Light in August

From Criterion’s no-frills Eclipse label comes “Jean Grémillon During the Occupation,” a collection of three of the most celebrated films by one of the most difficult and stylistically diverse directors of the French cinema. “Remorques,” begun before the German invasion but completed after it, subscribes to many of the tenets of French poetic realism with its elegantly doom-laden tale of a salvage captain (Jean Gabin) and his married lover (Michele Morgan); “Lumière d’Été” (1943) seems at first a sort of “La Règle du jeu” set in the white mountains of Provence but evolves into a densely metaphorical, musically structured symphony of signs and meanings; while “Le ciel est à vous” (1944) turns a haute Vichy fable of “work, family, fatherland” into a love story of Borzagian intensity overlaid with trenchant observations about the limits of personal and political freedom. There is, of course, much more of Grémillon’s work to be discovered — for starters, the eternally astonishing “Daïnah la métisse” (1931) — but the Eclipse set makes a superb introduction to a brilliant filmmaker who has yet to find his deserved place in the Pantheon. My New York Times review is here.

124 comments to Light in August

  • Michael Worrall

    Puya Yazdi wrote: Even an average director could have made a great film just by leaving a stationary camera and capturing the acting, the dialog, story and character structure.

    Then name me a great film by Arthur Hiller.

    Speaking of a director who just left a stationary camera running and recorded his actors, how much of the footage in THE MERRY-GO-ROUND is actually Rupert Julian’s? There is a claim on the IMDB –yes, not a reliable source by any means–that only ten minutes of von Stroheim’s footage was used, and then Julian’s telegram to the NY Times where he states that only 600 feet of von Stroheim’s footage was used. (Thank you to our host for that bit of information.) This strikes me as a bit dubious looking at the film.

  • nicolas saada

    I belong to the fiercest citcle who regard these lists and polls and ten best as absolutely lethal to any kind of medium. The SIght and Sound “ten best” leaves so many superb films out , PERSONA, HIGH AND LOW, SANSHO BANIFF, TOKYO STORY, THE MUSIC ROOM, THE LEOPARD, CITY LIGHTS, M, SOME CAME RUNNING, IVAN’SCHILDHOOD, TITICUT FOLIES, EL, NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, to name just a few..
    I share the opinion which is that these lists reveal rather the lack of curiosity than the actual shape of the canon. I still refer to Paul Schrader’spiece which is one of the landmarks on the subject of film. But who would dare ask a musician about theten best “songs” or sonatas ? Or an artist on the ten best paintings ?

  • nicolas saada

    It’s interesting we should discuss the ever painful subject of lists in a discussion on Gremillon, perhaps one of the most obscure French directors. If his films, like tohose of Naruse or Borzage, were shown more regularly, a “ten best lis” woumd certainly completely diffrent from what it is now. On the other hand, there are fi’ms “up there” like KANE and LA DOLCE VITA, that will never lose their position. But I will share junko’s opinion on the particular subject of lists. If itcan make peole watch “older” films, its for the best. Question remains : which ones ?

  • nicolas saada

    To end the argument ‘: by the way, where is LA JETÉE ?

  • david hare

    Thank you Nicolas! I have disgraced myself elsewhere by descibing the S&S ten year exercise as perpetually worthless. The whole thing seems like a piece of generational micro masturbation with the “shock” of a few things being shuffled at the top. I dont even think Vertigo is Hitchcock’s best 50’s film – I find at least four others far more profound and moving. It’s not for me. But lists just aren’t.

    Soanyway (to quote Daria Halprin), Gremillon? There’s plenty I would like to say, not least the negation of the idea he was anything like a Cineaste Maudit. He had aa very very successful career and his run from 1936 with producer Raoul Ploquin in Berlin and Gueule d’Amour to the end of the war and the three Vichy era films under discussion here is a classic demonstration of virtually unfettered achievbement and inspiration. And that is largely as a result of the circumstances and his position iwthin (in fact without) the industry.

    Pattes Blanches is one of his five or six very best films. HIs next picture, L’Etrange Madame X is a complete disaster, at once a film “alimentaire” and a ruthles example of the dreaded Tradition de Qualite. I guess every great director has one of these in thier system at some stage.

  • Noel Vera

    More interesting for me than the top ten list will be the individual lists of those who voted.

    And I’d rather see Chimes at Midnight at number one. Top two, anyway.

  • Brian Dauth

    Umberto Eco on lists and what he terms the possibilities of a “poetics of catalogues.”

