Friday, June 10, 2016


Okay, I promised a while back that I would do another "By Request" Top Ten List, and now we're doing it. It's been awhile since I've done one of these, and while I do tend to think, we are way, way, too list-obsessed, especially in the world of the pop culture critics and obsessives like me and most of my readers, especially regarding in the cinephile worlds. That said, we'll I'm an Aquarius, we basically run everything creative-based and we are list-obsessed freaks, or at least I am. That said, I took request, for different Top Ten List ideas, 'cause, everybody freakin' makes them, so I'm looking for lists of things that nobody's made yet, or only a few have made. I posted a call for such requests in several FB groups, sorry, Twitter, I didn't get around to you this time, and took the best 4 responses and put a poll out, asking which one would everybody want to see a TOP TEN LIST of. Mostly, what I found was that, asking for different Top Ten lists lead to some really insipid and obnoxious ideas for lists, or sometimes you just come up with surprisingly very ordinary ideas for lists, so that's an interesting balance to try and manipulate. Anyway, the results ended in... A TIE. Yep, equal amounts of votes for TOP TEN ROAD FILMS and the one I'm gonna do here, the TOP TEN FILMS THAT BUILT THEIR OWN MYTHOLOGY FOR THE WORLD OF FILM. Don't worry, I'll do Top Ten Road Movies at a later date, I swear.

Besides, this is a more interesting idea for a list anyway. "Mythology for the world of film." So, what exactly does that mean? Well, um-uh, um... (Deep breath) I'm gonna have to talk about J.R.R. Tolkien again, aren't I? Okay, this is a bit subjective, but before we discuss film mythology, we got to discuss actual mythology and what that is, and basically, mythology, at it's core, is a collection of stories, than in essence, well-, the simple term is that they explain the ways thing are, that's not entirely true, but yeah, they are the collection of stories, fairy tales, local legend, or whatnot, the ones we're most familiar with involve gods, or son of gods, but they're everybody knows and gets ingrained into the culture, as basically they're original stories, in many cases, these are in fact, their origin stories. Now, from the time when Christianity basically took over, at least in Europe, stories created after that, I guess you would call modern literature. Now, a lot of this included the Middle Ages, where, not much writing was happening, but eventually that changed, and you could argue that at a certain point, other pieces of literature started to crop up and naturally form their own place in the popular consciousness, but it'd be hard to call them mythology. Much of those works are often influenced from previous works, including mythology and the classics, and mostly reflected modern times, if not literally, then probably symbolically.

So, then there's Tolkien. (Sigh) Tolkien, and I guess you can say, others, King Arthur mythology perhaps, C.S. Lewis, etc. but, Tolkein, when he was creating "Lord of the Rings", his main objective was to create, I think it's supposed to be a Christian allegory, but he wanted to create a story like that, through the guise of the tactics of mythology.  What he inevitably created was, the fantasy genre, which is basically taking the structures and devices of mythology and transporting them to a fictional universe or world, that's takes iconography from the more recent past, but is creating it's own narrative. Trying to create something, outside of all of the modern influences, literature-wise.

So, when we're talking about films creating mythology, for films, basically we're talking about, films that are essentially creating the origin tales, of the medium. These are the pieces of art, the films that create the mythologies of film, the same way, they created the myths, of the art form. The stories, the archetypes, the lessons, the tales from the medium of film that are so synonymous to us, that in fact, they're essentially, the stories, that represent or define us, the same way that, the stories of original mythology represented, the Greeks, Romans, Norse, any other regional world essentially. This can be tricky, so I'm gonna make a ruling on what counts here. For one, thing, since this is the art form of film, I'm gonna disqualify anything that's adapted from a previous art-form. I want to look solely at films and film stories that are exclusively created for and by the medium of film. That's gonna eliminate a lot admittedly, but that's probably for the best. Mythology is supposed to be original and outside of modern influences as much as possible, and in this case, created specifically for the world of film, so yeah, that eliminates quite a bit, but I think it helps.

