retired academic , Associate Professor, Principal Research Fellow, Victoria College of Art, University of Melbourne
|Carl Th. Dreyer
|Partie de campagne
|"F For Fake"
|Journey to Italy
|Histoire(s) du Cinéma
The impossibility of creating Top Ten Greatest Lists. Yet as cinephiles, above all, we always succumb to such surreal parlour games. For a detailed account of the complexities of such lists see my list addressed to Bill Mousoulis the first issue of Senses of Cinema (Melbourne), Jonathan Rosenbaum, Essential Cinema (2004, Appendix 1,000 Favourites (A Personal Canon) and also David Thomson, "Have You Seen ... ? (2008) and finally and Adrian Martin and Jonathan Rosenbaum, Movie Mutations (2003).
On such lists anything by Dreyer would be apt such is the transcendental vision of Dreyer's as an auteur whose oeuvre had an essential impact and influence on the history of cinema, etc. Ordet deals with a Danish farmer whose wife and three sons (particularly the eldest one who is delusional thinking that he is Jesus Christ) have their religious beliefs put to extreme personal test.
Vigo's 'surreal lyricism' in his very influential oeuvre of just four films and short tragic life meant that in 1950 the Prix Jean Vigo award to a French filmmaker was created. Such was Vigo's visionary cinema and, like Dreyer and others. Vigo has always been regularly included in Top Ten Greatest Film Lists.
Vigo's simple and romantic barge story concerns small town girl Juliette (Dita Parlo) and barge captain Jean (Jean Daste) , after a whirlwind marriage, as they make their way down the Seine , Jean becomes weary of Juliette's flirtations with the all-male crew and Juliette wishes to escape the crushing monotony of the barge itself. She manages to go to Paris without Jean , for the sheer excitement of Paris itself, and Jean begins to have serious doubts about the marriage.
Partie de campagne
Renoir's erotic pastoral masterpiece is based on a Guy de Maupassant story, about a Parisian bourgeois family spending a day in the country. A young woman meets a man on holiday at the country inn. They have a very brief sexual encounter in the fleeting sunlight on an overcast day.
Renoir took his cast and and crew ( what a crew it was : including Jacques Becker, Henri-Cartier Bresson, Claude Renoir, Marguerite Renoir, Luchino Visconti, Joseph Kosma, etc) to a place on the Seine nearby Marlotte. Renoir hoped for sun, given the mood of the holidaying Parisian , but it rained for the best part of the day. Renoir films the rain , wind and water with such unforgettable feeling.
Though the film was shot in 1934 it was not to 1946 that it was actually released. The film's eroticism is greatly manifested in a shocking close-up of Mlle Bataille engaged in love and sex certainly qualifies it as one of the most subtle and erotic cinema ever produced in the history of cinema. It simply sings with Renoir's huge masterly capacity for tragic and humane feeling. No-one like Renoir had the sheer poetic understanding about matters of the heart.
"F For Fake"
This is Welles's final documentary film that magisterially oscillates between fact and fiction heralding the prominence of the essay film in the last four decades in cinema , contemporary art and digital media . Welles profoundly and adroitly documents the transgressive lives of two master forgers Elmyr de Hory and Clifford Irving. De Hory made his name by creating and selling deceptive forged works of art by the most famous painters of modernism and the historic avant-garde like , for instance, Matisse and Picasso. In fact , De Hory
later committed suicide than rather spending more time in prison. Irving himself forged a fake autobiography of the elusive oil tycoon/movie mogul Howard Hughes.
Welles's documentary like the rest of his unique oeuvre dazzles the viewer on so many levels of cinema. Welles like Bresson, Bunuel , Hitchcock , and Renoir, amongst others, created an impressive number of works that could be included in a Top Ten Greatest Films of all time. Such was the immense inventiveness and influence of Welles' films. It needs to be remembered that Welles also was just as impressive in theatre, radio, writing, and of course, acting.
