Not mine and maybe (or probably) not yours. But these lists are published every year by people who have as few credentials as I have, or as many as you have. It’s an incredible list. And if you read the list and don’t recognize the films, go and find a friend who has a copy, or sign up to a provider who can offer you the chance to see the ancient films I have seen and love; and seen and don’t comprehend.
If I have a hope, probably overly optimistic, it would be that I could share my experience of film with more of the friends around me. If the people I know could see the films I love - and the ones I haven't seen - and put them in a context outside of their own regular film experience; searching to understand the film of other cultures and a dozen other decades, I would be very, very happy.
© Philip Powers 20170814 (quotes from Phillips' book acknowledged as GDP (relevant page) and magazine quotes acknowledged plus all use of quotes are less than 1% of book or articles, as allowed under fair-use conditions - and all quotes are in italics.)
In Hollywood, The Insiders have the clout and The Outsiders are the filmmakers. The Outsiders are hired and fired by The Insiders who have both the money and power.
Far more scripts are written than made. Several million probably. In film, every film endorsed by the MPAA gets a number, including a lot of cartoons and shorts, and in 2017, the MPAA numbering reached #50334 with Baby Driver and with #50336 with Spider-Man: Homecoming. Then there’s the rest of cinema in every other country. So, films that had some sort of budget, even low budget films like Coppola's The Rain People ($700,000) or You’re a Big Boy Now ($800,000) require a decent amount of money and a lot of people working for next to nothing. Whether it’s Tokyo Story, or L’Avventura, or A bout de souffle, a significant budget is required, even if it is – or was – cheaper to make films outside of America. So, there would have to be another 50,000 films made in the rest of the world - surely.
And each time a film is made – with the contribution of a scriptwriter, a director, an editor, and a producer (or studio) who raises the money, it’s a small miracle when it stumbles to completion. And if it turns out to be even mediocre, then that’s a further miracle. And if it comes together, whether it is one person writing, producing and directing, or three separate people, and all departments lead to a film that is regarded as being very good, then it’s yet another miracle on top of the other miracles.
And if the money people (a studio or an individual or a bank) don’t interfere too much, and a good director’s vision is realised; or if the disagreements are handled well by both parties; and a good film results – then that’s another miracle. And if that film is well marketed and promoted by those involved in that role, and critics don’t tear it apart and turn people off, and people come to a cinema to see it, then that’s about as good as you could reasonably hope for.
For a novel, which was very popular since its publication, selling four million copies, as well as single copies being read by multiple people, like in schools, or in libraries, the journey from page to film was a lucky one. The Outsiders (published in 1967) could have expected an easier path to actual production. After all, thousands of books are optioned every year by the studios, and many are lost in that process and left in limbo.
Susie Hinton’s book was not tied up with any studio in 1980, and how it came to be a film at all, was a series of lucky circumstances, where at a dozen different points it could have died before even getting to Warners who agreed to advance money against distribution rights, which enabled production to commence. And what is remarkable is that there was no one committed to the adaptation from book to film, shepherding it along, keeping it alive. Every step that happened led to another step, and miraculously over a period of three years, happenstance led to a finished movie.
If your point of reference for how this happened, was, for example, Professor Gene D. Phillips’s excellent analysis of Coppola’s work (2004): a librarian wrote a letter to Coppola, he read the letter, then the book, and decided he “wanted to make a film about young people, and about belonging.”
Phillips then, over 5½ pages, records that the writer that Coppola and Roos engaged to do the adaptation produced an unsatisfactory script, which Coppola then took on, and completed, with Susie’s endorsement, Warners gave him enough money to start filming, and eventually, when he supplied a two-hour cut of the film they insisted that he cut it to 90 minutes, which he did. They released that version, Coppola’s cut, into the cinemas where it grossed $24 million, which on a ten million dollar budget, was considered to be a minor hit.
Coppola reflected, “I feel The Outsiders suffered a little bit from the chaos of everybody at Warners turning yellow when they saw the rough cut of it, and that influenced it being cut shorted and shorter... I thought it was very much like the book.”
If a film is going to be made with this relative ease, it would be more likely that it was a studio-originated film, not a film made – again, relatively – outside the studio system. Coppola chose to produce the film himself and he received additional funding from a bank which enabled him to put it into production, starting on 29 March 1982.
A few hours spent on the internet looking for newspaper, periodical or journal articles about the film led me to piece together a tale which I found fascinating, about how a lot of lucky connections, kept this project alive, when it was always possible that despite the efforts of so many people, playing their little part, it could collapse at any moment.
The Failure – Pragmatism Over Inspiration
If One from the Heart – and some other costly projects - had not failed so spectacularly, drowning Coppola in debt, he may never have made The Outsiders or Rumble Fish (also based on a book by S.E. Hinton, filmed back to back in 1982, the former production from 29 March - June 1982 and the latter beginning principal photography on 12 July 1982). Although One from the Heart hadn’t officially failed until its release on 15 February 1982 on 41 screens, running for a only a few weeks, grossing $390,000 (check source), it’s not likely that Coppola would have anticipated that his third of the box office would cover the $25-216 million budget. It would have had to make $75 million at least, using the most optimistic contractual conditions (which are unknown) for him to receive a good share of the box office revenue. So far, in Coppola’s career, the films he wanted to make, the personal projects, The Rain People and The Conversation, had grossed a few million dollars. The Godfather, which he signed up for and made for the directing fee, to support his American Zoetrope Studio, was based on a novel which was a huge bestseller. With a budget which was carefully monitored, it had justified optimism that it could make $20 million, and return the budget to Paramount with a few million profit. Apocalypse Now’s over-runs made it a folly, despite grossing $90 million. It would have certainly not recouped its costs from its theatrical run. His two subsequent projects, One from the Heart and Hammett, would have emptied his studio’s coffers of all his profits from The Godfather films and the success of The Black Stallion (1980) which he executive produced. According to one source, filming on One from the Heart ended in April 1981 and post-production took up the rest of the year. If Coppola had an accountant, he would have been advised of the box office results his two current projects would need to achieve, to counter the money he owed the banks. Heading towards the end of 1981 Coppola would have known he was in deep financial trouble. If he wanted to be allowed to direct another film, he needed something to fall into his lap. His debt with those twin failures was estimated to be $40-50 million dollars.
The Librarian – An Unsolicited (Fan) Letter Miraculously Reaches Coppola
In 1980 (GDP, p.202) a librarian from Lone Star High School, in Fresno, wrote to Coppola, with a petition signed by students of the school, suggesting that The Outsiders would make a good film. They wrote to Coppola c/- Paramount Studios. The letter reached him when he was in New York and because he received a lot less mail in New York than when he was in San Francisco or L.A., it didn’t get lost amongst the hundreds, maybe thousands of other letters people sent him. He read the letter, commented to his associate (Fred Roos) that kids probably knew a thing or two about what would make a good film for a teenage audience, and suggested that Roos might like to read the enclosed book and let him know what he thought of it. Roos remembers that the enclosed book looked like it was cheaply published and despite accepting the physical book itself, and carrying it around me him, he had no intention of reading it.
