I wasn't incredibly impressed with Paul Schrader's article on the cinema canon (thoughts here). He has responded to his critics here. (Also, someone signing as 'schrader' did post a comment in reply to my original criticisms, but the person--he, if it was indeed Paul Schrader himself--declined to address my thoughts, answering the great Jen MacMillan only, perhaps because he's decided I'm not worth addressing. Fair enough.) In Film Comment now, the man writes:
"I wrote the article in reaction to this, attempting to look back at the Century of Cinema with a cold eye and a very high brow."
Schrader's canon is the definition of middlebrow, not highbrow. This is basically an inarguable fact about his choices as far as I see it. His canon offers us nothing new: he's reiterating a standard greatest hits list of a decently educated middlebrow film buff contingent, as any Film Comment reader has doubtless already seen countless times in places like Sight & Sound. He adds a slight personal twist by including films like The Big Lebowski or Talk to Her instead of absolutely anything that is short, nonfiction, or avant-garde. Apparently Schrader would have us believe that highbrows hew to the mainstream feature fiction film and nothing else. Ha! (And he happily owns up to the charge of Eurocentrism in the process, weirdly enough.) I wrote a huge draft in response to Schrader's own response to his critics, but I've basically deleted it. I made a lot of my major points already and I don't want to keep harping on them. Instead I want to offer something positive instead of further rants. For anyone young or new to cinema who might google 'Schrader's canon' in order to look up films, and who might come across this page, I'm going to offer a counter-canon. To me, adherence to a canon is less important than instilling/encouraging comprehension, critical thinking, curiosity (three c-phrases I prefer to "canon," now that I think of it) as far as pedagogy and film culture are concerned. Instead of the films Schrader's chosen, I'm choosing deliberately less well-known, offbeat, perverse, even strenuously imperfect "b-sides." Some of them are greater, perhaps much greater, than their counterparts though. But as I've said, I do love some of his choices, so other b-side choices are not meant as replacements but rather as supplements or complements. I'll see if I can get a counter-gold section up tonight.