Tristana was one of Bunuel's famous last films of the 1960s and 1970s and it poetically and subtly exemplifies Bunuel's characteristic surreal concerns as a filmmaker. It tells of a young woman Tristana (Catherine Deneuve) who is an orphan and is taken under guardianship by Don Lope ( Fernando Rey) , a highly vain, narcissistic and hypocritical and highly respected of his community. Don Lope has a great fondness for women and inexorably desires Tristana who falls in love with artist Horacio (Francisco Nero) . Consequently, she needs to be more independent of Don Lope, and at the same time , her relationship with Horacio (Francisco Nero) Like most of his films Tristana is a black comedy masterpiece that incorporates the filmmaker's distinctive constant surreal themes and his almost invisible subtle visual style. And it is also a far-ranging haunting and explicit examination of how power can change so remarkably in a human relationship. Bunuel's early films Un Chien Anadalou (1929) -this was a collaboration with the painter Salvador Dali - and L'Age d'Or ( 1930) incorporated Bunuel's most of revolutionary surreal avant-garde concerns . Bunuel's autobiography My Last Sigh ( Cape, 1984) is essential reading.
Mouchette is a 'book-end ' companion film to Bresson's Au Hasard Balthazar in that the former deals with a peasant girl and the latter with a donkey telling a similar story about the most fragile and meekest amongst us. It is absed on George Bernanos' novel with the same name and it features both Nadine Nortier and Jean -Claude Guilbert. Mouchette is the young girl who suffers immensely frequent constant humiliating indignities in her world of poverty, alienation , and alcoholism. She is a trapped fragile teenager who seeks solace in her rural routine world of human desperation because of her dying mother , an absent alcoholic father, and a baby brother who needs constant care. It is a searing poetic masterpiece in the director's characteristic minimalist visual style full of such intense and moving poignant empathy for Mouchette. Her attempts to commit suicide by rolling down a hill to drown in nearby water is one of the most tragic and tearful moments in cinema.
Journey to Italy
Journey to Italy focuses on a couple, Alexander (George Sanders) and Katherine Joyce (Ingrid Bergman), who lead a futile passionless existence together as they travel to Naples after inheriting a villa. On the threshold of divorce they spend their trip separately. Katherine spends her time visiting museums and historical sites of antiquity, whilst Alexander travels to Capri for drinks. However, during their vacation both of them experience life-changing situations.
Journey to Italy as a romantic drama featuring the director's trademark neo-realist documentary personal visual style and thematic concerns was critically influential in terms of creating the French New Wave film movement and impacting on the melodrama genre itself and the history of cinema itself.
In the mid-70s when I was living in London I was one day at the National Film Theatre (South Bank) attending a Rossellini film program. I was standing outside the main entrance of the National Film Theatre itself on the kerb having a smoke when this black limousine car parked next to me when Rossellini himself emerged out of the car wearing his coat (European style) over his shoulders, smoking a cigarette and wearing black glasses. It was a brief absurd encounter.
The Searchers is John Ford's greatest classical masterpiece in his highly distinctive and influential oeuvre. As a western drama it is one of the genre's greatest memorable works alongside with Anthony Mann's existential westerns. It was in the 1950s and 1960s championed by the French New Wave directors like Chabrol, Godard, Rivette, Rohmer, and Truffaut, etc. Consequently, it was a film highly prized by the New American Directors of the 70s like Scorsese, Schrader, Lucas, Coppola, Cassavetes and others.
John Ford's poetic Monumental Valley landscape has epic iconic and generic features and it features John Wayne as an Indian-hating war veteran who tracks down with singular obsessive intensity the tribe that slaughtered his family and kidnapped his niece Natalie Wood. He is accompanied by his adopted nephew Martin (Jeffrey Hunter).
The film was written by Frank S. Nugent and it is adapted from a Alan Le May novel and is set during the Texas -Native American wars. The Searchers also uses the phrase "That'll be the day" when Ethan (John Wayne) encounters another character in the film that Ethan does not agree with.
Histoire(s) du Cinéma
Histoire(s) du cinema is an eight-part video film project by Godard that was started in the late 1980s and ended in 1998. With Godard where does one begin given the global influence he has given and still is on the medium itself? It is, in essence, a very daunting, provocative and very inventive and beautiful meditative essay film that examines in Godard's inimitable revolutionary 'in-between' visual style and immensely important thematic concerns the history of the last century through cinema itself. And in doing so, Godard has had such a unique influence on global cinema, art, digital media, culture and thought.
And as such it is, for Godard, ongoing and incomplete. By interrupting the process of montage in his characteristic inventive style of repeating edits back and forth, in a horizon-expanding shuffle process, Godard critiques the ideological basis of cinema itself. Godard unmasks the ideological functioning of cinema by presenting a (hi)story of cinema through its complex and dynamic form and collage methodology of cinematic meaning.
