Inspired by Dave Hicks’ excellent blog, I have decided to write about my favorite film for each year from 1926-2008.
1942: The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles)
I’ll never forget the first time I heard the opening narration of The Magnificent Ambersons. It was 1995. I was a student at the University of Caen, in France, and I was watching a double feature on campus of The Magnificent Ambersons and Touch of Evil.
“The magnificence of the Ambersons began in 1873. Their splendor lasted throughout all the years that saw their Midland town spread and darken into a city. In that town in those days, all the women who wore silk or velvet knew all the other women who wore silk or velvet and everybody knew everybody else’s family horse and carriage. The only public conveyance was the streetcar. A lady could whistle to it from an upstairs window, and the car would halt at once and wait for her while she shut the window. . . put on her hat and coat, went downstairs. . .found an umbrella. . .told the ‘girl’ what to have for dinner. . . and came forth from the house. Too slow for us nowadays, because the faster we’re carried, the less time we have to spare.”
In some ways this narration, and the film in general, changed my life. It made me aware of what is still probably my biggest obsession: The idea that life is moving too fast, and that there has to be a way to slow it down.
Welles conveys this beautifully throughout the film. We see it, experience it, feel it and know it on some level to be true. It’s a film of a bygone era, and by the end of it I want to scrap everything and go back in time 140 years.
Although this film is one of the most famous victims of studio interference and recutting, the version that remains still has great power to move me. And, as always with Welles, the movie humbles me with its absolute mastery of the medium.
What moviemakers can learn: Orson Welles, in my opinion, is one of the two or three most inventive directors that has ever worked in the medium. Do yourself a favor and take a look at each and every one of his movies.
Other contenders for 1942: This is a year where I really don’t have any major gaps. I like Casablanca, but it’s never been a favorite of mine. I really like Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be. It’s probably my second favorite of what I’ve seen so far from the director. And I love The Palm Beach Story. In fact, I might like it the most of all the Preston Sturges films I’ve seen. My runner-up though would be Raoul Walsh’s Gentleman Jim. I consider Errol Flynn’s turn as the boxer James Corbett to be one of his greatest performances, and like my top pick for 1941 (Sergeant York), Gentleman Jim is a biopic that pulls me into its subject’s life and completely satisfies me with the telling of his story. Ultimately though, I have to give the top pick to Welles’ film, which has always been very personal to me. Its themes, its grace and charm, and even its playful streak, affect me deeply.
After living in Los Angeles for seven years, Jeffrey Goodman returned to his hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana to direct The Last Lullaby. Co-written by the creator of Road to Perdition, and starring Tom Sizemore and Sasha Alexander, The Last Lullaby was filmed entirely in and around Shreveport and financed by 48 local investors. Goodman is now at work, raising money for his next feature, Peril.