Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Films: Evaluation & Value

Here’s a question I’ve been thinking about lately: How stable (or unstable) is our personal evaluation of a film over time?

Let me share three recent anecdotal examples:

(1) No Country for Old Men. This much-loved film didn’t really work for me; I resonated with Andrew Tracy, Dave Kehr, and J. Hoberman’s reservations about it. I’ve read widely on the film but honestly, I doubt that seeing it again will change my mind.

(2) Zodiac. I watched it late one night on DVD and found it a worthy film, no more. But in the months since, I’ve become convinced that I underrated it. I need to see it again, preferably on the big screen.

(3) I’m Not There. Despite my initial positive response, I suspected the film of being a bit ‘academic’; what it seemed to need was some evidence of inadvertence, some mystery that emerged despite Haynes’ (strong) intentionality and knowingness. (On the other hand, his masterpiece, Safe, is designed with no less care and control but I didn’t have these reservations about it.)

But as time passed, I read Larry Gross’s persuasive, ‘Deleuzian’ essay on it in Film Comment, and also the many other attempts by bloggers and critics to come to grips with the film. I steadily warmed to it, and now consider it a strong film. I also suspect I’ll get more out of it when I see it a second time.

Thus, three different evaluation outcomes resulted: (1) Accepting that due to taste differences, my evaluation of the Coens film is likely not to change; (2) Guessing that alternate viewing conditions will upgrade my evaluation of the Fincher film; and (3) Gaining a deeper and more nuanced appreciation of the Haynes film thanks to a good amount of thoughtful, persuasive reading (to which I was favorably inclined to begin with).

* * *

I find that the ‘value’ of a film (and by this I mean not some ‘objective value’ but a subjective determination of the value to a particular viewer) is a complex, mutating entity. Let’s say that on a given day, I watch a film, think about it, and arrive at a determination of its ‘value’. As time passes, my thoughts of this film don’t stay fixed but are instead joined with all the discourse (watching, talking, writing), both about this film and cinema in general, that I encounter from then on.

Especially when one takes this longitudinal view, a film is not a stable, static entity that stands apart from the flow of discourse but instead something that becomes enmeshed in this discourse, fused with it. What results is a sort of dynamic film-field, a mobile conglomeration of accumulating events revolving around this film (and, for an auteurist, its filmmaker). How could this constantly shifting, building, elaborating mass of film watching/writing/talking/thought not influence our evaluation of a film as time passes?

* * *

I’m wondering: Does your evaluation of a film change over time? Are there examples of ‘revisionist evaluation’ of films or filmmakers in your viewing history? And what might’ve caused or catalyzed these revisions? I think our stories might make for interesting sharing and reading.

* * *


-- There's a new issue of Cinema Scope.

-- The Contemplatve Blogathon 2008.

-- Brian Darr invites a number of Bay Area bloggers and cinephiles to weigh in on their favorite repertory/revival screenings of the year.

-- Matt Zoller Seitz on Paul Thomas Anderson in the NYT.

-- Ed Halter on "The Year in Experimental Cinema" in the Voice.

-- 'Quiet Bubble' Walter on his favorite comics of 2007.

-- Ben, formerly of Whine-Colored Sea, has a new blog, 2.35:1.

-- Thom Ryan on WW II films and didactic cinema at Film of the Year.

-- David Bordwell has posted a new essay on his site called "The Hook: Scene Transitions in Classical Cinema".

-- There's a new issue of Film Quarterly with four of its pieces online.

pic: part of Kapaleeshwarar Temple in Mylapore, Chennai.


Blogger Ignatius Vishnevetsky said...

It's hard. After all, the movie on the screen is only the film; the other half is in the viewer's head. Movies are like people: they're difficult to judge, and they age at roughly the same speed. Time and circumstance changes a film; it can change the memory of a film, too. What seemed weak becomes striking. The top 10 of 2007 will be different in 2008 or 2017.
It's important to treat reviews not as absolutes, but as impressions. The key, I think, is not to treat your first impression lazily because you realize you'll think differently in a year, but to embrace it as part of a process. I'm a big fan of being wrong. There was a movie I saw on Friday and it's been as many different films to me as I've had conversations about it.

January 09, 2008 3:56 AM  
Blogger Ignatius Vishnevetsky said...

In short: I think the middle section of your post is completely spot on.

January 09, 2008 3:58 AM  
Blogger bradluen said...

With the proviso that I do relatively little repeat viewing (about 20% of my total):

(1) I think most people have key critics their tastes correlate especially highly with; if enough of them think a movie sucks (especially if critics from warring camps agree), then you're probably not going to give the movie another chance. "No Country" is an extreme case for me: Hoberman calling it the most overrated movie of the year and Charles Taylor calling it the worst makes me feel unhealthily smug in not yet seeing it. (I will see it eventually, if only out of respect for Javier Bardem.)

This doesn't mean that critics whose tastes don't correlate strongly with yours are worthless - I still love reading Kent Jones even though I think he's way off target a lot of the time.

(2) If enough key critics (sometimes even one) really like a movie I wasn't crazy about, I usually feel like I need to give the movie another chance. As far as I can recall, this has worked for me precisely once, with Cuaron's nutball version of "Great Expectations", but I keep trying. "Zodiac" is the obvious case for me this year: I didn't get through it on DVD. On one hand, Amy Taubin, who's usually right, is part of the chorus for it; on the other, I have no shortage of reasons to think "Zodiac" was much better when it was "Memories of Murder", the most telling being that "Memories of Murder" didn't have Jake Gyllenhaal in it. Maybe it'll look better in five years.

(3) If I like a movie and enough key critics really, really like it, I'm pretty easily persuaded it's great. I suspected "Yi Yi" was great when I first saw it, even though I slept through about fifteen minutes of it. By the time I saw it again I'd read a ton of prose gushing over it; after my second viewing (which I stayed awake throughout), I knew it was great.

I projected "I'm Not There" at about tenth in my year-end list when I first saw it, with similar reservations about overdetermination, a problem I never felt with "Safe" because of Julianne Moore. After reading very different takes on the film from Hoberman and Stephanie Zacharek, among others, it had moved up to sixth by the listmaking time. With both Hoberman and Zacharek, among others, naming it movie of the year, I suspect after another viewing, I'll be kicking myself for placing it that low.

My practical solution: spend most of my repeating viewing time on the type (3)s.

January 09, 2008 5:30 AM  
Blogger Jon Hastings said...

You wrote:

"Does your evaluation of a film change over time? Are there examples of ‘revisionist evaluation’ of films or filmmakers in your viewing history? And what might’ve caused or catalyzed these revisions?"

Of course! Actually, I think a lot of critics/buffs get caught up by not changing their minds or "sticking to their guns". As if everyone has to defend to the death their first impressions. But why shouldn't we change our minds? I mean, don't we change our opinions about other things in life (politics for example) as time passes?

