Not Only But Also...
~ Political Song Writing an essay on Political song writing...
~ Favourite Things
Jim lists a few of his favourite things...
~ Singing the Blues all aspiring blues artists should read this...
~ Desert Island Disks if you could take only 10 disks to a desert island, what would they be?
~ Desert Island Films and which 10 movies would you take with you? 
~ Songs That Stopped Me In My Tracks
When was the last time a song stopped you in your tracks?

Desert Island Films
If you had to spend a year on a desert island, and could only take 10 movies with you, what would they be? Here, in no particular order, Jim chooses his favourite films (by genre), and explains why. 


To see a complete list of Jim's DVD and VHS collection follow the links in the main menu bar on the left.

War: Apocalypse Now 
Francis Ford Coppola's masterpiece. There as so many great moments in this movie. Everyone's favourite moment is when Robert Duvall's character, Col. Kilgore utters the famous, "I love the smell of napalm in the morning..." line. But my favourite line, also spoken by Duvall/Kilgore comes soon after that napalm line: "Someday this war's gonna end." There is so much regret in his voice when he says this, that you know Kilgore, and many people like him are going to miss the war, and the positions of power and influence it gives them.
I actually prefer the original version. The longer Redux version has lots of extra footage but much of it just gets in the way of the storytelling. While it was nice to see the much talked about French Plantation scene, and the Playboy Bunnies scene, I don't think they add a lot to the main story. In fact, I think the French Plantation scene actually makes the movie look dated when viewed today. 
As for Marlon Brando's performance as Colonel Kurtz - I think it is great. It's perfectly fitting that this man Kurtz, who is slowly going crazy in his lair, deep in the Cambodian jungle, spends most of his time sitting in the dark brooding over his actions, while waiting to 'suffer the consequences' of these actions.

Favourite Scene: This movie is full of great scenes, but for sheer heart thumping excitement you can't go past Wagner's Ride of The Valkeryies as the choppers sweep in to attack the Vietnamese village early in the morning. I can never hear that music now, without thinking about that particular scene.

Other Contenders: Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket; and the brilliant German film about life on a German submarine during the Second World War, Das Boot (The Boat). If you are going to see Das Boot, do yourself a favour, and see the original German language version, not the dubbed into English one.

Gangster: Millers Crossing
The Coen Brothers, Joel and Ethan, could have been represented on this list several times, and in several genre's, but I've settled on this gangster epic because I love everything about this movie. The performances, the cinematography, the plotting, and especially John Turturro's "Look into your heart..." speech. 

Favourite Scene: Have I mentioned John Turturro's gut wrenching "Look into your heart..." speech, as he is about to be shot and left to rot in a forest? Classic stuff, this.

Other Contenders: Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas; the other Coen Brothers classic, Blood Simple; Coppola's The Godfather; and one of my all time favourites, Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in America. Which is a good lead in to Sergio Leone's western masterpiece...

Western: Once Upon a Time in The West
Sergio Leone was the director that made Clint Eastwood famous after he cast Eastwood in his trilogy of 'Dollars' films: A Fistful of Dollars; A Few Dollars More; and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. But as good as these films are, I think Leone was still working out what he really wanted to say about the American West and the people who populated it. For me, all this comes together perfectly in his epic masterpiece, Once Upon a Time in The West
Right from the opening credits, you know you are in for an experience like no other. If you've seen the movie, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, it's almost impossible to adequately describe the first ten minutes of the film as three gunmen wait for a train at an isolated railway station. 
Then there are the film's four main actors; Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale, Henry Fonda, and Jason Robards. What a great line-up of stars. Henry Fonda playing 'against type' as Frank, the cold blooded killer is a revelation. All this, and Ennio Morricone's brilliant score make it one of my all time favourite movies.
In fact, I've watched this film more times than I can remember, and every time I watch it, I discover something new in it. If you haven't seen the movie, you are the poorer for it.

Favourite Scene: So many scenes - so many favourites. However, my most favourite scene is when Jill/Claudia Cardinale first gets off the train, and begins her walk along the station platform, into the station office (where she pauses briefly to talk to one of the staff), then out through the front door of the station, and out onto the dusty street of the western town she has just arrived in. All this shot in one long gorgeous take, set to Ennio Morricone's wonderful theme written especially for her character (all the main characters have their own musical theme). I never get tired of watching this scene. Never.

