(1) Because I love great movies.
(2) Because most people have never seen more than a handful of the great movies.
(3) Because when people have a chance to see the great movies, they tend to respond favorably to them.
Back in my college days, I had a conversation with one of my English literature professors. This is a guy who thought English literature went downhill after Edmund Spenser. He said he couldn’t figure out why people thought film was an art. He said he had seen a lot of films, and was in fact a Marx brothers fan. What he hadn’t seen was any great insight into the human condition or any extraordinary creative expression in film.
I thought for a few seconds and said to him: Let’s assume I don’t know anything about literature, and you tell me it offers great insight into the human condition and contains extraordinary creative expression. I visit a local drug store and see a rack of paperback books. I buy several bestsellers and eagerly read them. Weeks later, I see you walking down the sidewalk. I tell you I didn’t find any great insight or creative expression in these books, which are all bestsellers. Then you say I should have read the best books of all time, regardless of how well they have sold, and not the bestselling books of today.
I then said to him, if you haven’t seen the best films by Ford, Welles, Murnau, Renoir, Kurosawa, and the other great directors, you’ll never know what film has to offer. You can’t judge the theater’s achievement or potential without reading Hamlet or Long Day’s Journey Into Night. You can’t judge music comprehensively without listening to the Brandenburg Concertos, The Magic Flute, or Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. And you can’t judge the full measure of film without having seen Sunrise, Citizen Kane, Napoleon, October, Grand Illusion, Greed, or Seven Samurai.
I don’t know if he made the effort to see these films (this was years before they could be available on DVD). He did acknowledge he probably shouldn’t make sweeping statements about film as an artistic medium.
Question: What makes you think your favorite films are the best films ever made? Aren’t your recommendations and lists completely subjective?
Answer: They are subjective — up to a point. I go back and forth as to whether Sunrise, Citizen Kane, or Napoleon is the best film ever made. I don’t think Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, or Star Wars is the best film ever made, even though all three are excellent films. If you’ve seen Sunrise, Citizen Kane, and Napoleon, and you still think Gone with the Wind is the best film ever made, then terrific – start a website and proclaim its greatness.
I’ve seen just about every film that might be seriously considered for a list of top classic films, so I can at least make an intelligent case for these films and their directors. Of course, I could be entirely wrong, or I could have missed some films that are even better than the ones I’ve seen.
These choices weren’t made in a vacuum, however. They’re roughly in sync with the choices of many of the top film scholars, so I’m probably not too far off the mark. I do reserve the right to revise my selections, as I discover films I’ve missed or revisit old favorites with a fresh perspective.
Bottom line: Think of these recommendations and lists as a work in progress. Realize that your tastes may not align perfectly with my tastes. But also consider that these films really might be the best films ever made, so it may be worth the effort to seek them out.
Question: Pulp Fiction and the Lord of the Rings trilogy are better than any silent film every made. Why aren’t they in your top 20?
Answer: Those are fine films, but they’re not quite good enough to make it into the top 20. To bring in a music analogy, do you think The Beatles are better than Mozart (as in Sgt. Pepper’s versus The Magic Flute)? As much as I love The Beatles, it’s more than fair to say they’re no Mozart. That doesn’t mean there won’t be a composer better than Mozart at some point — we just haven’t reached that point yet.
There’s also the problem of needing a certain amount of time to pass before we can reliably call a film a classic. It’s hard to know if a film is timeless if you don’t fully understand its era, and that requires a certain amount of distance. I don’t know if that distance should be 10, 20, 30, or more years. I do know that with time you can feel more confident your judgment is correct. I also know that nine times out of ten the so called “instant classic” will soon be forgotten or considered a relic of its time. Give it a decade or two, and you may find that stunningly original film isn’t nearly as innovative as you first thought. And that odd little film you thought was no big deal has mysteriously grown to become a solid standout.
Question: Who are you?
Answer: Here’s a link to the bio on my work-related website.
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.