Here's a couple of personal examples (for some reason, a lot of them involve my brother):

(1) I first saw Fargo in a NYC movie theater and I got angry by what I saw as a sophisticated NY audience laughing at a bunch of hicks (I'm from hicksville, myself). I thought the movie was condescending and mean-spirited. Watching it later, at home with my brother (who was a big fan of the movie), it was a completely different experience. The laugh moments seemed genuinely funny and not condescending at all. What changed beside lack of audience? At that point I was a few years older and a lot less sensitive about my background. Also, at that time, I wasn't living in a big city, so I didn't have any Les Cousins-style baggage.

(2) My brother and I saw Lost Highway in (a different) NYC theater on its opening weekend. (He had made a special trip to the city just to see it). We walked out thinking it was pretentious, film-school garbage. (Note: we were big fans of Fire Walk With Me, so it's not like we were expecting something as "straightforward" as Blue Velvet). But as years and years passed, the damned movie stayed in my head. One night I was having a long art-chat with a friend who started explaining to me why he preferred (what he called) "conceptual" filmmaking to basic narrative filmmaking (I think the conversation was inspired by Kundun: he felt that it was too much of a "story" to be an effective considering the subject matter). Something clicked in my head and I suddenly "got" how I was supposed to watch Lost Highway. A few weeks later I was visiting my brother and I told him about this. He told me that he had never really forgotten Lost Highway either, so we rented it and gave it another shot. And, hey, while neither of us loved it like we love Twin Peaks, we both thought it was a real knock out. What had changed? I had gained more experience with a wider variety of movies, so my own conception of what a movie "should be" or "could be" had changed.

(3) More recently: I enjoyed watching The Hoax but thought it was kind of lacking in some way. A couple months later (which was actually just a few weeks ago), my brother (who no longer keeps up as much with current movies) asked me to recommend something for him. I thought of The Hoax because of the subject matter, but as I started to "pitch" the suggestion to him I thought to myself: "Hey, there was more going on in this movie that I gave it credit for." Now I want to go back and give it another try. What had changed? Nothing really: it just sometimes takes time for a movie to really sink in.

(4) I was underwhelmed the first time I watched Hostel. I didn't hate it, but I thought it was a little half-assed, especially compared to the "genuinely" transgressive movies made by Takashi Miike. Then I read Sean T. Collins's definitive defense of the movie and decided to give it another try. Watching it again, I think Sean was right and I realized that I had gone into expecting something (American-style Miike) when the movie was delivering something else (Horror movie firmly in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre tradition). What had changed? My expectations. Also, Sean's essay gave me tips on "what to look for".

(5) The other direction: I really liked In the Name of the Father when I first saw it. However, over the years, I learned more about the facts of the case and the different liberties the filmmakers took with the story. I still like the movie, but it just isn't as impressive now that I know how much they fudged. What had changed? My own knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the movie's inspiration, creation, production, etc.

(6) The other direction: I first saw The Player before I had seen a lot of the classic "Hollywood does Hollywood" movies - Sunset Boulevard, The Bad and the Beautiful, etc. I thought it was super edgy and insightful. Watching it again, years later, it seemed a bit shallow and derivative. What had changed? My own knowledge of the movie's subject and theme: I had more "film history" to measure against the movie's take on the business. Oh, also: I had read the novel it was based on, and found it to be more profound when it came to exploring the inner life of an essentially amoral, borderline sociopathic personality.

I'm sure I could come up with more, but that's a start.


January 09, 2008 8:48 AM  
Blogger Daniel said...

It's gotten to be that these days I rarely am sure of my current opinion of a film I've seen more than a year ago. With a number of notable exceptions, mainly films I've re-seen a number times through-out the years as my tastes have changed both grandly and subtly, I find the value of film almost changes too much. Then again, that means the pleasures of returning to a film--whether that means pleasures in appreciation or the pleasures in seeing new things, even things you don't like--exist in spades, and are certainly what makes film a wonderful, wonderful art.

January 09, 2008 11:18 AM  
Blogger shahn said...

there are a few films that i use as markers in my life. i watch them regularly every few years and plan to continue for the rest of my life. its so interesting how these films change when i view them again through different experiences and moods and philosophies.
and i'm glad to read i'm not the only one not blown away by "no country." i don't think the prologue and epilogue were integrated well with the cat-and-mouse thriller that was the bulk of the film. the idea of the sheriff and his connection to his environment was a more interesting story element to me.

January 09, 2008 11:50 AM  
Blogger Larry Aydlette said...

Girish: I've had these same thoughts. In fact, I'm almost tempted to never blog on a current movie again until I've seen how it holds up over time.

I'd say that almost any Kubrick film grows and deepens over time. I suspect a lot of people, moi included, didn't really see "The Shining" for what it was the first time around. It took time, and its availability on tape and disc, for it to get the reputation it now has.

By the way, as much as I admire "No Men," I'm sort of in agreement with you. I'm still not convinced it's going to last. (And, needless to say, it's no "Lebowski.") Again, time will tell, as will repeated viewings.

January 09, 2008 12:23 PM  
Blogger Ed Howard said...

Larry said: "In fact, I'm almost tempted to never blog on a current movie again until I've seen how it holds up over time."

I think that'd be a terrible idea, and not only because I'd then miss out on reading all your entertaining reviews. Impressions of a film will always change over time, but there's a value to first impressions anyway. If you wait to see how the film holds up, or how critical opinion forms over time, you may eventually arrive at a more stable evaluation, but at the expense of documenting what the film actually feels like when watching it or immediately afterward. I'm not of the Pauline Kael school that believes in first impressions above all, but I don't believe the value of immediacy can be dismissed either.

My own blog is in some sense structured around immediate impressions. I'm blogging about every film I watch, so my reviews are always written almost immediately after the film is over, and even at most less than a day later. I find that doing my writing in this way allows me to process my thoughts on the film I've just seen while I'm writing; searching for the right words allows me to codify and clarify the thoughts and impressions I had while watching. This also means that my evaluations aren't always stable. I rarely change my mind about a film in a complete 180, but frequently find my impressions changing in terms of degree or strength.

One consistent trend I've found is that over time, my evaluation of a film tends to become more abstracted from the viewing experience, for better or worse. One very recent example would be George Cukor's The Marrying Kind, which I didn't like much at all when I was watching it, and said so in my review. A few days later, my annoyed and bored feelings while watching it have faded a little, while the ideas and thoughts generated by the film are a bit more vivid. I'm sure if I watched it again, I'd probably dislike it every bit as much as the first time -- after all, it hasn't been long at all. But I am finding that it's easier to appreciate some aspects of it in the abstract than it was when it was actually on screen. I think if I'd waited a few days to write my review, rather than doing it immediately when the film was over, my evaluation would have focused much more on the film's positive aspects. In this case, I'm not sure the added time would result in a "truer" evaluation of the film, just an evaluation more distant from the actual experience of watching it.

January 09, 2008 2:08 PM  
Anonymous Klaus said...