Okay, that's the standard we're on, films that created/built their own mythology in the world of film. So, let's see how this turns out. Alright, let's do it. We're counting down:


NUMBER 10: One of the reasons I'm disqualifying anything that is based on a previous piece of literature or text, likely directly based at least, is because the whole point of creating mythology is that you're essentially creating an archetype, at least for film. Now, this is beyond, difficult, pretty much impossible in the greater scheme, everything sorta based on something to some extent, and you know there's only so many stories, and plots, and everything's a variation, blah, blah, blah, so this is why I'm looking at film and the history of the medium, to try and figure out what was, truly original within the medium of film, although, not just for the medium of film, because while there's quite a few new archetypes that were created in film. New worlds, that hadn't really been seen before, or at least seen in the mainstream. New kinds of heroes; heroes for specific groups and peoples that, we just hadn't seen them have heroes before.

10. "Foxy Brown" (1974)

Okay, this is definitely a bit of cheating, "Foxy Brown" is not the first blaxploitation hero, she's not even the first blaxploitation heroine, that Pam Grier played, but, this is the most iconic and remembered character, the one we associate Pam Grier with, and for that matter, I consider it the best of her films. For all intensive, Foxy Brown is a female African-American superhero, complete with weapons, skills, and being a vigilante, a particular skillset at getting revenge on those who wrong her. And unlike, even some of her other characters like "Coffy", she's not even devoted to a man so much. Okay, wronging her in a relationships do usually leads to revenge, but she's not in it to be or find a man, she's probably not even really capable of love. Yes, there had been strong independent women before, but usually it's in the comparison to the typical placement of women in society at the time. "Foxy Brown" was a product of the feminist revolution, and brought up in a post-"Black Panthers" world. I think you can maybe point to similar characters, most of them coming from previous pieces of literature, and I guess there's people like Bruce Lee or some others who came up, but they weren't performers, they didn't necessarily create a character, but I think the most unique and original that came out of this era, and arguably the most important and most long-lasting. If creating a mythology in film is creating unique and original heroes that we hadn't seen before, than "Foxy Brown"'s gotta be up here.

NUMBER 9: Okay, when you're creating a myth, you're creating a story, and essentially, you're trying to pass off this story, as important, so important that it's apart of the culture of the background. Well, the problem with doing that in modern times is that, well, there's history. Thousands of years of recorded history to fall back on, so much of the time, the myth that one's trying to pass off, loses it's intended luster when you put it up against fact and the past. So, what happens, is now an awkward attempt to try to pass off the mythology as though it were history, now you wouldn't think that would work, it's not unprecedented at all. It's basically a whole subsection of mythology and we call it, propaganda.

9. The Battleship Potemkin (1925)

I know, this is a bit of an easy cop-out pick, I'm not even particularly found of "The Battleship Potemkin" myself; I far prefer Eisenstein's other works like "Ivan the Terrible Part I" and "Alexander Nevsky", but after I thought about it for awhile, I couldn't really deny this one. It's images, with Eisenstein's influential montage editing techniques, creating a depiction of a people's revolution are so ingrained, or were so at the time, that the infamous Odessa Steps sequence, was written into history books, despite the fact that it actually never happened. There's a lot in this movie that plays fast-and-loose with the "based on true events" part of Soviet history. Analytically of course, none of that matters, it's not supposed to document history, it's creating history. You can probably pick one or two other movies is Eisenstein's work that do this combination of history and mythology, and there's probably one or two other things I'm forgetting as well, but most of them are more artistic pieces. Eisenstein can be artistic, but he was definitely at his most influential during films like this or "October" and some of his other "historical" films. I don't know if it's the most impressive uses of propaganda to rewrite history and create a mythology, but it's definitely the most effective and historically important. It's kinda hard to ignore it, and it's certainly more palatable and interesting than say, "Triumph of the Will", or even "The Birth of a Nation". Yeah, not the greatest defense, but you can't really do a list like this, without at least one Eisenstein mention. Of course, the guy invented so much about editing that it's basically impossible to make a movie without making an Eisenstein reference, so.... (Shrugs)

NUMBER 8: Spoilers, animation is gonna show up on this list, multiple times. It's kinda inevitable, Mythology itself, especially in the Ancient Greek or Rome, it's so full of eh, for lack of a better term, magic, that it rarely, if ever comes off as believable especially in live-action. It's not always necessarily bad, although it can be exceptionally bad at times, "Immortals", "Hercules" comes to mind, but in order to really, really see mythology done well, and great, and to it's fullest extent, it's probably not gonna be done in a medium, that allows for the natural instinct to create entire universes and worlds out of the greatest and most imaginative minds possible.