    Umberto Eco: The list is the origin of culture. It’s part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible. It also wants to create order — not always, but often. And how, as a human being, does one face infinity? How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries. There is an allure to enumerating how many women Don Giovanni slept with: It was 2,063, at least according to Mozart’s librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte. We also have completely practical lists — the shopping list, the will, the menu — that are also cultural achievements in their own right.

    SPIEGEL: Should the cultured person be understood as a custodian looking to impose order on places where chaos prevails?

    Eco: The list doesn’t destroy culture; it creates it. Wherever you look in cultural history, you will find lists. In fact, there is a dizzying array: lists of saints, armies and medicinal plants, or of treasures and book titles. Think of the nature collections of the 16th century. My novels, by the way, are full of lists.

    SPIEGEL: Accountants make lists, but you also find them in the works of Homer, James Joyce and Thomas Mann.

    Eco: Yes. But they, of course, aren’t accountants. In “Ulysses,” James Joyce describes how his protagonist, Leopold Bloom, opens his drawers and all the things he finds in them. I see this as a literary list, and it says a lot about Bloom. Or take Homer, for example. In the “Iliad,” he tries to convey an impression of the size of the Greek army. At first he uses similes: “As when some great forest fire is raging upon a mountain top and its light is seen afar, even so, as they marched, the gleam of their armour flashed up into the firmament of heaven.” But he isn’t satisfied. He cannot find the right metaphor, and so he begs the muses to help him. Then he hits upon the idea of naming many, many generals and their ships.

    SPIEGEL: But, in doing so, doesn’t he stray from poetry?

    Eco: At first, we think that a list is primitive and typical of very early cultures, which had no exact concept of the universe and were therefore limited to listing the characteristics they could name. But, in cultural history, the list has prevailed over and over again. It is by no means merely an expression of primitive cultures. A very clear image of the universe existed in the Middle Ages, and there were lists. A new worldview based on astronomy predominated in the Renaissance and the Baroque era. And there were lists. And the list is certainly prevalent in the postmodern age. It has an irresistible magic.

    Full at: http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/spiegel-interview-with-umberto-eco-we-like-lists-because-we-don-t-want-to-die-a-659577.html

    I also recommend Eco’s wonderful “The Infinity of Lists.”

  • Barry Putterman

    Brian, I am a little confused here. A list is exclusionary. It narrows. It focuses. It defines. How can one make “infinity comprehensible” through calling it finite?

  • Tony Williams

    It is a shame that this “Ten Best” debate has distratced attention from Gremillon and the issues of French films of the Occupation and beyond that need re-evaluation. Personally, I never care for this catalog fetish that results in other worthy films being overlooked.

  • Brian Dauth

    Barry: it all depends on how you understand the concept of a list. A list is always in dialectical flux with what is not on it. A list selects, and that which is not chosen is excluded (most often temporarily), but this exclusion constitutes neither denial nor banishment. This list tries to leave behind what is passed over, but cannot escape it – the list emerges from this wellspring and remains welded to it. Infinity becomes comprehensible by using a list to take a piece of it and render it – for a time – finite. But that time is brief, since as soon a list is promulgated, there will be an objection to it (infinity asserting its presence), most often in the form of a new list. Even fierce anti-lister Nicolas provides in his post yet another list – this one of films missing from the original iteration.

    Nicolas claims an end to the argument by asking “Where is LA JETEE?” It is tied for 50th place of the S&S list, but his question does not end the argument, but rather invites response. So I shall ask: “Where is HOLIDAY”? And with each new response, the infinite manifests itself through the finite query: “Where is …?” (Or Tony W.’s disappointment that we are straying from Gremillon)

    The preceding are my crude thoughts as inspired by Eco; I highly recommend his book for a fuller, more nuanced answer.

  • Jim Gerow

    Jonathan Rosenbaum has some interesting thoughts about the list on his site, including his four lists from 1982-2012. I like the fact that the lists change radically from decade to decade, in each case going beyond the narrow consensus canon and his own previous choices.

    http://www.jonathanrosenbaum.com/?p=31427

    Getting back to Grémillon, thanks to Dave for your observations about these beautiful films. Film Forum will be showing 5 Grémillon films in August and September as part of a major series called The French Old Wave. I guess it’s time to renew my membership.

    http://www.filmforum.org/pdf/ff2_cal96_FINAL_B&W.pdf

  • Barry Putterman

    Tony, here is where a list would actually be of value. I suspect that most people here know very little about Gremillon, Duvivier and other major directors of what Film Forum’s upcoming series calls “The French Old Wave.”