The Plane Part I – A Book is Read by Fred, Miraculously
Fred Roos carries The Outsiders around with him for weeks or months and doesn’t read it. He knows it’s in his luggage, and probably doesn’t discard it, because the great film director, Francis Ford Coppola, has asked him to read it. He doesn’t want to read it, some people would feel a sense of responsibility. One day, on a flight, he decides to read the first ten pages, then throw it away. Then he could say he’d looked at it, and it was terrible, and he wouldn’t be lying.
Instead, he reads the entire novel and likes it. As happens with directors who become producers, they option something that has a level of appeal, which they might one day direct, along with two or three, or twenty or thirty, or fifty or sixty other projects they’re juggling. If they end up pursuing a specific novel or screenplay more often than not they end up letting it go altogether, or if they’re really caught up with it, they produce it or executive produce it, for someone else to direct.
The number of times that projects are announced in Variety or The Hollywood Reporter and are never made is considerable. The number of times stars and directors are connected in official announcements which are made in Hollywood media is considerable. A recent example is when Ben Affleck signed up for the Batman role and it was announced that – in the wake of Argo getting multiple Academy Awards – he’d be directing D.C.’s answer to Marvel’s The Avengers. For whatever reasons, Affleck eventually relinquishes the directing reins and stays on as an actor. Other examples of pet projects not being made by the project originator include a hundred different Spielberg films which he is definitely going to direct, potentially going to direct, or which he owns with the intention of directing. Three Spielberg examples include Roboapocalypse, which he was always going to direct, Men in Black (1997) which he was developing for himself, and Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) which he owned and was intending to direct, and Eagle Eye (2008).
Robopocalypse which he was attached to for several years ultimately was unannounced in 2015-2016 and disappeared, as being too expensive to film; Men in Black went to Barry Sonnenfeld but Spielberg (whose name doesn’t appear on it) made a fortune from it, directing Saving Private Ryan and Amistad instead; Memoirs of a Geisha went to Rob Marshall (while Spielberg chose Munich), but still had John Williams attached; and Eagle Eye went to D.J. Caruso, with no credit to Spielberg for the idea – just as one of eight producers).
It’s a massive digression, but directors don’t end up directing films they’re announced to direct – a lot of the time. That Coppola directed The Outsiders came out as a fourth piece of luck as he didn’t have anything else ready to make which would cost $10,000,000, which he could get backing for.
Optioned – $5,000 is Too Much, I’ve got $500
Fred Roos goes to Tulsa to meet with Susie Hinton and tells her the story of the librarian’s letter (presumably). Coppola, or Zoetrope, probably both, can’t afford to give Hinton her asking price of $5,000 for an option. Maybe Roos himself, knowing the financial situation, plays hardball. Instead, she agrees to sign away the rights for $500 (but probably not forever, usually for a year or two or more while the production company tries to raise the money to begin filming), plus points. Hinton is (possibly) too naïve to know that points mean nothing after the pennies are counted, unless a film makes a squillion. For some reason, not particularly to do with Coppola, Hinton agrees. Phillips suggests it is because she likes horses and she liked The Black Stallion (1980), and thought that someone who produced a nice children’s film like that, might be a good candidate for a film of her most famous book; not because she’d seen The Godfather or Apocalypse Now or recognized him as a great director. $5,000 is a very reasonable price to option a popular book, and $500 is a little ridiculous and really, a little insulting as well. So, that could have been the end of the film there and then.
Drafted – Coppola Assigns a Writer and Director
Now, it is probably 1981, Coppola’s been writing and preparing for and directing OFTH. Kathleen Rowell is assigned to do the adaptation of The Outsiders and Coppola hasn’t read the book and hasn’t shown any great interest in the project. Coppola received Rowell’s screenplay and was disappointed with it. When Coppola met Hinton he was struck by her writing, both descriptions and dialogue. (GDP p.204). The project is put aside while Coppola works on other projects. That’s almost the testament of death to a project. But in Phillips’ book, Coppola simply decides to rewrite the script himself, sticking closely to the book. Not so. It wasn’t simple. After Coppola saw the script it went into a bin. It may never have come on to Coppola’s radar again, and having only paid $500 for the option, it wasn’t as if there was any investment, psychological, emotional or financial, at the point he rejected Rowell’s script.
The Plane Part II – Coppola Reads the Book
Coppola’s in an airport and on a plane, and for some reason he now has the book – or maybe he’s travelling with Fred who is still carrying it around in his luggage having liked it – and decides to read it, rather than be bored, presumably. He likes it – a lot – and for the first time (recorded) has an emotional investment in it. If filming begins in March 1982, then this event has to happen in 1981, while he is still in post-production with his troubled OFTH project. That Coppola read it, liked it, wanted to direct it, wanted to perfect the screenplay so that it matched the book, writing it himself, represents a series of extraordinary events. Coppola’s previously only directed one film based directly on a book (The Godfather – You’re a Big Boy Now was a novel but it wasn’t a faithful adaptation.)
A director can’t like something in October 1981 and then start filming it in March 1982, having just tossed out the first screenplay. Not if he needs to rewrite the script, organise finance, and hold auditions for the cast. So it must have happened while post-production on OFTH was happening.
Rob Lowe recalls that it was just after Christmas 1982 that his agents ask him if he wants to read for The Outsiders. Given that filming started in March 1982 and the release was February 1983, that’s simply not possible. (Doesn’t anyone check even the most basic information anymore?).
So let’s assume it was just after Christmas, but Christmas 1981, that mean’s Ellen’s letter arrived in 1980, Coppola filmed OFTH in 1981, thing were going belly up and post-production was not looking so good, Roos visited Hinton, bought the rights, Coppola rejected the Rowell screenplay, then read the book and visited Hinton, and decided that she really was a real American writer, with an authentic voice, not a writer of young people’s books.
If Rob Lowe is a year out in his memory of when he auditioned for The Outsiders, it makes it Christmas 1980 or Christmas 1981. Christmas 1980 is before filming commenced on OFTH. Christmas 1981 makes it during post-production of OFTH which means that Coppola read the book in mid-1981 (so it must have been Christmas 1981), and got interested, did a bunch of rewrites, set up shop in Tulsa (in late 1981), got an advance from Warners in later 1981-early 1982, and started filming on location in March. The beauty of shooting on location is that pre-production doesn’t involve building sets and a lot of set decoration. Coppola could have been rewriting the Howell screenplay, while having location scouts scout locations in Tulsa – Fred probably – the new George – simultaneously trying to get the financing in place for a film in 1982 which is only $4 million more expensive than The Godfather in 1972.
