Criticwire Survey: Glaring Omissions

News
by Sam Adams
August 12, 2013 9:00 AM
7 Comments
  • |
'The Passion of Joan of Arc'

Every week, the Criticwire Survey asks film and TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday morning. (The answer to the second, "What is the best film in theaters right now?" can be found at the end of this post.) Send suggestions for future questions to sam at indiewire dot com.

Q: Critics have a responsibility to know their art form, but no one's seen everything. What's your most glaring omission, the X in "You've never seen X?!?"

Kevin Lee, Fandor, Sight & Sound

When They Shoot Pictures, Don't They? first put out its aggregated list of the top 1,000 greatest films in 2006, I decided to make it my mission to watch every title I hadn't seen and document the process on my blog Shooting Down Pictures. The project took five years to complete... but since that time, annual revisions to the list have sprouted 21 films I haven't seen, starting with Marketa Lazarova at #294. Seeking out all the films was definitely an invaluable exercise in making me reflect on what makes a film "great," and how those evaluations themselves are not set in stone, but always subject to larger issues of human value.

Richard Brody, New Yorker

The glare of an omission is often like starlight -- invisible for many years -- until consensus crystallizes and reveals a venial neglect as a gap in cultural knowledge. The only way to account for movies unseen is to fill in the blanks of time around them, in the form of true confessions, even at the risk of revealing old prejudices yet unredressed. The early eighties were a sort of dead zone -- I was in graduate school (and an intensive program in ancient Greek) when Blade Runner came out, was working as a researcher on a documentary film (traveling the country to interview veterans of the 82nd Airborne about the liberation of a concentration camp in Germany) when The Terminator was released. Movie-viewing time was rare; I didn't own a VCR and went far more often to revival houses (some of the few new films I do recall seeing in first run are First Name: Carmen, Once Upon a Time in America (short version), Stranger than Paradise, Moscow on the Hudson, and, of course, Love Streams); I didn't plan to become a critic; was having the "cultural conversation" just with friends and presumed to be able to enter it by any door; and, in the years that followed, haven't cared enough about other films by Ridley Scott and James Cameron to catch up with what I had missed. Which reminds me: I haven't seen The Duellists in its entirety.

Mike D'Angelo, Las Vegas Weekly, A.V. Club

During the 17 years that I lived in New York, I saw older movies almost exclusively at rep houses and museums, thus leaving my viewing choices in the hands of the city's venerable programmers. Most of the canon cycles through those venues on a regular basis, but one film continually eluded me, mostly because Anthology Film Archives tends to screen it unsubtitled (as part of their Essential Cinema series). Or at least that used to be the case. Anyway, by far my most glaring, embrrassing, downright unconscionable omission is Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc... which I'll likely finally watch on video at some point soon. Though now I'm holding out for a Criterion Blu-ray upgrade... 

Scott Renshaw, Salt Lake City Weekly 

One of my own periodic bouts of canon-blind-spot self-flagellation just coincidentally occurred right before this question. I'd just noticed that I'd never seen any Carl Theodor Dreyer -- not The Passion of Joan of Arc, not Ordet, nada -- which somehow seemed particularly egregious. Yet I've also noted in the past that of all the arts, film is the only one where every expert is expected to be a generalist, familiar with The Great Works of every era, language, genre, etc. So I strive simply to see works that seem compelling, or perhaps important for an upcoming assignment, and try to go easier on the shame spirals. Having something amazing still to discover is part of the joy of exploring the arts. 

Bilge Ebiri, New York Magazine/Vulture 

For years, my go-to answer for this sort of question has been, and remains, The Philadelphia Story. I love everybody involved in it: George Cukor, Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart... Hell, I'm even kind of a Donald Ogden Stewart nerd, given my minor obsession with Cukor's Tarnished Lady. And yet, I've never seen it. Yes, I know it's a classic, like, a real classic. I've probably even recommended it to someone or other at some point over the years. And it's not like it's a hard one for me to see: I actually own the damned thing on DVD. At this point, I can't tell if I'm too scared to watch it ("It'll never live up to my expectations!") or just monstrously indifferent ("I already know it's gonna be great, and I'll get to it one day, so why bother now?") More likely, it's a combination of all those things, plus just plain old inertia. But when you asked this, I thought a little harder and realized I have what might be an even bigger blind spot. I have seen a number of Andrzej Wajda films, and yet I have never seen the Andrzej Wajda Films, the ones everybody's supposed to have seen: A Generation, Kanal, Ashes and Diamonds, Man of Marble, and Man of Iron. As a professed fan of Eastern European cinema, I have no excuses.

