Project: They Shoot Pictures top 100
“THEY SHOOT PICTURES, DON’T THEY?” TOP 100 [link to the TSPDT website]
1. Citizen Kane (1941, Orson Welles)
2. Vertigo (1958, Alfred Hitchcock)
3. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, Stanley Kubrick)
4. The Rules of the Game (1939, Jean Renoir)
5. Tokyo Story (1953, Yasujiro Ozu) [cap]
6. 8 1/2 (1963, Federico Fellini) [cap]
7. The Godfather (1972, Francis Ford Coppola)
8. Sunrise (1927, F.W. Murnau)
9. The Searchers (1956, John Ford)
10. Seven Samurai (1954, Akira Kurosawa)
11. Apocalypse Now (1979, Francis Ford Coppola)
12. Singin’ in the Rain (1952, Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly)
13. Bicycle Thieves (1948, Vittorio De Sica)
14. Battleship Potemkin (1925, Sergei Eisenstein) [cap]
15. Taxi Driver (1976, Martin Scorsese)
16. Breathless (1960, Jean-Luc Godard)
17. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928, Carl Theodor Dreyer)
18. L’atalante (1934, Jean Vigo)
19. Persona (1966, Ingmar Bergman) [cap]
20. Rashomon (1950, Akira Kurosawa)
21. The Man with a Movie Camera (1929, Dziga Vertov) [cap]
22. The Godfather, Part II (1974, Francis Ford Coppola)
23. The 400 Blows (1959, Francois Truffaut)
24. Raging Bull (1980, Martin Scorsese)
25. Psycho (1960, Alfred Hitchcock)
26. City Lights (1931, Charles Chaplin)
27. Andrei Rublev (1966, Andrei Tarkovsky) [cap]
28. Some Like It Hot (1959, Billy Wilder)
29. La Dolce Vita (1960, Federico Fellini)
30. Mirror (1976, Andrei Tarkovsky) [cap]
31. Touch of Evil (1958, Orson Welles)
32. Au Hasard Balthazar (1966, Robert Bresson) [cap]
33. Ordet (1955, Carl Theodor Dreyer) [cap]
34. Sunset Blvd. (1950, Billy Wilder)
35. Casablanca (1942, Michael Curtiz)
36. Lawrence of Arabia (1962, David Lean)
37. L’Avventura (1960, Michelangelo Antonioni) [cap]
38. Blade Runner (1982, Ridley Scott)
39. Contempt (1963, Jean-Luc Godard) [cap]
40. The General (1926, Buster Keaton & Clyde Bruckman)
41. Rear Window (1954, Alfred Hitchcock)
42. Grand Illusion (1937, Jean Renoir)
43. Night of the Hunter (1955, Charles Laughton)
44. In the Mood for Love (2000, Wong Kar-Wai) [cap]
45. Modern Times (1936, Charles Chaplin)
46. Playtime (1967, Jacques Tati) [cap]
47. Ugetsu (1953, Kenji Mizoguchi) [cap]
48. Dr. Strangelove (1964, Stanley Kubrick)
49. The Third Man (1949, Carol Reed)
50. Chinatown (1974, Roman Polanski)
51. Fanny and Alexander (1982, Ingmar Bergman) [cap]
52. Stalker (1979, Andrei Tarkovsky) [cap]
53. Barry Lyndon (1975, Stanley Kubrick)
54. The Apartment (1960, Billy Wilder)
55. Pather Panchali (1955, Satyajit Ray) [cap]
56. M (1931, Fritz Lang)
57. Rio Bravo (1959, Howard Hawks) [cap]
58. Wild Strawberries (1957, Ingmar Bergman)
59. Metropolis (1927, Fritz Lang)
60. Mulholland Dr. (2001, David Lynch)
61. North by Northwest (1959, Alfred Hitchcock)
62. Children of Paradise (1945, Marcel Carne) [cap]
63. Pierrot le Fou (1965, Jean-Luc Godard) [cap]
64. Viridiana (1961, Luis Bunuel) [cap]
65. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968, Sergio Leone)
66. The Wild Bunch (1969, Sam Peckinpah)
67. La Strada (1954, Federico Fellini) [cap]
68. The Battle of Algiers (1965, Gillo Pontecorvo) [cap]
69. Shoah (1985, Claude Lanzmann) [cap]
70. Amarcord (1973, Federico Fellini) [cap]
71. The Gold Rush (1925, Charles Chaplin)
72. The Seventh Seal (1957, Ingmar Bergman) [cap]
73. Journey to Italy (1953, Roberto Rossellini) [cap]
74. The Leopard (1963, Luchino Visconti) [cap]
75. Late Spring (1949, Yasujiro Ozu) [cap]
76. Pulp Fiction (1994, Quentin Tarantino)
77. Goodfellas (1990, Martin Scorsese)
78. The Magnificent Ambersons (1942, Orson Welles) [cap]
79. A Clockwork Orange (1971, Stanley Kubrick)
80. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946, Frank Capra)
81. Pickpocket (1959, Robert Bresson) [cap]
82. Blue Velvet (1986, David Lynch) [cap]
83. The Conformist (1970, Bernardo Bertolucci) [cap]
84. Jules and Jim (1962, Francois Truffaut) [cap]
85. Nashville (1973, Robert Altman)
86. Close-Up (1990, Abbas Kiarostami) [cap]
87. Gertrud (1964, Carl Theodor Dreyer) [cap]
88. A Man Escaped (1956, Robert Bresson) [cap]
89. Annie Hall (1977, Woody Allen)
90. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962, John Ford) [cap]
91. Jaws (1975, Steven Spielberg)
92. Sansho the Bailiff (1954, Kenji Mizoguchi) [cap]
93. Greed (1924, Erich von Stroheim) [cap]
94. Last Year at Marienbad (1961, Alain Resnais) [cap]
95. Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975, Chantal Akerman) [cap]
96. The Shining (1980, Stanley Kubrick)
97. A Woman Under the Influence (1974, John Cassavetes) [cap]
98. Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972, Werner Herzog) [cap]
99. Blow-Up (1966, Michelangelo Antonioni) [cap]
100. Sans Soleil (1983, Chris Marker) [cap]
Although I toyed with the idea back when I was lightly using Tumblr during my early Oscars projects, for the first time in one of these initiatives I kept a journal with running thoughts in addition to my regular Letterboxd reviews, the reason being that I thought it would be interesting to try and critique the elements that lead to a film gaining sufficient status as among the absolute Greats to show up on the upper reaches of this list. Please note that my criticisms aren’t of the list itself. They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They? is a wonderful site and I appreciate all the work that goes into it. I started journaling a few weeks into the project and I’ve reproduced all of my entries below.
The project began January 6, 2019 with Blue Velvet and ended September 9th of the same year with Andrei Rublev. I watched and reviewed 24 films I had not previously seen and revisited eight that I had not seen in many years. I also happened to rewatch The 400 Blows and The General, both already reviewed here, during the course of these months.
NOTES ON AVAILABILITY
All 100 films are available to rent from the usual outlets with the exceptions of:
– Ordet, In the Mood for Love, La Strada, Gertrud and Sans Soleil, which stream on the Criterion Channel
– Shoah, in print physically from the Criterion Collection
– Nashville is available online for purchase only, but is also in print physically from the Criterion Collection
*** #1: prelude ***
They Shoot Pictures recently posted their latest revision of their aggregate 1000 Greatest Films list, which gathers data points from every imaginable critical survey, current and archival, and while I’m not yet ready to commit to the whole expanse of the list, I decided to fill in the gaps in the top 100 that I haven’t seen, or haven’t seen in 10+ years. My main reason for this is that I’m in the middle of a chronological jaunt through the major world classics of each decade and just finished the ’40s; that’s taking me about a year for each decade, and I’m enjoying it a lot, but I didn’t really want to wait that long to have an opinion on, like, The Conformist or Blue Velvet.
One fifth of the titles on this list are films I first saw very early on, before I finished high school, in a time before I’d really feel comfortable remembering myself as a cinephile, even though they also represent some of the building blocks to my becoming one; and in fact The Apartment is a borderline case, since I believe it’s the first time I watched a movie because a director I then deeply admired (Cameron Crowe) highly praised it. It’s a Wonderful Life and Casablanca both came to me in my childhood, early enough that I only hazily remember my original impressions of them, but they have hung over me as a near-constant presence ever since, as they do over American culture at large; Casablanca is as good an introduction to studio-picture and WWII iconography as any, and it continues to cause much swooning thanks to the sophisticatedly hopeless romanticism of its script and the divine lead performances by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. It’s a Wonderful Life, on the other hand, still stands as a bizarre selection to become an annual tradition for much of the country because it is an extremely dark, often even bitter film, as much a singular treatise on the aftermath of the war experience as it is the cuddly Christmas story that I thought I saw when I was younger; it’s really a film one must be an adult to understand, but it’s still quite a gift to all of us.
My two favorite films of all time, 2001 and Vertigo, were both introduced to me through cable television as a child, both around fourth grade, though I cannot tell you that I processed 2001 at all as a sensory experience. I watched it with my mom explaining the story (or rather, the plot of the novelization) to me and recounting her somewhat unpleasant experience seeing it theatrically on original release. (She recalls that the audience in Sanford, NC laughed when the ape discovered tools.) I don’t remember having much of an opinion of it apart from being slightly afraid of HAL, but it stuck in my mind as a fascinating enough artifact that I had no trouble understanding the numerous references to it in various media, and then found my memories of it being strikingly beautiful and vague validated when I finally saw it again, on a cropped VHS tape, in high school — at a time when that very poetic vagueness became a nearly automatic source of fascination. (Simultaneously, I found and devoured Jerome Agel’s remarkable book about the film and the popular response to it.) At the time, I was touched by the open-endedness of it; now I don’t find it particularly open-ended at all except in its extremely minimalist approach to narrative, which for me was completely right and proper and, in execution, achingly beautiful. The IMAX screening of it I saw in 2018 may well remain the apex of my moviegoing life.
