Tuesday, July 05, 2011

On Lists



In the last couple of years, the Criterion label Eclipse has released several multi-DVD sets of world cinema. I hereby offer a wish list — born of an idle fantasy — of ten DVD collections I would most love to see released by the label:

-- Jacques Rivette: L’Amour Fou (1968), Duelle (1976), Noroît (1976), Haut Bas Fragile (1995).
-- Ritwik Ghatak: Ajantrik (1958), Komal Gandhar (1961), Subarnarekha (1962), Jukti Takko Aar Gappo (1974).
-- Anne-Marie Miéville: 2 x 50 Years of French Cinema (1995), We’re Still Here (1997), After the Reconciliation (2000).
-- Hou Hsiao-hsien: Daughter of the Nile (1987), City of Sadness (1989), The Puppetmaster (1993).
-- Marguerite Duras: Destroy She Said (1969), India Song (1976), Le Camion (1978).
-- Edward Yang: Taipei Story (1985), A Brighter Summer Day (1991), Mahjong (1996).
-- Mark Rappaport: Local Color (1977), The Scenic Route (1978), Rock Hudson’s Home Movies (1992), The Journals of Jean Seberg (1995).
-- Jonas Mekas: Walden: Diaries, Notes and Sketches (1969), Reminiscences of Journey Through Lithuania (1972); Lost, Lost, Lost (1976).
-- Kumar Shahani: Maya Darpan (1972), Tarang (1984), Kasba (1990).
-- Abbas Kiarostami: Where is the Friend’s Home? (1987), Homework (1989), Life and Nothing More… (1992), Through The Olive Trees (1994).

Any candidates of your own for Eclipse sets?


* * *

A few weeks ago, using the appendix of Jonathan Rosenbaum’s Essential Cinema as a guide, I made a list of about a hundred films to see this summer. On it were both classic titles that had slipped through the cracks of my viewing and lesser-known films I’d never seen. For example:

Greed (Erich von Stroheim); Nathalie Granger (Marguerite Duras); Bird (Clint Eastwood); Venom and Eternity (Isidore Isou); Make Way for Tomorrow (Leo McCarey); The Gold Diggers (Sally Potter); Senso (Luchino Visconti); The Seventh Victim (Mark Robson/Val Lewton); The Mouth Agape (Maurice Pialat); The Unknown Chaplin (Kevin Brownlow); Occasional Work of a Female Slave (Alexander Kluge); Citizen’s Band (Jonathan Demme); Mister Freedom (William Klein); Sherman’s March (Ross McElwee); David Holzman’s Diary (Jim McBride); The Shooting (Monte Hellman); Limlelight (Charlie Chaplin); Panic in the Streets (Elia Kazan); Spring in a Small City (Fei Mu); Our Daily Bread (King Vidor); Avanti! (Billy Wilder); Day of the Dead (George Romero); Walker (Alex Cox); The Window (Ted Tatzlaff); and Executive Suite (Robert Wise).

Any particular titles from the Rosenbaum 1000 (either available or unavailable on DVD) that you most want to see?


* * *

Just as writing about cinema has exploded on the Internet in the last decade, so has the activity of list-making. We are acutely reminded of this at the end of each year, when it becomes obligatory for film blogs, websites, and magazines (and even journals housed in academe such as Film Quarterly) to publish lists that pronounce and rank the best cinema of the year. But even apart from this end-of-year exercise, the making of lists is an activity that seems to exert a powerful attraction on the cinephile — note, for example, the popularity of sites such as They Shoot Pictures.

What purpose do lists serve? More importantly: What can lists accomplish? We can think about this in two ways: let’s call them the macro and the micro levels.

At the macro level, lists can help elevate certain films and filmmakers to broader consciousness, and render them worthy of attention, importance, and study. This usually occurs because of the efforts of a group or community: think of the Hitchcocko-Hawksians at Cahiers du cinéma in the 1950s. Sometimes, in rare cases, a single individual can have the same effect — as Andrew Sarris did with his list-filled book The American Cinema in the 1970s. In the tribute essay collection Citizen Sarris: American Film Critic (edited by Emanuel Levy), a number of film critics and scholars testify to the impact of the book. One of them is Dave Kehr, who was part of Doc Films at the University of Chicago, the oldest student-run film society in the US:

Every Doc Filmser carried a paperback copy of The American Cinema, usually wrapped with rubber bands to compensate for the Dutton edition’s notoriously flimsy binding, with titles one had seen underlined in each biographical entry. This dedication to a sacred text made us resemble, a bit too closely for comfort, some of the other cultists then proliferating on the proudly radical campus — namely, the junior Maoists with their Little Red Books.

For Jonathan Rosenbaum, it was a different collection of lists — the results of the 1962 Sight and Sound world cinema poll — that proved consequential. He writes in the introductory essay to Essential Cinema:

I vowed to see as many films on the list as I could, and for the next several years proceeded like a butterfly collector, dutifully underlining each title in that issue of Sight and Sound as soon as I’d seen the film. It was a better way of surveying the lay of the land, I quickly discovered, than the indexes of [Arthur] Knight or of [Paul] Rotha and [Richard] Griffith, because it guided me toward objects of critical veneration more than historical markers — objects that would eventually be joined by those found in Andrew Sarris’ The American Cinema and Noël Burch’s Theory of Film Practice, among other essential guidebooks — and because, as I used the list to make my own discoveries, it involved me more directly in the process of forming my own values and tastes. Some critical favorites on the list proved to be disappointments, others were greater than I had even hoped for, but in both cases these responses represented not so much end points as the beginnings of evaluations and reevaluations that would continue over decades and that are still taking place.

By influencing tastes and helping to form unofficial canons, such lists have a macro-level political impact on film culture. We can see an example of this political activity in the dissemination of lists and counter-lists — like Zach Campbell’s "Counter-Canon" in response to Paul Schrader’s “Canon Fodder” essay in Film Comment [pdf] from a few years ago.

I’m equally interested in the micro-level potential of lists — specifically the way in which, for a moment, they help dislodge the agency of the viewer. Cinephiles are deeply and notoriously attached to their personal taste; they often defend it militantly. The lesser critics might simply assert their taste; the better ones might provide well-argued reasons why the frontiers of their taste mark and enclose the only “good” cinema. Evaluation is (rightly) a key aspect of film criticism, but we must guard against our personal taste freezing into something static. Sometimes we must resist the bonds — the straitjacket — of our own taste.

When we design some of our viewing around a list, we hand over our agency to it. If the list contains filmmakers or performers we don’t much care for, we set our prejudices aside for the moment in favor of the project of seeing every title on the list. We open ourselves up to surprise, to the continuous “evaluations and reevaluations” that Jonathan invokes. The result is more valuable than we usually acknowledge: it keeps us learning, growing, moving — forever “becoming” — in our role as cinephiles and critics.

Your ideas on lists and the purposes they can serve? Any significant list-making projects — either by individuals or groups — that particularly stand out in the history of film culture? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


* * *

Some links:

-- Press Play, a new blog started by Matt Zoller Seitz, that will focus on video essays.

-- The new issue of La Furia Umana features a Max Ophuls dossier and many well-known critics.

