After LH’s death in 1989, and from the 8th Edition onwards the Guide has been edited by John Walker. Obviously this means that every film released since then has been reviewed and rated by him, thus making the book a curiously misnamed hybrid, but Mr. Walker has also gone over many of LH’s own reviews and altered them, quite drastically in some cases, to the Guide’s continued detriment. Here are some examples of the worst offences:
To Be There or Not to Be There
The 2005 edition of the Guide, now called Halliwell’s Film, Video and DVD Guide, had this to say about the 1979 Peter Sellers film Being There:
‘Overlong serio-comic parable hinging on a somewhat dubious star performance. Chance made it a popular urban success, but few who saw it were enthused.’
Recognisably LH’s own words and also retaining his rating of two stars, which had suited him fine since the 3rd Edition as it did Mr. Walker up to this one. However, quite bizarrely, the 2006 edition now says this about the same film:
‘A serio-comic parable hinging on a Sellers star performance as a blank character on whom others force an identity. Chance made it a popular urban success.’
…and awarding it the maximum four stars! Has there been a sudden revision of Peter Sellers’ contribution to cinema history, or director Hal Ashby’s for that matter? There was the Geoffrey Rush film a couple of years ago – was it that which prompted Mr. Walker to re-visit this very average film and suddenly elevate it to landmark status?
One Giant Leap for two Movies
From the 2nd Edition onwards the Australian movie The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith was listed, receiving zero stars and warranting this assessment from LH:
‘Hard to take moral tale for philosophers with strong stomachs.’
However, once Mr. Walker got hold of it the movie jumped the full gamut to four stars and was given a rave:
‘One of the great achievements of Australian cinema.’
Walter Hill’s 1981 movie about National Guardsmen lost in the Louisiana Swamps, Southern Comfort, made a similar ratings leap, with the assessment changing from…
‘Brutish retread of Deliverance with a few nods to Vietnam.’
‘Brilliant, compelling, tightly-constructed thriller that manages also to be an allegory of American involvement in Vietnam.’
Ah yes, the old ‘allegory of Vietnam’ chestnut – how many movies have received that honorific? And why does it make the film better, anyway?
A Four-Star Debacle
As mentioned elsewhere the most recent film LH awarded four stars to was Bonnie and Clyde, in 1967. Despite continuing to watch movies for another twenty-two years he never found another which met such high standards and I’ve always admired that (whilst at the same time thinking it just a tad stubborn-minded). Anyway, Mr. Walker has redressed this situation and now there’s hardly a year gone by since then in which there aren’t at least three movies with the top rating.
Try reading that list with a straight face. It’s difficult to imagine American Beauty or Trainspotting rating a single star between them in Halliwell’s day. What would he have said about the former – ‘Witless farrago, with adults behaving like children’ perhaps? And the latter: ‘Abhorrent mess, with unpleasant characters and revolting detail’? He did actually get to see Blue Velvet and awarded it a total of zero stars. Even dedicated fans of the original Star Wars trilogy rate Jedi the weakest, and though I myself have argued the case for it deserving slightly better than its popular reputation, even with the kindest will in the world I wouldn’t put it anywhere near the same class as Double Indemnity, Citizen Kane or Alexander Nevsky!
Consistency is the Key
Check out the modern assessment of Network, now a four-star film:
‘A deliberately melodramatic satire on media corruption, it is passionate and compulsively watchable in its attack on demagoguery and in its depiction of the dangerous madness exploited by the mass media. What once seemed overheated satire has come, with time, to resemble accurate reporting…’
What a load of old twaddle. The film has a witty, incisive script and some engaging performances, but the first half is poorly structured and the second half is downright dull. At least in this example Mr. Walker has altered the assessment in line with his new rating; The Hustler and Bridge on the River Kwai, however, have been elevated to four-star status despite retaining LH’s former comments, which point out the inadequacies of both films: the former’s love interest being redundant, and the latter focusing on too many centres of interest and featuring ‘an unforgiveably confusing climax’. So, if the criticisms still stand then those are the reasons these movies don’t deserve four stars! Duh-uh.
The current Guide’s format consists of a brief introduction followed by explanatory notes, the guide, a list of four-star films by title then year, similar lists for three-star films (these last two would have been very welcome additions to LH’s books and would certainly have made my job easier), and a selection of director filmographies. Gone is LH’s Top Ten, but not replaced by Mr. Walker’s own (for which I for one am grateful). Also gone – inevitably really – is LH’s essay on The Decline and Fall of the Movie, although I believe it is still well worth reading, which is why I’ve included it on this website.
If it’s Walker’s Film Guide then call it that, especially now when Halliwell’s name and the movie principles he believed in are largely forgotten anyway. What has happened to the Guide, though, is sadly representative of what has happened to the movies in general: a dumbing down of standards resulting in an equivalent drop in audience expectations. But that’s no reason to elevate average films to classic status. LH was brave enough to say that even the very best films of the latter era just weren’t up to the standard of their yesteryear equivalents, and why should he lower his own values in order to popularise the Guide? I just wish it didn’t still bear his name.
The Four Star Films |
A Four-Star History |
Brief History of the Guide