Thursday, August 21, 2008

Films I Love: An Introduction

I am, for the first time, introducing a new ongoing series here at Only the Cinema. FILMS I LOVE will provide some contrast from my usual posting format, where I generally aim to strike a balance between journalistic reviewing and analytical criticism for each film I watch. This format is well-suited to the way I like to write about films in general, and — especially when I'm lucky enough to spark some spirited conversation in the comments section — it also satisfies my urge to elucidate and develop my thoughts about a film right after I've seen it. But the bulk of my writing here has fallen short, as I see it, in at least one key way: namely that I have been focused almost exclusively on the day-to-day immediacy of reviewing films, both new and old, that I have not seen before. There have been exceptions whenever I feel the need to revisit a film I know well, but these are relatively few. The fact remains that this site contains very little writing about or acknowledgment of the films I love the best, the films that I consider my favorites and that I saw (often many times) before starting this blog around a year ago.

FILMS I LOVE should correct this deficiency. This series will take a very different approach from my usual reviews, partly because I wish to distinguish these posts from the daily viewing diary I've been maintaining here, and partly because the last thing I want to do is turn this blog into a chore by piling even more writing requirements on myself. With that in mind, these posts will be much less verbose than my usual reviews (do I hear sighs of relief already?) and will instead provide a sampling of images from the films with a paragraph or two of introduction and commentary. Hopefully these posts will inspire further discussion about the selections, as well as providing my readers with some additional insight into the cinematic touchstones that make me tick. Hopefully, my choices will be idiosyncratic and revelatory — I don't want to produce a definitive list of "classics" so much as a personal chronicle of "favorites." I'll aim to post one of these pieces every week, though that timeline may be altered once the series is actually underway.

In conceiving of this series, I have been influenced by three more or less similar projects by other critics, and I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge these here. The first is the ongoing weekly feature Images from the Greatest Films of the Decade, maintained at Jeremy Richey's Moon in the Gutter. Jeremy's excellent blog has a lot of passionate writing about films he loves, but this simple and effective series highlights just ten stills from each film with no written accompaniment. It's often remarkable how much of the film's mood and style is communicated in his judicious selection of still frames. I'll be the first to admit that my own project is as much stealing his idea as being influenced by it, so I hope he takes this in the spirit of homage in which it's intended.

The second of my major influences here should require no introduction, and that is Roger Ebert's Great Movies project. I've always been drawn to this kind of writing that attempts to establish a personal and open-minded perspective on canonical works, and Ebert's accessible prose revisits familiar milestones and illuminates lesser-known but important works with equal panache. Ebert's ongoing effort to build a directory — both online and collected in books — of the movies he subjectively considers "great," is an admirable and very prominent exercise in canon-building.

Which brings me to the third major influence upon this series, Jonathan Rosenbaum's Essential Cinema: On the Necessity of Film Canons. Rosenbaum's book, in addition to containing selections from his typically sharp criticism, makes a powerful case for the importance of canon-building to both personal film appreciation and the larger thrust of art in general. I lack the breadth or depth of Rosenbaum's movie knowledge in order to form my own version of his personal canon, organized by year — though I once flirted with the idea of trying anyway, in a here-and-then-gone post at this blog. My own canon will be more modest, not a monolithic listing but a one-by-one assembly that will, eventually, nevertheless serve the same purpose for me (and hopefully my readers) as Rosenbaum's does for him. That is to say, FILMS I LOVE will form a continually shifting account of the films that have shaped my cinematic consciousness, that I consider the highest achievements of the medium, and that point the way towards unexpected possibilities in cinema.

The Films:
1. Sans Soleil (Chris Marker, 1983)
2. Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch, 2001)
3. Bonjour Tristesse (Otto Preminger, 1958)
4. Ménilmontant (Dimitri Kirsanoff, 1926)
5. The Aviator's Wife (Eric Rohmer, 1981)
6. Edvard Munch (Peter Watkins, 1974)
7. Sink Or Swim (Su Friedrich, 1990)
8. Naked (Mike Leigh, 1993)
9. In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray, 1950)
10. Three Crowns of a Sailor (Raoul Ruiz, 1983)
11. I Fidanzati (Ermanno Olmi, 1962)
12. Equinox Flower (Yasujiro Ozu, 1958)
13. Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy (Martin Arnold, 1998)
14. Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick, 1999)
15. Only Angels Have Wings (Howard Hawks, 1939)
16. Underground (Emir Kusturica, 1995)
17. The Silence (Ingmar Bergman, 1963)
18. Baby Doll (Elia Kazan, 1956)
19. First Name: Carmen (Jean-Luc Godard, 1983)
20. In a Year With 13 Moons (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1978)
21. Play Time (Jacques Tati, 1967)
22. Kiss Me Deadly (Robert Aldrich, 1955)
23. Balance Beams (Jonas Leddington, 2002)
24. Dead Ringers (David Cronenberg, 1988)
25. Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950)
26. Coup de torchon (Bertrand Tavernier, 1981)
27. Three Colors: Blue (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1993)
28. Come To Daddy (Chris Cunningham, 1997)
29. Vendredi soir (Claire Denis, 2001)
30. Asyl (Kurt Kren, 1975)
31. Holiday (George Cukor, 1938)
32. A Walk Through H (Peter Greenaway, 1978)
33. 8 1/2 (Federico Fellini, 1963)
34. The Angelic Conversation (Derek Jarman, 1985)
35. Caché (Michael Haneke, 2005)
36. Man With a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929)
37. Little Murders (Alan Arkin, 1971)
38. Sex and Lucia (Julio Medem, 2001)
39. Hiroshima mon amour (Alain Resnais, 1959)
40. 9 Variations on a Dance Theme (Hilary Harris, 1966)
41. Safe (Todd Haynes, 1995)
42. The Set-Up (Robert Wise, 1949)
43. La belle noiseuse (Jacques Rivette, 1991)
44. Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954)
45. The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (John Cassavetes, 1976)
46. Dead Man (Jim Jarmusch, 1995)
47. The Conformist (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1970)
48. The Face of Another (Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1966)
49. Aguirre, The Wrath of God (Werner Herzog, 1972)
50. Cat's Cradle (Stan Brakhage, 1959)
51. Detour (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1945)
52. After Hours (Martin Scorsese, 1985)
53. Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958)
54. Mr. Klein (Joseph Losey, 1976)
55. The Shop Around the Corner (Ernst Lubitsch, 1940)


