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Essential Cinema: On the Necessity of Film Canons

Overview

Jonathan Rosenbaum is arguably the most insightful and informed film critic working today. In Essential Cinema he gathers twenty years of writing to explore the idea of - and the need for - a film canon. Though the idea may be unfashionable, particularly within the academy, Rosenbaum argues that a canon of great and near-great films is vital if we are to understand film as an art. Featuring a new afterword with an updated list of favorite films, this is an essential book for film students, film scholars, and film...
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Overview

Jonathan Rosenbaum is arguably the most insightful and informed film critic working today. In Essential Cinema he gathers twenty years of writing to explore the idea of - and the need for - a film canon. Though the idea may be unfashionable, particularly within the academy, Rosenbaum argues that a canon of great and near-great films is vital if we are to understand film as an art. Featuring a new afterword with an updated list of favorite films, this is an essential book for film students, film scholars, and film buffs.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In combining his reviews from the Chicago Reader with writing he's done for other magazines, Rosenbaum doesn't so much argue in favor of specific canons of film masterpieces as defend the very process of choosing films of artistic or cultural significance that deserve to be remembered and merit repeat viewing. His global approach is evident from the opening section, "Classics," which discusses films from Germany, France, Russia, Hungary, China and Belgium; even the two American selections (Greed and Rear Window) were made by expatriate directors. Rosenbaum largely ignores mainstream Hollywood; except for a review of Pretty Woman (negative) and A.I. (positive with reservations), Stanley Kubrick is about as commercial as it gets. Instead, Rosenbaum rails against an attitude he sees perpetuated by American studios and critics alike, in which a film isn't worthy of discussion unless it's in wide release or prominently displayed on the video shelves. He'd rather call readers' attention to things they probably wouldn't have seen otherwise, yet his treatment of individual films and filmmakers is accessible without being dumbed down, filled with perceptive insights and fascinating juxtapositions (the Coen brothers, for example, come up in a chapter-long comparison with Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski). A closing list of 1,000 favorite films is sure to spark debate among cineastes (Ishtar?) while offering a long checklist of films to watch. (Apr. 27) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Film critic for the Chicago Reader, an alternative weekly, Rosenbaum presents a new collection of film essays, some rather lengthy, others just extended notes, and most previously published in his weekly. The result is a highly personal look at world filmmaking and directors that combines celebrations, rediscoveries, polemics, and autobiographical reflections (Rosenbaum is the son and grandson of small-town movie exhibitors). It is not, however, as the publisher claims, a reference of must-see films. Some of the better essays include an extended look at a recent restoration of Erich von Stroheim's silent film classic Greed and trenchant appreciations of Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver, Jacques Demy's musicals, and Stanley Kubrick's later films. Rosenbaum isn't afraid to throw the spotlight on obscure international films and directors and almost forgotten American films like The Phenix Story. There are also brief essays on American directors like Nicholas Ray (Rebel Without a Cause), Otto Preminger (Laura), and Western auteur Anthony Mann (El Cid). The book concludes with a personal canon of favorite films, listed year by year from 1895 to the present. Well written, though not always exciting, this work should be considered by academic libraries. Public and school libraries would be better served by Pauline Kael's 5001 Nights at the Movies, Danny Peary's various books on cult films, or the annual compilation of Roger Ebert's film reviews.-Stephen Rees, Levittown Regional Lib., PA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Howard County Times - Rebecca Oppenheimer
His observations on film composition are astute and thought-provoking... Essential Cinema is essential reading for the movie buff.
Choice
This is a road map for anyone who cares about discovering new cinematic terrain.
Reference and Research Book News
[Rosenblaum's] canon is not exclusively Western, goes beyond purely aesthetic considerations, is a process of selection rather than reportage, and sees cultural criticism as valid.
Jewish Herald-Voice
Rosenbaum is one of those rare film critics who isn't too cool to tell us when a film gives him excitement, pleasure, and hope... Sometimes Rosenbaum becomes so strident about 'the lies' that Hollywood films and their publicists feed us that you want to whack him on the head with a copy of Entertainment Weekly. But, we need to hear about film lies from someone. And besides, there's no such thing as Jonathan Rosenbaum lite.
Memphis Flyer
Essential Cinema... is a chance to enjoy a bunch of reviews from the best long form critic on the planet.
Film Studies
Important book.

— Steven Peacock

Senses of Cinema
Rosenbaum proves he is an essential critic, one we mustn't fail to read.
Choice

This is a road map for anyone who cares about discovering new cinematic terrain.

