(Artwork created by Russell Walks)
A few months ago one of those Facebook memes started circulating around—- the kind built around an irresistible premise designed to illuminate something or other, but no matter the subject to commandeer your free time (as well as some of your work time) until its special demands are met. The title was “Ten Movies I Am Horrifyingly Embarrassed to Say I Have Never Seen,” and to say this particular subject was a conversation starter is putting it beyond mildly— anything I post on Facebook usually tops out at around 20 comments if I’m lucky, but this one didn’t stop until we hit 209.
The level of “embarrassment” was a point of contention for some who submitted their own lists or responded to the one I revealed—it’s kind of like the “guilt” in a guilty pleasure, that is to say unwarranted. But for some, especially those of us who tend to write obsessively (or otherwise) about the movies, it’s hard not to be slightly embarrassed to admit you haven’t seen a major milestone or two in cinema history. Writer-director Matthew David Wilder, from whom I received the invitation to participate, qualified the ground rules in his introduction. This was not to be one of those exercises meant for scraping around the periphery of obscure art cinema:
“This is the worst thing you can fess up to...what you HAVE NOT seen! And it's gotta be the kind of movies that would make a reasonable person go, ‘Oh, my God, are you kidding me? You've never seen that?" Don't try to be cool and name ten incredibly obscure-o things you just happen not to have caught. They have to be glaring, awful, unforgivable admissions.”
My own list, though by no means complete in its potential humiliation (I will e-mail you a private list of some much more embarrassing cinematic shortcomings, if you really want to know), went a little something like this:
NOW, VOYAGER (Irving Rapper, 1942)
MADAME BOVARY (Vincente Minnelli, 1949)
HORROR EXPRESS (Eugenio Martin, 1972)
I CONFESS (Alfred Hitchcock, 1953)
CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING (Jacques Rivette, 1974)
L'ECLISSE (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1962)
MASCULIN FEMININ (Jean-Luc Godard, 1966)
THAT COLD DAY IN THE PARK (1969, Robert Altman)
FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! (1965, Russ Meyer)
ON THE TOWN (Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly, 1949)
Since composing this list almost two months ago, I have seen I Confess, which I found utterly compelling, somewhat unexpectedly so—I figured it would be a dud, which was probably why it had gone unseen by me for so long. (During this same period I caught up with another Hitchcockian oversight, The Wrong Man, which was far more tedious and misjudged than I would have ever guessed.) I have also made tentative plans with a close friend for a mind-bending double bill of Masculin Feminin and Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, though so far those plans have been thwarted twice. And this past Tuesday Horror Express made its long-awaited debut on Blu-ray. Which doesn’t mean anything as far as my seeing it, unfortunately—I’ve had DVDs of Celine and Julie Go Boating and On The Town in my house for years, and movies like Now, Voyager, Madame Bovary, even L’Eclisse, are not exactly lost classics, being readily available on DVD or on streaming formats. So really, if there is any genuine embarrassment, it comes from the fact that there’s really no reason to have still missed these pictures, other than the old bugaboo of there being less free time to catch up than there are multitudes of movies to add to the experience bucket.
This, as it turns out, is not a phenomenon limited to those cinephiles with limited time or money. Those who make their livelihood, and their mark on pop culture, by making movies are by no means immune to falling victim to missing some of the great (and not so great), important (and not so important) landmarks along the movie timeline. And one of these famous film fans has now made public the parts of his voluminous film knowledge that are incomplete, wanting, perforated like the most sincerely intended Swiss cheese. Edgar Wright, cinephile, cult hero and affable director of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, as well as coscenarist of the upcoming The Adventures of Tintin, is ready to commence his third visit to the New Beverly Cinema with a slate of programming united by a simple theme: “Movies Edgar Has Never Seen.” Writing on his blog Edgar Wright Here, he offers his motivation for coming back to program the New Beverly for the third time:
“Everyone has gaps in their film knowledge and I am no exception. I have seen God knows how many movies, but sometimes your programming is done for you, based on your location, your income, your age, your proximity to decent cinemas, access to technology etc. I can thank the BBC in Merry Old England for giving me the gift of seeing every single Hammer Horror growing up, but conversely still need to brush up on my Ozu…"
The schedule Wright serves up beginning this coming Friday, December 9, is loaded with movies that will provide serious temptation to throw the old “I can’t believe you haven’t seen that!” in Wright’s cheerful face. (Just remember, ye without sin...) “You might boggle at some of the films that I’ve yet to see,” Wright admits. But the key for this director is the opportunity to present them in 35mm with an attentive, appreciative audience. “Most of (the movies scheduled) are ones I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to see on a silver screen,” says Wright. “I even own about a third of them on DVD.”
