Tuesday, August 26, 2014

ANOTHER Scorsese List of 'Essential Films' ("More?!" You Say? - "Yes", I say, "ALL OF IT!")


UPDATED! - Now with more FOREIGN FILMS!  

There has been a list going about on the internet for a few months, maybe more, where Martin Scorsese drops on the world his "List of 85 Essential Films".  This has also been in variations, though looking at the lists on multiple sites (some just print the films, others the descriptions he gave when talking at length, as he is want to do, about cinema).

I think it's wonderful to get any tidbits from Scorsese who is my master as well as others out there.  Is there anyone else out there who is so voraciously all ABOUT cinema?  At his age?  And still cranking out masterpiece after masterpiece (two in just a few years, Hugo and The Wolf of Wall Street, and work like his Boardwalk Empire pilot and docs, so much stuff going on).

But there is always more, much more, that comes out of his man about what are the "Essential" films.  Of course, one man's essential list will be different than another - check out the Sight & Sound Lists from a couple of years ago for more proof of that - but Scorsese had not one but two documentaries some years back where he expounded on many films, mostly Italian and America, in My Voyage to Italy and A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese through American Movies.  And if you look at the lists, he name-checks films from across the world in both docs (ie. French New-Wave).

Though I'm sure for younger people the list compiled from his mentioned films at the interview are worth seeing, these documentaries, for me, gave me a total film education at a formative time.  Not just 85 - HUNDREDS of films are talked about (well, if you count more than 200 or right near 200 as hundreds, but I will, so why not?)

So, without further ado, I have below a comprehensive list of ALL the films that Our Man of Little Italy loves so dearly.  There may be over-lap, of course, so what I'll do is this: first will be all of the films, mentioned (only) and then clips featured from the two documentaries.  Then the other films he mentioned not included in the docs - and if he gave descriptions for them in that aforementioned interview, it'll be included - I've also taken out here and there for overlap.

(One last thing - as context is everything, make sure to look at the DESCRIPTIONS as well - some of these may not necessarily be essential in the sense of 'Yes, rush out to see it now, go-go-go!' More like... this is what happened here, and then my career changed, etc etc', which is, for example, why Heaven's Gate is listed. Whether you think that is essential is, of course, up to you).  

Let's see how many movies a man can lick to get to the center of a tootsie pop (SPOILERS: more than three):



Hallelujah (1929)
The Champ (1931)
Heroes for Sale (1933)
Our Daily Bread (1934)
The Informer (1935)
How Green Was My Valley (1941) “I appreciate the visual poetry of [director John] Ford’s film, like in the famous scene where Maureen O’Hara is married and the wind blows the veil on her head. It’s absolute poetry. No words. It’s all there in the image.”
The Wild One (1953)
Apache (1954)
Vertigo (1958)
I Want to Live! (1958)
The Wild Bunch (1969)