Shubhajit said...

Great idea Ed. I was really looking forward to your revisiting movies which you've already watched - and i assume quite a few of those would be acclaimed masterpieces (even though you might not consciously intend it to be so). In fact, if you remember, you already have a couple of requisitions from yours truly pending - which i'm sure are part of your favourites list as well.

Ed Howard said...

I think Films I Love will probably be a mix of "acclaimed masterpieces" and more idiosyncratic choices -- I don't want this to be a predictable "all time greats" kind of list, but something that reflects the variety of my personal tastes. Thanks for reading!

Nostalgia Kinky said...

This is really great Ed. I'm looking forward to seeing your choices.
Thanks so much for the kind words about my series (probably the only time I'll be mentioned with Ebert and Rosebaum so I will relish the occasion) as it has become one of my favorite things to do at Moon in the Gutter.
I've appreciated all your nice comments on my choices and screenshots and hope you keep enjoying it.
Thanks again and good luck with the new series. I know it will be terrific!

Joel Bocko said...

This is a good idea and one that occurred to me too recently. The focus on the new & unseen is one of the drawbacks of blogs - I realized this when I took a head count which revealed that the 60s, my favorite decade in film history, had zero movies represented, while the 50s and 70s had one each, and the 2000s had eight or nine (I've been blogging for about a month and a half). Something's not right here...

Good luck with the series & I look forward to it.

DavidEhrenstein said...

The film si Love would include

Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train

Out 1

8 1/2

La Commune (de Paris 1971)

Un Condamne a mort s'est echappe

The Red Shoes

Lola Montes

**** (Four Stars)



A Movie

Ed Howard said...

Interesting list, David. My own will certainly contain 8 1/2 as well, and different films by Rivette and Watkins. Your continual and insistent recommendations of Those Who Love Me... have led me to seek out the DVD, and I'll be watching that soon. I need to find some Bruce Conner too, he sounds fascinating but his films are not especially easy to see, unfortunately.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Alas, Bruce had YouTube take down a number of his films just before he died. A chapter of my book Film: The Front Line -- 1984 is devoted to Bruce, all of whose works, with the exceptions of Look For Mushrooms and The White Rose, consist of stock footage edited with an artfulness that's positively awe-inspiring. A Movie was made in 1958. It achieves a level of perfection few films ever get near.

I wrote a rather lenthy essay on Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train for "Film Quaterly" several years back. For me it's another perfect film in tha its characters and situations are more than merely familair to me, and they're the sort of characters and situations I never expected I'd ever see in a movie, esepcially in relation to same-sex love and the impact of HIV. Chereau's combination of expressive acting, restless hand-held camera, musical score choices (everything from Mahler to "Save the Last Dance For Me") and insistent editing are enthralling. They're connected to his work in theater (I was lucky enough to see his production of Genet's The Screens in Paris in 1983) and opera (his famous rendition of Wagner's Ring Cycle is available on DVD). He also acts (eg. The Last of the Mohicans, Adieu Bonaparte, Danton, Lucie Aubrac)

The film's title came from the ate Francois Reichenbach who on his deathbed (AIDS bien sur) informed his friend (and Chereau-co-scriper) Danielle Thomson that he wanted to be buried in the family plot in Limoges. Stunned at the realization that her friend's death was fast approaching Thompson tried to make sport of it, insisting that all of Reichenbach's friends were in Paris and Limoges was too far a tript to make.

To which he replied "Those who love me can take the train"

Anonymous said...

Hi David,

I'm curious about your Watkins choice. I love Watkins, and I haven't seen La Commune, so I'm interested to know if this is a film you regard even higher than Munch or Stringberg, or if it just had a personal resonance with you on a hard to explain level.

DavidEhrenstein said...

I do place it on a higher rung. It's very long and works at engaging the viewer on a number of different levels. It was shot in an abandoned factory that was the site of the very first film studio constructed by george Melies. Watkins and his cast turn the place into the streets and shops of Paris with minimal props and simple constumes. As usual there are films-within-the-film: Two reporters from "Commune TV" and Two announcers from "Television Versailles."

It's on DVD. Get it.