Monday, February 12, 2007

On Film Criticism

There is a rich and rousing conversation with Adrian Martin in the new issue of the Italian journal Cinemascope. Conducted by the Spanish film magazine Miradas de Cine, the interview is wide-ranging and thought-provoking in a myriad ways. I thought I’d excerpt a few parts, but I would highly recommend reading the whole thing. It thoughtfully (and inspiringly!) takes up many of the topics we’ve been dialoguing about in the film blogosphere recently, most notably in Andy Horbal’s Film Criticism Blog-A-Thon.

There is much to savor, think about and discuss in the piece and in the entire issue, which is on the subject of “Responsibility and Film Criticism.” So, I invite you to chime in with your thoughts: this one’s tailor-made for conversation!

* * *

Q: “Some film critics deal with new kinds of cinema and new forms of expression in film. Are we forgetting about older cinema (silent films, for instance)? Isn't it necessary to rediscover filmmakers from the past?”

Adrian M.: “[…] I completely agree with your proposition about ‘old’ films and ‘past’ filmmakers. In fact, I would go further: no film is truly old, or in the past! Every cinephile should have the experience of watching a silent film – I had this experience watching some Jean Epstein films recently – and suddenly feeling confronted with something that is still, today, newer and more modern than we ourselves are as spectators. There is a good, simple reason for this: the cinema is always a laboratory, a field of experimentation: experimentation with image, sound, performance, gesture, light, colour, music, rhythm, storytelling, etc. No experiment is ever exhausted, and no aesthetic or cultural problem is solved for all time. So, when we return to old films, we therefore see that they are completely contemporary to us and our concerns, if we are open to the traces of experimentation in them – there are always new ideas in old films. I do not regard the ‘cinema of the past’ as something neat, clean, classical, canonical. Cinema is always ‘at the crossroads’, at every moment of its existence, and so are we. That is why the art of programming is important: placing the present and past cinema always into a fruitful encounter – or an Eisensteinian dialectical clash.”

* * *

Q: “Is it possible to establish any kind of objective knowledge about these crossroads where cinema always is at? Can we get further than just a discussion of personal tastes and preferences?”

AM: “Well, we must get further than just ‘personal tastes and preferences’! I deeply believe that taste is a kind of prison for oneself […] Critics should feel free to bring in their own emotional reactions to films – it is hard to keep them out of writing – but the phenomenon known as the ‘gut feeling’ or gut reaction can become a terrible end in itself: ‘this film makes me angry or it makes me happy, so it's a rotten film or a great film, and I’m not going to discuss it any further.’ The important thing is always argument, analysis, logic. I have an irrational side (critics need it), but my rational side believes in logical demonstration: if you can prove to me that what are saying about a film makes internal sense, if you can marshal the evidence from the film itself to back up what you say, then I too can be persuaded to disregard my own first gut reaction and explore that film again in a new, more open way.”

* * *

Q: “You say that writing on films could be a way of ‘understanding the way the world works and how we work within it’. Do you think critics should include their own political ideas when writing on films?”

AM: “The first way I can answer your question is to declare this: that, no matter what critics think they are saying or not saying in their writing, they are betraying themselves, giving away their deepest selves, their full system of beliefs and values, at every single moment. It is important for every critic to come to a realisation of this truth. What you think about music and art, what you think about sex, what you think about family and friendship, what you think about politics and history: it’s all there, plainly there, for everyone to read in what you write, in your slightest expression, your smallest turn of phrase. Any critic’s biases are always going to become apparent – so it is better to master those biases, use them, include them, be up front about them. Or else, those biases will rule you, like nasty unconscious impulses, and you will end up looking like someone who has a sinister agenda, an axe to grind.”

* * *

“[W]hat did I really find in Deleuze, beyond the substance of certain ideas, certain models? This goes to the very heart of the investigation into criticism that you are making at Miradas. There is something in criticism I value perhaps above everything else: it is what I can call the ‘personal voice’. I do not mean the autobiographical or confessional content of writing, which often bores and irritates me – and, in fact, most writers ‘in person’ are absolutely nothing like what you imagine them to be from their writing! No, I mean the way in which an individual writer can communicate and draw you into his or her own ‘system’, their way of seeing, feeling and processing films, as well as the world. In this sense, no critic is either right or wrong in their judgements; they can only succeed (or fail) to be convincing or persuasive, to let you experience a new or specific way of looking and thinking. Writing is rhetorical, in this sense, but it is also creative, imaginative, poetic: this is the point where criticism approaches art (although it never supplants art!), and all the best critics (like Jonathan Rosenbaum, Nicole Brenez, Judith Williamson or Roger Tailleur) reach it. The Surrealists (who have been a big influence on me) always upheld this principle of the ‘personal voice’ above all else, and I find a more recent statement of this principle from Jean Baudrillard in The Perfect Crime (1995): “As for ideas, everyone has them. What counts is the poetic singularity of the analysis. That alone can justify writing, not the wretched critical objectivity of ideas. There will never be any resolving the contradictoriness of ideas, except in the energy and felicity of language.””

* * *

“The adventure of the new, that’s finally what it’s all about: launching experiments that will liberate some creative and social energy in the collective act and art of film criticism. So I don’t think any of us needs to define a singular, revolutionary ‘way to go’ to regenerate criticism. The revolution starts wherever you are, with whatever tools you have to hand – Deleuze can teach you that! Likewise, I do not think we should try to collectively fix on a ‘single purpose’ for criticism. Criticism always has many purposes, and many potentialities at once; it’s not a ‘field’ you can cohere and strategically organise across the board, like a business plan, a military operation, an academic conference or a political party. What a grotesque delusion that would be, in any event! When I speak of purposes and potentialities, I mean everything from the most humble aim – to simply give a lucid, respectful account of a film – to the most elevated and crazy: to think of film writing as a means of political intervention, or as a form of concrete poetry. Obviously, criticism can take an infinite number of forms: it can be soliloquy, meditation, dialogue, polemical rant, patient description, a work of fiction, a text running ‘parallel’ to a film, a sociological or philosophical commentary, a cryptic piece of symbolist literature, or a political treatise. All forms should be encouraged – I defend them all! And they should be constantly intermixed into every kind of hybrid mode. It is when we narrow down to only a few modes of singular discourse that stagnation and repetition set in, and creativity withers. The challenge is always to keep your own impulse, your own excitement – or the excitement of the group you are part of – alive and productive for as long you can, and to keep switching tracks so that your idealism can be constantly reborn in new ways.”

* * *

“Abel Ferrara’s Mary (like also Gus Van Sant’s Elephant) happens to be a remarkable essay about telephones in modern life – mobile phones, in particular. All the actions, the character interrelations, the montage dynamics, the junctions and disjunctions of image and sound, are caught and dramatised in the multiple phone calls that occur in the movie, bridging different countries, different experiences, different media. Ferrara deliberately restricts his frame of reference: none of his characters use computers or send emails, for instance. Maybe that will be the subject or substance of his next film! But by ‘unrealistically’ isolating this one element of modern experience in Mary, he really makes us see, experience and understand it. And he connects it to very large issues: faith, love, revolt. This working from the particular detail to the general theme is part of what the influential critic Manny Farber meant by his concept of ‘termite art’. Films are involved in making termite art in this way – and so are film critics.”

