Tag Archives: Jonathan Rosenbaum

On the 3 that got away (Or why I’ll never be free of “The List”)

As I talked about briefly here, I spent the better part of the last 2 and a half years working on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They 1000 Greatest Films list. I’ve virtually completed both 2007 and 2008 permutations and will probably plow through the 2009 update when it happens this December.

Anyway I thought I’d explain a bit about the 3 films that got away…or the films I just couldn’t find anywhere:

1. Tih Minh (Louis Feuillade, 1918)

This serial about anarchist gangs trying to run Paris (or at least I assume so…given the subject matter of Feuillade’s prior films Fantomas and Les Vampires…and the lack of synopsis anywhere). Feuillade is a wonderful filmmaker, full of fun and invention. Les Vampires is a fascinating and compelling film, and the film’s villainess Irma Vep (played with gusto by the oddly sexy Musidora) might be the first great female character in all of cinema. She’s smart, devious, charming, and well-rounded.

As for Tih Minh, I know very little about this film other than Feuillade is an awesome director and Jonathan Rosenbaum loves the shit out of it.

I will add that I do have an incomplete copy (it’s 350 minutes when it should be 410 or so) of this film that’s unsubbed (if only I could read French or Belgian)…maybe someday I’ll try and watch it. But I’ve learned that it’s better to wait sometimes and see a film in a relatively good form, rather than try and suffer through for completion’s sake.

The film was also left off the 2008 update.

Chances of an official DVD release: Good, as the French company Gaumont has release 3 of Feuillade’s serials, and a newly restored version of Tih Minh has been shown in the past few years. Though I might be like 50 when it happens. Gaumont is bloody slow.

2. The Art of Vision (Stan Brakhage, 1965)

Brakhage is possibly the most lauded and written about American avant-garde filmmaker. His career spanned almost 50 years, and his reputation is unquestioned.

This film is a 4.5 hour re-working of his earlier avant-garde film Dog Star Man, incorporating the same footage, but through looping it, re-editing, and using multiple projectors creating an intense and immersive experience (or boring I guess).

I’ve seen Dog Star Man…and it still resonates with me…the rhythm of the imagery still appears to me occasionally. Dog Star Man is readily available having been released on the Brakhage DVD set put out by Criterion a couple years ago.

Chances of an official DVD release: Almost nil. 4.5 hour avant-garde films just don’t have commercial prospects. Even by a name such as Brakhage, it’s just too long to release on DVD. Furthermore I don’t even know when this was last screened…it seems to be one of those pictures that gets screened every 10 years or so. I suppose I might be able to track down a print somewhere…but for the time being this one is out of reach.

3. Scenes From Under Childhood (Stan Brakhage, 1967-70)

Hey more Brakhage, this one is composed of 4 sections each about 45 minutes long. I don’t know much about the film or its content. I’m just going to assume there’s some flashing and disjointed images.

Chances of an official DVD release: Like 100%, my understanding is that there will be a second Brakhage collection put out by Criterion in the future and that Scenes… will be included. Fingers crossed.

So there you have it…the 3 films that will keep me searching.

The list and the damage done.

I have a love/hate relationship with lists. Particularly movie lists. On one hand my movie watching experiences for the past couple of years have primarily been the result of trying to complete the TSPDT 1000 Greatest Films list, with the result being that I’ve stoked my passion for film, and been inspired to pursue a career path (that of film archivism). I’ve also learned a lot about the world, about history, and even daresay a few things about myself.

So in general the list has been a good thing. But conversely, lists have become the framework by which I watch movies. The films I seek out now are listed somewhere by someone, so whether it be the Silentera.com list of the top 298 silent films, or the films listed in the wikipedia pre-code article, or Jonathan Rosenbaum’s Alternative American 100, or even something as logical and unarbitrary as watching all of Myrna Loy’s existing films, virtually every film I watch is dictated by a list I’ve got going on.

It’s alternately enriching and restricting. Hell it’s addicting. It’s the most seductive form of bondage I can envision…and that includes real live bondage.

Currently the list that’s captured my interest as of late is the 500 films that have been deemed significant and worthy of preservation by the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress. I should explain a bit about the NFR. Every year for the past 20 years (I think that’s right), the NFR has listed 25 American films to be slated for preservation. What makes the NFR fascinating is that alongside the standard Hollywood canon, you have exploitation films like the notorious Mom & Dad (wanna see this so bad), or corny but endearing home movies like Disneyland Dream, or films that were only recently discovered like Evidence of the Film and The Making of An American. They also single out films made on the margins of the industry by minorities, so 1940’s Chicano flicks (Verbena tragica), Asian-American silents (Curse of Quon Gwon) and the work of black directors like Oscar Micheaux and Gordon Parks are given legitimacy and recognition alongside Hollywood legends like William Wyler and John Ford.

I really admire what the NFR does, because it manages to cover all aspects of American film, while raising awareness about issues of lost films, orphan films, home movies, and the general issues surrounding preservation and film archives.