No Brits Allowed

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I’m not one to get too worked up about best of lists, but when Cahiers du cinéma updates its 100 best films of all time list, it’s worth paying attention. Cahiers is probably the most historically important film journal still in existence, and its been shaping taste since its founding in 1951 by André Bazin and other members of the postwar Paris film club movement.

Tops on the list is Citizen Kane, an important film to the French for a number of reasons. Bazin first gained public notice when he defended the film after it was attacked by Jean-Paul Sartre. (Sartre published Bazin’s response in Les temps modernes in 1947.) Second on the list is that great oddball of an American film, Charles Laughton’s Night of the Hunter. Third is my personal pick for greatest film of all time, Jean Renoir’s Rules of the Game. Other personal favorites, Jean Vigo’s Zero for Conduct and Fritz Lang’s M, are fifth and sixth, respectively. French critical idiosyncrasy starts to appear in the seventh spot, the worthy but not that great Singin’ in the Rain. French critical idiosyncrasy continues all the way to the end: there isn’t a single British film on the list.

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6 Comments

  1. Well, I certainly won’t complain about “Night of the Hunter” being on the list, and in the second place -no less!-, and tied with a Renoir. Laughton was sort of blackballed in life, but his film was extraordinary, and therefore, endures and abides.
    You’re right about the lack of British films, yet I cannot help wondering how a British list could be like: My bet is that it would be mostly English Language films (this is American and British), but surely without “Night of the Hunter” (most likely with an Attenborough film instead of the Laughton masterwork), and probably without French, German, Italian and Japanese films.

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  2. … In fact the “No Brits in the list” isn’t true at all: I see films by Laughton Chaplin, Hitchcock
    I know that disowning Britons who have success abroad is a national sport… Still, there they are, on the list.

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  3. Leave it to the French to leave off the British. David Lean should be on the list. Alexander Korda should be as well. He worked in the UK, but wasn’t born there.

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  4. C du C also missed on all the great kitchen sink realist films of the early 1960s by Tony Richardson and Lindsay Anderson, whose “If . . .” was one of the most important films of the 1960s. Also, at least one of Peter Greenaway’s films should be listed. And there’s a place for Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night” in a list of 100 films.

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  5. Hum… Again: I must suppose that you don’t consider Laughton Chaplin or Hitchcock as Brits?
    Gee… I didn’t know that they were aliens from outer space.
    (Though I agree with you that there are fantastic British films which could certainly made the list: Powell & Pressburger come instantly to mind)

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  6. I think a more important factor in determining the nationality of a film is the studio that made it rather than the birthplace of the director, especially when considering a studio-produced film. Hitchcock made a number of significant number of fine British films, but they are very different from his American studio films. Chaplin’s entire film career was in the United States. For the C du C crowd, Hitchcock and Chaplin represented a particular kind of American filmmaking. By the same token, Alexander Korda was a major figure in the British film industry as a director and producer. He was even knighted for his contributions to the British cinema, but he was born in Hungary. Godard is a citizen of Switzerland, and still maintains an office there, but his films are universally considered to be French.

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