Other Contenders: Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven; Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch; and Sergio Leone's already mentioned, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

 

Musical: Little Shop of Horrors
I love musicals. I think this goes back to my childhood. As I've said elsewhere on this site, my very first vinyl album was the soundtrack to the western musical, Calamity Jane, staring Doris Day and Howard Keel (I kid you not). 
Little Shop Of Horrors is the musical version of the Roger Corman film of the same name which famously featured a cameo performance from a very young Jack Nicholson. This musical remake stars Rick Moranis, and Ellen Greene (who also starred in the original Broadway show). It also has cameo performances from Steve Martin, John Belushi, Bill Murray, and others.
I like it this movie so much I watch at least twice a year! Viewing it is guaranteed to brighten my day, and put me in a good mood if I'm feeling down, or put me in a super mood if I'm already feeling 'up' and looking to get really charged.

Favourite Scene: Bill Murray as the masochistic dental patient is an absolute scream, especially when pitted against Steve Martin as the sadistic dentist! Be warned. If you have a phobia about dentists, close your eyes and block your ears for the duration of this scene.

Other Contenders: The Rocky Horror Picture Show; and West Side Story

Romantic Comedy: My Best Friends Wedding
This would almost qualify as a musical itself if there were a few more songs in it being performed by the actors. There is so much to like about this film, I'm almost embarrassed to go on about it in case I look like I'm gushing!
Julia Roberts, Rupert Everett, Dermot Mulroney, and Cameron Diaz bring so much to this movie that it's hard to imagine anyone else taking their places in the film.
I love the way Julia Robert's character is frustrated at every turn by her own attempts to stop the impending wedding of her 'best friend', Dermot Mulroney to Cameron Diaz. I love how Cameron Diaz's hopelessly out of tune attempt at karaoke is turned into a triumph (it's so bad, it's good). Then there is Rupert Everett's restaurant scene when he starts to sing Dione Warwick's, Say a Little Pray For You, and all the other customers in the restaurant join in. Then there is the...
Well you get the picture - or if you haven't already got it - you should. One of my all time favourites.

Favourite Scene: Apart from those mentioned above, I love the way the film ends with the phone call between Rupert Everett and Julia Roberts, and their final dance together. What a great way to end the movie.

Other Contenders: yet another Coen Brothers classic, Raising Arizona.

Sci-Fi: Blade Runner
Why do I like this film so much? It is a combination of great acting, stunning sets and cinematography, and a story line with something real and meaningful to say. 
Ridley Scott's sci-fi noir masterpiece stars Harrison Ford, as the Blade Runner of the title, and Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, and Daryl Hannah as replicants (life-like robots), trying to find their maker before their working life runs out and they 'die'.
This is another movie I never get tired of re-watching. Of course, you should make sure you get the Directors Cut, which is probably the only version you can get on DVD anyway. 

Favourite Scene: Batty/Rutger Hauer's final speech. "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain... Time to die..."

Other Contenders: Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, is an obvious choice, as is Ridley Scott's Alien. Less well known is one of my favourite sci-fi movies, Dark Star, but then I don't have that on DVD either, so I guess that rules it out anyway.

 

Comedy: Monty Python & The Holy Grail
There are people around who can quote great tracts of dialogue verbatim from this film. I can't, but there is much to like about this movie and the motley crew of errant knights roaming the countryside in search of the Holy Grail.
Flying cows; the black knight and the black plague; witches and damsels in distress; Trojan rabbits; Knights who say, "Ni"; all this and much more, mixed together in a strange brew that only the Monty Python team would dare to concoct. If you don't find this film hilarious, you need a funny bone transplant.

Favourite Scene: Scene 4: Constitutional Peasants: wherein Michael Palin's peasant mud collector swaps some great lines with Graham Chapman's, King Arthur.
Palin: "Supreme executive power, derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony!"
King Arthur: "Be quiet!"
Palin: "You can't expect to wield supreme executive power just cos some watery tart threw a sword at you."
Arthur: "Shut... up!"
Palin: "I mean, if I went round saying I was an emperor just because some moistened bint had lobbed a scimitar at me, they'd put me away."
Arthur, (grabbing hold of Palin): "Shut up! Will you shut up?"
Palin: "Ah, now we see the violence inherent in the system."

