Tiago Mata Machado

O Quadrado de Joana; The Residents

Brazil

Voted in the directors’ poll

Voted for

Breathless

1960

Jean-Luc Godard

Dr Mabuse, The Gambler

1922

Fritz Lang

Faces

1968

John Cassavetes

Fear Eats the Soul

1974

Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Grapes of Wrath, The

1940

John Ford

Journey to Italy

1954

Roberto Rossellini

Maman et la putain, La

1973

Jean Eustache

Règle du jeu, La

1939

Jean Renoir

Entranced Earth

1967

Glauber Rocha

Titicut Follies

1967

Frederick Wiseman

Comments

The most difficult part in coming up with this list was to think of the criteria which would guide me into making choices.  After establishing them, I found it hard to strike a balance between the established principles and my most natural cinephilic tendencies. As this is a list of movies, and not of authors, I often chose, to the detriment of my favourite authors, movies which were the result of, in a more organic and spontaneous way, the dynamics between the societies which produced them and their reflection, the cinema; movies which embodied a certain zeitgeist. I assumed, in a somewhat Godardian way, that the history of cinema is the history which projects itself, which means that I tried to think of movies not only in terms of the history of cinema (the history of aesthetics and of cinematographic styles), but above all in relation to the history of the 20th century– which is also not entirely true, given the absence of the Soviet classics in the list. The movies chosen are nonetheless all auteur movies, but in them the role of the auteur is much less important than the collective strength and vigour which circumscribed the creation of the work, acclaiming it first and foremost as a sort of collective announcement. In these, the auteur comes in, first and foremost, as a mediator and a trigger of a collective process which invariably involves competent and faithful collaborators, real teams in the prime of productivity. Many of these movies are, therefore, the result of years of partnership between moviemakers and their respective crews and acting troupes – if it is a fact that every production worth of respect must be a secret plot among those who take part in it, the movies in this list may actually be seen as very well-orchestrated plots.

In order to represent the tradition of the American classical cinema, for instance, I left out authors of personal preference such as Preston Sturges, Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock to pick a John Ford movie, Grapes of Wrath, because this one is much more than a Ford movie. A major masterpiece of the Popular Front America, the union of the American collective cinematographic genius (history of the ever astonishing dynamics between the American society and the image which it makes of itself) and the culture of Roosevelt’s progressive America, also the union of Ford’s cinematographic genius, his troupe, with that of three other parties who are responsible for this masterpiece; photographer Gregg Tolland (whose work is inspired here in the realism of great American photographers of the 1930’s, such as Walker Evans), novelist John Steinbeck (the original book author), and producer Darryl Zanuck (owner of the movie and the responsible one for its most famous scene, the end in which the family’s mother, Joad, turns herself into the spokesperson of the well-known collective announcement, “We are the people”). Grapes of Wrath is a just movie, in every sense, which brings together, in a straight line, poetry (Whitman’s, the voice of the American Revolution) to politics, the most transparent leftist Hollywood has ever produced.

The best movies are quite often those which can best lubricate their engine to the disposal of their cast, those in which the excellence of collective work clearly reflects itself in the self-confidence and freedom with which actors play on stage. In this sense, Jean Renoir was especially a master. Few moviemakers have been able to get their actors, the characters, their social roles to dance in such a breathtaking way with such mastery. To him, it is all about the production of what is to come, about making the social roles dislocate from their fixed starting points. The Rules of the Game is his masterpiece, a dazzling masked ball on the verge of the abyss (right before the outbreak of World War II), it is a fact, but it is also a brilliant finale of a whole highly productive decade in which Renoir was able to turn the collective atmosphere borne out of the French Popular Front into a new understanding of the world.

Rossellini is also mandatorily included in this list for this reason, but instead of choosing his neorealist classics, I rather chose a movie which, from my point of view, was still more important to the history of modern cinema. “A man and a woman inside a car: once I saw Viaggio in Italia, I knew that even if I did not make films, I would be capable of doing so”, would say Godard in an interview for Serge Daney. Rossellini, his realism-as-a-synonym-of-realisation, was a decisive influence not only in the formation of the nouvelle vague, but also of the Brazilian Cinema Novo (New cinema) – he was definitely the father of modern cinema.  His movies with Ingrid Bergman in the 1950’s are, in my view, the climax of his cinematography Voyage launches one of the basic motifs of modern cinema, later to be forever taken up again by moviemakers such as Godard, Bergman and Antonioni, with their respective wife-actresses: a couple facing crisis, Eros’ fall on modern society.  Rossellini, who was in Paris in the 1950’s, was also a kind of Socratic master of the nouvelle vague generation. More than Truffaut, who was his assistant, Godard was his true disciple. His movies with Anna Karina, as Le Petit Soldat and Vivre sa Vie, are my favourite ones regarding this first phase, though I picked A Bout de Souffle because it still seems to me that it is the one which best  personifies the playful-cinephilic atmosphere of the nouvelle vague (syncretic result of the “auteur policy”).  A movie which still represents a certain belief of the youth cinema and which still retains somewhat of an splendour of that brief period in which a new generation of the French lived and saw itself live on the big screen, a moment in which a very important turning point in the history of cinema also produced a whole new mythology of modern times.