-- There's a new issue of Film Comment.

-- Matthew Flanagan at Landscape Suicide on Godard and Greece.

-- At Andy Rector's place: A piece by Luc Moullet and an interview with Straub/Huillet (scroll down a bit).

-- At Cinema Scope: a round table on Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life.

-- At MUBI, Ben Sachs and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky interview Jerzy Skolimowski.

-- Srikanth Srinivasan at The Seventh Art on the films of Mani Kaul.

-- The captivatingly designed new Italian journal FilmIdee.

-- Leah Churner at Moving Image Source on "What happened to the Hollywood musical?"

-- A large post on Jacques Rivette by David Ehrenstein at Dennis Cooper's blog.

-- In Sight and Sound: "Lena Bergman remembers the viewing habits of her father Ingmar Bergman in his unique private cinema, a converted barn on Fårö, the Baltic island where he lived until his death in 2007."

pic: Marguerite Duras

68 Comments:

Blogger Matthew Cheney said...

Great lists, and great commentary, as always.

I was actually thinking of a fantasized Eclipse release just yesterday, because after watching The Big Combo (1955) for the first time and falling in love with it, I thought about how badly-preserved have been some of the films John Alton was cinematographer on. So I emailed Criterion and said, "Hey, Big Combo! is awesome, as you probably already know! And wouldn't a John Alton collection be great?!" Perhaps focus on the b&w, although a giant collection that looked at his progression from b&w to color might be fun. But it's the b&w work I most would like to see in good transfers. I haven't seen nearly enough of them beyond the films he did with Anthony Mann and, now, Big Combo, but even just that group is astounding: T-Men, Raw Deal, He Walked By Night, Reign of Terror, Border Incident, Devil's Doorway, The Big Combo. Imagine that!

July 05, 2011 9:41 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Matthew, I like your Alton idea! And the shift in focus from the director to other less-acknowledged figures -- like the cinematographer -- to build a box set around!

July 05, 2011 9:53 AM  
Blogger Nathan said...

Girish, at least four of your eclipse wish-list films should get the full Criterion treatment (I'm thinking of City of Sadness, Puppetmaster, Taipei Story and A Brighter Summer Day)!

Speaking of A Brighter Summer Day, I seem to remember reading, ages ago, about an agreement to bring out the films restored by the World Cinema Foundation as Criterion DVDs. This seems to have vanished without a trace. Does anyone know more about possible future DVD projects? Kent, if you read this, anyway you could enlighten us?

As to my wish-list...
-Tsui Hark in the 80s, and Tsui Hark in the 90s, would be good.
-Zelimir Zilnik, whose Old School of Capitalism was a revelation. One of the films that best uses the interaction of documentary and fiction.
-The films Masao Adachi made before going to fight in Palestine and Lebanon.
-The documentaries of Ogawa Shinsuke, and the documentaries of Haneda Sumiko.
-Lino Brocka in the late 70s-early 80s.
-Yilmaz Guney.
-And to take us back to the world cinema foundation, Metin Erksan.

July 05, 2011 10:12 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Ooh, lots of great candidates in there, Nathan! And some filmmakers I've not even heard of.

July 05, 2011 10:22 AM  
Anonymous Yusef Sayed said...

Wishful thinking - Directors ripe for Eclipse (but hopefully more):

Koji Wakamatsu

Jean Eustache

Guy Debord

Herbert Achthernbusch

Straub-Huillet (watched UN VISITE AU LOUVRE last night on the UK DVD set of 3 films and would love to see more!)

Many of these directors have been covered elsewhere, but without English subs. If I had the energy to learn Japanese, French, German et al. I would. I know, my fault.

Lists certainly guide my film viewing, for the most part - but a copious amount of them, which all overlap at various points and begin to look like they encompass every film ever made! Of course, that's not true. The limitation then comes from unavailability, time, money, lack of screenings etc.

In that sense I guess my own taste is always kept at bay. As Jonathan says, I begin to pick out my own favourites, thus forming an individual canon. But that canon becomes ever greater.

I watch films for education and entertainment, which broadens the scope of viewing to pretty much anything.

The feeling I have started to get from reading more and more film criticism is that every film has met with a compelling argument both in favour of and against it. And I enjoy both! I tend to follow Tony Conrad's view that the greatest moments come from having your opinion upended when it comes to art. I have become less stubborn about my 'taste' as I've grown older and experienced more culture, but I hope that my attention, understanding and knowledge has been enriched.

I've always thought that to view/listen/read completely randomly would result in a LOT of crap. Just blindly picking anything up. Surely we're all following some sort of lists, whether formally written down or not - recommendations, items linked to current reading, etc.

Some lists I keep close by:

Amos Vogel's FILM AS A SUBVERSIVE ART. In my mind, the Nurse WIth Wound List, but for film.

Jonathan Rosenbaum's ESSENTIAL CINEMA

Nicole Brenez's AVANT-GARDE lists from the small book she wrote for Cahiers.

Even the recent Sight and Sound poll put another twist on things: 'Forgotten pleasures of the multiplex' yielded my discovery of Zalman King's work, thanks to my favourite UK critic, Brad Stevens.

July 05, 2011 10:39 AM  
Anonymous Trevor L. said...

Hi, Girish. I'll have to post my comment in two sections.

I think lists are a necessity, both to create and to consult. It's unimaginable to me to make one's way through all the films out there without some sort of tool for navigation. And already, it's become apparent that lists have this metaphorical connotation of being spatial and directional. That's exactly why they are necessary but also why I often dislike them.

Something occurred to me a few years ago while watching Peter Jackson's King Kong: the appeal of "uncharted territory" (a space that doesn't exist on a map) is so strong that it can become wistful when a map has been created that reveals everything. The difference between that film (from 2005) and the earlier version (from 1933) is that we no longer feel as if there are places on our planet that remain unseen and unmapped. I cannot help but feel sad about that fact, as the source of our excitement about adventure is the lure of the unknown. I think these facts certainly affect how we make movies now (especially how we make adventure-oriented films), but this all, for me, also recalls how I feel about the cinema as a medium and art form.

The difference between a map of our planet and a map of the "world" of film is that the latter is constantly shifting. Despite the fact of "lost films" and other phenomena, we know what films are there, what the territory consists of (even if we're not familiar with it). It'd be a surprise to us if suddenly, a vast amount of films from, say, the 1950s just appeared out of nowhere, classics from unknown and established directors. The act of "mapping" cinema is less a matter of what exists and what doesn't and more a matter of what matters most, and so lists are not just spatial but also (usually) evaluative.

I'm sure we've all experienced the phenomena of having our tastes radically realigned (another spatial metaphor). These moments are exciting, and I hope they never vanish. But for me, lists tend to put the brakes on this process of realignment. The way a list can say "These are the films that matter most" can be a source of inspiration when we're young, but then, this can also become constricting. Lists tend to comment even on the films that aren't featured because they establish a continuum of values; if films from a certain genre (or decade or country) are missing, the list is a comment on the worth of those missing films. As such, lists create relationships between films (what I mean by "establish a continuum of values"): positive evaluation of a film for x, y, and z reasons might suggest that a similar film that fails to do x, y, and z (or even does the opposite) is open for criticism.

