Sunday, March 6, 2022


I have thought about this question every so often, and I will be answering it in my capacity as Leigh Spence, B.A. (Hons) in Film Studies from Solent University, Southampton: what is my favourite film? 


Erm, I don’t really have one, but there are candidates for what may be my favourite film. 


This situation is borne from my taking a critical eye to absolutely everything, both in nature and by training: it was pointed out from the outside that film studies is an arts and humanities subject, and a cinema screen is as much a mirror as a blank canvas. Everything has its virtues, everything has its foibles.


There are films that serve as personal landmarks: “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” was the first film I saw at a cinema, and the “Back to the Future” trilogy (1985-90) is part of our family, right up to our seeking out the ride when it was still at Universal Studios – the real studio, not the theme park. VHS copies of Hayao Miyazaki’s “Castle in the Sky” (1986) and Disney’s “Fantasia” (1940) were present in my childhood, and I am fortunate to have been exposed to silent comedy from Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton and Laurel & Hardy from early on, particularly Lloyd dangling from a building in “Safety Last!” (1923), a film I have, of course, now have on Blu-ray.


My go-to-answer for my favourite film is usually Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” (1959), having long been a fan of his careful suspense plotting, the shadows of both pictures and character, and his style and humour – I remember a lecturer once stating that, while teaching Hitchcock’s films in a film studies degree is the most obvious thing to do, like he is the Shakespeare of film, the reason why they do teach him is because he is the Shakespeare of film which, having seen “The 39 Steps”, “Rear Window”, “Vertigo” and everything inbetween, I am inclined to agree. Ernest Lehman’s script for “North by Northwest” was deliberately a combination of all of the best Hitchcock motifs to that point, working as a perfect summation of why I like them – the fact that Hitchcock then blew this apart the following year with “Psycho” the following year is another reason for loving the director’s work, but is not as representative of his entire body of work as his previous film.


An easy metric would be for me to list the films I have watched the most times, to find a favourite there. Uniquely for me, I saw Pixar’s “Wall-E” at the cinema more than once, with the Monty Python canon, “Network” (1976), and Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” (1985) sustaining multiple home viewings. However, films I don’t like – Neil Breen’s “Twisted Pair” (2015) and my personal bête noire, “Myra Breckinridge” (1969) – have required repeated viewings just to understand what happened, both in front of my eyes and behind the scenes.


It would be very easy for me to rely on lists of best films to formulate an answer, had it not been for the British Film Institute’s journal of record, “Sight and Sound”, producing a decennial “greatest films of all time” list from a poll of hundreds of directors and critics, making for the most definitive, answer for such a subjective question. The 2012 list, asking more industry people than ever, famously had Hitchcock’s lush psycho-drama “Vertigo” (1958) knocking “Citizen Kane” (1941) off the top spot for the first time since 1962. Orson Welles’s film is undeniably the greatest debut anyone has made with a film, and remains one of the best films ever made, but it also proves that you can only decide how good a film is by taking a good twenty years to think about it. The first poll, in 1952, stuck “Citizen Kane” just outside the top dozen films, and placed Vittorio De Sica’s “Bicycle Thieves” at the top, released only four years earlier – the 2012 poll placed it at number 33, below “The Godfather Part II” (1974) and “Taxi Driver” (1976). People asking why no “Star Wars” film is on the list should notice that “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) and “Blade Runner” (1982) are there. That said, a new poll is due in 2022, so there is still time.


My most diplomatic answer to why I don’t really have a favourite film is because I have not seen every film. But I know my tastes: I will have had to search it out, it won’t be on a mainstream streaming service, it won’t be a genre film – unless “Hitchcockian suspense” is a genre - and it certainly won’t be “The Sound of Music” (1965), as I have done a good job of avoiding it up to now.

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