Quentin Turnour

Head of cinema programming, National Film and Sound Archive of Australia

Australia

Voted in the critics’ poll

Voted for

Best Years of Our Lives, The

1946

William Wyler

Citizen Kane

1941

Orson Welles

Hitler: A Film from Germany

1977

Hans Jurgen Syberberg

Madame de…

1953

Max Ophüls

Minamata: The Victims and their World

1972

Tsuchimoto Noriaki

Only Son, The

1936

Ozu Yasujirô

Playtime

1967

Jacques Tati

Rome Open City

1945

Roberto Rossellini

Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors

1964

Sergei Parajanov

Touch of Zen, A

1969

King Hu

Comments

Citizen Kane (is still the most influential work of cinema art. The Best Years of our Lives is here as the final and greatest achievement of classical, mass-consensus Hollywood cinema; La jetée is the perfect cinema cameo. One could pick any one of ten titles by Ozu (except the great but not standout Tôkyô monogatari), but I have chosen The Only Son because it exemplifies the director’s sensitivities to the local and the transcendent. No film has a better instinct for local Tokyo in 1936 – the social textures and personal imperatives of its vernacular time and place. No work survives better as a major, if instinctive expression of early Showa-era Japan in the 1930s – the tragic cultural and historical context its characters are trapped in – without either them or its maker realising it. There was an unexpected tussle for a rank between Madame de… (or any film?) of Ophüls and Ernst Lubitsch’s The Shop Around the Corner. It came down to who spoke more often, more completely, to all the moods and shades of the feelings both directors shared. Minamata: Kanja-san to sono sekai is the first film of the defining epic project of observational documentary – as a heroic gesture of good faith to its subject, to its social actors, to its conviction and to its aesthetic. Play Time for the control of mise en scène. Though Rossellini’s greatest individual achievements are possibly not in Rome Open City, its invention (even in its occasional hurry) of a schema of narrative flatness, directness and shoot-for-the-content-ness had an influence on all cinemas of personal conviction and social feeling ever since. No work of ‘transcendental’ cinema is also as sensual as Shadow of our Forgotten Ancestors. A Touch of Zen is here as the greatest work of the greatest director of human beings in movement, flux and action. Our Hitler: a Film from Germany is the greatest essay film, in part because of its deep scepticism of the polemical and rhetorical redundancy of so many other essay films. Ten near misses (in alphabetic order): City Girl (F.W. Murnau, 1930): As the greatest achievement of silent cinema. Duck Amuck (Chuck Jones, 1953): It wasn’t the first time the fourth wall had been pierced in cinema, but it’s how Termite Terrace punched it out. The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz (Luis Buñuel, 1956): Perhaps the greatest of Buñuel’s films because he does the most programmatic job of filmmaking work – and it is thus the most subversive. The Warped Ones (Kurahara Koreyoshi, 1960) tied with Pierrot le fou (Jean-Luc Godard, 1965): As the twin major expressions of New Wave – a youth not wasted on the young, but which we can still never go back to. Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress (William Wyler, 1944). Because – besides its historic record and the means and risk by which it was recorded – of its architectonics of objects in flight. For this it was more influential on special effects than 2001: a Space Odyssey. Pickpocket (Robert Bresson, 1960): As with Ozu, one could pick any film, but perhaps it should be Pickpocket as the exemplar of cinema naturalism without the burden of realism. La Région centrale (Michael Snow, 1971): The definitive structuralist work and therefore essential to defining the possibilities of what structure is in cinema. Saikaku ichidai onna (The Life of Oharu, Mizoguchi Kenji, 1952). Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976): The one work of New Hollywood that stands the tests of time and achievement. Four footnotes on this process and this selection are essential, at least from where I stand. 1. For the half-century that this poll has been cometing around global screen culture, the central tension in its process, and in the ebb and flow of its ranking, has always been between giving way to taste and coolly assessing influence. It’s the choice between Orson’s Welles’ first two, Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons. In the first bloom of cinephilic passion, I’d have backed the former. A decade or so on, I’d have backed the later as the superior work of the filmmaker’s filmography. These days, I still see the latter as the superior work, but a greater responsibility to historical forces than to my taste compels me to acknowledge Kane’s influence over Ambersons’ far less stable brilliance. That said, I have completely failed to follow this principle cogently or systematically. Sometimes the choices based on influence will seem as obscurely personal as those choices that are completely made on the grounds of taste (the argument for Wyler’s Memphis Belle would exemplify this). 2. I’m sure I’m not alone in some choices really concealing namechecking. Half a dozen titles could be substituted for tiles nominated from the body of work of directors such as Ozu or Ophüls. 3. For the first time, however, I felt the need to throw Hitchcock into the canonical dustbin. I did that to Chaplin and Kubrick many years ago. 4. For those of us who are the product of minor national cinema cultures there will always be an amount of mourning involved in this process (that’s unless they are entirely free of local national sentiment and what Australians call “cultural strut”). This needs to be pointed out to our Anglo-American cousins and others. I deeply mourn that – in all good conscience – I cannot offer an Australian national classic as among the world’s greatest works of cinema, no matter how deep my chauvinist passions or deep fondness for individual titles or filmmakers. I should be able to. I should be able to at least say that only for the most part is this list a tribute to the genius of other national cultures and their colonisation of my local screen culture and national imagination, but surely not totally? But in truth it’s our colonial imaginative yoke is total. We had one of the first truly national, colloquial cinemas, but we were also one of the first to give it away, around 1913. We then had 60 years of capital investment strike by our major media business and an anti-nationalist government policy. As a result, the screen culture and economy of those times tended to reward hucksterism rather than understanding genuine creative potential when the odd independent filmmaking impulse did emerge. And as another result, we sadly lack even the modest compensation of a one-off, standout, iconic, foundling who is an internationally known national auteur, as Bergman was for Swedish cinema or Ray for Bengali cinema. For all the achievements of the last 40 years (and the less well-known ones that preceded the 1970s, such as the work of Raymond Longford or Cecil Holmes), Australian cinema still tends to never be quite memorable or canonical. There’s still a native caution in narrative, style and investment, and too much misunderstanding of our own natural talents. Perhaps the emergence of new indigenous filmmakers (Warwick Thornton, Ivan Sen) might change this by 2022?

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