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Los Angeles Times and NPR movie critic Kenneth Turan remembers when he first got hooked on the movies: as a kid growing up in a religious household in Brooklyn, he wasn’t allowed to go to the theater on Saturdays. So he watched movies on television for hours thanks to a program called, “Million Dollar Movie.” Turan was captivated by classic Hollywood features like “Kiss Me Deadly” and “I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang,” and romances like “All About Eve.” His early love for these classics eventually led to a long career as a film critic. Diane talks with Kenneth Turan about his all-time favorite movies, from the silent era to modern times.
- Kenneth Turan film critic, Los Angeles Times and NPR's Morning Edition
Kenneth Turan’s Top 54 Films
Excerpted from “Not to be Missed: Fifty-four Favorites from a Lifetime of Film” by Kenneth Turan. © 2014, Public Affairs Publishing. All Rights Reserved.
Read A Featured Excerpt
Read the introduction from Not to be Missed: Fifty-four Favorites from a Lifetime of Film” by Kenneth Turan. © 2014, Public Affairs Publishing. All Rights Reserved.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Legendary Director Ingmar Berman once said, "No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the darkrooms of our souls." Los Angeles and NPR film critic, Kenneth Turan agrees. He's written a new book compiling his favorite movies, from the silent-film era to modern times. The book is titled, "Not to be Missed: Fifty-Four Favorites from a Lifetime of Film."
MS. DIANE REHMKenneth Turan joins us from the NPR bureau in Culver City, California. I hope you'll join us as well. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook. Or send us a tweet. Ken Turan, it's so good to have you with us.
MR. KENNETH TURANWell, it's great to be here, Diane.
REHMThank you. And, you know, I was thinking about if I were faced with the choices to come up with 54 of my lifetime favorites, I'd have a hard time. I'm a movie lover, as you are. Started watching with my mother at about age five. And I could not do it. How did you manage?
TURANOh, it was a horrendous thing, I mean, it was -- to make the choices and to write the book. That's the truth. You know, I made lists and lists and lists.
TURANYou know, and then I looked at things again. Everything that was in the book, you know, I kind of road tested, you know. Obviously, I'd seen it before, to become a favorite. But I had to do it again and again and again -- look at them again and again and again, to make sure that I loved them. And some of them fell off the lists. Some films that I felt would be on my list, I saw them and they -- I said, well, you know, maybe not.
REHMBut you know, I really was surprised that "Citizen Kane," was not there.
TURANWell, you know, I love "Citizen Kane." I'm a big Orson Welles fan.
TURANI mean, that was one of the really hard choices. I put two Orson Welles films above it, that I just don't think they're better films, but just personally I just love them more. And to put three Orson Welles films in a collection of 54, it just seemed, you know, I couldn't do that.
REHMYeah. I understand. I chose some that I absolutely loved from your list of 54, so that we could sort of hear cuts from them, which we'll do throughout the hour. And then you and I can talk about them. What was the first movie you saw that really deeply affected you?
TURANWell, I think, you know, the first one that affected me so deeply that it, you know, that I remember, that is in the book, was a film called, "I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang," which is a 1932 film. Obviously, I didn't see it when it first came out. But as a kid, you know, I grew up in Brooklyn. My father was observant. So I couldn't go to the movies on Saturday. I mostly watched on TV during the week. And I -- there was a program called "Million-Dollar Movie," which I really loved, which was on New York TV. And they had old, classic films.
TURANAnd they played them several times. If you missed it once, you could see it again. And this -- I'd just kind of watch whatever was on there. And this film came out. And as I found out, you know, when I became an adult, this was a film from what they call the Pre-Code Era, when they did not have to have moralistic endings.
TURAN"I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang," which stars Paul Muni as a man who is unjustly put in a chain gang and he just can never escape from this injustice that had been done to him. And the film ends -- I won't give away exactly what happens -- but it ends on a really despairing note.
REHMOh, my. I've never seen that movie, so now you're -- you're whetting my appetite. Do you think that the code, which you mentioned, has helped or hurt the quality of movies?