8. Princess Mononoke (1999)

I've written on Hayao Miyzaki's "Princess Mononoke" before, it's in my Canon of Film, the link is below:

it won't be the only film of Miyzaki's to get into the Canon, but yeah, if this is a question about what film, truly represents the best that mythology has ever been portrayed on film, than "Princess Mononoke" would've easily been number one. Yeah, it's historical, it's  a parable for a changing world, there's a lot about the Japanese Iron Age but that's good, mythology is about telling the story of the way things are and how we got there, and it might involve a world of gods and superanimals, at war with humans who have just developed weapons like ammunition. It's also complex the real world, it's not so simplistic as, good guy, bad guy either. Few films are really as rich and fulfilling and it's one of the few that really makes me feel good about mythology in a movie. It's like, what "The Odyssey" or "The Iliad" should feel like watching on screen is as oppose to reading it.

NUMBER 7: (Whistling "Steamboat Bill")

7. "Steamboat Willie" (1928)

Told you there'd be more animation. I originally was gonna cheat and put "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" number one, not only because, in a sense, it didn't just happen to be the first animated feature film, but also because, no other film, one could argue created and solidified the Disney brand. Mythology is after all, an origin story and the origins of the most infamous and recognizable brand in Hollywood, by it's most honored filmmaker and producer, it's almost too big to ignore the fact that it's an adaptation of the Brothers Grimm. Besides, sampling and reinventing others work is basically as much apart of the Disney mythology as anything, but I decided thought not to cheat, so I decided to go with the backup Disney choice, the first Mickey Mouse cartoon, "Steamboat Willie". It will not be the only film on this list that will be noted for being the first full depiction of a major figure and image in the medium of film. Might not even be the only one that's animated in fact.

NUMBER 6: Some of you might be surprised that there isn't a western on this list, I did try to think of one, but I really struggled narrowing it down to one particular western film. I mean, the myth of the American west, that is a great myth, but it wasn't created or developed over one film, it was created and developed over hundreds. A lot of the reason for that is that, we were just out of the wild west, and once filmmaking moved to Hollywood the wild west was right there, and they used it for all they could until they ran out of stories, and then, used it for all these stories again and again. And again. And again, and when they really ran all out of stories, they-eh, well, they decided to start borrowing stories from somewhere else.

6. "Seven Samurai" (1956)

Originally titled, "The Magnificent Seven", "Seven Samurai" is not even my favorite Kurosawa movie that got adapted into a western, that would be "Yojimbo", (Although that got remade, ironically not in America, but in Italy as a spaghetti western strangely enough) but there's something else about "Seven Samurai" that trumps that film. it's plot and story, were actually original. It's hard to believe, but as far as film, this was the first feature that was created that used the plotpoint of getting a group of disparaging people together to fight a common enemy. I know, that sounds like it would've been more common, but as far as I've been told, this was the first version of that story, that's in some respects has now been retold multiple times over. Hell, it's most famous retelling, led to the movie's title getting officially changed. It also helped that this is  period piece, that takes place in the Samurai era, an era that already seems mythic even if it isn't, and "Seven Samurai" is grand in scope and execution. Clocking in at well over 3 1/2 hours, "Seven Samurai", feels mythic and large. Plus, it's telling, what is essentially, a David and Goliath story; it's more of a tale of war than a simple story of an underdog triumphing over. So, in terms of an original story, one that's so simple and brilliant it's repeated over and over, and has become apart of our culture, as well as being, simply a great epic and mythic tale, "Seven Samurai", have more than earned their spot as a film that's built their own mythology in/through the medium of film.