    A beginner’s guide; an overview listing names and titles of what to go into immediate search for would help to focus direction for interested parties and (one hopes) foster momentum toward generating that needed re-evaluation.

  • Barry Putterman

    Brian, as you say, it all depends on how you understand the concept of a list.

  • Alex

    The 1952-2012 summary BFI rankings (with rankings of top 10 summed across years– from 1 as as 10s, 2s as 9, 19 as 1s– and then re-ranked) are:
    1. Citizen Kane
    2. La Règle du jeu
    3. Battleship Potemkin
    4. Vertigo
    5. Tokyo Story
    6. The Passion of Joan of Arc
    7. The Searchers
    8. L’Avventura
    9. Bicycle Thieves
    10. 8 ½

    This is, of course, biased toward older films, or at least one old enough to have been in the running for 1952 survey, obscures trends (like the drift away from silents and neo-realism) and assumes that critics don’t get wiser (nor dumber), just au courant.

    nicolas saadra,

    As I recall, LA JETÉE is #50 on the new list.

  • Alex

    There are so many intetresing kinds of top 10 list for all time besides everyone’s average.

    For example, here one of films that never made a BFI 10 list for any year (n chronological order).

    Von Stroheim’s The Merry Widow
    Die Buchse der Pandora (Erdgeist, PartI)
    Les Enfants du Paradise
    My Darling Clementine
    Rear Window
    Some Came Running
    Il Gatopardo
    Les Quartre Cent Coups
    Berlin Alexanderplatz
    Days of Heaven

    Here’s one for maximal controvery without playing the backwards game:

    Gance’s Napoleon
    Les Enfants du Paradise
    The Third Man
    Treasurs of the Sierra Madre
    Dr. Strange Love
    Thieves Like Us
    Heaven’s Gate
    Mullholland Drive
    Babel
    The New World

  • “It is a shame that this “Ten Best” debate has distratced attention from Gremillon and the issues of French films of the Occupation and beyond that need re-evaluation.”

    It would be very interesting to know how the occupation authorities administered film production, what the censorship process entailed, who was responsible for deciding what could be filmed, and to what extent the film industry was purged of politically suspect and Jewish artists and technicians.

    It seems to me that this would be necessary background information for evaluating individual films made during the occupation. I’m guessing that these issues have been addressed in existing scholarship already, and if anyone knows of articles or books on this subject please post.

  • Tony Williams

    Tavernier made a film about this period, the title of which escapes me at present. Certain directors have made some interesting films that have never gained wider distribution. Andre Cayette filmed Zola’s AU BONHEUR DES DAMES (1943) during the Occupation and there is a great scene in Taverner’s film of Michel Simon (seen from behind) refusing to perform unless the Nazi officials of Continental leave the sound stage. i’ve only seen this film without sub-titles but Cayette directed a film against capital punoshment (1952) that is really remarkable. Tavernier knew many of the people who worked during this time and paints a very complex picture.

    Then again, there are others such as Robert Hossein whose directing career was damned by the New Wave adherents. Hedid some gangster and spy films (two with Marina Vlady) films I’ve never seen as well as a Gothic Italian western in which he acted in with Michelle Mercier. He is supposed to have directed ones of the best versions of LES MISERABLES with Lino Ventura. Here is “another subject for further research” since his films are not well known.

  • Lists are necessary, stimulating and worthy if they are taken with a little bit of humour. Perfect lists are impossible, which is why they should provoke counter-lists. The counter-lists may be the best result of the exercise. There should be no end to the exercise.

    The American Cinema by Andrew Sarris is a book of lists. He was always a man of lists. The golden volumes of Cahiers du Cinéma are full of lists. The lists of Jean-Luc Godard are still worth studying.

    Jean Grémillon’s best films, such as GARDIENS DE PHARE and REMORQUES, belong to my list of the best films of all times.

  • Tony Williams (August 3, 2012 at 9:03 pm): Bertrand Tavernier’s movie about film-making during the Occupation is LAISSEZ-PASSER. Tavernier’s knowledge and understanding of the terrible circumstances is sober, honest and profound.

