Before we get started, I’ll let you know that my ratings system has changed. Damned ratings! Why do I bother? Is it because I cannot articulate how much I enjoyed or disliked a film that I need a rating to confirm my opinion? Or does it simply stem from a youth of writing reviews of each film I happened to see in a cheap, weathered notebook, accompanied by an “out-of-ten” rating? Just an old habit…?
Whatever the reason, on reflection, I had far too much going on with my reviews on this blog. I mean, what was the difference between 4 stars (previously known as “Awesome Shit” – and whilst we are here, I hate the word “awesome” – why do I use it?) and 5 stars (“Instant Classic”)? If a film can be classified as ‘awesome’ (ie: inspires awe), wouldn’t that then be a ‘classic’? Yeah, I know…it’s confusing. So, it’s all been changed. Simplified. Hopefully for the best.
OK…let’s head back to the swingin’ sixties.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Mia Farrow, John Cassavettes, Ruth Gordon, Sidney Blackmer, Maurice Evans & Ralph Bellamy.
Written & Directed by Roman Polanski.
Cinema doesn’t get much creepier than Rosemary’s Baby. It’s hard to believe that this film is 40 years old, for in those four decades it has lost none of its insidious power. The success of the film lies firstly in the excellent source material, that being the novel of the same name by Ira Levin; secondly in a superb cast led by the eternally cool John Cassavettes and the marvellous character actor Ruth Gordon (from Harold & Maude); and lastly in the genius of writer/director Roman Polanski. The late 1960s through the early 1970s saw Polanksi at the pinnacle of his directing prowess, producing such excellent work as The Fearless Vampire Killers, The Tenant, and my personal favourite Repulsion – films that he never was quite able to best in his later career. Rosemary’s Baby is undoubtedly his finest achievement, telling the wicked tale of Rosemary (Farrow) and her husband Guy (Cassavettes) who are drawn into a satanic coven when they move into a seriously gothic apartment building in New York. Rosemary soon begins to suspect that, contrary to the placations of all those around her, the infant she carries is not the product of her marital union. This chilling and demonic film is the penultimate exercise in how to create dread on screen without sacrificing respect for its audience.
They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969)
Jane Fonda, Michael Sarrazin, Gig Young, Susannah York, Bruce Dern, Bonnie Bedelia & Red Buttons.
Written by Robert E. Thompson & James Poe.
Directed by Sydney Pollack.
In Depression-era America, a desperate group of individuals descend on Santa Monica pier to take part in a dance marathon, drawn by the promise of food and shelter and an increasingly unattainable grand prize. As they ‘dance’ for hour upon hour, day upon day, providing morbid ‘entertainment’ for a listless audience, their interactions and personal tales of sorrow and despair provide a microcosm of life not confined to the era they represent. When the exploitation of the competitors is finally revealed to a cynical young woman named Gloria (Fonda) by the slimy promoter of the contest (the incomparable Gig Young, who won an Oscar for his role here), salvation and redemption slip further away. This wholly unique film, taken from the 1935 novel by Horace McCoy, is grand storytelling, featuring a swag of wrenching performances from its ensemble cast. The great director Sydney Pollack masterfully weaves a disturbing tale set almost entirely within the dance hall itself, as his camera swirls across the floor in a sweat-inducing waltz that reduces the audience member to merely another contestant in the competition. This is shattering stuff, the kind of film that comes along once in a decade and remains a seminal work of its time.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Keir Dullea, William Sylvester, Gary Lockwood, Douglas Rain (voice of HAL).
Written by Arthur C. Clarke & Stanley Kubrick.
Directed by Stanley Kubrick.
So how does one begin to describe 2001: A Space Odyssey? There is simply no film that compares to this masterpiece by director Stanley Kubrick, and arguably more than any other piece of cinema has had untold influence on future generations of filmmakers. It has been parodied countless times for better or worse, and has astounded and confounded audiences since its release four decades ago. For there are only two outposts in the 2001 universe, and no fence separating them on which to sit. Either there is hatred and confusion shown towards its deadening pace and psychedelic finale, or pure adulation of its mind-bending concepts and beautiful visual architecture (even if that is coupled with a small dose of confusion as to what it all really means). The film traces the technological evolution of mankind, coinciding with the appearance to man of an alien monolith. When one such artefact is discovered on the moon and a subsequent radio transmission received from somewhere in the vicinity of Jupiter, two astronauts embark on a journey to find the source. However, their mission is severely compromised when the artificial intelligence on board their craft attempts to subvert their purpose. Based on The Sentinel by author Arthur C. Clarke, this truly one-of-a-kind film is best served with a tab of LSD, or, failing that, an open mind.