Rewriting – Coppola Writes 14 Drafts of His Version of the Screenplay
“When I met Susie… it was confirmed to me that she was not just a young people’s novelist, but a real American novelist. For me the primary thing about her books is that the characters come across as very real.” (GDP, p.204)
In Spring of 1982 Coppola was still writing and rewriting his screenplay of Hinton’s book, and still didn’t have a distributor. Nevertheless, he went to Tulsa and set up a production office in the city where he would shoot the film. (GDP p.206).
Despite having a bestselling novel, with a guaranteed teenage audience, with thousands of students studying it in high school, Coppola couldn’t get one of Hollywood’s major distributor to agree to a deal and advance them the necessary funding to start shooting.
Despite the lack of funding, late in 1981 Coppola held auditions for aspiring actors whose agents want their clients to be cast in A Francis Ford Coppola Film.
Coppola must have used his name to get casting agents to send actors to him, despite having no money or any distribution in place. In early March 1982 he started rehearsing his actors with the script, using his previsualization method (from OFTH), which was his usual way of testing the screenplay with actors. He would then rewrite whatever didn’t work, or incorporate new ideas, and had, as custom, a new draft ready for Day 1 of filming.
Auditions – Who Are You Today?
Tom Cruise came out of the audition pumped. Other actors had been sent on their way but he’s been asked to stay behind. Rob Lowe asked him what part he was reading for. “Up until today it was Sadapop, but Francis has everyone switching parts and bringing us all in and out while everyone watches everyone else! I just got done reading Darrel.”
But you’re not old enough to play Darrel says Emilio.
That’s what I thought plus I hadn’t prepared that part, says Tom
Several actors are recalled and Coppola tells them,
Some of you may be asked to play different roles than you have prepared and some of you won’t. This is really just an opportunity to explore the material.
This may be an abstract artistic exercise for Coppola, but for every single one of us young actors huddled in the darkness, this day will be the difference between continuing the struggles of our daily lives and seeing those lives changed forever.
Dennis Quaid is there. So is Scott Baio. Both have been successful recently or are currently. Group after group read in front of the others.
No one flames out. No one sucks. It is unheard-of to actually sit and watch your competition, and there’s good reason for this protocol: it makes the pressure almost unbearable.
Rob Lowe is filled with insecurity as he is asked to play his scene as Sodapop, with John Laughlin as Darrel (eventually in the film by Patrick Swayze) and Tom Howell (C. Thomas Howell) as Ponyboy.
Lowe reasons within himself before he gives the line that starts the scene:
What’s called for, what actors are hired for, is to bring reality to the arbitrary.
Lowe tries to centre himself. He makes a judgment, to read his part from memory. In his mind he thinks through every part of who he is as a person and every part of what he will bring to his reading of Sodapop, the character he’s performing. He rationalizes,
I know nothing about being an orphan. I wasn’t alive in the 1950s. I’ve never been to Tulsa, Oklahoma and I’ve never met a Greaser. But I do have brothers whom I love. I know what it is to long for a parent who is no longer in the family. I have met my fair share of rough kids and have felt that I didn’t belong, and when I remember my old gang of friends back on Dayton’s north side, my personal truths provide enough ammunition for me to play Sodapop Curtis.
A new chapter in Rob Lowe’s book. This one film has more space given to it in his autobiography than any other film he made. The way in which this young cast was accumulated by Coppola and knitted together was as memorable as the most amazing thing he’d ever done in life.
A suspenseful two weeks later, it’s official. I’m offered the part of Sodapop Curtis, the romantic, sweet-natured, loving middle brother. Tommy Howell surprises no one by getting the lead role of Ponyboy… Francis has chosen Tom Cruise as my roommate for this adventure.
Tulsa – I’m here and I’m starting principal photography with or without finance
That’s surely got to be seen as completely irresponsible behaviour by Coppola. If Philips’s research is correct, then Coppola must have gone crazy, because he’s not going to set up an office in Tulsa, require actors to be ready for filming, if he can’t pay them. Maybe Coppola did go crazy. Maybe people just have to push forward with the things they want to do, and risk complete failure, because they’re passionate about the project. Yet again, this project could have fallen over. Coppola believed in this project (GDP, p.206) and studio after studio rejected it – or maybe it was him. Maybe he was perceived as uncontrollable and OFTH was the final nail in his coffin.
Without an advance, by a studio like Warners, against distribution income, there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that Coppola would have got a bank to loan him the rest of the money, which is what happened. The way I’ve always understood financing, is that until you have distribution in place, the rest of the finance has no chance of falling into place.
And reading Lowe’s descriptions, it seems like he was requiring young would-be actors to be able to cope with the kind of pressure that he puts on Brando, that Brando in turn puts on him, that the studio puts on them both, and still deliver good dailies or a good performance, all for the hope they can collaborate and produce something that will lead them to their next job.
Funded – Warners Agrees to a Distribution Deal for The Outsiders
Despite a bankrupt company, Coppola talks his way into filming two movies in nine months in 1982, and gets three releases right on the heels of his megabomb: The Outsiders in 1983, Rumble Fish in 1984 and The Cotton Club in 1984. Even at this point, filming in Tulsa, the project could have crashed and burned if Coppola hadn’t been able to rein himself in. His excesses on The Godfather films, Apocalypse Now and One From the Heart, where he seemed to not have any restraint or self-control, giving into every thought or desire which would make his films better while proceeding further and further into debt, would certainly have made him appear unstable. It’s an amazing achievement, to pull oneself back from the excesses of the last decade, and go back to the fast, efficient filmmaking modus operandi of how he operated when he worked on Roger Corman’s films, You’re a Big Boy Now, Finnian’s Rainbow and The Rain People.
Coppola shoots The Outsiders and delivers it on budget, on schedule, and at 90 minutes
Coppola has managed to contain himself when necessary (Rain People, You’re a Big Boy Now), argue for more resources when he’s adamant it’s required (The Godfather $2 million up to $6 million vs $134 million box office), get carte blanche from time to time (Godfather Part II $13 million vs $57 million box office), get a free film when he holds all the cards (The Conversation $1.6 million budget vs $4 million box office), go mad with excess when he’s got the money or the borrowing power (Apocalypse Now $31 million vs $78 million box office and One From the Heart $26 million vs $390,000 box office), pull back and make two smaller films (The Outsiders $10 million vs $24 million box office and Rumble Fish $10 million vs $2.5 million box office), get control again and go mad at someone else’s expense (The Cotton Club $58 million vs $26 million box office), and then subsequently pay off his debts with a few films where he fits in and curbs his passion, even if they’re not what he would term personal films. And then revisit The Godfather for a third time ($54 million vs $66.5 million box office). And land a whale, when he’s all but spent (The Rainmaker $40 million vs $45 million box office).
