best film: Lawrence of Arabia from David Lean

  • The most epic of epics. Lean’s ability to capture the breathtaking locations with 65mm/70mm photography is simply unmatched in cinema history.

Like Citizen Kane, Lawrence of Arabia starts with the titular character’s death and others, in an interview, are asked to describe him. It is a biopic—one of the best—and certainly Peter O’Toole’s work is rightly cited as one of the greatest performances in cinema. Lawrence is so richly complex—it is a grand scale for such a detailed character study

It is a masterpiece made of the long shot. There are 50-100 of these shots

  • The screenplay and the acting could have been shot in a barn and been compelling. It is one of the 50 or so screenplays I would happily print out and read it on a beach somewhere. “The trick is not minding that it hurts” and “nothing is written” in the dialogue.

At the 17-minute mark—like 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s falling bone to spaceship edit—we get O’Toole’s Lawrence blowing out the match dissolving into the desert and the sun rising on the horizon with Maurice Jarre’s masterful score accompanying…

  • As O’Toole’s Lawrence arrives in the desert we get about 10 straight minutes (17-27 min mark) of almost all long and medium long shots of the desert with crisp clean photography

Omar Sharif’s arrival is one of the 5-10 best sequences in the film— far-off distance with the telephoto lens—Lean uses a special 482mm lens from Panavision here. It was built and used specifically for this shot

  • O’Toole’s performance is transcendent. Lawrence is mercurial, angry, vain. He has a Christ complex, an out of control ego. He does have some charisma, believable as a brilliant strategist.  Anthony Quinn, Sharif and Alec Guinness in particular don’t back down or blink at all. This is some of the best work from those three (it is surely Sharif’s best) –absolutely going for it
  • It’s worth noting that in the 70mm run of films in the 2010’s—The Master, Interstellar, The Hateful Eight—all by all-time great filmmakers—none capture Lean’s scope and size.

 

most underrated:   The Trial from Orson Welles is the most underrated film of 1962. There’s a case for Kurosawa’s Yojimbo sequel Sanjuro (which isn’t in the TSPDT top 1000 at all)—but Welles film should be in the top 100 of all-time and it lands at #713 on the consensus list—that’s outside top 15 of 1962.

Welles is the former wunderkind, boy genius—now an auteur martyr– takes a Kafka adaptation, blows it up with unbelievable visuals and set pieces—but there’s a dual meaning there with a second reading of Welles trapped and the victim of Hollywood

  • Surrealism into a nihilistic dystopia— made with such bravado—fragmented, ambiguous, claustrophobic
  • Extreme camera angles and shadow work
  • There are many readings— Anthony Perkins as a homosexual. Hollywood… Nazis
  • Welles as an intellectual- always an adaptation of weighty material if not his own- The Shakespeare work then Kafta
  • Then were off- we’re in that massive office built like a maze, it’s a stunner of desks and lighting- ceiling as mise-en-scene given Welles angle work and eye for massive set pieces. As Perkins character falls more and more out of reality and into that surrealistic world we’re off from artistic standpoint

Underneath the bleachers like a spider web– bleak, baroque, a labyrinthine–Welles once said it’s “the finest film I have ever made”

  • Architecture as character at its finest—apartment exterior
  • A sea of extras as architecture
  • clearly an influence on Soderbergh, Pakula, Fincher with their office lighting work Sam Sam Esmail–

The house of Welles character is gorgeous—a sea of books with the girl

  • Set piece after set piece of a mise-en-scene designed to perfection- not just perfection but ambition and formal consistency that is married to narrative
  • The lighting in the underground tunnel

Some of the visuals are among the greatest of the decade and/or Welles’ career

  • Avant-garde
  • Sea of newspapers
  • Steps and skyscrapers—establishing shots with framing
  • masterpiece of mise-en-scene and set piece work
  • Influence’s Blade Runner, Brazil– clearly some borrowed from Metropolis
  • Some of the visuals are among the greatest of the decade, Welles’ career- the attic with light coming in and picture frames all over, the hall of cabinets going on forever

 

most overrated:  Hatari! from Hawks is the most overrated film of 1962. The TSPDT consensus has it at #569. That would put it above of films like films like Hara-Kiri and Knife in the Water just to name a couple- far more deserving films- not to mention Welles’ masterpiece.

 

gem I want to spotlight:   Cleo from 5 to 7 from Agnes Varda.