A movie is like a river: Whenever you see it, the water is different.

The first time to see a movie is always special and none of the following viewings will ever be the same. With some movies, if you watch it later it will be disappointing, maybe because in the meantime you found out that it was heavily previous work of other artists. Or because the fascination of figuring out the story and the end are gone. You might as well come to appreciate a movie much much more after a repeated viewing. This was the case for me with "Once Upon a Time in America", where I fell asleep when I first saw it! But when I watched it again years later I was completely stunned.

Besides influence of critics, growing older and developing a different taste, for me personally mood is very important. Not just my own but also the more general mood of a situation. For example when watching a film with your girl/boyfriend it might give you something, whereas if you watch it on your own you might consider it a total bore.

Also, I noticed that some movies which I like and have watched quite often take on a certain "air", because I associate special moods, events, dear memories or whatever. And so I return to those movies not only because of the movie itself but also because of this particular "air".

January 09, 2008 3:55 PM  
Blogger Dan Sallitt said...

I have a tendency to distrust changes to my opinion that happen after a screening is over. Often they are a result of me conceptually remaking the film into something that I wanted it to be. Subsequent viewings tell the tale; sometimes the revised opinions stick.

Of course, it can work in every possible way. Other critics can find an angle that I didn't find; I can succumb to a desire to conform; my taste can be improved by exposure to great minds; I can waste multiple screenings trying to understand why everyone in the world except me loves a particular film, and finally give up.

It makes sense to me that one's internal system should stabilize a bit as one gets older and more experienced, and I notice that tendency in my own reactions. Hopefully one does not completely ossify.

January 09, 2008 4:37 PM  
Blogger Noel Vera said...

Popeye is one case; when I first saw it it was a disappointing mess, too uneven and eccentric to enjoy. Almost thirty years later, I think it's found poetry. Thirty years can make a difference.

Likewise, I saw the Godfather films almost when they came out in the Philippines, some months after their release, and I've pretty much seen the films every few years or so, and it seemed to me that their stature, which grew with every passing year, started diminishing. Partly it was familiarity--I suppose. Partly it was the fact that so many tropes and quotes and images in the picture have immersed pop culture (Anthony Bourdain did a parody of the 'take the gun, leave the cannoli' scene last year); partly it's the slow dawning on me that there's no real formal innovation to the film, just classical storytelling done as well as possible. It's memorable, even unforgettable, but it's stopped being exciting.

Which is why when I saw Gray's latest, his filmmaking and its differences from Coppola's had so much force for me.

What else? I look at my top ten list and few films there have survived. Well, maybe one--Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos (Three Years Without God, 1976). I loved it when I first saw it, and it's only grown in my mind since. Many things change; a few, like a lodestar, remain the same.

January 09, 2008 4:59 PM  
Blogger Annie Rhiannon said...

Hi Girish, love the blog (found it when I was searching for articles on Once Upon a Time in the West, in case you like to keep tabs on these things).

I don't think there are any films that my opinion hasn't changed of over time. Especially now that I'm a film student and am making my own films... I'm looking at everything through brand new eyes. Kind of like when you have a visitor come to stay and you notice the mountains surrounding your house for the first time in years.

January 09, 2008 5:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Girish--thanks for the link, my friend. And thanks for providing the excellent topic that engendered those posts.

re: if our evaluation of films change over time. For my own experienceI'm going to paraphrase something Jmac wrote to me a while ago: when we leave something we often return to it later with increased interest and sometimes even increased love. For instance, between posting about Chaplin's Shoulder Arms (1918) and re-discovering slapstick during the Slapstick Blogathon months later my love for that comedic form in general and the filmmaker/performer's work in particular increased. Then, when I revisted Shoulder Arms after the blogathon I enjoyed it much much more. The film was the same, but I had changed into a viewer who could appreciate it more than before. I suppose that process probably works in the opposite fashion as well.

A related question might be: are films intended and/or created to be seen again and again? Is the filmmaker thinking about repeat viewings during production or is the filmmaker focused on creating an impact for the immediate viewing experience?

January 09, 2008 6:06 PM  
Blogger Michael Kerpan said...

In all honesty, my goal is not to watch movies -- but to find ever more movies I can (more or less) love. I want to find movies that will invite, encourage or demand re-watching.

Most movies I see tend to stay more or less stable after (or between) viewings. But every now and then, a film will slowly creep up in value over time (whether I consciously think about it or not). Less often, a film I more or less liked will start deteriorating as I think back on it.

Since the latter category is rarer -- I'll start with it. The most drastic example would be Satoshi Kon's Three Godfathers. While I was not enthralled with this as I first watched this, I liked it reasonably well. But no sooner had the credits stopped rolling, when I began to have nagging doubts about this aspect and that. While I never could bring myself to re-watch this. I did give Kon's latest a shot, based on all the positive reviews I read. No dice, almost all the things that aggravated me (in retrospect) in Three Godfathers irked me in Paprika too.

Happily, films that insinuate themselves into my favor slowly after the fact are more common. In a few cases, films I thought I didn't like at all (like my very first Hou film Goodbye South, Goodbye had bits and pieces that I did find interesting that stuck in my head -- and made me give the film another shot (with very different results from the first viewing).

In other cases, a film may make a moderately good impression, but almost subconsciously rises in my estimation over the following weeks. I would put Naruse's Repast (now my honorary "second most favorite film") is this category.

Finally, there are the films I love on first watching, which get only better still on reflection -- and which provide increased delight when actually re-visited -- like Hou's Millennium Mambo and Yamashita's Linda, Linda, Linda

January 09, 2008 8:07 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

The Big Lewbowski worked better for me seeing it years later on television, than when I first saw it theatrically. When I saw Pretty Poison on DVD, I had seen it three or four times in a theater, but after more than thirty years I was amazed at how much Noel Black put into each shot.

January 09, 2008 8:59 PM  
Blogger Bob Westal said...

To quote Timothy Leary, a lot of it for me is "set and setting." I've fallen asleep in many films that later became favorites. And not ever film is equally easy for me to absorb properly. Some movies you need to be alert for, others not so much. There are coffee movies and there are beer movies. I even have an informal "no subtitles after ten" rule.

Eating too much or too little before I see something can definitely effect how I see a picture, though I try to adjust my judgment later in order to be fair to the film. Still, if you get sleepy or compulsively thinking about dinner watching a film, maybe it says something about the film or maybe it says something about your metabolism.

Because of all the hype and pressure, it took me several viewings to honestly grow to love both "Citizen Kane" and even "Casablanca" -- the first time seeing both, I was still pretty young and actually afraid of not liking them.

And, yes, there is also the issue of the passage of time. As with Noel and "The Godfather" -- while I don't agree with his evaluation (and I'm no particular fan of James Gray; haven't seen the new one), I can relate to the feeling. Even my most admired old favorites can sometimes start to look a bit tattered over time or simply not grab me the way the once might have. But then, sometimes, I'll see them again in a different mood and rediscover why I loved them in the first place.