July 05, 2011 10:47 AM  
Anonymous Trevor L. said...

(Part 2 of 2)


With personal lists, these continuums are very apparent, because the films that tend to congeal at the top of such a list (of favorite films, for example) tend to bear some resemblance. We can extrapolate that this person likes films that do x, y, and z. Some people use this as their source of navigation and direction: they search for films that do x, y, and z, perhaps even better than anyone of the previously seen films. Lists tend to objectify and solidify tastes, and some people like this because they see themselves as refining their tastes to a sort of ideal version of their unique tastes.

I tend to go about watching films in the opposite way (and despite this, I don't mean to suggest that my way is necessarily better). I'm attracted to films that I can't connect with, films by directors that are a mystery to me, films from genres or dealing with certain themes of which I am pretty clueless. What I like is the precise opposite of the objectification/solidification. For me, making a list of favorite films is tedious and unsatisfying: it reifies my tastes (the product of an incomplete series of experiences) to the point where the list becomes a dissecting table for me. I know what I like, and that knowledge is not comforting. I want to experience something new or to see a film I've already seen in a new way, not for the sake of novelty but because this search disrupts the kind of settled, solidified understanding of film that I resist. As such, I'm often open to reevaluating films I've seen and even my sense of what films I like, because for me, the map is either inherently misleading (because a map is not the same as what it maps) or merely beside the point (because a map can often only obstruct adventure, not aid it).

I'll add that your list of possible Eclipse collections is the type of list that appeals to me because it presents a stretch of uncharted territory for me in a way that is contextual enough to suggest adventure. In keeping with the map metaphor, a completely blank map is not what suggests adventure. It suggests chaos, confusion, and the work required to begin filling in the empty space, the gaps. What is most suggestive of adventure is a partial map, with blank patches around and in the midst of what we're already familiar with. I think it's important to remember that all maps lie, in the sense that they can never capture the flux of what's out there, always changing and realigning.

July 05, 2011 10:47 AM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

One of the lists I've saved for myself is of a series of lesser known Film Noir screened recently at the Cinematheque Francaise. Some of the titles were translated back to English for easy reference.

My biggest gap is still in silent films. Only a hadful of African films. Thanks to Noel Vera, I've been making more of an effort regarding Filipino cinema. I think the biggest challenge for many cinephiles is to break out of their respective comfort zones.

I also had to remind myself that I wrote about a DVD version of Puppetmaster as part of a DVD set of films by Hou, and that the versions currently available are in 4:3 aspect ratio.

One director in need of English subtitled DVD rescue is Susumu Hani, a peer of Oshima. If you haven't seen it, here's an interview from Midnight Eye.

I'm not as enamored of Criterion as some. I could name at least six films by Kon Ichikawa that are more important or more worthy of DVD release than The Makioka Sisters.

July 05, 2011 11:02 AM  
OpenID james1511 said...

I don't know if you know about ICheckMovies or not, but I've been using that for a while:
http://www.icheckmovies.com
There's numerous lists there (including the Rosenbaum) you can check your progress on.

As far as using guides goes, I think the first time I did that was going through an edition of the Maltin guide looking for the four star films, but I didn't really do it seriously until the first edition of 1001 Movies came out. That's been my main source since 2003, although I've been using a number of the other lists at ICM in the last 18 months or so as well. The Anthology Film Archives Essential Cinema list isn't on there, but looks like a useful guide.

Fantasy Eclipse releases? I'll settle for a second volume of Nikkatsu Noir.

July 05, 2011 11:15 AM  
Anonymous Andrew said...

Late Bresson. Nothing I'd like more to see them do.

July 05, 2011 11:22 AM  
Blogger Ian said...

Lists have always been my guide posts through cinema. When I first discovered film, the canon lists were my guiding hand through film history. Now whenever I want to explore specialty interests, specialty lists help me map out my subject. I think lists serve as maps, marking all the important landmarks and boundaries and giving a broader idea of the terrain too detailed to map.

On this subject: the current film canon is frustratingly bad. Its deficiencies are blatant and are criticized all the time. (It is Western-, narrative-, &c. centric.) Yet, as far as I know, there have been no serious attempts to remake the canon. The problem is that we always make the canon as the amalgamation of personal lists rather than the thoughtful, careful contemplation of experts. In Classical times, scholars made lists judging which works had the most cultural and artistic value and thus being most worthy of preservation; it is because of those efforts that we have the works of Euripides &c. that we do. Lists have a lot of cultural weight, and the film canon has played a very important part in film studies. It would be nice to see a concerted effort to address the current canon's inadequacies rather than the individual efforts (some brought up in this thread) which by themselves introduce new inadequacies.

Fantasy Eclipse: more Asian cinema. Criterion is as always hard at work on Japanese movies (which is great), but it would be lovely to see them add Chinese, Taiwanese, Indian, &c. movies to their schedule. Judging from the responses here, I am not alone. But I imagine there are many practical/legal obstacles for these films which prevent Criterion from obtaining them. :(

July 05, 2011 12:32 PM  
Anonymous Yusef Sayed said...

One of my favourite lists, because of the categories it used, was Brenez's list in MOVIE MUTATIONS which Girish has already covered in a previous blog post 'Strombolian films'.

Brenez writes, "So the most important films for me remain the ones that I didn't understand the first time I saw them, the films that demanded the greatest effort fromme before I could love them: Stombolian films, because the first of these was Stromboli"

The other categories Brenez goes on to use are much more imaginative than the usual 'Best Films of the 90s'-type.

For those who haven't seen the book, the categories are:

- "appetising films, which allow you to unexpectedly uncover an entire world"

- "the films that accompany you through your whole life"

- "the film to which you instinctively compare all others"

- "the film that runs through your head like a popular song"

- "those you can't watch again because you've loved them too much"

- "those that you understand in fragments, slowly, throughout a lifetime"

- "those that you hope to understand one day"

- "those for which you must wait to become much stronger"

- "those that suddenly offer you everything you needed"

I don't mean to quote so extensively from the text here, and I recommend it to everyone.

This is the type of list I'm more interested in compiling myself, according to my film experiences.

July 05, 2011 12:44 PM  
Blogger Adrian said...

Has Criterion ever done any Ruiz ??? It's unfair ! About 20 box-sets will do the trick for him ... how great it would be to have proper DVDs of LIFE IS A DREAM, THE BLIND OWL, TREASURE ISLAND, so many others ...

July 05, 2011 1:54 PM  
Anonymous Corey Creekmur said...

I have what I assume is a common, illogical relation to lists (of films as well as novels, comics, recordings, etc.): I am attracted to them, and pour over them, but recognize their essential ridiculousness, incompleteness, and ephemeral quality (the common strain from critics who provide top ten lists that, "if you asked me again tomorrow ..."). So I can't say I've ever really used a list in the way some suggest they have, as a guide to attempt to follow. For me lists only pretend to be of use: their pleasure is in part their instability (my favorite films list risks changing with each new film I see ...).

