best film: Persona. Persona is Bergman’s most avant-garde film. It is also his finest. It is cinematographer Sven Nykvist’s best work as well (that may be redundant- his best work was all with Bergman). The opaque narrative and doppelgängers have influenced everyone from Polanski, to Rivette, (Duelle) to Bunuel (That Obscure Object of Desire) to De Palma and Lynch (Mulholland Drive). The performances of Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann are superb, but it is Bergman, and his use of blocking/staging and lighting that make this an experimental and challenging masterpiece.
most underrated: The Pornographers from Imamura. For the second time in three years (Intentions of Murder in 1964) Imamura wins this category. The Pornographers is his magnum opus—a top 100 film—and the TSPDT consensus can’t find room for it their top 1000. I’m also going give some love to Torn Curtain. My choice here for the most underrated film of 1966 is definitely Imamura’s work- that is clear- but Hitchcock’s film has some immaculate compositions (the two here are breathtaking) and it is far from a bad film (which in some circles it has a reputation for being).
- Like Imamura’s previous work there’s an obsessiveness on Ozu-like framing, sex (very un-Ozu-like), animals (pigs, insects, fish here, eels later on in Vengeance is Mine)
- Countless shots are through windows with natural obstructions in the frame—even curtains to make a frame within a frame- spectacular mise-en-scene– truly an artistic achievement
- Imamura deliberately messes with the viewer’s expectations—it’s about a guy (and his pal) who are pornographers—but he doesn’t tell you if some of these quick vignettes are their movie or not. There also is a great scene where we have what appears to be non-diegetic music that shift to diegetic as they show a guy playing the flute
- Like Bunuel there are no redeemable characters here- it’s all dog eat dog—absurdism
- Japanese doors as framing (Ozu) and windows as framing (Renoir)
- Wild spontaneous rock music and then a quick reverse tracking shot—odd and flashy
- Talking carp from beyond the grave
- The ending is very meta—two guys watching talking “do you think he dies?” let’s start the next movie”- brilliant
- faces right in front of the frame during sex– it’s pretty remarkable that even during sex scenes Imamura is shooting it in-line with his aesthetic dedication (same for the bursts of action in his previous works including the car chase in Pigs and Battleships)
- there’s a lineage to Renoir here with the shots outside of windows using the frame within the frame
- obstructions– pillars, columns, window brackets, shots through a cracked door (shrinking the frame) or a curtain left open by a hair
- there’s a comment here on commerce, capitalism and the divine comedy of it all– he’s always going broke putting a plan together to keep going– madness– as mad as his sexual obsessions– this is nihilism
most overrated: Au hasard Balthazar from Bresson is #34 on the TSPDT consensus list. This is not something I can get behind. I get the allegory (it is the story of Christ) and Bresson’s distinct, stark storytelling style is something I admire and appreciate. But, the austerity and understated quietness of it of it pales in comparison to the more ambitious brilliance in Leone’s or Bergman’s masterpiece
gems I want to spotlight: I’m picking two from Sergio Corbucci here- Django and Navajo Joe.
- Starts with the title song sung by Rocky Roberts which would be reused by Tarantino 36 years later- superb
- Franco Nero’s titular character (hero? antihero?) dragging that coffin behind him- great imagery—a massive zoom by Corbucci (certainly his preferred stylistic choice) to introduce him
- Nero’s performance (tight-lipped, blue eyes) and casting certainly owes it all to Leone and Eastwood. The premise itself (technically from Kurosawa’s Yojimbo) is essentially A Fistful of Dollars (preceding this by two years)—two rival gangs, Nero playing them in the middle. I hesitate to call it a meditation but it nihilistic, sadism
- A few impressive instances of William Wyler-like depth of field—a shot of the saloon owner/bartender in the foreground and Django in the background at 23 minutes
- Again- heavy zooms- Corbucci’s tool
- The racist southerners clad in red – like the Klan
- Tarantino again—the cutting off of an ear
- As strong as the title song is—and it’s awesome—this film misses Morricone
- A holy f*ck last shot– what a mise-en-scene design. An amazing frame that’s held for 60 seconds
- A prolific period for Corbucci – this is one of the four films he made in 1966—they almost all borrow from Sergio Leone’s superior films and feature music from Ennio Morricone
- You have to get past Burt Reynolds as a Native American and the title character. The film does not have a great critical reputation and the critics are wrong here. It was panned upon release, also working against it is Reynolds who for decades would make fun of this movie (making fun of the wig, claiming he signed up thinking he was working with Leone saying Corbucci is “the wrong Sergio”— Corbucci claims he thought he was getting Marlon Brando). Sorry Burt- this is an excellent film and the only ones you made better than this were Boogie Nights and Deliverance
- Reynolds clearly chased Eastwood his entire career. Tried to direct, followed him from TV to spaghetti western here, box office champion and extremely popular in the south and rural America
- Revenge narrative and disruption of the Native American Eden in the opening as the film’s villain scalps a beautiful innocent woman
- Reynolds is actually very good in the performance as well. It’s mostly a physical performance and his athletic background (a college football stud at FSU until a knee injury) pays off. He probably has less than 100 words of dialogue and doesn’t speak at all for the first 18 minutes
- Corbucci is not Leone—not the perfectionist Leone is—Corbucci made four films in 1966 and Leone made seven his entire career.
