When I first met Cyrus Ghani at a party in the mid-1960s in Tehran, I was amazed by his fantastic memory. He remembered almost every details, including the names of actors and technicians of all the films I mentioned. As a former film critic, I was flabbergasted. Ghani certainly had a vast cinematographic culture and remembered all the movies he had seen since his childhood. He was a real and serious film buff.
Our love of cinema established the basis of our friendship. Over the years I discovered his many other interests: history of and foreign books about Iran; Iranian family trees; international and corporate law; tennis; and so on. Nevertheless cinema remained our main link.
Cinema enthusiasts fall grosso-modo into two categories. There are those who consider film as the most accomplished form of entertainment. They constitute the bulk of moviegoers and their reactions evaluated through Box-Office returns, ensure the success or failure of feature presentations. They usually demand a well constructed story line and solid or glamourous actors. Some prefer plausible if not realistic anecdotes, others fairy tales and assorted fantasies. Some like action, others romance and/or tearjerkers.
In general, this kind of audience identify with the characters played by the actors and tend to imitate them in real life. In the 1930s, for instance, Douglas Fairbanks became an idol and one would find the Douglas Mustache in many corners of the world. Women would adopt the hair style of famous stars. And so on.
A more limited number of film buffs regard cinema as the highest form of all arts . They generally neglect the story and relish in the director’s style which transmit hidden meaning. To them actors and other technicians are just tools in the hands of the film maker, like colors and brushes used by the painter. What is important is the end-result. This category tend to patronize art theaters.
In practice the division of movie-goers is far from being so categorical . People might enjoy both commercial and artistic productions . Ghani is a perfect example of such an eclectic movie fan, as one can infer from his book My Favorite Films which comprise commercial successes as well as esoteric works .
This brings me to his selection of almost seven hundred titles. It is easy to take issue with him about it, especially that he distributes them under three titles: The greatest, the great and the near-great. Indeed, why relegate Kazan’s “Viva Zapata!” in the “near-great” and put Wise's “The Day the Earth Stood Still “ among the “great”? Why mention Golestan’s “Mysteries of The Treasure Phantom Valley “ and not his “The Brick and the Mirror”?
As a former member of the editorial board of Cahiers du Cinema (1954-1965) , I was surprised to find Mizoguchi’s “Ugetsu Monogatari” among the “near-great” when in the 1960s in Paris we saluted it as a “masterpiece” of world cinema. Indeed we considered Mizogushi far superior to Kurosowa whose “Seven Samurai” is listed among the “greatests”!
But, as Ghani himself warns in his introduction, his selection is purely personal. He also reveals that he is “principally influenced by the script , the acting and the direction”. Judging by the length of the story description in each entry, it seems that he considers the scenario as essential. I beg to disagree: my friends in the 1950s “Cahiers du Cinema” highlighted the role of the director as the author of the film. Indeed, the film maker’s wand can transform into a work of art the most commonplace and artificial story as for example in “Casablanca” (Michael Curtiz) or “Party Girl” (Nicholas Ray).
Having said that, I must commend the author for the accuracy and the wealth of information he displays. His is a book every movie fan should buy. In my opinion Ghani should have sub-titled it: “A Film Buff Remembers… ” or “Memories of a Cinema Enthusiast”. Obviously this is not the kind of book that one can read from page one to the end. It rather falls in the category of reference books or specialized dictionaries one should keep in one’s library to consult from time to time.