Film Writing: The Canon vs. The Current

When any film fan endeavors to create a website or blog about movies, they have several important decisions to make. They must determine how they’re going to brand themselves, what fonts they’ll use, what colors they’ll use, how frequently they’ll update, the kind of readers they’d like to attract, the types of discussions they’d like to incite, and so on. As important as anything is the decision to focus on the canon or the current.

Wikipedia defines the film canon as:

the limited group of movies that serve as the measuring stick for the highest quality in the film genre, based on criteria that look past personal and popular taste, to encompass only those that “artistically defined film history.”

Most people would rather discuss Sandler with boobs than Sturges. Whaddyagonnado?

The current, of course, would include reviews of new releases, film-related news updates, upcoming DVD and Blu-Ray releases, and trailers. Before going further, it should be clarified that there is no wrong approach. I can’t stress that enough. Or rather, the only wrong approach would be to create a website that’s not true to your passions and interests. And let there be no doubt that the canon and the current are not mutually exclusive. I’m sure everyone would prefer the right blend of both. Having said that, there are time and resource limitations. When you’re only one person trying to maintain your brand, you may have to choose one or the other.

Sites that focus on the current certainly hit the broader market. Walk into a room in the next week and ask everyone if they’d rather discuss Jack and Jill or Sullivan’s Travels. Even though the discussion would be in good fun while bashing Adam Sandler’s monstrosity, odds are very, very good that people are going to choose a current dud over an undisputed classic listed on the AFI Top 100.

Because we live in a society begging to be drowned in information as soon as it’s available, breaking a news story is sure to grab a lot more attention than writing about a 50 year old black and white film. In one very clear way, I’d imagine that writing about the current is more rewarding. It gives a broader audience, and a key part of the movie-watching experience is to discuss new movies and alert others to what’s out there. It breeds enthusiasm and often spirited debate.

Advantage: Canon

The canon, on the other hand, offers a deeper catalogue. I live in a metropolitan area with 2.6 million residents. At any given time, I can go to the theater to see somewhere in the vicinity of 30 to 40 different new releases, with a heavy emphasis on certain genres and maybe two or three countries of origin. Looking to the canon offers me hundreds of thousands of options from every genre and country possible. Additionally, films from the canon have been seen and reviewed hundreds–sometimes even thousands–of times. There’s a broader database of info to help me determine which movies from film history are right for me.

Most importantly, in many cases, films from the canon are important films for a variety of reasons. Thanks to hindsight, there’s a wonderful depth to films from the canon that’s not as readily available in the current. The films you see can be placed into a causal chain of events–this movie drew inspiration from that movie, and later played an influence on this other list of movies that came out decades later. You can look at when the films were created, who created them and where they were in their own personal history, where they were created, and learn so very much. It’s much easier to get context when films are presented in easily digestible hindsight proportions. While many of those aspects are available in the current, the history is still evolving. Any deduction inferred runs the risk of being hasty and incorrect.

If you’re a regular reader, you probably know which side I fall on in the canon vs. the current. And if you’re not a regular reader, you can safely conclude by now that I prefer to learn and write about the canon. In many ways, you can consider this article a mission statement of sorts. The current is wonderful. I’m glad it’s out there and I relish in many sites that offer up-to-date information. The reality, though, is that there are an infinite number of sites like that out there. Within seconds, folks can visit IMDb, Variety, Movies.com, their own Twitter feed, or a thousand other excellent places to find the latest and greatest info (I’m quite fond of Anomalous Material) in what may be a saturated market. That info, more often than not, has been put together by journalists with actual journalism backgrounds. And I have a great deal of respect for journalists. These are wordsmiths who are on studio press release distribution lists and whose very livelihood relies on breaking news information in accurate, insightful ways. My day job may include editorial duties but I would never pretend to be something I’m not–a real journalist. I’m just a schmuck who likes to write about movies and happens to have a website.


10 Comments

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10 responses to “Film Writing: The Canon vs. The Current

  1. Phil

    The beauty (and maybe the problem) of the internet is that you can easily find a group of like-minded people. I don’t have enough friends who are interested in the canon of great films, but I can still find people like you who are. And just to give a plug to the best film podcast out there, try listening to Filmspotting.net, which covers both the current and the cannon very well.

    • Ooh, that’s an awesome tip. Will do.

      I’m fortunate that I have a core of friends who will either enjoy the canon with me (in fact, this whole article idea came from a conversation I had with one of them), or let me blather on and on about it.

  2. I definitely lean toward the canon but I also like to keep up to date with whatever’s new in cinema. I think my site is 75% canon, 25% current. But the big focus of my site is foreign cinema, especially in the 60s with the French New Wave, so I suppose that’s another point in the canon’s favor.

    • The beauty of the canon is that there’s so much to it. It includes the French New Wave and the arthouse films of the 50’s and 60’s, but it also includes film noir, Czech New Wave, exploitation and grindhouse, silent cinema, horror, etc…

  3. You are quite of AM? You are quite fond of AM??? 🙂 I’m honored, very kind of you John!

  4. I am a demi Current.

    I do not show trailers (well rarely) and have news. AM does it so much better.

    But I am never going to be a CANON. I know too little. I am just an idiot with a website…. 😦

    • Ha… for what it’s worth, Scott, I tend to think of the canon as including pretty much anything ever made before the last two years or so, and it’s a matter of evaluating what does and doesn’t belong amongst the best. I think you have a great mix of both.

  5. Personally I go for a nice mix of old and new, but that’s because I watch them both and enjoy watching either.

  6. Current, Cannon, both are fine with me. If a film is worth talking about, let’s talk about it! However, what really annoys me are sites that post every single bit of information released by the studios. We are being so overflooded with completely useless info that is too often treated as actual news. Does it really matter to anyone when and if The Dark Knight Rises has already wrapped shooting? And if yes, why? It’s not like it has any consequences on the release date that most of the time had already been fixed years ago. I mean, even things like casting rumours are presented as news by many, many film blogs/Twitterers.
    Obviously nobody is being forced into reading blogs they don’t like and neither am I, but this kind of “news” practically inescapable, which in turn means that small films more often than not go completely under the radar.

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