Response to a Meme

Darren Hughes has issued a blog meme, so here is my response:

1. Total number of films I own on DVD and video.

I’d estimate around 250, which I consider somewhat spartan compared to a lot of DVD aficionados I know. (By contrast, I own less than a dozen VHS tapes.) Most of these titles are imports or films I wouldn’t otherwise easily rent, although I realize online DVD providers are making such a criterion obsolete these days. Fortunately I have the luxury of living in a city with several independent, well-stocked video stores, and pretty much only purchase a DVD when a) I’d have to go to some trouble to find it in a pinch, b) it’s a film near and dear to my heart that I know I will watch many times over, and c) it’s a film I hope to loan out to friends in the coming years.

2. Last film I bought.

Au hasard Balthazar (1966), a respectable Criterion release of a one-of-a-kind film.

3. Last film I watched.

The first half of BuÒuel’s The Phantom of Liberty (1974). I fully intend to watch the second half tonight; lately, I’ve gotten into the bad habit of starting films way past my bedtime.

4. Five films that I watch a lot or that mean a lot to me (in no particular order).

In all honesty, I probably watch one film by one of our Masters of Cinema (Bresson, Dreyer, Tarkovsky, Ozu) every couple of weeks or so. The fact that the depth and complexity of their films continue to expand suggest I will be doing this for some time.

But, in the interest of diversity, I’ll note some DVDs I don’t believe I’ve blogged about yet. These are all films I continually find opportunities to rewatch on occasion:

ïTale of Tales (Yuri Norstein, 1979) ó Norstein, a major influence on Hayao Miyazaki (who sponsored a whole exhibition of the Russian filmmaker’s work at the Ghibli museum in Tokyo), worked on layers of glass he adjusted to give his animations evocative depth. I might easily have picked the whimsical Hedgehog in the Fog (1975), a film I recently screened with some friends, but Tale of Tales is undoubtedly a more serious and profound work, yet one whose lovely textures offer considerable pleasures as well. (Masters of Russian Animation, Vol. 3 )

ïLa JetÈe (Chris Marker, 1962) ó Okay, I lied, I did blog about this one before, so here’s David Thomson displaying his usual eloquence: “La JetÈe may be the one essential movie ever made. I mean, if you woke up tomorrow and it was just you and the invading inhabitants from Saturn, or somewhere, and they said ‘What is this thing called movie?’ (and they had only a couple of minutes) you could show them a Fred Astaire dance, or a panning shot from Renoir, or you could settle for La JetÈe–and you wouldn’t need its full 28 minutes. There’s just a few seconds that do the trick.” Those who have seen the film doubtless know which few seconds he’s referring to. The film is eminently watchable for earthlings, too.

ïEureka (Shinji Aoyama, 2000) ó Before it tragically folded, The Shooting Gallery was a US distributor who provided us with fine international films; its final series during the summer of 2001 boasted this three-and-a-half hour, sepia-toned Japanese meditation on terrorism, grief, and rebirth; why it wasn’t flooded into US theatres a few months later is beyond me. Aoyama’s subsequent works have gotten mixed reviews, but I continue to find this to be one of the most beautiful and entrancing films of the decade. (Artificial Eye, Region 2)

ï Voyage to Italy (Roberto Rossellini, 1953) óA foundation for modern cinema, yet it’s rarely mentioned anymore and still hasn’t been released on DVD in the US. Rossellini’s sensitive depiction of a marriage crumbling in the light of cultural dislocation and unarticulated tension is endlessly compelling and ripe for extrapolation. (BFI, Region 2)

ïThe Neon Bible (Terence Davies, 1995) ó Davies was recently voted as the tenth best director in the world in The Guardian (forget that it’s an otherwise lame list) yet this film and House of Mirth (2000) continue to be his only films available on DVD in the US. A vulnerable and mesmerizing Gena Rowlands and cinematography that looks like Night of the Hunter (1955) if it was shot in color are the main draws here, but Davies’ typically deep emotional connection to the protagonist’s social isolation is virtually tangible.

5. If you could be any character portrayed in a movie, who would it be?

Sometimes I see myself problematically situated between the idealistic Stalker in Tarkovsky’s masterpiece and the cynical judge in Kieslowski’s Red. But who wouldn’t want to be Red Beard in Kurosawa’s sensational picture, a figure of formidable compassion, skill, and wisdom–who can also deliver a mean karate chop if necessary?

I’m forwarding this meme to Fredoluv at Chez Meow Meow.

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