With any luck, this is one of those articles that’s out of date shortly after you read it. Like those self-destructing tape messages in the Mission: Impossible series, this is a list that throws down a gauntlet and then – technology permitting – would disappear in a puff of smoke, its job done. Your mission, Wikipedians, should you choose to accept it: to save these 10 films from the ignominy of non-representation. Make them a Wikipedia page.
Twenty years after Wikipedia was founded, it’s easy for us spoiled children of the internet age to assume that the crowd-sourced encyclopedia has got everything covered. In most cases, we’d be right. Tap almost any film title into Google and the search reliably offers up Wikipedia and IMDb as your first two ports of call. IMDb will give you the names and numbers; in most cases the world’s most all-encompassing encyclopedia will give you a lot more besides: detailed synopses, production histories, trivia, whether the critics liked it. It’s the internet’s most-used crib sheet.
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Sure, some of Wikipedia’s user-generated entries are far more extensive than others. But to not be there at all only has one implication: that thing you’re searching for info on just isn’t notable enough. Because anything can have a Wikipedia page – it just needs to be notable.
Yet here are 10 films that have so far slipped through the cracks. They’re not just notable, they’re great. Many of them are masterpieces. But, at time of publishing on 19 August 2021, none of them have warranted even those bare-bones placeholders that Wikipedia calls ‘stub records’. Over to you.
In the Fields of Dreams (1940)
Director: Teuvo Tulio
No relation to the Kevin Costner baseball fantasy of nearly the same name, this 1940 melodrama is – to be fair to Wikipedia – an odd fish. An odd Finnish fish. Its director, Teuvo Tulio, is all but unknown in this country, though he’s clutched to the heart in Finland. In the Fields of Dreams is a pastoral story of burgeoning sexuality, which hurtles towards you in a torrent of bucolic imagery, jarring cuts and overripe symbolism. Starring Miss Europe of 1938, Sirkka Salonen, as the farm girl setting pulses racing, it’s the kind of antique artefact of the cinematic id that Guy Maddin has spent a career riffing on and parodying.
Four of Tulio’s films were restored by the Finnish Film Archive and seen in London at the ICA in 2011, but have since faded back into obscurity. In the Fields of Dreams has a Finnish Wikipedia page but not yet an English language one – though the potential to link off to it from the Miss Europe page can only be good for traffic. It’s like Shoeless Joe Jackson told Kevin Costner: if you build it, they will come.
A Legend or Was It? (1963)
Director: Keisuke Kinoshita
His fellow masters of classical Japanese cinema – Akira Kurosawa, Yasujiro Ozu and Kenji Mizoguchi – may be pretty well covered by Wikipedia, but with Keisuke Kinoshita there’s still a bit of work to be done. Although he’s always been less well-known in the west, Kinoshita’s 1954 film Twenty-Four Eyes was considered so strong by the Japanese critics of the prestigious Kinema Junpo magazine that it beat out both Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and Mizoguchi’s Sansho Dayu to be named best film of that year.
For anyone familiar with the gentle humanism of that school-days epic, the intensity of this short, sharp 1963 drama – likewise set during the war – will come as a shock. Something like a Japanese precursor to Straw Dogs (1971), it’s set in rural Hokkaido in the far north of Japan, where a family of wartime evacuees from Tokyo run afoul of the brutish locals after their daughter refuses a marriage proposal. Both the haunting score for mouth harp by the director’s brother, Chuji, and the huge widescreen compositions anticipate the spaghetti western, while the barrelling pace has big Sam Fuller energy.
The Structure of Crystals (1969)
Director: Krzysztof Zanussi
It takes all sorts to make cinema as rich as many of us suppose it to be, and Polish director Krzysztof Zanussi’s thing is mathematicians, physicians, linguists and other scientists. A graduate of physics and philosophy himself, Zanussi’s cinematic universe is peopled with lovers of systems and facts, whose disciplines shape the way they negotiate life’s moral dilemmas. He’s one of the major Polish filmmakers of his generation, if eclipsed in fame by that contemporaneous Krzysztof, Kieslowski.
Two old friends – both physicists – are pitted together in his brilliant debut feature. One has gone on to great things as a scientist in the city, the other has ended up in a rural backwater as a meteorologist. When the urbanite comes to stay, Zanussi opens up a gripping chess game of opposing perspectives in which both men grapple with the choices they’ve made. Friendship, vocation, the meaning of life, and lots of snow – it’s all here in a crisp 75 minutes, but while The Structure of Crystals has a Polish Wikipedia page, we await an English one.
- The Structure of Crystals is currently playing on Mubi
Director: Frederick Wiseman
American films of all stripes and eras have been pretty comprehensively covered by Wikipedia, so it’s a shock to discover that the career of one of the greatest of all documentary makers has been spottily tackled at best. Still an annual fixture at film festivals more than 50 years into his filmmaking career, Fred Wiseman is celebrated for his long and engrossing examinations of organisations and communities, from prisons, neighbourhoods and museums to – most recently – Boston’s City Hall.
Yet for all his diligent documentation of society at work, his own films haven’t been done the same honour. Among those missing in action on Wikipedia are landmark titles such as Near Death (1989), Belfast, Maine (1999), At Berkeley (2013) and National Gallery (2014). Perhaps most surprising of all, given its lofty status in the documentary canon, is his 1975 masterpiece Welfare, a novelistically detailed 167-minute study of the welfare system in America. Perhaps Wiseman hasn’t helped his case by keeping these films fenced off from major streaming channels, though you can watch everything he’s ever done with a free Kanopy subscription from your local library.