Sean Axmaker, MSN Entertainment, Parallax View

I spent 12 years working in video stores -- clerk, manager, buyer, whatever -- and even longer as a home video reviewer. As a result I managed to take home about every major film one is expected to know about, or at least those that were released on VHS and DVD. That means that the kinds of "glaring omissions" on my list aren't quite as glaring as others. Given that, for some reason I have never gotten around to seeing Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. At first I was waiting to see it on the big screen, and then after I missed my chance when it did finally screened in Seattle, it just got shuttled to the side. I've also never seen Pasolini's Salo, and after all these years, I think it's going to remain that way. This is a film I'm perfectly fine with being an omission.

Adam Nayman, Cinema Scope

I've never seen Breaking Bad. I thus felt very alone last night as seemingly everyone in the world -- by which I mean everyone in my Twitter feed (same difference?) -- geared up for the first episode of the second part of the fifth season. Having been an evangelical Sopranos devotee, I know this particular drill, right down to the part about the final season being split in two to maximize suspense and advertising buys, and I suspect that it's my enduring admiration for David Chase's achievement that I've been wary to try its unofficial pop-cultural successor: you've seen one pulpy serial about an unscrupulous family guy trying to scarf down his piece of American pie, you've seen em all. Which is nonsense, of course, and I'm sure Breaking Bad has flaws and virtues all its own on top of whatever it's borrowed from The Sopranos. But I'm not eager to start watching it, and I'll tell you why. When you have a particular feature film in your blind spot, it's not that hard to fill it -- all you need is 90 minutes and the appropriate motivation. (Well, maybe not if Bela Tarr is the guy in your blind spot but you get my point). The joys of serialized storytelling -- the sense of distension and elongation, dragging pleasure and dread out for hours and hours of viewing time over years and years of real time -- become deterrents when somebody who already has to watch anywhere from three to six movies a week considers sitting down with "Season One, Episode One." I've been on the other end of these complaints from friends who carp that they just don't have 88 hours to commit to finally watching The Sopranos, and so I should probably just follow the advice I've offered them, which is: find the time. Or else just avoid Twitter on Sunday nights until the end of the fall, at which point it will be NBA season and I can get back to using basketball as my excuse not to catch up on all of this high-end television.

Peter Howell, Toronto Star

My most shocking omission isn't a film one, but a TV one: I haven't seen a single episode of Breaking Bad. I keep meaning to. Keep hearing amazing things about it.  I feel like the only person in North America, maybe the world,  who isn't completely immersed in it. I feel like Will Smith in I Am Legend. I'm just always too busy watching movies to devote much time to TV (even my once-compulsory Mad Men viewings have slipped). But I'd like to join the Breaking Bad cult.  Anybody have any suggestions on how to catch up, so I can chime in for the final season?

Katey Rich, Cinema Blend:

To pick just one of many (so many!).... Seven Samurai. And not only have I seen Magnificent Seven and adored it, it's actually my father's favorite movie. There is literally no reason beyond laziness -- and professional obligations to go see Planes and Grown Ups 2, and those seasons of Breaking Bad I haven't watched yet, and those 30 Rock reruns that come on every night at midnight -- that I haven't seen it. And while I'm usually pretty laissez-faire about the "list of shame" and accepting that it's impossible to see everything, Seven Samurai is obviously such a fundamental building block for so many movies that have aped it. I'm way overdue. Once I catch up on Breaking Bad I promise I'll get to it. 

Ernesto Diezmartinez, Reforma

Ok, here I go: I haven't seen Breaking Bad. Not a single episode. Uff... I'm feel better.

Todd VanDerWerff, A.V. Club

As a TV critic, I've always felt like I should be more familiar with Gunsmoke, the drama that codified so much of what TV drama is all about, but I've seen maybe one or two episodes. The prospect of watching the whole thing is daunting, because it ran 20 seasons, and so little of it is readily available to the curious. Someday, I will sit down and check out more of the adventures of Marshal Matt Dillon, and I hope to be duly impressed. 

Alyssa Rosenberg, ThinkProgress, Women and Hollywood

I've never seen Silence of the Lambs, and I never will, because, true story, since childhood, I have had recurring and horrible nightmares about a cannibal who doesn't want to kill and cook me, but who rather wants to take me into his confidence and show me his Fridge o' Horror. I suppose this dream raises the possibility that someone showed me Silence of the Lambs when I was too young to remember it. But in any case, I'm absolutely fine with this remaining a glaring gap in my education, and sleeping easy.

Joanna Langfield, The Movie Minute

Nightmare on Elm Street.  Because I am a wuss.

Matt Prigge, Metro

I've never seen Greed. (But I have seen Jonathan Lynn's Greedy.) In my defense, it's never made it to DVD, even though somewhere among my belongings is a dub of the four-hour TCM construction job from the 1990s. However, to make things worse: I've never seen any film directed by Erich Von Stroheim. I might as well commit seppuku now. I've also never seen The Conjuring.

