The Essential 100
Night and Fog (1955) – 3.5 stars out of 4
“What hope do we have of truly capturing this reality?” asks Michel Bouquet, the narrator of Alain Resnais’s Night and Fog (1955), as the camera tracks with aimless grace across the empty fields of Auschwitz-Birkenau. This question is not simply a lamentation, but an honest way for the filmmakers to admit they cannot directly explain the inconceivable horrors of the Holocaust. Resnais and writer Jean Cayrol, as Sandy Flitterman-Lewis mentions in her article “Documenting the Ineffable: Terror and Memory in Alain Resnais’s Night and Fog”, “employ a strategy of indirection [since] a horror too great to be encompassed must be approached obliquely, even metaphorically” (209). (continue reading…)
I have seen 92 so far. Can you top me? Comment. I’d like to hear how many you’ve seen…
1 The Passion of Joan of Arc (Carl Theodor Dreyer) – 4 stars
2 Citizen Kane(Orson Welles) – 4 stars
3 L’Avventura (Michaelangelo Antonioni) – 3 stars
4 The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola) – 3.5 stars
5 PickPocket (Robert Bresson) – 3 stars
6 Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa)
7 Pather Panchali (Satyajit Ray)
8 Casablanca (Michael Curtiz) – 4 stars
9 Man With A Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov) – 3 stars
10 Bicycle Thieves (Vittorio De Sica) – 4 stars (continue reading…)
Sherlock, Jr., dir. Buster Keaton (45 minutes) – 4 stars
Buster Keaton’s Sherlock, Jr. is one of those films that went unnoticed. We look back at it as a classic now, admiring its wit, its inventiveness, and extremely self-reflexive love for film. Keaton plays a wanna-be detective, who really represents the voracious
filmgoer. The film is a treat, a magic trick that immediately admits it’s not precisely a film in itself but about becoming absorbed in one. Keaton’s role as the Projectionist demonstrates the manipulating abilities of cinema. You bet Sherlock, Jr. manipulates, but for the means to fascinate us: its stunts prove we do not need Michael Bay films to satisfy this aspect. Sit back and enjoy Sherlock, Jr., as it celebrates cinema through one innovative technique after another. It’s not till the film contracts on a satirical punch at censorship that the film really develops a more serious, but still jocular, reflection of cinema.
L’Arrivée D’un Train Á la Ciotat, dir. Auguste and Louis Lumière (50 seconds) – No rating
How could I rate such a movie? It’s not exactly a film as it is an artifact. For anyone who loves films, will appreciate contemplating this less than brief short film of a train simply arriving into a station (“la Ciotat”). At first, the film had so much emotional gravity, which made it terrifying. Its first public showing was in 1896; people stared, ensnared in something never before seen: a train moving
towards them; it was a threat, a sensation felt by looking at the moving image. This film by the Lumiére Brothers exemplifies the origins of cinema and its audience. It tells us how film has such a powerful grip over our reactions that films today have simply emulated. I could not and will not rate the film as good or bad. It is a timepiece, a revelation of when the birth of cinema came out of the womb.
La Jetée, dir. Chris Marker (28 minutes) – 3.5 stars
La Jetée’s (or The Pier, the crux) photomontage is used to captivate and immerse us into a story that easily could offer itself to a three-hour movie. The film’s varying pace and slideshow panache is the perfect fit: still images represent memories, fragmented dreams, of which the film transcends. Directed by Chris Marker, La Jetée won the Prix Jon Vigo
for Short Film and is still watched today (I did in my first year film course at university) as living cinema that sits still. It is about a post-nuclear atmosphere enhanced through dreams and diegetic German muttering, which unsettles us. I got lost in this film, maybe too much to really love it, but its last shot hits the emotional centre that all of cinema imitates presently: the love and tragedy of our affections.
Night and Fog, dir. Alain Resnais (32 minutes) – 3 stars
Night and Fog speaks much about Nazi ideology and its degenerate effects on concentration camp prisoners. Director Alain Resnais’ film is a finished product that is modesty-scaled (mainly due to its censorship upon release) but it is amazing to watch considering the footage was taken only a decade after this beyond savage slaughtering. Night and Fog is of course disconcerting but it makes us look at ourselves and realize the terror people and even little children were prone to. Night and Fog, a documentary not quite as abstract as it could have been, makes the Holocaust not a moral history retrospective but something true to our hearts.
* I will not show you images to Night and Fog. It shows things beyond horror.
Le Voyage Dans La Lune, dir. Georges Méliès (8 minutes) – 3 stars
Méliès’ Trip to the Moon is shot in 25 frames and can be best appreciated as an icon. I like to give it the role as the grandfather of 2001: A Space Odyssey, because it is interested in looking at the way of the world and what is beyond it. Outer space, I think, is the metaphor for cinema – undefinable, abstract, and ethereal. The famous shot of the spaceship diving into the moon of the eye is simply an antecedent of the eye’s susceptibility to abuse in later films (Un Chien Andalou, A Clockwork Orange). I admire the film for its discontinuity editing, its effort to tell a story, but never as moving art. 2001 perfected that.
Scorpio Rising, dir. Kenneth Anger (30 minutes) – 3 stars
I could, anyone should appreciate Scorpio Rising as an artifact of
unconventional wisdom. It hints at Nazism, motorcycling, the occult, and Jesus. Not that it believes in any those; those images slide by so quickly they are merely frames of some form of cinematic rebellion. Kenneth Anger’s film was dumped by the California Supreme Court but it is still recognized and appreciated as a masterwork in post-modernism. A masterwork? Not quite, definitely in the ‘very stimulating’ area though. There is no dialogue, just spliced shots that even have quick flashes of genitalia that can be seen, Anger warns, as long as you do not blink. The music is arbitrary – there is no pattern, no commentary, and no importance. It acts as a time period and develops a ‘bad-ass’ facade. This is about a biker – Scorpio – he must be manly. Scorpio Rising is a gay manifesto and an outcry against the hidden paradoxes of society.
Wavelength, dir. Michael Snow (45 minutes) – 2 stars
I’m afraid I cannot save the best for last. Wavelength is a Canadian experimental film – avant-garde in every sense: plotless, pointless, curious, and stylized. Not that these are bad things. The film’s problem is that it becomes a stretched out
reverie of photography – not so much a reverie but an incubus of cinema’s most tedious minimalistic potential. It has been hailed as the greatest experimental Canadian film, which gives Canadian cinema a worser label. There are great Canadian films out there (Roadkill, Nanook of the North) but Wavelength has zero appeal. A critic compromised with the film: “[Wavelength] inspires as much boredom and frustration as intrigue and epiphany.” I could not agree with the latter. I had a dilemma watching Wavelength and most will too: it demands your full attention – that is impossible to do. It demands more than one view, I could barely get through one.