Friday, July 07, 2006

Taxonomies/I'll Be Around

Three taxonomies.

(1) In an essay on Raymond Durgnat, here's a classification of film critics proposed by Jonathan Rosenbaum in 1973:

Many (if not all) critics tend to fall into two categories, which might be called the Big Game Hunters and the Explorers. The Big Game (read: masterpiece) Hunters are basically out for trophies to possess, stuff, and hang on their walls; the Explorers usually poke around simply to see what they find. The Hunters are a relatively Apollonian group – disciplined, academic and generally traditional in their aesthetic values: immediate examples that come to mind are Robin Wood, James Agee, William Pechter, Stanley Kauffmann, Dwight Macdonald, John Simon, and historians like Georges Sadoul, Jean Mitry and Lewis Jacobs. The Explorers, a more Dionysian group, are relatively cranky, kinky and eclectic: Jean-Luc Godard, Manny Farber, Robert Warshow and Raymond Durgnat are four eminent examples.

(2) The Argentine film critic Quintin, writing in Cinema Scope about two types of cinephilia:

Type (a) could be named “my videotheque is too small” cinephilia. Type (b), “life is too short” cinephilia. Type (a) is all encompassing and bulimic, while type (b) is selective, or anorexic. In the centre of this argument lies the auteur problem: depending on what you think of auteur politics, you’re either bulimic or anorexic. In my opinion, auteur politics was a coup d’état manned by the anorexic cinephiles against the bulimics. Concepts like le cinéma de qualité or the Sarris pantheon helped to displace lots of films from the pedestal on which critical laziness had put them.

(3) Andrew Sarris, in his influential text The American Cinema (1968), divided filmmakers into several categories, three of which were: (a) Pantheon Directors (Chaplin, Flaherty, Ford, Griffith, Hawks, Hitchcock, Keaton, Lang, Lubitsch, Murnau, Ophuls, Renoir, Sternberg, Welles); (b) The Far Side of Paradise (Aldrich, Borzage, Capra, Cukor, De Mille, Edwards, Fuller, La Cava, Losey, Mann, McCarey, Minnelli, Preminger, Ray, Sirk, Stevens, Stroheim, Sturges, Vidor, Walsh); (c) Expressive Esoterica (e.g. Boetticher, De Toth, Donen, Dwan, Karlson, Lewis, Mulligan, Penn, Siegel, Tashlin, Tourneur, Ulmer).

One of his other categories was Subjects For Further Research (e.g. Clarence Brown, Tod Browning, Paul Fejos, Henry King, etc.)

As a viewer, I started out in the Explorer end of the continuum as a kid (saw everything that came to town, both Bollywood and English-language), moved abruptly to Big Game Hunting upon becoming a cinephile (e.g. making lists of "must-see" canonical movies from Sight & Sound polls) and am now wandering around somewhere in the middle. On Quintin's classification, I'd lean towards the bulimic side of the spectrum (stacked Netflix queue; several-movies-a-week regimen). My "subjects for further research" would include: (1) Horror films (not a popular genre in India, so I never grew up with them); and (2) Martial arts films.

Please feel free to record your own "subjects for further research" (e.g. genres, directors, national cinemas, periods) if you feel like.


* * *

Three versions.

"I'll Be Around," by the Spinners, is a well-acknowledged soul masterpiece. It was written for them by their producer/composer/impresario Thom Bell; the record was made in their hometown of Detroit in 1972. A great hooky opening, with acoustic guitar and congas: "This/is a fork in the road/Love's/last episode."

The Spinners' version is classic, downright holy, but one I like even a bit more is a beautiful, lo-fi, slightly ragged and woozy reggae cover recorded by Otis Gayle at the historic Jamaican label Studio One ("The Motown Of Jamaica"). It also has the most soulful organ solo I've ever heard. Kicks in at 2:13, lasts 35 seconds.

Here's proof of how good this song is. Russ Freeman & the Rippingtons, a smooth-jazz (ugh) group, dunk it in an ocean of schmaltz: the production is squeaky clean; the drums are processed and in-your-face in the mix (a jazz no-no); the saxophonist sounds like Kenny G, only playing tenor intead of soprano; and the arrangement is whorishly eager-to-please. But you know what? The damn thing sounds good. This song is undestroyable.

71 Comments:

Blogger Tuwa said...

These are all good (even the soft jazz one!). That's a coup.

July 07, 2006 1:08 AM  
Blogger Eric Henderson said...

This song is undestroyable.

Agreed. It even survived being sampled, given the Full Intention treatment and turned into a pounding pop-house anthem -- Michael Moog's "That Sound" -- and it still sounds pretty distinctive in between the mundane 4/4 beats. At least to my club-desensitized ears.

July 07, 2006 4:06 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Tuwa, ain't that something? A good song goes a loooong way, triumphing over all kinds of dubious license...

Nice ears, Eric. That is indeed the four-bar orchestral break in place of which Otis Gayle fires up his brain-rattling organ solo.

Eric, I've been meaning to suggest this every time I go to your site and look at your sidebar, and I'm sure you've thought about it, but it'd be very cool to have you do mp3-blogging. (Hey, we could do a Chaka Khan blog-a-thon!)

If you're worried about bandwidth at your site, you can get a file-hosting account at, e.g. box.net. I learned about it thanks to Tuwa--it runs me, like, $2.99 a month. And I end up using less than half of my quota each month. Since I'm generally tagged as a filmblogger, I'm off the radar, and blogrolls, for almost all mp3-bloggers (unlike Tuwa). Which means I don't need the hefty bandwidth that a very visible and widely-blogrolled mp3-blog (like his) would need to carry.

July 07, 2006 8:21 AM  
Blogger girish said...

And I forgot to mention in my post: that's Jeffrey Osborne on lead vocal in the smooth-jazz version.

July 07, 2006 8:40 AM  
Blogger CK Dexter said...

I think Quintin's dichotomy is best interpreted as one that applies only to pathological forms of a more primary category of healthy cinephilia--I'm assuming there's a healthy for love of cinema, of course. (Imagine, to take his analogy literally, if all human beings were only either bulimic or anarexic.)

For one has to be 'bulimic' in order to be selective. You have to swallow a lot of crap to know what to toss back up and what to incorporate. I think this is people with bad taste often coincide with those with an excessively narrow palate: they simply do not have a large enough field for comparison, or a sense for subtlies of difference according to which to judge. That is, being too selective can make real selectivity impossible. The real anorexic cinephiliac isn't truly selective, just narrowminded.

July 07, 2006 9:22 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Personally, I'm less interested in the poles of Quintin's dichotomy than the particular direction of the continuum in which each of us, as individuals, tend toward. (For me: the bulimic side of the spectrum.)

"The real anorexic cinephiliac isn't truly selective, just narrowminded." I would agree.

July 07, 2006 9:40 AM  
Anonymous Darren said...

I tried. I really tried. But I only made through about 90 seconds of the Rippingtons' cover. Just couldn't do it.

July 07, 2006 10:17 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Heh heh. You're forgiven, Darren! :-)

July 07, 2006 10:30 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Heads-up: the comments thread on the previous post is still alive, and Zach just left a personal "signpost film" list.

July 07, 2006 10:57 AM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

CK Dexter,
Being cinephile is a "pathology" in itself (all in good fun though, it's only culture), the norm is being a casual movie goer. But like Girish says, it's about the polarization of these theoretical trends.

I guess the anorexic has prejudices : a discriminative theory that channels the limited directions of research from an a priori (auteur) format (thus neglecting lower forms of cinema without an extensive check). The anorexic is selective before viewing.
The gold digger surveys the geological terrain from above before to start digging everywhere.