* * *

There’s plenty more reading where that came from, so bon appetit. And feel free to share your thoughts on any of it....


Blogger aaron w graham said...

There's such a contagious enthusiasm carrying through Martin's words that invigorates and stimulates the ways in which I think and look at criticism. Thanks so much for posting this.

Here's a quote that caught my eye, and that's not already sampled above. It's most definitely a high benchmark that should be contemplated for anybody that's writing criticism (internet or not) today.

"For me cinephilia does not just mean seeing and rating
thousands of films – and I don’t care if that means films by Spielberg or Murnau or
Béla Tarr or Jim Carrey. It means having an idea about cinema, forming a position,
using it as a tool to decipher the world. Not a fixed idea, but a supple, mobile,
multiple process of thought, description, exploration, analysis. When the internet gets
us closer to that ideal, it will truly be a good thing."

February 12, 2007 1:48 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Aaron, it's funny: I printed off the interview last night and after reading it (twice), I realized that the sheets of paper were completely littered with my spidery scribblings and underlinings and exclamation points. Like you, I found it adrenaline rush...!

I think what I probably admire most here is a burning curiosity and openness that really inspires me: a curiosity that spans time ('old' and 'new' cinema); geographical regions and cultures; schools of thought and approach to cinema and cinema criticism; genres, etc etc. It's all welcomed in, but never accepted blindly, always subjected to critical reflection...

Also, the way films and film criticism are constantly connected by Martin to other things: art, history, culture, politics, life itself...there are so many important lessons here...

February 12, 2007 8:38 AM  
Blogger andyhorbal said...

Ah, and I come face to face once more with what I consider one of the great dilemmas of film blogging: each one of us who reads this post, Girish, could construct one of our own in which we focus on the many passages from this interview that speak to us personally, but this then diffuses the conversation. I'll ponder this while I finish the interview--I'm on page 9/14...

February 12, 2007 1:33 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Ah, good point, Andy.

My suggestion would be: if others feel like constructing a post of their own, they should definitely do that. And then they (or I) could post a link back here, and that way the discussion can be dispersed, but still remain tightly inter-hyper-linked, thus perhaps combining the advantages of both approaches (decentralization and centralization)....(Just a thought).

February 12, 2007 1:52 PM  
Blogger andyhorbal said...

That's what I think I'm going to do: clip from the interview (there are about five points in there that offer an ideal vantage from to look back No More Marriages!' recent history), but also link back here, respond to the passages you found most interesting, and keep an eye on the discussion.

But as a general problem I think this is an interesting Blogger's Dilemma: what is the point of a blog post? To facilitate discussion or to provoke a reaction? Is that merely the point of a cinephile's blog post, as opposed to a nerd's: I deserve as much of the critical space as I can grab, so fuck you!

How does one be a "good reader" of a blog?

February 12, 2007 2:00 PM  
Blogger andyhorbal said...

Okay, well I too now have 14 pages covered by first a layer of highlighter and then a layer or two of pen that I'll have to work through before I can say anything of substance!

For now, though, I'll observe that the "older cinema" problem referenced in your first excerpt is strikingly similar to a question we debated in your last post, which we might call the "experimental cinema" problem. In the "older" case the problem is a perception that the films in question cannot speak to our lives because they belong to the past. In the "experimental" case the problem is a perception that the films in question cannot inform us about cinema because they're too alien from what we know of as "a film" and that they cannot inform us about life because they're too much "art" and thus too far removed from reality. Interesting how that works with the idea of experimental cinema as a cinema of dreams/poetry...

Martin's response to the "older" problem can easily be modified and posed as a reply to our "experimental" problem.

February 12, 2007 2:22 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Interesting points, Andy!

Your connection between 'older' and experimental cinema is very intriguing. Especially since Martin also refers to cinema as a "laboratory" in the same passage...

Re: the Blogger's dilemma, the answer might differ from one blog, one individual, to another. Not all blogs might aim equally to start a discussion or to provoke a response. And I think the cinephile/nerd distinction primarily has to do with a certain 'intellectualism' (used positively here, not disparagingly!), or anti-...

Speaking for myself, I think that when I started this blog, I was doing straight movie reviews here, very self-enclosed and probably more than a little solipsistic, and I didn't even turn comments on for about a year. That got to be boring, and I've realized since that it's more interesting (for me) to throw some (attempted) ideas together into a post, and leave lots of space and room in the post for people to step in and do what they like with it....

The way I see it, all the possible insight (such as it is) I might be able to muster and shove into a (e.g. 'review') post is not a tenth of what a large community of others (diverse, learned, curious, etc.) can bring to the table...that to me is where the excitement in the potential of the blogosphere lies...

I like it that blog-form writing can be distinctly different from traditional forms of writing about movies ('self-enclosed' reviews, essays, etc), which are great of course (I read them all the time) but they're often not written with the primary goal of attempting to start dialogue...

February 12, 2007 6:16 PM  
Blogger girish said...

btw, New issue of Senses of Cinema...

February 12, 2007 6:23 PM  
Blogger girish said...

And may I confess that I've had both the Deleuze volumes sitting on my shelf for several months but each time I crack them open, I get daunted. But after having read this interview, I've resolved to tackle vol. 1 with new gusto...! (And stay with it well past the 80-page mark!)...

February 12, 2007 6:30 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Andy, I was also thinking that the great thing about dispersed discussions is that the exact same seed (e.g. this interview with Adrian) can sprout in so many different directions on different blogs given the large number of variables involved. So I think there can be great value in diffusing discussions but managing that diffusion a bit by cross-linking and watching these multi-channel discussions unfold (I'm reminded of Bowie watching television in The Man Who Fell To Earth)...

February 12, 2007 7:14 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Girish, I wish I had 1/5 your ability to start conversations (and keep them going!)

February 12, 2007 7:29 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Tuwa. You're too kind--I'm not sure I have that ability. I think all people in general want to express their views and ideas; I only attempt to (in a small way) encourage it...

February 12, 2007 7:36 PM  
Blogger Miljenko said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

February 12, 2007 7:48 PM  
Blogger Miljenko said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

February 12, 2007 7:53 PM  
Blogger Miljenko said...

(Errata: my deleted posts had too many typos and it was embarrassing).

this is great stuff, girish. wow, after reading it, I want to do try film criticism again. I thought I was giving up a few days ago. I find it specially hard, not so much not having anything to say, but to be able to say; to say what you feel and think is compelling, and not fear the contradictions. I've hardly ever seen a review that likes and dislikes a film at the same time; I find it troubling, it happens to me all the time. This is a battle to get one's voice out--it's your view of the world. Please forgive such cosmology. But writing about films is also about about learning to see; and that's not just movies. But it's tied to the object of movies; I guess it's a catch 22.

