Monday, September 12, 2016

New Directors Pantheon

As far as I can tell (and I’m sure the internet will politely correct me if I’m wrong) the only real significant challenges to the Director Pantheon outlined by Andrew Sarris in The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929 – 1968 came from Pauline Kael who outright rejected the whole idea of auteurism and Sarris himself when he opted to reappraise the work of Billy Wilder. This is why The Sarris Canon has been held up as “the canon” for nearly a half-century, unmoved by time.

Though women like Alice Guy-Blaché and Lois Weber flourished in the early, pioneering days of cinema, Sarris’ decision to focus on the post-sound world left Ida Lupino as the lone female name in his whole book. And even then she is relegated to the “Oddities, One-Shots, and Newcomers” section. His decision to focus on American Cinema also resulted in many great foreign directors either not making the cut, or being included solely for work done in their non-native tongue. And it should go without saying that people of color and (uncloseted) queer voices are nowhere to be found.

Of course the establishment of that original canon helped to bring once neglected names like Hawks and Hitchcock to the forefront of serious cinematic discourse. Without Sarris’ book and the works of critics like André Bazin, we would likely still be holding up only the stuffiest of the stuffy as worthy of study. They made it OK to take genre seriously. But now those once controversial names have become The Establishment. They are the names that you cannot make a list without first consulting. That is why we asked our contributors to put forth 25 names rather than the traditional 10.

Even if someone had chosen to include all 14 of Sarris’ Pantheon Directors, they would still need to come up with 11 more to fill out their list. And for those 11 names they could choose from the entire span of cinema history, regardless of genre or medium. No nation, gender, age, orientation or race was off-limits and it was up to the participant to determine what made a "great" director. Even those original Pantheon Directors were not off limits. Our hope was to create a New Pantheon where old names and new names can sit side by side and be part of the same conversation.

Of course nobody is going to be completely happy with this list. It still overwhelmingly favors straight, white males. And now it also has the added taboo of favoring the living to the dead! But I do think that this list is a step in the right direction. If anything it is a starting point for debate. Like the best criticism, this should start a conversation. And like Sarris’ original list, it is meant to make people seriously consider names that they might never before have considered. Please enjoy and don’t forget to check out all the wonderful ballots for countless other names worthy of your attention.

You can download all of the submitted ballots as a pdf by clicking HERE. Don't know who a particular list-maker is? Click their name and find out more!

Honorable Mentions: Ernst Lubitsch, François Truffaut, Ingmar Bergman, John Carpenter, Luis Buñuel, Michael Powell, Pedro Almodóvar, Spike Lee, Woody Allen

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