A SUMMER OF ESSENTIALS Cinematheque Ontario, Jackman Hall, Art Gallery of Ontario (317 Dundas West), to August 16. 416-968-FILM. Rating: NNNNN Rating: NNNNN
if you have any interest in cinema history, it's difficult to argue with the Summer Of Essentials program at Cinematheque. On the other hand, as I was looking over the list, with its Bergmans and Mizoguchis, Godards and Kurosawas, Langs and Dreyers, I realized that they could have programmed exactly the same films under exactly the same name in 1980.
With the exception of Andrei Tarkovsky's The Mirror (Tuesday, July 8, 6:30 pm) and Theo Angelopoulos's The Travelling Players (July 24, 6:30 pm), they could have programmed the same films under the same rubric in 1970. Though, if they had, the inclusion of mid-60s Jean-Luc Godard movies like Two Or Three Things I Know About Her (July 17, 6:30 pm) would have seemed daringly avant-garde.
Cinematheque program director James Quandt is, in part, working off the Sight And Sound 2002 critics' and directors' polls to determine the greatest films ever. Check out www. bfi. org.uk/sightandsound/topten and you'll notice a kind of ossification of critical taste. The list is dominated by critics and directors who came of age in the 60s and 70s, after Citizen Kane. The most recent American titles on this list are the two Godfathers.
I share a lot of these prejudices, by the way. There are an awful lot of great films in this program. I own many of them on DVD, including titles like Jean Renoir's The Rules Of The Game (July 31, 6:30 pm) and Jean Vigo's L'Atalante (July 29, 8:30 pm), which I had to get from Europe since they're unavailable in North America.
You can see most of the films that constituted universities' introduction to world cinema courses in the 70s and brought so much dismay to people who'd thought, "I can watch movies for credit!" and found themselves confronting The Seventh Seal (July 15, 8:30 pm) and Rashomon (July 11, 6:30 pm).
Intriguingly, the six weeks of Essentials do not include a single American film. Granted, Cinematheque has dodged that one by labelling the core series Greatest Foreign Classics, but it's rather like buying a compilation of the 25 greatest rock songs and discovering that time stopped around the time of Dark Side Of The Moon.
It's a safe, solid and conservative greatest hits program, though we have to marvel at a world in which a slate that includes Godard's magnificently perverse Two Or Three Things I Know About Her (July 17) can be considered conservative. Even the greatest iconoclasts become icons if we wait long enough.
There's been some discussion of late that film connoisseurship is dying; people like Susan Sontag have weighed in. This is really a complaint that the video store is taking the place of the cinematheque. It's not that young directors and film buffs aren't watching lots of films, it's that they're watching the wrong kinds of films. Quentin Tarantino is consistently cited as a cautionary example because he spent his youth watching blaxploitation films rather than Bergman and Rossellini. Well, tough.
Cinematheque is standing on guard for the old canon, school and hard core to the point where Quandt describes French director Henri-Georges Clouzot as a "difficult" master. God forbid we should think of the director of The Wages Of Fear (four men, two trucks, bad roads and way too much nitroglycerine), Quai Des Orfèvres (a policier) and Les Diaboliques (an adultery and murder thriller so accessible that Hollywood remade it twice) as an entertainer.
So the Cinematheque will show Hong Kong action movies, but only if they're 30 years old. I don't see any Sammo Hung or Tsui Hark retrospectives on the horizon.