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Posts Tagged ‘Sight and Sound’

Vertigo Takes Top Spot in Sight and Sound Greatest Films Poll

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

Click here, or on the image above, for a brief video from CNN in which Sight and Sound editor Nick James discusses the poll results.

Alfred Hitchcock’s classic and deeply personal film Vertigo (1958) has taken the top spot in the prestigious Sight and Sound “greatest films of all time” poll.

It used to be Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941) in the top spot, but Kane dropped to number two in the latest rankings. Actually, this doesn’t really surprise me; I have never been a Kane enthusiast; as remarkable as the film is, it still strikes more as an inspired pastiche of every possible style and technique jammed into one narrative, pegged on what Welles himself described as “a gimmick, really, and rather dollar-book Freud.”

I’ve always agreed with this admittedly rather harsh self-assessment, although I run the film every year in my Intro to Film History class nonetheless so students can see the film for themselves, and make up their own minds on the subject; certainly, everyone should see it.

Nevertheless, this poll seems like a very welcome breath of fresh air on a long rather static subject, and the choices overall seem both judicious and absolutely reasoned. And actually, there are two lists; one for critics, and one for directors. Critics get a shot at ranking the best of the cinema history, and then directors get a similar opportunity to pick their own favorites.

Here’s the top ten films of all time in the poll, as picked by the critics;

1. Vertigo

2. Citizen Kane

3. Tokyo Story

4. La Regle du Jeu

5. Sunrise: A Song for Two Humans

6. 2001: A Space Odyssey

7. The Searchers

8. Man with a Movie Camera

9. The Passion of Joan of Arc

10. 8 1/2

and then the top ten of all time as picked by directors;

1. Tokyo Story

2. Tie: 2001: A Space Odyssey and Citizen Kane

4. 8 1/2

5. Taxi Driver

6. Apocalypse Now

7. Tie: The Godfather and Vertigo

9. Mirror

10. Bicycle Thieves

As Nick James, editor of Sight and Sound noted in an editorial announcing the new rankings, “to many of you it’s probably a familiar story. Every ten years, from 1952 onwards, Sight & Sound has conducted a worldwide poll of critics in order to decide which films are currently regarded as the greatest ever made. (Vittorio De Sica’s neorealist parable Bicycle Thieves won the first iteration only four years after it was shot. Famously, Citizen Kane has won ever since.) We’re proud that the longevity of this poll means that it’s widely regarded as the most trusted guide there is to the canon of cinema greats. So for us this year is a very big moment.

About a year ago, the Sight & Sound team met to consider how we could best approach the poll this time. Given the dominance of electronic media, what became immediately apparent was that we would have to abandon the somewhat elitist exclusivity with which contributors to the poll had been chosen in the past and reach out to a much wider international group of commentators than before. We were also keen to include among them many critics who had established their careers online rather than purely in print.

To that end we approached more than 1,000 critics, programmers, academics, distributors, writers and other cinephiles, and received (in time for the deadline) precisely 846 top-ten lists that between them mention a total of 2,045 different films. As a qualification of what ‘greatest’ means, our invitation letter stated, ‘We leave that open to your interpretation. You might choose the ten films you feel are most important to film history, or the ten that represent the aesthetic pinnacles of achievement, or indeed the ten films that have had the biggest impact on your own view of cinema.’”

You can read all about it by clicking here. I’m proud to say that I was one of those consulted for the poll; it was a distinct honor.

Film Reviewing and Film Criticism

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

Click here, or on the image above, for some key film criticism and theory books as selected by a group of panelists for the British film journal Sight and Sound.

They’re not the same thing. Film reviews are served up by daily critics, who no matter how knowledgeable they are, are writing for a day-by-day audience, who want a plot outline, a brief overview, and then some opinion on the film at hand, advising readers whether to see the film or not.

Film criticism and theory, in contrast, “unpacks” a film to see what makes it tick, and uses various theoretical approaches, such as feminist film theory, or auteurism, or structural film theory, or numerous other approaches — far too many to list here — to take the film apart in detail, and see how it works.

Film reviews are mainly an opinion pieces, but film criticism proceeds from a large base of historical, critical and theoretical information, and offers a detailed understanding of the director’s history, past projects, the history and practice of the genre in question (if it’s a genre film), of others working in the field, possible precedents for the film, shot structure, editing, choreography, lighting, acting styles, camera movement, framing, deep focus, costumes, and whatever else might apply; it deconstructs the film in detail.

So there’s a world of difference here, and it seems to me that sometimes people get the distinction blurred; anyone can have an opinion, and give you a thumbnail review of a film, or a book, or anything else; but it’s just their point of view.

In order to really understand a work of art (or even a commercial film, or perhaps I should say, especially a commercial film – they really need careful discussion), you need to really examine it, in an absolutely detailed fashion, and have the background in history, theory and criticism to really understand what’s going on. That’s the beginning of film criticism, and the beginning of a real understanding of the film (digital or otherwise) medium.

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of numerous books and more than 70 articles on film and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu.

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