Thus I'm also attracted to playful but also potentially paradigm-shifting models such as Nicole's wonderful list which Yusef cites, which I assume is in part an homage to the famous Borges list cited by Foucault to shake up the reader beginning his THE ORDER OF THINGS, a classification system of animals that includes "those that belong to the Emperor, embalmed ones, those that are trained, ... those that are included in this classification ... and those that, at a distance, resemble flies." In my contribution on THE RECKLESS MOMENT to the Ophuls dossier in LA FURIA HUMANA you link to, I somewhat playfully located that film in an alternate history (perhaps best rendered as a list) of telephonic films, films in which images of people on phones are a linking thread. So I like the way in which such unanticipated categories shake up the way we are prone to think in terms of directors, genres, national cinemas, etc. How about lists of: the best uses of the color red in cinema? The most evocative putting on of hats in film? The greatest unmotivated tracking shots? Peter cites a category that also attracts me, lesser known film noir, but how about a list of films that may not qualify as film noir, but which I choose to view as such?

July 05, 2011 3:05 PM  
Anonymous Corey Creekmur said...

Oh, and for Criterion to ponder: as others have said, if I have a wish list, I won't go for the bare-bones Eclipse series, as wonderful as it is to have many of those. I'd like the full-blown treatment. The two volume (combined on blu-ray) Brakhage collection whets one's appetite for much, much more avant-garde cinema, which could in fact be complied as "complete works" for many people with less vast bodies of work than Brakhage. Thus, how about volumes of the films of Hollis Frampton, Jack Smith, Morgan Fisher, Bruce Conner, Robert Breer, Arthur Lipsett, Gregory Markoupoulos, etc.? (And I haven't even stepped outside of North America ...) Some of these folks are represented on video by a title here and there, some not at all. Preservation work has been done or is underway for some of these figures as well ... but where are the DVD sets? (Thank goodness for excellent, near-comphrensive sets of Deren, Anger, Su Friedrich, Larry Jordan, and many UK artists, at least. On his own, Bruce Baillie is releasing his work as well).

July 05, 2011 3:18 PM  
Anonymous preston said...

I will second the call for a Ruiz collection. There is so much that is unavailable. Also, I would like to see a set of Mrinal Sen's films, who I think is woefully underexposed.

July 05, 2011 5:14 PM  
Anonymous Bobby Wise said...

@Nathan

I'll back your choices wholeheartedly. Zilnik would be amazing for a Criterion release. But he's made way too many films for a unified Eclipse set. Though a good candidate would be his "Kenedi" trilogy. I'm of the opinion that Zilnik deserves a flat-out full-scale Criterion special edition. After all, his debut film "Early Works" won the Berlin Golden Bear. While we're on the topic, Zilnik just completed his newest film, "One Woman - One Century." It premieres later this month at the Motovun Film Festival in Croatia.

About Metin Erksan, he must be a master. I saw "A Time to Love" in Istanbul last summer and thought it was great. Then I saw "Dry Summer" this year on MUBI and thought that was brilliant (also a Berlin Golden Bear winner). I eagerly await a chance to see more. An Eclipse set would be wonderful for Erksan instead of having to introduce him with only one film.

July 05, 2011 5:21 PM  
Anonymous Yusef Sayed said...

Girish asked: "Any particular titles from the Rosenbaum 1000 (either available or unavailable on DVD) that you most want to see?"

TIH MINH

GREED(I saw a cut of this on TCM in the UK about five years ago, but didn't keep the VHS. I have looked every week at the listings for the past 2 years, to no avail. Why is TCM in the UK so poor? Every time ON DANGEROUS GROUND comes on, my heart skips a beat in the hope that it is the Nicholas Ray film - but it's always the (wince) Steven Segal film!)

THE PHENIX CITY STORY

A NEW LEAF

EADWEARD MUYBRIDGE, ZOOPRAXOGRAPHER (Jonathan, any help with this one?)

LA REGION CENTRALE (in the cinema)

THE ASTHENIC SYNDROME

Still, I'm happy with the titles that I have been able to see in the past few years thanks to the efforts of various labels.

July 05, 2011 5:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The best films are the ones that never make it onto the lists, which are fool's gold, impoversishing more than they enlighten.

Re the previous comment (which begins "@Nathan"), I'd bet that if the author had said simply "Nathan" or "Nathan:" or "Nathan," we would all have understood who the comment was directed to. Just mentioning something that makes me grit my teeth and make my dentist fret.

July 05, 2011 5:34 PM  
Anonymous Yusef Sayed said...

If the question of Eclipse wishlists had come up at the start of the year, my first vote would have gone to F.J. Ossang, but thankfully Agnes. B/Potemkine have put out a fine set in France, with English subs that I recommend to everyone here. Sure to be my 'favourite DVD of the year'.

July 05, 2011 5:44 PM  
Anonymous Corey Creekmur said...

Actually I like Bobby's point about Erksan -- which little-known or underrepresented directors are best introduced through a group of films rather than a single work (even perhaps a masterpiece)? Of course the auteur theory argued that all genuine auteurs were best appreciated through their oeuvre rather than isolated works (hence the worst Hitchcock is more interesting than the best Curtiz in the hard-line auteurist view), but it strikes me that even some less esteemed figures might be better appreciated when one sees a group of films rather than a single one: there's an appreciation gained in part via accumulation. What's a bit curious and sometimes frustrating about the Eclipse approach is that these are rarely attempts to offer "complete works" (hence the frustration some here anticipate in advance with a Ruiz set, which would only scratch the surface). I still find it odd that their Hiroshi Shimizu set, for instance, chopped the original Japanese release in half, with no plans, apparently for Part II of the Criterion set to appear. Still, he strikes me as a good case of a director who looks more interesting when you see a rich set of his films, even if individual films stand well on their own. He didn't just produce a curio we should know about, it appears, but produced a steady stream of interesting and refreshingly odd films...

July 05, 2011 5:44 PM  
Anonymous Corey Creekmur said...

Yusef, I didn't know about the Ossang set, and English subtitles on French DVDs?!? Almost unheard of! Thanks for this tip, and a reminder that Girish's site is invaluable for information as well as the exchange of ideas!

I also love Thom Andersen's Muybridge film, but know of no source for it on video: anybody else? (It makes the stunning claim that Muybridge's work was not, as we have come to think, anticipating cinema, but opposed to cinema, seeking to stop rather than generate motion!)

July 05, 2011 5:56 PM  
Anonymous Yusef Sayed said...

Corey,

What's more, the supplementary interviews with Ossang and his early shorts are subtitled too! It's only the accompanying, wonderfully illustrated booklet that is untranslated - but I'm not complaining.

July 05, 2011 5:58 PM  
Blogger Sergio said...

JEAN EUSTACHE!!!!

July 05, 2011 6:07 PM  
Blogger Florian said...

I DREAM of a Box of Anne-Marie Miéville!!!
I'd also love one of Jon Jost and Pedro Costa.
Thanks for those Dreams ...

July 05, 2011 6:13 PM  
Blogger Nathan said...

Corey, I'm writing my dissertation about Shimizu, and I've written part of it this year for my Japanese exchange course, so I've been spending a lot of time with the two main children's films of the second collection (Children in the Wind and Four Seasons of Children), and the second set is very, very much worth getting your hands on as well. The other two films may be slightly minor in comparison, but as you said, they acquire a group dynamic that's constituted one of the fundamental cinephilic discoveries in my own personal trajectory so far.

