Film Memories: March 1998

Here’s the introduction from my post last month where I looked back at February 1997: One of the side effects of being a big fan of making lists is that I know what films I went to, on what date, where, and who with, going back almost half my life. I recently unearthed a diary listing what films I went to when I was 20 years old, so I thought I would present this with comments on what I can remember about the films in question. I should mention, my memory is terrible: just trying to write up films I went to see a month ago is proving difficult enough, which is part of the reason I wanted to get a blog to record my impressions, so that I wouldn’t lose them in a few years’ time.

Here’s the list of films I went to see last month, 15 years ago, with my memories of them.

* Starship Troopers (Wellington: Mid City). A seminal Paul Verhoeven film, and up there amongst my favourite films. I’ve had it since on DVD and now on Blu Ray. I think it stands up as a really well-made critique of power and its application, an exemplary text on the dehumanisation of fascism, as well as a satire on modern American television. It’s also one of the best World War II films around. Those of us who’d seen the trailer beforehand had no particularly high expectations: it looked like it would be a load of rubbish, which made it one of the most genuinely surprising moviegoing experiences I’ve had.

* As Good as It Gets (Wellington: Penthouse, 7 March). A romantic comedy about which I remember little except that it had Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt, and was well-rewarded at that year’s Oscars. I don’t remember particularly liking it.

* Good Will Hunting (Wellington: Embassy, 8 March). Another bit of sentimental dross that had Academy voters salivating, this was Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s break-out film. It was also very silly.

* The Man with the Movie Camera (Wellington: Rialto, 9 March). I did a trip down to the local arthouse cinema with my film studies class to be shown this film, and our lecturer insisted on screening it silent, which made it a supremely odd viewing experience. Silent films are rarely meant to be seen without any sound. I don’t think I really appreciated it at the time (as it is often difficult to do when dealing with any text as part of a class).

* The Conformist (Wellington: Rialto, 12/19 March). A strange and appealing film about fascism by Bernardo Bertolucci. My chief impression is being really struck by the framing and compositions, lots of beautiful corridors and light fittings, somewhat akin to an Antonioni film, but with more humanity. Not a huge deal more humanity, though. It was still quite a cold and intense film. I went to see it again five days after first watching it, and is one I’ve often wanted to revisit, as I can’t be sure how much of my response was just that of an impressionable 20-year-old film student to a compellingly visual director.

* U Turn (Wellington: Mid City, 15 March). I had already seen this in February 1998, and went back to see it with friends. Like a lot of Oliver Stone films of the period, I’m really not sure about it. I think its depiction of southern, redneck America is a peculiarly virulent one, though there were transient pleasures.

* Boudu Saved from Drowning (Wellington: Victoria University, 16 March). Another screening as part of my film studies course. A nice little piece by Renoir about a tramp called Boudu. The basic plot set-up is in the title, and naturally it touches on class divisions in contemporary society.

* The Boxer (Wellington: Manners Mall, 21 March). I remember vanishingly little about this worthy Jim Sheridan film. I think it had Daniel Day Lewis in it.

* Jackie Brown (Wellington: Manners Mall, 27 March). One of Tarantino’s best and most nuanced films (well, not so much Samuel L. Jackson’s character), but the fact that it has a 40-something black woman as a central character — and a likeable, principled character at that, rather than a two-bit gangster — and the fact that at its core is a gentle relationship drama, makes it one of his best. It largely downplays (though being Tarantino it cannot entirely avoid) the crashing, propulsive, violent-comedy-driven trademark of much of his work.

* The End of Violence (Wellington: Rialto, 28 March). I think this is one of Wim Wenders’s most underrated films (Wenders himself is a generally quite underrated filmmaker), about a culture of surveillance, around which several of his key films revolved. It also presents a genuinely interesting and beautiful vision of Los Angeles. Or maybe the passage of 15 years has made me feel more kindly towards this film.

* Notebook on Cities and Clothes and Brothers Skladanowsky (Wellington: Rialto, 29 March). Two more earlier Wenders films, neither of which I can well remember, though the latter was about the eponymous German film pioneers and made in silent black-and-white if I recall correctly.


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