Photo credit: Jessica Marx
My novel Innocents and Others is a book about artists, about making and engaging with art. Two filmmakers (Meadow and Carrie) are main characters. In the coming-of-age part of the book, we see them growing up and developing their artistic sensibilities through passionately engaging with films they love. Some of those films are on this list. But the most important film scenes in the novel occur in the imaginary films that these characters make and watch. In imagining these made-up films, I drew upon real-life films that I thought would influence these characters. Some of those films are also on this list. Of course, you don’t have to have seen any of these films to read the book, but scenes from them are easily found on the Internet if you are curious. And beyond that, these are all fascinating films that I think are worth watching (and watching again).
1. Red River by Howard Hawks
Meadow films her versions of old Westerns. As a little girl, I was obsessed with American Westerns. They are amazing artifacts of what post-war America thought a man needed to be. John Ireland and Montgomery Clift compare guns. John Wayne becomes a monster. And the stampede is electrifying.
2. Portrait of Jason by Shirley Clarke
Hard to see this film, but you can see part of it on YouTube. It is one camera and one person. It is impossible to resist watching him perform, seduce, and unravel.
3. Barry Lyndon by Stanley Kubrick
A film that bravely insists on its own slowness and creates its esthetic out of time and distance. It mesmerizes you with what Meadow describes in the book as “sad, immobile faces burdened by beauty and decoration and decadence.” The astonishing thing is how this seemingly distant film sneaks up on you and becomes genuinely moving.
4. Fast Times at Ridgemont High by Amy Heckerling
This was a seminal film for my character Carrie, who learns that you can smuggle in your subversion. It is very funny and yet it has a complex young woman making mistakes at the center of it. It felt revolutionary to me when I first saw it.
5. Weekend by Jean-Luc Godard
Carrie recalls seeing this movie for the first time in a film class, getting the jokes and then feeling all sorts of possibilities open up to her. A wild, ironic, and absurd film that features a famously long traffic jam.
6. Badlands by Terrence Malick
Meadow falls into a reverie watching this film about “two American kids, Kit and Holly, who calmly fall into a murder spree like it was a Sunday matinee.”
7. Gimme Shelter by Albert and David Maysles
What happens if you are making a documentary film and something terrible happens? There is a very interesting moment in which the film watches Mick Jagger watching himself in the footage of the murder. In my novel, remembering this scene gives Meadow (she thinks) a solution to her own ethical quandaries.
8. A Woman Under the Influence by John Cassavetes
A scene from this film is discussed by two of the novel’s most vulnerable characters, which makes sense because the film is a masterpiece of unsentimental empathy. Cassavetes’s attention to raw emotion and the derangement caused by deep feeling drives the film. He stays on a moment past the point of comfort. He stays until it becomes unsettling.
9. Walking and Talking by Nicole Holofcener
This film, Please Give, and Friends With Money all influenced this novel. Her focus is on women’s friendships, and she lets things be as complicated and contradictory as they are in real life. Her interrogation of money and privilege is also very interesting.
10. Killer of Sheep by Charles Burnett
It was filmed on weekends, in the streets (and in the houses) of Watts, with people from the neighborhood. Meadow teaches it to her students: “A scripted, fiction film that also contains a lot of real life, including famous extended scenes of children playing...the poverty of the neighborhood is everywhere, but Burnett treats it as something worthy of deep looking...with striking compositions and lush music.”
11. F for Fake by Orson Welles
The book opens with Meadow’s weird homage to Orson Welles. In this playful documentary/essay film about forgers and con artists, older Orson shows how revealing the trickery makes the tricks even better. It folds back on itself in the most delightful way.
12. The Act of Killing by Joshua Oppenheimer
I thought of this film and its chilling focus on perpetrators when I was making up Meadow’s imaginary documentary films.
13. The Gleaners and I by Agnès Varda
The filmmakers in the book call themselves gleaners. In this auto-documentary, Varda investigates various kinds of gleaners: people at the margins collecting and repurposing the discards of mainstream society. She connects this to her own filmmaking.
14. The Thin Blue Line by Errol Morris
This extraordinary film also influenced how I imagined Meadow solving some problems in her films. The talking subjects reveal themselves in their very different narratives of the same events.
15. Andrei Rublev by Andrei Tarkovsky
A sublime film about making art: the life of the artist, and the question of what art is for, or has been for. When she first sees it, Meadow thinks, “This is what films made in fifteenth century Russia must have looked like.”
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is the author of Innocents and Others
; Stone Arabia
, A National Books Critics Circle Award finalist; and Eat the Document
, a finalist for the National Book Award. Spiotta is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Rome Prize for Literature. She lives in Syracuse, New York.