High Museum of Art: Films

Staff Picks: Italian Movies by hmablogmaster

It’s already the final weekend of our Leonardo da Vinci: Hand of the Genius exhibition. To honor it, Museum staff have selected their favorite Italian movies. What’s yours?

Curatorial Assistant, Decorative Arts and Design

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly – Sergio Leone

Not only does it have one of the best musical scores ever written, this is the best of the Dollars trilogy of spaghetti westerns and upped the ante on what a “Western Movie” could be.  Not to mention it stars one of the greatest villains ever with Lee Van Cleef  (Angel Eyes – The Bad) – can anyone top that guy’s face?  The graveyard scene is one of the most memorable and palpitating in cinema… the swirling, circular camera shots perfectly express the frenzy and drama of the moment as Eli Wallach (Tuco – The Ugly) reaches the breaking point in the race for gold, as Ennio Morricone’s epic The Ecstasy of Gold builds and swells with passion.

And of course, this new era of Western Cowboy is represented by one of Clint Eastwood’s most iconic characters (Blondie – The Good… yet, WAS he all that good?).  The extreme close ups, the innovative camera angles and sweeping cinematography, and the rugged blatant “UGLY” (physical and internal) depicted throughout the movie are all traits synonymous with Sergio Leone’s distinctive vision.  Ironically filmed in Spain with an Italian crew instead of the Wild American West, the iconic filmmaking and music have gone on to inspire other well-known creative forces from Quentin Tarantino to Metallica.  Now counted as one of the best movies ever made by countless critics, this film is worth the 3 hours.

Speakers Bureau Coordinator

The Godfather Collection

The Godfather & The Godfather:  Part II – Francis Ford Coppola

I really don’t know how I can pick an “Italian-themed” film other than The Godfather series.  I know it sounds obvious, but it really is one of the greatest films of all-time.  I love these films because I feel like I really get to be a part of the Corleone family.  Two distinct scenes that always stand out in my mind is when Michael Corleone does his first “hit job” in a restaurant.  He tried so hard to not follow in his father’s footsteps, but in that moment in the restaurant, you know that his life’s trajectory is about to seriously change.  The other scene is when Diane Keaton’s character tells Michael that she terminated her pregnancy.  The tension in Michael’s face is so palpable that you are literally holding onto your seat to see just how he is about to react.  I also love going back in time in The Godfather Part II to see the genisis of the Corleone family.

As a film lover and a film major at my university, The Godfather was one of the first films that really got me to think about how you can enter the world of fictional characters and be captivated by their dysfunctional lives.  If often makes you feel a lot better about your own.

Security Officer


Suspiria – Dario Argento

Longtime Italian horror movie director Dario Argento is helping remake one of his classic Italian horror movies Suspiria. The remake is supposed to be out later this year. The 1977 Suspiria has been re-released on Blu-Ray, and it has been called the most beautiful of the Italian “Giallo” horror films. I am tempted to buy the Blu-Ray version even though I already have a copy on regular DVD.

It may be hard to understand how a horror movie could be described as beautiful. If you can stand the extreme tension and shocking violence you can see the lush production values, the strong use of color, and the very unusual soundtrack. It’s garish, loud, intentionally grating at points, and deeply disturbing. The movie belongs with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Night of the Living Dead as one of the best of the horror genre.

Speakers Bureau Intern

La Famiglia

La Famiglia – Ettore Scola

My favorite Italian film is La Famiglia, a 1987 film by Ettore Scola featured at Cannes. The entire film takes place in the patriarch’s apartment, following the stories of one Italian family, from the Belle Époque to the 1980s. The greatest value of the film is that Scola places the compelling personal narratives of love, friendship, and betrayal within the historical and political framework of the two world wars and the other great events of the twentieth century.


Web Content Coordinator

Hudson Hawk

Hudson Hawk – Michael Lehmann

Okay, so this might be sad, but how much do I love Hudson Hawk? It’s probably one of the most panned movies of all time, and won “Worst Picture,” “Worst Screenplay” and “Worst Director” Razzies in 1992.   But I’ve never been one for critical acclaim. (Director Michael Lehmann has since moved onto directing “it”-TV shows like True Blood and Big Love. Maybe he was just ahead of his time.)