And I've just thought of another few, but a particularly amazing one would be Akio Jissoji's films about ethics in the early 1970s. So far I've only seen Mujo, but it was quite a shock. I've rarely seen a film so schizophrenic: it narrates its human story with a fervor that's downright feverish, yet is one of the films I know which aesthetically most radically decenters the human element from the flow of framing and cutting.

July 05, 2011 7:26 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

July 05, 2011 8:46 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

I'd amend your excellent choice of Mark Rappaport - the definition of 'criminally under-seen' - to add Impostors and Chain Letters but remove Rock Hudson and Jean Seberg - to keep his 'narrative' films separate from his essay films, which though I enjoy, to me aren't quite the singular accomplishments his earlier stuff is -- while we're at it the box set should include Mozart in Love which I've never been able to see, as well as Casual Relations and the collection of shorts that only ever saw a small VHS release on Videoactive in the late 90s. Local Color and Scenic Route are the best I'd agree, but everything should get one of these prestigious releases!

July 05, 2011 8:48 PM  
Anonymous Júnior said...

My wish list:

Alessandro Blasetti.
Adolfo Arrieta
Riccardo Freda
Werner Schroeter
Michael Snow
Lino Brocka
Stephen Dwoskin

July 05, 2011 11:23 PM  
Blogger Jabberwock said...

Interesting post, Girish. Thought you might be interested in this excerpt from David Thomson's Introduction to his book Have You Seen...? A Personal Introduction to 1000 Films:

Choosing their top 10 is a game most critics are accustomed to - and one that allows depressives to ask, "Are there really ten worth keeping?" Writing about a select hundred is a regular form of bookmaking - the exercise of taste makes a moderate-sized book and a harmless pantheon. But going for a thousand is a gesture toward history - it seems to require that the selector weighs the old against the new. It's like wondering whether Beowulf can talk to Lolita.

How is it that a thousand seems to omit so much more than a whimsical ten? How can ten hundred escape being an outline of the history of the medium and of our jumping tastes? If you're picking ten, you may not consider the silent era in Sweden. But if you're doing a thousand, then those Stillers and Sjöströms deserve reappraisal.

July 05, 2011 11:36 PM  
Anonymous Bobby Wise said...

Rosenbaum's top 100 that I'd really like to see are:

Les Vampires (Feuillade)
City Lights (Chaplin)
The Steel Helmet (Fuller)
The Naked Spur (Mann)
A Man Escaped (Bresson)
Nouvelle Vague (Godard)

There are a ton of interesting films on his list that I haven't seen but these jump out at me.

Regarding the larger question about lists, without additional commentary I find them to be virtually worthless. They provide not much more than a millisecond of pleasure. I've never warmed to the thought of making my own list. It seems so cold and detached. A little too scientific. I can't even name my top 10 films of all time. The most I can get is 2 in, and jockeying for position as number three always changes.

July 06, 2011 5:56 AM  
Blogger Nathan said...

The more I think about it, the more, in terms of marketing, it makes sense for Eustache and Brocka to happen, though for very different reasons.

For Eustache, it would be quite easy to publish his complete works: a Criterion DVD of La Maman et la Putain is is on many, many people's wish list and would definitely be very well received (like l'Enfant Secret, why is this only available in Japan!?). Having his most famous film out would then make it easier to pave the way for an eclipse series of his shorts and other features (it would, admittedly, be a slightly bigger eclipse set than usual, but extremely valuable).

As for Brocka... Up until now, Eclipse seems to have focused on either less famous films of well-known masters, or lesser-known masters in established "film-countries" (Japan, France, Italy...). But it seems to me that format is ideally suited to bringing to light unacknowledged masters in un-recognized countries. None of Brocka's films alone would probably get enough commercial attention to warrant an independent release as of yet, but a box-set of four of his films would certainly pack enough of a punch to get him, and through him Philippino cinema in general, a lot of well-deserved attention. Another director, who might benefit equally from that same approach while indicating other riches, would be Souleymane Cisse (whose complete works, except for the first, which isn't a feature, and the latest, are available, though at extortionate prices, from the Swiss Trigon films).

July 06, 2011 6:55 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Trevor, you write: “I'm attracted to films that I can't connect with, films by directors that are a mystery to me, films from genres or dealing with certain themes of which I am pretty clueless. What I like is the precise opposite of the objectification/solidification.”

I find that lists can also help me with these kinds of films -- for which, like you, I share an attraction. Only: the vast majority of lists we encounter don’t feature such films. Which is why I’d like to see more lists of the playful, unorthodox, poetically inclined kind that Corey and Yusef invoke. In fact, one of my great dissatisfactions with end-of-the-year lists is how uniform and predictable (and ultimately boring) they can be. When a UFO list comes along with the kinds of filmmakers, films and genres you mention, it’s like a blast of fresh air, especially if it’s accompanied by a well-written, evocative commentary that further stimulates my interest in these films. We need a BOOK of such unusual, idiosyncratic, playful, unfamiliar lists!

Trevor, I wanted to ask: Are there certain critics/writers who lead you to the kinds of unexplored territories you seek in cinema? Are there critics or curators or filmmakers who you turn to for the “adventure of the unknown” that you look for?

Peter, I agree with you both about Susumi Hani (I’ve only seen SHE AND HE, on the basis of which I’d love to see much more by him) and Ichikawa, who is criminally underappreciated. I was able to catch a 25-film retrospective of Ichikawa a decade ago, and was dumbstruck: he’s truly one of the masters of widescreen cinema.

July 06, 2011 9:34 AM  
Blogger girish said...

I wanted to add: Thank you to all for this great conversation, and these great ideas and suggestions!

July 06, 2011 9:35 AM  
Anonymous Yusef Sayed said...

I'm currently in the early stages of organising a film club, so with regard to lists I'd love to hear if anyone has any thoughtful ideas on what to show, in a way that blends under recognised avant garde films, features etc. that gives attendees a good grounding in film history over the months, but one which deviates from any textbook models. Anyone have any experiences with this, lists etc?

I'm also always enthusiastic about imaginative double bills e.g ROSETTA and THE WRESTLER, which I know crops up across various blogs and forums, but I can't get enough!

July 06, 2011 10:36 AM  
Anonymous Corey Creekmur said...

News of the death of Mani Kaul, perhaps the key figure of Indian New Cinema, begs for a good set of his major films, along with the other great Indian filmmakers (including his mentor Ritwik Ghatak) already named in this discussion. Ironically, the long-delayed availability of Indian popular cinema on DVD worldwide has tended to eclipse Indian art cinema, once the only work from India (relatively) easy to see in the West. While much of this work is available, it tends to be in poor copies, so decent releases are long overdue. It remains shocking how little of Satyajit Ray's work is available (although the UK label Artificial Eye has been putting out decent versions of a good portion of his work). A Criterion set of the Apu Trilogy has seemed a no-brainer for years.

By the way, Florian asks for a Pedro Costa set -- while one always wants more, I assume you know of Criterion's LETTERS FROM FONTAINHAS set of three key Costa films? It's hard to imagine a more careful presentation of those films on DVD.