TURANYou know, that is one of the great critical questions. I've seen it argued both ways, you know. Did the fact that directors had to work around the fact that you couldn't be explicit, that you couldn't show, you know, married couples in bed together -- that there's certain kinds of language that couldn't be used, and certain kind of situations that couldn't be explored. Whether that helped or hurt filmmakers, you know, sometimes, you know, even in the '50s and '60s, in the Soviet Union and in the Russian Satellite countries, the barriers that those filmmakers had to face seemed to help their filmmaking.
TURANSo there's an argument to be made, that working against censorship makes filmmaking sharper. But it's not really worth the price. Finally, we're better off to have freedom. But you just wish sometimes that people used it better.
REHMDo you -- I'm going to jump ahead here -- but I wonder whether you think that the extent to which the violence, the sexuality, the blood, the gore, have moved so far that really we may now be in a totally different era, thinking about what we see and what we're confronted by on film?
TURANYeah, I mean, it's too much for me, personally. And again, a lot of what I say and think is personal. It's just how I react to things. I don't necessarily feel that this is, you know, a prescription for the universe. But it's too much for me at times. I really don't want to see as much violence as is on screen. You know, there are things called, you know, spatter porn, you know?
TURANJust things that are just really just awful stuff. I just won't watch it. I won't watch it. It's just not for me. And I'm -- I have no desire to stop other people from watching it. But I'm fearful, you know, for the culture and for the art form that if it does go too far, that we will return to censorship. I mean the notion that something like censorship could never come back, I think, is naïve. Of course it could come back. And I'd hate to see us go so far that there was interference with what people could do.
REHMDo you think that there have been films that have truly affected the culture? Uh-oh. Have we lost Kenneth Turan? Well, let's try to get him back. And in the meantime, let's open the phones and see about what others think of movies and what might be your favorite movie. Among those that are on Ken Turan's list are, of course, "Casa Blanca." How could that not be? He also has "Vertigo," and "The Godfather." But another that he does have on the list is "Unforgiven," the Clint Eastwood movie that was so, so very violent.
REHMI'm going to open the phones quickly, since Kenneth Turan seems to have slipped off the radar for just a moment. And I'm certainly hoping we can get him back right after the break. Talk about the movies that you love. Of course I used to spend Thanksgiving night every year watching "The Sound of Music," again and again and again, with my own children. I don't think that that is one of Ken Turan's favorite. Let's go first to Lori in Hollywood, Fla. Hi, Lori, you're on the air.
LORIOh, thank you, Diane. I'm a major fan of yours.
LORIAnd also of Ken's. I enjoy your reviews and I've heard you speak about your book now, on several shows. There -- I should also add, I'm also a Brooklynite by birth and I grew up with "Million-Dollar Move," as well. I remember watching "Swing Time" about nine times a week. My question has to do with another book that sounds similar to yours, though it came out many years before, and it was like a bible to me growing up: "The Great Films: 50 Golden Years of Motion Pictures," by Bosley Crowther.
LORIAnd I wondered if, oh, if he, if the book, if the methodology was at all an influence to you, or if you were unaware of it?
REHMNow, you understand, Lori, that we have lost Kenneth Turan for just a few moments.
REHMBut I'll be sure and ask him that question when we can reconnect with him. Right now, we're having just a little technical difficulty, which we hope to straighten out in a moment. So thanks for calling. Let's go to Lydia in Woodstock, Ill. Hi, Lydia.
LYDIAWell, hi. Good morning. Thank you. We have, in Woodstock, already started a process of recognizing the talent, the genius of this young man who, at 24, was given the opportunity to make the film "Citizen Kane." He spent his early years at school in Woodstock and considered that experience to be what he called his home base. I feel the movie is a must-see film, essential.
LYDIAEspecially because it is not only political, but it goes into the concept of corporate power -- not only through the power of newspapers like Hearst, which also is a big corporate parent of Tribune -- but also the politicians that play the dance of power with news, with money, with Wall Street. And the fact that it is now especially pertinent to the concept of what corporations want to be, which is almost a utility. Many of the quotes in that film are essential to view today, and especially for young people.
