It’s the Desert Island Discs question, isn’t it? And I’ve cheated, because I’ve got seven.
Intolerance (1916) Directed by D.W. Griffith
You’ve got to start with D.W. Griffith. This is it, this is real cinema. I put down ‘Birth of a Nation’, but if you start your list with that, people are going to start wondering about what’s going on in your head. Although it is a genius film, it’s difficult. When I first saw it as a student at the BFI, not only is it difficult, by the end you’re sitting there cheering, this is exciting, but Jesus it’s the Klan! So I decided to take the liberal way out and go for ‘Intolerance’ instead. It’s more sophisticated as a narrative and it looks great.
Man with a Movie Camera (1929) Directed by Dziga Vertov
You’ve got to have a documentary because documentaries are as important to cinema as making your stories up. And it’s the ‘Citizen Kane’ of documentary. Everything is there and no-one has done anything since that isn’t in ‘Man with a Movie Camera’. Grierson defined the documentary as ‘the creative treatment of actuality’ and ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ is precisely and breathtakingly that. It’s wonderful.
Citizen Kane (1941) Directed by Orson Welles
If I didn’t say ‘Citizen Kane’ it would be a strange answer.
Seven Samurai (1954) Directed by Akira Kurosawa
It’s about the strength of storytelling but it’s also like a bomb waiting to go off. There’s so much technique in there but he’s holding it together.
The Searchers (1956) Directed by John Ford
You’ve got to have a Western and I still think it’s the most psychologically complex, possibly of all films, but certainly of that genre.
Goodfellas (1990) Directed by Martin Scorsese
It’s got everything. If Jesus came back to earth and asked, ‘Why should I save you?’ you’d say watch this. Us humans, we produced Beethoven’s 9th and we had this, give us a break.
Inception (2010) Directed by Christopher Nolan
And I think you need a sci-fi choice as it is so important to film. You’ve got a Western, a gangster, a documentary, so you need one. I was going to choose ‘2001’, but I’d go with ‘Inception’. Christopher Nolan is important as a filmmaker and it’s an interesting film. It’s the kind of film you can have a real debate about afterwards. It’s one that if you show it to students, some of them will really want to defend it as a great piece of work, and some of them think it’s just silly. There is room for well executed daftness in cinema. We do want to be entertained.
Then I had a think about what I’d left out. People (my friends) are going to read this and go, ‘Graham, what have you done?’ So the things that are not in here are French New Wave, anything else by Akira Kurosawa, anything by Satyajit Ray, but also Ozu. Scorsese has championed Ozu and if there is a league table he’s gone from Championship to Champion’s League. And it’s terrible that the three directors who didn’t make it into the list are Alfred Hitchcock, Nic Roeg and Stanley Kubrick.