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Criterion’s Seven Samurai Makes Sound & Vision’s Top 10 DVDs and CDs of 2006

Sound & Vision, which calls itself the world’s largest entertainment equipment magazine, has given us yet another top 10 of 2006 list. In this one, Criterion’s triple-DVD take on Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai appears as the 4th highest ranked DVD release. (“A mini film-school course on Akira Kurosawa and the samurai genre. Fifty-year-old movies have no business looking this good.”)

The list is actually topped by John Ford’s The Searchers, who obviously has his own significance for those familiar with Kurosawa’s influences.


Discussion

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BMWRider

I have four of their top five (and six of their top 10), and as much as I love Seven Samurai, I have to say the Searchers is absolutely stunning. While Seven was a step up from the previous Criterion edition, the Searchers was a millionfold improvement. If you have not scene this version of the John Ford classic, please do, it is easily the best Wayne/Ford movie, and a beautiful film. The final shot still moves me after multiple viewings.

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Vili Maunula

I actually watched The Searchers today, as it has been forever since I saw it, and could hardly remember anything of it. And I must confess that I am in some ways a bit puzzled about the place that it occupies in most film canons.

While it certainly has artistic qualities (the opening and closing shots are especially thrilling, as are many of the landscape shots), and has obviously been influential in a number of ways, as a film it doesn’t really do much for me.

The story is interesting, and poses good questions, but I feel that the themes that it sets out to explore, like racism and the question of identity, are not really addressed on a level that they could have been. Now, obviously The Searchers was made before the “revisionist westerns” started to take over, and therefore it is in a way unfair to judge it for not going deep enough in what is ultimately criticising the original western genre that it still was very much part of. However, as I mentioned, while I can see the film’s historical value as something of a transitional piece, as a piece of cinema in its own right — which is primarily what I care about while watching a movie — it doesn’t really touch me.

I personally also see the film as having quite a number of flaws. For one, I don’t care much for the acting, which I find quite unlifelike in many places, and some of the characters (especially Mose) seem completely out of place. The time scale of the film is, I feel, also rather poorly conveyed, with at least me as a viewer not really feeling the passing of time. The romantic story in the movie is also rather poorly written, as if someone just threw it there in the last minute. I felt that the music was also quite a bit overblown at times, even for the 50s Hollywood standards.

I am of course not suggesting that The Searchers is a bad movie. And I want to repeat that (I think that) I clearly see its historical influence. However, as a film I simply cannot really bring myself to like it that much, although I would like to. It always bothers me when I can’t bring myself to enjoy something that is supposed to be so good (Citizen Kane is the prototypical example of such a film).

I keep thinking that despite of all the years of film watching I still don’t get something. And maybe I am indeed missing something, for I seem to be viewing “canonical” films very critically these days. The other day I watched Herzog’s Aguirre: The Wrath of God, and again while I could see the brilliance in the ideas that it explored, and absolutely love the way it was created (Herzog’s commentary is well worth listening), I thought that the ideas in it were larger than what the movie actually was able to convey. You sort of had to fill in the blanks and imagine what the movie could have been.

Well, I think I’ll just have to view both films again after, say, ten years, and maybe I will come to understand them better.

As a final note, I also watched Buster Keaton’s The General yesterday, and that I quite liked (although the middle part was a bit repetitious). So it’s not like I would hate all the great films ever made. 😉

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BMWRider

Wow, a huge response. I agree that sometimes the “classics” are not for me. The one I have never gotten is Gone With the Wind. So trust me, I understand. I think my thing with the Searchers is that it is filmed beautifully, the closing shot with the doorway framing Wayne is amazing, the story was very innovative for the time, and Wayne actually acts in it. John Wayne plays himself with rare exceptions, the Searchers and the Shootist being the two that I point to. Again, I understand when “the greats” don’t grab you, in this case we disagree, and that’s fine.

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Vili Maunula

Yes, as you can see, you happened to mention The Searchers at the right moment. 🙂

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Jeremy

Dont feel too bad Vili, theres a few “great classics” I cant enjoy or see what the fuss is about.

John Ford, must be a truly great director as he is the inspiration to two of my favorite directors, Scorsese and Kurosawa. However there is no films of his that I really liked, and his filming parter John Wayne, I simply cant stand.

I feel a lot of great classic films, though important for there time, just simply dont hold up today. The mention of Citizen Cane, aside from some impressive cinematography work, the overall story feels rather simple, generic and poorly acted. At the time of its creation perhaps this story was new and fantastic, but despite seeing this film at least seven times, I cant not find nothing of fantastic about this film.

I understand perhaps judging a classic film against more modern pieces is not a correct way of doing so, and I would believe this fact if there wasnt so many classic films that still manage to hold up to this day.

The best example for me is 1930’s “M” from Fritz Lang, despite its age, I simple find this film very effective, I am often surprise the reactions and discussion this film brings when shown to people for the first time and even veterans of the movie like me. For a film to be 76 years old and still maintain a stronger effectiveness then the majority of modern films is no less the impressive.

