Wednesday, June 14, 2006
The New AFI: Lists R Us!
Back in the mid 1980s, when I was Associate Editor of American Film -- the magazine of the American Film Institute (AFI) -- though it had been in existence for sometime, the Institute was still basically known to the public for one thing -- its Lifetime Achievement Award, which it handed out annually to Hollywood royalty. And so it was moving forward, even after American Film magazine folded, the Institute still clung to its annual Lifetime Achievement Award as its main source of popular recognition. But like the Miss American Pageant, the Lifetime Achievement Award waned in popularity, due in part, no doubt, to the growing ways in which people could learn about and be exposed to celebrities on a more frequent basis (through the growth of award shows, entertainment news programs, the E! Channel, etc). Then, one day, the AFI decided to put together a list. In the summer of 1998, the AFI announced its list of the "100 Greatest American Movies." The media attention to the list was incredible, and the public really seemed to care. From that point on, the AFI lists have kept coming: "100 Greatest American Screen Legends," "100 Funniest Comedies," "100 Most Thrilling Films," "100 Greatest Love Stories," "100 Greatest Heroes & Villains," "100 Greatest Songs in American Movies," "100 Greatest Movie Quotes," and just this week, the "100 Most Inspirational American Movies." The lists have given way to TV specials, such as AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies. The AFI has learned to use the expanded media coverage of entertainment to its advantage. Each time a new AFI list is announced, it becomes the entertainment news of the day. Debates ensue on radio talk shows about the choices. The AFI has succeeded in reinventing itself as a list maker! People love lists.