The Ten Best Film of 1967

Following New York Times procedure, the following selection includes only those film's released commercially in the Unites States during 1967. This excludes films shown only at the New York Film festival, notably Rosselini's La Prise de Pouvoir de Louis XIV, and films made in 1967 but not yet shown here (Bunuels' Belle de Jour, Godard's La Chinoise). To make things simpler, I eliminate European films made over two years ago but released in New York during 1967. Andrew Sarris has included Bunuels' Exterminating Angel and Renoir's Boudou saved From Drowning on his list; I would also mention Godard's Le Petit Soldat and Marker's Le Mystere Koumiko, were they eligible under my own rules. The films are listed in order of personal preference.

El Dorado by Howard Hawks. As Hawks reaches full maturity, his films increasingly synthesize all the elements of his previous work. El Dorado begins as epic tragedy, yet drifts unerringly into an intense and personal comedy where physical infirmity must be overcome in order to justify friendship and retain an all-important self-respect. The shift in El Dorado's tone is ironically matched by Hawks' stylization: the potential tragedy is played almost entirely in bright daylight, and as the mood of the film lightens, El Dorado moves into a rich and sombre darkness, pointing up the seriousness of Hawks' vision and the importance of the issues he raises. Structurally, the film closely parallels The Iliad. Hawks' glorious and affirmative art redeems 20th century man from an emasculating and increasingly ugly world.

Falstaff by Orson Wells. The best "Shakespeare film" ever made, Welles' adaptions tells Henry IV's story largely from Falstaff's' point-of-view. In distilling material from several plays, Welles undermines traditional concepts of character, and his interpretation is dark: Falstaff, played brilliantly by Welles, ultimately becomes a serious and pathetic figure; Keith Baxter's Hal knows the inevitability of his future and its consequences earlier than one would think from reading the texts. Welles' camerawork and lighting have never been more extraordinary, or less self-conscious; the spine-chilling battle must, along with the shower sequence in Psycho and the Odessa Steps sequence in Potemkin, be considered a supreme example of classical montage. Welles confounds one's normal sense of scene and over-all geography by employing sets and backgrounds more evocative than specific, more abstract than representative. John Gielgud, as the dying King, gives his best screen performance in this revolutionary film.

Bonnie and Clyde by Arthur Penn. A knowledge of the best in American film art (the work of Griffith, Hawks, Ford, and Hitchcock, for example) leads us to the conclusion that great films come instinctively to their makers, that thematic depth is rarely the product of an analytical intellect working deliberately toward that end behind the camera. The elements in Bonnie and Clyde, on the other hand, have been chosen with some care; each shot has a function largely conceived at a planning stage, and Arthur Penn can give us a reason for any given angle, lens, or shadow. Following in the Ford tradition ("When the fact becomes legend, print the legend"--The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance), Bonnie and Clyde succeeds magnificently as American mythology, an intelligent treatment of sensitivity and violence, social and sexual impotence, within a familiar if abstracted social context. Bonnie and Clyde's merits have been much-discussed, and I can only state, with rank admiration, how beautifully wrought the film is: in the choices Peen has made in determining color and visual style, in the script construction and dialogue idiom, and in the consistently excellent acting.

La Guerre Est Finie by Alain Resnais. Resnais continues to employ a mosaic technique where flashbacks and quick montages of thoughts and objects are inserted, reaffirming Resnais' flair for visual stream of consciousness. Where Hiroshima Mon Amour used mostly flashbacks, La Guerre Est Finie's inserts are mostly flash-forwards: fears and premonitions of Diego, the middle-aged Spanish revolutionary, played so magnificently by Yves Montand. In sight and Sound, Tom Milne describes Diego as caught between two worlds "in more ways than one: between Spain and France, between youth and age, between the old Spain of the International Brigade and the new one of tourist paradises, between his settled love for Marianna and his yearning for the uncomplicated youth of Nadine." Given this dilemma, Resnais and screen-writer Jorge Semprun probe the nature of commitment to a cause, and the necessity of commitment even to a lost cause in order to live with self respect. This is a Fritz Lang theme, but where Lang sees commitment as necessary but essentially futile, Resnais and Semprun find for Diego, in Milne's words, "a complete reconciliation within himself, of past, present and future, fears conquered and ideals regained." La Guerre Est Finie has the beauty and integrity of the greatest art, and is a truly important film.

