10 août 2012

S&S 2012 Canon (2) : Numbers

Giving all titles on each ballot the same weight gives a more balanced canon. But the top spots are still way above everyone else, out of reach... This is not a healthy competition, nor a credible one. Even if Vertigo and Citizen Kane are THE best films there ever were (which is at least debatable), they shouldn't be superior to the runner ups by a factor of 2 or 5! Because voters gave 10 titles, not just one on their ballot. The head-start is suspicious, most likely due to the myth surrounding the canon status quo : i.e. These films are always cited as the best films, so I must put them on my ballot or else I'll look like a fool. This kind of mentality allows a given film to raise above the rest by sheer popularity alone. Is Vertigo TWICE as great as Tokyo Story or La règle du jeu, which would justify why it gets nominated twice as many times by voters? Hell no! This is B.S. Maybe in 1930, there were a couple masterpieces that were that much superior to all the rest... But not today, not these titles.

All this becomes mitigated by the fact that Vertigo was only mentioned by 191 voters of a total of 846 participants!!!! That's barely 22.6 % of the voters! That's the GREATEST FILM OF ALL TIME for you... only backed up by less than 1 voter out of 4!!! How great and famous it is then? Not even the FIRST one on the poll is cited by EVERYONE? WTF? And the last on the top50 is "consensual" for 1 voter out of 29.

Let's emphasize this : more than 3 out of 4 alleged "experts" disagree that Vertigo belongs to a top50, and 28 out of 29 "experts" think that La Jetée doesn't belong on a top50, but both films (and all the others between them) end up being enshrined on magazine paper for posterity anyway!

What happens is that there are 50 or 100 people amongst voters who play the rules and vote for the established titles that should most likely top this canon, a convergent goal, a common target, and all the others are just shooting astray for the joke, because they don't take their task seriously enough.
That's what you get when you let people take it easy on a canon contribution, they just push their personal favourites with no regard for the actual titles that MOST EVERYONE should recognize as the CONSENSUAL GREATNESS in film culture. See : Critical Fallacy # 13 : Inconsistent Standards 

* * *

Let's forget about the particular titles cited for a moment, and break down this pseudo-consensus into statistical facts.
With an average of about 3000 films produced in the world every year, the centennial history of cinema tallies, at least, approximately 300,000 films (how many of these have you seen?). 
A Top1000 roughly corresponds to 0.3% of the total of all films that ever existed!!! A Top100 roughly corresponds to 0.03% of the total. A sample of 10 titles roughly corresponds to 0.003% of the total. So we're talking about the absolute ELITE of cinema. These films are not merely supposed to be awesome to you, today, they must be the absolute best according to all possible objective consensual criteria, across over a century of history. And if you've seen 10000 (distinct) films in your lifetime (which isn't the case of the vast majority of voters I safely assume), a ballot of 10 titles corresponds to 0.1% of your movie consumption (put that in regard to all the films you haven't seen!). It's much easier for you to select 10 films out of a 10000 seen, than it is for a canon to elect a Top10 out of  300,000 titles in cinema history.
Think about it : every film on this Top100 canon is there not because voters deemed it worthy of placing in a their Top100, but they promoted them as TOP10 MATERIAL!!! 

TOP 10
AUTEURS : 100% Male
No double citation for a single filmmaker (which happened for Chaplin in 1952, Eisenstein in 62, Bergman in 72, Welles in 72 and 82).  But for such a small sample, it's pointless to draw any conclusions on who's missing from the very top of the pyramid (by genre, decades or language)...

GEOGRAPHY : However it's important to note that the films are predominantly from the Western world. Only 4 films from the East made it in a top10 since 1952 (Ugetsu Monogatari in 62, 72; Seven Samourai in 82; Pather Panchali in 92; Tokyo Story in 92, 02, 12; all with decades-long overdue acknowledgements)... the rest are ALL either from Europe or the USA! If this British-made canon proved to be open to the non-English world (France, Italy, USSR, Denmark, Sweden) it never looked very hard outside of their immediate zone of influence (Asia, South America, Middle East), despite a wide spread presence of the Common Wealth British empire throughout the world...

