Beyond the Canon is essentially a greatest films poll, only without the greatest films. I challenged a number of dedicated film-lovers – critics, bloggers, filmmakers, IMDbers; professional, amateur, and in-between – to select up to 100 films that they believed to have been under-represented by film history, that meant more to them than the established, well-exposed classics. And because under-represented is such a wishy-washy subjective term, I presented them with a list of films that they were not permitted to include on their own individual ballots.

I selected the titles for the canon - the list of ineligible classics - as arbitrarily as possible, so as to avoid any undue worry and guilt, which would surely have accompanied any such undertaking, had I attempted anything approaching definitiveness. Instead, I based the list on a quickly taken consensus between the top 300 films on They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?’s top 1000, The One-Line Review Presents “1000 Films from the First Century of Cinema that Every Self-Respecting Film-Buff Should See at Least Once”, and the results of The One-Line Review Presents "The 50 Greatest Films," The resulting list of 289 films is a decidedly eclectic one, with Jaws and Sátántangó, Star Wars and Jeanne Dielman, and The Silence of the Lambs and Last Year in Marienbad, making strange bedfellows, indeed. In fact, I doubt very much that this collection of films would ever appear together on any official canon of great films; but for the sake of my sanity, this is what we are left with.
155 people from 28 different countries took up my challenge, championing the cause of over 5000 different films. The results – decidedly eclectic if somewhat US-centric – feel rather refreshing, particularly when compared to the fairly predictable results of The One-Line Review Presents "The 50 Greatest Films," Having said that, not many of films that make the top 100 are exactly what one would call obscure. Should I have gone further and stipulated 500 (or more even) films that could not be included? Or would I have been better to disqualify filmmakers rather than films? As William Brown states, in his beautifully written diatribe, “Including a Howard Hawks film as being 'beyond the canon'? One might choose a 'minor' Hawks, or a 'minor' John Huston film, but this hardly constitutes anything other than a re-affirmation of Hawks and Huston as precisely canonical directors. Not only that, but it is perhaps the least imaginative effort at expanding the canon conceivable.”

With Dr. Brown’s words ringing in my ears, I present an alternative to the official results – a weighted vote - created using a formula to weight each film’s vote against its relative visibility/obscurity, so as to highlight some of the lesser known films. Whether this is of any worth or not, I don’t know; but there we have it.


And to bring proceedings to a close, back to Dr. Brown to eloquently put everything back into perspective – “Lists? Who needs vertical lists when we have a whole world out there that we can discover if only we do that apparently most counterintuitive of things: shift off our arses, try things we've never heard of, try things we don't like - but at least we tried (and some of our favourite tastes are in fact acquired ones), walk across the horizontal face of this beautiful planet of ours, get out there and look around, stay on the ground...?”

6 comments:

Angel Glez said...

I totally agree with you, checking the result (100 films "beyond the canon" with Kubrick on the first and third place!) and my own ballot (Hitchcock, Bergman, Kurosawa...), why on earth didn't I vote for 'Due soldi di speranza', 'O drakos' or 'Rosaura a las 10', real hidden gems?

Fantastic work, there are very good contributions.

Chris said...

The relativist hand-wringing that accompanies any attempt at list-making is baffling to me. When did the idea of making an evaluative judgment become so terrifying?

While I don't delude myself that my list is of any consequence to the world of cinema, I think that list-making is both efficient and essential to any film education, whether it comes in the form of a class syllabus or a critic's "Best of" list.

I would not have wanted to stumble around in the dark for decades until sheer chance introduced me to the films of Werner Herzog or Robert Bresson. I'm thankful that I was pointed in that direction by critics and teachers with their nasty, frightening lists.

Sticking only to films vetted by certain critics and academic programs would be a shame, of course, but that would be the fault of the viewer, not the list-maker.

We want an organic canon, not an ossified one, which is one reason that the variety of individual lists in this project is vastly more interesting than the summarized list. Averaging out the results produces relatively average results, e.g. The Oscars or anything from the AFI. But sorting just through the 155 lists in this survey, I have already found hundreds of new ideas, either for films I had not previously heard of or reminders to watch some of those movies I already knew about but haven't gotten around to yet. How in the heck have I not seen "Touki Bouki" yet? I'll take care of that within the week.

Certainly, we should be adventurous. In the days when I frequented Cinefile in Santa Monica, I always made sure to select at least one film at random from the shelves and made some marvelous discoveries. But I also went with lists, and have never regretted it.

Bring on more lists! I love them all. Though some more than others. I'm making a list of the best ones.

-Chris Long

LemmusLemmus said...

"Lists? Who needs vertical lists when we have a whole world out there that we can discover if only we do that apparently most counterintuitive of things: shift off our arses, try things we've never heard of, try things we don't like"

Simple answer: Time is a limited resource.

Jaime said...

Iain,

Hello - a friend of mine pointed me in the direction of your project. I'm working on a project of similar spirit for 2010, but hopefully the methodology/results are different enough we don't feel like we're doing redundant work.

Let's see - at a quick glance (I'm @ work, prying eyes and all that) your mechanism is poll-based, while I'm going to use the whole of 2010 to build by lists from raw hunter-gatherer-based tasks (assigned to myself). I rather think I chose the make-work approach and risk biting off more than I can chew, but it'll be fun.

Right off the bat I see we'll name a lot of the same films. That's okay, though - if there was more of us, lots of these films are still troubled by under-representation. So the more the merrier!

Track my efforts on

unexaminedessentials
at
blogspot
dot
com

and I'll track yours, as well.

Cheers!
Jaime

celinejulie said...

Hey, Iain! I'm passing a blogger award to you.
http://celinejulie.blogspot.com/2010/02/peter-nellhaus-awarded-me-kreativ.html

劉KarolR_Sundquis said...

Better be the head of a dog than the tail of a lion.