The Great Train Robbery (1903) (Short)
The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912) (Short)
Death's Marathon (1913) (Short)
Regeneration (1915)
7th Heaven (1927)
Sunrise (1927)
The Crowd (1928)
The Cameraman (1928)
Anna Christie (1930)
The Big House (1930)
Her Man (1930)
Scarface (1932)
Hell's Highway (1932)
42nd Street (1933)
Stagecoach (1939) “Welles drew from everywhere. The ceilings and the interiors in John Ford’s classic Western inspired him for Citizen Kane.”
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) 'Jimmy Stewart stars in this Capra movie, one of the all-time greats, which features a dramatic filibuster.'
The Roaring Twenties (1939) 'James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart star in this homage to the gangsters of the 1920s. It was one of the many great films made in 1939 (like Gone with the Wind, The Women, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Stagecoach and many many more).'
High Sierra (1941)
Citizen Kane (1941) “Orson Welles was a force of nature, who just came in and wiped the slate clean. And Citizen Kane is the greatest risk-taking of all time in film. I don’t think anything had even seen anything quite like it. The photography was also unlike anything we’d seen. The odd coldness of the filmmaker towards the character reflects his own egomania and power, and yet a powerful empathy for all of them--it’s very interesting. It still holds up, and it’s still shocking. It takes storytelling and throws it up in the air.”
Sullivan's Travels (1941) “Billy Wilder told me, you’re only as good as your last picture. Sullivan, played by Joel McRae, is in the studio system, under that kind of pressure. He makes comedies, but one day he decides he really wants to make ‘Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou?’ He puts it all on the line to learn about the poor. The resolution of the movie is very moving.”
Cat People (1942) 'Simone Simon plays a woman who fears that she might turn into a panther and kill. It sounds corny, but the psychological thrills that directors Jacques Tourneur got out of his measly $150,000 budget make this a fascinating movie, with amazing lighting.'
Detour (1945)
Scarlet Street (1945)
Duel in the Sun (1946) 'Scorsese went to see this movie, which some critics called “Lust in the Dust,” when he was 4 years old. Jennifer Jones falls hard for a villainous Gregory Peck in this lush King Vidor picture. A poster of the movie hangs in Scorsese’s offices.'
The Red House (1947)
T-Men (1947) 'Another Anthony Mann noir with great cinematography, this one’s about Department of Treasury men breaking up a counterfeiting ring. 1947
I Walk Alone (1948) 'One of several movies that Scorsese says clearly defined the American gangster ideal, this one stars Burt Lancaster and the smoldering Lizabeth Scott.'
Raw Deal (1948) 'NOT the Arnold Schwarzenegger pic. This one’s a noir directed by Anthony Mann, starring Dennis O’Keefe and Claire Trevor.'
Force of Evil (1948) 'Another picture that defined the American gangster image, this noir stars John Garfield as the evil older brother whose younger sibling won’t join his numbers-running conglomerate.'
Gun Crazy (1950) 'A romantic example of film noir, this one features a gun-toting husband and a sharpshooting wife.'
The Furies (1950)
Outrage (1950)
The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) 'Vincente Minnelli directed this film about a cynical Hollywood mogul trying to make a comeback. It stars Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Walter Pidgeon, and Dick Powell.'
The Naked Spur (1953)
Pickup on South Street (1953) 'Richard Widmark picks up the wrong purse in this classic noir, unwittingly setting off a series of events that come to a violent climax.'
The Band Wagon (1953) “It’s my favorite of the Vincente Minnelli musicals. I love the storyline that combines Faust and a musical comedy, and the disaster that results. Tony Hunter, the lead character played by Fred Astaire, is a former vaudeville dancer whose time has passed, and who’s trying to make it on Broadway, which is a very different medium of course. By the time the movie was made, the popularity of the Astaire/Rogers films had waned, raising the question of what are you going to do with Fred Astaire in Technicolor? So, really, Tony Hunter is Fred Astaire--his whole reputation is on the line, and so was Fred Astaire’s.”
The Robe (1953)
Crime Wave (1954)
Johnny Guitar (1954)
Silver Lode (1954)
A Star Is Born (1954)
East of Eden (1955)
Kiss Me Deadly (1955) 'A great example of the noir genre that so inspired Scorsese. This one stars Ralph Meeker as detective Mike Hammer.'
All That Heaven Allows (1955) 'In this Douglas Sirk melodrama, Rock Hudson plays a gardener who falls in love with a society widow played by Jane Wyman. Scandale!
The Searchers (1956)
The Tall T (1957)
Sweet Smell of Success (1957) 'Like Ace in the Hole, this classic noir is about an unethical journalist who will stop at nothing to get his way. Burt Lancaster plays the journalist.'
Forty Guns (1957) 'Barbara Stanwyck stars in this Sam Fuller Western. She plays a bad-ass cattle rancher with a soft spot for a local lawman.'
Some Came Running (1958) 'This Vincent Minnelli melodrama is definitely not a musical. It’s a tough story about an alcoholic Army vet returning home. It stars Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Shirley MacLaine.'
One, Two, Three (1961) 'A classic Billy Wilder comedy, starring James Cagney as a Coca-Cola exec in West Berlin. The dialogue crackles.'
Lolita (1962)
Two Weeks in Another Town (1962) 'The Vincente Minnelli movie stars Cyd Charisse, Kirk Douglas, and Edward G. Robinson. It’s a classic 1960s melodrama.'
Shock Corridor (1963) 'A wild Sam Fuller movie about a journalist who enters an insane asylum to try to break a story.'
America America (1963) 'Drawn directly from director Elia Kazan’s family history, this film offers a passionate, intense view of the challenges faced by Greek immigrants at the end of the 19th century.'
The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) 'One of the last “sandal epics,” this sweeping Anthony Mann picture boasted a stellar cast of Sophia Loren, Anthony Boyd, James Mason, Alec Guinness, Christopher Plummer, and Anthony Quayle. And it failed miserably at the box office.'
The Naked Kiss (1964)
Point Blank (1967)
Faces (1968) “[Director John] Cassavetes went to Hollywood to shoot films like A Child is Waiting and Too Late Blues, and after Too Late Blues he became disenchanted. Those of us in the New York scene, we kept asking, 'What’s Cassavetes doing? What’s he up to?' And he was shooting this film in his house in L.A. with his wife Gena Rowlands and his friends. And when Faces showed at the New York Film Festival, it absolutely trumped everything that was shown at the time. Cassavetes is the person who ultimately exemplifies independence in film.”
The Godfather (1972) “Gordon Willis did the same dark filming trick on The Godfather as he had done on Klute. And now audiences accepted it, and went along with it, and every director of photography and now every director of photography of the past 40 years owes him the greatest debt, for changing the style completely--until now, of course, with the advent of digital.”
Barry Lyndon (1975)
All That Jazz (1979)
Unforgiven (1992)


