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Christopher Nolan presents...

July 2017

Films that inspired director Christopher Nolan’s new release Dunkirk.

Introduction by Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan presents


“I hope you will enjoy the rare opportunity of seeing these incredible movies in their original analogue glory”
Christopher Nolan

You might expect a season of films leading up to a screening of Dunkirk to be a selection of war movies. But I chose to approach Dunkirk more as survival story than war film. One look at James Jones’ essay on ‘Phony War Films’ (in which he takes down several of my old favourites) immediately shows you the perils of taking on real-life combat in a dramatic motion picture. In Jones’ estimation All Quiet on the Western Front said it first and best: war dehumanises. Revisiting that masterpiece it is hard to disagree that the intensity and horror have never been bettered. For me, the film demonstrates the power of resisting the convention of finding meaning and logic in individual fate.

Most of the other films in this series fall into two different, but overlapping categories. From established classics of tension like The Wages of Fear and Alien through to the more recent ticking-clock nail-biters Speed and Tony Scott’s final film, the relentless Unstoppable, our season explores the mechanics and uses of suspense to modulate an audience’s response to narrative.

Other titles explore the possibilities of purely visual storytelling, whether literally, in the case of the silent epics – Stroheim’s Greed and Murnau’s Sunrise – or in part, like the thrilling windswept beaches and crashing waves of Ryan’s Daughter. The relationship of geographical spectacle to narrative and thematic drive in these works is extraordinary and inspiring. Pure cinema.

The Battle of Algiers is a timeless and affecting verité narrative, which forces empathy with its characters in the least theatrical manner imaginable. We care about the people in the film simply because we feel immersed in their reality and the odds they face.

The visual splendour, intertwined narratives and aggressively anachronistic music of Hugh Hudson’s Chariots of Fire combined to create a masterpiece of British understatement whose popularity rapidly obscured its radical nature.

Finally, no examination of cinematic suspense and visual storytelling would be complete without Hitchock, and his technical virtuosity in Foreign Correspondent’s portrayal of the downing of a plane at sea provided inspiration for much of what we attempted in Dunkirk.

All the films are screened on 35mm or 70mm prints. I hope you will enjoy the rare opportunity of seeing these incredible movies in their original analogue glory, as nature intended.


See the preview of Dunkirk + extended introduction by director Christopher Nolan.

See our Cult strand.

Synopses by Justin Johnson and BFI programmers.


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