- Tarantino loves this movie of course- uses the score in Kill Bill, uses the narrative arc as inspiration for much of Leo’s Rick Dalton character in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood—score one for Tarantino over the critics here. He’s right, they are wrong
- The score is simply one of Morricone’s best which has to put it with one of the best of all-time. I can’t picture this movie without it. Morricone is billed as Leo Nichols for some reason- not sure why—and if you’ve seen Alexander Payne’s Election (great use of it there) or Kill Bill as I mentioned you’ll recognize it. Masterful.
- Strange to see Fernando Rey as a good guy straight priest after Bunuel’s Viridiana
- It is not a great script- but the “which one of us is American” speech by Reynolds’ titular character is sharp—poignant—“where was your father born?”
- Zoom camera movements – strong style choice consistent with the era and Corbucci’s choice as a go-to aesthetic
trends and notables:
- The culmination of The Man with No Name trilogy from Leone—one of the best trilogies in cinema history—made in three consecutive years (all in the top 10 of their respective with a MS grade or higher). The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly has Morricone’s score, one of the best of all-time, and with the final dual shootout in the graveyard—one of the best examples of editing in cinema’s history
- To add to that- the spaghetti western is a little movement at this point with the dueling Sergio’s leading the way- Corbucci and Leone. They take an American genre and make their own—messing with conventions- post-modern. This isn’t John Ford’s West. Leone is not alone in finding out that dubbing everything does free up the camera a bit like they had in silent cinema.
- 1966 is one of the low points for Hollywood/American cinema. There are a lot of awful films during this stretch, a generation of great auteurs were fading. 1966 marks the last archiveable film for Hawks and Ford. Welles only archiveable film from here on out is The Other Side of the Wind which wouldn’t really see the light of day until Netflix in 2018. The New Hollywood was about to begin (1967) so hitting rock bottom here in 1966 and needing a regime change makes sense. Mike Nichols (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf) is a breath of fresh air- and this is his debut. His second film would be the following year (The Graduate) and it and he would be a major figure in that New Hollywood movement. His film here is the only American film in the top 10 of 1966.
- Cinéma verité- Gillo Pontecorvo (Italian)- Battle of Algiers is a major film in the movement of realism—in 1966 we are in the second, third, and fourth generations in terms of filmgoers and cinephiles (it is no mistake that many of the greatest directors of this period are former critics) so for Pontecorvo to create a film that people think is potentially newsreel footage, or a documentary, or at the very least worthy of a comparison with Rossellini’s war trilogy from twenty years prior- is an important event
- We can talk about the “roll” or “hot streak” certain directors are with Godard, Antonioni, Bergman, etc—he never worked enough to have that said about him- but any year that Tarkovsky has a film released is a big year. Tarkovsky made seven (7) features in total (this his second)—all of his films were top 5 of the year caliber (MS or MP)
- There is a nice class of incoming actors as well. Jack Nicholson is in his first archiveable film (The Shooting) but we’re still a few years away from his breakout in Easy Rider. Liv Ullman’s first archiveable film is here in 1966 (more on her below). Robert Redford had actually been doing television for a few years now but The Chase with Jane Fonda and Brando is his first archiveable film. The great John Hurt gets his start in the archives playing a small role in best picture Oscar winner A Man For All Seasons. It is a big year for newcomer Vanessa Redgrave with all three of her first archiveable performances (Morgan, Blow-Up, Georgy Girl) coming in 1966
best performance male Either Anatoliy Solonitsyn (as title character Andrey Rublev) or Eli Wallach give the best male acting performance of the year in 1966. Wallach is just one of the standouts in Leone’s The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly worthy of mention in this category of course (so we’re including Lee Van Cleef and Clint Eastwood). Wallach has the heaviest lifting to do in the film and he’s mesmerizing- but that’s not to detract from his co-stars- I don’t think the film works as well if Leone casts others in those three roles. Next I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight the work of Richard Burton in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned Burton before in this category (he’s wonderful in 1964’s Beckett as is Peter O’Toole as well). Anyways, Virginia Woolf is the perfect vehicle for Burton’s acidity. His scenes verbally sparring with Elizabeth Taylor are pure acting masterclass. Lastly, David Hemmings deserves mention for his work in Blow-Up. Unlike Burton, this is largely a non-verbal performance and Hemmings is our vehicle for Antonioni’s exploration the entire time.