Still, even if I film that doesn't stand up to even one repeated viewing that I loved the first time around, does that invalidate the experience of seeing it the first time?

January 09, 2008 9:29 PM  
Blogger Noel Vera said...

Mike K, I share your lack of love for Satoshi Kon, and I'm not quite sure why either. Care to explicate why you don't quite gush over him?

January 10, 2008 3:32 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you, everyone, for taking the time to set down these accounts! I'm amazed by how varied they are. I'm enjoying reading them.

So, can I blabber a bit?

Before I do, let me quote Dan. He said: “I have a tendency to distrust changes to my opinion that happen after a screening is over. Often they are a result of me conceptually remaking the film into something that I wanted it to be.”

As always, Dan's lucidity helps me clarify my own position, even in the instances when our positions might tend to differ or diverge somewhat.

Here goes. I think I feel a hunger, a desire, to “conceptually remake the film” into many different ‘things’. My own encounter with the film is important to me, of course, but I often find myself searching for stimulating insights or approaches in accounts of other encounters (by cinephiles, critics, etc.) that I can then place inside the ‘field’ that I have created in my head for the film.

In the last few years, I’ve found myself trying to de-privilege my own encounter, my own impressions just a bit (it’s just one encounter, one set of impressions) in favor of trying to seek out other different possible, plausible, interesting things that could be said about a certain film, which I can then add to this ‘field’ I’m constructing about it.

So, this ‘field’ includes responses not just to the question “What do I think of this film?” but also to the question “What are some/many things that one might think, that might be thought, about this film?”

Let me hasten to add: there’s an important rhetorical factor at work here, in that not every account or every insight I come across will be equally persuasive (at all!). But years later, when I think back on a film, what present themselves to me are not just my own ‘original’ thoughts (the thoughts that I personally came up with after I viewed the film) but instead this ‘film-field’ that I’ve been piecing together since I saw the film, complete with the field’s internal contradictions and tensions and push-and-pull forces...

I'm sure we all do this to one extent or another, it's nothing novel or original...

In a way, I guess the ‘field’ is sort of like Roland Barthes’ notion of a ‘text’ (as opposed to a ‘work’), in that a ‘text’ is multivalent, never ‘concluded’, always alive with possibilities and with contradictions, always moving...

Thus, the bottom line is that the instability of my evaluation of a film is keyed a bit (not completely, which would be utterly chaotic!) to this ‘field’, this ‘text’, and its mutations over time.

January 10, 2008 6:14 AM  
Blogger bradluen said...

Obsessed with efficiency as I am, one thing I try to do while viewing is anticipate the field. Very occasionally I do this explicitly. I didn't get much out of the first third of "Lars and the Real Girl": from a literary viewpoint, the story was too drippy; from a visual viewpoint, the shots were hackneyed. I asked myself "Which critic that I respect would like this?" and answered "David Edelstein: he'd think the generosity sufficient to balance out the hokeyness and appreciate the strong performances". So I watched the rest of the movie through a quasi-Edelsteinian lens and enjoyed it quite a bit. (For what it's worth: Edelstein did like it.)

Of course this is just saying that there are different ways to watch a movie, and that any cinephile should have a variety of strategies they can fruitfully employ, depending on the movie being watched (even if you fall back on two or three standard methods most of the time). You'd think this would be Mass Culture 101, but I come across complaints like "How could you possibly like this?" far too often. I find it's *always* easy to give reasons why some person likes some movie; what good negative criticism should do is explain why these reasons are limiting or inappropriate (hard to do; saying "you like Sideways because it's about aging winos like yourself, you loser" is insufficient).

Now, the master-level trick is to employ a whole bunch of complex strategies at once. Not just "I'm enjoying Twelfth Night for both the poetry and the cross-dressing, how multibrow of me", but watching each scene through the eyes of several very perceptive viewers concurrently. (NB: This is not the same thing as objectivity. Quite the opposite, in fact.) This is possible if the perceptive viewers have set out their aesthetic strategies in detail, usually implicitly. Can't say I can do this in real time yet; to do it properly takes quite a lot of decompression afterwards, and only a minority of movies reward this extra time spent. So learning to do it in real time is tantalising: even terrible movies become interesting! Hey, Jane Dark can do it, though with a different set of strategies than I'd use.

January 10, 2008 8:09 AM  
Blogger Maya said...

As ever, a wonderful, thought-provoking topic. I look forward to your volume on cinema essays, hopefully richly-illustrated with your line drawings. That's a volume I would buy pronto (or, more tellingly, beg the publicist for ardently).

My take: I want to have multiple considerations of any single film. That's why I like to watch films more than once, sometimes three times, four. I often feel that evaluating films is like interpreting dreams. For all I know, what I think I see is the result of an undigested potato. The variables in and of themselves require scrutiny.

January 10, 2008 10:54 AM  
Blogger dave said...

I saw a very highly acclaimed new film last weekend, and it didn't resonate much with me. Some part of that, I think, was because of various distractions: I arrived too late to relax and see any trailers (and a bit out of breath after racing to make the screening), I had friends in the audience but didn't know where they were, I was seated in a location I would have never chosen had I arrived earlier.

But because of the acclaim (and the mitigating factors of my screening experience), I've been making an effort to work with the film on different terms, to see what other writers have seen in this film.
I have spent some time this week writing my review of the film, and in considering the acclaim I'm starting to see what these other writers are celebrating, while still holding some of my reservations. So my view is changing after the fact, complicating my insights and deepening my understanding of the film and how it works. I'm still reconceiving and rewriting my review, processing the different thoughts that other writers I respect have had about the film (both positive and negative).

I actually find that I can generally trust my shifting opinions of a film after the fact. I'd much rather see a movie that you just can't get out of your head rather than one that exists only whilst watching it.

I'm also with Danny that my tastes have changed quite a bit over the last few years, and certain impressions I had are very different than I might have now. As the ideology of representation becomes more important to me, certain films that I used to dismiss as harmless now inspire heated (negative) emotion. I also think there are some films that I professed to like precisely because I felt that there was something about them that I couldn't quite get to the bottom of; as their hidden riches become more fleshed out, I tend to enjoy these films much more. Luckily for me, a few of these films are playing in New York over the next few months!

Some movies I avoid re-viewing in order to keep my former impressions alive; one reason I haven't revisited Talk to Her is that I don't want to break the sublime spell of my theatrical viewing. Some films that are so firmly situated with certain life contexts that revisitation seems inappropriate, at least for now.

January 10, 2008 6:15 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Girish, thanks so much for the link to my recent project, but more importantly, for this terrific topic that has sparked such a great discussion. I'm particularly fascinated with the way the discussion has moved to a thoughtful consideration of the multiple responses a given film can engender.

