Sunday, March 23, 2008

Cinephile Accounting: Old vs. New



As a cinephile, I experience a certain tension between the desire/need to see older films versus new films.

Here’s a sample of a dozen older films I’ve seen within the last month: The Doll (Ernst Lubitsch, 1919); Dil Se (Mani Ratnam, 1998); Taipei Story (Edward Yang, 1985); Shri 420 (Raj Kapoor, 1955); Over the Edge (Jonathan Kaplan, 1979); Rajnigandha (Basu Chatterjee, 1974); Moonfleet (Fritz Lang, 1954); Passing Fancy (Yasujiro Ozu, 1933); Komal Gandhar (Ritwik Ghatak, 1961); Doomed Love (Manoel de Oliveira, 1978); J’entends plus la guitare (Philippe Garrel, 1991); and Day of the Outlaw (Andre de Toth, 1959).

In terms of quality, every one of these films is comfortably the equal of—sometimes better than—the best new films I saw last year. And yet, in terms of proportion, the number of new films I see each year is large, perhaps disproportionately so.

I see about 350 feature-length films a year (plus shorts), and of these, about 50-60 are new films. The majority of these new films (about 35-40) are seen in a ten-day period in Toronto in September. Thus, almost a full sixth of the films I watch each year are new. Given the century-plus span of film history, this strikes me as an extremely healthy, even overly generous, proportion.

Being part of the film-blogosphere often exerts a certain pressure on us to see recent films promptly. One wants to be part of—or at least comprehend—the conversation that these films spark. We feel left out of the loop—not allowed to play—if we haven’t seen the films that are being buzzed about (or reviled). Sometimes guilt follows, and occasionally, out of sheer bloody-mindedness, the act of putting off seeing a film just because it seems so required.

But these are the high-visibility examples, and I end up seeing most of them. Trickier are the scores of recent films that might play film festivals, receive decent reviews, show up occasionally on lists, and become easily available at theaters or on DVD. On a given evening, does one opt for Noah Baumbach’s Margot at the Wedding or Valerio Zurlini’s Family Diary? Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly or Yasuzo Masumura’s Red Angel? George Ratliff’s Joshua or Johan van der Keuken’s I ♥ $? Sean Penn’s Into The Wild or Ram Gopal Varma’s Satya? I voted for the latter in all these cases, and they turned out to be excellent films, although I still haven’t seen the former films yet.

Of course, in theory, we don’t have to choose between these films with any finality since they are all available to us, but practically speaking, we are forced to make such choices on a daily basis in an environment that is deluging us with movies to see, both old and new, in all formats (theatrical, DVD, cable).

Physical location is a factor as well. For a cinephile in, say, New York or San Francisco, certain ‘gaps’ of key films or filmmakers may be attributed to foregoing the option of DVD and choosing to waiting for a retrospective or theatrical screening which may be imminent (or not). In my case, living where I do, it is unfortunate that I see the vast majority of older films on DVD; the only small upside is that I don’t feel compelled to put off watching a film in anticipation of a possible future theatrical screening.

Finally, what underlying personal objectives might dictate these viewing decisions? To answer this for myself, I'll invoke a fantasy. I still hold the naïve belief that cinema is a young art, and a century of it isn’t impossible to put one’s arms around. By this I don’t mean being able to see all films ever made (which is preposterous) but see a wide enough range of films to acquire a certain level of working knowledge about world cinema (both narrative and avant-garde) that will give one the facility to begin making associations and building networks in one’s head across decades, filmmakers, countries, and genres on dimensions like themes, formal strategies, stylistic characteristics, and performance. And to begin working toward this objective means building a personal foundation—amassing a repertoire—of film viewing from all periods of film history, rather than over-privileging the current moment.

The result is that while continuing to see about 50 new films each year, I find myself, on a daily basis, opting to see an older film much more frequently than a new film.

If you’ll allow me to toss out a few questions: Do you feel a similar tug-of-war between the desire or need to see older films versus new films? What guides your decision-making on what to see from day to day? What are the personal objectives that might underpin your decision-making on these matters? I’d love to hear your thoughts on these or any other related issues.

pic: Vidya Sinha, with the soon-to-wilt flowers of the film's title, in Basu Chatterjee's Rajnigandha (1974).

52 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bob Dylan, on his radio show, said something like, "People complain that I only play old music. Well, I like new music too, but as for old music, there's a lot more of it."

On the other hand, I'm thinking of Brecht's instance that we don't talk about the "good old days," but should rather start with the "bad new ones."

If you are a cinephile, I think it is important to see new films. MARGOT AT THE WEDDING is an interesting example to use, because it was made by a young American director who had developed a certain cache from his previous film and took the liberties he was offered to make a much riskier, stranger film than he had ever made before. It was unsurprisingly dismissed by critics and did poorly at the box office despite it big stars, but it also seemed to have been largely ignored by cinephiles many of whom will probably discover it in 10 years. This kind of lag is unfortunate. My point is that an additional problem is susceptibility to buzz and it seems like cinephiles should be seeking out what is both new and interesting that is being ignored.

Of course, one should always choose Masumura (and pretty much everything else) over Julian Schnabel.

March 23, 2008 11:59 AM  
Blogger Darren said...

In recent years, I've fallen into a pattern that seems to work pretty well for me. I probably see only five or six new films in Knoxville theaters each year. Like you, I catch another 30 or so at TIFF. And then, in late winter, after all of the year-end lists have been posted, I go scouring through them and compile a list of new films that seem worth checking out. I've spent the last couple weeks watching some of the more interesting 2007 films I missed the first time around.

Otherwise, nearly all of my viewing is dedicated to older films. And because I tend to be a bit obsessive compulsive, I take a fairly systematic approach to it. For example, I just finished watching all of the Orson Welles films I could get my hands on, and I'm about to begin watching John Ford and Roberto Rosellini.

Girish, do you have any method to picking older films? From the ten you listed, it looks like you've been watching Indian movies along with whatever happens to be playing at the Cinematheque and in NYC.

March 23, 2008 12:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm the same anonymous from above and I wanted to tack on some additional thoughts.

I tend to operate a bit like Darren and catch up with the year in movies on Netflix based on top ten lists, but I mention MARGOT AT THE WEDDING not because it's a great film and not because Baumbach needs the kind of enthusiastic support of cinephiles that Pedro Costa may require to get his films seen but because it was a film I easily could not have seen (never having been a Baumbach or Wes Anderson fangirl) that was a surprise. It would easily be missed if you let the indiewire or village voice polls do your filtering for you and it seemed like the kind of film that was in need of championing while it was in theaters.

What I meant by susceptibility to buzz is not only the overpraise of a very clever and entertaining genre film like NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, but equally the bizarre posture of moral indignation that its detractors assumed.

It is impossible to know how best to choose which movies to see, but cinephiles should take risks in what they see and what they champion while the films are still hot.

March 23, 2008 1:36 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Anon., I've had some bad luck with the Baumbach film. I had a ticket for it at Toronto and then Darren and I decided to just go get a drink instead (if I remember right). Then I missed it when it played in town. I actually have the dvd sitting on my night-stand, ready to watch soon.

Darren, I've always admired your sutained focus to take a few weeks or months and watch everything by a filmmaker, like you did with Godard, Wyler, etc. I wish I had that kind of focus but I don't. I tend to disperse myself over a few different 'streams' of viewing at any point in time, which has both its good and bad points.

