5th Column: ‘Geek’ movies get no love from BFI

James takes our guest speaker slot, and has a few questions about why geek movies keep getting overlooked...

Geeky film fans: have cause to feel aggrieved. In the latest attempt to catalogue a definitive list of classic motion pictures, fantasy and sci-fi fare has been snubbed in favour of more straight-forward cinematic matter. The latest big list – this one from the British Film Institute and totalling at 75 movies – features too few films of the science fiction and outlandish other-world variety which is a disappointment both in the interests of ‘geek’ audiences and representative diversity.

To celebrate the organisation’s 75th birthday, 75 figures – both of the film industry and from outside it – were each asked to nominate a movie that they’d like to save for future generations (because presumably some visual media virus is going to break out and in a race against time only a special few will be granted the honour of being preserved for the post- apocalypse population). All things considered though, it’s a surprise though that from such a diverse survey group – made up of directors, actors, writers and politicians – the polled motion pictures are quite a conservative collection. Undoubtedly, there are many excellent films on the bill and a fair few of the expected usual suspects (though admittedly not The Usual Suspects) are all present and correct. But it’s the complete absence of cult classics of the ‘geek’ kind that really rankles as a point of contention.

In terms of recognisable sci-fi, only Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker make the list. Fantasy-wise, The Wizard of Oz is about as good as it gets and we have to make do with historical epics such as Spartacus as the nearest equivalent to sword-waving stuff not of this modern world. Horrifically, horror of any form has no place at all. Did none of the seventy five esteemed figures deem Star Wars as worthy of preservation – if not for the fact that it’s awesome then for the fact it’s probably the biggest cultural phenomenon of the 20th century? So none of The Lord of the Rings cycle rank as unforgettable, outstanding cinema experiences then? Was no one affected by any monster movies, supernatural stories, psychological thrillers or slasher flicks? Where are the films that send fanboys and fangirls into feverish excitement? You can bang on forever about brilliant films that have been sadly overlooked across all genres, but these film types in particular are especially under-represented.

Maybe it’s because they’re afraid that they won’t look like serious people and will instead come across as nerdy or unsophisticated, but the respondents of the survey generally stick within the realms of realism. I think it’s reasonable to guess that a great many have picked films that resonate within the minds of cineastes and have a reputation for high quality and academic, artistic significance instead of opting for any guilty pleasures or escapist favourites. People are judged on their taste, so it’s no surprise that when confronted by a respectable arts institute, our panel has panicked and perhaps followed their heads and not their hearts.

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The clash of high culture and low culture undoubtedly exists in this debate. As the BFI 75 shortlist bristles imperiously with its lack of much-loved cult movies, there’s an overriding sense that such films with their anti-reality elements or just plain popular appeal don’t deserve to sit at the dinner table with the ‘adults’. Let us consider the actual, concept of this project: we’re selecting films that would be preserved for future generations to enjoy and savour. Do we really want to harrow our ancestors with Ken Loach’s Kes? Can’t we give them a bit of colour with a groundbreaking animated film instead of reflections of our mundane world that they’ve already learned about in history lessons?

Geek or more accessible, audience-friendly material needn’t be intellectually inferior either. As powerful and worthy as film student favourites like The Battle of Algiers may be, you don’t really enjoy it in the way you do The Matrix, Spirited Away or Night of the Living Dead. Those select few stand as a few ‘non-realistic’ movies that can be, and have been, analysed by academics and critics and that exercise the spectator’s grey matter as well as entertain them.

Apart from giving the globe another unnecessary poll that attempts and fails to decide on which films count as the crème de la crème, I’d argue that this endeavour merely serves to show off culturally elitist prejudices and illustrate that the experts don’t know how to enjoy themselves or wear their hearts on their sleeves. As a film buff and self-proclaimed movie geek, I feel affronted by this what seems to be closed-minded snobbery. No horror; no sci-fi; no fantasy; no Star Wars. For shame!