Vertigo was a different matter; I was thoroughly involved in the story during an afternoon showing of the film, also sitting next to my mom, but I was prepared a bit for the twists and turns in the story because I had at one point been a fairly regular viewer of reruns of Alfred Hitchcock Presents on Nick at Nite; what shocked me when I saw the film again about five years later was how much more tortured and serious it was than it seemed to me as a kid, programmed to take the story strictly at face value. Over the years, Vertigo has never wavered from a status as my favorite film by my favorite director; I don’t find it violated by its status as a totem for Hitchcock. Instead, I find its fucked-up, unapologetic core of emotional torment absolutely phantasmagoric in its intensity, and believe it touches dark corners of the human psyche that few other works of art would dare approach — far from an apology for its lead character’s manipulations and excesses, it stands as an indictment of humanity itself, love itself, and it seems at times to nearly burst with longing. Its power, in my view, is nearly frightening. For me, it also only bears faint resemblances to the rest of Hithcock’s output, which nearly without exception I appreciate for totally different reasons than I love Vertigo; the sole exceptions, I suppose, are Rebecca and perhaps Marnie.
One of the decisive influences in my early life of film watching was my sister’s vast collection of videotapes, mostly recorded from TV broadcasts of various films; her tastes ran mostly toward sci-fi and action films, but there were scattered exceptions like Once Upon a Time in the West, which was the first western I deeply appreciated for its mordant humor and quiet-loud dynamics, though she helped me a lot with getting through the slow parts; and North by Northwest. I actually had become extremely (or rather, even more) interested in Alfred Hitchcock after attending the exhibition devoted to his work at Universal Studios in Florida, and came away intrigued by his large filmography and the stories of his methodology, one of the first times I took an extremely close interest in the technical and psychological aspects of film-watching (the only previous evidence that I would be obsessive about movies when I grew up was that I went through all of my parents’ VHS tapes watching the opening credits of each one to see how their title sequences were structured; this, incidentally, was another reason the Sergio Leone film resonated with me). With commercial interruptions and a cropped print, I don’t think I was as seduced by Northwest as I’d later become, but I was thrilled to actually see it and was richly entertained, as how could you not be? Later, however, North by Northwest would come to represent in my view the most delirious and infallible variety of entertainment — a mindless rollercoaster of excess and fun that isn’t genuinely mindless or excessive at all. During my plunderings, I also ran across Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and, to my surprise, quite detested it, finding its story boring and its characters empty and meaningless, despite my youth. I spent much of my early adulthood assuming I’d just been too young for it, only to find when I finally watched it again (in “final cut” form) in 2013 that I still hated it, and nearly for the same reasons — its totally superficial interpretation of “film noir” has only aesthetic appeal and is appallingly inert as a narrative. If it’s not the worst film out of these hundred, it’s very close.
The late ’90s and the Master’s 100th birthday brought a flood of Hitchcock retrospectives on various networks, which meant I finally got to see the two (at the time) most hotly discussed titles in his oeuvre. (Vertigo was still, at this stage less than two decades after it was completely out of circulation for years, more a cinephile’s treasure than a universally beloved classic; its ascendancy to infallibility since then has been as remarkable as that of Apocalypse Now.) I was still young enough that my dad really didn’t want me to watch Psycho, and also young enough to care what he thought and feel I had to hide it when I did anyway. But I was absolutely floored by it immediately, and by Rear Window; it might have been at this stage that Hitchcock’s films became not so much a subject of intrigue as of actual passion. Shortly thereafter I got Truffaut and Spoto’s books and was pretty well entrenched. Both films play extremely well across all manner of generational lines to this day; it is little wonder that they take permanent residence on lists like this.
And I think it’s around this point, 1998-99, that I become an avid and dedicated viewer of movies discovering my own taste instead of piggybacking on that of my parents and siblings. In the fall of ’99, my dad decided that he wasn’t paying enough money to watch television and installed “digital cable,” a then-novel new invention that gave us access to an unholy number of pay channels running uncut movies. Once I realized the scope of what was now available to me, I attempted to initiate a routine of watching a film every evening — I rarely stuck to it very strictly, with calls to my girlfriend and various other distractions still out there, but found it pleasantly easy to fall fully into the morass, and it was during this period and the time just before and afterward that I first saw an enormous number of eventual favorites, and approximately ten films on the TSPDT list.
Touch of Evil was probably my first film noir; initially seen in its restructured “director’s cut” version assembled with the help of Jonathan Rosenbaum, it confused me in its sheer delirium and I don’t think I fully grasped the plot for years, not until I’d seen it maybe half a dozen times, but from the first I was captivated by its beginning and end, and I remember thinking about it a lot after I saw it, and remembering it with more intense fondness than I felt for it just after it ended. (Curiously, it wasn’t my first time with a Welles picture; that was Macbeth, seen in class earlier the same school year.) Next and perhaps even formative for me was Dr. Strangelove, which I’d wanted to see since I was a little kid and which did the biggest number on my sense of humor since I first discovered Help! in the early ’90s. Seeing that and A Clockwork Orange, also long a subject of curiosity, and revisiting 2001 in close chronological proximity really made me something of an auteurist for the first time, an experience I think an overwhelming number of cinephiles have early on with Kubrick. Like Hitchcock, though, Kubrick would grow up along with me in a way that other early points of interest whose entire filmographies I sought out like Cameron Crowe and (cringe) Kevin Smith would not. Though I’m aware that Kubrick attracts a heavy bro contingent that doesn’t really care that much about movies, only about a very received kind of pseudo-badassery (and I hasten to note that I do not look nearly as fondly on Clockwork today as I do the rest of his major works, except as a piece of graphic art), I find that to this day I am still discovering new elements, new nooks and crannies, in his relatively tiny body of work.
Another filmmaker who probably belongs in the category of “auteurs I once deeply treasured that have not grown along with me,” painfully, is Woody Allen, although I continue to admire and sometimes adore his films in an aethstic sense and occasionally in a narrative one — and I am fascinated enough with his career, and influenced and possessed enough by his films, that I am unlikely ever not to be some variety of a fan — but these days, it seems clearer and clearer to me that he isn’t a particularly mature artist, and that what I once took as Austen-like satire of the wealthy classes (in New York especially) was more straightfaced and tone-deaf than I wanted to believe in my teens and twenties, when I all but unreservedly worshiped the man. I think it’s also relevant that Allen’s writing, as would later be the case with the Coen brothers, tends to really congratulate his audience for “getting it,” and not being like those Other People; I always knew this, but once upon a time I felt flattered and honored to be one of the elite smart ones who really understood, failing to realize the emptiness of this one-sided relationship. It’s easy to get taken in by all of the pseudo-intellectualism, and also easy to miss the virtues of his work — including his onetime deftness with comedy — if you get seduced by the big charade, as was once a rite of passage for first-year college students, or genuine wannabes like myself.
Completely discarding the extremely thorny matter of his private life, I remain deeply conflicted about Allen, thanks largely to the fact that nearly every time I do revisit one of his better films, I find myself blown away once again by how a guy who seems like such an utter dunce can be blessed, at least occasionally, with such infallible artistic instincts. Annie Hall is a masterpiece, a romantic comedy for cynics that isn’t really cynical, a love story that’s really about longing for impossible things, a powerful and direct act of communication and common ground from a ridiculously privileged soul with whom we have virtually nothing in common, and a genuinely innovative, creatively restless and even exciting film, the sort of movie that genuinely feels like a reinvention of the form. (Manhattan, not on the list, is an even more extraordinary piece of work — and a far more socially problematic one.) It also reminds you of a key point about Allen’s recent history: that is, the reason people have a harder time reconciling themselves with his films today than they do with Roman Polanski’s, or for that matter with something like Michael Jackson’s music, is that Allen was so dedicated to making us feel as if he was talking straightforwardly to us from the heart in films like Annie Hall. It was so much of the appeal of a film like this that he seemed to break the fourth wall and strip away every bit of narrative distance in order to relate to us on a personal level. I think that was a facade, a kind of act of manipulation, and that the real Allen is represented by the much more sheltered and inert characterizations seen in work like Interiors or Husbands and Wives, or by the outright criminal sociopaths of Match Point and Crimes and Misdemeanors; there’s a telling lack of detail in the interpretations of working class characters, for instance, in The Purple Rose of Cairo. As Molly Haskell has argued, this does not render the films invalid as works to be appreciated and examined, it only changes their context. But I think it’s worth noting that hardly any other film on this list I consider great would require the kind of mental gymnastics I find myself almost involuntarily doing to defend my love of Annie Hall, including several by directors who as people probably aren’t much more upstanding than Allen. This is the price he pays for associating himself and his own persona so completely with his work, while also remaining almost psychotically guarded; I’m sure he would readily agree with me that you learn far more about Bergman from a Bergman film, or Dreyer from a Dreyer film, than you do about Allen from a film in which he literally stars as a version of himself.
