Sunday, August 9, 2015

Sight & Sound Sunday: What Have We Learned from This Journey?


And what a journey has it been. When I started this project, my intention was simply to fill some gaps in my cinematic knowledge and share what I've learned from these films. I chose to make it biweekly so that I would have the time to view the films, correctly fearing that a few might be difficult to obtain (hi, Satantango!), with the intention of finishing within two years. And now, here we are, a little under two years later, and I've written about all 52 films.

The most remarkable thing about this to me, and what I am most proud of, is that I finished. In the past, I've started projects on this blog that I have either abandoned completely (RIP, "24@24") or am stubbornly refusing to admit have been abandoned (sorry, "Oscars of the Aughts" and "Gimme Five"). I haven't been all that great at following things through here, so actually completing this project is a magnificent accomplishment for myself that I'm proud of.

Before we get into what I've learned from all of this, I want to take a moment to make an announcement: this fall I'll begin working on my Masters of Fine Arts in Film and Television Studies at Boston University in Boston, Massachusetts. I can't say definitively if it had anything to do with my acceptance, but I did reference this series in my application, so draw your own conclusions.

What I'm saying is this project has been incredible for me. So with all of that out of the way, let's discuss the films and the list itself, and what we can glean from it.

1. These films are perhaps better termed "most influential" than greatest. The first thing you'll notice about a lot of these films and what I've written about them is the impact that they've had on cinema. Of course, this is a subjective list compiled through a vast array of other subjective lists, so individual tastes are playing a role in its creation, even if its been minimized. So looking over this list kind of looks like a syllabus for a "influential films" college course - you've got the big names like Alfred Hitchcock, Yasujiro Ozu, Stanley Kubrick, Federico Fellini, and Orson Welles at the top of the list, with multiple entries from Jean-Luc Godard, Andrei Tarkovsky, Carl Theodor Dreyer, and Francis Ford Coppola further down. These aren't exactly obscure artists, you'll notice.

2. Certain cinematic movements are favored over others. The French New Wave is by far the favored movement on the list, with at least nine films on the list arguably being French New Wave. Italian Neorealism, American studio films, and Japanese New Wave films also notice multiple entries. However, several crucial national movements that were hugely influential are absent, most notably American Independent Cinema and German Expressionism (and, while we're at it, film noir).

3. On a related note, European and American films are far more favored than the rest of the world. Only three films on the list don't originate from Europe, the United States, or Japan: In the Mood for Love (Hong Kong), Pather Panchali (India), and Close-Up (Iran). The rich filmmaking histories of China, Latin America (especially Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico), Africa (nothing from important filmmakers Ousmane Sembene and Souleymane Cisse?), and the Middle East (particularly exclusions from Israel and Egypt) are completely ignored.


4. If there's any common theme to be found here, it's self-reflexivity. In almost every single one of these films, the filmmaker is, in some way, drawing attention to the fact that this is a film. These films exemplify the unique characteristics of film as an artistic medium, and take advantage of these characteristics to tell their stories in remarkable ways. Even documentary entries Man with a Movie Camera and Shoah acknowledge their own filmic properties. And, of course, there are the films actually about film, such as Singin' in the Rain, Contempt, and 8 1/2.

5. Personally speaking, I'm not wild about Godard, but I'm amazed by Tarkovsky. Godard is heralded as the greatest filmmaker of the French New Wave, but I just can't get into his films. Maybe its the degree to which his films are self-reflexive to the point of self-parody, or the detached "cool" that's intentionally abrasive, but I just can't connect with his films. Tarkovsky, on the other hand, has been my favorite find of this project. Before "Sight & Sound Sunday," I had heard of, but never seen, his work; now I can easily declare myself a fan. The measured, precise filmmaking on display in Mirror, Andrei Rublev, and Stalker is phenomenal, a perfect representation of his range and ability. I'm eagerly looking forward to devouring the rest of his filmography (which shouldn't be too hard; he only made seven feature films in his lifetime).

So there you have it: the end of "Sight & Sound Sunday." Thank you all who have shared this journey with me; I hope it was as enlightening and entertaining for you as it was for me. I'll conclude with two lists. The first is the full Sight & Sound poll; clicking the title will take you to the article related to that film.

1. Vertigo (1958)
2. Citizen Kane (1941)
3. Tokyo Story (1953)
4. The Rules of the Game (1939)
5. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
7. The Searchers (1956)
8. Man with a Movie Camera (1929)
9. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1927)
10. 8 1/2 (1963)
11. Battleship Potemkin (1925)
12. L'Atalante (1934)
13. Breathless (1960)
14. Apocalypse Now (1979)
15. Late Spring (1949)
16. Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)
=17. Seven Samurai (1954)
=17. Persona (1966)
19. Mirror (1974)
20. Singin' in the Rain (1951)
=21. L'avventura (1960)
=21. Contempt (1963)
=21. The Godfather (1972)
=24. Ordet (1955)
=24. In the Mood for Love (2000)
=26. Rashomon (1950)
=26. Andrei Rublev (1966)
28. Mulholland Dr. (2001)
=29. Stalker (1979)
=29. Shoah (1985)
=31. The Godfather Part II (1974)
=31. Taxi Driver (1976)
33. Bicycle Thieves (1948)
34. The General (1926)
=35. Metropolis (1927)
=35. Psycho (1960)
=35. Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles (1975)
=35. Satantango (1994)
=39. The 400 Blows (1959)
=39. La Dolce Vita (1960)
41. Journey to Italy (1954)
=42. Pather Panchali (1955)
=42. Some Like It Hot (1959)
=42. Gertrud (1964)
=42. Pierrot le fou (1965)
=42. Play Time (1967)
=42. Close-Up (1990)
=48. The Battle of Algiers (1966)
=48. Historie(s) du Cinema (1988-98)
=50. City Lights (1931)
=50. Ugetsu monogatari (1953)
=50. La Jetee (1962)

And for the second, my personal top 10, culled from the films we've covered in this series.

1. The Battle of Algiers
2. Singin' in the Rain
3. Shoah
4. Citizen Kane
5. Rashomon
6. La Jetee
7. Taxi Driver
8. Apocalypse Now
9. The General
10. 2001: A Space Odyssey

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