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Susan Sontag’s Favorite Fifty Films


To Sontag, one of America’s greatest cinephiles, film was that element of art that bestowed solace on reality.

In private, Susan Sontag was always passionate about lists. Her journals, now published in three volumes, are overflowing with lists/manifests that mention everything she learned since she was sixteen: what made her happy, what nurtured her intellect, what caused her pain. The lists range from queer jargon; books she wanted to buy; musical pieces she admired; quotes; words she liked, aimless wandering; observations; translations; titles for stories; her own defects; scatological metaphors; her favorite films.

The latter is an invaluable gift for the cinephile, even if according to her “you hardly find anymore, at least among the young, the distinctive cinephilic love of movies that is not simply love of but a certain taste in films (grounded in a vast appetite for seeing and reseeing as much as possible of cinema’s glorious past).” Yet, undeniably, the past of international film is powerfully returning to the world’s movie theaters, but, sadly, the writer did not live to enjoy it.

For Sontag, one of the greatest cinephiles in North America, film was that element of art that bestowed solace on reality, which made her feel she was accompanied by profound and beautiful people and that reaffirmed that what exists is not just what we can see. In her diaries she wrote:

Those hundreds of movie stills on my walls. That’s populating the empty universe, too. They’re my “friends,” I say to myself. But all I mean by that is that I love them (Garbo, Dietrich, Bogart, Kafka, Vera Chytilová): I admire them; they make me happy because when I think of them I know that there aren’t just ugly leaden people in the world but beautiful people; they’re a playful version of that sublime company to which I aspire…. For me, they’re reinforcements! They’re on my team; or rather, I am (hope to be) on theirs. They’re my models. They guard me from despair, from feeling there’s nothing better in the world than what I see, nothing better than me! …

Writing for the New Yorker, Richard Brody recommends accompanying this list of “Best films (not in order)”, with her famous essay called “The Decay of Cinema” (The New York Times), in which the writer transmits her nostalgia for a golden age that perhaps was related to her youth.

The list reads as follows:

1. Bresson, Pickpocket
2. Kubrick, 2001
3. Vidor, The Big Parade
4. Visconti, Ossessione
5. Kurosawa, High and Low
6. [Hans-Jürgen] Syberberg, Hitler
7. Godard, 2 ou 3 Choses …
8. Rossellini, Louis XIV
9. Renoir, La Règle du Jeu
10. Ozu, Tokyo Story
11. Dreyer, Gertrud
12. Eisenstein, Potemkin
13. Von Sternberg, The Blue Angel
14. Lang, Dr. Mabuse
15. Antonioni, L’Eclisse
16. Bresson, Un Condamné à Mort …
17. Gance, Napoléon
18. Vertov, The Man with the [Movie] Camera
19. [Louis] Feuillade, Judex
20. Anger, Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome
21. Godard, Vivre Sa Vie
22. Bellocchio, Pugni in Tasca
23. [Marcel] Carné, Les Enfants du Paradis
24. Kurosawa, The Seven Samurai
25. [Jacques] Tati, Playtime
26. Truffaut, L’Enfant Sauvage
27. [Jacques] Rivette, L’Amour Fou
28. Eisenstein, Strike
29. Von Stroheim, Greed
30. Straub, …Anna Magdalena Bach
31. Taviani bro[ther]s, Padre Padrone
32. Resnais, Muriel
33. [Jacques] Becker, Le Trou
34. Cocteau, La Belle et la Bête
35. Bergman, Persona
36. [Rainer Werner] Fassbinder, … Petra von Kant
37. Griffith, Intolerance
38. Godard, Contempt
39. [Chris] Marker, La Jetée
40. Conner, Crossroads
41. Fassbinder, Chinese Roulette
42. Renoir, La Grande Illusion
43. [Max] Ophüls, The Earrings of Madame de …
44. [Iosif] Kheifits, The Lady with the Little Dog
45. Godard, Les Carabiniers
46. Bresson, Lancelot du Lac
47. Ford, The Searchers
48. Bertolucci, Prima della Rivoluzione
49. Pasolini, Teorema
50. [Leontine] Sagan, Mädchen in Uniform

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