The Movie Bucket List

1 Jan

Happy New Year! Welcome to my Movie Bucket List…

1. I am generally a happy person. Yes, I occasionally experience a bad patch, a “muddle” is how I believe it is described in E.M. Forster’s Howards End, but I won’t swear to that. I’m all in favor of throwing myself a nice pity party every so often, but I have a two-day-max rule, and then back to business as usual.

2. I have a number of regrets in life, and I’m okay with that. I know some people, including Edith Piaf, spout the virtues of having “No Regrets,” but I’m not like that.  This is a thorny issue: some people believe that “no regrets” is the best philosophy because the actions of our lifetimes have made us who we are. Yep, I see that, but I’ve come to the same realization precisely because I do have regrets. In other words, by taking stock of my actions, seeing where I’ve erred, and taking responsibility for all of that, I’ve learned, grown, and, hopefully, made myself a better person. If I’d never regretted some of what I’d done, I might very well keep making some of the mistakes. I guess it’s just a matter of semantics more than anything else.

3. Nonetheless, I am generally a happy person. I’m not rich or famous, nor have I achieved everything life I have ever attempted or imagined attempting, but I like who I am. Sometimes, I even pinch myself.

4. On the other hand, I have accomplished quite a bit in my life, and I have overcome enormous odds in order to do so. Also, if I’ve learned one thing in this life, I have learned that love is like a giant, magical well that can never be dipped into enough: the more we give, the more we have to give. Beautiful. If I were to die today, I would die an insanely and robustly happy person.

5. I hope to do and see a few more special things in my life before I do indeed kick the bucket, but, by and large, I don’t expect to leave this world with a bucket list of all things I’ve/I’d always wanted to do but never did.

6. Well, almost. You see, I do actually have a movie bucket list, that is, a list of movies I’d always meant to catch up with sooner or later, but that’s not really the same thing as wanting to see the Grand Canyon or Paris, or wanting to go skydiving, or eating live scorpions, or seeing the rainforest or whatever grand ambitions that are on many “normal” bucket lists.  Some of those things take lots of money and years of planning. A movie bucket list takes a little money (at a time), and some careful planning, but it’s not impossible.

As anyone who knows me, or has read this blog for the past year and a half, knows, I love movies, and I’ve seen more than I can even remember sometimes. When I was growing up, I used to catch the local late show as often as possible as well as many afternoon movies. As I recall, CBS–back when the local affiliate was channel 4–used to run movies during primetime on Friday nights; NBC followed suit on Saturdays, and ABC often premiered “new” movies on Sunday night. Again, I watched as often as I could though by the time CBS had the Mary Tyler Moore/Bob Newhart Saturday night line-up, I was pretty well fixed. When our own channel 11 was still an independent station, the weekly 9:00 (pm) movie was a staple. Indeed, I seem to recall that during the summer, Monday or Tuesday evenings were devoted to running The Thin Man series.  I saw lots and lots of movies like this: edited for length, content, and commercials, often in black and white (we were late to the color TV scene), but it was all good for me. PBS/KERA did its part as well by showing such classics as the 1930 version of  Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel with Marlene Dietrich and Emil Jannings, among, of course, a host of others.

Later, I caught up with even more classics thanks to cable stations such as Turner Classic Movies and American Movie Classics–well before the latter was cutting up movies for commercials and competing against the broadcast networks with original programming such as the Emmy winning Mad Men. Of course, buying my first VCR in 1986 was also a big boost. Some of the movies I was able to finally catch up with included a couple of Kim Stanley titles: The Goddess and Seance on a Wet Afternoon.