The bulimic, like you say sees all before making a selection, undiscriminatively, but ends up liking everything (to entertain this passion of wanting to watch more useless films). The bulimic can only resolve to make a selective judgement after watching everything that exists.
It would be an empirical gold digger who doesn't recognize dead ends by experience, and needs to exhaust every bit of land to assert there is nothing to be found.
Although the critical judgement goes blunt and dilutes after sifting through so many samples.

Like Quintin says, it's a matter of trade priorities. Either your goal is to to survey production comprehensively (without judgement), or to establish a safe pantheon (with a narrowminded, exlusive mindset). It's incompatible to do both.

Does it tell I have an anorexic perspective? ;)

p.s. Girish, you forgot Matt Clayfield's interesting taxonomy "Missionaries and Sceptics".

July 07, 2006 11:20 AM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

I go through 20GB bandwidth in two weeks easy, sometimes one. Rossword's part of it (we have separate accounts) doesn't go through as much, but I think it's probably because he's (wisely) ripping the mp3s to lower bitrates whereas I usually rip them once for my own use and post that same file.

I shudder to think how much bandwidth Said the Gramophone or Soul Sides must use.

...
I'm not sure if I'd be a bulimic cinephile; I'm still trying to figure out what I like and who's generally worth revisiting, and as part of that process I have countless movie lists I've been working through. So my habits don't really fit either, maybe? I'm taking in a wide range of films from a wide range of sources, but I'm trying to assess them too and divine the paths worth following.

July 07, 2006 11:34 AM  
Blogger CK Dexter said...

Girish, I see your point. It is a useful diagnostic tool, since most cinephiles do lean one direction or the other--I tend toward anorexic, myself.

Harry Tuttle, I suppose you're right that most cinephiles--like any serious fan of any medium--are pathological. But I still think there's a meaningful distinction to make between love of film and excessive love, even if we often fall over that ledge. I at least aspire to healthy love. Not just because I don't want to end up like the Simpsons' Comic Book Guy, but because I think it's part of getting the most I can from artworks. The bulimic devores everything but savors nothing, and the anorexic misses out on alot of really great stuff.

The real danger of cinephilia is that it always borders on bulimia when it comes to film in general. Being too obssessed about movies can mean missing out on a lot of great music, painting, literature, and, of course, real life. I have a friend who's a philoso-philiac. I ask him if he's seen any good movies, and he says, "Yeah, I saw this really great movie about Wittgenstein." I ask if he's read any interesting non-philosophy books, and he'll say, "Oh, I'm reading a great biography of Leibniz!"

July 07, 2006 12:26 PM  
Anonymous Filmbrain said...

Back in 1985 there was a band called "What is This?" that charted briefly with a remake of I'll Be Around. I remember really liking it at the time, but I'm sure if I heard it now I would cringe at all those 80s synths.

As for subjects of further research, I would love to see the North Korean films of Shin Sang-ok, the South Korean director who was "kidnapped" and forced to make movies for Kim Jong-Il.

Also, to see more of the films from Korea's "golden age" (late 50s-60s) would be a dream. The few that I've seen have been outstanding.

On a somewhat related note, back in early 2005 Japanese film collector Abe Yoshishige passed away. His collection included over 50,000 classic and rare Asian films, many of which were presumed lost. There were rumors that he had a copy of Arirang, the most famous silent Korean film which hasn't been seen since the 30s. From descriptions I've read, it sounds like it could easily be a masterpiece of silent cinema.

His archive has been turned over to the Japanese government, but they have yet to publish a list of films he possessed. Imagine the gems in that collection!

July 07, 2006 12:29 PM  
Blogger Flickhead said...

Thanks for mp3s.

I haven't been able to take Sarris seriously ever since his revealing column in the Voice when he recalled showing his university students The Asphalt Jungle.

Every time Dix (Sterling Hayden) said "Don't bone me," the class began laughing. Sarris had no idea what was so funny.

After the film, he asked what made them laugh. They had to explain to him the connotation of "bone," and that it was uttered by someone named "Dix."

Flew right over his head. Which made me wonder how much subtlety and nuance he's been missing all these years.

July 07, 2006 3:21 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Harry ~ Thanks for posting that link to Matt's taxonomy.

CK ~ Your philosophiliac anecdote is hilarious.

"The bulimic devores everything but savors nothing."

Again, I see this as true with a polar bulimic. I do think it's possible to be a bulimically inclined cinephile and still have a balance of aesthetic interests, not to mention a balance of those interests and life.
At least, I like to think so!

Tuwa ~ I crack about 5 GB max of my 20 GB quota each month. And I prefer it when mp3 blogs use higher bitrates, because then I get to download higher-sound-quality music from them. :-)
Like you, I upload stuff from my collection at my original bitrate (128).

Filmbrain ~ Now I have to hunt down that synthy version!

Speaking of older Asian films, I loved this post you did last year that referenced the 100 best Chinese films of the century, of which I'd seen embarrassingly few.

Flickhead ~ I don't read Sarris' current writing anymore. To me, he's lost much of his critical acuity. I hate to say it, and it sounds mean, but maybe it's age.

I think he used to be sharp once, esp. in the 60s and 70s, and the books from that time are still fun to read. (I also liked his book from a few years ago, You Ain't Heard Nothin' Yet, but I think it was largely cannibalized from his 60s pieces.)

(By the way, did you happen to see this Reeler post about him?)

July 07, 2006 3:57 PM  
Blogger girish said...

I've been meaning to link to this jaw-dropping post at Flickhead's with a YouTube clip (it's about AOL).

July 07, 2006 6:32 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

I suppose I don't find that jaw-dropping since one of my class projects last semester was an organizational assessment of AOL. We discovered there had been a number of successful class-action lawsuits against AOL for this very thing over the last six years: in California, Oklahoma, New York, Ohio, and Illinois, almost one per year.

I suppose if AOL try hard they can lose in the rest of the states before mid-century.

July 07, 2006 9:30 PM  
Blogger Eric Henderson said...

On top of everything else, I've been told by some of my 'leet friends that AOL software wreaks havoc on a computer once installed. If one of my roommates' computer was any indication, they're right.

I like the idea of an mp3 blog, and I already started something like a feature (the addendums to the Slant dance songs article). And I don't even think bandwidth would be a problem yet for my piddling traffic.

July 08, 2006 1:46 AM  
Blogger Flickhead said...

From personal pages to websites to blogs, the availability of the internet has provided a global forum to far too many people claiming to possess wisdom and authority. While I’ve learned to live with decades of rejection slips from editors and publishers, shit like this by hacks on the payroll makes me wonder why I even bother writing anymore.

July 08, 2006 7:48 AM  
Blogger girish said...

And Jim Emerson at Scanners just posted a response (two, actually) to that Slate article.

July 08, 2006 9:59 AM  
Blogger girish said...

More links:

--Michael Guillen on Dario Argento.

--Music: Rich Juzwiak has a great, annotated new jack swing mix.

July 08, 2006 10:13 AM  
Blogger Alex said...

"In my opinion, auteur politics was a coup d’état manned by the anorexic cinephiles against the bulimics"

This literally makes no sense, since the critics of the politique des auteurs - Godard, Truffaut, Kast, Moullet, etc were very much aligned with Farber - they were the first to herald Samuel Fuller, Mann, Boetticher and so on. In contrast to more conventional American film criticism of the time, which largely confined itself to praising the high-budget studio productions of the time.

July 08, 2006 2:37 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Alex, I scratched my head when I read that too. But it's starting to make some sense to me.

Perhaps (not sure but guessing) what he is saying is this:

A bulimic disposition favors taking in--and perhaps making a case for--a vast spectrum of film (Hollywood and non; A and B films; genre and non; etc). What the auteurists did was discount large numbers of these films by claiming that they did not exhibit any/enough of a personal signature. Thus enthroning a few dozen auteurs while discounting arguably the vast majority of films out there (many/most of which the hard-core bulimic believed needed to be investigated for quality).

