The Vault: Volume 7

It has been ages since I last wrote an entry for the Vault, but the time has come! The films in this selection are a little all over the place, but that’s okay. Some of these films you may have seen before, and others maybe not, but each are worth a look at. So, now, on with the Vault!

  • The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

This is a film which practically every student of film has to study at some point or another, and with good reason. This film is from Germany and came at a unique time in film history. This film exhibits German Expressionism. In fact, this film is like a crash course in expressionism. Every scene is created with this movement in mind. In short, German Expressionism was a movement where artists wanted to show what was going on within the minds of a character by representing it outside of the character. What you get are surreal landscapes and architecture, and it works. This is also an early horror film, and one of the first films to utilize a twist of some sort (though I won’t spoil it!). If you love film or art or horror than this is a film for you. (Side-note: make sure to get your hands on a good quality copy so you can experience it in the fullest.)

  • Deliverance (1972)

A couple of months ago I finally got around to reading the novel by James Dickey called Deliverance. I had seen the movie that was based on the novel, but never actually read the novel. If you like to read, then I recommend giving that book a read. But this is a film blog, so let’s talk about the movie! A lot of people are familiar with this 1972 film and are probably familiar with the infamous “squeal like a pig” scene as well. This is a film that is worth a watch. The cinematography is great, and the story really brings home the man vs. nature story-line in a whole new light. This film is more than just that one infamous sequence, but it does form a major plot point, but the journey extends far beyond what happens in that scene.

  • Life of an American Fireman (1903)

An early film directed by Edwin S. Porter (of The Great Train Robbery fame), is an innovative little film. It is one of the earliest American narrative films, and tells a simple story of the rescue of a mother and child from a burning building. It gives some insight into firefighters and the equipment they used at the turn of the last century. If you are a lover of film and of history, then this is a definite must watch.

  • The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

There is a good chance you have already seen this film based off the Stephen King novella, but in the event that you haven’t you really should. Consistently ranked as one of the best films of all-time, it is a film which pulls you in completely to the world it has created. The music (by Thomas Newman), and the cinematography (by Roger Deakins), are both top-notch and add to the charm of this film. This is also a great film to do a film analysis with, but that is for another post!

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The Vault: Volume 6

Hello everyone! It has been a while since the last edition of the vault, so what better thing to do than to write volume 6 right now!? This volume is going to be a little different from the previous five, however. This time around I will be including video clips to go along with each of my selections.

1.) Gettysburg (1993)

Gettysburg, a film by Ronald F. Maxwell, is one of my favorite historical films. It is based off the civil war novel Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. The film is beautifully shot, and, along with the soundtrack (one of my personal favorites), really is able to create an atmosphere which grabs your attention and keeps you watching. This is important to note because the film is very long. It is over four hours in length (four hours fourteen minutes to be exact, and the extended edition is around seventeen minutes longer than that!). Don’t let the length of the film deter you, however. I can assure you that this four hour film feels like a two hour film. It goes by so quickly each time you watch it. As the name implies, much of the film focuses on the battle of Gettysburg, but the first half of the film does feature some other battles preceding Gettysburg. It is a fine film, and one which I believe everyone should watch at least once.

2.) In the Heat of the Night (1967)

Winner of the 1967 academy award for Best Picture, this film crime film really packs a punch even today. It tells the story of a black detective stuck in the Deep South who somehow helps solve a murder case. It has several tense moments during its run-time, and always keeps you guessing until the final moments. For anyone who is interested in crime films, or detective stories, this film is for you. It is a good example of how to bring pieces of evidence together so that the audience becomes another detective in the story trying to figure out whodunit.

