What if cinema actually did start with Star Wars?
An alternative to Derek Malcolm’s Century of Films list by Chris Hart
After spending the past two years or so, attempting to watch the films recommended by Derek Malcolm in his 2001 list of the best films of the century, I have decided to complete my own in response to his charge that cinema didn’t start with Star Wars. It has been an interesting, compelling and sometimes frustrating exercise watching and searching for the films recommended by Malcolm. I still haven’t seen them all, but I am in excess of my target of watching 52 of them.
To celebrate the end of the millennium and the first century of film history, Malcolm created his list over a period of two years and set himself a couple of golden rules: firstly, he restricted his choice to one film by each director; secondly, he considered the entire world history of cinema to include as many countries as possible. By his own admission, some of the selections are obscure and the most recent (BLUE VELVET, 1986) was 15 years old when the list was created, however he makes a compelling argument to justify their inclusion, as he is attempting to remind people of the diversity and history of a medium; a history that is often forgotten. Malcolm also makes the point that it is difficult, without the passage of time, to acclaim a director, or a piece of work as being ‘the best’, because quality is only understood by reflecting on the context in which it was made.
I remember reading some of the articles as they were originally published in The Guardian and I recall being constantly surprised by the films he included in the list. The first one, for example, was THE TOUCH OF EVIL (1958) when the expected critics choice of Welles’ best film, indeed the ‘Best Film Ever’, is usually CITIZEN KANE (1941). On reflection, he called it about right in that case, EVIL is a better film than KANE, as the story is stronger and the set-pieces ‘stick’ in your head more, but BROADWAY DANNY ROSE (1984), is not Woody Allen’s best film, by any measure.
That said, this is list of personal favourites, which may explain why some of the choices are ‘off-beam’, and ‘personal’ choices are always a little eccentric, by their very nature. Malcolm’s choices are simultaneously pulled together and pulled apart by the three rules that he applied – one film by one director, from the entire world history of cinema, and a personal favourite. These three elements have created the contradictions and frustrations that have made it such an interesting list to explore. If he could only have one film by each favourite director, then why did he go for a film that does not necessarily reflect the stylistic elements that they are famous for? If this is a list of film history, then what of the films and countries that are under represented or not represented at all Finally, If this is a list of personal favourites then why does SHOAH (1985), a nine hour documentary about the holocaust, which is unlikely to be in anyone’s desert island suitcase?
One of the reasons he was inspired to make the list in the first place was to prove to the multiplex generation that there was more to cinema than the blockbuster. He longs for the golden age of cinema where film-makers could work to produce their personal vision to the screen without worrying about the bottom line. As a member of the multiplex generation, I don’t feel as threatened as Malcolm seems to suggest. We may have had our cinema-going experience affected by the wiz-bang of the popcorn-factories in out-of-town centres, but we are also the DVD generation – armchair archivists who collect films more than any other generation. I accept the argument that there are too many lost films in the past, but I feel that it now, it is unlikely to happen as we are storing more and more, whether its at home on DVD, or in the big internet cloud of Youtube.
I have decided to rewrite Malcolm’s rules and celebrate the so-called ‘Multiplex Generation’ and create a list that assumes that cinema actually did start with Star Wars. All the other rules remain the same, I’m only going to select one film from each director and I am going to try and include as many different countries as possible. It will be difficult to realise the latter, as one of the consequences of the Star Warsification of film culture is that American films have been the dominate force in what British audiences consume over the past 33 years, but to counteract that effect, the distribution of ‘world cinema’ as been strong through the medium of DVD.
Above all, this is a personal list, and I have tried to go for films that I know well and if I had to ‘take on holiday’ they would be packing my suitcase (SHOAH is not included)