Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Essential Western Films

Cue music. The camera moves slowly from the muddy ground to the tension packed air above. Two men stand on opposite sides, facing each other. Each is dressed in Stetson hats, suede vests, collared shirt, jeans with leather chaps, leather belt with a big shiny buckle, gun holster around their waist and leather boots. The man on the left is a stranger to the town (the man with no name); he has an unshaven look with a red scarf tied around his neck. The one on the right is the town sheriff, a man intoxicated with greed; the sheriff is wearing a bola tie around his neck and a shiny badge on his shirt. The two opponents have their hands suspended in mid-air, around their waist, aching to pull their guns out. And then the clock strikes noon, and with a flash of the hands and silver bullets breaking the tension in the air, the standoff is over. After the smoke clears, only one man is left standing. The outlaw has prevailed and order is restored in the West. -- Sachin Gandhi, "Stetson Hats, Smoky Bandits and a century of gun toting vigilantes", NFDC's On the Western Front, Pune International Film Festival 2003. 

Growing up, westerns were one of my favourite film genres and the above words aptly describe images I formed of a typical Western film. Of course, as a young teenager I knew nothing about the sub-genres and whether a Western film was Spaghetti, Curry, Acid, Revisionist or a Classic. All I knew were the two opposing characters, the Outlaw and a Sheriff with a badge. As I grew up and expanded my film viewing scope, I forgot about Westerns until 2003 when the knowledgeable film critic Deepa Gahlot mentioned that the Pune International Film Festival was doing a retrospective on Westerns. She asked if I wanted to submit an article on the genre for the National Film Development Corporation Limited (NFDC) festival magazine titled On the Western Front which she was editing. I didn’t hesitate in writing the above article Stetson Hats, Smoky Bandits and a century of gun toting vigilantes and as it turned out, it was one of my earliest film articles to be published in print format.

I again put the genre aside until 2012 when Sam Juliano’s trip to see spaghetti Westerns at the Film Forum inspired me to do a quick spotlight on the Da Pasta sub-genre. My plan was to do a proper spotlight on Westerns in the summer of 2013. So I was naturally delighted when a few months ago Sam mentioned that Wonders in the Dark would be doing a top Western films countdown in the fall of 2013. He invited people to submit their ballots for a top 60 Western list by August 1, after which the results would be tallied and essays printed on the website starting September. In order to do justice to the genre, I viewed a total of 82 Westerns over the last two months, revisiting many works and viewing essential works for the first time. Unfortunately, there are still a dozen key films that I have missed seeing. And due to personal commitments, I had to wrap up my viewing this week and send in my ballot. For now, the following top 60 list is provided without any reviews or notes. But over the next few months, I will be adding some comments on the website about some of these excellent films.

Top 60 Westerns: Spaghetti, Curry, Acid & a whole lot of Whiskey

1. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966, Sergio Leone)
2. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968, Sergio Leone)
3. The Ox-Bow Incident (1943, William A. Wellman)
4. The Gunfighter (1950, Henry King)
5. My Darling Clementine (1946, John Ford)
6. Decision at Sundown (1957, Budd Boetticher)
7. Sholay (1975, Ramesh Sippy)
8. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962, John Ford)
9. The Westerner (1940, William Wyler)
10. Unforgiven (1992, Clint Eastwood)
11. For a Few Dollars More (1965, Sergio Leone)
12. The Wild Bunch (1969, Sam Peckinpah)
13. Ride Lonesome (1959, Budd Boetticher)
14. Yellow Sky (1948, William W. Wellman)
15. Rio Bravo (1959, Howard Hawks)
16. Johnny Guitar (1954, Nicholas Ray)
17. 3 Bad Men (1926, John Ford)
18. Red River (1948, Howard Hawks)
19. The Professionals (1966, Richard Brooks)
20. Bad Day at Black Rock (1955, John Sturges)
21. Shane (1953, George Stevens)
22. 3:10 to Yuma (1957, Delmer Daves)
23. Winchester ’73 (1950, Anthony Mann)
24. High Plains Drifter (1973, Clint Eastwood)
25. Stagecoach (1939, John Ford)
26. Jeremiah Johnson (1972, Sydney Pollack)
27. The Searchers (1956, John Ford)
28. The Shootist (1976, Don Siegel)
29. The Great Silence (1968, Sergio Corbucci)
30. The Proposition (2005, John Hillcoat)
31. Keoma (1976, Enzo G. Castellari)
32. Destry Rides Again (1939, George Marshall)
33. Hang ‘em High (1968, Ted Post)
34. Dead Man (1995, Jim Jarmusch)
35. Seven Men from Now (1956, Budd Boetticher)
36. Warlock (1959, Edward Dmytryk)
37. The Magnificent Seven (1960, John Sturges)
38. High Noon (1952, Fred Zinnemann)
39. Forty Guns (1957, Samuel Fuller)
40. Comanche Station (1960, Budd Boetticher)
41. Pale Rider (1985, Clint Eastwood)
42. Heaven’s Gate (1980, Michael Cimino)
43. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007, Andrew Dominik)
44. The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976, Clint Eastwood)
45. A Fistful of Dollars (1964, Sergio Leone)
46. Django (1966, Sergio Corbucci)

