The New Canon Redux

April 17th, 2003  |  Published in Uncategorized

Couple of mails re: the new film canon make more comment useful:

The sample group on which the author draws isn’t some etablished critical body out to stir up dissent and Web traffic: it’s film majors currently in college, at least from the way the author presents things.

The list the author presents is designed to exclude some obvious choices we can presume said film majors are probably including in their lists of “great movies.” Of all of the films cited, The Godfather is the least “roughneck” of the lot, and I’m a little surprised any critic wouldn’t consider it canonical. On the other hand, it smashed critical darling Chinatown in the Oscars that year, so maybe there’s some pent up resentment on the part of “real” cinema enthusiasts (as opposed to those of us who just like to watch movies).

Noting that the author is excluding what he considered “obvious” choices from the list he considered, it’s fussy to start name-checking him for choices he didn’t include. Short of him telling us (which he doesn’t in any detail) we have no idea what the “no surprise here” exclusions on his list were.

The engaging thing about the article, from my perspective, came from getting a little insight into what his sample population thinks is “important” when it isn’t ticking off the things someone conversant in film school tastes might expect to find. Not being a film school student, and not being particularly attuned to the tastes of “serious” film critics (as opposed to the consumer advocate types you get in most Friday editions of the paper), I can only take his assertion of a common film school canon as a matter of faith, and I’d be almost completely in the dark if pressed to name its bright lights. I get a peek at it now and then when I take a film class and the name-checking starts among the front-row set, but Portland State University is known for its film program the way I’m known for my tasty feta pizza wraps, so maybe they’re all crazy.

So what’s left is curiosity over the more populist choices he identified as recurrent among his sample: the things that aren’t embraced by the critical establishment (yet) and where my tastes overlap. Going down that list was less of an exercise in “that!?t but what about . . .” and much more in nodding and wondering why that particular film might turn up a lot. Most of them are on my shelf, and I’ve got a collection I’d call essentially populist with a few indy/art-house selections thrown in to balance out the existence of $9.99 “might-as-wells.” It’s certainly not a collection about which I’d make representations of long-term merit for a population any larger than Alison and me, and therein lies the interest of the article: wondering what someone with an eye-in-training sees in these things that elevates them from “good movie” to something that might influence a young director a few years down the road.

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