I think if people actually left Mubi for a week they’d realize that listing Rules of the Game and Pickpocket as favorite is fairly idiosyncratic in the grand scheme of things. It only seems as though listing such films the way Schrader did is trite and original, because your immersed in an online community where you’re surrounded by a small but outspoken group of film lovers, who are probably among the only few in the US to acknowledge the importance and greatness of such films. Thus, it’s your perception, due to your constant frequenting of Mubi, that the norm is to list something like Rules of the Game as a favorite film. True reality can be distorted by what one perceives on a daily basis, and many users on Mubi perceive that such films seemed to be liked by the majority, but they only perceive that, since they’re on Mubi so often. Thus, reality is distorted by the constant frequenting of Mubi. Go ahead, I’m sure you’d have to walk several blocks in the city before you’d come across someone who appreciated Rules of the Game and by that point it would seem like a breath of fresh air, and I doubt you’d be criticizing them for championing the “hackneyed” list of films from the Janus films catalog, which is anything but hackneyed, even if it’s not all encompassing. It’s certainly not all encompassing, but to say that listing Pickpocket as a favorite film is a trite choice is completely misguided if you actually sit back and look at the state of film appreciation in the contemporary world.
I guess all I’m saying is a sensible critic, who may be mainly familiar with films from Western Europe would only add to the canon, having discovered films from other parts of the globe. I have issues, however, with the practice of elevating the status of more obscure films from outside the Western world at the expense of films from the Western world. Is it necessary to bring down French cinema, in order to bring up Central Asian cinema. Why can’t you just to what’s already been amassed, instead of elevating one at the expense of the other when both cinemas may be equally worthy of respect. If one’s favorite film is Pickpocket great. If one’s favorite film is from central Asia, that’s great too. The notoriety of the film should be irrelevant, as long as they’re championing the best of cinema, regardless of its name recognition. Putting down others to prop up your protegees is highly duplicitous in my opinion.
Rules of the Game may not be known by most cinemagoers but for decades the film has regularly been placed among the top 2 or 3 overall in international polls such as Sight and Sound. I had never heard of Mubi/Auteurs when Schrader’s choice of the film seemed pretty standard.
Fair enough, but I get the sense that unless one’s favorite film isn’t from the US, Western Europe, or Japan, they can’t win in the eyes of certain Mubi users.
“I think if people actually left Mubi for a week they’d realize that listing Rules of the Game and Pickpocket as favorite is fairly idiosyncratic in the grand scheme of things.”
Well, part of it as well is that, as far as I can tell, those two film have been among Schrader’s (who’s 64) “personal canon” since he saw them in the in the ‘60s, so it’s not even as if he’s allowing his taste to be normalized by the status quo, the “taste” and “judgement” of his generation is a large part of what got those two films firmly “canonized” in the first place. Criticizing him for listing these films is like criticizing an 80-year-old man for being hep to swing music.
Also, that list of films may not exactly be his list of “favorite” films, since he did imply he used objective criteria of determining greatness, in order to devise that list, so there may be films in that list he may not actually “like” but feels obligated to list, due to it’s being an “important” work of cinema or what have you.
Also, Kenji, you probably learned about Rules of the Game before Mubi/The Auteurs even existed, and most people in North America who appreciated world cinema, and films like The Rules of the Game probably joined Mubi once it existed anyway, provided their computer savvy enough to surf the internet.
My favourite film is from Japan. By nationality, my current top 10, as provided for a Mubi poll and elsewhere: Japan 2, Soviet Union 2, France 2, USA 2, Portugal 1, West Germany 1 (followed by USA, West Germany, France, USA, India..).
I’ve not noticed much criticism of these preferences. But it’s true that such a selection doesn’t do much for a better geographical spread of admired films, in the face of dominance by a small number of countries. (My longer lists a bit more internationally representative). I think it’s fair to question lists- certainly one as long as 60 confined to a small number of countries- that perpetuate the unbalanced status quo, though everyone is entitled to their taste. The problem arises from mass replication that undermines opportunities for neglected countries and their film-makers. Rules of the Game is one of my top 10 and i certainly wouldn’t criticise Schrader for his admiration!
These films are also championed by Roger Ebert, who often criticized here for his populism, but that knife cuts both ways. Because he’s well known to the general public, his regular readers (who are not all hardcore cinefiles) continue to be introduced to these classics.