But I also found Larry Aydlette's line about the instinct to wait out the test of time before weighing in on a film very resonant. One of the biggest differences between film criticism in the internet age and non-internet criticism, is that context is obtainable by little more than a mouse click. Used to be that if a critic wrote something like, "Brian De Palma is a magnificent director" in a review, the only ways to know if the writer means this in context of the film at hand, or if this is a position consistently held throughout a reviewing career, are a) to be familiar with the critic's work over the years, or b) to do a fairly cumbersome library search for the author's previous reviews of De Palma films. Now these steps can be skipped for better or worse. Does it make writers more hesitant to change opinions once they've been put into a web-accessible archive? Does it make readers less dependent on finding a few critics whose tastes they understand and can at some level rely on?

January 10, 2008 7:28 PM  
Blogger weepingsam said...

This is an interesting and complex question. Some of it is that I find that my tastes often change in a way that isn't really about evaluation - the kinds of films, style, ideas or types of stories that interest me change, even though I can't really say I what I like or think is good changes. My desire to watch everything I can find by, oh, Takashi Miike or Douglas Sirk might disappear for years at a time, but I can't say I like their films any less... Just that other things (Val Lewton? Rivette?) seem more immediately necessary....

One type of film where my evaluation changes drastically - for a lot of films - are films that don't look all that impressive. Pedestrian looking films that have extraordinary scripts usually do take a few passes to really sink in: something like Groundhog Day, which is close to brilliantly written and performed, but doesn't look special, took a few viewings to really accept as the masterpiece it is. Office Space suffered the same way, and rose the same way - and even some great looking films, like the Big Lebowski, took a couple viewings to really get...

Though there have been a few films where my opinions changed drastically, sometimes from re-viewing the film, sometimes from reading about it - often from seeing other films that inform it, either directly or as contrast. I remember when Lost Highway came out I wasn't all that impressed - it was okay, but that's all - then I saw the Elephant Man on a big screen for the first time - and remembered why I'd loved David Lynch in the 80s, and by the time I saw Lost Highway again I was prepared to see it as close to a masterpiece...

Finally - sometimes, I can feel my opinion changing in the middle of the film: watching Zodiac (on DVD), I thought, this is nice, this is interesting - but by the middle of the film I was thinking, this is outstanding - I will have to watch this again. Which confirmed its value...

January 10, 2008 8:24 PM  
Blogger Campaspe said...

Definitely my impressions can and do change over time. The experience is most marked with the films I saw in my youth, which looked quite different after my politics, anxieties, and hormones evened out later in life.

Funny Larry should mention Kubrick, because he is the director who leaps immediately to my mind whenever the topic of changing evaluations comes up. I saw A Clockwork Orange at age 18 at a midnight showing at the 8th Street Playhouse and I hated it, to the point that I wrote a fairly long essay about how much I hated it for an English composition class. I saw it again about seven years ago, in my living room with no drunken midnight crowd guffawing over Alex like he was Steve McQueen, and realized I had reacted to a great of deal of stuff that wasn't actually in the film. I had a similar experience with The Shining.

January 10, 2008 8:51 PM  
Blogger Ignatius Vishnevetsky said...

I'd say its only an interesting and complex question but in many ways it's the key question--the question of criticism, the value of values and evaluations, of relating impressions and ideas regarding works.
With the Internet, I think we've become more open to the idea of changing or swaying opinions, of updating, rewriting, revisiting. Even these comments represent a fluid form of discussion.

January 10, 2008 11:12 PM  
Blogger David said...

Hi Girish. This all reminds me of an anecdote about Henry James--he claimed that he would not only rewrite his own old novels in the margins everytime he re-read them, but rewrite other author's novels in the margin as he read them, attempting to make them the novels he wanted to read. It's like that line in Masculine Feminine (taken from Perec?)--and I'm Not There--about the films we dream of seeing and the ones we end up seeing. For what it's worth, I didn't like I'm Not There much at all, and really didn't like No Country for Old Men; I spent a very long time reading over positive articles for each, and found none that were at all persuasive. For I'm Not There, most critics could have watched the trailer, noted the clever premises, and written their reviews--though that Film Comment article certainly goes much deeper in exploring these premises than anything else I've read. But after I saw Colossal Youth, I knew I'd need to see it again to appreciate it; my problems with it (a lush, fluid soundtrack negating the power of the lonely statuesque people of the imagery) were, I knew immediately, exactly what was so brilliant about it. It's a film I've been thinking about constantly for the past five months, and I'm glad to have had so much positive, incisive criticism to keep me from dismissing it from the start.

January 10, 2008 11:23 PM  
Anonymous jim emerson said...

Girish, all: If there's anything I've learned about watching movies from watching movies it's never to distrust your initial response, and never to consider it definitive, either. I mean that sincerely. You may completely revise your opinion of a movie based on a later viewing -- and again on one after that. It's not likely, but it can happen. And that doesn't mean you shouldn't call it like you see it for this moment, in the movie's history and in your own.

I've now seen "No Country," and "I'm Not There" twice, and found them as absorbing and entertaining (and not at all dry or intellectual) as I did the first time. I've seen "Zodiac" three times -- once in the theater, once on the original DVD, and once in the Director's Cut DVD version. I didn't think it was as compelling when I started watching it the second time (maybe I just wasn't in a receptive mood), but I fell into it before the first hour was up.

These three movies are my favorites of 2007, and I've written about all three. But I love them not because I can justify that they're "great" movies (although, to my own satisfaction, I can), but because I find each of them a profoundly moving experience that resonates with the way I see the world.

The snidely dismissive tone in which some have expressed their contempt for "No Country for Old Men" strike me as superficial, petty, immature -- but just because I'm moved by something doesn't mean I can persuade (or expect) anyone else to be. All I can do (all anyone examining a response to a work of art can do) is to bear witness: I've never seen a movie that more powerfully and poetically conveys an essential, existential fact of human life -- the dilemma of learning how to live with the knowledge of certain death, while knowing you can't stop what's comin' -- than "NCFOM."

January 10, 2008 11:43 PM  
Blogger Noel Vera said...

Living with the fact of death, up close and personal? Melville's L'Armee des ombres, I submit.

Saw I'm Not There, am embarrassed to say I fell asleep some of the time--lousy sked that day. Need to see this again, on DVD perhaps.

January 11, 2008 2:38 AM  
Anonymous jim emerson said...

Noel: Excellent choice (as too many people say when taking your order in restaurants). How fortunate I don't feel a need to make an arbitrary choice of one over the other!

January 11, 2008 3:22 AM  
Blogger Campaspe said...

Jim, that has always been my favorite critical option, espoused by an art history prof I had. The class was discussing Picasso vs Matisse, and someone asked for his preference. The prof said, "why choose when I can have both?"

Ignatius, good point. The volume and quality of opinions available on the Internet has definitely led me to some interesting re-evaluations.

January 11, 2008 12:54 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you, all!