July 08, 2006 3:06 PM  
Blogger girish said...

via the all-knowing David Hudson:
Bright Lights Film Journal now has a blog.

July 08, 2006 3:48 PM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

I am certainly an explorer. As far as subjects for further research, I feel like I need to be better versed on the silent era.

July 08, 2006 6:41 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

"What the auteurists did was discount large numbers of these films by claiming that they did not exhibit any/enough of a personal signature."

I don't think, operatively, that that's actually true. (Again, I'm not talking about Sarris here). In the context of their times, when most critics focused almost exclusively on, effectively, whatever Hollywood was promoting at the moment, the politique des auteurs was infinitely more interested in seriously looking at all the cinema of the past.

Their contemporary fellow critics weren't out there praising films that didn't attract attention from Cahiers - their fellow critics were covering whatever was opening with a big fanfare down at the Fox Palace. The bulimic in this case is the one viewing Mizoguchi in a basement, not the one praising Battle of the Bulge to the skies.

July 08, 2006 7:38 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Good points, Alex.

I don't want to defend Quintin too strenuously here; that was just my take on what I think he meant.

Maybe someone else will offer an opinion on this...

July 08, 2006 10:45 PM  
Blogger Zach Campbell said...

No, no--Quintin's take is 100% feasible! Alex, did you read the Quintin article in question? He's not at all making parallels between anorexics with bloated (or white elephant) art and bulimics with underground or 'termitish' art. The fact that Godard et al liked Fuller instead of Battle of the Bulge has NOTHING to do with whether or not they were bulimic or anorexic!

Furthermore, while the first wave of Cahiers/Positif auteurists did pay attention to cinema of the past, they were (1) not the only ones who did so, and (2) still very much interested in the films being released at that time, which is PRECISELY why they had a "politique" to begin with! They didn't have a politique for Griffith and Sjostrom, they had a politique for Ray, Hitchcock, and Autant-Lara, filmmakers who were making films at that time.

In terms of what Quintin is talking about in his piece, the bulimic isn't at all someone 'against official culture' and official masterpieces (while the anorexic is conversely someone 'for' it). The question is whether the person considers Mizoguchi [or anyone] an unassailable figure who rightly, righteously, sits in a small and carefully pruned pantheon (=anorexic), or someone who sees Mizo as a filmmaker among many, no matter how great, and whose thirst for cinema will never be quenched or delimited by a half dozen masters, or even two dozen of them (=bulimic). It's not about high or low taste, official or unofficial taste--it's about the characteristics of one's particular hunger for cinema.

July 09, 2006 12:35 AM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

Quintin's personal interpretation of the terms "bulimic/anorexic" is rather disturbing to me. I'm not sure how far he meant the metaphor to meet with the eating disorders... (sorry i put on my pedant hat again) The bulimic is only interested in the act of eating (watching), not by the food (film) itself, with an obligatory purge (pan) insuing. The anorexic's only interest is to control the food cycle inside the body (abstinence, cherry picking). The anorexic cinephile would spend more time thinking about the effect of films on emotions and make sure to know what his/her eyes are exposed to beforehand.

Would the Cahiers critics fit any of these profiles?
By principle I guess they are fundamentaly anorexic (or at least its informal definition, not the clinical one), because they supported a certain idea of cinema against another idea of cinema, so there is a discrimination at work, despite the larger amount of films ingurgitated.
But anyway the Qualité Française generation wasn't cinephile at all, so they are neither bulimic/anorexic. Cinephilia came up after WW2.

On the other hand, Rosenbaum uses other words that seem to give the advantage to noble, open-minded Explorers (bulimic/sceptic) opposed to silly "safari Hunters" (anorexic/missionary), reactionary and condescending. And I guess Rosenbaum belongs to the Explorer group. Though It's funny to see Godard on the tolerant side though, he who walks around with his pantheon and a confident taste...
So it's really a matter of making the other side look bad... but both are useful to survey cinema history. Although, I'd say their role is defined by this behavior choice :
Hunters are critical canon makers (for what it's worth, we know they are frequently re-evaluated) with a global understanding.
Explorers are short-sighted reviewers (watching every weekly release) or specialized scholars (studying any and every possible fields).

CK Dexter,
Cinephile, blogger and computer nerd... that's 3 reasons for an unhealthy social life! ;)
Cinephilia implies excess. Given the amount of films out there, a cinephile has a urge to watch always more, which is a sisyphean task.

July 09, 2006 1:39 AM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

July 09, 2006 1:52 AM  
Blogger That Little Round-Headed Boy said...

Uh, if I can return to the Spinners for a moment, your post reminded me of my ongoing, No. 1 peeve with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Their failure so far to induct Thom Bell, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, the architects of the Philly Sound, and the arrangers/producers on so much of the great second wave of soul music in the '70s. They did get around finally to inducting the O'Jays last year, but without Gamble/Huff/Bell, the O'Jays would still be singing in supper clubs. Oh, well. Rant over. LOVE the Spinners. Philip Wynne!

July 09, 2006 2:16 AM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

Farber's dichotomy matters to directors not to critics, so it doesn't have a direct link to those of this post indeed.
But I think the fact a critic is opened to Termite films defines the bulimic inclination of his cinephilia. The anorexic (Quintin) weeds out Ushida (Termite I assume), because it cannot ever equal Ozu (Elephant?). Could an anorexic take chances with termites before getting to see all masters first? I guess there are "anorexics" specialized in Hammer horror, or Z-movies, but is it "cinephilia" when the object is predefined ?

July 09, 2006 2:34 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Ah, fun reading for a Sunday morning.

Zach, your elucidation of Quintin's position makes sense to me.

"It's not about high or low taste, official or unofficial taste--it's about the characteristics of one's particular hunger for cinema."

Exactly!

Harry: "Explorers are short-sighted reviewers (watching every weekly release) or specialized scholars (studying any and every possible fields)."

Harry, I'm not sure this is true.
Take Raymond Durgnat, for example (a fantastic collection of pieces on him here, scroll half-way down).
He was neither short-sighted (watching large numbers of both older and current films at the peak of his writing pace, in the 60s) nor a specialized scholar working in one particular, narrow field.

Zach, is there a meaningful way to map the Big Game Hunter/Explorer taxonomy on to Anorexic/Bulimic?

July 09, 2006 8:41 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Round-Headed Boy--I have some real problems with that bloated mainstream institution, the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame! So I agree with your rant.
Talking of Philly soul, great to see you put Teddy's "Choose Me" theme from the Alan Rudolph film numero uno on your list.

July 09, 2006 8:50 AM  
Blogger Alex said...

"the bulimic isn't at all someone 'against official culture' and official masterpieces (while the anorexic is conversely someone 'for' it). The question is whether the person considers Mizoguchi [or anyone] an unassailable figure who rightly, righteously, sits in a small and carefully pruned pantheon (=anorexic), or someone who sees Mizo as a filmmaker among many, no matter how great, and whose thirst for cinema will never be quenched or delimited by a half dozen masters, or even two dozen of them (=bulimic)."

The problem is that Quintin seems to think that there were bulimics in the 1950s and 1960s, and there simply weren't very many critics then (or now) who thought that way.

In reality, most American critics then and now don't have much choice: the industry limits what can be seen on most screens in most areas, and the critic (or reviewer is perhaps the better title) has the choice of praising Hollywood productions A, B or C or losing his job. (and the industry generally limits big-budget new releases to 1-3 new ones per week).

There simply weren't large numbers of people encouraging viewers to explore cinema in any manner whatsoever - if we do want to say that Cahiers/Positif was anorexic, then they were the restaurant reviewers in 1960 saying try Japanese or Russian food - when most cities barely had Italian or French! In a land of anorexics, they were bulimics.

