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Re: Sight and Sound poll

PostPosted: Sun Dec 15, 2002 10:20 pm
by wvq
I've decided to post a link to a bit of film criticism concerning this little S&S list that I found particularly stimulating, in that it stimulated a feeling of great disgust in me when I read it. Perhaps someone else can give it a once-over and tell me whether he or she finds it as vexing as I do.

Is this a bad idea, posting links to web-based film criticism? Actually, it seems like a fairly good idea to me, although I haven't seen others doing it on here. You know, we could create a little community of common concern here. Yes, that's probably pushing it a little, but I suppose you get the gist of what I'm saying. (And why has this site been so inactive of late? Let's have a little action here, people.)

Ok, here's the link:

The article goes on over several separate pages. They're all fairly short, however, so it may not be too much to ask.

Anyway, to give you a little taste of what you're in for, here's a bit that I found especially infuriating. This is our commentator's response to the inclusion of Sunrise on the 2002 list.

"This 1927 American film directed by F. W. Murnau is an interesting choice. It has never been on this list before, then 75 years later it appears, because it became available, or was restored, or someone wrote something about it. [I'm quite certain that this didn't happen--unless there was a restoration of the film or a Murnau retrospective of which I'm wholly unaware for some reason.] For all practical purposes, this is a NEW film, in that most of these critics have had only a few years to think about it. [Note: Sunrise was a runner-up in both 1962 and 1972 polls, and the folks at Cahiers named it the single most beautiful film of all time at some point in there too. Could somebody help me with a date on that one?] Okay by me! I'm fascinated by the grandeur international film achieved in the late 1920s. Technical directors always get more credit than "actor's directors," which is probably why Murnau did much better throughout the ballots than Pabst. [Yeah, don't you just hate those directors that actually, you know, direct the movie?] It should be obvious that George Cukor was a better director than Fritz Lang or that Sidney Lumet was better than Ridley Scott, but in Cukor and Lumet's films the actors seem to be doing all the work. Technical directors are seldom slighted with the observation 'the cinematographer and editor seem to be doing all the work.'"

Honestly, the second-to-last sentence there is one of the most preposterous things I've ever read on the internet. I've seen some Cukor (although admittedly probably not quite enough to make an absolutely definitive judgment here), and his work is pleasant enough, but who the hell does this guy think he's kidding?

Re: Sight and Sound poll

PostPosted: Wed Dec 18, 2002 6:33 am
by john-5
Of course the comments you quote on Sunrise are nonsense. I'm not sure when French critics voted it the most beautiful film, but i recorded one French poll in 1958, which it topped, with La Regle du Jeu and Voyage to Italy 2nd and 3rd. Cahiers du Cinema, as you know, fervently supported directors like Renoir, Mizoguchi, Murnau, Rossellini, Hitchcock, Hawks, Vigo, and Nick Ray.

In a Positif poll in the early 90's (91?), the top 10 was;

1. La Regle du Jeu
2. Citizen Kane
3. 2001; A Space Odyssey
4. Vertigo
5. L'Atalante
6. 8 1/2
7. Sunrise
8. Barry Lyndon
9. The General
10. Sansho the Bailiff

In Sight and Sound polls each decade, Sunrise came 17th in 62, 18th in 72, 18th in 82, 19th in 92- pretty consistent eh? And 14th in John Kobal's poll of international critics in 87. So hardly a newly rediscovered film, as you say.

A few days back i was standing by a misty lake, a sight of stunning beauty (a distant light, tall rushes, ghostly white swans..) and Sunrise sprang to mind (as did Ugetsu Monogatari by Mizoguchi). Both films are supremely beautiful. Yet only a tiny percentage of the film-going public will have seen them.

Re: Sight and Sound poll

PostPosted: Wed Dec 18, 2002 6:56 am
by john-5
Thought some other Sunrise poll placings might be of interest;

Romanian critics (95); 22

German poll (95); 11=

France (95); 11=

Italy (FIAF) (95); 24=

Village Voice (USA) (2000); 6

Spain (Editorial Jaguar) (2001); 7

American Film Institute's top 100 American films; nowhere to
be seen (Night of the Hunter and Letter from an Unknown Woman were other notable absentees). Seems the USA has some catching up to do. AFI had Vertigo down at 61, The Searchers at 96.

Re: Sight and Sound poll

PostPosted: Wed Dec 18, 2002 1:40 pm
by wvq
Well, I don't think the AFI poll is really indicative of viewer tastes in the U.S. The problem was that they asked far too many people--and far too many who probably don't know a whole lot about the American cinema--to be a part of the poll. Critics, academics, and other cineastes were, of course, include, but so were Hollywood types and some average Joes (at least when it comes to film knowledge). I assume that the results would have been quite different, and hopefully not quite as embarrassing, had those asked for their opinion been restricted to people in the first group. Quite simply, the problem with the poll was that it was far too democratic. Too many people were asked to place votes concerning the entire history of the American cinema, and I don't doubt that a lot of them think the history of American cinema began with Citizen Kane (or Gone with the Wind). I suppose this has something to do with the widespread American distrust of experts and pointy-headed intellectuals of all sorts. Perhaps that not such a bad thing in some ways, but there's no denying that it can give rise to some serious dumbing-down, as the case of the AFI poll distressingly reveals. What I found most distressing about this poll is that here was a chance to introduce the public to a lot of films (e.g. the entire silent era, Keaton's films, Fuller's films, Welle's films other than Kane, Ray's films other than Rebel, etc.) they'd probably be unlikely to hear about otherwise, and instead it ended up as an extremely boring and conservative list of most of the same old American films that everyone talks about anyway and that can be found at any old local video store.

I can't really fault the votes for not voting for Sunrise, however, as it's nearly impossible to see. I was only able to see it through my university film society, and even then it was in a battered and bruised 16mm print. I think it was once released on video (by Fox, I think, and so probably in a fairly decent print) here in the states, but that's now been out-of-print for years and is nearly impossible to find (and is quite costly when you can find it). I think it's been released here and there by other, small distributors, but those copies, which I assume come from inferior source materials, are almost as hard to find and nearly as expensive when you do find them. This, and the widespread ignorance about foreign films--only about five people showed up to the university film society's screening of Sunrise--makes the failure to include Sunrise rather understandable.

Still, I gather that Sunrise is soon being released on DVD here, and especially when coupled with its ranking in the recent S&S poll, this can only help to get it more exposure here in the U.S. So who knows, maybe it'll show up on the next AFI list. (And I'm sure there will be another one of those in the not-so-distant future, since the first got so much press.)

Re: Sight and Sound poll

PostPosted: Wed Dec 18, 2002 1:44 pm
by wvq
Oops, I said "widespread ignorance of foreign films" there, and that should read "widespread ignorance of silent films". I noticed a few other typos there, but only that one seems likely to impede comprehension.

Re: Sight and Sound poll

PostPosted: Sat Dec 28, 2002 1:16 am
by wpqx
This list is as usual a decade long joke. I always end up disappointed thinking that in the next ten years mistakes will be corrected. Instead things got worse this time around, with the supremely overrated Vertigo hitting its highest number yet. Not to mention overrated Rules of the Game, Sunrise, and Potemkin all still made the list. Since I know everything here's my list.
1. Citizen Kane
2. The Godfather
3. All Quiet on the Western Front
4. 2001: A Space Odyssey
5. Lawrence of Arabia
6. Star Wars Trilogy (sorry it will always be there)
7. 8 1/2
8. Apocalypse Now
9. Pulp Fiction
10. Ordinary People