The weekend will be spent slowly making my way from India back to Buffalo, with some brief pauses along the way. Before I leave, here are some links:

-- David Bordwell on Amos Poe's New York city symphony, Empire II:

"The title pays homage to Warhol’s 1964 film, so often discussed and so little seen. In many ways, though, Poe gives us an anti-Empire. Instead of a silent film, sound, both aggressive and immersive. (The stereo tracks shoot noises bouncing across channels, swallowing you up.) Instead of a single night, a year’s time span. Warhol shot Empire at 24 frames per second but insisted on projecting it at 16, slowing up time; Poe’s single-frame sampling and frantic acceleration speed time up. Warhol used for the most part a single camera position and shot in long takes, but Poe presents a flutter of shots. The framing is steady, but what we see flickers and pulsates, creating superimposition effects comparable to Ruttmann’s and Vertov’s slashing diagonals."

-- In Dave Kehr's post on Leo McCarey, he relates a funny Otto Preminger anecdote in the comments:

"In my one encounter with Preminger — I interviewed him when he passed through Chicago with “Rosebud” in 1975 — I found him to be a gracious and highly intelligent man, who immediately put this nervous, star-struck young critic at ease. It was one of those interviews that stretched from its allotted 30 minutes into a couple of hours, and Preminger, contrary to his reputation, was quite happy to talk about his older films. I remember him discussing “Where the Sidewalk Ends” in particular detail, which he had recently seen on television — although he claimed he’d fallen asleep before it ended, and asked me to tell him how the story turned out! I suspect this was an example of the Preminger charm at work (he certainly didn’t seem to have trouble remembering far more arcane details)..."

-- Steven Shaviro on I'm Not There.

January 11, 2008 10:48 PM  
Blogger Ryland Walker Knight said...

I'm late to the comments party. Been busy. Before I finally read everybody's comments I'll add some initial thoughts.

It's funny you should post this, girish, as it's something that has defined my 2007 movie year, and is a big part of my year-end recap, which The House will publish on Monday. Suffice to say, watch for that as it may be enough of a response. Or too much, as it got kinda long.

I, for one, find it essential to interrogate one's experience of a film or of life. I'm happy to change my mind, to be persuaded. _No Country_ is a perfect example: I've spent a few months now grappling with my response to the film. I appreciate all the support it has garnered (and especially the writing jim emerson has offered), but I think it will take a third viewing to really cement it in my head as the masterpiece everybody says it is. For now my reaction is based more on taste than on the film itself. But there's more of that in my year-end recap, too. And I hope some more of it on my blog in the near future.

Really: this issue of taste in criticism is what I find the most daunting burden to film writing. It's what I find most troubling about film criticism, too, in general, as most people do not account for, or at least tip their cap towards, how much their taste informs their judgments. And I'm victim of it as well. I'm still working on it. Here's how I understand the project of serious criticism: you watch the film (or read the book, see the play, hear the album, eat the meal, love your lover, etc), you respond, and then you ask yourself why you responded that way, and then you try to articulate how that response happened, and, in your writing, invite others to join you in your way of seeing the picture (reading the book, seeing the play, blah blah, etc.). Interpretation, or reading, plays a part in the process of criticism, yes, but I wasn't sure where to throw that into the brisk timeline; it seems to continue through each step and beyond. Which is why our minds can change over time. But that's just a rough outline of the goal; it's always tougher than that to do all that, and do it well. But some do it very well. Jim has done a fine job of this with his passion for _No Country_. As have others, including Glenn Kenny: I missed the rather obvious _Seventh Seal_ nod, and that made me appreciate the film even more. (But I think my interest in the film is still different than most and will remain rather oblique until I finish my COEN COUNTRY essay about the picture. In a nutshell: the Coens pay such great attention to language that I want to track how each film (or a select few) uses speech-as-spectacle. More on that later, I imagine.)

Another note: I saw _Andrei Rublev_ on a big screen for the first time last night and boy was that a different experience. It flew by! My companions nodded off briefly, I think, but I was rapt, sitting straight up. It's one of the great things. More on that, too, later, at VINYL. In fact, I'll go do that now.

Thanks, girish, as ever, for a great conversation starter. And thanks, everybody else, for a lively and thoughtful continuation of the conversation. I will read your comments shortly and respond to those I feel I can respond to.

January 12, 2008 3:26 PM  
Blogger Matt Zoller Seitz said...

Funny that you'd publish a piece like this on this particular weekend -- last night I showed my 10-year old daughter "The Hudsucker Proxy," a film I enjoyed on first viewing (much more so than my fellow critics, most of whom slagged it) but did not consider an especially great or even consistently good film. I've seen it many times since then, and every time I appreciate it more. When I watched it again last night, for maybe the sixth time, I thought that it was close to a perfect movie (on its own unusual terms) and one of their best -- and also quite moving, particularly in the awkward but sincere love scenes between Norville the hayseed company president and Amy, the reporter trying to expose and destroy him.

The Coens are often stereotyped as heartless and insincere, but I don't really see how it's possible to view them that way while watching the scene on the balcony after the big investor's party, where Norville relates a theory of reincarnation embraced by the Hindus and the Beatniks, speculates on what sort of animals they were in a previous life, and tells Amy that she was a gazelle. It's just lovely.

Some movies take a while to really sink in. The Coens, I find, tend to make those sorts of movies.

January 12, 2008 9:54 PM  
Blogger Matt Zoller Seitz said...

By the way, my daughter loved the movie. And by the end, she had gained a lot of new knowledge, including the difference between common and preferred stock, and the definition of the word "proxy."

January 12, 2008 9:55 PM  
Blogger Matt Zoller Seitz said...

One last thought: Just yesterday I was telling my friend and co-editor, Keith Uhlich, that the single greatest thing about the explosion of idiosyncratic, blog-based criticism was how it had essentially toppled the old iconic image of the critic as omniscient dispenser of wisdom, and encouraged people to be honest about the flexibility of their opinions, and their evolution over time, and the effect of personal experience (from childhood trauma or family tragedy to feeling a little cranky or sick when you see a particular film) on one's initial reaction to a film, and the blind spots in one's viewing and reading and listening -- in short, the reality of learning and living, as opposed to the ridiculous control fantasy propagated by a century-plus of newspaper and magazine-sponsored criticism.

There were always a few brave exceptions to this Down-From-Mt.-Olympus stereotype -- James Agee, for one, was unusually willing to admit when his opinion changed or shifted, and to fess up to biases or blind spots that might have affected his initial verdict; also the great Robin Wood, who not only changed his critical standards and verdicts over the course of his career, but actually footnoted certain articles to tell readers that he used to feel differently about particular films and artists but changed his mind for reasons X and Y.

But people like Agee and Wood tended to be the exception.

January 12, 2008 10:03 PM  
Blogger andrew tracy said...


the problem with your posts is that they are too thoughtful, searching and generous to elicit quick knee-jerk responses. What are you trying to make us do, think? This is the blogosphere!