February 12, 2007 7:54 PM  
Blogger girish said...

"I've hardly ever seen a review that likes and dislikes a film at the same time."

Miljenko, I'm reminded of Manny Farber. Sometimes, it's hard to tell whether he's praising a film or damning it, and this ambiguity often ends up making his reviews even more interesting...

And about not giving up on Deleuze and forging past the 80-page mark, here are two apropos Deleuze quotations I just stumbled across, in Gregory Flaxman's The Brain is the Screen:

-- "The essence of a thing never appears at the outset, but in the middle, in the course of its development, when its strength is assured."

-- (with Guattari) "When a thing is considered in terms of its beginning, it is always poorly judged."

February 12, 2007 8:06 PM  
Anonymous jmac said...

Girish & Andy,

I am still reviewing so many of the same topics that we discussed last week, just like I do when trying to figure out a camera or Final Cut Pro or curating a cinema program. I am definitely not on familiar territory with the great questions of film criticism . . .This is not where I excel, but I have to try anyway . . .

Adrian Martin's interview "Responsibility and Criticism" is spectacular! Beautiful! And furthermore I agreed with so many of his observations. :) I especially loved his idea of "the adventure of the new" and "launching experiments" and especially the whole section on p. 13, i.e. how writing on cinema can be elevated and crazy & composed entirely of symbolist poetry!!! Where has this guy been all my life?

Anyway, Adrian Martin did the impossible in this interview. This is one writer who was asked to comment on all of cinema history, cinema theory, objectivity in defining cinema, cinema as a means of exploring current society, cinema writing on the Net, the audience, politics and film criticism, young cinephiles, being an academic in the universe of cinema and how that relates to normal people, & my personal favorite right now, commercialism & film criticism.


Someone like Adrian is obviously spectacularly gifted to be able to discuss all of these topics. The average writer (myself included) would fail spectacularly!

I think that this interview is a good example of what film critics can be asked to do or take on themselves. I can only speculate, because I am not in on that scene. But for one writer to even try to address the expanse that cinema is right now, well, no wonder the avant-garde still isn't being mentioned!

If any of you felt a particular sting when Adrian was discussing the internet and how it is "hard," you now have a glimpse of what it feels like to be an experimental film video/artist, curator, & writer! (No disrespect to Adrian :)

Thoughts on the blogosphere . . .

I hope that my science references are not getting repetitive . . . the great blogger, Clive Thompson, suggested in one of his posts that the scientific method is one of humanity's greatest achievements. I see online cinema writing as a vast network of specialized researchers that conduct studies much as geneticists are divided and sudivided into fields such as gene mapping, the study of the HIV virus, gene therapy, immunology, etc. with all scientists taking on often very tiny portions of the study.

(And let's just say that the HIV P.I. isn't asked to submit papers on cancer breakthroughs.)

I am a big believer in the precise observation, despite my writing style at this moment. The grand sweeping discoveries, i.e. the map of the human genome, are built on millions of tiny discoveries. So much patience the scientists possess . . . And science is collective! I definitely would describe making a film to be a lot like a scientific experiment. It is worth considering if an article is being published or not published, because the "data" is so truthful or if it is purely a prestigious person's opinion or if George Bush is against stem cell research. Right? I would like to see more precision with the real cinema. The people need to know! And please, please, please . . . more experimental cinema!!!!

:) Thanks. This is how I get back to poetry . . .

February 12, 2007 8:07 PM  
Anonymous Matthew said...

I have increasingly taken to posting short excerpts from various posts, articles, essays, and so on, for one quite simple reason: if I'm to have the time to write anything for publication (I'm sure some would say I should just stick to blogging and stop embarrassing myself!), I have to cut back my blogging immensely. So I understand and appreciate the necessity of a post like this one. I also think there's a lot to be said for quotation (I'm sure Godard would agree!). In fact, one of my favourite blogs, Voltaire's Monkey, consists exclusively of quotes. The form of the blog is well suited, not only to conversation, but also to quotation, collage, and, to riff off Adrian's suggestion, Eisensteinian montage (not to mention database logic, the aggregate becoming of ideas, and so on).

Meanwhile, in Aaron's first comment, he writes:

"There's such a contagious enthusiasm carrying through Martin's words that invigorates and stimulates the ways in which I think and look at criticism."

I agree entirely. This is something that I have always found refreshing about Adrian's work. While he doesn't limit the scope of his output to those films he personally enjoys, his is truly a criticism of enthusiasm. This doesn't mean that, like Tag Gallagher, he feels that "negative criticism is not useful". Nor is he strictly like music writer Gary Giddens, of whom Bordwell recently wrote that "you sense that if Giddins dislikes something, he’d rather not write about it". Or rather he is, only differently; along with his enthusiasm for specific filmic objects, which he writes about alongside those he's not so fond of, Adrian also has an enthusiasm, first and foremost, for cinema full stop--and, expressed in his very best pieces, this enthusiasm is very, very infectious.

February 13, 2007 12:50 AM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

Thanks for the reading suggestion of this interview Girish (I have to read it slowly now). A good opportunity to plunge again in the questions regarding film crit and blogs. Now i'm neck deep in Inland Empire and Ozu though. Since my Contempaltive Cinema blogathon I've started reading Deleuze Cinema 2, which also causes a serious pause in my writings. It's so dense and rich. Each page brings new ideas and so sophisticatedly formulated it's mind boggling. That's what I was afraid all the time I dared not open it... Getting into Deleuze puts into perspective the non-philosophical film writing which renders futile simple reviewing. I thought Bazin was a tough standard but this one is terribly inhibiting. Now I have to read Cinema 1, and Bergson. When will this end? :)

Your debate with Andy is interesting, definitely at the heart of particpatory productivity in the blogosphere. I have the feeling it is anarchic and amorphic because everybody consume web devices and opportunities negligently without appropriating their actual functions and natures. This default usage is popular but causes so much obstructions to the natural flow of thoughts. The net sociability suffers from being transposed from real world sociability without a proper adaptation to its specific form. And the blog tools aren't just yet facilitating to apprehend and overcome the issues of this new form of communication. Anyway, the blogger's dilemma remains, and the debate stales... except on this blog of course! ;)

Just a note on Adrian Martin's last quote : I guess he refered to phones only, but there is computer use in Mary, not for emails, but for watching videos or database searches. Which creates a dialog between the film image, and the monitor display, their own encapsulated times, a montage of 2 realities within the frame. Which is a form of inter-personal communication with the world, even if delayed in time (recording then replay).

February 13, 2007 1:10 AM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

Reading the mention of "silent film" reminded me of when I resaw Un Chien Andalou after a gap of about twenty years. It seemed to me that Dali and Bunuel had anticipated some of the thematic concerns of film seventy years in the future.