When I was a small child, my family (at least my brothers and sisters) often went to kiddie matinees on Saturday mornings as well as the drive-ins on Saturday nights (but not necessarily each and every week). By the time I was a teenager, our situation had changed, and going to the movies was a luxury. I’m not going to lie and say I NEVER went to a movie during my junior high and high school years, but the number of such outings was relatively slim though I do remember seeing Pat Boone in The Cross and the Switchblade, featuring a fresh-faced Erik Estrada. I was lucky that Richland College used to run a film series on Friday nights. I think the admission was free with a Richland ID (which I was not, not at that time), and $1.00 for civilians.  Good for me. That’s how I saw Lady Sings the Blues, Tommy, and The Magic Christian.  I’m sure I saw What’s Up, Doc? there also, though I had already seen it at the drive-in with some close family friends. When I visited my dad, he sometimes treated the bunch of us to the likes of Billy Jack, Big Bad Mama, and Million Dollar Duck (with, of course, Texas’s own Sandy Duncan). Additionally, I somehow managed to see Star Wars-with a still great friend–during the first week at the old NorthPark I & II. How I managed to swing that, I have long forgotten–I guess it helps that I had a job by then–though I know my mother dropped us off, and my sister picked us up later, and then we made a beeline to that old pizza place in Medallion center. What was the name of that place? Well,  good for me. Good times.

Even though I was not seeing many first run movies during that time, I was certainly still reading all about them in books, magazines, and newspapers. I learned a lot about film history, film criticism and, especially, the Academy awards, which was a bit of a trick because I tended to know everything about all the nominees often without ever having seen a single frame of footage other than televised clips on talk shows and commercials.

When I was 18, I was earning my own money and spending a bunch of it at the movies.  That was when I discovered the Granada theater on Lower Greenvile. At the time, it was a repertory house, operated, I recall, by a company called Movie Inc.  As I understand it, the company had previously set up shop as the Edison theater–I want to say on Fitzhugh–but that location was too small for the ever-increasing crowds, so the much bigger Granada, long abandoned as movie house, was a more suitable venue.  I visited the Granada regularly from 1979 till the theatre, in that incarnation, was shuttered in 1986.  I saw dozens, if not hundreds, of movies during that time, including  (in no particular order) The Devil’s Playground, The Ballad of Narayama, Bedazzled (the 1967 original with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore), If…, The Ruling Class, The Ritz, King of Hearts, Barbarella, Reefer Madness, Cocaine Fiends, Smile, Sleeper, Love and Death, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, A Clockwork Orange, Return of the Secaucus 7, Women in Love, The Stunt Man, The Great Dictator, Pier Pasolini’s The Canterbury Tales, and oh so many, many, more. Of course, I saw Harold and Maude there scads of times, but I’d already seen it elsewhere (the old Promenade at Beltline & Coit) when Paramount re-released it to fill in a hole  during the 1978 holiday season; likewise, I saw Days of Heaven in its original theatrical engagement, but I went back to the Granada and saw it again whenever I had the chance, which was often. Ditto, say, My Brilliant Career, Coming Home, Diva, Girlfriends, All That Jazz,  and a few others that I had seen and loved during their original engagements.  Of course, I’d also seen The Wizard of Oz, The Red Shoes, Notorious, and Casablanca on TV–along with the aforementioned Thin Man movies–but I tried to catch them in all their big screen splendor anytime they appeared on the Granada’s schedule. Furthermore, seeing The Last Picture show at the Granada was quite a different experience than watching it on network TV I assure you. I even saw George Lucas’s THX-1138 long before he reappropriated the name for his THX sound process.

By the time I was 22, I was actually working at the movies, and I was in cinema heaven. For 22 years, I saw the best and worst of mainstream Hollywood as well as most major indie offerings, including big-screen re-releases of such classics as Citizen Kane and Gone with the Wind, among others…and, yet, for all my devotion, I still have not seen every movie I would like to have seen.

