Best Film You’ve Never Seen?
What’s the “best” film ever? It’s a futile game but fun to play, especially when the participants are filmmakers. In his book, The Best Film You’ve Never Seen (Chicago Review Press), Chicago Sun-Times editor Robert K. Elder puts a special spin on the “name your fave” game by asking directors to talk about the best film that never found an audience, the brilliant bombs, the ones that somehow slipped off the radar screen.
As Elder readily admits, a few of the directors interviewed for The Best Film cheated—sort of. Kevin Smith (Clerks) insisted on A Man for All Seasons, which won six Academy Awards in 1967 and was hardly obscure at the time, saying, “it’s a multiple Oscar-winner that barely anyone ever thinks about or talks about or cites as an influence.” True enough: many Oscar winners have become Trivial Pursuit answers rather than cultural legacies. John Dahl (Rounders) cites Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, certainly not an unfamiliar title, given the notoriety of the David Lynch series for which it served as prequel, but a film most critics hated and audiences ignored. Fire Walk with Me is uneven, Dahl concedes, but full of unforgettable images and moments. It’s hard to find the sense in parts of it, but then, as Dahl adds, Lynch is “the only surrealist working in American film today.”
Many of Elders’ directors agree with Neil LaBute (In the Company of Men), who waxes nostalgic for Hollywood’s second Golden Age, the ‘70s. “Today working with a studio, they wouldn’t even entertain a story like this,” he said of Paul Mazurky’s difficult story of marriage and infidelity, Blume in Love. The protagonist isn’t always easy to like—and neither are most of LaBute’s characters. “Well, I don’t really care if you like anyone,” he explained. “You’re not supposed to date them; you’re just supposed to watch them. You’re supposed to be interested in them because they’re fellow human beings.”
As Guy Madden (The Heart of the World) concludes, “An alarming number of viewers, even at the fine arts university where I teach, are incredibly literal-minded when it comes to cinema…Too many people watch movies with a propagandistic eye now. They want movies to be about the way life should be, not the way it is.”