best performance female: There are three towering performances in this category in 1966 and you could any of the three as the winner here. Liv Ullmann (Persona), Elizabeth Taylor (Who is Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) and Bibi Andersson (Persona again) are all on my top 100 actresses of all-time list (#7, 25, and 80 respectively) and they do their career-best work in 1966. Andersson was mentioned here before in 1957, Ullmann is the newcomer to the Bergman stable of talented players, and Liz Taylor is a powerhouse in a transformational role. Taylor is a child actor (first archiveable film is 1943) turned celebrity knockout and icon. She’s the biggest female star on the planet in 1966. She put on weight here for the role, wore makeup to make her look older (she’s actually only 34 here believe it or not) and took a risk with a first-time filmmaker…it paid off.
- The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly
- The Pornographers
- Andrei Rublev
- The Battle of Algiers
- Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
- Au Hasard Balthazar
- The Nun
Archives, Directors, and Grades
|A Man And a Woman- Lelouch||HR|
|A Man For All Seasons- Zinnemann,||HR|
|Andrei Rublev- Tarkovsky||MP|
|Au Hasard Balthazar- Bresson||HR|
|Black Girl – Sembene||R|
|Blow-Up – Antonioni||MS/MP|
|Closely Watched Trains – Menzel||HR|
|Daises – Chytilová||R|
|Django – Corbucci||HR|
|Duel at Diablo- Nelson||R|
|El Dorado- Hawks|
|Fahrenheit 451 – Truffaut||R|
|Faster Pussycat Kill, Kill! – Meyer|
|Funeral in Berlin – Hamilton||R|
|Gambit – Neame||R|
|Georgy Girl- Narizzano||R|
|Grand Prix- Frankenheimer||R|
|How To Steal A Million- Wyler||R|
|Kill, Baby… Kill!- Bava||R|
|Le Deuxième Souffle – Melville|
|Masculine, Feminine- Godard||R|
|Morgan: A Suitable Case For Treatment- Reisz||R|
|Navajo Joe – Corbucci||R/HR|
|Nevada Smith- Hathaway||R|
|Sand Pebbles- Wise||R|
|Seven Women- Ford||HR|
|The Battle Of Algiers- Pontecorvo||MS|
|The Bible: In the Beginning… – Huston||R|
|The Big Gundown- Sollima||R|
|The Chase- Penn||R|
|The Fortune Cookie- Wilder||R|
|The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly- Leone||MP|
|The Hawks and the Sparrows- Pasolini||R|
|The Nun – Rivette||HR|
|The Pornographers – Imamura||MP|
|The Professionals- R. Brooks||R|
|The Rise of Louis XIV- Rossellini||R|
|The Shooting – Hellman||R|
|Torn Curtain- Hitchcock||HR|
|Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf- M. Nichols||MS|
*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
Just a suggestion I think it would be great if you can add a image of Au Hasard Balthasar and Navajo Joe to the page.
Doesn’t The Godfather actor James Caan has his first archivable film El Dorado in 1966?
@Anderson- It is his first archiveable, but I’m trying to keep the mentions here for first archiveable to the top actors. It was just a choice to omit Caan
Great page. Actually, if it’s Varda framing, if something seems to be influenced, it is, and Bergman was an avid cinephile.
It’s interesting how Varda used various techniques first, which other directors later adopted.
I don’t know if memes are allowed to be shared, but this sums it up perfectly.
@Aldo- haha love it
Great work as always on the page – what a great year for cinema!
