What I Watched: From ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ to ‘Gosford Park’


The idea for this article came out of how many films I have been watching lately in an effort to up my film IQ. I am not watching these films to be any kind of film historian, but to just have an overall knowledge of movies. It is also a nice way to make up for how many bad films I have to watch.

I will still continue to do my Cinematic Revival editorials as well as hopefully bring you more of these recap pieces. My larger goal is to begin writing full reviews for all of these films when I don’t write up the longer Cinematic Revival essays to improve on my writing as well as bolster my list of written reviews.

That said, here is a look at what I watched at home last week and if you have any films to recommend that you watched recently (it doesn’t have to be last week) that you think I should check out, please list them in the comment section below. Very often that is how I build my Netflix queue. It’s the reason I covered David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (read that here) to name a few.

La Dolce Vita (1960)
This was my first time seeing Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita and as I have read from so many different sources, this is not a film to be watched once, a criticism I typically don’t enjoy, but it seems fitting in this case. Of course, considering it is just shy of three hours I don’t plan on watching it again anytime soon. Not because I didn’t like it, just simply because it is long.

There are certainly notable elements of the film and just as I observed watching Fellini’s 8 1/2, the man is an amazing director and his films are just beautiful to watch. By this I mean they have this flow to them that moves so easily there were a couple of times I forgot to read the subtitles. Vita, like 8 1/2, stars Marcello Mastroianni, an actor that rides Fellini’s wave seemingly without any kind of effort.

Vita has its seven nights and dawns and theories on the film are numerous, but I didn’t notice the seven deadly sins one and didn’t even think to until I read Ebert’s 1997 piece on the film, but the next time I watch it you can be guaranteed I will be even if Ebert says he never will. Instead I watched as a man who had absolutely no direction in life continued to get distracted by one beautiful woman after another even though he knew he was leading a fruitless life.

I definitely recommend giving it a watch and if you haven’t done so yet, I wrote a piece on Fellini’s 8 1/2 almost six months ago you may be interested in reading.

Gosford Park (2001)
Gosford Park, along with another film further down the list, was added to my Netflix queue because a) I had never seen it and b) because I had recently taken a look at how impressive 2001 was in terms of movies and I hadn’t seen it yet despite its seven Oscar nominations including Best Picture. And after watching it I continue to remain baffled how A Beautiful Mind ended up winning in 2002 considering its competition. I like A Beautiful Mind, but Fellowship of the Ring, Moulin Rouge! and now Gosford Park are all better films.

Gosford Park is probably best described as an Agatha Christie style whodunit where the whodunit doesn’t matter at all. The film is an ensemble piece featuring the best of the best in terms of English actors as it portrays a soiree held at an English country house in 1932. Names in the cast include Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Kelly Macdonald, Kristin Scott Thomas, Helen Mirren, Charles Dance, Bob Balaban, Tom Hollander, Jeremy Northam, Ryan Phillippe, Derek Jacobi, Clive Owen and Emily Watson. The story takes a look at the upper and lower class as one group struts about and the other takes care of their every need all the while keeping up on all the gossip and on occasion becoming part of it.

With a runtime of 137 minutes it isn’t until midway through that the actual murder occurs and even after it does the film remains a character piece as the plot slowly reveals itself. The film runs at a relatively slow pace, but it is a comfortable film and you can feel the true intentions of the screenplay slowly bubbling to the top. Definitely worth a watch.

Manhattan (1979)
Only a couple of days ago I posted an article headlined “Woody Allen’s ‘Manhattan’ Reveals the Meaning of Life” that pretty much covered all I really had to say with regard to this film. However, I did get an email from one reader that enjoyed the article and is also a big fan of Allen. His email was quite long so I won’t share all of it, but I did like one thing he said and felt this was a good place to share:

Woody makes films to fill his time (to avoid thinking about how horrible life really is, e.g., that we are going to die) and for his own personal enjoyment – and of course, he hopes the audience enjoys them, but he really doesn’t get concerned about whether his films are successful or not (except to the extent that he can get financing to make the next film).

I have a tendency to avoid items written in parentheses (blame Stephen King for that) but the “to avoid thinking about how horrible life really is” line really hit home with me. No matter how you look at life, if you look close enough, or should I say too close, you really are going to realize how disturbing it all really is. Allen’s films are a great escape and Manhattan is just one example and I have plenty more of his films in my queue to make that escape over and over again.