Other Contenders: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, staring Steve Martin and Michael Cain is a delight; and the Monty Python team's other classic, The Life of Brian (if I had it on DVD*).

* I have finally acquired a copy of The Life of Brian, since I first wrote this piece, so can I swap these two films over? Can I? Can I? Please...

Documentary: No Direction Home: Bob Dylan
The newest addition to this list, Martin Scorsese's three and a half hour documentary exploring Bob Dylan's formative years in New York City is a revelation in every sense of the word. Containing lots of previously unseen footage of the young Dylan, including many great performances and interviews old and new, this doco is a must have for all Dylan aficionados.
Viewed together with D. A. Pennebaker's 1965 documentary, Don't Look Back, both films paint an extraordinary portrait of the artist as a young man as he reshapes the musical landscape around him. Watching this film you get a sense of the enormous pressure Dylan was under to shoulder the burden of 'spokesman of a generation'. A role he didn't ask for or want, and which he is still trying to fight against.
Even today, 40 years after turning his back on folk music, I know people who still haven't forgiven him for 'selling out' the folk protest movement, and carving out his own unique musical path. Thank God, he did ignore all the carping and criticisms; the constant booing from unthinking fans, and the stupid inane questioning of media reps to follow his Muse wherever it chose to lead him. 

Favourite Scene: I was blown away by the power of some of the early concert performances we get to see in this film, especially Only a Pawn in Their Game. Dylan sings with such focus, such power and conviction, that it is easy to see why he garnered so much attention and interest in those early years in New York.

Other Contenders: Martin Scorsese's The Last Waltz; and Woodstock (the original movie), for which incredibly, Scorsese also filmed some concert footage.

Drama: The Mission
Robert DeNiro and Jeremy Irons both star in this stunning movie. The fact that the film also has a wonderful score composed by Ennio Morricone only adds to the pleasure one gets from viewing this beautifully photographed film.
Made when the concept of Liberation Theology was gaining much prominence among the established western churches in the late 1970s and early 1980s (especially in the Catholic church), the film focuses on a small group of 18th Century Spanish Jesuits - played by Irons and DeNiro - who go into the South American wilderness to build a mission in the hope of converting the Indians of the region. When Spain sells the colony to Portugal, they are forced to defend all they have built against Portugese slave traders. 
The ending will not leave you feeling good, but thankfully the makers of the film stayed true to the story, and resisted the typical happy Hollywood ending.

Favourite Scene: It's almost impossible not to be knocked out by the scene where Robert DeNiro, as the character Mendoza, a former slave trader, does penance for his past sins by dragging a huge and heavy bundle of swords, armor, helmet, and clothing to the top of a high valley as water spumes and pours down around him every step of his weary way.

 

Drama: Brazil
Terry Gilliam's classic movie of a not too distant dystopian future where a huge monolithic bureaucracy (which seems remarkably close to the vision George Orwell created in his book, 1984), controls every aspect of daily life. Staring Jonathon Price, Michael Palin, and Robert DeNiro, is Brazil just a bizarre dream? A terrifying nightmare? A figment of Jonathon Price's over active imagination?
Whatever it is - you may never view the comic genius of Michael Palin in the same way again. But that's already telling you too much if you haven't yet seen the movie, which I urge you to do - not once, but many times. In fact, you will need to see it multiple times to pick up on all the things you missed the first and subsequent times you watched it.
Like all of the films on this list, I never tire of watching this movie, but I have to be in a certain frame of mind before I do so. It's not the sort of film that leaves you with a good feeling - however brilliant it undoubtedly is.

Favourite Scene: I'm not sure if it's possible to have a favourite scene in this movie. It is at times bizarre, hilarious, bleak, terrifying, hallucinogenic, and much more besides. In deed, Sam Lowry's (that is, Jonathon Price's) first day in Information Retrieval is probably all of those adjectives and more, so I will select that as my favourite, although every scene is a winner.

Other Contenders: Louis Malle's Days of Heaven; Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate.


This has been a real challenge, selecting ten of my favourite movies. In truth, almost every DVD and VHS film I own is a favourite, for one reason or other, and depending on my mood on any particular day, this list could look quite different.

What are your 10 most popular movies?

 

JIM LESSES: Sometimes I Wake Up Naked

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JIM LESSES: American Dream

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