...where distraction is the main attraction.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Rethinking our favorites

I've just seen a film so beautiful that it has caused me to rethink the way we rank our favorite pieces of art, music, and film.

When we're young and impressionable, or being introduced to or happening upon a new art form, I think we set the standard to which all future forms of that medium are judged. And I'm not sure how often we break that standard. Think of your favorite rock albums EVER. Think of your favorite movies EVER. If you're like me, you probably have dozens of "Greatest" lists. I know my top 10 lists are often established at the start.

For instance, best rock albums? I'm pretty sure that 80% of my top ten were all discovered within the first 4 years of rock 'n roll worship. Best rock band? The Who, of course. They taught me the many definitions and basic themes. Favorite bluesman? John Lee Hooker. Same story with him. My three favorite electronica albums were all discovered within my first year of listening.

And I don't think it's just me. Only recently has Rolling Stone let any recent albums into their top 500. Their top 25 has only two that were released within the last 25 years. Their top 30 songs only have two from the last 30 years.

When compiling their top 10 films lists every 10 years from 250 filmmakers and critics, Sight and Sound seems to have a similar issue.

In 1992, none of the critics' top 9 were from within the previous 34 years. The directors' list has only 3 of the top 12 were from the same time period.

In 2002? Here are the years for the critics' top 10 list:

1941, 1958, 1939, 1972-4, 1953, 1968, 1925, 1927, 1963, 1952

Directors' list:

1941, 1972-1974, 1963, 1962, 1963, 1946, 1980, 1958, 1950, 1939, 1954

And to be honest the critics' list never changes over the years. And you will always know who's going to be no. 1.

Are we getting worse at our art? One would think that we'd be getting better with practice. Were the early works better because they came first? We were younger then, more impressionable. Awe came easier. Are we being unknowingly unfair to new creations?

I feel like this is related to our own individual lists of favorites. (Exceptions to this rule being those who think each new Michael Bay film is the best movie ever.) Those early ones, the first ones which introduced us to new emotional experiences, seem to get priority over all others.

Watching Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors was electrifying. For the first half hour, I felt as if I was witnessing something more important than cinema. By the time the film finished, I'd realized that, no, this was actual cinema. I'd forgotten that feeling, which had last materialized about 8 years ago during Kusturica's Underground.

If you have been reading my blog posts for a bit you may think that every movie I watch is at the top of my list. This is untrue, I just love film that much. Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors could break The Top Baker's Dozen (I don't have a top ten) but I wouldn't know who to kick out or why. I won't name names because I won't spill the whole list, but I'll reference when a flick has made the list (like Underground).

To sum up Shadows -- it's a magical realist lovers tale set in the Carpathian mountains. Though the film was shot in 1964, it could take place at any time since language was born. The editing is lightning fast and brilliant; apparently the Russians paid more attention to Eisenstein than the Americans did. Surprise. The acting is delightful because all but the leads were non-professional locals. And then there's the whirling, spinning, flying cinematography. Apparently Sergei Parajanov found an impatient winged forest spirit to operate the camera. The result can be exhilarating or nauseating, like the lives of the dancing, singing, loving, drinking characters. Those who are happy avoid sorrow by never stopping to mourn. Those who mourn are those who suffer. I think I'll move beyond the past too and find a place in the list for this one.