NUMBER 5: Okay, I know it's common now, but it's kinda shocking how late in very recent history did literature on all fronts really came around to the idea of, well, the teenager. Yeah, teenagers do not show up often in literature, and if they do, it's not usually the greatest or most accurate depiction of youth culture. For one, teenagers as youths is a new phenomenon. I mean, nowadays you read "Romeo and Juliet" and you think of them as two ridiculous kids, but it wasn't that unusual for kids that young, to say, meet one day and then very suddenly get married. I mean, they didn't usually have a longtime family grudge keeping them apart, and a husband that revenge-kills his brother-in-law and...-, "Romeo and Juliet"'s weird. Anyway, teenage youth, culture, thoughts, the idea that, those are even things, is really new, even the early days of cinema didn't catch on to this idea much. Cinema was often produced, to cater to everyone, so there'd be like, a short film, a newsreel, the cartoon, and a double-feature that would usually not be too realistic or dramatic, and teenagers, would at best be a side character, that maybe instigates the actions of adults under the best of circumstances, and frankly even teen culture, as a concept or a sociological construct, it's pretty new. So, when did that happen and why did that change? Well, the baby boomers generation had a lot to do about it, and in the fifties when suddenly there were more teenagers, and things like television and especially rock'n'roll caught their attention, then suddenly, we would have a youth culture, an age between childhood and adulthood that suddenly was making their voice heard. And what did they say? Well, after decades and generations, of their perspective not really being shared or seen, or heard, to the greater world of adults, they were screaming that, they felt, well, alienated.

5. Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

I guess technically there's other things I could've picked here, to represent the sudden stirring revelation that youth culture was now about to create it's own myth of disenfranchisement, "The Blackboard Jungle" comes to mind, but that really wasn't from the perspective of the youth. There's some rock'n'roll movies, and then of course, there's the Beach Blanket movies, but, um, yeah, I'm not exactly in the right place and state of mind to defend those. And I guess there's "The 400 Blows", if we're really stretching it, but I don't know, if I put that in, and say didn't put "The Bicycle Thief" in, I might get into some trouble, and besides that was social outcry, not image, myth, iconography, it wasn't depicting something new, it was shining a light on a social ill. That's the beauty and tragedy of "Rebel Without a Cause" that really epitomizes it to myth-like status. It's about the, well, the poster says it, the bad boy from a good family. Hell, the "family" dynamics of each of it's main characters, or lack thereof in Sal Mineo's characters case, is a huge part of the angst and anger they feel, as misguided as it may or may not be. There's a beauty in it in fact. A sadness that you're in a world where, there's utterly no reason to act out or get angry or be unhappy, but you're still unhappy and you don't know how to react to that dilemma. I've already written on this film too, my Canon of Film post on it is, here:

but Director Nicholas Ray, really is sorta the first major director who looked at and really brought up these ideas of alienation and being ostracized by society, and looked at it as a mental issue, a character flaw you could say, like in "In a Lonely Place" but James Dean's iconic character, he's confused, sad, but he's not necessarily flawed, the world itself is what he sees as flawed, and it's his ability to see how the world's fucked up and his inability to do anything to solve it, is what creates that myth that's survived, and has evolved now, over new generations and new generations of youth, each new one, evolved from this original one. Nicholas Ray is one of the most underrated directors of all-time.

NUMBER 4: (Deep breath) Okay, you all knew this one was coming, let's get it over with now, just play the score. (John Williams score for "Star Wars" plays)

4. "Star Wars" (1977)

Alright, if this was a personal mythology list based on the mythologies in film that had an impact on me, "Star Wars" would not have even made the list. If this was a strictly look at what piece of film mythology might be the most popular and influential, "Star Wars" would probably be number one. I ended up placing it fourth, although honestly, I barely remember what the hell happens in this damn thing and it doesn't have the effect on me that apparently it had on others. That's not to say I hate it, I actually don't, I think the original trilogy is really good, and the last film was okay, if not great and hell, I've seen "The Phantom Menace" and I didn't hate it the way others seem to do, but no, I can't say, personally "Star Wars" has ever had a real impact on me. That said, it does create it's own mythology. It's a pulling together of other space opera type stories, sure, but those stories were ancient, even at the time, and were considered child's play at the time, they were never told this well and with this much fun and seriousness. It is a real epic drama, it is a universe that's full of myth, folklore, religion, even. This is all a creation of mythology, through the guise of science-fantasy, and it holds up as that. It's probably more Biblical in inspiration than mythology-inspired at least compared to something like, "Princess Mononoke" for instance, but for whatever reason "Star Wars" captured the public consciousness like no other universe that's been created for film. It does sorta pain me that this is a franchise that's known as much for the branding of their product over dozens and dozens and dozens of other products, but that's a modern day thing, and one concession stand devoted to that is fine, especially for something that makes it a point of being cloaked in the long, long, time ago. Mythology does often get made out of fragments of other stories and cultures that get integrated into the world, so in many/all those senses, "Star Wars" is probably the most perfect example of mythology being told through the prism of film.

