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Posts Tagged ‘The English Patient’

“You wake up to eerie silence. You call out ‘Hello?’ but no-one answers. You’re alone except for a film projector and speakers with infinite battery life and five of your favourite films at the foot of the projector. You have nowhere to be so start watching the films. What are they, where are you and how will your story play out?”

This is the scenario presented to us by Claire Packer at the recently rejuvenated Cinematic Delights.  Her expectation goes beyond just choosing the five films.  Find out more HERE.

  • My five films: What are the five films you would happily watch for the foreseeable future and why?
  • My fate: Where have you been deserted – are you adrift like Hanks in Castaway or are you an end of the world survivor like Smith in I Am Legend?
  • My finale: How will your time alone end? Will you be saved by Spielberg or will you live happily ever after on your own like Disney?

Let’s start in the middle where am I? I prefer to go with the Desert Island Discs/Hanks in Castaway option, as it always gives a degree of hope!

As for the movies, I set myself an extra challenge.  Eleven years ago, hosted a similar event that I called Desert Island DVD’s also taking its inspiration from the long running BBC Radio 4 show Desert Island Discs.  I have decided not to choose any of the eight movies I picked before, they were: My movies back then were:

  • Casablanca (1942)
  • Some Like it Hot (1959)
  • Two Lane Blacktop (1971)
  • Goodfellas (1990)
  • Dazed and Confused (1993)
  • Pulp Fiction (1994)
  • Oldboy (2003)
  • Serenity (2005)

Like last time, it isn’t just about my favourite films, its about films I can watch over and over and not tire of. One thing I can say fore sure, limiting us to just five films was cruel!

Chinatown (1974): I’m not sure there has ever been a film dripping with despair as Chinatown.  Not only is it one of my favourite movies, but it is strangely perfect for this scenario.  When I watched it during the first lockdown last year there was something comforting about watching people whose situation was more hopeless with than me. 

Fandango (1985): The most sentimental film on the list.  The film that give its name to my Blog and twitter handle.  This film has to be on the list for so many reasons.  Just taken on its own merits, it’s a great and under seen film.  It also lends a little much needed brevity to my list.  It is also associated with great memories; the favourite film of a close friend, it was on hard rotation when I was a student, we also visited some of the filming locations while on holiday in West Texas a few years back. 

The English Patient (1996): I loved the film from when I first watched it at the cinema twenty-five years ago.  It has since been either forgotten, overlooked, or dismissed.  I don’t care what anybody thinks, it’s an absolute masterpiece.  One of the few films that I actually think is better than the book on which it’s based.  Like Chinatown, I see more every time I watch it. 

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015): There is a conversation at the heart of the movie between Max (Tom Hardy) and Furiosa (Charlize Theron) about why the characters are doing what they are doing.  The answer is simple, they are all looking for either hope or redemption.  That’s kind of what all movies are about! And that’s just one of the reasons the film is so perfect. 

Atomic Blonde (2017): Comparisons with another film that came out a few years before are inevitable, but Atomic Blonde is both the slickest and most fun of its type.  It does the near impossible task of invoking other great films, without making me wish I was watching them. 

The final question: How will your time alone end?  That’s not for me to say, but we are nothing without hope!

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Is it time to address the elephant in the room? Probably.  The lack of glossy images will tell you this is a little more serious than my usual fair.  Can we appreciate the art and overlook the artist? This was a question Charles McGrath asked five years ago in his New York Times article Good Art, Bad People. I this he concentrated mainly on painters and writers but the same is true of any art, or is it? The article predates the current scandals that are engulfing the entertainment industry. This BBC article outlines the unfolding to the accusations against producer Harvey Weinstein. But this is where things get complicated. McGrath’s article talks of many artists including Hemingway, Degas and Picasso, these were visionary individuals famed for their art. But where a painter, sculptor or writer works largely alone on their creative process, film-making is collaborative.

Take The English Patient, winner of nine Academy Awards including Best Picture credited to producer Saul Zaentz; Harvey Weinstein is credited as executive producer. My understanding of the process: director Anthony Minghella, producer Saul Zaentz and Michael Ondaatje, on whose book it is based, worked together on adapting the story for the screen. Studio 20th Century Fox wanted big Hollywood names for the lead roles and wouldn’t fund the film without their choice of stars, I believe Demi Moore was suggested for the Kristin Scott Thomas role. Miramax Films (still at this time owned and run by Bob and Harvey Weinstein) stepped in to help fund, and to distribute the film. In short, one of my favourite films of the 1990’s would not have been made if not for Harvey Weinstein.

But it isn’t just a case of saying that Weinstein has been accused of bad things but he was behind a great film. If it were that simple and redemption came with great art we would be knighting him having been credited as executive producer on many beloved movies including Paddington, Good Will Hunting, Pulp Fiction and the documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, to name just a few. My argument is more complicated than that. There are over four-hundred names on the credits to The English Patient. While we can not and should not forgive peoples misdeeds because we like their art, we must remember that they are just one cog in a very machine.

