I get asked a lot about what films to watch to develop their appreciation of quality movies. While I like all kinds of movies and I do like trash cinema films of the 70s and 80s, what I love are the films that create that sensation where you feel like you’ve just seen something new or something that may not have ever been seen before and it feels like your scalp has peen peel open and someone has dropped sweet fresh honey directly onto the grey matter of my brain. This can be in a dialogue exchange, a look between characters or an interesting camera angle.
I therefore wanted to compile a list of films that I have found profound and that I feel stays with you long after you have seen it. As a dear friend of mine said “I know I’ve seen a great film if I’m thinking about it long after I’ve seen it”. I don’t believe that I can make a numerical list as my tastes have changed over time and I am constantly being introduced to new and old film makers that are brilliant and innovative.
One of the first films that I’d like to discuss is John Frankenheimer’s 1962 film The Birdman of Alcatraz starring Burt Lancaster as Robert Stroud. While Frankenheimer is mostly famous for The French Connection II (1975) and the contemporary Robert Deniro Action film Ronin (1999) he is often dismissed as an action film maker and is rarely mentioned on lists of great and influential film makers. However, his humanist films such as The Birdman of Alcatraz is quite well-known but not well-known as a John Frankenheimer film. Yet the pacing of this film about a man living in Solitary Confinement who finds redemption in his ability to save the lives of birds and becoming a world-renowned ornithologist is a work of brilliance. It is aesthetically brilliant and even though the film can be overwhelming in its despair there is a humanism that shines through this character even when he is at his bleakest moments. This film is dark in its context and he was a falsely imprisoned good guy as we see in The Shawshank Redemption Robert Stroud was a killer who could not live in society or in the presence of other prisoners. This is what makes The Birdman of Alcatraz so profound to me. Stroud begins the film as a monster trapped in the world he cannot escape from but only when incarcerated and cut off from humanity does he find his humanity. The tragedy of this is that once he discovered himself he could never enter the world again. His research into Ornithology on the other hand is still being used today, and his books on this subject are still in publication.