REHMI fully agree with you, Lydia. I think it's a must see movie for everyone. Thanks so much for your call. Short break here. We hope to have Kenneth Turan when we come back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We do have Kenneth Turan back with us now. His book brand new is titled "Not to be Missed: Fifty-four Favorites From a Lifetime of Film." Kenneth, I'm sure glad we've got you back again. I didn't want to spend the whole hour on the line alone. You know...
TURANThat would be sad.
REHM...the decade of the '40s heavily affected by World War II, what were your particular favorites of that era/
TURANWell, you know, one of the films that I think sometimes I pick as my absolute all time favorite is a French film called "Children of Paradise" from 1945. It was made right at the end of the war in France under really difficult conditions. And it's this -- you'd never know it by watching it today, it's an epic romance. It's a three-hour film set in a kind of carefully recreated Paris of the early 1800s.
TURANIt's about one woman named Garance and very different men who fall in love with her. I just think it's a marvelous film. It's just like a tapestry of human emotion. Just spectacular.
REHMAnd I think there's another one that you included in that grouping and that was "Pride and Prejudice."
TURANYes. I'm a big fan of "Pride and Prejudice." I mean, I'm a big Jane Austin fan in general and I'm well aware that there's some purists who are upset with the film because it's -- you know, some of the costumes are wrong and some of the plot has been tinkered with. But I really think, you know, in Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier it's got an Elizabeth and Darcy that really have never been does as well. And the spirit of the book is there, I believe. And I just always -- again, all these films, every time I watch them again, I'm happy in each moment.
REHMLet's hear a little clip of that particular film.
LAURENCE OLIVIERYou evidently confirmed the good opinion she had formed of you with Rosie.
GREER GARSONI don't know what to say or think, except that you must allow me to thank you for what you did for Olivia. And if the facts were known to the rest of my family, I should not nearly have my own gratitude to express.
OLIVIERIf you must thank me let it be for yourself alone. Whatever I did I thought only of you.
GARSONOh, Mr. Darcy. When I think of how I misjudged you, the horrible things I said, I'm so ashamed.
OLIVIEROh no, it's I who should be ashamed of my arrogance, of my stupid pride, of all except one thing, one thing. I'm not ashamed of having loved you.
REHMWell, I guess that's every woman's delight and joy to hear, Kenneth.
TURANOh yes. I just wanted to watch the whole movie. I wanted to rush from the studio and just put it on again.
TURANYou know, I'm a romantic. I love romantic films and this is a wonderful romance. That's why it's been so popular for so many hundreds of years.
REHMAnd yet that particular film was so different from the novel.
TURANYes. It does take liberties with the novel but kind of as a film critic I'm used to that. Films by their nature, even when they're trying to be faithful, can't quite manage it. There's something about the medium that changes things . And I think you just have to -- you know, someone once asked James M. Cain, they said, what do you think of what the movies have done to your novels? And he said, they haven't done anything. They're right there on the shelf. You know.
REHMOne of our callers who managed to get through while we lost you, asked about the book that had been written by Bosley Crowther and whether your book had a similarity to that.
TURANHe did several books. Which book specifically?
REHMShe was talking about the 50 golden -- the 50 films from the golden years of film.
TURANYeah, well I mean, obviously any selection like that, like mine is going that -- you know, anytime you pick a specific number of films there are some similarities. But really, you know, my book goes through really a hundred years of film. And it's, you know, from the darkest era, you know, when film first started in 1913 to, you know, films that were just a few years old. So my -- the scope of the film is ardure than his was. This is not just from any golden age. This is from the whole history of film.
REHMRight. I think one of the films that I would certainly put on my list, and you have as well, is "Casa Blanca." And let's hear a little clip from this.
HUMPHREY BOGARTDo you have any idea what you'd have to look forward to if you stayed here? Nine chances out of ten we'd both wind up in a concentration camp. Isn't that true, Louis?
CLAUDE RAINSI'm afraid (unintelligible) I would insist.
INGRID BERGMANYou're saying this only to make me go.
BOGARTI'm saying it because it's true. Inside of us we both know you belong with Victor. You're part of his work, the thing that keeps him going. If that plane leaves the ground and you're not with him, you'll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow but soon for the rest of your life.
BERGMANWhat about us?
BOGARTWe'll always have Paris. If we didn't have, we'd lost it until you came to Casablanca. We got it back last night.