For example, in the last couple of months, I've had about 4 streams going: (1) Movies planned around road trips to Toronto, Rochester, NYC, etc; (2) Indian popular and art cinema, which'll be an ongoing long-term project for me; (3) One or more filmmakers I'm watching not comprehensively but in a burst of about a half-dozen films each, e.g. currently Mani Ratnam and Andre de Toth; and (4) a slot for purely spontaneous choices not attached to any previous 'program' I may have in mind. I've found that this last category is important to me, and there are at least a couple of films a week I see in this way, by looking at my dvd rental queue and, on impulse, zapping a particular film to the top, or randomly picking something from my dvd/vhs stack. These films can end up sending me in new directions (watching, reading, researching) and can be a source of unexpected pleasures.

I also keep a little pocket notebook to scribble in: ideas, quotes, book and film titles that I encounter from day to day, etc., and I'll often flip through it and use it to make spontaneous viewing decisions.

March 23, 2008 1:57 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

Girish, you are such a pleasant educator. Your class assignments soothe and calm the juvenile delinquent raging within this battleworn body. I sincerely hope one day to be able to take a course with you. You really should teach a seminar on film.

I've responded with a direct reverie over at The Evening Class; but, add as an aside, that your questions are quite timely for me. I am--as someone who entered the realm of film writing belatedly and became somewhat dazzled by press privileges--simply exhausted with the parade of product coming out of Hollywood and Indiewood. I can't even tell you how many movies I watch a year. I sometimes attend two to three press screenings a day. No wonder I'm exhausted. And, also, to be honest, a little disgusted. Some of the magic of movies has gone out of the form for me in watching this endless parade of product.

Thus, to keep my love of movies alive, I've found myself in the last couple of months foregoing the press screenings except a select few and shifting attention to the old masters. I've been looking at early Zhang Yimou, old French films, and like Darren, have taken to flexing a focused study on directorial ouevres. I'm still processing Costa, and am in the midst of the Orson Welles retrospective at PFA.

I find that these older films are truer to the imaginary possibilities of cinema, which most current films have forsaken for the bottom line. If there is truly one redeeming aspect of auteur theory, it is that these are individuals committed to the imaginary possibilities of cinema. Thus, I've returned to them. I've come full spiral.

March 23, 2008 2:35 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

One further aside: as someone interested in reception studies and the sociality of film culture, my choices are frequently determined by which audience I want to be within. I might not have seen an advance screening of There Will Be Blood if not for the enthusiastic online buzz encouraging me to do so. The audience at that advance screening was mightily fan-based, which created a cinematic event that braced the film where it faltered.

The audiences at the Costa retrospective asked intelligent questions that the roaring crowd at Om Shanti Om wouldn't have had time to formulate, let alone voice, they were swooning so much.

San Francisco's embarrassment of riches with regard to film fare forces me to often choose between equally fine programs. What always clinches the choice tends to be in the director is in attendance to interact with his crowd, whether an old film or new (as with the recent Bogdanovich mini-retrospective at the Castro).

March 23, 2008 4:40 PM  
Anonymous jim emerson said...

Anonymous's Dylan quote is right on the mark. Girish, if you're seeing that many films a year, and about 1/7 are new releases, that seems like a good ratio to me -- especially considering how many films from past years you've already seen.

I see new films for the same reasons anyone does: 1) because the film sounds intriguing to me; 2) because I'm interested in the filmmaker(s); 3) so I can participate in a discussion about the film and the ideas it raises.

I see films made in years past... for the same reasons. In the last few weeks I've seen the following new releases for deadline reviewing purposes: "Funny Games " (remake; also re-watched parts of the original), "21," "The Bank Job," "The Other Boleyn Girl," "Standard Operating Procedure," "Chop Shop" (third time), "Teeth," "Shelter," "Let's Get Lost" (1988), "Chapter 27," "CJ7" and "Paranoid Park" (second time). (Some of the ones I re-watched were films I hadn't seen since Toronto last September, so I needed to see them again to write about them.)

Then, really late at night, I've watched HBO's "In Treatment" (On Demand) -- and some other films directly or indirectly connected with things I was writing about above, including "Charley Varrick," "The Taking of Pelham One, Two Three," "Irreversible," "I Stand Alone," "The Brave One," "Morvern Callar," and a string of Hanekes: "The Seventh Continent," "Night of the Wolf," "Benny's Video," "The Castle"... I don't remember what else.

I think we've talked about this before: I don't consider whether a film is "new" or "old" when deciding to see it (except that its availability in theaters or on DVD will, of course, be a factor). Any film is present-tense while you're watching it. (Though seeing "Charley Varrick" and "Pelham" in 2008 sure brought back some realities about the treatment of women in 1973-74, which was still WAY behind the treatment of racial minorities. Also, just hearing Walter Matthau use "the fuzz" in sentences without any undue emphasis was a trip.)

March 23, 2008 5:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you can't only be a cinephile. your life has to be in real touch with the films you watch (including the ones you don't like) or else it is just masturbation. i agree with maya: if you watch too many movies in a senseless way you tend to loose your love for cinema and even get disgusted. it is difficult to maintain a profound love for cinema. each person has to find their own reasons to choose one film over the other.
Ricardo Pretti
sorry for my bad english.

March 23, 2008 5:50 PM  
Anonymous pacheco said...

Very interesting post, Girish. Being a young person, I often feel guilty that I don't have the same drive/knack/interest in some of the older films and filmmakers. I feel like I should be choosing The Passion of Joan of Arc over Live Free or Die Hard. I feel like I should watch that Netflix DVD of Chinatown that's been sitting around for over a month, but instead I watch another episode of Friday Night Lights.

I grew up in a generation with the mentality that newer is always better. And I know there are people my age and even younger who are just immersing themselves in Hitchcock, Godard, and tons of more filmmakers that I've never even heard of. But it's hard for me. I almost have to be disciplined to do it. Sometimes I choose not to because older films tend to be more challenging than I'm used to; whether it's a language barrier, they're "deeper" or more "intense," more thought-provoking, or just different. Yet whenever I do get myself to sit down and watch a an older film (and by older, I'm talking more about 20+ years ago, not 2005), I end up appreciating it. So I don't know why I struggle with it.

March 23, 2008 6:30 PM  
Blogger Michael Kerpan said...

There are a number of contemporary film makers that I try to keep up with as much as I can. And there are new films I want to see because I love the performers (assuming the films sound at all interesting). But, as there are a seemingly infinite number of potentially great old movies -- old movies get watched more often.

March 23, 2008 7:36 PM  
Blogger David said...

First off, glad to see anon. use Margot as an example. It's not a masterpiece, but, like Boarding Gate (and they're not totally dissimilar) it got lambasted for mostly moralistic reasons, which is absurd, while its astounding formal virtues were totally ignored. Evidently Boarding Gate's reception in France has been quite positive, and I'm guessing it's because there isn't the same knee-jerk intolerance to out-and-out S&M, no matter how it's being treated (see Denby's review in particular).

But this is all beside the point.

