Danish auteur Nicolas Winding Refn is the perfect example of “style over substance”. Known for his neo-noir spectacles like Drive, Refn has been a divisive figure for critics. While some have celebrated him for his artificially aesthetic vision, others have denounced the director due to his visual tendencies, which is often described as art for art’s sake.
While talking about his entry into the world of cinema, Refn revealed: “I guess it started with television. I moved to New York when I was eight years old, in 1978. I grew up in Manhattan. I couldn’t speak any English and I had dyslexia, so it took me many years before I could read. But what was amazing to me was that — besides the tall buildings, there was television. The idea of having multiple channels that could show many different things. It was like a kaleidoscope of images.”
Adding, “I became very obsessed with the idea of a screen, especially one that I could control. I could control the visuals by turning the channels. My mother and stepfather were documentary filmmakers, and of course had a very healthy Scandinavian mentality. When it came to cinema, my mother was very obsessed with the French New Wave. That was her generation. She also had photographs of Miles Davis and all those people. So how do you rebel? The two things that my mother really detested were American violent entertainment and Ronald Reagan.”
After Refn picked up the coveted Best Director prize at Cannes for Drive, he sat down with Criterion to talk about the masterpieces that influenced him on his journey as a filmmaker. For those who are familiar with Refn’s work, it will probably come as a surprise that the filmmaker did not include Texas Chain Saw Massacre in his top 10 since he regularly cites the slasher gem as a significant source of inspiration.
In a separate interview, Refn maintained that it was this film that taught him to rebel against the high art of the French New Wave: “When I saw Texas Chain Saw Massacre, I realised: I don’t want to be a director, I don’t want to be a writer, I don’t want to be a producer, I don’t want to be a photographer, I don’t want to be an editor, I don’t want to be a sound man. I want to be all of them at once. And that film proved that you can do it because that movie is not a normal movie.”
Take a look at the full list of Nicolas Winding Refn’s ten favourite films of all time below.
Nicolas Winding Refn names his 10 favourite films:
- Tokyo Drifter (Seijun Suzuki – 1966)
- The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo – 1966)
- Vampyr (Carl Theodor Dreyer – 1932)
- The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton – 1955)
- Videodrome (David Cronenberg – 1983)
- Flesh for Frankenstein (Paul Morrissey – 1973)
- Sweet Smell of Success (Alexander Mackendrick – 1957)
- My Life as a Dog (Lasse Hallström – 1985)
- Beauty and the Beast (Jean Cocteau – 1946)
- Branded to Kill (Seijun Suzuki – 1967)
The Danish filmmaker said that Charles Laughton’s seminal 1955 film The Night of the Hunter can expose the audience to the true potential of the cinematic medium.
Refn said: “The Night of the Hunter is a perfect example of the strength of cinema, in which an image can say a thousand words, whereas in literature a word cannot show a thousand images.”