Commenting on the Critics with Simon Columb…
This week, The Dissolve writes about the new 100 Alamo Movies list:
“The company currently has 18 theaters and plans to open another five next year. Seven of the 100, including Brazil, Monty Python And The Holy Grail, and Raiders Of The Lost Ark, will be shown in all Alamo theaters next January, but local franchisees will be encouraged to show some selections of their own that jibe with local preferences.”
Generally speaking, I like definitive film lists. Whether it is the Top 10 Sight and Sound poll or the 1001 Movies to See Before You Die, they provide a great starting point to appreciating cinema from a different perspective. There are many more film lists. The IMDB Top 250 Films of All Time; The All Time Highest Grossing Box Office Releases; the broad range of annual “Best Of…” lists. Not to mention the high “hit-rate” that lead to websites publishing lists of the Top 5 Uses of a Mug in 1980’s Hollywood Cinema, etc. It only seems appropriate to write a list to make my point in this week’s article…
1. These lists are popular for a reason and the Alamo Drafthouse has tapped into a knowing, film-savvy audience that will collectively use this list to ‘tick’ off one film at a time.
2. Add to this the inevitable posters and tick-sheets the Alamo Drafthouse will surely hand out. As a cinema they would be foolish not to press onto viewers that “to do it right”, you must watch it at the cinema – at the Alamo Drafthouse (where else will you watch The 400 Blows cinematically in Colorado?). Crucially, it is a great way to open the cultural door to those in Texas, Virginia and Kansas who may not get the chance to see these established classics on the big screen.
3. But established classics are more than merely 100 films, and therefore there is a concern in this check-list cinema habit that is emerging. As viewers watch Dr Mabuse followed by Mad Max 2, followed by The Dark Knight, there is no definitive link that binds them together – other than this list. The considerable amount of crowd-pleasing 1980’s and 1990’s choices (such as Dazed and Confused, Sixteen Candles and E.T. – and four Wes Anderson films!) will give a sense of the time period perhaps, but the rather eclectic and significantly smaller amount of foreign and silent cinema on offer, in their lonely screens, will be difficult to place in context. While three Charlie Chaplin’s appear (City Lights, The Gold Rush and Modern Times), his contemporaries – Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd – fail to make the cut. Rather than a season of silent comedy, viewers will watch the cropped context of Chaplin and join the dots from Chaplin to Tati to Peewee.
4. Of course, we live in an age of streaming and easy access Amazon ordering, so “if you want to know more”, you can always look into it after your viewing. But therein lays the contradiction. As the Alamo starts a ball rolling with a single film, placed on a pedestal, it doesn’t take on the responsibility to flesh out the context it was released within. A season on the French New Wave could play screenings of Truffaut, Godard, Bazin and Chabrol (with extended runs of the Alamo 100 choices) to give a sense of context to the 100. Additionally, by doing this, it openly acknowledges how the list is purely a starting point and that there is so much more that is on offer.
5. Instead of this, we have the individual cinema programmers creating their own ‘lists’, adding weight to the nature of a list with no sense of the subjective and limited perspective it has to offer. Not to mention how this is merely another by-the-book 100 Top Films list. It holds limited value against the many (more credible?) sources than put together these lists. So, with no sense of true value, many may just look at the list, tick off what they’ve seen and download the few they haven’t (akin to the lists shared on social-networks – “Look friends, I’ve seen 67 of these 70 films, Aren’t I clever?”). Cinema as a historical source; a vast jungle of timely and socially-relevant historical artefacts is lost in this list – and it cannot be contained to 10, 100 or 1001 films. Especially when the majority of these “essential” films are post-1970, American-produced and English-language. Opposed to a book that can state its intention; a cinema-chain should be bolder and braver when deciding on how to introduce viewers to the history of film. When you dig a little deeper, though innovative in comparison to the ignorant chains that dominate cinema-screens (so, credit where credit’s due…), it is giving the film-savvy audiences what they want in the same manner (who hasn’t seen Raiders of the Lost Ark?) rather than exposing, re-evaluating or educating movie-goers on the wide, diverse nature of international and bygone films.