Jean-Luc Godard's Le Mépris (ranked #45) features the director of Metropolis (ranked #26), Fritz Lang, in the role of a famous film director named . . . Fritz Lang. And, yes, it also stars Brigitte Bardot.
This is the second in a series of posts on my exploration of the world's Greatest Films of All Time. The initial post included an Introduction and Films 1-20.
Briefly, I researched and compiled 30 lists of Greatest Films from various sources around the globe, including critics such as Roger Ebert and Jonathan Rosenbaum; popular magazines like Time and Time Out (UK); films journals such as Sight & Sound, Cahiers du cinema, Kinovedcheskie Zapiski (Russia); and a range of Film Archives from countries like China, India, Ecuador, Israel, Greece, and Finland.
The 30 polls produced a total of 580 films. When films weren't ranked in the polls, I assigned a numeric value depending on the total number of films included (eg. 100 films = 20 points). What follows are the movies that ranked 21-50 after all of the points from the 30 polls were tabulated. So, this list is not a ranking of films I personally think are the greatest of all time. It's simply a reflection of results from across 30 polls voted on by hundreds of other people.
My quest was twofold: To see which works were considered the masterpieces of cinema from a variety of international sources, and to see if and how the perception of great films and great directors varied from one region of the world to another.
Les enfants du paradis [Children of Paradise] - It ranked #21 overall. Bob Dylan once called it his favorite film.
To be honest, I don't place much importance on the exact ranking of the films on this list. If I adjusted the numeric value I assigned to unranked polls, for example, the specific rankings might change quite a bit. Fritz Lang's Metropolis (#26) and Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries (#27) were only separated by 1.5 points after 30 polls (606.5 and 605 points respectively.) The former was mentioned 13 times, the latter, 11 times. So it would be ridiculous to suggest that Lang's masterpiece is better than Bergman's.
On the other hand, I think the difference between these two films and, say, Renoir's Rules of the Game, which wound up with 1,350 points and was mentioned in 24 polls, is significant enough to be of interest. Or between these two films and the 200-plus titles that scored few points and were only mentioned once.
Also notable is that while Metropolis and Wild Strawberries fell around the same place in the pack, their support came from different regions of the world. Lang's futuristic silent film from 1927 showed up on four out of six US/UK lists, while Bergman's movie didn't show up at all. Instead, it was Bergman's The Seventh Seal which showed up in four out of six US/UK polls. Meanwhile, Wild Strawberries did better than Metropolis in Europe, a surprising fact to me, as the European polls included a number of film archives, which I thought would naturally favor Lang's film. And, of course, Lang, was from Vienna and both started and ended his career making films in Germany.
My surprise also originates in my American cinematic education. A discussion in the U.S of the masterpieces of cinema, in my experience, would certainly include Metropolis and Bergman's The Seventh Seal. I assumed, then, that the two films were regarded more or less the same way throughout the world, especially since they're both what we usually call "foreign" films. If they're "foreign," wouldn't "foreigners" regard them as highly as we do?
But Metropolis only showed up in one European poll - a film archive in Belgium - and The Seventh Seal didn't show up in any. It seems, then, that a European discussion of the film canon would be more likely to include Wild Strawberries than the other two films.
And Ingmar Bergman, who has been one of the cinematic titans in my film education, barely registers at all in the Asian films lists. Only one of his films showed up in their polls. (I'll discuss Directors more in a future post.) Metropolis, on the other hand, was ranked #13 overall in the Asian polls.
So, take the exact numbers with a big grain of salt. Think in broader terms. Which films get mentioned five times and which ones get mentioned 20? Which ones are mentioned more in the U.S. or Asia?
Here's the list, followed by some of my discoveries.
21. Les enfants du paradis [Children of Paradise] (1945) - Marcel Carné - 661.5 points - 11 mentions
22. Greed (1924) - Erich von Stroheim - 649.5 - 14
23. M (1931) - Fritz Lang - 646.5 - 12
24. L'avventura (1960) - Michelangelo Antonioni - 645 - 13
25. Les quatre cents coups [The 400 Blows] (1959) - François Truffaut - 617.5 - 13
26. Metropolis (1927) - Fritz Lang - 606.5 - 13
27. Smultronstället [Wild Strawberries] (1957) - Ingmar Bergman - 605 - 11
28. The Gold Rush (1925) Charlie Chaplin - 591 - 13
29. La dolce vita (1960) - Federico Fellini - 588.5 - 11
30. City Lights (1931) - Charlie Chaplin - 584 - 12
31. Casablanca (1942) Michael Curtiz - 582 - 13
32. The General (1927) - Buster Keaton - 548 - 9
33. La grande illusion (1937) - Jean Renoir - 531 - 10
34. The Godfather Part II (1974) - Francis Ford Coppola - 520 - 9
35. Psycho (1960) - Alfred Hitchcock - 515 - 10
36. Touch of Evil (1958) - Orson Welles - 495 - 8
37. Kabinett des Doktor Caligari [The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari] (1920) - Robert Wiene - 487 - 10
38. Gone with the Wind (1939) Victor Fleming - 480.5 - 11
39. Andrei Roublev (1969) Andrei Tarkovsky - 472.5 - 8
40. Lawrence of Arabia (1962) David Lean - 466.5 - 8
41. Night of the Hunter (1955) Charles Laughton - 447 - 7
42. Zerkalo [The Mirror] (1975) - Andrei Tarkovsky - 440.5 - 8
43. Some Like It Hot (1959) Billy Wilder - 437 - 9
44. Chelovek s kino-apparatom [Man with a Movie Camera] (1929) - Dziga Vertov - 433 - 7
45. Le Mépris [Contempt] (1963) Jean-Luc Godard - 426 - 8
46. Chinatown (1974) Roman Polanski - 425.5 - 8
47. Ordet [The Word] (1955) Carl Theodor Dreyer - 418.5 - 9
48. It's a Wonderful Life (1946) Frank Capra - 418 - 8
49. Taxi Driver (1976) Martin Scorsese - 416 - 9
50. Det sjunde inseglet [The Seventh Seal] (1957) Ingmar Bergman - 415.5 - 9
One of the issues I wanted to explore in my quixotic quest was the influence of language in determining our concepts of Greatest Films. As an American, my relationship with cinema developed in an English-language environment, watching English-language films. I wouldn't encounter a film in another language until I was 16 years-old, when, out of boredom and curiosity, I slipped into the University of Texas Student Union Cinema to watch the last hour of one of the films in Hiroshi Inagaki's Samurai Trilogy. (One of the most transformative experiences of my life.) I took film classes in English and was surrounded by a English-language film culture, discussing mostly English-language films in English. It wasn't until I moved to Spain in 1995 that my English-language film life would really undergo a change.