The difference in choosing what to watch, I think, is between reading all the minutiae of the daily news, following trends and developments and stories of minor interest, and reading a history book; of course the best thing is to do both (I hardly do either). Here's a quote from Olivier Assayas (who, when I saw him a few months ago, was championing very old guys like Guitry, Grémillon, and Wellman), which I'm not sure I agree with:

"The connection that I have with cinema is a connection to the present tense. I’ve never been a cinéphile in the sense of someone who has a privileged relationship with the history of cinema. In a certain way I’ve always wanted films to hit me head-on and resonate. My connection with cinema as a spectator is journalistic. For me cinema makes sense of the world. Frequently when faced with the choice between a classic that I’ve never seen and a possibly mediocre film, just released that week, I’ll have an almost mechanical inclination towards the mediocre film that gives me, in a certain way, news about the present world."

March 23, 2008 8:54 PM  
Blogger weepingsam said...

I suppose my answer is a little boring: I usually see 2 new films a week, and usually go to matinees - they don't really compete with older films. The older films that show in theaters tend to show at night - and if I watch DVDs they're at night. So it usually works out to 75-100 new films a year. The variation is in the older films - how many I see. All these things are very dependent on location, I imagine. Boston gets most of the films I want to see -I don't have to see films that don't interest me. And where I live matters - I've moved back and forth between the suburbs and the city a couple times, and I'm a lot less likely to go see something if I have to take the subway home at midnight than if I can walk it. Being back in the city, I'm seeing a lot more films again, and seeing more of them in theaters.

On the broader question - I certainly think you need to see as much as you can from film history. I try to fill in as much of the past as I can get to. But I think it's worth pursuing new films as well. It's easy to say that the older films you see will be better than the new ones - the older ones have been prefiltered. We're in the process of filtering the newer ones. And that's exciting, isn't it?

I think I said something like this during the foreign film poll that went around the blogs last year - comparing the way cinephiles looked at new films in the 60s vs. now. The poll excluded films since 2002: which strikes me as unthinkable in the 1960s. It seems important to me to remember that it is possible that the next film I see might be the best film I have ever seen in my life. Why not? Enough new films are good enough to make me wonder: maybe Inland Empire and Colossal Youth and There Will be Blood aren't the best films ever, but they're something. And the rest of them are the context - t know what people are doing on film now, which is probably necessary for knowing exactly what they can be doing....

March 23, 2008 9:11 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

All sorts of factors work on me. If I watch more older films on DVD, it's in part because I find going to a theater harder to do. Home is more convenient and usually more comfortable. As for the films I choose, sometimes it is a matter of what interests me at the time or if it's a new DVD or film that I feel like writing about. I also see enough films that I really can't write about.

What I have been doing, although not systematically, is going through the Criterion Collection at the Denver Public library. I have found a good number of films there that it allows me also to delete some titles from my Netflix queue.

I'm at a point where the few new films I see in Denver are either at the Starz which now has a global series running culminating with Opera Jawa, or Neighborhood Flix because the theater is so damn comfortable.

I'm glad you got to see Day of the Outlaw, a film I've only seen on TV. Let me also admit that of newer titles, I saw and liked Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

March 23, 2008 10:24 PM  
Blogger Sachin G. said...

Girish, you put it much better than I could: "...see a wide enough range of films to acquire a certain level of working knowledge about world cinema (both narrative and avant-garde) that will give one the facility to begin making associations and building networks in one’s head across decades, filmmakers, countries, and genres on dimensions like themes, formal strategies, stylistic characteristics, and performance."

For a few years, I found myself constantly in a mad rush between trying to see old films while keeping up with newer film festival releases (be it in the cinema or DVD). I wanted to cover as much diverse fields/themes but I found each year the diverse net ended up growing into an unmanaged spiral, where a discovery of a director led me to another thread, etc.

So as an experiment last year, I decided to create my own themes to explore. That way, I was better able to plan what I would see for the next few weeks/months. In the meantime, if a new film came up that seemed too good to pass over, then I would fit that in. But otherwise, I stuck to my regional or director focus like only watching movies from one country or works by one director for a week or a month long stretch at a time. This planning enabled me to be more focussed and relaxed as opposed seeing random works.
I sort of stumbled onto my attempt to see works by only one director at a time though. I wanted to see everything by David Lynch before I tackled Inland Empire. So I spent maybe 1-2 weeks to see only works by him. It was interesting to see parallels and common themes that emerged his different films, so I started that with some other director's as well.

I am not sure how I will approach things this year but I will still try to keep some loose framework to visit older works.

March 24, 2008 2:45 AM  
Blogger Sachin G. said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

March 24, 2008 2:45 AM  
Blogger Keith Uhlich said...

Girish-

Your questions remind me of the importance of having as diverse a set of friends and lovers as possible. Just yesterday was a particularly perfect cinephile day: my boyfriend Dan showed me Bette Davis in "The Old Maid" in the morning and my friend Nathan took me to see "Abraham's Vale" (Manoel de Oliveira) in the evening. A stunning sort of contrast personally, but also a reminder of how thankful I am to have intimates with such unique tastes that they then graciously share, helping to edify and shape my own perceptions as a result.

This week: "Sex and Death 101" to review; "Namibia" (Charles Burnett); a brief write-up today of "Eat, For This is My Body." Then off to the Sarasota Film Festival for a varied selection, among others, of Bergman/Ullmans, the Garrel you mention above, Fatih Akin, a documentary on Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy, and hopefully the chance to show my parents Burton's version of "Sweeney Todd" and "There Will Be Blood". Somewhere in all this I hope to write up "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" and "In Treatment".

Riches all, and I have such a vast circle of folks who've helped me along, whether they know of it or not. Thanks for being one of those. :-)

March 24, 2008 8:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Your questions remind me of the importance of having as diverse a set of friends and lovers as possible."

I tried, but my wife just ain't buying that.

March 24, 2008 8:44 AM  
Blogger Keith Uhlich said...

"Your questions remind me of the importance of having as diverse a set of friends and lovers as possible."

I tried, but my wife just ain't buying that.


Implication being, for most, over time. :-)

March 24, 2008 8:56 AM  
Anonymous pacheco said...

Sachin, I like your strategy. I too have found that sometimes without a plan, things will get out of focus and control pretty quickly (as you mentioned, one filmmaker leads to another, which leads me onto another tangent). I'd like to make a plan for my future film-watching endeavors without feeling the need to watch everything that plays at the cineplex. I guess I'll start with the basics and work my way up.

March 24, 2008 9:38 AM  
Blogger Campaspe said...

Hee!! At least you do see new films. Me, last year I saw ... um, almost none. I think I saw something new but can't remember which one. Now clearly this is a lousy system on my part because there are good movies released all the time, and I'm not seeing them. The current situation is partly a parental thing. We're trying to get more into a groove of going out, now that the baby isn't as much of a baby, and Mr. C has plaintively requested some new films. But I have a Netflix account, and it's filled with oldies, and I did make it out to the movies several times last year, and it was to see Lang and Ophuls and some others. So it's also a matter of laziness, in a sense; I know that I am more likely to find a contemporary movie tedious and so I save my viewing for the eras and films that interest me most. I risk having my film sensibility become more of a museum piece than the old films I watch. But I must admit, I like my viewing habits. And I will probably always be a person who gets a lot more excited by the words "Hangover Square on DVD!" than "Judd Apatow is back!" Which brings me to: did you love Moonfleet? how did you see it, I thought it wasn't available on DVD?

