This film was an obsession among the four of us in the Psychocandy-era Jesus and Mary Chain, so much so that we would quote lines of dialogue to each other: “The thing I hate about you, Rowntree, is the way you give Coca-Cola to your scum and your best Teddy bear to Oxfam, and expect us to lick your frigid fingers for the rest of your frigid life.”
Zéro de conduite
The film that inspired If…. I grew up in the concrete new town of East Kilbride in the early 1980s, and it was almost impossible to see such films. I had to make do with a few tantalizing stills in library books, so this and Věra Chytilová’s Daisies were at the top of the list of films I wanted to see when I moved to London. Neither film disappointed. Zéro de conduite was of course shot by Dziga Vertov’s brother Boris Kaufman, who would later shoot the next film on this list.
The Fugitive Kind
Sidney Lumet’s film version of Tennessee Williams’s Orpheus Descending, with a script by Meade Roberts (who later played Mr. Sophistication in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie). I love Brando in this, especially that opening speech to the judge, and when he recounts the story of meeting Leadbelly.
D. A. Pennebaker
Dont Look Back
I first saw this on a ghostly, fifth-generation Betamax bootleg bought from a record fair in Glasgow in the early 1980s (the same way I first watched Eat the Document, A Clockwork Orange, and the films of the Sex Pistols’s U.S. tour). As much as the bleached-out, mysteriously forbidden images on my copy of this film had a degraded beauty all their own, seeing and hearing the film now in its full glory is a thing of joy.
I came from a small town, with parents whose only wish for my future was a factory job, so this film, and the novel it was based on, felt close to home. My only desire was to somehow escape my surroundings, so when I first watched this movie in my early teens, I found the ending truly agonizing. Beautifully shot in black and white by Denys Coop, who also shot This Sporting Life for Lindsay Anderson that same year.
Before the segmentation of TV brought on by cable, I first saw this on one of the UK’s four channels. Back then, you could always stumble upon strange and wonderful movies like this . . . and the whole family would watch. Often this made your enjoyment all the sweeter if a parent or sibling didn’t get it. I watched 3 Women with my first girlfriend and her mother. When the movie finished, the Ma said, “I couldn’t make head or tail of that, but I do know it was sick and perverted.” I said to her, “It’s one of the best films I’ve ever seen.” She didn’t much approve of me as a beau for her one and only daughter before we watched the movie, but afterwards she thought I was the anti-Christ.
As Gil Scott-Heron said, “Home is where the hatred is.” . . . School is too. You need an escape. David Bradley’s performance as Billy Casper is incredible. There is something magical about the fringes of a town where it meets the country, where space opens out and a different kind of solitude becomes possible.
We see this same edge space in this film, especially in the sequence at the end . . . new buildings facing barren open space and roads leading nowhere. I saw this at the Cinémathèque française recently. I was a little late for the screening, so I had to sit in the front row, in front of the sixty-foot screen, in the main cinema. An intense experience to be totally dominated by the images of this film. The last shot of Monica Vitti, where she stares into the camera, actually pinned me to my seat!
The American Friend
Every time I hear the Kinks’ “Too Much on My Mind,” I see Bruno Ganz as Jonathan in his little framing shop. Ganz is incredible in this, as is Dennis Hopper. Wonderful cameos from Nicholas Ray and Sam Fuller too. Wenders and cinematographer Robby Müller capture perfectly the light and color of a northern European city in winter . . . You can almost feel the damp cold in your bones.
Simon of the Desert
Buñuel’s last Mexican film has it all: miracles, temptations, Silvia Pinal, and a dance called “Radioactive Flesh.”
Jonathan Lethem’s Top 10
Winner of a 2005 MacArthur Foundation Fellows Program genius grant, Jonathan Lethem is one of America's premier contemporary writers. His works include the novels The Fortress of Solitude and Motherless Brooklyn.
John Lurie’s Top 10
John Lurie, whose band, the Lounge Lizards, was one of the most acclaimed jazz groups of the eighties and nineties, has recorded twenty-two albums and has acted in several films, including Stranger Than Paradise, Down by Law, and The Last Temptation…