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Last word yet to be said

``CITIZEN KANE is the greatest film ever made.'' Says who? Say a hundred critics and a hundred filmmakers. But can they decide for the world in an objective fashion what the all time great film ought to be? And from there go on to announce the ten greatest films ever made? Aren't lists personal and subjective?

The issue here is not whether "Kane" is or isn't the greatest film, but if 200 people (even if they are experts) saying so, makes it so. Because ever since the list came out, people have been saying they want to see "Citizen Kane." Or seeit again. Some can't understand what the fuss is all about: they have seen it and it left them cold.

A list like this influences what movie-goers think and feel. And makes up their mind for them. But even the gang that put this thing together, the British Film Institute via the 2002 Sight and Sound poll is aware that this list can't, must not be the last word.

The poll published in the September special issue of Sight and Sound reveals that many did not put "Citizen Kane" on top, and some didn't even have "Kane" on their list. By the editor's own admission, in the cover story, The Rules of the Game, "Vertigo" would have been on top if it had only got six more votes. Six more votes and suddenly the world's greatest film isn't "Kane" anymore but "Vertigo"? That should tell you how arbitrary and personal the whole list thing is.

``The most pressing concern,'' writes Sight and Sound, ``is probably: how `accidental' are these ratings? How much do they depend on who is and who isn't polled. A mere six votes more and `Vertigo' could have come on top, ending `Kane's' 40 year reign.''

The final top ten is largely a predictable one, except for one surprise: popular films like "Vertigo" and "The Godfather" moving up to second and fourth places, beating out those arty, European films.

What is perhaps more interesting than the top ten list is the individual list of each filmmaker and critic polled. And the films that never made it to the top. These are films that should have or could have made it. But lost because of a vote here and a vote there. Some of the lists are daring, others are fun, and some are even shocking.

Quentin Tarantino's list, for instance, coolly dispenses with the canon: his number one film is: "The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly"! The other movies on the list are equally startling: "The Great Escape," "Carrie," "Coffy," "Five Fingers of Death" and "Hi Diddle Diddle." This is clearly a personal list, which is why it is fun to read.

John Waters, that cult filmmaker places several Hollywood soap operas on top of his list: Douglas Sirk's "All That Heaven Allows", Elia Kazan's "Baby Doll", Russ Meyer's "Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!" And William Castle's B (grade) horror film, "The Tingler."

Horror filmmaker Stuart Gordon puts "Behind The Green Door" as the greatest film ever made because it is ``the `Gone With The Wind' of porno films.'' He also includes "Rosemary's Baby".

Sidney Lumet adds at the end of his list that, ``the top ten is an impossible category. What I put down are ten movies that I can't resist watching, no matter when or where.'' His top film is "The Best Years of Our Lives."

Asif Kapadia puts "Psycho" first. Mira Nair's great film is "An Angel at My Table." George Romero seems to have had a great time making the list. ``I prefer to think of top ten as meaning favourite. When I'm condemned to hell - a good bet - I'll probably drag along a sack full of DVDs. Which ten will I pick to last me an eternity - in hell!? Richard Brook's `The Brothers Karmazov': nobody is going to agree with me on this one. It's corny, it's Hollywood. But it's got The Yul. It's got Lee J. Cobb, Richard Baseheart, Salmi. It's got foxy Clair Bloom. It's even got Captain Kirk! And Maria Schell. Wow! She does a dance in a tavern, fully clothed, which must be the sexiest dance ever recorded. What can I tell you, the music makes me cry.''

It's nice to see Ray, Ghatak and Dutt turn up in several lists — both critics and directors. Derek Malcolm, long-time critic of The Guardian puts Kieslowski's "Dekalog" right on top, followed by Ray's "The Music Room". Japanese film critic Yomota Inuhiko names "Kaagaz ke phool" as his all time greatest.

On top of J. Hoberman's list is the little seen, little known cult film, "Flaming Creatures." "Les Vampires," another obscure film, heads Jonathan Rosenbaum's list. This time around the poll features literary and culture critics like Camille Paglia, Fredric Jameson, Michael Wood and Gilbert Adair. Paglia places "Gone With The Wind" third on her list.

Other movies that turned up frequently on most lists: "Chinatown," "M," "Man with a Movie Camera," "The General," "Touch of Evil," "Au Hasard Balthasar," "Blade Runner" and Mizoguchi's "The Story of the Later Chrysanthemums".

I'll end the list-making with the closing lines of the Sight and Sound poll: ``The immediate lesson of the 2002 poll, perhaps the last of the filmstrip era, is surely that diversity has to be defended... and as for lists, let's have more of them, and more iconoclastic ones: but instead of celebrating the winners, remember it's the margins that really matter.''

PRADEEP SEBASTIAN

(pradeepsebastian@hotmail.com)
Visuals by Netra Shyam

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