July 09, 2006 3:34 PM  
Blogger Zach Campbell said...

The problem is that Quintin seems to think that there were bulimics in the 1950s and 1960s, and there simply weren't very many critics then (or now) who thought that way.

Well, he's talking about cinephiles NOW, not in the 1950s or '60s, and when he refers to the Cahiers auteurists as being anorexics (and their pervasive influences being a victory for 'anorexic' cinephilia), he means that their tastes were carried on--we have, to a certain extent, inherited the canon they held up for us. (Furthermore, he's not only talking about critics, but cinephiles in general.) If the Cahiers crew were bulimics and there influence was large, we'd all still be poring over B-movie after B-movie, seeing this and that ... clearly, few of us do that.

I don't think you're wrong, Alex, to point out that the Cahiers critics (et al) were seeing films, and seeing things into films, that most others weren't seeing, and in this sense were being more creative, productive, unorthodox, and hence even more 'bulimic' viewers than most were in Paris or Lyons of 1950. This is very much true, and if Quintin were to write a big history on French cinephilia of the time, he'd no doubt have to rework his categories at the very least. But for the purposes of Quintin's essay, his point was that the auteurists (whether the persuasion was Cahiers or Positif) were interested in getting a canon together, carving out a selective heirarchy of great filmmakers, and the influence of these critics on successive generations of auteurists (of which I am very much one) and film culture at large was an anorexic one (as Quintin himself defines the term). If the auteurist revolution were bulimic, then we'd all be scanning Charles Marquis Warren westerns looking for the authorial trace--which is something only the most hardcore among us do (Tension at Table Rock and Trooper Hook are fairly good movies, by the way). Most people are content to simply accept Ford & Hawks as masters, and perhaps in the end they're the saner ones for it. Still, I consider myself closer to being 'bulimic,' and it's because--auteurist though I am--I refuse to fully inherit the canon they've given us ...

July 09, 2006 5:51 PM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

I don't think this dichotomy is as simple as :
- bulimic = fat = watch lots
- anorexic = skinny = watch few.
A cinephile who doesn't watch films is a paradox.
Both are cinephile forms and mean watching lots. The distinction deals with the attitude towards massive consumption of cinema. Either compulsive = free-for-all (bulimic) or prospective = picky (anorexic).

For instance Festivals are emblematic of anorexic cinephilia (despite the wealth). The few nominees are the cream-of-the-crop selection from thousands submited. Festival don't put a bad film in competition to see if the public response will be good, every film is elected carefully.
The multiplex fare is bulimic by nature, because it propose a non-stop stream of unsorted novelties, good and bad, for an audience without prejudice.

Girish,
Thanks for the link (I'll have to read this later).
Do you agree Rosenbaum is an explorer? I admire him, and I don't think he's short-sighted nor limited. You have to take "short-sighted" in a positive sense. ;)
As opposed to overwhelmed by the canons inherited from history. The bulimic who is willing to see any film (even with a bad reputation, or no reputation at all), lives in the here and now, disregarding the ready-made academic patterns, giving a chance to the film to exist for what it is, for what is up to achieve. (i.e. Rosenbaum's controversial list of american canon)
It was positive for scholars too. They aren't out to evaluate films individually but to understand them in general. So they watch everything from a period or a country, with bulimia, without worrying if these are acclaimed or not.

Alex : "the industry limits what can be seen on most screens in most areas, and the critic (or reviewer is perhaps the better title) has the choice of praising Hollywood productions A, B or C or losing his job. "

Yet american critics only start to complain when a blockbuster was not screened for the press. We don't see a petition to beg for Cannes winners to get a USA distribution... Apparently keeping a job where you can't do your job is more important than ethics or fun!

July 10, 2006 5:22 AM  
Anonymous acquarello said...

Harry nails pretty much what I find so "unsatisfying" about the classifications in the post and why I haven't put in my two cents until now. Bulimic is a binge and purge, the food never digested, so with respect to film "consumption", it implies exposure to "everything", but digesting nothing substantive for it. I know lots of cinephiles like this, but not critics, if only because just the act of criticism itself is already a deeper level of engagement than just having one's eyes open during a screening. An anorexic isn't one who's exceptionally "choosy" with what he/she eats, it's someone who attempts to extract the sustaining nutrients without ever consuming. If that were film, that's more like someone who just walks in on "key scenes" of certain "rarefied" films and calling oneself a cinephile. So, if someone has seen the death dance scene in The Seventh Seal, the self-mutilation in Cries and Whispers, and the warping clock dream in Wild Strawberries, does that mean he/she has a good grasp of Bergman's films? Of course not. In that sense, I don't think either analogy really works.

Regarding Rosenbaum's hunters vs. explorers theory, cute, but that's not really the gist of Nietzshe's Apollinian (not Apollonian) vs. Dionysian forces thesis in Beyond Good and Evil. Apollinians are disengaged from passion, so by definition, it wouldn't matter if the film were good or bad to an Apollinian critic, he/she will still treat every film as art (or equally as commodity) and analyze it with the same filters of techinical objectivity. Dionysians are ruled by passion and not intellect, so by definition, these critics would only react viscerally to films, no matter how clunky or godawful they are. His examples don't fit the profile though, because their passion for a film is still informed by the intellect (such as cultural, artistic, historical knowledge). A Dionysian "critic" for me would be someone like Harry Knowles, operating on gut instinct. Again, for me, the definition of critic already pre-empts this because of the intellectual engagement inherent any film analysis.

July 10, 2006 9:03 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Harry and Acquarello. You bring up lots of cool points!

Okay, here's my take. :-)

Critiquing the imprecision of the analogies (in terms of their medical and Greek/historical nuances of meaning) is of course an excellent and appropriate and legitimate endeavor here, and I agree that these taxonomies are not by any means carefully constructed, fool-proof systems at all (they are embedded, one might even say tossed off, in the middle of larger single pieces).

However, I see the real value of these analogies as being pretexts for conversation and thought about critic/cinephile viewing dispositions (which is why posted them).

In other words, allowing for some liberties from their strict and literal analogical connotations allows us to make use of the ideas springing from the analogies for our purposes, which is to talk about cinephilic habits.

Now, one question is: is it possible for a bulimically inclined cinephile-cum-critic to have a large and varied appetite for films, to respect and at the same time question (and expand) the film canon, and at the same time engage with these films critically in a substantive way (without just consuming them gluttonously)?

My own personal opinion on this is: yes, it is possible. I see some examples of it on the Net as I look around.

Gotta run the doggie to the vet now; shall try to add some thoughts again later today.

July 10, 2006 11:22 AM  
Anonymous acquarello said...

"Now, one question is: is it possible for a bulimically inclined cinephile-cum-critic to have a large and varied appetite for films, to respect and at the same time question (and expand) the film canon, and at the same time engage with these films critically in a substantive way (without just consuming them gluttonously)?"

This is what I was reading into when the original editors of Senses of Cinema (Bill Mousoulis and Fiona Vilella) started the Top Ten poll project with their preface on the advent of the "film school generation" critics by listing the S&S Polls of previous decades (unfortunately, they seem to have now gotten rid of that write-up and replaced it with something less "controversial"): that the idea of canonization was something that clearly wasn't in evidence in the 1952 poll and made for some more interesting, personal choices than there is now because of the treatment of certain films now as sacrosanct and unassailable with the advent of film schools.

Cinephilia is not "working through the masters", I think it's returning to that 1952 S&S "innocence" of voraciously wanting to see everything without having short cut recipes to the canonical films that one should watch to attain the status of cinephile (which is one of my main pet peeves about making any sort of "Top xx" list, even when I'm compelled to do one). So in that sense, I think your comment is exactly what cinephilia is, especially with respect to the idea that canons are essentially arbitrary barometers of film culture, however codified or ingrained. Personally, although I'd consider my viewing habits voracious (contrary to popular opinion, I do watch mainstream cinema :) ), I'd say that my writing habits are considerably more selective, partly because of time, but also because of the level of engagement.