NUMBER 3: One of my biggest complaints about the fantasy genre is that supposedly, anything can happen in the universes of fantasy, and therefore anything can happen, since it is fantasy. Now, since fantasy was invented as an attempt to use the tools and tactics of mythology storytelling, they can point to mythology as the precedent/excuse for fantasy's ability to, essentially create universes without rules or sciences. Now, one, mythology gets away with a lot because they are actually mythological tales and are origin stories, and representations of the cultural sociological context of the era and not, made up attempts to create your own parables using the guise of mythology, but secondly, that's not actually true. There are rules and sciences in most mythological tales, and only certain things can and do happen in their stories, and when something more fantastical does happen, there's perfectly acceptable reasons. Okay, most of the reasons are, there are gods doing all this crazy shit, 'cause most of them are absolute assholes, but still, there's a groups of beings, up on the highest mountain, they look down on us, they sometimes get involved, etc. etc., there's a structure and order to the Gods, and a ranking system of hierarchy, blah, blah, blah, but it's actually well-thought out, well, well-though out enough to say, no, this isn't just things being made up randomly. And that's why a lot of fantasy bugs me, there aren't rules, so, A. there's no drama, since you need limits and rules of the universe in order to build stakes, but B., it's really a cop-out for lazy writing. If you're going to create a universe, even a mythological, you need to have strict rules and guidelines of what can and can't happen in them. And yes, sometimes you actually need to write it down.

3. "Looney Tunes"/"Merry Melodies" (1930-1969)

Okay, I'm absolutely cheating by not narrowing it down to one particular "Looney Tunes" or "Merry Melodies" short cartoon, but if you actually want to look at an entirely created universe, for film that's consistent in following it's own rules and logic, well, "Looney Tunes". And I'm ranking this higher, partly because Chuck Jones was famous for having written down many of the rules of law of the universe of Looney Tunes world, particularly after he invented Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner, but that's the thing, even more than the creation of Mickey Mouse, and Donald Duck and many of their cohorts, no collection of animated characters have absolutely integrated themselves into the collective consciousness. I mean, where do you begin to narrow this down, the first Merry Melodies? The first official "Looney Tunes" cartoon, the first Bugs Bunny cartoon, which btw, is the one I posted in the Youtube clip above, "A Wild Hare", but believe it or not, Bugs Bunny wasn't the first Looney Tunes, Porky Pig and Daffy Duck actually predate him. It's also impossible to narrow down a single filmmaker, 'cause as much as Chuck Jones did for "Looney Tunes", you could argue, Tex Avery or Jed Clampett or Harman & Ising or Fritz Freling probably did just as much if not more to helping create the universe. The original run of the theatrical franchise ran for almost forty years, and there's no counting how many dozens of future adaptations have been created from them since, there's no underestimating the impact that the Looney Tunes universe has had on the art of film. Hell, it's goes farther beyond film than any other film on this list. Hell, the more I'm talking about it, maybe I should've put it higher? Hmm, maybe. But for now, I think it's important that "Looney Tunes" be placed in this stratosphere for what they did. Hell, it's probably the mythological universe that most of you readers are familiar with in terms of movies, and you know what, that's absolutely the best part about them.

NUMBER 2: So, what the hell does top "Looney Tunes", in terms of creating their own mythology for film? Well, as popular as Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse are, there's actually one major character in film history that's more universally recognized than both of them. One that's more iconic and arguably more influential. What can make somebody so widespread that would make them even more famous than Bugs and Mickey? Well, it helps to have worldwide acclaim when you're able to communicate with the rest of the world, and most of the rest of the rest of the world doesn't speak the same singular language, so, it helps if you can do it without talking.

