by Tony Dayoub
Lola Montès, allow me to digress. An oft-discussed topic among cinephiliacs (where did I see it this week, Wonders in the Dark?) is the difference—if there is one—between a film labeled "best" or "favorite." As in, "Citizen Kane is the best film of all time," or, "My all-time favorite film is There Will Be Blood." I am of the opinion that "best" and "favorite" are two different animals. A movie which I label "best" is a film displaying artistic, intellectual, and technical virtuosity, yet it might not engage me on an emotional level. The White Ribbon (2009) is a great example of a film which I am happy to list as one of the best of this decade, but it leaves me cold... as it is meant to. It certainly isn't a "favorite" which I would choose to see over and over again. No, a "favorite" is a movie which I enjoy watching, sometimes even obsessively, despite any flaws in its execution. For example, David Lynch's visually stylish Lost Highway (1997) is a film which is certainly not one of his best, tends to be almost parodic in its excesses, yet appeals to me for the way it hearken's back to another noir I love, Kiss Me Deadly. Get it?
Il Conformista (The Conformist) (1970) and Coppola's The Godfather Part II (1974). They each have a complex nonlinear narrative structure, make thematic associations through montage—a visual device unique to the moving picture—are impeccably cast, perfectly written with dialogue that is not only colloquial to the characters but resonant within the subtextual framework... the list of their outstanding qualities goes on. They are also movies which I engage with so greatly that even after multiple viewings, I like spending time in their respective worlds. Food for the mind AND for the soul, these movies are.
"Lola Montès is, in my unhumble opinion, the greatest film of all time.” Wow. He really sidestepped the whole "best" vs. "favorite" argument by using the all-encompassing "greatest." Why hadn't I seen this movie yet? The reasons are many as to how this gorgeous film got lost over the years, and easy to find if you search the internet. But as for me personally, fate got in the way of my being able to see it in 2008, the first year I was invited to cover the New York Film Festival where this restored version had its premiere.
Lola Montès is available on Criterion Blu-ray and DVD, Tuesday, February 16th.