No Man’s Land (2001)
This is the second film from 2001 that I mentioned in my Gosford Park capsule above and the reason I watched this one was because I HAD to see the film that beat out Amelie for Best Foreign Language Film in 2002. Now that I have seen it, I can say No Man’s Land is a pretty good film, but it never should have beat Amelie.

One thing I would like you to do, whether you have seen this film or not is to first consider it is a film that takes place during the Bosnian War and through a strange twist of fate one Bosnian and one Serb end up in a trench in between lines together. Both are injured, but the kicker is that lying on the ground next to them is a man that has just regained consciousness only to find out he is lying on top of a bouncing land mine. He moves, they all die. Pretty intense eh? Now go watch the trailer and tell me if they were pitching a comedy or a dramatic war film that won an Oscar and a Golden Globe. What a serious misstep in movie marketing.

This film is good, it remains relatively timely, but I still give the edge to Amelie, I love that film.

Paris, Je T’aime (2006)
After watching Manhattan I figured I would take a trip to Paris in the collection of short films of love in Paris Je T’aime. Too bad this movie is not any good.

Boasting segments from the likes of Tom Tykwer, Joel and Ethan Coen, Wes Craven, Gurinder Chadha, Alexander Payne, Gus Van Sant, Alfonso Cuaron, Walter Salles, Richard LaGravenese and Isabel Coixet I expected something great and while the Coens’ short film involving Steve Buscemi getting beat up by a jealous Frenchman is actually quite funny I didn’t find much more to enjoy out of the entire feature.

A silly vampire story starring Elijah Wood feels more out of place than it does unique, a single tracking shot by Alfonso Cuaron is interesting from a technical aspect but the interest level isn’t there, and the segment starring Natalie Portman and Gaspard Ulliel and directed by Tom Tykwer in which Ulliel plays a blind man that catches the eye of Portman is the most romantic of the bunch, but still not worth the two hour runtime. Put plainly, this is one to skip.

The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
“Phantom” is coming to the Seattle Paramount Theater and I remembered this film, along with about five others in my Netflix Instant Queue, wasn’t going to be available for instant play after the end of the month so I thought what the hell? and turned it on. For those not familiar, this is the 1925 Lon Cheney silent feature and I would say this isn’t necessarily a film you are going to watch for its quality as much as you are for Cheney’s performance and the fantastic makeup and costume effects.

This was my first time seeing the “Phantom of the Opera” story told in any format, even though I own the latest incarnation starring Gerard Butler. I was familiar with the story since it is almost impossible to be alive and not know it and I had also seen the majority of the impactful moments from this piece in several film documentaries, but to see them in context is actually pretty cool. The moment when Christine removes the Phantom’s mask and the Phantom’s arrival at the Masquerade Ball are two extremely impressive moments. It is a sign of how much better it is not to dress up your villain any more than need be and oftentimes in the most simple outfits. For nostalgic purposes and a look at film history this film is worth a watch on those terms, but I warn you the picture quality is just shy of awful, but the most important moments are still there and almost benefit from the horrible appearance of the picture.

The General (1927)
This was another one of those silent films that wasn’t going to be available after the end of the month, but I have since found the Netflix listing of Comedy Legend: Buster Keaton, which has a bunch of Buster Keaton shorts as well as several of his films, including The General, that appears to not have an expiration date attached to it.

Watching The General was my first time seeing Buster Keaton on screen and I have to say, he is phenomenal. Keaton has this way of delivering even the most slapstick moments of comedy with such a subtlety that it doesn’t feel Jim Carrey-esque. There is nothing over-the-top about his performance and even when his character messes up or is screwing around there is still some semblance of logic to it all. Keaton never plays up his zaniness for laughs as much as he plays the character and realizes he is funny. On top of Keaton’s performance and the overall story, the music for this flick is fantastic! The score for the version I watched was a 2003 recreation by The Alloy Orchestra and it really adds a lot to the picture.

I know silent films aren’t exactly the first movies that pop into your head when you are trying to figure out what to watch, but the majority of them run from about 70-90 minutes long and fly by much faster than you would ever imagine. On top of watching The General I also watched the 18 minute short The Garage with Keaton and Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle. It’s short and a good place to start if you are interested in seeing what Keaton is all about. However, it is nowhere near as good as The General, so keep that in mind when you are debating on whether or not to make the leap to the feature length film.