“I feel I’m writing for everyone. Just they haven’t discovered it yet. I’ll be six feet under – but they will.” – Scott Walker.
Scott Walker absorbed all that culture had to offer as ravenously as any artist ever and spewed it back out for our benefit in his brilliant musical splurge. The cinematic scope of his songs, literary songwriting style and creative wisdom was all borne from his private pursuit of passions away from the glare of the spotlight.
As he said himself, “I live the life of a recluse not out of choice or any mistaken notion that I am creating an image or sympathy for myself, but because this is the way I am.” Adding a year later, “When they throw me out on to a TV set or a stage, it’s like putting a hermit who has lived all his life in isolation suddenly in the middle of Times Square.”
However, he didn’t just benevolently unspool all that soaked-up closed-door culture in his music; he also simply signposted the way towards the works that had stirred him. This came to the fore in 2000 when the enigmatic star curated the Meltdown Festival at the Southbank Centre that married music and movies.
On the musical side of things, Radiohead, Blur, Jarvis Cocker, Jim O’Rourke, Evan Parker and the Ensemble Organum were all among the artists to grace the stage. Alongside which were 13 of Walker’s all-time favourite films. Walker remarked to BFI: “Film is really an obsession with me. These films are mostly European because that’s what I’m interested in.”
The first of the films on the stars eclectic list was The Shanghai Gesture. The 1941 Josef von Sternberg movie is an adaptation of John Colton’s classic play and stylistically explores the Hollywood melodrama of warring casino owners and the enigmatic head of the Shanghai, Mother Gin Sling. All of the glitzy bravura that Walker exhibited in his own work is on display in this early cinematic pursuit.
Next on the list is the Robert Bresson film A Man Escaped. In an interview with Jarvis Cocker regarding the acclaimed French filmmaker and former painter, Walker remarked: “When I see his films, it’s a visual version of what I want to get. He never uses real actors. If a person is laying down their hand, he just wants to know a human being is laying down their hand. It’s the phenomenon of being human.”
Another prime example of the sort of European experimental film that Walker devoured is the controversial Miklós Jancsó’s Hungarian picture The Round-Up. When the film was first released in 1965 and eventually made its way to the London art-house scene, Walker was instantly enamoured. As he told the Guardian: “I went six nights running. I absolutely loved it!” Adding: “It’s so obscure that it seemed the only way I could get to see it was to programme it for Meltdown!”
One of the much less obscure films from the sixties era that makes Walker’s selection is the Ingmar Bergman classic Persona. Throughout his career, Walker shared a very clear kinship with the director, having transposed his movie The Seventh Seal into a bombastic track of the same name. With a billowing orchestral scope and almost Morricone-esque minor key scoring, tackled the idea of a loss of faith played out in surreal analogy in sonic form.
Perhaps the most accessible choice in Walker’s curated selection was the Martin Scorsese crime epic Casino. The tale of greed, deception and the corrupting power of cash shares a similar soundtrack to the sound that Walker propagated by coupling classical tones with the visceral edge of rock ‘n’ roll.
It is also worth noting that Walker’s relationship with cinema runs both ways, with the late star’s music featuring in everything from Bronson and The Aquatic to Robert Redford’s triumphant finale in The Old Man & The Gun.
You can check out his full selection below.
Scott Walker’s 13 favourite films of all time:
- The Shanghai Gesture – Josef von Sternberg (1941)
- A Man Escaped – Robert Bresson (1956)
- The Leopard – Luchino Visconti (1963)
- Gertrud – Carl Theodor Dreyer (1964)
- The Round-Up – Miklós Jancsó (1965)
- The Rise to Power of Louis XIV – Roberto Rossellini (1966)
- Hunger – Henning Carlsen (1966)
- Persona – Ingmar Bergman (1966)
- Chinese Roulette – Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1976)
- Passion – Jean-Luc Godard (1982)
- Take Care of Your Scarf, Tatiana – Aki Kaurismäki (1994)
- Casino – Martin Scorsese (1995)
- Drifting Clouds – Aki Kaurismäki (1996)