Forbes endeared himself to me by being the only filmmaker in the last-but-one Sight & Sound poll to choose one of his own movies, WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND, as one of his top ten. It would have been nice if the film had appeared on anybody else’s list — a kind of validation. But it IS a really lovely film, one of several of his movies worthy of consideration as classics — along with THE WHISPERERS, KING RAT and SEANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON, subject of the second ever Shadowplay article.
Archive for Bryan Forbes
“Oh no… can you imagine how sarcastic that coroner’s going to be THIS time?”
I try to avoid writing lists, mainly. I used to make to-do lists, but it seemed to be a way of putting off doing things. And I used to make lists of favourite films, which is perhaps an OK way to start thinking about films, but runs out of value pretty quickly.
But for some reason I bought Sight & Sound specially for the Critics’ and directors’ poll this month. Actually, more the directors’. A good list there works as a sort of map of the filmmakers’ head. Just agreeing or disagreeing with the choices isn’t enough, I want to learn something about the person. That’s why my favourite last time was Bryan Forbes, because he included his own movie, WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND. Tells you a lot about him.
Forbes wasn’t asked back, but my favourite lists were those Guillermo Del Toro (FRANKENSTEIN, FREAKS, LA BELLE ET LA BETE), Mike Hodges (all thrillers, all on the verge of noir but not quite typical), Richard Lester (visual comedies and period movies), Edgar Wright (from DUCK SOUP to THE WILD BUNCH) and especially Terence Davies (lots of cineastes listed SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN and THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS, and one doesn’t doubt their sincerity, but with him it really means something). Also Bong Joon-Ho (CURE and TOUCH OF EVIL and ZODIAC) and Abel Ferrara (A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE, THE DEVILS).
I also like the mysteries: Charles Burnett is the only filmmaker to list Henrik Galeen’s THE STUDENT OF PRAGUE and doesn’t amplify; does Rolf de Heer really like FEARLESS that much or did he feel the need to list a film from an Australian (the film is good, but is it that good?); Andrew Dominik’s list is all-English language and all post-1950 — his choices are all great, but doesn’t he feel any embarrassment?
Atom Egoyan claims to have listed ten films that have had “the most dramatic impact on the artform,” as if his personal feelings didn’t come into it.
I find myself in favour of goofy lists. I don’t want the overall top ten to change that much, but it gets boring to see the same names again and again. In the critics’ poll, Ian Christie lists RW Paul’s THE “?” MOTORIST, Geoff Dyer has WHERE EAGLES DARE, and they’re obviously quite sincere, and the Ferroni Brigade has PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES (“We don’t believe these are the ten best films of all time, but we are convinced it would be better if they were,” begging the question, WHAT would be better?). One of Alexander Horvath’s choices, NOISES (anon, 1929) cannot be located using Google or the IMDb (“While it should be pretty obvious that these are the ten greatest films of all time, I still wonder if anyone will agree”). On the other hand, Slavoj Zizek, as always, tries a bit too hard to be interesting.
Creating an alternate list to the top ten ought to be fairly easy — just sub in an alternative choice from the same director or era or country or movement or genre. But in fact, the list is pleasingly stuffed with sui generis oddities — no other Dreyer film really compares to JOAN OF ARC (some may be better, but none are like it), CITIZEN KANE stands unique in Welles’ oeuvre even if one prefers CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT, VERTIGO is a uniquely strange Hitchcock, LA REGLE DU JEU a uniquely strange Renoir, and Vertov offers only one obvious candidate. Ozu, Ford and Fellini made enough masterpieces for credible substitutions, though 8 1/2 still seems summative.
I know my favourite film: HE WHO GETS SLAPPED (ten years ago, Mark Cousins listed this: now, I don’t think anyone has). And then PLAYTIME and 2001 are the most amazing films I know. Beyond that, I’d surely have to have Powell, Welles, Sturges, Kurosawa, Keaton, Hitchcock, Russell, Lang, Fellini… oops, that’s eleven already. This is a silly game, I’m not playing.
Really gorgeous art-nouveau intertitle from THE WRONG BOX, directed by Bryan Forbes.
Fiona always says, when BF’s name comes up, that when he dies the British will suddenly appreciate that a major film talent had been in their midst. Perhaps the problem has been that Forbes, a spiky personality with a strong sense of his own worth, has appreciated himself too much and not left room for anyone else. He was the only filmmaker polled by Sight & Sound magazine who chose one of his own works for his personal Top Ten Movies of All Time. Forbes selected WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND, which at least shows he has good taste.
THE WRONG BOX is certainly an uneven piece, with some narrative slackness and muddle slightly spoiling the effect of the loving period recreation (John Barry score, Julie Harris costumes, Ray Simm art direction) and astonishing all-star cast. It’s particularly impressive to a British viewer, since every single face in the movie is somebody known from TV or movies. Major roles for Peter Cook & Dudley Moore, Ralph Richardson, Wilfred Lawson and Peter Sellers (to name only those who give career-high accounts of themselves) are supplemented by walk-ons by the likes of Leonard Rossiter, Graham Stark, Hilton Edwards, Thorley Walters, Irene Handl and the Temperance Seven. And of course there’s the inevitable Nanette Newman (criticism of Forbes’ tendency to cast his wife in everything is a sore point with him, understandably. But I find I’m coming around to Nanette.)
Anyhow, the above intertitle always cracks me up. Clearly influence by HELP!, made the previous year, although the influence really goes back to the cinematic playfulness of the nouvelle vague, it’s especially amusing by way of its utter redundancy: like the comic book sound effect captions in SCOTT PILGRIM, the intertitle describes something we can perfectly well hear for ourselves.
THE WRONG BOX is adapted so loosely from Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osborne’s novel that another version seems like a perfectly good idea — the book has some very funny bits of its own, with only the idea of a corpse in a trunk in common with Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart’s busy script. Osborne’s influence on Stevenson seems to be to rid him of his moralistic side, and the short novel is an exercise in infernal bad taste. I enjoyed it considerably.