It should have been easy. Choose 100 films to show on BBC2 during 1995, to celebrate 100 years of cinema. Simple. Start with Citizen Kane, that's obvious, and then...what? Back through Stagecoach, Renoir, Astaire and Rogers, British Hitchcock, W C Fields, and into the silents. Chaplin, Eisenstein, Griffith, German Expressionism, Melies. And forward to take in film noir, The Best Years of our Lives, Bicycle Thieves, Italian neo-realism and David Lean. Plus Bergman, Bunuel, Fellini, Satyajit Ray, that wholeflowering of art cinema in the Fifties and early Sixties. And then all those auteurs discovered and championed by "Cahiers du Cinema" - Anthony Mann, Nicholas Ray, Samuel Fuller... Which brings us neatly to the French New Wave - Godard, Truffaut, Rohmer, Chabrol. And it's still only 1965.
But already it is not quite as straightforward as it should be. Not only are there far too many movies, but every film you include reminds you of a director, star, country or genre that you have left out. And what about documentary, animation, the avant - garde, all those areas outside the realm of feature-length narrative fiction from which you have automatically constructed the list? Plus it all gets more difficult after the Sixties, as the divisions between genre and art cinema become more blurred, dif ferent national cinemas emerge and flourish, and any real sense of what might be a "classic" movie simply evaporates.
Then there is a more practical problem: even if you can hone your wish list down to 100 films, the BBC might only own the rights to 50 of them. Of the other 50, Channel 4 might have 20 and ITV could own 10. Which would mean some substitutions and a resulting list which was an approximation of a vague critical consensus as to what might be the 100 Greatest Films Ever Made (except for the ones you have been unable to acquire). It would probably also be a list that felt safe, predictable, worthy, and possibly a bit dull.
In finally selecting the BBC 100, and after exploring various permutations in 100 BBC meetings, I decided to bite the bullet and impose a basis restriction: the list of films would be drawn only from the titles which we currently have under licence, approximately 3,500 movies. In addition, I would limit the choice to sound films, given that the BBC's Cinema Century programming included two major series about silent film. These limitations, in fact, proved hugely liberating. The BBC's library includes a large number of classic titles which effectively selected themselves, from Kane, through Les Enfants Terribles, Casablanca, The Seventh Seal and Vertigo, to Spirit of the Beehive, Badlands and beyond. But the fact that we did not own, for example, The Seventh Samurai, Les 400 Coups and 2001: a Space Odyssey, all titles which "common sense" would have been voted onto the list, meant that places became free for less obvious choices. …