March 24, 2008 12:40 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Maya, Jim, Ricardo, Pacheco, Michael, David, Sam, Peter, Sachin, Keith, Campaspe, Anon.--Thank you, all!

Maya, you make me laugh out loud ("soothe and calm the juvenile delinquent raging within this battleworn body"). If I had the presence of mind, I'd have grabbed the chance to see Om Shanti Om in Madras with my parents over Christmas, but I let it slip.

And yes, once you begin gaining an upper hand over this "parade of product" (so you have control over the product, not the other way around), the magic will return for you, I'm sure. Also, sometimes it's good to know, walking into a film, that you are there for its pleasure alone, not to write a post or a review or an interview about it...no?

David, that's a fascinating excerpt. Is the interview online? Or is it from that extended Cinema Scope interview following the release of demonlover...? btw, like you, I have an afinity for Assayas as well.

Jim, your words about every film being in the "present tense" while you watch it also puts me in mind of Adrian's characterization: "...[N]o 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."

Ricardo -- Like any and all kinds of love, it is indeed difficult to maintain a profound love of cinema continuously.

Sachin, Pacheco & Michael -- The times when I end up focusing in a dense and sustained way on one filmmaker are usually when the program is externally imposed on me, e.g. at a retrospective. And it's invaluable for detecting all the correspondences and echoes between films, as Sachin notes.

Sam, I'm realizing that even the older films haven't quite been "pre-filtered" yet. TCM is a machine that puts out not-quite-completely-filtered classical Hollywood cinema in good numbers. I think it still has the capacity to surprise now and then.

Peter, a while back I picked up the 3-for-1 de Toth dvd-pack you blogged about, and seeing Day of the Outlaw has made me launch into a run of his films.

Keith, you have an amazingly packed and enviable week! Just reading about it inspires me to try putting together an eclectic menu for my own.

Campaspe, I saw Lang's Moonfleet from a tape I made off TCM a few years back. If you'd like to see it, I can drop it in the mail to you. Hangover Square's a beaut, ain't it? And I enjoyed your new Joan Crawford post.

March 24, 2008 12:54 PM  
Anonymous Marilyn said...

Guilt isn't really a word I associate very much with my movie-watching habits. Now that I have a blog, I feel some responsibility to my readers to post, but never do I feel guilty for not watching something.

I watch anything that's interesting to me, and that interest could come from a recommendation from a friend or the hubby, a review, a plot synopsis, the director, the star, etc etc etc. I have pretty catholic tastes, so nothing seems out of bounds. I was actually offended when I told a coworker that I just reviewed favorably Mission: Impossible III, and she said she'd never see that film. Other people I know are actively campaigning against Funny Games--sight unseen. I don't understand this kind of narrow-mindedness.

I see a lot of new movies at film festivals, not too many at the regular theatres (art or mainstream), and quite a few on cable and DVD/VHS. I used to avoid rewatching a film I'd already seen because there were so many I hadn't seen. Now I'm not so strict. Watching films is, first and foremost, entertainment for me.

I've also cut down my viewing some because I get movie fatigue. I never want this enjoyment to be work, despite the pressures of blogging. I've ruined a couple of pastimes that way and refuse to make the same mistake again.

March 24, 2008 3:47 PM  
Blogger Sachin G. said...

Thanks Pacheco. It is funny that maybe 2 years ago, I would have never considered having a plan to view works. But having one also saved me plenty of time in trying to decide what to rent (via the local indie DVD place or the net).

March 24, 2008 5:46 PM  
Anonymous Alexis said...

Ah, Girish! You've put into words a dilemma I've long held inside. The situation here in Manila is especially taxing, considering that we have no Cinematheque or art house/repertory cinema which show classics or alternative contemporary fare on a regular basis, and that the pirated DVD market continues to thrive, the selection of films (both new and old) continually getting better. This factors in the dilemma.

(It feels almost sinful to admit that while I count Andrei Tarkovsky as one of my favourite filmmakers, I've seen but one of his films on the big screen...this can also be said for many other filmmakers I admire).

If there was a cinema or Cinematheque here showing interesting fare in 35mm prints, then I would certainly prioritize that, but as there isn't, then I'm often left to decide between what's available in the pirated DVD market and the DVDs I've stocked up from travels (from either purchases, films burned by other cinephile friends, or works passed by filmmaker friends and acquaintances).

When attending festivals, outside of any responsibilities (to view certain films as a jury, or for coverage) then among the works that catch my interest, I tend to favour retrospectives or titles I don't think I'll get a chance to see again otherwise, constantly thinking about what's available or easier to access. In these cases, I have to admit, choices are often driven by a certain paranoid desperation for cinema, and for experiencing it in a way I don't often get to do at home.

Between *most* recent Hollywood fare and my DVDs, I'll take my DVDs. Between my DVDs and a good cinema experience, I'll take the cinema experience. Sad to say, outside of Filipino films, I'm watching less and less films in the cinema when I'm in the Philippines.

On another note:
An argument began recently between a friend and I with regard to an end of the year list I had made. He found the scope of the year end 'best-of' list I had made narrow, and asked me about several highly discussed popular films, and if I had seen them (of which, perhaps 1/3 to 1/2 I had, some not watched because of lack of interest, others lack of opportunity to view it). He went on to argue that a good critic should see everything, or as much as possible, to which I argued-- of what? -- as, classics aside, there is so much new cinema I feel one can't help but be selective and subject, in a way, in what one chooses to see.

For fear of writing too long a comment, I'll finish with this note: this discussion reminds me just a little bit of a Cinema Scope piece by Quintin on cinematic appetite: "An Anorexic's Case Against Uchida Tomo":(http://cinema-scope.com/cs22/spo_quintin_uchida.htm)
Read it? Thoughts?

March 24, 2008 10:50 PM  
Anonymous Alexis said...

whoops, i think the link got cut off. here it is again:
http://cinema-scope.com/cs22/spo_quintin_uchida.htm

March 24, 2008 10:51 PM  
Blogger Ryland Walker Knight said...

Before my return to school I was watching a lot more movies--maybe 4 Netflix and 2 theatricals a week, depending on budgetary concerns. When I worked at a movie theatre I saw even more films at the cinema. It was easy to see close to "everything"; or, everything that piqued my interest. But I still feel like a neophytic cinephile. I'm still learning a lot, and broadening my scope. For instance: I was stuck in a very America-centric zone before that recent Pedro Costa experiment, which was delightful, a fine way to recharge my critical system. Yet, as soon as that finished I was back in the same world, as I continue my thesis work. (And _Paranoid Park_ provided a fine diversion; saw that a second time today and it was even better than I remembered.)

I returned to Netflix last semester with the three-at-a-time plan, which proved unwise, and I tried to watch a lot of older movies. There would be the occasional new release that I had to watch ASAP (I can only think of _Pirates 3_), but for the most part I kept it classic. Now I'm down to one-at-a-time and just mailed back _Juliet of the Spirits_, which I'd had sitting around for two months. It's odd to recognize that my cinephilia has slowed. Odder still that, on top of the fatigue of constant reading/writing for school, I simply don't have the drive to consume cinema as I once did. I imagine this will change shortly. But for now I kind of enjoy not spending so many nights staring at a screen. I find myself reading more, and writing more (although less than I'd like), at night. This development has been amplified by the good weather and my itch to play as much basketball as possible. (I'm still not very good but it's fun to use my body and watch it change steadily, however slowly, into something I'm happier with.)

