Great Songs in Film #8: The Third Man Theme; Written and Performed by Anton Karas for the soundtrack to the film The Third Man (1949).

 

 

Anton Karas’s “Third Man Theme” – an instrumental played on Greek Zither that opens Carol Reed’s 1949 film masterpiece The Third Man — has always mystified me.

The tune is absolutely hypnotic, and it works with the film almost perfectly, but how in the world was someone imaginative enough — perhaps Carol Reed himself — to think that music on a Greek folk-instrument would work in a post-war, Vienna-based, spy thriller?

I’d love to know the actual film history here, but what I have always imagined is that – with the annihilation of so much of Europe and the crumbling of national boundaries — cities like Vienna and Rome and Paris became magnets for all sorts of travellers from diverse ethnic and national identities.

Yes, there was rebuilding to do, but – as The Third Man shows so powerfully – there was also a lot of money to be made in smuggling and the underground economy.

It has always  seemed to me  that Greek music in Vienna signaled this ethnic crazy quilt that – at least for a while – characterized the wanderering and the seeking of so many of the lost souls of post-war Europe. The theme seemed to imply that this was a time of confusion and opportunism in which anybody could show up anywhere. The way, for example, that the mysterious Harry Lime just “shows up.”

Why not a Greek Zither in a Vienna spy film by an iconic British director?

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Whoopee! Criterion Collection Now Available for Viewing on Netflix.

 

Netflix has added much of the Criterion catalogue to the films they make available for instant viewing/streaming. This means that, if you are a Netflix member, much of the 20th century film canon (with an admittedly Western European bias)  is there for you to enjoy.

I would never argue that this is the best way to appreciate a great film. A DVD played on a decent sized monitor will almost always trump your laptop. (In an era when,sadly,  seeing a film on a large screen is almost too much to ask for!)  But if you’d like to check off some classics you somehow missed, this is worth checking out.

I just quickly glanced at the Netflix “instant-viewing” list and saw G.W. Pabst’s Pandora’s Box, Vittorio De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief,  Carol Reed’s The Third Man, Marcel Carne’s Les Enfants du Paradis, and an incredible treat that I first saw thanks to my colleague Mick Hurbis-Cherrier, Henri-George Clouzot’s Le Corbeau.

I almost forgot to mention that this collection includes Wim Wenders’s Paris, Texas, a haunting meditation on  rootlessness and loss with a beautiful, spare screenplay by playwright Sam Shepard.

And many more.

Enjoy.

My Ten Favorite Films: A Revised List

Every time I talk about top 10 lists,  I always start with the  disclaimer that I know  how pointless they are.

And then I ask myself:  OK, if they are  so pointless, why do I have so much fun reading them and doing  them and sharing them?

No good answer, In fact, making lists is far from the only pointless thing I do.

Today, I am adding some new films and slightly changing the order.   It is not a 10 best list.  It is a list of my ten favorites. A  list of 10 best films  would be beyond nervy given how many films have a legitimate claim to inclusion.

But it seems perfectly fair to make a list of ten favorites since they are, in fact,  only my favorites.

My favorites have stayed the same for over a year.  But for the last few months I have been mulling over “No Country for Old Men”  and “The Lives of Others.” (Now I can really hear you saying: This guy need a life! Who has time to mull anything over?)

Seriously, I want to make some changes to my list.  But according to ground rules that some friends of mine and I set up many years ago in a UCLA dorm room, I have to remove one film for each one I add.  I posted my last 10 favorite about a year ago. Here is my new one along with a list of contenders.

Comments welcome. Lists welcome. Ridicule welcome.

My Ten Favorite Films as of November 15, 2009

1. Dekalog

2. Godfather 1/Godfather 2

3.  Salesman

4. The Lives of Others

5. Amarcord

6.  Goodfellas

7  No Country for Old Men

8  Fargo

9. Rear Window

10 Night and Fog

__________________________________

Other Contenders (not in order)

Midnight Cowboy

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Au Revoir les Enfants

Shop on Main Street  (1965)

It’s a Wonderful Life

Jeux interdits

Come and See

Smile

Atlantic City

Three Kings

Das Boot

The General

Paris, Texas

Shoah

Invaders from Mars

Strangers on a Train

The Graduate

The French Connection

Double Indemnity

Les Enfants du Paradis

Les Diaboliques

Psycho

Le Salaire de la peur

Sunset Boulevard

The Exiles

The Last Laugh

Hotel Terminus

Happiness

The Third Man

M

The Marriage of Maria Braun

My Ten Favorite Films

 

 

 

 

 

Ten best lists of films are dumb. They force dumb choices and add almost nothing to serious discussion and criticism.

 

Big deal.

 

 

 

  

I love them. I love reading them. I love making them. And here is how I go about it.

 

 

 

At any given time I always have a list of contenders. If a film has any claim whatsoever on ever making it into my top ten, it goes on the list. Then, one by one, I cross out films until there are only ten left. These are the films that I most enjoyed watching, not those that I would necessarily rank as the highest expressions of the craft. Having said that, it is almost certainly the case that my contenders are overwhelmingly well crafted. But to make my top 10, I have to viscerally and emotionally love the experience of watching the film.

 

 

 

Important: “Love” does not mean that I found the experience pleasant, just that I reveled in the pleasure of watching a story told with narrative skill and total command of the formal elements of film.

 

The best example of a film that embodies all these confusing criteria is my favorite of them all, Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Dekalog.”  I suppose you could say I enjoyed watching it, but if you have seen it you will understand why “enjoy” is perhaps not quite the most apt word for the experience. What, after all, do you say about a film in which one of the very best of the  sections (#1  I Am the Lord Your God) was so emotionally shattering that I have only watched it once and almost certainly will never be able to watch it again?

 

 

 

So here is the list as of today. If a film has a number, it made the top ten. The reasons why a film didn’t make the top ten are varied and, most often, beyond rational explanation. My choices are infinitely more visceral than cerebral.

 

By the way, I have a separate documentary list, which I will post soon. Salesman, although a documentary,  is a work of such poignancy and genius that it would make any list I create. 

 

I very much hope you might post your ten best lists and describe your agreements and your quarrels with mine. Perhaps you think that either an omission or inclusion of mine is unforgivable.

 

Let me know.

 

 

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

 

1. Dekalog (1989) 

 

Au Revoir les Enfants

 

Shop on Main Street  (1965)

 

10. Midnight Cowboy

 

It’s a Wonderful Life

 

3. Jeux interdits

 

Smile

 

Atlantic City

 

Fargo

 

Das Boot

 

The General

 

The Swimmer  

 

7. Goodfellas

 

Paris, Texas

 

8. Rear Window

 

Shoah

 

Invaders from Mars

 

4. Salesman

 

Strangers on a Train

 

The Graduate

 

French Connection

 

2. Godfather 1/Godfather 2

 

9. Double Indemnity

 

Les Enfants du Paradis

 

Les Diaboliques

 

Psycho

 

Le Salaire de la peur


Hotel Terminus

 

5. Amarcord

 

6. Night and Fog

 

Happiness

 

The Third Man

 

M

 

The Marriage of Maria Braun