In his column about the revival of Max Ophuls' "The Earrings of Madame de...," the dean of American film critics, Andrew Sarris, proclaims Ophüls' masterwork the greatest film of all time -- edging out, as the headline puts it, "Welles, Renoir, Ford, Hitchcock, Chaplin, Buñuel, Mizoguchi." [Please note: Dave Kehr points out that there is no umlaut in "Ophuls" -- although that's how it was (mis-)spelled in Sarris's NY Observer piece.]
On a personal note: My favorite Ophuls (among the greatest films of all time in my book) is "Letter From an Unknown Woman" (though "Madame de..." is indeed surely one of the most exquisite things that has ever appeared on the planet; I treasure my laserdisc "print" and hope it will be on Region 1 DVD soon -- along with all the other great Ophuls films that are already available in Region 2). I'd agree with Sarris on the Renoir ("The Rules of the Game"), Ford ("The Searchers"), Hitchock ("Vertigo"), Murnau ("Sunrise") and, depending on what day of the week it is, the Welles ("The Magnificent Ambersons"). (On my 2002 Sight & Sound international critics' poll ballot I chose both "Kane" and "Ambersons" in my top 10.) I wouldn't have a Chaplin on my list, but "Modern Times" is tops in my book.
If you've never seen this masterpiece, now is your chance—and even if you have, a second or third viewing is strongly recommended. If you don’t choose to take my word for the film’s sublimity, then heed the sagacious words of Dave Kehr instead: “Should the day ever come when movies are granted the same respect as the other arts, 'The Earrings of Madame de …' will instantly be recognized as one of the most beautiful things ever created by human hands.” “Perfection,” proclaimed the late Pauline Kael, in one of her more perceptive pronouncements. And David Thomson delivers an eloquent encomium to Ophüls with a remarkably expansive entry in his much-honored "The New Biographical History of Film." Curiously, I’ve had a much harder time convincing my students in film class of the “greatness” of Ophüls and "Madame de…". It may partly be a generation gap, and partly the youthful suspicion of romanticism in some of its less cynical guises. Then again, even among my contemporaries, I have become notorious over the years for my ecstatic—to the point of orgasmic—addiction to camera movement as an expression of the tyranny of time in the drama of human life. This predilection on my part may be something I picked up from the unified-visual-field theories of the late André Bazin.
Though it's only a matter of degree, my favorite Buñuel is probably "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" or "That Obscure Object of Desire" or "The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz" or "Nazarin" or "Simon of the Desert" or "The Exterminating Angel" or... -- OK, I have way too many favorite Buñuels. And my favorite Mizoguchi would not be "Ugetsu," which I'd put below "Sansho Dayu" and "The Life of Oharu." I love Keaton's "Our Hospitality," "Sherlock, Jr.," and "Steamboat Bill, Jr." even more than "The General" (1927) -- though I could probably make a case for ten Keatons as the greatest films of all time.
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