2017 is going to be a turning point for audiovisual entertainment; a playground for new artistic possibilities. More ideas, more freedom and a lot of potential new projects. In 2009, James Cameron got the ball rolling with Avatar in IMAX 3D, ultimately, changing the way we watch films in cinemas. But, it was really in 2016 that Virtual Reality became the talk of the town.
In the midst of this fast-paced technology revolution, it’s time for a retrospective. Here are 10 classic movies you pretend to have watched but you’ve never actually seen!
Blow Out, Brian De Palma (1981) – United States
We’ve always reviewed De Palma’s filmography in light of his tributes to Alfred Hitchcock, but what a shame… Because there’s much more to say about Brian De Palma.
Blow Out is the perfect tool to understand De Palma’s style and beliefs. In the film, John Travolta plays Jack, a soundman who accidentally records a car accident. After listening back on his recording, he realizes it wasn’t an accident but a planned murder.
This film establishes De Palma’s artistic universe as a place for continuous questioning of cinema’s veracity, with him searching tirelessly to seek the balance between sincerity and illusion.
“Film lies all the time… 24 times a second”
Ugetsu, Kenji Mizoguchi (1953) – Japan
Kenji Mizoguchi is to Japan what Murnau is to Germany or Rossellini is to Italy. That’s why it’s time to highlight Ugetsu, the film and reflection on Japanese ancestral culture.
In Ugetsu, Genjuro, a potter who lives in a small and remote village with his wife and son, encounters a princess in town. He runs away with the princess, leaving behind a broken home.
The most striking component of Ugetsu is the composition of each shot and the proximity to each character. During an hour and a half, Mizoguchi illustrates Japanese culture perfectly through his depiction of art, samurai myth, geishas, spectres and other superstitions.
The 400 Blows, François Truffaut (1959) – France
If we were to quote just one movie from the French New Wave, it would probably be Breathless by Jean-Luc Godard. But the fact remains to be told that François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows is well and truly the first of this cinematic revolution. Antoine Doinel is a young, lost kid who decides to skip school, unleashing a downward spiral of lies and stealing.
The filmmakers of this movement were fascinated with classic cinema but chose an unconventional route. The French New Wave told stories by incorporating jump cuts, jerked sequences and improvised dialogue.
British Film Institute included The 400 Blows in its The 50 films you should see by the age of 14.
Dersu Uzala, Akira Kurosawa (1975) – Japan/Soviet Union
Akira Kurosawa, a prominent figure in Japanese cinema, directed Dersu Uzala. It tells the story of Vladimir Arseniev, a Soviet officer in charge of establishing the topographic plan of the Ussuri valley. Whilst there, he makes friends with Dersu, a seasoned native hunter.
With a strong documentary dimension to it, this is one of Akira Kurosawa’s most personal films.The panorama shots are incredible; Kurosawa reveals how dangerous and authoritarian nature can be.
Don’t claim to know Kurosawa if you haven’t seen this masterpiece.
Girl with a Suitcase, Valerio Zurlini (1962) – Italy/France
There’s something charming about Italian cinema, with the years between 1945 and 1980 giving birth to absolute masterpieces. Roberto Rossellini, of course, paved the way for the Italia Neorealism with Rome, Open City, but there’s also Valerio Zurlini.
In Zurlini’s Girl with a Suitcase, Claudia Cardinale plays Aida, a young woman who meets Lorenzo, a young boy from a middle-class background. They fall in love, creating an impossible Idylle.
Zurlini had an affinity with desirable female characters who were mostly inaccessible. Albeit, that is also what is so alluring about his films: contemplating the characters and their setting.
Johnny Got His Gun, Dalton Trumbo (1971) – United States
In the post-WWII years, a lot of filmmakers, such as Joseph Losey and Charlie Chaplin, were blacklisted because of McCarthyism and anti-communism. Among them was Dalton Trumbo with his film Johnny Got His Gun.
During WWI, young soldier Joe is hit by a mortar shell, leaving him to fend as a blind, deaf and mute quadruple amputee. Frustrated with his faith, Joe finds a unique way of communicating with his doctors.
The movie, discovered by Pierre Rissient for French market, was refused the first time around by Cannes Film Festival. However, after reaching out to people such as Jean Renoir and Luis Bunuel, the film was eventually accepted and went on to win the Jury Prize.
Night and the City, Jules Dassin (1950) – United Kingdom
Dalton Trumbo wasn’t the only American filmmaker to be blacklisted, Jules Dassin, who directed one of the greatest film noirs in the history of cinema, was also excluded.
Harry Fabian, a hustler, draws up a plan to become the next big player on the London wrestling scene. His plan eventually turns on him. Despite the fact that Night and the City is the oldest film on the list, it doesn’t look a day older than the rest. Dassin’s directing and Mutz Greenbaum’s photography is aesthetically pleasing. Richard Widmark, as Harry Fabian, gives an incredible performance in the wrestling scene.
This movie was considered, at its release in 1950, a big flop.
The Killing, Stanley Kubrick (1956) – United States
If we were to pick apart every film directed by Stanley Kubrick, we would probably find a lot of references to other films and filmmakers: Max Ophüls for great travelling shots and Orson Welles for his modernity.
However, there is no one like Stanley Kubrick, and that comes to show in his unsung feature, The Killing. Johnny Clay, assisted by several partners in crime, tries to hold up a racecourse. The plan seems to be working at first with everything going according to plan, until it doesn’t.
In this film noir, there are some key scenes that set it apart from the rest of the genre. It was these distinct sequences which showed Kubrick’s potential as a director.
Au Hasard Balthazar, Robert Bresson (1966) – France/Sweden
Au Hasard Balthazar by Robert Bresson is probably the most important mention on this list. The film is a sister piece to Mouchette and follows the journey and misfortune of a donkey and the people around him.
Even though it’s a difficult movie to watch for a modern audience, it is assured that Au Hasard Balthazar will be the most touching movie of your life.
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, John Cassavetes (1976) – United States
During the major years of his career, John Cassavetes was considered by Hollywood as being too perilous and not profitable enough. He was a man before his time.
In his film, The Killing of A Chinese Bookie, Ben Gazzara plays Cosmo Vitelli, the manager of a cabaret in Los Angeles. Because of his gambling, he finds himself deep into debt with the mafia. In order to reduce his debt, the mafia suggests he kills a Chinese bookie.
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie is very striking, especially the scene shown here below where Ben Gazzara breaks the fourth wall after killing the bookie.
Cinema is an international language unearthing cultural awareness and openness. John Cassavetes once said: “Growing older means losing more and more what was destined to us when we were young, especially the unknown”. A lot of people are afraid to fight the unknown, by remaining young at heart pushes us to break boundaries.
Cinema, but then particularly independent cinema, teaches us some new ways of discovering and understanding the world around us, all through the lens of a director and his crew. That’s why we have to keep watching both old and new films from different countries and budget levels. It’s that open-mindedness that preserves the beauty of cinema.