BERGMANAnd I said I would never leave you.
BOGARTYou never will. I've got a job to do, too. Where I'm going, you can't follow. What I've got to do, you can't be any part of. Ilsa, I'm no good at being noble, but it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you'll understand that.
REHMI think I'm going to go home and order that again.
TURANAbsolutely. Absolutely. You know, this was a film, again, no one, when they were making this -- this was kind of chaotic and nobody felt, well we're making the great classic. It was just like they were trying to get through day to day. And just sometimes there is a magic when these films get put together and, you know...
REHMWhat do you mean it was chaotic?
TURANOh, there were several screen writers. In fact, the -- you know, once the film got popular the screen writers fought with each other as to what they had done and how much each one had contributed. It was just -- you know, Ingrid Bergman wasn't where she wanted to be. In it, you know, this was not this kind of, you know, great kind of road to glory without bumps in it. There were a lot of bumps in it. But it worked out, you know. Finally it doesn't matter. Finally what matters is the magic that happens on the screen. And this film has a lot of magic in it to this day.
REHMIt sure does. Kenneth Turan is with me. His new book is titled "Not to be Missed: Fifty-Four Favorites From a Lifetime of Film." There is one movie about which I disagree with you.
TURANThere's only one? I'm counting myself lucky.
REHMJust one. I never liked the movie "Vertigo." Tell me why you liked it so?
TURANYou know, it's funny you should mention "Vertigo" because my wife also is not a fan of "Vertigo," you know...
TURAN...she kind of looked at me when we watched it together, you know, for the book. And she said, I don't know about this film. There's something -- I mean, this is a very dark film. This is a very personal film in a way that I think fascinates critics. You know, when the film came out in the '50s critics didn't like it. They said, this is so-so Hitchcock. Wait for the next one. But over the years its reputation has grown as kind of the interest in personal cinema has grown.
TURANThis is really a film about Alfred Hitchcock using the biggest stars of his day, using Kim Novak and James Stewart on the resources of a major studio, to really tell a dark story about his own obsessions and the things that make him crazy.
TURANAnd one of the things I like to say about "Vertigo," this is as personal as any film you see at Sundance that cost 32 cents, you know.
REHMYou know, it's fascinating to me that he treated Kim Novak so badly during this film.
TURANHe does not sound like a -- well, you know, I never met him but he does not sound like he was a good person. There's a lot of stories about frankly sadistic behavior on his part, you know, during filming and also not during filming. But, you know, finally I have to look at the film and I try not to let that get in my way of appreciating or enjoying what's on the screen. Who knows what kind of people some of these filmmakers were. With Hitchcock we do know but maybe there are others that we don't know.
REHMAnd it was Vera Miles who was his first choice for that film?
TURANYes. And as my memory serves, you know, she decided to have children and he thought that was a horrible choice. You know, he was not -- you know, as far as I can tell from what I've read, not always the most admirable person. But as a filmmaker he was extraordinary.
REHMLet's hear a little clip from "Vertigo."
JAMES STEWARTI loved you so much.
KIM NOVAKBut I was safe when you found me. There was nothing that you could prove. When I saw you again, I couldn't run away. I loved you so. I walked into danger and let you change me because I loved you and I wanted you. Please, if you love me, keep me safe. Please.
STEWARTToo late. It's too late. There's no going back.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALEI heard voices. God have mercy.
REHMGood gosh, these are powerful scenes made even more so, Kenneth, by the music.
TURANYou know, you read my mind. That Bernard Hermann score is just astonishing. You know, symphony orchestras regularly play it. It's as good music as ever been written for movies. I really believe that and it just wowed us (unintelligible) .
REHMIt sure does. And the only two films you chose from the '70s, two of my favorites, I mean "Chinatown." I shall never forget.
TURANNo. I mean, I can still remember it because it's got that twisty plot. I can still remember as the plot unfolds and you find out what's happening, you said, oh my gosh.
REHMAnd we shouldn't tell anybody what's happening.
TURANNo. I'm not going to tell anybody. My lips are sealed, you know. But it really -- it packs a wallop. And, you know, even seeing the film again knowing what happens, it continues to pack a wallop.
REHMYou bet. Why do you think that "Godfather" has been so enduring?
