Peter Wollen describes the film canon — the great works of cinema — as something in ‘constant flux … [with] marginal adjustments being made all the time … through a complex process of cultural negotiation among a motley set of cultural gate-keepers’.1 Wollen lists four key agencies or projects that contribute to the process of canon formation. The first of these is the archives and cinematheques that ‘decide which films to preserve and, through their film programming policy, which to screen’.2 Wollen notes collections such as the ‘National Treasures’ list of American films decided annually by the Library of Congress (Washington, DC), and the selection of world cinema that makes up the ‘360° Pan’ list of the ‘Treasures from the National Archive’ in London. (The latter includes several films discussed in this chapter: Gun Crazy, Bob le flambeur, A bout de souffle, Pierrot le fou, Le Samouraï, Bonnie and Clyde.) Second to the archive, Wollen places the role of academics and critics, singling out the Sight and Sound lists of ‘Top Ten’ films drawn up every decade (since the 1950s) which serve ‘as a record and summation of international critical opinion’ and influence public taste for the decade to come.3 The next contributing agency is the part played by filmmakers, and includes their appreciation of ‘the ambitiousness or originality of other people’s projects, as well as filmmakers’ wish to place their own work within a historical tradition or pay their debt to people who influenced them’.4
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