I’m singin’ in the rain, just singin’ in the rain.
Directed by: Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly
Singin’ in the Rain, Singin’ in the Rain, oh what can I say about Singin’ in the Rain? As one of the few musicals represented in the AFI’s revered list (the only musical within the top five), this film embodies a tone quite literally polar opposite to its contenders. Bright colors, elaborate costumes, exciting songs, slapstick humor, dance numbers and other light-hearted colorful elements make up this cinematic masterpiece.
Luckily for my sake, I was fortunate enough to have seen this film many times before experiencing Stanley Kubrick’s rendition on the films title song, “Singin’ in the Rain” in his film A Clockwork Orange, so the initial purity of perhaps the most infamous scene in cinematic history was not completely ruined for me. (If you don’t know what I’m referring to-I would recommend watching A Clockwork Orange, but only if you are emotionally ready for a brilliantly disturbing cinematic feat.)
This aside, I found myself struggling to understand how a film as downright lovely and delightful as Singin’ in the Rain was included among the company of such serious and emotionally draining motion pictures like Citizen Kane and Raging Bull. I don’t need convincing of this films importance in cinematic history, believe me- I love musicals- so much so that it threatens my reputation in the film world. (Why is it that when you say Moulin Rouge is your favorite film that you lose all credibility?) I am practically a veteran defender of musicals. In fact I walked out of my first film class in college ever because my TA was talking smack about “the musical”. He instructed our class that musicals had never and would never be worthy of critical acclaim and were a waste of time for anyone that had a genuine understanding of the film industry. So, with as much gusto as I could rapture within my loyal freshmen self, I slammed my books, slung my oversized bag onto my shoulder and huffed out of the auditorium before attendance was called. Rookie mistake.
Regrets from freshman year aside, I take much solace in knowing that a musical is still revered as one of the top five films of all time. After all, in a world where musicals are commonly recognized as High School Musical, Fame, and oh dear me Burlesque, surely one can empathize with my concern of the musicals bad reputation. And yes, it’s unfair to judge Burlesque since it has yet to be released, but I’ve seen the trailer, and it case you haven’t, let me just say: Christina Aguilera…and Cher.
Amidst the demise of the era of silent film, Hollywood’s most beloved film stars Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont find themselves on the brink of a huge career change: talkies. With the invention and immediate popularity of talking motion pictures, Don’s latest film is adapted to become a musical. However, problems arise when Lina Lamont, the annoying, overbearing, and temperamental “leading lady”, must talk and sing onscreen due to lack of vocal talent. Luckily, Don’s new love interest, Kathy Selden, an aspiring actress who currently works as a “chorus girl” agrees to dub her voice in for Lina’s in order to save Don’s career as devised by Cosmo Brown, Don’s oldest friend and business partner. Already jealous of Kathy and Don’s new relationship, Lina goes to the head of the studio and demands that Selden recieve no onscreen credit and is assured that Selden will continue to provide her voice throughout her career. After the success of the musical, Lina is forced to sing in an impromptu performance for her adoring fans. While Kathy sings live backstage behind the curtain, Lina lip-syncs, only to have the curtain raised, revealing the true star to be Kathy Selden. Don and Kathy embrace and the final shot of the film pans to a billboard featuring the pair in a new film, entitled Singin’ in the Rain.
Imagine an era in Hollywood when all films were compiled with actors who were genuine triple threats. Where talent was mandatory. Actors had to sing, they had to dance, they had to act, and above all, they had to be great at doing so. There was no confusion in Hollywood- standards were too be upheld. This film was no exception, as the cast of Singin’ in the Rain clearly demonstrates their triple threat capabilities. However, Gene Kelly was not slated as effeminate because he could sing and dance, but was labeled as a dominant force in Hollywood, and one of the most popular leading men the screen has ever shown.
Today, actors and actresses are almost always discouraged from attempting to become a triple threat. These individuals have a successful acting career but somehow deem it prudent to release a solo album, which more often than not, crashes and burns. And the same goes for musicians turned actors. Think Jennifer Lopez, Madonna, the Jonas Brothers, etc… EEK! Only few people seem to get it right, and the majority of these individuals are genuine triple threats.