A Pilot Returns (1942)
Desire (1946)
Bellissima (1952)
The Road (1954)
The Roof (1956)
Shadows (1959) “I saw Shadows at the 8th Street Playhouse [in Manhattan], and when I saw such a direct communication with the human experience, of conflict and love, it was almost as if there was no camera there at all. And I love camera positions! But this was like you were living with the people.”
Ben-Hur (1959)
Breathless (1960)
Naked Youth (1960)
Psycho (1960)
Viridiana (1961)
Vivre Sa Vie (1962)
The Silence (1963)
Contempt (1963)
The Rise of Louis XIV (1966) (TV Movie) “In the third part of his career, Rossellini decided to make an encyclopedia, a series of didactic films. This is the first film in that series, and it’s an artistic masterpiece. He shot it in 16mm for TV, and called it anti-dramatic. Yet, I screen it once every couple of years, and when you look at frames of it on the big screen there are shots that just look like paintings. Rossellini couldn’t get away from it, he had an artist’s eye. There’s nothing like the last 10 minutes of that film to show the accumulation and the display of power. It’s not done through the sword or the speech, it’s done through the theatre he created around him with his clothes, his food, the way he eats. It’s extraordinary.”
Persona (1966)
Sunflower (1970)


Cabiria (1914) 
Mister Max (1937)
Fantasia sottomarina (1940) (Short)
The White Ship (1941)
Ossessione (1943)
Rome, Open City (1945) “I saw Italian movies as a 5-year-old, on a 16-inch TV my father bought. We were living in Queens. There were only three stations. One station showed Italian films on Friday night for the Italian-American community, subtitled, and the family would gather to see the films. My grandparents were there--they were the ones who moved over in 1910. So it became a ritual. [Director Roberto] Rossellini had an intellectual approach.”
Days of Glory (1945)
Shoeshine (1946)
Paisan (1946) “This is my all-time favorite of the Rossellini films.”
La Terra Trema (1948) 'This Lucchino Visconti film is one of the founding films of Neo-Realism.'
L'amore (1948)
Bicycle Thieves (1948)
Germany Year Zero (1948) “Roberto Rossellini always felt he had an obligation to inform. He was the first one to do a story about compassion for the enemy, in this film--it’s always been hard to find, but now there’s a Criterion edition. It’s a very disturbing picture. He was the first one to go there after the war, to say we all have to live together. And he felt cinema was the tool that could do this, that could inform people.”
Fabiola (1949)
Stromboli (1950) “This too was a very important film of Rossellini’s second period. Very beautiful.” [During the shooting of Stromboli, the star, Ingrid Bergman, who was married to an American dentist, got pregnant with Rossellini’s child. She divorced the dentist, and became persona non grata in America].
The Flowers of St. Francis (1950) “This Rossellini movie and Europa ’51 are two of the best films about the part of being human that yearns for something beyond the material. Rossellini used real monks for this movie. It’s very simple and beautiful.”
Umberto D. (1952)
Europe '51 (1952) “After making The Flowers of St. Francis, Rossellini asked, what would a modern-day saint be like? I think they based it on Simone Weil, and Ingrid Bergman played the part. It really takes everything we’re dealing with today, whether it’s revolutions in other countries or people trying to change their lifestyles, and it’s all there in that film. The character tries everything, because she has a tragedy in her family that really changes her, so she tries politics and even working in a factory, and in the end it has a very moving resolution.”
I Vitelloni (1953)
Senso (1954) “An extraordinary film by Visconti, another Neo-Realist masterpiece.”
Journey to Italy (1954) “After Rossellini married Ingrid Bergman he wiped the slate clean and left Neo-Realism behind. Instead he made these intimate stories that had a great deal to do with a certain intellectual mysticism, a sense of cultural power. In Viaggio [Viaggio in Italia is the Italian title], for example, the English couple played by George Sanders and Ingrid Bergman are traveling in Naples on vacation while marriage is falling apart, but the land around them--the people the museums, and especially their visit to Pompeii, these thousands of years of culture around them--work on them like a modern miracle. The film is basically two people in a car, and that became the entire New Wave. Kids may not have seen this film, but it’s basically in all the independent film of today.”
La Dolce Vita (1960)
L'Avventura (1960)
La Notte (1961)
L'Eclisse (1962)


Foreign Films:

Nosferatu (1922)
Dr. Mabuse the Gambler
Grand Illusion

The Rules of the Game
Children of Paradise
Beauty and the Beast (1946)
Tokyo Story
Seven Samurai
Sansho the Bailiff
High and Low
Big Deal on Madonna Street
The 400 Blows
Shoot the Piano Player
Band of Outsiders
Il Sorpasso
Before the Revolution

Le Boucher
Death by Hanging
The Merchant of Four Seasons
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul
The Marriage of Maria Braun
Kings of the Road
The American Friend
The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser
Aguirre, the Wrath of God


Ace in the Hole: "This Billy Wilder film was so tough and brutal in its cynicism that it died a sudden death at the box office, and they re-released it under the title Big Carnival, which didn’t help. Chuck Tatum is a reporter who’s very modern--he’ll do anything to get the story, to make up the story! He risks not only his reputation, but also the life of this guy who’s trapped in the mine." 1951
An American in Paris: This Vincente Minnelli film, with Gene Kelly, picked up the idea of stopping within a film for a dance from The Red Shoes. 1951
Apocalypse Now: This Francis Ford Coppola masterpiece is from a period when directors like Brian DePalma, John Milius, Paul Schrader, Scorsese and others had great freedom--freedom that they then lost. 1979
Arsenic and Old Lace: Scorsese is a big fan of many Frank Capra movies, and this Cary Grant vehicle is one of several that he’s enjoyed with his family at his office screening room. 1944
Born on the Fourth of July: Produced by Universal Pictures under Tom Pollock and Casey Silver, this Tom Cruise movie (directed by Oliver Stone) was an example of how that studio “wanted to make special pictures,” says Scorsese. 1989
Cape Fear: As he once explained to Steven Spielberg over dinner in Tribeca, one of Scorsese’s fears about directing a remake of this film was that, “The original was so good. I mean, you’ve got Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum, Polly Bergen, it’s terrific!” 1962
Caught: “There are certain styles I had trouble with at first, like some of Max Ophuls’ films. It took me till I was into my thirties to get The Earrings of Madame de…, for example. But I didn’t have trouble with this one, which I saw in a theater and which is kind of based on Howard Hughes [protagonist of The Aviator].” 1949
The Conversation: Gene Hackman stars in this thrilled directed by Scorsese’s friend, Francis Ford Coppola. It’s a classic example of studio risk-taking in the early 1970s. 1974
Dial M for Murder: When discussing the creation of Hugo, Scorsese referred to this Hitchcock film as an example of other directors who have tangled with 3-D over the years. In its original release most theaters only showed it in 2-D; now the 3-D version pops up in theaters from time to time.1954
Do The Right Thing: Spike Lee’s film was the kind of risky production that drew Scorsese to Universal Pictures when it was run by Casey Silver and Tom Pollack. “Then Pollock left,” says Scorsese, “and it all changed.” 1989
The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse: Rex Ingram made this movie, in which Rudolph Valentino dances the tango. Ingram stopped making films when sound came in. Michael Powell’s father worked for Ingram; living in that milieu gave Michael the cultural knowledge that informed his own movies like The Red Shoes. 1921
Gilda: “I saw this when I was 10 or 11, I had some sort of funny reaction to her, I tell you! Me and my friends didn’t know what to do about Rita Hayworth, and we didn’t really understand what George McCready was doing to her. Can you imagine? Gilda at age 11. But that’s what we did. We went to the movies.” 1946
 Health: This Altman movie came out at the same time as King of Comedy. They were both flops, and we were both out. The age of the director was over. E.T. was a very big worldwide hit around then, and that changed the whole business of film finance. 1980
Heaven’s Gate: Scorsese was with United Artists in the '70s, with producers he describes as ”understanding and supportive.” Heaven’s Gate, one of the ambitious films UA backed at the time, was a critical and box office bomb, although its reputation has improved over the years. 1980
House of Wax: This was the first 3-D movie produced by a major American studio. It starred Vincent Price as a wax sculptor whose sourcing was, shall we say, unusual. 1953
The Hustler: Scorsese liked the Paul Newman character (Eddie Felson) in this movie so much that when Newman came calling about a possible update of the movie, he agreed to direct The Color of Money. He says the movie’s box office success helped rehabilitate his career after a tough slog. 1961
The Infernal Cakewalk: One of the many George Melies movies that have been restored and can now be seen on DVD. Melies, a French director of silent films, is at the center of the plot of Hugo. 1903
It Happened One Night: “I didn’t think much of this Frank Capra film, until I saw it recently on the big screen. And I discovered it was a masterpiece! The body language of Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable, the way they related--it’s really quite remarkable.” 1934
Jason and the Argonauts: As part of his film education of his daughter, Scorsese screened a bunch of Ray Harryhausen classics, including this one. 1963
Julius Caesar: “This is another example of Orson Welles’ risk-taking, with Caesar’s crew as out-and-out gangsters.” 1953 (AUTHOR'S NOTE - THIS IS THE ONE EXAMPLE THAT IS A PLAY, NOT THE FILM, THE FILM WAS BY JOSEPH MANKIEWICZ, WELLES MADE THE 1938 PLAY WITH MERCURY!  IN BOLD CAPS!)
Kansas City: “This is one of the great jazz movies ever. If you could hang on with Altman, you were going to go on one of the great rides of your lives.” 1996
 Klute: “There are movies that change the whole way in which films are made, like Klute, where Gordon Willis’s photography on the film is so textured, and, they said, too dark. At first this was alarming to people, because they’re used to a certain way things are done within the studio system. And the studio is selling a product, so they were wary of people thinking that it’s too dark.” 1971
The Lady from Shanghai: “The story goes that Welles had to make a film and he was in this railway station, and there were some paperbacks there and he was talking to Harry Cohn of Columbia and he said look, I’ve got the greatest film it’s called Lady from Shanghai, which was this paperback he saw there. And then he made up this story, taking elements of Moby Dick, where he talks about the sharks, and the whole mirror sequence in that picture is unsurpassed. I don’t know if Lady is a noir, but it’s awkward, and it’s brilliant.” 1947
