Today, I get angry. I might even aim to misbehave.
/Film is reporting about the latest Empire Magazine greatest-movies-of-all-time poll, and god help me but I feel like the results are proof of malevolent alien intelligences tinkering with human memory.
How else to explain, in the course of six years, the complete disappearance from the top 15 list of all black-and-white films (the one winner last time around, in 2008, was The Apartment — a very good choice, actually), all films older than 1975, all films not in a language other than English (not that there were any in the last top 15), all animated films (same there, another omission I find especially baffling)?
How else to explain a top 15 that doesn't include a single Kurosawa, a single Hitchcock, a single John Ford, Kubrick, Fellini, Altman, Bergman? (Scorsese does make the list, if only for GoodFellas.) How else to explain the way the imitation and the amalgamation (Pulp Fiction) eclipses, or maybe stands in for, all of the originals? How else to explain the way the frivolities and the spectacles (The Big Lebowski, The Avengers, Jurassic Park) are elbowing out the meat-and-potatoes Movies-with-a-cap-M (Casablanca, 2001: a space odyssey, Citizen Kane, The Seven Samurai)?
That The Empire Strikes Back took top nod doesn't really hearten me much in the light of all this.
I know, I know — it's a silly audience poll, there's no way it can't be skewed towards mainstream fan tastes. I shouldn't be getting uptight about this. But uptightened I get all the same, and I think I know why.
What really got my goatherd — and this was something I didn't need to think deeply about; it fairly hit me in the face right off — is the way the top end of the list is tilting all the more, iteration after iteration, towards big, loud, noisy (and pretentious, increasingly so) "event" films. Some of them are good; some even great. But to have nothing but that kind of stuff consistently representing the top of the list is grim indeed. It's not the mere presence of such things, but the way they elbow everything else out of the room and lock the door from the inside.
Do not assume I hate Hollywood spectacle unilaterally. I enjoy such movies, in their proper proportion. I know that they only occupy a small slice of what movies can be about, what movies have been about, and that to ignore all the rest of that is to commit a crime against one's own imagination. And I know that, in the end, I want to see things that can speak not just to me in my moment in time and space but a great many others as well.
I suspect a key reason for the skew in the list as of late is simple generational memory. E.g., we have two of the three Rings films on the list is simply because a ton of people now voting came of age when those films hit theaters, and are letting their fandom for the material speak for them, instead of any sense of how those things would fit into an overall cultural diet. I don't dislike the Rings movies, I just don't think they deserve anywhere nearly that level of praise — because, y'know, I have seen a few other movies in my lifetime.
But yet another possible explanation for the skew in the voting, apart from the self-selecting nature of the poll audience, is that this is a sign of how the idea of what constitutes a "serious movie fan" is changing. The emphasis is now on "fan", not "serious". The Roger Ebert and Danny Peary model of appreciation is being elbowed out by the Harry Knowles model, where enthusiasm and name-checking matters more than grace or sophistication. And when more of those kinds of folks dive in and pipe up, the whole idea of what constitutes film fandom tilts that much more in that direction.
It's impossible to not sound like a snob sometimes, but I'd wager that snobbism and elitism are the lesser of evils when the alternative is having a frighteningly short cultural memory.
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