Robert Greene, Hammer to Nail

I haven't seen all eight hours of Warhol's Empire, but as we all know that's not a movie. I also haven't seen The Avengers or much of Inception or many other Movies Everyone Talks About Until The Don't Anymore. Meanwhile, I have so many classic cinema holes that I'm prone to panic attacks when opening repertory calendars. But as a serious documentary person, my biggest hole is probably that I haven't seen all of Claude Lanzmann's Shoah, which some have called the greatest documentary ever made. I've seen enough to know what the movie is, which is just about the most insulting thing you can say about a great work of art. I've even cited Shoah more than once as an example of a cinematic use of "talking heads" when defending the form, an act of true hypocrisy. As one who gleefully applies a Puritan work ethic to my viewing habits, it is forgiveness that I seek.

Christopher Campbell, Film School Rejects, Movies.com

As someone consistently called a documentary guy, I have a lot of glaring holes in what I've seen from the history of the form, including the whole of Shoah (I've seen one hour), The Sorrow and the Pity, In the Year of the Pig and Hearts and Minds, not to mention a ton I'm forgetting. I have no excuse except to say I can't speed through my education. I'm always learning and watching and I'll get to them eventually.

Glenn Kenny, MSN Movies, Some Came Running

I took Sam's advice and looked at the "They Shoot Pictures" 1,000 Greatest Films list, and at the risk of engendered some professional resentment, it did not make me feel inadequate. I was almost shocked to still have my eyesight, as it were, because damned if I haven't seen pretty much 95 percent of the movies on that list. (And for some reason at this point the line from "The Producers," "Look at me, I'm wearing a cardboard belt" springs to mind.) HOWEVER. I was disturbed to be reminded that I've never actually sat through the entirety of Ikiru. That's messed up, right? And I've never seen Rocha's Black God, White Devil, either. I really need to take a crash course in Brazilian cinema, because outside of Jose Mojica Marins, I am not that up on it. I am somewhat less mortified on having missed out on The Life Of Maxim Gorky, but now that's on my list... Of course I was able to see ALL THOSE MOVIES because I'm 70.

Adam Batty, Hope Lies at 24 Frames a Second, Periodical

The answer to this question is a title which has haunted me for some time now; Touki Bouki. Djibril Diop Mambety's film was the only one on last year's Sight & Sound top 100 that I'd not seen at the time of the list's publication, and I still haven't rectified this in spite of having had 12 months to do so. I also took to the IMDB top 250 in order to answer this question more fully, that most hallowed of digi-turfs when it comes to measuring a contemporary zeitgeist of sorts (it's not great, but it might be the best thing we've got when it comes to measuring the broad popularity of cinema), to see which of the unusual bunch that make up "The 250 Greatest Films of All Time" I was missing. Amidst the genuine "WTF's" (Hotel Rwanda sits at 156, while Guy Ritchie's Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is the 137th best film ever made) there were one or two notable standouts. Sidney Lumet's Network is the most criminal omission from own viewing history. A victim of late-night television scheduling as much as anything, Network is a film I've seen in portions, but never as a whole. 

Kate Aurthur, BuzzFeed

I'm too list-oriented both in life (see my years of packing lists and be afraid) and in my at-home movie education to have missed any truly huge films. But looking at this They Shoot Pictures, Don't They? list of the "1,000 Greatest Films," I will admit that there are many movies that I watched as homework (self-imposed homework) that I either was truly bored by or, eep, do not remember at all. Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey? I've seen it so many times -- it is boring. Kurosawa's incredibly influential Seven Samurai? No memory of it! I can't feel guilty about these things anymore.

Peter Labuza, The Cinephiliacs

I quit counting omissions a couple years ago and just decided to watch instead. It's been better for my personal health to not search out the canon and instead discover what hasn't been written about yet. Because the particulars of film history are mutating every year -- those who place emphasis in the history of cinema on the developments on editing are missing the work being done on the developments of tableaux - I find searching out the canon can be almost harmful. I'm much more curious to search out new discoveries in the archives, things we're only just learning about thanks to institutions like NFNP and festivals like Il Cinema Ritrovato, than filling out what's becoming more and more an outdated canon. It shouldn't be our duty to follow the old path, but forge new ones.

