Over the past twenty years, I’ve seen a fair amount of what I’d call genuinely compelling films, but only a handful of these have remained close to me. What does it take for a film to leave an indelible mark on memory? Certainly, there is the question of the film’s composition. The array of configurations in fusing elements of plot, acting, direction, photography, sound etc, is seemingly vast, but when it comes to creating arresting imagery and a film that punctures our psycho-emotional membrane, these possibilities radically shrink to a few well– known archetypal models.
Does this limitation have to do with our ability to recognize only a limited number of narrative patterns? Or is it perhaps the result of a particular social condition, that we are able to accept ‘new’ ways of seeing film, yet the our social predisposition stops us from seeing outside the mold? A London cinema audience in 2007 clearly has a different set of socio-economic expectations, ways of seeing and cultural references than an audience in 1930. But breaking these molds and exploring ‘new’ configurations is the hallmark of what we might call the ‘great film makers’ of our time – part of this relies on the artists’ intimate knowledge of the boundaries and thereafter his/her intuitive desire to defy conventions and redefine vocabularies of art.
Of equal importance to the film experience is the ‘meta-filmic dimension’, i.e. the world beyond the screen. Each film locked in my memory, was experienced under a set of unique circumstances; a combination of things that affect the senses: mood, time, place, company, biological state, psychological state etc. And rather than remembering an entire film, my experience has tended towards short ‘Madeleine-type‘ moments where it’s just one scene in particular, sometimes a single camera shot or word – there is only so much emotional material that the brain can absorb without saturation.
Everyone will have their own list of hard-wired pictures, below is mine. I’ve grouped them in chronological order and posted links to clips on YouTube from each film. I suggest pausing each clip on YouTube and waiting for the entire piece to load to avoid a stop-start viewing experience. I’d be interested to find out what your list would be so don’t hesitate to leave a comment!
The Five Obstructions (2003, Jorgen Leth)
In this documentary (released in 2003 as De Fem benspænd) Lars Von Trier criticises his mentor Jorgen Leth, albeit somewhat playfully, for his constant striving to make ‘perfect’ films. Perfect in the sense of being technically flawless and nothing being left to chance, a reflection of Leth’s personal character. The prime example in Leth’s work is his 1967 black and white film The Perfect Human (Det Perfekte Menneske).
In The Five Obstructions, Lars Von Trier attempts to break Leth’s perfectionist mould by using ‘obstructions’ or obstacles as points of departure. Thus he sends Jorgen Leth on five independant ‘missions’ to reconstruct The Perfect Human, each time forcing Leth to work in harsher technical and personally demanding situations. The irony is that as the stakes rise, Leth returns with incredible films. The obstructions seem to work in his favour. Lars’ attempt to make Leth taste the bitterness of failure and by so-doing re-think his approach to art and life, is a failure that ends up reflecting Lars’ own shortcomings.
The Big Lebowski (1998, The Coen Brothers)
Dead Man (1995, Jim Jarmusch)
Dead Man was written and directed in 1995 by Jim Jarmusch. It starred Johnny Depp as the destitute accountant William Blake and Gary Farmer as native Indian ‘Nobody’. Neil Young wrote and performed the soundtrack on solo accoustic/electric guitar. It is the journey of the anti-hero through and through, white man William Blake is already dead, the film is his journey in coming to accept that. In the scene linked to here, William Blake and Nobody arrive at a trading post in search of supplies for the next part of their journey.
True Romance (1993, Tony Scott, Quentin Tarantino)
Dreams (1990, Akira Kurosawa)
Full Metal Jacket (1987, Stanley Kubrick)
Koyaanisqatsi (1982, Godfrey Reggio)
Blade Runner (1981, Ridley Scott)
Woyzeck (1979, Werner Herzog)
Mirror (1975, Andrei Tarkovsky)
Tokyo Story (1953, Ozu Yasujiro)
Un Chien Andalou (1929, Luis Bunuel)