The history of cinema is the history which projects itself:  how can one not see in Fritz Lang’s hypnotic genius of crime today, Dr. Mabuse, a harbinger and a projection of Hitlerism?  Although the American Lang is by far my favourite, I chose Mabuse not only because it is to me one of the best silent movies of all times, one of the most dynamic and perfect ones, but also because this work must be seen today as the true prophecy of the serpent’s egg.  Even if the 1940’s Lang is my favourite, because of the subtly perverse way with which the moviemaker triggers the mechanism of American social representations, his production in the 1920’s has perhaps been most decisive to the history of cinema. The 1920’s Lang, the 1930’s Renoir, the 1940’s/50’s Rossellini, the 1960’s Godard, the 1970’s Fassbinder:  this list is widely based on the intensity of production and creation which certain authors, their troupes, were able to undertake in certain decades.

For me, nowadays, the 1970’s Fassbinder should be placed side by side with the 1960’s Godard.  The 1970’s were his wonder years, the years in which Fassbinder and his troupe proved themselves capable of a vertiginous production, somewhat irregular, but always extremely powerful. Fear Eats the Soul is one of the highlights in this period, a moment in which Fassbinder seemed especially influenced by Douglas Sirk’s melodramas. The movie, indeed, may be seen as a remake of Sirk’s classic All that Heaven Allows, adapted to the context of post-war Germany, with the role of the original movie’s gardener being played by a Turkish construction worker (one of those who rebuilt post-war Germany) whom a German housewife gets involved with.  Fassbinder extracts every consequence of using melodrama as social criticism. If Sirk’s original movie served as a metaphor for the perversion of the American way of life, Fassbinder’s remake is a precise display of social perversion and control acting upon the characters’ subjectivity – it is not about the conflict between society and the individuals anymore, but the realisation that the individuals, their subjectivity, cannot be separated from the social body:  not recognised by society, the couple in the movie begins not to recognise itself as such.

Frederick Wiseman’s cinematographic project stems from similar observations:  it is not that controlled society destroys the individuals, it rather constructs them.  From asylum to school, from school to prison, from prison to hospital, from hospital to headquarters.  From movie to movie, Wiseman traces his cartography of the rational structures which imprison the modern subject; his project sets itself up, little by little, as an endless serial space of cells and institutionalised compartments where ordinary men serve as experiment of disciplinary techniques. Wiseman shoots managed-modern-life in its various segments, surprising, in each strike, the endless mechanisms of the banality of evil. This is the most cutting project (of Foucault’s lineage) that direct-cinema has ever known (hence, my choice).

It is not by chance that Titicut Follies was banned in North American grounds for such a long time: from Wiseman’s microcosms, this may be the one which best unveils the America-as-a-tomb-of-the-West, a perfect negative image of the 1960’s American society, to start with the insane spectacle which opens and closes the movie, a not so pleasant sight of the “spectacle society”.  Wiseman shoots the captive madness of reason; the madman under the gaze and judgment of reason, a prisoner of the structures of rationality– here is the history of madness itself. The montage is a mirror system:  reason and its other, a deep power relationship, one bound to the other. Constantly going back and forth between rational perversion and the lucidity of madmen, in Titicut, Wiseman gets close to some kind of a Heart of Darkness of the American way of life.  On the one hand, the American society of that time is terribly taken aback by him in those characters from which it meant to get rid of and who, in fact, viscerally embodied it, each one unveiling one of its secrets:  the humiliated black, the hysterical cursing rightist, the enthusiastic evangelist, a serviceman turned into an automaton, the talkative leftist with persecutory delusions – ghosts of McCarthyism and the Cold War.  By turning his camera to the other side, Wiseman found more than a reflection, the origin of madness itself, in the rationalist infamy embodied by psychiatrists, its undisguised sadism, on the perverse indulgence of guards and nurses, stereotypical traces of the American rationalist pathology, its normative perversion, its obsession for judging and excluding.

  More than a negative picture of modern American society, Wiseman’s work could be seen as the negative image which this society makes of itself, in other words, a negative of the American fictional cinema.

