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Top 25: Discussion of Nominated Films on Memory


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Regarding my nomination for John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

 

The entire film is told through Ransom Stoddard's memories of the past and, while I think it's pretty clear they're regarded as "pure" as far as accuracy goes, how history has interpreted those events is the movie's punchline. 

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Regarding my nomination for John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

 

The entire film is told through Ransom Stoddard's memories of the past and, while I think it's pretty clear they're regarded as "pure" as far as accuracy goes, how history has interpreted those events is the movie's punchline. 

What a great nomination.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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I was racking my brain for the past week for a western to nominate.  TMWSLV never entered my head, but I think it's one of the best nominations so far!

Formerly Baal_T'shuvah

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Apparently with nobody biting on these two, and one person confessing that they have no understanding why I nominated these two, I have the choice to wave the white flag, or to dig in my heels.  I'm a-digging.

 

I just want to state that the reason why I had nominated Slumdog Millionaire is not only about the theme of memory being used to help draw out answers, but also because of how memory is played with the audience.  How the film builds up to a final question, which the audience is led to believe was answered in the context of the story, but really isn't.

 

In a lesser extent, The Sixth Sense does a similar trick with the audience, where the audience's memory is faulty in the final moments, where what was considered to be a director's premonition turns into a very deliberate attempt to pull a bait-and-switch.  And audience members had to see the film a second time to confirm if the movie's climactic moments could be interpreted properly with what had come before. 

 

Those are the only two memory movies of this sort that I had nominated.

...

 

To reiterate: there are so many entries about movies which are about memory.  Movies to which a central character must recall something, and the audience learns something about the nature of memory in the process. 

 

These two films do something radically different.  They tell stories in such a manner in which the audience's memory is part of the action.  In which our own memories betray us over the course of the running time.  In which we are subtly hinted at a reality that is never verified.  And when the rug is pulled underneath us, we have to search our own memories to see how we were ever led astray.

 

These two movies ought to be near the top of the list.

Nick Alexander

Keynote, Worship Leader, Comedian, Parodyist

Host of the Prayer Meeting Podcast - your virtual worship oasis. (Subscribe)

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Apparently with nobody biting on these two, and one person confessing that they have no understanding why I nominated these two, I have the choice to wave the white flag, or to dig in my heels.  I'm a-digging.

Thanks for the explanations, I always prefer digging to waving the white flag. I will follow your example later when I have more time for Sweeney Todd.

 

These two films do something radically different.  They tell stories in such a manner in which the audience's memory is part of the action.  In which our own memories betray us over the course of the running time.  In which we are subtly hinted at a reality that is never verified.  And when the rug is pulled underneath us, we have to search our own memories to see how we were ever led astray.

My only problem with that is that I still don't think memory is central to the characters and story in the film.  I like the twist of playing on the audience's memory, but I think the film still needs to address memory within itself.  The Prestige and The Illusionist could both qualify if only the audience's memory mattered.  Actually, The Prestige does concern memory to some extent between Bale and Jackman.  But I'm not going to nominate it, because there's no way I want it ahead of Memento and Inception.

Edited by Evan C

"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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My only problem with that is that I still don't think memory is central to the characters and story in the film.  I like the twist of playing on the audience's memory, but I think the film still needs to address memory within itself.  

 

I think both Slumdog Millionaire and The Sixth Sense do this.  Both Dev Patel's character and Bruce Willis' characters are surrogates for the audience.  We see things from their point of view.  Their characters have the rugs pulled out and the audience is along for the ride. 

 

Dev Patel's memories are crucial to the central plot, as he has to continually rely upon them over the course of the game show; those memories serve him well until he is failed by that blind spot. Willis is in willful denial throughout most of the running time of The Sixth Sense, his memories of that incident being suppressed, until that final reveal. 

 

If these two weren't surrogates for the audience, the ones whose eyes the audience journeys along, then such stories would be mere parlor tricks that Georges Melies would have approved.  But because the audience instills such emotional stake at the end results of these individuals' respective journeys, their eyes become our eyes.  Their memories become our memories.  Their blind spots become ours.