As to my own fluctuating evaluations, what I've noticed in my thoughts and writing about films in the last few years is not so much sudden epiphanies as a quiet and often unnoticed winnowing away of that which I don't consider essential - though there are certainly a number of inessential films that I can revisit numerous times with great pleasure, and numerous films that I reject outright at the time of viewing and deem a second viewing of unnecessary.

Although patience is not one of my virtues in criticism - and I've aired some pretty immediate and impassioned contrarian views on certain overly acclaimed films - I think I've been able to develop this "long term" view from both my particular situation as a Professional Film Critic and, I'd like to think, from a slowly developed critical perspective that aims to extrapolate beyond the specific greatness/horribleness of any one film to an assessment of certain valuable or detrimental trends in current film practice itself.

In regards to the former, as my writing-for-publication usually occurs on a quarterly basis and I'm thankfully not obliged (or interested) to officially evaluate every single new release, I can often devote a larger degree of attention and concentration to what I choose to write about, whether that be positive or negative. As what I tend to write about usually involves what I've been thinking the most about, I've found this enables me to address broader issues within both film and critical practice that I either applaud or that bother the hell out of me - and thus I try to move outside the specific virtues or flaws of the film itself to attempt to consider the larger cultural climate (of both inception and reception) of which it is a part.

So is this simply a matter of "taste", then? To a certain degree, of course. But it's my naive belief that one of the purposes of criticism is to move as far as one can beyond the realm of taste to try and assess in the fullest degree one can both the object under consideration and the community that is considering it. And as, pace Matt, I tend to believe that the explosion of opinions on the blogosphere has actually reinforced consensus views (whether negative or positive) of the current batch of product and an exclusive focus on Hollywood releases - and most often from people with nothing more than their own taste to back their opinions up - I think it's ever more important that we try as best we can to look past the skirmishes over this year's crop of films and attempt to divine the larger currents of which they are a part.

So although I hate airing personal preferences in blog comments, as it speaks to the very overabundance of personal taste I referred to above, a couple of examples are in order. I wrote some of my most impassioned pieces of the year about We Own the Night, even though I think it is not by any means a "masterpiece" - rather, it's a very good film with some extraordinarily distinguished virtues, which are being summarily overlooked by people who are often perfectly willing to accept absurdities, idiocies, laziness or outright thefts from other filmmakers due to their particular critical pedigree. (Mr. Scorsese, Mr. Tarantino, please step up.) Conversely, I've had some very harsh words to say about the Coens movie, even though I think that it is an exemplary piece of filmmaking - but that filmmaking is in the service of an allegory which, as presented, is so blatant and schematic that it makes the film rigid, unaffecting, and ultimately rather boring, without ever ceasing to be excellently made and performed.

On a broader note, I've found when indulging in silly exercises like emulating Jonathan Rosenbaum's 1000 Best Films List upon my own monstrously expanding films-seen list that often the Milestones and Big Ones - everything from Casablanca to The Godfather - hold less interest for me today than the eccentric one-offs and oddities that I began to encounter when my interests expanded beyond the official canon. Perverse and contrarian? Possibly - but, even though I refuse to abandon the Olympian disdain I wield every now and then, I prefer these days to think of the Cinema Entire more as a field of possibilities than a Hall of Great Works.

January 13, 2008 12:16 AM  
Blogger Ed Howard said...

Matt said: "By the way, my daughter loved the movie. And by the end, she had gained a lot of new knowledge, including the difference between common and preferred stock, and the definition of the word 'proxy.'"

This brings to mind A.O. Scott's recent article on taking kids to films above their "level". I don't necessarily dig all his examples or all the specific films he cites, but I'm totally with him on the basic premise. Our society in general doesn't give kids nearly enough credit for their ability to learn and think for themselves.

January 13, 2008 1:42 AM  
Blogger Matt Zoller Seitz said...

Ed: I've become a lot less selective recently in what I'll let my daughter watch. As long as there's at least a pretense of artistry in it, and it's got more going on that graphic violence and/or sex, I'll consider letting her see it. She keeps bugging me to let her watch the original "Alien," because she wants to get into that series, and I keep holding out, not because it would give her nightmares (I doubt it would; she's pretty tough) but because I don't feel like explaining the significance of the various bits of very Freudian production design, if you know what I mean; I might say yes when she turns 11. How's that for arbitrary?

When I find myself saying "no" to her requests to watch movies above her level, it's often because the plot is so complicated, or pivots on elements she wouldn't understand even after I explained them, that I know she'd get bored and doze off, and I don't want that to happen.

Andrew: "...often the Milestones and Big Ones - everything from Casablanca to The Godfather - hold less interest for me today than the eccentric one-offs and oddities that I began to encounter when my interests expanded beyond the official canon."

I know what you mean. I'm deliberately trying to see films that I haven't seen yet, old and new, and I've become somewhat less interested in the movies that tend to be included in canonical lists.

January 13, 2008 11:18 AM  
Blogger Noel Vera said...

Not sure if my daughter when she was four watching Takahata's Grave of the Fireflies in rapt attention meant that she actually understood the film--for all I know she was just in a good mood--but I took perverse pleasure in the fact that when I took her to see A Bug's Life a few days later she was bored out of her skull--wandering around, kicking the back of people's chairs, so on and so forth.

She's twelve now and a fan in no particular order of Miyazaki, Takahata, Satoshi Kon, Cowboy Bebop, Audrey Hepburn, Steve Moffat, and Holocaust novels (including Frank's of course). Always interesting in seeing how kids react to films, and how their taste changes over the years.

January 15, 2008 3:11 AM  
Blogger girish said...

So much food for thought here. Thanks again, everyone, for this great conversation!

Ry -- I really liked your new post at the House and would like to link to it in my next post.

You said: "It's what I find most troubling about film criticism, too, in general, as most people do not account for, or at least tip their cap towards, how much their taste informs their judgments."

How true. Every evaluation we make can serve a deeper purpose: it can hold a mirror up to the criteria we use to make that evaluation, and thus make us more self-aware (if we choose to seek this out) by drilling down to our own personal taste and its structure.

Matt said: "the reality of learning and living, as opposed to the ridiculous control fantasy propagated by a century-plus of newspaper and magazine-sponsored criticism."

Those are wise words, Matt. I've been thinking about these same "living and learning" challenges, and how we work through them on a daily basis in the blogosphere. I've been thinking of doing a blog post around this.

I've seen Hudsucker Proxy just once, years ago, and have no memory of it. You've got me eager to go back to it.

Andrew -- I haven't had the chance to tell you how much I liked your piece on the Kent Jones book in Cineaste (I wish it was online so I could link to it). It's one of my real favorites of your writings.

You said: "But it's my naive belief that one of the purposes of criticism is to move as far as one can beyond the realm of taste to try and assess in the fullest degree one can both the object under consideration and the community that is considering it."

Yes, I think this is an important point! It was also what I was struggling to get at when I mentioned my own tendency to try to de-privilege my own encounter, impressions and evaluation of a film a bit, in favor of moving beyond the shackles of one's own taste. Perhaps we can chat about this when we raise a beer or two after a Cinematheque screening before too long!

