A Clever Ruse

21 June, 2010 at 2:10 pm (film)

Un/Stage, a visual art and design website, has posted a list of what they consider to be the best “50+ Examples of Criterion Box Art“. “50+” apparently translates into “58” when someone actually counts, all of which I find a little odd. Lists, especially online lists, are not designed to be inclusive. They’re designed to do two things: first, to declare with grim (but anticlimactic) finality that The List Maker is an expert, an expert with the discerning taste to decide what stays on the list, and what is cast aside and kicked to the curb. Making lists, as anyone who’s tried to get into a fictional club in a film or television show knows, is about making those who are on the list feel more valuable at the expense of the egos of those left standing in line outside, imprisoned by the flimsy confines of a velvet rope and a bouncer’s level stare. It’s the special meteorological sparkle of having a rising tide lift just a few boats, and leaving the rest in a kelpy ebb.

The second purpose of a list is to generate chatter, which is why websites love them, and why any perceived expert finality is never the last word. By excluding things, you bring the commenters out of the woodwork, clawing at their keyboards and griping, “You’ve left out My Favorite, you swine, which clearly deserves inclusion, much more than your pathetic examples!” Now, perhaps a more charitable person who doesn’t have the “No Really, Shut Up” Greasemonkey script installed on his browser (Thank you, Chris Lamb) might say that such commenters aren’t purely motivated by bile. That instead, with a population of young writers in the midst of overwhelming media diversity, these commenters are helping to shed light on forgotten or niche corners of cult fandom that might have escaped the experience of The List Maker. It’s not a bad point, except that, well, I tend to think that the niche corners of the internet are populated by — as Victoria Coren reminds us — the sort of people who have a desperate fetish to be eaten by someone else, and I really don’t want to hear from them which whatevers really should have been kept on a given list.

But inspiring people to feel left behind in the velvet cordon, unworthy and sidelined, remains a good way to get them to comment, and comment breeds comment. Because the engine of the internet is not so much porn, as it is rage. Rage, rage against perceived slants against my values and the value of my individuality! Internet lists are written to engender such things; as the Criterion Current newsletter put it, “Whatever way you get your clicks”. Nyuck, nyuck, etc.

So. If any of that is true, what’s odd about the Un/Stage list is that it’s too inclusive. It can’t even keep it’s list down to fifty examples, and has to let it bleed out into a flabby fifty-eight. What seems to be the obvious implication here is that Criterion are such wonderful designers that it’s simply impossible to whittle the list down to a mere fifty examples. That only fifty wouldn’t show the breadth and depth of their aesthetic.

Whereas I return to the first criterion (unintentional pun, I swear) of list-making: if you’re not putting limits on what is In and what Isn’t, then you’re not sufficiently or successfully establishing your tastes or rubrics. And it becomes such a fluffy, inclusive exercise that it becomes difficult to see why you excludes some of them at all. Why not just post a link to the Criterion Collection website, Un/Stage? Your selection of cover art is broad enough that I can say, “Yeah, there’s some good work there,” but not be moved in any way by it (note: clearly a lie, or else why am I typing all this drivel? Read on…). This is why Top Ten lists are good, and that the Top 5 discussions in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity are even better. They give the reader/listener/observer a clear indication of core taste, of core qualifications.

So, I present to you my Top 5 current Criterion Collection cover art. And all of the preceding waffle may or may not be a vast smokescreen to conceal my unbridled excitement that Charade is being re-re-released by Criterion, this time on Blu-Ray disc. I get to buy Charade again! I’m so pleased.

Top 5 Criterion covers

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