So, there was some list, I guess?
- At the very least, I suppose, the poll can be read as a report on fashion, and the fact that many more critics were polled this time than ever before (846 participants out of the thousand who were invited — in contrast to only 145 in 2002, which was described then as the largest of the polls to date) must have made some difference (although until we see the full list of names later this month, we have no way of judging how representative the selection was). I think we can safely guess that a greater number of film teachers among the critics polled would have something to do with the number of silent titles, three in the top ten–which is more than any previous year except for 1952, when there were twice that many, including two Chaplin features, The Gold Rush and City Lights, tied for second place.
- I also suggested to Sight and Sound that they change how the list is done or not do it at all and there I clearly had absolutely no influence because they didn’t change it and, by gum, they’re still doing the damn thing. My suggestion was simple: Let the participants submit a list of the top 250 or 500, instead of 10. Ten is moronic. You’re talking about condensing over 120 years of cinema into 10 single works. That’s beyond moronic, actually, it’s insulting.
- I’m not sure how many rounds of voting it takes to narrow the Sight & Sound ballots down to the final top 50 (I didn’t vote in the poll), but years of voting for critics’ circle awards has shown me how, early in the process, you often need to kill your darlings and start putting your weight behind whatever generally favored candidate you dislike the least. Maybe this is what bugs me about the reception of the Sight & Sound list: that the document’s status as a made object, a contingent result of countless small compromises, gets glossed over in the conversations about what belongs where.
- The top ten list of the greatest films ever made, as voted for by 846 critics, contains no film more contemporary than “2001: A Space Odyssey”, which came out in 1968. There’s one other entry from the 1960s, while the other eight are from the 1920s (three), the 1950s (three), the 1930s and 1940s (one each). The last 43 years aren’t acknowledged at all. It’s not really surprising. Sight & Sound voters will have seen the vast majority of the films released in recent decades, and that colossal number of potential choices makes it almost impossible for a critical consensus to form around one film. But when voters look back at previous decades, they’re drawn towards those films which are already held in high regard: the ones which have books and lecture series written about them. We shouldn’t complain, then, that none of our modern favourites has made it into the top ten, nor should we fret that film as an artform is on the slide. We should just accept that it takes time, lots of time, for any film to make it into the critical canon. And we can ask ourselves which new and new-ish releases might eventually make that ascent 43 years from now.
I have a completely schizophrenic relationship with television. When I'm feeling lonely, I adore it, particularly since there's been cable. It's curious how cable offers an entire catalog of antidotes to the poisons of standard TV. If one network shows a ridiculous TV movie about Napoleon, you can flip over to the History Channel to hear Henri Guillermin's brilliantly mean commentary on it. If a literary program makes us submit to a parade of currently fashionable female monsters, we can change over to Mezzo to contemplate the luminous face of Hélène Grimaud surrounded by her wolves, and it's as if the others never existed. Now there are moments when I remember I am not alone, and that's when I fall apart. The exponential growth of stupidity and vulgarity is something that everyone has noticed, but it's not just a vague sense of disgust - it's a concrete quantifiable fact (you can measure it by the volume of the cheers that greet the talk-show hosts, which have grown by an alarming number of decibels in the last five years) and a crime against humanity. Not to mention the permanent aggressions against the French language. . . . And since you are exploiting my Russian penchant for confession, I must say the worst: I am allergic to commercials. In the early Sixties, making commercials was perfectly acceptable; now, it's something that no one will own up to. I can do nothing about it. This manner of placing the mechanism of the lie in the service of praise has always irritated me, even if I have to admit that this diabolical patron has occasionally given us some of the most beautiful images you can see on the small screen (have you seen the David Lynch commercial with the blue lips?). But cynics always betray themselves, and there is a small consolation in the industry's own terminology: they stop short of calling themselves "creators," so they call themselves "creatives."
And the movies in all this? For the reasons mentioned above, and under the orders of Jean-Luc, I've said for a long time that films should be seen first in theaters, and that television and video are only there to refresh your memory. Now that I no longer have any time at all to go to the cinema, I've started seeing films by lowering my eyes, with an ever increasing sense of sinfulness (this interview is indeed becoming Dostoevskian). But to tell the truth I no longer watch many films, only those by friends, or curiosities that an American acquaintance tapes for me on TCM. There is too much to see on the news, on the music channels or on the indispensable Animal Channel. And I feed my hunger for fiction with what is by far the most accomplished source: those great American TV series, like The Practice. There is a knowledge in them, a sense of story and economy, of ellipsis, a science of framing and of cutting, a dramaturgy and an acting style that has no equal anywhere, and certainly not in Hollywood.
La Berto! [via]
On Robert Mitchum:
In 1955 the epically great Robert Mitchum made one of the best films in the history of the medium: NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, co-starring Shelley Winters, the pilot from “Airplane!” as a child, an additional child who is the worst child actor I have ever seen in my life, thus is delightful, and an old and crazy-seeming Lillian Gish. I simply can not recommend this movie highly enough; it simply has to be seen to be believed. It is gorgeous and terrifying and hilarious all at once; it truly could not be better. I watch it several times a month. If you’ve never understood what all the Robert Mitchum fuss is about (or if you’ve horribly never heard of him), here’s your chance.
Thunder Road, made three years later, is not your chance...
What is great about this movie:
- every close up of Mitchum’s face
- this amazing scene where he’s mad at a car mechanic and so he slams a cigarette into the mechanic’s mouth and lights it and somehow this gesture is the most eloquent “fuck you” on earth. Jamming a cigarette into someone else’s mouth while they just stand there! Killer.
I just missed the recent MFA screening of Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, which I saw in my first collegiate film class, probably a Swank 16mm, more than two decades ago. Here's hoping it augurs a DVD release at long last. Somewhat related:
Regarding terms like director’s cut and restoration: The fact that these categories are now integral parts of sales pitches seriously diminishes the possibility of their serving as accurate descriptions. Arguably, one reason why the film industry has encouraged and promoted the concept of director’s cuts, even though this might appear to be counter to its own interests, is that it enables a film’s owner to sell the same product to the same customer twice — or even, in a few special cases, three or four times. Presumably, if you recut somebody’s film, the damage isn’t serious because it can always be “restored” on DVD. The basic mythology appears to be that every film has two versions, a correct one and an incorrect one. But in fact this isn’t quite true. A better paraphrase of the mythology would be, more paradoxically, that every film has at least two versions — a correct one and a more correct one, to be succeeded in turn by further upgrades.
Connecting the Dots, Still:
A remarkably rich (and entertaining) movie, The Third Man is: aesthetically complex in its abundance of canted frames, silky evocation of a “bombed-about” postwar Vienna, and geometrically precise compositions of converging cobblestone streets; compounded by the sociohistorical difficulties of postwar international relations; vivified by larger-than-life appearances by icons such as Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, and Trevor Howard; and distinguished by a swift, unique sense of pacing that should become even clearer when we prolong and accentuate it throughout this year-long project (all in all, there will be 102 still images for us to dissect). If Roland Barthes’ project with his essay S/Z was to “constitute [a] sustained yet pulverized meditation on reading,” then we hope our ensuing Third Man project will yield a similarly sustained and pulverized exploration of the cinematic still image—a phenomenon that still bears unknown intellectual fruits after more than a century of movies.
Dizzy Gillespie and his big band play "Salt Peanuts" in the 1946 film Jivin' in Be-Bop [via]