July 10, 2006 12:51 PM  
Anonymous acquarello said...

"Now, one question is: is it possible for a bulimically inclined cinephile-cum-critic to have a large and varied appetite for films, to respect and at the same time question (and expand) the film canon, and at the same time engage with these films critically in a substantive way (without just consuming them gluttonously)?"

This is what I was reading into when the original editors of Senses of Cinema (Bill Mousoulis and Fiona Vilella) started the Top Ten poll project with their preface on the advent of the "film school generation" critics by listing the S&S Polls of previous decades (unfortunately, they seem to have now gotten rid of that write-up and replaced it with something less "controversial"): that the idea of canonization was something that clearly wasn't in evidence in the 1952 poll and made for some more interesting, personal choices than there is now because of the treatment of certain films now as sacrosanct and unassailable with the advent of film schools.

Cinephilia is not "working through the masters", I think it's returning to that 1952 S&S "innocence" of voraciously wanting to see everything without having short cut recipes to the canonical films that one should watch to attain the status of cinephile (which is one of my main pet peeves about making any sort of "Top xx" list, even when I'm compelled to do one). So in that sense, I think your comment is exactly what cinephilia is, especially with respect to the idea that canons are essentially arbitrary barometers of film culture, however codified or ingrained. Personally, although I'd consider my viewing habits voracious (contrary to popular opinion, I do watch mainstream cinema :) ), I'd say that my writing habits are considerably more selective, partly because of time, but also because of the level of engagement.

July 10, 2006 12:53 PM  
Anonymous acquarello said...

Oops, sorry for the double post. I knew I filled out one captcha too many. :o

July 10, 2006 12:56 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Excellent points, A.
Worth posting twice! :-)

"1952 S&S "innocence" of voraciously wanting to see everything without having short cut recipes to the canonical films that one should watch to attain the status of cinephile.."

Wow, that's a really great point!

I didn't know that "the idea of canonization was something that clearly wasn't in evidence in the 1952 poll." That's fascinating.

July 10, 2006 1:29 PM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

Thanks for siding with me acquarello :)
You found just the right word at the intersection of the eating disorder and criticism : "digestion".

"the act of criticism itself is already a deeper level of engagement than just having one's eyes open during a screening"
Exactly. Kael's theory of "common people" overlooks this fact. Critics simply do not watch movies like anybody else, because they prepare to write about them (not to mention the critical mechanism in auto-pilot in their mind).
Btw, the writing of some (so-called) "critics" reveals how their viewing lacks substantive engagement... ;)

Thanks for the Nietzshe explanation, the reference had passed over my head. And I'm surprised Rosenbaum cited it so casually. It doesn't really make sense.

Do you guys think these 3 taxonomies are saying something really different, and spliting cinephiles in distinct groups each time? Personally I think they all come down to the same polarization of high/low-brow, intellectual/impressionist. Or maybe it's what I want to read in them...

Actually Girish, your post is much though-provoking. So I'm glad this discussion was the opportunity to revisit these theories. And I tend to assume everyone thinks like me, so it's good to remember there are alternate cinephile dispositions, whiches are equally valid, just operating on parallel levels.
Again this kind of binary taxonomy would suggest falsly an either/or proposition, while it's a wide spectrum. What you say Girish kinda destroys the purpose of a dichotomy like these. Although I guess they are meant for abstract theorization only.
Like acquarello said, the "being a critic" premise infers both a democratic choice of film and an analytical engagement.

I thought that we might have a different inclination depending on the type of films. So we can be both bulimic and anorexic, at different times.
I'm bulimic for my favorites, tracking down even the bad films, the documentaries, the TV works, the commercials, the short films. And I'm anorexic for cinema I don't know well, or auteur/genre I've be disappointed by in the past (I would only sit through to have seen them, for their historical importance, for cross-analysis purpose)
One cannot like everything anyway. We have to draw the limit somewhere, it's always a question of priorities...

July 10, 2006 6:34 PM  
Blogger girish said...

"so it's good to remember there are alternate cinephile dispositions, which are equally valid, just operating on parallel levels."

Exactly, Harry.

If you think about it, many of us who gather here and chat have significant differences in sensibility and "cinephilic values." I am constantly amazed by how generous and mutually respectful and accommodating everyone is given the degree of those differences. Which are simmering just under the surface. :-)

I think it's a great thing, this process of give-and-take we've worked out, this mutual learning/teaching community of sorts.

"What you say Girish kinda destroys the purpose of a dichotomy like these."

Harry, I am passionately opposed to the sacredness of such flat and dichotomous binary oppositions. :-)
They are reductive and counter-productive when used in their binary form, even as we sometimes do use them to enforce cognitive consonance within our minds.

These dichotomies are useful to the extent that we can deploy them to examine and situate ourselves in the spectrum implied by them. IMO.

July 10, 2006 8:02 PM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

I hope nobody's offended when there is a polemic...

"contrary to popular opinion, I do watch mainstream cinema :)"

let's not get this go unoticed! So acquarello tell us more now. What's your top10 in mainstream cinema? hehe

July 10, 2006 8:14 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

"his point was that the auteurists (whether the persuasion was Cahiers or Positif) were interested in getting a canon together, carving out a selective heirarchy of great filmmakers, and the influence of these critics on successive generations of auteurists (of which I am very much one) and film culture at large was an anorexic one"

I don't know whether that's true - after all, it was a Cahiers editor (Daney) who wrote 100 pieces in 100 consecutive days on each day's television programs. And has put things from Year of the Dragon to Tim Burton's Nightmare before Christmas to Ed Wood to to The Village to Snake Eyes to Space Cowboys on it's Ten Best list.

July 10, 2006 8:14 PM  
Blogger girish said...

""contrary to popular opinion, I do watch mainstream cinema :)"

let's not get this go unoticed! So acquarello tell us more now. What's your top10 in mainstream cinema? hehe"

I will second this! :-)
If Acquarello is shy about doing this, perhaps an "Anonymous" comment would be appropriate. :-)

Alex--Just guessing, but the auteurists that Zach is referring to are the ones way before Daney, let alone its current form which anoints The Village. (I have a French filmmaker friend/cinephile who cancelled his Cahiers subscription after some 30 years because he thought the magazine has been mainstreaming and going downhill.)

July 10, 2006 8:24 PM  
Blogger Zach Campbell said...

I don't know whether that's true - after all, it was a Cahiers editor (Daney) who wrote 100 pieces in 100 consecutive days on each day's television programs. And has put things from Year of the Dragon to Tim Burton's Nightmare before Christmas to Ed Wood to to The Village to Snake Eyes to Space Cowboys on it's Ten Best list.

Alex, as Girish has already noted, and as is quite clear in Quintin's article, he's not talking about the Cahiers in all its extended history--the 'event' to which he clearly refers, (wherein Hitchcock, Hawks, et al. were canonized and Autant-Lara, to some extent Carne, and others were de-canonized) grew from its Cahiers seed well before the great Serge Daney became a major force at Cahiers. What Quintin is explicitly referring to is that these auteurist critics, in their particular time and place, "triumphed" for anorexic cinephilia in that they presented the (relatively) clear canonical guideposts and taste-heirarchies which have influenced cinephilia (to varying degrees, depending on your pocket) in decades since. It is 100% clear from the article that Quintin is not at all saying anything like, "Les Cahiers du cinema have categorically ignored most cinema in favor of eleven select master filmmakers."

