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As I mentioned yesterday, the 1962 Sight & Sound Critics' poll confirmed a sea change in attitudes toward classic cinema, beginning with the rise of Orson Welles' Citizen Kane to the film pantheon. Here is that list: The Sight & Sound Top Ten Poll: 1962 Critics’ poll

  • 1. Citizen Kane (Welles)

  • 2. L’avventura (Antonioni)

  • 3. La Règle du jeu (Renoir)

  • 4. Greed (von Stroheim)

  • 4. Ugetsu Monogatari (Mizoguchi)

  • 6. Battleship Potemkin (Eisenstein)

  • 7. Bicycle Thieves (De Sica)

  • 7. Ivan the Terrible (Eisenstein)

  • 9. La terra trema (Visconti)

  • 10. L’Atalante (Vigo)

There were still silent films, but only half as many. No Chaplin. No Keaton. Renoir's Rules of the Game soared, and DeSica's Bicycle Thieves took a little hit. Most surprising was the rise of L'avventura to the number two position. Citizen Kane was already two decades old, but Antonioni's existential mystery, one that violated many aspects of traditional narrative filmmaking, had been released only two years earlier. It took just that long for critics to agree that L'avventura was a landmark work of world cinema. Only two American films made the list, and a foreign-born director (von Stroheim) directed one of them. Eisenstein was represented twice on the list. Below is the American trailer for L'avventura, unintentionally amusing for its emphasis on the erotic. American studios had no idea how to market foreign releases except to suggest that moviegoers might be intrigued by the previously forbidden.

As I mentioned yesterday, I felt a small part of the 1972 voting since I had lengthy discussions at the time with one of the few dozen voters. I was eager to see the results. The early 70s were among the greatest years for independent cinema in America, and critics, notably Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris, developed cult followings. Auteur theory was debated in a manner that would seem preposterous today. Today, film followers "in the know" cite opening weekend box office results but will not have familiarity with any influential critics. Or maybe there are no more influential critics. Certainly, there is nothing commensurate with the film discussions of four decades ago. Here were those much discussed results: The Sight & Sound Top Ten Poll: 1972 Critics’ poll

  • 1. Citizen Kane (Welles)

  • 2. La Règle du jeu (Renoir)

  • 3. Battleship Potemkin (Eisenstein)

  • 4. (Fellini)

  • 5. L’avventura (Antonioni)

  • 5. Persona (Bergman)

  • 7. The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer)

  • 8. The General (Keaton)

  • 8. The Magnificent Ambersons (Welles)

  • 10. Ugetsu Monogatari (Mizoguchi)

  • 10. Wild Strawberries (Bergman)

One of the cinema gods of the previous decade, Ingmar Bergman, sees two of his films make the top ten. Persona, the disturbing psychological examination of two women, starring two members of Bergman's troupe--Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann--explored the role of illusion in the formation of identity, and has proven to be a hugely influential work in modern filmmaking.

Persona was accompanied by Bergman's Wild Strawberries, a poignant examination of a life richly lived from the perspective of an older man. Bergman was considered at the peak of his considerable powers when the 1972 poll was released. Orson Welles also made the list twice, with the tragically truncated masterpiece The Magnificent Ambersons in tandem with Kane. American directors account for three of the eleven choices, but that was soon to change. By 1982, film production had changed again. Jaws (1975) and Star Wars (1977) are generally attributed as being the two films that compelled studio heads to gear product toward wide releases that generated megabucks at the box office. Still, the transformation hadn't fully taken hold. E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, Steven Spielberg's 1982 classic, grossed more in week two than in its opening week. It took in more in week three than it had in week two, and more in week four than it had in week three! Even in week seven, it was still pulling in earnings that equaled those of its opening week. Most films released today aren't even in theatres any longer after three weeks! Here is the 1982 Critics' list: The Sight & Sound Top Ten Poll: 1982 Critics’ poll

  • 1. Citizen Kane (Welles)

  • 2. La Règle du jeu (Renoir)

  • 3. Seven Samurai (Kurosawa)

  • 3. Singin’ in the Rain (Kelly, Donen)

  • 5. (Fellini)

  • 6. Battleship Potemkin (Eisenstein)

  • 7. L’avventura (Antonioni)

  • 7. The Magnificent Ambersons (Welles)

  • 7. Vertigo (Hitchcock)

  • 10. The General (Keaton)

  • 10. The Searchers (Ford)

I remember discussing with my students that the classics of the American Hollywood studio system had finally proven triumphant. Genre films as well. A musical made the list! A Hitchcock thriller! A John Ford western! Ford, Keaton, Welles (X2), Kelly & Donen were all Americans, and Hitchcock in the 1950s was an honorary American if not native born. Below: Classic image from John Ford's The Searchers (1956)

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