Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Counter-Canon: A Viewing List

Let's assume that someone is looking up Schrader's canon online in order to have a nice checklist for the cinema. Perhaps Google or somebody else's website will direct them, in their search, to my blog? My criticism of Schrader's rhetoric and his choices is already up & available, so now what I want to do is propose a counter-canon. Perhaps someone--a budding cinephile, an older person who is just deciding to watch film seriously, an enthusiast of a certain era or genre who wants to branch out more generally--will see Schrader's canon. And there are some great films to see there! But for the purpose of education, encouraging people to see a variety is at least as important as getting them to see The Greats. So that's the first purpose of this list: not to winnow away toward's film art's great core (which I am unconvinced even exists), but to sketch an idea of this medium's powers & parameters. Secondly I want to tweak Schrader's own conception of a rigorous canon. His isn't highbrow by a long shot! There's nothing inherently wrong with middlebrow tastes--unless the person proudly displaying such insists to you that he's got rigorous high standards and a devilishly high brow (as Schrader happens to insist).

These are companions to Schrader's sixty canonical films. Complements; supplements. These don't operate as a canon; they are a counter-canon; they are intended to be watchtowers pointing out towards the parameters. They aren't actually the parameters of cinema's power, though. Except possibly a few of them. I'm only suggesting some new paths to travel, heavily skewed by my tastes. (Even then, frankly, a few films here--the Browning, the Tati, the Eisenstein--do get mentioned in canons sometimes.) When I was whittling down I ended up being least merciful to to Hollywood and French films--which make up the base of my younger cinephilia--because that's what gets the most attention anyway, so there are major films by Sirk, Ray, Walsh, Guitry, even Vigo, etc. "on the cutting room floor." Sixty films in alphabetical order:

3/60 Bäume Im Herbst (Kurt Kren, 1960)

Almost a Man (Vittorio De Seta, 1966)
Les Amours de la pieuvre (Jean Painlevé and Geneviève Hamon, 1965)
L'Ange (Patrick Bokanowski, 1982)
Arigato-san (Hiroshi Shimizu, 1936)

Arsenal (Aleksandr Dovzhenko, 1928)
Barsaat (Raj Kapoor, 1949)
The Bloody Exorcism of Coffin Joe (José Mojica Marins, 1974)
Calabacitas tiernas (Gilberto Martínez Solares, 1949)

Casual Relations (Mark Rappaport, 1973)

Child of the Big City (Yevgeny Bauer, 1915)

The Cloud-Capped Star (Ritwik Ghatak, 1960)
Cockfighter (Monte Hellman, 1974)
Daisies (Vera Chytilova, 1966)
Dark at Noon (Raúl Ruiz, 1993)
Day of the Outlaw (Andre De Toth, 1959)
De cierta manera (Sara Gomez Yera, et al., 1978)

Docteur Chance (F.J. Ossang, 1997)
Edward II (Derek Jarman, 1992)

The End (Christopher Maclaine, 1953)

Forest of Bliss
(Robert Gardner and Akos Ostor, 1986)
Freaks (Tod Browning, 1932)
Fuji (Robert Breer, 1974)

Hard Labour on the River Duoro (Manoel de Oliveira, 1931)
A House Divided (Alice Guy-Blaché, 1913)
Las Hurdes (Luis Buñuel, 1932)
Ice (Robert Kramer, 1969)
Images of the World and the Inscription of War (Harun Farocki, 1988)

La Jetée (Chris Marker, 1962)
The Lead Shoes (Sidney Peterson, 1949)

Lettre à Freddy Buache (Jean-Luc Godard, 1981)

Love Streams (John Cassavetes, 1984)
Les Maîtres fous (Jean Rouch, 1955)
Make Way for Tomorrow (Leo McCarey, 1937)

Mandabi (Ousmane Sembene, 1968)
Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929)
La Marge (Walerian Borowczyk, 1975)
N:O:T:H:I:N:G (Paul Sharits, 1968)
Paul Tomkowicz--Street-railway Switchman (Roman Kroitor, 1954)

Playtime (Jacques Tati, 1967)

Le Retour à la raison (Man Ray, 1923)
Rose Hobart (Joseph Cornell, 1936)
The Saragossa Manuscript (Wojciech Has, 1965)
Score (Radley Metzger, 1973)
Los siete locos (Leopoldo Torre Nilsson, 1973)
The Store (Frederick Wiseman, 1983)