Hurry sundown by Otto Preminger. Bernard Shaw postulated that great playwrights by definition write great plays, and this is certainly the easiest way to defend Preminger's' Hurry Sundown, a difficult and dramatically unrewarding film. Like most of the great European directors who work in Hollywood, Preminger, takes little of America for granted, and his films are marked by a distinctly individual way of seeing the world. In his early films, Preminger's vision encompassed a sordid and neurotic small-town America of con-men and disillusioned cops, with much of the action set in greasy spoons, cars, and hotel lobbies. Preminger must feel that his later films are larger; actually they are only longer and better designed: the best passages in The Cardinal deal with abortion, In Harm's Way with seduction and promiscuity, and Bunny Lake Is Missing with moody perversion, all elements with which Preminger has always felt at home. Preminger's characters remain frustrated or trapped, happy endings notwithstanding: we know that the assumed union of the detective and his dream-girl in Laura will end in disillusion, as the dream becomes dull reality; similarly, the Cardinals' meditative peace at the end of the film is not a reconciliation with God but a practical compromise with reality. With European detachment, Preminger stands outside the tense and ugly world, watching with carful scrutiny without allowing his camera to enter and take part. In Preminger's films, there are no point-of-view shots; Preminger never cuts to what a character sees, instead putting both the watcher and the watched in the same shot. Though Preminger tends to ignore the dramatic world of his films, his camera defines the personality and function of a character by the amount of space placed around him, and by the way he is moved with relation to the frame. The more space Preminger has to work with, the more complex his films become, and Predictably, Preminger is a master if wide-screen cinematic technique. At best, Preminger creates a network of conflicting spatial relationships from the many people in his best-seller-based sagas, and his films work on a level far transcending the dramatic material. From this specialized, perhaps perverse, point-of-view, Hurry Sundown is close to Preminger's best film.

L'Etranger by Luchino Visconti. Like Rosselini, Visconti (director of Rocco and His Brothers and The Leopard) has all but abandoned the moving camera in favor of the zoom lens. On one end of the spectrum we have Rosselini, whose integrity and genius is such that he can use the zoom simply because it exists and make great films with it; on the other, there are intelligent craftsmen like Arthur Penn who consider the zoom a "technological intrusion" and shy away from it. Visconti falls into the middleground as an honest, sensitive artist trying hard to develop an aesthetic where the zoom replaces the moving camera. He hasn't succeeded yet; Visconti is most comfortable with romantic, even operatic, material, and therefore his most effective zooms are fast and dramatic (the zooms to close-ups of Cardinale in Sandra, for example). Camus' L'Etranger is not a romantic story, and Visconti's slow and disciplined camera-work, though impeccably framed and lit, sometimes lacks the conviction to make it more than simply illustrative. Nonetheless, in the second half, beginning with the beach sequence, L'Etranger becomes a tour de force of subjective camerawork. It uses the zoom lens to juxtapose the moral postures of the different characters, and create a monstrous and disordered world around the anti-hero. Visconti must have chosen to film L'Etranger for strange reasons. He is plainly more interested in the dramatic mechanics of the preposterous trail then in the all-important meditations of the prison cell finale.

Bike Boy, The Nude Restaurant, and other 1967 films by Andy Warhol. There is a sublime moment in The Nude Restaurant where an idealistic peace-nik turns to the magnificent Taylor Mead and says, "All war protestors are beautiful." Mead, who thinks of war protestors as so many warm male bodies, grains at the camera and says, "Not necessarily." The double-meaning here is central to Warhol's cinema, as it reveals the ease with which two people can escape one another completely. In Warhol's films, people talk at one another, strive for self-definition and expression, and are either too emotionally bombed-out to succeed or else posses too weak a vocabulary. In his dealings with language breakdown, as well as in being prolific, Warhol is our Godard. But where Godard treats subjects with increasingly pedantic seriousness, Warhol still makes grimly hilarious comedies. It is fashionable to accuse Warhol of making identical films for fun and profit, but intelligent artists do not exist in a state of perpetual atrophy, and Warhol is no exception. Though his current style is simple, it is not simplistic, and I have yet to lose interest in a Warhol composition for as long a time as he chooses to leave it on the screen. His recent experiment with color and editing have proved his interest in his won artistic development, and his choice of actors and material proves that he even directs on occasion, turning out some of the more exciting film in recent years.