The double bills sometimes seem to be unconnected by anything but the thinnest of threads, but look closer. There are thematic tendrils with which Wright intends to wrap up his pre-Christmas big-screen presents. Take a look at what’s coming up, and before you express disbelief that such a cinematically saturated talent as Wright could have missed all of these treasures ask yourself how many of them are on your own to-see list, especially if you’ve never seen them projected theatrically.
December 9: ROCK ‘N’ ROLL ALL NITE!
The Girl Can’t Help It (1956; Frank Tashlin; 7:30 p.m.) and Get Crazy (1983; Allan Arkush; 9:40 p.m.), followed by Wright’s 2010 version of the graphic novel Scott Pilgrim vs. the World at midnight.
December 10: STONE FACE vs. LITTLE TRAMP vs. UNCLE CLAUDE
Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928; Buster Keaton; 7:00 p.m.)
Modern Times (1936; Charles Chaplin; 8:40 p.m.)
The Bank Dick (1940; Edward F. Cline; 10:40 p.m.)
December 11: FAR OUT AND FAR EAST
The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953; Roy Rowland; 7:00 p.m.)
Kwaidan (1964; Masaki Kobayashi; 9:00 p.m.)
December 12: THE NEW ROMANTICS
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964; Jacques Demy; 7:30 p.m.)
Chungking Express (1994; Wong Kar-Wai; 9:30 p.m.)
December 13: RISE AND FALL AND RISE
White Heat (1949; Raoul Walsh; 7:30 p.m.)
Throne of Blood (1957; Akira Kurosawa; 9:55 p.m.)
December 14: FAREWELL, JOHN, HELLO, SAM
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1964; John Ford; 7:30 p.m.)
Ride the High Country (1964; Sam Peckinpah; 10:00 p.m.)
December 15: THE HANGDOG AND THE UNDERDOG
To Be or Not to Be (1942; Ernst Lubitsch; 7:30 p.m.)
The Bad News Bears (1976; Michael Ritchie; 9:40 p.m.)
December 16: NOIR IS THE NEW BLACK
Hickey and Boggs (1972; Robert Culp; 7:30 p.m.)
Cutter’s Way (1981; Ivan Passer; 9:50 p.m.)
And at midnight: THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE EIGHTH DIMENSION (1984; W.D. Richter)
Okay, so here’s my scorecard: the only one I’ve never seen all the way through in any shape or form is The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, even though, to echo Wright’s refrain and my own, I’ve had it on DVD for years. But, if I count the movies listed above that I’ve never seen in 35mm, the list is much longer: The Girl Can’t Help It, Kwaidan, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, White Heat, Throne of Blood, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, To Be or Not to Be and Cutter’s Way are all movies that I’ve never seen in a darkened auditorium. It’s my goal to rectify this situation wholly, but you know how it goes—despite my best efforts I doubt I’ll get there for every night. Therefore, I’m focusing on December 11, 13 and 15, with special emphasis on the joy I’ll derive in bringing my eldest daughter out for the Lubitsch/Ritchie combo. She loves the Mel Brooks-Anne Bancroft remake of To Be or Not to Be and is very interested in seeing where it came from; and I can’t imagine she won’t find The Bad News Bears an intense hoot, especially when she sees Tatum O’Neal’s fastball.
Wright will be there every night to introduce each program, joined by a host of special guests, the identities of whom may be ever-evolving but in some cases perhaps discernible just by looking at the titles and imagining who might come out. I expect to interview Wright next week for SLIFR about this latest festival and other topics of interest, at which point he may know more about who is scheduled to come out and enjoy this week with him. And I’m sure he’ll be heartened to know that he won’t be the only one losing his virginity to this terrific lineup of films. “L.A. is a town where executives might have a vintage poster on their office wall for a classic film that they’ve never seen or where directors have clips of a movie on their mood reel which they haven’t watched in its entirety,” he wrote on his blog of the “Movies Edgar Has Never Seen” program. “All of these people are forgiven and more than welcome to join.”
Sign the ”Fight for 35mm” petition here and read more about it (especially in the comments thread) here.