Sight and Sound’s No Longer Great Films List - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Sight and Sound’s No Longer Great Films List
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Cropped screenshot of Charlton Heston from the trailer for the film “Ben-Hur,” 1959 (MGM/Wikimedia Commons)

The most noxious thing about wokeness is not its inability to create great art, but its need to replace it with inferior work. Ayn Rand put it best. “Don’t set out to raze all shrines — you’ll frighten men. Enshrine mediocrity — and the shrines are razed.” The Left went Rand one better by elevating the artist above his or her art according to race, sex, and sexual orientation. This is sadly evident in the latest Sight and Sound list of “The Greatest Films of All Time.” The prestigious British Film Institute publication has put out its list every 10 years beginning in 1952, and the differences between the 2022 and 2012 iterations tell a sad yet all too common cultural tale.

I started reading Sight and Sound in college, shockingly, before home video, let alone streaming. I and my little circle of intellectual cinéastes would absorb the magazine articles and see the titles referenced. Not for us the chopped, screen-cropped, ad-interrupted shambles of great movies shown on late-night television. We had our University of Maryland class screenings and two great repertory theatres in Washington, D.C. After which we would assemble in a nearby pub and toss out names like Antonioni and Truffaut as readily as Hitchcock and Ford.

When the Sight and Sound hundred best list came out in 1982, we were already steeped in the top ten, all influential classics: Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941), Renoir’s Rules of the Game (La Règle du jeu, 1939), Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954), Donen’s Singin’ in the Rain (1951), Fellini’s 8 1/2 (1963), Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925), Antonioni’s L’Avventura(1960 — okay, this one took some effort to appreciate), Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958), Keaton’s The General (1926), Ford’s The Searchers (1956).

Thirty years later in 2012, some of the top 10 titles had changed although the guiding philosophy — accessible pictures — had not. Welles was rightfully relegated to his one masterpiece, Citizen Kane, minus his misfired Ambersons. Kane and Vertigo flipped, with Hitch’s pic taking the lead. Potemkin, Samurai, L’Avventura, and The General slid out of the high ten, replaced by Yasuyiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story (1953), F. W. Murnau’s Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927), and Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928). One welcome blockbuster addition was Stanley Kubrick’s stellar 2001: A Space Odyssey, which had been number eleven.

Perched at number 37 was a film neither I nor anyone I knew had ever heard of, Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975), by a Dutch writer-director we had also never heard of, Chantal Akerman. The movie was something we would have hated back in the day, the story of a lonely, widowed housewife who turns tricks to make ends meet. Akerman’s life was even more depressing. Her grandparents and mother were sent to Auschwitz, and only her mother survived. A lesbian feminist, Akerman herself committed suicide in 2015.

Fast forward to Sight and Sound’s brand new “The Greatest Films of All Time” list, where guess what movie rocks at number one. You got it. According to the critics, Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles is the greatest film of all time, “a magnificent epic of experimental cinema offering a feminist perspective on recurrent events of everyday life,” better than anything Hitchcock, Ford, Welles, or Kubrick ever did.

That the auspicious, iconic magazine might seem a bit foolish in its selection was of course a secondary consideration to liberal virtue signaling. Even John Ford’s influential The Searchers, number seven in 2012, had to give way to the new number seven, Beau travail (1999), by another little known female writer-director, Claire Denis. John Wayne’s indelible Ethan Edwards had a better chance against the murderous Comanches than versus semi-naked French Foreign Legionnaires frolicking in the desert sun.

At least Ethan remained on the new list with The Searchers at number 15. One of the best Westerns, and films, ever made, Sam Peckinpah’s elegiac The Wild Bunch (1969) — number 89 in 2012 — had no such luck. Neither did several other classics — Bergman’s immortal The Seventh Seal (1957), David Lean’s epic Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Welles’ last great film, Touch of Evil (1958), Coppola’s superlative sequel The Godfather Part II, and Scorsese’s Raging Bull (1980). They all had to make total way for anti-social Korean downer Parasite (2019), Thai gay romantic fantasy Tropical Malady (2004), black gay drama Moonlight(2016), female-directed (Celine Sciamma) lesbian drama Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019), and more politically correct fare.

Of particular note is the complete removal of a masterwork by once lauded, now canceled director Roman Polanski. His universally revered 1974 neo-noir gem Chinatown had to be sacrificed to the last vestiges of the corrupt “Me Too” movement. And by the same crowd that was calling for Polanski’s pardon a decade ago. Lamentably, Sight and Sound chose to go woke at the expense of its reputation.

One wonderful epic that never made a Sight and Sound list but should be on every one after 1959 is my Christmas recommendation — William Wyler’s Ben-Hur. The entire film is a must-see treasure, but the pre-credits sequence is the most beautiful, reverential depiction of the Nativity ever put on film.

Looking for an endearing Christmas gift book? Try my romantic Yuletide ghost story, The Christmas Spirit, available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other fine bookstores.

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