February 13, 2007 1:13 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Adrian's been having some trouble posting comments to our blogs on Blogger, so he sent this comment by email. I'm posting it below:

"Thanks, everyone, for your comments so far on the CINEMASCOPE/MIRADAS interview-piece - and thanks, Girish, for giving it such a generous mention! Jen, I hope you didn't think I was ignoring or marginalising experimental film - it's incredibly important and central to me. I did mention Tshcerkassky and also people like Weerasethakul (I'd class his stuff as experimental), and there are literally hundreds of others I could have just as easily mentioned in this regard. We publish a lot on experimental cinema in ROUGE ... I was even once (believe it or not!) the President of a group here in Melbourne devoted to programming, exhibiting, touring and discussing experimental film. For me, the key to 'spreading the word' about avant-garde cinema is teaching, in
universities and earlier: if young students get 'turned on' to Deren, Martin Arnold, Frampton's CRITICAL MASS, Tshcerkassky, the Kuchars, and/or plenty of other stuff, their minds are opened and usually stay open - I hope!!

"Harry, of course you're right about MARY, and the role of computers. I was just making an observation about the strict 'telecommunications system' in the film - it's like when Bill Krohn asked 'why are there no mobile phones in ELEPHANT?' - but your point broadens the matter out: Nicole B talks about this in her Ferrara book, images embedded or encrusted within other images thanks to TV screens, computers, etc ... and all the complex relations these create, of the kind you perceptively mention. MARY seems to me a very underrated film.


February 13, 2007 6:48 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks so much for your comments and ideas--Jen, Matthew, Harry, Peter and Adrian!

February 13, 2007 6:54 AM  
Anonymous jmac said...

Adrian! Thanks for reading my lengthy comments, and I think that your interview was quite revelatory! Many of your observations are so truthful that they easily include the consciousness of experimental film too. So I see the a-g references, and right on, & you talk about experimental cinema when you talk about poetry and new experiments . . . I know that these ideas apply to us. :) Your writing helped immensely!

I realize that so many of us are impassioned & participate in experimental cinema in what seems to be its own self-sufficient thriving ecosystem! I am grateful to be a part of this, and I want this cinema to be documented!

Thanks so much for all of your great thinking & writing & being! xo

February 13, 2007 10:35 AM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

"Why are there no mobile phones in ELEPHANT?"

Good question. What is the proposed answer? I don't remember more phones in Two thirty 7... was there?

February 13, 2007 1:32 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Finally had a chance to read the interview. Thanks so much for pointing to it, girish!

I've had Movie Mutations high on my to-read list for so long now it's embarrassing. But this interview finally spurred me to do what I'd been putting off for way to long: actually order that book online. I've never seen it in a bookstore or library shelf.

February 13, 2007 5:38 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Ah, Brian, that's what interlibrary loan is for. :-)

Incidentallly, you (all) might be interested in this story about Library Lookup, a bookmarklet which, once set up, will search your local library for a book from the major online vendors' pages (it hinges on a very clever bit of Javascript which parses the URL for an ISBN and then plugs it into the search engine at your local library). It works with, Barnes & Noble, and Powell's; I haven't tested it with others. The page for the bookmarklet project is here if you're interested.

February 13, 2007 6:36 PM  
Blogger girish said...

You're very welcome, Brian. And Tuwa, I'm an ILL hog, but I have to say: this one's a be personalized by writing in it, etc. (If, like me, that happens to be your habit...)

February 13, 2007 7:27 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Okay, I messed up and forgot to include in the samples above in the post one of my favorite bits, which promotes an ethos that I think would be great to try to aspire to. Here it is:

"For me, the truly political goal in film criticism is always to question received opinions, whether these opinions are conservative or progressive. For every cliché statement that comes easily to one’s mouth or one’s pen – for instance, if we say that films with an authoritarian style are bad, while films with a Bazinian, democratic style (like Kiarostami’s) are good; or that classical narrative is bad whilst fractured modernism is good – we need to stop and try to think the exact opposite position: aren’t there some good authoritarian films (Haneke’s for example), aren’t there some good classical narrative films (maybe several thousand)? It is only through constant dialectics, back and forth, that we can finally think freely and clearly. We have to constantly question the reflex distinctions we make between forms, styles, eras, tendencies – partly because, as I said, before, all cinema is in the present. I like what Michel Foucault said about thinking: he said what ‘what I say is not necessarily what I think, but rather what might be thought’ in any given situation, conjuncture, crossroads."

Can I ramble self-indulgently for a bit...?
There are certain kinds of films that I think of as 'cinephilic casualties' in my life. Before I became a cinephile, I used to see these films in the theater with some regularity, and enjoy many of them. But in the last few years, while trying to catch up with old and new 'masterworks' and 'master filmmakers', my intake of these has been dropping off.

I'm speaking here of Hollywood multiplex fare in (traditionally considered 'low') genres like romantic comedies and teen films. And yet these are genres I really enjoy! Just because these genres don't get written and talked about by cinephiles as much as certain other kinds of cinema, I tend to unconsicously push them away come viewing decision time. I need to take the opposite tack and try to recapture the affinity I had for them back when...perhaps I'll find there will be new things to say about some of them (both 'old' and 'new' films) now....

February 13, 2007 8:11 PM  
Anonymous Adrian said...

Hey, this is the first time in my life I have garnered more attention than Stanley Cavell, evem though we are both in that same issue of CINEMASCOPE!!

Harry, about Bill Krohn's piece on ELEPHANT: he was pointing to the way Van Sant deliberately withdrew a highly realistic element - high school kids carrying around mobile phones - from the film (and from the actual event). Why? His answer, and also that of Stéphane Delorme's in a recent CAHIERS, has to do with the way he makes that school a kind of 'isle of catastrophe', figuratively and poetically speaking - a zone cut off from the world, 'delimited' for his cinematic investigation.

February 13, 2007 8:52 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Adrian, I've noticed your Cinemascope piece reverberating in several other places in the blogosphere today...! (And yay--you licked the Blogger commenting snafu.)

February 13, 2007 9:12 PM  
Blogger girish said...

-- Mark your calendars: Brian Darr announces a Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors Blog-A-Thon on March 21.
-- Today: Lucas McNelly is hosting a Lovesick Blog-A-Thon.

Silent but scary snowstorm in progress...

February 14, 2007 9:24 AM  
Blogger Gareth said...

girish -

Your comment on "cinephilic casualties" resonates especially strongly for me, since I've always thought it important to see and think about all kinds of films - and to be honest about admitting that most of us like things that are 'low', too (hence why my online diary includes everything, not just the things that make me 'look good'!).

That's what I find refreshing about Adrian Martin's writing - and what I sometimes find off-putting about those who are insistently highbrow (partly because I don't always believe they completely ignore other things, just that they don't admit to it!).

I remember when I first started to think about cinema, I read a few books about French cinema whose titles implied a complete look at that country's production. Of course, there wasn't even the barest mention of some of the biggest stars and hardest-working directors, like Louis de Funès or Claude Zidi (to give just two examples, both of them a little outdated now), and many of the writers were either unaware of, or uninterested in, the country's 'popular' cinema production, without which no comprehensive portrait is, well, comprehensive.

