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Tim Palmers Top ten
2016-01-18 : Paul Byrne
From Into The West to Patrick's Day, Tim Palmer has produced quite a few of the more intesting movies to come out of Ireland in the last 25 years. So, what are the movies that rock his world...?

Okay, these aren’t the best movies in the world or even the ones I like best – but most of them I saw early and they drew me in, and have stuck in my head.

Movies were always in my peripheral vision. My mother had been married to a film director and had worked in films in London (they used to hire the studios at night and make films on the sets that the majors were using during the day) and knew all kinds of cool stuff about how they were made; like how they were never shot in sequence, and what an editor did, and how hot the lights were. She also told me about how people who worked in movies – especially actors – got obsessed by the size of their credits. I thought she was making that up. I found out later she wasn’t.

I knew early on that all life’s really important stuff happens in darkened rooms and nothing more so than the weirdly alchemical connection we have to films. Films just have the power to grab you by the throat. Compared to great literature, films work in a narrow band – but that band is more powerful than anything when it hits it right.


1.Sink the Bismarck (1960)

This is the first movie I can remember seeing. It was in a cinema in Nairobi and I was about 5. The plucky Brits track down the pride of the German mavy and then proceed, with pitifully inferior equipment, to sink it. Good title in a Ronseal kind of way. I don’t actually remember much about it except one scene where a spy is furiously tapping out a message in morse code while the Gestapo are closing in on him. They break the door down and machine gun him while he’s still tapping away.  Wow. That taught me everything I’ve ever needed to know about war movies.


2.The 39 Steps (1959)

I’m talking about the inferior Kenneth More one here – it wasn’t until years later that I saw Hitchcock’s version. I saw this in Greystones when the cinema there still had stalls and a balcony. I think the film’s probably a bit ropey but it had an atmosphere of sinister tension that I found pretty intriguing. There’s a great bit where More knows the bad guy has part of his little finger missing – so, he’s been evading the thugs who’ve been chasing him all across the Scottish Highlands and he finally gets to the house of the local bigwig and assumes he’s safe. He tells the bigwig all about it including the fact that the bad guy has a bit of one finger missing and the guy holds his hand up and – yep, he’s missing a bit of his little finger. I can still feel the tingles up and down my spine. 


3.The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)

This totally knocked me out when I saw it in London in the early seventies. I had no idea that you could do stuff like that in a film. I’d always had a soft spot for surrealism but Bunuel’s blend of deadpan absurdity and ice-cold humour was a revelation. He is just so cool – as cool as the Dry Martinis he used to drink in his favourite bar in Madrid when he was working on a script. I think Dry Martinis are really the only drink for serious filmmakers. Check out Bunuel’s autobiography My Last Sigh - one of the greatest film books ever written, and you will find his Dry Martini recipe.  You’ll also find it in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.


4.La Dolce Vita (1960)

Fellini – another cool customer.  He could spear the vanities of the Italian male, mix in a bit of the soft-edged warmth of forgotten childhood summers, cut it with a bit of adolescent sexual longing, and come up with a comedy of manners that would break your heart in two. La Dolce Vita is best remembered for Anita Ekberg’s unlikely breasts and the frolic in the fountain, but really it is a dark tale of existential despair and the search for meaning in a world where glamorous distraction has become the new black and white.


5.8mm B&W Porn Movie (1973)

It’s the summer of 1973 and I’m hanging out in London with a few friends.  Somehow I’ve got hold of a load of valium which I’ve decided makes a fine recreational drug when mixed with Guinness.  Peter Kavanagh and I are enjoying this cocktail in Ward’s Irish House in Piccadilly when we get the idea to see a porn movie. So we wander out into the bright sunlight of a summer Soho afternoon in search of the forbidden fruit, and we light on a sign that leads us down a set of sticky stairs and into a small room with about twelve very ancient cinema seats. In front of the seats there is a screen – one of those ones on a tripod that you have to roll up and clip to the top. At the back of the room there is an 8mm projector on a stand. This guy comes in and stands in front of the screen, gives us the once over and then says, “Okay, boys, no wanking.” And he goes and switches on the projector. The film – silent, black and white - featured mainly bouncing german madchen being pursued through a forest by a fat bloke in lederhosen.  So innocent.


6. The Graduate (1967)

Definitely one of the greatest movies of all time. Really smart script by Buck Henry, who also appears as the hotel concierge. The film is shot with a formal elegance which is a constant joy to watch – shot by Robert Surtees and edited by the great Sam O’Steen, who also edited Chinatown. I saw this first in Belfast and then saw it again in Dublin. In Ireland, the censors had cut out the bit at the end where Hoffman grabs the cross and beats back Catherine Ross’s family. Strange times indeed. Looking at it again recently I was struck by how ambiguous the last shot is – where Hoffman and Ross are on the back seat of the bus. Check it out and see whether you feel these two people are going to be happy together.


7. Some Like it Hot (1959)

Billy Wilder and A.L. Diamond are the towering genii of comedy writing. Every beat of the story is right, and it has to be the greatest thing Jack Lemmon ever did – well, along with The Apartment. It’s all about set-up and payoff, set-up and payoff. I like the story about the final line of the film – "Nobody’s perfect!" – Wilder and Diamond agonized over this line, wanted to change it, thought it was weak – but could never come up with anything better so let it go. It’s now considered one of the great lines in cinema history.


8. The Conformist (1970)

Bertolucci’s massively stylish expose of fascist Italy. Jean-Louis Trintignant plays the weak-willed fascist flunky who has to kill his old left-wing college professor and mentor. Every frame of this is stunning – shot by Vittoria Storaro before he went off to Hollywood. But behind the style and the elegance lies a powerful evocation of the sinister allure of fascism for the marginalized and the dispossessed.


9. The Shining (1980)

I didn’t like the film much when I first saw it – I’d read the book which is actually a pretty well written study of a man descending into madness.  There’s always a tension as to whether he can control the dark forces that are overwhelming him. Kubrick chucks this out the window – you know from the first scene with Jack in the office that he’s a nut job. There’s only one way this is ever going to end. But then I decided that for a film it was probably the only smart way to do it. Usually, I prefer my artists to be a bit looser and more informal than Kubrick’s brand of OCD control freakery – but there’s some genuinely creepy stuff in this: ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy'. And can anyone explain how Kubrick, who I suspect hadn’t a funny bone in his body, could make Dr. Strangelove, one of the great comedies of all time?


10. Into The West (1992)

I learnt more about everything, movies, people, friendship, betrayal and life during the insane roller coaster of making this film. I was a film editor, sitting in dark rooms making directors look better than they were, when I conceived the ridiculous idea that I wanted to produce a film. A director friend and I came up with the basis of a story, I borrowed three grand from some friends, and then someone mentioned a guy called Jim Sheridan, who was living in New York, and who might be interested in writing the script.  He was and he did and that first draft is still one of the best pieces of film writing I have ever read. After that, everything went nuts. I find it fascinating that out of so much chaos and madness, a film can emerge which has genuine heart and warmth and can move people. A friend of mine once said about film producing, "Tough terrain – no blame".

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