Obviously the early auteurists who saw a lot of films were doing something "against" official culture and received tastes/wisdom. But as I said before, this fact has nothing at all to do with Quintin's anorexic/bulimic distinctions (which I doubt are meant to be taken literally or clinically--they're connotative labels, nothing more, which is obvious from the piece itself). Bulimic cinephilia would have been where the 1950s/60s auteurist critics said, "Hey, from all this cinema we're seeing, let's publish something on just about all of it--opinionated for sure, but unheirarchical!" This is not what these auteurists did, which is Quintin's point--at the time they instead singled out a basic stable of filmmakers to champion. The difference between 'bulimia' and 'anorexia' is NOT between 'see everything, don't think critically' and 'see only great films.' As Quintin puts it in his piece (I'm paraphrasing), it's between my videotheque is too small (bulimia) and life is too short (anorexia). The former tendency can think critically, but wants to give a fair hearing to everything out there (Olaf Moller!!!), while the latter may well see a great deal of cinema, but sooner or later has set limitations for herself and has created something like a heirarchy. Nobody is 100% one or the other. They're tendencies, poles, that might describe a single dimension of someone's cinephilia.

I think Quintin's original piece makes it all clear enough without too many complications, I urge people to read it(it's available online) if they haven't yet.

Last but not least, all the films you mentioned as having been ten-bested by Cahiers, Alex, have defensible auteurs behind them. Not necessarily auteurs I would defend, but one could sanely point to any of them and put them in a larger authorial framework with no trouble. Cahiers have had plenty of writers who have championed and will continue to champion Eastwood, Burton, et al.

July 10, 2006 9:02 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Zach. That's very helpful.

July 10, 2006 9:37 PM  
Anonymous acquarello said...

I don't know about a top 10, Harry, but I really enjoyed The Devil Wears Prada. Really! :)

July 11, 2006 8:16 AM  
Blogger girish said...

I can see the movie poster with Meryl now, and the Strictly Film School blurb: "two thumbs up, way up!" :-)

Here's an idea: To exorcise that cinephilic side, Acquarello should start a secret pseudonymous blog (which only a few of us will know about) devoted to mainstream cinema and guilty pleasures! :-)

July 11, 2006 10:41 AM  
Blogger Alex said...

"What Quintin is explicitly referring to is that these auteurist critics, in their particular time and place, "triumphed" for anorexic cinephilia in that they presented the (relatively) clear canonical guideposts and taste-heirarchies which have influenced cinephilia (to varying degrees, depending on your pocket) in decades since"

This is precisely what I am saying is a very tenuous conclusion. It is not a solid procedure to take a stick-figure vulgarization of film criticism of the mid-late 1950s and pretend that some criticism(s) of the mid-2000s are the same or even similar, when neither the critics nor the times nor the settings are very similar.

Quintin clearly doesn't understand the actual history (or he confuses it intentionally): he blurs at least three groups - the cinema of quality, the Cahiers critics and Andrew Sarris, when the two of the groups argued strenously against each other, and Sarris' understanding of the Cahiers critics may well be flawed.

Then, too, critics need to be respected as thinkers - just because someone declares himself a Platonist or auteurist, should make us doubt his claims. There was never any unanimous Cahiers or auteurist group - you just can't equate Godard with Bazin with Truffaut with Kast with Doniol with Moullet with etc etc etc. Each is a seperate thinker, whose individual thought must be respected.

You also can't simply say "this is what the Cahiers critics would have thought today" without referencing that many of those critics are still around today, and their thought today often doesn't confirm what Quintin's time-machine says they do.

Thus, that Godard clearly views Daney as one of the greatest critics ever is important, that every one of the Cahiers critics' thought evolved (and was different in 1955, 1960, 1968, 1975 and 2006) is of critical importance.

July 11, 2006 9:12 PM  
Blogger Zach Campbell said...

It is not a solid procedure to take a stick-figure vulgarization of film criticism of the mid-late 1950s and pretend that some criticism(s) of the mid-2000s are the same or even similar, when neither the critics nor the times nor the settings are very similar.

But this is not what Quintin is doing!

Quintin clearly doesn't understand the actual history (or he confuses it intentionally): he blurs at least three groups - the cinema of quality, the Cahiers critics and Andrew Sarris

This is not what Quintin is doing! Can you actually demonstrate that he does this?

There was never any unanimous Cahiers or auteurist group - you just can't equate Godard with Bazin with Truffaut with Kast with Doniol with Moullet with etc etc etc. Each is a seperate thinker, whose individual thought must be respected.

Sorry if I sound like a broken record, but, This is not what Quintin is doing! Pointing out a historically demonstrable matter of taste (which is what Quintin was doing) is not the same as pretending that all critics associated with the label 'Cahiers,' or, say, the label 'auteurist' are all alike at all times, without autonomy. Quintin is talking about the generalized collective achievement of a group of critics (yes, yes, individual critics) from a certain moment in history. Or, Alex, do you think Hitchcock, Hawks, Ray, Sirk, Mann, and others were ensconced as cinephilic icons just out of the blue, without any collective agreement & agitation on the part of auteurists!?

You also can't simply say "this is what the Cahiers critics would have thought today" without referencing that many of those critics are still around today, and their thought today often doesn't confirm what Quintin's time-machine says they do.

Who was doing this? It wasn't Quintin (and it wasn't me)! What Quintin pointed out was the occurrence of a a group of relatively like-minded critics' achievement in a certain era. Again, this is is no way tantamount to saying that every member at all associated with this group has had an unchanging and uniform opinion.

Thus, that Godard clearly views Daney as one of the greatest critics ever is important, that every one of the Cahiers critics' thought evolved (and was different in 1955, 1960, 1968, 1975 and 2006) is of critical importance.

It is of critical importance. And when it comes to Quintin's article, which is available for all to read, it is of great irrelevance. Quintin's claims are pretty simple, hardly dogmatic or rigid--simply impressionistic. I've said this several times now, it bears repeating though I guess, he's NOT talking about the T of Q! or 'official culture,' he's not elevating one kind of taste over another, he's not trying to pigeonhole any writers or thinkers into some bowdlerized theory. He's simply remarking on the differences between, as he sees it, cinephiles who make a priority of, well, prioritizing (anorexics) and cinephiles who make a priority of rummaging, searching, endlessly commenting & evaluating (bulimics). I think there's too much being made of claims that don't at all stretch to the proportions to which one needs to feel they stretch to in order to cut them to ribbons ...

July 12, 2006 12:40 AM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

acquarello : "I don't know about a top 10, Harry, but I really enjoyed The Devil Wears Prada. Really! :)"

Really? Well, this is not very Film School... ;)
I was afraid you'd mention Superman or Pirate of Carribeans.

The mainstream movies I've seen recently : Tideland (dreadful!), Perhaps Love (complex musical collage), Devdas (awesome!)

A question for the continuing discussion: Who is really bulimic here? I meant every cinephile sets some kind of priorities, nobody can watch the first thing at hand without considering...

July 12, 2006 2:27 AM  
Blogger Zach Campbell said...

Which version Devdas, Harry? The Shahrukh Khan one? I've only seen the 1955 Bimal Roy-directed version which is quite good ...

A question for the continuing discussion: Who is really bulimic here? I meant every cinephile sets some kind of priorities, nobody can watch the first thing at hand without considering...

I feel as though I am saying things but either I am horrible at communicating or nobody is paying attention to me. To repeat myself: the bulimic is not someone who sets no priorities, who watches just anything without a thought. The bulimic is someone for whom the cinephilic terrain is always full of frontiers waiting to be discovered. (Quintín, a self-identified anorexic, also likens it to "levelling" the playing field so that canonical masters and 'merely good' filmmakers are shoulder-to-shoulder.) If you read articles by bulimic-extraordinaire Olaf Möller you will see what this is like: he's quite able to think critically (and to me he's one of the best critics around!), he knows exactly what he is seeing, but he is always hungry to see more--in theory if not practice, no niche too "worthless" or obscure to master; it's not that he just sees things without thinking, it's that, with the right context and knowledge, any field is worth exploring. The phrase 'life is too short' (which is the perfectly sane resignation, and justification, of the anorexic) is also the frustrated lament of the bulimic. That is, the anorexic says, "Life is too short--I'll just have to try to see what I am most interested in and have to let the rest pass." The bulimic says, "Life is too short--I'll never get to know what this or that are like..."