Longevity of a Salesman - If Bullshit was Music, Coppola would be a Brass Band.
Whatever the curve ball, Coppola turns it into another movie. And if he’s not directing, then he’s producing someone else’s project, for which he captures their enthusiasm. As an artist who can talk up a film he wants to make, he can similarly be talked into a film someone else wants to make. It’s an asset.
[What I see in Coppola is a man of many parts, depending on which way the wind blows.]
He respects the writer, first and foremost
He wants to be an auteur and make the films he wants to make, no matter anyone’s thoughts.
He wants to change the studio system of dictatorial control.
He will sacrifice himself to the system he hates and rejects, to get the money to keep his dream alive, so he can fund himself and other filmmakers who can work without big brother looking over their shoulder and God dictating the final cut.
He will give himself over to the fulfilment (no matter the personal cost) of an accumulating set of ideas that will make his current project better and if he can fund the filming of the next idea that is better than the previous one, he will allow creativity (mixed with passion) to steer him to the next port of call. Sometimes the port is a just a completed film (The Outsiders) and sometimes it is just one completed idea (The Conversation). One idea that he gets amongst a thousand other ideas, may or may not accumulate into several, or hundreds of, ideas resulting in a finished film (Apocalypse Now, One from the Heart).
Same crew – Different film – Same author – "Susie, Let’s Just Keep Shooting"
Caught up in working with someone who he really respects as a writer, led Coppola to ask Susie Hinton during filming The Outsiders,
‘‘Susie, we get along great. Have you written anything else I can film?’ I told him about Rumble Fish, and he read the book and loved it. He said, ‘I know what we can do. On our Sunday’s off, let’s write a screenplay, and then as soon as we can wrap The Outsiders, we’ll take a two-week break, and start filming Rumble Fish.’ I said ‘Sure, Francis, we’re working 16 hours a day, and you want to spend Sundays writing another screenplay?’ But that’s what we did.” (GDP, p.214)
As I started to think about what I wanted to say about where Ingmar Bergman’s films fit into the 200 films that much more mature minds than mine have chosen as the greatest of all time, I realized that I only had a strong emotional reaction to three of the films, Persona, Scenes from a Marriage and Smiles of a Summer Night. I actually loved them, unequivocally, on many different levels. The films for which I had a strong visual attraction were Persona, Smiles of a Summer Night, Wild Strawberries, The Virgin Spring and, of course, The Seventh Seal. The two films which overwhelmed me were Cries and Whispers and Fanny and Alexander. The film which seemed to me to be ahead of its time, moreso than the others, was The Virgin Spring. It's depiction of violence and revenge killings caused outrage at the time. Hour of the Wolf was a film I appreciated as more of a middle ground between Ingmar Bergman's film with a more conventional narrative, and the narrative-style that began anew with Persona and developed further with Hour of the Wolf and Cries and Whispers. It was fascinating and engrossing but left me feeling largely indifferent; even upon reflection.
Not having seen them before (except a lot of Seventh Seal was familiar – and I always finish any film I start and I don’t watch a film unless I’ve seen it from the beginning), meant that the only thing I knew was that The Seventh Seal, Persona, Hour of the Wolf and Fanny and Alexander were regarded as exceptional as they appeared on numerous of the 1200 Best Ten Film lists in the 2012 Sight and Sound Survey. Even then I did have an expectation which I think coloured my view, which was, “Impress Me!”
Persona did impress me, instantly, whereas the other three I had to think about for days afterwards before I arrived at a conclusion. The danger of bringing preconceived ideas to a film, even when that is minimal, is that it will influence the act of sitting down and watching the films on their own terms.
When I began watching the films that populated this 2012 Greatest Films Survey (about two weeks before I decided to attempt it in the space of a year), I watched Tokyo Story and Man with a Movie Camera. I took this attitude of “Impress Me!” into the screenings. And both films did. Enormously. They are incredible. Vertov’s collection of images, arrangement of images, incorporation of structures and other man-made things (machines mostly), showing visual relationships with those creations, rank it as one of the most impressive pieces of filmmaking I’d seen. Sergei Bundarchuk’s Waterloo and David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia (along with Intolerance and The Ten Commandments) were extraordinary pieces of filmmaking with respect to commanding resources, and so – in its way – is Man with a Movie Camera.
Tokyo Story was the opposite. I watched the story develop and I expected that it would be a very particular kind of film that only a particular kind of person could appreciate as being remarkable. And yet it told as simple a story as anything I’ve ever seen, which became more and more interesting to me as it unfolded. Beautifully created images combined with mostly peaceful human interactions and observational-filming and acting. The storytelling is moving as is the idea of showing how an elderly couple are treated by all of those they interact with. The plot could be written on the back of a postage stamp and yet the details seen in the way the camera observes events could fill pages and pages. I’m from an English-speaking background, and the film is in Japanese (with subtitles), and yet Ozu’s film language conveys things far beyond the dialogue or subtitles. It’s an amazing film. It’s amazing – to me – because it isn’t Lawrence of Arabia or Citizen Kane and was engrossing without great resources or any intricate storytelling structure. The film you see if you want to know how to make a film about a few ideas and say a thousand things. My preconceived ideas were overwhelmed by the film. It’s definitely when-less-is-more filmmaking.
As I hadn’t seen any of the Bergman films (except maybe Seventh Seal), I brought far fewer preconceived ideas to my viewing of Bergman’s films, than the four films planned for this week, because I’ve seen The Godfather twice before, and The Godfather Part II once before, The Conversation four times, and Apocalypse Now twice (both times in the cinema). So I will bring all sorts of ideas to this week’s screenings.
My preconceived ideas are:
The Godfather (1972) – “excellent film, in every regard.”
The Godfather Part II (1974) – “absolutely brilliant, inspired, engrossing, goes beyond the genre, or the normal film narrative of its time.”
The Conversation (1974) – “it’s good, all aspects are very well executed, I love the idea and I love the ending – very novel, but I don’t understand why it’s brilliant. Is it’s ordinariness its brilliance, like a Tokyo Story, where you just observe, or listen in on a conversation? It’s solid but lacking the kind of arc and climax that makes a really good thriller. Pedestrian in its pacing at times.
Apocalypse Now (1979) – “The first time, I thought it was very good, but some of the Marlon Brandon scenes were just too long and too inarticulate, and it strayed too far from Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” which I had just studied at university, and loved. With all the reports of the problems of making the film, actors having heart attacks and breakdowns, and drug use, and the film being shut down, then more delays, then Coppola running out of money, his ego running out of control: I think I bought into the media story which was that several egos were out of control and the film was cobbled together from the salvageable footage. And I still thought the film was good – very powerful. But, a diluted Heart of Darkness (the novel on which part of it was based).
