VIDEO ESSAY: Sight & Sound Film Poll - Vadim Rizov on Apichatpong Weerasethakul's THE ANTHEM

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by Vadim Rizov and Kevin B. Lee
June 1, 2012 10:42 AM
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As discussed in part three of Press Play's preview of the Sight & Sound film poll, if you look at the results of the last poll, you would think that the last 40 years of cinema amounted to a dark age following the golden era of the 50s and 60s, with hardly any films from that period showing up in the top results. In contrast, each of the videos produced so far for Press Play's Sight and Sound Critics Picks series has featured one post-1970 film: Roger Ebert praised Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972), Jonathan Rosenbaum picked Satantango (1994), and Molly Haskell selected Claire's Knee (1970). But what films from the last decade are worth consideration? Is it "too soon to be sure" if these films truly rank among the greatest, as David Jenkins wondered in part two our discussion

Critic and Sight & Sound contributor Vadim Rizov submits his answer with his selection of a film by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, one of the pre-eminent directors to have emerged in the past decade; with his first feature Mysterious Object at Noon released in 2000, he can be considered one of the first true post-millennial filmmakers. Rizov takes his selection further by not choosing one of Apichatpong (aka Joe)'s most critically vaunted features, Tropical Malady (2004), Syndromes and a Century (2007) or Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010). In fact, Rizov doesn't select a feature film, but Joe's short film The Anthem, co-commissioned by Frieze Projects and LUX in 2005. The short, intended as a "cinematic purification ceremony" to be played in movie theaters at the start of a screening, takes its inspiration from two ceremonial fixtures in Thai culture: Buddhist purification rituals and the playing of the Thai royal anthem at the start of film screenings and other public events. Rizov explains his selection in the video: "If I had to choose one film to show someone who was completely unfamiliar with arthouse cinema of the last 10-15 years what they had been missing in five minutes, I would choose Joe's short film The Anthem."

The selection of a short as one of the all-time greatest films may be more significant than selecting a film that is only seven years old. Shorts are all too often overlooked; I've spoken with more than one poll participant who was surprised to learn that short films were even eligible for consideration. But the first Sight and Sound Poll in 1952 placed a short film in the top ten: Jean Vigo's Zero for Conduct. Since then, no short film has come close to that ranking, though 1992 featured an especially strong showing of short films in the top 50: Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon, Humphrey Jennings' Listen to Britain, Alain Resnais' Night and Fog and Luis Bunuel's Un Chien Andalou. All of those shorts fell in the 2002 balloting, excet for Un Chien Andalou, the only short in the top 100, and along with Chris Marker's La Jetee, the only short to receive three votes or more. 

My own 2012 ballot features two shorts: Farough Farrokzad's The House is Black (1962) and Peter Tscherkassky's Outer Space (1999). I don't expect either of these to place well in the aggregate results, but that doesn't stop them from being two of the most stunning films I've seen: Farrokhzad's is a supreme fusion of non-fiction, essay and poetry; Tscherkassky's is a horrifying, spellbinding eulogy to the end of 20th century celluloid cinema. They do more in ten minutes than most films can do in 100. 

Special thanks to Bill Georgaris of They Shoot PIctures, Don't They? for the Sight and Sound poll statistics cited in this entry.

Vadim Rizov is a freelance film writer based in Brooklyn. His work regularly appears in Sight & Sound, the L Magazine, the LA Weekly and the AV Club, among others. Follow him on Twitter.

Kevin B. Lee is Editor in Chief of IndieWire’s PressPlay Video Blog, Video Essayist for Fandor Keyframe, and contributor to Roger Ebert.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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