Your comments also came to mind when reading Kristin Thompson's latest blog entry, where she writes in particular about a new book by Shilo T. McClean, Digital Storytelling: The Narrative Power of Visual Effects in Film:

"One thing that I particularly like about McClean’s book is that she shows respect for the films she discusses. She actually seems to enjoy both watching and writing about them. McClean asks questions of aesthetic import, and she treats films as artworks — some good, some bad, but all to be taken seriously as evidence for her case."

February 14, 2007 10:35 AM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Gareth, you should call for a lowbrow film blogathon. I'd be there.

February 14, 2007 11:46 AM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Ah, this contrarianism blogathon would have allowed it. Right.

February 14, 2007 2:22 PM  
Anonymous Matthew said...

I thought I might add this here seeing as so many people read Girish's blog:

I was hoping that in addition to all the other blog-a-thons going on, we might find time for a Simpsons Blog-A-Thon sometime in early June.

February 14, 2007 7:47 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

How could anyone make a word out of these lousy letters?

Thanks for the notice, Matthew.

February 14, 2007 8:13 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you--Gareth, Tuwa and Matthew.

Matthew--Great idea. And glad you posted a link here.

Gareth--I agree completely with what you say. And I meant to link to Kristin Thompson's post but forgot; so thanks for doing that.

If I might add a couple of thoughts:

-- I've never understood the phrase "guilty pleasures." If something gives us pleasure, we should be only too happy to admit it! And what's more important, it sets before us the 'critical task' of examining the work and our response to it side by side in order to try and figure out why....So, I don't think I've ever felt embarrassed or guilty about what I've seen or liked...

-- Aaron spoke about the "contagious enthusiasm" in Adrian's piece, and here I must admit that my 'immune system' is extremely weak! I'm very susceptible to such contagious enthusiasms about films and filmmakers when it emanates from cinephiles/critics I read/respect. (And there are so many of them in both the print and online worlds.) So, my viewing tends to be more than a little influenced by these enthusiasms for specific films and filmmakers, thus unintentionally crowding out those films or genres I've always enjoyed (like teen films) that are not spoken/written about quite as much in cinephile circles....

Related: here's a 2-part thread on "Invisible Comedy" at A_Film_By that makes for interesting reading: part 1 and part 2.

February 14, 2007 9:43 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Some links:
-- Andy Rector on Luc Moullet.
-- Andy Horbal on Barbara Rubin's Christmas On Earth and on film criticism.
-- Chris Cagle on classicism and Only Angels Have Wings.
-- Ignatius at Sounds, Images posts a brief interview he did with Andrew Bujalski which ends with this exchange:

Q: "A friend of mine once said that at a certain economic level, every movie becomes a documentary: i.e., with a low enough budget, filmmakers rely on places they actually know and the day jobs of their actors for material. Do you feel that there's a documentary aspect to your films, that in a way you're portraying the lives of people you know in a fictional manner? And is this your primary interest, or, as the friend suggested, a question of economics?"

AB: "Most good fiction films borrow some energy from documentary, just as the reverse is also true. Which doesn't mean necessarily that I am "fictionalizing" my friends' lives, on the contrary, I'd more likely say they're "documentarizing" my made-up story. I sort of agree with your friend but think he's looking at it backwards—it takes a lot of money to bleed everything resembling life out of a film."

February 14, 2007 10:12 PM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

Thanks for the answer Adrian. On a more general note, filmmakers seem unable to incorporate the spirit of the generation overwhelmed by the mobile phone ubiquity (SMS, MMS, Chat, Internet access, MP3, video feed) into pertinent filmic narration devices. Sometimes a mobile phone would unlock the suspense too quickly, sometimes they just don't know how to create a screen tension by showing 2 people talking to a phone instead of being in the same frame. The traditional narration seems unable to catch up with new social modes of communication. Well I've seem little attempt at portraying this generation with appropriate screen adaptation.

The consumption of films and commentary of films don't have to match. Like girish said earlier, I have no problem to admit the silly fun I watch, but my priorities for cinema history often make me reconsider going for the easy impulse of a disposable blockbuster. That's why I don't watch TV anymore. There is no shame for a critic to enjoy watching films that don't hold the test of serious analysis. Either your review says it's fun, it's socially relevant or it's a great artistic achievement... The success to give fun to the audience (with push-button ropes) is not necessarily admirable. We can fall for it and still be aware of its limitations in term of originality and creativity.
I think that the selection of reviews has less to do with guilt, than with exposition. Some films just don't need MORE publicity/recommendations... The highbrow is minoritary and despised in our culture, not to mention financial subsistence for production and distribution! So when you pick a film to talk about it's a political choice : do you 1) support taste variety (by helping to promote the underexposed)? or 2) follow the consensual establishment (by repeating generalities on ubiquitous movies)?
As far as I'm concerned entertainment doesn't need criticism... either you like it or not, nobody needs long speeches.

February 15, 2007 3:37 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Harry. Shall try to respond a bit when I get home from school this evening...

February 15, 2007 7:14 AM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Oddly enough, around Christmas I found myself wanting to move in the opposite direction: I almost never watch TV, but someone had Season One of The Sopranos lying around, and OMG was that ever good. I've heard Season Two is even better and that the series is still going strong....

February 15, 2007 10:28 AM  
Anonymous jmac said...

Harry! I think that we actually agree on something. :) Your comment on entertainment not needing much criticism is very insightful.

February 15, 2007 11:10 AM  
Anonymous bradluen said...

Harry, if I may respectfully disagree: Is "Singin' in the Rain" just entertainment? If so, does that mean it's futile to think or write about it?

If not, then how is it different from the hundreds of merely entertaining (if that) MGM musicals, aside from simply being better? (Don't you need criticism not just of art but of entertainment to answer that last question?)

February 15, 2007 3:05 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Harry and I disagree strongly on the way we view the high art/low art divide. (We've talked about this before, and put our respective biases, as Adrian advised, upfront!) So I'll be a bystander on this topic but everyone should please feel welcome to take it up if they feel like it ...

February 15, 2007 3:54 PM  
Blogger Gareth said...

Harry -

I agree that one doesn't have to comment on exactly what one consumes, but I can't personally accept the dichotomy that you're using (which is, I'm sure, a simplification born of the comment format), since I think it's part of the problem. By saying that entertainment doesn't need criticism, you imply that those things you do deem worthy of criticism aren't entertainment, which they're perfectly capable of being (to give an example of a 'highbrow' filmmaker I admire, Sembène clearly constructs many of his films to be accessible, funny, and entertaining but in the West they're seen as a highbrow niche product). If we want to militate on behalf of highbrow art, well, we're not going to get very far if we establish it as irredeemably in opposition to 'entertainment'.