TURANOh god, people just love "The Godfather," including me. Well, you know, that's a good question. I think there's a fascination with the Mafia, but it's also a very rich story and it's told from the inside. It's great acting. It's great melodrama. It just has everything we're looking for in a film.
REHMAll right. Let's hear one short clip from "The Godfather."
MARLON BRANDOYou spend time with your family?
AL PACINOSure, I do.
BRANDOGood, 'cause a man who doesn't spend time with his family 'cause that would be a real man. You look terrible. (unintelligible) I want you to rest a while and a month from now this Iowa big shot's gonna give you what you want.
PACINOCertainly they start shooting in a week.
BRANDOI want to make an offer you can't refuse.
REHMYou know, Kenneth, I always wondered what Marlon Brando had in his mouth to be able to talk that way.
TURANI don't know. People say there was cotton in his mouth.
TURANWe don't know what was in there.
TURANBut, you know, it's just that Marlon was from the opening, you know, frames of the film where you see him -- undertaker is talking to him and saying, I believe in America, you know. I mean, it's just -- and he's playing with a cat that's kind of wandering on his desk. And it's just such a casually masterful performance. It's really an actor at the top of his form. Even though, you know, Brando classically wasn't sure he wanted to be an actor, wasn't happy being an actor, to know if it was, you know, a good profession, he was spectacular at it, and sometimes without even seeming to try very hard.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm going to open the phones because there are lots of people who'd like to speak with you. Let's go first to John in Tulsa, Okla. You're on the air.
JOHNWell, hello. And thank you for taking my call.
JOHNAnd I love your program. I miss you when you're out.
JOHNI love to hear you today. I wanted to talk about the power of restraint to ignite the imagination. I -- you were talking about splatter porn and those things and the best illustration I found of that was years ago in the movie "The Piano" when Harvey Keitel is under the table and he's got his finger on the hole in her stocking and how erotic and uncomfortable that whole scene is. It pales in comparison to when they actually have their clothes off later in the movie.
JOHNAnd I just -- I really believe there's so much more -- censorship may drive us into being more creative, but there's also the thing about restraint that just I think is essential to igniting the imagination. And...
REHMBoy, it's really remarkable that you can remember that one scene so vividly. What do you think, Kenneth?
TURANOh sure. I mean, restraint is a wonderful thing and some of my favorite films are the most restrained ones. You know, I just wish that was more of a modern taste. It doesn't seem to be that much of a modern taste, especially in Hollywood. But, you know, we -- you know, as critics we don't make the films. We just have to look at them. But I'm always wishing there was more restraint.
REHMBut certainly there was very little restraint in Clint Eastwood's film "Unforgiven."
TURANWell, I don't know. I mean, in a way there is restraint. You know, there's a lot of violence in there but you can really -- I feel restraint in that film actually believe it or not. I mean, maybe not in the ending. But the ending on the other hand is very quick and very brief and very violent. I mean, I just feel, you know, this is a man dragged back much against his will in the way of life that he had thought was over for him.
REHMI thought it was interesting that Francis Ford Coppola had owned that script but then gave it up and Clint Eastwood bought it.
TURANYeah -- no, I mean, sometimes there's a kismet factor in films. You know, things were just meant to be. It's impossible to think of "Unforgiven" without Clint Eastwood in it. And he -- as you say, he didn't own the project for a while. It came very close to not being his film or not being made at all but it happened. And, you know, I just think it's a spectacular western.
REHMAnd he didn't want to play it until he could, as he said, age into the part.
TURANExactly. Now he is -- Clint Eastwood, you know, not alone among actors but he certainly stands out among actors. He's very shrewd about his character, about what he should be doing, what he should be playing on screen when. And he understood that he couldn't play the "Unforgiven" character until he aged a certain amount. And I think he played it at just the perfect time.
REHMAnd you said Gene Hackman though it was so violent he almost passed on it.
TURANYeah, he didn't want to do it. I don't know what transpired between him and Eastwood to convince him to do it but he read the script and said this is too violent. And Eastwood said, well, you know, maybe -- you know, because really in many ways this is a film that makes you despair about violence. You don't come out of this film and say, boy, more people should shoot each other. You just come out feeling the pain of every shot and the awfulness of the violence. So I think really there's an argument to be made that this is an antiviolence film, even though there's a lot of violence in it.
