- The Matrix
- Jackie Brown/Kill Bill
- Fight Club
- Escape From New York
- Rocky Horror Picture Show
- El Mariachi
- The Simpsons/Futurama
- The Shield
- Mad Men
- The Venture Brothers
- Neon Genesis Evangelion
- Cowboy Bebop
- Star Trek: The Next Generation
- Stargate: SG-1
- It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia
- Breaking Bad
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
- The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward, by HP Lovecraft
- LA Confidential, by James Ellroy
- Hitler, by Ian Kershaw
- Animorphs, by KA Applegate
- Discworld, by Terry Pratchett
- “The Cat In The Wall” by Edgar Allan Poe
- Horrible Histories, Terry Deary
- Mass Effect
- Metal Gear Solid
- Gears Of War
- Left 4 Dead 2
- No More Heroes
- Saints Row 2
- Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
- Max Payne
- Pokemon Red/Blue
- Ratchet & Clank
- Spec Ops: The Line
- Super Smash Bros
- 8 Bit Theater
- Order Of The Stick
I’ve never been one for making lists. Even with my increased interest in exploring my emotional reaction to art, I never saw much point in making a list of my top faves in no particular order, let alone ranked from lowest to highest. The subjectivity of art made the exercise seem meaningless in multiple ways; not only do I struggle to quantify the level to which I love my favourite works, I find that I love them in very different ways. I can’t say I love Paterson more than Kill Bill anymore than I can say I love my mother more than my father – they’re two very different works that appeal to me in two very different ways, and comparing them seems absurd. My view has been shifting the past couple of years and it’s almost entirely because of discussion on this site. On one level, there’s the discussion of the Women’s+ Canon. Rejection of the Canon of films wasn’t an explicit goal of the Women’s+ Canon, merely clarification that it skewed heavily male and missed many films that were important to women and non-binary people; nevertheless, that iconoclastic aspect of the project appealed to me. Ironically, it ended up clarifying the need that a Canon fills – I’m still averse to the idea of The Canon, but A Canon can provide a basis of a shared language within a specific group.
One could say that it’s exploring a Canon that brought me here in the first place, after all – it was in 2014, when my life had finally reached some kind of stability, that I decided to sit down and watch as many films as possible; I made up for having never seen a Martin Scorsese film before by watching as many as I could get my hands on, and I watched every movie referenced by Quentin Tarantino that I could get my hands on, and I watched movies that were famous for being famous, like The Godfather. I also watched TV shows that were famous for being high quality, like The Wire, Deadwood, and some cop show. I didn’t like all of them, but I can understand what people are saying when they talk about them, and I can, say, describe someone as Michael Corleone-esque with full confidence that I will be understood. A Women’s+ Canon simply expands my language further, allowing me to understand and use the language women+ use; so can an Anime Canon, or a Film Bro Canon, or an Italian Neorealism Canon. It took people creating and maintaining a Canon for me to come along and educate myself on the topic. Beloved Soluter Son Of Griff has bemoaned the way television has lost its place as a central cultural hub from which a universal understanding of culture can develop; I believe the internet provides a much more fertile ground for a much wider cultural education, with the trade-off that an individual must work harder to break themselves out of a rut and into a new area of learning.
The other way that this site has shifted my view of personal lists is through the lists of Ruck Cohlchez. They often are his enthusiastic participation in the Canon – the shows he believes ought to be watched, remembered, talked about, and held up as the standard. But I was also struck by his “My Favourite Music Of The 2000’s, Ten Years Later” essays, a personal journey through the music that defined and shaped his life; I love the idea of treating the art you love as Romantically as we treat the art you create, and that’s exactly what Ruck did here – being the lecteur to the auteur. The thing that really draws me to this concept and to grabbing it out of his hands and running away is how, if you wanted to make a Ruck Cohlchez song – if you wanted to write and perform a song for an audience of one – then all the steps to doing so are laid out for you. As a wannabe storyteller frequently undone by his own indecisiveness, this is a godsend I’ve been looking for – my own personal bible of shit that was quantified, understood, and proven to be fucking awesome a long time ago, and can be relied upon to provide the goods for a quality story. A list can be used to understand the self, and it can be used to clarify one’s actions moving forward.