Hitchcock's famous 1958 American film noir psychological thriller Vertigo is a memorable masterly narrative of obsession, fear, and manipulation. Detective Scottie (James Stewart), suffering from acrophobia and vertigo is hired to investigate the strange behaviour of an old friend's wife. She commits suicide while Scottie becomes totally obsessed with her.
When it was released in 1958 it received a lukewarm reception; now it is commonly regarded as one of the greatest masterpieces of cinema .
Detective John ("Scottie") Ferguson (James Stewart) has retired from the police force because of his fears of heights after a terrifying rooftop chase ending in a colleague's death. Galvin Elster (Tom Helmore), a college friend of Scottie's wants him to follow his wife Madeleine ( Kim Novak) and check out her strange behaviour. Scottie falls in love with her only to witness her suicide in the film's key critical sequence that is so brilliantly presaged by Saul Bass's iconic pre-credit sequence of the narrative itself.
Devastated by Madeleine's death Scottie later meets Judy Barton (Kim Novak) and proceeds to remake her in the image of Madeleine herself. But, unknown to Scottie, Judy knows Elster has killed Madeleine.
List-making is such a transitory myth-making thing to do. Top Ten Greatest Film Lists like Sight and Sound's since 1952 is such a critical part of global film culture. For cinephiles in general it is an essential core value of cinephilia itself as it underscores its many complex and fleeting features. However, the lists as such years do not so radically change in their selections. This is because you are dealing with unique auteur masterpieces that, over the years, have been recognised as such in any given relevant cultural context, like academic scholarship, journalistic film criticism, film reviewing, cultural commentary, etc.
In my Senses of Cinema 1998 Great Ten film list I do mention the very subjective nature of such an enterprise to do. I do underline how your top lists are so selective for so many different reasons. And in such a consideration of compiling a top 20 list one has to exclude other equally important auteur filmmakers as I do with Bill Mousoulis. Where is Lang, Ophuls, Preminger, Snow, Akerman, Varda, Marker, Ozu, Sternberg, Melville, Brakhage, Kubrick, Wilder, Browning, Rivette, Truffaut, Rohmer, Chabrol, Cassavetes, Keaton, Sirk, Ray, Siodmark, Aldrich, Powell/Pressberger, Cooper/Schoedsack as in King Kong (1933), Tourneur, Lubitsch, Resnais, Preston Sturges, Kiarostami, Eisenstein, Stroheim, etc, etc.
And what about other national cinemas? Living now that we do in a post-internet era, what about other national cinemas? Why are they not so evident nowadays as one would expect them to be? Cinephila has, over the decades, become such a global film culture.
Cinephila comprises of so many different feelings, experiences, subjects, emotions , etc. And it is, in essence, something that the Surrealists demonstrated in the 1920s and 1930s with their cinema theatre hoping mode of film viewing with passion and juxtaposition. When the painter Max Ernst was asked if he would like to be the next president of a film club he replied "Only if you play King Kong." Passion should be at the core of one's cinephila and listmaking.
Given the global collage nature of cinema and digital media production it is also essential that one looks at all forms of generic and mixed-media cinema . As Jim Hoberman cites in his book The Magic Hour :Film at Fin De Siecle, Temple University Press, 2003, as far back as in 1935 the aesthetician Rudolph Arnheim that the task of the future film critic - or should we say 'television critic' – would be seeing cinema that is no longer film itself as we commonly known but something else instead. This is our current epoch now. Bazin's 'dancing cone' of cinema above our heads in the darken space of a movie theatre is not these days such a common general mode of cinema viewing as it was once upon a time. Now cinema has become mixed with other media forms and, as Hoberman suggests in his book, maybe today's era the most important film critic of the last 35 years has become a filmmaker like Godard, Marker, Akerman, Rappaport, Baldwin, etc., who deal in their self-reflexive works with cinema itself. Hoberman's closing paragraph is worth quoting in full: "That history will force those critics refusing the role of underpaid cheerleaders to themselves become historians – not to mention archivists, bricoleurs, spoilsports, pundits, entrepreneurs, anti-conglomerate guerrilla fighters, and in general, masters of what is known in the Enchanted Palace as "counter-programming".