D. W. Griffith’s Intolerance, from 1916 is — not to put too fine a point on it — the greatest movie ever made, maybe the greatest movie that ever will be made.

Pauline Kael summed up the film eloquently and passionately when she wrote:

Intolerance is like an enormous, extravagantly printed collection of fairy tales. The book is too thick to handle, too richly imaginative to take in, yet a child who loves stories will know that this is the treasure of treasures. The movie is the greatest extravaganza and the greatest folly in movie history, an epic celebration of the potentialities of the new medium — lyrical, passionate, and grandiose. No one will ever again be able to make last-minute rescues so suspenseful, so beautiful, or so absurd. In movies, a masterpiece is of course a folly. Intolerance is charged with visionary excitement about the power of movies to combine music, dance, narrative, drama, painting, and photography — to do alone what all the other arts together had done. And to do what they had failed to.


Fabrizio del Wrongo of Uncouth Reflections, who understands Griffith’s art as well as anyone currently writing about film, recently praised the the new Cohen Entertainment high-def restoration of Intolerance, so I bought the Blu-ray of it and it has exceeded all my expectations.  It’s just miraculous — almost as good as watching a fine 35mm print in a theater.

Griffith’s images make you want to jump out of your chair and into the magical spaces they conjure up, and this Blu-ray makes you feel you could actually do it.

A copy of it belongs in every civilized home.  It’s the most important Blu-ray that has ever been released.

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This movie is one of cinema’s most dazzling exercises in style — in art direction, in lighting, in cinematography, in choreographing movement for and by the camera, in creating seductive cinematic spaces.

Paradoxically all this aesthetic beauty serves a grim and depressing story.  The film says at once that the world is a shabby, brutal place and also a place of endless sensual enchantment.  It’s hard to know if this was an exercise in irony on Bertolucci’s part or a symptom of schizophrenia, exposing the divided heart of a man torn between rigorous political commitment and unmediated artistic self-indulgence.


Not that it matters when you’re watching the film — its contradictions are dissolved in its cinematic virtuosity and its irresistible erotic undertows, because these are the things that ultimately define the film, that ultimately defined Bertolucci at the time he made it, in spite of himself or not.

I hesitate to call it a great movie but it has some of the greatest passages in any movie ever made — passages which by themselves justify and exalt the medium beyond judgement or praise.

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This is one of the greatest of all Hollywood musicals and one of the greatest of all Hollywood movies.  It represents a confluence of virtuosity in a number of different disciplines, principally songwriting, screenwriting, cinematography and directing.

It is not perfect by any means.  The choreography is often merely serviceable, some of the numbers are indifferently staged, some of the acting and singing is acceptable at best.  The brilliance of the other contributions, however, far outweighs the film’s flaws.


Forget your prejudices, if you have them, against musicals, against Rodgers and Hammerstein, against Julie Andrews, and surrender to their collective genius.  Forget your prejudices, if you have them, against simplicity and implausible redemption, and surrender, at least for a few hours, to hearts that are lighter and brighter than yours is.

The Blu-ray of The Sound Of Music belongs in every civilized home.



It’s hard to convey how good this movie looks on Blu-ray.  Digital technology makes it possible to align the elements of a three-strip Technicolor negative more precisely than was ever possible before, creating a clarity in the image that’s dazzling.


You can certainly make valid criticisms of the film itself, for its pious romanticizing of the antebellum South and slavery, for its distressing (if well-intentioned) patronizing of its black characters.  What you can’t deny is that it’s one of the grandest entertainments ever concocted by anyone in any medium.


A fine cast, a literate and amusing script, sure-footed direction and the deployment of studio craftsmanship on a stupendous scale result in a film of breathtaking virtuosity — part soap opera, part melodrama, part epic, part lyrical romance, part tragedy.


Producer David Selznick put the package together with canny calculation and good taste but director Victor Fleming invested it with life, made the elements cohere into a timeless work of popular art.  His direction of the film ranks among the highest achievements of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

vivien leigh 1939 - by parrish

It’s just the damnedest thing.  The Blu-ray of Gone With the Wind belongs in every civilized home.

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John Ford started out making two-reel Westerns for Universal in the silent era and directed a number of silent feature Westerns but Stagecoach was his first sound Western, over a decade into the talkie era.

He must have been working on sheer instinct, because adult-oriented A-Westerns like Stagecoach were long out of favor. The film, well received critically and a commercial success, brought the A-Western back, and incidentally made a star of John Wayne, as Ford predicted it would at the time.