3.) The Mirror (1975)

Andrei Tarkovsky is one of my favorite filmmakers. I have already included his 1972 film Solaris on a previous edition of the Vault. The Mirror, one of his most difficult films to get into, was my first foray into his films. I remember being completely confused by it. In fact, I still am. I mean this, however, in a good way. Each time I have viewed this film I have liked it more and more. It is essentially a collection of fragments like that of a dream, or of a stream of memories. There really isn’t much of a plot either. The film also switches between color, black & white, and sepia toned footage; seemingly at random. It also jumps around in time too. The result is both frustrating and brilliant. This film ranks among those that showed me that there is more than one way to make a film. The film is beautiful to look at, and challenging to understand. Tarkovsky, however, never made a film for no reason. This film is clearly very autobiographical, (Tarkovsky’s father narrates parts of the film with his poetry, and his Mother appears in the film as well). Don’t expect to understand the film, but be sure to give it a viewing.

4.) The Sword in the Stone (1963)

I had to include at least one lighthearted film in this edition, and this would be it! This is without a doubt my favorite animated film. It is the perfect example of early Walt Disney animated features. It has catchy songs, old fashioned animation styles, and a classic story: King Arthur. I wish they would make animated films like this again. I am personally done with these computer animated films. I want these older style, hand-drawn, films back! I can dream, can’t I?

 

The Vault: Volume 5

It’s time for another edition of The Vault! For this one I decided to try and pick films each from a different decade. I also wanted the films to span a great space of time. Included in this edition are films from as early as 1912 to as recent as 2014. Each one is a must see for their own unique reasons. If you haven’t seen some of these films be sure to check them out!

1-         Fargo (1996)

This is very well known film to say the least. It is also an extremely well made film. In just an hour and a half we are pulled into this crime story that has its moments of comedy and seriousness. The entire premise is based around a staged crime turning into a real one with major repercussions for almost all the characters in the film. The soundtrack for this film is at both beautiful and haunting. It is made by the Coen Brothers, who rarely disappoint, and is sure to take you on one wild ride.

2-         Frank (2014)

The most recently made film in this edition, this is an extremely fun film to watch. It stars Michael Fassbender, yet we never actually see his face until the end of the film. Why? Because he wears a giant fake head for 99% of the film! If that sounds weird, well, it is weird. This weirdness is present in a lot of the characters and makes the film what it is. The premise of this one is that there exists a band that is so experimental it takes them close to a year to make a record because they spend most of their time doing odd things with household objects and running around outside. It is truly a story about creativity and art. It offers us a different perspective on some of those avant-garde musicians that we see do weird things and make even stranger music. The soundtrack is also pretty amazing and the fake band in the movie actually performed a couple shows in real life! I highly recommend this film for its strangeness, its emotion, and it’s touching storyline. It’s got everything!

3-         The Last Stage (1948)

This is a foreign language film from Poland. This film is about the director’s (Wanda Jakubowski) time at Auschwitz during the holocaust. What makes this film so powerful is the fact that they were able to film it at the actual Auschwitz just a few years after the end of the war. Even Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List” wasn’t allowed to do that. As a result, the painful memories are still fresh in the air within the film. Another interesting aspect of the film is that the prisoners speak polish while the guards speak German. All these elements combined truly add to the realism of the picture.

4-         The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912)

This is a short crime film from 1912 that would go on to inspire Martin Scorsese as he made Goodfellas (1990) and Gangs of New York (2002). Directed by D.W. Griffith, this film was the first film about organized crime. The first gangster film as it were. It was also one of the first films to ever use follow focus. At the time this film was made, cinematographers were judged at how clear and sharp their images were. To blur the background seemed like something crazy to do at the time but now is used in almost every film you are likely to see.

5-         The Toll of the Sea (1922)

The final film in this edition of The Vault is this film from 1922. I will say that it is just an okay film. So why am I putting it in The Vault? It was the second ever feature length color film (the first is now considered lost). It was also the first color film that didn’t need a special projector to be shown in theatres. It is a monumental film just for these reasons alone. I recommend to see it to see just how far we have come with color in film. When I watch old films or see old pictures in color it is just so strange to see the past in color. When we think of the time period of about the 1830s (birth of photography) to about the 1950s and 1960s, we think of the world as being in black and white. When a photograph or film comes along from earlier in this time period that is in color it really gives us a different perspective on the world at the time. It reminds us that even though we think of that time as being in black and white, these people saw everything in color. We are so used to color nowadays that to see color integrated into media from anything pre1930s gives us a closer connection to what is happening on screen. At least in my opinion.

