Documentary filmmaker Nick Broomfield's output is as prolific as it is wide-ranging: He is the director of stirring political works like 1981's Soldier Girls — for which he won, among other awards, the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance — and 1991's The Leader, His Driver and the Driver's Wife, as well as feature-length docs about everybody from Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love to Tupac and Biggie to the woman dubbed "America's first female serial killer," Aileen Wuornos.
It's no surprise then that his cinematic influences are just as broad. "My first real influence was Charlie Chaplin," Broomfield says. "I was also very influenced by Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther films." Yet, the British filmmaker says you will find elements of them in all of his work.
Broomfield's latest is The Stones and Brian Jones, which looks at the early days of the legendary rock 'n' roll band and the fate of its troubled co-founder. "Making a film is two years of your life, and I'm going to at least try to tell a story I believe in," he explains. "That's been the most important thing to me throughout my entire career."
Across his body of work, Broomfield has cemented an idiosyncratic style free from the confines of strictly observational cinema. His films, The Stones and Brian Jones included, may be tragic at times, but always find moments of humor and humanity amidst the darkness. That's also a common thread in Broomfield's Top 5, which he shares with A.frame below.
Written and Directed by: Charlie Chaplin
Charlie Chaplin's films were always shown at my birthday party. I remember my father would hire an old Bell and Howell projector and put a sheet up. The Gold Rush was one of my favorites, because not only was he brilliantly funny, but he had an incredible social commentary on the world. Chaplin was compassionate, romantic, and an incredibly astute genius, politically. I've always loved comedy. Although I've made documentaries, I hope some of them have been quite funny. Chaplin's wit, and brilliance, and his way of looking at the world really stayed with me.
Directed by: Blake Edwards | Written by: Blake Edwards and Maurice Richlin
I was also very influenced by the Clouseau films for the same reason. I always felt that if I could interview anywhere near as badly as Clouseau did, my films would be very watchable. I feel like when you're making a documentary, you can never quite believe the situation you are in, the scrapes you get into, and the ridiculousness of some of the people you meet. You need a bit of Clouseau and the sort of bumbling foolishness to get you through it. You need to employ it for your own sanity just to make the films, and to see them from some sort of perspective of humanity.
Written and Directed by: Frederick Wiseman
The first documentary I saw that really amazed me was Titicut Follies. Although it is filmed in a psychiatric hospital, it has a great deal of humor in it and is unbelievably entertaining. I never thought documentaries could be entertaining until I saw this and some of Fred Wiseman's early films, like Basic Training and High School. They were a revelation to me. It just so happened that Titicut Follies was the first one I saw.
It has a brilliant scene where somebody analyzes the world in the most incredible way. You think, 'Well, this guy's a genius,' and then the camera moves, and you realize the guy's standing on his head upside down and in the middle of the hospital yard. Fred's films have a remarkable wit to them, which I've always admired and tried to put some into my work. He significantly influenced me.
Directed by: Peter Weir | Written by: Peter Weir, David Williamson, and C.J. Koch
There are a couple of films that I've gone back to a lot, and one of them is The Year of Living Dangerously. Given the enormous shifts in our ways of viewing anything in a different part of the world, I don't know how it would go down with a modern audience. Still, it was a fascinating film that dealt with a highly complex subject. Another classic is Citizen Kane, where there's quite a complex structure in the telling of the story. Whenever I've tried to write fiction scripts, I've always looked at those two films as sources of inspiration. It's something I've wrestled with and never got right.
Directed by: Ken Loach | Written by: Paul Laverty
I met Ken when I was making my very first film. He was incredibly encouraging, and as passionate in his convictions and beliefs then as he is now. It was just a joy seeing The Old Oak, and thinking it's so incredible [to see] somebody who is nearly 90 and has held on to all those beliefs and social concerns that he had 50 years ago when I first met him. I thought it was a wonderful film. It deals with quite a complex problem in a very sympathetic and open way that I think will be appealing to so many people. Hopefully, they'll be moved by it and maybe adjust their entrenched attitudes.
Barry Ackroyd is a cinematographer I worked with for years and was Ken's principal camera person for a long time. He shot with minimum lighting, a small crew and cast, a lot of non-actors — almost the antithesis of the star system. You often didn't know anybody who was in one of Ken's films. There was a feeling of reality to the way in which it was shot. I remember seeing all his early films like Cathy Come Home, Poor Cow, and Kes and was incredibly moved by them, and he's managed to keep on going at a time that, politically, has shifted way to the right.