SO: Yes, I'm trying to engage my world as much as my cinephilia. But, as this present tense will recede, who knows what the next few months may bring when I have no more homework, per se, and the California sun starts shining brighter, longer, hotter. My biggest problem right now, it seems, is getting trapped in Tetris or Chain Factor. That really eats up valuable time.

(I always hate coming late to your comments, Girish, because I feel it ever harder to continue the conversation already happening. Hope this addresses some of the concerns proposed above me. If not, maybe I'll come back and participate some more as the week progresses. But this is Spring Break and there is a lot of basketball to be played in that delectable sunshine. And a lot of pages to write.)

March 25, 2008 2:52 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Marilyn, Sachin, Alexis and Ry!

Please--don't ever worry about your comments being too "long" (Alexis) or "late" (Ry). Your minds are always buzzing, working, and I do nothing but enjoy your thoughts as you spin them out.

Alexis, I love that Quintin article on anorexic and bulimic cinephilia. Here's a post I did a year or two ago that ignited a discussion of it (and other film criticism issues).

Ry, my mom is an Indian woman in her 60s (who has never worn anything but traditional Indian saris) but boy is she hooked on Tetris! I've never played the game myself.

March 25, 2008 8:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For me, Cinema is an art, that has the capacity to make sense of the world - or at least, an art, that has the capacity to relate to the world in an iteresting way. If cinema would not have this capacity to be a realistic art of some sort, I would not be interested in it at all. Therefore, for me new movies are always of the greatest importance, because they speak directly to / about the world, in which I live. Of couse, older films speak to our times as well plut they tell something about their time and the continuity of these times, but I think, a cinephilie that fetichizes the past is a dead one. The focus point must be the cinematic presence, no matter how weak one may perceive these films. I can't limit myself to classics, to artistic films or something like that. Most important for me is a scope as broad as possible. That means: "New films" are not only the latest Hollywood-realeases or european arthaus-hypes (I'm from Europe, there's not that much going on here, really), but especially films from young, vibrant cinemas in asia and africa, both commercial and non-commercial. I think these movies, movies that are not that easy to see (and sometimes not that rewarding on first sight because of technical imperfections etc)should be at least one of the prime focusses of every serious cinephile. Because these are the movies that really have really something different to tell about the world we are living in. It's not that easy to come by these movies, sure. But today, nobody who is able to access the internet can excuse himself and continue watching Truffaut /Rohmer / Ozu 24/7.
Greetings
Lukas

March 25, 2008 9:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what I really wanted to say: favoring new releases has (for me) nothing to do with staying on tune with the in-group discussions among te selected few, but it has a lot to do with staying in touch with a certain mode of perception of the world... maybe even with a certain way of beeing alive...

March 25, 2008 12:36 PM  
Blogger Bob Turnbull said...

I'm approaching my film education (and entertainment of course) in the same way as I did my musical education when I was younger - in a very scattershot, all-genre encompassing way. My sources for films range from my zip.ca queue, renting from a local non-mega chain shop, my own collection (with new arrivals popping up in the mail reasonably often), TCM recordings and of course theatrical showings (including festivals, Cinematheque and one off screenings).

I'm currently flipping between classic musicals, pre-codes (Joan Blondell - sigh) and a range of Japanese films. I kind of like not knowing what I'm going to watch next and letting my impulses guide me. A blog post can make me immediately think "I gotta watch that tonight!" and occasionally a conversation with a coworker can too (today after speaking with a buddy at work I wanted to rush home and watch "Dr. Strangelove", Tati's "Playtime" and "Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance" - I kinda doubt I'll get to all of them tonight though...).

Over time, I think I'm building a pretty good background on which to understand new films and techniques. I've always been a dabbler and generalist (in hobbies as well as work), so I like knowing a little about a lot. This also keeps up my level of surprise when watching film - there's nothing like being totally caught off guard by something on the screen; something you've never seen before. By jumping around a lot I find it happens more frequently than if I focus on a specific style/genre of film (I watched a great deal of horror throughout October and November - I enjoyed it, but by the end I had lost a lot of the suspense factor).

I'm actually going to watch the end of "The Pajama Game" tonight - nothing earth shattering, but fun and colourful so far. My favourite of the musicals so far has probably been "Royal Wedding" - not just because of Astaire's two terrific solo dance spots, but also because of Jane Powell's glowing presence. Next in my zip.ca pile may be "Come And See" (the Russian WWII film), but maybe I won't jump directly to it from Doris Day.

So I'm kind of letting the wind carry me at the moment and quite enjoying the route it's mapping out with its sudden gusts and updrafts.

March 25, 2008 10:35 PM  
Blogger Walrus said...

I struggle with the new/old question as well, especially since my list of old films I'd like to see eventually runs more than a 1000 long. Yet one factor that I try to take into account is that I've already seen 30-50 films from most past years (and I suspect you've seen much more) and so watching a certain level of new films is as much about diversification as anything else.

It's not a popular opinion with tough-as-nails old-school film critics, but I think it is just as important not to stay trapped in a particular time period from the past (or to hold some fictional idea of a "golden era"), as it is not to live only in the culture of the present. Sometimes watching newer films actually improves my understanding and appreciation of oldies, especially when dealing with filmmakers who also address and interrogate the past.

Anyway, excellent issue to bring up. I personally think your ratio is pretty on-the-money.

March 26, 2008 6:49 PM  
Blogger Noel Vera said...

Hi, Alexis, fancy seeing you alive and posting on the internet. Been haunted by your request for an article I've spent months trying to start to write. Now it's been so long I probably have to see the film again (Heremias).

On that issue you raised--just ask him how many of the films you've seen he's seen, and can he say with any confidence that they're better than what he'd seen. Of course, I try see enough of the recent releases (and if you think Manila is cut off, you should try central Pennsylvania) to say I've kept up--but not all.

March 26, 2008 7:11 PM  
Blogger acquarello said...

Sachin's comment about focusing on one filmmaker or region reminds me of one of the more interesting experiments in the now defunct Cinemarati board with the World Cinema Tour (or something like that). It definitely helps you get into a particular frame of mind to be able to pick up on the cultural subtleties and recurring preoccupations. I suspect this has to do with the kind of hybridity of culture that Trinh T. Minh-ha talks about when an "outsider" immerses into another culture/mindset. You never approach complete understanding, but you become attuned to it.

I think Lukas nicely sums up my approach to film viewing too. I'd also add that getting an understanding on the way a national cinema evolved is also important, which is how some old films can become (or remain) relevant today, even if they may have been out of fashion for a while.

For instance, my April calendar is pretty much going to be all old films with the Jean Eustache retrospective in DC and Romanian Cinema in NYC. But they're also still quite relevant, whether it's trying to decipher what happened to the May 68 generation of filmmakers who sublimated their activism into interesting syntaxes (like Farocki or Garrel, or even Depardon), or how Romania seemed to "suddenly" emerge into one of the most exciting national cinemas just in the last few years with The Death of Mr. Lazarescu and 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days.

