If you can imagine yourself going back in time and seeing any of these films for the first time, nearly all of them are mini-revolutions, breaking so firmly with what people expected cinema to be that they were often misunderstood or hated.

Scott Tobias, “The radical visions in Sight & Sound’s stodgy best films poll,” The AV Club, August 3, 2012

Thanks, Scott Tobias, for illustrating why the appeal to history is such a dreadful critical tic. Imagine all you want, but there is one thing no viewer of a film — or listener of a record, or reader of a book — has ever done to watch a movie, and that is travel back in time. Let’s talk about art as we experience it, not as Doctor Whos with DVD players that double as TARDISes. If your argument for a work’s appeal begins with “imagine” then why not imagine anything? Andrew Jackson might be the greatest pop star of 2012, if only you imagine that he was a Canadian twentysomething with a song named “Call My Maybe.”

(Which is not to say that historical context is uninteresting or unimportant. But if it’s your first port of call for this sort of thing, you might consider the value of a life lived in the here and now.)