ALWAYS KEEPING AN EYE ON HOLLYWOOD!!!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

JOHNNY CHAZZ' TURN: AMERICAN PRIDE IN FILMS

JOHNNY CHAZZ: Just recently as a country the United States honored that tragic day of September 11, 2011 – hence, the inspiration for this week’s topic on Cinema: Counterpoint.

This week I would like to examine the top-10 films that not only honor American pride, but also symbolize and reflect upon what America is all about. Imagine for a moment that you have never seen a film shot on American soil and have been subjected to foreign films your whole life. What is American culture all about? How do the locations and interiors differ from foreign films? How are these films shot? How do characters act and perform and what is their primary motivation in these types of films? This is the topic for the week of September 14-20.

Here is Johnny Chazz’s top-10 list for best “American-Pride” films:


1. AMERICAN GRAFFITI: From the cars to Mel’s Diner and the amazing soundtrack, this film is completely iconic of American culture. How much more American can you get than casting Richard Dreyfuss and Ron Howard? From the sock hops to the drag racing and cruising, every scene is a trip inside a time machine to one the most memorable and happy times in the lives of American youth. Each character learns what it means to struggle, to laugh, to cry, and to not only live in the moment but also think about the future before them in the land of freedom where anything is possible. What remains amazing is that the film was shot in less than a month on a fairly low budget. Still, it remains a classic.

2. EASY RIDER: This coast to coast film is representative of American culture in so many ways. The soundtrack is rock-and-roll based with some classic folk tunes thrown in. The locations are rustic, yet scenic and a perfect identity of what the American landscape looks like. The characters have heart, but remain rebels throughout without losing their compassion. A glimpse into “hippie” America and the world of alcohol, bikes and drugs are wonderfully depicted.
Check out the intro accompanied by Steppenwolf's "Born to be Wild!"


3. TAXI DRIVER: The working man – or better yet, the blue collar American has always been the backbone of our society. People in America are willing to take any job and any shift just to make ends meet and that is what makes this country so strong allowing for opportunity. Travis Bickle represents the true-American who is lonely, resentful, angry, passionate and wants to be loved. The interiors and the exterior sets represent the seedy side of NYC to a “T” and the soundtrack sets the mood for the entire film revealing the desperation inside of all of us waiting to lash out.

4. WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?: Taylor and Burton are teamed together in a film that is shot 80% within a single space – the living room. Exteriors are limited, but still resemble what America is all about even in those sparse moments. The scene outside of the roadside bar shows a winding road with few cars and a neon sign flickering in the background offering dancing and food. How American is this? What is fundamental however is the way in which “couples” who have reached that level of comfort in their relationship begin to abuse one another in such a fashion that cruelty and contempt become a face of everyday life. Still, the dialogue is highly cerebral and wonderfully written for these shrewd characters, but the idea of marriage being a sort of “war zone” is everlasting throughout the film. The film is intense, controversial and violent in terms of language. To put it short, once the long night comes to an end and the sun rises, we as an audience feel as though we have spent 50 years in this miserable marriage. It works on so many levels and is as American as can be.
View this intense moment between Taylor and Burton !

5. ROCKY: How can Rocky not be included on this list? The idea of the small-town man becoming a National hero is exactly what America preaches. Anyone can become anything if they put in the time and effort required – but desire and heart are fundamental to success. Rocky is really an outstanding film and stands the test of time simply because it celebrates everything about the heart of the American people – and sports are a huge part of that. The balance of the boxing world and the love story (Stallone and Shire) are also iconic of American culture. The locations and interiors represent the East-Coast style of living and Conti’s soundtrack is a must-have for anyone who wants to wake up tomorrow and jog 20 miles without stopping. Rocky defines the American dream.

6. THE DEER HUNTER: There are so many films dealing with the “Vietnam” war and even WWII that could make my list, but I chose the “Deer Hunter” for the very fact that it is split into three acts. The very fact that we are dealing with Pennsylvania steel workers who are not only bonded by the union but also by friendship is so symbolic of America in itself. Still, is the idea of being a steel worker the American dream? The dream quickly becomes a nightmare as the young men leave the wedding party (an amazing sequence on so many levels) and realize the horrors of Vietnam. Still, it is their friendship, love and devotion for one another combined with American pride that gets them through the war (at least most of them). The performances are first-rate, the music is understated and the locations (i.e.: The mountain scenes in the early a.m.) are tremendous. This film is a true character study that takes a look at both what it means to live as an American and what it means to die as one.

