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WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?: Facinating "Failures" by Cinema Auteurs

by Daniel Humphrey
WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?: Facinating "Failures" by Cinema Auteurs by Daniel Humphrey
Some call them misunderstood masterpieces. Some say they’re just too difficult or different for the average, shallow film goer whose been spoiled by the Hollywood cookie-cutter movie machine. Some are, in fact, declared masterpieces despite huge problems that, by some sort of secret critical agreement, tend to be ignored. For me, they’re films that fascinate precisely because of their off-the-rails, visionary craziness. It would be wrong to suggest the directors responsible for these films knew exactly what they were doing on the one hand OR that the films are huge failures by artists who got in way over their heads on the other. Although… Read more

Some call them misunderstood masterpieces. Some say they’re just too difficult or different for the average, shallow film goer whose been spoiled by the Hollywood cookie-cutter movie machine. Some are, in fact, declared masterpieces despite huge problems that, by some sort of secret critical agreement, tend to be ignored. For me, they’re films that fascinate precisely because of their off-the-rails, visionary craziness. It would be wrong to suggest the directors responsible for these films knew exactly what they were doing on the one hand OR that the films are huge failures by artists who got in way over their heads on the other. Although there’s probably more truth to the latter claim than the former, these kinds of films are, for me, utterly fascinating works that suggest something really profound about the world and our relationship to it. They seem to be the work of filmmakers who almost think of themselves as gods, who spectacularly fail to create a seamless alternate universe (or a better movie than David O. Selznick) precisely because their visions have been compromised by the failings of old world that they nonetheless have had the heroic courage (or hubris) to challenge. (There’s a very small list of films that actually succeeded totally despite flirting with these dangers: ANDREI RUBLEV, JEANNE DIELMAN, maybe PLAYTIME, just a few others.) They’re often visually stunning but with thin, sprawling, or otherwise problematic plots, and because the dialogue is often awkward, critics are sometimes known to claim various films on this list would have been better respected had they been released as silent films. (Conversely, the ones that ARE silent films likely would have been even more strongly criticized had they been made later, as “talkies”.) These films also seem to go on forever, which seems both exasperating and exhilarating. After sitting there for three, four, or even five hours, having felt bored stiff much of the time, you may find yourself suddenly wishing you could see an even longer cut of the same film. Not coincidentally, multiple cuts of many of these films have been released. (And no, I’m not going to take 2001 or APOCALYPSE NOW off this list.) In no particular order:

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