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July 04, 2005

Essential Cinema -

On the Necessity of Film Canons
Jonathan Rosenbaum - 2004
Johns Hopkins University Press

What I mostly like about Jonathan Rosenbaum is that he discusses films that I may not have heard of or have thought of seeing. A couple of examples of the former are Kira Muratova's The Asthenic Syndrome and Li Shaohong's Blush. Among the later, I will make a point of seeing The Decalogue as well as any films available by Joris Ivens.

The book is primarily a collection of articles Rosenbaum wrote for The Chicago Reader. While it is organized under headings such as "Classics" and "Disputable Contenders", this book is less formally organized as compared to Andrew Sarris' The American Cinema. Rosenbaum ends this book with a personal list of films that is extremely subjective. Because of his articles, I can understand the inclusion of A.I. Artificial Intelligence as part of Rosenbaum's canon, as well as why Rosenbaum doesn't rate Taxi Driver as highly as that film's admirers. Rosenbaum's personal canon is based on "pleasure and edification". I won't argue with the premise. Rosenbaum's canon is subjective enough that I can allow his enthusiasm for Don Weis and Peter Bogdanovich as long as I am not begrudged my enthusiasm for Dario Argento and Tsui Hark.

What I would hope Rosenbaum's writing do is encourage readers to take full advantage of the DVD rental outlets like Netflix and GreenCine. For me, the point of my maxed out rental queue is to see an international array of films that I have read about, as well as play some catch up and fill in gaps to see films I've missed by favorite directors. I read in article a couple of years ago by someone writing for Landmark Theater's magazine in which she felt she had seen all that Netflix had to offer. My conclusion was that this person's love of film is extremely limited.

I would also hope that studio executives that decide on DVD releases would read this book to understand better that there is an audience waiting for more older films. My favorite article was on Frank Tashlin, the virtually forgotten director of the two best Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis comedies. Tashlin's representation on DVD has improved lately with more titles, including the Lewis vehicle The Disorderly Orderly. Available in the U.K., but not in the U.S. is The Girl Can't Help It which was lovingly excerpted in Bertolucci's The Dreamers. Also missing totally are Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter and Bachelor Flat. Hopefully 20th Century Fox will make Tashlin's best films available soon. Considering that this is the studio that kept their Sam Fuller films on the shelf until they saw how well Criterion was doing with Pickup on South Street, I'm not holding my breath.

At the very least, what one gets from Rosenbaum is a reminder of writing about film with a truly critical eye that attempts to convey the vastness of cinema beyond the multiplexes and box office lists.

Posted by peter at July 4, 2005 04:09 PM