I think Girish hits it right with the "trickier" choices being between easily available old and new films in the theater or on DVD, although I think the stickier issue is the tendency that for some people, "old film" has become synonymous with DVD and "new film" with movie theater, and the danger there is that there is an implied assignment of worth when making that categorization, i.e., if it's available on DVD, why bother going to the cinémathèque?

March 27, 2008 10:51 AM  
Blogger Gareth said...

I feel a little inadequate after so many thoughtful responses...

I do feel a sort of "need" to find a balance between new films (which I tend to define as films from the last year or two, depending on release schedules) and older films. Because of the other things I enjoy doing, I don't go to the movies as often as I used to, and often catch up with films on DVD, but I still like to have the sense that I'm exploring the more distant past, too.

I probably see fewer new (to me) films than many of those who have responded: probably 120-150 a year, plus those that I re-watch for the 2nd, 3rd or 23rd time. That works well with the rhythm of my life (it's still 2-3 new films a week, sometimes more if I watch the same film over again) and with my desire to try to absorb something from the film, whether it's something that impresses me as an extraordinary piece of work or simply something off the production line.

I find my choices are determined by things I've read about - especially, these days, on blogs - and want to see (like many cinephiles, I suspect, I have a list of "films to see" that only even seems to get longer as I find more sources of inspiration); suggestions from friends and family; weekend-night impulse decisions when we meet up with some friends to catch a movie; and the combination of tastes that result in the Netflix queue my wife and I have created.

That said, there are still intermittent objectives: recently, I decided to see more films from Ireland (home), and wanted to finally see Apichatpong Weersathekul's features (I watched the first three over the last month or so). I've also tried to see a few more things at the local venues for more offbeat fare, to give them more support than in the past.

I think I'd sum up my movie-watching by saying that for me balance is important: balance between industrial product and less mainstream films, but also balance (in the context of my life) between movies and other aspects of life, whether that be work, time with my family, sports (with the weather warming up, even in Boston, I identify strongly with Ryland's comments about getting outside, my favourite place to be), and so forth. I'm glad that others watch far more films, and share their thoughts with me, but it probably wouldn't work as well for me!

March 27, 2008 9:32 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Lukas, Bob, Walrus, Noel, Acquarello, Gareth--Thank you!

Such a great and valuable diversity of perspectives here...

Acquarello, like you, I'm looking forward to the Jean Eustache series. The previous time such a series made the rounds (about 7 or 8 years go), I remember catching (and liking) Santa Claus has Blue Eyes and Mauvaises Frequentations (a.k.a. "Bad Company"). A small-scale version of the series you're getting in DC is playing in Rochester. I'll drive up on Tuesday for Mes Petites Amoureuses.

I liked what Dan said in his comments recently: "Interesting how all Eustache's fiction films feel so different in terms of style. Le Père Noël has a bit of early Godard or Truffaut to it; La Maman is more like Rohmer/Warhol; and Amoureuses makes one think of Bresson. And they're all autobiographical, I believe. What's common to all Eustache's work isn't so much a particular set of style characteristics as it is a sensibility of negotiation between style and subject."

March 28, 2008 7:44 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Adrian's column at Filmkrant is on the screenwriter/auteur debate. He recounts an exchange at Harlan Ellison's website between Josh Olson and Brad Stevens. Olson wants to remind everyone that though Cronenberg might get the credit for the two much-talked-about sex scenes in A History of Violence, he (Olson) is the one who wrote them word by word. Adrian writes:

"Stevens fires back with an impeccable cinephilic example. The opening scene of Hou Hsiao-hsien's Café Lumière (2003) is so rich and complex on the level of its sounds and images, gestures and spaces, light-values and rhythms, that it could never have been entirely 'foreseen' or described in a script. Stevens does not mention Hou's close longtime script collaborator, celebrated Taiwanese novelist Chu Tien-wen, but his point is solid. However, it sends Olson and his LA-based comrades into apoplectic fits: it's a critic's fantasy! Auteurist nonsense that can only believed by eggheads who have never made a film! Give the greatest directors in the world a blank page, and see if they are so great then!

"As Steven Maras argues in his forthcoming Wallflower Press book on screenwriting, this rage rests on the metaphor-idea that, while the writer is the true creator, and the script functions as an architectural blueprint, the director is merely the person who 'executes' the script, or builds the house to prior specifications. What auteurism - in its most enlightened form - is about is not the god-like primacy of the director on set, but the 'holistic', integrated, organic conception of a film, from first idea to final post-production. Hou guides this process from the start; while Cronenberg imposes his vision on projects that he does not always initiate. But cinema is the weaving of many different 'writings', from the written to the filmic - not the primacy of any one over all the others."

March 28, 2008 8:31 AM  
Blogger Flickhead said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

March 28, 2008 9:19 AM  
Blogger Maya said...

Girish, thank you for the link to Adrian's column; which fascinated me not only for the auteur/auteurs debate; but, also for the intriguing reference to the Ellison article on Val Lewton! I must track that article down. Thank you for putting me on the scent. Bah-ROOOOOO!!

My only direct contact with the tension between writers and directors and the weakness of auteur theory to accomodate both concomitantly was when I interviewed Guillermo Arriaga, right around the time he was sparring with Innaritu. I got a good earful of his complaints.

I admire how Adrian strives to reconcile and balance creativities. Auteur theory and its adherents has the sad effect of creating the kind of rivalry that, let's say, an Oscar does among actors. Especially with, let's say, Lewton: who was the true auteur? Lewton as producer? Tourneur as director? Siodmak, Bodeen, Wray as writers? Robson and Wise as editors?

There should be some way of understanding auteurism as the synergy of combined and, hopefully, collaborative talents.

March 28, 2008 11:46 PM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

re: Adrian's article
"Give the greatest directors in the world a blank page, and see if they are so great then!"
Unfortunately a film is not a page of paper. It's a world of Images above all, even the dialogues are illustrated and mis en scène projected in another dimension beyond its simple verbalization.

Give a great writer a camera and see if the audience likes the film as much as the book. ;)

March 29, 2008 7:47 AM  
Anonymous Dottie said...

I think you're missing the point, Harry.

The comment was most likely made in the context of those great directors who made narrative films and yet did not write themselves. The narrative is certainly an important aspect of their art, and there is no denying the contribution of writers to this aspect.

What about: give a director of fiction a camera and have him try to make a film without writers, actors, cinematographers, art and costume designers, key grips, gaffers, editors, negative cutters, etc.

Personally, the auteur theory is a good point-of-view with regards to appraising film, but I don't think it's the only point-of-view. Neither does it sufficiently ask and answer all the questions.

Anyway, the idea of a single creative force, in any art form, strikes me as an unpleasantly narcissistic one. When I write, I always keep in mind the enormous contribution of critics of my work. I wouldn't hesitate to even call them co-creators.

March 29, 2008 8:01 AM  
Anonymous thepopview said...

I don't think the question is not just whether one ought to watch more new films or classic ones. In part, the question is whether you, as a film blogger ought to watch and write about older movies or newer ones.

