17 août 2012

S&S2012 Canon (3) : You are qualified to vote if...

The listmaking game for critics who have seen ALL films ever made (or almost)

Voting for a canon is no casual or trivial endeavour. People may make a number of random lists, and polls and ranking, without meeting any qualification issues. A canon is not a random list like every others. It's a very special election, and you need to know the entirety of cinema history to be able to weigh in, the evaluate the waning aura of old masterpieces and the surge to the summit of the most recent masterpieces, all this in comparison to the established standards over the years and in particular being able to appreciate and contextualize the level of today's standards.
If the umpire shows up one hour late into a tennis match, and counts the score only from this point on, he could come up with a very different winner at the end, without knowing the full picture, the full match.
We can catch up with cinema history and watch the films made before our time, but most people do not, and still want to be part of the vote for the fun, not because they feel capable to judge such a wide scope and depth of history. A film canon is not a venture for just any movie lover, it's for erudit veteran cinéphiles with a considerable cinema culture, curiosity and discernment. If you respect the purpose and importance of a canon, you should have the humility, deference, curtsy to let qualified people take that poll, and pass until you feel properly qualified.

You are qualified to vote in the establishment of an all time canon if...
  1. you've seen more than 10,000 films and are able to recall/judge/compare them
  2. you're familiar with ALL the Top100 titles from the previous poll, especially the long ones and hard-to-find ones (because these are the one suffering from unfavorable lack of votes). Do I need to specify seen ON THE BIG SCREEN?
  3. you know inside out every period of cinema history, all the major aesthetic movements, at least, and more
  4. you're not a self-confessed partisan for a narrow genre/era/country, or are using this for a publicity stunt to rescue a minority (silent films, female films...)
  5. you know what the establishment of a canon consists of
  6. you understand you're not doing it for your own satisfaction, but to participate in a collective enterprise where your individuality will be averaged out
  7. you know a canon is not a random viewing recommendation, a beginner's road map, a dream package to carry with you on a desert island, the list of most re-watchable entertainment, or your idiosyncratic guilty pleasures.
  8. you're not trying to catch everyone off-guard with crazy picks that have no chance to get into a consensual Top100
  9. your ballot (which is supposed to stand until the next decennial poll!) doesn't change every day (a canon is for voters with a stable and sure taste)
  10. you're not going to use quotas and other arbitrary rules to screw the deserving titles
  11. you consider a nominee for its overall achievements, not just for the subject or the story or one performance or one scene or one punchline
All this would otherwise invalidate your participation, and mess up the result at worst (for other titles than those you promote) or do nothing at best (by being statistically insignificant).

These simple rules should bring down the number of canon makers to a more reasonable (and credible) elite of qualified voters, even if the downside is that the age average of these veterans will always tend to be too high for the past-conservatism to go away. But again, it's one of the defining characteristics of a canon to enshrine newer work with a certain delay, after a considerable test of time.

A useful canon is a canon which ballots are compatible for consensus and are tabulated constructively, not by antagonism and friction. 

A constructive consensus is not one that let rise to the top the lowest common denominator because the stronger candidates are diluted in a multitude of disparate selections, but is one that converges towards a limited number of the strongest titles.

There are enough "suitable" masterpieces around today to let every voter free of a personalised choice that will show their preferences and their strong stance (within the academic establishment). Your Top10 should be at least at the level of everyone else's Top100, and the ranking in the final collective Top10 will be determined by popularity among qualified voters.

The Long Tail curve is typical of an exclusive hegemony

846 voters replied before deadline, from a contingent of 1000 invitations extended out to 73 countries throughout the world. They think that expanding the voter base is an improvement, and they advertise the diversity of nationality... However if we omit the doubles due to typos (or the country of "Africa"???), the British/American critics who file in under another vacation-location in addition to UK/USA, and when we look at the proportion of English-speaking territories (56%), the "diversity" is more into the marketing talking points than giving foreigners a real shot at influencing the Euro-American establishment.

  • ENGLISH =56% (233 UK; 173 USA; 26 Australia; 19 Canada; 13 Ireland; 6 South Africa; 4 New Zealand)
  • EUROPE =63% (233 : UK; 50: Spain; 34 : Germany; 32 : France; 24 : Italy; 14 : Russia, Sweden; 13 : Ireland; 12 : Hungary, Netherlands, Switzerland; 10 : Poland; 8 : Slovenia; 7 : Austria, Czech Rep., Romania; 6 : Estonia, Portugal; 5 : Norway, Serbia; 3 : Belgium, Greece; 2 : Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, Slovakia; 1 : Belarus, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Ukraine) 
  • AMERICA =28% (173 : USA; 19 Canada; 17 Argentina; 8 Brazil; 7 Mexico; 4 Cuba; 3 Peru; 2 : Chile, Colombia; 1 : Guyana, Uruguay)
  • ASIA + OCEANIA =10% (26 Australia; 12 Japan; 11 India; 13 China; 7 South Korea; 4 Thailand, New Zealand; 3 Taiwan; 2 Pakistan; 1 Philippines)
  • AFRICA + GREATER MIDDLE EAST =5% (7 Israel, Turkey; 6 South Africa; 5 Lebanon; 3 Egypt; 2 Kazakhstan; 1 Abu Dhabi, Algeria, Armenia, Burkina Faso, Dubai, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Tunisa, UAE, Uzbaekistan)
Keep in mind there are redundant counting because some critics are listed under several locations.