The picture has to rank among the most important of all Westerns simply for reviving the genre as mainstream Hollywood fare, which it remained well into the 1960s.

It was based on a short story by Ernest Haycox, though Ford said his sense of it was shaped by the short story “Boule de Suif” by Guy de Maupassant.  Others have suggested the short story “The Outcasts Of Poker Flat” by Brete Harte as a more likely model.  It hardly matters, as all these stories share the conceit of a group of strangers thrown together in an unexpected adventure — a timeless premise in fiction.


Ford’s variant on it is simply brilliant.  The characters are all sharply drawn and varied, their conflicts and alliances engaging and continually shifting, often in unexpected ways.  Wayne’s Ringo Kid becomes the center of the tale, because of his gallantry and determination, and because of Wayne’s screen presence, easy and natural but riveting.


Wayne was hardly star material at the time, being predominantly a veteran of scores of modest B-Westerns, and Ford had to fight to cast him in the picture, but more than holding his own with a cast of fine supporting players he somehow towered over all of them.  He was the one you couldn’t take your eyes off of.

John_Wayne - stagecoach - & Claire Trevor

Ford brought all his considerable skill as a director and storyteller to the movie — it’s impeccably crafted and wonderfully entertaining.  It was the film Orson Welles watched over and over again in order to learn how to direct a movie and it repays countless viewings for ordinary film lovers as well.

It’s one of the great movies and the Criterion Blu-ray edition of it belongs in every American home.

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The craven, dickless men who run Hollywood today have an understandable hatred of the Western, a genre which has traditionally mocked, with scorn and contempt, cowardly eunuchs like themselves.  Still, it’s a hard genre to kill.  Real Westerns keep showing up unexpectedly astride the trail every ten years or so — an Unforgiven or a True Grit — always welcomed by audiences, always profitable.  It must annoy the hell out of the eunuchs.


The Coen brothers’ remake of True Grit, from 2010, may be a sort of miracle, as Unforgiven was, but it’s real enough and its commercial success understandable enough.  It’s one of the best Westerns ever made, beautifully crafted, humane, inspiring, thrilling, dealing with the timeless themes of the Western — shame, honor, redemption.

The Blu-ray edition of it belongs in every American home.  It’s not just a joy in itself, it’s an immensely satisfying rebuke to the Hollywood nullities who fear and hate such works from the shallows of their shriveled, dessicated hearts.



You may not have a special taste, as I do, for the cycle of classic Universal monster movies, but they were a potent cultural force.  They created a mythology which has become a part of American mythology, and they influenced several generations of filmmakers who shaped American cinema in the latter part of the 20th Century, most especially Steven Spielberg.


Bride Of Frankenstein is the best of the cycle — visually elegant, wry and amusing, powerful on many levels.  The image of The Bride, incarnated by Elsa Lanchester in a surprisingly brief appearance on screen, resonates as powerfully as the image of Dracula or Frankenstein’s Monster or The Mummy or The Wolfman.


She is an amazing cinematic creation — a vision of woman as an electric, elemental force too powerful to accommodate, to control, to accept.  She must be destroyed — but she cannot be destroyed.  She is an eternal accusation against the presumption of mere men.

The Blu-ray edition of Bride Of Frankenstein, magnificently restored, belongs in every home.



To my mind, this is one of the greatest Westerns ever made, all the more amazing for being made in the 90s, when Westerns of any kind were few and far between.

As I’ve written before, I think all truly great Westerns deal with the themes of shame, honor and redemption.  They’re parables on the subject of being a moral person, usually a moral man, a worthy man.  Because its setting is the American frontier, the genre is often seen, and sometimes dismissed, as the embodiment of a national myth, a myth about the nature of America itself, and it’s partly that, but it works on deeper and more universal levels, too, which is why it has been embraced internationally.

It’s a genre about achieving full manhood, and sometimes full womanhood, seen as states of moral maturity.


Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven is an example of how dark and morally problematic a Western can be and still stay within the traditional bounds of the genre.  Its protagonist William Munny, a reformed drunk and killer, has put his outlaw ways behind him under the influence of a good woman — but she’s dead and has left him with two small children to raise.

He’s lured into doing one last job as a gun for hire, which he takes on so he can give his kids a new start somewhere far from their failing farm.  But he’s also willing to take the job because it involves helping a group of prostitutes get revenge on a couple of cowboys who have cut up the face of one of their number.  Munny has killed innocent women in his day, in the course of committing crimes, but has experienced profound remorse for this.  Coming to the aid of the powerless women feels on some level at least like a means of redemption.


