17 October 2020

And Now for Something Different …

I don't like all movies, any more than I like all novels or short stories–but I like all kinds and genres of movies. Adventure, mystery, romance, horror, western, war, sports, science fiction, fantasy, humor, drama, animated, musical, documentary, silent, foreign, pretty much anything. If it looks interesting to me, I'll watch it–or at least start it. I admit I've grown a little tired of superheroes and zombies, but I'll usually give anything a try.

I will also, occasionally, watch a movie just because I've heard it's off the beaten track. That of course doesn't always turn out well–sometimes you run screaming back to what's safe and familiar. But sometimes it does work.

Innovative, when used to describe movies, can mean a lot of things: a different subject, a different technology, a different approach–anything that might break new ground. Examples: Jurassic Park was the first movie to fully create life-like dinosaurs; Toy Story was the first feature-length computer-animated film; Superman was the first movie to use a computer-generated title sequence. In the not-entertaining-but-interesting department, Star Wars was the first movie to list the entire crew in the closing credits.

If you're into this kind of thing, here are some more "firsts":

The first movie to feature …

  • a GPS device – Goldfinger (1964)
  • a cell phone – Lethal Weapon (1987)
  • a car phone – Sabrina (1954)
  • a toilet being flushed – Psycho (1960)
  • a karate fight – The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
  • a rocket launch – A Trip to the Moon (1902)
  • on-screen texting – Sex Drive (2008)
  • an interracial kiss – Island in the Sun (1957)
  • a gay kiss – Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971)
  • sound – The Jazz Singer (1927)
  • a dog in a starring role – Rescued by Rover (1905)
  • a TV set – Elstree Calling (1930)
  • a PG-13 rating – Red Dawn (1984)
  • an NC-17 rating – Henry and June (1990)
  • the Wilhelm Scream – Distant Drums (1951)
  • scenes shot entirely by natural candlelight – Barry Lyndon (1975)
  • a commercially-released soundtrack – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
  • a rock song° in the soundtrack – Blackboard Jungle (1955)
    • "Rock Around the Clock," Bill Haley and His Comets

While not necessarily "firsts," the following are a few movies I've either watched or re-watched over the past months that I can truly say are innovative:

1917 (2019) – The entire movie was filmed in one continuous, unbroken shot. This was done also in Russian Ark and, with a few subtle edits, Hitchcock's Rope. But 1917 takes the viewer on a long journey with many different locations, in one person's POV, from start to finish. I loved it.

All Is Lost (2013) – Filmed with no dialogue. Well, that's not quite right: There's one word, a familiar expletive spoken by the main character (Robert Redford) at a point when things get extra frustrating. To shoot a movie this way, involving only one man and his boat and the ocean, and still make it entertaining, is impressive.

Memento (2000) – This one doesn't just have a nonlinear timeline; it's filmed backwards. Specifically, it's in two sections, the first part chronological and the second part backward. I never saw anything like it.

Vantage Point (2008) – The same story is told multiple times, one after the other, each time using a different character's POV. (Rashomon, if I remember correctly, did almost the same kind of thing.)

The Blair Witch Project (1999) – A "found footage" movie. It wasn't the first to be filmed this way, but it was the one that made the process famous. Troll Hunters, years later, was my favorite of these, and I liked Cloverfield also. (My college roommate and I saw Cloverfield together in the theater in 2008, and we had to leave early because the realistic, jerky camera movement made him sick.)

Psycho (1998) – A remake that was faithfully re-created shot-for-shot from Hitchcock's 1960 classic, just with a different cast, director, etc. It's worth watching if only to see the way it was done.

Boyhood (2014) – Shows actors as they grow in real life. It was filmed from 2001 to 2013 and follows the life of a boy in Texas from the age of six to eighteen. To my knowledge it's the first movie ever to try this.

Executive Action (1996)/Deep Blue Sea (1999)/Psycho (1960) – Each of these is unique in that one of its biggest and most recognizable stars is unexpectedly killed off very early in the story (Steven Seagal/Samuel L. Jackson/Janet Leigh). That's risky, but in these cases it seemed to work.

Adaptation (2002) – A multiple-award-winning film about–believe it or not–the writing of the movie you're watching. Robert Ebert said, "To watch the film is to be actively involved in the challenge of its creation." Weird but fascinating.

Flags of Our Fathers (2006)/Letters from Iwo Jima (2006) – Two separate Clint Eastwood-directed movies about the same event (the Battle of Iwo Jima), told from two different POVs–the first from the U.S., the second from Japan.

NOTE: One that I've not yet seen is Timecode (2000). It supposedly features four continuous storylines in real-time split screens. It is at this moment in my Netflix queue.

Other movies that are innovative in various ways: The Wild Bunch, Dick Tracy, The Artist, Sin City, Pleasantville, Buried, Idiocracy, Big Fish, Alien, Pulp Fiction, 2001, Open Water, Airplane!, Westworld, M*A*S*H, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Rustler's Rhapsody, The Matrix, Birdman, The Lobster, Being John Malkovich, Cloud Atlas, Flack Bay, Blazing Saddles, Run Lola Run, Dogville, A Fistful of Dollars, The Exorcist, Brazil, Amelie, Melancholia, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Avatar, Titanic, Thelma and Louise, Life of Pi, Dr. Strangelove, Galaxy Quest, Across the Universe, The Sixth Sense.