Friendship’s Death (1987)
Director: Peter Wollen
It’s got Tilda Swinton playing a robot from a distant planet in it. What more, really, does a film need to do to get noticed? Friendship’s Death was the first film to mine the otherworldly quality in Swinton, to channel that David Bowie likeness. In Peter Wollen’s film, she’s the woman who fell to Earth – or Jordan in the year 1970, to be precise, during a deadly dispute with Palestine. Her character, the eponymous Friendship, is an emissary from deep space arriving to convince humankind of the need to embrace peace.
Wollen is the film theorist behind the seminal text Signs and Meaning in the Cinema, who made key avant-garde features in collaboration with Laura Mulvey in the 1970s. Friendship’s Death, a BFI restoration of which was recently shown at Cannes, was his only solo feature, and a fascinating contribution to the fertile British arthouse movement of the 1980s. It’s a sci-fi of ideas, limited mainly to a lengthy hotel-room dialogue between Swinton’s robot and a Scottish foreign correspondent (Bill Paterson) covering the conflict.
Director: Patrick Keiller
This may be the most surprising Wiki hole of the bunch. And a chastening one for any Britons who happen to think that this Patrick Keiller odyssey is one of the most rewarding and inventive films ever to come out of these islands. That must be a parochial perspective, because Wikipedians haven’t noticed this one yet – even though the perambulations of Keiller’s unseen protagonist Robinson have long been ground zero for any discussion of psychogeography and cinema.
The British answer to Chris Marker’s classic essay film Sans soleil (1983), London comprises fixed-frame shots taken around the capital’s public spaces. Paul Scofield’s narrator details his idiosyncratic urban adventures with Robinson, while ruminating on the poets and writers who’ve made London home during its long history. Keiller trained as an architect before studying at the Royal College of Art, and London began a trilogy of films about Robinson that charted the political and economic shifts of a nation through its built environment.
Extraordinary Stories (2008)
Director: Mariano Llinás
This labyrinthine Argentinian film bears some comparison to Keiller’s London in that it’s propelled by voiceover narration alone. Likewise, it’s a small, relatively impoverished production, with cryptically named characters (‘X’, ‘Z’, ‘H’) embarking on quixotic adventures, with callbacks to 19th-century literature, particularly Robert Louis Stevenson.
Bursting at its four-hour seams with an infectious love of storytelling and invention for its own sake, Extraordinary Stories sees three separate storylines intertwined, with dreams, flashbacks and digressions giving a sense of almost overwhelming narrative abundance. Director Mariano Llinás stepped out of line with the prevailing trend for minimalism in international arthouse cinema. His film is minimal in means, yet staked out a terrain of shaggy-dog cinema rarely visited since the likes of The Saragossa Manuscript (1965). Next came La flor (2018), which Llinás stretched out to a whopping 14 hours. At least that one was too long for Wikipedians to ignore.
Directors: Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor
With their latest film, the slippery psychological mystery Rose Plays Julie, about to go on release in the UK, this is the perfect time to get up to speed with the work of Irish filmmaking duo Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor. Not that you’ll get much help from Wikipedia. Going under the name Desperate Optimists, the pair have been behind four of the most intriguing and adventurous features to emerge from the British Isles this century, yet only one of them – their Singapore-set 2013 thriller Mister John – can boast a Wikipedia page. Neither Molloy nor Lawlor has one either.
Their recurring themes of transferable identities, performance and re-enactment were all there from the beginning in their debut feature, Helen, a missing-person drama expanded out of their 2008 short Joy. The Helen of the title is an orphan hired to play a missing girl, Joy, in police re-enactments of her disappearance, donning an identical yellow jacket to slip into the performance as if in a waking dream. The park setting recalls Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup (1966), and Helen shares that film’s pervasive enigma.
Director: Kevin Jerome Everson
The work of American artist and documentarist Kevin Jerome Everson got a boost to its profile here in the UK when Second Run DVD released a revelatory Blu-ray set of his features and shorts earlier in 2021. His work straddles the boundary between observational, regionalist documentary and slow cinema, in which the lives and labour of Black Americans take centre stage. Out of sight on Wikipedia, his major films include 2013’s watery The Island of Saint Matthews, in which Everson films people, floodgates and baptism in a Mississippi town with a past history of deluge, and 2017’s Tonsler Park, a Warholian study of public officials manning a polling station in Charlottesville during the 2016 presidential election.
2010’s Erie comprises a succession of extended takes around the eponymous Great Lakes city. The local auto industry is in decline, with a knock-on effect for the Black communities once brought there by the boom. One shot gets branded on your brain: a vigil-like, 11-minute stationary take of a girl staring at a flickering candle.
- Erie is available on the Blu-ray set How You Live Your Story: Selected works by Kevin Jerome Everson from Second Run DVD
Varda by Agnès (2019)
Director: Agnès Varda
When she died in March 2019, everyone was in agreement that Agnès Varda was a titan of cinema – a “god”, in Martin Scorsese’s word. She was not just the so-called godmother of the French New Wave, but a restlessly inventive and inquisitive filmmaker who had taken to digital filmmaking and even social media with the same relish that she’d first picked up a film camera back in the 1950s. Her final film, the memory-lane-traversing Varda by Agnès, had premiered at Berlin just a month before. Simple but essential, it gave us a sit-down session with the reflective veteran as she ruminated on her life and career with beguiling warmth and insight.
What’s odd is that in all the commemoration of the departed director, and all the grateful acclaim for this final offering (the Guardian called it “two hours of magic”), nobody has yet taken the trouble to give the film an English-language Wikipedia page. No, not even any diligent souls at the BFI, and we released the thing. OK, give me a few minutes…