But things don’t turn out to be so simple.  The cut whore for whom revenge is sought doesn’t seem all that passionate about revenge herself.  One of the cowboys who wronged her is not such a bad guy.  Munny’s two cohorts in the killing for hire become disgusted by the job.


The real villains of the piece turn out to be a sadistic sheriff and an exploitative brothel keeper, to whom Munny will eventually deliver justice — escaping with his moral code compromised in some respects, honored in others.  There is a confused, bewildered nobility in the man which triumphs in the end . . . but just barely.

Eastwood’s film is expertly crafted and acted, complex and disturbing and inspiring all at once.  It’s a great work of art.  The Blu-ray of Unforgiven belongs in the home of every fan of the movies.



It’s a shame that Citizen Kane has a reputation as “the greatest movie ever made”, as a pinnacle of cinematic art.  It’s not an art film at all — it’s a grand entertainment, a rattling good melodrama, a work of meticulous craft and wit and joy in the multifarious resources of movies.  When you’re watching it, its reputation becomes quite irrelevant because it’s just so damn much fun.


It uses every technique in the cinematic handbook — back-screen projections, matte paintings, stock footage, miniatures.  Its greatest glories are its magnificently lit, long-playing, deep-focus, elegantly choreographed studio shots, which are the things most people remember because they’re so beautiful and so involving that you feel you’re inhabiting the imaginary spaces they conjure up.


Those shots constitute the real art of the film, but they’re always in service to the story, to the theatrical but finely calculated and consistently engaging performances.  There’s nothing pretentious about the film at all — it’s built to please, to amuse and to move.  It has made generations of young people want to become filmmakers, if not always to be great entertainers of the public, because it makes filmmaking look like the best way in the world to have fun, to create magic.


It’s a throwback to the pre-modernist notion that the greatest art is popular art, accessible art, the highest form of entertainment — a notion that informs the works of Homer and Shakespeare and Dickens.  That’s its true distinction and the source of its enduring stature in the culture.  The Blu-ray edition of it belongs in every civilized home.



As Pauline Kael once noted, some of the greatest of all movies have been follies — grand, overly ambitious projects that teetered on the edge of chaos yet became enduring monuments to the possibilities of cinema.


Intolerance was such a folly, and so was Erich Von Stroheim’s Greed, though only a fragment of the latter survives.  Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now was another.


Coppola mortgaged almost everything he owned to make his Vietnam war epic.  He headed off to The Philippines without a finished script, hoping to find an ending for his movie somewhere in the course of shooting it, which took him over a year, during which production costs spiraled out of control amidst disastrous weather conditions and Coppola’s gradual mental meltdown.


He was lucky to get out of it alive, and he never quite found his ending.  He threw everything he could think of at the wall, hoping something would stick — a bit of T. S. Eliot, a Doors song, the on-screen slaughter of a water buffalo — but none of it really did. The drama just sort of implodes at the end without really resolving.  But the journey to that amorphous denouement is one of the great cinematic adventures of all time, breathtaking to look at, with passages as powerful as any ever created by any director.


The film was a hit, Coppola got his investment back and a personal profit of about $15 million.  Things rarely end that well for the directors of grand cinematic follies.


There are two versions of the film currently available on DVD and Blu-ray — the original release version and a re-release version from 2001 which restores about 49 minutes of footage that Coppola cut prior to the original release.  I think the original release version is distinctly superior — the cut scenes, while fascinating, slow down the film’s momentum, lessen the suspense, and don’t accord with the tone of the ending Coppola settled on, drawing undue attention to its deficiencies.


In any case, the Blu-ray of Apocalypse Now belongs in the home of anyone who’s passionate about movies.



For my money only three series in the history of television can be called masterpieces — The Twilight Zone, Upstairs, Downstairs and Breaking Bad.

The Twilight Zone, being an anthology show, is the most uneven of the three, with many different writers and directors and actors contributing content over the run of the series.  It featured several types of genres, from sci-fi to the supernatural.  Even so, the quality of the work is consistently high, and quite often brilliant.

Almost all of the episodes, of whatever genre, deal with subterranean modern anxieties, centering on the themes of personal isolation and the inherent, bewildering threats of advancing technology — themes that continue to haunt contemporary life.  These themes give the series a rough sort of coherence and an enduring relevance.

