Screen pleasures

I was brought up on films as well as books, and the silver screen loomed quite large in our family story. My paternal grandfather worked as a cameraman in the French film industry in the inter-war period, and indeed the story goes that he stood in for Douglas Fairbanks Jr, whom he quite ressembled, in a couple of films that he shot in Paris. My father was very keen on both photography and film-making as a young man; he owned some fabulous cameras, including a brilliant cine-camera with which he made some gorgeous home movies of the family which are very touching to watch now. (We had a home cimema too long before these were common). Though we had no TV–my parents both thought it a very second-rate thing–we were frequently taken to films as children.

It’s interesting how films can create a continuity between the generations. My father says that the first film he remembers seeing was Disney’s ‘Snow White’; the first film I remember going to see was Disney’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’ ; the first film my youngest son remembers seeing was Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’. ..

I’d probably have to say that films have been almost as influential as literature for me in my own development as a writer as well as a reader or watcher. I watch almost as many films as I read books, in each case looking for that specific thing, that gripping-hand-in-chest feeling of a rivetting piece of art. What do I look for, when choosing books and films? I’m looking for a great story, real characters, a sense of mystery, a beautiful style, passion, thoughtfulness, wit, fun, depth, and a haunting quality that never lets you forget the film or the book. I’m looking for a great music score. I’m looking to be entertained: boredom, tedium is the worst literary or filmic sin, and cannot be excused by a pretence to some spurious intellectual superiority. I’m not looking to be preached at, hectored or lectured in any way. I hate heartless films. I don’t mind genre or light films, if they’re well done–I have no snobberies, reverse or otherwise, about something being ‘literary’ or ‘arthouse’ or ‘popular’: you can find good things in either.
I’d just like to briefly mention some of the very diverse films that have given me a great deal of pleasure in recent years: most of which I’ve watched a few times over, for the sheer emotional pleasure. They are evergreen screen pleasures, for me; though I’m sure not everyone will feel the same! Some of them will be well-known to you; others may be much more obscure. And they are in no particular order.

The Godfather trilogy, esp. Parts I and II;
Donnie Darko;
Shakespeare in Love;
Monsoon Wedding;
Don’t look Now;
The Princess Bride;
The Passion of the Christ;
Last of the Mohicans;
American Beauty;
Lacombe Lucien(Louis Malle’s rivetting film of the Nazi Occupation of France–there’s nothing to touch it)
Schindler’s List;
Hitchcock: I’ve never met a Hitchcock film I didn’t like, but the ones that stand out for me, for their sheer pleasure and gem-like brilliance, are Vertigo;
The Lady Vanishes; Rebecca; North by Northwest; To Catch a Thief.
Oh Brother where Art Thou;
Twelfth Night(a beautiful evocation of my favourite of all Shakespeare plays, filmed in Cornwall, directed by Trevor Nunn and feauring a stellar cast)
The Sixth Sense;
The Gift (Sam Raimi’s amazingly spooky so-called B-grader features fantastic performances from the likes of Cate Blanchett and Keanu Reeves)
The Lord of the Rings(for proving that film fantasy can be grand and beautiful, not hokey and embarassing)
Burnt by the Sun(Russian film about the Stalin purges–beautiful, funny, tragic and horrifying)
Spirited Away–gorgeous Miyakazi animated film about a trip to a Japanese fairyland;
Derzu Uzala–Akira Kurosawa’s fabulous evocation of the Siberian forest in this story of an old fur-trapper before the Russian Revolution;
The Deceivers–wonderful, disturbing, underrated Merchant-Ivory film, starring Pierce Brosnan, about an idealistic young British agent in late 19th century India who inflitrates a murderous gang of Thuggees, devotees of the Kali cult;
One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest;
All About Eve;
High Fidelity;
Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark;
The Remains of the Day.

That’s only a few favourites–I’d be interested to know what other people might nominate!

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2024 years ago

‘fabulous’, ‘brilliant’ & ‘gorgeous’ – a very ‘adjectival’ sentence for a writer!

