My Personal Hall of Shame: Unseen Classics

Back off Costner! and take your Wigwam with you!

There are a number of films out there that are considered classic films for one reason or another.  They tend to crop up on best of lists from the AFI, BFI and the IMDB top 250.  Seen, loved and quoted endlessly they are some of the most recognisable scenes and films around. So why mention this at all? The answer is that there is a small group of films from these lists that I have not seen for one reason or another.  I know that not everyone shares the same taste in films but for the sake of completeness I am baring my soul and providing my list of unseen classics. Why? Basically writing this will force me to actually get around to watching them. Most of the films I will mention I actually have to hand, making it all the worse! There are a number of movies sitting on my shelves that have not been removed from their wrappers yet. That may form the basis for another piece on another day. So to the topic in hand. The films noted below are not in any particular order or hail from any specific genre. I am an equal opportunities ignorer of classic films.

Gone with the Wind (1939)

I may as well start with one of the biggest films in cinema history. Initially it was the four hour run time that put me off this. That and the subject matter. Somehow a romance set during the American civil war didn’t really appeal. Strangely I do know a fair bit about the film as  I have watched a very entertaining TV movie, The Scarlett O’Hara war, from 1980 about the real life search for an actress to portray Scarlet O’Hara. I would recommend this as an insight into the Hollywood system of the late 1930’s. I have now watched about 90 minutes of the film and I actually enjoyed what I saw so I may strike this off the list in the near future.

Withnail & I (1987)

The source of so many quotes out there and the inspiration for a number of drinking games, Withnail and I is the very definition of cult classic. I don’t know if it was the subject, two resting actors and the situations they find themselves, or a genuine lack of interest on my part that keep this unseen. This is one I own on DVD. The special edition no less. When it came down to and there was a choice of viewing there always seemed to be a more attractive option. I suspect this may continue to be the case for some time.

Apocalypse Now (1979)

 A confession of sorts for this pick. I have seen the majority of this film, but not all at the same time, near the same time or even within the same calendar year. I have seen the first hour, stopped and didn’t go back and finish it off. I accidentally caught the last hour on TV one night a good while later. What I saw I enjoyed. Well as much as you can enjoy Marlon Brando mumbling in the dark wearing pyjamas. This is another film that I have seen more of the supporting information than the actual feature. The documentary, Hearts of Darkness, released in its own right in 1991, that currently accompanies the three disc Blu ray release is an absolute cracker. Documenting the troubled shoot and the near descent into collective madness for the cast and crew it is an exhaustive and fascinating film.  Writing this piece has got me interested in this again so I think this is one  I will be watching (Redux version of course) in the near future.

Rashomon (1950)

An undoubted classic, so I’m told. This film gets mentioned in most film discussions where an incident is seen from several different points of view (Vantage Point comes to mind). This one is a bit of an oversight to be honest. I am interested in Kurosawa films having seen The Seven Samurai, Thorne of Blood and The Hidden Fortress. So it seems appropriate that I should see the one that has influenced so many films that followed. This one slipped through the net and will be added to my pile of movies to be seen.

Dr Zhivago (1965)

I guess you can spot a bit of a theme so far. A few of the films listed have an extremely long running time. Dr Zhivago is no exception. There is no real excuse for not having seen this. It is usually on the TV at least once a year and I have seen bits of it, including the end but never sat through the piece in its entirety. Again its the story that doesn’t quite appeal. An epic love story spanning the decades set against the backdrop of the changing face of Russia in the early 20th century. Am I missing out? I am yet to be convinced.

Blair Witch Project (1999)

This is one that its advertising campaign put me off seeing. When it is advertised along the lines of making sure you have spare underwear to hand as your sure to soil yourself with fright tends to put me off a bit. It then has a lot to live up to. I’m sure I would be disappointed, especially when its a found footage film. This may have been one of the first of this type but it doesn’t make it any more interesting. When done badly, and lets face it most are, found footage films take you out of the story and you end up wondering why the camera operator didn’t put the camera down while being chased by the ghost / Alien / wild animal (delete as appropriate). This is one I don’t think I will bother catching.

Mean Streets (1973)

Probably my biggest oversight on this list. As I have mentioned in other articles, I am an admirer of Martin Scorsese’s body of work. So why have I missed the first collaboration between Scorsese and De Niro? I think it might be the raw, improvised nature of some of the scenes may detract from my appreciation of the talent on display, or perhaps the sense that I may be disappointed in it. This is a film that I should watch so I can actually form my own opinion. Some day perhaps.

Schindler’s List (1993)

I was recommended this film by a work colleague on its initial cinema run. I was informed that the film was powerful  and I should expect to come out of the cinema, as so many people had in their screening, in tears. Not exactly the kind of recommendation that I would be looking for. It’s not as if I am unaware of the subject matter.  I have seen several documentaries regarding the Nazis and the horrors of the concentration camps, notably the excellent World at War series. I am a little unsure that I would be interested in a drama with this as a backdrop. I’m probably wrong but I am yet to be convinced.


Dances with Wolves (1990)

As I write this the three disc special edition DVD is in my line of sight, never having been bothered by human hands. It’s just too damn long (again!). I know this is a bit of a shallow argument but the use of the word epic to describe films shouldn’t just mean a three hour plus runtime. I’ve never heard enough good thing about this to warrant dusting it off before DVD’s become obsolete.

As you can see this list is a personal pick and you may not consider some or all of the films to be classics. Just to clarify, I watch a reasonably large number of films every year some of which reference or rip off from some of the above selections. I just havent got round to watching them all yet. Perhaps I just need a convincing argument to spur me on. There are a number of other films that didn’t make the list for me. These include Cinema Paradiso, Ghost, The Mission, Cleopatra, The Last Emperor, and all of the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm street movies.

If you think my choices and the feeble arguments are wrong, and frankly you probably do, then convince me otherwise.

John McArthur
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