The Story of Hollywood in Just 10 Films?

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The Story of Hollywood in Just 10 Films?
Photo: Yale University Press

Over at The Telegraph, Robbie Collin has chosen to take on the impossible, he’s set out to create a list of films that tells the story of Hollywood “in terms of how one picture or director led to the next.” It’s a daunting task that creates an interesting narrative and he prefaces his ten selections saying:

…none of the individual works is “great” or “important” enough to drown out the others. I’ve avoided films such as Citizen Kane, Vertigo, Singin’ in the Rain, Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia and The Godfather, not just because we already know they’re great, but because their greatness might throw the story off-balance – although I wouldn’t hesitate to describe any of the films that are on this list as a masterpiece.

So how does his list shape out? Have a look:

  • One Week (1920) – dir. Buster Keaton
  • It Happened One Night (1934) – dir. Frank Capra
  • Stagecoach (1939) – dir. John Ford
  • Out of the Past (1947) – dir. Jacques Tourneur
  • An American in Paris (1951) – dir. Vincente Minnelli
  • Point Blank (1967) – dir. John Boorman
  • The Conversation (1974) – dir. Francis Ford Coppola
  • Back to the Future (1985) – dir. Robert Zemeckis
  • Pulp Fiction (1994) – dir. Quentin Tarantino
  • The Dark Knight (2008) – dir. Christopher Nolan

I think we would all have a bone or two to pick with some of his choices, but that’s just natural and he does a great job in his write-up explaining why each is on there so I won’t contest him, but rather offer up a few thoughts and alternatives.

Starting at the top, he’s chosen Keaton’s One Week to start things off, a short film and an interesting choice. Personally, if you’re going to start anywhere I think you either have to start with Georges MélièsA Trip to the Moon or if you want to choose a Keaton film perhaps Sherlock Jr. or maybe delve into something from Charlie Chaplin or D.W. Griffith. Of course, we have to think of telling a story so should the starting point begin at the beginning in this case, or with a film that can lead us back to the beginning?

At first glance at Collin’s list I thought, What? No Kurosawa? No Scorsese or Hitchcock? However, Kurosawa is covered in his selection of Stagecoach and the selection of Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction damn near covers the gamut of cinema. Personally I think the selection of Back to the Future should be replaced with either Jaws or Star Wars.

Collin has also chosen to stick to Hollywood, or at least American, films, which is why he has choices such as Point Blank, and it’s a tricky area once he also includes Out of the Past, but I can’t help but think excluding films such as Bonnie and Clyde, In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is an oversight. I also think something like The Big Sleep ought to be considered instead of Out of the Past.

When it comes to the New Hollywood the selection of Coppola’s The Conversation almost seems arbitrarily representative. I think Chinatown, Raging Bull, Taxi Driver or, if I’m going Coppola I think you have to go with The Godfather.

Is the exclusion of Citizen Kane or anything from Alfred Hitchcock a problem? Id say no as long as the list is representative of something that exists as a result of Welles’ and Hitchcock’s films. When it comes to Christopher Nolan do you mention The Dark Knight or Inception? The Dark Knight was certainly a superhero milestone, but by mentioning Inception you can also tell the story of The Dark Knight, considering Inception probably wouldn’t exist without Nolan’s Batman tale, and also discuss the work of Stanley Kubrick whose name has also yet to be mentioned.

In all honesty, I think it’s a task that could encompass an entire book rather than this single post, banged out in 20 minutes, whereas I have to assume Collin certainly put more thought into than I have. To tell the history of cinema we’re looking at beginning with the Lumière brothers in the late 1800s, early 1900s all the way to today and I honestly think you have to end the list with Marvel’s The Avengers as we are obviously knee deep in a new cinematic age and with that film alone you can also touch upon the Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games franchises.

This leaves you about 115 or so years to add nine more films to the list. Here, I’ll take a quick stab at it…

  • Sherlock Jr. (1924) – dir. Buster Keaton
  • The Thin Man (1934) – dir. W.S. Van Dyke
  • The Big Sleep (1946) – dir. Howard Hawks
  • North by Northwest (1959) – dir. Alfred Hitchcock
  • Bonnie and Clyde (1967) – dir. Arthur Penn
  • Jaws (1975) – dir. Steven Spielberg
  • The Breakfast Club (1985) – dir. John Hughes
  • Pulp Fiction (1994) – dir. Quentin Tarantino
  • Toy Story (1995) – dir. John Lasseter
  • The Avengers (2012) – dir. Joss Whedon

Seriously, it’s impossible. I didn’t want to waste a pick on The Great Train Robbery and where I had the biggest issue is in leaving out 2001: A Space Odyssey and Inception, the exclusion of either of these films leaves the list incomplete in my mind. I toyed with the idea of removing The Breakfast Club, but I think something needs to represent the period from the ’80s to mid ’90s, which could potentially go to Sex, Lies, and Videotape, but I thought the Hughes pick was more referential to the period as a whole and Sex, Lies and Videotape is easy enough to associate with Pulp Fiction.

Then I thought removing The Thin Man was an option, but this is what I felt to be a great way to delve into the comedy/caper genre that also allows us to touch on the idea of romantic comedies throughout time without having to spare a spot for It Happened One Night or something like Pretty Woman in the ’90s.

I don’t know, perhaps it’s impossible… Let’s hear from you, what films would you include in your history of Hollywood and why?