A rite of passage in which I did not participate was “the Tarantino phase.” I despised Pulp Fiction, which I was quite eager to see given the fanfare around it, from the very first time I sat through it. I’m a little softer on the man now and I even like a couple of his films (Jackie Brown and Inglourious Basterds) but his sensibility is pretty far from mine overall, and Pulp Fiction to me as a kid constituted every tryhard guidance counselor trying to “relate” to me with buzzwords and appropriation of empty style, and as an adult still carries that same sense of desperation, and is painfully over-written and unfunny to boot. It’s a bunch of kids play-acting, basically, and I’m quite befuddled by its cultural cachet; and to be honest, I probably dislike it even more than Blade Runner… although as with that film I do get one bit of aesthetic pleasure: in this case, it is ingeniously structured and edited.
It was also around this time that I finally saw Jaws, a legendary title whose sequels I’d oddly been exposed to before seeing the film itself; I remember attempting it at some point as a child and either being circumvented by my mom for fear it would scare me or by myself out of boredom by all the time spent with characters standing around talking. It remains bizarre that Jaws is the film credited with inaugurating “blockbuster” Hollywood; for one thing, Airport and The Towering Inferno both predate it and the gulf between their quality and success is much wider. Plus Jaws is clearly so much more intelligent and engrossing than any of its progeny, as I found when I did finally see it and was thoroughly riveted. To this day, it’s a film that I almost involuntarily must see through to the end if I encounter it while flipping through channels in a hotel or something. Too artful and subtle to be worth blaming for the sorry state of mainstream cinema in the last few decades, it is ridiculously compelling through and through, and a genuinely great piece of popular entertainment… whose popularity and cultural largeness is almost wholly irrelevant to the actual experience of watching it.
I’m not sure when I realized I wasn’t a fan of “genre” films, something that leaves me alienated with a lot of the sort of people I enjoy hanging out with. I think probably in the summer of 1997, hanging out with my sister’s tapes, I started to get the uncomfortable feeling that my received wisdom about science fiction (of which everyone else in my family was/is extremely fond) wasn’t holding together, though it was years before I said it out loud, and gleaned quickly from trying to read Tolkien that I had no interest in even the best, most thoroughly well-conceived fantasy. Horror, I believe, may have taken a bit longer because it wasn’t something that was present at all in my household growing up. “Scary movies” were basically taboo as far as Dad was concerned because he was too nervous often even for just straight thrillers. Maybe this lack of identification is why, when I did begin to watch occasional horror films, I found the bulk of them almost painfully stupid and ineffective. The key exceptions, like George Romero’s earlier films, aren’t on this list, but one important one is — however, The Shining always struck me less as scary than, as Pauline Kael said, a florescent-lit, mystery-free curiosity that felt like an extremely strange dream more than it felt like an outright bad one. I didn’t pick up on its covert commentary about abuse for a number of years, probably because I was rather sheltered. But the first time I watched The Shining with my mother, who was totally inexperienced with this kind of movie, for whatever reason it suddenly seemed terrifying. I think the best thing you can say about it, besides that it’s a heap of melodramatic and visually audacious fun, is that no other film in the history of cinema, at least none that I’m aware of, looks anything like it. (Last Year at Marienbad is in the neighborhood, I reckon.)
Up to this point, nearly every movie I’d ever seen was American or British. I had no prejudice against subtitles or foreign cinema at all; on the contrary, once I had Leonard Maltin’s book and was reading about movies on a semi-regular basis, I had immense curiosity about world cinema, but there was no convenient access to it in my suburban universe (no driver’s license yet, either) back then the way there is now. Perhaps because of their influence on Hitchcock, I was most intrigued by the UFA-era German pictures, and the two I managed to see on cable, both of which are here, didn’t disappoint. Metropolis is an ideal first experience with silent cinema (though it technically wasn’t mine; I had seen some of the comedy shorts and with things like The Mark of Zorro from years earlier) for its bold iconography and vivid, simple storytelling (some would say sophomoric, but I disagree, simply because the film’s execution is too perverse for that). I was riveted by its otherworldly sets and special effects, unlike anything I’d seen, and by the strange beauty of its mystical perception of the future, which felt huge even on a tiny screen. Even before Metropolis I saw M, which had always intrigued me; not a horror movie at all, but this was something that did terrify me — the way that its dramatic story of a child murderer wandering the streets of Weimar Berlin was a transmission from such a different world but still, in so many ways, felt new and untouched. I was also deeply moved by Lang’s treatment of the killer, played by Peter Lorre, for the way in which he fully condemned his crimes without treating him as an inhuman monster — that felt bold, and progressive, to me; and as uncomfortable as it inevitably will make many viewers, it still is, along with its emphatic messaging against capital punishment.
One of the major cinematic influences on my life during this period was my high school French teacher, who as part of our education showed us a number of films that positively enchanted me. She introduced us to Claude Berri, Jean Cocteau, and most significantly for our purposes, to Francois Truffaut. I knew who Truffaut was through Close Encounters, Fahrenheit 451 and his obvious connection to Alfred Hitchcock, which intrigued me since my impression was that he was so different a director to my all-time hero. She showed us The 400 Blows, Truffaut’s debut and an autobiographical narrative of his years as an abused young delinquent, a perfect film for adolescence, a perfect film for a dark classroom that feels absolutely end-of-the-world hopeless at that age, and I felt that Truffaut was talking directly to me about the pain of being a teenager (Jean-Pierre Leaud also closely resembled my by-then-estranged onetime best friend, and I was also more affected by his scenes of cavorting around with his pal Patrick Auffay than I liked to admit) — and in my twenties I would end up laughing at this viewpoint despite my gratitude for the experience, because what I had gone through then seemed so trivial compared to Antoine Doinel’s plight. Now that I have cycled back around to believing that I really was dangerously depressed and had no outlet to deal with it during those years, I believe stuff like seeing The 400 Blows at 15 or 16 made a huge difference in my life. (I also thought Paris looked like heaven, even in its seamier elements, and wished I could hope to see it. It never ever occurred to me that getting on a plane and going somewhere was something I might actually do someday.) And as far as films that grow up with you — well, there’s no moment in life on this planet when a film like this doesn’t fit.
I remember no learning curve with title cards or subtitles (or, for that matter, with black and white, which was still all over the place on TV reruns and such when I was young and had never disturbed me) and I think I am sometimes unfairly critical of others who do struggle with it because I didn’t find it a handicap, nor did my classmates at school who were in foreign language courses or other classes in which we watched movies. I confess I still do not understand why every discussion of older films must travel through this route, as it is the most boring subject matter imaginable, and should be the same for anyone with a more than casual interest in film. I suppose it can be an adjustment to fall in with an unfamiliar vernacular, but that should be an encouragement to persist, not to close oneself off from the immense pleasures of these often still luminous artifacts. Plus silent films are their own art form, at times superior to sound cinema, and come on — if you don’t think black & white movies generally look better than the typically ugly, pallid representation of color in most mainstream films, you’re probably a cop.
Moving forward… I became a major fan of Cameron Crowe for a while after Almost Famous (seeing his two incredibly lame Tom Cruise movies essentially talked me out of viewing him as an auteur, and I never caught up with anything he made after Vanilla Sky) and, somewhat ashamedly, first heard of Billy Wilder as a result of Crowe’s book of interviews with him, although the titles of many of his movies were familiar. The Apartment was Crowe’s all-time favorite film — he had the nerve to blame it for Jerry Maguire — and being faithful to his interests and addicted to the way that his movies and those of his mentor James L. Brooks and semi-protege Wes Anderson made me feel, I acquired a pan & scan VHS copy of The Apartment and fell hard and fast in love, and I think that was one of the turning points for me. At the time, I still had ambitions of going to film school; simply writing about films hadn’t occurred to me, but for now, Wilder’s film was a huge stepping stone in my exploration further and further into the past, and further and further into the idea of movies not just as vessels of fascination but as something that could have as emotional an effect on me as a piece of music.
All of the above, with the exception of Blade Runner and Pulp Fiction, basically formed my original tastes and have, save perhaps A Clockwork Orange, remained deeply important to me with the passing of years. Once I was an actual adult with the attendant freedoms thereby implied, I had my own cable subscription, and it all neatly coincided with the peak of the DVD era when virtually every major film gradually became available in what was then unbeatable quality, invariably in its correct aspect ratio and well-presented, often with high-quality supplemental material. I’m appreciative of the way streaming has made all this physically simpler yet, but I think the years when studios fell over themselves to issue most of their back catalogs on DVD will remain the most exciting time ever to be a budding cinephile, and it’s nice that libraries are now able to keep that moment alive.
The other great turning point in my cinematic life related to Hitchcock again, and to a specific film, The 39 Steps, but I’ve told that story before and that particular film isn’t here, so moving forward…
My teenage years descended into chaos and I didn’t make it to college, but after settling in to something like an adult life in Wilmington, my independence itself fulfilling a modest dream, my then-girlfriend and I eventually sprang for cable, and Turner Classic Movies was my habitat for the next couple of years. I attempted to move back toward the old regime of seeing a film every night, and once again the attempt at this kind of a structure — which was totally beholden to the whims of programmers, and I quickly recognized that only TCM was regularly showing much that I cared about — led me to a lot of films that would become favorites, and to my filling in a lot of gaps among the world cinema classics. I could bore you for hours with specific memories I have from this period related to the movies on this list: discovering Chaplin’s City Lights after a dreadful, demoralizing day at work and being blindsided by how ageless his comedy was, then by how unforced and heartfelt the pathos in the same film felt. (I’d seen clips and knew the Tramp’s iconography well but that was it.) That picture and Dreyer’s stunning, almost frighteningly vivid and alien The Passion of Joan of Arc were the transcendent titles that made me a lifelong aficionado of silent cinema, even though most silent classics can’t quite stand up to those two, which is why they are masterpieces. The sheer forcefulness of emotion in Dreyer’s work was something that struck me almost to the point of speechlessness; I knew it was remarkable, but hardly knew what to do with it, and today I think Dreyer is the filmmaker whose work most consistently disrupts and confronts me on an guttural level. Even going back to a relatively innocuous title like the silent comedy The Parson’s Widow and all the way up to another passionately spiritual film, Day of Wrath, the beauty and generosity of his work throttles me.