The Leopard: “Visconti and Rossellini and deSica were the founders of Neo-Realism. Visconti went a different way from Rossellini. He made this movie, which is one of the greatest films ever made.” 1963
Macbeth: “This was the first Welles movie I saw, on television. He shot it in 27 days. The look of it, the Celtic barbarism, the Druid priest, this was all very different from other Macbeth productions I’d seen. The use of superimpositions, the effigies at the beginning of the film--it was more like cinema than theatre. Anything Welles did, given his background in radio, was a big risk. Macbeth is an audacious film, set in Haiti of all places.” 1948
The Magic Box: “There were a number of people who felt that they had invented moving pictures. Robert Donat plays William Friese-Greene, one of those people, who’s obsessed from childhood with movement and color. Donat was a great actor. And this is a beautifully done film.” 1951
M*A*S*H: “I saw it at a press screening. That was the first football game I ever understood. Altman developed this style that came out of his life and making television movies, it was so unique--and his movies seemed to come out every two weeks.” 1972
A Matter of Life and Death: “This is another beautiful film by Powell and Pressburger, but it was made after World War II, so people said, ‘You can’t use the word ‘Death’ in the title!’ So it got changed to Stairway to Heaven, that’s what it was called in America. Now it’s A Matter of Life and Death again.” 1946
McCabe & Mrs. Miller: “This is an absolute masterpiece. Altman could shoot quickly and get the very best actors.” 1971
The Messiah: “Rossellini’s last film in this third period, the last film he made before he died, is this beautiful TV film on Jesus. He had planned on making more such films, like one on Karl Marx. He thought TV was the way to reach young people, to educate them. But then of course TV changed.” 1975
Midnight Cowboy: One of the great movies released by UA in its glory days, starring Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight. 1969
Mishima: Scorsese describes this Paul Schrader film about the great Japanese author as a “masterpiece.” 1985
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town: In this Frank Capra movie, one of several that Scorsese has screened for his family, Gary Cooper plays a small-town boy who inherits a fortune--and a bevy of big-city sharpies that he can’t quite contend with. 1936
Nashville: “Altman had a point of view that was uniquely American and an artistic vision to go with it. All his early work pointed to this movie.” 1975
Night and the City: “It’s the essential British noir film. Harry Fabien, played by Richard Widmark, is a two-bit hustler running through the London underworld at night, and he always oversteps, particularly with the gangster played by Herbert Lom. From the very beginning you know Fabien’s going to fail, because he’s up against a power he doesn’t understand. 1950
Othello: "It took (Orson Welles) years to finish this. There were tons of quick cuts, and there’s a wonderful sequence where two people are attacked in a Turkish bath, and it works beautifully. They’re wearing towels, and one is dispatched under the boards. It has a strange North African whiteness. It turns out that he was ready to do the sequence, and the costumes didn’t show up. So he said, let’s put it in a Turkish bath. He had the actors there! He had to shoot it!” 1952
Peeping Tom: “Michael Powell himself gambled everything on Peeping Tom and lost in such a way that his career was really ended. The film was so shocking to some British critics and the audience because he had some sympathy, sort of, for the serial killer. And the killer had the audacity to photograph the killing of the women with a motion picture camera, which of course tied in the motion picture camera as an object of voyeurism, implicating all of us watching horror films. He was reviled. One critic said this should be flushed down the toilet. He only got one or two more movies done. He really disappeared. And now in England there are cameras watching everyone all over the street.” 1960
The Player: “In the years before this movie, the age of the director who had a free hand came to an end. And yet Altman kept experimenting with different kinds of actors, different approaches to narrative, different equipment, until finally he hit it with this movie, which took him off onto a whole other level.” 1992
The Power and the Glory: “Directed by William K. Howard and written by Preston Sturges, it had a structure that Mankiewicz and Welles used for Citizen Kane.” 1933
The Red Shoes: “There’s something so rich and powerful about the story, and the use of the color, that it deeply affected me when I was 9 or 10 years old. The archness of the approach, and how serious the ballet dancers were … When they say, “The spotlight toujours on moi,” they mean it! The ballet sequence is almost like the first rock video. It’s almost as if you’re seeing what the dancer sees and hears and feels as she’s moving. It’s like in Raging Bull, where we never went outside the ring for the fighting sequences.” 1948
Rocco and his Brothers: “This Visconti film was also a major influence on filmmakers.” 1960
Secrets of the Soul: “This was a silent movie whose flashback structure was unlike anything else. Secrets of the Soul looked almost experimental.” 1912
Tales of Hoffman: “This was a great risk for Powell and Pressburger. In fact, they lost it on that. He had in mind a composed film like a piece of music, and played the music back on set during the shooting, so the actors moved in a certain way.” 1951
The Third Man: “Carroll Reed made one of those films where everything came together. It made me see, with Kane, that there was another way of interpreting stories, and another approach to the visual frame of the classical films…all those low shots, and the cuts.” 1949
Touch of Evil: “Welles’ radio career with the Mercury Theater made him a master of the soundtrack. Just listen to this movie--you can close your eyes and imagine everything that is happening." (Young people should listen to the radio soundtrack of War of the Worlds, which was so effective that people got in their cars and started to drive away, because they really believed that Martians were attacking.)
The Trial: “This is another film that gave us a new way of looking at films. You’re very aware of the camera, like when Anthony Perkins came running down this corridor of wooden slats and light cutting the image, blades and shafts of light, talk about paranoia!” 1962