Strike! (Sergei Eisenstein, 1924)

Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One (William Greaves, 1968)
Take the 5:10 to Dreamland (Bruce Conner, 1976)
The Terrorizer (Edward Yang, 1986)

This Land Is Mine (Jean Renoir, 1943)

Times Square (Allan Moyle, 1981)
A Touch of Zen
(King Hu, 1969)
Touki-bouki (Djibril Diop Mambety, 1973)
Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2004)
Videodrome (David Cronenberg, 1983)
Le Voyage à travers l’impossible (Georges Méliès, 1904)

A Walk with Love and Death (John Huston, 1969)
We Won't Grow Old Together (Maurice Pialat, 1972)
Winstanley (Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo, 1975)

... again, this is not a canon. It's not definited by being the "best" (though I did somewhat de facto limit this to films I felt were genuinely great, excellent, or in some cases just very interesting). This list is meant to work in the spirit of enriching canonical lists. This list of worthy films is meant to point out in many different directions: unlike a canon, which gives people a finite list which they can check off one title at a time, this is meant only to suggest to people a great deal more viewing to do, if they so wish. And it is not my purpose to claim that this list is "better" than Schrader's canon, that the films are better, only that it offers a better picture of cinema's possibilities ...

43 comments:

Brian said...

Wow. I was just yesterday noticing myself longing for a Zach-list. This is great. Great to see underheralded favorites like Touki Bouki, the Store and Day of the Outlaw here. Of course the latter was no surprise, as it was you who directed me to it!

Coincidentally, I just watched Tropical Malady for the fourth time last night.

David Lowery said...

Nicely donw. Browsing this list was incredibly refreshing, even though -or actually, in fact, very much because - I haven't seen most of these titles.

For any of those future cinephiles who discover this list and make it far enough down to the comments, may I also add Guy Maddin's Heart Of The World?

girish said...

Wow--great list, Zach.

I love the principle upon which you proceed here--one of "opening out" (as opposed to the "closing in" of Schrader's list) on to all the great things that cinema can be...

Mubarak Ali said...

Like Brian, I have also wondered what a Zach Campbell canon would look like. Needless to say, my curiosity has been satisfied with a most thrilling list of films (many of which I have yet to discover for myself), which includes two of the most inexplicably neglected branches of cinema in repetitive, middlebrow canons - the avant-garde and the short film.

Oh, and one of the things that bothers me about Schrader's canon is how 'clean' it is - not even a single porn film! - so it is great to see Metzger and Borowczyk represented on yours.

HarryTuttle said...

Your idea of a "counter-canon" is interesting, and probably a better term for this kind of preferential selection (excluding intentionaly the most widely acclaimed "masterpieces"). I can't really comment since I've seen only 12 of them... But when the "artfilm" type is so difficult to sell to the general audience, even to new cinephiles. So the list is opened on a wide spectrum of taste, but like Rosenbaum's top1000, it is restricted to (advanced) hardcore film buffs willing to invest time and effort in more challenging viewings.
It's always helpful to have it around to map uncharted territories though. ;)
One question : how did you discover them yourself? from a list, from a friend's recommendation, from a book, or by poking around in the dark?

Anonymous said...

I have two questions for you:

1) Your primary objection (and mine) to Schrader's canon is that he excludes the avant-garde tradition. This is, however, a crime that most builders of film canons are guilty of. Likewise Schrader's middlebrow list masquerading as highbrow. How do you evaluate the worth of Schrader's essay as "typical" of the problems of many film canons? He does give us a concrete example of the things we might wish to rail against...

2) Schrader's article inspired you to create a much more interesting canon of your own. Your canon will, if I know my susceptibility to listmaking, inspire me to create a canon of my own. If I know the readers of my site, at least one will construct a canon of his or her own. Schrader's authoritative tone inspires this kind of "rebellion" in a way that Jonathan Rosenbaum's less forceful voice in Essential Cinema does not. How do you evaluate the worth of Schrader's article as a generator of conversation?

Anonymous said...

Another question:

Is it merely coincidence or was it by design that you adopted Schrader's one director, one film rule?

Eric Henderson said...

I've seen 13. Better than I expected.

Casual Relations
Freaks
Fuji
La Jetée
Love Streams
Make Way for Tomorrow
Man with a Movie Camera
Playtime
Le Retour à la raison
Rose Hobart
Score
Take the 5:10 to Dreamland -- so great!
Tropical Malady

Filipe Furtado said...

