Wunderkind film writer Sam Fragoso from Duke & the Movies has cooked up a doozie of a blogathon this week. This is the task at hand:
Extraterrestrial forces land on Earth. Unknowing of our planet and society, you can pick five films from the history of cinema that represent humanity. What titles would you choose and why?
It’s a really unique concept. At its heart, the blogathon is about boiling down all of humanity and civilized history into five films. As a human, I feel that I’m uniquely qualified to select five films of my own, each for specific reasons.
Odds are good- better than average- that as an adult, you’ll look wistfully back on your childhood and realize that you never had it as good as you did during those years. If I were trying to explain human existence to aliens, it’d be mandatory to include a film that looks at childhood. Ideally, such a film would include the wonder that a child feels in their first experiences. It would also include innocence and naïveté. And the perfect selection would also juxtapose children against adult morality, to accentuate child-like qualities. There are a lot of films that come close, but none fit the bill as well for me as The Spirit of the Beehive (1973). Six year old Ana believes that her very own celluloid monster, Frankenstein, has come to life in Franco-era Spain. But she isn’t afraid. She’s fascinated, misguided, and naïve, mistaking a thief for the beast. It’s the perfect film to illustrate what childhood is all about.
Adulthood and employment follow childhood (and puberty, but hey- I only have five films that I can show). Even the best jobs can wear a person down. Performing the same tasks again and again for years can be a mind-numbing task. Even those who don’t experience a mental collapse must frantically work to stay ahead of the technological curve, mastering all of the constantly changing machinery that helps them ply their craft. The absurdity of the situation is enough to make you laugh. And everything I wrote perfectly describes one movie- Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936). That’s my second selection.
If nothing else, we’re on this earth to propagate the species. This aspect of human existence alone encapsulates so much about our experiences. It can be wonderful, it can be amusing, it can be stressful when it’s not happening, and it can be outlandish. It’s also one of the best damned ways to pass the time. People will do some insane and hilarious things when sexuality is on the line. The film that best captures the varied experiences of adult sexuality is Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) (1972).
Explaining human existence to aliens is no easy task. Humans haven’t even mastered explaining it to other humans. And I’m down to just two films to explain mankind to extraterrestrials, with two very important themes left. The first is religion, a social institution that constantly evolves through mankind’s definitions. Frankly, without any frame of reference for faith, religious behavior would look completely irrational and bizarre to an alien. Yet it’s a widely accepted part of life. And it’s been such a colossal motivator for human behavior throughout time. People suppress behavior deemed immoral lest they be labeled as heretics. As it turns out, one film in particular delves deeply into the definitions of heresy through the years, as well as the bizarre behavior (without the framework of faith) that religion can inspire. That film is Luis Buñuel’s The Milky Way (1969), my fourth selection.
Death is a natural, irrefutable fact of life. The afterlife has inspired mankind’s curiosity through almost all of recorded history. No other film deals with death with as much brutal honesty as Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957). Antonius Block’s furious soul-searching is amazingly universal. To punctuate the universality of the experience, Bergman’s reaper harvests artists and warriors (crusaders in this case), husbands and wives, the young and the old, the faithless and the faithful. Just like taxes, nobody escapes death. Therefore, my fifth and final film is Bergman’s masterpiece.