Sunday, June 24, 2007

AFI Top Hundred

Something tells me that this is the last time for Citizen Kane at number one.

The complete list here.

The Godfather has been edging ever upward the past few decades. Now number two, it is poised to take over as number one.

It is a close call, and Kane is certainly a masterpiece. But . . . to pick at a masterpiece, a few things simply do not hold up. The whole premise of the movie, for one--what newsreel service would hold up news of the death of a famous person for an entire week while poor Thompson went out in search of the answer to a word? And, if a reporter for a newsreel, where is Thompson's cameraman and camera?

And--to repeat what struck me at 13, when I first saw the movie--is there anyone not cognizant of the fact that Kane whispers his famous word alone in his bed, completely out of earshot of everyone? Who in the world hears "Rosebud"? Certainly not the nurse, who enters from the other room.

Some--not a lot, but some--of the dialog is painful to listen to: "Looky out here in the window!" And some of it is simply purposeless: see Joseph Cotten and Everett Sloane's conversation at the party introducing the stolen New York Chronicle staff, when they discuss whether the new staff will change Charlie or vice-versa. It's an interesting idea, but it goes nowhere, because the notion is simply dropped once Kane returns from Europe. In fact, we never see nor hear of this new staff ever again. (In fact, all account of Kane's career as a yellow journalist is simply dropped after the Spanish-American War, save for his brief attempt to gin up his second wife's opera career; the account of the last forty years of his life is given over to his domestic troubles, his run for the governership, Susan's singing career, and finally Florida.)

Understand: none of the above is to dislodge the film as a masterpiece. It is. In fact, I spent a half-hour last night arguing that very point with my new uncle in-law. Even now, when I see it, scene after scene prompts me nearly to applause. To mention just one eight-minute segment in the movie: Just about everything remembered in Thatcher's memoirs, starting with Agnes Moorhead in the cabin, to "Merry Christmas," to "I think it would be fun to run a newspaper," to twenty-five year-old Welles' first appearance on screen, the scene in the city room with Thatcher and Bernstein: "You provide the prose poems. I'll provide the war." Then the end: "You know Mr. Thatcher, at the rate of a million dollars a year, I'll have to close this place . . . in sixty years."

It's just, from a distance of thirty-five years, a little older than half the age of Citizen Kane, The Godfather is starting to hold up just a bit better. The characters are fuller, the screenplay richer. The music is better. The cinematography comparison is a wash, with Gordon Willis's use of colors, of darkness and sunlight, matched by Greg Tolan's tracking and deep focus. Directing, narrowly, goes to Coppola over Welles, on the basis of the performances Coppola was able to coax, uniformly brilliant from the Godfather down to Enzo, the baker's helper. (Trivia: what do Coppola and Welles have in common for their respective efforts? Neither won Best Director at the Oscars, though both did win, as a co-writer, Best Screenplay. Welles, who should have also won for Best Actor, didn't.)

Conclusion? The 2018 poll will have a switching at numbers one and two.


Anonymous said...

Hmm, yeah. Good points, all. And while we're at it, what's with that list at all? Reminds me of grad school -- certain books had to be name-dropped as greatest and favorites so the person's cred would stay "intact." Yeah, sure, The Golden Bowl is your favorite novel. Right after Finnegan's Wake, no?
So, it's sometimes tiring to have to sit through such shows, the whole cottage industry of do-it-for-cheap two-hours-of-ad-selling clip shows that start with "AFI's most." I mean, Best Years of Our Lives? What a yawnfest, filled with textbook sentimentality, scene after scene. And Philadelphia Story? Really? "I promise to be less uppity, and more yaaaar feminine!"
Maltese Falcon . . . eh. It, along with Vertigo, aren't even the best examples of their type. What a phone-in.


texasyank said...

On the bright side, "Dances with Wolves" was dropped, presumably forever.