  • david hare

    It’s also enjoyably expansive in the way Tavernier shows Jean Aurenche, one of his two male “real life characters” from the era barely finding the time between courting every other woman he meets to endlessly step in and rescue abandoned or unused screenplays – as he did in life with Grem’s Remorque, after Prevert walked off during the first hiatus in shooting late in 1939. The other principal character depicted is the barely known director today Jean Devaivre, who in one fabulous sequence, when “Maurice Tourneur” confides he’s having trouble conituing with La Main du Diable being filmed at Continental under the eye of Alfred Greven, talks Devaivre into finishing the decoupage and shooting for some fantasy sequences which he (Tourneur) simply can’t deal with. Tavernier then shows us possibly the most astonishing “Supernatural” scene from the picture in which the hands come alive while in a box and proceed with their work. Directed by Devaivre!
    Tavernier also leaves open the issue of how benign or otherwise was the Continental management under Greven. Greven is generally recalled as a staunch Nazi, but by other accounts, Contintental itself was an almost sure fire passage (another “Laissez-Passer” if you like) for directors like Clouzot and Tourneur to get away – almost – with murder in terms of allegorical representations of opression under the Occupation. Some say Greven may have been the inspiration for Melville’s character of Ebrennac, the “Good German” office in Le Silence de la Mer.
    Producer Andre Paulve, and Louis Daquin in the background also played a role in maintaining ongoing production facilities for Andre Paulve, hence Carne’s and Gremillon’s relative freedom with filming during the Occupation, although Grem’s Lumiere d’Ete fell foul of the Vichy censors for some period of time.

  • david hare

    Tony, another Must See immediate Post War, post Vichy film is Delannoy’s terrific Les Jeux sont Fait (’47) form the Sartre piece of ’43. Amazing cast (including Charles Dullin from Grem’s Maldone), DP Christian Mattras, a major film from Delannoy whom I believe is also responsible for at least three of the best Vichy era pictures.

  • Alex

    “It would be very interesting to know how the occupation authorities administered film production, what the censorship process entailed, who was responsible for deciding what could be filmed, and to what extent the film industry was purged of politically suspect and Jewish artists and technicians.”

    There might be some interesting information about such matters in one of the Biographies of Jacques Prevert (e.g.,William, 1967; Blakeway,1990) Certainly , the left-wing Prevert of (Groupe Octobre as well as Surrealist and Carne-Prevert fame)would have had the experience and motivations to address the issues. I don’t know of any memoir.

    BTW, Thanks, David Hare, for championing Gremillon here whenever the matter of great pre New Wave French directors came up. (Alerted me to G in time to catch his arrival at Hulu.)

  • Noel Vera

    ” it all depends on how you understand the concept of a list.”

    A list in effect takes a dip in the stream and holds it up for attention. Views the larger through a representation rather than the thing itself, not necessarily a simplification but perhaps an abstraction.

    And to lists in literature I’ll add Huck Finn collecting what he can to escape from his father. There’s a poignancy to his inventory–he has so little–as well as a fascination, because out of that little he proposes to strike out on his own.

    It’s a survivor’s gambit, taking inventory of what you have or in our case, taking inventory of what we love. Eco has a point.

  • Alex

    Any of the several biographies of Jacques Prevert is a good bet for information on Occupation-era production,for Prvert had the experience to be knowledgeble and the politics to address, rather than evade, the substantially political of the Vichy film.

    Thanks, David Hare, for a half-sozeen years of “heads up” Re Gremillon –had me alert when Hulu picked up the Criterion Legacy trio some months ago.

  • Lenny Borger has done a very fine job selecting from the wealth of French films from before and during and after the war. In particular I’m glad to see Le Bonheur there, a L’Herbier masterpiece that isn’t very well known at all. Of course the season features work from Carne and Lang and Ophuls which is already justly celebrated.

    But it can only be a sampling: Siodmak’s French films, Ozep’s, Gremillon’s early sound work (as imaginative as Lang’s), Raymond Hernard, all have had to be left out — for now. It’s an incredibly rich period/s. A great retrospective could be made just from the films of 1930-34!

  • In regards to any discussion of the “Ten Best” films,
    it’s interesting to hear who John Ford considered as the “greatest motion picture directors,” from the foreword to Frank Crapra’s “The Name Above the Tile: An Autobiography”,

    Capra has not only achieved a place of distinction in that select company of really fine directors – men like Bill Wellman, Fred Zinnemann, George Stevans, George Seaton, Billy Wilder, Henry Hathaway, the late Leo McCarey, and (abroad) Jean Renoir, Fellini, De Sica, Sir Carol Reed, and David Lean. He heads the list as the greatest motion picture director in the world.