The_Man_in_the_Glass_Booth-455342246-large

The Man in the Glass Booth (above) and Hester Street are two 1975 releases that were on my Movie Bucket List for the longest time. I eventually saw both of them on videotape several years ago. Today, I happily own both on DVD. Both projects were considered unlikely at the time. Hester Street starred up-and-coming actress Carol Kane in a low-budget, black and white offering, partially performed in Yiddish, about Jewish immigrants in New York in the late 1800s; the film, directed by Joan Micklin Silver, is a 2011 National Film Registry inductee. The Man in the Glass Booth, directed by Arthur Hiller and adapted from Robert Shaw’s play, stars previous Oscar winner Maximilian Schell (Judgment at Nuremberg, 1961)  in a startlingly visceral performance as a wealthy businessman on trial for Nazi war crimes although there is much more going on within the case than even the characters know how to fully process. The Man in the Glass Booth was part of Ely Landau’s ambitious American Film Theater subscription series, in which well-known plays were converted into actual low-budget motion pictures (rather than mere filmed versions of stage performances) featuring such high profile actors as Schell, Alan Bates (Butley), Katharine Hepburn (A Delicate Balance), Glenda Jackson (The Maids), Gene Wilder and  Zero Mostel (reunited in Rhinoceros), Lee Marvin and Jeff Bridges (both in The Iceman Cometh). Ticketing glitches plagued the series, and the plug was pulled after two years though not before Schell’s film played as a stand-alone feature in first-run theaters, thereby enhancing its Oscar potential.

That noted, Michael and I have been on a tear for the past several years now (first with VHS, now with DVD), so I’m pleased to say that I’m good to go regarding such rarities as Hester Street and The Man in the Glass Booth, both released in 1975, the former featuring an Oscar nominated performance by Carole Kane and the latter starring another Oscar nominated turn by Maximilian Schell. The titles of movies that are no longer on my bucket list also include Seven Beauties, Gate of Hell, Topkapi, Day of the Locust, Suspiria, Don’t Look Now, The Story of Adele H., Cries and Whispers, Carmen Jones, Putney Swope, Blood and Sand, Somewhere in Time, Portrait of Jennie, Phantom of the Paradise,  Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast, Obsession, The Best of EverythingClaudine, This Island Earth, Bride of the Monster, Letter from an Unknown Woman, Magnificent Obsession, All That Heaven Allows, Sparkle (the 1976 original), Caprice (yep, the dreadful spy caper with Doris Day and Richard Harris..I had only the vaguest memory of it from childhood though I was well aware that it was a flop), The Quiet Man, Annie Get Your Gun (which had been officially out of circulation for several years), and a lot genre stuff from the 1960s and 1970s, including Soylent Green, which Michael had already  seen, natch, during its original run. For years, all I had seen was the late Phil Hartman’s righteous SNL parody.

Furthermore, thanks to Dr. Halperin’s Human Rights class at SMU, I’ve finally seen, for better, perhaps worse,  both Birth of a Nation and Triumph of the Will in addition to a great many other films from across the globe, either fictional or factual, that deal with the ongoing struggle for justice and human decency. Btw: Birth of a Nation is bewildering; Triumph of the Will is eye opening. Discuss.

The past year or so has been even more productive for Michael and me.  I’ve had deluxe editions of Giant (1956) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962) on my shelf for a few years, but who has 3 hours (or more) to watch a movie? Of course, these movies were both restored and re-released to theaters awhile ago, but I somehow missed them. I know I was on an extended leave of absence during the 1989 re-release of Lawrence of Arabia. We played it at the old UA, but I was out of town at the time and was simply unable to do much moviegoing. I’m sure the Giant re-release was in 1996, the 40 year anniversary, but I just wasn’t able to squeeze it into my schedule. Well, I’m all good now. Plus, neither film disappointed. Indeed, they actually exceeded my expectations.

Recently, we finally, finally, caught up with The Silent Partner, a nifty little  Canadian flick that garnered a lot of praise during its 1979 U.S. run.  The film stars Elliot Gould as a seemingly nebbish bank teller and Christopher Plummer as an especially ruthless bank robber. Oh, dear, what these two men do to each other.  I got a jolt with every twist and turn though I was laughing–mostly out of shock–at the outrageous climax.  The script is by Curtis Hanson, who would go on to win an Oscar for co-adapting 1997 Best Picture nominee L.A. Confidential (from the James Ellroy novel–and which Hanson also directed and was likewise nominated for); The Silent Partner, directed by the late Daryl Duke, won the top Canadian film prize–since rechristened the Genie award–back in the day. I read a lot about this movie at the time of its release. I saw the trailer on multiple occasions, and I’m sure it played in Dallas, but somehow I missed it. I’ll blame that on my roommate at the time. Now, it’s no longer on my movie bucket-list. That noted, the cover art for the DVD is just wrong. It completely misrepresents the movie and looks like a bad Tarantino rip-off.

