[Editor’s note: This list is part of our “Fifty Days, Fifty Lists” series. For the to-date collected listing, see “Why Lists?” here on Keyframe.]
Filmmakers love the islands for their natural drama and raised stakes; whether viewed as paradise or prison, the island is always at the edge of what’s possible. Postwar cinema is littered with films in which characters’ existential struggles literally places them at sea. Here are a few of the best:
1. Isle of the Dead (1945)
One of the less celebrated of Val Lewton’s essential RKO productions, Isle of the Dead nonetheless strikes his characteristic notes of melancholic morbidity. An aging Boris Karloff plays a general in the First Balkan War tasked with maintaining a quarantine order over a plague-infested island.
2. The Naked City (1948)
Perhaps no other film noir makes so much of Manhattan’s enclosure as Jules Dassin’s semi-documentary, which concludes with the immortal voiceover narration: “There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.” Less than ten years later, Guy Debord would nick the title for his situationist map of Paris.
4. Godzilla (1954)
Godzilla first stomps through the fictive Odo Island, but Hiroshima and Nagasaki are never far from mind in this seemingly inexhaustible myth of atomic-age anxiety.
5. Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959)
Time itself strands the lovers of Alain Resnais’ early masterpiece as they circle the ruined remains of Hiroshima.
7. Naked Island (1960)
Criticized at the time for its overly lyrical portrayal of the hard lot of island farmers, Kaneto Shindô’s sublime aestheticism now seems prescient in light of subsequent documentary hybrids.
8. Through a Glass Darkly (1961)
The first of Ingmar Bergman’s films set on Faro, the remote island he would call home for the rest of his life, Through a Glass Darkly’s austere chamber drama anticipates later masterpieces of the island mind including Persona (1966) and Scenes from a Marriage (1973).
9. Lord of the Flies (1963)
Theater director Peter Brook famously took a semi-documentary approach to his adaptation of William Golding’s dystopic fantasy, establishing his amateur cast on the island of Vieques the better to envision the novel’s timeless dissolution.
10. Contempt (1963)
Jean-Luc Godard described the characters of his sun-drenched 1963 epic as “survivors of the shipwreck of modernity,” and there’s no doubt he counted himself among their number. The scenes on Capri remain savagely beautiful, a spray of bright blues to balance the vicious counterattack on the business of cinema.