I don't want to get all Harold Bloom on you, but thoughts about canon appears every now and then and I'm fascinated by it. Usually they give birth to fierce discussions, and questions are raised such as, what are they for? who decides what's in them? do we really want this kind of elitism? since there are no objective truths in art, are not canons by definition bad?
But a canon, i.e. a selection of works deemed to be of special value, is in itself neutral, and can be whatever you want it to be. If we just keep to the art form at hand, hundreds of thousands of films have been made over the years, and it's simply impossible to see them all, or even keep track of them, and the older they are, the more anonymous they become. For me, that's when a canon can be an invaluable help, as a starting point, for the budding student of film history, or the young eager film enthusiast who wants to get ahead in the game and watch some seminal films on a rainy day.
And canons, just like any other lists, are almost always stimulating and thought-provoking. But if they don't come with a clear definition and an argument, they can easy become pointless, and the debates they bring about equally pointless. Like when Woody Allen mentioned his six favourite films last month. We only knew what films, not why and how they were selected, and then we're none the wiser.
When I was teaching last semester, we ended the course with discussing canon, and my students was wondering which films I would myself put on a list. I thought about it for a while and came up with the following list. It should, as I said, be seen only as a starting point for exploring film history, but with these films I believe that you get both a very good idea of all the possibilities that narrative feature films have to offer, as well as a bunch of brilliant films. (But if you asked for a list of my favourite films, it would be a rather different selection.) Among the films here you get early cinema and modern cinema, colour and black and white, polyester and digital, English and Iranian, fast and slow, short and long, conventional and modernist, comic and tragic, complex and simply, but all of them artful and essential.