It seems every new wannabe cinephile starts out with the canonical films, I know I did, and from what I’ve seen a lot new users here do so as well. But I have a question for some of our more experienced members, when did you begin to move away from the cinematic canon and into new and more foreign territory?
I think I’m in the middle of the process, as I find more films I want to watch I seem to be diving more into the depths of obscurity if that’s the right word. I’m no longer interested in what other people consider to be the greatest films of all time. I want to discover them for myself. That’s why I bring this up. I don’t want to just know when you moved away from the canon, but for what reason.
What canon? There is no canon, there are only films. Good films and bad films, but just films all the same.
Never. I always come back to it eventually, because there’s always something I haven’t seen. But if you’re asking when did I mature from only being interested in the classics? Hard to tell. Probably after a good 5-7 years of being a beginning cinephile. It’s a slow, gradual process for me.
-There is no canon-
There’s no Santa Claus either . . .still, I get presents for Christmas every year.
I’m actually trying, even now, to decide how hard I should try to stick with canon and “historically significant” films. I mean, I’ve strayed from it a number of times, always using it as a starting point to dig into more obscure territory… from Sergio Leone to the less-known spaghetti westerns, or from the major Herzog pictures to his more off-the-beaten-path works.
I feel like canonical films lend themselves to longer, more in-depth discussions, because naturally, more people have seen them, and have more points of view to bring to the table. On the other hand, obscure films lend themselves to conversations of citation: you liked XX? I totally saw this film called YY! It reminds me of one called ZZ, which was directed by AA before he became the prodigy of BB! I prefer to engage in the former conversation, rather than the latter. This is why I still try to keep canonical films as a steady part of my diet.
There’s a gradual evolution that I think takes place based on what films excite you. Surely, the cinema of a particular region of the world, or a cinematic genre or a particular period or even a more general style or aesthetic will grab you and you will decide that this is a kind of cinema you want to explore further. And then off you go in those multiple direction(s).
Ari, I think that’s what’s happening to me, except I’ve only seen somewhere around 300 films and I want to watch over 700, I’ll watch a movie that excites me, which will lead me to somewhere else and so on and so on. I don’t even know when I’ll watch 1/4 of the films I want to, but it’s the excitement of discovering something new and fresh that has pushed me over the edge.
I was never really locked into the canon as a whole. I started to move beyond it within a couple years of diving in. But it also helped once I moved to a large city and could suddenly see retrospectives and films that were not on the canon. Films that frankly should have been on the canon.
It’s really an ever widening circle. If you like Renoir you start seeking out 30’s French films or once you see some early Kurosawa you get alerted to other filmmakers from that era in Japan.
I remember many years ago [before DVD] there was a Francesco Rosi retrospective and I was able to see a good number of his films. They are still hard to find. Same with many Carlos Saura films. Then a Mizoguchi retrospective came around and I was floored. There are always discoveries to be made. DVD helps a bit – but seeing these films on the big screen really made an impact.
It’s hard to say, because every time I believed that I’d strayed from the canon, I would discover the film was more canonical than I thought. I will personally watch anything, no matter how obscure it is, but when I do watch a film that seems incredibly obscure, it seems to be less so than I thought after I’ve researched the film on forums such as this one.
Another thing I’ve found as I’ve grown as a cinephile is my strong desire not to be pinned down as liking one certain type of movie. That’s why in my ratings a 4 Star Rating of The Dark Knight stands next to a 5 Star rating of Satantango. Or why on my to watch list one moment you have say Breakfast at Tiffany’s and the next moment there’s A Moment of Innocence, I no longer bias towards what’s good and bad, they’re all movies, and I like movies.
I also agree that the notion of a canon should be dismissed. A true cinephile should watch whichever film they wish, because it genuinely interests them. I certainly agree that you’re a wannabe if you’re watching The Searchers simply because its one of the top 10 films on TSPDT. It’s just as improper, however, to denounce someone who sees themself as a cinephile simply because they have not seen The Searchers.
When the Panasonics came out with 24p.