You can buy the whole series in a wonderful new Blu-ray edition, packed with supplements.  It belongs in every civilized home.



The first of the Godfather films cost 6 million dollars and has to date grossed 133 million dollars, making it one of the most profitable films of all time. It was the highest-grossing film in its year of release and in adjusted dollars it’s among the top 25 highest grossing films in the history of movies.


Its sequel, The Godfather Part II, cost 13 million dollars and has to date grossed 57 million dollars.  It was the fifth most successful film in its years of release.  Not in the same box-office league as its predecessor, but it has still earned the studio which made it a clear profit of at least 13 million dollars on an investment of 13 million dollars. In most businesses, that would qualify as a killing.


The Godfather Part II is one of the greatest of all films.  It is intelligent, impeccably crafted, visually stunning, profound in its insight into American culture — and wildly entertaining.  The idea that an intelligent, impeccably crafted, profound, visually stunning film could be a high-grossing film today is an almost surreal fantasy.  The film came out 40 years ago.  40 years is a long time, but it’s not that long a time.


What has happened to Hollywood, to our culture, in those four decades?  Has there ever been a more complete and more catastrophic collapse of values, virtue and taste in the whole history of human civilization — apart from cultures ravaged by war or financial apocalypse?


This is a subject worthy of the most serious meditation.

Meanwhile, the Blu-ray edition of The Godfather Part II belongs in every civilized home.

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This is the second greatest American film of the 1970s, but second only to its sequel The Godfather, Part II. Both rank among the greatest American films ever made.


I found it astonishing when it first came out, but it feels even more astonishing today, in a time when films of its scope and craft and taste and power and daring are no longer conceivable in Hollywood. Shot for shot the film explodes with Coppola’s creative energy and filmmaking mastery.


It is in one sense a deeply conservative film, stylistically — rooted in Coppola’s respect for the genius of the old studio system. It is in other ways wildly radical. Its brilliant cinematography by Gordon Willis combines elegant old-school lighting with more than a passing nod to the look of old 16mm color footage from the period the film is set in.


It introduces shockingly explicit sexuality and violence seamlessly into an older Hollywood tradition which treated these subjects more obliquely.  Its vision of the utter, profound corruption of American society seems more and more prophetic.

The film is partly the apotheosis of the classic Hollywood gangster movie, partly a riveting family melodrama, partly a timeless fairytale (“There was a king who had three sons . . .”)  It is a masterpiece that works on many different levels at once and grows in stature with every passing year.  The Blu-ray edition of the film belongs in every American home.

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Forty years (!) after its release, after a deluge of explicit pornography has washed across and nearly drowned our culture, this film has lost its capacity to shock as it once shocked, with its sexual frankness embedded a well-made film starring a Hollywood icon.

What still startles and unsettles is the emotional nakedness of the performances by Brando and Schneider, the conceptual daring of Bertollucci, questioning the very possibility of portraying an authentic and humane erotic love in movies . . . assuming such a thing is even possible anymore in real life, perverted as real life has become by the diseased clichés of movies.


It’s one of the most interesting, not to mention one of the greatest, films ever made, and one of the most beautifully shot — which is why it joins that list of films which justify buying a Blu-ray player just to be able to watch it in that format.


Meet Me In St. Louis joins my list (along with The Searchers and Rear Window) of Blu-ray editions that belong in every home — that are in themselves worth buying a Blu-ray player for.

Meet Me In St. Louis is one of the greatest of all Hollywood musicals, and one of the greatest of all movies. It grows deeper and more astonishing with each viewing. If this film doesn’t make you cry, you need to totally reexamine your life, your values, your sense of what the world is really all about.

Producer Arthur Freed was the driving force behind getting the film made at MGM.  Most of the other executives at the studio strongly opposed it — they didn’t think it was about anything, not understanding that the dysfunctional moments of a happy family is a subject of the most sublime profundity.

Louis B. Mayer intervened and told Freed to go ahead with the production, saying, “Either he’ll learn something or we’ll learn something.”  The result was the most profitable film in MGM’s history, beating out even Gone With the Wind, which MGM only owned part of.

Gene Kelley said it was his favorite musical, and Martin Scorsese lists it among the films that most influenced his visual style.  It’s an absolute miracle — especially on Blu-ray, where it’s possible to more fully appreciate director Vincente Minnelli’s elegant exploration of the house at the center of the film, and the choreography of the family members within it which reflects the shifting elements of the family dynamic.

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