Chappaqua by Conrad Rooks. In a decade where drugs are commonly associated with cinema in terms of strange optical effects, whirling patterns of color, and strobe-lit copulation, Conrad Rooks' Chappaqua appears almost ascetic, carefully constructed and disciplined. Recounting the story of his won cure from drug and alcohol addiction, Rooks adheres to a dramatic convention where the drug visions stem largely from objectively presented details of Rooks' past life. This is not to say that all films of psychedelia profit from traditional structuring; but by sticking to a coherent narrative, Rooks and photographer Robert Frank make this nether world accessible to the film's uninitiated audiences, providing something of a public service. Frank comes close to achieving a sensible relationship between the narrative film and the hand-held camera, and between color and black-and-white tootage transposed in editing. Imaginative scene conception, beautiful unfiltered color, and excellent acting help make Chappaqua a highly successful exercise in therapeutic film autobiography.

Accident by Joseph Losey. Like all things Harold Pinter touches, Accident smacks of ambiguity. It is at once a penetrating analysis of the university system, a story of acceptance of middle-age, its corresponding disillusionment, and like all of Pinter, simple and compelling storytelling. Theoretically Pinter's dialogue is perfect for motion pictures: the lines in themselves have little substance, and the meaning emerges gradually, thus providing a complement rather than a distraction to cinematic stylization. Pinter command of language, though, transcends Losey's sense of style, and Losey does not always get a firm grip on the subtle and elusive screenplay. Often, the ideas are better on paper than they are in the finished film (Dirk Bogarde's liaison with ex-girlfriend Delphine Seyrig), and Accident falls flattest when Losey injects familiar notes of high Baroque into Pinter's version of the groves of academe. In fact, Losey is more comfortable with high baroque; Eva and Modesty Blaise, though self-conscious and dramatically weak, come close to Losey at his strongest and most asured in his choice of camera angel, subject, and movement. Accident is Losey at his most disciplined. Still, one suspects come fear behind the self-control, a lack of instinct as to how to treat the material, Due largely to sloppy lab work, I suspect, the color is disappointing, but Accident's acting, by Bogarde, Stanley Baker, and Vivienne Merchant, is extraordinary.

Billion Dollar Brain by Ken Russell. Billion Dollar Brain is a provocative film, inventive and intelligent. In a period marked increasingly by acceptance of lack of craft (witness the reception of Mike Nichols' mediocre The Graduate), Billion Dollar Brain stands out as a low-level case-book of cinematic efficiency. Russell's camerawork is frequently tantamount to cutting: he will start on a medium shot if Michael Caine, swing up to a sign on a building, down to people leaving the building, and back to Michael Caine--all so quickly we might have seen four separate shots. The interior-exterior point-of-view cutting in the scene where Palmer discovers the dead Doctor Kaarna reveals Russell's sophistication concerning standard devices, as does his tendency to cut to paintings and other background objects prior to introducing characters into the frame. The cross-cutting between a Moscow-bound train and Plamer's Pursuing car is riveting, and Russell shows sensitivity in handling the Francoise Dorleac character in a style markedly different from the rest of the shooting. A night scene where she is shown from several angles walking to recover some virus-ridden eggs accentuates her beauty and the romance her character embodies. A later shot where she appears in close-up on a street at the exact moment when two buses pass each other beats any singe shot in last year's Blow-Up. Billion Dollar Brain should be examined in some detail before lumping it with Furie's disconnected Ipcress File, Funeral in Berline, and all those derelict Bond films. See it twice.

A final note. List-making is a capricious process at best, and the selection of the last half is highly subjective. Billion Dollar Brain may be an oasis of craft in a desert of disjointed ill-conceived movies, but I can hardly make an objective case for it over Ingmar Bergman's Persona. An intense and deeply personal statement, Persona, to me, seemed largely an illustration of uncinematic ideas. Therefore, I didn't include it. But this was also the way I felt about Accident, and its selection over Persona simply indicates personal preference for Losey over Bergman. A point is invariably reached when objectivity breaks down and is replaced by whim.