7. SILVERADO: So many westerns have been iconic of American culture over the past 60+ years, but I chose “Silverado” for this week’s purpose. Filmed in 1985, we are given an extraordinary cast that offers standout performances. The genre was dying during the 1980’s (“Pale Rider” aside) and Silverado really shined because of that very reason. Silverado is entertaining throughout every moment of the film and the vibrant script combined with the realistic action scenes make for an outstanding and memorable Western. The scenery and the locations used (New Mexico) are ideal to symbolize America’s Old West during the early 1900’s. As I always say, even if you are not a fan of Westerns, take a chance with Silverado – bet you will love it!

This great video incorporates the theme by Bruce Broughton

8. AMERICAN BEAUTY: There are a few films out there that are similar to the message and images conveyed by “American Beauty” (“Far From Heaven” may be a terrific example) but I chose this film for a number of reasons. In this film we take a look at suburban life-style in America and the two primary differences between this film and “Virginia Woolf” in that sense is the idea that we are dealing not only with a family structure with a real child involved, but that the abusive language and behaviors remain contained and bottled-up until the climax of the film. The visual style of the film is what really makes it work – and in a sense it is as American as can be since it is somewhat a reflection of the works of Norman Rockwell. The camerawork is intelligent and thoughtful as well as the score that couples it. Still, the film has a nice blend of fantasy and reality within it showcasing that our characters are living in a sort of dream-state hoping to wake up. This film really made a name for “DreamWorks” studios and was not only Oscar-worthy, but should be considered one of the most intuitive and creative films ever made in America.

9. THE LAST PICTURE SHOW: Every aspect of this film is a pure and accurate depiction of American life during the early1950’s in the small-town atmosphere. Director Bogdanovich created an atmosphere on the set and in front of the camera that quickly placed the audience in the middle of this desolate, West-Texas town where nothing really ever happens. Life is slow – that is for sure. The performances are formidable and both the sets and the dialogue are second to none. What is highly intriguing about the film is that there is really no soundtrack. The film relies on the music played on juke-boxes or car radios. This in itself represents what American pop-culture is all about – at least in this part of the world and at this moment in time. The innocence of youth is examined in this film as well as their respect for authority. How spell-binding is it that we see very few adults in the film (at least in terms of screen time) combined with the tumbleweeds blowing across the screen almost symbolizing that these young people are really on their own in this world. Escaping the small town atmosphere and monotony is really the motivation here and so is the cast for so many Americans who reside in these types of locales.
Enjoy the classic original 1971 theatrical trailer!


10. PARIS, TEXAS: Director Wim Wenders put together a masterpiece that is as American as apple pie. The opening scene shows a man walking through the desert in a desperate condition who eventually winds up at a run-down bar. What we learn as the film progresses is that the initial visual is reflective of the character’s emotional state and condition. In essence, the film is about loss and bonding at the same time. It is also a film about sacrifice and the difference between the love for a child and the love for a woman. The use of hues and red lighting to give the neon and the rain a vibrant look are outstanding techniques and visuals making the film so enjoyable to the eye. The sets resemble so many aspects of American life including suburban America (the valley in Los Angeles), the desert regions, Texas, and more. The interiors are equally impressive including the scene where the Super 8 is played back as well as the interior of the strip club / gentleman’s club with the one-way mirror. We are also given a mini-version of a road-trip which is also a tool used in so many “American” films. The film is honest, the characters are beautifully casted, and the story will bring even the hardest of hearts to tears in the final scenes.

JER: A most touching and heartfelt subject with a strong “top ten” list to boot. This will be difficult, but I will express my “top ten” list and its reasons for making it onto the list.

