By Caitlin Kelly
As followers here know, I watch a lot of movies!
I don’t watch horror or animation or kids’ stuff, but probably watch five or more a week, mostly because I dislike most network TV and have seen most of Netflix’s offerings. We live a 20 minute drive south of an excellent indie art house, so I’m there sometimes two or three times a week to see something in the theater.
I’m going to rave today about three of my favorites:
McCabe and Mrs. Miller, The English Patient and Days of Heaven.
Maybe not surprisingly, given my age, two of them are from the 1970s, a period I think produced some terrific films.
McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971)
It’s not your usual Western — filmed in Vancouver and Squamish, B.C.
The snow scenes are real.
It includes three Leonard Cohen songs, The Stranger Song, Sisters of Mercy and Winter Lady.
It took longer to edit — nine months — than to shoot.
The film has received critical acclaim in the years since its release and earned an Oscar nomination for Christie in the Best Actress category. The film was deemed the 8th greatest Western of all time by the American Film Institute in its AFI’s 10 Top 10 list in 2008 and, in 2010, was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”.
Why does it resonate for me?
Visually, it really replicates the mud and squalor of a late 19th century frontier town and its rough and tumble economy.
Julie Christie is excellent as the lead, madam Mrs. Miller, and Warren Beatty as McCabe, trying to carve his fortune from the wilderness.
The final scene, for me, is also visually and emotionally unforgettable but also feels very much of the period…the 1970s and women’s emerging consciousness and economic power.
The English Patient (1996)
I happily re-watch it whenever it appears, bewitched by its locations (Tunisia, Italy), the gorgeous music, the passionate affair between Kristin Scott-Thomas (as Katherine Clifton, a bored/married Englishwoman) and Ralph Fiennes as Count Almasy.
It won nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Score, Best Cinematography, Best Director and Best Supporting Actress Juliette Binoche, who plays a French-Canadian nurse, Hana. If you’re a fan of the TV series Lost, it also stars Naveen Andrews as Kip, a Sikh soldier Hana falls in love with while nursing Almasy, the title character, burned badly in a plane crash, in an abandoned Italian monastery.
It has, for me, some of the most beautiful images ever captured on film: Almasy and Katherine flying over the desert in a biplane; their passionate affair conducted to haunting Hungarian choral music; the desert sky at night and, the best, Kip’s unlikely way to show Hana the frescoes in a nearby church — hoisting her high into the air holding a signal flare. She sways, awed and delighted. How romantic is that?!
I love its mix of love and horror, truth and deception, the unlikely connections between a Hungarian count and a Canadian nurse and a British wife and a Canadian spy, their lives thrown together in an unfamiliar time — World War II — and places.
There’s nothing about this film I don’t love.
Days of Heaven (1978)
Every frame of this film is a painting, thanks to astonishing cinematography by Nestor Almendros and Haskell Wexler and their unusual use of low light, natural light, firelight. Almendros, speaking to a a trade magazine about his craft, said he had to unlight every scene when arriving on location to shoot, since his Hollywood-trained crew assumed he wanted a lot more light than he did.
The music is by two of my favorites — legendary film composer Ennico Morricone and guitarist Leo Kottke.
It barely made money beyond its $3 million budget.
Yet, from Wikipedia:
Days of Heaven has since become one of the most acclaimed films of its decade, particularly for its cinematography. In 2007, it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. It continues to appear in polls of the best films ever made, and appeared at #49 on a BBC poll of the greatest American films.
It stars a young and ggggggorgeous Richard Gere as a worker fleeing a murder he committed in Chicago who flees with his partner, Abby, played by Brooke Adams, and his younger sister, to the plains of Texas (shot in Alberta.)
They arrive to work as farmhands for a wealthy owner, played by Sam Shephard, whose health is failing — they plan to grift him by having Abby marry and survive him.
Have you seen any of these?
Did you enjoy them?