Canon and Canonicity

Canon formation involves making choices based on assessments of value, a process that highlights both the utility of evaluating and re-evaluating past artistic accomplishments as well as the pitfalls associated with championing some artists' work at the expense of others. The formation of a canon is directly influenced by the education, taste, and viewing habits of those who participate, the range of films they have seen, and the vision of cinema they champion. In film studies, the canon has typically been created by theorists, historians, and critics; perpetuated and reassessed by academics, archivists, and programmers; and influenced by the members and machinery of the film industry itself. The shape of the orthodox canon has evolved over time as outlets for viewing and writing about films have multiplied and opinions regarding artistic significance have changed.

Through its selective nature, the canon suggests which films merit recognition, exhibition, and analysis. It influences decisions regarding the titles chosen for preservation and restoration, as well as those directors who are worthy of retrospectives. The canon plays a role in determining which films will appear on television, be distributed in print form, be released on video and digital video disc (DVD), and be purchased for inclusion in stores and libraries, thereby remaining in the public consciousness. Availability from distributors, in archives, and on television, video, and DVD in turn enables a film to be discussed in classes and scholarly publications, further contributing to its critical reputation. Canonical status thus helps to ensure the continued circulation of a film, affecting how directors, national cinemas, and genres are described and impacting the writing of film history. Because of the likelihood for the canon to influence which films are preserved, shown, and analyzed, the process of canon formation has been heavily debated over the years. While a core group of films and filmmakers remains consistently recognized as canonical, challenges to the orthodox canon continually interrogate and expand the criteria for determining motion pictures of significance.

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