Although this triage of talent is always impressive and admirable, it is now unnecessary in present day cinema. No one is complaining that Meryl Streep wasn’t exactly Grammy worthy for her vocal performances in Mamma Mia and no seems to be boycotting films starring Daniel Day Lewis after his lackluster performance in Rob Marshall’s musical Nine. No one is anticipating Julia Roberts or Tom Hanks to perform a complicated choreographed number, and audiences do not feel like they are missing out on anything at all.
Reviewing my experience with Singin’ in the Rain, I understand and appreciate the talent that encompasses every second of the film. The songs exemplify the importance of communicating that which can only be felt and in doing so remind the audience of the power music exudes. Singin’ in the Rain is the epitome of quick-witted dialogue and showcases slap-stick humor at its finest. The aesthetic elements of this film are insurmountable. Yes, Singin’ in the Rain will never be a Citizen Kane, but you have to agree that Citizen Kane will never be a Singin’ in the Rain.
“What can I do to you, I’m only a shadow.”
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Admittedly, I had no clue what to expect out of this next film. I knew it was a movie with a fighting/wrestling/Rocky sort of theme, and I knew Scorsese directed it, so I expected a massive amount of violence and bloodshed mixed in with a female character who struggles with the ever so complicated Madonna/Whore complex, but truthfully, the basic plot and purpose of Raging Bull completely escaped me.
Being a film enthusiast (the kind that loves rom-coms, epic dramas, and musicals) I refuse to discriminate against any genre, director or actor (except Nicholas Cage, because, well, he’s Nicholas Cage). Due to my inability to reject a film that might not reside within my own personal library, I decided my viewing of Raging Bull was to be more of a personal goal and less of a challenging struggle. Yes I love Robert DeNiro and am a fan of Martin Scorsese’s films, but Raging Bull originally failed to ignite any excitement within myself.
From my humble perspective (and by now I hope you know how truly humble that is), there was no particular element that Raging Bull offered which interested me: a collection of stereotypical loud-mouthed Italian Americans, a self-destructive overly ambitious fighter who embodies rage and abuses his wife, a goal that cannot be achieved, the deterioration of an already desperate man, etc.. What was so original and stirring about this film to the AFI when it appeared to be so obvious and superficial?
Jake LaMotta, a middleweight prizefighter, is unbeatable in the ring. His ability to give and recieve brutal beatings is unmatchable. LaMotta struggles with being the best, and takes his aggression out on his family, causing tension to surround every relationship he has maintained. After a slump in his career, LaMotta resurges and wins the title against Marcel Cerdan, brutally disfiguring him. When the time comes for LaMotta to defend his title, he loses to Sugar Ray Robinson in a very violent fight. Years pass, and his rage aids in the deterioration of his relationships with loved ones, most notably his wife Vickie and his brother Joey. Now a sleazy club owner, LaMotta is arrested for having female minors in his club. In an effort to make bail, LaMotta destroys his championship belt to attain the jewels it is decorated with, only to find out the actual belt would have been worth more had it not been altered. After his time in jail, Jake has an awkward reconciliation with his brother Joey and divorces from Vickie. At the end of the film, LaMotta recites dialogue from On the Waterfront to himself in the mirror prior to embarking on his new career as a stand up comic.
I am a music lover. An extremely passionate music lover. I would rather be blind than deaf, which is ironic because I am extremely vain and am almost always checking my appearance in any material that offers a reflection. Vanity aside, this love of music is extremely deep-rooted with myself. I have an affinity for film scores, due to their ability to provoke emotion upon the listener. I go so far as to listen to “Tara’s Theme” by Max Steiner from Gone With the Wind before the first day of school and prior to important events because I feel it sets the precedent for my expectations, which are always high. Anyways, my sensitive spot for film scores came into play within the first few seconds of Raging Bull. The introductory score entitled “Cavalleria Rusticana” provided an audial synopsis of the entire film. The desperation, frustration, determination, destruction, and struggle endured by Jake LaMotta are all noticeable throughout this piece from beginning to end. The music is haunting, just like the film.
