Friday, 25 May 2007

Robert Duffin reviews his ten favourite films, Part 5

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial
USA 1982
Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenwriter: Melissa Mathieson
Runtime: 115 mins
Certificate: PG
DVD Distributor: Universal DVD

I remember watching E.T. for the first time in the summer of 1988 not long after its first VHS release in the U.K. I became happy, scared, sad and enthralled by this adventure and at that very young age I found an affinity with a filmmaker in Steven Spielberg. At only four years old I would be attracted to anything his name was attached to and for that he remains an important influence on my cinephilic nature. In my top ten I felt these formative years deserved some kind of representation.

E.T. showed me for the first time in my life the power of cinema to move, to completely emotionally involve you in a story, to have you hysterically laughing one minute and sniffling through uncontrollable tears the next. Everything that worked for me then, continues to now. This remains Spielberg’s greatest
cinematic achievement, as he takes his camera to child height level and tells a simple story of love between two best friends and finds universal themes that make this story timeless. E.T. is undoubtedly sentimental but never becomes the syrup Spielberg is prone to. He also directs the three siblings into fantastic child performances that never become too precocious. Screenwriter Melissa Mathieson also has a unique ear for the way children converse, which combined with said performances, offers a touching portrait of a family dealing with loss and loneliness.

John Williams’ epic score, a mix of the pulse pounding and gentle, coupled with some of the finest visual moments still gives me chills. The emergence of E.T. from the shed bathed in distilled light, the moment E.T. touches his heart (“ouch”) as he leaves Elliot or the scene when the children take off on their bicycles and I sore with them. Re-watching E.T. was a revelation, as it crossed the boundary from great nostalgia film into great film.

Rear Window
USA 1954
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenwriter: John Michael Hayes
Runtime: 112 mins
Certificate: PG
DVD Distributor: Universal DVD

From the moment the snare drum kicks off the opening credits my heartbeat quickens! When thinking of my favourite films, Rear Window was the first one that came to mind. It’s one of the most elegant pieces of entertainment that has ever came out of Hollywood yet is almost perverse in the way that Hitchcock makes you complicit in the giddy excitement of voyeurism.

In Hitchcock, French auteur Francois Truffaut’s series of interviews with Hitchcock published back in 1967, the Master of Suspense asserts that he was “feeling very creative at the time. The batteries were well charged.” Hitchcock’s precision storytelling and gradual reveal of the homicide clues creates a sense of tension that creeps up on you almost unexpectedly. His cinematic sleight of hand distracts with the delightful banter between the cabin fever suffering L.B. Jeffries, his luminous girlfriend Lisa and the busybody nurse Stella. The big moment, and a personal favourite, occurs after the death of the dog and the neighbours come to their windows. That’s all the neighbours apart from one. The small flicker of light coming from the murderer Thorwald’s cigarette embers in his dark apartment is chilling.

Hitchcock’s master handling of both space and time create a truly unique cinematic environment and example of character alignment. Sure, Jeff is a voyeur, but aren’t we all? We share his guilt as a nosy neighbour. We indulge in the excited triumph of discovering the murder. We also share in the terror as the door to his apartment is opened, and worry that Thorwald is coming into our own living rooms. Whatever it says about me, there’s something special about this film, and I’ll jump at any chance to take my seat right next to L.B. Jeffries and pull out the binoculars.
This concludes Robert Duffin's Top Ten!
Thank you for reading!

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