  • Alex

    Catholic American Cinema: Top 10
    Seventh Heaven
    Make Way for Tomorrow
    How Green was My Valley
    My Darling Clementine
    White Heat
    Shadow of a Doubt
    Notorious
    Rear Window
    The Searchers
    Vertigo

    Catholic American Cinema: Top 10
    (0ne film per director)
    Seventh Heaven
    Make Way for Tomorrow
    Swing Time
    White Heat
    It’s a Wonderful Life
    Notorious
    The Searchers
    Vertigo
    The Godfather
    Raging Bull

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘Capra has not only achieved a place of distinction in that select company of really fine directors – men like Bill Wellman, Fred Zinnemann, George Stevans, George Seaton, Billy Wilder, Henry Hathaway, the late Leo McCarey, and (abroad) Jean Renoir, Fellini, De Sica, Sir Carol Reed, and David Lean. He heads the list as the greatest motion picture director in the world.’

    David, I do not understand. These directors is ‘really fine directors’ but Capra is ‘the greatest motion picture director in the world.’ Sounding like there is difference from ‘really fine’ and ‘greatest’ to me. There must be English nuance that I do not understand.

  • Junko Yasutani

    About Catholic director list, is those movies having Catholic view or just Catholic director. To me American Catholic movie is THE FUGITIVE, I CONFESS, THE WRONG MAN, GOING MY WAY, THE BELLS OF ST. MARY’S.

  • Junko,

    “Really fine” means “Very good”. There can be 1,000 very good directors.

    “Greatest” means “the best”. There is only one “best” or greatest director. (And one best writer. And one best active baseball player).

  • Top Ten Greatest Film TITLES

    MACONDO, LOCKSMITH OF THE FAIRIES (Constantin Apostolescu, 1993)
    NORMAN… IS THAT YOU? (George Schlatter, 1976)
    DOGS BARK BLUE (Claudia Hoover, 1992)
    COUNTLESS BLOGGIE (Dir. uncredited, 1920)
    IN THE BEGINNING A WILDERNESS OF AIR (Richard Gilbert, 1959)
    THE BLUE COLLAR WORKER AND THE HAIRDRESSER IN A WHIRL OF SEX AND POLITICS (Lina Wertmuller, 1996)
    CARNIVAL IN THE CLOTHES CUPBOARD (Joy Batchelor, John Halas, 1941)
    NICE GIRLS DON’T EXPLODE (Chuck Martinez, 1987)
    ARE WAITRESSES SAFE? (Hampton Del Ruth, Victor Heerman, 1917)
    A WOMAN, HER MEN, AND HER FUTON (Michael Sibay, 1992)

  • jbryant

    Jaime: If I were making such a list, it would include THE HALF NAKED TRUTH (Gregory La Cava, 1932).

  • Junko Yasutani

    Thank you for explanation Mike.

  • I was going to wait for the individual ballots to be released by Sight & Sound, but it appears that now is the right moment to share mine on Mr. Kehr’s kind cinephilia blog. So here is mine:

    1. Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
    2. Au Hasard Balthazar (Robert Bresson, 1966)
    3. Floating Clouds (Mikio Naruse, 1955)
    4. Judex (Louis Feuillade, 1916)
    5. The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles, 1942)
    6. The Patsy (Jerry Lewis, 1964)
    7. Russian Ark (Aleksandr Sokurov, 2002)
    8. Rio Bravo (Howard Hawks, 1959)
    9. Pulse (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2001)
    10. Ministry of Fear (Fritz Lang, 1944)

    FAQs (I chose not to include comments with my ballot):

    1. Yes, I am 0.005% responsible for VERTIGO’s victory over CITIZEN KANE for this poll’s severely overreported and exaggerated “upset”. What can I say? CITIZEN KANE is very, very worthy of the #1 spot but VERTIGO devastates me each time I renew my acquaintance. When I saw it recently at the Museum of the Moving Image, in a pre-restoration IB Technicolor print, my viewing was compromised by a chuckling audience, improper masking, and a degraded print with focus problems, but, all the same, I very nearly needed assistance to exit the theater. In short, I was a wobbly, rubbery mess.

    2. I endeavored to construct my ballot from pure, un-strategic cinephilia. I let my movie crazy take the reins, in other words. Looking back, I suppose I was hoping that a few picks would actually make the top 50, if not necessarily the top 10: VERTIGO, RIO BRAVO, and AU HASARD, BALTHAZAR. The other seven titles, I’m fairly certain had varying degrees of No Chance in Hell of making any sort of final cut.

