Schrader. Somewhat sadly, Paul Schrader is probably first thought of as the screenwriter for Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and to a lesser extent, Bringing out the Dead. He’s a masterful auteur though and has 9 films in the archives and counting (one of his strongest entries came in 2017) with 1 film in the top 200 of all-time and another 4 that just barely miss the top 100 of their respective decade. Still- for the purposes of this list, having only 1 film in the top 100 of their respective decade is a weakness—but Mishima is worth a great deal (not many yet to be named on this list have a film rated higher than my #184), and it was very easy to compile these magnificent 10+ images from various films—he’s deserving of this spot here.
Best film: Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters
- Schrader, for what it’s worth, considers this film his best film as director
- Philip Glass’ luminous score and John Bailey’s photography (especially some of the venetian blind lighting/shadow work) helps make the film a truly magnificent work— the neon lights through venetian blinds in bed sequence is stunning- Schrader does some great venetian blind work (taken mainly from Bertolucci’s The Conformist) in American Gigolo as well
- Ebert says “the most unconventional biopic I’ve ever seen, and one of the best”
- There are 4 chapters set up in the beginning telling you the titles of the 4 much like the chapter page in a book. This is uncommon. Each chapter is rigorously a half hour long but within each chapter you have 3 narrative strands, the black and white flashbacks, the normal older Mishima driving himself to suicide, and the gorgeously mounted stage/set bound neon-colored of his work (which clearly tells a story of Mishima as well)
- Wonderfully formally splintered
- The film is a powerful statement (perhaps by Schrader himself that life can and will never be as perfect as art (or as it should be in Mishima’s head)). Perhaps this, along with other factors, drove him to suicide. It would be an interesting comparison with Travis Bickle.
- The final shot of Mishima’s ritual suicide is a stunning zoom/tracking combination shot like that in vertigo and jaws
total archiveable films: 9
top 100 films: 0
top 500 films: 1 (Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters)
top 100 films of the decade: 1 (Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters)
most overrated: Nothing. Many critics think First Reformed is his best and I’m not with them (at least yet—I’ve only seen it once and look forward to a revisit)- but Schrader doesn’t have a single film in the TSPDT consensus top 1000 somehow so technically there’s nothing that’s overrated.
most underrated: There are a few underrated films –American Gigolo and Light Sleeper do nott have as good a critical reputation as they should— but it has to be Mishima. I have it as the #184 film of all-time and the TSPDT has a massive blindspot here- they can’t find room or it in their top 1000.
gem I want to spotlight: Light Sleeper. I’d be willing to wager that 99% of people who called First Reformed Schrader’s best have never seen Mishima or Light Sleeper. Mishima, at least, has been championed by Criterion so my choice here is Light Sleeper.
stylistic innovations/traits: Though Schrader came up as a screenwriter (and critic and film scholar) he’s an accomplished visual artist and the writing is not one of the first things that come to mind when discussing his work as an auteur. I think of the Venetian blind work in both Mishima and American Gigalo—stunning visuals (and a clear sign he was influenced by the European masters (Bertolucci in this case with the blinds)). The use of obstacles to show a divide between Dafoe and his ex in Light Sleeper are Antonioni (L’Eclisse). The use of glorious neons (in abundance for a so-called “screenwriter”) isn’t far off from say Wenders’ work in Paris, Texas (though Schrader is a contemporary of Wenders’—this isn’t an influence). Bresson is important to Schrader—most of his work, notably Light Sleeper is really from Pickpocket and you can’t talk about First Reformed without talking about Tarkovsky’s levitation and the bones of that story from Bergman’s Winter Light. Still though—there is at least some American cinema influence— the monomaniacal obsession turning his protagonists’ insane (certainly First Reformed, Hardcore) are from John Ford’s The Searchers.
- Mishima; A Life in Four Chapters
- Light Sleeper
- American Gigolo
- First Reformed
- Blue Collar
- Auto Focus
- The Comfort of Strangers
By year and grades
|1978- Blue Collar||R|
|1980- American Gigolo||HR|
|1985- Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters||MS|
|1990- The Comfort of Strangers|
|1992- Light Sleeper||HR|
|2002- Auto Focus||R|
|2017- First Reformed||HR|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives
From Schrader’s facebook, interesting list
“”TIME FOR THE YEAR-END REASSESMENT OF ONE’S PERSONAL ALL TIME TEN BEST FILMS LIST. It mutates year by year. Persona has been the top for several years. Wild Bunch and Hud have replaced Searchers in the toxic male western category. Some films grow in estimation until you realize, “Hud really is one of my ten favorite films.” Masculine-Feminin fell off my list. “Such a fine line,” the poet wrote, “hate to see it go.”
2. Tokyo Story
5. Rules of the Game
6. Wild Bunch
7. The Lady Eve
8. Citizen Kane
9. In the Mood for Love
@Harry- Thank you for sending. I had not seen this- I was so focused on Schrader recently calling his own movie the #1 film of 2021- haha.
Agree with Ebert on Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. Very unconventional biopic indeed, I have never seen a film structured quite like it. It’s quite rare for a director to make such a strong film in their non-native language. I am not sure if it is technically considered an American film or a Japanese film, perhaps both? Either way what are some other examples of American auteurs directing great films in a foreign language?
also forgot to mention that it has possibly the coolest Criterion Cover although The Sweet Smell of Success (1957) is high on the list as well.
@James Trapp-The new cover for The Piano(1993) is gorgeous. It may trump everything.
@Malith – yeah, I saw that, already pre-ordered the 4K version.
” I would have to imagine actors are lining up to play the protagonist in Schrader’s next work—whatever that may be.”
