I have written about compelling films, films that when broadcast, you had to watch. What represents compelling films for people will tell you something about them. You will get insight that is truer than many other ways. A few of mine are Goodfellas, Twelve Angry Men, The Killing, The French Connection, Once Upon a Time in the West, D.O.A. and The Big Lebowski.
There are several films that go beyond being my favorites or most compelling, and I represent these films as A Zodiac of Film. If you observed these films from afar, a pattern could be detected. This pattern would express what I deem most vital to my being. The list is personal and is not meant to be recommendations.
I first composed my film Zodiac thirty years ago and the present bunch has changed very little:
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) Strangers on a Train (1951)
Straw Dogs (1971) Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983)
Rashomon (1950) The Phantom of Liberty (1974)
Lancelot du Lac (1977) Aguirre: Wrath of God (1972)
La Grande Bouffe (1973) Natural Born Killers (1994)
Fellini’s Casanova (1976) The King of Comedy (1983)
Readers may mistake the Zodiac as one being imposed on them like a top ten list of greatest movies. I make no claim to their greatness. I don’t believe these films even have an equal weight in my life. Most of them I wouldn’t classify as ‘favorites’, by which I mean that I watch them over and over. Neither is it necessary for you to see them. This is my celestial cinema. You have to find one for yourselves.
I understand how many people couldn’t tolerate the content and/or style. 2001 goes too slowly. La Grande Bouffe is gross and disgusting. Natural Born Killers has too much violence (and it’s an Oliver Stone film). I remember a co-worker asking my about Natural Born Killers and I responded that I thought it was a great film. I said a few other things but apparently not enough to prevent my friend from taking his parents to see it! When he told me, I defended myself saying that I thought the film was great and that he might have liked it, but I couldn’t believe he took my comments as a sign that everyone should see it.
You might recognize a part or majority or none of this Zodiac reflected in your sense of reality. Given that every person could choose twelve or more films that are most important to them, place those choices beside mine, we could then behold how much or how little life appears the same to us. A feminist, for instance, might be less affected by the same films that I have been, although occasional overlaps might indicate the unpredictability if not flexibility in our respective feelings and thoughts.
Certainly romantic filmgoers, like my wife, would find very few of my films in her personal firmament. She may not be repulsed by or alienated from mine, and vice versa, but she seems more likely to turn to a cinematic heaven showing Ben-Hur (1959), Gone With the Wind (1939) , Imitation of Life (1959), and An Affair to Remember (1957).
Perhaps (maybe a big perhaps), within my hemisphere, one could briefly find the irascible critic John Simon gawking favorably at pre-La Dolce Vita (1960) Fellini, whereas I am affected by both ends of Fellini’s career. Similarly, Stanley Kauffmann could take in Dr. Strangelove (1964) (so close to my star pattern) but reject 2001. Were we to account for all film audiences and their serious inclinations, some if not many might reside in a cinematic hemisphere I have never seen, like the productions of India, Iran, China, and other nations, not to mention the abundant work from independent filmmakers who despise anything remotely connected with Hollywood.
The radical predilections of individuals we cannot dispute; the consistency and character of our taste and aesthetic can and should be questioned. I am neither an aesthetic absolutist or relativist but prefer to live under the aegis of an aesthetic fundamentalism which, unlike all religious fundamental versions, provides both a disciplined look at Art and maintains a tolerance for the varieties that appear and, all too often, appall our sensibilities.
Thinking about the twelve films, I remembered part of my rationale being that each film had a certain impenetrability. That is, the content and style deterred one of immediately understanding what I was watching. Or, at least, finding the film’s meaning was very difficult. When I write about the individual films, these difficulties will be elaborated.