July 06, 2011 10:49 AM  
Anonymous Corey Creekmur said...

Yusef, in the books on major film US film societies that Scott MacDonald has complied -- volumes on Cinema 16, Canyon Cinema, and Art in Cinema -- it's fascinating to see how heterogeneous their early film screenings were, mixing silent classics, documentaries, cartoons, and earlier and the latest experimental films in any given show. While these screenings were before video -- when seeing something like a Chaplin short or even THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI was not that easy -- the records of these early screenings still suggest a flexibility and openness that later programs will rarely allow. (There are also reports of sometimes hostile audiences, so beware the bold juxtaposition!)

July 06, 2011 10:58 AM  
Anonymous Yusef Sayed said...

Corey,

it's funny you should mention hostile receptions, as I am currently reading about the Art in Cinema society in San Francisco and the venom directed at Christopher Maclaine's THE END. Seems unimaginable now.

Here's a list of (BOTH GOOD) films within films - that is, films watched by characters in films:

IRMA VEP - LES VAMPIRES
DANGEROUS GAME - BURDEN OF DREAMS
KING OF NEW YORK - NOSFERATU
STILL LIFE - A BETTER TOMORROW
DONNIE DARKO - EVIL DEAD

July 06, 2011 11:04 AM  
Blogger Jonathan Rosenbaum said...

I'm told that the reason for Eustache not appearing on DVD is the difficulties/obstacles posed by his son Boris, who has the rights. Too bad--but at least Eustache retrospectives are still happening. I met Francoise Lebrun at one of these in Mexico City last spring.

July 06, 2011 11:09 AM  
Anonymous Yusef Sayed said...

Jonathan,

I would like to mention that your regular 'Global Discoveries on DVD' lists for Cinemascope, which have thankfully returned for a new installment recently are lists that I refer to time and time again. Wonderful!

July 06, 2011 11:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

a very long list
http://www.thislongcentury.com/

July 06, 2011 1:26 PM  
Anonymous Corey Creekmur said...

I'm also a big fan of Jonathan's column, but thought it had been retired? If not, I'm delighted.

More films within films (both good):

GOODBYE DRAGON INN -- DRAGON INN (OK, that was too easy)
VIVRE SA VIE -- THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (and so was that ...)
PLATFORM -- AWAARA
THE LAST PICTURE SHOW -- RED RIVER

July 06, 2011 1:40 PM  
Blogger girish said...

OK, A few more:

-- THE KING OF COMEDY (PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET)
-- FEMME FATALE (DOUBLE INDEMNITY)
-- HALLOWEEN (Hawks-Nyby's THE THING)
-- BREATHLESS (Boetticher's WESTBOUND)
-- TWO WEEKS IN ANOTHER TOWN (THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL)

July 06, 2011 1:47 PM  
Blogger girish said...

I'm reminded that Adrian's essay on canons ("Light My Fire"), originally a conference paper delivered at the Buenos Aires film festival, is now available on the Internet. For those who've never read it, it's a terrific piece, and very relevant to our conversation here. Let me quote an excerpt:

"Critics who are truly cinephiles, I believe, often champion extremes. They go for the highest and the lowest. They champion the most difficult, severe, rigorous, minimalist, experimental films; and, equally, they also champion the often despised, maligned and overlooked products of popular culture - like vulgar teenage comedies, gross horror, trashy exploitation, ultra-violent action, even pornography. At both extremes, cinephile critics look for excess and intensity. A piece of their aesthetic credo is summed up in the words of critic Paul Willemen, who once proposed "frenzy, madness, neurosis, extravaganza, monstrosity, etc" as "positive values" in a work of art. (2) What such critics usually do not like, on principle, is a certain middle-of-the-road, middlebrow cinema - or, more exactly, a middle-of-the-road taste in cinema, safe and predictable, between those two extremes of the highest and lowest.

Our topic today is canons, and what it would mean to propose a new canon. I'm going to talk about canons, critics and lists. So first, let me make a distinction between a canon and a list. [...] Lists tend to be very personal - individual, idiosyncratic, eccentric. [...] A canon is very different from a list. A canon, as I imagine it, has the weight of impersonal, collective, institutional authority, like a law engraved on a tablet that Moses brought down from some mountain. A canon is always the result of a broad survey of serious opinions. It can often strike us as a bit stuffy, a bit dutiful, a bit dead. Canons sanctify and legitimate 'the greats', the classics, the perfect films. But here's my big problem with such canons: something of the heart and soul of cinema, of the passionate experience, the passionate encounters each of us have with cinema, get erased from them. The filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier put this well when he said: "I don't much like these [canonical] lists: too many beautiful and important films are missing, and they leave out the texture, the richness and life of cinema by not including all those 'imperfect' films which are more meaningful and alive than frozen, dated 'classics' ".

However, we have to note something strange and curious about film canons. There is not one, single canon that holds absolute sway in any country at any time. [...]

Actually, I think there are three major kinds of canons that circulate in global film culture...."

July 06, 2011 3:02 PM  
Blogger Just Another Film Buff said...

Girish,

Thanks a lot for the plug as well as the excellent post here. Mani Kaul is pretty much what has been on my mind and he'd be the first name I'd throw in here.

(So many filmmakers I've never even heard of, in the comments section!)

While I see the immense value of list-making, it also makes me weary in some ways. With the availability of so many films from the canon, a large part of cinephilia seems to have taken to chasing lists (I was a religious list chaser for a brief period myself) and watching as many films as possible - a project that's doomed from start - instead of engaging with a few films in a healthy way. (Of course, the two tendencies aren't incompatible). Too much "consumption" of canon movies seems to be going on (either catching up or expanding canons). Personally, I'd prefer to engage deeply with a few films than just hop across canonical milestones for the heck of it. That's the reason I like very eccentric, personalized canons (not based on a vague "taste" factor). Of course, I do love that standard canons exist which get you going on what Film is, but beyond that, trying to exhaust all the masters of world cinema, beyond a limit, seems to me like an exercise in gluttony.

Few filmmakers that I can currently think of, who'd do well with DVD treatment:

Lav Diaz (A blindspot? a challenge? an impossibility?)
Shinsuke Ogawa
Daryush Shokof
Mani Kaul
Guy Debord
The Films Division Of India gang
Girish Kasaravalli
Sohrab Shahid Saless
Darezhan Omirbayev
Early Kiarostami
Govindan Aravindan
Thom Andersen
and, as always, Chris Marker.

Cheers!

July 06, 2011 3:14 PM  
Blogger Matthew Flanagan said...

The film I'd most like to see a company with the rep and resources of Criterion tackle would be Out 1, but as it's now in the works elsewhere, never mind. It'd be great to see some projects like that from Criterion: the emancipation of long or radical films from their poor quality avi ghetto, like Tin Minh, Ogawa's documentaries, Straub-Huillet's Othon, Too Early, Too Late, etc. They confirmed they'd be releasing the resto of A Brighter Summer Day a while ago, so looking forward to that at last. And, as Corey suggested, more Shimizu would be welcome too -- no fuss necessary, just the films, like last time...