– as much as I love Persona and Andrei Rublev it’s the Good the Bad and the Ugly that is the ultimate exclamation mark for this year for me personally. You mentioned the amazing Ennio Morricone score and the editing and both are all time level. Leone had incredible use of patience in building up the climatic shootouts, this is especially true in Once Upon a Time in the West as well. Leone was almost operatic in building up scenes. This was in many ways the inverse of more typical western shootouts which had little build up and long drawn out action scenes (the actual shooting). What made Leones scenes so great was that after the long build up the actual action scenes (shooting) were extremely brief. I love the set pieces here from the Civil War battlefield to the Cemetery to the Ghost towns. It’s such an influential film as well hailed by directors such as Tarantino.
and who could forget this scene:
@James Trapp appreciate the kind words about the page. Thank you
Somehow, I ended up having watched several films from 1966 in particular without really noticing it untile just now. Anyway. What a wonderful year that was. Not for American cinema, as you’ve poignantly mentioned, but I like to think of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf as a precursor to the big boom of the American New Wave in 1967. Not exactly in subject matter, content or even approach, necessarily, but mainly in tone. It is an interestingly vulgar film, with all its stark black and white photography, sharp lighting and inventive angles and shots. It is also very impressively cinematic, considering it’s adapted from a play. Then again, the tendency to either directly or indirectly challenge social norms was present in American theatre a bit earlier than film, so it makes sense that the single American film transitioning from old to new Hollywood is based on a play. Of course, its razor sharp writing helps in rating as highly as we justifiably do.
But admittedly, the biggest star of 1966 is Persona. And this is perhaps the most difficult film to ever commend on simply because there is so much going on, no matter how one slices it. The gobsmacking photography seems like a right place to start. I didn’t get into Bergman thinking of how vital his go to director of photography would be, and I am beginning to realise that Sven Nykvist is possibly the most important person on the Ingmar Bergman crew (as much as I love every single actor on it). I was left flabbergasted when I saw Persona for the first time with everything- reflections on water, fog or whatever it is that enriches the dream sequences, and of course light and shadow, black and white. I recently watched Winter Light for the first time (it was the only one left from the faith trilogy), was very impressed and currently looking for an opportunity to put up a write up somewhere on your blog about it -but that’s completely beside the point. Nearly every frame in Persona could be on display in a high brow art gallery – every frame is a mini masterpiece of perfectly minimalistic mise en scene and gorgeous photography. Of course, Ullmann and Andersson are both sublime – hypnotic, ethereal, evasive (this word will be used later on as well). That said, Ingmar Bergman utilises these undeniable talents at the top of their game, and creates an atmospheric masterpiece that is destined to rank amongst the top 50 (and that’s an understatement) films of all time for another hundred years of cinema. The cuts between the takes to display the huge face portraits of the two women (and that kind of scary kid touching them), the music (so unbelievably good), the pacing, the brilliant writing and convoluted turn of events piece together a unique study on identity, the likes of which have yet to be seen since (I’ll admit, however, that Mulholland Drive comes close and I’m a little bigger on Altman’s 3 Women than most people – also existential crisis material). Themes of sexuality, the way we present ourselves to others, the roles imposed on us and those we willingly adapt to, the way the inner self (the id, if you will) interacts with the persona, each one influencing the other, merging into one and yet remaining so distinctly different. Truths, innermost fears and repressed emotions, all of those elements build up who we are, who we think we are, who we pretend to be, and who others see us as. Layered and complex, poetic and mysterious, Persona is one of cinema’s greatest masterpieces, the very best film by Bergman (in my opinion) and an insurmountable study on how what we fear the most is really ourselves and what lies beneath our skin.
After all of that, one needs to give a shout out to A Man and a Woman, a film that, even though pales in comparison to some other achievements from 1966, is almost designed to be loved by anyone who watches it. I’m beginning to fill in the gaps with Antonioni (I had been notoriously missing out on Red Desert, which I’m also going to commend on – jeez, they’re piling up a bit), and Blow Up is another great effort from him, though it is the very first film of his I caught and don’t remember much other than how evasive (here it is) it was (I think this word perfectly suits most of his work). Torn Curtain disappointed me narrative wise, though there are some moments of classic Hitchcockian brilliance and suspense – unfortunately, those are just the silver linings. Of course, one can’t go without mentioning the amazing score in the Good the Bad and the Ugly and I hadn’t thought of it, but in spite of being a very strong narrative, the editing must be indeed the true highlight here. I hadn’t noticed it untile I read it on your page. Now, that’s my insight as far as 1966 is concerned. I’ve been wanting to see the Pornographers for quite a while. I somehow caught the Insect Woman by Imamura about a year ago and I’ve been looking to studying him since, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet.