The Vault: Volume 4

Welcome to 2016! What better way to kick off the New Year than to release another volume of The Vault! I have selected four films for inclusion in this edition. They each are unique in their own way. I think that anyone who is a lover of film should make it a point to see these films at least once. There are three films in this edition that are among my most favorite films ever. In volume three I talked about my absolute favorite film of all time, but now it’s time to look at a few others in my top ten. They each are important in their own way, and I hope you get a chance to see some or all of them at some point! On to the list!

  • The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

This is one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen. Even though we know what will happen because of the title, doesn’t mean this film doesn’t thrill and excite us. It’s the journey that is important here. It is also a great commentary on fame vs. reality. Have you ever been enamored with a celebrity only to find out that in reality they aren’t the same person you idolized? Robert Ford found that out about Jesse James. This film will leave you speechless in all the right ways.

  • Shame (2011)

Sex addiction isn’t a topic that is often discussed. This is surprising since the media seem to be all about sex these days. Regardless, Steve McQueen’s “Shame” is a graphic depiction of sex addiction and the negative effect it has on people. It is a very powerful film exploring a topic that is not talked about nearly enough. This film is NC-17, so expect some explicit scenes of sexuality/nudity, but it is never done gratuitously, there is always a reason for everything you see as you delve deeper into the main character’s addiction.

  • Solaris (1972)

Andrei Tarkovsky is never an easy filmmaker to get into. His films are filled with long takes, sequences of silence, and highly symbolic imagery. Once you take a closer look, however, you’ll see how powerful his films are. There is a certain spirituality that is infused in all his films, “Solaris” is no different. I’m not sure what it is, but this film captivated me from beginning to end. I am not usually a science-fiction viewer, but this film (along with 2001: A Space Odyssey”) are notable exceptions. The film plays around with memories as a plot device in an exceptional way. The end of the film will certainly leave you with a multitude of questions which will only necessitate more viewings of the film.

  • Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

In my personal opinion this is the best silent film ever made. Granted, there are still a lot of silent films I have not yet seen, but this is one of a handful that have not aged at all. I can think of a few others that would fit in this category, (The General, The Immigrant, and Modern Times), but I guess I just enjoy this one the most. F.W. Murnau uses innovative techniques that were ahead of their time. This film contains some very impressive tracking shots. The camera movement in this film is literally quite amazing. There are so many great scenes in this film, it is hard to speak of just one. I always have a fun time watching this film and I always leave feeling satisfied with what I just watched. This film won the first (and only) Academy Award for Best Unique and Artistic Picture, which in 1928 was just as prestigious as the Best Production (Best Picture) Academy Award. If it was up to me it would have won both! Trust me when I say that this is a must see for any lover of film!

The Vault; Volume 3

It’s time for another volume of The Vault! Since it’s the holidays, I decided to add a couple holiday favorites to the list, in addition to some newer films and some older films. My personal favorite film is also included in this installment. Each are important in their own way, and I hope if you haven’t seen some of them to check them out! Also, just a side-note, the final two films in this volume are in the public domain and are freely accessible online. Alright, now on to the list!!

  • A Christmas Carol (1984)

Considered by some to be the definitive adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic Christmas tale, this is one of my favorite interpretations. George C. Scott plays Scrooge and it follows the original story very closely. Despite being a made for T.V. film, it packs a punch for what it is. The atmosphere matches each section of the story perfectly. You can bet that the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is one of the creepiest incarnations made. It doesn’t try to be anything other than what it is; a realistic adaptation of a classic Christmas tale. If you want to adapt a piece of literature into a film, here is a good example of it done right.

