Every week on My Favorite Slice, a Movie Trivia Schmoedown competitor shares their favorite category on the wheel! This week’s guest is “Professor” Lon Harris, Singles and Teams competitor, one half of The Harris Brothers, and The Schmoedown’s snobbiest movie snob!
When considering the panoply of options for My Favorite Slice, I considered many before settling on the Crime category. I should point out that there were a number of genres, oeuvres, auteurs, scénarios, metteurs en scène, capes et d’épée and even, yes, films d’art et d’essai about which I wanted to write which, alas, remain unavailable as Schmoedown categories. For your edification as fellow cineastes, here is a list of my preferred Slices which the Schmoedown Kommisars have thus far opted to remove from circulation.
– Jacques Rivette
– Abstract Cinema
– Dziga Vertov
– Margarethe von Trotta
– Marco Belloccio
– Experimental Silent Films
– The Avant-Garde Feminist Documentary Shorts of Maya Deren (I recognize this would likely not fit on a wheel slice but nonetheless, a worthwhile topic for discussion!)
So with this caveat in mind, let us move forward with a genre that is both meaningful to me, personally, your Professor, and available as a Schmoedown wheel category, as it were. Crime films.
My own love affair with crime and criminality in the cinema started as an adolescent, with the work of then-upstart independent filmmaking tyro Quentin Tarantino. I saw his “Pulp Fiction” in a theater at age 16 several times, and the movie made a stunning impact on me: a film about terrible people doing awful things could nonetheless be fast on its feet, clever and entertaining, with a certain joie de vivre and esprit de corps. An esprit de joie, if you will. There was a certain punk-inflected “middle finger to the man” that I felt vicariously while watching these sorts of films, and as a young gentleman, I found this sort of internal mini-rebellion vastly appealing. It could allow you, for a few moments at least, to be transported into a world that you could not otherwise access.
(Though it may be hard to believe, I was rather reserved and bookish as a lad, and had not yet become the vivacious, gregarious and, of course, insanely popular Professor whom you have come to respect and admire.)
Mr. Tarantino’s skyrocketing popularity led to a glut of increasingly disappointing crime films in the late 1990s and onward, and though there remain some examples from this wave that I continue to celebrate (the Wachowski dynasty’s “Bound,” Mr. Rodriguez’s “Desperado,” early Doug Liman example “Go,” “Killing Zoe” from authentic criminal Roger Avary, et cetera), my interest in modern crime films gave way to a passion for the classic variety of the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s.
Here were cinematic achievements that weren’t necessarily relatable, which at times seemed beamed to our planet from an alternate reality, and which certainly contained in no small measure content that modern audiences would deem inappropriate at best. But they nonetheless used the operatic tableau of criminality, shootouts and organizational gangsterdom to explore the expansive, rich and vast tapestry of human experience.
From the iconic, heartbreaking denouement of Cagney’s “Angels with Dirty Faces” to the gin-soaked melancholy of Nicholas Ray’s mesmerizing “In a Lonely Place,” from Melville’s steely, perfectly manicured “Le Samourai” to the chaotic ramshackle of Bresson’s “Pickpocket,” these were films that ask us to sympathize with the individuals typically regarded as the dregs of society. The forgotten. The downtrodden. Those driven by desperation to commit crime. Those whose stories are not only riveting and cinematic, but also essential to understand the fullness of life on planet Earth in the 20th Century and beyond.
These movies taught me to view films not only from an analytical and even didactic perspective, but as, at their core, empathetic and emotional. For that reason, I continue to appreciate crime films, and have selected them as my “favorite slice,” in the common parlance.
In addition to the specific films cited above, in preparation for our next session, please view the following selections on your own time. Queries about them may appear on your midterm:
– Vengeance is Mine (1979) Dir: Shôhei Imamura
– Rififi (1956) Dir: Jules Dassin
– Pickup on South Street (1953) Dir: Samuel Fuller
– Pépé le Moko (1941) Dir: Julien Duvivier
– Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950) Dir: Otto Preminger
– The Laughing Policeman (1973) Dir: Stuart Rosenberg
– Band of Outsiders (1964) Dir: Jean-Luc Godard
– The Roaring Twenties (1939) Dir: Raoul Walsh
– Quai des Orfèvres (1947) Dir: Henri-Georges Clouzot