I consider myself someone who started my cinephilia as more of an anorexic, who grew more bulimic.

July 12, 2006 7:47 AM  
Blogger girish said...

"I consider myself someone who started my cinephilia as more of an anorexic, who grew more bulimic."

True for me also.

To self-examine a bit, the change has to do for me partly with this: the steady (and gratifying) growth of the "philia" part of "cinephilia". The more I "entered" the art-form of cinema, understood for example its formal aspects, the manner in which they work, etc, the richness of pleasurable feeling in watching and thinking about films began to increase.

(I'd say cinephilia has to do with more than just watching films--it also has to do with extending the experience of those films in us, by, for example, thinking or reading or talking about it for days/weeks/years afterward, as we are doing here.)

So, 10 years ago I was able to say, "Life's too short--here's a great and worthy subset of cinema that I will settle for watching, I have no problem with limiting myself to doing this."

But with the philic-escalation I mentioned above (caused, perhaps, by a deepening personal appreciation of what cinema is and can do and the incredibly varied ways it can do these things), I'm no longer able to simply settle for that subset. It seems like too criminal a sacrifice to make--I can't bear to make it. Thus, the move in the bulimic direction.

And Zach, you're doing just fine with the communicating.

July 12, 2006 8:55 AM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

Devdas (2002/Sanjay Leela Bhansali), with Aishwarya Rai :) the first part if stronger than the second though.

Zach, I understand your point, but I was only refering to your comment on pre-viewing "prioritization". To me the most blatent distinction to be made is in the selection of films to watch (diversity/precedency).

Your interpretation of "life is too short" for both groups is pretty good. Which shows how Quintin's choice of words doesn't give the most intuitive sense to his theory. His use of "too" + "little" twice is confusing (once "I need to expand this restriction", once "I have to cope with this -other- restriction"), instead of a clearer big/small or short/long opposition.
Anyway I prefer these phrases to the eating disorder analog.
I would adapt the other phrase to anorexics as well : "My videotheque is too small to waste a single slot for a minor movie"

Maybe you two can afford a bulimic exploration because you consider you've already covered a sufficiant film culture foundation with enough masterpieces.
But if we consider someone who hasn't seen any film yet at all, starting with a bulimic exploration will be more fruitless and slower than the anorexic one. The redeeming quality of bulimia is in expanding your horizon, avoiding pigeonholes and academism. But the result at the end of a bulimic or anorexic life is respectively in the satisfaction of having surveyed a representative sample of anything cinema can produce, or the satisfaction of having seen the best cinema can achieve.
I don't care if I miss some areas of cinema (the vast majority of film production is worthless anyway).

My earlier gold-digger analogy reflects my statistical approach. The point is not missing one gold seam nobody else discovered, but to optimize your scouting time to find the most gems at the end.
Statistically the farther you go into minor works, the longer it will take you to find something worthwhile without a map (just because there is more creativeless crap). And unlike Farber, I don't satisfy with the cinephiliac moments that make termites worthwhile.

July 12, 2006 1:02 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Harry, I would say that the very notion of masterpieces is viewed differently by anorexics and bulimics.

Anorexics like a relatively small ("pruned") canon, containing a relatively small number of masterpieces. They are very hierarchically-conscious when they view the terrain of cinema.

Bulimics are a little less interested in creating hierarchies and exclusive canons which ensconce only a few films as masterpieces. Although this is not to say that they (the good bulimic critics) take their critical functions and responsibilities any less seriously!

July 12, 2006 3:14 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

"Can you actually demonstrate that he does this?"

From the article:

"In my opinion, auteur politics was a coup d’état manned by the anorexic cinephiles against the bulimics. Concepts like le cinéma de qualité or the Sarris pantheon helped to displace lots of films from the pedestal on which critical laziness had put them."

So, Quintin says there's something called "auteur politics" which was manned by "anorexic" cinephiles which overthrew some unidentified group of "bulimic" critics. This is NOT simply something happening in the present (Quintin makes it clear that he believes the present is not that different from the past of 1955-196?), but also a very particular historic event in the past (after all, a coup d'etat is always visualized as an event limited in time).

Here are the problems with this quote:

1. There was no effective group of "bulimics" that, say, the Cahiers critics opposed themselves against. In their time, the Cahiers critics WERE the bulimics. The fact that Quintin is completely vague - not pointing to a single example - about who actually populated the "bulimics" of 1955-196? indicates to me that there weren't any (which is the general reality of that time).

2. Quintin describes two concepts as part of auteur politics: "the cinema of quality" and "the Sarris pantheon". Since "auteur politics" is generally viewed as rejecting "the cinema of quality" I can't really square this conundrum within Quintin's article except by believing he's intentionally blurring two opposing concepts. Second, "the Sarris pantheon": Sarris published his pantheon in 1968 - ten years and in a different language than the original "auteur politics". Which should make us worry about identifying a uniform "auteur politics" spanning such distances of time and situation.

3. I want to know what this earlier critical laziness was! Help! Some actual cites or, hell, pointers would be nice. What the hey is Quintin talking about?!?!

July 12, 2006 3:33 PM  
Blogger Zach Campbell said...

Alex, I think there are a few simple clarifications to make first. For instance, Quintín does not conflate the "cinema of quality" with the Cahiers politique or the Sarris canon--he's pointing out that they're concepts used in the film cultural struggle that took place in the "coup" during the 1950s-60s. (By the 1970s, before strains of academic film theory took its place, auteurism seemed finally established.)

In Paris and Lyons these were connected strains coming from (mostly) young men who were seeing a ton of films, basically American and French narrative films, and whose reaction to the postwar film culture was meant to assail "cinéma de papa" and various anti-Hollywood (but also, as they saw it, anti-art) sentiments, and to erect the likes of Hawks and Hitchcock as great artists. This migrated to the UK and USA after a few years, got mangled and misinterpreted (I have got plenty of problems with Sarris...) but the essential fact remains that this amorphous group the auteurists--and not just any & all critics or buffs--won ... in that you could talk with utter seriousness about Randolph Scott Westerns (the only prerequisite was that, say, Boetticher or Lewis was in the credits).

Sure, there was still resistance, but there was still resistance to any films being considered 'art.' In film culture, though, it eventually was dominant, and for a while serious study and appreciation of films meant analyzing Kurosawa or Bergman or Hitchcock or Nick Ray, but the (bulimic) impulse to analyze just about anyone, including Duvivier, Hathaway, or Stevens (Quintín's examples), was not easily accepted within 'smart' film culture. As far as Quintín sees it, the lay of the land had been accurately assessed when the general auteurist gist was absorbed by the late 1960s and ever after. This is the "coup" (which was part of a historical moment, a generation of film cultural debate) which has had a lasting effect on our film culture today (who gets more written about his work than any other filmmaker? Hitchcock! ... what are the national cinemas most identified with cinephilia? USA and France!).