  • This is only Vardan’s second feature- we’re in the middle of the New Wave and she hasn’t made a film since 1955 (La Pointe Courte – one of the best films of the mid-1950’s). Both a narrative and stylistic triumph—the premise, Cleo, a pop star, in nearly real-time, going about her life about to get big news on whether or not she has cancer—the timing as a formal device (chapter breaks in minutes) is genius and gives the entire film true immediacy

The tarot card opening (in color- unlike the rest of the film) is magnificent as well. Varda interweaves the b/w narrative as a transition from the title credit (color tarot cards) to b/w narrative

  • Excellent Michel Legrand score (and he’s an actor in the film with one of the most memorable scenes/shots)- Legrand worked on The Thomas Crown Affair along with Demy’s work Cherbourg and Rochefort
  • When Cleo is coming down the stairs, near the beginning of the film, we get the trademark Scorsese (10 years before Scorsese of course) triple-edit shot (of same subject)—fantastic shot—gorgeous and brings your attention to how much she’s in her own head at that moment—I think it’s a signature New Wave moment
  • Great to see the busy Paris streets and cafes—a true character in the film
  • Shots of store-front glass reflections— otherwise mundane or innocuous tasks like shopping—she’s lost
  • Female taxi drive—this is intentional from Varda—of course Cleo is subject to male gaze the entire time- she gets gazes from females too because of her beauty and celebrity status
  • Elegant tracking shot around the decorative bed posts using the post as a framing device
  • There’s a blend of realism (real time, real settings, no narrative) like La Pointe Courte with melodrama
  • A great scene of Cleo all alone in a crowded café
  • A photographer’s eye with Varda again clearly- she takes beautiful photographs—ends with the conversation with the stranger

 

trends and notables:

  • There are least 12-13 films that are top five of the year quality. I’ll reiterate that this time period is the best stretch of cinema – it is a travesty when films like Sanjuro, Hara-Kari, Knife in the Water, Vivre Sa Vie, and Mamma Roma (probably #11-15) don’t land in the top 10

Pasolini’s second film- and second important film– Mamma Roma — one of his tableau Last Supper shots

a jaw-dropper from Hara-Kiri

early 1960’s Japanese cinema was not just about Ozu and Kurosawa- another from Kobayashi’s Hara-Kiri– a major accomplishment

full use of the aspect ratio: 2.35 : 1

  • One reason for this is how fast so many of these filmmakers are making films—if you think of contemporary cinema in the 21st century- there are just long gestation periods (like say Varda has here or David Lean with his five years between River Kwai in 1957 and Lawrence in 1962). Here Pasolini, Ozu, Godard, Bunuel, Kurosawa, Antonioni all had more than stellar films come out in 1961 as well. For Antonioni with this trilogy of decadence this is three years with a top 10 film— Kurosawa just behind him going MP, MS/MP, MS from 1960-1962

There are constantly lines between Delon and Vitti in Antonioni’s masterpiece- the telephone pole, – a great shot of them separated by a column at the stock exchange (here)– might be the best in this film which could be a series of still-frame art photographs

For Antonioni with this trilogy of decadence this is three years with a top 10 film

for the entire running time of Sanjuro there are these widescreen Tohoscope compositions

Mifune’s character calls it out in the text “centipede” as Kurosawa fits all 10 heads in the frame

  • Sadly, the great Yasujirô Ozu would pass away in 1963—celebrating him here in 1962 as An Autumn Afternoon is his last film. Ozu was at or near the top of his game when he passed (back to back years in the top 10). If he had lived longer, I have no doubt he would’ve been one of the best filmmakers of the 1960’s.

An Autumn Afternoon– Ozu’s final film- Ozu was at or near the top of his game when he passed (back to back years in the top 10)

  • With Ozu’s passing comes a strong crop of new auteurs to pass the baton to. Tarkovky is the biggest talent with Ivan’s Childhood– his feature debut. Polanki is next with Knife in the Water, Bertolucci with The Grim Reaper, Peckinpah is here as well with Ride the High Country (not his debut but first archiveable)—so in 1962 we had the first archiveable film for four of the top 58 directors of all-time—wild

Tarkovsky arrived (Ivan’s Childhood) with preternatural sense of sublime photography

Tarkovsky is the head of the incoming class of first-time directors in the archives- a group that includes Polanski, Bertolucci, and Peckinpah

Polanski built the visual approach to Knife in the Water with such crisp angles

again from Polanski- stunning– and sort of a riff on one of Rossellini’s finest shots in Stromboli

  • For actors, we have the first archiveable film for Peter O’Toole as I mentioned above (I no idea how you get the lead in a David Lean film with your first archiveable film but what an eye by Lean), Jean-Louis Trintignant in IL Sorpasso, Robert Duvall as Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird, Gena Rowlands in Lonely Are the Brave and renowned stage actor Jason Robards for Long Day’s Journey Into Night
  • It took a few years after North By Northwest but we have the first James Bond film in 1962— Dr. No. It sort of plays like a mid-budget detective movie in comparison with what would come from the franchise after (even later in the decade)—but it would spark a trend and have influence over the genre for decades to come.
  • Another trend you’d notice in 1962 is the ensemble epic. How the West Was Won, shot in absolutely massive Cinerama directed by multiple directors (including Ford), projected on multiple screens, would star countless stars who often didn’t share the screen with others as they would play only extended cameos (Peck, Wayne, Tracy, Henry Fonda, Cobb, Malden, Stewart, Brennen and many more). The Longest Day would aim to be THE DEFINITIVE WW2 movie with it is a massive ensemble as well (Fonda and Wayne back for this one, Burton, Connery, Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Steiger, and more) and it would fall well short of that goal, but both are very solid films and in the archives.