    3. Half of my ballot (the top half) represents my sincere, plainspoken bid for Greatest of All Time. I could have continued with that sentiment into my 6th, 7th, and 8th spots… perhaps even to my 20th and 30th spots… but I felt the stronger impulse to represent the exalted state of my most beloved directors, perhaps with a slightly (but still sincerely) off-the-back-wall choice from their respective filmographies. Believe it or not, since the 2002 poll results were revealed, I had more than one daydream about participating in the 2012 poll, and the following films made my fantasy ballot at one point or another – besides the ones named, of course: SCHINDLER’S LIST, CERTIFIED COPY, L’ATALANTE, DUELLE (UNE QUARANTAINE), MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW, BLADE RUNNER, EXILED, WHITE DOG, RIDE LONESOME, DAY OF THE OUTLAW, TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, THE BIG SLEEP, THE HEART OF THE WORLD.

    4. The so-called dethroning of CITIZEN KANE, which is, of course, quite meaningless, even in the context of giving a damn about the Sight & Sound poll as a barometer of any degree of reliability, has inspired some cinephiles to work themselves into a state of agitated defensiveness for Welles’ super-masterpiece. It is indisputably great but, in some circles (like mine) there is a great resistance to a *complacent respect* for CITIZEN KANE, of a sort bestowed by its high ranking in this and other Official hierarchies. The gnawing, burrowing, one might say “termite” insurgency against the rather more ossified “proclaiming” of KANE’s status would (persuasively, for me) argue that the film’s greatness is actually of a piece with its unfathomable strangeness, its RKO soundstage rendering of insane infinity. A strangeness, perhaps, that is not appropriate for the whitehaired professordom many associate with canon formation. Such is the Sight & Sound boom that is lowered every decade: an Ego of official culture, and an Id that looks for masterpieces of great and thrilling madness. Looked at from this perspective, VERTIGO supposedly “defeating” CITIZEN KANE is more of a white-knuckle photo finish than many responses to the 2012 poll would seem to suggest.

    5. All the same, I am one of those who thinks that Welles grew as a brilliant filmmaker, from CITIZEN KANE onward, rather than shrunk. When drawing up my ballot, I was torn between at least 7 non-KANE choices. It came down to AMBERSONS versus F FOR FAKE. I’m still not sure I was correct in not choosing the latter.

    6. Of all the Monday morning quarterbacking that’s being done in response to the 2012 poll, my only contribution is this: how many contributors listed a pre-1920 title? Not many, I’ll wager.

  • Oliver_C

    1964’s The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies must be a contender, surely? If only because this was, so the story goes, the alternate title, with director Ray Dennis Steckler forced to drop his original, slightly different wording on account of its accidental, actionable similarity to Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

    Mention too for some of the ‘imperative titles’ originating from Japan: Destroy All Monsters!, Detective Bureau 23: Go to Hell, Bastards!, and Throw Away Your Books, Let’s Go Into the Streets!

  • Herman Melville’s MOBY DICK is also one of those books full with lists, maybe an inspiration for James Joyce. The original source for listomania may be the Bible.

    A crucial difference in Sight & Sound’s Top Ten lists of 2002 and 2012 is that films belonging to a larger whole (THE GODFATHER TRILOGY, THE THREE COLOURS TRILOGY, THE APU TRILOGY, THE MARSEILLE TRILOGY, etc.) had to be listed as separate entries this year.

    I guess that with maintaining the criteria of the previous poll THE GODFATHER movies would still have made it to the Top Ten; in 2002 they were number four. Myself, I may be the only one who would have voted for THE GODFATHER TRILOGY (not only parts I+II). For me, Michael Corleone’s Francis Bacon scream in THE GODFATHER PART III is essential to the whole, and the full force of the tragedy is felt when the Corleone family perishes utterly. For me there is an imbalance of sensibility in THE GODFATHER part I which can be interpreted as an unintentional glorification of the cosa nostra family. (And the movie can be misunderstood as light entertainment with pop culture effects such as Don Corleone pizzas and theme restaurants.) But the harsh second and third parts develop the story to the balance of great art.

  • David Cohen

    On the list of best titles of all time, I’d throw in the 1987 film SURF NAZIS MUST DIE.

  • David Cohen

    About the Sight and Sound list:

    From looking back at the choices over the decades, it seems to me that voters have not reluctant to vote for movies that featured top-level stars until some real time has passed. It took awhile, for instance, for THE SEARCHERS, VERTIGO, SOME LIKE IT HOT, and SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN to climb the list. I don’t think it’s a conscious notion, though perhaps there are still biases at work against the popular. (This does give me hope that, at some point, something like Clint Eastwood’s UNFORGIVEN might eventually crack the top 50.)

    I know there are a lot of voters out here. Is this a misreading on my part?