July 06, 2011 8:20 PM  
Anonymous Yusef Sayed said...

Thanks for posting the link to Adrian's piece. I agree with many of the 'problems' that Adrian raises and so would like to illustrate certain points with my own examples:

"* Canons massively favour narrative films, and exclude documentaries."

I would put Wang Bing's WEST OF THE TRACKS on any all-encompassing list

"* Canons like to take refuge in the past, and flee from the challenges of the present. Some canons are happy to shut up shop with Raging Bull in 1980."

Ossang's DOCTEUR CHANCE, Fincher's ZODIAC and Wakamatsu's UNITED RED ARMY would get my nomination

"* Virtually all forms of avant-garde or experimental cinema are banished from canons - which means, for example, that the best women filmmakers in cinema history, like Maya Deren and Chantal Akerman, are rarely honoured in such surveys."

For those who haven't seen Mounir Fatmi's MANIPULATIONS, or Peter Tscerkassky's OUTER SPACE check them out.


"* Canons favour an organic aesthetics - they valorise whole, entire films as perfect objects. This leaves no room for imperfect films, or brilliant bits or fragments of films. And we all know there are many films that are great for just ten minutes, maybe just for one scene."

This is probably the main reason why I have rarely attempted to formulate my own list, when prompted by friends. Most would probably think Exorcist III is crap (it isn't) but they need to see the hospital corridor scene!

Adrian, are you able to help me out with your own and Nicole Brenez's lists from Senses of Cinema which are no longer accessible? WOuld love to peruse them.

Just Another Film Buff, I second your vote for Lav Diaz. I contacted him in order to buy his films, but his assistant told me in an email that there has been much more interest than they imagined and don't currently have the production facilities to meet demand. That's encouraging, if a little disappointing. The Eclipse box would probably be about 15 discs!

July 07, 2011 8:55 AM  
Anonymous Trevor L. said...

Girish:

I completely agree about year-end lists, which are probably my least favorite type of list (though an essential type that I nonetheless frequently consult). I find their uniformity depressing. It's not any single list or list-writer who is conveying this, but collectively, I get from these lists a wearisome way of concluding that "Of course these are the best films this year! (So why bother?)" I remember reading one particular list, compiled from many authors, that was of the best films of the last decade, and I couldn't help feel "Is this it?" In fact, I had a hard time feeling enthused about the films on the list that I actually did love, because they seemed to lose their luster within this matrix.

To answer your question, one of the single most valuable resources for me, I think, has been the a_film_by Yahoo group, which I wish was still active. I also think it's great that someone like Dan Sallitt has compiled his year-by-year lists of favorites on his website. I especially love his color-coded system, which Jaime Christley has also adopted for his lists of favorite films by year. Jaime's Unexamined Essentials (created with input from a number of individuals) is such a great resource too. Beyond that, I get an overwhelming amount of information from Twitter, which I think is great for simply becoming aware of things you weren't aware of before. Collectively, Twitter is a useful source of information that falls somewhere between what you'd find in the ultra-tailored individual lists and what you get from the bland, homogenized compiled lists.

However, I'd add that the unexplored territories I'm looking for are not just films I hadn't heard of before. It's also a matter of seeing new things in what we think we're already familiar with. And in terms of retraining oneself to see film in a new way, nothing's better than reading Manny Farber, in my mind. But I also always get a thrill when I see that someone has taken the effort to write about and champion a film that I had previously dismissed as not worth seeing. That experience is one of the primary reasons I read film criticism.

Now, if we're talking about lists/resources that I'd like to see, my dream is for something like Sarris' book that picks up where he left off.

July 07, 2011 10:42 PM  
Blogger Catherine Grant said...

Great discussion and thanks for all suggestions: I'd want Anne-Marie Miéville and Mani Kaul boxsets, too. The latter director's films I definitely came across on cinephile lists which whet my appetite.
I'm interested in how in his piece on canons, Adrian figures passionate cinephilic attachment, above all, to the 'extreme' (high/low) ends of canonic film tastes. I think he's right about how constitutive this binary is of much cinephilia. I share many of those polar tastes, too, but I'm increasingly interested in 'other' excesses, such as those of the - oftentimes despised- 'middle brow'. Film studies writers I deeply respect are looking to this field in their current work - Mattias Frey, Chris Cagle, Sally Faulkner and my brilliant colleague Rosalind Galt, for instance. I've seen a couple of recent Mike Leigh films in the last weeks - 'upper middlebrow' ones, probably. And I've had the unexpected experience with them that Trevor L. describes above as 'radical realignment'. Like many British cinephiles, I have an at times ambivalent relationship to our national cinema, and I've 'liked' some of Leigh's films, in a (damningly) 'faint praise' way, before. But watching the brilliant HAPPY-GO-LUCKY and ANOTHER YEAR, I'm reminded that the 'middlebrow' - like the 'trashy', the 'slow cinema', the 'excessive' - is a fix(at)ed viewing position that can be challenged by seeing and making a critical case for particular films, for their particular aesthetics and affects. As Srikanth Srinivasan beautifully puts it in his discussion of Perkins' Film as Film, There is nothing more to ask for, especially if you are one who wants to love cinema for what it is and not [for] how it could have been'.

July 09, 2011 4:30 AM  
Anonymous brian said...

Just want to say that James Benning on Eclipse would be a dream come true. The California trilogy, or perhaps 13 Lakes, 10 Skies, and RR.

July 10, 2011 1:17 PM  
Blogger Matthew Flanagan said...

'I'm reminded that the 'middlebrow' - like the 'trashy', the 'slow cinema', the 'excessive' - is a fix(at)ed viewing position...'

Interesting, Catherine, it's easy to forget to look at it like this... For me, the problem with the middlebrow, and its relationship to 'extremes', is that it's an inherently conservative position -- one that's too good at cannily diluting more experimental, radical stances or attempting to write/film them out of existence. There's also something (very) irritatingly sacred about the position of its practitioners and defenders (like, say, the fuss leading up to Gabriel Josipovici's book on modernism). But this idea of an 'excessive middlebrow' is intriguing -- a tentative way out of the middle-of-the-road mummification that Adrian alludes to in his article, perhaps...

July 10, 2011 1:22 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Rosenbaum said...

Brian, I don't know if this is still in the works, but James Benning's original plan was to (eventually) make all his films available for free on the Internet.

July 10, 2011 6:05 PM  
Blogger Matthew Flanagan said...

re: Benning -- I hope what Jonathan says is true, but in the meantime Edition Filmmuseum are rumoured to be working on DVDs: Landscape Suicide in November, then the two final 16mm works next year...

July 10, 2011 7:03 PM  
Blogger Adrian said...

As James B explained it to me in Slovenia a few years back, the Austrian Filmmuseum will release his films on DVD one by one and then, at the end of that process, the entire oeuvre will be released for free on-line. Upon reaching that part of the story, James smiled and delivered the punchline: "And that'll be the day I can lay down and die" !!

July 10, 2011 7:20 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Catherine, I'm very eager to read writing that focuses on the 'excesses of the middlebrow'--writing that (as you say) makes a case for and defends specific films.