There is a tendency in the blogosphere to complain when bloggers don't comment on current events. I often see readers complain that a blogger's silence obviously indicates a negative attitude towards the thing in question. This is obviously ridiculous. There are so many bloggers writing about new things all the time, that I feel a blogger ought to not chime in unless he or she has something of value to add. Otherwise, your time is better spent focusing on neglected topics, such as Fritz Lang movies. I wish I could buckle down and watch all the Mabuse movies, not only his, but the ones form the Sixties

March 29, 2008 12:36 PM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

But I meant it also for mainstream narrative cinema! (well there are some movies that are filmed theatre, entirely based on "punchline delivery" like a TV skit, but then again this isn't cinema)

Spielberg's Duel was made with one camera, a car and a truck. The narration is all in the dramatisations of images, no need to write complicated psychological developments.
Tarkovsky's original shooting for Stalker went down the drain and he started over a new story with 4 or 5 actors in a dumpster. This is purely cinematic added value.
I don't know take any film of Cassavetes, Jean Eustache, Maurice Pialat, Fassbinder, Kiarostami, Kaurismaki, Hong Sang-soo, Jia Zhang-ke, Lucrecia Martel... (not to mention all the wordless Contemplative films). It is possible to make great films with a poor or absent scripted storyline.

The thing is that a great filmmaker can make a good film with a bad scenario. But a great scenario will not automatically give a great film.
I'm not saying that great writers never help to make great films. There are numerous examples (especially in the classic era). But when these writers try to make their own films, we notice what was the importance of the filmmaker on their side when they were only the screenwriter.

There are examples of one-man-made films too, but if there is no protagonist and no plot we venture in the realm of Avant Garde or the documentary, and you'll find the comparison extreme (Maya Deren, Snow, Mekas, Man Ray, Debord, Lemaître, Warhol, Lynch, Alain Cavalier, van der Keuken, Depardon).

March 29, 2008 12:55 PM  
Anonymous Liz said...

There is definitely a lot of pressure in the blogosphere to be up-to-the-minute on a lot of things, and film is no different. As someone who is pretty isolated from any film festivals or screenings, I mostly get left out of the loop. I never have anything exciting or exclusive to write about, and so I have to rely on films that are readily available. Unfortunately, there's just not enough interest in older films to drive a lot of traffic, generally. Most of the people writing about classic movies seem to have some kind of exclusive PhD in Old Movies. They speak a different language. I don't think I could keep up even if I tried.

March 29, 2008 8:11 PM  
Blogger David said...

"What about: give a director of fiction a camera and have him try to make a film without writers, actors, cinematographers, art and costume designers, key grips, gaffers, editors, negative cutters, etc."

Hi Dottie-- there's a good quote from Charles Bitsch to be found in the current issue of sensesofcinema.com: "I knew a lot of grips who were real geniuses with machinery and others who were very mediocre. Just as there are inspired directors and others who are hired hacks, it’s the same with the grip."

But there's a difference between a writer contributing creatively to a film and someone doing the grunt work. Nobody thanks the pen and paper and laptop manufacturers for the achievements of a great writer.

And as for some examples (and there are plenty in the avant-garde), Keaton and Vertov, despite the latter's reliance on found footage (which he assigned other people to capture), came pretty damn close. That said, having watched My Fair Lady again recently, I'm starting to think that Audrey Hepburn was the true auteur behind most of her films.

Girish, I'm not quite sure where that Assayas quote comes from, actually--I have a booklet of interviews with him which I'm sure I copied it out of. But he says similar, things in the Cinemascope interview:

"Nouvelle vague filmmakers have always been overconscious of their position in history. Whereas the subsequent generations have never been able to think of themselves in historical terms, they have never tried nor wanted, meaning they have never considered themselves as dealing with some kind of unique historical moment: their own present. The present of cinema. They’ve only seen themselves as having a dialogue with a specific past of cinema, the same relationship with the same cinema that the nouvelle vague used to define its own identity. They were using the same blueprint instead of defining their own... Cinema is what it is now, and it’s as good today as it was yesterday. The issue is knowing where you are and being able to define the historical logic of where you are."

It's easy to see his love for Hou Hsiao-Hsien, and then to imagine the response of Godard, who takes up the history of movies as the very history of the world. Though in a sense, at least evidenced by that previous quote, Assayas does as well--and certainly the new wave guys were as journalistic as anyone.

March 30, 2008 3:23 AM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

On one hand there is the Auteur theory (the director should write his/her own script). The "camera-stylo" means "writing the script" on the go, while filming, directly into images (in effect, filming without script).

On the other hand there is the distinction between the work of a writer (in words) and of a filmmaker (in visuals). So even if a director is not an auteur, I believe that his/her screen achievement is something that was not spelt out by the script (if the film is great). Transposing to the screen is a specific job, and even from a famous novel, the director does make it his/her own (the visual interpretation of the novel).
So this polemic is independent from whatever we consider auterism to mean.
Cinema is not literature, because it has its ontological artistic nature (>Bazin).

March 30, 2008 9:10 AM  
Blogger weepingsam said...

"Give the greatest directors in the world a blank page, and see if they are so great then!"

That might be good rhetoric, but it doesn't settle much as an argument. Give a great director a blank page - and I imagine they'll write a script, or get someone to write one, or go find one they can shot, and then you're back where you started. Right where the greatest writer and greatest script is - with a screenplay and no film. Writers with scripts are in the same boat - if they want a film, they have to shoot it themselves or get someone to shoot it - or sell it to someone who can shoot it. Heck - when the two of them (writer and director) get together with script in hand, they'll have to start raising money and hiring technicians and casting actors and... or hire a producer to hire....

Auteurism, in this sense, is probably best thought of as: who's driving the process? did a director find a script, team up with a producer and financier, put together the whole thing - or did the writer? or an actor? (I've been watching Douglas Fairbanks films lately - whatever the credits say and whatever he actually did, is there any sense in which he was not the "auteur" of his films?) For that matter, I don't think it matters much whether one person does everything (or a bunch of things), or a host of different people do the different functions - because in the end, to have a film, you have to write it, finance it, stage it, enact it, shoot it, cut it, score it, and so on (not always in that order, as Godard might say) - delegation or its lack doesn't seem to help or hurt the quality of films, or really diminish the impact that key individuals (or teams) can have on a film.

"Auteur" was a very dubious term for any of this: an analogy to literature that doesn't really apply, and confuses more than it clarifies. I try to avoid the term whenever possible - sticking to more direct names for what people do: writer, director, producer, etc. - or to more generic terms like "filmmakers". I think there is some use in the concept - though it has more to do with the style of the film: who has the most impact on the film's style? it's look, feel, methods of telling stories (or whatever it is doing)? I admit, though, that I tend to think directors have more to do with this than other functions - though I think that is a technical accident. Films have a one to one relationship between scripts and films: the script is written once, filmed once. Compare that to a play, or a song - which are written once, then performed and recorded over and over again - it makes the specific recording or performance less definitive. If songs were recorded exactly once - if the only version of "Night and Day" to exist was Fred Astaire's - wouldn't that be considered far more a Fred Astaire song than a Cole Porter song? I think so. But the point is - that Fred Astaire's version and Frank Sinatra's versions are quite distinct - and any given recording is as much theirs as it is Cole Porter's. But because they both exist, the song itself takes on more power on its own.

March 30, 2008 2:32 PM  
Anonymous dm494 said...