In December 2004 I finally saw the movie of all movies, Citizen Kane, and have spent my life since then quietly stewing at everyone who claims it’s overrated; looking at the film, it’s difficult to imagine what a person who dislikes it wants from entertainment or art. Even though I knew many of the iconic scenes via parodies from The Simpsons, everything in this then-63 year old film felt impeccably fresh and new and full of imagination to me — a savvy, sharp examination of society, media and complex humanity. Plus it’s just so much fun; I was over the moon about it, and felt that every bit of the exorbitant praise it had been given since before I’d been born was fully deserved. I was retroactively annoyed with a family discussion I remembered from when it topped the 1997 AFI list, when it had been alleged by a sibling and parent, who’d dutifully rented it during that news cycle, that its innovations were no longer impressive in light of, like, Star Wars… which, well, whatever, I guess that was just a preview of how impossible it would eventually become for me to discuss pop culture in mixed company! As for the notion that the film is all aesthetics, propagated so frequently by the likes of Roger Ebert, I can’t disagree more; if you can level that accusation at Kane, a film I think of immense emotional power, you can just as easily lay it at The Third Man, whose mise en scene courtesy of Carol Reed (despite rumors, Welles had nothing to do with except in front of the camera) is equally electrifying. But I find both films to be cathartic, moving experiences.
I dove further into auteurism: Billy Wilder, represented here by the ghostly and slyly cynical Sunset Blvd., a film I adored and still adore despite its nastiness, which also was something of a revelation in light of the way that we think of classic Hollywood’s attitude toward itself; Roman Polanski, whose Chinatown was one of the few New Hollywood touchstones whose power was immediately apparent to me and still stands as an uncommonly well-judged creation, updating the film noir aesthetic with a seamier, more direct narrative that is actually devastating; Ingmar Bergman, who I instantly connected with on discovery of his heart-on-sleeve romanticism and sense of beauty and wonder despite his often bleak worldview. Even the legendarily drab The Seventh Seal played less to me as a meditation on misery and death than as a celebration of life. Confronted with all of my favorite Bergman films, I always found myself looking out my window afterward with longing and utter appreciation.
And lastly, I finally filled in my most glaring Kubrick gap (only Killer’s Kiss and Fear and Desire among his features, neither of them significant, would remain unseen for a while longer) with Barry Lyndon, which I saw on the same day I had an important job interview after trying to catch it on TV for months. I made a huge deal of it, setting my VCR timer (was it really so long ago?) and sitting down with it in the middle of the night, lights down and everything, and making sure to dedicate myself wholly to the experience. I was hypnotized for the duration. It’s another film that attracts criticism I don’t understand — too long and boring, too stuffy and formal, too flat and unemotional, all beautiful pictures and no substance — as indicated by how many times I find myself overcome with each viewing, and by how sharp its dry wit is; I consider it the paramount example of sweeping, powerful, intelligent storytelling on film — and of course, yes, it looks absolutely heavenly. It was the first time in years that I wanted to immediately watch a film again after it was over. For a while afterward I named it as my favorite Kubrick or even, if memory serves, my favorite film. It’s certainly never far from either distinction, and frankly I don’t think I’ve discovered anything since then that shook me quite as much, though a number of pictures have come close.
Something I notice is that, among the films out of these hundred that I saw before 2004, only a couple stand out as movies I actively disliked, then or now; that starts to change drastically once I’m in my twenties, and I guess once I feel like I have a right to some sort of prejudice. I wonder if it’s a character flaw within me that I stopped being able to embrace almost everything, and I certainly can say that I watched the movies that didn’t work for me with a completely open mind — not only that but with an active desire to enjoy and appreciate them. With all that in mind, I finally got around to several movies that were a “no” for me and, as of my last revisit, remain a “no” if sometimes a softer one. So no, as much as it damns me to some sort of cinephile prison to say it, I don’t like Martin Scorsese. I was shocked, stunned even, to find myself curiously unmoved by both Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, which I saw in rapid succession in the mid-2000s; I thought the former was coated with silly half-assed ironies and desperate, empty machismo; even though, yeah, it’s critical of Travis Bickle as a character and the seamy world he inhabits, I wasn’t taken at all with the notion of spending a couple of hours steeped in that world to be instructed about how awful it was. And at least that film had Bernard Herrmann’s ingeniously eerie score; all Raging Bull has going for it for me is that it’s technically impressive, studying a specific character whose arc of abuse and despair I simply don’t find the least bit interesting — and I find both films totally hate-filled and deeply unpleasant, and dealing with their shouting showboatiness is the opposite of a good time to me. I disliked both all the more when I rewatched them as a slightly more seasoned moviegoer; I completely understand what Scorsese is doing, I just find it obvious and dull in theory, protracted and excruciating in practice, and that unfortunately has held for all of his culturally important films I’ve seen (none more than Casino, which is outright contemptible) save Goodfellas to an extent.
I was actually quite tortured by how I responded to my first two Scorsese pictures. (First three, really; I think I’ve seen all of The Last Waltz in bits and pieces over the years, mostly around this time, but consistently became so exasperated with it that I shut it off.) For that matter, I had a similar experience with Fellini: I loved the first film of his I watched, I Vitelloni, and experienced diminishing returns with each one thereafter, including this list’s La Strada. I just thought I was missing something and worried quite a bit about it rather than concluding that I just didn’t like them and had reasonably good reasons for same. But the film that broke this tendency, the one that finally caused me to question the idea that the wisdom of film historians I still maintain are smarter than me was going to hold fast and true, to the letter, all across the annals of cinematic history, was Blow-Up.
Michelangelo Antonioni’s arthouse classic, one of the defining films of the European cinema of the 1960s, so infuriated me that I pretty much changed my outlook on “received wisdom”; today I think received wisdom — at least from those who are passionate and knowledgeable — has its place, but I think this was a crucial life lesson for me. At any rate, apart from the fascinating and exuberant scenes of the Yardbirds playing, I think Blow-Up confirmed every fear I’d ever had about the potential emptiness of the once-edgy art film as a form; what made it more forcefully irksome for me was that it briefly masqueraded as a thriller, during the intriguing scenes wherein David Hemmings, as the well-to-do promiscuous Mod photographer, stumbles upon a murder mystery and a conspiracy in the background of his unrelated photo session. Antonioni’s entire point is that the listless ennui of Hemmings’ character’s lifestyle leads naturally into a scenario in which this brief snap out of his boredom is abruptly met with distraction and apathy and ends up being dropped altogether by character and film both, which leads us into a finale of tennis-playing mimes and an awkward fade into nothingness that at the time left me grouchy for days. It seemed like the sort of stuff my friends taking creative writing courses in college would come up with; at this writing, I have not yet revisited the film but I will be interested to see if an increased knowledge of the period and its concerns, as well as knowledge of much more irritating (and iconic!) youth culture films of the ’60s like Easy Rider, will affect my perception.
After Blow-Up, I started leaning a bit too far in the other direction, making much of how cool and individual I was for seeking out these important cinematic classics and not liking them, though still being equally open about those I did love. So I made no bones about my disdain for Jules and Jim, despite being a massive fan of its director, or of The Godfather, which I did try very hard to appreciate — but pretending its lazily macho, crime-fetishizing narrative was transcendent wasn’t something I could pull off without gritting my teeth, and when I saw it again some years later I still found it soapy and meaninglessly violent, its key virtue being Gordon Willis’ breathtaking cinematography. (Marlon Brando’s marble-mouthed performance does less than nothing for me.) Obviously it has merit, and it should be seen for continued cultural relevance alone, but furthering or validating its place in the canon is beyond me.
One of the great white hopes of revisiting the most widely beloved and praised of canon films is that eventually, it will all make sense to you. That very notion was one of the original centerpieces of this blog; in my experience, the difference between my early adult self and myself now is that I’m slightly better at expressing why I don’t care for some of these movies, not so much that my views of said movies has changed greatly. There are exceptions, however, among these hundred films; of those that predate this project, my greatest turnaround is probably on the two signature 1930s films of cinema’s great humanist Jean Renoir. With the exception of The River, which I always loved, it seems that I wasn’t quite ready for Renoir’s sensibility as a younger man — both The Rules of the Game and Grand Illusion, the latter especially, sang out to me much more when I saw them in my thirties than they did on my obligatory (but excited) first encounters with them. Perhaps controversially, I do not consider either one a masterpiece, but like many of Renoir’s other beautiful films of the period, tough as often as warm, they seem to come from a purer, more principled cinematic world, one more curious and empathetic toward people, good bad and ugly, than the moralist tide of classic Hollywood and all that persisted in its wake. (In the case of Rules, I used to have a problem whereby I seized upon certain elements of a film I liked — in this case, the very first moments — and was dejected when the rest of the picture didn’t have the same flavor. Kane spoiled me, probably. I had this same issue with Night of the Hunter and its clash of unnerving terror with schlock.)