  • In Cold Blood (1967)

This film, directed by Richard Brooks, is based off the bestseller written by Truman Capote, which in turn was based off true events in the 1950s. It tells the story of the killing of an entire family in Kansas, 1959. You don’t find out the truth until the end of the film, which I think makes for a very intense, well made film. We find out the motives of the killers, and we find out exactly what went down. Brooks makes us wait, however. I think it works well. It keeps us on the edge of our seats throughout the film until the end when we realize everything and how it exactly happened.

  • It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

One of the most beloved holiday films wasn’t even considered a holiday film when it was first released in 1946. Frank Capra’s tale of second chances is now considered a classic, but when it was released it was a commercial failure. This film, now shown around Christmas, is well made (I wouldn’t expect anything less from Frank Capra), and has a great message; we are all important in our own ways.

  • The Tree of Life (2011)

I had to include this film in a Vault post before the end of the year. Why? It’s my absolute favorite film of all time. I was fortunate enough to see it in theatres when it was released in 2011. It is not a film for everyone, I must admit, but for those who give a chance it can be something magnificent. There isn’t much of a plot, but I believe the lack of a plot actually creates its own story. The film is rich in symbolism and emotion. You can tell it is close to the heart of its writer and director Terrence Malick. This film showed me that there is more than one way of telling a story, that there is more than one way to make a film. The classical soundtrack, the juxtaposition between symbols, and the overall atmosphere is breathtaking. I could write an entire article on this film, but I’ll save that for 2016.

  • A Trip Down Market Street (1906)

This film doesn’t really contain anything that a filmmaker would need to know to construct their own film, but it does contain an incredible look into the past. This is one continuous 13 minute shot of travelling down Market Street in San Francisco, just about a month before the infamous earthquake in 1906. The camera itself is strapped to the front of a trolley train as it travels down the street. You are transported into a different time. A time that was just over a hundred years ago. Despite it being the equivalent of strapping a camera to the hood of your car and driving through your hometown, this film enwraps you and you will surely watch all the way to the end.

  • A Trip to the Moon (1902)

Georges Méliès is one of the most important figures in cinema history. He experimented with special effects for most of his career while simultaneously creating some of the most entertaining short films of the silent era. If you’ve ever seen the film Hugo (2011), you’ll know a little bit about his work. Definitely his definitive work, A Trip to the Moon features the iconic image of a rocket ship sticking out of the face of the moon. This is one of the first fantasy films, and also features a great insight into how people fantasized about the moon at the turn of the century. There are a lot of special effects, and the film is a lot of fun too.

The Vault; Volume 2

It’s time for another installment of The Vault! For this installment my choices span 84 years of cinematic history. Some of the older films on this week’s installment exhibit techniques that we still use today. When something works it just works. If a film was good before, it is still good now. Some films may become dated with time, but that does not mean that they aren’t still good. If anything, they give us a look into the past. They give us a way to see history unfold. Just think if cinema was created a couple hundred years earlier? I would love for that to be a reality. I would love to see some footage of the 1600s and 1700s. What we do have, however, is a window to the past with photography and cinema. Not all the films in this installment come from the beginnings of film, but they are all important in their own ways.

  • All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

The third film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, this 1930 adaptation of the World War One book of the same name is a great example of an anti-war film. Made at a time when audiences weren’t used to synchronized sound in cinema, the use of wartime sounds made a giant impact on unsuspecting audiences. It also used some very innovative camera work. At the end of the silent era many directors were beginning to move the cameras around quite a bit, but once sound came into the picture the camera became stationary again because of how big and clunky they were and how the microphones could now pick up the noise from these cameras. The fact that “All Quiet on the Western Front” has sweeping crane shots over the trenches and many dolly shots is amazing, considering the unique time period in which it was made.