  • On the Sight and Sound list:

    The Top Ten includes some auteurist favorites: Hitchcock, Ford.
    But the Top 50 tells a different story.
    The 50 consist almost entirely of what used to be called “art films”.
    There are a few non-art films by auteurs: Vertigo, Psycho (Hitchcock), The Searchers (Ford), the silent comedies of Chaplin, Keaton, Singin in the Rain, and Some Like It Hot.
    Plus one (count em) documentary Shoah.
    The rest can be almost entirely classified as so-called art films.
    I know many here dislike the term “art film”, with legitimate objections – but I don’t know how to label otherwise the kind of films in the Top 50.

    There are NO experimental films in the Top 50, of the Brakhage, Whitney, Deren kind.
    There is only one documentary (Shoah).
    Auteurism has existed for 58 years. But auteurists could have stayed in bed and never published a line, for the impact they have had on this poll.
    One gets the impression that the only impact of auteurism has been to legitimize Alfred Hitchcock.
    There is no television.

    When I first started studying film in 1970, art films were the dominant Establishment taste.
    Forty years later, they are still the near exclusive taste of the film world’s 846 “top critics”.
    It is amazing.

    I like art films too.
    I am not trying to dismiss the Top 50 as “cultural vegetables”.
    At least 30 of the Top 50 are on my Recommended Film lists of my web site.

    But the lack of perspective here is deplorable.
    This is a list that mainly recognizes only one tradition of cinema.
    It seems to be made of by people who loathe Ophuls, Borzage and Feuillade.
    And who have never given two seconds thought to the proposition that a film starring Clint Walker or Chuck Connors might have artistic merit.

    Here we are 50 years later, and we are still stuck in the Dwight Macdonald worldview of 1960.

    One also notes: no black directors, no black characters in nearly any of the films, only one woman director (Chantal Ackerman), no disabled characters, no openly gay characters.

    This list is made by people with no interest in minority experience. No interest in auteurism or the avant-garde.
    It shows a staggering narrowness of taste.
    And almost a complete disinterest in 99% of the films actually made in film history.

  • Alex

    Junko Yasutani

    Catholic director.

  • Alex

    … but my intention wasn’t so much to address how much Catholic American cinema is great but but how much a certain center of critical enthusiasm at this site seems Catholic.

    Interestingly, if you turn to one of the lists on the web of great Catholic movies that have been out up by Catholics (http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=395; http://old.usccb. org/movies/vaticanfilms.shtml), the films tend to be more subtly and less ostensibly Catholic than THE FUGITIVE, I CONFESS, THE WRONG MAN, GOING MY WAY, THE BELLS OF ST. MARY’S. You get films like AWFUL TRUTH and GRAPES OF WRATH and PICKPOCKET– even films by marxian materialists like CITY LIGHT and ostensibly anti-Catholic films like BICYCLE THIEVIES (with the anti-clericalism of its swishy young priests eyes the passing street kids and officious administrators of the Catholic food-for-Mass soup kitchen), though of course utterly Catholic films like Cavalier’s THéRSE and Olmi’s TREES OF THE WOODEN CLOGGS are not bypassed.

  • David Cohen: SURF NAZIS MUST DIE, while funny, also has the ring of something too calculated, as if it were the result of a Mad-Libs style title generator, with an equally calculated film contrived to go with it. To me, the best titles have the quality of outsider art– and of course, often the films that accompany them do as well.

    But in the larger sense, I’m with Antti regarding the dialectic purpose of listmaking: lists should generate counterlists, so I welcome further nominations. (in the category of “horseshoes and handgrenades,” I have some regrets that HE DIED WITH A FELAFEL IN HIS HAND, 15 YOK YOK and TEENAGE HOOKER BECAME KILLING MACHINE IN DAEHAKNO couldn’t make the cut)

  • David Cohen

    Jaime, I can accept that logic. My favorite title of any kind, I would have to say, comes from a blues album: Junior Kimbrough’s MOST THINGS HAVEN’T WORKED OUT. (Kimbrough died not long thereafter, adding one more level of truth to the title.)

  • Brad Stevens

    Mike – I’m not quite sure what you mean by ‘art films’. Do you mean films made in languages other than English? It’s worth pointing out that, although this list was created for a British publication, it includes contributions from critics worldwide. LATE SPRING is not likely to be seen as an ‘art film’ in Japan, any more than TAXI DRIVER is likely to be seen as an art film in the US.

    “There is no television.”

    Apart from HISTOIRE(S) DU CINEMA.