10. PRETTY WOMAN: Although this movie has slowly deteriorated from my list of enjoyment, I will say that it tells the story of a woman wanting to achieve her goals no matter the costs… even if it means whoring yourself on Hollywood Boulevard! Julia Roberts became quite annoying for me after this film, but I could take her in the role of a smart gal just wanting to live the dream and be independent. Along comes her Prince Charming, in the form of dapper Richard Gere, which closes the story book tale and everyone lives “Happily Ever After.” Sappy, sugary and unbelievable… maybe I should have gone with WORKING GIRL under the premise, but I cannot say no to a film shot on Hollywood Blvd. Damn you, Garry Marshall!

9. 1941: Maybe not director Steven Spielberg’s most crowning achievement in cinematic history, but the film works on many levels. It portrays the enemies as a bunch of goof-balls; the film is taking place at the dawn of World War II with many innuendos of panic, fear and distrust that has put a country in high- end alert since the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The film’s pace is chaotic and off- the – wall with plenty of American soldiers, planes, bombings and shootings to fill five action films! The bottom line of the film? We will protect our land, no matter the costs… even in a screwball comedy!
A fabulous montage of clips featuring the 'March' by John Williams

8. PLEASANTVILLE: A movie that captures “Americana” in a time when it felt safe to leave the door un-locked and Television didn’t know what re-runs were. Starring newcomers Toby Maguire and Reese Witherspoon, two teenagers growing up in the 1990’s get ‘zapped’ into the world of a 1950’s sitcom. The reminders of a ‘simpler time’ are abundantly present in the black and white world of the sitcom- land the two teens inhabit. It’s all apple pies and poodle skirts in this nostalgic blast from the past!

7. THE PLAYER: It is no surprise that America isn’t all baseball and backyard bbqs! Even in the land where dreams can come true, Hollywood has always been infamous for its fake and back-stabbing shallowness! Welcome to director Robert Altman’s world of the deceiving and the deceived! A blackmailed Studio Executive, played by Tim Robbins, would stop at nothing to clear himself while the facades of Hollywood and the film industry is used as the back drop in this dark- comedy drama.
The intriging original 1992 trailer from director Robert Altman


6. SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER: Why would I include a disco movie with music by the Bee- Gees in a list of American Pride? Simple, it spells freedom and the ability to express oneself as you please…especially for 1970’s Brooklyn. John Travolta plays the iconic Tony Manero, a New York Italiano- Americano street-wise punk who knows he’s got the looks and the dance moves to snatch up any girl he wants! He works at a paint store throughout the week and blows his paychecks at the local discothèque. It is not a happy or uplifting film... it is told with realistic bite that is masked as a ‘dance flick.’ If the popular soundtrack is stripped away, you get a taunt and unforgiving tale of racist and sexist ‘gweedos’ who pop pills and drink too much booze on a quick path to nowhere.

5. THE NEW WORLD: Director Terrence Mallick presents a very realistic and heavily- researched account of 17th century living as explorer Captain John Smith (Colin Farrell) lands on Native American land to discover its people and Pocahontas (Q’orianka Kilcher). Not one of the proudest moments in American history, but a story that needs to be told nonetheless. The film focuses on the slow takeover of a land rightfully belonging to a people not wanting anything to do with modern men and his thoughts and lifestyles.
The original 2005 trailer for THE NEW WORLD

4. THE UNTOUCHABLES: Director Brian DePalma turns the clock back to 1920’s Chicago: a time of Prohibition. With illegal booze sneaking its way through the streets, the Police create an elite team that will stop at nothing to fight fire with fire. Led by Federal Agent Elliott Ness (Kevin Costner), the squad that would be better be known as ‘untouchables’ (they cannot be bought under the table as most police were) the crack team marks a bold target at mob boss Al Capone (Robert DeNiro). With a patriotic soundtrack that swells in triumph as it roots for the good guys in their darkest hours, the film makes you want to stick- out your chest in confidence and pride as justice is delivered!

3. SCARFACE: Another film by director Brian DePalma, this time capturing the tale of how the American Dream can be achieved and lost in a blink of a careless eye. Al Pacino embodies the immortal character of Tony Montana, a Cuban refugee that escapes the dregs of Cuba in 1980 and lands in America… well, Florida to be precise. What would you do for power? Montana stops at nothing as his greed and determination quickly raises him from low- class street scum to high- end dope peddler. The premise reminds anyone that fortune awaits those who want it, but also the extreme lifestyle and paranoia that comes with making enemies along the path to power.