I often feel, that am not understanding, or gasping the big picture when viewing a classic I dont enjoy. I have even been criticized for giving negative comments about older films. I feel its right to judge a film as you personally see it, despite it being considered a important piece. I tend to wonder if some of these films are truly great to this day, or called great simply for there age.

A side note about me not liking John Wayne, I guess its more personal then anything related to his acting. I dont know about other countries or even other states. In Texas,USA in the more remote country areas. John Wayne is nearly idolized, many people have pictures of him hang on their wall. Its not because they are fond of him as a actor, but it appears they believe the person he played in the movie was real. I dont think they understand he is simply a actor that it not really saving anyone, shooting a real gun or killing the bad guys. Many people find him to be a true American hero, and not a actor pretending to be. I never understood that, and there doesnt appear to be any other actor that is idolized like John Wayne.
Of course this only applies to older people that grew up watching him, perhaps for that time period he was emotionally important in their life. With the war and the hard labor that many Americas faced, they perhaps found a relief in his films

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Vili Maunula

Yes, “M” is indeed one of those classics that perfectly holds its place even after all these years. I feel that most of Kurosawa’s work is the same — very little of them has aged.

I didn’t know that John Wayne holds such an influential place in Texas. But I can understand that he probably captured the American/Texan national/state identity (however abstract and imaginary that concept is) quite well with his roles.

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Jeremy

Naturally I feel Kurosawa’s work stands the test of time, else I would visit this site so often 🙂

There are a lot of filmmakers I am fond of, but Kurosawa remains to be my favorite.

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BMWRider

I too think M is timeless, but I think most of Lang’s work transcends time. As for Wayne/Ford, I suppose my tastes are a bit different, at least compared with two other Kurosawa fans. I think Wayne is a powerful actor, when he acts. For me that happened at least three times in his career, The Searchers, The Shootist, and The Quiet Man. Two of the three were with Ford. I think they were a good pairing. I will always argue that The Searchers is a better film than most, just because of the last 15 minutes. When Wayne is framed in the doorway at the end, that is powerful. Not many directors can work without dialogue, and say so much. There are few directors I think are sure things, Kurosawa, Ridley Scott, Hitchcock, Fritz Lang, and Billy Wilder usually keep me interested regardless of the film. Others like Ford, Welles, Capra, Bergman, and Robert Bloom have their moments, though I don’t always like their work. Others get on my nerves, particularly George Lucas. But hey it is all about taste. I will say this, owning all the Kurosawa titles, I even enjoy the poorly dubbed Chinese ones. They are just fine film making. I wish the early ones were unedited. BTW, I once wrote a critique of each one for the barely active Yahoo list, I may have to redo it in light of the reissues. Are you interested?

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Vili Maunula

Regarding Wayne/Ford, I think you can happily live in the knowledge that your tastes are closer to Kurosawa’s than are ours, BMWRider! 😉

Actually, I don’t have anything particular against either — it was just The Searchers that left me a bit disappointed. I expected more from such an often-referred-to film. I haven’t seen enough Ford or Wayne to really be able to generalise in the case of either man.

Most of the films that I have seen from Ford are actually his earlier silent works — they played those a lot in Finland, and for a long time I even thought that Ford only made silent movies.

I will probably give The Shootist and The Quiet Man a watch, now that you mentioned them. How is The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance — I see that one often mentioned, as well?

And yes, the door framing in The Searchers is powerful, and also very symbolic of the civilization vs. wilderness topic that the film at least partially explores. And whatever Wayne’s acting skills may be thought to be, the body language he has when he looks in from the porch uneasily, and then turns around to walk away before the door closes, is priceless.

As for the critique you mentioned — is this for the DVD releases or for the films themselves? Either way, I think I could find a place for them on this site. I am not yet entirely sure how I might use them, but I have a few ideas…

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BMWRider

Funny thing, I look at Liberty Valance as a Jimmy Stewart film. He, along with Cary Grant are consummate actors in my book. Regardless of how big or small their role, they tend to take over a film. That said, it has been years since I watched The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, so my recollections of the film are minimal.

I wrote a breakdown of the DVD qualities of each film I owned. I was trying to purchase all the Kurosawa films at the time and struggled to find the earlier stuff. The Idiot and The Quiet Duel were unavailable. Obviously I have since replaced my VHS copies with DVD. After stumbling across your site, I bought some alternatives to the Chinese versions of those early films and actually have the ability to do an A-B comparison. I was thinking about the second half of the Kurosawa canon that you are working on. If you want help, I am offering my services. Let me know.

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Vili Maunula

To add to your list of actors who dominate the screen on a level where they end up taking over a film, I think Mifune is a good example, as is Robert Redford.

Then there are also some actors who seem to be able to switch it on and off at will — Anthony Hopkins is a marvellous example.

As for the Kurosawa DVDs section, I think I can finish the list as it is more a matter of finding the time and the motivation to do that than actually coming up with the information. However, if you see something that you would disagree with, do raise a flag by all means.

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