I’m relishing this opportunity to show you genuine art and thereby encourage you to be better people! I warn you now that I may get a little preachy, and that the phrases “cult classic”, “alien invasion” and “lesbian vampire” won't occur too many times as these are concepts of which I have as yet a poor understanding. The National Anthem will be played at the end of each evening’s viewing and you will be expected to stand for it. Thank you.
1st Night: The Third Man (1949)
A crashingly obvious choice. Best British film ever made? Well, it’s the best British film I’ve ever seen (which is not quite the same thing, I suppose). Expressionist lighting and movement techniques; innovative use of shadows in the murky Vienna streets; letting Orson Welles add his own cuckoo clock improvisations; the tour round the ward of dying children, where we only see the visitors’ faces and not the children; the sewers (more films should be set in sewers); Wilfred Hyde-White being, errr, Wilfred Hyde-White. But best of all is the long closing shot where Joseph Cotton waits for Alida Valli at the cemetery gates after her gangster lover (Welles) has been buried; he can offer her freedom, love and safety, but without a glance she just carries on walking straight past him.... and the zither plays on.
2nd Night: Modern Times (1936)
Buster Keaton was better than Chaplin, everybody tells me. Chaplin was a sentimentalist onscreen and a tyrant off it. My father hated Chaplin with a passion. I love the man. Keaton worked superbly with props, but Chaplin returned to the problems of human life and emotional experience again and again. Call me an old softie, but I think that’s interesting, and even better if you can laugh about it, which I did, many many times. As well as showcasing Chaplin’s honed comedy technique, Modern Times is also a depiction of the human cost of industrialisation (the mental breakdown scene is just glorious), which seems something worth saying but, like the message in his later film The Great Dictator, not many other films had the nerve to say it.
3rd Night: Tenue de Soirée (1986)
Oh dear, another film that “has everything”, according to me. A riotous French comedy featuring a classic French subject, the ménage à trois. Except here the trois are a mousy bald man, a sometime prostitute, and a gay ex-con. The first loves the second who loves the third who loves the first. Violence, crime, sex and transvestism ensue. The film also has philosophical French qualities: when the trio try to rob a big house, the wealthy couple who own it walk in on them but are so bored by their bourgeois life that the burglary seems a welcome tonic. Gérard Depardieu, Michel Blanc, et al. are in fine form and the physical comedy is superb.
4th Night: The Last Days of Dolwyn (1949)
This dank little backwater of a film concerns a Welsh village that gets flooded to make a reservoir - providing water for Perfidious Albion of course. I choose it for two reasons: firstly, it struck a chord with me – must have been all those childhood holidays I spent in a mountaineering hut on the north ridge of Tryfan; secondly, it’s by way of appreciation to No Good Boyo who put me up to this task, for it is surely the Welshest film ever made. It’s as dark and wet and gloomy as you could possibly want. In fact, if my memory serves me correctly, it’s all filmed in a studio, as presumably the real Wales was not dark, wet or gloomy enough. It’s stars a very young Richard Burton and other folk with top Welsh accents. No clips of it on YouTube, maybe it never existed, maybe it was just a dream.