That’s ultimately what my list ended up doing for me, more than anything. My idea coalesced into the thought that I should update my list once a year, as my tastes evolve and grow, and that my first list should be approached with the impulse of an enthusiastic amateur underthinking their first go at things. None of these lists are in any particular order beyond when I thought of them, there’s no attempt to fill it up to exactly ten, and there’s no attempt to explain or justify their placement on the list beyond that they’re important to me. It’s a binary choice – either something deserves to be on my personal canon list or it doesn’t, and that decision is driven by gut instinct more than anything. The most thought I put into it is whether or not a single work ought to stand in for a director or author’s entire output, as with Escape From New York in place of John Carpenter, or Metal Gear Solid standing in for the entire series.
I was very surprised to find myself feeling much less embarrassed by my Canon than I expected. I knew it would skew heavily white, male, and perhaps worst of all, populist; the contrarian in me cries out for more obscure choices that nobody has ever heard of, and for a less Film Bro set of choices. Plus, there’s some genuine trash in that list – Gears Of War is genuinely not very good in any way, and is more of lightning in a bottle that hit me at the right time and in the right way to stick in my heart. Writing out all the above, though, has me realising that this was never going to be All-Encompassing, in any sense of the term; I am neither able nor willing to act as anyone’s arbiter of good taste or morality. This belongs to me and me alone. On top of that, these lists do not encompass me as a person; if I were to list influences on my politics, one would find a lot more women, POC, and queer people. If I were to list people I’ve loved, personally and at a distance, one would see all different kinds of people of all kinds of stripes.
What’s more surprising to me is how easily television came to me, while film and literature were much harder. I’ve always been obsessive about both movies and literature; when I was a kid, I would read literally everything and anything that came into my hands, and after a few years drifting away from movies, I’ve hit the point where I watch one new movie almost every day for the past six years or so. So you’d think I would have lots more specific examples of things I love. I wonder if, perhaps, I am to the lecteur what Paul McCartney is to the auteur – the process of watching movies or reading books has become more important than the specific qualities of the individual films I watch or books I read. It’s funny, that sounds unbearably pretentious and joyless when I put it like that – like I’m just knocking out movies for the sake of saying something about them – but in practice it’s the exact opposite, as my tastes have widened considerably and I feel open-minded enough to, if not take something on its own terms, then at least respect it enough to find out what its terms are. And the surprise of seeing how meaningful television is to me as an artform is giving way to not being that surprised. I love epic works that convey a long and meaningful journey through sheer length; television combines the long-term commitment of a novel with the communal joy that comes with a film production. It’s the medium I love devouring and it’s the medium I want to work in most of all. I think the weight of history and the nuance that comes with extended time contribute to me becoming both more emotionally attached to television and its characters, and more able to draw larger philosophical points out; it takes up a lot of space in my mind because there’s a lot of it to take up space.
(Comics take up very little of my headspace – I used to be right into webcomics and I still have affection for the idea of them, but most of them have faded from my consciousness. I don’t feel confident making a list of musicians or albums yet. Maybe next year.)
The big thing that tends to drive something ending up in my Canon is whether or not it contains something that I want to bring into my reality, even in the context of writing stories. The Shield, The Simpsons, Metal Gear Solid, Mad Men, Animorphs, Shortpacked!, Cowboy Bebop; all of these have given me something that I keep trying to recreate, over and over in different contexts. Archetypes, aesthetics, processes, ways of thinking; these are all things I’ve lifted from my Canon and try to project out into the world. For a long time, The Matrix sat at the back of my head as what a movie is supposed to look like, and it continues to sit there as what a Story is supposed to be: Neo begins the movie as one thing and ends it as another, and everything in the middle pushes him from one to the other. Even as I’ve changed and my morality has moved forward, Hawkeye Pierce has lodged himself firmly in my image as an archetypal Cool Guy – effortlessly funny, beautifully spoken, filled with endless information, and a bottomless well of passionate idealism. The Simpsons set my sense of humour in place – where possible, have something be both funny and true. Another of saying it is that these works all contain truths that have withstood the test of time.
The closest thing to a unifying element of these works is that they tend to have vision. They’re here to do one thing specifically, and while they can allow other things to happen, they will not do things that interfere with their main purpose. The Matrix shows Neo accepting his role as The One. Always Sunny is here to make us laugh. Left 4 Dead 2 is a co-operative zombie FPS. Even Ratchet & Clank has a behind-the-scenes video in the first game in which a bunch of the different developers independently state that the game is here for the player to ‘blow shit up’. In extreme and extremely delightful cases, each and every shot or moment has a specific purpose in the overall narrative, pushing the story’s agenda forward one step. I’m attracted to works with self-awareness and purpose, even when that purpose is inane. Ideally, that purpose will take us across an entire world – becomes a familiar process that lets us explore an increasingly infinite landscape without losing our bearings.