If Sarris is taken as the authority for auteur-based criticism, then it's worth pointing out that he doesn't deny that writers or even actors can be auteurs--see page 37 of "The American Cinema," where Sarris also states that most directors are not auteurs. Much more controversial is Sarris's belief that art must have unity, which only the director can impose on a film, so that a badly directed or "undirected" film "has no importance in a critical scale of values"--which means, I guess, that a well-written, well-acted, well-photographed and well-edited but poorly directed film cannot even begin to be evaluated as if it were a work of art. (See "Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962".)

Is it really true, by the way, that films have a "one-to-one relationship" with their scripts? I don't see anything besides tradition and the fact that screenwriters, unlike playwrights, don't own their work, to prevent multiple films being made from exactly the same shooting script. Isn't this what Haneke has done with "Funny Games"? The possibilities for testing the auteur theory by this theater-like practice are fascinating--imagine comparing the results of two auteur directors working with different sets of actors on a series of films made from shooting scripts that are word-for-word the same. And the practice would upset a commonplace of film criticism--that in film, unlike in theater, actor and role are fused so that we aren't aware (or shouldn't be) of the character as a performance and as a part which others can interpret differently.

March 30, 2008 4:48 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

I would try to challenge a distinction between "older" and "new" films. Let's leave aside the issue of whether a film is viewed in a cinema or in a home display. Perhaps I'm too influenced by the Renaissance (or by Leo Strauss), but I don't tend to view past eras as irrecoverable and seperate historic time-frames. I.E., I'm anti-historicist. We can become, in ourselves, Welles or Naruse or Robert Aldrich today. To me, the best books of the past few years were Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road (published 1960 but forgotten and only heralded recently), Howard Sturgis' Belchamber (originally published in 1904, but forgotten until it's re-publication a month ago) and Seymour Epstein's Leah (published 1961, but still forgotten). They're all fresh and new (well, frankly, Machiavelli's 1518 Mandragola still seems like a shocking and fresh work to me today).

I don't really find selecting old versus new to be a primary issue. Great artists (or great writers, or great philosophers) "point" to each other: the great allude to additional greats that they have found, and we merely need to follow up on those allusions. In the middle ages, we would have simply started by reading the works of a minor Scholastic, who points us to Giles of Rome or Henry of Ghent, who points us to Aquinas, who points us to Averroes and Aristotle.

We merely need to do the same.

March 30, 2008 7:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, Girish, I don't know how you manage to set up never-ending but always very interesting, sometimes crucial discussions; even when I resist, you take one of Adrian Martin's "Ekran" columns as a springboard and make more tempting yet to take part in the discussion.
Fist, on the subject of seeing more old than new films. It all depends, I guess, on how old one is and how many films has managed to watch. I gather most of you must be very young, because you keep discovering films I have seen many times and long ago, and keep watching again. I imagine many of you go to the movies less often than I do (even if I may have come down from 6+ films per day when I was 18 to around an average of 3). Of these 1,100 yearly films, I guess a third are brand-new, another third are old but new for me and the last third are films I have already seen, recent or very, very old alike. But that's rather a question of opportunities, of programmed retrospectives at the Spanish Film Archive, of random travels, not something planned. I don't watch anymore films on TV, although most of what I see now are DVDs. I usually don't go see impatiently the new films which have been nominated for the Oscars or shown/awarded at Cannes or wherever... unless I feel interest or curiosity. Some of them I'm not eager at all to see, although I will end up looking at them. Bad thing if going to the movies becomes a boring chore. Instead, I'm quite curious about new Chinese or Philippine filmmakers, try to know better the Japanese, Russian or Indian cinemas, and feel happy when I have a new Monogram or RKO B-movie, or any silent, to watch for the first time. And I think it is very important to see interesting films several times. Even minor movies are too rich to fully appreciate them at first glance.
Then, about what curiously is called in English "auteurism". I'm quite amazed you are re-enacting discussions held previously and exhaustingly during the '50s, again in the '60s, and once more in the '70s, when things - if not taken to caricatural extremes - seem much simpler than that. I don't know if Joseph W. Reed's "Thre American Originals", about composer Charles Ives, film director John Ford and writer William Faulkner, is a widely read book or not; perhaps not among the cinephiles (which are usually too exclusively involved in films, when they should be interested in almost everything, from economics or politics to history, painting, all sorts of music and all kinds of narrative). But in this very good book, which has some of the best and most original pages ever written about John Ford, without ever using the accursed word "auteur", I think Reed easily (and quite obviously and matter-of-factly) explains (or rather, shows)what this means, when it is seriously applied and truly meaningful, instead of being merely a feather in the cap of our most beloved filmmakers or our own particular "discoveries" (which in every case someone else discovered much earlier) among the old directors. I think it is better to try to write something new about Raoul Walsh, Otto Preminger, Vincente Minnelli, Allan Dwan, Jacques Tourneur, Richard Fleischer, Robert Aldrich, Tod Browning, Mitchell Leisen, Andre de Toth, Michael Curtiz, John M. Stahl, Joseph H. Lewis, Phil Karlson, Jack Arnold, Don Weis, Edgar G. Ulmer, Delmer Daves, George Stevens, Don Siegel or William Wyler, to mention only "dubious" cases from the American cinema than to waste time and efforts debating whether they are or not "auteurs" or only "directors with character and style". From a certain point of view, even the worst European directors of several decades were "auteurs", since they promoted the project, choose the novel or play and adapted it for the screen and wrote part or all of the dialogue,
or at least choose his collaborators and was "in charge", which doesn't mean they made better films even if they could have made them more easily than their contemporaries workings in Hollywood. And if screenwriters were the authors, producers would soon have stopped making movies, it's much cheaper to have a screenplay.
Best,
Miguel Marías

March 31, 2008 9:32 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you, everyone.

Miguel, as always, I find your example inspiring. I had never heard of the Reed book until you mentioned it but I've put in a request for it at my library. I also wanted to mention that I ran across your interview with Rossellini in his book My Method the other day, and enjoyed reading it.

March 31, 2008 4:59 PM  
Blogger project.film.school said...

This is something I struggle with everyday! Part of that struggle comes from the fact that my core group of film buddies have seen many more old movies than I have (they're older and I grew up in Ohio, unaware of the world of cinema that I was missing).

Thus, I constantly feel like I'm behind and need to catch up on my film history. But I have also learned that it's best not to force myself to watch films if I'm not in the mood - as it tends to ruin it for me. Not paying attention to where one's head is when choosing a film is often where things go wrong in my opinion.

In regards to new films, I think that my goals as a filmmaker leads me to want to see a good number of new works. In wanting to create films and already doing so (both documentary and narrative) I think it's important to be current with what is being made on all levels (mainstream to festivals to my housemate's latest piece).

Living in New York I often have to choose between old and new and the cinephile/blogger in me and the filmmaker in me. Tonight was a good example of that - The New Directors/New Films series is happening as was a screening of Andrei Rublev (which I've never seen). I opted for Rublev and am happy I did - although I'll probably never see the film I might have seen in ND/NF while Rublev would have remained on my "to see list"...

I don't have the answer yet but try to be as productive as possible in some way everyday!

Thanks for this post and for everyone's comments!

-Gina

April 03, 2008 12:28 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Gina. Sounds like you made a good choice with Rublev, which I've longed to see on the big screen but have never been able to.

April 03, 2008 7:49 AM  

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