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Essential Cinema: On the Necessity of Film Canons Hardcover – March 30, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From 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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Film lovers seeking critical guidance more discerning than daily newspaper reviews but less daunting than scholarly journal articles depend on a handful of critics who write about rarefied films for a general audience. Among the best is Rosenbaum, who plies his trade in the weekly Chicago Reader. This collection of his work is largely concerned with the formation of a canon of cinematic masterpieces. Nearly all the review subjects in the book are obvious canon fodder, including acknowledged classics Greed and Rear Window, such challenging recent films as Satantango and Archangel, the avant-garde works Flaming Creatures and *Corpus Callosum, and even such "disputable contenders" as A.I. and Eyes Wide Shut. Pieces on master directors, including Samuel Fuller, Orson Welles, and Hou Hsiao-hsien, offer glimpses of further canon-worthy films. Rosenbaum appends a list of his 1,000 favorites, "a personal canon" based on "pleasure and edification" rather than historical or popular impact. 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. Gordon Flagg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 472 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press (March 30, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801878403
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801878404
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,274,902 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

68 of 69 people found the following review helpful By on June 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Jonathan Rosenbaum's new volume of film criticism is somewhat different from his earlier collections. Long critical of the hegemony of Hollywood and the way commerical hype has overshadowed criticism, Rosenbaum's new book pays strikingly little attention to movies the average American is likely to have heard of, let alone seen. Whereas past volumes contained notable polemics against Woody Allen, "Mississipi Burning," and "Forrest Gump," Hollywood pictures are rather rare here. There are Rosenbaum's vigorous defences of "Eyes Wide Shut," and "A.I.", as well as a unsurpringly contemptuous article on "Pretty Woman." There is a cold dissection of the evasions of "Taxi Driver" that is especially acute about how Travis Bickle's racism is whitewashed, so to speak. "Fargo" is compared to Krzysztof Kieslowski's "Decalogue" and does not come off well in the bargain. There are unsurprisingly respectful articles in praise of "Greed", "M", "Rear Window," and Orson Welles. Somewhat on the edge of the average American moviegoer's consciousness, there are articles in praise of "Ghost Dog," and "Waking Life."
But overall this is a book that is decidedly internationalist and highbrow in its choice, although Rosenbaum's reasoning can lead to the most surprising choices. One should look at the appendix where Rosenbaum lists his one thousand favorite movies, with his favorite one hundred starred with an asterix. Rather strikingly, only six Oscar winners for best picture make the list, and only one, "The Best Years of Our Lives," makes his top one hundred. Only one nominee for Best Picture since 1988, 1998's "The Thin Red Line," makes the list.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Steiner VINE VOICE on June 29, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Rosenbaum proves himself once again to be among the most knowledgeable and eloquent film critics in print today. Unlike some of his other volumes such as "Movie Wars," Rosenbaum doesn't discuss the grim realities of corporate Hollywood so much (although he does comment on filmmakers who have been treated unfairly by the system), as he evaluates directors and films which he believes are of historical and artistic importance, such as Orson Welles, Fritz Lang, Eric Von Stroheim, Yasujiro Ozu, and Sam Fuller. Rosenbaum writes with clarity and insight on a number of film-related topics, such as screenwriting and mise en scene. He's remarkably intelligent and has a keen eye for film aesthetics; he's passionate about the French director Jacques Tati which is slightly problematic because Rosenbaum worked as an assistant for Tati for a time which may slant his opinions of the auteur. Never the less, Essential Cinema is one of the best collections of film criticism I've read in a while, and his personal favorite 1,000 movies list is a valuable resource, though I disagree with a number of selections. The book is a worthwhile purchase for any cinephile.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Silenos on August 18, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I couldn't say that I've always agreed with Rosenbaum - his raising of the sleek Rear Window above Vertigo, his preference for the tedious Spider's Stratagem instead of the traumwelt of Il Conformista, much on Hou Hsiao-Hsien, who I love, but precious little about Tsai Ming-Liang, his excessive praise for Maddin, are all probable points of contentious banter. But having also sat through the seven plus hours of Tarr's Satantango, and found myself very much on the same page as Rosenbaum, I've come to think that these are mere quibbles and noticed that, more often than not, I've been cheering his opinions from the aisles. And, of course, he's right about the vast majority of film reviewers being star-struck lickspittles, not to say paid lackeys.

What we have in Jonathan Rosenbaum is a writer who, like Gilberto Perez, seems incapable of NOT furnishing his readers with fresh thoughts and new insights about works that they thought, incorrectly, they knew sufficiently well. This is what a critic, in any field, must seek to accomplish, and something which most fail at miserably. I cannot think of higher praise for this collection. But read his Altman chapter: it goes to the very core of the whys of Bob's sustained influence. Essential cinema and essential reading then, and, what's best, at a moment when, more than ever, a larger share of the films he mentions can now be viewed by anyone with a DVD player. Better times.
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