The happiest instances I can name are probably Seven Samurai — a film I admired but thought was much too long and repetitive until I saw it projected on a modest private setup in my future wife’s apartment, then was totally wrapped up and enraptured in it; it’s an extraordinarily universal piece of communication, so little wonder it enjoys cachet with the heaviest of scholars as well as the most lightweight of film bros — and The Magnificent Ambersons, which I went out of my way to tape (inconveniencing and pissing off an ex in the process!) off TCM when it aired a couple of months after I first saw Citizen Kane and was in the heat of Welles-mania. At the time, it seemed too compromised to me, its early moments of wild, ambitious epic storytelling falling apart as things wore on, but when I revisited in the last few years I discovered that I probably just wasn’t mature enough to pick up on the film’s soulful despair. Finally, maybe this doesn’t count, but in the midst of my binging every Billy Wilder movie I could manage to sync up with on cable, I of course at last saw Some Like It Hot, and I actually really loved it, but my friends, you have not seen the movie until you see it while ridiculously high on edibles, at which point the entire thing becomes debilitatingly funny.
It was probably inevitable that I’d eventually get sick of waiting around for TCM’s schedule to align with my own; I waited about a year and a half to try and catch my #1 most wanted-on-the-watchlist title, this list’s own Bicycle Thieves, to no avail, so in early 2006 I bit the bullet and signed up for Netflix, which by then had been offering their DVD by mail service for about seven years. And Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves — a few months ahead of its canonical rebranding under that title after a half-century of The Bicycle Thief — was indeed the first film I received in the mail from them. I had a friend at the time, a film major with a real sense of scope and history whose tastes diverged sharply with mine, who had told me that this was a perfect film, a monument of unfiltered heartbreak. Of course I also knew its reputation. But I felt let down when I actually saw it, finding it actually so broad and direct in its tragic messaging that it came across as obvious and maudlin. My friend was bitterly disappointed with this response, and implied that my reception of it (as well as, incidentally, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) painted me as a heartless intellectual who only craved Hitchcockian thrillers and visual pyrotechnics and couldn’t appreciate simple human connections. In fact it spelled the beginning of the end of our relationship; perhaps I should not have offered my unfiltered response. (I’d previously made this error with someone else with Harold and Maude, and I know how miffed I get with people over 2001 and such, so maybe the message is: don’t fuck with your friend’s favorite movie. At least not in front of them.)
But I was also kind of hurt by the implication, and assumed that I was missing something. (My second viewing of the picture a decade later didn’t help, though I’d learned by then of a more generalized distaste for Italian neorealism, with some exceptions; it’s more of a resistance to the fusion of style with social messaging than it is with any particular deficiency of the films themselves.) I couldn’t possibly be a smug disregarder of regular people’s nuanced problems, right? I felt I could point to a million contradictions, but then remembered how many of my favorites (like Kane, for instance) were routinely accused of being inhumane exercises in pure technique. It didn’t help when one of my half-dozen subsequent Netflix titles was Jean-Luc Godard’s pioneering Nouvelle Vague world-alterer and scrappy crime narrative burlesque Breathless, a movie my friend and I did agree on but one that could scarcely help my case in this regard when I fell absolutely in love with it since it’s so commonly viewed as an act of criticism rather than a piece of storytelling craft. And finally sitting down with Chaplin’s Modern Times, I loved a lot of it but found parts of it unbearable in what I then felt to be easy sentimentality. (I no longer feel as strongly about this.) Then there was Lawrence of Arabia, one of those films it seems everyone loves — but that I could find no feasible way into except as scenery porn. I still can’t, though I wonder if seeing it theatrically someday might change my opinion at least a little. Was I really just a hardline unreachable cynic, already set in my ways? Was my ambition of delving into the canon going to prove totally pointless?
While Fanny and Alexander would prove another point of contention (and one that I have somewhat warmed to since my first encounter), Bergman provided a less discouraging answer with Wild Strawberries, a film about a professor gaining a new lease on life on the eve of its end that I happened to see at the nadir of a yearslong depression, coinciding nearly exactly with a career change that wasn’t making me as happy as it should have, and that managed to lift me out of my despair at least momentarily. Bergman always does, which is interesting since his films are so overcome with death and sadness; there is comfort, though, in their thirst for life, and in the feeling that a great artist like Bergman hurt and bled just like you, the viewer. My reaction to Singin’ in the Rain was similar, and in the most unlikely manner, on top of the fact that it was unexpectedly so modern and uproarious in its comedy. (Its sense of humor boasts Simpsons-level degrees of irony and pop satire.) It was long one of the missing pieces in my knowledge of the classics that I dreaded most, thinking then that it wasn’t possible a Hollywood musical could ever work magic on me (something else I’ve completely turned around on), but as a result of my almost comically extreme loneliness at the time I saw it, the warmth of the three-way friendship at the center of the film throttled me in its sincerity — I wanted so badly to have that kind of connection, and was so grateful to at least witness it even in so artificial a setting as a Hollywood movie. So it wasn’t that I was unreachable, I was just only reachable by films that deigned to try and speak to me from the heart, sometimes almost incidentally, rather than out of concern.
Once I had access to basically every significant DVD release via Netflix, I set about seeing everything on the American Film Institute’s then-canonized top 100 that I hadn’t already; there are a lot of films on that list that I admire but that don’t mean a whole lot to me personally — Goodfellas, The Wild Bunch and the second Godfather are all impressive but I just don’t like those kinds of stories or characters much — plus one that I had to see twice to truly comprehend (The Searchers, an introspective and beautiful but disturbing summation of midcentury American culture) and a couple that I have seen twice and still don’t feel totally confident about: Apocalypse Now and Nashville always seem deeply flawed to me when they’re playing in front of me, but in retrospect I can’t seem to get them off my mind. Both are on a lengthy list of necessary future revisits. Maybe not surprisingly, it was Chaplin’s The Gold Rush that I had the easiest time with, both because I’m simple-minded and because Chaplin’s methodology of communication with the largest possible audience is so ageless and universal.
It was also thanks to Netflix that I started to earn some sort of rudimentary knowledge of varying national cinemas. I responded quickly to Soviet propaganda via Battleship Potemkin thanks to its sheer visual fieriness; it has not been diluted in its effectiveness by its generations of presence as a film school staple. Tarkovsky’s Stalker was a less visceral experience, one I still don’t rate highly because of what I view as its endlessly meandering philosophical mumbo jumbo (not a popular opinion, to say the least!) but a film that was so incredibly striking and memorable in aesthetic terms that it didn’t entirely leave my mind for years despite my not liking it much. I associate that film, Herzog’s eerie German touchstone Aguirre, the Wrath of God and Klimov’s Come and See (not on this list) with a certain exceptionally unmoored and uncertain time in my life. I wish I liked them more as films, but their more general mood certainly haunted me and continues to do so. It certainly put the relatively lackluster Hollywood pictures I was slogging through at the same time into perspective. (One of the few highlights of that excursion, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, is here — but I like it less than most people, and indeed less than most John Ford films!)
I took somewhat longer to comprehend Japan’s cinematic legacy, not least because I began the journey with Kurosawa, who ended up being a director I loved but one whose work I am less keen on than I am on that of the other masters Mizoguchi and Ozu, whose smaller-scale and more emotionally raw stories would be more to my taste. That said, formally I couldn’t find fault with the immortal, culture-changing Rashomon and found it gorgeous and exciting — though the Kurosawa films I’d later count among my favorites would be those that were not period pieces. Another country with a sizable presence both on this list and on my investigations of that time was Italy, and I’m afraid that — aside from the works of Roberto Rossellini — I have still not found a director from that country to whom I’ve fully warmed. Fellini’s La Dolce Vita left me totally cold (but will be reevaluated here), I had issues with La Strada as mentioned, and 8 1/2 seemed both engagingly otherworldly and impenetrable in its self-indulgence. One last world cinema classic I like less than I should, but I have hopes it will change: The Battle of Algiers — which is extremely impressive in a technical and ideological sense but which I find too far afield of a comprehensible approach to humanity, though why the same exact thing doesn’t bug me in Eisenstein’s pictures is a matter I’ve yet to unpack.
Over the next several years, the films of the 1920s and ’30s would become my most consistent area of interest and passion. I suspect one of the events that spurred this was my first viewing of Sunrise, which gradually became my favorite of all silent movies — its heartfelt and imaginatively presented portrayal of a marriage that was fractured then rebuilt caught me at precisely the right time in the same way that Singin’ in the Rain had, and I’ve been grateful ever since for the way it stirred me and validated my own feelings about love. The General was a delight of a different kind, my formal introduction to Buster Keaton, who as a performer I’d probably rate even above Chaplin even if his features aren’t quite as consistent, and even just given the scattered silents among these hundred films, it becomes difficult to argue with the concept that the era before sound was the most exciting for film as a singular, fully developed art form that has no analogue anywhere else — not in literature, in theater, in music.
At this point, there’s a lapse of several years before my encountering of the last third of these 100 films. For the first few years I had this blog my focus was writing out my impressions of movies I already knew fairly well, something I sort of regret now, and I self-corrected by switching over to a different format — shorter reviews, stronger focus on exploration — a few years in. And for whatever reason, once I picked back up with the decade-by-decade canon project, with the Sight & Sound top ten lists — I found myself making discoveries that I responded to immediately, nearly without fail. Probably this has something to do with my being much more experienced and mature by the time I turned 30, and therefore more equipped to handle what these hoary old art films were bound to throw at me. Plus, with the Sight & Sound list in particular but also the silent, ’30s and ’40s canons, these are heavy hitters, movies that haven’t so much stood the test of time as defined, stretched and commanded the progression of film history. It was scarcely surprising that I would love the haunting chamber piece Persona given how I already felt about Bergman, or The Man with a Movie Camera considering my affection for untethered avant garde shorts of the same period. But it’s intriguing to me that this block of films was, in sum total, not at all hit-and-miss for me; the only ones I didn’t fall pretty hard for were L’Avventura and Children of Paradise, and I still admired both. Greed, Tokyo Story, In the Mood for Love, Ugetsu, Pather Panchali, Late Spring, and the enchanting L’Atalante, which nearly instantly became an all-time favorite — these could just as easily have been building blocks of my love for cinema as any of the major pictures noted above, and they come from a much more diverse and challenging range of nations, periods and filmmakers.