REHMAn antiviolence film and yet, look at the violence around us. When we come back after a short break, that's a question I'd like to talk with you about, violence on film, violence in our society and whether in fact there is a connection. Short break. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. Kenneth Turan is with us. He's on the line from our station in California. And if you'd like to join us, 800-433-8850. Just before the break, Ken Turan, we were talking about "Unforgiven," Clint Eastwood's film about a cowboy and going back to killing. Then we have an email from Richard, who says, "Why are there no traditional westerns on your list? A major American genre. Since, certainly 'Unforgiven' is not one you'd put into the traditional category." Kenneth?
TURANWell, you know, I'm not even sure I would agree with that. But even if I accept that, there are other westerns on my list. "Seven Men From Now," starring Randolph Scott, directed by Budd Boetticher, which is, you know, part of a cycle of films that they made together. And that's a classic western, at least in my estimation. And there's a John Ford western, "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance."
TURANWhich I think is another great western. No. I think, you know, I love westerns and I feel comfortable with the selection that westerns are well represented.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Elaine, in St. Louis, Mo. You're on the air.
ELAINEHi. Good morning. So I wanted to comment about "Vertigo." So I also -- I hate Alfred Hitchcock. And just as, Mr. Turan says, he was a really sadistic person, starting from a young age, when he was just a boy. But, "Vertigo," it's one of those movies that from the collective unconscious, Alfred Hitchcock ended up saying, or the moving ended up saying something really true about human romantic love. Because that's exactly the way it happens.
ELAINEIt's -- even though the story doesn't mirror the -- a common experience, you know, this mystery and this crime story. But that's the way it happens. We fall deeply in love. The hormones are all fired up. We're hugely attracted to someone. And then the bloom falls off the rose.
REHMAnd sometimes things go wrong. Right, Kenneth?
TURANOh, yeah. You know, and again, I think films that are memorable, really strike chords in us. They go deeply into us. And, you know, they resonate with us, maybe in ways they resonate with no one else. But they really do that.
REHMYou can see Ken's entire list on our website, drshow.org. Let's go now to an email. Let's see, from Dan, in California. "What is the motivation to spend $30 million to make a movie? So many of the big budget films are just horrible. And he cites the transformers. Many of the small-dollar films are so much better. And even those that are also bad, at least millions aren't wasted in production. Are star vehicles even a valid concept anymore?"
TURANWell, you know, the motivation to make Hollywood movies is to make money. I mean, I wish I could say it was more noble than that, but that's the motivation. And it's not just to make money in this country, it's to make money overseas. We are now in a world where a big Hollywood Blockbuster type film will take in more money overseas than in the United States. And that's a relatively recent development. So that's what they're trying to do. And my, God, I wish $30 million were the budgets. These budgets go up to close to $200 million.
TURANI think, you know, it's just horrifying on some level. You know, think if -- I often think, what if each studio said, we're going to make one less film a year. And we're going to give that $200 million to education, you know. Think of what that would do to our society, but that's not the way it works. No one's doing that.
REHMExactly. Alyssa writes that she did not grow up with black and white films. She says, "I dislike them. I won't watch them." What do you see, as far as younger generations watching old black and white films?
TURANWell, you know, I always think there are horses for courses, you know. And I think if you expose someone to a really beautiful black and white film on a big screen, people will see the virtues. But sometimes people watch them on their TVs or they watch them in bad prints, and they say, "I don't get it." If I really believe even this person's who emailed in, that if I could get a hold of her and show her some really good black and white films, she would say, "I get it."
REHMAnd here's an email from Aaron, in Ohio. "Have you ever had a film that you, overtime, changed your opinion about? The truth is, what our mood is, what kind of day we've had and so on, maybe seeing a film again later might revoke or evoke a different response." What do you think?
TURANOh, I agree 100 percent. You know, again, as a critic, no one thinks more about the circumstances and how we react to films than critics do. And I'm very well aware that my mood and my situation and a lot of things come into play. This is a personal response, always.
