The Great Movie List: A Theory of Everything
Top 21-30 Double Features
Superorganism: The New World (2005), Walkabout (1971), My Neighbor Totoro (1988), 20Hz (2011)
Blue sky, white clouds, green tops of trees, reflected in water; the sounds of insects and birds; droplets of rain falling; then, after a credit sequence, three naked female forms in swimming motion, seen from below, the sun gleaming from above, fish darting around them—the opening images of Terrence Malick’s 2005 film The New World present an idyll of humanity in harmony with nature. ~ Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music, Alex Ross, 2020Concerned with contemplative, spiritual moments of extreme quiet where the terrifying natural world is dominant. The short 20Hz is like the heartbeat monitor for these films. More: Under the Influence: Chloé Zhao on THE NEW WORLD, Semiconductor Film’s 20Hz, The New World: a Misunderstood Masterpiece?, The New World: Dwelling in Malick’s New World, How We Made Walkabout, Roger Ebert on Walkabout, Indiewire: My Neighbor Totoro, Superorganism, The Gaia Hypothesis, The New World Extended Cut
20Hz observes a geo-magnetic storm occurring in the Earth’s upper atmosphere. Working with data collected from the CARISMA radio array and interpreted as audio, we hear tweeting and rumbles caused by incoming solar wind, captured at the frequency of 20 Hertz. Generated directly by the sound, tangible and sculptural forms emerge suggestive of scientific visualisations. As different frequencies interact both visually and aurally, complex patterns emerge to create interference phenomena that probe the limits of our perception.Only Connect: In the Mood for Love (2000), Chungking Express (1994), A Room With a View (1985)The intimate non-affairs of Wong Kar Wei’s two great films, shot in a uniquely futuristic palette of colors, trace the playful, exceedingly charming but tragically brief connections that two people can have. In the Mood for Love explores its deeply connected couple in an unusual way: when they realize their often absent spouses are having an affair, they role-play various scenarios as their spouses, correcting each other to make the performances more accurate. It sounds theatrical and melodramatic, but it’s all presented on screen in a fragmented, improvisational style. Although they traverse cramped Hong Kong offices and apartments and find solace and moments of happiness sitting very close to each other, sharing meals and taxis, writing at the same desk, and acting out a love affair on the stages of barren, nighttime streets, the gulf created by their marriages, their own need to remain faithful to their spouses, and possibly their fear of ruining the romance, is vast, and a distinct, deliberate pacing heightens that distance. The longing of the characters to not be lonely is palpable, and it was clearly created more in the editing room than on the page. Did they fall in love for real? In a series of dreamy epilogues we see many conventional changes in their ordinary lives, but also hints that the love forged from the delicate affair persisted. The woman revisits her old home and sheds a tear. The man whispers a secret into an empty hole at Angkor Wat, which in the next shot is overgrown with grass. Wong Kar Wei wants us to think so.
All the same filmic elements are present in Chungking Express, the colors, the editing style, the charismatic players, scenes of eating, soundtrack motifs, and it also, in the same way, tracks the initiating events of two people meeting, which then coalesces into romantic, if ultimately unfulfilled, reveries that propel us along. The characters are always seeking something but finding nothing, except longing and emotional solitude. When E.M. Forster wrote “Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect…” he specifically wrote it about “the difficulty of connecting our ordinary, conventional personalities with our transgressive erotic desires” 1, but as a universal conceit it certainly works, too.
In A Room With a View, Forster concocted a fantasy love affair to fulfill the “only connect” edict. A young woman coming of age is challenged to see past her pompous fiancee for a passionate devotee of truth and beauty. It takes her quite a while to make her decision. The power of the novel and its filmed adaptation is in the extended disconnection of the two people we want to see get together. And whether their attraction is erotic or not is never actually shown. All three films share a look at deep yearning, often unrequited, the isolation of the soul or the monumental effort to break that isolation. All three lean on the interiority of characters, on their mysterious thought patterns and un-acted on desires. Wong Kar Wei’s less idealistic approach to romance suggests isolation is the norm, but an isolation that breeds personal euphoria and defines a way of being that leads to a peaceful soul.
More: Liminality in a Microcosm: “California Dreaming” in Wong Kar-Wai’s Chungking Express (1994), A Cantopop Dream Girl’s First Film Reverie, Chungking Express: Electric Youth, David Bordwell on Chungking Express: Fast Forward, Now Pause, Barry Jenkins on Wong Kar-wai, In the Mood for Love: Haunted Heart, English Hearts and Italian Sunshine, 1. The Prose and the Passion: A New Life of E.M. ForsterListen Closely: Whispers of the Heart (1995), Topsy-Turvy (1999)More: Pleasure in the Process: A Rehearsal Scene in Topsy-Turvy, Riger Ebert on Topsy-Turvy, TV Tropes: Show Within a ShowInventive Stakeouts: Rear Window (1954), No Country for Old Men (2007)More: Counting Down the Greatest Crime Films of All-Time: #34 Rear Window (1954), Counting Down the Greatest Crime Films of All-Time: #102: No Country for Old Men 2007, No Country for Old Men: The Coen Brothers and Cormac McCarthy’s Ruthless Examination of LifeFor Want of a Nail: It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), Three Colors: Blue (1993)Artists in Crisis: 8½ (1963), Irma Vep (1996), Day for Night (1973)Godless: Andrei Rublev (1969), Amadeus (1984), Duck Amuck (1953)More: J. Hoberman on Andrei Rublev, Remembering Miloš Forman, an Artist in the Throes of Art, F. Murray Abraham on Milos Forman, Miloš Forman, the Openhearted Nonconformist“They Need to be Dee-stroyed”: Cabaret (1972), The Sound of Music (1965), Inglourious Basterds (2009), Watchmen (9 episodes, 2019)Perfectly constructed emotional treatises on the absolute reprehensibility of Nazism and white supremacy. More: The Incendiary Aims of HBO’s Watchmen, Tarantino on Inglourious Basterds, Reckoning with white supremacy: Five fundamentals for white folks, Read, Watch, Listen, Do: a Scalawag resource guide for understanding white supremacyWretched Hives and Noodle Incidents: Chinatown (1974), On the Waterfront (1954), Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)More: It’s ‘Chinatown,’ Jake. On Second Thought, Don’t Forget It., Counting Down the Greatest Crime Films of All-Time: #3 Chinatown (1974), TV Tropes: Noodle Incident, TV Tropes: Wretched Hive, On Class, Capitalism and Urban Planning in Who Framed Roger RabbitThey Buggin: The Conversation (1974), The Wire (5 seasons, 2002-2008)More: Why The Wire is One of the Most Brilliant TV Shows Ever, D’Angelo Goes Free: The Wire, Season 1, Episode 1 Rewatch With Van Lathan & Jemele Hill | The Ringer, Counting Down the Greatest Crime Films of All-Time: #20 The Conversation (1974), The Conversation: Francis Ford Coppola’s Paranoia-Ridden Tale of Surveillance, Guilt and Isolation, Revisiting The Wire During 2020’s Black Lives Matter Movement, How I Wrote The Wire (David Simon’s Writing Process), Where we go from here: Michael K. Williams of ‘The Wire’ on six changes urgently needed, Craig Mod on The Wire