The new Sight and Sound magazine “Greatest Films of All Time” list has gotten its once-a-decade updating.
It’s the list that first enshrined “Citizen Kane,” that later critics/voters replaced with “Vertigo,” and so on, down the decades since 1952.
And they picked a film that has long been held in esteem, a 1975 Belgian drama that runs for three hours and 20 minutes, with the pithy title “Jeanne Dielman 23 Quai de Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles.”
Say what now?
“An epic of experimental cinema” following a widow (Delphine Seyrig) through her daily routine of housekeeping, cooking and caring for her son. Oh, and she’s a Belgian prostitute, a sex worker “turning the occasional trick.”
It was on the last version of the S&S poll at #36, but magically jumped all the way to the top when the polling sample size was greatly increased, almost certainly to diversify the demographics of those being polled.
The British Film Institute will offer it for free on its onsite player starting Thursday, since most of the world, and probably a lot of those folks casting ballots this time around in the S&S poll, have never seen it.
Filmmaker, screenwriter and critic Paul Schrader (“Taxi Driver” script, “First Reformed” writer-director) has questioned this abrupt shift, using the term “woke” in describing the sudden ascent of a film that has been well-regarded, but not deemed the cinema’s finest film in any circles until now.
Is it an anchor movie in Women in Film courses and film societies the world over? No idea. I’ve never seen it, but I plan to.
But if you don’t think “Sight & Sound” and its polling population have been patrician and hidebound for most its history, you’re almost certainly guessing wrong. Just read the polls over the decades and guess how they’re more male and Anglo-Centric than they’d like to admit, as certainly mostly European and North American voters have been predominant in the tastes reflected in what they’ve published up to now.
Did they get it wrong? Was this a grade-on-the-curve, jump an under-represented populace to the front of the line thing? Probably. Pity they couldn’t have picked a better known film and female filmmaker.