|Fanny and Alexander
|Journey to Italy
|A Woman under the Influence
|2001: A Space Odyssey
I wonder: why is it that lists are so important to film culture? 10 greatest pieces of chamber music? 10 greatest frescoes? Forget it. But somehow, with cinema, it's lists, lists and more lists.
And why ranking? I ranked my titles because there was no other option. I just input them as they came to me.
The older I get, the more I moved I am by the great ongoing conversation that is art--ALL of art. There is no such thing as innovation in art, only in the tools we use to make it. All art is contemporary. And none of the films above is anything without the rest of cinema by its side, among all the other arts.
Like most of the other participants in this enterprise, I have a long shadow list, any single title of which could easily displace one of the titles I included: SUNRISE, DODSWORTH, I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING, THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, FACES, LA STRADA, THE APARTMENT, LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD, 8 1/2, NOT RECONCILED, THE ROUND-UP, RULES OF THE GAME, THE OLD PLACE, and so on.
And then, there are filmmakers who spoke or who speak with their whole body of work rather than this or that film - Fuller, Akerman, Godard, Hitchcock, and so on. Such an enterprise as this poll doesn't allow room for that kind of acknowledgment.
I recently listened to an old episode of Melvyn Bragg's "In Our Time." The guests were Harold Bloom and Jacqueline Rose, discussing Shakespeare. But it was actually a quietly contentious encounter in which Rose was given the wider berth, probably to allow her a public forum to refute Bloom's withering takedowns of her positions on Shakespeare in particular and literature in general. She uses MIDDLEMARCH as an example, specifically her experience of teaching it to East End students. She zeroes in on one particular student from Poplar "who’d been working in a dress shop for 5 years and she came to the university because she was determined that she wasn’t going to be like the other women in the shop who’d been there for 10 years." Rose read the first sentence aloud - "Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress" - and asked her students what they thought. "She's not talking to me," said the student in question. For Rose, this was an illuminating experience, leading her to question "what is contained in the 'we' of as authoritative a voice as George Eliot's," and to encourage skepticism about "spurious forms of unity" and "the way in which literature encourages identifications."
I was struck by this example. Was George Eliot really "encouraging" identification, implying or even insisting that the idea of beauty being thrown into high relief by poor dress was some kind of universal truth for young working class women? Or was she simply speaking of and, more crucially, from her time? Every film, said Manny Farber, carries the DNA of its time. The same can obviously be said of novels, plays, paintings, musical compostitions, and so on. I'm not sure if the student from Poplar who was trying to move on from the dress shop actually got her money's worth.
It has never occured to me that art was supposed to speak directly to me and my material circumstances and concerns, let alone to prove itself worthy of my attention in its opening sentence or first seconds. Nor have I ever expected art to be comforting or reassuring. Art is a great mystery, an organism into which one plunges head first, as Rose, who speaks and writes so beautifully about Proust, knows very well. I have never begun a relationship with any film I've come to admire from a position of instant understanding and the reassuring knowledge that it is speaking to me. Art speaks to all of us from its own moment and in its own unique language. And if we choose to blithely reject it because it doesn't jibe with our own immediate circumstance or the moral or political imperatives of our own moment, then we're selling ourselves short.
I want to end by saying that the emergence of my friend Joanna Hogg over the last decade or so has been a rich and rewarding experience. What a remarkable filmmaker…