RECOMMENDED READING: In the September/October 2006 issue of Film Comment, writer/director Paul Schrader’s article on, “The Film Canon – What Constitutes a Cinematic Masterpiece.”
This lengthy, absorbing essay has something for everyone. For the film theorist – a discussion of why there is or should be a film canon, and what criteria should be employed in creating one. For the film buff – Schrader’s personal list of the 60 greatest feature-length narrative films ever made.
Well, not so much the 60 greatest films, as Schrader’s pantheon of the 60 greatest narrative filmmakers – with each director represented by his or her “best” film. His top 15 are, in order, The Rules of the Game, Tokyo Story, City Lights, Pickpocket, Metropolis, Citizen Kane, Orphee, Masculin-Feminin, Persona, Vertigo, Sunrise, The Searchers, The Lady Eve, The Conformist, and 8½ .
There are some remarkable exclusions. (No Griffith? No Eisenstein? No Rossellini?) And some remarkable inclusions (Schrader lists Cammell & Roeg’s Performance at No. 19, where I might have preferred to cite Corman & Roeg’s Masque of the Red Death, or Lester & Roeg’s Petulia). Given the recent entries on this blog by Tom Sutpen and myself regarding Woody Allen, it’s interesting to see Schrader listing Allen’s Crime and Misdemeanors at No. 39 (nestled between Lynch’s Blue Velvet at No. 38 and the Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski at No. 40). Schrader also reveals a significant bias toward the Western (including on his list Seven Men From Now and The Naked Spur where I, as an aficionado of le fantastique, would be more inclined to list Bava’s Black Sunday or Jack Arnold’s The Incredible Shrinking Man). The most recent films on his list are AlmÃ³dovar’s Talk To Her (2002) and Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood For Love (2000).
But, personal quibbles aside, it’s a good list that includes most of the people you would want to see included. Film Comment editor Gavin Smith asks readers to submit their own “top-10 lists of important filmmakers who are not represented by these 60 films.” Okay Gavin, without intending to displace anyone on Schrader’s list, but to supplement it, here’s mine:
1. The Flowers of St. Francis (Rossellini – above)
2. Imitation of Life (Sirk)
3. Duck Soup (McCarey)
4. Ivan the Terrible (Eisenstein)
5. Les Bonnes Femmes (Chabrol)
6. The Bride of Frankenstein (Whale)
7. Night of the Hunter (Laughton)
8. The Servant (Losey)
9. The Pit and the Pendulum (Corman)
10. Freaks (Browning)
ADDENDUM 10/3 – Speaking of “something for everyone,” faithful readers of this blog (all five of you) might also enjoy Schrader’s – uh – deconstruction of his former mentor, Pauline Kael: “I remain indebted to her as a mentor, inspired by her as a writer, deeply fond of her as a person; but in the matter of trash, art, and the movies, she was simply wrong.”