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    my personal canon, part V

    I'm going to try to wrap up this canon-making adventure by Friday, which I'm sure non-cinephile readers of this blog will appreciate.

    I thought that today I'd zip through a few of the big genres I hadn't touched on yet. Foremost among these would probably be the Western. John Ford's The Searchers (1956) is generally regarded as one of the best Westerns ever made: I've seen only fragments of it here and there, so this'll be another one that goes on the list solely through the strength of its reputation.

    I'd also like to argue for the inclusion of Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars (1964): Clint Eastwood's "Man With No Name" is, to my mind, one of the perfect Western characters—violent, amoral, self-centered, and yet occasionally recklessly empathetic and sentimental.

    Eastwood returns to nearly the exact same type of character in his own film Unforgiven (1992), only he returns with a fully-developed sense of the moral dimension of violence (and the glorification of violence). Unforgiven, therefore, ends up being a subtle yet effectively lethal condemnation of its own genre while at the same time going through and hitting all the expected marks. Complicated and interesting: the most important western of the last twenty years.

    This will also be the place where I'll follow through on my promise to put a Mel Brooks film on this list, with the inclusion of Blazing Saddles (1974) (thanks to Angela for convincing me that this should be the case.)

    Next up is the war movie. Vietnam remains the war that's been the most inventively envisioned in cinema, and Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now (1979) remains the most imaginative and powerful envisioning of Vietnam.

    As for great movies representing other twentieth-century wars, I struggle a bit: David O. Russell's Three Kings (1999) is the only film I've seen that adequately gets at Desert Storm, and it's a little gem of a film, but it's been overlooked in a way that makes it difficult to argue for its canonical status. I don't know that I've even seen a movie dealing with either the Korean War or World War I (Renoir's Grand Illusion should probably go on my Netflix list).

    There are a lot of World War II films, and I've seen my share, but most of them aren't very good. Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan (1998) is justly hailed for its virtuoso combat sequences, but it's also pointlessly senitmental and overall has a whiff of contrivance. OK, possibly more than a whiff.

    Maybe WWII is best represented by way of a Holocaust film, although that's also challenging: again Spielberg has muscled his way to the forefront with Schindler's List, but, ugh, I don't know. The Holocaust is an event of such magnitude that it might take a film like Claude Lanzmann's nearly ten-hour documentary Shoah (1985) to even begin to do it justice. (This argument sounds respectable coming out of my mouth, but it's undercut by the fact that I haven't actually seen the film.) For now I'm making no pick.

    Although not exactly a "genre" per se, I feel like the Big Epic is enough of a cinematic tendency to warrant a few slots: specifically I'd like to nominate Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus (1960) as the Big Gladiator Epic (beating out Ben Hur (1959)) and Peter Jackson's The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) as the Big Fantasy Epic. The Two Towers (2002) has more awesome clashing armies, and Return of the King (2003) has more unbearable pomp, but neither of them quite carry the revelatory heft of the first one.

    There should probably be a Big Biblical Epic on here, too, and it's tough to beat Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments (1956) for sheer brunt. Plus even though it's fifty years old now, the special effect of the Parting of the Red Sea still takes my breath away.

    I'm skipping Victor Fleming's Gone With the Wind (1939), but will include his The Wizard of Oz (also 1939, wtf) as this list's third (and likely final) musical: it's also the most notable cinematic representation of the transition from black-and-white to color. I defy any single person who has seen this movie to tell me that their first view of Oz isn't stamped indelibly into their memory. (If watching The Wizard of Oz with Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon as the soundtrack, this glimpse will sync perfectly with the cash-register noises that open "Money.")

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    Wednesday, April 11, 2007
    9:36 AM


    You're putting together a pretty good list, although I'm surprised you're including movies you haven't seen in your "personal" canon. I put an alternative list up for Cat, in case you're interested.
    I'm surprised you're including movies you haven't seen in your "personal" canon

    Only a few!

    I put an alternative list up for Cat, in case you're interested.

    Oh, on Cat's page.
    Ah yes. Good list! I'd love to sit down and debate it with you sometime.
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