Nick Alexander

Keynote, Worship Leader, Comedian, Parodyist

Host of the Prayer Meeting Podcast - your virtual worship oasis. (Subscribe)

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Oh man, I don't know.  I've always struggled to find any depth in The Sixth Sense.  All the elements for depth are right there in the story begging to be explored substantively, but Shyamalan doesn't seem to go anywhere with them except to set everything up for the big reveal.  It hasn't held up for me on a second and third viewing.  The more I try to think about Shyamalan's films, the less it appears that he cared about thinking about anything at all.

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It's so easy to pile on Shyamalan nowadays, the one-time wunderkind that hasn't lived up to his early accolades. Understood.

 

But I'm not certain that the two films I recommended ought to be disparaged because they don't work as well after multiple viewings.  Well, of course not!  The first time you see such a film you are along for the ride; the second time you are comparing your viewing experience with your first experience, catching the clues that your memories failed to pick up the first time around.  A lesser film (like David Mamet's The Spanish Prisoner) cheats.  Both of these films do not, and are consistent in tone and structure throughout.

Nick Alexander

Keynote, Worship Leader, Comedian, Parodyist

Host of the Prayer Meeting Podcast - your virtual worship oasis. (Subscribe)

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Dev Patel's memories are crucial to the central plot, as he has to continually rely upon them over the course of the game show; those memories serve him well until he is failed by that blind spot. Willis is in willful denial throughout most of the running time of The Sixth Sense, his memories of that incident being suppressed, until that final reveal. 

 

If these two weren't surrogates for the audience, the ones whose eyes the audience journeys along, then such stories would be mere parlor tricks that Georges Melies would have approved.  But because the audience instills such emotional stake at the end results of these individuals' respective journeys, their eyes become our eyes.  Their memories become our memories.  Their blind spots become ours.

Hm. Maybe. However, I'm still inclined to say The Sixth Sense is primarily a parlor trick. And Dev Patel's driving force is his love for Freida Pinto, and everything happens because it is written, which has nothing to do with memory. And while I for the most part like both films, there are easily 25 films more strongly about memory that I like a lot more.

 

I think a list of films about memory needs at least one example of memory being misused to the detriment of the character(s),

My first choice for this type of film would be Burton's Sweeney Todd, which I seriously believe is a borderline masterpiece.  From the very first scene Todd is obsessed with his past: "My mind is far from easy.  In these once familiar streets, I feel shadows...everywhere." Those shadows of the past loom over the rest of the film and gradually consume it.  After fifteen years in an Australian prison, Todd returns to London to discover the corrupt judge that sentenced him raped his wife, which caused her to poison herself, and then the judge raised Todd's daughter as his ward.  Todd has every conceivable reason to want vengeance, and to fulfill that quest he decides to play God, deciding who deserves to live and die.  Ultimately that god turns into a dark and hungry one that can never be satisfied, which results in Todd passing judgment on everyone the same way the judge does, which culminates when Todd's insanity threatens the very person he initially set out to save through his quest for vengeance.  If that's not a God-haunted film about memory, I don't know what is.

 

Several other characters are obsessed with the past as well.  Mrs. Lovett, Todd's demented landlady, is infatuated with Todd so much that she manipulates his knowledge of the past for her own gain.  The rival barber Pirelli tries to use the past to blackmail Todd, and he is the first threat to Todd's quest for revenge.  The memories that Pirelli recalls form the penultimate catalyst for turning Todd into the titular demon barber.  Todd's daughter Joanna expresses fear that the nightmares of her past will never cease to haunt her (with good reason).  While it should be impossible to forget the past, especially when it is tragic and horrific, living in the past and perpetually dwelling on it only serves to recreate the past horror in equal or greater magnitude in the present, which the film vividly demonstrates.  The only character's whose future holds any promise is Anthony, who is also the only character concerned with his present needs and not obsessing over his memories of what happened years ago.