David Ehrlich, Film.com

Not to flagrantly take the easy way out here or anything, but for me the question has always been less about what movies someone has seen than how well they've seen them. Digital technology has made the canon (any canon, really) appear easier to master, but that ubiquity has encouraged much more casual viewing habits, even (and especially) from cinephiles with the most honorable intentions. And the crux of the matter isn't even that people have one eye on their Netflix window and another on their Twitter feed, it's that the amazing ability to marathon through... say... *every* Kinoshita film naturally discourages truly engaging with any one of them. It's entirely possible that my brain is just too feeble for this kind of thing, but I have a hard time believing that someone who watches 700 movies a year really *sees* all that many of them. Of course, in the case of someone like Hong Sang-soo, steamrolling through a filmography can actually be conducive to greater understanding, but I digress. Maybe I'm just nostalgic for my college days -– all the way, way back in 2007 -– when we had the luxury of devoting an entire semester to studying La Dolce Vita, or maybe I'm just trying to preach a healthy balance, but I think what I'm *really* trying to say is that I've never seen All About Eve (eh, I've got The Lady Eve or a single episode of The Wire (eh, I've got Bunheads) or anything from Nollywood (eh, I've got company) and we're probably all going to die one day. Good talk. 

Carrie Rickey, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Don't tell Jonathan Rosenbaum, but I have yet to see Orson Welles' Othello. Which is weird, since I've seen Olivier's Othello, Fishburne's Othello, the Placido Domingo opera Otello and the modern update, O, with Mekhi Phifer. And because I  think of myself as a Welles completist. It's possible that because I saw most of my Welles movies during his Paul Masson spokesperson period, I had had enough of his sepulchral voice. Also possible that I couldn't bear the blackface (which was a challenge in watching the Olivier version, too). I'm in no rush to fill this gap.

William Bibbiani, CraveOnline

This may not be a popular opinion, but I like not having seen "every" movie. It's not that I don't take my job seriously -- take your pick of any "Top 100" list and I've seen at least most of them - but it would be depressing to think that there aren't at least a few classic movies out there left for me to discover for the first time, on a rainy day with a bucket of popcorn and open eyes. A handful of prominent "great" films come to mind, but if I had to pick the most shocking omission, I'd have to say that it's probably Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita, considered by many to be the 8 1/2 director's best. And yet f I had to pick the omission that bothers me the most personally, it's easily Orson Welles' Chimes at Midnight.

Dan Kois, Slate 

The Godfather, Part II. I don't know why. I think in high school I heard godfather III was so bad that I somehow didn't understand that II was beloved. Then once I did I never got around to it. 

Jason Shawhan, Nashville Scene, Interface 2037

I've never seen The Bridge on The River Kwai or The Conversation, mainly because at this point, I'm waiting to see film prints. That reflects a conscious decision on my part, so I'm not completely sure that's what this survey wants to uncover.  Here's something shocking, though: despite my love for scandal, Shelley Winters, and all things meticulous, I've never seen the Kubrick Lolita. But I have seen the Adrian Lyne one. That should do it...

News
  • |

More: Criticwire Survey

You might also like:

7 Comments

  • Sterling Cooper | August 13, 2013 5:25 AMReply

    Ha! You could have named this article, "Who's The Biggest Out-of-Touch, Socially-Inept, Wanna-Be-Filmmaker Nerd Out There" and you wouldn't have to change a word that follows.

  • FAM | August 12, 2013 8:50 PMReply

    Quite a few of the films these critics mention are "canon" films such as Godfather 2, The Passion of Joan of Arc, Gone with the Wind and Lawrence of Arabia. I can understand missing documentaries but these??? Makes me wonder if they lucked into getting that critic job. I personally own 3,250 movies in various forms and have seen everything on both AFI Best Movies list as well as having seen every single Best Picture winner. I WANT ONE OF THESE JOBS!!! Seriously, how do you get to be a paid critic without having seen GWTW? Like the movie or not, it's a benchmark film. You'd think these critics would take their job just a little more seriously unless they spend most of their time working on snarky prose.

  • [A] | August 12, 2013 2:45 PMReply

    I loooove movies but haven't watched GONE WITH THE WIND until last year.

  • Toshiki | August 12, 2013 1:51 PMReply

    Well, now, why doesn't it surprise me that the critic at the New Yorker has not seen two of the most groundbreaking and seminal genre films of the second half of the 20th century and - apparently - has little interest in correcting that situation. On the other hand, cite any somber 180 minute Russian drama from the 20s and 30s and I'm sure he'll be well up on those. And I say this as a big fan of Russian films. Genre ghettoization - alive and well today!

  • Richard Parkin | August 12, 2013 11:41 AMReply

    I confess I haven't read (or even heard of) most of these critics.

  • James Agee | August 12, 2013 9:47 AMReply

    Remember when shame was something people hid?

  • Bilge | August 12, 2013 10:30 AM

    YES. Everything was SO MUCH BETTER back then!

Email Updates