Not every classic film is a big budget bonanza, as proven in “The B List: The National Society of Film Critics on the Low Budget Beauties, Genre-Bending Mavericks, and Cult Classics We Love.” Yes, the title explains it all – no need for us to summarize what the book is about (thank you, NSFC!).
Recently published by Da Capo Press, this new book brings together a wealth of reviews and essays by some of the most prominent U.S. film critics: Roger Ebert, Richard Corliss, John Powers, Kevin Thomas, Charles Taylor, Stephanie Zacharek, Stuart Klawans, Jami Bernard and Ty Burr, just to name a few.
John Anderson, who co-edited the book with David Sterritt, spoke with Film Threat about this new book and the concept of B-grade filmmaking.
What was the inspiration for the book? And how long did it take to compile?
The National Soceity had already done two similarly titled sister books – “The A List,” about the 100 films you need to see to be film-literate, and the X-List” about, shall we say, dirty movies (like “McCabe and Mrs. Miller,” just to show you how erotic film critics are). “The B List” was a natural progression, and kind of a goof – we’re supposed to be winnowing out the “best,” and here are movies which by definition are not. Which doesn’t preclude them having value. Quite the opposite.
It took a couple of years to get our act together, overall, since whenever a member of the NSFC sneezes the rest of us weigh in on tone, projection, volume, artistic expression and the mandatory lutzes and double axels. There was a lot of debate, not only about what qualified as “B” but how to cull out redundancies, etc.
How did you determine what films would be eligible for consideration? And how did you decide to include films such as “The Conversation” and “Platoon,” which some people may not consider as B-list titles?
Since the demise of the double bill (whence “B movie” was coined, designating the movie made to play before the feature) “B” has taken on new meaning, we thought. It connotes cinema made without regard for the traditional studio ethos, with personal vision and built-in constraints – mostly money, but not always.
That Francis Ford Coppola was able to make “The Conversation” was due to his success with “The Godfather” (Paramount had released “I” and desperately wanted “II”). So Francis got to make the movie he wanted. Likewise, Oliver Stone, who made a decidedly un-studio movie and the first real Vietnam film, with “Platoon,” hence its inclusion
From your perspective, which films in the book do you believe are deserving of more attention from movie lovers?
The ones that are least known. “Detour” may be a classic to some, for example, but a lot of people don’t have a clue as to what it is. There’s much of that here, films that deserve wider exposure. This is the purpose of writing these books. That and the vast wealth we accumulate. It’s in the high two figures already.
The reviewers who contributed to the book represent many prominent film critics. What is your opinion of the state of contemporary film criticism?
Can we boil it down to pros vs. wankers? There are a lot of alleged critics out there trying to prove that the internet was created to unleash the untalented, untaught and probably unwashed, but those people exist in print too. The most marked difference, I have learned, between what’s in “the B List” and what’s generally available on blogs is the quality of the writing. there’s no comparison. Some of these NSFC people are scarily good at what they do.
What are your next projects?
I am joining a Trappist monastery. The NSFC: trying to remain or become employed and perhaps we’ll do another book. “The C List” maybe (the films of Jim Carrey) or “The L List” (films to read while riding the elevated subway.) Seriously, it hasn’t been decided yet.