What's funny about Schrader's canon is that it was in Film Comment. If Schrader had published it in, let's say, new Yorker, it would make some sense as an article aimed at an reader with a interest on film, but not necessarily a film buff. At Film Comment it's really hilarious: does the FC average reader need someone to pointed them to Persona and 8&1/2? Schrader model was Bloom, but Bloom's book had two clear targets: a highbrow polemic about how a traditional canon is being replaced at university by cultural studies and at the same time a desire to reach a large readership that usually doesn't read this sort of scholar book. Whatever one thinks about Bloom's work his book did everything it wanted to do very successfully, while Schrader's article doesn't really work as a highbrow polemic because it lacks that desire to aims higher and at the same time doesn't really wishes to engage in a duscussion with a more highbrow canon discussion like Essential Cinema. And it was published in a space that guarantees it only be read by a reader that knows Schaeder S&S-like canon rather well.

Filipe Furtado said...

Also, I did a 60 films list when Schrader's article came up, it's not as interested in being a counter-canon as yours, but i guess it's far less single-minded, if still pretty eurocentric):
Broken Blossoms (D.W. Griffith,19)
Greed (Eric Von Stroheim,25)
Sunrise (F.W. Murnau,27)
The Wind (Victor Sjostrom,28)
The Man with the Camera (Dziga Vertov,29)
Hallejullah (King Vidor,29)
Earth (Alexsandr Dozvhenko,30)
La Chienne (Jean Renoir,31)
Zero for Conduct (Jean Vigo,33)
Make Way for Tomorrow (Leo McCarey,37)
Cat People (Jacques Tourneur,42)
The Loyal 47 Ronin I & II(Kenji Mizoguchi,42)
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger,43)
Hangmen Also Die (Fritz Lang,43)
Monsieur Verdoux (Charles Chaplin,47)
Ivan the Terrible I & II (Sergei Eisenstein,47)
Under Capricorn (Alfred Hitchcock,49)
Orpheus (Jean Cocteau,49)
In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray,50)
Wagon Master (John Ford,50)
Flower of St. Francis (Roberto Rossellini,50)
El (Luis Buñuel,52)
Ordet (Carl Th. Dreyer,55)
Night and Fog (Alain Resnais,55)
Moi, um Noir (Jean Rouch,58)
Some Came Running (Vincente Minnelli,58)
Good Morning (Yasujiro Ozu,59)
Hatari! (Howard Hawks,62)
Family Diary (Valerio Zurlini,62)
L'Eclisse (Michelangelo Antonioni,62)
Contempt (Jean-Luc Godard,63)
Mothlight (Stan Bhrakage,63)
Chimes at Midnight (Orson Welles,66)
The Young Girls from Rochefort (Jacques Demy,67)
Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach (Jean-Marie Straub/Danielle Huillet,68)
Wavelenght (Michael Snow,69)
Deep End (Jerzy Skolimowski,70)
Beware of the Holy Whore (Reiner Werner Fassbinder,71)
Two-Lane Blacktop (Monte Hellman,71)
Claire's Knee (Eric Rohmer,71)
The Mother and the Whore (Jean Eustache,73)
Celine et Julie Go Boating (Jacques Rivette,73)
India Song (Marguerite Duras,75)
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (John Cassavetes,76)
The Devil, Probably (Robert Bresson,77)
Bye Bye Monkey (Marco Ferreri,77)
The Human Factor (Otto Preminger,79)
White Dog (Samuel Fuller,82)
Sans Soleil (Chris Marker,82)
A Nous Amours (Maurice Pialat,83)
The Mass is Over (Nanni Moretti,85)
Rememberences of the Yellow House (João Cesar Monteiro,89)
Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee,89)
Days of Being Wild (Wong Kar-wai,90)
A Perfect World (Clint Eastwood,93)
Cold Water (Olivier Assayas,94)
New Rose Hotel (Abel Ferrara,98)
The Wind Will Carry Us (Abbas Kiarostami,99)
Outer Space (Peter Tscherkassky,99)
Esther Kahn (Arnaud Deplaschin,00)

Zach Campbell said...

Thanks for commenting so far, everyone, I'll be back this weekend to respond at length!

Jeff said...