Similarly, you posit two different political choices, but that's again pretty reductionist, since it doesn't allow for alternative comment on mainstream film, and, less likely but not irrelevant, it may imply that the underexposed is always worth unearthing. Often true, but not always.

There's also my choice, presumably political too, to take each film as it comes and assess it on its merits, however different those merits may be. It also presumes that entertainment can have worth, intelligence and social value as part of what makes it tick, rather than being something to be dismissed.

There are, of course - and perhaps you agree - consensual establishment positions around highbrow artworks, too, which is why I enjoy the work of those who tweak the accepted version of highbrow criticism, too (as with David Bordwell suggesting that perhaps, just perhaps, there's a hint of pretention in Tarr's work).

February 15, 2007 4:15 PM  
Anonymous jmac said...

Touché, braudluen!

I will let Harry answer your question in his own way, but I thought that he was referring to the ubiquitous, contemporary, self explanatory entertainment, such as the film, "Music and Lyrics." Just here in NY, this movie was reviewed in the NYT, the Village Voice, and the Metro, as well as I'm sure many other newspapers that I don't read. Are film reviews of this nature really supposed to illuminate cinema or are they just part of the publicity machine? If they are supposed to illuminate cinema, what exactly would they be informing me on? Does the Village Voice really have to review this film? Really? Because there are two very awesome avant-garde cinematic events happening at Diapason this week & neither of those is being documented.

P.S. I'm in experimental cinema, and lately the chip on my shoulder has become very heavy. :)

February 15, 2007 4:29 PM  
Blogger Zach Campbell said...

Jen, I heard that Olivia Block thing at Diapason is really great ... maybe I should sit down & work out a trip to actually see (i.e., hear) it.

February 15, 2007 6:47 PM  
Anonymous jmac said...

Thank god,someone from New York. :) Hi Zach, thanks for the tip on Olivia Bach's sound installation. I was referring to a performance on Tues. by Bradley Eros & Andy Lampert & tomorrow Fred Worden will be giving a seminar on sound & motion in film as part of my friend Nisi's Eye Ear Art series. I've only seen one of his films, but it was so beautiful. Tiny blinking stars at night.

Don't hate the media, become the media! :)

February 15, 2007 8:04 PM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

I posit "entertainment" as an audience response (nature of the film mechanics), not as a genre (list of lowbrow content films). I don't think there is a lot to argue about "audience response".
Well, nevermind, Kael is too deeply rooted in the zeitgeist by now that we can't even question "fun"...

February 15, 2007 8:35 PM  
Blogger girish said...

-- Chris Cagle responds to Kristin Thompson's 'contrarian' post on post-classicism.
-- Nick Rombes at Digital Poetics:

"An article in the February 8, 2007 issue of Nature explains how Lene Hau, a professor of physics at Harvard, has managed to stop light, move it to another spot, and send it on its way. [...] This process involves making a "meta-copy"--an exact duplicate of the original light pulse. Apparently, there is no generation loss in the copy, which corresponds exactly to the original. In this regard, it is like digital copying versus analog: if done under certain conditions (i.e., no compression) there is no degradation or loss between copies.

The loss of the aura has been so long a part of reproduction that we will need a new language to talk about the vanishing gap between original and copy. To Jean Baudrillard, we could turn to the idea of the simulacra. To DJ Spooky we could turn to the idea of the sample. Yet the fast-approaching disappearance of this gap is almost overwhelming; theory is barely able to keep up. For it is not only digital data that can be replicated without generation loss, but now light itself. The very essence of the universe. It is as if digital systems--the cold binaries of 0's and 1's--only hint at an even greater capacity for reducing the world to its twin, its double."

February 15, 2007 9:50 PM  
Blogger Noel Vera said...

"the vanishing gap between original and copy"

Ho, does he mean what he's saying? I'll reserve judgement regarding that light experiment, and admit we're closing the gap, but for perfect one-on-one correspondence, I'd like to see someone irrevocably revoke Heisenberg's uncertainty principle first. Then we can talk perfection.

February 16, 2007 3:12 AM  
Blogger Joshua said...

What an interesting confluence of events. Not to self-promote too much, but I've written a rather pretentious bit about the impossibility of "writing on film" at my blog.

I've been reading, of late, some essays by the New Critics (whose focus was literature) and while much of their critical rigor is now dated and dogmatic, I am deeply struck by what they term the "two fallacies." The first, and perhaps the most contentious, is called the intentional fallacy, which is committed whenever a reader or critic discusses what an artist "intended" to achieve. The work of art must be judged as it is, without references to the authorial power of intent. This theory, of course, comes from all those psychoanalytic readings that were already so popular, and remains important to deconstruction and other modes. But the other fallacy is of more importance in this discussion -- the effective fallacy is the fallacious belief that a work of art can be understood by its effects (emotional and intellectual) upon the audience.

Martin makes this point in his answer to the second question posted here, about "taste."

The problem with this notion, to me, is complex but the gist is: how can literature or film be understood outside of its effects? It's one thing to decry a work of art (like Schindler's List) that achieves its effects through acts of bad faith and crude manipulation [question: is art ever in "good faith"?] but quite another to ponder a work of art (like 2001) in dry, cold, distanced terms. The film exists, to the extent it exists at all, in a language of emotion. Perhaps film is less subject to the effective fallacy than literature, but even so, is it possible, necessary, desirable to "go beyond personal taste"? Can there be, as the New Critics believed, an "objective" measure of the greatness of art that is free of the creator's will and the audience's reaction? If it's true that art only exists in those splintered, explosive moments when the audience and artist meet [and it is true] then how can either fallacy be fallacious? How can art transcend its audience?

But looked at from another angle, can art ever not transcend its audience? Which is to say, can art be "understood" in any sense? Art, like religion, is a piercing through and beyond ourselves, a means of banishing the "world" and the "self" and "time." Which is why, in the end, criticism is the great impossible task of art. Art is itself impossible, impossible to read, to control, to integrate. It is other than us, but also of us. Criticism is only one way of saying, "I don't understand."

February 16, 2007 3:27 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Hey, Joshua and Noel.
Josh, thanks for posting that link to your post and for taking the time to set down your thoughts here.

At Jim Emerson's: The Contrarianism Blog-A-Thon.

February 16, 2007 6:50 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Via Carsten Czarnecki at A_Film_By: a new English-language Jacques Rivette website.

February 16, 2007 9:38 AM  
Blogger girish said...

I just ordered "Postcards from the Cinema" by Serge Daney. It comes out in about a month. I'm wondering: is this the same book I've heard about that's called "Cinema in Transit"? And am I correct in assuming that this newly released book will be the one and only English language book of Daney's writings available?

And since I brought up Daney, I should post a reminder for those who're not aware of it, to Steve Erickson's site.

February 16, 2007 9:44 AM  
Blogger Filipe Furtado said...

Postcards is not Cinema in Transit, a collection of articles (mostly from the 80's) that BFI did in the ealy 90's that for some reason never got published.

February 16, 2007 11:57 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Filipe, for that info.

February 16, 2007 2:24 PM  
Blogger girish said...

