Starburst Memories: A Guest Post by His Holiness Pope John Paul II

In 1995 to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of cinema, the Vatican published a list of 45 (for some reason) “great” films, simply titled “Some Important Films”. And we’re fond of a list or two here at the Dirk Malcolm Alternative. Perhaps they got tired of all the horror movie posters using the tagline “The film the Vatican doesn’t want you to see!” and decided to tell us exactly what it is they do want us to see. The films were grouped into three categories, ‘Religion’, ‘Values’ and ‘Art’.


It don matter to the Jesús


ANDREI RUBLEV (Tarkovsky, USSR, 1966)
BABETTE’S FEAST (Axel, Denmark, 1987)
BEN-HUR (Wyler, US, 1959)
THE FLOWERS OF ST. FRANCIS (Rossellini, Italy, 1950)
FRANCESCO (Cavani, Italy/West Germany, 1989)
LA VIE ET LA PASSION DE JESUS CHRIST (Nonguet & Zecca, France, 1903)
A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS (Zinnemann, UK, 1966)
THE MISSION (Joffé, UK, 1986)
MONSIEUR VINCENT (Cloche, France, 1947)
NAZARIN (Buñuel, Mexico, 1958)
ORDET (Dreyer, Denmark, 1955)
THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (Dreyer, France, 1928)
THE SACRIFICE (Tarkovsky, Sweden/UK/France, 1986)
THERESE (Cavalier, France, 1986)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is the most unappetising of the three lists. Working your way through this lot over a weekend would be like trying to eat a packet of dry Jacob’s cream crackers. While there are obvious moments of greatness on there (Rublev, St Matthew, Joan of Arc) you get the feeling they were struggling a bit if they had to pick the ponderous THE MISSION, two Tarkovsky nominations including his final film THE SACRIFICE which doesn’t really hold a candle to his earlier work, and two films by Dreyer. The birth of cinema is acknowledged with LA VIE ET LA PASSION…, the earliest film on the list.


AU REVOIR LES ENFANTS (Malle, France/West Germany, 1988)
THE BICYCLE THIEF (De Sica, Italy, 1948)
THE BURMESE HARP (Ichikawa, Japan, 1956)
CHARIOTS OF FIRE (Hudson, UK, 1981)
THE DECALOGUE (Kieslowski, Poland, 1989)
DERSU UZALA (Kurosawa, USSR/Japan, 1975)
GANDHI (Attenborough, UK/India, 1982)
INTOLERANCE (Griffith, US, 1916)
ROME, OPEN CITY (Rossellini, Italy, 1945)
SCHINDLER’S LIST (Spielberg, US/UK/Aus, 1993)
THE SEVENTH SEAL (Bergman, Sweden, 1957)
THE TREE OF WOODEN CLOGS (Olmi, Italy, 1978)
WILD STRAWBERRIES (Bergman, Sweden, 1957)

I came across this list whilst writing about BICYCLE THIEVES (I would point out that they’ve used the incorrect translation of the title slapped on the US release but this list is of course infallible). Its inclusion is surprising since the Vatican actually complained about the film on its release for portraying the church in an uncaring light (specifically they objected to the scene in the church where Bruno accidentally opens the confessional and receives a sharp slap from the priest). Apparently the list was picked by a group of film scholars appointed to the task by the Vatican, but the guiding hand of the church can of course be seen with the selection of INTOLERANCE above the much more fêted but morally reprehensible BIRTH OF A NATION, and DERSU UZALA above, well, any other Kurosawa film. By now we’re beginning to get a bit Italy-heavy, and it looks like they really should’ve employed our “one pick per director” rule. Amateurs.


CITIZEN KANE (Welles, US, 1941)
8½ (Fellini, Italy/France, 1963)
FANTASIA (Various, US, 1940)
LA GRANDE ILLUSION (Renoir, France, 1937)
LA STRADA (Fellini, Italy, 1954)
THE LAVENDER HILL MOB (Crichton, UK, 1951)
THE LEOPARD (Visconti, Italy, 1963)
LITTLE WOMEN (Cukor, US, 1933)
METROPOLIS (Lang, Germany, 1927)
MODERN TIMES (Chaplin, US, 1936)
NAPOLEON (Gance, France, 1927)
NOSFERATU (Murnau, Germany, 1922)
STAGECOACH (Ford, US, 1939)
2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (Kubrick, US/UK, 1968)
THE WIZARD OF OZ (Fleming, US, 1939)

Now this is a bit more watchable. Some bold choices here, especially 2001 with its vision of a godless universe, and nice to see some Ealing comedy, though again you suspect that better films such as KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS (1949) were a bit too irreverent for inclusion (even though “I always say my west window has all the exuberance of Chaucer without, happily, any of the concomitant crudities of his period” is the best line spoken by a vicar in any film).

What films might appear if the list was re-drawn today? Something by Terrence Malick perhaps, and of course the spectre of Mel Gibson would threaten to rear its fearful head. Apparently they even approve of Harry Potter now, although “the darkness may disturb younger audiences”, so maybe stick with Mel.

8 responses to “Starburst Memories: A Guest Post by His Holiness Pope John Paul II

  1. What? No ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES? How else can they justify making Ricardo Montalban a Papal Knight?

    I love how THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST. MATTHEW made by an atheist is on there, yet there is no recognition for Scorsese who brought Catholicism to New Hollywood.

    You know I don’t have strong views on these matters. I’m struggling to think of additions …

    THE WOODSMAN (2004)?

    Thanks for the resizing of the featured images too. Where am I going wrong?

    • I think the Vatican are big ‘Wrath of Khan’ fans. They’ve excommunicated J.J. Abrams.

      > Thanks for the resizing of the featured images too

      My OCD made me do it. I don’t have a clever way to do it, I think wordpress just takes the middle third of the picture so if all the detail is at the top I just chop off the bottom of the image and re-save it. Also if the image isn’t big enough wordpress won’t stretch it to fill so I either do it manually or find a bigger featured image.

  2. Call me lowbrow, but my favorite part of this post is the “It don matter to the Jesus” caption. Brilliant.
    The only heading Chariots of Fire belongs under is Boring.
    How about Dogma for the re-drawn list?

  3. Personally, I have to disagree. I see where yr coming from, but the first list looks the most interesting to me, and the third one is just lots of tired canonical classics as seen in the Sight & Sound poll of 1952 or something. Plus, bonus respect for putting a Buñuel film in there, all things considered.

    • Though I feel like my comment came off too harshly now 😉 I love the blog and the reviews, looking forward to reading more.

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