2. PLATOON: Winner of Best Picture for 1987, director Oliver Stone drew from his own accounts during his tours in Vietnam during the war. The recognition and reality of young teen boys, average age rank of 19 years old, follows a platoon through uncharted jungles with danger cropping within the terrain and the men themselves as a division occurs between troop leaders. The first of its kind, the film presented a realistic look at war, violence and the madness that occurred in a land unfamiliar to many.

1. THE PATRIOT: My top choice falls upon director Roland Emerick’s cinematic and epic telling of a family and its wiliness to not participate within the American Revolution. Mel Gibson stars as Benjamin Martin, a man whose previous life is best kept locked up in a foot locker along his bedside, fights to keep his sons at bay and not participate in a war that will only bring grievance to all. The film brings a hardening telling as continued grief plaques the Martins as they fend to survive the British armies closing in on their land and threatening to take all that they desire to take. The film takes itself very serious at times, as the militia sneaks surprise attacks on the unexpected soldiers and it plays on the patriotic emotions of any real red- blooded American who would take up a musket and ride alongside for the defending of a land…a land known as the United States of America!
Themes by John Williams accompanying clips from the film

JOHNNY CHAZZ: Well, this actually totals twenty (20) different films that we are offering our reading / blog audience here on C.C. If I am not mistaken Jer, I think this is the first time (maybe ever) that we have put together a top-10 list and not had a single film that matched - the lists are completely different, yet still serve the purpose for this week.

I must commend a few of your selections in particular as being outstanding selections for the blog: #2 PLATOON was a film I considered, but I went with another war film instead - a tough decision of course. Also, your #4 selections of "THE UNTOUCHABLES" is really sharp and probably makes my top-20 list for the topic. It is a period piece with tremendous attention to detail and life in American pre-Depression.

Your selection of "THE PLAYER" is also intriguing, although as excellent as the film is I am not sure it really offered me a feeling of American pride - however, it did closely examine a piece of America - frankly that being the inner-workings of the film industry in Hollywood which really defined America for so many years.

So, this wraps up another segment of Cinema: Counterpoint - this time honoring those films that warm the hearts and minds of American audiences making us ever so proud to be a part of such a terrific country. Until next week when Jer takes us on a brand new ride – we will SEE YOU NEXT WEDNESDAY!


Have you visited the official CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT page on YOUTUBE? Check out classic and contemporary trailers, scenes and other great trips down memory lane! Just click the link and check out the "Favorites" on our site! Enjoy!

7 comments:

  1. Great Blog topic this week gentleman. I really enjoyed each or your selections. My personal favorite "American" film is the 1986 Rob Reiner directed, "Stand by Me". I love the 1959 small town feel of the film and the journey it's four main characters take. Kind of an "innocence lost" in their adventure. Great plot and the era was well supported, in my opinion.
    Thanks for increasing my cinema knowledge!
    Keep up the great work!
    S.C.H.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I agree with some of your choices for the best American movies. Scarface, Platoon, American Graffiti and Deer Hunter are all really good examples. (Phan - Bakersfield, California)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks SCH for your comments. Yes, STAND BY ME is a great 'moment in time' capture of innocence lost and would have been a great addition to this week's topic!

    Thanks Phan, we are happy to know that you agreed with most of our choices. Please feel free to chime- in with your favorites as well that maybe didn't make the list!

    ReplyDelete
  4. AMERICAN HISTORY X!!! This has to be on everyone's list for a great american film!
    Thanks,
    Ricky (Cleveland, Ohio)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hey Ricky...WOW, a bold title and a hell of a movie, too! Great choice! Thanks for sharing an excellent film!

    ReplyDelete
  6. 3 movies are really American to me.
    1. Treasure of the Sierra Madre
    2. American Graffitti
    3. Superman

    Dillon, Hawaii

    ReplyDelete
  7. Aloha Dillon! Thank you so much for the added titles you shared! Great films to a great topic! Thank you so much for reading and please keep checking us out weekly!

    ReplyDelete