I was surprised to find myself more emotionally drained than I was after the I concluded with the other films. I felt surely no film would shake my soul like Citizen Kane did because I struggle with the concept of failing to achieve my dreams and being satisfied daily, but then came Casablanca. I knew nothing could break my heart more than Casablanca had because I’m such a romantic at heart. But, it was Raging Bull that has made me most emotionally vacant thus far in my journey through film. (Nothing about The Godfather broke my heart- except that Diane Keaton got back together with Al Pacino after three years and a marriage only to remain completely in the dark about her husbands life-that’s an offer I could most definitely refuse. Anyone who is repulsed by how disgustingly easy that joke was can stop reading now with my blessing.)
Jake LaMotta had to be the best, there was no other option. And about fifteen minutes into the film, we know he will never be the best. The best fighters are the heavy weights, and LaMotta is only a middle weight, meaning he will never be able to fight the best of the best and therefore will never be insurmountable. This fact is understood by LaMotta but does not detract him from embarking on a life full of disappointment, rage, and destruction. LaMotta is a fighter, his rage is justified in the ring, but outside of his career, his behavior is violent and unacceptable. He is focused on destroying his opponents and in turn destroys himself.
When this character got violent with his family and I didn’t hate him, I knew I was witnessing something significant. This realization made me reevaluate my definitions of the terms pity and complacence. Finally, I accepted that I was experiencing the emotion of pity after two scenes in particular:
1. When Jake encounters his brother Joey after years of no contact with him, he has to persuade Joey to speak with him. He pleads for a kiss and then attempts to schedule a time for the brothers to reunite again. This desperation is so heart-wrenching I found it almost unbearable to watch.
2. Towards the end of the film, when Jake is a stand up comic and is psyching himself up before his gig he recites the dialogue from On the Waterfront in front of a mirror and attempts to justify his failures to himself. Jake is so pathetic now that he has to explain himself to a reflection of himself.
Raging Bull was truly moving and therefore deserving of the AFI’s title. A film that can transform achievement into failure while evolving a winner into a loser is deserving of attention from film enthusiasts, even the ones that love rom-coms and musicals.
Directed by: Michael Curtiz
We’ve all heard the lines-perhaps because every famous one-liner ever uttered originated from this film:
- Here’s looking at you, kid.
- We’ll always have Paris.
- Round up the usual suspects!
- I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Epic. Amazing. Memorable. Certainly these widely recognizable and constantly quoted lines stand as a testament to the longevity and timelessness of this film.
Casablanca, currently ranked as third on the American Film Institute’s list, is also quite commonly considered the best love story ever told on screen. Having a huge passion for romantic films and an affinity for the torturous and painfully beautiful thematic element of forbidden love, I went into this film having ridiculously high expectations. I am pleased to announce that I was not disappointed. On the contrary, I found myself wholly astonished at the multitude and intensity of the emotions I experienced as result of this film. I was impressed that I was able to emotionally relate to experiences that I have not yet encountered and relieved that I felt no disconnect between the characters and their struggles as I often do when watching older films. Perhaps that is because true love, even when it’s fictionalized and formatted for the screen, fails to age. Or maybe, just maybe, I’ve seen Casablanca too many times. ..
If one word was to be used to sum up Cortiz’s masterpiece, it would be character. Not love, not fate, not struggle, not even war, but character. This particular quality is quite noticeably evident in all of the main characters in Casablanca. Rick, the film’s protagonist, is a self-proclaimed “neutralist” who owns a nightclub in Casablanca amidst the tensions and tribulations of World War II. Rick comes into ownership of two letters of transit, extremely hard to come by immigration papers required of refugees in order to be sent to America. Hiding the papers from Nazi officials as well as from the Chief of Police and self-proclaimed “opportunist” Captain Renault, Rick intends to sell the papers. Later on in the evening, Victor Laszlo, an infamous resistance leader who has previously escaped from a concentration camp, enters Rick’s bar with his wife, Ilsa, the former lover of Rick.
It is discovered that Ilsa and Laszlo need Rick’s letters of transit in order to evacuate Casablanca and enter America. Rick initially refuses to oblige due to his cynical nature attributed to losing Ilsa. In a meeting between the two former lovers,both profess their undying love for one another, reuniting the pair temporarily and changing Rick’s attitude concerning the papers of transit. Rick devises a plan in order to please Ilsa where she remains in Casablanca with Rick while Laszlo is able to leave, though his intentions are to send both Ilsa and Laszlo to American for her safety and happiness.