It feels good scribbling/deleting these titles from my movie bucket list, but there are still quite a few more to go. Here is a small sampling. I’ve divided my Movie Bucket List into 5 categories: 1. Movies made before I was born; 2. Movies that were released during my junior high and high school years; 3. Movies that were released after high school but before I was working in the business; 4. Movies that I somehow missed during my 22 year stint in the biz; 5. Movies that have been released since I quit the business in November of 2004.

  1. Screen siren Hedy Lamarr in the Oscar winning drag designed for Samson and Delilah bv Edith Head and Dorothy Jeakins.

    Screen siren Hedy Lamarr in the Oscar winning drag designed for Samson and Delilah bv Edith Head, Dorothy Jeakins, Eloise Jensson, Gile Steele, and Gewn Wakeling.

    Samson and Delilah (1949) – Cecil B. DeMille’s biblical epic stars Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr as the title characters (respectively). It was reportedly the top earning film during the year in which it was released–going wide, including L.A, in early 1950–and though not nominated for top Oscars (Best Picture, Best Director, etc.), it did well in the technical categories, nabbing trophies for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Color) and Best Costume Design (Color); the team for the latter included the ever-popular Edith Head as well as the also great Dorothy Jeakins, who actually earned her place in the history books as the first designer to ever win in the costuming category–for 1948’s Joan of Arc.  Sorry, Edith. When I was growing up, we had a copy of Lamarr’s scandalous best-selling memoir, Ecstasy and Me. The title alludes to her 1933 Austrian breakthrough flick with its now tame skinny dipping sequence and simulated sex.  Lamarr was famously billed as the most beautiful woman in films, if not the most beautiful woman in the world, back in the day, and I was fascinated not only by her beauty but also her commentary on acting, her career, and general behind-the-scenes tidbits. I read and reread the book many, many times, but I’ll be frank: most of the sexy stuff went right over my head during those days, and good for me.  I was more interested in the glamorous stuff. At any rate, though I knew a lot about Lamarr, I was fully grown before I ever recall seeing any of her movies, with the possible exception being My Favorite Spy, co-starring Bob Hope. It is entirely possible that I saw Samson & Delilah during those wee years, but I can’t be certain. In early adulthood, I caught up with Algiers (1938) and Experiment Perilous (1944–my grandma’s favorite Lamarr pic, a distant cousin–thematically–to Ingrid Bergman’s Oscar winning Gaslight from the same year); regarding Algiers, it is famously noted for Boyer’s “Come with me to the Casbah” line though that is just more legendary movie lore than actual fact though the Casbah is part of the film.  More recently, I’ve crossed off such Lamarr titles as Comrade X (with Clark Gable) and The Heavenly Body (with William Powell). Still, I won’t feel like I’ve seen Hedy at her best until I see Samson and Delilah in all its Technicolor glory  even though Mature, by his own admission, was never much of an actor.  My issue now is just finding a suitable copy on DVD. Runner-up: The Nun’s Story (1959) – I know, I know. I love Audrey Hepburn, and I’ve long been a fan of  two time Oscar winning director Fred Zinneman (From Here to Eternity and A Man for All Seasons) ; moreover, I think I’ve seen just about all the famous nun movies from roughly the same era, including Black Narcissus and Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (both starring Deborah Kerr), along with the The Sound of Music, of course, and The Singing Nun, starring Debbie Reynolds, but somehow I’ve never seen Hepburn in what is supposed to be one of her finest performances. The problem isn’t that the movie is rarely seen on TV or is unavailable on DVD. I’ve seen it at store more than once. No, it’s a matter of timing.  I just want everything to be perfect when I decide to sit down to watch it–I think Audrey and I both deserve that–and how often does that happen?

  2. The Smoking Nun: Glenda Jackson as a Nixonesque Mother Superior in Nasty Habits.

    The Smoking Nun: Glenda Jackson as a Nixonesque Mother Superior in Nasty Habits.