I consider myself a movie snob and I've seen 6 1/2 of that list, so good job, I guess.

md'a said...

Regarding Filipe's remark: Whatever one may think of Schrader's exercise, it's pretty clear that its purpose was not to alert the readers of Film Comment to great films they might not know about. The crux of the article concerned canon formation, not the list itself.

And Zach and I have been through this before elsewhere, but I'll nonetheless note that if your response to a proposed canon is something like "Jesus, what a bunch of obvious and unimaginative choices," you clearly have very little understanding of what a canon is. "Jesus, every single person on the Knicks is over six feet tall!"

Zach Campbell said...

Quickly, just to Mike: but my contention with Schrader's piece had to do with the fact that he emphasized its gesture as a highbrow defense of standards, a bulwark against multiculturalism, nonjudgmentalism, etc. Its middlebrow-ness and its utter pointlessness as a suggestion of "a/the canon" (do we need or want this list when we have a dozen other sources for basically the same things?) have nothing to do with my dislike of the piece. It's how it's staged, its the cultural politics of its own promotion on Schrader's part. A canon is fine and is an expected expression of the cultural realm (literary high-middlebrow, popoulist low-middlebrow, cultish giallo films, whatever); but the forceful presentation of a canon as a necessary and brave act against those "nonjudgmental," standards-lacking souls who dare to study genre films in academia is just a ridiculous stance. That is the point of contention. Hopefully I have made this sufficiently clear.

Zach Campbell said...

OK, I'll try address some more specifics here:

Harry, I did put in a fair proportion of "difficult" films, but I figure that anyone who stumbles upon my page and finds the titles new but my suggestions interesting will be more than able to do a little research on what they might want to see. (And A Touch of Zen is hardly a chore to sit through, for instance.) As for how I 'found' these films, many different ways.

I'm certain that any dedicated film blogger could come up with an equally eclectic list (where I myself would have seen only a small number of the films). Anyone who spends time thinking about film, and who doesn't limit themselves to Oscar-fodder anyway, can come up with 60 unusual, weird & wonderful choices of which most of the rest of us us have only seen 2 or 10 or 20. I'm in no way special for my own list in terms of its content (i.e., my film choices)--except that I've done it, in specific response to PS, whereas Brian or Mubarak or Girish haven't (yet?). Of course, if a lot of other film bloggers came up with their own 'counter-canons,' the meaning of my counter-canon would be changed (diluted?), simply because it intentionally exists only insofar as it is a correlative reaction to Schrader's list. I put this list out purely to work against the canonical imperative in cinema. In some ways I'm the sort of enemy force Schrader identifies in his article: I just want to prove that we multiculti nonjudgmental types--or "bulimics" to invoke a whole different conversation going on in film culture--can be rigorous, informed, engaged, etc., and not lazy art-haters.

Andy, Schrader's discussion of the ups and downs of canon formation is not that bad at all, as I recall. Mostly my objections fall into his treatment and suggestion of a specific film canon. His remarks on the history of art and canon-formation, while not necessarily things I disagree with, don't strike me as egregious.

As a generator of conversation, the piece is fine enough. Such things are evaluated for their pragmatic uses more than their intrnsic qualities, I guess. The AFI 100 list (which is a more unsavory cultural 'text' than Schrader's article) is a nice conversation-starter, too. (BTW, I don't really want my list to be thought of as a canon--it's supposed to be a list against canonical thought & logic, or rather, in dialectical relation to it.)

The one film, one director thing was maybe a guiding principle that happened work out neatly. I didn't decide to "restrict" myself per se.

Jeff: what was the half-film!? I hope that some of the titles on here will be ones you'll check out in the future.

Zach Campbell said...

Also, about the question of Eurocentrism. Here's a problem I have with the Hollywood-centric take, especially if it's used as a cudgel with which to beat the heads of 'nonjudgmentals' or 'multiculturalists,' as though people are doing (e.g.) Indian cinema a special favor by arguing for its inclusion in a canon. I'm still basically a novice when it comes to Indian cinema. But even with my quite limited exposure to Bollywood-type work (mostly Hindi films but I've tried to sample other languages too) and a small handful of subcontinental art films, I see that this industry is just as capable of Hollywood and the 'independent' American scenes. What does it say about someone who boasts of high standards when a large number of slots are reserved for Hollywood but there is no room for Raj Kapoor, Guru Dutt, Bimal Roy, etc.? If a viewer can't appreciate the masterpieces of these classical Indian filmmakers, but love the great films of Lubitsch, Hawks, and Ray, I would suggest that the problem is to be found in the viewer, not in the Indian classical cinema. It means one is clinging not to standards but to comfort zones. Not knowing Bollywood as well as Hollywood is fine: but don't respond to a charge of Eurocentricity like Schrader does--'damn right.' Sheesh.