    “There are NO experimental films in the Top 50, of the Brakhage, Whitney, Deren kind.”

    Given the enormous difference between Brakhage and Deren, it seems to me that there are many examples of this ‘kind’ of experimental film in the Top 50: MULHOLLAND DR, PERSONA, MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA, MIRROR, JEANNE DIELMAN, SATANTANGO, PLAY TIME, CLOSE-UP, PIERROT LE FOU, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, etc.

    “This list is made by people with no interest in minority experience.”

    Minority experiences will, by definition, not be represented in the results of a poll. If they were, they would not be minority experiences.

  • jbryant

    Mike: It’s a consensus poll, and consensus will always favor the tried and true. I would guess that the individual lists of both critics and filmmakers have plenty of choices that are friendly to the minority experience, auteurism and the avant garde.

    It also depends on how the listmaker approaches the task. The guidelines were loose. You could choose based on personal taste, historical significance or artistic merit (or some combination thereof).

  • By experimental, I was referring to the over 100 filmmakers discussed in Sheldon Renan’s AN INTRODUCTION TO THE AMERICAN UNDERGROUND FILM. The approaches of these directors are indeed monumentally varied.
    They are just not in the poll.

    I don’t think that MULHOLLAND DR, MIRROR, PIERROT LE FOU are reasonable equivalents for the vision experiments of DOG STAR MAN (Brakhage), QUICK BILLY (Baillie) or CHUMLUM (Ron Rice). This tradition is sorely missed.

    I can’t define “art film” rigorously.
    I think that CITIZEN KANE, 2001 and TAXI DRIVER have long been baptized as American art films.
    They are regarded as Culture, in a way that RIO BRAVO, THE RECKLESS MOMENT, MAN’S CASTLE and all the rest are not.
    My perceptions could be wrong.

    In BURGLAR, Bobcat Goldthwait walks into a very upscale bar, full of well-dressed business people. He exclaims, “Omigosh, it’s yuppies from hell!’
    The Top 50 list might be dubbed “Art Films from Hell”.

  • Brad Stevens

    “I don’t think that MULHOLLAND DR, MIRROR, PIERROT LE FOU are reasonable equivalents for the vision experiments of DOG STAR MAN (Brakhage), QUICK BILLY (Baillie) or CHUMLUM (Ron Rice). This tradition is sorely missed.”

    MULHOLLAND DR is very directly in the tradition of Deren’s MESHES OF THE AFTERNOON (Deren being one of the three directors you originally mentioned). And if Deren has something in common with Brakhage, then surely we can expand our definiton of ‘experimental’ cinema to include Godard and Tarkovsky. Perhaps the problem here is that the contributors to this poll were not predominantly American, and thus unlikely to grant American experimental films a privileged status.

    I agree that the absence of Ophuls from the top 50 is regrettable (I included LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN in my own list), though MADAME DE can be found in the top 100. The absence of Naruse (another of those dreaded ‘art film’ directors) is equally regrettable. But it seems to me that all the complaints about this poll – and I’ve been seeing a lot of them over the last few days – suggest only that certain individuals wish the results corresponded with their personal ten best lists. I think it’s significant that you don’t complain about the absence of horror films (aside from PSYCHO) in the top 50.

  • Yann Heckmann

    For what it’s worth, Bordwell devoted a chapter in “Narration in the Fiction Film” to the definition of the term “art film” and there’s also his essay “The Art Cinema as a Mode of Film Practice” in “Poetics of Cinema”. An interesting discussion critical of such efforts can be found here:

    http://www.scope.nottingham.ac.uk/article.php?issue=14&id=1136

    That said, I think that there is also a reasonably intuitive “I know it when I see it” type definition, e.g. when I go to see a film by Ceylan, Kiarostami or Tarr, I expect an “art film” (as opposed to, say, the new Tony Scott or Ron Howard).

    Btw, Junko, I would be interested: was/is Ozu regarded as mainstream in Japan? Thanks.

  • Barry Putterman

    Brad, since the poll represents the aggregate personal tastes of its contributors, what other logical ground exists to criticize it than that it doesn’t correspond to your own personal taste? That is, assuming that you don’t consider the exercise to be a waste of time to begin with.

  • Oliver_C

    Of course I can’t speak for Junko, but my understanding is that Ozu, in his day, was regarded as an award-winning, reasonably popular ‘name-above-the-title’ mainstream director, reliably working with major casts and for a major studio. In more recent years, both the 90th (1993) and 100th (2003) anniversaries of his birth were accompanied by well-publicised home video (re)releases.