  • Days of Heaven (1978)

This is one of the most beautifully shot films I’ve ever watched. The entire film was shot at the magic hour (the 20 minutes before the sun rises and the 20 minutes after the sun sets) when the natural light is perfect for filming. I will admit that I am a bit biased since Terrence Malick, the director of this film, is my favorite director. However, I firmly believe in the power of this film as well as its use of natural light. The plot revolves around a love triangle set during the late 1910s. It truly is a piece of art.

  • Intolerance (1916)

D.W. Griffith made this film as a direct response to the criticism over his previous film “The Birth of a Nation” (1915). This film, however, is just as innovative as its predecessor. Not only does Griffith intertwine four separate narratives from different time periods (something which is still done today), but he also built some of the largest film sets of all time. There is a sense of wonder while watching it. The film is a true testament to how innovative silent films of the 1910s could be.

  • Rear Window (1954)

Alfred Hitchcock made some of the most suspenseful and classic films of all time. “Rear Window” has to be my favorite of his. Not only do you have a mystery that persists until the end of the film, but it is also beautifully shot. Not only that, but we have Jimmy Stewart, (my favorite actor of all time), and the beautiful Grace Kelly acting in the lead roles. The entire film essentially takes place in the lead character’s apartment. This is a great example of how you can make a film in one location and never lose the audience’s attention. A masterpiece of suspense.

  • Requiem for a Dream (2000)

This film brings us into the world of drug addiction in a very realistic way. It is raw and unsettling. It is also a great piece of cinema. Director Darren Aronofsky films the subject matter in a way that never glorifies it. The editing is also of great importance here. There are sequences of very quick, high paced editing to make us feel like we are getting high with the characters. It has a great effect on us. This film is graphic in its portrayal of drug addiction, but it is never feels gratuitous. It is a film you won’t forget about once it is over.

 

The Vault; Volume 1

This is the first volume of what I am going to call “The Vault” series. From time to time I will be selecting a handful of films which I think are important and are a “must see” for anyone who loves cinema. I will not rank these films, however. I know that top 10 lists are all the rage, but it is really difficult to rank films. Film is art and art is subjective as hell. Instead, I’ll list them alphabetically in each post. I will be writing new additions to this series indefinitely, so be sure to check back from time to time for a new selection of films!

What makes a film a “must see”? I will be selecting films which I think exemplify strong filmmaking technique, films which changed the course of cinema as we know it, and sometimes films which I think are great examples of how to make a film entertaining. I hope you are able to see some of these films if you haven’t already. Now, let’s begin!

 

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
    • Directed by Stanley Kubrick, this 1968 science fiction film is a must see for any fan of cinema. It is a difficult film to get into on the first try, I will admit, but there is much more to this film than meets the eye. The cinematography is breathtaking, as is the use of classical music in a lot of the scenes. This is not your regular science fiction film either. It is slowly paced and has a very abstract ending sequence, but it is still a classic that must be seen at least once.

 

  • Amour (2012)
    • Directed by Michael Haneke, this 2012 film explores the relationship between an elderly couple when the woman (Anne) has a stroke and her husband has to take care of her. The film is slowly paced, but it is a combination of the slow pacing and the story that creates a truly moving film.

 

  • Goodfellas (1990)
    • Directed by Martin Scorsese, this 1990 film explores life in the mafia from the 1960s to the end of the 1980s. It is based on a true story and has some of the most memorable characters in cinema history. It is not only a very intelligent film, it is also a very entertaining one as well. Like any Scorsese film, film theory and mise-en-scene runs rampant in this film, which is part of the reason it is so good. There also some long takes that are choreographed so precisely you wonder sometimes how they pulled it all off. Definitely a must see.

 

  • Wild Strawberries (1957) 
    • Directed by Ingmar Bergman, this 1957 film was one of the first of Bergman’s films that I viewed. It got me so intrigued by his writing and style of filmmaking that I ended up watching a Bergman film, or two, a day for a couple of weeks and became a huge fan. The movie is beautifully filmed and plays around with dreams and memories. These dreams and memories of a time gone by in the life of an old man are woven into the film’s central storyline. It is a great example of how you can get inside the head of a main character visually.