(And yes, there seems to be a lot of formulaic crap or merely competent hackwork produced in the history of Indian commercial film. Like Hollywood has ever been any different?)

md'a said...

Sorry, I muddied my second remark by referring to our previous discussions on the same topic. I was actually (still) referring to Filipe's comment "does the FC average reader need someone to [point] them to Persona and 8&1/2?" Which clearly isn't what Schrader's piece was meant to do.

My only real beef with your Schrader argument is your rather flip dismissal of the Coen Bros. Not the fact that you don't think them canon-worthy, but the tone that implies that no sane human could think otherwise.

Jeff said...

The 6 films on the list I've seen are Freaks, Las Hurdes, Images of the World etc., La Jetee, Man with a Movie Camera, and Videodrome, and the 1/2 is Edward II. Thanks for the suggestions, but I suspect many of those are not available on video...?

Zach Campbell said...

Mike--understood now.

My problem was that The Big Lebowski doesn't belong on the highbrow canon as Schrader conceives of it--Persona, Citizen Kane, claims for reeeeally high standards ... and then the Dude!? It's an incredibly idiosyncratic choice as far as Schrader's criteria and tastes are concerned, and it boggles the mind that it's included on there when almost everything else in the article and the lists points toward consensus, time-honored classics, meaningful and moral entertainment, etc. Are you saying you don't draw the same conclusion about Lebowski's placement!?

(And for the umpteenth time now, let me reiterate that I like this film!)

Jeff--as far as home viewing formats go, some are available on video, some show on TV occasionally, and some you can find online.

anon said...

A very small aside from a moviegoer but not, probably, a cinephile: I always have the "other film" experience whenever reading a list like this one. Namely, I've seen -- all on a big screen, no less -- _Earth_ (putting me in Schrader's good graces) but not _Arsenal_, _It Happened Here_ but not _Winstanley_, _Two Lane Blacktop_ but not _Cockfighter_, _A Brighter Summer Day_ but not _The Terrorizer_, _L'Age D'or_ but not _Las Hurdes_, _The Awful Truth_ but not _Make Way for Tomorrow_ (though in the last case I admit I saw the wrong picture, and I've been trying to make up for it). It always feels like the ante's just been upped to separate the dedicated from the punters...And in this case, I suppose, it is true. But it always hurts a little bit. You would have killed me if you have suggested _Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take 2 1/2_ (which I just missed seeing theatrically) instead of _Take One_ (which I managed to catch). However, both might soon appear on Schrader's middlebrow canon, since Criterion is releasing it soon.

Anon

md'a said...

I personally agree about Lebowski (which I also like), but you parenthetically extended your incredulous reaction to encompass the Coens' entire oeuvre. I think Fargo—a film I don't especially like—would fit quite snugly in Schrader's canon. And there are two or three Coen films I'd put in my own.

HarryTuttle said...

While I totally agree with your analysis of Schrader's dubious "highbrow" canon, your exercice of a "counter-canon" is endless, or open-eneded, like you admit yourself, and shouldn't take the form of a top60. You want to open up the spectrum and you choose the limiting format of a narrow listing. Rosenbaum's top1000 reaches such a number that he's able to fit in shorts, AG, alternative standards and middlebrow classics without leaving out the major films we expect to see in a consensual canon. So he succeeds in offering new territories without suggesting his non-conventional favorites are better than the critically acclaimed masterpieces. Your list is confusing as a standalone guideline and doesn't really contradict Schrader's canon.
The exercice of the high-standard canon is an operation of convergence toward a concensus, which might be too consensual, too conventional by nature. So the process is to weed-out progressively and come up with the unquestionned chosen few. Not that the left-out titles are unworthy, but they are controversial or less of a landmark that influenced cinema as a whole. That's the reason why AG is in contradiction with the establishment of a canon. A canon is meant to be boring, unsurprising, classical... and timeless.
Your bulimic counter-canon however is an operation of divergence (centrifuge), therefore shouldn't result in the proposal of such a short finite sampling. Because your assortment is too disparate to be meaningful and coherent like a canon is. Rosenbaum's alternative AFI top100 functioned as a complement/contradiction of every choice made in the original list, which was itself limited by one nationality. The scope of your counter-canon is too ambitious make 60 titles representative of anything in particular, but your personal taste. Precisely because the process of substitution with the "other film", or the "other auteur", or the "other country" is endless.
My quibble is less with your intention (which I agree) than with the form it takes, although I admit the bulimic approach (I don't share) might explain too.
(Just my uneducated 2 cents)

Zach Campbell said...