Quintín is of course a little bit (not entirely) hostile to cine-bulimia. He feels that the urge, then or now, to write a monograph on or devote a big festival retrospective to, say, a director Sidney Franklin is likely superfluous, if I may presume to speak for him just a bit. You say, Alex, that the auteurists of 1950s Paris (or presumably 1960s New York) were bulimics. At the end of his article Quintín himself acknowledges, perhaps with a bit of exasperation, that the 'anorexic triumph' of auteurism was borne of a perhaps-bulimic moviegoing impulse. (Which would mean that for your respective purposes, BOTH of you are correct. I'm only defending Quintín's reasoning here, as I think his logic is valid and his interpretations viable.) But the POINT of Quintín's essay is not to make and prove a broad historical generalization, but rather to posit a few historical generalizations as a springboard for his own opinion on the state of cinephilia. Whether the Cahiers critics were or were not "bulimics" (or whether those who saw no qualitative difference in entertainers Hitchcock and e.g. Sam Wood), Quintín believes that the fruits of their labor, as critics and filmmakers and advocates, is anorexic. And he's skeptical of the bulimic urge to keep rooting through (and even returning to) the same terrain, something that he feels is unnecessary. 'Why bother with Stevens or Duvivier--the auteurists already cultivated that terrain, and if we look at a couple of films we can see that they were correct!'

By the way, and tangentially, I know Rosenbaum used them for his own taxonomy, but I would say that Raymond Durgnat is a good example of a bulimic (but not as good an example as Olaf Möller) and Robin Wood is a good example of an anorexic. Obviously, there are huge gaps in Durgnat's taste that he apparently made no real attempt to remedy (I think Adrian Martin has written a little about this), but in reading his writing one gets the sense that he's actively willing to burrow into whatever cine-realm comes before him, and to make connections between all these, and to knock down a few pedastals while he's at it--to those who haven't read it I recommend his 1970s Film Comment piece titled something like "Hawks Isn't Good Enough" (I say this as a big Hawks fan). (In Senses of Cinema, Stephen Dwoskin wrote, "Ray bypasses the question of 'what is a film' and says “This is a film”!" One of my all-time favorite quotes about cinema.)

July 12, 2006 4:35 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Very informative and helpful, Zach.
And I'm boggled at all the film-watching, -learning, and -thinking you've done. (For heaven's sake, you're just 24!)

July 12, 2006 5:50 PM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

I know Girish, the concept of "masterpiece" is biased (and belongs to academism)... but you're not saying every film is a "masterpiece" to a bulimic, are you? There are worthless films for bulimics too I hope. And that's the proportion of hopeless films in each survey I'm balancing there.

Could you give me a representative example of happy finding for a bulimic that an anorexic wouldn't agree with?
Would you trade Dekalog for Spider-man without flinching, just because hierarchies are meaningless?

The bulimic goes for "Carpe Diem", thus doesn't care if his poking around random exploration leads nowhere. Keeping him from underground, obscur, older works that require actual methodology and following academic priorities to track down (namely the Czech New Wave, Debord, Duras, Garrel, Deren...) you don't find these by chance (and I mean it in a practical way too, they aren't accessible if you're busy "to burrow into whatever cine-realm comes before you" readily accessible).

Anyway, I admire the american cinephiles who can be bulimics, with a good taste, in a land of Hollywood exclusivity, where marginal cinema is hard to come by.

I have a (guilty) bulimic tendency like every cinephile, but I'm fighting it, because it doesn't reward me as much as my anorexic approach does.

p.s. I agree with Girish, Zach's erudition and didactics are really impressive.

July 12, 2006 7:49 PM  
Blogger girish said...

"Could you give me a representative example of happy finding for a bulimic that an anorexic wouldn't agree with?"

Hmm, not sure if this'll work, but let me give you a sample of what I've seen in the last two weeks; I'd be surprised if an anorexic agreed with them all: three Phil Karlson B-films (Kansas City Confidential, 99 River Street, Phenix City Story); John Dahl's The Last Seduction; Guru Dutt's Mr. & Mrs. 55; John Woo's Face-Off; Jonathan Demme's Caged Heat. I had seen some of them before, not all. (They were all, in varying degrees, good or worthy films.)

I'm not sure that a hardcore aneroxic would think that my time was very wisely spent; I don't know.

July 12, 2006 10:14 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

On finding that my mac.com bandwidth is tapped again, I'm relieved and embarrassed to see that the usage isn't as high as I'd remembered, since the cap is lower than I'd remembered.

Pity that mac started enforcing the bandwidth limits, else the move to them from box.net would have been wise. ^__^

About your recent viewing, Girish, Kansas City Confidential and Phenix City Story are well-respected among noir buffs (including Scorsese).

What did you think of The Last Seduction? I remember I was frequently unsure of how much of it I was meant to take seriously--Fiorentino's character was just so completely wicked, doing such completely outlandish things, but I loved the film for it.

I'd love to see you blog about some B-films. Have you seen Godzilla vs. Mothra?

July 13, 2006 9:38 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Tuwa, you're already out of bandwidth and not even half the month is up yet? That's the badge of a successful mp3-blogger! :-)

I'm into some B-movie genres (thrillers, noirs, musicals, westerns) more than others (horror, sci-fi, creature features), mainly because I wasn't exposed to the latter as a kid. I haven't seen any of the Godzilla films. I love Hawks' The Thing but because of Hawks, not because of its genre.

The Last Seduction is a strong film. Even more so this time around (I saw it previously when it came out, in '94). Linda Fiorentino's character came off as completely deranged-nasty the first time but she's actually quite firmly (and subtly) motivated. (Most of her caprice can be traced back to spousal abuse, it's made quite clear). And I love how her id constantly comes through--when Peter Berg tells her, in the bar, that he's hung like a horse, she calmly reaches into his pants to verify his claim. That's just one example.

Conversely, Peter Berg, who might initially come off as a smitten (I-so-want-us-to-fall-in-love-with-each-other) romantic, has some serious problems and issues, and might actually be much worse than Bill Pullman! In its odd and twisted way, it's a convincing female-empowerment movie.

Also, brilliant dialogue, visually imaginative, constantly surprising...

July 13, 2006 5:30 PM  
Blogger girish said...

And I forgot to mention...funny. Funny.

July 13, 2006 5:32 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

I'd gladly trade all that bandwidth usage for the amount of communication that happens in your posts' comments.

I saw The Thing recently and was interested mostly in what it shared with another Cold-War horror/sci-fi, Invasion of the Body Snatchers: fear of The Other, which is essentially perambulatory plant matter from another planet. They're not much alike politically, though; inThe Thing, attempts to understand it seem clearly doomed and misguided, and the movie seems to argue that there's no point asking for guidance from the government and killing it is obviously the best thing to do. In Body Snatchers the characters are slow to realize what's going on, and tend to run from the problem (even when one of the pod people is right in front of them) and the tacked-on ending has someone finally realizing the severity of the situation and calling the FBI in, ostensibly to save the day. (Even as a kid I never believed that; I can remember thinking the FBI wouldn't know what to make of the problem and it would be too late for them too.)

July 13, 2006 8:21 PM  
Blogger girish said...

I need to explore horror/sci-fi.

July 14, 2006 9:17 AM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

I'd say Woo is an auteur, I wouldn't be surprised if Face-Off got a full page in Cahiers.
But would you say "good/worthy films" is what make a bulimic cinephile illuminated? Or is this idea of enlightment proper to anorexics?

I guess I don't understand the psychology of bulimics. I thought it was merely a difference of access to films. But it seems that the viewing attitude is combined with its own ideology about cinema.

I don't think genre-films are necessarily unworthy. It's really the intention of the auteur that matters. Most masters of the 40-50ies were genre-makers.

I watch films to learn cinema. From masters. Those who really grasp it profoundly, who can teach me something nobody else would.
The next dozen films I watch after a masterpiece look dull and formulaic, and I want to be high again, with one of these film that really make the difference.

What is the philosophy behind a bulimic consumption? (if the discussion didn't dry out yet)

July 14, 2006 11:08 AM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

Incidentally, the new Cahiers is on Hollywood of the OO's.

July 14, 2006 12:39 PM  

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