5/28/2010

Top 6 Words: …

Posted in Top 6 Words at 5:00 am by Sam

I cheated for this entry in the Top 6 Words series. Rather than run my script and get assigned a random word, I thought it would be amusing to look at ellipses, an unusual punctuation mark for movie titles.

How many “…” titles can you think of? My Top 6 list of “…” movies after the jump. Chime in with your favorites in the comments section.

Not good enough to make it: About Last Night… (1986), If…. (1968), …And God Created Woman (1956), When Harry Met Sally… (1989), and He Loves Me… He Loves Me Not (2002). Those last two are worth seeing, though. I’d also like to make a special mention of Dad…Can I Borrow the Car? (1970), a one-hour television special that, if I say it was produced by Disney, will give you entirely the wrong idea, as it’s a pretty crazy, off-the-wall comedy built almost entirely out of rapid-fire editing, time-lapse photography, and kooky animated effects.

I thought of two that are well-regarded (though in entirely different ways) that I haven’t seen: Spring Summer Fall Winter…and Spring (2003) and Three… Extremes (2004).

6. …And Justice For All (1979)

The justice system gets twisted all around when a corrupt judge is accused of rape. He seeks out the most ethical lawyer he can find (Al Pacino) and threatens to disbar him if he won’t take the case for the defense. Although the script isn’t quite as sharp as it should be with a great premise like this, it does offer a more nuanced view of legal corruption than movies normally offer. It also gives Al Pacino a great opportunity for the powerhouse acting only he can deliver.

5. I Was Born But… (1932)

This gentle silent comedy by the great Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu is interesting in how well it captures both the playfulness and the seriousness of childhood. Few movies portray childhood well. Most movie kids are really just tiny adults. But even most of the movies that avoid this trap miss one key thing: child’s play is serious business. We can watch this movie as a good-natured work of humor, but it’s no comedy to the kids in the story. The fate of the world hangs in the balance.

The story is loose and episodic, but all the events in the film contribute toward that first erosion of innocence. The key story is the final third of the film, when the kids realize that their dad isn’t the top dog but has a boss he must serve. They’re ashamed. They fear for their own futures. I’d have handled that situation differently, but it’s interesting that the movie doesn’t try to resolve the situation with a speech or a revelation that teaches the kids how to feel about their dad. They simply come to terms with the way the adult world is, this world that they will have to enter themselves one day.

By and large, this is a happy film. There are few if any outright laughs, but a lot of smiles. Yet, reflecting on it afterward, isn’t it just a little sad?

4. Say Anything… (1989)

Cameron Crowe’s take on the 80s teen genre is many people’s favorite. I’m still reforming a lot of my feelings about that whole genre, so I don’t really know if it’s mine or not. But one of the things it gets right is that it never treats its characters as stock movie types, even though so many of them could easy fall into those roles. It also never goes for a crass joke in place of a genuine human moment.

3. There Was a Crooked Man… (1970)

Crooked is right. This is a surprisingly brutal, hard-hitting prison flick about a man (Kirk Douglas) who stashed a fortune before getting caught and slapped with a ten-year sentence. In prison, Douglas begins an impressive grand scheme to manipulate everyone around him. Toward what end, it’s not initially clear. Henry Fonda plays the new warden (the old one got killed) and has ideas about how a prison should be run that nobody — on either side of the bars — is quite prepared for. The dynamic between Douglas and Fonda is fascinating: they are natural enemies and yet find cause for a grudging respect.

It’s not just the dynamic between those two that’s compelling, either. There is a fairly large cast of characters here: cohorts on both sides of the law, plus romantic and familial relations in the periphery, who are mostly strong-willed characters with agendas of their own. The intricacy and tenuousness of the various alliances and grudges and oppositions make the movie unpredictable.

And indeed, anything can happen. Compassion does not stay its hand. This film is one of the edgiest and most cynical mainstream films of its day. It is especially shocking given its surface resemblance to the classic westerns, which were sometimes violent but seldom cynically or cruelly so. Audiences of the day weren’t ready for it, Leone’s successful spaghetti westerns notwithstanding, and the film was a financial failure. Indeed the roughness is overdone in spots. Nonetheless, this is a solidly entertaining film with smart characters, an explosive story, and fine action.

2. Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)

Bette Davis is accused of a grisly murder (in a shockingly graphic scene for the time), and while her guilt is never proven, she is shunned by the locals and taunted by kids. She grows into a wealthy old eccentric spinster many years later, and that’s when the real story begins. Davis turns in a great performance in this mysterious, powerful tale.