Another trend you’d notice in 1962 is the ensemble epic with almost almost cameos coming from big stars in the cast– this is from How the West Was Won— massive Cinerama

 

best performance male:   The performance of the year is Peter O’Toole in the title role for Lawrence. The role has everything and admittedly O’toole is aided by both one of the best screenplays out there and being shot by some of the best photography of all-time, but he absolutely knocks the performance out of the park playing the tortured, charismatic, and ever-fascinating Lawrence. The rest of the cast in Lean’s epic is sensational but I do have room here for Omar Sharif here in the 1962 best of mentions.  Lean cast Sharif and O’Toole as the two leads. They were unproven and unknown (the film even boasts that this is the “debut” for O’Toole though it isn’t -at least as far as when the film premiered). Liberty Valance has a trio of actors that need to get recognized: Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne of course- but don’t discount the brutal Lee Marvin. If he isn’t a big presence in this role the film doesn’t work. Sweaty Sinatra in Manchurian deserves some love here. Lastly, both Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck round out the category for 1962. I’m going off my top 10-12 of the year here but once every five years or so a performance calls for it and Mitchum deserves it for the portrayal of the wicked Max Cady. Peck, Mitchum’s co-star, gets one mention for the combined work of To Kill a Mockingbird and Cape Fear.

it may not be the doorway shot from The Searchers– bug a great capture here from Ford in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Mitchum adds another all-time great villain to his The Night of the Hunter resume– here as Max Cady in Cape Fear

 

best performance female: The French and Italians dominate 1962 in this category. The leader of the pack is Jeanne Moreau (her second mention in a row after La Notte in 1961 and third in five years with Elevator to the Gallows in 1958). I think there’s an argument for Monica Vitti besting Moreau with her work in L’Eclisse (the two co-stared the year before). Anna Karina gets a mention here for Vivre Sa Vie – especially when you consider she didn’t get a mention here in 1961—her strong work with Godard continues. Corinne Marchand plays the pop star Cleo in Varda’s work– her singing scene where she breaks down makes her a shoo-in for this category. I cannot picture Mamma Roma with anyone else except but Anna Magnani. Magnani is such a livewire—she’s singing, laughing, just chewing every scene for everything its worth without going too far over the top. She brings volume to the role, presence with her trademark quick-witted dialogue, heavy emotion and the bags under her eyes. The final mention does go to Angela Lansbury. She’s only three years older than her son in the film Laurence Harvey- and proves that she can portray evil just as well as Mitchum and Lee Marvin can.

Jeanne Moreau frozen in one of Truffaut’s most famous images– immaculate– Truffaut (and Moreau) are on fabulous runs going back to the late 1950’s. For Truffaut this is three top 100 films in four years

you think of Seberg, Moreau, Leaud, Belmondo– but Anna Karina may be the face of the French New Wave– here in Vivre Sa Vie

Angela Lansbury proves that she can portray evil just as well as Mitchum and Lee Marvin can in The Manchurian Candidate

 

top 10

  1. Lawrence of Arabia
  2. Jules and Jim
  3. The Trial
  4. L’Eclisse
  5. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
  6. Cleo from 5 to 7
  7. The Manchurian Candidate
  8. An Autumn Afternoon
  9. The Exterminating Angel
  10. Ivan’s Childhood

 

The Manchurian Candidate– easily the best work from John Frankenheimer

one of Bunuel’s greatest achievements- The Exterminating Angel

 

Archives, Directors, and Grades

Advise and Consent- Preminger R
An Autumn Afternoon – Ozu MS
Billy Budd- Ustinov R
Birdman of Alcatraz- Frankenheimer R
Cape Fear – Thompson HR
Cleo from 5 to 7 – Varda MS/MP
Dr. No – Young R
Hara-kiri- Kobayashi MS
Hatari- Hawks R
How the West Was Won – Ford, Hathaway, G. Marshall HR
Il Sorpasso- Risi R
Ivan’s Childhood- Tarkovsky MS
Jules and Jim- Truffaut MP
Knife in the Water- Polanski HR/MS
Lawrence of Arabia – Lean MP
Le Doulos -Melville
L’Eclisse – Antonioni MP
Lolita- Kubrick R
Lonely Are the Brave- D. Miller R
Long Day’s Journey Into Night- Lumet R
Mafioso – Lattuada HR
Mamma Roma – Pasolini HR/MS
Requiem For a Heavyweight- Nelson R
Ride the High Country- Peckinpah HR
Salvatore Giulano- Rosi
Sanjuro – Kurosawa MS
The Days of Wine and Roses- Edwards R
The Exterminating Angel- Bunuel MS
The Grim Reaper- Bertolucci R
The Intruder – Corman
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner- Richardson R/HR
The Longest Day- Annakin, Marton, Wicki R
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance- Ford MP
The Manchurian Candidate – Frankenheimer MS/MP
The Miracle Worker- Penn R
The Music Man- DaCosta R
The Trial of Joan of Arc- Bresson R
The Trial – Welles MP
To Kill a Mockingbird – Mulligan HR
Vivre Sa Vie- Godard HR
What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? – Aldrich R

 

 

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-See- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives