One thing I realized while spending six months watching my fifty favorite movies is … well, I like old movies, for one thing, which leads to the main point. I tend to watch movies out of chronological order. I don’t rush out to watch the latest movies, which isn’t to say there are no good ones. I’m just describing my viewing habits. So last week’s “what i watched” featured one movie from 1957, one from 1972, one from 1974, and one from 2005. And I didn’t even watch those in chronological order; the 1957 film was the last I watched.
This means I have to create my own context. I can apply what I know about film history, and, if I remember when the film came out, I can call on personal experience (i.e. my untrustworthy memories). But this is a scattershot approach.
And it occurred to me that this isn’t limited to movies. In the era of near-complete “every song ever recorded, whenever and wherever you want to hear it,” the entire history of recorded music ends up on shuffle play. I have playlists that provide some order, and occasionally I’ll latch onto a new album, like Wire Flag’s debut. But for the most part, I’m listening to music out of its chronological context. Which is old news, but I hadn’t previously thought about how I do the same thing with movies.
The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke, 2009). I didn’t much like the only other Haneke film I’d seen (The Piano Teacher), but this one sucked me right in. The open-ended nature of the mystery plot, and the way the film can be connected to historical events or seen as relevant to the current era, could seem like a cop-out, with Haneke doing everything he can to whet our appetite for some concrete resolution. But it’s not; this really is a case where the filmmaker wants the audience to work things out for themselves. Meanwhile, Mick LaSalle was on target when he wrote, “In a sense, this is the film M. Night Shyamalan has been trying and failing to make for the past 10 years: There is evil lurking in a seemingly idyllic village, and that evil dwells within. But instead of using the metaphor of space invaders or a frightening epidemic to get this across, Haneke rejects metaphors and tackles the notion head on.” #117 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 250 films of the 21st century. 9/10.
To Be or Not to Be (Ernst Lubitsch, 1942). World War II comedy that was extremely audacious for its time (and flopped with audiences and critics). M*A*S*H was an artifact of the Vietnam War that deflected its anti-war ideology by situating the action in Korea. To Be or Not to Be was a comedy about Nazis in Poland, made during the time when the real-life Nazis were in Poland, released soon after Pearl Harbor, with a leading actress who had just died in a plane crash. That’s a lot of baggage, and it’s understandable it didn’t succeed on its initial release. Now, it is considered a classic American comedy, but it still draws a lot of its power from the historical context. It’s funny, but not hilarious; it’s easy to admire it, yet you don’t always laugh. As a big Jack Benny fan, I especially enjoyed him here. He doesn’t exactly stretch his acting chops … some of the funniest moments in the movie come when Benny, dressed up as a Nazi, does his standard double-takes or walks across the screen in his inimitable way. #73 on the TSPDT list of the Top 1000 films of all time. 8/10.