Friday, September 19, 2008

1968: A Cinema Odyssey



While Goatdog and Nathaniel and I are tip-tapping away privately on the next Best Pictures... installment, this one about 1937’s The Life of William Shakespeare and 1998’s Zola in Love (or something like that), I find myself invited into another, shorter-term project in cinephiliac listmaking and the fetishization of chronology. My gracious host in this case? None other than Encyclopedia Britannica, which has asked best-selling author, film historian, and James Bond expert Raymond Benson to craft a list of the Top Films of 1968, to be unspooled day-by-day over the next two weeks. EB invited a few other writers, including yours truly, to serve as formal commentators on Raymond’s entries. The list has not been revealed to we merry band of respondents, so I have no idea whether Raymond’s thinking will veer toward the iconic (2001? Rosemary’s Baby? Planet of the Apes) or the popular (The Green Berets? The Thomas Crown Affair?) or the boundary-pushing (Flesh? Teorema? The Killing of Sister George?), or how far he’ll leap out of the feature-narrative box (Monterey Pop? The Horseman, the Woman, and the Moth? Winnie-the-Pooh and the Blustery Day?). Ought to be a lively occasion, and I hope you all will read, comment, and enter the prize contest for the first movie fan to successfully predict Raymond’s top choice.

Meanwhile, a note to my teenage readers. Back in 1906, when I was in elementary school, and I didn’t know a single person who owned a home computer—something like the offspring of a typewriter, a TV, and a milk crate, with lime-green text radiating from a dark screen—Encyclopedia Britannica was part of a Fantastic Four with Collier’s Encyclopedia, the yearly World Almanac, and the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature as my favorite tools and, frankly, my favorite toys. Even for those of us who were there: remember what it was like to have a factual or historical question and look it up in a book, which sometimes meant not knowing the answer until the next day or the next weekend when you could get to a library? And remember what it was like to flip through all the adjacent, "unrelated" information on the way to what you were looking for? I hated "SHAKESPEARE, William" for much of my childhood because I always had to flip through so many pages and catalogue cards to get to the "SHARKS"... although, obviously, some seed of curiosity was planted.

I am not so luddite as to pine for the days before the internet, and obviously Encyclopedia Britannica has changed shape and kept up with the times just like everyone else: I don't mean to fossilize my image of it or yours into its old, strictly leather-bound image. But as excited as I am to accept this invitation to write for them, I cannot help thinking of my 7- and 8-year-old self, who would have literally flipped a switch over this opportunity. This would have felt like a direct solicitation to the White House or, better, Oz, or, better than that, the Hundred-Acre Wood. Yes, in my mind, the analogy and the connection would have made absolute sense. So thanks, Encyclopedia Britannica, on behalf of myself and my inner child, and let’s move onward and backward to 1968! The door is now open for early statements of your own favorites...

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8 Comments:

Blogger StinkyLulu said...

You so fancy.

12:32 PM, September 19, 2008  
Blogger Catherine said...

That's all kinds of awesome! Congratulations.

I guess I'm one of your 'teenage readers', but I still know the thrill of looking info up in a dictionary or encyclopedia. My parents are major geeks and used to give each other reference books for birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas, so I grew up surrounded by 'em!

1:33 PM, September 19, 2008  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Stinky: You know I try!

@Catherine: Lovely! A woman after my own heart. (And I hope "teenage readers" didn't sound patronizing. I'm just having too many of those "I have no idea what my students are talking about" moments all of a sudden.)

3:00 PM, September 19, 2008  
Blogger Dame James Henry said...

I'm a "teenage reader" as well, but when I was about 8 or 9 (before my family had a personal computer or, God forbid, the Internet) I had a 1995 World Almanac that I read through religiously. I mean, it had everything this list-loving, statistics absorbing little kid could ever want. So, I completely understand your love of "old-timey" reference books.

As for 1968, I didn't really love too much from that year except for Oliver! and Funny Girl until this last summer when I saw, all within a matter of no more than a week and a half, Romeo & Juliet, The Battle of Algiers and Truffaut's Stolen Kisses (which was released in France in '68 but not in America until '69) and completely loved them all.

3:01 PM, September 19, 2008  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@DJH: Another bibliophile! The heart flutters.

I can't tell how the Britannica list is going to account for release dates, since the eligibility of films like The Battle of Algiers and Stolen Kisses. Raymond (who I keep calling "Raymond" even though I don't know him) included Godard's 1967 Weekend, a 1968 release in the U.S., among his runners-up, so I'm guessing that Algiers is in and Kisses is out. But you know that we list-lovers, scrupulous though we aim to be, occasionally fudge to include what we want.

I'm guessing that the EB list winds up with these titles, though I'm not predicting an order: 2001, The Battle of Algiers, Faces, If..., The Lion in Winter, Once Upon a Time in the West, Petulia, Planet of the Apes, The Producers, and Rosemary's Baby, with outside shots on Salesman, The Yellow Submarine, Romeo and Juliet, and Pretty Poison. Or maybe The Green Berets. I hate to pre-empt, but that's just what I'm expecting. I'm already surprised to see Night of the Living Dead, Shame, and Bullitt among the Honorable Mentions, so he's clearly got the potential for surprise up his sleeve.

3:24 PM, September 19, 2008  
Blogger goatdog said...

I'm so jealous--I wish someone would invite me to write for an encyclopedia. You rock.

We had only Collier's, but I feel ya. The Ch-Co (or something like that) volume is missing from my mom's shelf (yes she still has them). It was last seen in the classroom of Mr. Stowe, motorcycle-riding fourth-grade teacher in Mason, Michigan, where I left it after having finished a report on Mark Twain (see Clemens, Samuel).

After The Lion in Winter on my 1968 list are the Russian version of War and Peace, Rosemary's Baby, the aforementioned 2001 (although I'm not sure I could sit through it again), and Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet.

3:24 PM, September 19, 2008  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

Yay. They invited me too though i haven't seen any of the movies in too long. I should cram!

see you over there

ALSO. yes and yes about looking things up in books. I don't know how i survived without the internet even though I have very vivid memories of sitting in my living room with my best friend or sitting in his dad's den and flipping open those massive tomes whenever we wanted to know about something we didn't already know about.

3:54 PM, September 19, 2008  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Goatdog: We only had Collier's, too. Everything else was a library-dependent affair, but that just gave me an early taste for haunting libraries.

@Nathaniel: Ooh, I didn't know! I have a date to this party now.

11:01 PM, September 19, 2008  

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