It’s odd though. I can’t determine whether Ebert is populist at heart who, out of a sense of deep-seated guilt and obligation, feels required to introduce his readers to “cultural vegetables” like An Autumn Afternoon and Vivre Sa Vie, or if he’s a “high-minded” individual at heart, who out of pressure from society feels obligated to cater to a populist sensibility to avoid allegations of elitism, in the process walking the fine line between pop culture and high culture, framing himself as an authority the masses can look up to as an intermediary between the masses and the intellectuals.
Yes, there is a value to “bridge” critics like Ebert, who introduce mainstream viewers to a wider world- but in general we could do not only with many more “bridge” critics but also many more who are fully immersed in the whole range of national cinemas. Instead we have most critics who concentrate on Hollywood, and with not much regard for the history of cinema either. Recentism and national narrow-mindedness are hardly restricted to films, but cultural imperialism needs to be countered i.mo. International film lovers on Mubi are in a minority and interest in world cinema is badly served by the international media; it’s galling on a relatively rare site for world cinema to have to defend wide-ranging interests as if appreciating directors well beyond Hollywood is anti-American and/or elitist.
Even publications like Sight and Sound have a poor record on truly international representation and respect. Many of us are aware of box office and the sort of films popular worldwide (which after all dominate adverts, screens, the media in many countries), but Mubi is at least a space to champion others. This doesn’t mean we’re in some ivory tower totally divorced from reality
I’ve been reading Ebert my whole life and I really don’t think he’s that strategic. He seems to sincerely love film and promoting the films he loves. He’s also a journalist more than an academic, so he values communicating his ideas more than basking in the glow of being right. When he champions films like Dark City, I don’t see an agenda any more than when he champions Floating Weeds.
I’m not so sure I agree with the gist of what Schrader’s trying to say. I admire his efforts at defining what determines a film as a work of art and subsequently as something that should be added to the canon, but I don’t understand why cinema needs to adapt to technological advances. I don’t sense he’s questioning cinema’s position as a form of art. Artists can utilize new forms of technology, in order to produce a work of art if they so please, but to say that an art form needs to adapt to new technological advances, in order to “progress” and stay alive is preposterous in my opinion. Sure, cinema was made possible by a technological advancement, but at the same time it was the artists who utilized a new form of technology to bring their artistic vision to fruition. It’s not if they adapted to a new technological advancement (i.e. the moving image) out of necessity and obligation.
On a final note, do people honestly believe filmmakers like Hong Sang soo, Aichatpong, and Pedro Costa would badger someone for watching a Bresson film on a certain evening instead of a film from a “neglected” country, simply because they’ve chosen to watch a film from a country whose cinema has already gotten its share of appreciation? Probably not. They’d probably be happy enough that people were choosing to watch real works of art as opposed to commercial fluff, regardless of which country it’s from. The country’s represented in a best of list, should be irrelevant. The only thing that should matter is the quality of the films, regardless of country of origin. A list of films from Southeast Asia should be just as commendable as a list of films from France and Italy, as long as the films on the lists are of commensurate quality. And someone who would actually go see a Bresson film and truly appreciate it for what it is instead of just watching it to show others he’s cultured and understands art, which is essentially what Schrader’s doing with his list at the end of that article, would probably be open-minded enough to watch Southeast Asian cinema anyway. Why else would Schrader include Last Year at Marienbad on his list, which is a far more radical and challenging film to sit through than The Power of Kangwon Province? And La Notte is probably comparable to Kangwon Province, in terms of difficulty.
The truth is people like Hong Sang soo and Jafar Pahani probably look up to filmmakers from the usual countries, like Antonioni, Bresson, Bunuel, or whomever. In other words, filmmakers from countries whose national cinemas many Mubians feel a need to bring down, in order to prop up the cinemas of more neglected countries.
“I’ve been reading Ebert my whole life and I really don’t think he’s that strategic. He seems to sincerely love film and promoting the films he loves.”
Yes, I agree with this. Having read him for years myself and also having had conversations with him on a couple of occasions, I believe he genuinely likes the films that he advocates, so I see no need to question his motivations unless it’s being done for rhetorical purposese (such as it generally is when someone questions someone elses motivations here on Mubi).