2006: The Year In Film Reading
All year long we engaged in, linked to and talked about on-line film writing here in the blogosphere, so I thought I’d take some time and devote a post to print writing, especially books. But before I do that, let me say that 2006 seemed like the first year I spent more time on-line than with print: reading, writing, making friends, socializing, discussing, debating—discovering and enjoying being part of this quickly-growing on-line film culture. David Hudson’s year-end post handily provides a bookmarkable list of blog-a-thons that dotted the year. And I also tried to corral a fistful of on-line reading into this ‘archiveological’ post a few weeks back.
But so much of valuable on-line writing and comment exchange is widely dispersed, and proceeds to disappear quickly, as time passes, into the dark caves of the archives. It’s my one serious dissatisfaction with the blog format: I wish every blog contained a helpful table of contents page that conveniently listed or indexed all posts at a particular site. This year, I’d like to add a table of contents and index here; I'm assuming it won't be that difficult to do.
For me, the godsend of the year was RSS reader software—what a luxury to be notified within minutes of every new blog post! I started out using Bloglines, then switched to the Mac-only Newsfire. I think I’m subscribed to about eighty blogs, mostly film or arts-related. It’s the one piece of software I truly can’t live without.
Favorite film books read last year, in no specific order:
Movie Mutations: The Changing Face of World Cinephilia (ed. Jonathan Rosenbaum and Adrian Martin); Negative Space (Manny Farber); Film as Film (V.F. Perkins); Films and Feelings (Raymond Durgnat); Phantasms (Adrian Martin); Cinephilia and History: The Wind in the Trees (Christian Keathley); The Altering Eye (Robert Kolker); Poetics of Cinema (Raul Ruiz); Introduction to Documentary (Bill Nichols); Essential Cinema and Movie Wars (Jonathan Rosenbaum).
Books-in-process, that I’m in the middle of:
Visionary Film (P. Adams Sitney); The Material Ghost: Films and their Medium (Gilberto Perez); Movie Love in the Fifties (James Harvey); Artists in the Audience: Cults, Camp and American Film Criticism (Greg Taylor); Deadline at Dawn (Judith Williamson).
Books I’m looking forward to reading this year:
Abel Ferrara (Nicole Brenez); The Remembered Film (Victor Burgin); Ways of Seeing (John Berger); Theory of Film Practice (Noël Burch); The “I” of the Camera (William Rothman); Underground Film: A Critical History (Parker Tyler); How a Film Theory Got Lost and Other Mysteries in Cultural Studies (Robert B. Ray); French Film Theory and Criticism 1907-1939 (ed. Richard Abel).
Single most potent piece of reading last year:
Chapter 1 (30-odd pages) of Movie Mutations, a letter relay among Jonathan Rosenbaum, Adrian Martin, Kent Jones, Nicole Brenez, Alexander Horwath and Raymond Bellour.
Rosenbaum has been blogging at the Chicago Reader. I’ve collected a few choice posts; the comments discussions are also often interesting. In defense of spoilers; Film history that is open to the present; When you can't see what I saw; Difficult becomes popular; Avoiding movies about torture.
At the Fipresci site, several film critics including Rosenbaum, Adrian Martin and Chris Fujiwara list and discuss film books they feel close to. (via Matthew Clayfield.)
Martin writes about discovering, in his teens, two formative film books, V.F. Perkins' Film as Film and Noël Burch's Theory of Film Practice, and falling under their spell. He likens the experience to Jonathan Richman's "summer feeling" that will "haunt you for the rest of your life." The pair of books contains a fascinating tension:
Perkins represents classical aesthetics: style serves content, form is expressive, movies are about characters, destinies, symbolic worlds. Later, reading more of Perkins and his close colleagues on Movie (Robin Wood, Douglas Pye, Andrew Britton, Deborah Thomas, etc) from the early 1960s until now, I would be led back to the various formative influences on this school: F. R. Leavis, Paul Ricoeur, Stanley Cavell. This is a 'school' of criticism that always had (still has) trouble coming to terms with modernism in all its disruptive cinematic forms (Godard, forever the great divider, the deal-breaker). But, on the other hand, the legacy of classicism is inexhaustible, and I am still in thrall to Ophuls' Letter From a Unknown Woman, which Perkins has written about eloquently and frequently …
Burch, on the other hand, is an arch modernist. Even towards his own work: he appears to have regularly disowned his past achievements, wiped the slate clean, and started again. His intellectual inspirations in the period leading to Theory of Film Practice were people like the serialist composer Pierre Boulez, with his severe theory of a crest line of advanced artistic achievement. Starting roughly in the same period as Perkins (late '50s/early '60s), but in a completely different context (the French nouvelle vague, the American avant-garde), Burch trailblazed a film formalism: the classical/organic language of theme, style, character and so on meant little to him, while the sheerly material delight of framing, montage, image-sound counterpoint, camera movement, and all such parameters of filmic form were everything. It was through reading Burch that I came to know — and love — the thrill of off-screen space, of disjunctive sound, of long-takes and scene découpage …
[...] When I try to grasp now what I got from Film as Film and Theory of Film Practice, I see something that does unite them: in both there is a rigorous analytical sense, a demonstration of some form-to-content logic in every film they alight upon, often dazzlingly intuited and demonstrated. These days, film criticism — even the best-written — does little for me, finally, unless it can unearth, propose and in a way prove the existence of the logic that makes a film 'tick', as we say, that coheres it into some kind of whole work, whether classical-expressive or modernist-disjunctive. Godard, in fact, said it best in his challenge to Kael and, beyond her, all critics: "Bring in the evidence", he demanded. Film analysis or criticism without that logic, that evidence, is just assertion, and assertion is something I can take or leave (perhaps depending on whether or not I agree with it!). It is the work of logic that I still admire so much today in the best work of Jonathan Rosenbaum or Nicole Brenez.
If you're in the mood, please feel free to list some of your favorite film reading from last year (books or essays, print or on-line), and/or any film reading you're looking forward to doing this year. If we collect some titles and authors here, we might be able to introduce each other to some new and interesting reading....