The story is about an ex-con who agrees to that one last gig, which happens to involve a whole lot of Leonardo da Vinci (and an extra vile Sandra Bernhard!). It’s made of complete falsehoods, and might be offensive if you care about history, but the characters you meet (Butterfinger? Almond Joy?), the scenery and the fun heist-movie feeling make it worth your while. Well, it makes it worth my while, anyway.

Plus, it’s practically a sing-along! To keep track of the time they have left before the cops storm the joint, Danny Aiello’s Tommy Five-Tone and Bruce Willis’s Eddie Hawkins (the Hudson Hawk), sing songs of a certain length. Would you like to swing on a star? Yep, I sure would.

Remembering John Hughes by Linda Dubler

The Breakfast Club

The Breakfast Club

I am a child of the 1950s, so by the time I was reviewing films in the 1980s, I was too old for John Hughes’s tales of high-school humiliation, stronger-than-SuperGlue friendships, and first kisses to serve as my generational touchstones. But for millions of Gen Yers, the bright, funny, and appropriately tormented kids who populated his films were irreplaceable alter-egos, and were as much a fabric of their youth as mom’s cooking or Saturday morning cartoons. With the director’s untimely death on my mind, I invite readers to join High Museum of Art staff members in sharing their memories of John Hughes’s films.

Linda Dubler

Recent stories

A poignant personal remembrance.
From piece the New York Times Art Beat.
An appreciation from Paste Magazine.

Staff Memories

I was really little when Pretty in Pink came out, but it pretty much defined my childhood.  Andie & Iona’s  style & attitude taught me how to be comfortable “being myself,” and Duckie’s performance of “Try a Little Tenderness” was a classic that I still mimic when I listen to Otis Redding in the car!
-Mandy Barber, Assistant Manager of Individual Support


Ferris Bueller’s Day Off has got to be every kid’s fantasy. Take off for the day. No responsibilities. Cool car. Fancy restaurants. Art museum (shameless plug). Actually, now that I’m no longer a student, I can see it as every adult’s fantasy, too…
– Jennifer Maley, Wine Auction Assistant Manager


John Hughes makes movies that stick in your memory. The words and pictures stick to a safe place in your mind, held captive there until a real life situation needs a good one-liner or some nugget of wisdom: “That’s why they call them crushes. If they were easy, they’d call them something else.”

Even though the movies took place in that distant Shermer, Illinois, the family units, friend groups, conversations and consequences were both painfully and joyfully familiar to each viewer. Every teenager wants to wallow in her feelings, convinced that no one can understand what she’s going through. Through the truth of humor, John Hughes made millions of teenagers  realize that someone did understand, that it happened all the time, and that one day things would get better. Somehow, those movies had the power that our parents, teachers and friends lacked. It’s really all we wanted to know.
– Emily Beard, Web Content Coordinator


I both lived and suffered a vicarious day off through Ferris at 14. I mean who would want to go to school when dreams of driving around downtown Chicago in a Ferrari GT and having a parade and fun and food and not have to worry about anything were almost never within reach?
– Tannasha Lindsay, Visitor Services, On-Site Supervisor


Was it seeing Jake Ryan kiss Samantha Walsh that perpetuated my excitement to turn sixteen?  Perhaps it was when I spoke up in my 9th grade class and was sent to detention that made me secretly feel rebellious?  Maybe it was the time I ditched class and went to Six Flags instead that made me an accomplished senior.  No, I actually think it was the day I realized that being a nerd was cool, being a tomboy could still get me a date, and wearing pink didn’t make me any less of a tomboy.

To hope my life has somehow mimicked the pop culture carousel that is John Hughes is to declare to the world that I have grown up, gone through, and now gratefully made it though my teen years.

