An Introduction to…

5 02 2010
Joseph Cotton

"Hello, Film Advice Hotline?" Joseph Cotton in 'Shadow of a Doubt'

For a long time, I resisted getting into The Fall. The band were on the John Peel show a lot during my impressionable teenage years, and I was always rather taken with their brand of angry Manc ranting. But, at the same time, I was aware that The Fall had been going since 1978 and had averaged at least an album a year, not to mention a whole mess of live recordings, bootlegs and rarities. If I started buying their records now, I thought, I’d have a whole lot of catching up to do. So, for some years, I did everything I could to ignore them. Then one day, out of the blue, I thought ‘fuck it’ and bought a CD or two pretty much at random. 

The cinema can be a bit like that too. Many of the most famous and influential directors of yesteryear have back catalogues that, to a newcomer, can be a little bit intimidating. You may have heard of Bergman or Hitchcock or Ozu and have a vague idea that their work is important in some way, but as a novice where do you start? Bergman made 44 films, Ozu more than 50, Hitchcock 57. Knowing which ones you should watch first, to get a sense of the director’s style and preoccupations, can be nigh on impossible.

Here, then, are my suggestions for the two or, at most, three films that might best introduce you to some of the most prolific Big Beasts of the cinema. 

Alfred Hitchcock

Vertigo (1958) is Hitchcock’s masterpiece, but maybe Rear Window (1954) is a better introduction to the perverse pleasures of the fat man’s work. Shadow of a Doubt (1943) is less well-known, but for my money one of Hitch’s best. In it, Joseph Cotton plays a long-lost uncle who visits his family in small-town America with a dark secret or two in tow. If you like Blue Velvet and American Beauty, you’ll like this.      

Jean-Luc Godard

You’re on fairly safe ground with anything from before 1968, when Godard’s sense of humour left the cinema through an emergency exit. Vivre Sa Vie (1962) will give you a pretty good idea of what JLG’s all about, as will Le Mépris (1963), where you can also see Brigitte Bardot’s hooters. The first three-quarters of Week-End (1967) are alright too, the last quarter offering an intriguing glimpse of a director just starting to disappear up his own backside (with a camera of course).

Howard Hawks

Easy! The Big Sleep (1946) and His Girl Friday (1940). Or possibly The Big Sleep and Bringing Up Baby (1938). Either combo’s a winner, as they say down at the coconut shy. Possibly. 

'The Marriage of Maria Braun'

Rainer Werner Fassbinder

The Marriage of Maria Braun (1978) is one of Fassbinder’s best films, and as good an introduction as any. The opening scene has a German soldier marrying his sweetheart (Maria) in the dying days of World War Two. They exchange their vows as the building they’re in is torn apart by machine gun fire. This level of intensity and caustic social commentary is maintained for the next two hours, as Maria takes a wild ride through the post-war West German experience.

Also good, in a gut-wrenching kind of way, is Fear Eats The Soul from 1974, the tale of a middle-aged housewife’s relationship with a Turkish ‘guest worker’.

Luis Buñuel

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) and The Exterminating Angel (1962). Both involve dinner. In the first, a group of six bourgeois ne’er-do-wells attempts to have dinner and fails in increasingly comic and ridiculous ways. In the second, dinner party guests find that a mysterious and embarrassing force prevents them from leaving the dining room after a meal.  The first was made in France and the second in Mexico, but both are fine examples of Buñuel’s cheeky, non-linear approach to film-making… and life.

Yasujiro Ozu

The themes and style of Ozu’s post-war films are so consistent that you could pretty much dip in anywhere. Tokyo Story (1953) is the famous one though, so you might want to start there. Anything with a season in the title is a pretty good bet too – Early Summer, Late Spring, Late Autumn… 

Ingmar Bergman

The Seventh Seal (1957) and Cries and Whispers (1972). The first is the film that made Bergman’s name in the wider world, a typically angst-ridden tale of a knight returning from The Crusades to a plague-ridden Sweden. Even if you’ve never seen the film, you’ll know some of the images already (a knight playing chess with Death – ring any bells?).  And if you can put up with the tone of Cries and Whispers, which is a wee bit pessimistic, I think you’ll find it’s a masterpiece. Four women live together in an isolated house, each trapped within her own private thoughts. One of them is dying. There are a lot of red furnishings. What more can I say?

Ingmar Bergman

'Cries and Whispers'

Jean Renoir

Received wisdom is that Renoir’s greatest masterpieces are La Grande Illusion (1937) and La Règle du Jeu (1939). Having only seen four of his films myself, I can confirm that these are both very good places to start.

Werner Herzog

Herzog’s reputation was sealed in the ‘70s by his work with two actors: the volatile Klaus Kinski and the vulnerable Bruno S, a former psychiatric patient. So, I would recommend one film with each actor: for Kinski either Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972) or Fitzcarraldo (1982); for Bruno S either The Enigma of Kasper Hauser (1974) or Stroszek (1977).   

Akira Kurosawa

Rashomon (1950) and Ran (1985). And possibly The Seven Samurai (1954) too.

 

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4 responses

11 02 2010
paul baxter

How about…

“Kieron Clark raises film blogging to a new level of sexual knowingness.”

…as a new tag-line?
It works for me…

11 02 2010
kieronclark

Erm… yeah. I’ll certainly give that some thought… OK, thought about it. No.

12 02 2010
paul baxter

I just thought if it was good enough for Fassbinder…

Oh man, we were THIS cose to winning the Showroom film quiz this week. You ever tempted to try it? I suppose you’re sick of the place though, eh?

14 02 2010
kieronclark

Commiserations, Mr. B. I have tried the Showroom film quiz once or twice, although, somewhat oddly, I’m not very good at film (or indeed music) trivia. I’m more of a pub quiz, general knowledge kind of cat, I think.

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