Tuesday, 3 August 2010


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.

Ingeborg Holm, Victor Sjostrom 1913, Sweden
Sherlock Jr, Buster Keaton 1924, USA
Ten Days That Shook the World / Oktyabr, Sergei Eisenstein 1928, Soviet Union (Russia)
Our Daily Bread, King Vidor 1934, USA
The Great Illusion / La grande illusion, Jean Renoir 1937, France
You Only Live Once, Fritz Lang 1937, USA
Only Angels Have Wings, Howard Hawks 1939, USA
Meet Me in St Louis, Vincente Minnelli 1944, USA
A Matter of Life and Death, Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger 1946 UK
Summer Interlude / Sommarlek, Ingmar Bergman 1951, Sweden
Ugestu Monotagari, Kenji Mizoguchi 1953, Japan
Illusion Travels By Streetcar/ La ilusion viaja an travia, Luis Bunuel 1954, Mexico
Flowing / Nagareru, Mikio Naruse 1956, Japan
The Searchers, John Ford 1956, USA
L'eclisse, Michelangelo Antonioni 1962, Italy
The Battle of Algiers / La battaglia di Algeri, Gillio Pontecorvo 1966, France/Italy
The Spider's Stratagem / Strategia del ragno, Bernardo Bertolucci 1970, Italy
The Adversary / Pratitwandi, Satyajit Ray 1972, India
Pat Garret and Billy the Kid, Sam Peckinpah 1973, USA
Je, tu, il, elle, Chantal Akerman 1974, Belgium
La belle noiseuse, Jacques Rivette 1991, France
In the Soup, Alexandre Rockwell 1992, USA
The Truman Show, Peter Weir 1998, USA
The Wind Will Carry Us, Abbas Kiarostami 1999, Iran
Beau Travail, Claire Denis, 1999 Frankrike
Delbaran, Abolfazl Jalili 2001, Iran
Prize of Forgiveness / Ndeysaan, Mansour Sora Wade 2001, Senegal
Lovely and Amazing. Nicole Holofcener 2001, USA
Collateral. Michael Mann 2004, USA


  1. I agree. This really makes me feel better about a canon/anti-canon paper i had to write for a class last year.