Wait, do you want MORE!?  "I want some more," says the cinematic vampire ala Kirsten Dunst in Interview with the Vampire

How about...


Or Fellini?

And Uh... This...

If you just type in 'Scorsese Introduction' on YouTube you'll get a bunch of videos for the likes of Woman is the Future of Man and Dial M for Murder.

And because I like redundancy, his top 10 list on Sight & Sound (which does feature a few films not above: The River, Salvatore Giuliano, Ugetsu Monogatari, and Ashes and Diamonds)

Sunday, August 24, 2014


Ah, Satantango.  What can I report, dear readers?  Report what I can.

When you come upon the film Satantango directed by Bela Tarr - a film which was put as the #36 film of all time on the Sight & Sound poll of critics' ten favorite films - what to first tell about or hear about the film isn't necessarily what it's "about" (to put it in those pesky things called 'quotes' because, well, the Ebert lingo "It's not what it's about it's how it's about it"). 

Oh, sure, you can tell someone that it's about a (very) small Hungarian rural village where the people have little hope but cling to and decide to follow a quiet but stern leader (Mihaly Vig, also the composer, looking more like a musician than an actor by the way), and decide to try and find something better than what they've been dealing with for so many years.  Just the idea of it being about Hungarians at the end of the era of Communism in the 1980's - the movie came out in 1994 but it's based on a book from 1985 - sounds appealing in the sense of being interested in other cultures and seeing what life is like in such stark terms.

But that's not really what to first tell about this movie.  No, that would be the pat, easy way.  The first thing you should know about Satantango is the actual form of it: it's a black and white film that is seven and a half hours long (or 420 minutes to be precise). 

And to put it more into a technical perspective, it has 150 shots.  Divide 420 by 150 and you have an average shot length is 2.8 minutes per shot, and really many, many shots in this film are much longer than that, stretching to the limits of what was allowable in that long ago When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth age when you could only shoot such a work on celluloid-loaded cameras.  In other words, a long, long film - in Hungarian - about mainly miserable people caught in miserable circumstances.

Some folks out there will hesitate just by the black and white, or that it has those pesky things called subtitles.  But most people can take that if they aren't too young and closed-minded.  It's the length that automatically will make people go wide-eyed and say 'Come again?'  And yet even for this, it should be said that in recent times a very long-form story isn't a deterrent either given the right viewer; and forget about the binge-watching of long-form TV shows on Netflix and the like, I mean a self-contained narrative like True Detective or the FX Fargo adaptation.  

"Just dance," says the Gaga Lady
We are now at a time where, perhaps ironically, a film like Satantango could have more of a chance with an open-minded viewer than when it played at festivals like the NY Film Festival in 1994.  And for myself, I like getting into a BIG cinematic challenge, not unlike years gone by when I sat down for hours and hours and engulfed Kieslowski's Decalogue or Fassbinder's Berlin Alexanderplatz.  If a director has it in his mind to make a gigantic magnum opus on a long scale, I'm intrigued.