He was the master of creating adolescent images in film that stay with you long after your first kiss, your first car, and your first slow dance.  As my 10-year high school reunion approaches this October, I tip my hat to John  Hughes, the father figure of making it more than okay to grow up.  And to laugh.
– Julie Marateck, Speakers Bureau Coordinator

Apocalypse Now: Staff Picks by Linda Dubler
July 10, 2009, 10:36 am
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I’ve asked Museum staff again for their two cents on their favorite apocalyptic movies. (Learn about the inspiration for the current exhibition Richard Misrach: On The Beach here >>)

Johan Harper, Security
Damnation Alley and
Night of the Comet

Why does the end of the world have to be so depressing? Damnation Alley has everything you need in a Post-Apocalyptic movie. Bad special effects, cheesy dialogue, a strange monster truck that floats called “The Land Master”, man-eating cockroaches, George Peppard, and Jan-Michael Vincent! What more can you ask for? O.K. the movie’s beginning is pretty grim and serious, but the low production values turn the whole mess into an unintentional comedy before too long. The scene where the actors fail to pretend to be afraid of tons of plastic cockroaches tied to long strings pulled across the floor is comedy gold! “This whole town is infested with killer cockroaches. I repeat: KILLER COCKROACHES!” Too funny! damnation_alley_ver2

Another enjoyable end of the world movie is Night of the Comet. If you wake up one day and everybody else has become little piles of red dust, wouldn’t you really rather just go shopping at the mall? If everyone is dead, everything is free! Night of the Comet has it all – zombies, mad scientists, and gun-toting valley girls! It is a comedy, it is a horror movie, it is a time capsule from 1984!

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Goodbye Cruel World by Linda Dubler

As I wrote in an earlier post, landscape photographer Richard Misrach’s On the Beach, a show of exquisite, large scale pictures shot from an overhead vantage point in Hawaii after 9/11, is currently on view at the High. Some of the images are populated, some devoid of human presence, but all suggest both seaside paradise and doomsday unease. Earlier posts looked at the beachy aspect of the Misrach pictures, so now we’re turning to the apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic currents that run through the series.

What are your favorite movies from this genre?

I’m not a huge sci-fi and/or horror fan, so apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic movies aren’t my strong suit. Though I enjoy cinematic suspense, the surreal, and things blowing up real good as much as the next gal, I tend to avoid the gore and gross-outs that pop up in most sci-fi and horror. (I remember next to nothing about Soylent Green, which I saw when it first came out, but I still feel vaguely icky even thinking about it).

Johan Harper, a security officer and the High’s resident B-movie connoisseur, steered me to this brilliant post-apocalyptic cheat sheet, which rates a bunch of films based on such PA hallmarks as cannibalism, warlords, mutants and degraded culture. You’ll hear more from Johan when we run staff picks on Friday.

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Staff Picks: Summer Movies by Linda Dubler
June 19, 2009, 2:44 pm
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Museum staff weigh in on their favorite summer beach movies.




10  (1979)
Cinque Reeves, Security Officer

I’d have to go with 10 from Blake Edwards for the most memorable beach scenes. Just thinking about George trying to walk on the hot sand makes me laugh. It’s probably one of Dudley Moore’s best performances.


Endless Summer

Endless Summer

The Endless Summer (1966)
Dana Haugaard, Coordinator of Facilities

My favorite summer beach movie is also the one of my favorites for the middle of winter: The 1966 documentary The Endless Summer by Bruce Brown. It is as carefree as every summer should be, and the soundtrack cannot be beat.


One Crazy Summer

One Crazy Summer

One Crazy Summer (1986)
Emily Beard, Web Content Coordinator

This movie is basically exactly the same as Savage Steve’s other Cusack vehicle Better Off Dead, except instead of snow there’s sand, and in lieu of a French exchange student, you get Demi Moore with hippie braids. There’s the rich-boy bully, his hot 80s girlfriend, sidekicks Bobcat Goldthwait and a Murray brother, a vindictive 9-year-old, drive-ins and cartoons. Even when it tries to be serious it isn’t, and that’s what makes it an excellent beach movie.




Shag (1989)
Berry Lowden, Curatorial Assistant, Decorative Arts and Design

1. Myrtle Beach in the 60s
2. Bouffant hair
3. Shag dancing
4. Making out in vintage 60’s cars
5. Racy Bridget Fonda routines with American flags (errr….)

It’s a keeper!


Weekend at Bernie's

Weekend at Bernie's

Weekend at Bernies (1989)
Danielle Avram, Curatorial Assistant, Modern & Contemporary and Photography

It may be embarrassing to admit, but Weekend at Bernies is one of my all-time favorite guilty pleasures. We had a VHS copy when I was a kid and actually destroyed it from watching it so many times.