Sunday, May 17, 2015

Some of the Films in My Life...

Every week, it seems, you find another one of those top ten lists appearing in the media. I have said many times that I don't like top ten, top twenty, top fifty, or top one hundred lists of the greatest books ever written, the greatest films ever made, the greatest television programmes ever produced, or the sexiest men and women in the world, the worst offenders in the genre. I have not read every book written. I have not seen every film made. I have not seen every television program ever produced. I have not seen every man and woman in the world. Nor has I suspect any one else out there not even the venerable film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum who has watched hundreds and hundreds of movies. As a result any list of top this or top that must be tentative. That those who manufacture them aren't as tentative as they should be about their lists is simply yet another indication of how arrogant, narcissistic, and ignorance is bliss humans are.

Something else the inveterate creators of top this or that lists forget is how we humans change our minds almost on a daily basis and how circumstances around us and within us affect us on a daily basis. I may have a top ten list one day, see another movie on another day, and subtract a film from my top ten list replacing it with one I just watched. I may see a film that critics have raved about, find the critical consensus problematic, and question whether the film should be in anyones top ten list. Then I might watch it again, find it one of the best films I have ever seen and wonder what I was thinking before. Some time later I might continue to see it as a great film but not number it amongst my favourite films. This was, by the way, exactly the experience I had with John Ford's The Searchers. Expectations, among other things, can impact how we watch and judge a film.

Now don't get me wrong, I have had a pretty consistent list of my favourite films since the 1980s and I have seen very little in the way of cinema in the preceding years that has changed my mind about the favourite films at the top of my list. At the summit of my top film list are three films: Jacques Rivette's comédie fantastique Céline et Julie vont en bateau (Celine and Julie Go Boating), François Truffaut's tale of bohemian love and loss, Jules et Jim, and Dušan Makavejev's truly radical and absolutely hilarious montage film of Wilhelm Reich, orgone boxes, Jugolslavian devotees of Reich and orgone boxes, frigid Soviets, orgasmic Americans who mistake machismo for sex, and sex as true Communist liberation, W.R. - Misterije organizma (WR: Mysteries of the Organism), a film I first saw at an Institute of Sex Research film festival in the Indiana University Memorial Union in Bloomington in the early 1980s if memory serves. Recently, thanks to a Second Run DVD, I have added a new film to my very favourite films list, Jaromil Jireš's surrealistic coming of age tale of a young girl becoming a young woman, Valerie a týden divů (Valerie and Her Week of Wonders). Needless to say this list probably says more about me and, in the process, raises questions among many of you out there about my cinematic sanity. I would like to think, however, that my list raises questions about any notion of a transcendental set of films as inherently brilliant since, I suspect, few others would list the same films I do among their top four list. That said Rosenbaum and David Thomson rate, like me, Celine et Julie as one of their favourite films.

Below these four films, my Mount Rushmore of the cinema, I would put several other films though this list is far more dynamic than that which includes my four titans. I love--one can't seem to get away from Kaelian or Barthesian metaphors when talking about cinema can one--Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest, Vertigo, Rear Window, The Lady Vanishes, and perhaps most of all Notorious. I love Howard Hawk's To Have or To Have Not and His Girl Friday. I love John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence. I love Ingmar Bergman's Persona. I love Orson Welles's Citizen Kane, Magnificent Ambersons, and most of all, Touch of Evil. I love Casablanca.

I am sure there is a world of cinema just waiting for me to love out there. I am sure if film preservation practises were better, film studios, after all, have generally always been money centred on maximizing profits and this situation is even worse today even in places with a strong sense of cultural heritage like France, there would be even more films for me to possibly love. For today, however, this list will have to do.

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