The esoterica fetish that predominates in select sectors of online cinephilia all too often catalyzes a chain-reaction of one-upmanship, of egocentric blowhards huff-puffing against canonical houses of supposed straw.
You know what I mean, the whole “Sunset Blvd. is good, sure, but MY personal favorite Wilder is The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes” routine, a mock celebration of ‘individuality’ that finds its expression in the most inexplicable eccentricities of movie taste. Never mind that the hypothetical poseur quoted above could probably fill a canyon with what he doesn’t know about Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim, and the knotty history of the Hollywood studio system from the dynastic rule of Irving Thalberg’s MGM through de Havilland v. Warner Bros and beyond. This is knowledge, of course, that greatly enriches the experience of Sunset Blvd., and it’s knowledge that legions of cinephiles pride themselves on dispensing with in their revisionist history that Billy Wilder’s 1950 masterpiece is but a stale staple of the AFI top 100.
The real radicalization in cinephilia is rescuing over-represented ‘classics’ from inevitable historical whitewash, by actually making an effort to meaningfully contextualize them and properly reclaim their greatness. But no, instead, we live in a world where we’re supposed to kick City Lights to the curb because there’s a greater opportunity to namedrop Rossellini if we blow the trumpet for A King in New York. This isn’t to say that all canonical cinema is great and all fringe cinema is navel-gazing elitism (or that there is not a very real need, insofar as anything in film discourse is needed, for genuinely radical canon reformation), simply that the limit to which this ‘fuck the canon’ tendency is routinely pushed is a bastardization of what it means to be anti-establishment. It’s pride in not knowing anything about film history, in having the most inorganic, ego-juicing, city-planner methodology of furnishing your taste, in lowering the curtain on your painstakingly designed alternative top 100 list so that tens of onlookers can marvel at how much Kargarga ratio must have been expended in order for you to have compiled it.
I write all this because I am, in many respects, guilty of this particular cinephile compulsion. Fortunately, I am working around the clock to get the help I need to correct it. I implore the rest of you to follow suit!