"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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I'd really like to agitate for Eve's Bayou to be seconded. The type of spirituality it's concerned with is, by itself, interesting--the matrilineal voodoo tradition represented by the Conjure Woman aunt and the witch-doctor in the swamp. The question: how does voodoo etc actually work? Is it a force outside of individuals or is it the result of a determination to act in certain ways? And so on. Memory is intrinsic to this process: the grown-up Eve remembers her spell as working and as not working--the "collection of images" can fall out in one of two ways, making the ending ambiguous. And her recourse to voodoo is itself predicated on a memory that may or may not be factual, which intensifies the guilt implicit in the opening monologue (in which she confesses to killing her father--setting up the mystery of the film: how did she kill her father?). So we have personal memory, genetic memory, redemptive memory, spiritual memory--all of them swirling around. I think it would make a unique contribution to our list.

 

Has anyone else on-board seen Eve's Bayou? Is my own memory totally off-base here?

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I think a list of films about memory needs at least one example of memory being misused to the detriment of the character(s),

That's one of the reasons I nominated Dark City. It's about how people lose a central part of their humanity when memory is divorced from life (or rearranged beyond recognition by aliens, if you want to take it literally).

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I think a list of films about memory needs at least one example of memory being misused to the detriment of the character(s),

That's one of the reasons I nominated Dark City. It's about how people lose a central part of their humanity when memory is divorced from life (or rearranged beyond recognition by aliens, if you want to take it literally).

I guess I should watch it then.

"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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Thanks for the reminder about Dark City; but that said, I find its surroundings to be so otherworldly to have any particular resonance in the discussion about memory. 
 

Nick Alexander

Keynote, Worship Leader, Comedian, Parodyist

Host of the Prayer Meeting Podcast - your virtual worship oasis. (Subscribe)

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While there's no question that Dark City deserves a nomination, something about that film has never quite clicked for me, beautiful though it is.

 

At any rate, I should probably start making defenses of my other nominations. So...
 
A.I.: Artificial Intelligence - Everyone is beholden to memory here. The robot boy, David, is the product of a professor hoping to recreate his son. He is taken in by couple haunted by the memories of the son they've lost. When abandoned, David relentlessly pursues his own memories of the mother he's lost, and, in the finale, recreates the childhood he never had. In the end, David becomes memory itself, a record of an extinct human civilization.
 
F for Fake - Welles' grand film essay on deception creates a series of false memories and then explodes them, all the while ruminating on the nature of art and authorship. Also, there may be no greater cinematic rumination on art-as-memory than Welles' monologue about Chartres from this film ("Maybe a man's name doesn't matter all that much").
 
Je t'aime, je t'aime - As ambitious and rigorous as Resnais' own Last Year at Marienbad, but more human, more heartbreaking. It's the precursor to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, as a man is forced to relive his life in random sequence courtesy of a time travel experiment gone bad.
 
Mysteries of Lisbon - Ruiz blurs the lines between memory, record, and imagination: Mysteries of Lisbon presents consciousness as a web of stories, spiraling ever outwards from the individual.
 
Oldboy - The story can be summarized thus: a man's quest to recover the memory of moral transgression becomes a quest to find a way to live with memories of moral transgression. Sounds fitting for our list, no?
 
Once Upon a Time in America - Sergio Leone's entire filmography is founded on a sense of cinema as cultural memory, and nothing else in his filmography is so haunted by the march of time as Once Upon a Time in America. The pain of nostalgia pervades this sweeping film, which flits between three different time periods. In its final stretch, the future to consume the memories of the past: all that's left is to forget it all.
 
Total Recall - Playfully brash, Verhoeven's satirical Total Recall delivers one of the most iconic treatments of memory manipulation in cinema, drawing a direct line between Hollywood fantasy and wish-fulfillment. Whether we're watching fantasy or reality never becomes clear; once memory-tampering is involved, either reading becomes possible. But beyond the veneer of its Hollywood absurdity, there's a darker suggestion that, having entered into the labyrinth of fantasy-as-memory, protagonist Douglas Quaid finds it too appealing to leave, choosing to live in his purchased fantasy at the expense of permanent brain damage.
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Nomination rule #5) No films released after December 31, 2012 can be nominated. (Like last time, if there is a heavily advocated for exception, we’re open to allowing for it.)

