Since the last hectic round of film-watching, I’ve slowed down the pace of my 1,001 movies project a bit. I crunched the numbers and figured out that I didn’t have to watch a film every single night to meet my goal, as long as I committed to watching multiple movies on weekends and during vacations. Thank goodness, too, because the whole point of the project is to have fun and learn about film, not stress myself out to the point where it wasn’t fun anymore. As a friend pointed out, “The title of the book clearly states ‘BEFORE you die.’ Don’t kill yourself watching them.”
Fine. So I still have some work to do taming my inner overachiever. At least there are no moral or ethical dilemmas inherent in my project. Alas, the same cannot be said for the subjects of the films I’m watching. This particular crop of films plunges its protagonists head-on into uncomfortable, unjust situations against their will, and records their responses (or lack thereof).
Tono Brtko, the nominal “hero” of The Shop on Main Street, decidedly falls into the category of “lack thereof.” Paralyzed by fear and doubt, Tono–whose brother-in-law becomes the local fuehrer in their tiny Czech town–doesn’t know what to do in the face of increasing anti-Semitism. It doesn’t help that said brother-in-law gives the hapless carpenter a job as the overseer of a button shop, run by an elderly Jewish widow. Confused and frightened, Tono pretends he’s helping the widow, Mrs. Lautman, run the store out of the goodness of his heart.
This isn’t entirely untrue, but Tono doesn’t have the courage to tell Mrs. Lautman why he’s really there, or that her rights are slipping away from her day by day as the Nazi regime inches closer to its final solution. This tense, horrifying film vividly illustrates the worst fears of good people: we’d all like to believe that, in the face of great evil, we would behave nobly and bravely. But what if we didn’t? What if we retreated into drink and denial, hid our heads in the sand like ostriches? As the film lurched towards its inevitable, unhappy conclusion, I found myself agreeing with Edmund Burke, who wrote that “[w]hen bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”*
By contrast, the heroine of The Official Story challenges her government’s injustice at great personal cost to herself. Alicia Marmet, a history teacher, was unable to have biological children. Her adopted daughter, Gaby, is the light of her life and the treasure of her heart. However, when Alicia learns that Gaby may very well have been stolen, and not adopted, from her biological mother, she sets out to find the truth…even if it means ultimately losing Gaby. Alicia’s story, which mirrors the all too true tales of children stolen during the Dirty War, broke my heart even as it raised my consciousness, and drove me back to the catalog to learn more about a grave injustice that is only now beginning to be corrected.
While grappling with heavy themes and weighty thoughts, I was also pondering a time-management dilemma. One of the movies on the list, Louis Feuillade’s Les Vampires, turned out to be a 440-minute-long serial; when on earth was I going to be able to make time for that? And then, with a blinding flash of the obvious, I realized: I could watch the film the same way Parisian audiences would’ve watched it in the theaters, one episode at time.
With the help of Wikipedia and YouTube I was able to identify and watch each episode. It took me ten weeks to finish, and I’m happy to report that while I didn’t have popcorn and a big screen, the experience was just as enjoyable while noshing on breakfast cereal, wearing comfy pajamas, and sitting in front of my computer.
The film relates the adventures of Philippe Guèrande, a journalist who’s been reporting on the mysterious Vampires gang. I was a little disappointed to learn that Guèrande and his sidekick, Mazamette, were hunting ordinary thieves instead of bloodthirsty undead hoardes, but my disappointment passed with each diabolical robbery, kidnapping, or other crime the villains managed to pull off. Satanas, the head of the gang, is so resolutely evil that he keeps a cannon in his apartment and fires it at people who cross him (!), while Venomous specializes in poisons, and nearly brings about the death of an entire wedding party with tainted champagne. It was fun having something to look foward to on Saturday mornings, and I found myself wondering all week just what kind of terror, excitement, and strange costumes would be in the next episode. It was nice to take a break from more ponderous fare and immerse myself in a world where the good guys lived with their mothers (it’s true!), the bad guys always got punished (eventually), and shooting a cannon at your enemies was always wrong, regardless of the circumstances.
Here’s the list of this round’s movies:
- The Official Story
- Queen Christina
- Way Down East**
- The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover
- The Shop on Main Street
- Within Our Gates
- The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
- Les Vampires***
This brings my project tally to 230 movies. Hm. Perhaps it’s time to schedule a nice, long vacation..?
who is also treating herself to some light reading with I Want My MTV
*Burke is commonly given credit for the phrase, “All that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing,” and if you care about proper quotation attribution as much as I do, you just might enjoy reading this essay on the matter.
**Available on YouTube, but, for some reason, not linking properly. Hm.
***All ten episodes are available on YouTube. Wikipedia helpfully lists the chapters by French and English title in the correct viewing order.