THE MOST IMPORTANT AND MISAPPRECIATED AMERICAN FILMS (response to a mid-1970s survey)

From The most important and misappreciated American films since the beginning of the cinema, a coffee-table-size book of 150 pages published by the Royal Film Archive of Belgium in 1977. Two or three years earlier, when I was living and working in London, the great Jacques Ledoux (1921-1988) — whom I’d met back in 1968 when I first traveled to Brussels, to look at several of Murnau’s earliest films at his Cinematheque –- stopped by my office at Monthly Film Bulletin to ask me to participate in his eccentric but fascinating survey, which polled 203 participants around the world and then tabulated and cross-referenced the results in a number of ways.

By “misappreciated,” I’m sure that what was meant was “underrated”. I find that I still agree to a surprising degree with many of my judgments in the mid-70s –- including even my belief that Hollywood at the time was going through one of its more meager periods (even though Pauline Kael and many of her disciples seemed to think, and some of them apparently still think, that this was the richest period Hollywood has ever had in its entire history).

I made a point of mentioning Michael Snow at the end of my comments because I knew in advance that some European respondents would list him despite the fact that he is Canadian, not “American” (except in the “North American” sense).

Apart from a strange error in my bio that maintained that my “father and grandmother” ran a small chain of movie theaters, and a typo or two, which are corrected, I’ve tried to reproduce the original text fairly precisely, including the peculiar practice of non-capitalizing most of the titles. –- J.R.

B. 1943, Alabama, U.S.A. Father and grandfather ran a small chain of movie theaters in northwest Alabama. 1969 went to Paris. 1974 assistant editor Monthly film bulletin, staff writer Sight and sound. Published about 250 reviews and articles in film periodicals.

Most important films

The magnificent Ambersons (1942)
To have and have not (1945)
Vertigo (1958)
Sunrise — a song of two humans (1927)
Greed (1925)
Monsieur Verdoux (1947)
Scenes from under childhood (1967- 1970)
A corner in wheat (1909)
Lonesome (1928)
Trouble in paradise (1932)
Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania (1971-1972)
The General (1927)
Dumbo (1941)
Stoopnocracy (1933)
Who killed who? (1943)
Bigger than life (1956)
The killing (1956)
Nanook of the North (1922)
Woodstock (1970)
The band wagon (1953)
The tarnished angels (1957)
An affair to remember (1957)
Scarface, shame of the nation (1932)
Foolish wives (1922)
Rear window (1954)
Citizen Kane (1941)
Christmas in July (1940)
The long goodbye (1973)
Scarlet street (1945)

Misappreciated films

Me and my gal (1932)
Her man (1930)
Judge Priest (1934)
Rope (1948)
The trouble with Harry (1955)
Park row (1952)
The 5000 fingers of Dr. T. (1952)
The old dark house (1932)
The woman on the beach (1947)
The seventh victim (1943)
Sylvia Scarlett (1936)
Black and tan (1929)
Such good friends (1972)
Make way for tomorrow (1937)
The young one (1960)
Family plot (1976)
Tom, Tom, the piper’s son (1969)

Comments

An impossible task, which I’ve tried to perform according to a somewhat brash method — immediately citing the first titles which came to mind: existentially honest, but shamefully unsystematic. Perhaps I should add that, now the American cinema has been subjected to perpetual and widespread reassessments ever since Cahiers du cinéma ignited this project two decades ago, it seems about time to begin evaluating other national cinemas in depth — above all, France and Japan — for the first time. The critical dominance of illusionist Hollywood cinema in magazines like Positif, Film comment, Sight and sound, and dozens more, now that this branch of filmmaking has been going through one of its most meager periods, is a rather depressing spectacle, all the more so because it deflects attention from much more interesting work made elsewhere. As for critical reassessments of Hollywood, I believe that the most valuable ones to have  emerged so far have come from filmmakers — Godard’s films in the sixties, and, more recently, Rivette’s Céline et Julie vont en bateau and Duelle. But it should also be noted that North American independent cinema, particularly avant-garde work, has been going through a fascinating resurgence since the late Sixties, during the same period that directors like Sydney Pollack, Mike Nichols, Arthur Penn, John Milius, Francis Ford Coppola, and Robert Altman have been dominating the magazines. (Some of the latter are more interesting than others, but none can hold a candle to Michael Snow.)

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