My Top Ten – An Author’s Favourites by Allister Mactaggart

Allister Mactaggart is a lecturer in Film Studies and Art History based in the UK. He is the author of The Film Paintings of David Lynch: Challenging Film Theory which places Lynch’s remarkable film output within a broad range of cultural references and theoretical positions. He is currently undertaking research for a book on film, photography, crime and detection.

Top 10 Films
It is a challenging task to condense one’s favourite films down to only 10, but here goes:

Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986)
It should come as no surprise that one of Lynch’s films makes the first appearance in this list. This is the film that changed my ideas about what cinema and film were and could be. The visceral shock of seeing Blue Velvet, and seeking to understand what was presented on screen, has lead to an ongoing exploration of the means by which film can unsettle and confront our subjectivity in such immediate but also long lasting ways.

Dont Look Back (D.A. Pennebaker, 1967)
My lifelong love of Bob Dylan’s music was reinforced when I first saw D.A. Pennebaker’s fly-on-the-wall documentary of Dylan’s 1965 tour of Britain, which shows, in grainy black and white, two worlds colliding. The old world of reserved British journalists asking banal questions in Received Pronunciation comes up against the young,  wired, hip and frenetically creative world of Bob Dylan. One year before he went electric, the film offers an invaluable insight into a time that was on the verge of a changin’ forever.

Don’t Look Now (Nicholas Roeg, 1973)
Nicholas Roeg uses the panoply of film language to produce a wonderful reworking of Daphne du Maurier’s short story, creating a taut and chilling tale of a tragic death and its aftermath. Film historians have pointed out how new versions of the film on DVD have lost some of the startling use of colour in the original cinematic release, so my own faulty memory of the original film might, paradoxically, be the most faithful of all.

Three Colours: Blue (Krzysztof Kieślowski, 1993)
It is perhaps improper to single out one film from Krzysztof Kieślowski’s extraordinary Three Colours trilogy, each of which explores one of the French Revolutionary ideals of Liberty, Egality and Brotherhood. However, of the three films I return most often to Blue’s astonishing meditation upon liberty via the central character’s devastating loss of her husband and daughter in a car accident, and the creatively healing effect of music.

Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)
The second Lynch film to make it into the list is both astonishing to look at and mesmerizingly complex in its narrative structure that it repays repeated viewings. As a tale about the malign effects of the American film business upon creativity and wannabe female stars it is unsurpassed.

Cinema Paradiso (Giuseppe Tornatore, 1988)
Unashamedly nostalgic and sentimental, the film is a paean to the social importance of cinema. I screened the film recently to celebrate a significant birthday and found it just as moving as I remembered from many years ago, and it was also wonderful to introduce it to many people who had not previously seen it. Even though I enjoyed Tornatore’s recent film Baarìa (2009), his earlier film (in its theatrical release format rather than the director’s cut) retains its special power over me, the more so as time passes by.

Peeping Tom (Michael Powell, 1960)
Michael Powell’s film is a taut, shocking tale about the relationship between voyeurism and murder. Regarded by many critics as sick and disgusting at the time of its release it is now, quite rightly, thought of as a masterpiece of cinema. The explanation of why Mark Lewis kills as he does unsettles any cosy binary opposition between perpetrator and victim, and which makes the viewer complicit in the act of looking.

Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
It is a travesty to pick out only one Hitchcock film but Vertigo is the one I’d choose for its narrative, its images and its deployment of the themes of voyeurism, obsession, male desire and death.  Vertigo is a wondrous film that never ceases to amaze and offers new insights upon each viewing.

Hidden [Caché] (Michael Haneke, 2005)
From the outset, as viewers seek to understand what is being presented to us on screen, we are fully caught up in this complex tale of guilty secrets from the past affecting the present. Drawing together a personal tale with the effects of post-colonialism, the narrative is left open at the end to leave us puzzling over what might happen beyond the constraints of the film’s termination. Hidden is a truly complex, shocking film that asks intelligent questions of its audience and which ties film, surveillance, spectatorship and history into a complex, unresolved knot.

INLAND EMPIRE (David Lynch, 2006)
With INLAND EMPIRE Lynch has moved his filmmaking into new territories, both literally and metaphorically. By using a DV camera he has been able to bypass many of the constraints of the cinema industry and take greater control of the entire process from production to exhibition. In so doing, the film stretches the boundaries of narrative structure and interweaves this with a different, less pristine aesthetic, to offer tantalising suggestions as to one of the possible portals for film in the digital age.

Are you part of the Intellect community? Then send us your top ten...It doesn't have to be books, you can send us your top ten films, works of art or whatever you like (within reason!).

For more information contact James Campbell

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