At the blog Serge Daney in English, there's an interview with the translator of the Daney book, "Postcards from the Cinema".

February 16, 2007 7:20 PM  
Anonymous acquarello said...

Regarding Heisenberg's uncertainty principle and duplicating light, that's true if you're trying to predict every particle's position and momentum for every instant within that finite burst of light, but for all practical purposes, to duplicate it, all you need to do (in theory) is to get the momentum cloud right because you're still essentially working with a continuum of photons (even if it's finite), so basically, there's still a boundary condition that you can integrate over to define its behavior (the wave part of light).

An interesting extrapolation of the implications of this Harvard experiment though is that if this can be done with photons, which have particle physics as well as wave properties, does this then also hold true for pure particle physics phenomena, like matter? That would suggest a kind of teleportation of matter, which is theoretically possible (the infamous E=mc^2), but with some serious challenges to the first and third laws of thermodynamics (conservation of energy and entropy).

Anyway, on a film-related note, I ran through a few press screenings for the Rendez-vous with French Cinema program (Xavier Giannoli's The Singer is a stand out for me, although Bruno Dumont's Flanders wasn't as bad as I dreaded), and starting on Film Comment Selects tomorrow, so I'm exercising my little grey cells with some quantum theory. ;)

February 16, 2007 11:05 PM  
Blogger Noel Vera said...

Teleportation is implied, certainly. Does this mean we have to be careful about letting in contaminate matter--like houseflies--into our proposed telepods?

I'll wait for the next Harvard experiment involved in duplicating matter to find out.

February 17, 2007 12:45 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Acquarello, it somtimes slips my mind that you're a brainiac physicist...

Thanks for the Rendez-vous recs; and I look forward to your FCS takes.

February 17, 2007 9:13 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Avant-garde cinema:

-- Michael Sicinski posts links to two films that can be viewed on-line (Jennifer Reeves' Light Work I and Martha Colburn's Destiny Manifesto) and has excellent write-ups on both. [Scroll down just a tad]

-- At Expanded Cinema, Joao Ribas has posted a link to a 1970 structrural film by Owen Land called Remedial Reading Comprehension.

Also on the Interweb:

-- Darren has a post on his top 20 favorite films.

-- At Andy Horbal's place: Lists and canons.

-- Jonathan Rosenbaum blogs about Jack Webb's Pete Kelly's Blues.

February 17, 2007 9:13 AM  
Blogger girish said...

David Bordwell blogs about Matthew Barney's Cremaster.

February 17, 2007 10:50 AM  
Anonymous jmac said...

Martha Colburn, Jennifer Reeves, & physics . . . this site is hot!!!


February 17, 2007 11:48 AM  
Blogger phyrephox said...

Wow I sure came in on the tail-end of this discussion. Nothing personal to add but a big thanks to Girish for drawing my (and everyone else's) attention to this fabulous, eloquent, and deeply insightful interview.

February 17, 2007 4:43 PM  
Anonymous jim emerson said...

There's so much to talk about here (and I know I'm coming in late after a looooooong couple weeks for me), but I was particularly gratified by the discussion of so-called "older" films. One of my early film teachers, Richard T. Jameson, always used to say that film is in the eternal present-tense. To me, there's no such thing as an "old film" -- a movie plays before your eyes (and ears) just as it did when it was first shown. The film is that experience (though context -- your own age and experience, and the larger context of social and cultural history -- may shape and re-shape your perceptions over time), whether it's a silent, a black-and-white noir, a European "art film" of the 1960s, a vintage Hollywood CinemaScope spectacular, or a CGI-enhanced high-def video feature of the 2000s.

Sure, some films feel "dated" more than others (and my theory has always been that films that are only about 10 or 15 years old look the most "dated" of all -- if only because we're not sufficiently removed from them to see them afresh again). But I've been watching early-'60s (pre-"Blow Up") Antonioni recently (stimulated to do so by "Climates") and these films don't seem "old" to me at all. I can only imagine what "L'Avventura" must have seemed like in 1960 (I was two when it was booed at Cannes), but it's a distinctive vision that (at least in retrospect!) seems ageless.

Movies are always rooted in the time and place in which they were made and first seen -- I'm fond of repeating that movies are never created or shown in a vacuum -- but in some ways I think they're less about transporting you back into a certain time than they are about bringing that time into the present (which is whenever you're watching them). They're portals. You go into their world and they come into yours.

It's funny -- just last week I watched and re-watched and examined parts of Altman's "Nashville" (for a piece I wrote for a German film magazine -- for free, just for the joy and challenge of doing it!) and, although it is very much set in 1975, on the eve of the American Bicentennial, it is also completely in the present-tense, as fresh and exciting and rich and layered and ALIVE to me now as it was when I first saw it 32 years ago!

February 17, 2007 6:44 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you, all, for the words.

Jim, your Contrarian Blog-A-Thon is a great success!

And Harry, you put us all to shame the way you write furiously in a language that is not your own. It inspires me to take my (elementary) French studies seriously!

Anyway, I can't resist quoting the opening from Harry's 'contrarian' post on Manohla Dargis' review of Inland Empire (brilliantly titled "Outlandish Dargis Empire"):

"I'm a contrarian all year round on this blog, thus for the fun of participating in Jim Emerson's Contrarianism blogathon at Scanners, I'll make it an exercice of style. Following up on Andy Horbal's initiative to study the buzz generated by Manhola Dargis NYT review of INLAND EMPIRE, I've decided to take the aggressive detractor approach and give a detailed reader's feedback.

"This is a gameplay of course, as Dargis is a great critic and my tentative analysis is pretensious. Nitpicky mode intentionally exaggerated. For the fun of being contrarian, at least let's not bash a little helpless reviewer, let's go for the best and see where it takes us. Why not? Keep in mind I'm not familiar with american TV culture and English is a second language, this should relativize my following remarks, but what any reader gets from a review says something about the writer. Moreover I happen to share Dargis opinion that INLAND EMPIRE is a masterpiece, and I have nothing but respect for her critiques."

And then he takes the review apart.

Great work, Harry.
(Makes me wish I had joined in and done a post on The Departed!)

February 18, 2007 7:32 AM  
Anonymous jmac said...

I just checked out Harry's post on Manohla Dargis's review of INLAND EMPIRE, and I honestly appreciate his passion for language and what seems to be a call for more experimental writing and POETRY. I feel a wave of anger when reading many RESPECTABLE movie reviews in print or on the Net. There is such CONFORMITY in writing movie reviews, and furthermore, most people seem to ACCEPT this PROSAIC approach to WRITING a review. It's horrible!!!

Here's where I'm confused & this is just on the subject of Harry's critique of language: Manohla Dargis's review was the first step in introducing some CREATIVITY to the NYT movie section. I mean they have to start somewhere! I think that if Manohla Dargis really wrote an entirely poetic review of INLAND EMPIRE, the NYT would never publish it. Or maybe the greater question is, if a super illustrious film critic started writing symbolist poetry on cinema, would the NYT start publishing it?