@Georg- this is an excellent addition to the page. Thank you. Please share when you do get to see The Pornographers
This is a good year for anyone who doubts black and white can be just as beautiful as color with Andrei Rublev and Persona, 2 of the most beautiful black and white films.
What are some other examples?
Citizen Kane comes to mind.
@James Trapp- This would be a larger list to do it justice– but just a few years ago in 2018 we got a reminder of the potential of black and white films with the two most beautiful films of the year – Roma and Cold War
Random list of movies not mentioned yet:
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
The Third Man
much of Ozu
much of Kurosawa
Last Year at Marienbad
La Dolce Vita
I Am Cuba
The Night of the Hunter
The Seventh Seal
There are many, many more.
@Drake – still have to see both of those, been meaning to watch Roma (2018) for a while now, will probably watch within next couple of weeks
@Graham – thank you for suggestions, just caught Rumble Fish (1983) a couple of days ago and loved it, The Trial (1962) I will watch in the next month as I am doing a personal Welles study
@Drake – Just out of curiosity, are you a film major?
@John- I was a film major but that was long ago at this point
@Drake – Have you seen Le Deuxième Souffle? I see it’s on the list but without a grade.
If not definitely would recommend, one of the 1st French movies I saw when I got really into French New Wave and French Cinema a few years ago. It’s similar to Melville’s other gangster movies, great performances (especially the lead Lino Ventura from Army of the Shadows) and narrative with colorful characters. A stunning heist sequence is the standout in the middle, has a lot in common with Le Cercle Rouge (1970)
@James Trapp- sorry I missed this until now- So I have seen it– but it has been so long that I don’t feel comfortable putting a grade on it here. I’ve been itching to get back to Melville– I may do a study this fall.
@Drake – Yeah after watching Le Samurai I am probably going to revisit it. Melville was probably the first French director I into after Godard and Truffaut. Love his work
Speaking of Karina doing great work without Godard, she did a movie with Visconti and Mastroianni the year after this called The Stranger. Did you not think it was archivable or have you not been able to acquire it?
@Zane- I was not able to track this one down yet
Analysis of Elisabet Vogler (played by Liv ullmann) after my recent revisit of persona.
Man this has to be one of the most complex characters ever put on screen had a crazy thought of breaking her down through most complex characters of cinema as you can put them in a mixer and get Elisabet Vogler.
1. She’s an enigma, a mystery ( Emcee, cabaret)
2. Psychologically mute 4 unknown reason ( Ada McGrath, the piano)
3. Neglectful mother ( charlotte, autumn sonata)
4. Hates her child and probably hates herself for hating him (-)
5. Terrified of destruction around her (Giuliana, red desert)
6. Probable psychological manipulator 4 her benefit ( Daniel plainview, TWBB)
7. Woman with a fractured psyche (Alma, persona)
8. Healing of fractured psyche as the film progresses (Justine, melancholia)
9. Uncanny, Aloof, cold, icy and unaffected , as you see alma bare her soul and there’s isn’t even a crinkle on her forehead (Carole, repulsion)
Forgot to mention the most interesting one… Just like Carol in safe is physiologically allergic to the outside world,Elisabet is psychologically allergic to the outside world. Glimpses from the outside world may freak her out (self-immolation, photo of son).
@M*A*S*H – Strong work here. Thank you for sharing.
@Harry- appreciate your assistance
Does Eli Wallach have any other performances worth checking out? Absolutely love his performance in TGTBTU
Also, no It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown? Unfortunate :/
@Matthew- for me other three standouts are The Magnificent Seven, Baby Doll and The Misfits.
@Matthew and @RujK- unless I’m missing any the 9 archiveable films are below and RujK has the big ones
1956- Baby Doll
1960- The Magnificent Seven
1961- The Misfits
1962- How the West Was Won
1966- How to Steal a Million
1966- The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
1990- The Godfather Part III
2003- Mystic River
2010- Ghost Writer
@Matthew- If you are looking for more on Eli Wallach, I just caught Don Siegel’s 1958 film The Lineup and that is a film and Eli Wallach performance very much worth seeking out
Thanks to both you and @RujK. I got these suggestions written down