Sight and Sound doubled the size of the voting cohort for its latest every-ten-years Greatest Films Of All Time poll to 1,639 people. I can account for one of them but S&S hasn’t yet said who the others are, where they are, how they were selected, what they voted for, or what they do. And the voting instructions said do whatever you like. Drawing any conclusions from a study built like that should get a term in statistics jail.
Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman was on top. Not sure how you argue that The Canon Is Smashed by passing the title to the Western European art house tradition, that plucky little sector previously out in the cold, or that the result isn’t influenced by endless non-artistic forces of access, agency, distributor decisions, cross-network chat, and PR. The film arrived on the BFI Player simultaneously, business and art having merged into one amorphous canon-industrial complex, keen to sell you a map for trips you could profitably plan yourself.
If film criticism’s purpose is to just name things that aren’t currently part of the conversation then job done, although list-making is a less than iron-clad way to do it and looks monetizable in a publisher’s business plan. Criticism’s old purpose would also have been to moderate the kind of cultural conversation about to take place when arts consumers meet a challenging thing like Jeanne Dielman and perhaps bounce straight off again; and to talk about Akerman herself. Whether that’s what criticism really does any longer is a tense question. Rank the 1,639 in terms of income from film criticism and see what that tells us about the last decade.
My votes at this particular moment were for:
Films tilted as far to the Left as Hoffa don’t grow on trees—my level of surprise that it got exactly one vote was exactly zero—but the real piece of work here that won’t be coming back is Hi, Mom!.
“Rife with political violence, intimations of uncompromising socialist revolt…images of race warfare…ubiquitous sexual innuendo…” wrote Chris Dumas in his book on Brian De Palma, copying a few more definitions of the phrase Greatest Film out of the dictionary.
Put another way: “Categorise. Classify. Regiment. Bored. Bleh.”