  Wiseman’s documentarism tends towards fiction (always working with an invisible camera within closed, programmatic, almost phobic systems, through stable devices, to a certain extent foreseeable, Wiseman makes a point of reproducing, in each movie-institution, the characteristic state of fictional cinema).  Cassavetes’ fictional works tend towards a documental authority -  “Between ethics and aesthetics it is necessary to make a choice, it is true, but it is not any less true that by choosing one of them in depth, one eventually gets to the other at the end of the line”: this was what Godard would say about Jean Rouch. Each in his own way, Wiseman and Cassavetes were able to elevate direct-cinema to a state of art.  Their works should also be seen as fundamental turning points within the history of American cinema, its tradition.

  Cassavetes is the one who was able to get rid of every pretext, of every trick, to focus on the essential: human behavior in its whole complexity and beauty, the flow of love and life, as inscribed on the body, a pulsating body, percolated through intensities and desires.  Cassavetes came up with a true alternative to the cinematographic utopia by proposing a more organic and direct relationship between movie and life, a material movie, not technical, which subjects time and space to the unveiling of a body (of “the body as a mad expenditure of unconsciousness”), reversing the whole logistics of cinema (especially, the one of the American tradition).  If we consider that the cinema was created as a machine destined to domesticate the body, an instrument at the disposal of Taylorism (Muybridge) and the rationalization of movement (Marey), we may have to get to Cassavetes to see this relationship reverse itself at last.   Filmed for two years by Cassavetes and his team, inside a mansion tied up with its cinematographic plot, living off credit and affection, Faces is one of the highest points of his free-flowing work, which increasingly establishes itself as a paradigm for the new generations of cinephiles and moviemakers.

  The choice in this list for Cassavetes, Eustache and Fassbinder is also a choice of the production in the 1970’s, a little to the detriment of the production in the 1960’s. The 1970’s, whose comprehensive and relatively little exploited cinematography is today fertile ground of discoveries for the new digital cinephilia, they increasingly set themselves as a new paradigm of modern cinema.  Undoubtedly, what most attracts new cinephilia to the 1970’s movies, their essence, is this going back to the essential nature of the experience lived, its intensities and instabilities, its emotional despair, to the detriment of the excessively referential and intellectualized cinema of the 1960’s – as noticed Jonathan Rosenbaum. The 1970’s would represent, in this sense, a phase of aesthetics denial and of return to the essence of the filmic-existential experience, a cinema open to the energies and intensities of life, for ever transformed by these.  A phase of return to the body, the body as the only way out of an authenticity lost in the mental short circuits and in the discursiveness in which the modern European cinema got entangled in the ballast of 1968, its great theoretical shock treatments. Eustache’s La Maman et la Putain, would be, in this sense, the French generation masterpiece precisely because it synthesizes, better than any other, this entire pathway of modern French cinema, taking up again the same universe of the nouvelle vague cinema– the same scenery (the Parisian cafés), the same actors (Jean-Pierre Léaud, the nouvelle vague fetish-actor, Bernardette Lafont, etc.), the same themes (agreements and disagreements), in order to show the dead end street which it will all end up in, the impossibilities and limitations of free love models in real life,  the hysteria of the body manifesting itself behind and through words, the same old existential despair regurgitating in the stutter of the libertarian discourse.  La Maman is a sort of condensed synthesis of the whole French modern cinema.

  Also in Brazil, the cinema of the 1970’s,  of the post-Cinema Novo generation, the Brazilian marginal cinema generation of Sganzerla, Bressane, Ozualdo Candeias, Andrea Tonacci, etc. grows every day as the new paradigm of modern cinema in the Brazilian way.  Nevertheless, even though I prefer what is marginal, my choice fell upon Terra em Transe because I still consider that Glauber Rocha was our moviemaker who had the deepest poetic-political drive and also because this is a movie which incarnates and places in trance much of the strengths, aspirations, tragedies and despairs which built the political history of Latin America, an allegory of the Latin-American-political-drama engendered, at full, in the heat of the hour, by an intellectual who was out of center, hungry for the absolute (Paulo Martins, the protagonist, or Glauber, the author, equally in despair). Terra em Transe is also a division within the views of New Cinema itself, a gap through which the post-ideological and tropicalist movies of the marginal generation will pass.

  Well, I finish this commentary with deep regret for not being able to include in my list any movie of some of my favourite auteurs: Bresson, Pasolini, Vigo, Fuller, Mizoguchi, Rohmer, Tarkovski, Tati, Ozu, Marker...  Nor did I include any contemporary movie (well, but, as for these, it may still be a little early for a more precise analysis).

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