July 10, 2011 7:53 PM  
Blogger Brian H. said...

Thanks for the news--Great to hear about the upcoming availability of Benning's works! I wonder how quickly this will happen...I've been giving thought to writing my undergrad thesis on Benning, and my guess is I'll have to find other ways to engage with his work, whether prints in an archive somewhere or (gulp) low-quality illegal downloads.

As far as middlebrow goes, it's worth distinguishing between films that are perhaps marketed as middlebrow and middlebrow as a set of reception conventions. This is, I believe, more or less what you are saying, Catherine. Framed this way, the problem with the middlebrow is that politically motivated films get diluted in "l'art pour l'art." Conservative, as Matthew points out. So Catherine's colleague Rosalind Galt can write as she does about how spectacular landscape images in 1990s Italian melodramas like Cinema Paradiso can crack open history and function as Walter Benjamin's dialectical images, serving a political "awakening" function. But is this really how the film's audiences engage(d) with those images?

I'm more interested in how Benning's railroads serve as dialectical images...but that's just my cranky modernist bent.

July 10, 2011 9:40 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Brian H., Matthew, Catherine -- Apologies for being 'dense' and slow on the uptake here (it's been a fiercely humid day here today!) but I was wondering: Exactly where does the 'excess' lie in middlebrow films? In their reception? (If so, where/how?) Are there only certain middlebrow films that evince this excess (the specific films that can be 'defended'--as Catherine said)? I'm a little unclear on this.

Thanks!

July 10, 2011 10:01 PM  
Blogger Matthew Flanagan said...

Girish, I'm envisaging some sort of accelerationism of the middle-of-the-road that would expose its limitations, eventually curdling to such a degree that it'd have to eradicate itself, but I'll bet that's not what Catherine's getting at!

July 11, 2011 10:04 AM  
Blogger Brian H. said...

I don't have a great familiarity with this scholarship either, Girish, but the way I see it is that there is an excess in the films that complicates the conservative reception tendencies that we pejoratively call 'middlebrow.' This excess could be something sought out in individual films but could also be connected to genre, like the way Thomas Elsaesser and others in academia reclaimed Sirkian melodrama as subversive. Now, MY problem is that, okay, I believe Mr. Elsaesser that there are subversive elements in Sirk, and I believe Ms. Galt that the landscape image in 1990s Italian popular melodrama can be read politically, but there is a difference between "CAN be read politically" and "IS read politically." The potential is there, but is it fulfilled? Or is it countered by middlebrow conservativism, by "l'art pour l'art"?

July 11, 2011 4:20 PM  
Blogger Michael C said...

I've arrived late to the party, having just read the wealth of fantastic material/ ideas both in your original post and in the slew of comments. It seems the conversation has drifted away from the original premise, but I just couldn't help but say a thing or two regards lists.
For the most part, I love a good list. I acknowledge the problems inherent in lists (calcification of the same old canon, ignorance of hundreds of incredible films, developing a slavish adherence to 'conquering' the list), and I often find many lists to be frustratingly mundane. But it was a list that I chanced upon in my late teens many many years ago that got me started on my path to cinema-obsession (John Kobal Presents The Top 100 Movies), and it has been lists that have kept the fuel in the tank and broadened the cinema horizons. A good list promotes discovery, exploration, wonder, and the possibility of wandering off the list-path and into whole new cinema worlds. Jonathan Rosenbaum's list is an incredible resource, not only in sparking a desire to track down and view elusive or unheralded films, but also as a springboard into researching little-known films/directors. I keep a rotating rough list of films from Rosenbaum's list that I refer to from time to time, when I want to track down or browse for a film.
A current list goes a little something like this:
LONESOME (Paul Fejos), HOTEL DES INVALIDES (Georges Franju), CONFESSIONS OF AN OPIUM EATER (Albert Zugsmith), NOVICIAT (Noel Burch), COCKFIGHTER (Monte Hellman), THE SCENIC ROUTE (Mark Rappaport), HYENAS (Djibril Diop Mambety), ICE (Robert Kramer), WISE BLOOD (John Huston), PHILIPS RADIO (Joris Ivens).
As much as I refer to 'big' lists, like Rosenbaum's, or the ubiquitous "1001 Films You Must See..." or "They Shoot Pictures..." lists, it's the little lists that you chance upon that can be extremely rewarding and eye-opening. One that I encountered last year that made my head spin was a taxonomy of found footage film by Nicole Brenez in her essay “A Cartography of Found Footage.” I found it in a booklet accompanying a video of Ken Jacobs TOM TOM, THE PIPER'S SON. So many films and filmmakers I'd barely heard of at that time, truly a treasure trove.
Thanks for the wonderful post.
P.S. For those who mentioned earlier about seeking out EADWARD MUYBRIDGE, ZOOPRAXOGRAPHER – for some reason, here in Melbourne there are at least two universities and one film organisation that have video copies of this. It might be a long trek, but if you're ever in this neck of the woods.....

July 12, 2011 2:39 AM  
Blogger David M said...

I second the Edward Yang suggestion emphatically.

The one fantasy collection that I dream of is a Scorsese Documentaries box set.

July 12, 2011 4:04 PM  
Blogger Adrian said...

Just leave The Rolling Stones out of that one, please !

July 12, 2011 4:13 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Ha! I haven't seen that one. But his latest, PUBLIC SPEAKING (on Fran Lebowitz), has a few interesting moments.

July 12, 2011 4:30 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you for your thoughts, Matthew, Brian H, Michael C, and others!

July 12, 2011 4:31 PM  
Blogger Adrian said...

I want a box-set of someone maybe even the Ferroni Gang know nothing of: Spanish director Basilio Martín Patino. I saw some of his work in Las Palmas and was amazed. And his career is so vast ! (he's 81 now, and apparently going full-drive into gallery film works.) A Spanish Wikipedia entry is here:
http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basilio_Mart%C3%ADn_Patino

July 15, 2011 1:26 AM  
Blogger Steven Elworth said...

So Eclipse is giving us another Kaurismaki box. What I want is more Naruse, More Mizoguchi, more Rosselini, The Rivette that Girish mentioned, the Bresson not on DVD and better ones of LANCELOT and L'Argent, more Bardem, The missing Antonionis, The Kiarostamis not yet on DVD including the trilogy and HOMEWORK, The missing Sternbergs such as DISHONORED and SHANGHAI EXPRESS. 30s Ophuls and although three are available in multi-region land. the American Ophuls, the two missing thirties French Claires, a Ghatak box and many more!!!

July 16, 2011 12:35 AM  
Blogger Nathan said...

How could I not have thought of this before!? Godard's TV works (his series, maybe except Histoire(s), as well as his commercials) would be one of the most essential set of films to be made available in good quality copies.

As to Basilio Martin Patino, Olaf Möller placed his "Canciones para despues de una guerra" on his top ten a few years ago :). However, agreed. If all his other films are as good as that one, I will gladly second your motion in favour of!

July 17, 2011 5:51 AM  
Anonymous Bobby Wise said...

I can see Criterion doing "Histoire" in a huge special edition. Godard's Dziga Vertov films seem more like an Eclipse set.

July 17, 2011 7:23 AM  

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