I am great fan of Hitchcock too. A month or two ago, the ABC showed his first film ‘The Lodger’. It’s a silent one made in ’28 or thereabouts and starred Ivor Novello. I started watching it for wont of something better to do and ended up engrossed for 90 minutes or so although the cupid lips on Ivor was a bit off-putting.

2024 years ago

yes, it’s interesting how even the very early ones are eminently watchable, despite being a little amateurish in places, they’re never clunky. The onky one I had trouble watching was ‘Jamaica Inn’, and that was just because the film’s soundtrack had been so badly remastered for the DVD version we saw that the characters’ mouths moved, and a few seconds later, out would come all the words, and what was more, very muddy and garbled. We gave up in the end, very reluctantly!

2024 years ago

yes, it’s interesting how even the very early ones are eminently watchable, despite being a little amateurish in places, they’re never clunky. The onky one I had trouble watching was ‘Jamaica Inn’, and that was just because the film’s soundtrack had been so badly remastered for the DVD version we saw that the characters’ mouths moved, and a few seconds later, out would come all the words, and what was more, very muddy and garbled. We gave up in the end, very reluctantly!

2024 years ago


If you haven’t already, you should show your son La Belle et la Bete (1946) by Jean Cocteau. Still the best screen version of the story, and more nuanced than its derivative Disney cartoon.

2024 years ago

Favourite film? It depends…

Pretentious Mood: 2001, a Space Odyssey

SBS Multikulchural Mood: Drunken Master, with Jackie Chan

Puerile-joke Mood: Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo (seriously, it’s a very very funny film)

My all time favourite film is definitely Excalibur, directed by John Boorman – weird, surreal, full of faults, but at the same time, oddly enchanting.

2024 years ago

You certainly effectively capture the mood & passion you have for film Sophie, can totally relate…beautifully put…& what an interesting history. In my case, I taught Film & TV at Secondary School, wrote film reviews for a Uni mag & studied Film Theory…so i also feel close to the medium…like you, both books & films held sway as hobbies, particularly in younger years, now gardening, news & doco watching, doting over our cats, cooking & music listening make for a magnificent seven (a wonderful film I might add). Of the films you mentioned our faves are:

Donnie Darko (intriguing & mind spinning)
Alien (awesome dystopic nightmare)
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (heart-wrenching)
Last of the Mohicans (great editing & cinematog…can’t wait for Mann’s ‘Collateral’)
High Fidelity (As alternative music aficionados we loved it)
Remains of the Day (excellent acting & plot)
Derza Uzala (Kurosawa was a brilliant director”

2024 years ago

Favourite films:

Anything really by John Cassavetes — seeing “Husbands” really reinvigorated my love for film when I was studying it at uni. I love the intensity of the characters and the way their inner and outer lives are revealed to us.

Kommissar — Russian film directed by Alexandr Askoldov in ’67, promptly banned, resurfaced 30 years later. Wrote my honours thesis on it, breathtaking use of narrative and sympathetic portrayal of the human condition.

The Chris Guest/Eugene Levy “mocumentaries”. ‘Cause they never fail to make me laugh, that’s why.

Waterloo Bridge — classic weepy.
Original Manchurian Candidate — the scene with Frank and Janet on the train is one of the sexiest ever. Agreed Nick on To Kill a Mockingbird.

Favourite Hitchcock is probably North By Northwest, although I realise the claims sdomething like Vertigo has to be his best objectively. Perhaps a hangover of my childhood crush on James Mason but it is genuinely suspenseful, sexy and funny. I also really like Rope, although it is much maligned.

I do have a big soft spot for Woody Allen, top of the list is Crimes and Misdemeanours. Quite serious in some of the issues covered but

If I had to pick one just one: Casablanca. This is a film which is as good as its hype and which can be watched an rewatched. Given the shambolic making-of it’s a wonder but everything is just right, not least the brilliant script, so many memorable lines.

