Film Feature by Seamus Conlon
It is the question we ask ourselves (almost) every day...if the end was nigh, which movies that have been stacked up next to the widescreen would I finally make time for? Film critic Seamus Conlon gives us his run down of the 10 Films to See Before You Die...
The best of all silent films is a love story of such visual invention as to feel avant-garde even today. A nameless husband is seduced from rural life by the temptation of a city woman, and the odyssey is as much of style as of place.
In both form and content, Ugetsu is one of the less aggressive, less challenging films on this list, but no less distinct in its vision. The gliding, circumspect tracking shots invest the simple ghost story with real stylistic majesty, never becoming grotesquely virtuosic but still imprinting certain scenes in our memory.
Personae melt into one another as nurse (Bibi Andersson) treats mute actress (Liv Ullmann) as a blank screen upon which to project her identity. Few films have used images so convincingly to dramatise psychological strife.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
The alpha and the omega of what cinema can do. The opening demonstrates the power of cinema as a wordless visual language - Kubrick represents the birth of technology by intercutting the death of an animal with an ape toying with the bones of a carcass. By the end of the film we’ve moved beyond the confines of mimetic art and into something like the cinematic equivalent of an abstract expressionist painting. If you only see one film before you die, see this.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
This film is often inaccurately described as having a ‘documentary realism’ style. The slasher is remarkable not for its graphic violence, of which there is little, but its in-your-face artifice: the restlessly kinetic camerawork and surreal sound design are visceral enough to persuade the viewer that they’ve experienced real mayhem.
The questions of whether or not the deformed lady in the radiator lives inside Henry’s dreams or on a higher, impersonal level of reality, of whether the mutant baby is a metaphor or a real biological tragedy, are ultimately irrelevant to this unrelentingly original masterpiece, whose sublimity exists in its power to exploit the subconscious rather than exercise the cerebral mind.
Natural Born Killers (1994)
As a moralistic satire of the way in media fetishize violence, Natural Born Killers is fairly hollow, its performances deliberate caricatures. But Stone manipulates perspective and perception with such audacity, interweaves present, memory and imagination to such hallucinatory effect that we end up with something akin to Cubist cinema, and something that unwittingly gives its violence exhilarating beauty.
This one’s seven hours long and therefore effectively 3-4 films for the price of one, bumping us up to 12.5 films to see before you die. Beyond that bargain, Satantango’s still a necessary watch; despite being a thoroughly unphantasmagorical documentation of social malaise in an isolated village in the late USSR, it seems to operate wholly in a dream world.
Sex addiction should lend itself to novelistic treatment more than film, since it is an invisible and psychological horror. But between them Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbinder overshadow Bruce the shark by making an almost imperceptible addiction the most menacing of all unseen cinematic villains.
Under The Skin (2013)
What’s so impressive about Under The Skin is not its self-consciously mind-melting passages, whose psychedelia and surrealism had already been perfected by films earlier on in this list, but by the way it vacillates between these passages and real scenes of Glasgow life. The film combines unstaged, documentarian footage with baffling abstraction to such an extent that we question if the film is even fiction, or something beyond narrative illusion.