Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Schrader 2: Electric Boogaloo

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.

5 comments:

Zach Campbell said...

Actually, if I am going to do this well, it'll take more time & thought. So nothing's coming up tonight, or at all this week. But I'll be working on it!

Zach Campbell said...

Aw, forget it, I'm just going to post an alternate list now anyway.

Eric Henderson said...

I had a moment of clarity the other day about his inclusion of Lebowski. I'll just quote what I said: "The Big Lebowski makes sense in this list. It's all about the diminished power of the (aging, white) Dude in the face of the exact things his canon article is fighting against. (Except Eurocentrism, in the form of the nihilists.)" Yeah, my moments of clarity don't burn for too long.

Campaspe said...

Catching up with my blog reading, and this very interesting set of articles & posts & counterposts. I think we cinephiles are too scrappy a lot to come up with a consistent canon. My eyes about popped out of my head at yours--I've seen This Land Is Mine and maybe two others--so I must bookmark it for future viewing reference. I am basically resigned to my lowbrow status, but I do think Mr. Schrader should have found room for Lubitsch.

Zach Campbell said...

As I said earlier, I really like Lebowski actually. My favorite Coen Bros. film. But if your aspiration is toward rigorous and time-honored (or, ah, shopworn) standards of middle-of-the-road artistic greatness, then it's a case of 'one of these things is not like the others.' Including Lebowski on a favorite films list is great: but for Schrader to include it after his ranting reeks of the sort of gesture you've just described, Eric.

Campaspe, I hope you can see and like some of these films soon. (Being in NYC now, Anthology will give you chances to see some of them regularly!) And I don't think of your cinephilia as lowbrow, myself--you've got a smart take on a certain mainstream cinema (i.e., classical Hollywood). I don't show my classical H'wood colors as much as I could on EL,

As for lowbrow, there's nothing wrong with it. I frequently lurk on cult video websites like MHVF and DVDManiacs. I love the Farrelly Brothers as well as the Shaw Brothers (and cartoons by Warner Brothers). Lowbrow can be a beautiful, liberating thing!

(Yes, yes, middlebrow can be great too. One day I will tell EL readers at length about my affection for the two Hollywood films that James Gray has directed: utterly intelligent and beautiful mainstream work. And there are some distinctly middlebrow films on my counter-canon: the mind-numbingly great Make Way for Tomorrow can be easily appreciated by the proverbial aunt in Dubuque, for instance. The film Calabacitas tiernas is a hilarious little Mexican comedy, hardly a dark subversive gem. Though its director did go on to make La Sexorcista, which I've never seen.)