Once i’d bought John Kobal’s Top 100 Movies in the late 80s, i wanted to see all the films picked in each top 10, not just the overall highest placed films, and the same has held for other major international polls like Sight and Sound. Setting out in relative ignorance i assumed lots of the critics, whether on TV or writing film guides, as well as those considered distinguished enough to be polled, must be founts of wisdom as well as knowledge, but of course many actually turned out to have limited horizons or attitudes i disagreed with. Obviously it’s been easier getting to see the films firmly in the so-called canon- in the late 80s and early 90s i had to buy many unseen, which was too expensive, nowadays there’s access to so many films previously unavailable. And yet still so many to discover from round the world, along with the realisation that the whole canon dominated by Western critics is ludicrous, not so much for its inclusions as its exclusions. Sight and Sound’s last poll for example was still hopelessly weighted towards Anglo-American and Western European opinion, and i don’t expect a big step forward next time.
This site is an excellent resource for new discoveries and for following an idea that there are riches throughout the world, in all sorts of neglected countries, as deserving as many films already well known to cinephiles. Anyway, it’s been a gradual process. While i’m grateful for having had some sort of canonical base to work on initially, i just wish i’d realised how many critics’ minds were closed much earlier. Received wisdom is also ripe for questioning
Good point about the critics. Why did I forget them?
Critics played a big part early on. I too bought the Kobal book in the 80’s.
I’ll add my exposure to films at Film Festivals really helped broaded the horizons. Still does. Last year at Telluride Alexander Payne was the guest director and three of the films he chose – a Spanish film “El Verdugo” from 1963, a Japanese film “Daisan no Kagemusha: The Third Shadow Warrior” also from 1963 and an Italian film “Le Ragazze di Piazza di Spagna” from 1952 – are all still not available on DVD in the US. None are in ‘the canon’ and if you try looking them up in books you won’t find much. But all are terrific films.
The journey goes on.
Kenji, no offense, but I think its inane to dismiss someone for not expanding their horizons if you’re judging them based on the country of origin of the films they watch. Having the will to Watch old black and white films from Continental Europe is worthy of commendation on its own.
Relatively commendable yes, but not as commendable as i once assumed. It still leaves huge gaps and without good reason i think. Of course some prefer to specialise, and that’s fine, but taken as a whole the critical opinion and polls that have made up the canon have been flawed by what they have neglected. So it should be up to the publications conducting the polls to have wider participation and a proper respect for international opinion and different cultures
What is the canon exactly? The art-house is a canon in itself. Films and movies are both important. High-art and low-art. Experimental and the mainstream (that would make for an awesome film title don’t you think?). The canon tends to be self-imposed. The media do play a part in that too. All those stupid books about the (supposed) all-time best films, always with every 3 out 4 pics, on the cover relating to contemporary and mainstream moronic and American movies. Notice the list from AFI and the list “opposed” to it. Rosembaum’s one. I mean what is the canon here? I think they’re both a canon. Both have its merits and demerits. I don’t think one is commendable is one wanders away from the canon. The art-house/experimental/ world cinema niche is as much canonical as the mainstream one. Both have interesting stuff and people orking on it. My canon was always not to have a canon. I like to see a Brakhage and then a Michael Bay. It’s my way of not dumbing down, remain eclectic and unbiased. I always liked mainstream films, but i have a soft spot for art-house. My canon is to see pretty much every thing that comes my way. I mean what is canonical this days? What is alt-cinema (if there is such a phrase…) Lynch? Herzog? Noé? Marker? I don’t know where the virtue’s at, nowadays.
I think the solution is to watch whatever film, regardless, as long as it interests you.
I honestly believe that if someone constantly tries to develop a formula in order to construct their film viewing habits, they will always become dissatisfied and frustrated, because they will always learn about something else in the process that will disrupt their current agenda. I need to run, but will try to elaborate on my point more thoroughly when I come back a little later.
CHANANDRE: yeah, on another thread a few posters addressed the fact that there are many canons and that we have to be more specific in referring to them in general.
“here’s no Santa Claus either . . .still, I get presents for Christmas every year.”
thanks for the laugh Matt, i’ve had a shit day! hahahaha
As for myself, i’m like Bobby insofar as i always find myself returning to the canon, or whatever reason. I tend to go through phases where i’m just wathing new movies, or old movies, or classic hollywood movies etc. it depends on what takes me at any given period of time.
When I decided Ken Russell was better than any canonical director and noticed that most critics never talk about him, even to disparage him. I no longer love Russell as much, but that’s what started it.
