Saturday, November 14, 2009

Alternate Canon for Film

I saw The Red Shoes at Film Forum the other day, in a new print, and it occurred to me that possibly I was watching the greatest movie of all time. This signals to my brain: "Yes, but on what criteria?" And the answer is something like: "pure filmmaking," or "movie magic," etc. etc. But what I mean I think is better expressed in my favorite format: the list.

The Red Shoes
Gone with the Wind
Lawrence of Arabia
Napoleon (1927)
Wizard of Oz
Ben-Hur (1959)
Citizen Kane
War & Peace (1967)
The Leopard
Modern Times
Juliet of the Spirits
Birth of a Nation
The Conformist
Lola Montes
West Side Story
2001: A Space Odyssey

Now, usually, these are not my actual favorites, nor my actual "Best" or "Most Important" films. But in all of these movies is a shocking, almost superhuman visual creativity and ambition. The colors of Gone with the Wind, the chariot race in Ben-Hur, the communicative silences of 2001, the sets in the Wizard of Oz, the choreography of West Side Story... Here I am breaking from my usual plot-centered valuations. It is a truism of course that the greatest auteurs (in film and literature) are often masters of BOTH detail and grand plan. Tolstoy and Proust in literature, and at least all of the historical epics listed above, are gigantic in scope and breathtaking in particular scenes.

One problem with this list: it is much less "art house" than my tastes really are, and considerably more Hollywood. Of the great art house directors, Fellini is the most in this line. Bergman, Kurosawa, Renoir, Lang, are obviously virtuosos and there is probably room in here for some of their more extravagant work. The New Wave is usually too cramped. Truffaut's best work, but even Rashomon or The Seventh Seal, are STILL not Gone with The Wind, if you see what I mean.

One movie that probably *does* belong here is actually one I disliked a great deal: Marketa Lazarova, a Czech black and white epic that was visually stunning from start to finish. Since it was so boring, it is disqualified as being (in another way) unwatchable. That Bergman never made a movie as "beautiful" as this one is obviously more instructive about what Bergman WAS doing, what kind of magic he *was* after, than in any way a negative remark about him.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Ben...witbawdtsl is having a field day with certain posts. (one in particular about "reaching for the stars" with art and music).

A word of advice, you're still too scattershot with some of these opinions. You're not allowing breathing room for what others may find to be the pinnacle of music and art (can such a thing be argued? there are just as many people in the world who see no relevance in Picasso or Shakespeare as Darkthrone or Pushead...just because something is accepted as "classic" by the masses doesn't make it "timeless" to another's sensibilities of noise and staright lines).

I don't see any "schtick" to many of these opinions, so they come off as arrogant and condescending.

I'm trying to help you all comes off as forced intellectualism rather than true intellectualism! (I'm one to think true intellectualism isn't as rigid in allowing another opinion to be discarded so's kind of like the contrarian smugness of those Atheist demotivational posters you see dotted around the internet, that is, the opinion is stated rudely, and contemptuously).