Thursday, 18 September 2014

The Thin White Dude's Twelve Most Personally Influential Films

Thanks to Daniel Kelly for nominating me on this one!

It's meant to be a list of the Ten films which had an impact at me at some point in my life and have went to influence me aesthetically from an artistic standpoint, but me being me I had to settle for a dirty dozen. I need to seriously do a Top 100 at some point, and by no means are these films ranked in terms of quality, but they deserve their spot, so, without further ado, I give to you:

The Thin White Dude's Twelve Most Personally Influential Films!

Battleship Potemkin (Sergei Eisenstein, 1925) - I saw this in my early teens, and was blown away by the use of montage and master storytelling. A couple of years ago, I went to an accompanied screening of this in the Ulster Hall by Martin Baker and a family went to see it, undoubtedly parents wanting to involve their children in something cultural: they all left after the Odessa Steps sequence, because the little ones were in tears. The film still has the power to shock!

The Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman, 1957) - At fifteen, this was my personal introduction to an artist who I consider to be one of my masters, the late great Ingmar Bergman. The Seventh Seal is an encapsulation of everything Bergman is about: intelligent, thought-provoking cinema of enrichment, with dense thematic content in sound and vision, all the while attaining profundity at cost-efficient, modest budgets.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Sergio Leone, 1966) - At three hours long, the lengthiest film on this list, but with such immaculate pacing, the time flies in! Everything is done with panache, style and a sense of humour, the interplay between the three leads (Eastwood, Van Cleef and Wallach) wisely played. The cinematography, screenplay, editing, the wonderful score by Ennio Morricone, and of course Leone, this is one of those jigsaw puzzles where it all fits in snugly together.

Night of the Living Dead (George A. Romero, 1968) - A full year before Easy Rider put independent filmmaking on the map and five years before it's immediate descendent, Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, George A. Romero heralded in a new dawn of horror filmmaking with his debut feature in 1968. What made Night of the Living Dead so influential, on both me and others, was two things: firstly, the realism, necessitated by the low-budget, was and is still shocking to behold, and secondly, that the zombie film genre, which exploded soon after, could be used to display horror filmmaking as a viable means for social commentary.

A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1971) - Seeing this as a teenager was a revelation. It brought to mind so many questions: how did Malcolm McDowell make Alex, surely one of cinema's most morally corrupt and contemptible protagonists, so damn likeable? What sociological, psychological, political and philosophical implications does the work have? And how did Stanley Kubrick make such a hypnotically powerful and watchable film? It borders on postmodern just how compulsively watchable this violent film, which itself is a commentary on the nature of violence, truly is.

Aguirre, the Wrath of God (Werner Herzog, 1972) - Another one of my endeavours into the abyss as a fledgling cineaste, this film by Werner Herzog, another of my masters, continues to have a profound effect on me. It's very existence, the true definition of 'guerilla filmmaking,' is a triumph, as we trudge through the jungle with Spanish conquistadores into the dark, haunted soul of humanity. Through the mastery of film, we experience their delusions and hallucinations through Popol Vuh's score and Thomas Mauch's imagery, as they descend into barbarism and madness, fronted by a monolithic lead performance from Klaus Kinski. Spellbinding.

The Terminator (James Cameron, 1984) - Granted, I'm biased because it is in my not-so-humble opinion the greatest film of all time, but The Terminator to me represents the ultimate mastery of the medium of cinema. An extraordinary neon-lit nightmare, I saw this and it's superb sequel Terminator 2: Judgment Day at way too young an age (the latter of which, at age three or four, remains my first memory of the movies) and to this day, I still find myself blown away. For years, I though A Clockwork Orange was my favourite film, but as I got into my twenties, I realised that this movie, which has stayed with me through the years, was the one all along. I wouldn't be surprised if it's in the triple figures the amount of times I've seen it, and it just never gets old.

Robocop (Paul Verhoeven, 1987) - And the second of my eighties science-fiction films featuring cyborgs (maybe there's a recurring theme here, no?)... In all seriousness though, I saw this as a kid, and was always taken aback yet thrilled by the action and outrageously OTT violence, but now, as an adult, I see that my younger self would be in tune to my later aesthetic tastes. Robocop is classic genre fiction, using science-fiction as metaphor, touching upon the likes of capitalism, consumerism, identity, religion (Robocop's widely seen as a Christ-like Messianic figure), all making up what I feel is the best movie about America in the 1980s.

Withnail & I (Bruce Robinson, 1987) - One of the reasons I love Withnail & I (notwithstanding the many other reasons!) is because growing up I really identified with the titular characters: I have known people like that, I have been on the odd venture or two not unlike but nowhere near as wild as their trip to the country is. However, underneath all the hilarity and drunken debauchery, there is most importantly a pulse, a heartbeat that tunes in to the kindred spirit of all of those dreamers who have wanted to escape their confines and make something themselves. A farcical, yet poignant tour-de-force.

AKIRA (Katsuhiro Otomo, 1988) - Despite murmurings of live-action remakes for many years, I frankly see it as an impossibility to make something as breathtaking as Katushiro Otomo's 1988 adaptation of his own manga. Before AKIRA, my experience with animation had been through Disney, Pixar and the works, all children's animation, so not only was introduced to the world of anime (and subsequently manga) but also truly adult animation. It's an oft-repeated inside joke that you have to AKIRA seven or eight times in order to start to get it, and while I think that's a slight exaggeration, it gets the point across, because the ways you can look at this film are near infinitesimal. I don't anyone who comes out of it will describe it the same way as their fellow filmgoers.

Elephant (Alan Clarke, 1989) - Biased pick again, yes, but hey, it's my list. Alan Clarke's film about the Troubles is the single most important film about Northern Ireland, hands down. I saw this during a Film Studies seminar and frankly, although it was followed by Gus Van Sant's film of the same name (a tough double-bill if ever there was one), the overall experience was clouded by the atmosphere of Clarke's film, which is utterly shocking and extremely upset. It's the truthful honesty with which the subject is addressed that got to me, and Clarke's aesthetics in his overall filmography have since become a big influence on my own work.

Oldboy (Park Chan-wook, 2003) - The final and most recent film on this informal list is Park Chan-wook's masterful thriller. The set-up is simple, a man is kidnapped, imprisoned for fifteen years, released and given five days to discover who kidnapped him... or so it seems. This rich and complex spiders-web is unveiled with such elegance and style that it's any wonder I feel head over heels for it as a teenager. Furthermore, it has something to say about morality and the psychological impact the movie has will stay with you, as it has with me, for many years to come.

Well, there you have it. While this is an informal list that does not necessarily represent my favourite movies of all time or is ranked in any specific order shape or form, they are all, in my opinion, great films that I feel worthy enough of your time to watch. Give me your thoughts and opinions regarding the list, and what you films you feel are a big personal influence for yourselves.

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