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Paul Schrader Slams ‘Jeanne Dielman’ Topping Sight & Sound Poll as ‘Distorted Woke Reappraisal’

The "Master Gardner" director thinks that changes to the poll's voting system reflect "not a historical continuum but a politically correct rejiggering."

Paul Schrader

Paul Schrader

Getty Images for FLC

When Sight & Sound’s once-in-a-decade poll ranking the greatest films of all time was released on Thursday, it was bound to provoke controversy and discourse within the film community. When it comes to something as arbitrary as ranking movies, such debates are inevitable: especially when a new film is sitting at the top of the list.

Sight & Sound voters selected Chantal Akerman’s “Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles” as this decade’s greatest film of all time. It is the fourth film to ever receive the honor, after “Bicycle Thieves,” “Citizen Kane,” and “Vertigo.” But Paul Schrader isn’t sold on the pick.

The “Master Gardener” director took to his always colorful Facebook page to question the logic of the selection and question if the poll’s voters were committed to judging films by their artistic value.

“For 70 years, the Sight & Sound poll has been a reliable if somewhat incremental measure of critical consensus and priorities,” Schrader wrote. “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.”

Schrader went on to explain that he has no objections to “Jeanne Dielman” as a film, but thinks its relatively fast ascent to the list’s top slot is the result of a voting process that could be broken.

“As Tom Stoppard pointed out in Jumpers, in democracy it doesn’t matter who gets the votes, it matters who counts the votes,” he said. “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.”

Schrader’s 2022 Sight & Sound ballot included: Robert Bresson’s “Pickpocket,” Yasujirō Ozu’s “Tokyo Story,” Ingmar Bergman’s “Persona,” Jean Renoir’s “The Rules of the Game,” Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Conformist,” Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo,” Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch,” Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis,” Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather,” and Preston Sturges’ “The Lady Eve.” 

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