The Times of London
A virtuoso collection by one of the finest film critics currently active... His passions are unusually diverse... There's nothing here that won't enrich the reader in some way. If you have seen the film already, you will see it better. If you haven't seen it, you will want to.
Newcity
Jonathan Rosenbaum is one of the most invested voices in writing about movies. When there's a subject he's spent decades thinking on, he's nonpareil.
Booklist
Every essay demonstrates Rosenbaum's fervent dedication to the cinema and, more important, that he has the knowledge and insight to support his impassioned opinions.
Boston Globe
Rosenbaum's passionate, thoughtful, and richly informed advocacy of the films he cares about earns this book a place on any cinephile's shelf... Rosenbaum, an enormously erudite and deeply reflective viewer unbeholden to academic norms and taboos, is ideally positioned to propose a canon of great works... An essential guide.
Howard County Times
His observations on film composition are astute and thought-provoking... Essential Cinema is essential reading for the movie buff.

— Rebecca Oppenheimer

Film Studies - Steven Peacock
Important book.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801878404
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/2004
  • Pages: 472
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.46 (d)

Meet the Author

Jonathan Rosenbaum is film critic for the Chicago Reader and the author or editor of fourteen books, including Movie Wars: How Hollywood and the Media Limit What Films We Can See, Movies as Politics, and Placing Movies: The Practice of Film Criticism.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction
I Classics
Fables of the reconstruction : the four-hour Greed 3
Fascinating rhythms : M 13
The color of paradise : Jour de fete 19
Backyard ethics : Hitchcock's Rear window 26
Songs in the key of everyday life : The umbrellas of Cherbourg 32
A tale of the wind : Joris Ivens's Last testament 38
Kira Muratova's home truths : The asthenic syndrome 43
The importance of being sarcastic : Satantango 48
Blush 53
The ceremony 58
Thieves 62
True grit : Rosetta 67
II Special problems
Malick's progress 75
Improvisations and interactions in Altmanville, with an afterword : Nashville 80
Mixed emotions : Breaking the waves 95
Fast, cheap & out of control 101
The sweet cheat : Time regained 105
James Benning's Four corners 113
Overrated solutions : L'humanite 119
The sound of German : Straub-Huillet's The death of Empedocles 123
Beyond the clouds : Return to beauty 130
Reality and history as the apotheosis of southern sleaze : Phil Karlson's The Phenix City Story 136
Is Ozu slow? 146
The human touch : Decalogue and Fargo 152
III Other canons, other canonizers
Life intimidates art : Irma Vep 163
Stanley Kwan's Actress : writing history in quicksand 170
Critical distance : Godard's Contempt 179
Remember amnesia? (Guy Maddin's Archangel), with an afterword : ten years later (please watch carefully : The heart of the world) 187
Ragged but right : Rivette's Up down fragile 194
Critic with a camera : marker on Tarkovsky 199
Riddles of a sphinx : From the journals of Jean Seberg 204
International harvest : national film histories on video 210
International sampler : Ghost dog : the way of the samurai 216
Not the same old song and dance : The young girls of Rochefort 223
Flaming creatures and Scotch tape 230
Ruiz hopping and buried treasures : twelve selected global sites 236
IV Disputable contenders
Back in style : Bertolucci's Besieged 251
The young one : Bunuel's neglected masterpiece 257
In dreams begin responsiblities : Kubrick's Eyes wide shut 262
The best of both worlds : A. I. artificial intelligence 271
Under the chador : The day I became a woman 280
Chains of ignorance : Charles Burnett's Nightjohn 285
Good vibrations : Waking life 291
Hell on wheels : Taxi driver 295
Meat, John, Dough : Pretty woman 302
Tashlinesque 306
Weird and wonderful : Takeshi Kitano's Kikujiro 313
Corpus callosum 317
V Filmmakers
Mann of the west 321
Otto Preminger 326
Nicholas Ray 334
Exiles in modernity : films by Edward Yang 338
Hou Hsiao-hsien : becoming Taiwanese 346
The countercultural histories of Rudy Wurlitzer 351
Samuel Fuller : the words of an innocent warrior 357
The mysterious Elaine May : hiding in plain sight 364
Visionary agitprop : I am Cuba 370
The battle over Orson Welles 376
License to feel : Distant voices, Still lives and The neon bible 386
Death and life : landscapes of the soul - the cinema of Alexander Dovzhenko 399
App 1,000 favorites (a personal canon) 407
Index 427
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