There are many, many more movies that try something new, with varying results. What are some that come to mind, for you?–and what innovative things about them made them appealing to you (or not)? Any that I should be on the lookout for? Any I should avoid?

Again, different isn't always good. But it's almost always interesting.

Next time, back to the subject of writing.


  1. I've seen Timecode, and it's pretty good. Of your 'other's list, just about anything from Terry Gilliam is bound to be unusual. I loved Cloud Atlas, but I hated, hated, hated Dogville. Put another way, I loathed it. The staging is clever, but the storyline… beyond the fact the ending became obvious about 30% of the way into it… left me feeling sick and unclean.

    It's probably not a 'first', but I like Koyaanisqatsi and its sequel– no spoken word at all, mustic by Phillip Glass.

    Speaking of Glass, he wrote and performed a musical soundtrack for the 1931 silent film Frankenstein. That might be another first.

    Thought-provoking lists, John.

  2. I can't find it in his IMDB listing, but supposedly one of the other shows during the weekend engagement Richard Pryor was filmed for "Richard Pryor Live in Concert" was released as a feature. Even though it's essentially the same show!

  3. Nice posting. I remember a movie shown in nine sequences in reverse chronological order, the last scene show first and scenes moving back through the story. BETRAYAL (1983) starred Ben Kingsley, Jeremy Irons and Patricia Hodge. It's a subtle piece with nice emotion.

  4. Great list and great breakdown of categories, John. But you have a lot more patience than I do. I used to like a lot broader variety of movies than I do today. Not sure what happened or why, but I just don't like as many types of things as I used to.

  5. Leigh, I've not seen Koyaanisqatsi, or even heard of it (!)--but I'll fix that. As for Cloud Atlas, I suspect you and I might be the only two people in the world who liked that movie. I too didn't like Dogville, and actually thought it was a little creepy.

    Jeff, I liked Richard Pryor in everything, whether in concert or in a role. And O'Neil, I've not seen Betrayal. Love to get these recommendations.

    Paul, my patience isn't what it used to be. I'm open to trying most any kind of movie, but if it doesn't grab me I leave pretty fast. There are so many different movies out there now and ways to access them, it doesn't make sense to hang in there for two hours if you haven't been hooked. But seriously, I have grown so tired of the Marvel Universe and endless zombie and vampire films, I don't even start those anymore.

    Thanks as always, all of you, for stopping in, here.

  6. I've seen Koyaanisquatsi and enjoyed it, but once was enough. Adaptation - love it!
    BTW, another first (and, I think, only) - Midnight Cowboy was released with an "X" rating. After it won Best Picture, it was given an "R" rating.

  7. I liked Adaptation too, Eve. Yep, Midnight Cowboy was rated X, at first. I saw it in college, and I remember we wondered why it got an X rating. (I hummed that opening Harry Nilsson song for the rest of the school year.) Hard to believe that's now an "old movie."

  8. John, have you seen the 1986 movie Pretty in Pink? It had what might be considered a version of texting. Of course it wasn't from phone to phone, but one person typed something on a computer and it appeared (words with a photo) on someone else's computer. It wasn't email. Maybe it was like an instant message. I just remember thinking in '86 that that wasn't possible. (But maybe it was.)

  9. Funny you should mention Blair Witch Project. When I lived in Maryland I got to know Patricia DeCou, who played "Mary Brown" in the movie, a little, shortly after the movie was made. I'll just say that Patricia DeCou had a tenuous grasp on reality & the so-called "found footage" people totally ripped off her fragile persona to make a buck & get college credit. I hated that movie & as for Patricia DeCou, she was living in a homeless shelter at the time & I don't know if she ever made a penny from the movie. She died in 2007.

  10. Hey Barb. Yep, I saw Pretty in Pink years ago, and even now I get it confused with Sixteen Candles--they were a lot alike, to me. But I don't remember the computer-to-computer messaging, for some reason. Like you, I doubt there was anything like that available to the public in the mid-80s.

    Computer and phone technology is, I suppose, one of the things that can date our stories because it changes so fast. I mentioned in the column that I think the movie Goldfinger featured the first GPS device (in Bond's car, when he was tracking Goldfinger fairly early in the movie), but I believe it also featured the first laser beam. I could be wrong about that.

  11. How interesting, Elizabeth! I didn't like BWP either, especially the ending, but boy did it make its mark. Sorry to hear the story of that actress (though she wasn't really an actress).

    Thanks for this!

  12. The Blair Witch Project creeped me out for a long, long time. And I have only watched it the once. Ironically, Maryland remains one of my favorite states to go hiking.

  13. I think it creeped a lot of folks out, Bob. Next time you're hiking up there, do it at night and take a camera along!

    Seriously, I was especially disappointed in the ending. I think it could've been a good movie.


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