January 15, 2008 3:43 PM  
Blogger Ryland Walker Knight said...

Thanks Girish. "I'd be happy to work with you."

_Hudsucker_ has long been a favorite of mine. But recently I'm all about _The Man Who Wasn't There_.

Klaus said, "A movie is like a river: Whenever you see it, the water is different." Of course I dig that. It almost parodies me. But, then again, I kinda parody myself when I get going talking about "liquids." I get pretty animated. Just ask the people I walked away from the PFA with after _Andrei Rublev_. I spent maybe the whole half hour walk talking about how cool rivers are: how the water shapes the bank and the land moves the water at the same time, how every inch of a river is different and the same and always moving, how I think a river mirrors the movements of a life. I know this isn't entirely novel stuff but it sure is something I think I _know_ now; one thing I'll defend without reservations. So, it seems only natural (right?) to open one self to how we change our mind over time. As long as we can account for it. And I'm not just talking about movies. I'm talking about the choice to move into an apartment with more light, even if it's more expensive. I'm talking about cutting red meat from one's diet. I'm talking about swimming as exercise instead of running because it will help one's joints. I'm talking about swallowing your pride and apologizing, buying some flowers. All that good stuff.

January 16, 2008 12:53 PM  
Anonymous jim emerson said...

Ryland: And your view of the river (whether you're in it, or on the bank, or looking down on it from a hill) is always going to be determined to some significant degree by where you are in relationship to it, the season, and the climatic conditions! Wide, deep, shallow, rapid, calm, rocky, steep... You may be able to map it eventually, but you'll never actually be able to see the whole river, from beginning to end, from where you stand at any given point in time and space -- um, at least not without satellite photos (and even those may be years old).

I think I have a point I'm trying to make here.

Girish, Andrew, all: I'd much rather read (or study and write) an analysis of a film (or films) than a "review" -- the "verdict" aspect of criticism being almost (but not quite) superfluous to the observations themselves. But, as Andrew says, we have to acknowledge a certain naivete in the effort to separate ourselves from our perceptions -- though the effort is worth making, as long as we're honest about making the attempt.

On the one extreme, it's too easy to simply become a slave of "taste" -- to say you "liked" or "appreciated" something on some level and then just leave it at that. That's what the most superficial daily/weekly newspaper reviews do -- while presenting their judgments (as Matt puts it) as a "ridiculous control fantasy," the preemptive Last Word from on high, rather than the groundwork for further discussion.

I like Andrew's description of criticism that attempts to "assess in the fullest degree one can both the object under consideration and the community that is considering it." (And I treasure the image of Girish and Andrew talking about it over [multiple?] beers!) At the extreme end of this approach (not what you guys are saying), there's the bizarre popular myth of "objective" criticism (or "objective" journalism), which is not only absurd but impossible. Still, as we all know from reading e-mails and blog comments, many readers persist in believing that criticism can (or should) be utterly divorced from taste or opinion (or decision-making based on the critic's knowledge, experience and reasoning), and simply be presented as a description and quantitative assessment -- like specs for an electronic device, perhaps. You can describe the individual components, the design, the way they work together, etc. (and a critic ought to do that in any case). This is a popular web format for "capsule reviews" in which the reviewer simply fills out a standardized review form describing the various elements (from credits, running time and genre to story, "acting," "cinematography").

But, of course, YOU are always, inescapably, going to be part of the equation. As we music/movie editors used to try to explain to some folks at Microsoft (back in Cinemania days in the mid-1990s): "Consumers" (their word) don't have the same relationships to, or ways of valuing/evaluating, works of art/entertainment that they toward their household appliances. Or computers.

So (to continue the Microsoft analogy), if you had a Venn diagram of "taste" and "critical values" (i.e., the conscious or unconscious influences that help shape one's approach to a work of art, including other things you've read, watched or experienced; the qualities you see as important or significant -- or worth writing about), the two circles would overlap to some degree, but remain separate domains.

We can agree that a particular shot in, say, "The Wild Bunch" consists of six frames (I remember looking at a print and counting). And that fact won't change over time (though it may become more difficult to determine, But, as we know when we've talked to someone about a movie (even if it's the person who accompanied and sat next to us), we never see precisely all the same things on the screen, from beginning to end.

I know: Girish's original post was about "personal evaluation of a film over time" (and not "not some ‘objective value’ but a subjective determination of the value to a particular viewer" as a "complex, mutating entity"). But I hope this added a few more crumbs to the discussion...

January 16, 2008 6:01 PM  
Anonymous jim emerson said...

Ooops. Forgot to finish one of my many parenthetical comments: "And that fact won't change over time (though it may become more difficult to determine, depending on whether we're looking at a PAL or NTSC telecined copy...)"

January 16, 2008 6:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm late on this discussion, which has become increasingly complex with so many comments. Too busy all week. Although I find it very interesting, I'd like to return to Girish's starting point. Of course, the films change, as one does, over time, and therefore the way we see it and the value we think it has FOR EACH ONE OF US. But very rarely I change because of what I read about it, rather it's the effect of looking at the film again. I really don't think one viewing is enough for any minimally complex or serious film: you can be driven by its narrative force, and the discover it was a paper castle, or you can think it's OK and then realize it's something quietly extraordinary. Polanski or Losey have been frequent disappointments at a second viewing, whereas Dwan or Henry King can rise with repeated viewings. There's also the very curious case of films which you don't like much, but somehow you keep thinking about them. This prompts me to take a second look, which is often rewarding. I had the feeling I was being UNFAIR to the movie, and that I should give it a second chance. The same has happened to me with films I had liked a lot but somehow did not fully convince me of their "sincerity", so I saw them again and could not understand how I had thought they were any good. Only if someone whose judgement I respect a lot (like Jean Douchet) defends strongly and with convincing reasons its value, I fear I might have missed something and see it again, sometimes without changing my opinion about it. But I need to re-experience the movie, no theoretical reasons can be enough to make my change my mind. A different thing is when I read something about a film I haven't seen, or missed at the time of its release: that can make me search it (or even buy the DVD) and see. Does something like that happen to anyone?
Miguel Marías

January 19, 2008 5:03 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Ry, Jim and Miguel!

Miguel, your comment is packed with thought-provoking insights. I'm not sure I have a response to them yet but I'm learning from them. And while you're here, I should tell you how much I liked your Rouge essay on SYLVIA. It was the single favorite new film I saw last year and so the essay means a lot to me. Thank you for that.

Jim, you spoke of your "many parenthetical comments." Let me say as an aside: one of the many things you and I have in common is that we love to parenthesize. A while back I tried hard to cut down on my chronic use of parentheses but it didn't take, and I've now come to accept that it is something I must live with, be aware of, keep an eye on, and make the most of. (Wow, not a single parenthesis in my comment to you. Except this one, of course...)

January 20, 2008 8:41 PM  

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