Spielberg’s crafty fishing movie: Jaws

I remember the summer Jaws came out and I remember you couldn’t get away from it. Everyone did that John William’s four note theme: da-da, da-da … Everyone saw the movie; TV was filled with it; shark sightings were popping up like coffee shops. But that was over 35 years ago. The hoopla subsided. What is left is a movie that is a brilliant example of craft.

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Hereafter and the storytelling Clint Eastwood

You might think focusing on the story when making a movie would be a no-brainer but, as quite a few movies seem to illustrate, it’s not. One of things I’ve always liked about Clint Eastwood is his insistence on the story first, foremost, almost exclusively.

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20 Movies: The Saragossa Manuscript (1965)

I love stories like this. By “this” I mean stories within stories within stories. It’s really quite an accomplishment to achieve something like this on film. But The Saragossa Manuscript manages it.

I don’t recall when I first heard of this movie but it would have been about ten years ago, more or less. When I did, I tracked down a DVD copy. Believe me, I was glad I did.

In a number of ways, this is the perfect movie to wrap up my list of 20 movies.

The Saragossa Manuscript (1965)
directed by Wojciech Has

I won’t even attempt to summarize the plot of The Saragossa Manuscript (Rekpois Znaleziony w Saragossie). (See IMDB for a brief summary.) Rather, I’ll simply say I loved this movie and here’s why: narrative style.

The Saragossa Manuscript, set during the Napoleonic Wars, is told in the manner of and, to a lesser extent, The Canterbury Tales.

It is a story about stories that themselves contain stories (which also contain stories). In some ways, it’s a celebration of storytelling. In the world of written literature, this kind of narrative has a long history. Cinema, however, is a bit different.

Movies are less like novels than they are like short stories and novellas. In other words, a movie story needs to be told all at once (rather than over several days like a TV series or a book you set aside between chapters). Audiences simply can’t (and won’t) sit through 6 or 7 hours (or longer) of film. Nor would budgets allow for the creation of such a monster (Lord of the Rings aside). So films are more compressed (at least when they try to replicate a novel cinematically). Or, with an original script, less wide-ranging and more tightly focused.

Director Wojciech Has achieves a remarkable accomplishment, then, by giving us an engaging film that is wide-ranging and broad. Based on the novel of the same name, and definitely abridged (for the reasons mentioned above), his movie layers story upon story, each somehow touching upon the others, sometimes echoing them, sometimes growing out of and into them.

The result is a delight and, at a running time of 3 hours, one that never flags and loses our attention. Sometimes dark, sometimes bawdy, sometimes funny and sometimes dramatic, in a single film we’re taken into the strange and wonderful world of storytelling.

If there is a theme to it all (beyond the joy of telling stories), it may be the liberating power of fantasy and imagination.

The main character, very focused, disciplined and rigid (on the surface at least), and in denial of anything that doesn’t conform to empirical reality, goes on a journey that transforms him if only by opening him up to possibilities.

Admired by such names as Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and (oddly) Jerry Garcia, The Saragossa Manuscript DVD is a clean, crisp version (taken in the context of its age and the fact it had to be restored).

Filled with stunning images and moving from the strange to the lascivious to the dramatic, this is a fabulous film and a definite must for anyone who loves stories and wishes to see how film is simply another branch of literature (albiet one with its own rules and traditions).

(Originally posted in 2003.)

See: 20 Movies – The List