Next work was announced a few months ago:
“stars Joel Edgerton and Sigourney Weaver, with Edgerton set to play Narvel Roth, the meticulous horticulturist of Gracewood Gardens, who is as devoted to tending the grounds of this beautiful and historic estate as he is to pandering to his employer, the wealthy dowager Mrs. Haverhill (Weaver). When Mrs. Haverhill demands that Roth take on her wayward and troubled great-niece Maya as a new apprentice, chaos enters his spartan existence, unlocking dark secrets from a buried violent past that threaten them all.”
Really excited for this one
Picked out some nice shots from Cat People (1982), I think it’s fringy but ultimately archivable and these photographs fit really well in Schrader’s oeuvre.
@Harry- great share- thank you.
Finished up my study tonight, a few more I could see but don’t think I will for now.
Total watched: 11 , 8 in archives.
First Reformed – MP
The Card Counter – MS
Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters – HR/MS
Light Sleeper – HR
The Comfort of Strangers – HR
American Gigolo – R/HR
Cat People – R
Auto Focus – R
Affliction – 6/10 , not in the archives
Dog Eat Dog – 4/10 , not in the archives
Dying of the Light – 2/10 , not in the archives
He’s actually an incredible stylist I think. In about 8 that I watched I noticed the neons seem to be his obsession, bold blues, reds, oranges and purples in so much of his work regardless of the cinematographer. Since he only has one film in the top 2000 on TSPDT I do think he’s one of the most underrated in the art form.
@Harry – Ohh, here is mine.
Blue Collar – HR
Hardcore – R
American Gigolo – R/HR
Light Sleeper – HR
Affliction – HR
Auto Focus- R
The Walker – mediocre, not in archives.
Adam Resurrected – Pretty bonkers curio. I think it’s worth a watch but wouldn’t put it in the archives.
Dog eat dog – On the same page here. I think it’s pretty bad. Dafoe gives a wonderful performance, though.
First Reformed – HR/MS, closer to hr for now.
The Card Counter – Not in archives. I’m maybe missing something, but I was very underwhelmed by this movie.
I’m curious why you rate Affliction so low?
I’m also planning to watch Cat People, Mishima , and Comfort of Strangers. Maybe Patty Hearst if I’m able to find it in decent quality.
@Mad Mike I watched Affliction about an hour ago, I’m quite fond of the performances and think the screenplay and themes are great but it was just shot way too bland for me and didn’t find anything to appreciate cinematically (I did like the shot at the end with Nolte in the foreground and the burning house in the background though) – maybe I missed some shots since you and Drake both have it as an HR. Not sure.
Blue Collar, Patty Hearst and Hardcore are still on my watchlist but I’m a bit burnt out on Schrader for now. Was thinking of checking out Adam Resurrected out of sheer curiosity too and might do out of what you say.
@Harry – Oh, okay, I hear you. Unlike drake, I put more emphasis on narrative, and performances. And I thought that Affliction was really strong character study with great work from Nolte and Coburn.
Be careful with Adam Resurrected. Mileage may vary-hah.
Who are you planing to tackle next?
@Mad Mike I was thinking of doing Nicolas Roeg and Peter Weir next
@Harry – Haven’t seen any Roeg yet. But I can vouch for Weir. I think it’s hard to make a case for him as an auteur (if you care about that sort of thing). But he is an excellent director with a solid body of work. Cars that ate paris are not worth the time, and The Way back is skippable. Everything else is rather good. Especially his run from 1993 to 2003.
@Mad Mike wasn’t planning of getting to those last two so good to know I won’t be missing much. Do you have another director lined up after Farhadi?
@Harry – Yeah, I’ve actually finished Melivlle filmography a week ago or something like that.
This year I definitely want to tackle: Spike Lee, Mike Nichols and Kurosawa.
Thinking about doing: George Stevens, Fred Zinneman and William Friedkin.
Also, this year I’m thinking about doing some cinematic movements (french new wave, italian neorealism) and maybe watching some movies for my other blind spots. Like silent cinema and soviet cinema. So many movies and so little time.)
What about you? Who you’re planning to study this year other than Roeg and Weir?
Definitely want to see a lot from Ozu, Huston, Peckinpah, Cassavettes, Truffaut and Hawks.
Lot to get to there but those are some of my biggest blind spots right now.
Yes. I can’t foresee any world where First Reformed isn’t considered MP masterpiece. I’ve seen others and this is Schrader Masterwork.
@Kent Crosier- I was able to take another run at First Reformed and I tend to agree http://thecinemaarchives.com/2021/10/01/first-reformed-2017-schrader/
Discovering Schrader the director has been quite a revelation, a couple of months ago I only knew him as the screen writer of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull (not exactly a bad legacy to leave on its own) but starting with First Reformed I have started to love Schrader the director. Just saw Light Sleeper and planning on seeing American Gigolo tomorrow.
Why isn’t anyone talking about Master Gardener whose reviews just came. Is it right to expect that Schrader will continue his streak with First Reformed, Card Counter and now Master Gardner.
@M*A*S*H – thanks for the heads up, was not aware of this film, excited to see how it reviews
@M*A*S*H- Great point here- thank you. I remember seeing the slate and was excited for it- but totally forgot about it until yesterday when it debuted. Reviews are indeed mixed (55% on RT right now at the time of sending) so I hoped for higher- but will be there regardless of course.
Was First Reformed not original enough for your taste? I’ve heard that criticism. “HR” is a surprise; I thought it’d be MS/MP for you. (Especially after seeing The Card Counter as the best of 2021. I loved them both.)
@Elliot Lemley- Thank you for visiting the site and the comment here. I needed a second viewing of First Reformed and caught it again in 2021- here’s the updated page. https://thecinemaarchives.com/2021/10/01/first-reformed-2017-schrader/