When Rick’s plan is revealed at the airport, Ilsa objects but Rick explains his actions saying that Laszlo needs her in order to continue with his resistance work The lovers share a beautiful moment together, following the safe evacuation of Ilsa and Laszlo. After a dangerous encounter with the police, Renault and Rick make plans to leave Casablanca in hopes of becoming part of the “Free French”. While they walk off together, Rick delivers what is certainly one of the most recognizable exit lines in cinematic history: “Louis (Renault), I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
I knew I would forever have a strong connection to Casablanca when Ilsa initially requests Sam to play “As Time Goes By”, the song she and Rick once shared. The raw expression Ingrid Bergman projects onto Ilsa’s face as the introductory notes are played on the piano are nothing short of haunting. To unexpectedly hear the song you once shared with a past love is an incredibly heart-wrenching experience, but to voluntarily ask to feel that pain again is much more powerful, and very nearly masochistic. The particular intensity of this scene consumed me, and when I witnessed Rick’s vulnerability upon hearing “As Time Goes By” my heart was broken and fulfilled simultaneously.
The constant confliction of emotions I endured while watching this film is what really proved it’s ranking to me. Never have I wanted to be referred to as “kid” so badly in all of my life. The repetition of perhaps the films most famous line, “Here’s looking at you, kid” has transformed the significance of the term “kid” from a berating and juvenile word into the most romantic three letters in all the universe.
Although the poignant romantic themes helped solidify Casablanca’s unbeatable reputation to me personally, the display of human character in all it’s complicated, vulnerable, and sometimes hypocritical forms is what defines this film as a true paramount picture. For example, Rick loves Ilsa. Ilsa loves Rick, but Ilsa is married to Laszlo. Usually, this particular cinematic situation would call for an embedded hatred of Laszlo deep within Rick’s soul, but not here. Rick is not distracted by his passions, but rather conceals them in order to improve the circumstances that surround his environment. I never doubted him, I constantly trusted him, and I always believed him to still love Ilsa. It is known through countless examples throughout the film that Rick is a genuine and commendable man, with tremendous strength of character.
In summation, Rick never says the wrong thing, as so many men in film seem to do. This is clearly evident during his final scene with Ilsa. Every word Rick delivers is painstakingly perfect. While Rick is proving his selfless love and devotion for Ilsa, he is simultaneously breaking her heart, as well as his own, for the betterment of everyone but himself.
“We’ll always have Paris. We didn’t have, we’d lost it, until you came to Casablanca. We got it back last night.”
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
You’ve done the impression before, you know, the deep drawl which mumbles forth from your slightly pursed lips while simultaneously gesticulating with your fingers close to your mouth, the “godfather” impersonation. You’ve said it as convincingly as you could: “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse” in the style of Don Corleone, as voiced by the brilliant Marlon Brando. If you haven’t done this, you’re either lying or you’re culturally bankrupt (but who am I to judge- I only saw Citizen Kane a week ago).
The Godfather, perhaps the most reoccurring film referenced in pop culture, has such a tremendous reputation that I found myself almost intimidated to experience it. There is an insane amount of cult following that surrounds this film, and the transition from “outsider” to “enthusiast” is not easily made. I had heard about the horse heads and the importance of taking the cannoli, but was unsure about what linked the two together.
As one of the most famous cinematic families the world has ever known and publicly embraced, it is obvious why the Corleone family is so beloved amongst fans the world over. The theme of absolute loyalty is quite appealing to familial groups. The knowledge that you will obliterate anyone that upsets any part of your family in anyway is more than comforting, even if it is morally vacant. No one wants to wake up with a bloody horse head in their bed and no one wants to meet their demise amidst dozens of machine guns at a toll booth. As strict Italian Catholics the Corleone clan undoubtedly knows that revenge is wrong, but blood is thicker than water, even if it is holy.