The next time was twelve years later and the second time around I wasn’t aware of any popular revisionist thinking about the film in 1992, but I was keen to see it again, as was my best friend, and my second response was, ‘Wow! One of the greatest, most harrowing, films ever made.’ I didn’t think in terms of Best 100 Films or Top Ten Films, in those days, but if I had, it would probably have been in both.
Nowadays I still don’t think in terms of a Greatest 100 Films, or a personal Top Ten, despite this (ridiculous) exercise, which is, of course, centered round the idea of The Greatest Films Ever. Those kind of phrases are invented by the people who sell newspapers and magazines. But where it proves useful, insightful, is in collecting hundreds of opinions about what the polled participants would site as their Top Ten Films if a gun was held to their head. So many of the critics and directors mentioned the ridiculousness of the task, in trying to create a list of just ten films from all they have seen.
Most people who really enjoy movies see around ten or twenty in the cinema a year. Or if you’re Rod Joyce, around a hundred a year. Plus another dozen or so at home, revisiting favourite films regularly. Or if you’re me, then it’s sometimes a hundred in the cinema, and another two hundred (films I’ve never seen) at home, every year. Or during the last ten years with the SSO, it was more like twenty in the cinema and fifty at home every year, because my energy was going into recording music rather than watching film. But despite those ten years of only seeing seventy films a year – only about thirty were for the first time – there was a twenty year period where I saw on average, one a night – all new to me; and fifteen years of watching two a night, but only half of those would have been films I’ve never seen before.
Film critics, academics and film historians, of course, would have seen far more than that, and from a far wider pool than what my local video store had available.
This brings me to the value I find in the fact that when people who want to cause controversy and raise their readership and sell more magazines and newspapers (advertising The Best Film of All Time or The Greatest 100 Films) ask for a multitude of top ten lists: a consensus forms around certain films, by people who have seen as many films in a language that is not their first, as in their first.
First, I discovered the British Film Institute [BFI] list from 2012 which polled over a thousand people who live, breathe and think film. Then I discovered the top ten lists from the same poll (also known as Sight and Sound poll) for 1952, 62, 72, 82, 92, 2002, at a certain point separated to delineate directors from critics, academics, historians, exhibitors, distributors and other important craft roles. And with the 2012 poll, the BFI provided a breakdown of every voters’ top ten list, all films voted for, and a list of the top 100 films as voted by directors and the top 100 films by critics.
That’s where the idea of this endeavour started. I looked at the two lists of 100 films, worked out the ones in common, worked out the ones which weren’t, noted the ones I hadn’t seen, and the idea germinated from there. Naturally, I already knew that the Internet Movie Data Base had a list based on a 10-point system of everyone in the world’s opinion (with an English-speaking bias), and that Rotten Tomatoes had a rating. That gave me another two slants.
The Critics 100 list has a slight bias towards embracing a cerebral view of film over one of enjoyment or emotional fulfilment.
The Directors 100 list has a slight bias towards the idea of the director having the major vision of how a film turns out. The bias of the director’s list is that they see the director as the visionary who is responsible for the artistic (not commercial)success of the film.
The Three Directors’ Cuts:
due to (probable) studio interference we now have three versions of a director’s cut
1) a lot of footage which wasn’t shown in the original, is shoved back in, to gain another marketing opportunity for the studio,
2) an actual director’s cut, where a director’s original vision, which was interfered with, is restored by the director or someone else, and
3) a new cut of the film which comes about because a director is asked to re-evaluate his original film with the benefit of hindsight, and trim certain scenes, and include other material which wasn’t used for various reasons, such as it messed up the pacing, in the theatrical release, or the first release.]
It was at this point that I found a copy of Tokyo Story in my local library and watched it. Then I found a friend who had Man with a Movie Camera, and watched it. Both viewings left me with such a strong feeling that I was seeing something utterly amazing and quite extraordinary. And for the first time. And they were both better than some recent misfires in popular cinema, with comic book adaptations taking over the world in more senses than one.
I’ve recovered from the disappointment of the very first film of the 52-week journey, and re-watched it. But The General wasn’t hilarious, and I expected it would be. Now, I see it as a completely different film. And now because I read anything about it’s greatness. I waited five days and watched it again.
Then I’ve gone along with Week 2 and Week 3. The The Seventh Seal and Fanny and Alexander didn’t hit me between the eyes, but Persona did, and it made me want to see more of Bergman. Then came Hour of the Wolf whichunderwhelmed me. At this point I realized that you can’t expect to see something immediately if the person that makes it, brings a different sensibility to their creation, than the diet I’m most familiar with. I went back to my local library, found Cries and Whispers, The Virgin Spring, Smiles from a Summer Night, Wild Strawberries and Scenes from a Marriage. And now I realise that I’ve seen nine, not eight Ingmar Bergman films in the last two weeks. I lost track. Six from Lane Cove Library, two from Quickflix, and one from a friend.
All of these lists have made me broaden my understanding of film by embarking on this adventure – and have achieve it, in just three weeks.
Everything else is now an additional broadening of my mind with regard to this particular artform. I've achieved more than I hadn't considered. That says something.
When someone saw my first published film reviews, written as a student at the University of NSW for their newspaper in 1981 (Outland and Airplane! [aka. Flying High]), he asked me why I thought I was qualified to review films. I reckoned – mischievously – aged seventeen, that having seen approximately two films in the cinema every week since I was about ten years old, about 700 films in all, plus another thousand on television, that qualified me:
‘I’ve seen a lot films, good and bad, and I'm surely at the very least as qualified as any reviewer in magazines or newspapers to offer my thoughts.’' - Philip Powers, 1981.
After studying Drama and Film for three years at University, I realized that there were many more films out there, which I would never see, and only certain kinds of films would be screened in cinemas in Australia. I remember making a decision to try and see films that weren't released in Australian cinemas and to stop reading reviews to help guide me to what films I should or shouldn’t make the time to see. I remember telling someone in my very early twenties that I didn’t take notice anymore of what reviewers or critics in newspapers and magazines say or think about films:
‘Film critics are just people with an opinion, and as I’m not necessarily going to agree with it, I don’t read anyone’s opinion about a film until after I’ve seen it for myself. Before I see it for myself, not even knowing the basic plot, I don’t care what anyone thinks. I’ll make my own evaluation, uninfluenced by others. After I’ve seen it, I’ll read almost anything anyone says about it.’ - Powers, 1983.
As I think about what I’m attempting to do, as some of these films are very serious, and made by filmmakers from countries all over the world, I’m caused to reflect on my differing view of film critics, film reviewers and film critiques over the years. One of the things I’ve noticed over the years is that certain publications have a higher bar for what they consider good films, and that popular or commercially successful films often are derided because they are in fact popular, and there are many critics who have savaged film after film from Hollywood over the last 40 years, to such an extent it’s made me wonder why they even bother watching Hollywood films, for instance, if they hate them so much.
