Blog post with titles like Food Means Murder: Symbolism of Food in ‘The Godfather,’ Hollywood and It’s Long History of Sexual Abuse, To Remake or Not to Remake? The Question on Rebooting Classic Film, and Death as Redemption in Film Noir, Paul Batters Silver Screen Classics does not just review films or gush over them, he dives in the meaning, the art, and more. His essays are thought-provoking, but I’ll let Paul speak for himself.
What sparked your interest in classic film?
Classic film has always been in my life as far back as I can remember. I was always fascinated by the silvers and grey tones of classic film and it always looked like an art form to me. Perhaps the fact that until 1975, we didn’t have colour TV in Australia helped! In fact, the first colour TV we had at home was in 1976 and I can still remember watching The Wizard Of Oz for the first time and that magical transformation – I still tear up when it happens now as I remember seeing colour TV for the first time!
My grandmother certainly helped as she was a huge classic film fan and whenever I stayed there at her house (which was often), I was allowed to stay up late with her and enjoy so many films. As a kid in the 70s and into the 80s, television was awash with classic films and so there was the opportunity to watch, learn and enjoy them, as well as become exposed to classic film. Today that is being lost.
My aunt had some fantastic books on classic film – some photography books but also a who’s who of Hollywood and one of my favourites Dennis Gifford’s A Pictorial History Of Horror Movies. I would pour over these books and the incredible images. The search for many films began in these books.
What film seduced you into the world of film noir?
I’m sure I had watched film noir for years but never had the sensitivity or understanding to fully appreciate what I was watching. However, there are two which stand out for me.
Sorry Wrong Number (1948) really showed me that something has been going on that I needed to get into. The shift in time frames to create back-story within a linear narrative was fascinating and drew me deep into the story. Barbara Stanwyck was outstanding (as always)! The psychological slant taken may look like poor pop-psychology today but it’s also a fascinating insight into how cinema in the 1940s looked at newly found and discussed issues.
Kiss Of Death (1947) was the other and far more violent but I was also taken by the thematic concerns of the film, particularly a man trying to find redemption and escape his previous life.
Who is the screen’s deadliest femme fatale?
Phyllis Dietrichson from Double Indemnity. She’s ‘rotten to the core’ as she acknowledges herself and her manipulation and subterfuge constantly surprises till the very end. Her eyes shine with danger and she’s an expert at surviving.
To someone not familiar with noir, what films would you recommend, and would you tell us some of your favourites?
For me, film noir is a style and mood rather than a genre, so I would encourage a range of films to highlight that point -including The Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity, The Big Combo, Detour, Out Of The Past, The Asphalt Jungle, Crime Wave and Raw Deal. All present different narrative approaches and characterizations – the private detective, the femme fatale, the ex-con trying to make good, the dame sticking by her man, the average guy getting caught in the web of deceit, crime and murder – and of course the thematic concerns which drew me into noir in the first place. All the films mentioned are not only masterpieces of film noir but certainly my favourites as well.
What directors do you admire?
Always been a massive fan of Billy Wilder, John Huston, Frank Capra, Fritz Lang, King Vidor and Alfred Hitchcock and also love the work of F.W Murnau, Frank Borzage and Erich Von Stroheim. European directors such as Ingmar Bergman and Francois Truffaut are stand-outs for me. A huge fan of Martin Scorsese as well!
There are so many other less famous directors such as Andre de Toth and Anthony Mann that I greatly admire.
What other genres do you favor?
Love the classic horror particularly the Universal horror cycle of the early to mid-30s. The gangster film, best exemplified for me by the classic gangster films of the 1930s, is also a favourite genre.
Name three films that most classic film fans love but you hate, and if you can tell us why.
Breakfast At Tiffany’s – Not a fan of Audrey Hepburn and it’s a film I’ve never warmed to and never will.
Seven Brides For Seven Brothers – Not a huge fan of musicals (though I do love Singin’ In The Rain) and this is one where the whole premise for story and musical numbers are ridiculous. Too saccharine for my tastes!
West Side Story – Again; a musical and again a ridiculous premise for the narrative and one which is, at best, a footnote in any study of the Bard. I can’t believe it won so many Academy Awards but then so did Titanic.
What are your thoughts on today’s Hollywood films?
I understand and echo the recent concerns of directors such as Martin Scorsese. These concerns have existed for some time – and I think there is a sad lack of originality, creativity and imagination in the film industry. But there is hope with the standard of some films out there such as The Irishman, Knives Out and Parasite.
The truth is that cinema has always faced challenges, whether it was the arrival of sound, the Code, colour, any of the ‘screen stretchers’ (Panavision, Cinemascope, Cinerama), new technologies, TV, videos, etc. Despite times where the outlook for the future of film has looked bleak, there are always new approaches and exciting new auteurs that revolutionize the industry. They’re out there at the moment!
Do you have an interest in other arts that you can share?
Writing is an art and I have worked on spec screenplays (obviously unsuccessful!), as well as short stories and creative writing.