As I slide – faster and faster, it sometimes seems – towards that venerable Biblical age of three score years and ten, I sometimes think that there are two glaring reasons that I’ve made it so close to the door marked THIS WAY TO THE TWILIGHT ZONE without being afflicted with a stomach ulcer. One is because I’ve managed to limit the number of ex-wives in my past, and the other is an avoidance in the main of reading 100 Best Films lists.
I don’t know which is more stress-inducing, but for the purposes of this little missive let’s stay with the latter.
Such lists are of course subjective and so never likely to please everybody, but it vexes me as to how many film ‘critics’ seem to think that cinematic history started with 1977 and Star Wars. So, we won’t get into that.
Still, I couldn’t resist looking through Brian Viner’s 100 Best Movies* in the 10th of February’s Weekender Magazine in the Daily Mail. I like reading Viner and – truth to tell – it’s a good list. But Brian, come on man – how can you have a list like this without mention of one single Sam Peckinpah movie? I mean, you DON’T put in a game-changer like The Wild Bunch but you DO put in The Banshees of Inisherin? A film that made me think that I was spending a day at the dentist in the years before they invented anesthetic? And it’s at Number 19? I can feel the darkness closing in. Someone, call for an ambulance.
And how can you not have one of the greats of the Silent Era like Nanook of the North or Nosferatu or Sunrise?
But in fairness, Mr. Viner did not let us down completely; and to give him his due he did say:
“I’ve deliberately left out some of the mighty early silents [I do Iike that!], and there aren’t too many foreign-language films. Because this has to be an accessible collection.”
So, what he has done is give us some actual silents and some ‘silent-friendly’ movies… like Singin’ in the Rain (1952) which is a wonderful film that somehow manages to deal in a joyful manner with that difficult transitional period when talkies were letting it be known that they were here to stay. He puts this one at number 13 and writes:
“It’s hard – impossible even – to think of a picture more irresistibly effervescent than this musical romantic comedy. The 19-year-old Debbie Reynolds is the love interest for Gene Kelly. Set in 1927, it’s another example of Hollywood telling stories about itself, with one of the all-time great song-and-dance routines in Donald O’Connor’s unforgettable Make ’Em Laugh.”
And you really can’t argue with a guy who puts Modern Times (1936) at Number 16 and rather beautifully reminisces:
“I first saw Charlie Chaplin’s glorious industrialisation satire with my parents on a wintry afternoon in Athens, when I was 11. I fell in love with it instantly, realising, among lots of Greeks laughing fit to burst, that great slapstick comedy is the most joyful of universal languages. The famous assembly-line scene on its own is a triumph of creativity no less, in my view than the best bits of Hamlet, The Marriage of Figaro, or the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.”
I think that I’ve got a lump in my throat.
And… now you’re talking! Of that masterpiece The General (1926), so beloved of Silent Cinema Galway regulars, he says:
“The crowning glory of the golden age of slapstick is Buster Keaton’s sublime dramatisation of a military raid during the US Civil War, in which Union soldiers commandeer a train called The General, igniting a frantic chase across the South.”
At Number 73 is the magnificent Sunset Boulevard (1950):
“Billy Wilder’s lacerating black comedy is about a fading silent-film star, played by Gloria Swanson who was exactly that in real life.”
And finally, it was Chaplin again -- at Number 74 with City Lights:
“The boxing scene might still be the greatest piece of slapstick of all time. Charlie Chaplin’s silent masterpiece is worth watching for that alone, but there’s so much else to cherish here.”
I’d like to think that Mr. Viner’s list will at least send some people off to explore the beauties of the silent era. They are all available to view in some form and the very helpful lists are just where at the end of each entry. You can find his article on the Daily Mail online site – and it’s a list worth checking out.
What does he put at Number 1? It’s The Godfather. So, all is right with the world and my stomach ulcer remains dormant.
*Some years back I was in raptures as I read Brian Viner’s Nice To See It, To See It Nice: The Seventies in Front of the Telly. Not only is it hilarious, but if you’re over fifty or sixty then the memories will simply flood back. If you’re not then you’ll wish that you had been born earlier, in a more civilized age. Highly recommended.