The urbanized world right now is divided into two kinds of people - those who have been floored by the sheer magnificence of Dunkirk, and those who haven't watched it yet.
The Christopher Nolan war drama based on the Miracle of Dunkirk - officially Operation Dynamo - of 1940 is being hailed as a cinematic masterpiece. Everything from the breathtaking cinematography to the intertwining triple narratives justifies this verdict.
For film aficianados, the making of this visual treat is every bit as fascinating as the film itself. And Nolan has deigned to satisfy our curiosity by releasing a list of films which inspired various elements of Dunkirk, to be screened at the BFI Southbank, London.
The announcement on the British Film Institute's website was accompanied by an introduction by the man himself-
You might expect a season of films leading up to a screening of Dunkirk to be a selection of war movies. But I chose to approach Dunkirk more as survival story than war film. One look at James Jones’ essay on ‘Phony War Films’ (in which he takes down several of my old favourites) immediately shows you the perils of taking on real-life combat in a dramatic motion picture. In Jones’ estimation All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) said it first and best: war dehumanises.
Revisiting that masterpiece it is hard to disagree that the intensity and horror have never been bettered. For me, the film demonstrates the power of resisting the convention of finding meaning and logic in individual fate.
Most of the other films in this series fall into two different, but overlapping categories. From established classics of tension like The Wages of Fear (1953) and Alien (1979)...
...through to the more recent ticking-clock nail-biters Speed (1994) and Tony Scott’s final film, the relentless Unstoppable (2010), our season explores the mechanics and uses of suspense to modulate an audience’s response to narrative.
Other titles explore the possibilities of purely visual storytelling, whether literally, in the case of the silent epics – Stroheim’s Greed (1924) and Murnau’s Sunrise (1927) –
...or in part, like the thrilling windswept beaches and crashing waves of Ryan’s Daughter (1970). The relationship of geographical spectacle to narrative and thematic drive in these works is extraordinary and inspiring. Pure cinema.
The Battle of Algiers (1966 is a timeless and affecting verité narrative, which forces empathy with its characters in the least theatrical manner imaginable. We care about the people in the film simply because we feel immersed in their reality and the odds they face.
The visual splendour, intertwined narratives and aggressively anachronistic music of Hugh Hudson’s Chariots of Fire (1981) combined to create a masterpiece of British understatement whose popularity rapidly obscured its radical nature.
Finally, no examination of cinematic suspense and visual storytelling would be complete without (Alfred) Hitchock, and his technical virtuosity in Foreign Correspondent’s (1940) portrayal of the downing of a plane at sea provided inspiration for much of what we attempted in Dunkirk.
All the films are screened on 35mm or 70mm prints. I hope you will enjoy the rare opportunity of seeing these incredible movies in their original analogue glory, as nature intended.
So whether or not you are lucky enough to catch these in the vintage format in London, they are, regardless, must-watch movies for every Nolan fan, nay, every cinema fan.
Title image: latimes