Reader in Film and Screen Media
|The Doom Generation
|2 ou 3 choses que je sais d'elle
|La VILLE DES PIRATES
|Pier Paolo Pasolini
|Danièle Huillet, Jean-Marie Straub
One of the most deranged horror films ever made, its apparent genre elements are really just the lure for a metaphysical exploration of the unravelling of a relationship and indeed a life. An apparent international spy Mark (Sam Neill) returns home and suspects his wife Anna (Isabelle Adjani) of having an affair which is true but masks a more disturbing reality. From the wild cinematography, to the implausible but compelling narrative, which may or may not be taking place in any commonly accepted version of reality to the elliptical and allusive dialogue, this film is a wild experience from beginning to end. But the most compelling and brilliant aspect of the film is Adjani's stunning performance as Anna, including but not limited to the notorious subway miscarriage scene. While I was torn between selecting this film and Żuławski's equally brilliant On the Silver Globe, I chose Possession due to its power and intensity, and the unfinished state of the previous film.
The Doom Generation
By far the best film of Araki's Teen Apocalypse trilogy, this was the film in which all aspects of Araki's approach to filmmaking came together from characters with queer and ambiguous sexualities, to myriad pop cultural references, to comic book violence including a decapitated but still talking head and a dismembered arm. But while it provides lots of horny road movie outsiders on the run entertainment for most of its duration, it culminates in a highly prescient and disturbing scene of all to real homophobic and patriarchal violence invoking a range of US patriotic symbols that is much closer to Kenneth Anger than Oliver Stone. And as always there is a great soundtrack of industrial, shoegaze and indie music that is especially well integrated into the unfolding of the story. Only with Kaboom (2010) and arguably his recent TV series Now Apocalypse did Araki come close to this exquisitely apocalyptic portrayal of doomed youth.
2 ou 3 choses que je sais d'elle
This is perhaps an obvious choice but it is the 1960s Godard film that I most return to and that established a kind of blueprint for the best of his later work in film and in video. With a loose narrative based on a newspaper article about middle class suburban housewives turning to prostitution in order to acquire consumer goods, the film digressively explores several issues form the nature of happiness to the urban space of Paris. The experimentation with cinematic techniques such as disjunctions between image and sound for the first time acquires a real force and purpose and this is also the first film of his really engaged with politics and the search for an aesthetics adequate to this task. And of course there are those swirling galaxies in the coffee cup accompanying what feels like an insistent if not desperate attempt to communicate directly with the audience
La VILLE DES PIRATES
While I could easily have selected 10 Ruiz films for this list, for me this is the most perfectly realised of his surrealistic work of this era. The whole film plays out like strange dream or a poem with mysterious elliptical dialogue, the embodiment of a lost son in a bouncing ball, a maid reciting melancholic poetry. It also feature one of the most extreme examples of impossible camera angles and bizarre uses of depth of field in cinema. Also there are two distinct stories only connected by the figure of Isidore and Ruiz claimed the film was written via processes to automatic writing rather than following a pre planned narrative. While one of the strangest of Ruiz's films it is also the most beautiful and poetic.
While not as experimental or confronting as some Lynch films, for me Mulholland Drive is the most perfect of Lynch's films for a variety of reasons. The spiralling oneiric structure bringing together two different versions of the same reality works in a much more compelling and tragic way than in his other films of this period, and allows for a play with everything from classical film noir and police procedurals to Nancy Drew detective work and the exploration of the seedy underside to Hollywood. This allows for not only some of Lynch's most thrilling and disturbing scenes but also some of the most comical even if this is usually a case of black humour as with pretty much anything involving the film director Adam Kesher. But it is the two self enclosed scenes and Winkies Diner and the Silencio theatre which have become deservedly iconic, the latter involving a stunning performance by Rebekah Del Rio and a deconstruction of cinema as a magical suspension of disbelief that is nevertheless maintained, but casts numerous doubts as to the ontological status of everything that has been experienced up to this point.