Then we look back at the golden age of cinema. It is filled with stars who were less than appropriate in their treatment of their leading ladies. We have the draconian seven year contracts. Starlets forced to have cosmetic surgery. Legendary directors bullying their stars. Studio fixers breaking the law and covering up the crimes of others to protect the studio investment. Exploitative working hours in the trades behind the scenes. It would be impossible to work out which films had been ethically made.

The cog in the wheel argument may be harder to accept when the accused is on screen in front of us and not a producer in the background. I understand there is a film about sexual misconduct within the film industry that has been pulled from release because its star (who is also writer, producer and director) has been accused of misconduct himself.  As the situation snowballs, there may well be false accusations made along with all the real ones and we must to a certain degree give people their right to presumed innocence. This isn’t always easy but I am prepared to go forward with an open mind, I make no accusations, or assumptions about those people named in the article, I am simply commenting on what has already been reported. There are no simple answers, and there are sure to be more questions.

 

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In the early 90’s Ralph Fiennes, then in his early 30’s became an apparent overnight star. after years on stage his first big break was in the TV show Prime Suspect. he then went on to a lacklustre adaptation of Wuthering Heights with a sadly miscast Juliette Binoche who was far too French for the part. Then out of nowhere came his career defining performance of Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List (1993). He was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, I have never been able to comprehend how he didn’t win. This was followed by a starring role in Robert Redford’s Quiz Show (1994) and Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days 1995. Both of these were interesting parts that demonstrated Fiennes’ range. He came to the attention of a lot of people with The English Patient (1997), the second of three movies he appeared in to win best picture Oscar, the others being Schindler’s List. The film also reunited him with Wuthering Heights co star Juliette Binoche. I am happy to report both were perfectly cast this time. Ralph Fiennes Schindler's List

In 2005 he reached a whole new audience when he played Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, a role he would reprise in all the remaining film series. The interviews that he did around the films suggested he had little knowledge or interest in phenomenally successful film franchise. His directorial debut came with Shakespeare’s tragedy Coriolanus. Fiennes also took the leading role, a man with a great dislike of being praised, a trait that it has been suggested comes from the belief that the acceptance of praise may be an admission that he places value on others opinion of him! An interesting character for Fiennes to chose. Despite this varied array of work, one thing he has never been accused of is being funny. Having heard him in many interviews he clearly hates the publicity machine that goes with the industry, preferring to let his performance do the talking. In fairness he was very funny as Harry in, In Bruges. This however was achieved by playing the part deadpan straight complete with a preposterous accent. He also had some funny moments in Strange Days, but that was more an uncomfortable laugh out of pity and despair.Ralph Fiennes Coriolanus

None of this prepaid me for Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. totally camping it up, Fiennes gives a note perfect performance. The history of movies has shown that comic actors taking on serious roles (Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love, Bill Murray in Lost In Translation, Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting and Dead Poets Society) has been far more successful than straight actors trying to be funny. I don’t know and will probably never know if his impeccable timing is down to Fiennes’ performance of Andersons direction and editing. The film is hugely over stylised and is all the better for it, this is probably what allows Fiennes to escape the shackles and confines of the parts he normally platys. Allowing his young co-star Tony Revolori to play the straight role Fiennes appears to be having fun with the part.GHB_9907 20130130.CR2

I’m not sure Ralph Fiennes can step effortlessly from comic to dramatic performances like Jack Lemmon and Alec Guinness did but I would certainly like to see him in a few more comic roles if the results are anything like The Grand Budapest Hotel.

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I’m not sure the 90’s is the best decade for movies but it is certainly consistent! Without any padding to make up the numbers every year of the decade has at least five great films to be in contention.

1990: Nikita, Wild at Heart, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Miller’s Crossing, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!

1991: Point Break, The Silence of the Lambs, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Cape Fear, Delicatessen

1992: Reservoir Dogs, Unforgiven, Batman Returns, Army of Darkness, Hard Boiled 

1993: Army of Darkness, Three Colours: Blue, Schindler’s List, Dazed and Confused, True Romance

1994: Pulp Fiction, The Shawshank Redemption, Leon, Three Colours: Red, Ed Wood

1995: Heat, Se7en, Twelve Monkeys, Before Sunrise, The City of Lost Children

1996: Bound, Crash, The English Patient, Pusher, Romeo + Juliet

1997: L.A. Confidential, Jackie Brown, The Ice Storm (forget Wushu and gay cowboys, this is Ang Lee‘s best film), Cube, The Fifth Element

1998: Saving Private Ryan, Run Lola Run, Blade, The Big Lebowski, American History X

1999: Fight Club, The Matrix, Go, Eyes Wide Shut, The Straight Story

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