Sunday, June 12, 2011

1961 ... What a Year

1961 is a strobogrammatic prime number, which means if you reverse the number on both x and y axes, you will get the same number. Here's how you do it:

Alongside this numerical wonder of 1961, it was a particularly vintage year in cinema, with some exceptional art-house classics.

1961 was also a year in which:
  • China bought grain from Canada and dished out $60m in the process. The world would repay by buying everything from China in years to come (and come).
  • The Beatles perform in the Cavern Club for the first time. This coincides with the introduction of the word "overrrated" into the English language.
  • Something important happened in Malaysia.
  • Construction for Berlin Wall commenced and a young Roger Waters began contemplating on a metaphor.
  • The first "Fantastic Four" was released and the Marvel Universe was born. Marvel are still shitting these out in chronic diarrhea.
  • "Catch-22" was published after the English-speaking world asked for more ways to use the word "overrated."
  • A little skirmish began in Vietnam that would have absolutely no effect on popular culture or politics. None whatsoever.

Meanwhile, in the world of film audiences dealt with:
  • Breakfast at Tiffany's, in which a ridiculously beautiful bejewelled woman eating croissant looking at a shop window was enough to ignore blatant racism and a boring-ass plot.
  • Last Year at Marienbad, in which nothing and everything happens.
The abovementioned classics sadly didn't make the Top 3, which consisted of:

3- One, Two, Three (dir: Billy Wilder; wri: Billy Wilder & I.A.L. Diamond)

Another collaboration between Wilder and Diamond, One, Two, Three is an insanely fast-paced comedy that flows effortlessly like counting one, two, three (sorry, I couldn't resist). More importantly it is a wonderfully subtle political satire that Armando Iannucci would be proud to put his name on. It is also arguably the last great film by Billy Wilder, thus ending a brilliant run of films that only a handful of directors have ever achieved.

2- Viridiana (dir: Luis Buñuel; wri: Luis Buñuel & Julio Alejandro)

Buñuel's subversive classic is probably the greatest Spanish film ever made. It is funny, blasphemous, tragic, erotic and, yes, incredibly subversive. Touching themes like incest, catholicism, greed, and social inequality, the film would still cause uproar if it were released now for the first time. It is not all about controversy or trying to elicit a reaction from reactionaries, though. This is the film that truly showed Buñuel's genius as a film-maker and he went on to bigger (but never better) things after this. Winner of Palme d'Or, the film was banned in many cahtolic countries after the Vatican deemed it obscene. Any record of its existence was erased in Spain for decades. Thankfully, it now garners the respect and admiration it truly deserves. The following clip does not have any English subtitles.

1- Cleo from 5 to 7 (wri & dir: Agnès Varda)

French New Wave's masterpiece, this virtual real-time account of a woman's last 2 hours before finding out about a test result is odd, sad and teary-eyed romantic. Varda uses a plethora of cinematic techniques (it even has a silent-cinema sequence). Cleo from 5 to 7 is an almost 'perfect' film - no idea what that means, but it is. And if you want a little more interpretation, it is the liberation of a woman from patriarchy and the objectification of her sex, which proves absolutely futile by the end. The irony of it all will floor you, but that would be giving away too much.

1961 ... what a year!

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