This is another perhaps obvious choice but it is both a high point of Pasolini's work and a great reflection of the tumultuous times of 1968. A visitor (Terence Stamp) appears in a repressed bourgeois family and has intimate relations with all its members. On his equally sudden departure, each of them is transformed sometimes in drastic ways, from the maid who becomes a visionary saint, to the mother who starts engaging in casual sex with young men, to the father who divests himself of his factory and all worldly possessions and enters the desert naked. Open to many allegorical meanings, the film perfectly brings together Pasolini's twin obsessions of Catholicism and Marxism, as well as responding elliptically to the youth upheavals of the late 1960s
Hal Hartley is almost forgotten in recent times despite the fact he is still active as a filmmaker. While many of his films are great, Simple Men remains a favourite of mine due to its distillation of his filmmaking style and addressing of problematics of masculinity via an elliptical story of two brothers who go in search of their missing radical father. As such it is more epic than his earlier work but also prefigures the Henry Fool trilogy. Using Hartley's inimitable style of unconventional blocking, elliptical editing, digressive narrative, and a range of memorably eccentric characters, it all comes together in the seemingly spontaneous choreography to Sonic Youth's Kool Thing in the Long Island bar where much of the film takes place.
This is one of several brilliant political films by these filmmakers drawing on literary sources, this time the incomplete The Business Affairs of Julius Caesar by Bertholt Brecht. Uninterrupted long takes of a man driving around contemporary Rome in an open topped car are interspersed with 'interviews' with figures from ancient Rome, all with different relations to Julius Caesar. The driving scenes were especially rejected by audiences and yet these scenes are the perfect encapsulation of the cinematic apparatus as the world of contemporary Rome flows by via the windscreen and rearview mirror of the vehicle. The anachronism of the figures the man encounters deliberately undermines any sense of naturalism and instead attempts to facilitate a dialogue between the present and the past, that through these encounters develops from a neutral or subservient attitude to one of anger and imperial and capitalist power relations which the film suggests through its structure are lessons that still need to be learnt today
Possibly the only great cyberpunk film as well as arguably the best Philip K. Dick adaptation, this films is seeped in a strange melancholy attesting to the future decline of the human race. Set in a future LA that also seems to have elements of Tokyo and Hong Kong, the film presents what essentially becomes a love story against a backdrop of corrupt corporate and police power, and stark social inequalities. This is a future that despite its flying cars and giant billboards is the dilapidated future of life as we know it under capitalism extrapolated into its future decay. The drive to live of the replicants in the film, beyond their allotted timespan as essentially industrial slaves, is given a strong sense of pathos especially in the now iconic 'tears in rain' speech delivered by a dying Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer). The enigmatic status of Rachael (Sean Young) as to whether she is also a replicant or not adds to the mystery of the film, further added to by its multiple versions with different endings.
This film, largely rejected by audiences and critics as incoherent, is a brilliant example of post-cinema. Set in an alternate historical version of the US in which there has been a nuclear attack, there are a plethora of elements from a neo republican surveillance regime, and corresponding group of neo Marxists, to demented scientists promoting the clean energy of 'Fluid Karma', to porn stars, a drug dealing Iraq veteran, a missing actor and two versions of the same police officer that may be due to an apocalyptic event, the same one that the actor and porn star have written as a screenplay. Labyrinthine and non linear, the film constructs extraordinary set pieces, especially involving Justin Timberlake channeling The Killers in a blood soaked tank top and the short circuit of reality when the two versions of the same police officer meet. From the intensive use of surveillance and media images, to the multiple references to 21st century media cultures, this film presents the schizophrenia of 21st century life in a uniquely intense way.
I could well have selected different films on a different day and apart from the obvious possibility of different films by the same directors' I would like to give honourable mentions to: Chantal Akerman's formally brilliant 'Je, Tu, Il Elle' (1974), Fassbinder's extraordinary TV film 'World on a Wire' (1973), perhaps the first to depict a version of virtual reality, and Joseph Khan's extraordinary 'Detention' (2011) that takes the pop cultural reflexivity of films like Scream to the power of a million, crossing between multiple genres and providing another great instance of post-cinema. Adam McKay's The Big Short (2015) is by far the best film to address the 2008 financial crisis, mostly via some excellent shouting, and Leos Carax's incredible comeback film 'Holy Motors' (2012) was another strong contender that was on my original list. Finally I ended up sticking largely to fiction but the great essay films 'Le fond de l'air est rouge' ('Grin without a Cat', Chris Marker, 1977) Godard and Miéville's 'Ici et Ailleurs' (Here and Elsewhere, 1974) and the collective film 'Germany in Autumn' (1978) could all have easily made my list as brilliant reflections on radical politics and aesthetics in the 1970s.