And when discovering movies like this, my prevailing emotion is always almost sheer joy at how fucking much movies can show us, lives they can lead us to, images they can bring us, what they can teach us about everything: art, the world, everyday life, storytelling. Whatever you think of lists or “critical consensus,” how could I not want to ensure that I wasn’t missing any great experience heretofore unknown to me? It was in this spirit that I began finally seeing the last 24 movies on this list that I still had yet to run across, and revisiting those about which my opinions had been formed in my early to mid-twenties and never revised.
*** #2 ***
In contrast to my optimism at the end of the introduction, what I’m finding so far is that the movies that drifted to the top of this list that aren’t already well-loved favorites often tend to have a particular sensibility that I don’t particularly gel with — that goes for those I saw long ago and am revisiting, and for those I’m seeing for the first time. I’m almost wondering now if I am experiencing some sort of an unconscious bias against arthouse or world cinema. Conversely, though, is it possible that nearly two decades of being aware of these movies without seeing them has managed to catch up with me — to give me expectations that would be impossible to meet?
So far I have seen the following as part of this project:
– Blue Velvet
– Sans Soleil
– Rio Bravo
I feel like a philistine when I tell you that Rio Bravo is the only one I felt strongly positive about, and even with that in mind I doubt I would ever think of it as one of the hundred best films ever made. In the other three cases, I don’t think I lack understanding of what the movies are doing or driving at, but none of the three totally work for me; I enjoyed Blue Velvet and admired Viridiana but had huge reservations about both of them, and in both situations I’m sure they are things that were 100% intended by their directors, with whom I’m quite broadly familiar, which is where I hit a wall: basically it’s where I come to the end of what I can really say as a lover of film or as a critic (if I am one), because finally it comes down to highly personal and often inexplicable reasons for liking or not liking what a director is doing. Sans Soleil — a “filmed essay” about… stuff… by Chris Marker — is just a style of cinematic communication that I find boring and pretentious; I know people who find life-changing value in it, but I feel much more clueless about that response than I do about anyone loving the Lynch or Bunuel films.
… and I’ve revisited these that I had seen once, long ago:
– Aguirre, the Wrath of God
– La Strada
These are very “film 101” titles; they tend to be movies that a dedicated student of film sees relatively early in their exploration, and in my case that was true of two of them, but I had polar-opposite responses to them at the time. I was all too ready to accept the things I didn’t like about La Strada — a mournful, morbid document of a pure-hearted woman having endless violence visited upon her by the burly dipshit in her life — as being evidence that I was the problem; I was honest about my lack of enthusiasm, but was quite ready to blame myself rather than the film. Toward Blowup I was outwardly hostile, and refused to consider any possible depth within the symbolism and messaging; I strongly suspect this is because I find the story itself rather clumsy now as then, and moreover because Antonioni is toying with a series of tropes — those of the classical thriller film — that are near and dear to my heart and in fact prompted my deeper interest in film in the first place.
In 2019, my positions have reversed. I’m much more accepting now of what Blowup is attempting to say, though I maintain it lacks a coherent point of view and that its basic examination of nihilism in the guise of existentialism (there’s no point to caring about anything because there is no real value to be placed on actions so you may as well not exist) is trite, which isn’t changed by the fact that Antonioni looks at it with some skepticism. My overall perception now is more that Blowup‘s iconic status and its handful of sublime moments somewhat compensate for its shortcomings, though nevertheless it bears no relationship in my opinion to a much stronger film that might have been made for the same material, because it lacks the emotional follow-through to make it; it’s a pet peeve of mine when someone convinces themselves that deliberately saying nothing, or giving up on all conviction, is itself a statement. So when this film gets totally wrapped up in belaboring the point that none of what it has shown us really matters, it just ends up feeling very simplistic and trite to me; and somehow, that’s even more the case if the actual point is that Antonioni is questioning the society that would lead to such a psychological construct, because what a boring way to go about that. So I don’t like the film. But in 2005, it made me so furious that I never even got as far as attempting to decipher it.
Meanwhile, while I would easily consider La Strada a better film, it invites a lot more hostility now, partially because having seen a lot more Italian cinema since I first encountered it, I’ve found myself unable to take Federico Fellini very seriously as a filmmaker. Like a lot of the neorealist classics that heavily influenced him (some even consider his I Vitelloni, which I do quite like, a neorealist piece), his breakthrough work is an admirably mounted production whose emotions are almost unbearably simple-minded and obvious. The “misery porn” accusation carries some weight in the context of a film whose entire premise is left on the shoulders of its impoverished heroine who’s forced into total dependence on an irredeemable rapist. When tragedy inevitably strikes, we’re left with the image of said rapist and abuser crying to the heavens, but I simply can’t see any motivation for us to feel anything but pleasure at his misery because so little work has been done to render him a complex character. It’s an example of how the arthouse classic sometimes suffers the same moral and emotional incoherence as the Hollywood blockbuster: what has Anthony Quinn’s character done to earn our sympathy? Nothing, except that the cinematography, the carefully maintained mood and mournful atmosphere has determined that we should feel a certain specific way in this specific moment. It’s a dramatic shortcut, and it’s insulting.
I originally saw Aguirre quite a few years after these others, by which time I was relatively seasoned, though I wasn’t really emotionally prepared for the unnerving, sunlit clarity of its visual style nor for its haphazard, deliberately interminable structure — which means to force an audience to withstand the heat, misery and mounting insanity of its scenario. Its audacity just tried my patience at the time, but it’s one of a few scattered films that stayed in the back of my mind and my dreams for years after I saw it; when I did revisit it a bit ago, I found that even keeping in mind I had originally disliked it, it couldn’t live up to the distorted view I’d had of it in my memory. The symbolism is rich, the audacity is arresting, but the screenplay and performances are not nearly as compelling as the intoxicating nightmare world Herzog places around them. Still, there is no question it is a deeply interesting and unique film, and a more fascinating one than either of the aforementioned. (By way of illustration, so much of Blowup has forced its way into the visual lexicon of the ’60s, and of art film in general, that it now almost seems like the embodiment of various clichés. But Aguirre remains so indelible — it neither looks nor feels like any other movie.)
So all this unconscious correction leaves us with the question of whether my reactions to Blue Velvet and Viridiana will become more nuanced with time; but I suspect that I have now reached a point at which I am more familiar and comfortable with myself and my opinions, and that my impulse to doubt my criticisms mostly comes from a place of awareness at the extremely celebrated status these movies enjoy with my fellow cinephiles. It’s always risky to venture any sort of a dissent in the face of a classic, as one doesn’t want to be the oaf contributing an Amazon review of, say, Citizen Kane with the utterly useless dismissal “I didn’t see what all the fuss was about” or similar.
… Lastly, these were revisits of films I’ve seen multiple times and liked/loved, but was now viewing for the first time in many years:
Thus far in the project, Breathless is the only long-awaited revisit to a beloved film I’ve had time for, though Night of the Hunter and, ironically, Lynch’s Mulholland Drive are forthcoming. Breathless connects with me completely, in all the ways that Blowup explicitly doesn’t: while it deeply enjoys the air of hipster glory it’s able to glean from Belmondo, it also feels intense pleasure at breaking him down and humiliating him, and there’s never any sense that Godard is favoring his version of reality over those of Jean Seberg as his long-suffering American girlfriend, who’s independent enough that she’s never really stuck playing his victim. Breathless doesn’t generally have the reptutation of being a richly emotive film experience, but for me it is (just like Citizen Kane). While Godard again makes his own presence known through his unorthodox, manic editing techniques and his camera’s general unstoppable vitality, the film never has the quality of detachment that the other movies described above seem to intentionally employ, and I wonder if this isn’t the key reason it so excites me. Godard’s films are often treated as acts of criticism, and in the sense that Breathless more or less helps me define the shortcomings of these other films typically cited as masterworks, perhaps it still makes the most sense in that light.
As this project continues, I will be intrigued to find out whether the pattern of my emotional distance from arthouse classics grows, or if there are throttling pleasures to await me. I would obviously be disappointed if Rio Bravo remains my only treasured discovery from this project — but hey, a treasured discovery is a treasured discovery.
*** #3 ***
Several months into this project, it has at least brought me to a film that I found not merely successful and satisfying but enrapturing. On inevitable revisits down the road, I feel I may come to consider Sansho the Bailiff a masterpiece. It was less than surprising in the sense that it’s the work of a favorite director, Kenji Mizoguchi, whereas so far the list has mostly left me stuck with dubious entities like Cassavetes, Visconti and Fellini. Visconti’s The Leopard outpaced any other film on the list (apart from Lawrence of Arabia) for sheer boredom.
