Tonight I watched the new Criterion Blu-ray release of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear and at the top of the film I was reminded of the influence it had on the opening of Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch as cockroaches were tortured by a young boy compared to the scorpion that was thrown onto a pile of ants at the opening of Peckinpah’s feature. However, does this mean Wages of Fear should be considered one of the all-time most influential films?
When TCM released their list of top 15 most influential films of all-time they opened up a much larger can of worms than I had actually assumed they did as conversations began sprouting up all over the Internet. The two most frequent comments I saw regarding the list (not dealing with specific film omissions) were: 1.) there weren’t any films listed that were released after 1977 (Star Wars) and 2.) what exactly do they mean by “influential”?
As for the second comment asking what they meant by “influential” this was primarily due to some writers not including a quote from TCM’s senior vice president of programming, Charlie Tabesh, when he said in the press release, “[We] talked about including Pulp Fiction, a hugely influential independent film.” As well as another line saying they considered Goldfinger, which “helped cement James Bond as film franchise that has endured for nearly 50 years.” By “influential” they obviously meant to the world of cinema and not to the audience or social perception.
As for the complaint/comment regarding no films listed after 1977, I think it is a valid observation and I can definitely understand their reasoning, but this is where I think the conversation begins to open up to new films. People love to ask, “But what about…?” and say things like, “They forgot…” Well, obviously things weren’t necessarily forgotten, but let’s talk about what was left off as no limits on numbers will be featured here. But on top of that let’s include some reasons. Don’t just shout from the rooftops your favorite film of all-time without giving reason as to why you believe it is one of the most influential, and remember we are talking about influential films, not necessarily all-time great films.
Instantly one of the first arguments I saw in just about every comment section around the web were people asking how Star Wars was on the list and not Jaws, which released two years earlier. Most were reading into the TCM commentary believing Star Wars made the list as the first bonafide blockbuster. In fact it was much more than that, the merchandising of the film beyond just toys was a major reason it was included, not to mention its technical marvels. As great as Jaws is, I think Star Wars beats it in a most influential head-to-head.
Next was the question as to how The Godfather could possibly be left off, and from a storytelling aspect it makes the grade, and certainly it had an influence on the whole of the “organized crime” genre as any film reference to the mafia instantly brings to memory the Corleone family. For whatever reason, The Godfather was left off TCM’s list, but that can’t be all that is “missing.” Are there any from the last 30 years that could be added? I have brainstormed a few with the help of all the reading I have done around the web, but I would like to leave most of it up to you. Here are some jumping off points to begin the conversation:
The Matrix: The Wachowski’s film instantly brings to mind the use of bullet-time and wire work. On top of that it seems like as soon as The Matrix sequels went on to make so much money the idea of shooting sequels back-to-back was infecting Hollywood even though few films actually took the idea to task.
Animal House: The list of films this 1978 frat-house comedy inspired is damn near endless as there is one almost every year.
Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Before Freddy and before Jason there was Michael and Leatherface chasing down teenagers and butchering them for happy audiences. I would also say, for a brief stint in the ’90s, Scream played a major influence, but this is a perfect example of a film that enjoyed being the beginnings of a momentary fad and not an actual cinematic influence. After all, Scream owes its debt to the originals as well.
Toy Story: Without Pixar delivering a classic CG-animated feature right out of the box how much longer would it have taken for computer animated features to reach the giant heights they are at today?
Jurassic Park: Dinosaurs appeared to actually be chasing people and today CG-animated characters are littered within so many of our summer blockbusters, what more need be said? I would say runners-up in this category, though, would include Tron and Terminator 2.
Polar Express: This Robert Zemeckis film launched the “performance capture” movement and while it didn’t necessarily win over critics it went on to be a big box-office hit, which means the process wasn’t abandoned and is slowly becoming perfected. Next came Monster House, Beowulf and this holiday season we will have A Christmas Carol. Motion and facial capture was utilized (to a different extent) in the Lord of the Rings trilogy for Gollum, Pirates of the Caribbean for Davy Jones and last year in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. (As a side note, Wikipedia lists Total Recall as the first film to use motion capture for a CGI character in 1990)
Beyond the films themselves I am sure many could cherry-pick from several directors including Woody Allen (Annie Hall?), Ingmar Bergman (Wild Strawberries?), John Hughes (Breakfast Club?), Charlie Chaplin (where do I start?) and I can only assume F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu plays a major influence on just about every horror/suspense filmmaker out there. I am sure some will bring up Stanley Kubrick, and that is certainly a thought. I would say the editing in Kubrick’s films would be the first thing I would point to. Then there’s 1933’s King Kong and its use of creature effects and the debate opens up to which jump cut is better, getting Kong to NYC from Skull Island or 2001‘s jump from a prehistoric bone to a space station in orbit. Then again, jump cuts were already covered with Godard’s Breathless on TCM’s list.
One category I have a hard time figuring out is the historical epic. I recently watched Cecil B. DeMille’s Cleopatra (1932) and in the special features it talked about how the film came about as DeMille (and producer Adolph Zuker) decided he should make an historical epic in order to get his audience back following the poor reception of Four Frightened People. This, of course, was as a result of 1923’s The Ten Commandments and knowing DeMille’s name and a historical epic would bring in the numbers, but what was the film that had the greatest influence on the historical epic? My assumption would be the 1925 silent film Ben-Hur, a film those that haven’t even seen it recognize merely by the chariot race you see to the right.
I have heard Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai referenced for its use of slow-motion (among other things), which is something I also think The Matrix brought to modern filmmaking (Zack Snyder certainly uses Matrix-style slo-mo). Then there’s David Lynch and maybe Memento should be mentioned if we are talking about films from the past ten years?
I considered films such as the Harry Potter franchise and its ability to turn Hollywood’s eye toward young adult book series, but that is more of a money-making grab rather than an actual influence on filmmaking.
I know I am leaving off several and that is in the hopes many of you will have something to add to the conversation and please don’t just shout out a movie and be gone, that doesn’t help at all. Give a reason as to why you think it should be included and I think we can turn this into a decent commentary.
If you would like another opinion Roger Ebert has directed his readers to a list of ten films he dubbed the “10 most influential films of the century.” Daniel Fienberg at HitFix also explores alternative additions such as A Hard Day’s Night and Double Indemnity. He is also pushing for at least one documentary to be added to which he mentions Michael Apted’s Up series and I am sure several will instantly think of Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine.