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    my personal canon, part III

    So, OK, time to branch out and get some more non-English-language stuff on this list.

    We're going to start off with a quick tour of Europe. From Italy, the director I feel is most important is the great Federico Fellini: it's hard to beat his two masterpieces La Dolce Vita (1960) and 8 1/2 (1963). I'm also quite fond of his whacked-out, near-psychedelic take on ancient Rome, Satyricon (1969), but I don't consider it to be essential in the way the other two are.

    While still in Italy, I want to give Antonioni some consideration: I know at least two people who would strongly urge me to choose L'Avventura (1960) over his English-language film Blow-Up (1966). A tough call: Blow-Up is a great meditation on the power of the image, and L'Avventura is a film that I, er, haven't seen. I'll leave this one for people to argue about in the comments box for now.

    I'll throw in a Sergio Leone when we get to the Western (later), and with that we leave Italy and head over to France.

    We might as well start with Godard and Truffaut. it's hard to argue against Breathless (1960) as the representative Godard film, although I'm personally more fond of his terrifying apocalyptic Marxist film, Week-End (1967) and his strange parody of noir and SF, Alphaville (1965). I'm under-informed on Truffaut, sadly, I think the only one I've seen is Jules and Jim (1962), which works well enough for my canonical list. Still, I need to improve here. I could probably improve on my French cinema in general: two more giants of the field, Jean Renoir and Alain Resnais, are essentially big blind spots for me.

    Germany? Sorry, Germany, but aside from Nosferatu and Metropolis, which I mentioned the other day, I'm leaving you saddled with Leni Riefenstahl's Nazi film Triumph of the Will (1935), a pretty scary piece of work, but also essential to the canon as an example of film's seductive power and potential use for evil. There are some more recent German films of interest (Run Lola Run (1998) is a noteworthy one), but I'm not sure I'd say any of them crack the canonical list.

    If I had to pick just one film that nicely captures the overall "flavor" of foreign film—full of mystique and alluring cool, but also cryptic and in constant danger of pretention—I'd pick Sweden's Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966): that's about all I have to say about that.

    One of the more interesting developments in more recent Euro cinema was the Dogme 95 movement: it was accused by some of being gimmicky, but with nearly 85 films now created under its principles, it must be said to have had an impact. As the first Dogme film, Thomas Vinterberg's The Celebration (1998) gets the available slot, even though I hugely prefer the second one, Lars von Trier's The Idiots (also 1998). Maybe there's room for von Trier elsewhere, we'll see.

    Moving further east, into Russia, we stumble upon Titan of Cinema Sergei Eisenstein. His Battleship Potemkin (1925) is rightfully considered to have invented many of modern editing's techniques, so he's on the list... and fifty years later we have Russia's other great filmmaker, Andrei Tarkovsky, whose Solaris (1972) is an SF masterpiece of such magnitude that not one but two people wrote in to tell me I'd omitted it when I was did the SF list. For a second Tarkovsky I'm going to include Nostalghia (1983), possibly the single most mystical film I've ever seen, although The Mirror (1975) or Stalker (1975) could just as easily inhabit a second Tarkovsky slot as well: they're really all great films.

    Next we'll jump over into Asia, and grapple with Akira Kurosawa's powerful body of work. I want to give Kurosawa three slots right off the bat: his King Lear adaptation, Ran (1985) is pretty much as powerful as any film ever made; this is the one I'd argue for as being Kurosawa's late-period masterpiece. Yojimbo (1961) deserves inclusion as well, though, it's a quintessential samurai film, and has an influence that ripples out into science fiction (via Lucas) and the western (via Leone). And then there's Rashomon (1950), an indispensible meditation on subjective truth (generally) and cinematic artifice (specifically). The fact that I'm leaving off a Kurosawa film as highly acclaimed as The Seven Samurai (1954) should give some sense of the sheer magnitude of his body of work.

    While we're in this neck of the woods, I want to mention Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), which is a fine movie in its own right but has a strange polyglot pedigree that speaks potentially to its importance as a "globalized" film, rather than a "foreign" film per se: it's a case of a Taiwanese-born but American-based director creating an ostensibly "Chinese" movie with Japanese financial backing. Furthermore, it's acutely aware of the status of "kung fu" as a cultural currency / valuable export, and it trades on this while at the same time striving for art-house status: this is 21st-century postmodern cinema in a nutshell.

    Tarantino's Kill Bill is doing similarly complicated work, and will make it onto this list if I have room at the end; but I don't want to have two "meta" kung-fu films with no "traditional" kung-fu film to compare them against. But what's the best choice there? All I can think of is Robert Clouse's Enter the Dragon (1973), but that movie is a bit over-rated, I think. Kung-fu fans, illuminate me!

    While on the topic of Asian cultural exports, any list that overlooks anime is suffering from myopia, and I'd include both Katsuhiro Ôtomo's Akira (1988) (for its role in fathering the genre) and Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke (1997) (for its significance as the first anime to gain significant Western distribution (via Miramax / Disney).

    There's going to be more animation on this list, but that'll have to wait for part four of this project. For those of you keeping count at home, we're up to 47 films: I'm aiming for 100.

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    Monday, April 09, 2007
    8:52 PM


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