    Nasty Habits (1977) – Michael Lindsay-Hogg (Let it Be, Brideshead Revisited) adapts this Watergate parody from the novel The Abbess of Crewe by Muriel Spark (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie). In this case, the devilish real-life 1972 saga of corrupt politicians is (re)set in a Philadelphia convent with Glenda Jackson standing in for disgraced Richard Nixon and Sandy Dennis along as a John Dean-esque nun.  I have wanted to see this movie almost my whole life. I definitely remember wanting to see it when it opened in Dallas, but I guess the real Watergate was still too fresh, and the premise too odd, to generate much interest among my friends and family, so no Nasty Habits for me. As I recall, the reviews were mixed though the critics were generally kind to both Jackson and Dennis (who actually received a few raves). Keep in mind, as well, that at that time both Jackson and Dennis were Oscar winners. The former was a four time nominee and  two-time Best Actress honoree (Women in Love, 1970; A Touch of Class, 1973) while  Dennis was the recipient of a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for 1966’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, but they weren’t even the whole show, as the cast also included such talents as  Melina Mercouri (Oscar nominated for 1960’s Never on Sunday), Geraldine Page (a multiple Oscar nominee by that time, who would go on to win for 1985’s The Trip to Bountiful), Edith Evans (a three time Oscar nominee, then most recently for 1967’s The Whisperers, which should also be on my bucket list), and the great Anne Meara, who also appeared in the film with her husband and sometimes partner Jerry Stiller. I want to see these talented actresses sink their teeth into this dice-y material even if it doesn’t always work. I think it was checked-out the last time we visited our favorite video place–that, or it was only available on VHS. At any rate, it’s now officially on my Amazon wish list, and I hope to make a purchase soon though I believe it has been discontinued…for the moment. Runners-up: Brother Sun, Sister Moon AND Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams. The former is Franco Zeffirelli’s dramatization of the life of St. Francis of Assisi. Who doesn’t like St. Francis, right? Of course, I missed it during its original run; for awhile, it was often the Christmas feature at the old Granada theatre, but I missed it then too. Regarding Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams, please consider this scenario: imagine, if you will, little ole me as an 8th grader in Garland, TX, circa 1973, oh so eager to see a character study of  a wealthy, middle-aged  New York City wife and mother, played by Joanne Woodward, grappling with the choices she has made in her life. Yeah.  That was really going to happen. Nonetheless, Woodward scored an Oscar nod (the third of four, including her win for 1957’s The Three Faces of Eve) as did the one and only Sylvia Sidney as Woodward’s mother.  Can this movie really live up to my expectations, or will it seem horribly dated as a product of the ’70s? Trivia note: SW, WD was directed by Gilbert Cates, who would go on to great success as the longtime producer of the annual Oscar telecast, bringing Billy Crystal with him as host in the process.