Harry, you're certainly correct. Which is why, if many others decided to post their own 'counter-canons,' my list would be diminished in meaning. Consider it this way: my list is a rhetorical gesture, 60-for-60, sixty intended to send people searching rather than sixty indended to stand on a mythic pedastal. (Of course, people can treat my viewing list like a canon, "alternative" or otherwise, if they wish. I can't stop them. But it goes against the accompanying text.) My list makes the most sense only insofar as it is taken as a correlative response to Schrader's list: someone can say, 'Oh, this blogger online has taken issue with Schrader's endorsement of a canon and its specific titles, here are sixty more films he suggests seeing.' Obviously my list can't offer what I really want it to offer. I am aware of this shortcoming. I only produced it as a tactic specifically in dialogue with Schrader's salvo into film culture.

Anon--I know how you feel about the 'other film' experience. Happens to me all the time!

Mike--OK, I apologize for too quickly suggesting the Coens don't belong in a canon. I'm no longer a huge Coens fan, say, but the prospect isn't that bad to me. I guess I just wanted to say that it didn't appear to me that they seemed to belong in Schrader's type of canon.

Anonymous said...

Let's assume that someone is looking up Schrader's canon online in order to have a nice checklist for the cinema. Perhaps Google or somebody else's website will direct them, in their search, to my blog? My criticism of Schrader's rhetoric and his choices is already up & available, so now what I want to do is propose a counter-canon.

The more I think on it, the more I like this idea...

And I'm sure you've noticed that this post is one of the first few hits for a Google search of "Schrader" and "canon." Are you actually starting to get hits from this and similar searches?

Tod said...

I actually own a video store and was at first intrigued by Schrader's idea. My hope was he would put forward a list that expands the boundaries of great films. I was quickly disabused of that notion.

I don't know whether I found his list more boring or annoying because of its conservatism. Your list, on the other hand, was far more to my liking. Not only does it give me new ideas, but I could imagine it doing the same for my customers and other intrepid movie watchers. If there's one thing I can't stand, it's people who complain about having seen everything. I don't believe anyone can even see everything worth watching -much less everything - and Schrader's list validates that very kind of arrogance.

HarryTuttle said...

I admire your list, if only for mentioning the obscur F.J. Ossang! (I saw a sneak preview of his latest short film Aguas Contaminada, fresh from the editing table last september). And be sure I'll be using it for my future researches. I don't pretend to diminish the meaning of your list (it works well as a signpost and better than Schrader's) I just tried to come up with my own humble counter-canon. Mine can't compete with Schrader's canon, but I liked your idea of suggesting titles that don't make all the same consensual list.

Now if you feel so inclined, it would be interesting to know what this list represents to you. What does it say about your vision of the cinema map or about you... I don't know, why did you pick these 60 and not 60 others? Do you see a coherence in the ensemble or is it just an unrelated companionship? (Well, only if you have the time)

Jim Flannery said...

Some interesting thoughts on canon formation here, if you think in terms of expanding the focus a bit. Be sure to click on the link to "Abstracts and online videos of papers" when you're through -- lots of interesting stuff there.

Re Zach's comment about Indian cinema and "comfort zones" ... I confess I have similar feelings when I see people bragging on how many times they've seen individual films: if someone's seen The Searchers or Nashville 15 times, even being generous that's 10 other great films that they haven't seen. (Is it only because I've just turned 50 that I see every screening in terms of its opportunity cost? How to choose this Tuesday between Pitfall and Ici et ailleurs?)

Zach's and Harry's lists have so many bingo!s between them it feels redundant to me to make my own list ... but then who will speak up for Arrebato? For Themroc? For Le Couple témoin? For Sondheim & Acker's Blue Tapes? For The Cut Ups? For Razor Blades? For Requiem pour un beau sans-coeur? For Shoot for the Contents? For Low Visibility? For On Top of the Whale? Aaaaaaaaaahhhhhh!

