Visual artist, writer, teacher
|Genroku Chushingura (The 47 Ronin)
|Au hasard Balthazar
|Gregory J. Markopoulos
|The Sun Shines Bright
|What Goes Up?
|The Tarnished Angels
Genroku Chushingura (The 47 Ronin)
This is not the most immediately emotionally affecting of Mizoguchi’s films, but it is cinematically the most perfect in movement and rhythm, with its spaces including, as always in the mature Mizoguchi, hints of emptiness.
Au hasard Balthazar
Bresson’s Lancelot du Lac and L’Argent are equally amazing, but this film, apparently focused on a few characters and animals in a specific place and time but apparently also a history of the world, has some of the broadening poetic stretch I find in Rossellini. The brief zoo scene is constructed from shots showing, most unusually, animals’ POVs.
One might not guess that this one-minute film was shot as a beer commercial, which Peter Kubelka edited into perhaps cinema’s most perfect 60 seconds, its repeating elements suggesting infinite flow. As with many of the finest films, the maker of this one, working alone, is not a “director,” but a filmmaker.
This silent film will be about 80 hours long when it is finally restored and printed for projection. More than half has already been printed. I have been able to see only about eight or nine hours of it, but those offered me my best experience of cinema ever, offering an unusual degree of rhythmic and architectural purity, the flash frames akin to Greek columns standing amid the open spaces created by intervening segments of darkness. As with many of the finest films, the maker of this one, working alone, is not a “director,” but a filmmaker.
This is perhaps the most expansive of the films of this most expansive filmmaker, whose efforts, to paraphrase a line from his Europe '51, are directed towards a love that embraces the whole world. But my evaluation is based on a colour print seen in 1970, which the restorations I have seen more recently do not replicate.
Howard Hawks is an example of the problem of choosing best films rather than greatest filmmakers, as his films’ elusive visual beauties, in which simple character gestures seem to dance with the light, are best appreciated in the context of all his work.
The Sun Shines Bright
One might also choose Seven Women, as I did earlier, but this film seems to me Ford’s densest in its layerings, and his least obvious. Its funeral procession offers my favourite use of sound in any Hollywood film.
What Goes Up?
This last of Robert Breer’s films is best understood in the context of his others, particularly his later films that make use of rotoscoping. A five minute 'animation', it continues his ecstatic play with depth and flatness, illusion and geometric abstraction, here seasoned with melancholic musings on ageing. As with many of the finest films, the maker of this one, working alone, is not a “director,” but a filmmaker.
This film culminates Brakhage’s journey away from the ordinary life experiences movies most often suggest, and towards usually hidden strata of consciousness which take the viewer into unimagined realms of knowing and not-knowing. It was preceded in this direction by the filmmaker’s series of Roman and Arabic Numerals, just about as great. As with many of the finest films, the maker of this one, working alone, is not a “director,” but a filmmaker.
The Tarnished Angels
There is one other Sirk film as great, A Time to Love and a Time to Die, but this is his richest in cinematic incidents, with the death-mask moment providing instructions on how to view the power given to inanimate objects throughout the work.
There is a problem with any 'greatest films' list. The best films should not be viewed as separate products that can be understood on their own. To believe this is to participate in the one-shot, throwaway superficialities of our consumer culture in its search for easily digestible pleasures, in which a great book is called a 'read' and a great film is called a 'watch', each then easily filed away and forgotten. Both should instead resonate across time, and initiate journeys. A great film is a work of singular vision that creates its own visual language, a language one can only start to understand after multiple viewings of multiple films by the filmmaker.
I have constructed my list by first choosing my ten favourite filmmakers, and then the greatest film of each. But for someone new to a filmmaker’s work, what I consider the greatest film could be a poor starting point. Instead, start trying to understand Bresson with A Man Escaped and Pickpocket, or Hawks with Bringing Up Baby, Only Angels Have Wings, and Red River, or Brakhage with The Wonder Ring, Mothlight, and The Riddle of Lumen.