The fact that the appreciation of any art form is so dependent on personal bias is often overlooked. Any film may be admired or despised for any of its component parts – the photography or the dialogue, an actor’s performance or an innovative trait. What is great for a critic, and turns the film into a classic, might not be for another. That’s not to say that there are not objective criteria on how to judge films. In fact, I totally disagree with the idea that the value or artistic merit of a movie is in the eye of the beholder. The fact that many people are disappointed by Citizen Kane‘s (1941, Orson Welles) status as ‘the best film ever made’ does not make it less of a masterpiece.
However, the personal always has a way of influencing the film critic’s opinion of a film. Critics have baggage too, you know. They hold prejudices; sometimes they fake confidence when their knowledge is limited. Sometimes they hate actors or directors for trivial reasons – or for no reason at all. Some can’t stand French art house; others hate everything that Hollywood dishes out. There are those who would like to boycott a film for the mistreatment of animals during production; others might take issue with a film’s apparent agenda. Well, they’re human beings – all too human! Thus, the more aware we are of their beliefs, the better we will understand their assessment of a film.
I believe that films should be understood with the broadest possible mindset and that film criticism should reflect this idea. The critic should be fair with a film, judge it by its intention, and never assess a film by what they believe the film should be about. Critics should not review missing elements of a film: it is not their movie and they should not be passing judgement on what does not exist – no matter what they think that should be there. A better ending or a less convoluted screenplay inhabits the critic’s mind only, and these things should not be evaluated. Although a cliché, it should be said: a film should be judged on its own terms.
There should be no taboos in art. No subject matter should be seen as taboo, and therefore movies ought not to be punished by their themes or attitudes. Neither they should be penalized by whether they have sympathetic or evil characters, redemption or hopelessness at the end. What should matter is solely its ability to tell a story in a compelling way. The moral or ethical positioning of a character, of a group of characters, or even of the whole film should not be extrapolated from within the narrative to the outside world. A film told from the perspective of Hitler or Stalin should never be called evil simply by the fact that their main characters have monstrous personalities.
There are controversial films which are important. I believe that The Birth of a Nation (1915, D. W. Griffith) is an important film, and it should never be seen as racist; I believe that Triumph of the Will [Triumph des Willens] (1935, Leni Riefenstahl) delivers a compelling narrative, and it should not be judged by the evils of the regime depicted in it; I believe that Happiness (1998, Todd Solondz) is an essential film of the last twenty years, and it should not be frown upon because it deals with sexual deviants. None of these films should have the power to offend the film critic. They might cause outrage in viewers, but should be given a fair trial of their cinematic merits.
My Top 15 Directors: Pedro Almodovar, Paul Thomas Anderson, Robert Bresson, the Coen Brothers, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Michael Haneke, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Akira Kurosawa, Terrence Malick, Yasujiro Ozu, Martin Scorsese, Andrei Tarkovsky, Orson Welles and Billy Wilder. My Top 10 Films: Sunrise (1927), The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), Citizen Kane (1941), The Lost Weekend (1945), Tokyo Story (1953), The Apu Trilogy (1955, 1956 and 1959), 2001 A Space Odissey (1968), The Godfather (I and II) (1972 and 1974), Chinatown (1974) and Taxi Driver (1976). It is clear that the list has more than ten films. But TOP 10s, or even TOP 100s are absurd really!
Even national lists (limited as they are) do not justice to great films. Check the prestigious American Film Institute’s 2007 list 100 YEARS…100 MOVIES for the absence of such masterpieces as Frankenstein (1931), Giant (1956) or Fargo (1996). I would suggest a minimum of 200 films to really represent cinema’s greatest achievements. And even this amount would fall short somehow. Check the page PANDORA’S BOX for my take on the greatest films of all time. If I had space I would include another 200 movies. Oh well! Such a huge enterprise to see all that matters in the history of cinema…
August 2014. ooooo ooooo ooooo ooooo ooooo ooooo ooooo ooooo Ricardo Pizzeghello.