Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.
dir. scr. and cin. Chris Marker
In 100 words: The greatest documentary that I have ever seen is part travelogue, part historical examination, part experimental film, and part personal diary. Marker was a poet first, and his film never settles on a clear narrative. He juxtaposes laments of the forgotten importance of places like Cape Verde or Guinea-Bissau with the profound rituals of modern Tokyo. I find his obsession with cats endearing, and his meditations on memory, context, and time bracing. The music also feels haunting but oddly peaceful at the same time. All of this feel spiritual, like invading into someone’s memory and reading their most intimate thoughts.
Other Movies for Context: The only other movie I saw from Chris Marker is La Jetee (1963), which I was seriously confused by because it was a narrative with only images. This particular movie reminded me a lot of Riddles of the Sphinx (1977), Laura Mulvey’s bracingly opaque and brilliant experimental movie that relies heavily on narration. Fascinating really.
Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list
dir. Claude Lanzmann cin. Dominique Chapuis, Jimmy Glasburg, Phil Gries, and William Lubtchansky
In 100 words: Monumental, harrowing, and impactful, Shoah is the ultimate film about the Holocaust. Lanzmann’s exhaustive footage captures excellent reflections from survivors, grieving families of victims, and even manages to get interviews with perpetrators, all to devastating effect. It builds and builds, interweaving the discussions with footage of concentration camps. The way he edits the narration, the sound, and trains his camera on these spaces feel majestic but haunting, that even years after the trauma and nature has taken back some of the sites, they obviously still carry the scars of the past. It’s the greatest ten-hours of cinema ever put together.
Other Movies for Context: I think in terms of the Holocaust, few are as this complete and this impressively constructed. Resnais’s Night and Fog (1956) is a great distillation of the event, in a shorter timespan. Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (1993) is perhaps the best Holocaust film that is fictionalized (although based on the real life story, obviously) that I’ve seen. In any case, everyone needs to see Shoah: it’s simply a landmark.
Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen List.
The Thin Blue Line
dir. Errol Morris (1988) cin. Robert Chappell and Stefan Czapsky
In 100 words: Can a movie save a life? This one did. Morris’s documentary intelligently unveiled the failures of a judicial system by breaking down one by one the evidence that led to the detention of an innocent man. The amount of damning detail that Morris extracted from his interviews is breathtaking. Meanwhile, his recreation of events was gorgeously shot in colors and angles that recall 40s noir and MGM musicals. Glass’s music and the set design added a level of detail that made real life feel more cinematic and dynamic. Blue Line is an excoriating expose of the imperfections of criminal justice.
Other Movies for Context: The Thin Blue Line provided a new way for audiences to absorb true-crime dramas with all these recreations. IDtv produces these shows regularly using the same (if not to the same effect) formula that Morris basically does here. Otherwise, the only other movie I’ve seen from Morris is The Fog of War, which is an amazing examination of American military ideology through Robert McNamara.