As some of you already know, today is the National Classic Movie Day and I am participating in the 6 Films 6 Decades Blogathon hosted over at Classic Film & TV Cafe. The aim is to list 6 favourite films from 6 different decades, and my choices are:
- The 1920s – Metropolis 
Truthfully, I can’t be too original in this category because I have not seen many films from the 1920s decade, but, from all those that I have seen, Metropolis is a definite stand-out. This German expressionist film by Fritz Lang is a sci-fi masterpiece made before any visual effects were even there to help underpin the futuristic concept introduced. Wonderfully acted and brilliantly directed, it tells of a wealthy magnate, Joh Fredersen (the master), who has a rift with his son Freder, who, in turn, feels uneasy about the oppression of people in his city. Meanwhile, a “mad” scientist proposes the unthinkable to the master just as Freder falls in love with a girl from the working class segment of the population. A very creative design of the film, its ambition and dramatic passages are just some of the highlights as the film also introduces a take on the Romeo & Juliet story, and works magically on both the hearts and minds of the audience. “The mediator of the head and the hands must be the heart!“
- The 1930s – The Great Illusion 
Jean Renoir is one of my favourite film directors, and The Great Illusion or La Grande Illusion is one of his best films. This story centres on French officers Marechal and de Boeldieu who are captured by the Germans during the World War I, but are seemingly treated with some dignity and respect regardless. The film director tries to contrast the seemingly absurd position of the officers at their prisoners’ camp with the broader war situation, subtly commenting on the artificiality of the positions of people at war with each other and on the uncertain and foolish war aims. Great characterisation coupled with realism and powerful statements on humanity and politics make the film unforgettable. The Great Illusion stood the test of time and remains one of the most profound anti-war movies ever made.
- The 1940s – Late Spring 
I had too much choice in this decade, and I could have chosen to talk about Cukor’s The Philadelphia Story, Hitchcock’s Spellbound, Powell & Pressburger’sThe Red Shoes, Lubitsch’s The Shop Around the Corner, Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life, Curtiz’s Casablanca or Wilder’s Double Indemnity. Instead, my choice is Yasujirō Ozu’s Late Spring because I believe this Japanese director and his films continue to be underseen and under-appreciated in the west. Late Spring tells a heart-breaking story of a relationship between a father and a daughter just after the WWII in Japan. Shukichi Somiya and his unmarried daughter Noriko are devoted to each other, but soon society has to spring into action and intervene in this relationship so that the questions of duty and expectation are settled. Subtly and delicately, Ozu explores in the film the quiet domesticity of Japanese homes, the immense social pressure to conform to norms in the society and the limited role of women in Japan. The film’s subtle power is felt in each and every frame as the director slowly unravels the ultimate personal tragedy.
- The 1950s – A Streetcar Named Desire 
Regarding this decade in film, I was torn between talking about Roman Holiday, 12 Angry Men, Les Diaboliques or La Strada, but finally settled for A Streetcar Named Desire (my preference in films does tend to be on a gloomier side and the 1950s is hardly my favourite cinematic decade). Based on an acclaimed play by Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire is that kind of a film that cannot be mentioned without first talking about the performances. Vivien Leigh probably gives the greatest performance of her career (yes, even considering Gone with the Wind) in the role of vulnerable aging Southern belle Blanche DuBois who decides to stay with her sister in New Orleans and finds that her insensitive husband Stanley (Marlon Brando) is beyond her ability to control. Apart from stellar performances by all the cast, much of the merit of the film is probably due to the original source material since Williams could really tug at the heartstrings in his plays as he often contrasted the individual will and wishes with the harsh reality of Depression-era America, but the delicacy and skill with which every scene is presented by Elia Kazan is also a work of beauty.
- The 1960s – The Umbrellas of Cherbourg 
For this decade, I could have chosen a Fellini or Hitchcock’s film, but I think I will go with my heart, rather than brains with this one. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg or Les Parapluies de Cherbourg is a lovely musical starring young Catherine Deneuve (Repulsion (1965)). Directed by Jacques Demy, it tells of a young woman Geneviève who falls in love with one handsome mechanic Guy even though her family disapproves. However, their romance is short-lived because Guy is soon drafted into service and Geneviève has to make a difficult decision of whether to accept as her husband a wealthy man whom her family so desperately wants her to marry. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is a colourful and emotional roller-coaster of a film, but without losing any of its playfulness.
- The 1970s – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest 
Obviously, Miloš Forman‘s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is my film of choice for the 1970s decade. Hopefully, this film needs no introduction, but briefly, based on the novel of the same name by Ken Kesey, it tells of a man, Randle Patrick McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), who is transferred from a prison to a psychiatric hospital for evaluation. While gaining popularity among other patients, McMurphy also realises that he has to challenge the authoritarian regime on the ward established by “cruel” nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher). Shining great performances from both Nicholson and Fletcher, the film is an unforgettable critique of the American mental institution and one of a kind tribute to the power of the individual spirit.