So.... why was Satantango, on a first time, such, in parts, a hard, slightly endurance-testing sit?  And can I tell you that you NEED to see it, or may just WANT to see it, or could be CURIOUS to see it?  After all, it's not an easy film to obtain at any rate; it's not on Netflix, it screens rarely in cities, and it's on 'sale' on Amazon or Ebay for $50.  It's a commitment to watch this darn thing any way you look at it.

Well, for starters, I must put forward that the film, in its entirety, is worth seeing IF you have the constitution for it.  In other words, out of seven and a half hours of celluloid there are at least five and a half, maybe six, hours of really breathtaking, daring, incisive, oddball, disturbing, harrowing, darkly funny, somber, and (I hate to use this word but it's a cliche I can't avoid) meditative material here.  But the main catch is this: unlike those examples I listed above of long-form storytelling, Tarr is not really that interested in story. 

Or, rather, he is telling stories here, but it's not the sort that, on paper, should require seven and a half hours to accomplish (and as the opposite of what usually happens with cinematic adaptations, the book it's based on by László Krasznahorkai is 200 pages long, so for the film material is expanded, not reduced). 

Further curiously, and coincidentally, the film came out at around the same time as another major cinematic event, Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction.  Like that film, Satantango plays with structure, doubling back at key moments and, as I'm told by people who have read the book, is novelistic in structure.  That's fine.  Maybe more than fine: it shows a filmmaker who wants to trust his audience as much as he trusts himself to remember images and shots that stick out, moments that really do mean to double back for a purpose.  But in Tarantino's case it was more compact - like, you know, picking up a pulp fiction anthology, and loaded with explosive dialog and outrageous set pieces.

Satantango is a different beast than that.  The whole thing is about watching.  And waiting.  And more watching and waiting for things to happen.  And watching as despair and doldrums overcomes people and they might try to escape.  Or not.  It's not particularly explosive (though explosives are mentioned at one point, for some reason that's left obtuse). 

Doctor Doctor, please.
It's essentially an experimental film more than anything else, which is another key thing that you must know before going into this experience.  Tarr isn't quite as extreme as, I don't know, Andy Warhol, and you aren't made to sit and watch someone sleeping for five hours straight or something that is more akin to Trolling the audience.  I don't think Tarr and company are out to do that. 

And to his and particularly cinematographer Gabor Medvigy's immense credit, the camera is usually, constantly, moving and alert, tracking along with characters but then also tracking into something that has been carefully planned and staged.  For many passages, the director, staging, how light is used or diffused, is breathtaking or, if it gets lugubrious, at least has quality. 

And yet... here's what it is: I can take, and enjoy, seeing people doing something deadpan or minimalistic on screen - or, as case happens at times in this film, more action than that, such as a accordion-driven musical number (second only to Holy Motors for being creative and wonderful and using the scope of cinematic technique for its affect). 

But what can be tiresome is if it goes past watching behavior for the sake of the scene into just... watching people 'do' things. 

Walking... not as much talking
Tarr was once quoted about why he likes his long takes: "You know I like the continuity, because you have a special tension. Everybody is much more concentrated than when you have these short takes. And I like very much to build things, to conceive the scenes, how we can turn around somebody, you know, all the movements implied in these shots. It's like a play, and how we can tell something, tell something about life...Because it's very important to make the film a real psychological process."

For good portions of Satantango, the tension, and the 'real psychological process', does work.  There's one major section of the film involving a girl and her cat where she at first is playing, the tussling, then basically pulling a rough-housed torture on the creature, leading up to the girl feeding the cat rat poison (!) and the cat fading away.  There's more to this sequence than that, and indeed is the sort of nexus of two other character-driven stories (one of a doctor, which I'll get to in a moment, and the townspeople carrying on with the aforementioned accordion in a run-down cafe), but this you may have heard about with the film if anything else (speaking of Tarantino, it's kind of the 'ear slicing scene' of the picture, the most disturbing part really, and much more so than Tarantino's 'C Tony Watch Your Head' theatrics). 

But the long takes really do work for this, much in the same effect that, years later, Tarr 'fan' Gus van Sant would employ with his experimental films Gerry, Last Days and (his best) Elephant.  for van Sant, when those long takes worked it had a purpose involving bringing the audience into that space of psychological unrest and unease and seeing things that keep going in a shot suddenly takes on another meaning that is deeper, harder to qualify or put into words.  Tarr is after that in this picture, to be sure, and yet I can't help but feel, at other certain times, it's less about any tension or psychological process than.... someone's eating something... or drinking something.... or writing... things... in elipses...

