There Will Be Blood
I actually cried in the theater the fourth time I saw this film, because the flare of blood and fire and misanthropy overwhelmed me. I don’t know if art influences us as much as certain artists guide us toward the expression we carried from the void that we have not yet the language to realize. I can point to a couple moments in my life when I understood a contemporary artist had showed me the kinds of brutal worlds I longed to build but had never quite dared—Blood Meridian, Scorch Atlas, There Will Be Blood, and one or two others.
Fanny and Alexander
I chose Fanny and Alexander over the seven other Ingmar Bergman films I most revere (for the record, my list is: The Seventh Seal, The Magician, Winter Light, Persona, Hour of the Wolf, Persona, and Cries and Whispers), partly because those films are contained and amplified within the sprawling six hour Fanny and Alexander. Bergman touches on every aspect of life in this film, from the wonder of a small boy’s perceptions to the pitch terror of mortality and the vivid mystery of the beyond. Woody Allen has compared Bergman to Dostoevsky, but Dostoevsky never went so far into the dream as Bergman does here.
Meshes of the Afternoon
Almost claustrophobic in its strangeness, Deren here throws us deep into the weird terror of a dream. After Un Chien Andalou, Meshes of the Afternoon was the first truly ‘avant garde’ film I experienced, and it challenged me (as it continues to) to consider possibilities in form and tone that I didn’t even know existed. The movie is also floating, beautiful, poetic, and really opened me to movies by Tarkovsky, Jodorowsky, Lynch, and other practitioners of dream logic.
Tarkovsky’s films all have a way of drifting along, accumulating and growing, and with such skill and power that eventually the full image is there, towering and painful and almost out of grasp for its mystery. There are so many horrific, dreamy moments in this film that I find at once unspeakably beautiful, and there are many that I find absolutely mysterious, which is the greatest compliment I can pay to a great work of art. His films also make me want to strive after some kind of spirituality or religion, although the spirit of his work is the one that I truly strive for—I might spend the rest of my life striving to write a novel that functions like a Tarkovsky film.
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
I love everything about Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s films—he’s probably my favorite working filmmaker, with Paul Thomas Anderson. Like most of the other movies on this list, Uncle Boonmee has qualities of dream logic, but the dream here (and in his other films) overlaps and mingles with elements of realism and myth and documentary. But where the dream is often coupled with nightmare in Bergman or Lynch, we find tranquility in Uncle Boonmee. The rise of spirits from the forest, the approach of hybrid forms from the night, is natural, loving, and not at all menacing. There is a tenderness within the strangeness in his films, and they have taught me new ways of approaching the world, not just narrative art.
Robert Kloss is the author of the novels The Revelator and The Alligators of Abraham and the co-author (with Amber Sparks) of The Desert Places, illustrated by Matt Kish.