1. The Earrings of Madame de… (1953)

Max Ophuls’ tale of love and jealousy is both visually and emotionally arresting as it penetrates beneath the outer decorum of a society that permits adultery so long as it is meaningless. The impetus for all that occurs is a pair of earrings. They have changed hands twice before the film starts and will change hands about a dozen more times before it ends, though there are fewer owners than this statement suggests. This central conceit takes the form of farce, and indeed the film is frequently funny, but do not be deceived: this is a tragedy of the human heart, first and foremost, and its incompatibility with the society it portrays. But is the problem that the society is too permissive or too restrictive?

The genius of the film is how the significance of the earrings changes. Each change of ownership develops the characters a little more, revealing something new and complicating what we thought we already understood. Ophuls may indeed be denouncing individuals and societies that value appearances above all else, but he’s not suggesting that the problem is a simple one to solve. Human nature is complicated and frought with great needs and passions that we struggle just to define, let alone fulfill.

I am probably making the film sound heavier than it really is. It is deep, but not heavy: in fact, this film is deceptively breezy. The romance, the humor, and the beautiful visual touches are all entertaining in a conventional sense. But subtly the film starts demanding more from its audience. It wants us to think about its characters, to empathize with them, and to ponder the human heart. Unusually, in stories about love triangles (or in imprecations of society, for that matter), we empathize with all of the characters. Even when we disagree with their actions, even when we see how their selfishness hurts those around them, we understand what drives them to it and sympathize.

4 Comments »

  1. joem18b (231) said,

    May 28, 2010 at 5:12 pm

    I was living near the “There Was A Crooked Man” filming location (La Joya, not Joshua Tree). One night, Fonda showed up at the local hospital, depressed and disoriented, saying that he was a broken-down old has-been. Surprising, given his star status at the time. This was four years before his ultimately fatal heart disease showed up.

    Seems like most movies with an ellipsis in the title don’t bother displaying it. Makes it hard to know which movies actually qualify.

    6. Folle… folle… fólleme Tim! (1978) - Pedro Almodóvar. Must be included because of the double ellipsis!

    5. Mnogotochie (2006) - Must be included because “mnogotochie” means “ellipsis” in Russian.

    4. Give Me Your Soul… (2000) - Documentary about pornography. Nothing special but it’s my favorite title with an ellipsis in it. Give me your soul… and then what?

    3. Et Dieu… créa la femme (And God Created Woman…) (1956) - Must be included by anyone who was around when the movie came out. Sure, it’s cheap melodrama, but Bardot, 21 at the time, became the world’s sex symbol with her introduction in this movie by hubby Vadim.

    2. When Harry Met Sally… (1989) - Rob Reiner. Nora Ephron. I’ve run into quite a few folks who name this as their all-time favorite romantic comedy. That seems a little over-the-top to me, but WHMS still easily tops all but one of the ellipsis entries mentioned here. I was watching Tooth Fairy last night and I’ve got to say, Billy Crystal is just a funny guy. He came up with WHMS’s great line, “I’ll have what she’s having.”

    1. If… (1968) - Lindsay Anderson’s classic, rebellious work of 60s cinema. The big dog of ellipsis movies. Anderson pulls together the English streams of realism and fantasy, with a nod to Zero for Conduct, in a film that captures the emotionally confused zeitgeist of the Viet Nam years. The Criterion Collection edition contains a number of interesting essays.

    Worth a mention:

    Once Upon a Crime… (1992) - Eugene Levy directs. John Candy. Made me laugh more than once.

  2. Sam (405) said,

    May 28, 2010 at 7:26 pm

    Somewhat coincidentally, I posted a review of If…. to my film review site just a few days ago. It’s a somewhat different take from yours. http://www.rinkworks.com/movies/m/if.1968.shtml

  3. joem18b (231) said,

    May 29, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    Excellent review, Samuel.

    Just to respond to your line “I’m sure it played great to the hippies of the late 60s…”, I don’t know how many movies the hippie demographic attended, but I can say that the typical arthouse audience in ‘68 was wound pretty tight because of Viet Nam.

  4. ThePhan (128) said,

    May 29, 2010 at 9:46 pm

    IMDb lists “Noises Off…” as the title of that film but it seems to be one of the ones that doesn’t display the ellipsis anywhere else, and practically no place else online includes it. But if we’re going by IMDb titles, that is most definitely my #1. “When Harry Met Sally…” and “Say Anything…” are the only other two I’ve seen, and they’d both be included on my top 6 list if I had seen enough movies with “…” in them to actually make one :-)

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