So, when I started on this exploration, I was curious to see how some of the classics of English-language cinema, the movies we love and hold dear in the U.S., would do in other parts of the world. Do people outside of our country revere Casablanca, Gone with the Wind and It's a Wonderful Life? They seem like such quintessentially American films.
Well, as it turned out, all three showed up in polls from other parts of the world. This may be due in part to the vast power and reach of Hollywood, especially in the 1940s, when American global cultural dominance established itself in the ashes of World War II. Take the case of France, for example. The birthplace of cinema, which once had a film industry rivaling that of Hollywood, had to turn to the United States for economic assistance in the aftermath of the war. According to Richard Brody, in his excellent new biography of Jean-Luc Godard, one of the stipulations of the Blum-Byrnes Accords, the debt relief package from the U.S., was that "for nine out of every thirteen weeks, each screen would show American movies." The directors of what we now call the French New Wave - Godard, Truffaut, Rohmer, Chabrol, Rivette - grew up in this environment and were so closely identified with Hollywood and its cinema when they first gained attention as young film critics, that the French originally deemed them the Hitchcocko-Hawksians, after Alfred Hitchcock and Howard Hawks.
The silent films from early American cinema in the list - Greed, Gold Rush, City Lights, and The General - also did well across all regions. Charlie Chaplin has accurately been called the first Hollywood "star" to achieve worldwide fame. But, then, silent films obviously don't have to deal with the language barrier. Also, as I mentioned in the previous post, it seems that comedies often have difficulty moving from one culture to another, so it's interesting to see how well silent comedians Chaplin and Keaton did internationally.
As it turns out, though, there were several English-language films that ranked highly in the Anglo-American lists but didn't even show up in the rest of the world. Three such films in the 21-50 rankings were: Chinatown, which actually ranked #7 overall in US/UK polls; David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia, and Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver. (All three did show up on the "international" lists, which are five polls impossible to classify as being from a specific region.)
Robert Mitchum in Night of the Hunter, a French favorite.
Charles Laughton's disturbing Night of the Hunter, which wound up #13 overall in the US/UK polls, was ranked an astonishing #2 by the French journal Cahiers du cinema - but it wasn't mentioned in any other poll in the rest of the world. Almost the same thing occurred with Orson Welles' film noir Touch of Evil, which wound up #22 overall in the US/UK polls. It was also selected by Cahiers du cinema but didn't show up anywhere else.
All four French films in the 21-50 list - Les enfants du paradis (#21), Les quatre cents coups (#25), La grande illusion (#33), and Le Mépris (#45) - showed up in the French Cahiers du cinema poll, but they only appeared in one other European poll each. All four also showed up in at least one US/UK poll, with Truffaut's film (#25) appearing in five out of six. And, with the exception of La grande illusion, they all showed up in at least one Asian poll.
Both Russian polls chose Andrei Tarkovsky's 1966 masterpiece, Andrei Rublev, despite the fact that the film was withheld from release by the Soviet Union for a number of years. The Moscow Film Archive, however, did not list Tarkovsky's later film, Zerkalo [The Mirror]. Time Out (UK) did choose Zerkalo, but that was the only mention in US/UK polls for either of these Tarkvosky films, which, quite frankly, surprised me. Andrei Rublev did appear on all five international lists, including the IMDB Classic Film Board Top 200, where Tarkvosky is worshiped with great devotion. Meanwhile, Zerkalo was the only film by Tarkovsky to appear in any of the four Asian polls.
The other Russian film, Dziga Vertov's influential Man with a Movie Camera, showed up in the Kinovedcheskie Zapiski poll but not in the list from the Moscow Film Archive. It wasn't selected by any of the European or Asian polls, but it did do well in the US/UK and international polls and was included in the list from Venezuela.
Curiously, there were no Asian films ranked 21-50, after an impressive five titles in the 1-20 list.
Films ranked 21-50 that show up in my own list of Favorite 100 Films: Les enfants du paradis [Children of Paradise] (#21); La dolce vita (#29); Casablanca (#31); La grande illusion (#33); The Godfather Part II (#34); Le mépris (#45) and The Seventh Seal (#50).
I'll be investigating Films 51-100 in a future post, but the next installment in the series will be on the men and women who directed the Greatest Films of All Time. I encountered numerous surprises while taking a look at the directors who showed up in the 30 polls. In fact, I would go as far to say that the results changed my thinking about some of our masters of cinema. The cultural variations were also fascinating.
In the meantime, I'd love to hear about some of your own experiences with the films ranked 21-50. Any favorites make the list? Ones you absolutely hate? Are you surprised by any of the cultural differences?
Until the next reel. . . .