Don Vito Corleone is “the Godfather”, head of the Mafia and patriarch of his family. His influence and power amongst the family is notable from the start as he has people asking impossible favors of him and is successful in granting these favors with the help of his many supporters within his family. After Don Corleone is shot and almost killed, his sons Michael and Sonny seek revenge. Michael, previously uninvolved in the family business, kills those involved with his fathers attempted murder and is rushed to Italy to hide. In Italy, Michael marries a local Italian girl and remains uninformed about life in America.
Michael’s wife is killed after the enemy discovers his whereabouts and he returns to America and eventually revives his relationship with Kay, who he previously dated before being sent to Italy. Shortly after Michael’s return, the Godfather dies of a heart attack, making Michael the new patriarch of the Corleone family. During the baptism of Connie and Carlos’s son, of which Michael is the Godfather, multiple murders are orchestrated, killing the heads of all five families plus others who have been traitors to the family, thus making Michael the new Godfather.
After watching The Godfather, I desperately want to be a part of the Corleone family, if only to reap the benefits of the almost suffocating loyalty that every member of the familial unit constantly demonstrates to one another. I am unintimidated by the overwhelming chance of endangering myself, but find myself surprisingly comforted by the thought of security from the Corleone family.
Knowing that no one can mess with you, that no one can put you down or disrespect you without your family seeking murderous revenge is what appeals to the mass audience of fans who love The Godfather. Yes, the human race understands that murder is wrong, but somehow the Corleone family makes it honorable. Their intentions are somehow deemed as pure, absent of the evil that encompasses revenge. The Godfather transforms sin into honor and in doing so makes fans instead of enemies.
Had it not been against my rules for this project, I would have liked to re-watch this film again in order to better absorb the plot once more. I noticed an obvious disconnect between myself and the film as there were numerous scenes in Italian that were not captioned, making several parts of the film difficult for me to interpret.
"I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse."
Directed by: Orson Welles
As someone who considers herself quite a film buff (Oh yeah, and a Film Minor), I was shocked upon discovering that I had not seen what is often considered to be the best film of all time, Citizen Kane. Obviously, it has been on my “To Watch” list for years now, but for some reason gets constantly brushed aside to make further room for more important viewings, you know, like The Ugly Truth and Hot Tub Time Machine (and just to be quite clear, by “more important viewings” I mean I was much too embarrassed to be seen going to the theatre to see these films in public).
Anyways, what really destroyed the honorable intentions of my film-loving soul was the fact that it took me eight times of physically sitting down to watch Citizen Kane, the best movie ever made, to successfully make it through the entirety of the film from start to finish. When I finally finished the film, I could have killed myself for ever doubting that Citizen Kane was undeserving of it’s exalted title. It was all I could do to not immediately add it to my list of favorite movies on facebook, but I resisted as to not seem impulsive.
The death of Charles Kane, an infamously wealthy head of media, and his puzzling last words, “rosebud” leave many in a frenzy. Hoping to figure out more about Kane, a group of newsmen decide to research his life. Upon reading the memoirs of Kane’s former guardian, the reporters discover that Walter Parks Thatcher was sent to be guardian to Kane as young boy in order for him to recieve an education. Thatcher collects Kane at his childhood home, where he is seen playing in the snow with his sled. Reluctant to leave his Mother, Kane resists his future life with Thatcher.
As flashbacks progress, Kane is now a rebellious young man, has newly acquired a small newspaper in New York, The New York Inquirer. Kane’s newspaper business fails to impress Thatcher, Kane explains his sole concern is keeping the decent people of the working class informed. Kane expands his newspaper business and prints a “declaration of principles” assuring his readers will receive nothing but the truth, heightening his popularity and making him beloved by his readers and staff. Kane’s newspaper continues to flourish and he announces his engagement to the niece of the President of the United States, Emily Monroe Norton. During a montage of scenes between Emily and Kane, their marriage deteriorates, suggesting that Kane is too involved with his business and fails to be a devoted husband. Kane later meets Susan Alexander, a naïve young woman whose only dream is to become on opera singer, a dream implanted by her mother.