‘Are the people who review films in a different world than the rest of us? Shouldn't people who review film, actually love film and always try to see the best in it, as opposed to always tearing the majority of films down? Sometimes it seems like there's only twenty decent films made every year, if you listen to those guys.' - Powers, 1985.
Since the time I was 18 and 19 when studying film formally, at University, I’ve had a lot different feelings and thoughts about what makes a film a good film, or a great film, and developed lots of theories (and rejected many) about how films are, can, or should be evaluated. I've always given a film a rating. Since I was a kid, my dad had books or collections of published critiques, based on a four-star rating system, lying around the house.
I adopted this system without knowing it and every film I saw got an evaluation for its quality as a film, and another for how good the music score was. When you look at my earliest diaries, ever film has between one and four asterisks following the title. *poor **fair ***good ****excellent.
For the last 20 years I’ve often give a film two ratings. The first one for my perception of its value as a film (compared with all other films I have seen in my lifetime) and the second one for my enjoyment of it. This change in just rating a film on one level was a life saver actually, enabling me to open up two different parts of myself (without the conflict that had previously always been there), and evaluate, quite discretely, the reaction my brain had, and the reaction my emotions had. Sometimes they’re exactly the same, and sometimes they’re quite different and sometimes they’re only a little bit different.
But, I'm not setting up something where I will opine about this film being better than another film. Every film is equal before it is seen by the public. Whether it is El Mariachi ($7,000 budget) or Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (more than $200,000,000 budget). Whether it is Plan 9 From Outer Space, Titanic, Heaven’s Gate, Casablanca, Crocodile Dundee or Transformers: The Last Knight. Even the unequal are equal before the film critics get to them and the public has their say and sometimes only time will tell how they are regarded ten, twenty, thirty, a hundred years from when they were made.
A silent film called Sunrise, made in 1927, which I’ve never seen, was ranked #5 by the critics in 2012. The directors rate it slightly less, coming in at #24. [I’ve ordered it from Amazon.] And The Passion of Joan of Arc, 1928, is ranked #9 and #38, respectively. [I’ve found it in my local library.]
Time will tell.
© Philip Powers 20170711
I’m not trying to come up with a comprehensive list of the top hundred films – which will represent my opinion – ever made, by the time I reach the end of my 52 weeks of self-imposed viewing. And it’s an evolving list, developed by people from everywhere, growing slightly as I research more opinions.
In fact, I’m viewing a lot more than 100 films. At this stage the number of films on my list sits at about 150, and it is growing.
I know some people have an issue when their favourite film or films is/are not included on these so-called official lists of the great films. But that’s not what this is about for me. I know that when tabulated by Sight and Sound magazine, the Top Ten Films, by 847 critics, programmers, academics and distributors; and the Top Ten Films by 357 film – documentary and feature – directors, contain only two of my Top 50 Favourite Films: 2001 and Vertigo. But four of My Top Ten Best Films ever are there: 2001, Citizen Kane, Apocalypse Now and The Godfather. You may notice that Vertigo isn’t there amongst my Best Films, but is in my Favourite Films and yet Hitchcock is one of my favourite 6 or 7 directors. That’s the difficulty that presents itself when trying to put together a list of 100 or 150 great films.
Some people supplied their favourite ten films and other gave what they thought were the ten best – or greatest – films. For me, I may have chosen Psycho in place of Vertigo in the Ten Best List, despite the fact that I believe Vertigo is by far the most daring and multi-faceted of. Interestingly, Vertigo ranks #1 on the 2012 Critic’s List, #7 on the 2012 Director’s List and Psycho only ranks #48 on the Director’s List. Interestingly for Psycho, it was #41 in 2002 and is #35 in 2012 as hundreds more film critics are added to the poll; whereas in the Director’s List it has fallen from #17 to #48 as the net widens to embrace more directors from more countries, than ever before. And yet Vertigo has stayed rock solid, move up from #8 to #7 in that ten year period.
Nevertheless, both films are still firmly in the Top 100 Film whatever the basis of the people polled and are on my list. I find it interesting to analyse the lists and see where tastes have changed, or opinions have changed, and there are some films which I won’t watch as part of this 52 weeks which were once in the Top 100 but now are significantly absent.
Amongst the Top 10 films, I haven’t seen Tokyo Story or Mirror, so I can’t comment yet; and whilst I saw 8½ and Bicycle Thieves – when I was 18 – I didn’t rate those films highly then and they wouldn’t figure amongst my 500 Best Films or my 500 Favourite Films. There’s one film I haven’t mentioned yet, that comes in as the 5th Greatest Film Ever, as ranked by 357 directors (but is #31 by critics) – Taxi Driver. I’ve seen it three times and I think it is a four-star film on a **** system and on a five-star system it is a ****½. Although it is in my Top 100 Films, it is not amongst my Top Ten Favourites or Top Ten Best.
If we expand the list to twenty films, although I have seen eight of the first ten, I’ve only seen five of the films which rank from eleven to twenty. One of those films, Barry Lyndon, is in my Top 100 Films Ever. I think Breathless (I’ve seen once) and Raging Bull (I’ve seen five times – in an attempt to understand its standing), are good films, on a certain level, when judged in mind of certain criteria. Seven Samurai, however, which I first saw at age 15, then in my twenties, then in my thirties, left me cold. Rashomon left me colder and I never revisited it. Persona, The 400 Blows, Andrei Rublev, Fanny and Alexander and Ordet, are films I haven’t seen, which hundreds and hundreds of film scholars have seen and rate highly. As well as thousands of people who review (or just rate) films on the IMDB.
Over the years I’ve become more and more aware of the difficulty in ranking films – or being judgmental about the absence of one’s own favourites in other people’s lists, especially when factoring in that nearly all of the film academics and historians would have seen all of the Top 100 Films and I’ve seen just 55 of them. And the ones I haven’t seen are nearly all non-English-speaking films: from France, India, Italy, Japan, Germany, Russia, Sweden – with just a couple of films here and there which I missed from the British and American cultures.
Having lived a life that is so Anglo-centric, I’ve realised the enormous gap in my knowledge of important films. Thus the journey. Part of this realization has come about because I’ve just finished a decade of work with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, where my attention has been focused on classical music to the exclusion of most other interests of mine. That nine and a half years with the SSO exposed me to the greatest pieces of classical music, time and time again, plus gave me the opportunity to hear them by visiting orchestra, like the Israel, Vienna and Berlin orchestra, as well as a Russian orchestra (playing Shostakovich - amazing) and a couple of London orchestras.
