Today in Movie History: August 12

Lots of films to cover today, but I’ll start with the most haunting: Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man, a documentrary about a troubled young man who spent every summer in the Alaskan wilderness as a self-proclaimed “protector” of wild grizzly bears… one of whom eventually killed him. It’s vintage Herzog and its dark musings about our self-importance in the face of an utterly indifferent universe will hit you right in the gut. It opened today in 2005.

Religious pictures tend to either be so harmless as to escape all notice or engender a firestorm of controversy from those who want their beliefs tested or challenged. So it was for The Last Temptation of Christ, Martin Scorsese’s heartfelt attempt to explore the story of Jesus in a different context that sent the religious right into apoplectic fits. (All before they’d actually had a chance to watch the film, of course.) Its thoughtful, and at times strange approach to Jesus as a man first and the conduit for God second can be baffling, but also inspiring in ways that traditional Sunday School movies aren’t. As Gene Siskel noted, it comforts us by saying that Jesus knows what we go through and challenges us to live up to his example. What more do you want in a Christian picture ? Last Temptation opened today in 1988.

Next, how about something less controversial… like The Commitments, Alan Parkers glorious celebration of an Irish soul band that almost made it and the beautiful music they produced in the meantime. Funny, heartfelt and with a keen eye on how tough it is to thrive in a creative field, it reminds us that there’s merit in every effort… and if the songs don’t get your toes tapping, there’s just no help for you. The Commitments opened today in 1991.

Fellow Gen-Xers will eagerly note the arrival of Young Guns, an effort to capitalize on the talent of several then-young stars on the rise to revitalize the moribund Western genre. It panders to the youth demographic and never quite finds its footing in its retelling of the legend of Billy the Kid. But I’d be lying if Emilio Estevez’s lead performance wasn’t captivating, and it may have made a few new fans for a genre in dire need of them at the time. Young Guns opened today in 1988.

It’s been a while since we ventured into the silent era — charting the exact date a film opened is much harder for early films — but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Wings, a World War I drama notable mainly for being the first movie ever to win the Best Picture Oscar. In and of itself, it’s not a bad film, though it sets an early precedent demonstrating just how little the Oscars matter when it comes to a film’s quality and enduring appeal. It opened today in 1927…. the same year as non-Best Picture winners Metropolis, Sunrise, The Jazz Singer, Napoleon and London After Midnight. Just sayin’.

We’ll close with a minor notation from Ray Harryhausen. Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, the last and weakest of his Sinbad movies, still retains the wondrous stop-motion creations that made him a legend in his own time. It also features the very, very white Jane Seymour as an Arabian princess and the even whiter Patrick Wayne as Sinbad. On behalf of the patriarchy, we again apologize. Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger opened today in 1977.


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