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should be ranked at all. Films need advocacy rather than listings, which is a case for
selections made by individuals rather than lists compiled from audience polls. Derek
Malcolm has the luxury of being able to give reasons for his personal best selection,
and he bucks convention by heading his list with Tokyo Story and omitting Citizen
An argument in favour of listings ordered by popularity is that voting provides a
quantifiable measure; an objection is that publicity machines would be failing if the
new and the novel did not generate more enthusiasm than yesterday s blockbuster.
Reassuringly, new films do not have it all their own way, while the limitations of
publicity are all too evident in the prestigious films which never make the lists. Cin-
ema history is littered with commercial flops, though few have caused as much soul-
searching among studio bosses as Michael Cimino s Heaven s Gate (US, 1980).
The Godfather fascinates in how it manages to survive the insistent clamour of
the new and straddle the divide between the popular and the great. Do audiences and
critics perceive the same qualities? Are critics influenced by sustained public sup-
port for a film, so that The Shawshank Redemption is destined to enter the pantheon
of greatness despite current critical antipathy? Alternatively, do the public follow
influential critics who lauded The Godfather? This less attractive possibility demon-
strates the pernicious power of list-makers rather than the enduring qualities of the
film. It would require a detailed study of poll participants to reveal whether either
option is correct.
20 " Movie Greats
Why bother to select the greatest films? The cynical answer is that it increases
DVD sales, which is not something to be despised if it reawakens interest in ne-
glected masterpieces. Rosenbaum takes the more aspirational view that making a
choice rouses us from our boredom and stupor.26 Undeniably his own selection en-
courages debate, but another list headed by Citizen Kane is apt to induce stupor
rather than dispel it. For Tim Dirks (who succumbs to the lure of compiling his own
list but follows Rosenbaum in presenting it alphabetically),  They are films almost
every educated person with a solid knowledge of film history and cinema would be
expected to know and to be literate about. These crucial film selections provide a
common goal and foundation for the study of film. 27 The aim is worthy, but worthi-
ness can be dull, and Dirks s justification begs too many questions. Nor can any list
compiler fail to be influenced by previous selections, making quality vie with status.
This reifies a canon which becomes an unthinking consensus rather than a celebra-
tion of quality. Ty Burr writing in the Boston Globe takes a radically different line,
stressing the implications of demography:
The canon has been changing over the last decade, and what makes a classic of cinema is
now drastically different to discerning young moviegoers than it has been to their teach-
ers or to the critics or to Leonard Maltin. The implications of the new canon are vast,
much bigger than the specific films themselves, and they speak to the ways in which a
new generation perceives history, reality and even perception itself.28
The vulnerability of a list which sometimes seems cast in stone is exemplified by
the high status of Citizen Kane in Sight and Sound listings, which contrasts with its
lower ranking in popular polls. Critics and academics might judge it a great film,
but its popularity among younger viewers is less secure. Only 35 per cent of the
98,057 votes cast for the film in the IMDb poll come from males in the 18 29 age
group. This is a lower percentage than for recent works achieving higher placings.
Less than 2 per cent of all voters for the film are under 18.29 It may be that, like fine
wine, Citizen Kane is appreciated increasingly with age. An alternative interpretation
is that the young approach film (and wine) without the preconceptions and preten-
sions of their elders. If this is the case, interest in Citizen Kane may dwindle further
as a new generation of cinema-goers becomes increasingly distanced from an elderly
black and white film.
Seeking the Great Films
What makes a film good or even great? Charlie Keil of the University of Toronto
defines a great film as one which makes a contribution to the medium, has lasting
importance and influence, and  must strike a chord with viewers no matter how much
time has passed since it was made , which is an emotional response by any other
The Celluloid Canon " 21
name.30 It can be argued that Keil s first two criteria are the results of greatness rather
than preconditions. The inclusion of any film in a canon can be contested, with Keil s
fellow academic Kay Armitage braving the wrath of the film community by disput-
ing that Citizen Kane was influential.31 This is a reminder that received opinions need
reassessing from time to time.
Do canonized films have anything in common? Among frequent entrants to the
Sight and Sound listings, Citizen Kane flourishes among its credentials technical
bravura and innovation. Good acting is to be expected, but only Singin in the Rain
is remembered primarily for the performances. The story may be strong, as in The
Passion of Joan of Arc or Citizen Kane, but the story in L Avventura (Michelangelo
Antonioni, Italy/ France, 1960), which made the Sight and Sound top ten in 1962
and 1972, is little more than a device for allowing characters to interact, while the
mystery which launches the film gets left behind. Tokyo Story has an intimacy of
scale missing from The Battleship Potemkin. What these films have in common is
that they offer distinctive visions of the world which go beyond plot and charac-
terization. This has echoes of the director as auteur, that seductive way of defining [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]


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