TOP 50
AUTEURS : 98% Male / 2% Female
  • 4 Godard
  • 3 Coppola, Dreyer, Tarkovsky
  • 2 Hitchcock, Ozu, Kurosawa
  • 1 Bresson, Renoir, Murnau, Lang, Kubrick, Ford, Eisenstein, Fellini, Vigo, Donen, Antonioni, WKW, Lynch, Lanzmann, Scorsese, De Sica, Keaton, Akerman, Tarr, Truffaut, Rosselini, Wilder, S. Ray, Tati, Pontecorvo, Chaplin, Mizoguchi, Marker, Kiarostami
GEOGRAPHY : 50 North / 0 South - 42 West / 8 East
  • 25 Europe / 14 North America / 7 Asia / 1 Middle East / 0 South America / 0 Africa
  • 14 USA; 13 France; 6 Italy; 5 USSR, Japan; 2 Denmark, Sweden; 1 Hungary, Iran, India, Germany, China, Belgium
GENRE : 32 Classical / 15 Artfilm / 8 Experimental / 3 Documentary / 2 Musical / 0 Animation / 6 Silent

DECADES : 1920s : 6 / 1930s : 3 / 1940s : 3 / 1950s : 12 / 1960s : 15 / 1970s : 7 / 1980s : 1 / 1990s : 3 / 2000s : 2

LANGUAGE : 14 English / 14 French / 6 Italian / 5 Russian / 5 Japanese...

AUTEURS :  98% Male / 2% Female

GEOGRAPHY : 99% North / 1% South - 89% West / 11% East
  • 63 Europe / 31 North America / 10 Asia / 1 Middle East / 0 South America / 1 Africa
  • 31 USA; 22 France; 9 Italy; 7 UK; 6 Japan; 5 USSR, Sweden; 4 Germany; 2 Denmark, Taiwan; 1 India, Iran, Hungary, Belgium, China, Spain, Georgia, Senegal
GENRE : 63 Classical / 29 Artfilm / 11 Experimental / 4 Documentary / 2 Musical / 0 Animation / 11 Silent

DECADES : 1920s (or before) : 10 / 1930s : 7 / 1940s : 9 / 1950s : 25 / 1960s : 21 / 1970s : 14 / 1980s : 6 / 1990s : 5 / 2000s : 3

LANGUAGE : 38 English / 24 French / 9 Italian / 6 Japanese / 5 Russian / 5 Swedish / 4 German...

A canon should not be built on representational diversity (in order to make everyone happy, and show a politically correct panel), but we may nonetheless take a look at the quota-free poll results, and detect what are the predilections of the voters (not individually, but as a collegiate mind, as a timely mentality). This lack of diversity does not reflect a meaningless canon, on the contrary (if we can trust the voting standards) this shows the hierarchies of the establishment, and possibly the state of cinema in the world.
*IF* the ballots are educated, the first culprit is the world : other countries outside of Europe and the USA just don't make as many masterpieces as well. Which is partly true, sadly, in all objectivity. There are great films made in the world, but when it comes to elect the 100 best films of all time, the competition level is very high (as evidenced by the quality of the films present).
However, we cannot discount the absence of curiosity of the voting panel (which I suspect mainly  consists of English-speaking reviewers or European, even though the electorate increased from 150 to 846 this year). And there are obvious blind spots, overlooked masterpieces that are never included within the "usual suspects". 
There aren't too many candidates which absolutely do not deserve a spot in a top100... it's always debatable to an extent. Personally I would strike out less than 20. Meanwhile, there are more than 20 that I would add to the roster for being superior to the ones locked in... but these choices are arguable (because they only reflect MY opinion). Even though, the ones overlooked would probably improve the ultimate diversity of the canon. Half of the Hollywood-made films, and even some European ones get a free ride, out of deference for an established reputation, out of habit or familiarity, rather than because they persist to earn their spot against newer films. 
The Silent films were all the rage in the 40ies and 50ies, because cinema was half as old than today, there were less existing films, and the sound era was too inexperienced. Gradually, although very slowly, the silent masterpieces met their match and yielded their spot to newer films. Silent masterpieces are still excellent by all means, but 80 years since the peak of the silent era, cinema history lines up A LOT MORE titles, and the number of great films exploded, while the limited space in a top100 doesn't budge. We must judge past history in comparison to today's greatest achievements. Even if most academics and critics are fond for their impressionable youth, truth is we can make films today as great as in the silent era, or the Hollywood classical golden age for that matter.
I'm glad that the canon-making made adjustments in recent decades, not only by stoping this blind worshipping of Citizen Kane this year, but also by letting go of overrated darlings such as Casablanca, Gone With The Wind, Intolerance, The Wizard of Oz, Jaws, Birth of a Nation, Black Narcissus, The Maltese Falcon, E.T., The Red Shoes, Bonnie and Clyde, Broken Blossom ... which belong to a canon of a bygone era; they just look "dull" alongside the greater masterpieces on a list of only 100 bests. And this is not the arguable part of the canon, they lost their edge a long time ago! 