A revisit to David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. confirmed that it is the most refined, assured version of the surreal vision of the world he exercised on the enjoyable but flawed Blue Velvet and the TV series Twin Peaks, sharing with both an adherence to an subversion of the tropes of various pulp genres, from film noir to the daytime soap opera. For me, Mulholland is wonderful both because of its complete instability as a piece of narrative and because, like the pilot of Twin Peaks, it captures moments of human grief without apologizing for them, which I believe is Lynch’s most significant accomplishment as a storyteller. The movie is also wonderfully seamy and fun, though, and after being neutral about Lynch for a while I was overjoyed to find it fully held up for me.
My experience with the unwatched items on this list overall has continued to be disappointing; and as usual, I find myself questioning what “kind” of viewer and lover of cinema I really am. I obviously don’t fit with the film-bro culture of blockbusters and Scorsese movies (the Empire reader, in shorthand); but it also seems as if I have little patience for many arthouse staples. The latest round of titles — my exposure aided immeasurably by the new Criterion Channel streaming service — were, on average, just “fine” to me. I don’t have any serious objects to Amarcord, Jeanne Dielman or A Man Escaped; I admire what all of them are up to and I don’t have any problems understanding their essences or following how people might come to celebrate them deeply. But they don’t ring out to me in an explosive enough way for me to even begin to think of them as among the best films of all time.
Am I simply too picky a viewer? I don’t believe so; I’d say it’s more likely that I’m too American a viewer — films from my own country, “masterpieces” included, don’t have this much difficulty reaching me. I also don’t think I’m letting myself be disappointed by the pedestal these movies are on. One commonality with Robert Bresson’s Escaped and Chantal Akerman’s Dielman is that they are fascinating to think about, but less revelatory to actually watch. There are elements to admire in real-time in both of them: Bresson amps up suspense from confinement with few dramatic tools at his disposal, working as he does from a dry firsthand account of a prison escape in wartime; and the thesis of Akerman’s film is delivered by an extraordinarily nuanced performance from Delphine Seyrig, who tracks a painful change in gestures and expressions by a matter of degrees. But I don’t connect to these films even as I can’t fault them; there is soul to them, but it does not communicate with me.
The sob-inducing, heartfelt Sansho is my cinema, on the other hand; I guess I like directors like Mizoguchi and Bergman who have no qualms about living inside rich, hypersensitive emotions. Films that deliberately withhold that, much like people who withhold that, aren’t my speed. Fellini’s Amarcord is somewhere in between; I like his nostalgic but tempered glimpse at the past, but I also find his memorializing of it to be somewhat indulgent and cliched. Certainly Fellini is someone who withholds nothing, but I think some degree of ironic distance is handy — Hitchcock and Kubrick being my favorite directors, both men who were interested in people but also in irony, which causes many to resent them, but which I think sets them apart without making their works less emotional. (I’m well aware some audiences consider the idea of Hitchcock and Kubrick being more emotive directors than Akerman and Bresson to be blasphemous and incomprehensible; but yes, I find their characters to resemble real people more than those in most narrative films on this list.)
I could be persuaded out of my views on Visconti’s The Leopard, but it will never be the sort of movie I’m going to have much to say about; it’s a very long, pretty historical epic documenting societal and personal transitions that are very heavily talked out but still mostly theoretical. It’s gloriously empty and did absolutely nothing for me, but its rapturous reception in many quarters speaks for itself. (I have a history of being left a bit at sea by even the Visconti films I liked a lot more, La Terra Trema and Osessione; I used to joke I had a bias against Italian cinema but it may not be a joke.)
I have no room for such kindness in the case of John Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence, a nightmarishly bad film that gains all of its decades of credence from wrongheaded theories about acting and cinema that so badly limit the possibilites of either art form that I believe to promote or encourage them is to actively seek out the death of art. Woman centers around an intolerably hammy performance by Gena Rowlands as a person badly in need of a grip that’s been inexplicably praised as “realistic,” because the same people who think Marlon Brando is a Great Actor think that “realism” equates to wild gesticulations and unpredictable freakouts. The film is just three straight hours of this, meant to be harrowing but just as often as unwittingly funny as a Lifetime movie; in practice, it’s infinitely more infuriating because of how much Cassavetes believes he is “revealing” in the act of refusing to make a single significant creative decision about a story that isn’t interesting enough to be told in the first place. I’m still mad. Cassavetes was a clown, and by and large, his cult hates real cinema.
*** #4 ***
For a while it seemed like this project was going to prove something of a bust for me, aligning too much with the exact breed of arthouse film that doesn’t do a lot for me. Jules and Jim, while not as awful as I thought when I was younger, still seemed shallow, aggressively adolescent and not worthy of Truffaut, despite a smattering of cinematic imagination. Among new-to-me films there was a run of pictures that, in the most boring position possible, I found compelling but liked only mildly or partially: Kiarostami’s Close-Up is a fascinating and witty narrative experiment but also feels surprisingly insubstantial next to its reputation; Bertolucci’s The Conformist is bold, inventive and distinctive in many ways but I felt unable to find much connection between its premise and its aesthetic pyrotechnics, with a story that seemed less ambiguous than just aimlessly vague; and Godard’s Pierrot le Fou, while clearly a film whose imagination and restlessness would have sung out louder than the heavens to me if I’d seen it a decade and a half earlier, gave me too much of a cotton-candy sick feeling at its excessive length, with its playfulness after a time registering as indulgence. And to my rather extreme shock, I found a Dreyer movie (well, a second one; I also cared little for Vampyr) that largely disagreed with me. There’s much to appreciate in Gertrud but its stilted acting and plodding pace work against its clearly intended emotional crescendos. I was less surprised to be unmoved once again by Robert Bresson, whose Pickpocket elicited nearly the same response in me as A Man Escaped, except this time with the real-time intrigue replaced by a complete dissonance erupting between myself and the cold-eyed protagonist. I just wasn’t capable of caring about him.
But then, toward the end of this run, I was confronted with a series of experiences that were transcendent in one way or another. I had long been curious to see Claude Lanzmann’s eight-hour Holocaust documentary Shoah but was put off many times by the sheer investment of time and emotional energy I knew it would require. And truth be told, I spread my encounter with it out over four nights, but every moment of it was riveting, somehow especially in the moments when Lanzmann’s interviews with victims, witnesses and participants seem to stumble over matters of practicality: when he has to use a hidden camera with a closed-circuit TV outside to film his chats with various Nazis, or when language barriers and his various translators cause delays and confusion in communication. It’s a film whose entire weight gives a different message than any of its individual parts, an accumulation of despair and memory that can paralyze you in its awfulness but feels completely valuable and necessary to capture. The results are strangely poetic, and thanks to the immediacy of the color cinematography and the almost mundane formatting of many of the discussions there is perhaps no greater examination of the banality of the evil, and our startling closeness to this moment in history.
Much more fun, though no less accurate a vision of evil in its fashion, was Night of the Hunter — a film I actually saw way back when I was first starting to acquaint myself with classic movies, around 2005, at which point I found it often striking but also so campy I couldn’t quite suss out its mood. Frankly I don’t know what film I was seeing back then, though I’ve had a few conversations with film buffs who still have a similar reaction to the movie, finding it a little too weird. For me, however, the tone, palpable menace and fable-like beauty of Charles Laughton’s only directorial effort is now stirring. Not only is it filled with more indelibly dreamlike images than almost any Hollywood film not directed by Orson Welles — in fact its existence in the time, if the waning days, of the studio system is quite miraculous — it weaves an elemental story of good and evil so convincingly it makes a child of you again, something achieved by only the rarest of storytellers. By approaching his thriller from the eyes and souls of children, Laughton ensures its elegiac permanence, like a rich, full-bodied memory that never leaves you. I expected for the film to improve greatly in my estimation on revisit, but was delighted when it immediately joined an informal list of my all-time favorite films.
Getting the feeling of being transported and inspired by a film, having my perceptions and notions of the medium challenged, is the impetus behind projects like that. And despite the fact that I’ve been aware on some level of what Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad was for years, upon actually seeing it I found myself returning to that giddy feeling of being floored by something larger, smarter, more thought-provoking than can easily be summarized. Once again I return to the essence of film as embodying a waking dream: here, the memory of a memory, or perhaps the memory of a lie, with a man pursuing a woman within a gorgeous, cavernous estate that seems to exist outside of any normal sense of time and finding their history, their current being, their future in question — there is no clarity or narrative simplicity, no tying of the bow to make the film’s mysteries explicit, only a sense of lyricism and vague terror washing over you. It is the sort of powerful experience that no other medium can replicate; and the idea of trying to understand it, to transfer its immutable truths to our own rational world, is beyond obscene. To see Marienbad is to be lifted into a singular, irreducible vision; it’s one of the most unique pieces of art of the last century, and while I’m stating nothing about it that isn’t obvious, it’s the sort of film that seems to render other films facile and irrelevant, and I would wish I had not waited so long to see it except that in a strange way, I wonder if the earlier versions of myself already described above in this piece would have been quite so captivated. Perhaps I found Marienbad at just the right time. Perhaps the right time for movies like Close-Up is still forthcoming.
After Marienbad, I found myself focusing a lot on the feeling of being immersed. There is some chance it is a change in my own attitude that prompted this; whatever the case, in my wanderings through this list I struck upon three consecutive movies that felt, even in the context of the smallish TV in my living room, like they demanded and overtook the space I was occupying. Jacques Tati’s Playtime is, like Marienbad, going to require many further viewings for me to fully wrap my head around it, but its intricacy and the tangible spaciousness and detail of its elevated, futuristic reality are another example of the sort of filmed expression that makes so many commercialized ideas about what the medium is generally “for” feel terribly limited. After watching the film, it felt to me as if I had actually been to another place and spent time there, and even weeks later, I still remember nearly every moment vividly, even though it hurled images and ideas and gags at me more quickly than I could feasibly handle. Having seen Jour de Fete last year, I was surprised to find Playtime somewhat less humorous, yet no less of a balletic pleasure — and its aesthetics almost couldn’t be more up my particular alley, even though the film is really a reaction against the kind of heavily industrialized environments it documents and parodies.
