We asked our film and media lecturers for their top recommendations for students to watch before starting a degree. Here are 11 films chosen by course leader Neil Henderson.
Shadows (1959) John Cassavetes
‘The film you have been watching was an improvisation’ - The year zero of American Independent Cinema. Two brothers and a sister share an apartment in New York. It’s the late 1950s, Jazz is at its peak, Rock and Roll is emerging. We follow the siblings as they navigate the complexities off their lives.
L’Eclisse (1962) Michelangelo Antonioni
A woman leaves one relationship to embark on a new equally unfulfilling one. A masterpiece of framing and composition the film is minimal and at times verges on the abstract, it’s the best of all Antonioni’s films.
The End of Summer (1961) Yasujirô Ozu
All of Ozu’s late films are essential viewing but I find this film particularly powerful. It has all the hallmarks of the director; exquisite framing, visual balance and harmony and the tone for much of the film is rather gentle and quite funny. By the end the tone shifts abruptly to quiet devastating.
Martha (1974) Rainer Werner Fassbinder
So much Fassbinder to choose from, but this is perhaps my favourite. A woman marries a sadist and spends most of the film being abused and humiliated. Like many of Fassbinder’s films it’s really about Germany, Martha is a metaphor. The film has one of the best tracking shots you’ll ever see and stars Karlheinz Bohm who is particularly good at playing sadistic characters (see Peeping Tom).
Rainbow Dance (1936) Len Lye
I’ve shown this film perhaps 40 times now and it has never ceased to amaze me - and students love it too! It’s an ecstatic celebration of movement and colour. Visually it has more in common with pop art or psychedelia than anything from 1936, a truly visionary piece of art.
Mothlight (1963) Stan Brakhage
A giant of independent/experimental filmmaking. His back catalogue is vast and quite intimidating, this is easily the best place to start. Brakhage attached moth wings, grasses, leaves, and various organic matter to 100ft of clear 16mm film and had it printed for projection. One of the most beautiful films ever made.
La Jetée (1962) Chris Marker
Probably the most mysterious of all the filmmakers to emerge from France in the 1950s. La Jetée remains his most well-known film. We are in post WW3 France, everything above ground is rotten with radiation. People live in a network of tunnels underground where we follow the story of a man undergoing a series of experiments in time travel. Essential!
The Last Picture Show (1971) Peter Bogdanovich
One of the best examples of the auteur driven Hollywood new wave of the 1970s. Essentially a coming of age drama set in Texas at the start of the 1950s. The films contains break out performances by Cybil Shepard and Jeff Bridges. Visually beautiful with an unforgettable soundtrack.
Meshes of the Afternoon (1944) Maya Deren
A crucial work of Avant-Garde cinema. Maya Deren is one of the great visionaries of filmmaking. We see a woman (played by Deren) repeatedly enter the same apartment. Each time strange things happen. Sometimes the whole house shakes, or she meets different versions of herself, sometimes a mysterious mirror faced figure appears. A dream within a dream within a dream. The film’s structure is disorientating, and time and space are fluid. A major influence on David Lynch, the final part of Mulholland Drive borrows heavily from it.
Barry Lyndon (1975) Stanley Kubrick
Of his 1970s films Barry Lyndon can sometimes seem the most overlooked. It’s a period drama about a chancer/opportunist who manages to marry into money. The film is revered by cinematographers. Kubrick re-purposed a camera lens engineered for the Apollo moon landings allowing him to film in very low levels of light. Those candlelit scenes are extraordinary feats of technical ingenuity. Anyone with an interest in cinematography, lighting and composition should study this.
Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1987) Todd Haynes
With Dark Waters out at the cinema it’s a good time to revisit the back catalogue of this crucial indie auteur. Superstar is a re-enactment of the life of the American singer. The film is a kind of hybrid text; it mixes ‘vox-pop’ video with the educational film and the biopic. The film uses Barbie dolls and crude sets to tell her life story, from the first moments of fame to her death from anorexia aged just 33.
By Neil Henderson
Deputy Head and Course Leader for our Film and Media and Communication degrees