Are you surprised now that Europe and the USA hold up over 90% of the Top100 titles?

Sight and Sound is a British magazine, so it's normal and expected they primarily cater to their local readership, their local critics and cinema professionals. No question about it. Maybe also to the English-speaking countries because the language of publication is English. Nonetheless, there is a genuine effort to expand the roster to the world.
Although it might look like a desperate attempt at positive discrimination without any real leverage...
As you can see on the graph above, the English advantage is not merely the largest number, slightly above everyone else, it singlehandedly dominates a large majority by itself. And if English-speaking voters can't even agree on a number 1 (only 22.6% of the votes), what kind of consensus has any chance to rise to the top10 for isolated voters whose indigenous taste will vanish in a multitude of residual orphan picks?

I'm glad that countries like Spain (50 voters), Hungary (12), Netherlands (12), Switzerland (12), Poland (10), Slovenia (8), Estonia (6)... get a powerful lobby at the Sight and Sound redaction for a fat quota in the roster... but other larger countries get ripped off : China (13), India (11), Japan (12), Brasil (8), Mexico (7), Russia (14)!

And when you look at which films the outsider voters pick, they favour American and European masterpieces instead of weighing in for their own culture (which is something they could and should do better than anyone else), or in general for a non-USA-Europe-biased World Cinema!

In a perfect world, even Europe-based critics would be open-minded and not partial toward their own national culture... thus vote impartially for the objectively BEST FILMS IN THE WORLD, not the Best European or Hollywood films... But obviously we can observe that decades after decades, the cultural imperialists declare sacred their local masters, write cinema history accordingly, and impose to everyone else this self-marketing propaganda. Sadly, many people buy into it, and believe there isn't anything else outside of Hollywood and Western Europe (limited to France, UK, Germany, Italy, USSR and Sweden).

A greater balance with a reasonable representation by nationality, YES, although an absolute parity is impossible, nor strictly desirable/practical anyway. But this shouldn't mean to expand and dilute the number of voters to people who have no business dealing with the totality of cinema history. Maybe they are afraid to tell some voters "sorry we won't be needing you anymore", so they just add a new layer on top of an ill-conceived foundation.
The election of the all-time greatest films shouldn't be EVERYBODY's business. When you only organise a poll every 10 years, it should be taken a little more seriously than "here is my favourite memories from the top of my head, as of today". No. If there is only one vote every 10 years, every voter should make use of these 10 years to pounder over their idea of a pantheon, to revise, to rewatch, to cover your blind spots, to watch other voters's nominees, to re-rank your top100, to reconsider new configurations, to re-evaluate the past classics, to re-appraise the new masterpieces. Then maybe we'd be looking at a canon worth taking seriously! A canon which wouldn't insult its name of "canon" by disguising as a populist survey.

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2 commentaires:

HarryTuttle a dit…

"About a year ago, the Sight & Sound team met to consider how we could best approach the poll this time. Given the dominance of electronic media, what became immediately apparent was that we would have to abandon the somewhat elitist exclusivity with which contributors to the poll had been chosen in the past and reach out to a much wider international group of commentators than before. We were also keen to include among them many critics who had established their careers online rather than purely in print.
To that end we approached more than 1,000 critics, programmers, academics, distributors, writers and other cinephiles, and received (in time for the deadline) precisely 846 top-ten lists that between them mention a total of 2,045 different films."
Nick James introduces our Greatest Films of All Time poll (Nick James; Sight&Sound; 2012)

Going from 145 exclusive voters in 2002, he expanded the roster to 846, supposedly to "reach out to a much international group", yet UK voters shoot up to 233, and USA voters to 173, both numbers exceed the previous 145 total, so they must have also benefited from this expansion by a 3-fold increase, just for the UK&USA contingent. Which makes the international addition all the less significant...

HarryTuttle a dit…

"This month the British film magazine Sight & Sound and the Chinese language film website Cinephilia.net both conducted international polls asking film critics and experts to choose their top ten films of all time. The key difference between them is that Sight & Sound polled 856 critics from around the world, whereas Cinephilia.net exclusively invited 135 critics who specialize in Chinese cinema. [..] In the list of participants in the Sight & Sound poll, only five voters are identified as from mainland China, eight from Hong Kong and 3 from Taiwan. Compare this to the Cinephilia.net voting pool: 70 from the mainland, 17 from Hong Kong, 28 from Taiwan, one from Macau and 19 from other countries."
Two “Greatest Films” Polls Yield Different Results for Best Chinese Films (Kevin B. Lee; dGenerate; 22 Aug 2012)