I have always had a thing for reading interviews with artists whether they are writers, painters, photographers, actors or filmmakers. Over the years, there has been a long list of interview books with filmmakers I have indulged in. One of the first was Joseph Gelmis’ “The Film Director as Superstar.” Since then there have been plenty others, “The Directors Event,” The Celluloid Muse,” Andrew Sarris’ “Interview with Film Directors” and Leonard Maltin’s “The Art of the Cinematographer” to name a few. Add to this Robert K. Elder’s “The Best Film You’ve Never Seen” where the author/interviewer gives 35 film directors the opportunity to rave on about forgotten gems that influenced them as filmmakers. While I may not agree all these films are forgotten (Sweet Charity?), on the whole, the selections are intriguing. Even when the films themselves are not very good, the directors enthusiasm and descriptive explanations make you want to give them another look. A telling example is Jonathan Levine’s choice of “Can’t Stop the Music.” Levine, director of “50/50” and “Warm Bodies,” explains, “it’s like, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ if you replaced the talented musician’s with the Village People and a coherent script with this movie.” Levine’s fondness for the film comes through clearly despite his knowing, and the readers, that this film is not going to give “Vertigo” a run for the top spot on Sight and Sound’s next list of best films of all time.
But that is exactly what is so good about this book; the value comes from the enthusiasm the filmmakers have for these forgotten treasures, films that bombed at the box office and slid off the map of even the most serious and passionate of film lovers. Filmmaker Sean Durkin (Martha, Marcy, May and Marlene) chose Richard Fleischer’s excellent 1971 film, “10 Rillington Place,” the dark tale of real life mass murderer, John Christie. Antonio Campos (After School, Simon Killer) picked the small low-budget crime film, “Murder by Contract” from 1958, a favorite of Martin Scorsese’s, and while Campos does not claim the film is perfect he discusses how its composition and the main character’s isolation, as portrayed by Vince Edwards, were influences in his own work.
With each interview you can feel the passion of the filmmaker whether it is by a main stream artist like Peter Bogdanovich, who selected, a little too predictably, Lubitsch’s “Trouble in Paradise,” a minor quibble, or the off-beat Brothers Quay who picked the equally unusual “L’agne” by Patrick Bokanowski. Each interview may not be a favorite choice for everyone’s taste but there is plenty of variety to go around. For me, my favorite discussions included the previously mentioned Levine and Campos interviews along with John McNaughton’s take on “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” Todd Solondz on “The Honeymoon Killers,” Austin Chick on “After Dark, My Sweet,” Richard Linklater on “Some Came Running,” Guy Maddin on “The Chase,” and John Woo on “Le Samouri.”
It’s the kind of book you can easily jump around from one chapter to another, going back and forth in whatever order you prefer to read the interviews you desire the most or, of course, you can read it straight though. Either way, it is an absorbing read, one that both intrigues and informs.
A review copy of THE BEST FILM YOU’VE NEVER SEEN published by Chicago Review Press was provided IPG Books.