07 août 2012

S&S 2012 Canon (1) : Number 1

Why it's a good thing that Citizen Kane finally takes the back seat? And why the number one shouldn't matter...

"I'm not a number. I'm a free man"

Citizen Kane was certainly one of the best films made in 1941, even though Sight and Sound, like all American critics, failed to acknowledge it right away back then. So it was anointed late (only since the 1962 poll, 21 years after its première!), and now overstays its welcome by 5 or 6 decades...
Orson Welles's debut is a solid all around masterpiece, the perfect candidate for a canon no doubt, for all its accomplishments, stylistically and dramaturgically. Nobody should discount its presence in a Top100, meanwhile its spot in the Top10 is at least debatable, and the 1st spot is not its exclusive property. Crowning the canon all by itself for 60 years is close to ridiculous.

Ossifying a canon around a single film sends the wrong message in film culture : it suggests that cinema hasn't evolved since 1941, or could not possibly improve on Welles's achievements. It totally ignores the fruitful production of the 60ies for one (Bresson, Bergman, Antonioni, Satyajit Ray, Cassavetes, Fellini, Tati, Resnais, Kurosawa, Herzog, Sembene, Leone...), one of the best decades in cinema history by all standards, and all the subsequent masterpieces made more recently (Angelopoulos, Kieslowski, Lynch, Kiarostami, Sokurov, Tarr, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Fassbinder, Wong Kar-wai, Tsai Ming-liang, Jia Zhang-ke, Weerasethakul, Ceylan...). And these candidates can easily measure up to Citizen Kane. When we remember that the 40ies were the all-time peak of cinema attendance in the USA and in the UK (3 times the number of today's spectators), it comes as no surprise why titles from that period left a more enduring mark in the collective consciousness...

Apparently this year each title on the ballot is worth exactly the same point as the others, so all ballots are effectively unranked for all intent and purpose. I don't know if this was always the case in the past for all the older polls, but it sounds to me to be the best compromise. It relieves the pressure put on having to determine if such film is really better than that one. All voters need to do is to pick 10 films worthy of a top10. It's a puzzle to be asked to order such equally great masterpieces in so little spots. Ranking them is rendered meaningless when thinking about all the runner ups left out in the rest of the top100.

This is also how readers should consider this final top100 canon : only as a bulk, regardless for the fine details of the ranking which only reflect the popularity of each title among voters, the one that most voters thought about (or saw at all) and wanted to include on their ballot. This distinction usually goes to the most "mainstream" film among equally deserving masterpieces, because it is the most widely known, watched,  written about, talked about, analysed, taught, published, cited. So Citizen Kane is this "idol", this diva, this pundit's favourite, this fetish, this token name-drop, this default reference. For this reason, it snatches the most ballots, and therefore, trumpeted as the all-time NUMBER ONE by appearing on every canon... it continues to feed this unquestioned reputation, and more people vote for it because they've been told it is THE "numero uno". It's a cliché perpetuating the cliché to remain a cliché.

The benevolent "anti-Citizen Kane campaign", this past couple years, in the anticipation of the new utterance of the decennial poll, achieved its goal against all odds, even if the means were not really fair play. Making a point NOT TO vote for Citizen Kane (157 votes in the Top50) helped to end its reign, only to let the ex-number 2 (Vertigo : 191 votes) fill the void artificially created. A necessary evil maybe to break the streak.
Sight and Sound also campaigned in their own pages (since January 2011), by promoting potential Citizen Kane substitutes in a written appreciation : Vertigo (191 votes), L'Atalante (58), L'Avventura (43), Mulholland Dr. (40), La Grande Illusion (22), Beau Travail (21), The Magnificent Ambersons (20), The hour of the Furnaces (0)... (not the most decisive list of number 1 contenders... more like random personal favourites)

Unfotunately, Vertigo only moves the top spot toward a slightly more recent era (17 years forward)... The epitome of greatness still remains entrenched in the 50ies, with a very CLASSICAL film if truly masterful. But for a postmodern title to win the prize, it will take more rounds of film education to freshen up the conservative taste of the voters, and maybe by asking them to WATCH more films before being allowed to vote.

Voting for an ALL-TIME GREATEST FILM CANON should be a privilege, requiring a minimal qualification, rather than being a VIP invitation sent out to colleagues and friends as a form of flattery...

You'll never reach an educated consensus by asking 846 random reviewers to share their idiosyncratic taste. But we'll look into this aspect deeper when they publish the detailed ballots online.

Related :

2 commentaires:

HarryTuttle a dit…

The radical visions in Sight & Sound’s stodgy best-films poll (Scott Tobias; AV Club; 3 Aug 2012)

excerpts :

"The shakeup at the top happened: As every headline screamed, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo has ended Citizen Kane’s reign as the best film ever [..] No longer will newcomers have to approach it like the plate of steamed vegetables it never was only to discover the bloody rare steak it really is, as befitting the rise and fall of a tabloid visionary and demagogue. [..] For now, just losing Citizen Kane is radical enough, like having to orbit around a different sun. "

N°2 replaced N°1 and vis-versa... what a "shakeup"!!! lol
What's wrong with vegetables Mr Kois?

"Only three films exited the list: Battleship Potemkin, Singin’ In The Rain, and The Godfather/The Godfather Part II"

No need to overdramatise... They are still in the Top30, falling short of a Top10 is no disgrace at this level of competition! With only 100 films in a Top100 representing ALL of cinema history, they are more or less on the same level for being voted on. And remember each Top100 title was deemed Top10 material by the voters! Hoping in and out of the Top10 is gossip fodder for the pundits, it shouldn't matter to critics who know better...

"This has been Jean-Luc Godard’s problem for years—he’s a major figure, but no one can agree on which film to stand behind, so he has an astonishing four in the Top 50"

Bad math (that would be true if voters could only nominate a single title). If a filmmaker makes several canon-worthy films, they will get enough votes accordingly (like for Chaplin in 1952, Eisenstein in 62, Bergman in 72, Welles in 72 and 82) and place in the Top10! If it appears the Godard vote is split between 4 mid-range titles, it's because none of them are Top10 level, not because Godard fans divided their attention. The ballot have 10 spots, if they all deserved to finish on top, more people would give them their vote.

"The list should be stodgy, and the list isn’t stodgy in the least. [..] Many of the films on this list are fucking crazy. If you can imagine yourself going back in time and seeing any of these films for the first time, nearly all of them are mini-revolutions, breaking so firmly with what people expected cinema to be that they were often misunderstood or hated."

Well, the thing is, a canon doesn't care about the public/critical reception of films back then or now... If it's the 2012 canon, each films are there for what they represent TODAY, according to today's standards (not the pre-auteurism standards, not the classical standards, not the Modernity standards, not the postmodern standards... but the ones that come after all of them, digested them, transcended them).
Man with a Movie Camera entered the mainstream since MTV! 2001 is no longer unique in the Sci-Fi realm! Rediscovering pre-1990 movies (I mean, Silents, Classic Hollywood...) only amazes people who only watch mainstrezam products...

HarryTuttle a dit…

Analysis: Is Citizen Kane the Greatest Film Ever Made? (Left Field Cinema Podcast) MP3 9'04"
A general analysis of Orson Welles' American classic with special regard to its critical position.