remembering certain scenes.

When the famously restored version of Gance’s “Napoleon” played at Radio City Music Hall in 1981, it was an event unlike any other in the history of moviedom. Francis Ford Coppola’s father, Carmine Coppola, conducted an orchestra to accompany the silent film as it played out on three large screens. That I was paid to go to Manhattan to see it put the frosting on a perfect cake.

In the coming new year, I wish for all of us who love moving pictures to have an overwhelming experience taking in a movie. Maybe even one that changes us, hopefully, for the better.

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One Response to Five Film Favorites: Overwhelming First Viewings

  1. anubhavbist says:

    All great films. I remember my first viewing of Fellini’s masterpiece 8 1/2 vividly; I watched it projected from a pretty old DVD transfer (I believe the one before the criterion release). But it was still an unforgettable experience; Easily my favorite from the great auteur. I also love the inclusion of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up. I remember not to long ago recommending it to a friend to watch, only for him to tell me that he couldn’t get past the first 30 minutes. Filmmakers like Antonioni, as highly as I and other film critics and lovers might view him, seems to not connect with today’s average film viewers. It really is disappointing. Films like L’Avventura and the Passenger opened my eyes to a whole new type of film making that I never knew existed; One that is methodically paced and subtly examines the human condition. The first time I watched L’Avventura, the first Antonioni I ever watched, was on a random night in my dorm room during my freshman year. While I can’t for the life of me remember what else happened that day, I can remember feeling almost emotionally drained when the film finished. Its a feeling that stuck with me the next day. I also share a high fondness for Bunuel’s Discreet Charm, though I prefer a few other of his works over it (my favorite being his final masterpiece, That Obscure Object of Desire). The same goes with Polanski’s Chinatown. Its nothing less than an American masterpiece yet it’s his foray into genre films, particularly horror, that I appreciate far more. I got to watch The Ghost Writer in theaters earlier this year with my brother and cousin (two other big cinephiles) and it was one hell of an experience. A film that might be Polanski’s best film since the 70s (though that might not be saying much, he did make a few gems in between). Its my favorite film this year along with Olivier Assayas’ 5 and half hour epic Carlos.
    I’ve followed your top 5 for a while and hope you do post up a top 5 for 2010. I can only imagine it being as original as your other top 5s.

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