I know the discussion was made in a previous nomination thread, but I don't have the time to find it, and for the life of me I can't remember the final decision. Were we going by North America release dates, or by IMDb listing as to the official year a film was released? If the former, then The Act of Killing is ineligible. If the latter, then it is up for consideration, as IMDb lists it as a 2012 film (debuting in Denmark on November 8th).

From the very beginning of my helping with these lists, I have always just used IMDb release dates.  The United States is entirely unreliable when it comes to releasing films at a reasonable time.  There are 2012 films that are only just now being released in the U.S. in 2014.  And, from any film historian's perspective, the question is usually what year the film was released, period - not what year the film managed to find some American publicity.

 

So, as far as I'm concerned, and speaking in my official capacity as an organizer for these lists, The Act of Killing is technically eligible.

 

Speaking only in regards to my personal opinion, I think whether it merits displacing another good film from the Top 25 Films on Memory is another question altogether.  Given some of the reviews on how oppressive the film is, I haven't even had the stomach to be able to watch it.  There are some films that just make me feel sick and this one looks like it would be one of them.  (And I mean literally.  Since getting back from Iraq, I've watched two different films that have made me retch.  I don't want to watch any more of them.)

 

I'm not even convinced yet that I believe in the film on moral grounds.  I even have a vague impression that any civilized government would put these guys on trial for war crimes (Hannah Arendt would support the idea) but instead they get to star in a movie to get their 15 minutes of fame?  The film would mean more to me if it was considered evidence in a prosecutor's office.  Reviewers say the film is wonderful in how it explores the psychology of mass murderers.  But I just don't really find the psychology of mass murderers very interesting.  From the perspective of human civilization, mass murder happens because of evil.  Evil doesn't always have to be complicated or reasoned or particularly interesting.  But then again, I've refrained from criticizing the film until now because I just haven't seen it yet, and I doubt I'll be convinced to.  So I'll let those who have seen it debate whether there are not 25 better films for this list.

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Lucky Life : I love the way the movie juxtaposes the relationship between the husband and wife with their memories of the time on the beach with friends.  The “life” that the couple is engaging in during the present is set against the “death” and “deaths” that they recall from the past.  Lovely.  Also, the black and white footage of the bridge-building that is placed inexplicably at the center of the film is a wonderfully mysterious example of the filmmaker stimulating us to memory, both of the past in history and the past as it relates to these characters.

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Okay, since no one has seconded Stardust Memories yet, so I’m going to try to convince at least one other person that it deserves to be on this list. I know Woody Allen is hit and miss, but this was made in the middle of his best years, and it shows. He has other films that could have been nominated, like Radio Days, but Stardust Memories feels right for the list not just because of how it invokes memory, but because it addresses memory not only as part of everyday life, but from from the perspective of how movies and music affect our memories as well.  I just re-watched it, and found myself enjoying it more than I remembered. And the theme of memory is infused in almost every scene. Woody Allen’s character, Sandy Bates, is attending a film festival screening his own films over a weekend, but is caught up in more than the memory of his career. His life falls apart both now and then, and we get to see which pieces he picks up or lets fall. He cannot experience the present except through the past.  Shots of past and present are edited seamlessly together, and sometimes both are shown simultaneously. He's drawn to one girl because she reminds him of an ex, he's hounded by old schoolmates, fans, and family who are trying to reel him in to the past, and he can't escape it. 

 

He’s both trapped and liberated by the past. Trapped because he can never transcend the public’s preconceived notion of who he is and what he should do. He’s always the one with the “funny, early films.” His attempts at finding meaning depth in his art are ultimately hamstrung by his past self. (Almost like Sullivan’s Travels if Sullivan decided against continuing to make comedies). But the past liberates Sandy from his despair over the future. He’s terrified of dying without meaning in his life, but finds a flicker of meaning in the past. This is the point I made in my first rationale of why I picked it. Those brief moments of serendipitous joy, a fleeting recollection of contentment and satisfaction in the midst of present suffering. It all hinges on that moment, in the last ten minutes of the movie, when Sandy draws upon a memory while on his deathbed, the only memory that gives him peace about his life. And as I said in my first post on it, the significance of music in creating memories. 

