You may remember that when we featured the favorite films of Federico Fellini, the 8 1/2 director’s top-ten list included… well, 8 1/2. But then, no filmmaker before Fellini or after him has had quite the same sensibility, so if Fellini made the kind of movies he himself wanted to watch — and I suspect he made only that kind of movie — then we might wonder why his list didn’t include even more of his own work. And maybe we should wonder the same about this list of favorites from Luis Buñuel, the Spanish surrealist who started doing for vivid, dreamlike, and grotesque European cinema in the 1920s what Fellini kept doing for it until the 1990s:
- Underworld (1927, Josef von Sternberg)
- The Gold Rush (1925, Charles Chaplin)
- The Bicycle Thief (1947, Vittorio De Sica)
- Battleship Potemkin (1925, Sergei Eisenstein)
- Portrait of Jennie (1948, William Dieterle)
- Cavalcade (1933, Frank Lloyd)
- White Shadows in the South Seas (1928, W.S. Van Dyle/Robert Flaherty)
- Dead of Night (1945, Alberto Cavalcanti/Charles Crichton/Basil Deardon/Robert Hamer)
- L’Age d’Or (1930, Luis Bunuel/Salvador Dali)
- I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932, Mervyn LeRoy)
At the top of the post, you can watch Buñuel’s number-one pick, Josef von Sternberg’s silent proto-gangster picture Underworld. Just above, you’ll find his number-nine pick, and the one he had a hand in himself: L’Age d’Or, the 1930 societal satire on which he collaborated with the Spanish artist Salvador Dalí. It came as the follow-up to their 1929 silent short Un Chien Andalou, a work widely recognized as the foundation stone of surrealist cinema (see also our post on both films), and it came with much greater ambitions.
Neither Buñuel’s own directorial style nor the medium of cinema itself had quite found their form yet; those conditions produced a film that still retains many striking and even cutting qualities today, albeit not, perhaps, to the same degree that they caused contemporary right-wingers to toss ink at the screen and start brawls in the aisles. Watch the pre-1930 films on the list, like Battleship Potemkin and The Gold Rush, to understand what formed Buñuel’s cinematic sensibility; watch L’Age d’Or to understand why, when it comes to his own work, he prefers the early stuff.
Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.