2. "The Tramp" (1915)

The highest-ranked short film on this list, and yes, I'm a little surprised I had as many as I did, but it doesn't belong to a cartoon, it instead belongs to Charlie Chaplin. The Little Tramp is the most famous film character in the world, and it's the earliest entry on this list. He's so recognized as The Tramp, that it's actually shocking for some to realize that he didn't always play that character. In shorts like "One A.M." or "The Cure" for instance, he's playing a rich aristocratic drunk character, one that originally made him famous in the London Dance Halls, but it was his Tramp character that became the most iconic and most recognizable, it was his clear go-to character. For most of his career, if he wasn't playing The Tramp, then he was probably playing some variation on him, (Most famous variation, I'd argue is in "The Great Dictator"). Now, I could've technically picked any one of many short films, where he portrayed the character, but I decided on his Essanay film "The Tramp", because I'd argue that, while you can look at earlier shorts with the Tramp character and see the beginnings of a character being formed, "The Tramp" was really the first film that epitomizes everything that we consider as being associated with "The Tramp". Poor, but finds a well-off girl, who's in danger, needs his help, befriends and protects from danger he gets injured in the process, she helps him, he falls in love with her, but she wants another and he leaves, without her having realize how much she cared about him, or that he cares so much about her. It's funny, and tragic at the same time, speaks of the lowly working class, it's basically the ideal story about who The Tramp is. The Pathos, the comedy, the sadness of the character, the hopefulness of the character, etc. I consider it the first movie that had all these elements of "The Tramp" and therefore, the base of all the other portrayals of his afterwards, so this is the beginning and hence, why I'm ranking it so high. I guess there might be similar characters in literature to "The Tramp" but none that are as distinctively of the film medium. He's the most famous and most iconic character of silent film, portrayed by the most famous and iconic actor/star of the era, and directed arguably it's most famous filmmaker as well, and arguably film's first true auteur. The mythology of "The Tramp" in short, probably is cinema.

(Drumroll ends.)

Tale as old as time. (Hums, song)
Song as old as rhyme (Hums song)
Beaut-ty and the.... okay that myth is not exactly new. In fact it's quite ancient, and there's numerous films based on the "Beauty and the Beast" myth, some straight re-tellings others are more subjective re-imaginings, hell, I've already added two filmed versions of "Beauty and the Beast" into the Canon of Film. Well, here's the thing, something film doesn't necessarily do well is create a truly seminal story in the world of literature, and this film, since it is "Beauty and the Beast" isn't necessarily different, except, the way they went about telling it, and what the focus is on. How it's told, and this films tells is, kinda rewrote the way we think about the core story. In fact, I've heard some argue that, this movie basically reinvented a new form of a love story, one that I've heard multiple times being referenced in literature analysis classes as a seminal story, and it's a film story. Oh, I was wrong, I actually have three "Beauty and the Beast" stories in my Canon of Film.

1. King Kong (1933)

Yeah, after I thought about this awhile, and considered numerous other movies, I think it's pretty clear that the most important and biggest film that created it's mythology in the medium of film, is "King Kong". I mean, it makes sense, what's more iconic. The ape that falls in love with poor Ann Darrow, which is Fay Wray's character's name although nobody remembers that, and his attempts to show his love, of her, for her, and too her, led to his capture, and escape and yes, some very dumb humans who went out to the jungle, searching for him only to bring him to New York and put him on display, but that's irrelevant, it's about that image, of him, on top of the Empire State Building, and fighting off the planes, from the air, until he's unable to. The poor ape, who's got the emotions for a human, but is unable to navigate the world he's in, and that's both the humans and the ape's problem that ends is disaster, that ends in Beauty killing the Beast. How seminal is this myth? We can't even think about the Empire State Building without it. Plus, you gotta remember that this was the event movie of the time, using the highest technical special effects of the time, this was what film was created for, the ability to show images on the screen, that we couldn't, wouldn't be able to see in real life. It's almost shocking and disturbing just how much of film over the last 80 years can be traced back to "King Kong", that's not even including the numerous sequels, remakes, not-to-mention copycat films about foreign species falling in love with a woman, plus, every big budget special effects extravaganza, basically is trying to be "King Kong", or recreate it. "King Kong" the seminal story of cinema and the #1 truly film piece of art that created it's own mythology.

There you go, hope you all enjoyed this list. And to quote the legendary Porky Pig,...

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