Named after the Anglo-Welsh explorer Richard Amerike (if not an Italian), The United States of America, or U.S.A for short, is a large country a few thousand miles over the ocean to the West of Wales and Portugal, bordered by Canada and Mexico and facing, a little Palin hop and skip over water, across to Russia, and at the opposite corner to Cuba- intriguing combination of neighbours! From Alaska, Japan is not a huge distance either. Hundreds of years ago, well before Columbus, Prince Madoc paid a visit, and recently native Americans have repaid the compliment to the Welsh island of Anglesey. The USA was created after defeating the army of mad King George III of England (he was so mad he was confused as to whether he was a Hanoverian, a Frankfurter or Hamburger, or even a sequel to the first King George film) and declaring independence in 1776. The revolt had kicked off in Boston at a bar Ye Olde Goode Cheeres, when 3 regulars, a fat guy named Norm, a bumpkin called Woody, and a Wells Fargo mailman, refused to drink any more goddamn limey tea, threw it into the sea and demanded some good yankee Budweiser beer instead. Fortunately for the rebels, their leader had the advantage over King George for although he had identity problems of his own (not knowing if he’d been named after Washington DC or the North West state of Washington) he was well aware he was not a sausage, and boldy crossed the Delaware, just as Julius Caesar had crossed the Rubicon many years before him (river crossing marks the great general from the mediocre)- and henceforth trousers became pants, cricket was replaced by baseball, the poor letter U was discarded, and the last of the genteel afternoon tea parties at Boston gave way to rowdy whoopin and hollerin swing door saloons with ladies in the latest finerie all the way from gay Paree upstairs, Jack Daniel and his cronies downing whisky and the best doggone yahoo-yippee gun totin’ shoot-outs north of the Rio Grande.
A land of magnificent natural and human-made features, the USA’s wonders include Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley (below)
Niagara Falls, Mount Rushmore, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Flatiron laundry press building and the mighty Mississippi. It has been home to many notable achievers, such as Frederick Douglass, Geronimo, Fred Astaire, eecummings, Bruce Springsteen, Martin Luther King, Franklin D Roosevelt, Muhammad Ali, John Lee Hooker, George Gershwin, Elijah “the real” McCoy, Paul Robeson, Annie Oakley, Punxsutawney Phil, my childhood hero Champion the Wonder Horse (now frolicking in the great prairies in the sky), and of course little Opal Whiteley from the state of Oregon. It played a major role in the defeat of Hitler and Nazism, is the first modern superpower to elect a black man as head of State (i suspect the UK is some way off yet) and the first human officially credited with setting foot on the moon was Neil Armstrong (sadly the Welsh inventor old Mog the Mechanic, a.k.a Morgan the Moon, landed on the dark side). As a young boy, on that great day in 1969, i gazed up at our beautiful silvery satellite in awe and wonder. I understand there is a growing clamour in the US for the country to outdo even the Moon walk and together in friendship with the upcoming Chinese, eradicate world hunger, disease and warfare by 24th March 2023; this strikes me as a noble aim. I certainly hope it can be achieved but i’ve been told my grasp of US culture and history, as well as international politics, is not quite up to scratch.
The US has a long tradition of welcoming immigrants from far and wide, including film-making and acting talents, particularly from the United Kingdom and Europe. (In return for Hitchcock, Chaplin, Charles Laughton and numerous stars, the UK can be grateful for Kubrick, Losey, Gilliam and the Quay brothers). It is thought that a widespread fascination with volcanoes and grass skirts led to the incorporation of the beautiful Hawaiian islands into the USA., which has given it new neighbours, though some strenuous rowing and hearty shouts of “Book ’em, Danno” are required. In the dynamic sport American football the Seattle Seahawks are the team to support, even if such support has yet to bear fruit with multiple trophies -how i used to cuss those Broncos and Elway! (UPDATE: Superbowl champs 2014. Did I not say they were the team to support? )The US has a major film industry, producing many of my favourite films and for film quantity it is running officially not far behind Nigeria but with some way to go to match the great giant that is India. In the previous 2 decades, the American Film Institute published a couple of lists of the 100 top films from the USA, so i thought i might try my own. Yeah, I float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, i’m gonna whup their dumb ass reel good. I’ll say it again, i’ve said it before, the American Film Institute goes down in four
Too many to fit into 100, so i’ve decided to cock a snook at decimal tyranny. Even now, hard choices and omissions. I wanted to remind that American cinema didn’t begin with Griffith, whose Babylonian elephants in Intolerance certainly deserve inclusion. Pioneers like Edison, the Anglo-American Muybridge, the Franco-Scottish William Dickson, Winsor McCay, Billy Bitzer all should have their place at the feast.. Should i stay true to all 3 childhood favourites El Cid, It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, The Great Escape? For the moment, yes. I’m a Fred Astaire fan, so Swing Time can make three. I was raised on Tom and Jerry: Cat Concerto may stay. There may be better missing films than the Russ Meyer but somehow it says quite a lot about the USA and the world. Spielberg (Schindler’s List) and Tarantino (Pulp Fiction) hardly need promoting, nor popular poll toppers like Shawshank Redemption and Fight Club. Perhaps reluctantly i should after all pick one example each for 2 directors i’m hardly inspired by, Cassavetes (even if he’s hailed as a paragon of integrity) or Brakhage (who didn’t invent avant-garde cinema or hand painted films or the atom.)
Where, you may wonder, are Taxi Driver, Nashville and Psycho? Well, i much prefer others i’ve chosen. On the Waterfront? Can’t bear it. Too many Best Picture Oscar winners have left me cold. Laurel and Hardy (Sons of the Desert)? And shouldn’t there be more from Hollywood’s annus mirabilis, 1939?- Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Mr Smith Goes to Washington are standard landmark selections of course. Stagecoach has suffered from its own influence and imitators but i think should scrape in. I’m fond of Alexander Hammid’s Private Life of a Cat but he’s already represented with Meshes of the Afternoon. I’m a fan of Sternberg-Dietrich confections, was tempted to add another! The Social Network? Its wonders passed me by. Mickey Mouse is an important figure in US culture, after all, and as well as Mickey’s Trailer i also could have picked Fantasia.
o.k, my favourites:
North by Northwest
The Band Wagon
Some Like it Hot
Letter from an Unknown Woman
Night of the Hunter
2001: A Space Odyssey
Singin in the Rain
The Big Sleep
To Be or Not to Be