As the rioting wanes but the lockdown continues in certain states, let's add to the lists of movies that other periodicals have suggested people watch while stuck in their homes. (See, for instance, the recommendations here, here, here, and here.) Our list skips the pandemic and isolation themes, focusing instead on the art of filmmaking. I am most interested in films that contain moments wherein the Being of things is revealed through the play of light, perspective, movement, juxtaposition, and the succession of images. Those moments are a worthy reprieve from the blare of politics and social conflict. Watch them carefully. They come from but a short slice of film history.
1. The Flowers of St. Francis (1950)
Roberto Rossellini's stark but magical portrayal of episodes in the life of the saint. Note how often you can stop the film and observe that the frozen image looks like a deliberate, sculpted work of visual art.
2. Seven Samurai (1954)
The film that made Kurosawa famous is known for its martial theatrics, but pay attention to the rain, the construction of the huts, and the path down which the bandits ride.
3. Un Homme Echappe (1956)
Robert Bresson’s masterpiece is quiet and tense, the cell of our prisoner becoming a deep locus of thought and resolve.
4. Wild Strawberries (1957)
Watch the opening dream sequence, where Bergman slightly overexposes the film in order to highlight a surrealistic perception.
5. Psycho (1960)
Hitchcock reached another level with this film (and with Vertigo). He used his TV crew to do the filming, which gives a stark white blankness to the action. Note the famous final scene, in which we slowly approach the killer in the chair while his/her thoughts roll out. Check out the color of the wall and the floor, and the lack of any border between them, as well as the teeth in that final smile.
6. La Dolce Vita (1960)
Fellini's film is about the reverse of Being, the steady decline of a talented man into a depravity that blunts any meaningful contact with other human beings and with the world around him.
7. Last Year at Marienbad (1961)
I know people who think that Resnais's enigmatic story is pretentious and sententious, but I don't care. The images are hypnotic, and the characters operate as if they occupy another reality we can barely experience.
8. L'Eclisse (1962)
Martin Scorsese reveres this film by Michelangelo Antonioni. The final five minutes are genuine high art.
9. The Trial (1962)
After watching only thirty seconds of anything by Orson Welles, you know you are in the hands of a master.
10. La Jetee (1962)
Chris Marker's experimental short film is made up of still images and a voiceover, but is nonetheless exciting. Once the pictures begin, you cannot turn away.
Mark Bauerlein is contributing editor of First Things.
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