Despite a knowledge of more than half the films, that still leaves a lot of films on which I can’t yet comment. I’d be a bold person to be aggrieved at the absence of a film I consider one of the best ever, given I haven’t seen almost 50% of the films on a list compiled by people who have seen all of the films. And many more than the ones on the list, from so many different cultures…
Not only do I lack the ability to judge these films I haven’t seen (which I will get to see in the next 52 weeks), I lack the context of the country’s film culture to judge those films.
At the ripe old age of 54, I’m undertaking to i) watch the 45 I haven’t seen, ii) to watch the other 55 again, and iii) to include other important films by the represented filmmakers in my weekly diet, which are widely debated as being their best films.
Where does Australian film fit into a list of the greatest films ever made?
Significantly, I think. But it depends how long the list of greatest films ever made will run to.
Obviously not significantly enough to get a film in the top 100 of the Sight & Sound survey. However, Picnic at Hanging Rock was mentioned a few times in Top Ten lists by Directors (not critics/historians etc.). So was The Truman Show and Dead Poet’s Society. All Peter Weir.
I reckon Fred Schepisi has made two really important Australian films, as well. I think Bruce Beresford has also made a couple of exceptional films, but the films I’m thinking of are not really Australian films, per se (but irrespective of where their financing originates). I think Ray Lawrence has directed an exceptional Australian film. Possibly Gillian Armstrong. Possibly Donald Crombie. Definitely Phil Noyce. As for the Australian producers, there are a handful – and I mean five or six – who have produced one or two great Australian films. But producers aren’t represented in the pool of people polled for the Once-a-Decade-Poll. And that’s crazy on one level, because producers drive to develop the films that get directed by the directors in the poll, which are then criticised by the critics in the poll, which are then considered in the totality of film by the film academics and film historians, in the poll. And there are Australian producers who have seen the potential of material which no one else has optioned, or others have rejected, which they have then developed into feature films, and directors have then come on board and made them great.
This is where adjectives like Influential, Great, Important and Best hit their snags. Influential and Important are similar in scope (by academics) but Great and Best (by regular people) lie purely in the land of the viewer and how it is seen – and evaluated – through one person’s eyes. And then approved of by thousands or millions of other eyes and brains – or not!
Which brings me to the IMDB.
Just as the internet enabled wider polling of critics from most countries in the world for Sight and Sound (between the 2002 and 2012 surveys), it enabled millions of film viewers (lovers and haters) around the world to give their opinions via websites or blogs. What the IMDB brings to film criticism is that it enables a person who has seen ten films in their lifetime to vote for their favourite ten films; or to reveal reviews by hundreds, thousands or millions of people with an opinion. I love it. I can read along with people who love something and people who hate something, as well as getting the best bits – the people who like a bit and hate a bit and love a bit and think another bit is interesting, despite their overall response. So, as I said when I was nineteen, about people who are paid a living to review films, and why I don’t read their reviews before I see the film myself, ‘They’re just another person with an opinion’.
For years I’d been bleating about the stupidity of so many newspaper reviews of films and I’d arrived at an answer that gave credence to my opinion and validity as much as anyone else’s. My opinion, and their opinion, amount to a kind of grey area. At the age of 19, I walked out of my local University, with a few weeks of my third year unfinished, exams still to come and started working for a filmmaking organisation, amongst dozens of producer, directors, cameramen and editors. It was October 1983. I was studying to be a teacher, and my next step would have been either a Masters or a Diploma of Education. But this chance to work at the coal face with people that made films day in and day out, was something I couldn’t pass up. I told my parents, who had financially supported me through three years of University, that I’d take a morning or afternoon off each day, so I could do my final exams in November, but I wasn’t going to continue onto a fourth year of study in 1984. It wasn’t received well, but I was adamant, and bargained with them, finally agreeing that if I couldn’t make it in the film industry in 1984, I’d do my fourth year at Uni in 1985.
Having studied so many interesting films, and then had to write and co-direct a film for a quarter of my final mark – as well as writing music for two stage plays and a graduating film for a NIDA student – I knew that making films was better than reviewing or criticising them.
By this stage, aged nineteen, I’d reviewed dozens of current films and planned to continue doing so; plus I’d seen two dozen of the groundbreaking films which shaped filmmaking as we knew it in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. In Australia what we were exposed to was largely British and American, but over the last three years I’d seen many of the most important – and dare I say it, greatest – films (including the pivotal films before sound) of all time: from Russia, France, Germany and Italy, to Sweden, India and Japan. I’d have been happy if I could have made a career out of studying film and writing reviews; but to work with people who actually made films, was something I wanted to do, even if it was just one year, and that was it – and then it was all over.
If a film critic was just another person with an opinion – why can’t I do that? – then filmmakers were the people who made the films which other people criticised.
© Philip Powers 20170709
Only three of my favourite hundred films appear in this list and despite the fact that in the first thirty years of my life I'd already seen about 80% of these, so-called (approximately 150) greatest films ever, I am setting myself a new, and substantial, target. I want to see the films I’ve already seen, for a second or third time, and get an understanding of why some of the films I never regarded as great, others regard as great; and to track down the films (on this list which) I’ve never made a concerted effort to see.
The choice of films I’ve compiled in a long and extensive list of cinema from many countries around the world comes, mostly, from four sources: the Sight and Sound survey, which has been revised every decade since it began; the original Halliwell, The Filmgoers Companion; Pauline Kael’s umpteen books of critiques and Roger Ebert’s book of Great Films. But guess what? The majority of films these three reviewers consider as indisputably great – they agree upon – and are on the list I'm pursuing.
Before anyone gets cranky about why I even mention the names of Kael, Halliwell and Ebert, let me reassure you that I don't consider these the three best critics. Not by a long shot, but I do respect their opinion, particularly when they make a cogent argument of the merit of any film. I believe Halliwell was terribly elitist and dismissed hundreds of films of merit as if they were bird-droppings on the sidewalk. Kael is so quixotic that I can't guess what she will like from one review to the next. Ebert is too liberal in his acceptance of what constitutes a good film. I’ve also been particularly interested to read Richard Corliss (Time Magazine) and Anthony Lane (New Yorker). I enjoy Judith Crist, Vincent Canby and Rex Reed (in moderation) And, I can always get a good laugh from John Simon.
What do they have in common? They agree, almost to a fault, that a select few films are unreservedly great – the hundred or hundred fifty on the list I've compiled, which I will publish every week or so, a bit at a time, just before I see the films.
I’ve also taken into account the top-ranked films on the IMDB which I consider one of the most important databases of film criticism. One of the things I enjoy most about the IMDB is reading the reviews by everyday film critics who have excellent reasons why films as diverse as To Kill a Mockingbird and Hellboy rate a 10/10. Not only do I go through the external reviews, but also the user reviews.