Did you hear anybody complain about the scandalous lack of women in the canon, like it happens every year for the line up of Cannes??? No. Because these clueless pundits don't give a shit about gender equality... they just have an anti-Cannes axe to grind.

Overall (Top50), Godard gets the most citations (4 titles) but fails to place one film in the top10 (161 votes for all his entries). Meanwhile Welles hugged number one for such a long time, but barely place a second film in the top100 (157 votes in total)... Hitchcock is the winner with the most votes (225) from only 2 films.
However Godard is hardly the greatest filmmaker ever! Hitchcock has a defensible shot at the title, but has been surpassed by the apparition of an Eisenstein, a Ozu, a Bresson, a Kurosawa, a Kubrick, a Tarkovsky, a Lynch, a Kiarostami... They are at least as masterful and perfectionist (and Godard doesn't reach this level of perfection). Why would the "establishment" only want to remember one and kind of underplay/overlook the others? We should see at least some fair competition between them, neck and neck, not such a wide gap of notoriety. Welles and Hitchcock already monopolized the laurels for half a century, it's about time to accept to let go of these safe, convenient idols. It's about time to realise the possibility of cinema to improve the quality level (however paramount in its own time) of the Classical age.

Largely overlooked : South America (Mexico, Argentina most notably), China (and Hong Kong), India (obviously), Iran, Taiwan or South Korea. And in Europe we could cite as well Greece, Spain, Portugal, Czech Republic, Poland, Russia, Romania... Or Canada in North America.

If we take a look at the language spoken in the world (or at least in the world of cinema-producing countries), Chinese (Mandarin), Spanish, English, Hindi, Arabic should dominate film culture... However, only English (mainly thanks to Hollywood) really stands out. India or Japan make the most films in quantity, but unfortunately they don't make the best films in term of quality... there should be more canon-worthy masterpieces in the lot.
If China (Wong Kar-wai, Jia Zhang-ke, Zhang Yimou, Fei Mu, Sun Yu) is a mid-range player in the masterpieces field (except maybe Taiwan with Hou Hsiao-hsien, Edward Yang, Tsai Ming-liang who are Top-range), Japan is one of the world's top players (Ozu, Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, Oshima, Naruse, Kobayashi) and is clearly underrepresented in the canon.
I have to say that given the relatively limited spread of French language in the world, France is making a remarkable show in this Top100 with nearly a 1/4 of the films (and tied with English in the Top50!) for such a small country. And there are still "cinéphiles" who think that Hollywood is THE most important contributor to film culture, auteurism and film literature... But let's be honest, if France objectively deserves one of the top spots in cinema history for all its auteurs, films, critics... a quarter of the Top100 for a single country is way too generous, and denotes an obvious bias in the accounts of the cinema legends.

We can also note that Europe gets almost twice as many spots in the Top100 as the USA does. And this is an English-centric canon made by Sight and Sound (so the bias towards Hollywood and British cinema is overinflated to begin with). Where is the cultural hegemony of Hollywood in the highest spheres of film culture? Everybody keeps talking about it, but I don't see it. Must be a self-affirmative mantra that American reviewers and historians love to tell themselves. MY canon would be more fair toward World Cinema and even less partial for Hollywood.
English and French language films take up 62% of the Top100... which leaves a little more than 1/3rd for all other languages in the world! Is it a fair representation of cinema greatness in the world? Or is it slightly inflated by the exclusivity of self-centric English and French film literature? Objectively we can only recognize this consistent quality in research and development of new film forms... the USA and France do stand out as some kind of leaders in the world of cinema; but maybe not to such extent, and such lopsided fashion, which explains why less obvious countries get shut out of the canon. Marginal countries need more supporters among the "expert-voter" (who would qualify to vote if they were).

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1 commentaire:

HarryTuttle a dit…

"Ten years ago, Movie Camera appeared on 5% of the ballots; this year, it entered the top ten with just 8%. What these small numbers suggest is that the “ten greatest films of all time” are not quite the recipients of the general acclaim that the popular media—and Internet grumblers—assume. [..]
But in fact the poll has rarely been characterized by genuine consensus. Diversity, rather than unanimity, was the dominant feature almost from its beginnings. Since 1962, no winner has ever been placed on more than 37% of total ballots. The threshold for placing in the top ten in 1972 was just 10%. That this tendency toward statistical dispersion is intensifying is beyond doubt. But it is doing so slowly, less due to the Internet than to the increasing numbers of those polled—and to their increased geographical, generational, and professional diversity."
The 2012 Sight & Sound Poll [Part 1]: Don’t Call it a Consensus (Andrea Comiskey and Jonah Horwitz; Antenna; 6 Aug 2012)