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John Simkin

Importance of the Cinema

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For what it's worth, here are, in chronological order, ten of the best films I have seen.

1.  Seven Samurai ( Akira Kurosawa. Japan. 1954 )

2.  Battle of Algiers ( Gillo Pontecorvo. Italy/France/ Algiers. 1965 )

3.  Andrei Rublev ( Andrei Tarkovsky. USSR. 1966 )

4.  The Conformist ( Bernardo Bertolucci. Italy. 1969 )

5.  The Godfather ( Francis Ford Coppola. USA. 1972 )

6.  The Spirit of the Beehive ( Victor Erice. Spain. 1973 )

7.  Mean Streets ( Martin Scorsese. USA. 1973 )

8.  The Lacemaker ( Claude Goretta. Switz./ France. 1977 )

9.  The Tree of Wooden Clogs ( Ermanno Olmi. Italy. 1978 )

10. My Life as a Dog ( Lasse Hallstrom. Sweden. 1985 )

I agree that all these films are good examples of filmmaking. However, I would question whether two of these films (Godfather and Mean Streets), should be in the top ten. Martin Scorsese is obviously a great filmmaker but shouldn’t we demand more of him? The subject matter of Scorsese’s films give me concern. What do we learn about the human condition from his films? (Too much according to the Italian-American pressure groups.) For my taste, Scorsese gets too much pleasure of showing violence on the screen. This no doubts adds to his box-office appeal, but raises serious questions about his obsession with criminals. I would not mind if he addresses the political issues behind organized crime. He does not do this. In fact, his main concern is to play on the prejudices of his audience. If he wants to explore the contribution made by Italian immigrants to America, why does he not make a film about the activities of people like Nicola Sacco, Bartolomeo Vanzetti, Arthuro Giovannitti, Carlo Tresca, Vito Marcantonio, and Fiorello La Guardia?

John might have a point about Scorsese's later obsession with criminal violence ( Goodfellas [1990] through to Gangs of New York [2002] ), but I don't think this is a fair criticism when applied to Mean Streets. Scorsese was a young man when he made Mean Streets in 1973 and he was drawing on his own experience of growing up in New York's Little Italy. Apparently, a number of the characters in the film were based on people he knew when he was growing up in a tough neighbourhood dominated by criminals and priests. Mean Streets features Italian-American criminals, but it is mainly concerned with the relationship between friends and issues of guilt, conflicts of loyalty, conformity and the flouting of rules. As Pauline Kael wrote when it was first released, Mean Sreets is " a tiumph of personal filmmaking ". John asks " What do we learn about the human condition from his films? ". Well, in Mean Streets we learn what it is like to have a crippling sense of sin, to be torn by divided loyalties, to be subservient to authority at the expense of not supporting a friend, how self interest can damage friendship and how injured pride can lead to violence. The violence in Mean Streets is not glorified - it is, in turns, stupid, pointless and destructive. As Pauline Kael noted in her "New Yorker" review, in this film " violence erupts crazily ...the way it does in life - so unexpectedly fast that you can't believe it, and over before you've been able to take it in." What is more, Mean Streets is a bravura piece of film making - wonderful use of the camera, brilliant acting fom De Niro and Keitel and great use of popular music on the soundtrack.

Scorsese has made " non-gangster" films about Italian-Americans - Jake La Motta in Raging Bull and a 45 minute documentary about the experience of Sicilian immigrants called "Italianamerican". I think it is a shame that he has not matured into a serious film artist, but he has made at least two powerful and thought provoking films - Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. ( In 1970, Scorsese supervised a documentary by a student "collective" about demonstrations against the American invasion of Cambodia ). It is sad to see that he is now reduced to providing his "voice talent" to the Shark Tale, the animated feature cartoon from DreamWorks which has managed to offend more Italian- Americans.

(see http://www.philly.com/mld/philly/entertain...intstory.jsp&1c ).

Scorsese's parents were both children of Sicilian immigrants who had settled in New York. His father and mother worked in the garment industry. Scorsese obviously got a thrill from living in close proximity to tough criminals in Little Italy.

Apparently, he struggled to attract financial backing for Mean Streets and only attracted the interest of film producers like Roger Corman because his script reader assured Corman that the screenplay had " sex, violence, gangsters and a lot of action." Someone else financed the film in the end, but I suspect the film would not have been made in Hollywood if it told the story of exploited workers in the garment industry rather than young men living at the fringes of organised crime.

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It's difficult to limit the choices but here is my top ten list,

1. Spirited Away - Hayao Miyazaki (2001) Japan

2. Howl's Moving Castle - Miyazaki (2004) Japan

3. Strings - Anders Klarlund (2004) Denmark

4. Dr. Strangelove - Kubrick (1964) UK

5. Pink Panther Series - Blake Edwards UK

6. Donnie Darko - Richard Kelly (2001) USA

7. 50 First Dates - Peter Segal (2004) USA

8. Pan's Labyrinth - Guillermo Del Toro (2006) Spain/USA

9. Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow - Kerry Conran (2004) USA/UK

10. Finding Neverland - Marc Forster (2004) UK/USA

Edited by Cigdem Eksi

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Dear Cigdem,

You come to this site like a breath of fresh air.

The films (dramas) that most powerfully influenced my own art, in chronological order of viewing:

Goldfinger

The Thomas Crown Affair (original)

A Man for All Seasons

2001: A Space Odyssey

The Lion in Winter

Sweet Love, Bitter

The Connection

The Godfather

The Godfather, Part II

The Producers (original)

Hannah and Her Sisters

The Night of Shooting Stars

The Leopard

Raging Bull

Au Revoir les Infants

There Will Be Blood

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Two moments in films brought to mind by Jan and that I somehow left off my list.

"Roy," the replicant in Blade Runner, sits in his death scene with a previously unseen white dove in his grasp. "I've seen things," he tells "Decker" (Harrison Ford). And then this artificial life form makes the leap to soul: He makes an analogy, he offers a total greater than the sum of its parts -- an impossibility for a machine. "Roy" is transcendent.

All that he has seen, "Roy" tells us, is gone now ... "Like tears in rain."

Time to die.

The dove, his soul, is released into the clouds. Spectacular!

Blade Runner is at the pinnacle of science fiction achievement.

Then there's that moment in Samuel Fuller's The Big Red One in which Lee Marvin, playing the seasoned sargeant of a platoon of too young WWII GIs in Italy, comforts a dying member of his charges. "Did I kill the man who killed me?" asks the fading soldier.

And Marvin, staring into his eyes, delivers the best single-word line I've ever heard in film.

"Yes."

Adjective fail to describe the power and subtext of Marvin's magnificent delivery.

Charlie

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Jan,

I've read the story.

There is a book-length analysis of the film that I purchased some years ago in London. I don't know if it ever was available in the States. I'll try to find it and provide details for those interested.

Hauer's reading of his own funeral oration is inspired. Dig the pause between "time" and "like" ... it is Michelangelo's space between the fingers of God and Adam.

Charles

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