TURANAnd, you know, one film I changed my mind on was "Godfather II," which initially I hadn't liked for reasons I can't even remember. And now I think it, you know, it almost made my list. It's almost as good a film as "Godfather I."
REHMI agree with you. Let's go to Brian, in Grand Rapids, Mich. Hi, you're on the air.
BRIANAnd hello, Kenneth. You guys got a great show here. My question to you is what is your favorite documentary? I mean, I like to learn something when I watch a film.
TURANOh, I'm with you. I love documentaries. There are several in the book. You know, the one that comes to mind is a film, you know, always these things are emotional. You say favorite and I just wonder, okay, what immediately comes to my mind? What comes to my mind is "The Day After Trinity," because it's such a powerful story and because it's such a really relevant story today. This a documentary by Jon Else about how the atomic bomb was made.
TURANAbout the men who made the bomb in Los Alamos, what was on their mind, what they were thinking, what that process was like. And it just is a film that astonished me when I saw it because, you know, it was people like us. It was culture. It wasn't cold, you know, white-coated scientists. It was cultured, sophisticated, warm, humanistic people who made the atomic bomb. And that story just never ceases to fascinate me.
REHMMary Clare writes, "In spite of watching movies my whole life, the first time I saw 'Little Miss Sunshine' I declared I thought it possibly the best movie I've ever seen. Do you agree about its value? Could you discuss the elements of it that are so compelling, endearing and universal?"
TURANOh, gosh. No. I'm a fan of "Little Miss Sunshine." I remember I…
TURANYeah, I saw it at Sundance, you know. And it was, you know, the place erupted. People -- from the very first time that film went, you know, on a screen people fell in love with it. It's wonderfully acted. It's a funny concept. It's got a great cast. And it just does it right. You know, it tells its story the way it should be told and it's just a pleasure to watch it. Just a pure pleasure.
REHMAnd another one that's pure pleasure for me and certainly my husband -- we've seen it at least five times -- is "Foul Play," with Goldie Hawn.
TURANOh, yeah, that's another film that's fun. Gosh. I mean, there's just, you know, again, Goldie Hawn in her prime was just wonderful. And it's just a treat to see her on the screen.
REHMAbsolutely. Let's go to Nelson, in Silver Spring, Md. You're on the air.
NELSONI grew up in New York watching WOR-TV Million Dollar Movie on Channel 9. And I still remember the power of "I Was a Fugitive From a Chain Gang," pardon me, with the last line being, "I steal." And also, I just wanted to say that I associate the "Godfather's" popularity with the fact that it seems to be underpinned by "Henry IV" -- Shakespeare's "Henry IV," and "Henry V," with Clemenza almost as a Falstaff.
NELSONBut my real question is about violence. And I want your opinion, of course. The Gutenberg Revolution, which ushered in the era of print technology, and values and social change, if you will, brought in the private consciousness. It also -- and my question is do you think film technology is reversing the Guttenberg Revolution in print, in a way that makes violence in TV or in film work the same way that advertising works in selling a product?
TURANWell, I do think that violence in film has an effect on us. You know, I mean, again, the social scientists and people argue about this constantly. You know, is -- if you watch a lot of violent films, does it predispose you to violence? And it's hard to believe that it doesn't have any effect. I mean, the whole notion of commercials and watching things on TV is that we are influenced by what we see. And it just feels emotionally -- I can't back it up with statistics, but it feels emotionally that these films kind of -- it just doesn't feel like a good thing that there's so much violence on screen and that we take it in as human beings.
REHMYou know, I talked several times with that wonderful New York Times food critic and chef, Craig Claiborne, and I know what his desert island meal was. What would your desert island movie be?
TURANOh, gosh, I think it -- well, one of two films -- well, "The Godfather"…
TURAN…is one because it's just so (word?) . I mean "Children of Paradise," for many reasons I mentioned earlier, a great romance. And there's another French romance that's just so beautifully shot. It's called "The Earrings of Madame de." It's directed by a man named Max Ophuls, who was a master of the moving camera. And there are scene in this film that are just visually intoxicating. And I think if I could take those three films, I'd be happy.
REHMWhat about "To Kill a Mockingbird?"
