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Film's too big. Make it smaller. Start your canon. 
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Post Film's too big. Make it smaller. Start your canon.
In Harold Bloom's Canon of Western Literature, Bloom proposes beginning a canon by first selecting the one author without whom a canon cannot reasonably exist. Then you pick the one work of that author that is absolutely essential. There's your logical first work in the canon. Decide why that work deserves to be canonized--what qualities it has--and use that information to develop criteria for including more works. Bloom's suggestion: the higher the bar is set, the better the canon will be.

A canon is not necessarily a list of favorites or democratically selected best movies, although it can be. A canon is simply a selection of works that are somehow essential to their medium. The purpose of the canon is to winnow a huge number of works down to the ones most deserving of discussion. I recommend steering clear of nominating your own favorite director and film, and instead taking more of a historical/developmental approach. Just to shake things up.

Since it's much easier to pin down the author of a piece of literature than the author of a film, we can go with the theory that the director is the author of the film, just for argument's sake. This was the method Paul Schrader proposed in his abandoned film canon project.

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Looking at the entire sweep of movies from square one up to today, I would say the filmmaker that had the most instrumental effect in defining film is probably Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock learned his lessons from the past and left lessons of his own for the future. He used the classical language of film more impeccably and consistently than just about any filmmaker I can think of. He understood the effects of images and sound on the human psyche as well as anyone ever has.

I'm not saying he's the world's greatest director or the earliest director to do some of the stuff he did, but he's the one who, on the whole, carved the biggest mark into cinematic history. So he's my suggestion for the "author" without whom a canon of film cannot exist.

As for which of his works is most essential, I'm actually not quite sure which I'd pick. It would have to be the first major work of his where everything came together tightly in that Hitchcockian way. I'm still trying to decide which one that is. Strangers On A Train might be it.

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Thu May 08, 2014 9:21 pm
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Post Re: Film's too big. Make it smaller. Start your canon.
Normally I don't attempt to do much in the way of ranking films, but I'll turn to something that Schrader said a while back (can't remember when).

If you're trying to establish the most important films ever, I think it's important to determine which films in their specific genres are truly definitive, regardless of personal feelings for them. This goes for just about anything, really; if you were trying to determine the most definitive rock songs, you could not possibly leave out "Johnny B. Goode." Regardless of what you might think of Chuck Berry, "Johnny B. Goode" is arguably the definitive song of early rock and roll, and one of the most defining rock songs ever.

So to apply that to films, if we were to set the bar that for a film to be essential, it has to embrace classic cinematic style and auteurism while simultaneously moving the craft forward, then Citizen Kane unquestionably belongs in the canon. That is, regardless of personal feelings...just like Hamlet and "Johnny B. Goode" are essentials in their respective areas.

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Thu May 08, 2014 10:01 pm
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Post Re: Film's too big. Make it smaller. Start your canon.
Kane is an excellent choice, but there was no way in hell I was going to be the one.

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Thu May 08, 2014 10:32 pm
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Post Re: Film's too big. Make it smaller. Start your canon.
I've yet to see enough Hitchcock to be confident in saying what "the first major work of his" is. But, without having seen The Lady Vanishes, Rebecca, Foreign Correspondent, and Shadow of a Doubt, I would argue that his first work that everything comes together tightly is Notorious, and it's very Hitchcockian too. The passive-aggressive romance between Grant and Bergman (that almost verges on perverse), the Mother Figure, the escalation of suspense through mostly subtle plot elements and camera movement. I personally would put that climatic descent on the stairs on near or even equal footing with the one from Sunset Blvd.


Thu May 08, 2014 10:44 pm
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Post Re: Film's too big. Make it smaller. Start your canon.
Ken wrote:

Looking at the entire sweep of movies from square one up to today, I would say the filmmaker that had the most instrumental effect in defining film is probably Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock learned his lessons from the past and left lessons of his own for the future. He used the classical language of film more impeccably and consistently than just about any filmmaker I can think of. He understood the effects of images and sound on the human psyche as well as anyone ever has.

I'm not saying he's the world's greatest director or the earliest director to do some of the stuff he did, but he's the one who, on the whole, carved the biggest mark into cinematic history. So he's my suggestion for the "author" without whom a canon of film cannot exist.

As for which of his works is most essential, I'm actually not quite sure which I'd pick. It would have to be the first major work of his where everything came together tightly in that Hitchcockian way. I'm still trying to decide which one that is. Strangers On A Train might be it.


I'd agree that Hitchcock is the director you'd have to look at as being most "essential". I'm not sure about Strangers on a Train being his most essential work. I'm thinking maybe Rear Window, but I think a good argument could be made for a dozen or more of his films.


Sat May 10, 2014 12:31 am
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Post Re: Film's too big. Make it smaller. Start your canon.
The most essential has to be forever Griffith. But Hitchcock is up there.


Sat May 10, 2014 1:51 am
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