Well there is no canon as there will be countless opinions on what the canon is, even with lots of overlap. And there are many canons- populist, feminist, arthouse, Western, Asian, gay, avant-garde-…, but i think a selection of films which reinforces the idea of cultural superiority of a few countries is to be avoided even if it offers many fine films to appreciate that have stood the test of time by general consent or majority opinion. And as has been said, canons can be self-perpetuating- through received wisdom and power structures
@ Mike Spence: Russel is canonical as well. Here on MUBI you are supposed to have seen it. So there’s a canonical art-house canon ruling here, too. The discussion is biased that way. For instance now, the shit is movies from down under, southeast Asia, and south America, not forgetting Africa. So i’d say the art-house canon is more flexible, whether the mainstream canon, has remained, well, canonical. But that’s good in a way. For instance how many people here on auteurs 2.0 (MUBI) still call Hitchcock (the most canonical of Directors) an auteur? Not many. For me Silent Films are the only canon i should get more familiar with. I prefer the classics. That was my canon. Nowadays I’m mixing it up, with contemporary and classic art-house. Shuffling it properly, is the secret. Me, I always see new films and old classics, art-house, and crappy Sunday flicks, at the very same time. I like to see the films the film.buffs are raving about, and the movies the common people are happy with. I try to balance it.
@ Kenji: I hear you. The flaws of THE canon (and THE refers to western movies, made in USA, for the most part, just check the “1001 films you should see before you die” and you’ll get my point ) is that it’s sellin’ something to an audience. The art-house is more free that way. Even if there are trends, there’s not one visible canon. But there are those films, MUBIans are supposed to have seen. So in that regard, there is one. I don’t know. I don’t like general consent or majority opinion. I still despise Citizen Kane, and it’s still lauded as the greatest ever. I always move away from the ever thing. Art-house is not necessarily better just because, it’s art and no one sees it. I see many films from the canon. But i’ve a hard time identifying it. Isn’t Oliveira canonical? And yet it’s pretty auteuristic. Is Godard still canonical or art-house? Can somethin’ be canonical and art-house. What is the canonical art-house flicks for you guys?
Well, I agree with Kenji that there is no real canon, I was referring back to when I was, like many trying to see a bunch of films based on some idea of a canon I got from a bunch of lists. I suppose the Devils might be considered a part of the Mubi canon since it’s on TSPDT, but I don’t still don’t think many people think Russell is a canonical director, whatever that means.
One thing that I’ve always wondered is why its considered blasphemy to praise highly regarded English language films on Mubi. If someone raves about The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, or The Graduate, they automatically become dismissed as not having broadened their horizons enough, as if to say that only someone with relatively simplistic film tastes would deem those aforementioned films to be masterpieces.
Really? I think that mostly happens when someone, usually a new member, makes a grand statement, usually on the thread title such as:
NOW, WE ALL KNOW THE GODFATHER IS THE GREATEST FREAKIN FILM EVER RIGHT, CAN ANYONE NAME A FILM OUT THERE THAT EVEN COMES CLOSE TO THIS ULTIMATE MASTERPIECE?
When you start off like that, you’re gonna get slammed a bit, it’s the nature of MUBI. If someone just says:
3 FAVORITE FILMS
And then list The Godfather, Apocalypse Non and The Graduate, they usually don’t find much hostility, in my experience. I’m not saying there are rules but, it’s always better to speak softly in unfamiliar territory.
1001 films, yes it is US-centric, but less so than some other selections. Hitch 18 Mizoguchi 3 won’t do, and a lot of decent directors aren’t included at all. Imdb 250 is very Hollywood. Of course these are Anglophone based, and with the power of the English language, US opinion is influential worldwide, just as Hollywood dominates, and this site is in English. Now a canon would be considered differently in each separate country and language but i guess the US-led canon has had a powerful effect. When i tried my own little poll of distinguished critics/cinephiles etc in several under-represented countries like Egypt, Indonesia, China, Romania, i was surprised that Citizen Kane, Rules of the Game, Bicycle Thieves etc still did strongly, but surprised to find Gone with the Wind doing very well in Egypt along with Egyptian films like The Land. In Romania they especially liked Italian films, but only 2 from Japan in their 100- Ugetsu and Seven Samurai. That was in the 90s, i wonder what’s changed there since. But there were also 2 Romanian films, Reconstruction and Sequences, which would probably not make it elsewhere. They Shoot Pictures Don’t They site is useful as a viewing guide, but still dominated by Anglo-US opinion and i know they want more international selections.
To be honest, my personal belief is that the art world would be a sad sad place if the godfather truly was the greatest film of all time. That’s just my opinion of course.
“To be honest, my personal belief is that the art world would be a sad sad place if the godfather truly was the greatest film of all time.”
I agree 100 percent.