Friday, February 19, 2010

Toles' favorite films in 1986 are my favorite films in 2010

Ask not for whom the cinema tolls, for it tolls for Toles.

When I recently went to see Hollywood film producer Rachel Shane speak at the RRC Directions Business Conference, she gave a shout-out to U of M professor George Toles' film class a the U of M for being the thing that got her into film.

My ears perked up, because I took the same class way back in 1986, and I've since found out that virtually every other Winnipeg movie fan and filmmaker drawing breath has taken the class too.

Toles is a likable guy who lives and breathes films; in class, we used to giggle at his unbridled passion for movies (not to mention his impression of Cary Grant), which we used to describe as "Mr. Rogers on acid." In a good way!

To this day, I give him full credit for being the first guy I ever heard give credit to "It's a Wonderful Life" and "City Lights." Both are incredible films, even if the former features an angel named Clarence who has to earn his wings by doing a good deed.

I recall Toles saying that he felt that no one could fully understand him until they'd seen "It's a Wonderful Life." When he screened it for us, I was shocked to remember that I'd seen the film as a little kid - in church, no less! - and that the source of my childhood nightmares about falling through the ice on a pond originate in the film's opening scenes.

Learning in the dark

I recently found my Film Studies class outline from 1986, and it conjured up fond memories of my Thursday afternoons in a dark lecture theatre watching movies at the U of M with my classmates, which included my then-girlfriend.

True story: I remember the names of all of the movies we saw, but not the name of the then-girlfriend. Lovely girl, though!

I also remember the term papers I wrote in the class: a comparison between Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire (Kelly wins!), the role of art direction in Metropolis, a shot-by-shot breakdown of the statue scene in Jules and Jim, a comparison of the outlaws in Bonnie and Clyde and Badlands, and the role of parental authority in Badlands and White Heat ("Top of the world, ma!").

Cameo by Guy Maddin

One time Toles brought in a young filmmaker named Guy Maddin with his then-new short film, My Dead Father. I remember wanting to be just like him (minus the dead father), so I stuck around after class and shyly asked him how he got the money to make his short film.

He either didn't have an answer or didn't want to share it with me, so I just stammered, "It's really good. Huh-huh." And walked out feeling like a moron. Since then, Maddin and Toles have collaborated on almost every one of Maddin's projects, because they had me as a common enemy. At least that's how I tell it.

Spoiler alert!

Below is the complete list of films we watched in that class. All stand the test of time. I can think of no better introduction to classic cinema, and that includes the shout-out to one of the best Winnipeg feature films ever, Crime Wave.

I've revisited all of these films since I took the class, and many are among my favorite films of all time: Citizen Kane, City Lights, the Bicycle Thief, Badlands...really, you can't go wrong with any of these.

There are some spoilers in the clips, but if you don't already know what Charles Foster Kane is talking about when he utters, "Rosebud," it may be seriously time to re-evaluate your life!

1. Buster Keaton, Sherlock Jr. (1924)

This actually happened to me in NY, except the guy who lost the dollar threatened to kill me.

2. Buster Keaton, The Cameraman (1928)

3. Buster Keaton, The Immigrant (1931)

4. Charlie Chaplin, City Lights (1931)

The formerly blind girl learns to see...

5. Sergei Eisenstein, The Battleship Potemkin (1925)

Those soldiers are real bastards.

6. F.W. Murnau, Sunrise (1927)

7. Saul Turell's The Love Goddess (1965)

8. Fritz Lang, Metropolis (1926)

How Red River College runs the campus!

9. Orson Welles, Citizen Kane (1941)

Help save local TV!

10. Frank Capra, It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

The one thing that students learn in my PR class every year.

11. Billy Wilder, Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Coo-coo-ca-choo, Mrs. Robinson.

12. Raoul Walsh, White Heat (1949)

13. Arthur Penn, Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

14. Terrence Malick, Badlands (1973)

The best soundtrack in movie history?

15. Vittorio de Sica, The Bicycle Thief (1950)

My favorite movie of all time!

16. Federico Fellini, The Nights of Cabiria (1957)

17. Francois Truffaut, Jules and Jim (1961)

Ain't love grand? Uh, no, it's not.

18. Alfred Hitchcock, Notorious (1946)

19. Alfred Hitchcock, Rear Window (1954)

20. Alfred Hitchcock, Psycho (1960)

"Why are you putting me in the fruit cellar, Norman? Do you think I'm fruity?"

21. Jean Renoir, The Grand Illusion (1937)

22. Jean Renoir, The Rules of the Game (1939)

23. Ingmar Bergman, The Seventh Seal (1957)

Why I stay away from beaches - that's where Pam Anderson and Death hang out.

24. Ingmar Berman, Persona (1966)

25. Luis Bunuel, Un Chien Andalou (1929)

26. Luis Bunuel, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)

This happens to me every time I eat!

27. John Paizs, Crime Wave (1985)

A fine piece of Winnipeg-based cinema!


  1. One of my big university regrets is the fact that I never took a film course at the University of Winnipeg. I would like to remedy that one day, because it sounds like an awesome experience! What could be better than sitting around with a bunch of like minded people, discussing movies? Very little, I think!

  2. I recently watched The Rules of the Game for the first time and was blown away by how much it has to say for a contemporary viewer.

    I haven't seen everything on the list - I'm way behind on my Eisenstein - but it includes some of my personal favourites: Sunset Boulevard, Psycho, Bonnie & Clyde and White Heat.

  3. I've seen 8,9,10,20,24,25, and 26.

    Interesting choices on that list.

  4. I watched "Notorious" (which I later bought on DVD and is still my favorite Hitchcock movie) and "Rules of the Game in my film studies class in 2005, I had Howard Curle as a prof but to see that those films has really stood the test of time. Btw, TCM is my fave channel at the moment, even that Vision channel has good movies from the 1940s sometimes.

  5. Rules of the game is a great film by any standard!

    It's depressing to consider how few current films have the emotional resonance of everything that came before.

    And, Veronica, you are still a lovely girl!

  6. I took this very same class from George Toles in 2004! :)

  7. I remember we watched a Bergman film as well, but I can't for the life of me recall which one it was. I guess I'll either have to scour my old notes or imdb until something jumps out. Another favourite of mine from Art of Film was Three Colours: Blue, a french film starring the lovely (and later Oscar winner) Juliette Binoche, its subtitled but check it out anyway.

  8. I love the film Blue, and I love subtitles!


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