Which brings me to sections with the Doctor character.  These are the most painful sections of the film, for me, to get through.  Though throughout Satantango you will just see people walking, and walking, or talking, or maybe walking and talking, or just sitting and looking around, there can be something said for how it fits in with an interesting portion of behavior, or how it may relate to the closest thing to a "plot" involving Iriminas' "Mission" to bring these people into some new way of life.  But with this Doctor, nothing happens, or just barely (yes, he does walk around, and interact with some characters, but to little end).  Particularly in the first hour, this was where the filmmakers were just trying my patience at over-extended takes on this character who, perhaps, COULD be interesting, as he sits and writes down what he sees out his window.

Ok, that's funny
There was a moment when I was on a break after this dull portion of the film where I went to Twitter and tweeted about my mixed feelings on the first couple of hours - the introduction of a few of the townspeople, involved with a scheme involving lots of money, and the introduction of the smooth talking, possibly outlaw Irmina, was involving even in its slow-burn pacing (including shots like just showing a woman talking a piss, things like that), and then this protracted sequence with this doctor happened and set me off.  A friend (one who had read the book but not seen the film) made a comment about, in so many words, 'you don't have to eat your veggies if you don't want to. 

And I get it, or got it.  Satantango, at times, is "veggies", to put it into a cinema-as-food comparison.  Junk food this is not.  It is "good" for you to watch.  Whether you'll feel good once it's over is another matter.

I continued watching the film though - why should I stop now, there was still, even in portions I could just about keep my eyes open, simple but fascinating camera moves and a look that was all this world's own - and... it got better, or more interesting, or just reached other levels I didn't expect.  It's also been said in certain reviews (look on Rotten Tomatoes for quick start) that the film also carries a level of comedy to it.  This is only in a few instances, very quick asides.  If there is humor it's so pitch black and morose that perhaps you'd need to have grown up in such desolate former (or current?) Communist blocks to get the sardonic sense of humor about such low living as these villagers do. 

What makes Satantango though an important experience is that it keeps challenging you to keep watching and to expect more from what you have seen in almost any other film you've come across.  The director knows what he wants, and whether you will all the time will depend on what you can take or just find absorbing and engrossing about this desolate landscape. 

Also, when it has characters that spark some interest, like the scornful and bitter shop-keeper ("This is all MINE!" is basically his mantra when he hears Iriminas, who has been at least though dead if not just gone for so long, is returning to town), or the quiet and sad local middle aged woman (who at one point is just there in the cafe half listening to others like the crazy bearded people), or how things like the clock ticks on in certain scenes (sound is actually important here considering how much Tarr and company put into their long images) or that monotonous (but in a good, trance-inducing way) music comes on the soundtrack... the film has a distinct effect. 

The opening shot of the movie, which is just... cows... yep, just cows.

The other thing to note is that in the black and white, it's hard for this to ever become exactly "dated".  It has a timeless quality because of it, which works to its benefit.  Ultimately, it's not easy enough to just say 'you'll either dig it or you won't', as, again, the length issue will deter (and has deterred) people away automatically, especially as the director (according to Wikipedia) insisted audiences watch it straight through, no intermissions (normally, as with the DVD and other screenings, it has two, which is also important as to break up the narrative into what are, actually, fairly distinct acts).

I think it's a complex recommendation for me - I can't be into the camp of the critics, whether you wan to call them "snobs" or elitists is something else, who praise the film to the high heavens.  Maybe I'm just not that sophisticated enough of a viewer.  Or, despite (or because of) my acceptance of films that are challenging and puzzling and unfold, this still tested my limits of what I can take before I throw out the big buzz words like "boring" or "pretentious".

Its director may be both a genius and a total loon.  Maybe he needed a surer editor, albeit the one here, Ágnes Hranitzky, was likely by the looks of credits for Bela Tarr total in the camp of letting shots (and I mean just watching people become dots far off into the horizon, or waiting for them to arrive) go on and on and on and on and on.  Or maybe it's like Hungarian cinematic prog-rock: it's indulgent, it's intense, it's full of solos and nothing much going on in parts... but when things do go on, and you're open to it, you (I) can be rightly astonished. 

Satantango, however, IS art, and was made to be seen as an artistic experience really, not a commercial one, this also despite it having certain techniques with its roving camera that can feel like what one might see in a commercial film from time to time.  So as such, I can't discount it either completely because there is so MUCH film to consider here, so many shots that do pull into question how these villagers, this "leader" Irminias, can keep going on in such a place and in such houses and manors and buildings that could crumble at any moment. 

In short: I'm glad it exists, and it has a weird, hypnotic power.  It's something new and different and that's precious.  It's just... the minutae is also there.  In parts.  A "parts greater than the whole" sorta thing for hardcore cinephiles and art-house critters.