Film Director and Screenwriter
|Carl Th. Dreyer
|Au hasard Balthazar
|The Travelling Players
|Trois couleurs rouge
When a movie is this bold, ambitious, accomplished, inventive and brilliant there is simply no reason to not include it. More importantly, it has stood the test of time. From my point of view, it has not been bettered as an expression of the full capabilities of cinema as entertainment and art; it remains technically astonishing 81 years later. Citizen Kane seems to exist in a world of its own which, upon each visit, reveals new treasures. Welles, Mankiewicz, Toland and Wise do not make a single wrong step. Its greatness is self-evident.
Foreshadowing Bergman's later obsession with cruelty and depression, Wild Strawberries could have been the director's final film, the swan song of an ageing and pedantic professor whose life work (and life itself) is methodically taken apart by Bergman's immaculate cinematic scalpel. Victor Sjöström delivers a performance of immense detail and sympathy, entirely free of cheap pathos, whilst Ingrid Thulin represents the classic Bergman heroine, pre-Liv Ullmann, with her incandescent intelligence and beauty both compromised by the weal and woe of life.
Tarkovsky rated Fellini as one of the greatest directors ever, praising him for “his love of people”. If one were to cite a matchless example of what film directing is, 8½ would be a safe bet. What appears to be chaotic, self-indulgent and vulgar is in fact an astonishingly judicious feast of cinematic circus making. Cinema is an astonishingly difficult medium to bend to your will as its creator (compared to sculpting for example, where the artist and their material are inseparable and unimpeded). With 8½, Fellini not only mastered the medium, he made it sing and cavort to his own tune. It remains an ecstatic and astonishing viewing experience.
The final film of Carl Theodor Dreyer, and what a swan song it is. Some theories of great art offer the idea that a Grand Master not only understands what becomes truly essential in their work, but also become detached from their work in a formal sense, if not in terms of content, as though they are letting go of all they know by way of a gradual dissolution. With Gertrud, Dreyer's grasp of cinema was as firm as ever; however, there remains an ineffable sense of resolution and acceptance in this work, which centres around a woman's refusal to compromise her definition of love. Perhaps one could place Dreyer himself in this drama, the modest and ascetic filmmaking genius who died four years later.
Au hasard Balthazar
The first Bresson film I saw and once seen never forgotten. Bresson ranks high on director lists these days, which is refreshing and encouraging as his cinematic world is the least boastful, the most original and, dare I say it, the most repetitive (in a non-pejorative sense) imaginable. If the three criteria of great cinema can be cited as: 1. Originality of form and style, 2. Precision and fluency of craft, 3. Consistency and breadth of vision, then Robert Bresson tops all three. He may not be the greatest film director of all time but he was certainly amongst the most original and consistent. More importantly, it is his sense of faith and rigour in the art of cinema that no doubt inspires so many filmmakers, critics and fans. He is simply unique and irreplaceable, iconic even.
Words fail me.
Miraculous. Epic. Cruel and random. Predetermined. Deeply philosophical yet utterly earthbound.
A world seemingly real and extant upon each viewing.
A cinematic intoxicant.
The Travelling Players
History is all of us and history can be none of us. Angelopoulos’s greatest example of utilising cinema's unique ability to telescope time by way of montage (or achieved in camera as we see here) in order to dissect Greece's modern history, pitting a troupe of actors against an unfolding panoply of political unrest.
Angelopoulos used the 'long take' in the most logical, inspired and sensible way possible – both to condense time and space and, presumably, to make more efficient his shooting days. Poetic and pragmatic, he was a cinematic titan and remains a lasting, entrenched influence.
How to choose one's favourite Stanley Kubrick film – throw a bone into the air and see what falls to Earth? Barry Lyndon, however, remains a perfect example of content correctly dictating form, executed by a Grand Master in the craft. Technically, Barry Lyndon remains virtually unmatched since its release, but beyond that not inconsiderable achievement the movie is deeply affecting in its depiction of a rogue and a cad whose luck finally runs out when fate catches up with him. No matter how much we believe we determine our own path in life, fate has the final say (naturally enough) – a theme strongly recurrent in Kubrick's cinema but here given an almost Georgian era wistfulness. The funeral of Barry's young son remains impossible to watch.
Very wrongly assessed upon release and often since then, Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate is one of the greatest Westerns and greatest American films ever made. Perhaps the Western is the most American genre of filmmaking, only here Cimino takes apart its more mythological aspects, freeing it of misty-eyed pioneer-ism and replacing it will gutless violence, racism, hypocrisy and failed ideals.
There is also a convincingly tragic 'love story' here and a justly famous roller-skating dance scene, both of which revel in a true and abiding love of cinema. Pre-VFX, Heaven's Gate is 100% optical, down to the dust and nails we never see but somehow know are there.
Credit must be given here to the film's Director of Photography Vilmos Zsigmond, who created his greatest work here. There may not exist a better-shot film in the history of cinema.
Ultimately, Heaven's Gate is an ode to the now extinct Epic Cinema of the past. It began with D.W. Griffith and one could argue represents cinema at its grandest and, in this case story wise, most tragic.
Trois couleurs rouge
A small handful of films have a profound effect on one's personal life as well as being a great and memorable cinema experience. Three Colours Red, as with many great works of art in any field, is about the universal and the particular and the inability, or unwillingness, for one to acknowledge or understand the other.
Given its year of release relative to this contributor's age, Three Colours Red opened my eyes to the above mentioned concept, taking me out of an absurdly self-absorbed prism of solipsistic determinism.
Sadly I never met Krzysztof Kieślowski – I can only thank him and his writers in memoriam, all these years later.
Thank you for asking me to participate in this poll. For many years it has helped guide me in my constantly growing love of cinema.