Kane attempts to run for political office and has the support of the majority. His political career comes to end when his opponent releases suggestive information concerning Kane and Alexander through the newspaper, ending his marriage to Norton. Kane, now a middle-aged man, marries Alexander and attempts to ignite her career as an opera singer by providing her with voice lessons, opportunity, and eventually an opera house. After Kane’s newspaper runs a negative review on Alexander’s performance, Alexander attempts suicide. Alexander continues to be unsatisfied and finally decides to leave Kane. Kane pleads with his wife to stay but is unsuccessful. In a fit of rage, Kane trashes her room until he comes across a snow globe. He gently handles the snow globe and mutters “rosebud” to himself.
The reporters search eventually leads to Xanadu, the unfinished estate in which Kane had built and lived until his death. Kane’s staff at Xanadu begins to sort through and incinerate his belongings which are not valuable. One worker throws an old wooden sled into the furnace, the sled from Kane’s childhood before he was taken to live with Thatcher. Upon the sled is one word: rosebud.
After finishing Citizen Kane, I realized it has left a permanent impression on me and actually altered how I view cinema as a whole, which baffles me as I vividly recall having a tremendous amount of difficulty staying focused and interested throughout my first EIGHT attempts to watch this film. Here is what I’ve surmised after concluding my experience with the best film ever made. Please take a moment to prepare yourself for my gut-wrenchingly phenomenal deductions.
Yes, I enjoyed the film. Honestly. In fact I loved it- but it wasn’t easy. It was nearly impossible for my brain (which I consider, however undeservingly, to be well-trained when it comes to things cinematic) to adjust to the complex vision of Orson Welles’s film. I was not immediately enraptured in the storyline and did not have instantaneous feelings for the characters. Instead, a gradual understanding of the complexities of the plot and characters absorbed in my mind, convincing me of a truth I wished wholeheartedly to ignore. Audiences are not as smart as they once were. Yes we are inarguably more advanced, just look at the special effects offered in nearly ever picture released from the last fifteen years to present. However, we cannot deny that in embracing these amazing advancements we have at times rejected the framework necessary to create a truly great film in exchange for these revolutionary cinematic improvements.
After experiencing the power of Citizen Kane, I wondered if films were even meant to be used the way they are today, viewed over and over again, at the drop of a hat with little to no preparation from the audience. This makes sense, because to an audience that has no set timeframe for film due to the conveniences of TiVo, Netfilx, On Demand and more, we lack the reverence former filmmakers and audiences once bestowed upon the art of cinema. Perhaps these films weren’t intended to provide a cheap, though enjoyable, satisfaction to audiences time and time again like a fistful of M&Ms supplies (when compared to a carefully crafted multi-layered cake, that is). These films are emotional and thought-provoking. No wonder I had such trouble adjusting from the world of Judd Apatow to the world of Orson Welles (and I’m not knocking Apatow at all – I think he is brilliant and consistent with his work, but his films are intended to provide the audience with cheap satisfaction time and time again).
To further my rather dim-witted illustration, I’ll elaborate. When craving something sweet, one must make a choice, in this case between M&M’s and multi-layered cake. (This is becoming much too reminiscent of the infamous scene from My Best Friend’s Wedding: Crème brulee can never be Jell-O! I apologize for my lack of originality.) Your craving won’t subside easily while waiting for your cake to bake but won’t feel fulfilled after devouring a handful of M&Ms. Decisions, decisions.
Maybe that’s the reason behind the wavering appreciation and curiosity of present day audience’s attitudes toward classic cinema. We are not accustomed to the struggle of finding ourselves emotionally drained and mind-boggled. Instead, we feel content, and what is unfortunate is we are content feeling content. Yes, there are the occasional exceptions like Avatar and Inception, but these films are few and far between, and serve as bumpers amid such cinematic gems as Twilight and The Bounty Hunter.
What a concept! We have taken something pure and cheapened it, and in doing so cheapened our own potential. Please don’t be taken aback after hearing these rather harsh sentiments. I don’t wish to sound insulting or berating. In fact, I admit that these discoveries will not prohibit me from guiltlessly enjoying the future films of Hugh Grant (aka every imaginable romantic comedy featuring a hopelessly predictable bachelor who just so happens to be British). Instead, I hereby vow to separate my cravings for M&Ms and multi-layered cake for the rest of my life. I encourage you to do the same.
“I know too many people. I guess we’re both lonely.”