I could go on. Just one more: A Pornographic Affair, French flick from a few years back. I found it incredibly moving. And Sergi Lopez is a doll.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2024 years ago

Amanda, agree re – “A Pornographic Affair” – I saw it on sbs and loved it.

2024 years ago

Thank you everyone for all your comments, really interesting to read about everyone’s faves.
I agree with you about Rope, Amanda. It’s different from Hitch’s other films(though not in its moral concerns and exploration of evil)because it’s so stagey, but somehow it still works. We had a great discussion about it with our teenage boys afterwards–coincidentally, we’d been having this great free-ranging dinner table discussion just before with them about the old concept of the ‘seven deadly sins’, and discussing pride, which I thought was the major one in that lot..Rope illustrated that murderous pride very well! (And isn’t James Stewart great in it–a rather chilling yet very believable character).Nick. I loved Jaws too–but have never been able to bring myself to watch The Exorcist. am too scared!!Yeah, Memento was great too..terrific plotting, great on the edge stuff. The Coen Bros ones you mention too are great–I also liked Fargo but Oh Brother was my favourite. What a pity they lost it with Intolerable Cruelty! Haven’t been to see the latest, was too disappointed. Oh, and you’ll love Collateral, it’s really good–great characters, twisty story, a really good script. The Pianist is great too–I think Polanski’s best–Rosemary’s Baby is pretty good as well. (but I think he is very very erratic in general, quite a bit of his stuff Ihaven’t liked at all)Re great docos, haven’t seen Fog of War, but has anyone seen Spellbound? Absolutely cute and so human, very touching indeed. And of course how could I forget Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources, loved them too!
Tim T–Excalibur, yes, it’s amazing. The only time anything like the powerful and mysterious feeling of the Arthurian legends has been translated with any success whatsover onto the screen..the least said about the recent King Arthur movie, the better! What a waste of good actors!
Fyodor, I’ve heard a lot of good things re La Belle et la Bete, must try and hunt down a copy..And son Bevis is old enough to watch it now too, at 15!

2024 years ago

Ah yes Rope…concur Amanda & Sophie…underrated…in fact Hitchcock is a fave…& of course Woody Allen…Crimes & Misdemeanours (almost Bergmanesque…another great) is also one of my faves…don’t forget Husbands & Wives…also luv Tarkovsky (Solaris, & The Sacrifice…however, always wanted to see Andrei Rublev & Stalker…but alas, no opportunity to date), Theo Angelopoulos (Ulysses’ Gaze…the massive statue of Lenin being shipped on a barge downriver, the slaughter of innocents in the fog-drenched landscape, only their happy, curious voices, followed by screams & pleas are indicators of the violence perpetrated…still stands out clearly in my memory),Fellini (Il Conformisto/The Conformist -that gorgeous low to the ground shot of leaves swirling…so well emulated in Miller’s Crossing via the twirling hat sequence – & of course ‘8 1/2’ still lifts my spirits with its odd combination of neo-realism & the fantastical) & Antonioni (I have a soft spot for the slow moving, studied ‘The Passenger’ – (saw in my Italian film course at York University, Canada – & the oddball ‘Zabriskie Point’ – at the drive-in with my Dad in the 70s…talk about awkward…lol)…like Mann’s ‘The Insider’, Altman’s ‘The Player’, Lean’s ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, Becker’s ‘Children of the Marshland’, Carax’ ‘Les Amants du Pont-Neuf’/The Lovers on the Bridge, Carne’s ‘The Children of Paradise/Les Enfant du Paradis, David Lynch’s ‘The Straight Story’ (brings tears to my eyes) Kubrick’s ‘2001’, ‘Clockwork Orange’ & ‘The Shining’ (out there!), ‘Schlondorff’s ‘The Tin Drum’, Axel’s ‘Babette’s Feast’ Robert’s ‘My Mother’s Castle/My Father’s Glory’, Luc Besson’s Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (I believe totally underrated, seen it 3x)…these films require patience & repeated viewing…