 

 

 

 

 

"What's prayer? It's shooting shafts in the dark." -- Frederick Buechner, Godric

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Okay, since no one has seconded Stardust Memories yet

I've never seen it, but I'm correcting that later this week.

"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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Title: Walkabout

Please elaborate (in the discussion thread).

Yes, I was just getting to that.

 

I believe in full disclosure, so I'll admit that I just saw Walkabout for the first time, and also that it's the only Roeg film I've seen. But I was absolutely blown away.

 

Consider the cinematography. No one will deny its technique, or its sheer beauty. But there's something different about it, some quality that has something to do with Roeg's closeups on insects and lizards and human skin, and something to do with his frequent use of dissolves, and something to do with his intercutting between scenes whose connection with each other is sometimes mysterious. This is not Australia as Baz Luhrmann filmed it, or as Sergio Leone or David Lean or even Terrence Malick would film it. In Roeg's hands the desert flows like water. Images run through our hands, splash up to hit us, and drop back into the pool and are lost. Chronology is blurred, and so is the line between reality and imagination. This is the way the whole film works, not just the occasional obvious flashbacks like the swimming scene at the end. I submit that this is because the film is an artistic expression of how memory works. The film is a memory, confused, haunting, troubling, and beautiful in the unique way that memories of such special moments can be.

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Okay, since no one has seconded Stardust Memories yet

I've never seen it, but I'm correcting that later this week.

If Stardust Memories is eligible (and I think it is) then 8 1/2 absolutely has to be on the list.

 

I believe in full disclosure, so I'll admit that I just saw Walkabout for the first time, and also that it's the only Roeg film I've seen. But I was absolutely blown away.

 

Consider the cinematography. No one will deny its technique, or its sheer beauty. But there's something different about it, some quality that has something to do with Roeg's closeups on insects and lizards and human skin, and something to do with his frequent use of dissolves, and something to do with his intercutting between scenes whose connection with each other is sometimes mysterious. This is not Australia as Baz Luhrmann filmed it, or as Sergio Leone or David Lean or even Terrence Malick would film it. In Roeg's hands the desert flows like water. Images run through our hands, splash up to hit us, and drop back into the pool and are lost. Chronology is blurred, and so is the line between reality and imagination. This is the way the whole film works, not just the occasional obvious flashbacks like the swimming scene at the end. I submit that this is because the film is an artistic expression of how memory works. The film is a memory, confused, haunting, troubling, and beautiful in the unique way that memories of such special moments can be.

I like the blurring of chronology, but I'm not sure if that involves memory beyond turning the film into a flashback, which I don't feel is enough to qualify a film about memory.

 

I could make a similar case for Martha Marcy May Marlene. I just saw it two weeks ago.  It blurs the line between reality and imagination as Martha struggles to escape from her past.  However, as the film seamlessly cuts between past and present, Martha's memories begin to blur with the present and taint her perception of reality, which feeds her ever growing sense of paranoia that makes it almost impossible for her to forget or escape from her past.

 

 

Since no one has seconded Sweeney Todd, would I have any luck if I nominated a different version, such as this one?

"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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I like the blurring of chronology, but I'm not sure if that involves memory beyond turning the film into a flashback, which I don't feel is enough to qualify a film about memory.

No, no - the film isn't a flashback and there is no framing device. Our glimpse of Jenny Agutter's character as an adult is a "flash-forward," and it's not important in itself except insofar as it clarifies what's going on in the rest of the film. I'm saying that the film as a whole is a cinematic reflection on memory. Memory pervades the film at the most fundamental level, the level of form.

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Rushmore, I think you are largely correct here. Most of Roeg's films contain a reflection on the way cinema can capture the texture of memory well - which I agree occurs in Walkabout.

 

 

Otherwise, just wanted to chime in to say that I am happy to see these voting threads, as this is probably my favorite cinema topic.

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Otherwise, just wanted to chime in to say that I am happy to see these voting threads, as this is probably my favorite cinema topic.

 

It's one of mine too, so much so that the supervisor I'm working under is best known for his work on memory in cinema. M. Leary, I'd love to hear your take on some of these issues. Hope you are able to participate significantly.

"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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