Nolte: Director Paul Schrader Accuses Sight & Sound Film Poll of ‘Politically Correct Rejiggering’

Director Paul Schrader poses during the photocall of "The Canyons" presented out of competition during the 70th Venice Film Festival on August 30, 2013 at Venice Lido. AFP PHOTO / GABRIEL BOUYS (Photo credit should read GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP via Getty Images)
GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP via Getty Images

Last week, the British Film Institute released its once-a-decade film poll and director Paul Schrader smelled the same rat all free-thinking people did.

Since the launch of the poll in 1952, only three titles have earned the top spot: Bicycle Thieves (1948), Citizen Kane (1941), and Vertigo (1958). Historically, movement in the poll has been slow as those polled reflect and reassess over the course of a decade. Change also comes with those who are added and removed from the pool of those polled.

Unfortunately, as I explained last week, BFI’s 2022 Sight & Sound poll got caught up in the Woke Terror and suddenly decided to double those polled from around 800 to 1600. What had been a something like a club where new members were added through recommendations by existing club members turned into a mindless affirmative action program based on identity rather than merit. The results have turned the once-respected and anticipated Sight & Sound poll into a joke.

The greatest movie ever made is now… Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975).

Is Jeanne Dielman truly the greatest movie ever made?

No.

No, it’s not.

Jeanne Dielman is certainly a remarkable piece of feminist cinema, an important and accomplished film worthy of respect. Akerman was only 25 when she directed it, and it is hypnotic, its message does burrow in, and it is not surprising to see it gaining favor as more people discover it. I’d add that it’s not surprising to see it ranked in the Sight & Sound poll.

Does Akerman’s 3.5 hour (deliberately) undramatic examination of the routine and dull life of a housewife, mother, and prostitute rank in my top 100? No. Jeanne Dielman is difficult to sit through as the lead character washes dishes, cleans, and cooks. Tediousness is the point. Akerman wants us to experience the drudgery of being a housewife, a woman. I respect the movie, but I never want to see it again. In those same 3.5 hours I can watch Death Wish 1 and 2.

I should add that I’m also not a fan of Vertigo, another perennial Sight & Sound favorite and that if director Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty (2013) or Jane Campion’s The Piano (1993) edged into the top spot, that would make total sense. Finally, there are plenty of movies directed by guys that have no business being in this top 100, including Jordan Peele’s Get Out, which is a pretty good movie, but let’s get real.

Anyway, here’s Schrader (who has two movies on my greatest film list) on this Jeanne Dielman fiasco:

For 70 years, the Sight & Sound poll has been a reliable if somewhat incremental measure of critical consensus and priorities. Films moved up the list, others moved down; but it took time. The sudden appearance of ‘Jeanne Dielman’ in the number one slot undermines the S&S poll’s credibility. It feels off, as if someone had put their thumb on the scale. Which I suspect they did. … By expanding the voting community and the point system, this year’s S&S poll reflects not a historical continuum but a politically correct rejiggering. Akerman’s film is a favorite of mine, a great film, a landmark film but it’s unexpected number one rating does it no favors. ‘Jeanne Dielman’ will from this time forward be remembered not only as an important film in cinema history but also as a landmark of distorted woke reappraisal.

That last point is crucial. Affirmative action is most destructive in the way it undermines true merit and accomplishment. Jeanne Dielman was already working its way up the poll. No one questioned that. This sudden jump by dozens of places has done it no favors. The game was rigged. That’s unfair to the movie and makes a joke of a once-prestigious poll.

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