& I also agree with ‘Excalibur’ (also loved Boorman’s gorgeously shot ‘Emerald Forest’) & ‘Fargo’…also the Coen’s ‘Barton Fink’ & ‘Big Lebowski’ (still makes me laugh)…& definately agree Polanski can be hit & miss…’Death & the Maiden’ & ‘Repulsion’ are 2 other faves…did you know he’s making ‘Oliver Twist’ of all things…

gotta mention a few non-mainstream/pseudo-realistic depictions of the sub-cultures & darker side of America…’In Cold Blood'(studied portrait of 2 killers)…Blue Velvet & Wild at Heart (both blew me away at the time)…so much Disney style popcorn stuff happening in those days…Talk Radio (a must see Oliver Stone flick…for the claustrophobic, late night, bigotted world of talkback)…The River (gross in those days but definately had a finger on the pulse of the nation’s bored, disallusioned & depressed youth…Heathers (amazing how many hedonistic, spoilt, overly rich Californians etc are similar to the characters in this film)…Drugstore Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho & Elephant(Gus Van Sant tells it as it is…whose newie ‘Last Days’ deals with the tragedy surrounding Kurt Cobain)…& recently ‘American Splendor'(inspiring)…

2024 years ago

Ah, Tarkovsky. I haven’t seen a Tarkovsky film that I haven’t fallen asleep during. I did my hons in film, and my thesis was on Soviet cinema but even so dear old Andrei had an amazing narcotic effect. Maybe now I’m older and wiser …

In Cold Blood is one of my very favourite books but have never seen the film. Robert Blake – creepy!

2024 years ago

Sophie…i have great memories of Jean de Florette & Manon de Source (& Depardieu in ‘Danton’…extraordinaire!!!…& The Return of Martin Guerre…what an actor!!!)…coming off the invigorating & prog oddities of Fr. cinema such as Subway…& Diva, Moon in The Gutter, Betty Blue (whatever happened to Jean Jacques Beineix?)…then ‘A Sunday in the Country’ (sweet), ‘La Grande Chemin’ (gorgeous), ‘La belle noiseuse’ (struggle & stupidity of an artist) ‘Life & Nothing But’ (one of the best depictions of WW1/so called Great War & its after effects), Cyrano de Bergerac (brilliant, pithy, romantic & a real end tear jerker)& the above mentioned double were so nostalgic… & historically important…so patient in their observation of rural life & the eras we knew so little of…i gotta say that Fr. cinema holds itself up well in the pop luvs itself world of americana flick world…
dya know Le Haine/The Hate, Crimson River, Amelie, Harry’s Here to Help, Time Out, Under the Sand, Enemy at the Gates, Brotherhood of the Wolf, He Loves Me, He Loves Me not, Delicatessan, City of Lost Children?…can ya believe i’ve never seen Renoir’s ‘La Bette Humaine’…as for classics i dig ‘Mon Oncle’ (great progtech slapstick)…Renoir’s ‘Wages of Fear’…the redefinition of film with such movies as ‘Breathless’, ‘Jules et Jim’, ‘Last Year at Marienbad’, ‘Weekend’ & ‘Le Cage aux Folles’ (did 17 films in 5 days after the bus accident & this was one…caught out in an unguarded moment & all the better for it)…the confederate cum NY traitors ala Murdoch empire led chip on the shoulder types confuse the less than honest Fr. gov’t with the general mass of the liberated & the tolerant…to their own loss…culturally, financially, historically…one of the great Democracies…& film universes.
np (now playing): pure Aussie…Birthday Party: Prayers on Fire, Died pretty: Pre Deity, The Church: Of Skins & Heart, Midnight Oil: 10, 9, 8…Laughing Clowns: Law of Nature…lest we forget our sods & alternative roots…not too far outa sight…is this where you live?)

2024 years ago

Anything they can do, I can do something approximately similar

From one post by Sophie Masson about some of her favourite films, Tony has been inspired to produced a series of posts—three so far, with a fourth promised—about his own favourite films (and a few of his least favourites). As…