Sunday, 23 August 2015

#26 The Apartment

Number 6 in my attempt to watch 15 more films to see before you die, The Apartment, a story of love doesn't need to shout to gain it's place at number 1 and may possibly be one of my new favourite films.

I came with no real expectations for what a number 1 film on the list would be like. So far the list has introduced me to a few cinematic delights but on the whole I've felt slightly cheated by what have felt like empty recommendations. It's very understandable given that preference is such a subjective thing, so some films will be there simply because they tick all the boxes rather than their ability to pull on any heartstrings. Nevertheless, The Apartment, initially appears to be a rogue contender given it's seemingly mundane setting and subject (it is essentially a tragi-comedy based on the life of a Manhattan insurance worker). But it is exactly it's celebration of the mundane which makes it so interesting and loveable.

Like dipping into another world or taking a trip to a new city, The Apartment, places us firmly and assuredly into the lives of it's characters. Details like the smoke filled hedonistic new years parties in what were crisp sad Manhattan offices, kitsch poorly lit Chinese bars, and more importantly Baxter's apartment, never feel like they were supposed to be 'convincing' but rather accurate and just so. Character's too are realistic in their perfect balance of flaws and charm. They are also surprisingly modern as we see the men crassly organise their affairs and the women lament their situations of being"took". This perfection is the result I suppose of everything coming together; director, screenwriter, set designer and most importantly perhaps actors, or in this case actresses. It is also interesting looking back that the beginning of the film opens with similar accuracy as Baxter begins;

On November 1st, 1959, the population of New York City was 8,042,783. If you laid all these people end to end, figuring an average height of five feet six and a half inches, they would reach from Times Square to the outskirts of Karachi, Pakistan. I know facts like this because I work for an insurance company - Consolidated Life of New York. We're one of the top five companies in the country. Our home office has 31,259 employees, which is more than the entire population of uhh... Natchez, Mississippi. I work on the 19th floor. Ordinary Policy Department, Premium Accounting Division, Section W, desk number 861.

For me though it is a young Shirley Mclaine, who plays the part of Fran, who really makes the film and is again a very modern character. An independent 20 something, depressed but cheerful 'good girl', Fran is probably too demure and melancholy by today's standards, but watching her she completely steals every frame and is completely charming. The closest modern day equivalent I can think of is Rory from Gilmore Girls, but even then Fran is simply a lift operator, who "can't spell", unlike the Yale prodigy. It's this down on their luck but still smiling attitude which characterises the film, resulting in what could be an overdose of pathos, but in the end the film is too real and funny for that and any misfortune or hardship is dealt with by gentle comedy.

I really love this film. It's sweet, funny and incredibly interesting if you like the period (1960).


#32 Find a new Greek restaurant

Got a great burger from a small Greek contemporary restaurant I found in Edinburgh. Like all great finds it was stumbled upon at a time of dire need. Thankfully Edinburgh answered with a plate of tastiness (and a plug socket for my dying phone).

Saturday, 22 August 2015

#25 North by Northwest

North by Northwest, number 5 in 15 films to see before you die. A tale in how to be man, by man.
Similar to The Usual Suspects, North by Northwest is a film whose techniques have become ingrained in cinema as is evident in the multitude of jet setting spirit sipping tuxedo clad male heroes we see in later "pale imitations". Therefore it's place in the top 50 list feels like a nod to it's film making influence, rather than because it's a good film (it's alright). How this can be anyone's favourite film is something I can't understand without having to imagine a horribly outdated heaving mess of a man, in a replica of that awful pant suit, and who actually believes women will do anything for a 50 year old ad man. For me anyway the film's place in the list is perhaps more likely a nod to an action appreciating male audience, since the film provides nothing of merit for a small quiet woman like myself.
Always dutiful to the resolution list I've been watching a lot of Mad men lately, and perhaps the only good thing I took from this film was how beautiful 1950s New York is shown to be in the small snippets at the start of the film. Paired with the beautiful colour pallets, immaculately dressed city folk, and occasionally quipy dialogue I felt like I was watching Mad Men, but unfortunately this was constantly interrupted by side stories of espionage - and extreme auctioning.
Cary Grant just being a man
The film itself is about Roger Thornville a 1950s ad man straight from Madison avenue, New York, who finds himself mistaken for the mysterious spy George Kaplan by a rival organisation. Set and released in the height of the cold war, the plot is disappointingly obscure but perhaps captures some of the confusion, mystery and even glamour of such stories in the period. Along the way Thornville finds himself entangled by the beautiful Eve Kendall, a natural Hitchcock femme fatale. From there we are taken from New York, to Chicago and finally to Mount Rushmore where the films iconic climbing scene is set.
North by Northwest is terribly stylish, much like the modernist architecture it cameo's and women it man handles, but sadly like the clean and stark architecture it resembles it misses the heart and messiness of real life which other mid century films like the Apartment manage to portray so well. Why another Hitcock film wasn't chosen, I don't know, but I'd recommend one of them anyway. Go and watch Rope, Rope's a nice film. Moments like the shot over the UN building, and Eve Kendall's (played by Eva Marie Saint) wardrobe (especially the orange coat set against the blue), and the most ethnically diverse shot in 1950s cinema ever, had me caught up in something good, but these were offset by Eve Kendall's ability to easily fall in love with stupid ad men, Eve Kendell's inability to do anything without it being undermined and the awful, awful, bravado and heroism of the biggest non-person since Bond himself; Roger Thornville. Thank goodness I watched the Apartment after this.
Something to fall in love with