47. The Naked Spur (1953, Anthony Mann)
48. Wagonmaster (1950, John Ford)
49. Dances with Wolves (1990, Kevin Costner)
50. McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971, Robert Altman)
51. Meek’s Cutoff (2010, Kelly Reichardt)
52. Tumbleweeds (1925, King Baggot)
53. The Furies (1950, Anthony Mann)
54. Rancho Notorious (1952, Fritz Lang)
55. Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973, Sam Peckinpah)
56. The Shooting (1966, Monte Hellman)
57. The Big Trail (1930, USA, Raoul Walsh)
58. Silverado (1985, Lawrence Kasdan)
59. The Man from Laramie (1955, Anthony Mann)
60. El Topo (1970, Alejandro Jodorowsky)

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Neighbouring Sounds

Neighbouring Sounds (O som ao redor) (2012, Brazil, Kleber Mendonça Filho)

This IS a film. Aided by a rich sound design & visuals, Kleber Mendonça Filho’s film ensures an immersive cinematic experience. A viewer gets a ringside seat in one of Recife’s neighbourhoods to witness the daily activities of the residents, including their morning and nightly routines. Depicting the everyday reality would have been good enough, but Kleber Mendonça Filho enhances the experience by adding layers of memories and nightmares with a few smart cuts. As a result, the multi-layered film contains a subtle sense of dread but in a much subtler note than Michael Haneke's Caché. This means that even when viewers witness harmless events in and around an apartment complex, there is a sense that something sinister is going to happen. The viewer can't be passive and is instead forced to examine each frame and its accompanying sound to know what the characters are up to.

The Recife setting of a closed off apartment complex echoes the gated colonies of New Delhi, another city where each street is constantly watched by a number of people, ranging from drivers, cleaners to night watchmen. In New Delhi, there is a tension between urban and rural because people leave their village and smaller towns for the city on a daily basis. As Neighbouring Sounds progresses, it also becomes clear that there is a link between some of the city residents and the countryside and their actions committed in a rural region will result in an opposite reaction in the city.

2012 ---- 2013

After I saw Once Upon a Time in Anatolia at the end of April 2012, I wondered if there would be another film in 2012 which would knock the Turkish film from the #1 spot in my best of the year list. In the end, only one film, Holy Motors, managed to place above Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. Now I feel the same about Neighbouring Sounds and wonder if any film in 2013 will remove it from my #1 spot for 2013's end of the year list. Of course, Neighbouring Sounds is a 2012 film and if I had seen it last year, it would have finished at #1, easily moving past Holy Motors. And Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is a 2011 and it would have surely finished #1 had I seen it in the year of its release. As it stands, for the second straight year, two worthy foreign films are pushed into another calendar year’s evaluations.

The rest of the world have 7 months to deliver an excellent film otherwise the Brazilian film Neighbouring Sounds will be #1 end of 2013.