I know that by sheer weight of numbers, The Shawshank Redemption, The Godfather, The Godfather Part II jostle for poll position; that The Dark Knight and Schindler’s List are consistently in the top ten of people born after 1963, followed closely by The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Fight Club and Fellowship of the Ring. Thereafter, the rankings become muddier. (Within a four-star rating system all of those films received **** when I saw them, except Fellowship which I saw in Glenelg, while visiting my brother and his family, I gave it a very good 3.75. It really was good, but it was the first time I’d seen it and sometimes you need to see a film two or three or more times before it settles in your brain. I didn’t give it the full 100% even though it was brilliantly executed, and I don’t know why I deducted a half or a quarter star. But I did. It was probably because the battles went on too long, and the book wasn’t about battles, whereas the films celebrated them.
What is extraordinary about comparing the top-twenty IMDB ratings (which are ranked by tens of thousands and sometimes millions) with the Sight & Sound list, is that nine of those films regularly turn up on both lists.
Why is that extraordinary? Because it’s a reasonable guess that the majority of critics and filmmakers who voted in the S&S poll went to a Film School (somewhere), or studied film (in school or in university).
That there is a significant crossover amongst the people that vote on films on the IMDB, who haven’t studied film formally, is probably an almost incomprehensible statistic of agreement by millions of people across the globe.
And I mean this in a good way. For example, films that were released before (1996 when) the internet was generally accessible – for example, by me in 1996, accessing it weekly – or by others, a little later – comprise at least 34 of the top 55 films on the IMDB. So, it’s not just a generation-thing, polled by people who know how to go online.
This is where awareness of films from countries around the world and films made before 1949, becomes an important factor. On the IMDB, of films made prior to 1949, only six films (Casablanca, Citizen Kane, It’s a Wonderful Life and three Chaplin films) occur in the top 75 films.
For the purpose of finding an insight into what the 100 most important, or the 100 greatest, or the 100 best, of the 100 most influential, or the 100 most brilliant, films of all-time, I’ve calculated how many films made before 1960 appear on the IMDB list: 1 in the top ten; 2 in the top twenty; 3 in the top thirty; 7 in the top forty; 7 in the top fifty; 10 in the top sixty; 12 in top seventy; 15 in top eighty; 16 in top ninety; 19 in top one hundred.
This illustrates the biggest problem in a comprehensive global evaluation of the best films: the lack of access to viewing the best films. Without a doubt, there are hundreds of thousands of people who are interesting in viewing and then ranking films, by their own criteria.
Also, the weight of a group of opinionated fans, which when numbering less than 40,000 (50,000 or 60,000) still gives a ranking, dilutes the value of that ranking because of their passion for the film.
My first idea, eight weeks ago, was to accumulate enough films by the same director or from the same era, so I could undertake an ambitious plan to view one grouping per month for the next four or five years and invite friends to participate. Getting hold of the films to view all three or four or five in one week would be a challenge. Not for Alfred Hitchcock or Billy Wilder or John Ford; or Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola or Stanley Kubrick. But definitely, for Orson Welles, Ingmar Bergman, John Cassavetes, Luis Bunuel, Frederico Fellini, Antonioni, Truffaut and Tarkovsky.
Two weeks ago, I realised I had enough films at hand that I could view the works of 30 directors or filmmakers for the next 30 weeks and that’s when I decided to change the difficulty factor of the challenge. Not 150 films in 5 years but 150 films in 52 weeks.
My favourite filmmakers are Alfred Hitchcock, Brian De Palma, Blake Edwards, Orson Welles and Steven Spielberg – revealing an embarrassing Western bent. In the list I’m following, three miss out completely, only Hitchcock (one film) and Orson Welles (one film) have an indisputably highly-ranked film: Vertigo and Citizen Kane. They both have a secondary film: Psycho and Touch of Evil occur on a sigificant number of best-ten lists.
Interestingly, amongst the Rotten Tomatoes, with 40 or more reviews, several films in the Sight & Sound list crop up again. Some have weight added by the number of reviews because they are more recent films, and some have added weight because they are (regarded as) classic films and have vociferous proponents. Prior to 1960, Rotten Tomatoes, gives extraordinary ratings to The Wizard of Oz, Citizen Kane, The Third Man, Cabinet of Dr Caligari, All About Eve, Godfather, Metropolis, E.T., Modern Times, It Happened One Night, Singin’ in the Rain, Casablanca, Laura, Nosferatu… and on it goes, many, many great films made before 1960 and before 1950 and before 1940. This is a list of films generated by people with an agenda, not dissimilar to the Sight & Sound list, with lots of crossovers.
© Philip Powers 20170702
So, it has just begun. One Hundred and Fifty Great Films in 52 Weeks.
The choice of films I’ve compiled in a long and extensive list of cinema from many countries around the world comes, mostly, from four sources: the Sight and Sound survey, which has been revised every decade since it began; the original Halliwell, The Filmgoers Companion; Pauline Kael’s umpteen books of critiques and Roger Ebert’s book of Great Films. But guess what? The majority of films these three reviewers consider as indisputably great – they agree upon – and are on the list I'm pursuing.
Before anyone gets cranky about why I even mention the names of Kael, Halliwell and Ebert, let me reassure you that I don't consider these the three best critics. Not by a long shot. I believe Halliwell is terribly elitist and dismisses hundreds of films of merit as if they were bird-droppings on the sidewalk. Kael is so quixotic that I can't guess what she will like from one review to the next. Ebert is too liberal in his acceptance of what constitutes a good film. But, what they agree, almost to a fault, is that a select few films are unreservedly great – the hundred on this list I've compiled.
Curiously, in the Sight & Sound list, there are approximately thirty directors who have at least two films re-occurring every decade in the Top 100 Films, and about ten directors who have three or more films habitually populating the lists. And as more critics and, latterly, directors and academics have been polled each decade, the number of deliberations by people who have watched thousands of films, from the earliest days of silent film until 2012, has only slightly changed the order, and hardly changed the occupants.
I will publish a list of a few films, every two weeks, which I propose to watch in the ensuing two weeks. Because there are a significant number of directors with two or more films in the list of 100 Greatest Films, I’m also grouping the weekly schedule of films around directors. And if a third or fourth film by any one director, is consistently mentioned by those who responded to the survey, at the expense of the more highly regarded films by the same director, I’ve included those as extra films to view.
I could have grouped the films by the decade in which they were made, and worked my forward; or by country; but I have chosen to group them by director, because I’m interested to see three or four great films by the same director, back-to-back.
A lot of film historians, academics and critics reject the idea of the auteur conceit, but I’ve chosen to view the films by director, to see what themes, subjects, ideas and images, regularly appear. By watching four Fellini films in a week, or four Bergman films, or four Orson Welles films, I hope to see fingerprints that expose an arc of interest, or obsession, by different filmmakers. And as I continue on this journey I’m going to pay attention to the producers of films who reoccur on this list, as well as the writers of the screenplays of these movies.
© Philip Powers 20170701
An Essay by Philip Powers © 2017