  3. Last Embrace (1979) –  Like The Silent Partner, I missed this flick when it was first released. At that time, I had only a vague idea about director Jonathan Demme. I’d heard about his Citizens Band, later retitled Handle with Care, back during the peak of the CB radio craze, but that was about it.  It took awhile, but the one-two punch of Something Wild and Married to the Mob led to Demme’s blockbuster breakthrough: The Silence of the Lambs. After that, Demme’s earlier work became ripe for revisiting. Additionally, at the time of The Last Embrace, I also recognized star Roy Scheider  from Jaws, of course, as well as his Oscar nominated turn in 1971’s The French Connection (not to mention Klute from the same year) as well as Sorcerer (a remake of The Wages of Fear directed by The French Connection‘s William Friedkin); however, I didn’t become a true Scheider fan until  I pretty much fell in love with him as Bob Fossee’s alter-ego “Joe Gideon” in All that Jazz.  Oh, if I had only known. Also, like The Silent PartnerLast Embrace was labelled “Hitchcockian” by some of the critics, which I considered blasphemous at the time; even today, the term can be dicey. I guess I started thinking about the movie again–after all these years–when Scheider passed away. So far, we have not found it in stock at our favorite video store.
  4. Still of the Night (1982) –  Scheider, again. This 1982 thriller was directed and co-written by Robert Benton, fresh from his triumph with Kramer vs. Kramer, while Scheider was obviously still basking in the warmth of his glowing reviews from All that Jazz, which, of course, had competed against Kramer vs. Kramer for the 1979/80 Best Picture Oscar (and other categories). Scheider’s Still of the Night co-star was the one and only Meryl Streep who, of course, won her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Benton’s Kramer vs. Kramer and who had just recently earned her first Best Actress nod for playing dual roles in The French Lieutenant’s Woman.  Originally, this thriller, released November of ’82, was entitled Stab, which I actually liked in the abstract. Still of the Night seems so pedestrian.  Anyway, Scheider plays a psychiatrist, and Streep plays a woman who may very well be a psycho-killer. Again, I think the key word at the time was “Hitchcockian,” though the reviews were generally negative–perhaps especially for Streep, who  seemed pretty well infallible at that point in her career. I was all about the talent involved in this movie at the time, but the gosh-awful reviews gave me pause; however, it was only a month or so later that Sophie’s Choice was released, and the rest is history. Streep’s performance as a Holocaust survivor earned rapturous reviews, netted her yet another Oscar–her first as Best Actress–and Still of the Night was promptly forgotten–except by me. I always wish I had seen it when I had the chance even with the crummy reviews. About a year or so ago, I was flipping through the TV channels late one night just in time to see it right from the very beginning, but, regrettably, I fell asleep about 20 or 30 minutes into it, so that’s that. I never stop to think about it when I’m in the video store, however.   Runner-up:  A Day without a Mexican (2004). I was still working at the movie theatre when this indie social satire was released with little or no ado; however, its stature has grown since then. At least one professor at the college where I work regularly has his students write essays about it, and so that piques my curiosity even more. I actually had the DVD in my hand as I walked to the check-out register when I was spending a gift card at my local video store over the weekend, but at the last minute, I saw another title that I wanted even more, and, to quote Linda Ellerbee, so it goes. I expect this to happen soon.
  5. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005) –  Tommy Lee Jones garnered Best Actor honors at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival for this film, which he also directed. The screenplay is by Guillermo Arriaga (Amores Perros, 21 Grams), who also earned a prize at Cannes.  I do remember when it played in Dallas, but in spite of my every intention to catch it in theaters, I missed at every chance. It happens.  Though well reviewed, and in spite of the Cannes hoopla, Jones and his movie were shut out of the subsequent Oscar race, and that seemed to be that. I won’t say I forgot about the movie, exactly, but I will say that my curiosity was aroused once again awhile later when one of my best friends told me it was a “must-see.” So, now, here it is on my Movie Bucket List. I  have no almost no idea what the movie is about except I’ve read that there are a few unexpected curves, and I want to be surprised by each and every one of them, so I’ve made it a mission to learn as little about the whole thing as possible. I do know that Jones has lined-up a swell supporting cast that includes Dwight Yoakam, Barry Pepper, and the late Levon Helm. Additionally, in 2005, actresses Melissa Leo and January Jones were hardly household names; however, Leo is now an Oscar winner (Best Supporting Actress for 2010’s The Fighter), and Jones is one of the stars of the popular–and oft imitated–Mad Men TV series, which means that there are now two more good reasons to see The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.  Now that Tommy Lee Jones is a likely Best Supporting Actor Oscar contender  for Lincoln, my goal is to see this movie before the Academy awards. Runner-up: Snow Angels – Before Richardson’s own David Gordon Green became famous for the hugely successful  stoner bromance The Pineapple Express, he was an indie-darling, often earning encouraging notices for such sensitive low-budget, if little seen, offerings as George Washington and All the Real Girls (the latter of which I liked quite a bit). I read nothing but wonderful things about 2007’s Snow Angels, starring Kate Beckinsale along Sam Rockwell, Griffin Dunne, and Amy Sedaris, but I missed it when it came to town–which was a first for me with a DGG film. I think about it often–usually five minutes after I left the video place with another movie.

Okay, so those are the highlights of my movie bucket list. Believe it or not, there are probably a few titles that are not on my list that probably should be, and it would no doubt be a big surprise to discover what they are, but what I’m really interested in is learning what titles are on your own Movie Bucket List?

Thanks for your consideration…

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