because their personal tastes took them in bizarre and definitely non-canonical directions, sometimes because they argued that the idea of a canon was by definition dangerously élitist.
This creates severe difficulties for a proper understanding of cinema. First, a canon continues to exist -- but by default and determined more by the vagaries of fashion and the accidents of availability than by any form of reasoned argument. Secondly, in default of such argument the idea of the importance of cinema itself is undermined. If any film can be as important as any other, and if quasihistorical or idiosyncratically personal judgements take the place of aesthetic reasoning, it is open to anyone to challenge the purpose of taking films seriously in the first place. There has to be a sense of what the cinema has achieved over the past hundred years, and where to look to find the evidence of its achievement. This achievement takes the form of works which can endure, and which, having spoken in one way to audiences at one time, can pose new challenges to judgement now and in the future.
No canon, however, can be eternally fixed, nor should a film canon be allowed to degenerate, as the literary canon has tended to do, into an invocation of lists of authors -- generally dead, white, and male -- whose works are supposedly beyond challenge. Fortunately in the case of cinema this is unlikely to happen. For a start film studies has convincingly established the argument that cinema's achievement is not, or not solely, a matter of authors and that many key works, particularly in the classic Hollywood cinema, are as much a product of the system as of any individual (both Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz experienced changes of directors in mid-stream)., Secondly the film-critical apparatus has always been internationalist, and critics have always striven-and hopefully always will -- to promote the values of the alternative against the mainstream and the Third World against the industrial and cultural domination of the First.
The question of women's cinema is more problematic. Women's power in the cinema has always been more as consumers than as producers and establishing that women film-makers have had an important, if neglected, part to play in creating cinema has to a certain extent been an anti-canonical (or counter-canonical) exercise, in opposition to dominant values. But the argument put forward here in favour of canons is not an argument in favour of closing ranks around the status quo. Rather it is an argument in favour of argument, in favour of declaring and defending reasons for aesthetic and other choices.
Andrew, J. Dudley ( 1976), The Major Film Theories.
Barthes, Roland ( 1967), Elements of Semiology.
Cook, Pam, and Johnston, Claire ( 1974), "The Place of Women in the Films of Raoul Walsh".
Elsaesser, Thomas ( 1972), "Tales of Sound and Fury".
Metz, Christian ( 1971), Language and Cinema.
Mulvey, Laura ( 1975), "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema".
Wollen, Peter ( 1972), "Counter-cinema: Vent d'est".
---- ( 1972), Signs and Meaning in the Cinema.
At various times and in various parts of the world since the 1960s it has often seemed as if the cinema was in a state of irreversible decline. The evidence was there in the form of dwindling attendances, less variety of films to be seen, and-most visibly -- in the sad sight of former picture palaces boarded up, demolished to make way for parking lots, or converted to use as bingo halls, bowling alleys, or warehouses, Less visible, but equally disturbing, has been a sense that cinema has lost its centrality, particularly in Europe, yielding ground to other media and cultural forms.
Yet closer examination suggests that the decline is only apparent, both in quantity and in quality. The cinema has changed. It has changed character, and it has changed location. But having just completed its first century of existence, it is entering the second very much alive.
During this second century it will undoubtedly be very different, if only because its environment -- that of television, video, and emerging forms of multimedia -- is also changing. But certainly for the foreseeable future it will continue to survive and to develop as a distinct artistic and entertainment medium, offering irreplaceable forms of experience to audiences whether numbered in their thousands or in their millions.
To start with the most obvious signs of the cinema's reputed decline: it is certainly true that the number of theatres has been dwindling, particularly in the inner cities and (most sadly) in many small and even mediumsized towns which now have no cinemas at all. But the larger theatres that have survived have in many cases