Zach Campbell said...

Andy, I don't know how exactly people find this site or specific posts. (I don't use Sitemeter.)

Tod, thanks for posting, it looks like you've got a very worthy blog (looking forward to perusing the archives), and I'm happy that my list has provided you with a few ideas. I'm sure you've got a kickass videostore.

Harry, I'm so jealous you saw that Ossang film. (Docteur Chance is the only one I've seen, or even been able to see.) As for what the list represents to me ... that would be a whole new post (at least)! It's cinema taken to pop delerium (Times Square) or gentle decency (Arigato-san) or cruel sadness (We Won't Grow Old Together). It's cinema that dreams of revolution (the Dovzhenko, Eisenstein, and Gomez Yera). Cinema that reflects the concreteness of a person's craft and its projection (Breer). It's cinema shedding light on (drum roll please) the human condition, but not necessarily in the most celebrated ways of doing so. That's for starters.

Jim, I had a strange moment when I saw your comment here, maybe you'll hear about it from a mutual friend of ours! About re-watching: it's not that it's bad to delve deeply into one film, sometimes it's vital to do so, but you're right, I think one should understand that the decision to revisit a film is usually an election not to see something else. Often this takes the form of a 'fortification' of these comfort zones. Had my movie love not developed beyond the age of 15 or so, I would have been doomed to a life of watching & re-watching Oscar-winners over and over again. (As I've mentioned on EL before, I think, my cinephilia started from a very mainstream position, no cult movie geekiness for me. Which I kind of regret!) Your list of film suggestions--spoken for!--is great, I've only seen the Ruiz among them, and yet again I find myself wishing that I saw Themroc when it showed up at Anthology months ago ...

jmac said...

I think that your counter-canon discussion is essential. Cinema is consciousness!

Zach Campbell said...

Thanks, Jen!

Cole said...

I'm more of a lurker than a poster/blogger in the whole film blogosphere, but I just came out of hiding to say kudos to an intriguing counter-canon (and a wonderful blog). Personally, I don't subscribe to the idea of a "canon" in any form (be it in literature, sculpture, video games, comic books, whathaveyou), but I agree with your point in reacting to Schrader: his "essential list" is too static, too limited in its point of view. Rosenbaum's remains the most invaluable (in my opinion) and is the only list I really turn to (and I like how he avoids proposing it as a canon for all of filmdom).

Unfortunately, I think I'm all alone with my disdain for the tendency to differentiate between "highbrow, middlebrow, and lowbrow", concepts that smack too closely of class consciousness (but now class has been replaced by "intellect"). For me, art is art is art is art (yes, I'm a postmodernist). It seems to me that the difference between, say, Naruse and Looney Tunes or the Shaw Brothers is superficial and suspect at best (in terms of "highbrow" and "lowbrow"). If Looney Tunes appeals to a snooty film academic with all his theories and someone who hasn't gone to college at all or made the effort to read up on art history/theory/critcism is moved by Naruse, doesn't Looney Tunes then become "highbrow" and Naruse "lowbrow"? One could very well use semiotics to elevate the Road Runner cartoons and nearly all chopsocky films into the realm of the highbrow. If it's with regards to the values and tastes of the "highbrow, middlebrow, or lowbrow", I myself don't believe that the lines separating them are as distinct, especially in this day and age. In fact, it can come across as quite condescending, particularly if someone places himself/herself in the axis of the "highbrow" (as Schrader does). I'd rather see the individual, specific, and intrinsic values each film has to offer rather than see them as occupying a place in a swathe of culture-class conciousness.

I prefer the outlook that Rosenbaum expresses along with his list: the 1000 films he chose were simply films that he liked. To hell with an awareness of the "highbrow, middlebrow, lowbrow", let's just watch the goddamn films and like what we like :)

Sorry for the long post. I really shouldn't babble on. I return to the business of lurking.

jim gerow said...

It's always fascinating to see good alternative canons. I've seen 19 of these films. This is not to show off, just to admit that I've been film-obsessed for 35 years now. I especially endorse Make Way for Tomorrow (maybe the most humanist of Hollywood films) and Edward II (a landmark of queer cinema).

