Saturday, April 14, 2012

The power of 'C'

I was recently re-reading film critic Roger Ebert’s book The Great Movies and I have reached the conclusion that if a person wants to make a great film he should probably begin the title with the letter ‘c.’

In the book, there are only four films that begin with that letter, but three of them are: Casablanca, Citizen Kane and City Lights. If a person has never seen these films, I highly recommend them.

All three are remarkable movies. I have had an avid interest in films for most of my life, but as I have gotten older, I have gravitated more toward older ones. Obviously, there are some good modern movies, but I guess tastes change as we age.

Casablanca is fantastic. Starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, the film says a lot about personal sacrifice during crisis even if means giving up the very thing (or person) we want the most. Bergman’s character is the love of Bogart’s life, but he knew he had to let her go. And he did.

Though it is 70 years old, the theme resonates loudly today considering what a self-absorbed culture we live in. Let’s face it – many people tend to look at our culture in terms of what it can do for them and not vice versa. This thinking has sent us down a road that will likely take a generation to reverse.

Citizen Kane is often at the top of lists for the greatest movie of all time. Though many can have a great debate about that, there can be no debating that it is a great film. Produced, directed and co-written by 25-year-old Orson Welles, it is a biography loosely based on yellow journalist William Randolph Hearst.

The story behind the film’s making is almost as interesting as the film itself. Hearst did his best to kill it and destroy Welles. Back in 1941 when it was released, it appeared Hearst had succeeded, but the movie has withstood the test of time. Welles’ biggest dilemma was that he peaked at such a young age. He never again made a film as great as Citizen Kane.

City Lights was released in 1930 or ’31 (depending on the source) and is one of Charlie Chaplin’s great films. Though talking films had been around for a couple of years when it was released, the film is mostly silent.

The film is a classic blend of comedy and pathos. Chaplin’s character ‘The Little Tramp’ befriends a blind girl and helps her raise the money needed for an operation to restore her vision. Through a series of events, the two are separated when she is operated on and go their separate ways.

The film concludes when the two meet each other by chance. He is still a tramp, but she has become a successful business woman. She does not recognize who he is at first, but when she touches his hand she realizes who he is.

The expression on Chaplin’s face is one of the great reaction shots in film history. Joy and fear flow from his eyes. Joy because he has met his love again. Fear because of the rejection he may face because of her success and his status. Remarkable.

We live in an age where most movies are drivel. I do not mean to come across as a movie snob, but it seems that way to me. The advances in movie technology in recent years have been great. However, I fear our films have become cleverer while losing their hearts.

Cleverness has its place. It’s just not an enduring trait when it comes to great movies.

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