Fred Camper

Fred Camper

Critic
US
Voted in the critics poll

Voted for:

47 Ronin, The 1941 Mizoguchi Kenji
argent, L' 1983 Robert Bresson
Egyptian Series Stan Brakhage
El Dorado 1966 Howard Hawks
Eniaios Gregory J. Markopoulos
India: Matri Bhumi 1959 Roberto Rossellini
Schwechater 1958 Peter Kubelka
Sun Shines Bright, The 1953 John Ford
What Goes Up? Robert Breer
Yearning 1964 Naruse Mikio

Please note: while the majority of Top Ten submissions specified no order of ranking, for technical reasons it has been temporarily necessary to alphabetise all lists, overriding any other designated ordering. Apologies for any upset caused!

Comments

Eniaios is made up of 22 sections, which, when printed in their entirity, will run for approximately 80 hours. Since Markopoulos’ death in 1991, his companion and heir, filmmaker Robert Beavers, has been printing it whenever possible, but only a handful of the film’s sections, or ‘Orders’, have yet been shown. I have seen all of Order II and Order V, and about half of Order III. Any one of them alone would be at the top of my list, so on faith I list the entire film. My inclusion of India is based on the Cinémathèque Française print I viewed in 1970, which had reasonably good colour. I don’t get much from the recent restoration. If the new print is all that will ever be shown, I would list Rossellini’s The Messiah instead. I constructed my list by first determining my favorite filmmakers, and then limiting myself to one film by each. My criteria have been entirely aesthetic. The focus in such lists on the value of individual films as separated from their makers’ oeuvres is, in my view, more than a little dubious, and is altogether too much of a piece with the object-oriented, consumerist nature of our culture. One gains much more from considering a filmmaker’s output whole, and it is considered this way that, I believe, my choices will make the most sense. Each great filmmaker uses film language in a unique way, and each film helps one learn how to see the others. A major filmmaker’s work also offers a more expansive vision than does any film taken individually. Thus I would prefer that an interested viewer see any ten films by a single filmmaker on my list rather than one by each. Mizoguchi’s Genroku Chushingura, for example, is not necessarily greater, and certainly not more emotionally affecting, than Sansho Dayu, but it has both a uniqueness and a perfection different from that found in his later films, a comparison that only becomes clear when one has seen many. Eniaios is perhaps the most purely cinematic of films. Other arts are major inspirations, to be sure, but the film itself, with its flash frames and solid blacks and whites alternating in amazingly architectural rhythms (I thought, among other things, of classical temple columns separated by sky) can stand for, and in some ways surpass, what is best about the greatest films: a rhythmically pulsating rectangle of light. It attains an all-encompassing hugeness unparalleled in any other film I know. Mizoguchi attains an ineffable spatial perfection, raising to sublimity the weight of human emotion, history and some sense of emptiness. Rossellini’s world-encompassing vision in India is unique in his work. Brakhage’s Egyptian Series attains a level of abstraction beyond even that of his ‘Romans’ and ‘Arabics’, shifting clouds of textured light conveying qualities that have no verbal equivalents. L’Argent is a terrifying mechanism, a vision of horrible inevitability, an emptying out that surpasses even other Bresson films. Schwechater, which is only one minute in length, is one of the most perfect, ecstatic and amazingly complex of constructions. Naruse’s late ‘Scope films are perhaps his greatest, being indescribably moving even while avoiding the emotionalised visual expressions of so many melodramas to instead create an unbiased openness to the world. It is hard to choose a best Hawks – his visual style seems to grow from the tiniest of character gestures to patterns of space and light that parallel the organicity of bodies in space. While Seven Women is in some ways the greatest Ford, The Sun Shines Bright combines a depth of vision with a perfection of narrative that perfectly matches Ford’s visual evocations of honour, community, memory and loss. As with most of the other films on my list, Robert Breer’s many short masterpieces have yet to receive their proper recognition, but he achieves a cinematic intensity unlike any other filmmaker, combining flicker, color, line and depth paradoxes that underline the artificiality of film space, together with a humour that underlines absurdities. The vision that he achieves is transformative.