So again, I think that I actually agree with Harry. As a poetic document her writing could have been improved greatly, but as a movie review in an utterly conformist forum, it was a wild, tiny step in a creative direction.

As always, thanks for the discussion. :)

February 18, 2007 12:15 PM  
Anonymous jmac said...

P.S. I actually think that Manohla Dargis's review of INLAND EMPIRE was beautiful.

February 18, 2007 8:19 PM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

Thanks for the good words Girish! You're too good. :)

Your blog is also featured at Scanners blogathon, with this very post.

I can only encourage you to speak more French. I owe most of my English to watching so many american movies with French subtitles.

Speaking of Stéphane Delorme and Inland Empire, his latest article Une Femme Mariée (not yet translated in English on the website) is a great analysis of the film!

I thought the NYT was quite the elitist cultural institution in the USA... so if even there they have to compromise what they really think to make sure the reader's taste will feel flattered and not left out, then there is no more cultural liberty but the one dictated by the majority opinion. Then maybe the only space of freestyle cultural liberty will be on the web.
Please point me to the creativity I missed in Dargis' review.

Regarding my earlier comment, to clarify, I didn't mean to open a low/highbrow controversy. Adrian Martin's interview deals with the responsability of a critic, so I thought that "guilty pleasure" wasn't an ethical priority as far as the role of a critical coverage. Nobody should feel ashamed to like and talk about lowbrow, though it only adds a drop in the ocean. If cinephiles prefer to films that everybody talks about, then nobody will defend the underexposed (which often happens to be the highbrow, or the experimental as jmac notes).

February 19, 2007 2:29 AM  
Anonymous jmac said...

Harry, I think that a lot of what you are saying is true. I was trying to point out that Manohla Dargis's review of INLAND EMPIRE is much different than normal film criticism. Some of the things I noticed about her review were an attention to language, the sound of the words, an emotional current running beneath the piece, an urgency to the writing . . . I want to see more of that. This is cinema! :)

February 19, 2007 9:10 AM  
Anonymous jim emerson (real name, no alias) said...

Andy Horbal has a quote from Gilles Deleuze at the top of his blog: "The cinema is always as perfect as it can be." Dennis Cozzalio has this one from Pauline Kael: "Great movies are rarely perfect movies." I can find truth in interpretations of both of those. This weekend I added one from Daniel Dennett to the top of my blog: "There's nothing I like less than bad arguments for a view that I hold dear." This is always true for me, and yet the reverse ("I dislike good arguments for views I do not hold dear") is not true for me. Probably because I am, by temperament, a liberal (which today includes elements of traditional American conservative philosophy, now that "conservative" has ceased to represent anything coherent, at least within the Republican party), I prize an argument that can open me to a new way of seeing above all others.

I'm not sure what would constitute a "great" review (and, besides, in the case of Manohla Dargis's "Inland Empire" review, as Harry noted, that was something OTHER people said about it, not a claim she was making herself), but is there even such a thing as a "perfect" review -- or, if not a "review" (written on deadline for a newspaper or magazine), then a "perfect" piece of film criticism? Isn't criticism (like any film) always a matter of figuring out what to put in and what to leave out and how to shape the piece and preferring either to grasp for more than you can reach or settle for something less ambitious but more precise?

Some thoughts to consider in this discussion that has begun between jmac and Harry Tuttle...

February 19, 2007 7:58 PM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

Hi Jim, thanks for the feedback.
I guess the "alias" comment was for me. Touché ;) I don't feel being deceiving in any way. My (totally anonymous) real name would sound as indifferent to you as my alias.
First the nature of "perfection" in cinema and in literature aren't dealing with the same issues. The "perfection" of style is different from the perfection of an argument. I know I may hold too high standards in either case anyway.
I'm not the one suggesting there is such a thing as a "perfect review" though. Although given the hurry and the readership-pleasing factor, the weekly review is automatically disavantaged when compared to a longer monthly essay. But as far as cinema reflexion, all we care about is the ideas brought forth, not the format they take, or else we just ignore newspapers (based on their flawed compromises). Note that the press does ignore the blogosphere upon format consideration instead of content (which is relevant to Adrian Martin's interview above).
I agree with you about "what to put in and what to leave out" being the evidence that singles out a good reviewer from the crowd who saw the same film. It's difficult to say what should be the best arguments for a given film (possibilities are unlimited), however we can judge authors for their arguable choices to highlight this aspect of the film instead of that one, their recurrent propension to resort to fallacies, the spectrum of their style.
I know I was very nitpicky in my exercice of style, and I apologized for it, the point to go overboard was also to ridicule my vain exercice. But I think it serves as an exemple about decisions made when choosing a word or constructing a review format. That's why I picked a respectable critic above suspicion.

February 19, 2007 8:42 PM  
Anonymous jim emerson said...

Hi Harry -- No, I didn't mean to single you out as somebody using an alias, since the majority of bloggers probably do that (jmac, too -- but not girish!). Just pointing out that some of us do and some don't.

And I do understand your effort to both mount a "contrarian" argument AND mock the act of doing so at the same time, since that's really what the Contrarianism Blog-a-Thon was all about. The germ of the idea came to me when I was criticizing certain critics for simply adopting contrarian poses, but not actually mustering legitimate contrarian arguments to support them. That's been the tricky (and, I hope, risky & challenging) thing about this whole exercise!

February 19, 2007 11:07 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Harry, Jen, Jim -- Merci beaucoup!

February 20, 2007 7:52 AM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

The way I understood it was "you're a coward if you criticize a the reputation of a celebrity without putting in line your real name". Didn't you mention that someone stole your real name to attack Rosenbaum on his blog? "real names" don't mean more than aliases online. ;)

re: Adrian Martin's interview, I finally finished reading it. It is fantastic. I hope this thought-provoking dialog will affect the blogosphere as much as Bordwell's Against Insight, not too long ago, with lots of similar bouncing discussions.

February 20, 2007 2:51 PM  
Anonymous jim emerson said...

Hi Harry: I think you're reading into it more than I intended. Although "identity theft" is indeed a problem with online posting -- but somebody can steal your alias just as easily as your real name! What bothered me was not that somebody posted what I'd written at Jonathan Rosenbaum's blog, but that they pretended to me when they did it (instead of saying: "jim emerson wrote this...")

I don't think there's any question some people make outlandish flame posts (like stuff at Slate's The Fray, which used to get really NASTY) that they wouldn't write if they had to sign their real names to them. But then, how would you verify that they are, in fact, using their real names, anyway? And even if somebody IS writing under his/her real name, doesn't a lot of writing involve creating a kind of alternate identity for oneself?

Anyway, that WOULD make for an interesting discussion: Do people write differently if they're using their own names? Do they hide behind their anonymity on the web -- and, if so, why? To protect their own privacy, or to get away with things they wouldn't otherwise say/do? Whaddaya think?

February 20, 2007 5:48 PM  

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