James Bond, door prize, and my three favourite films

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, November 19, 2008

I’m not sure whether I was stirred or shaken by the most recent James Bond 007 film, Quantum of Solace, but my wife and I sure had a good time last Thursday finding out. Cochrane Movie House held a pre-opening-night preview, with super refreshments and a great door prize of a 42-DVD set of 21 James Bond movies.

The experience gives me an excuse to reflect on my life-long love affair with the motion picture arts, and for the first time in print, to reveal to you the titles of my top three all-time favourite films.

We’re fortunate in our small town to have a two-screen motion picture theatre with state-of-the-art audio and projection. Owner Hal Wolf not only brings in most of the latest Hollywood releases as part of his usual week-to-week business, but also cooperates with our local Chinook Film Group to screen monthly art and special interest films as a community service.

Last Thursday’s event, however, was something unique for Cochrane. Hal welcomed a full house to an evening of festivities around what is proving to be the biggest box-office success yet for the 007 series ($70.4 Million on opening weekend).

Without wanting to give too much away, the film is a sequel to Casino Royale. Bond, played by Daniel Craig, still coping with the death of his lady friend in that earlier film, sets out to investigate an international resource conspiracy, and in so doing provides the audience with some of the most spellbinding chase scenes ever, as his emotions threaten his professionalism as a spy.

Craig is certainly a very different kind of James Bond from his predecessors. He’s nowhere near as suave and invincible as Sean Connery, Roger Moore or Pierce Brosnan. In fact, Craig is often downright vulnerable.

Obviously, I’m a pretty dedicated 007 fan.

But as I already indicated, beginning with those youthful days when 10 cents would buy me a ticket to a Saturday matinee, I’ve had a love affair with all kinds of films.

Back in the 1940s there was Disney’s Fantasia, the feature animation that hooked me on film interpretation of classical music.

Speaking of which, I must pay tribute to Stanley Kubrick for his 2001: A Space Odyssey. Does anyone not identify those signature tones from Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra with the dawn of a whole new era in science fiction filmmaking?

For sheer entertainment, of course, I’ve never missed an installment of Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, or the Indiana Jones series.

In a more serious vein, important values in my worldview have been shaped by Doctor Zhivago, Cabaret, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Gandhi, Good Morning, Viet Nam, and Schindler’s List.

But none of these is among my top three films. Judged by a combination of their artistry and their inspiration for me to become a better human being, the three most important films in my life, listed chronologically, are:

Fred Zinnemann’s A Man for All Seasons (1966), starring Paul Scofield as Sir Thomas More. The historical film emphasizes for me the absolute priority of personal integrity above fame, fortune, and the intimidation of superiors – even that of King Henry VIII. It reminds me that even in life’s most unjust, cruelest moments, gentleness and sound reason can prevail. It teaches me that not even the threat of death should compromise one’s higher loyalty to God and truth.

Norman Jewison’s Fiddler on the Roof (1971), starring Topol as Tevye. This delightful musical depicts the tension between tradition and social change, on the one hand, and the resilience of the human spirit in the face of ethnic persecution, on the other. It’s about arguing with God when life doesn’t seem fair; it’s about love triumphing over expediency; it’s about laughing misfortune in the face and carrying on with life’s journey. Thinking about this great film always leaves a song in my heart.

Bille August’s Les Misérables (1998), starring Liam Neeson as Jean Valjean. This is a dramatic interpretation of Victor Hugo’s classic work on revenge and redemption. Jean Valjean, just released from prison for stealing bread and very angry, receives undeserved kindness when he least expects it, and spends the rest of the film extending that kindness to others, even when the accusing figure of a former prison guard refuses to get off his back. For me, this is the finest motion picture interpretation of what I understand to be the heart of our walk with God: living a life of grace.

Well, there you have it, folks, the three most important films in my life. Oh, and about that great door prize Hal gave out at the 007 showing last Thursday? I had the lucky number! Thanks, Hal.

© 2008 Warren Harbeck

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