As noted before, Godard’s Breathless was a formative experience for me and as an older viewer I see even more in it; Pierrot le Fou was a disappointment I felt I would have gotten more out of when I was younger. It seems that Contempt, another major work I’ve been meaning to get around to for decades, hit me at just the correct moment. It bears some similarities to Pierrot in that it documents a fraying relationship in harrowing detail and employs a meta-narrative on the nature of the artform while promoting the brash communication style of Hollywood genre films, here with the help of Fritz Lang who’s present as an actor portraying a version of himself. Where Contempt succeeded most for me was in its exceptionally vivid sense of place: the temptations and languid atmospheres in which it occurs offer such a riveting contrast to the interpersonal pain being explored in the script, and as such it feels like a complete and real-world experience that transcends cinema while simultaneously upholding its pleasures and malleability. And Godard is more perceptive about this relationship than it initially appears, with its dramatic dropoff perfectly laid out in a manner that we can clearly see even as his hotheaded protagonist cannot.
Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, which I first saw long ago and disliked quite a bit, has a similar utility. I surprised myself by rather enjoying it this time, even if I’m somewhat more suspicious of it than I am of Godard’s film, largely because Godard seems a bit more intelligently compartmentalized — he knows exactly what he’s saying (not in a didactic sense), and I’m not sure Fellini does, although that said, the more I think about this crown jewel in the man’s filmography the more I think I may slide on into full-on loving it the next time I see it. That’s not least because of the immersion factor: its world felt so staggeringly real and huge to me that I’ve found myself thinking of various scenes almost constantly since this second viewing. It’s about a philandering journalist who wanders from party to party in Rome among people he knows peripherally, cavorting around with the idle rich and such, while his very long-suffering fiancee sits at home waiting for him. It’s all pretty grim and the point is kind of that the constant availability of indistinct “good times” only leaves a person numb, but I always find that sort of messaging a bit insincere coming from super privileged types, even artists. It’s very easy to wag your finger at excess and excitement when it’s extremely familiar to you, just like it’s easy for a billionaire to say that money isn’t everything. A big issue I have is that I think I take the opposite message to the one intended by the film. Namely, I can’t escape how fun these parties seem and how vibrant and interesting life in the city looks, the very things Fellini is implicitly scolding; I’m not even a party person, but there’s something seductive about the idea of being in the eye of a hurricane. It’s possible that I’m just coming around to the actual point of the picture in a roundabout manner; there’s no doubt its conflicts are intentional, but there is such a strange brew of moralizing and excess in it, and it’s hard to spend so many hours with such a prick. I will be fascinated, though, to see it again; and I must say my being unable to shake it has caused me to turn around on Fellini a bit.
** #5 **
For this last entry, we’ve almost fully shed my contrarian impulses. Among the five hallowed film masterpieces I needed to see to put this project in the can, I loved all but one. Admittedly, that was a big one — Robert Bresson’s legendary donkey movie Au Hasard Balthazar, which I think was quite hurt in my estimation by not truly being a donkey movie, with the interference of too many human dramas and all of them rather banal — but it wasn’t altogether surprising, since I’ve yet to see a Bresson movie I particularly liked and don’t seem to gel (so far) with his specific manner or his philosophy on storytelling, use of actors, spirituality, etc. It does end with a nicely cathartic and beautiful moment (though it didn’t completely resonate with me because of everything prior), and that turned out to be the theme of these last several films.
Something that was surprising was that, evidently, I like Tarkovsky. One of the most cinephile-beloved of all filmmakers, the Russian master was of course responsible for Stalker, another picture I disliked that nevertheless I never was quite able to “get over” in some sense, just because it was so visually striking and its mood so singular. But my feelings about Mirror and Andrei Rublev were not nearly so complicated or nebulous, even though both films are arguably have even more sophisticated and unusual narrative structures. Rublev was how I closed the project so we’ll come to it in a moment; convinced I wouldn’t understand Tarkovsky (spoiler: some of his more ardent fans had kind of pointed me to this conclusion, I have to admit), I had carefully spaced out these two movies of his in the hopes of staving off any potentially negative experiences, which is funny because I absolutely adored both. Mirror is a similar experience to Marienbad, at least for me, though unlike that film it’s in color and must be one of the most beautiful color films ever shot. It is a treatise on memory whose entire emotional current is built on images, which comment on one another across time periods. Once again, perhaps because of the sort of acolyte Tarkovsky can tend to attract, there are a million people online trying to “crack the code” of the film, which strikes me as such a banal exercise when just watching it and allowing its strange, subdued world to wash over you is such a valuable experience, one that seems to encompass so much about the way we view ourselves, our lives, other people. And it captures the sensation of stream of consciousness as well as any films I’ve seen from the golden era of avant garde cinema, even as its ambitions seem to far outpace those shorter pieces.
I was forced to step away from this project for nearly a month, during which time I only had time for one new title, which was Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Ordet, the last major gap I had remaining in his sound-era filmography, and a fascinating slow burn of a film that already struck me as stunningly rich in its characterizations and dimensions of feeling, among a rural family whose lives are shot through with a touch of inexplicable eccentricity, well before it became an astonishingly powerful story of death and faith that is so persuasive and overwhelmingly graceful in its final moments that one’s conflict with its central and core belief in a sacred world beyond our own is made completely beside the point. There was never an expression of faith so harrowing, or so magical. I was beside myself after watching.
Somewhat less successful to me was the similar emotional climax of Roberto Rossellini’s Journey to Italy, but luckily everything else about it was so shattering that it hardly mattered. The picture stars his then-wife Ingrid Bergman and the great George Sanders, two of my favorite Hollywood-era actors who are here permitted the opportunity to display their naturalistic chops in a setting very different from the typical studio film in which they starred. One interesting thing about being aware of these films without seeing them is that it’s actually not difficult, usually, to find oneself quite surprised by the actual nature of what one finds when finally sitting down with them, even in a superficial sense. In this instance, I knew Bergman was part of the cast but had no idea Sanders was, and was riveted by the opportunity to see them as an embittered married couple with achingly depicted resentments on both sides. The film mostly sticks with Bergman, who distractedly witnesses the mystical undercurrent of her surroundings but is unable to see past her well-earned consternation over her marriage. My only argument with the film is that I think its sense of the miraculous at the finale is unearned. Nevertheless, as a portrait of alienation within a frayed, long-dead romance, it is beyond profound.
And last of all came Andrei Rublev, a film that at the outset of this project I felt I had every reason to dread: 185 minutes (in the director’s preferred version; longer variants exist), a historical epic and a biopic (of a medieval Russian painter of Orthodox icons), and from a filmmaker about whom I felt skeptical. While I needn’t have delayed the film after all — every minute is riveting, and while its ending crescendo is subtler than those of the two aforementioned, it is earned impeccably and left me on the verge of tears for the entirety of the closing montage — I’m somewhat glad I did, as it was an experience sufficiently overwhelming that it seemed a perfect place to cap off my exploration of the first hundred movies in this aggregate. What struck me about Andrei Rublev beyond the shocking realism of its settings, the audacity of its unfurling mise en scene, and the seamless blend of subtle and grand exercises in drama, was how it seemed to contain everything about life itself by virtue of using the title character, about whom little is really known, as an observer of that which we do have documentation, therefore becoming one with us, and therefore becoming almost the platonic ideal of a portrait of an artist and of art itself: the way in which we process that which is too large for us to hold. Like the work of Rublev’s shown in the closing montage, the film like all art becomes both the essence of life and a superior, more considered and communicative version of it, just aching to be seen, and aching for the kind of love that makes it the best part of our lives. Like Ordet, its final release comes with a religious subtext, but one whose power is undiminished for the non-believing viewer, which when you think about it is an extraordinary achievement.
Watching the movie I was reminded of the feeling I got when finally seeing my favorite film, Kubrick’s 2001, in 70mm (really, IMAX) last year — in my day to day life I can sympathize with my friends who don’t care for strange old subtitled films or intentionally obtuse narratives about creation and the sum total of human history. But in the moment it was unfolding, the film felt like the most important thing in the world to me, felt like the whole summary of who I am and what the world as I understand it means, and what life itself is worth, and in that moment, even if just for a second, I could not possibly sympathize with seeing it in front of you and not having it mean everything in the world to you. What was really happening was not a rupture with the rest of the human race, or whatever proportion of it doesn’t like or would never watch Andrei Rublev (or 2001); what was happening was that I was connecting, on the deepest possible level, with something larger than myself or with any conception of a limited world, and all I wanted in the entire universe was for everyone else to be able to feel the same thing I was feeling. The power of that identification is why projects like this matter to me, and why I am so glad to have this outlet. Perhaps ten years from now I will look back on this and wonder why I had some of the negative responses I explained earlier on, in the same way that my original reviews of La Dolce Vita and Night of the Hunter now seem so silly to me. In fact I hope they do. I hope that someday I find my lifeline to every one of these 100 pictures, because experiences like that I had watching Rublev are rare and wonderful, and as long as I’m breathing I want as many of those as possible, and the hell with any implication that the seeking out and enjoying of those isn’t important. Thanks for reading.