TURANOkay. Well, you know, it's funny, you know, one of the things that I found when I compiled this list is that friends of mine would get mad at me if their favorite film wasn't on it. And "To Kill a Mockingbird" is my wife's favorite film. And she got mad at me because it was on there.
REHMBoy, you just couldn’t win for losing. Really.
TURANIt's a jungle out there.
REHMYeah, you bet. Okay. Let's go to Fort Wayne, Ind. And to Sue. Hi, there. You're on the air.
SUEWell, hello. It's such a pleasure that I finally got through to talk to Diane Rehm. I am awed. Thank you. I listen to you all the time.
SUEThank you. I grew up in the '50s. And "Fantasia" -- and I'm sure it's not on your list, but I just have to say that it just wowed me. I'd never seen anything like that.
REHMIt was an extraordinary film, I think. What do you think, Ken?
TURANOh, I totally agree.
TURANNo. I totally agree. It's an amazing film. And it was so different at the time. No one had ever seen anything like it. I remember seeing it as a kid myself. And I'd say, "Wow," you know, I didn't know film could do this. So, I mean, it's a remarkable film. I totally agree.
REHMSo unlike me, you did not spend your Saturday afternoons at the theater?
TURANI didn't. I did sometimes. I would sneak out of the house.
TURANI, you know, my father would be, you know, take a nap and I would kind of sneak out and get into the movies. My mother was kind of a coconspirator with me, to get me in there. But, yeah, I mean it was hard to do it. And, but, I loved the movies. I, you know, I never thought of -- that this would be my life. I just loved going to the movies.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Do you remember how much those movies cost at the time?
TURANI do. I think for me they were 25 cents. I mean, I know movies used to cost even less than that. But I remember 25 cents.
REHMYeah, I remember 12 cents.
REHMIsn't that something. And you'd have a double-feature. You'd have the news reel. You'd have cartoons. You'd have all these special things.
TURANI know, that is gone. And it's missed. You know, I think most people don't know it even existed, but for, you know, those of us who remember, this is a loss.
REHMAbsolutely. Let's go to Pittsburgh, Penn. Alex, you're on the air.
ALEXIt's an honor to be speaking with you.
ALEXIt's kind of been a long accepted truism that art is a reflection of the society, but movies, I think, are in a separate category, in that they need to be sold and they need to be marketed with specific demographic. And this calls to mind, speaking of Marlon Brando, movies like, "The Wild One," and "Apocalypse Now." And I think an argument could be made that if those movies had been released at different points of time during our history, they would not have made the impact that they did.
ALEXSo my question is do you feel that now society could be reflecting art? And if so, how do you feel that the business aspect of producing and marketing movies has on the artistic aspect of that movie?
TURANWell, you know, one thing that I always like to point out is that it's important to remember that we have really, at this point in time, two different movie industries. We have the Hollywood side of things, which mostly is concerned with making money and every once in a while around awards time they bring out artistic films.
TURANBut we have a really strong independent film world that turns out a lot of film, and where artistic considerations are really paramount. And we still have documentaries and films from other countries. So there's a lot of places where artistic concerns are really strong and valued. Hollywood is just not always that place.
REHMBut it would seem that sequels, you know, Spiderman is out again. Sequels keep on keeping on. And they are absolutely geared to a certain group of people. And yet, the kind of money to make a quality film seems to be diminishing.
TURANThat's really true. You know, one of the best films at Cannes this year was a film called "Foxcatcher," which is an American film that will be out at Christmas. It's an unusual story. It's got Steve Carell in a very unusual, non-comedic role. And the reason this film exists is that a young woman named Megan Ellison, who was the heir to a large fortune, is a passionate film fan and she is funding very interesting movies. And absent people like that, a lot of these movies just would not get made. We really are in a bad shape in terms of what people are willing to put money into.
REHMWell, I hate to end on that down note, but Kenneth Turan, it was a real pleasure to talk with you. So sorry about our technical difficulties. Film critic for the Los Angeles Times and NPR's "Morning Edition." His new book it titled, "Not to be Missed: Fifty-Four Favorites from a Lifetime of Film." Ken Turan, thank you so much.
TURANOh, thank you, Diane. It was real pleasure.
REHMThank you. And thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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