As others have said, I think Rosenbaum's 1000-film personal canon is the best around, and has led me to some great discoveries I never would have made on my own (just recently, Alex Cox's marvelous Highway Patrolman). It's expansive enough to include the acknowledged classics and the relative obscurities (such as Tower of the Seven Hunchbacks, coming to the Walter Reade in December). Contrary to Schrader's assertion, the rationale for many of Rosenbaum's choices can be found in his capsule reviews on the Chicago Reader website. Slant Magazine's canon, "100 Essential Films," is also a great multi-author list with accompanying mini-reviews. And Senses of Cinema has an ongoing series of Ten-Best lists which indicate the vast range of personal canon formation.

Schrader's canon at least started dialogues such as this, which is good. It is disappointingly limited to mostly dead white Western males, plus Ozu and Mizoguchi, and the inclusion of Almodovar's Talk to Her is particularly annoying. Film Comment gave readers an opportunity to suggest their own list of directors omitted by Schrader, which is available online.

I could spend hours trying to devise my own list, but I'll just put another plug in for my favorite neglected film, Terence Davies's The Long Day Closes, which I was delighted to see the Museum of Modern Art put on the cover of its new book of photos from their film collection.

Zach Campbell said...

Cole, thanks for commenting. Regarding brow heights, I think that it's certainly more a matter of cultural rhetoric than intrinsic property--as you indicate. I myself, probably sloppily, alternate two usages, one which has to do with the demands and rigor of a work of art (which may be alternately embraced or rejected by a given social class), and in this case I admittedly cling to an old-fashioned assignation of terms ... as a matter of convenience or convention more than anything else. Stan Brakhage is highbrow (in a good way), Lars Von Trier is highbrow (in a bad way), Laurel & Hardy are lowbrow (in a good way), Michael Bay is lowbrow (in a bad way). That kind of shorthand. The other usage has to do with class values, e.g., opera is considered a highbrow form of art or leisure because, these days, it is an expensive and inefficient art form, hence, opera's history as a populist artform is subsumed by the conditions of the present. Painting is highbrow because collectors shell out beaucoup bucks for it; illustration in magazines, not so much. (That's a massive generalization of course, with sure exceptions.)

For this we may want to read Bourdieu. I haven't yet. (You?) Anyone want to help us out?

Jim, thanks for dropping by. Once again I would like to mention that I don't propose my viewing list as a canon; in my title, "counter" is a very important word! It's meant to shed light on some (some) of the deficiencies that a trumpeted canon like Schrader's presents. It is my contention that a canon with high standards, rigor, knowledge, wisdom, etc.--if it is possible at all, which is not a question I'm getting into really here--will need to be one that takes into account certain factors that Schrader (echoing Bloom in a way) dismisses as so much multiculturalist special pleading. But as I tried to indicate with my example of India earlier in this comments thread, we cannot pretend we have great standards with such obvious ignorances and biases stamped across our forehead.

Alex said...

Everybody needs to read Bourdieu. The book you're thinking of is his thick brown chunk of a volume, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, weighing in at over 600 pages.

I suppose what I want to see in a canon (or list, rather) is what films are most useful, or immediately meaningful to a person, rather than simply what's best. To give an example: I like Deren's movies very much, but Deren is not particularly massively useful to me in my own film-making. Deren simply doesn't have much impact on my own work.

Here's what's especially meaningful to me:

Cassavetes' Faces
Naruse's Daughters, Wives and a Mother
Naruse's Repast
Ozu's Tokyo Chorus
Olmi's Il Posto
Mankiewicz's A Letter to Three Wives
Leigh's Who's Who?
May's The Heartbreak Kid
Linklater's Before Sunset
Jose Ferrer's The High Cost of Loving
Buljaski's Funny Ha Ha
Roemer's The Plot Against Harry

Even though there are many films that are probably equal to or better to The High Cost of Loving, that film is more useful to my own work.

HarryTuttle said...

Well my exposition to Ossang is only this one film (which was a surprise screening at a festival), even though there was a full retrospective last year, but I didn't know anything about his work at all. He's pretty obscur in France too.
Thanks for expanding your ideas on the list, really illuminating.

Zach Campbell said...

Alex--yeah, Bourdieu has been on my to-read list for some time now, it's a shame I haven't already. I like the films on your list; the ones I've seen anyway, which is half of them.

If I made a fiction film, it might be a lot like an F.J. Ossang production.

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