Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Received Ideas in Cinema



You may remember Christian Keathley from his stimulating guest post on "Uncanny Overlaps" a few months ago. In an e-mail last week, Chris was musing about "received ideas" in cinema, and I'd like to share his thought-provoking words here for us to read and talk about. -- Girish.

Jean-Marie Straub once remarked: “People think Eisenstein was the best editor because he had some theories about it. But the greatest and most precise editor was Chaplin, and Jacques Rivette is a close second.”

I love the way this remark turns upside down certain received ideas that we think are set in stone. The received idea here has to do less with Eisenstein than with Chaplin. The established line is that Chaplin was the great humanist filmmaker, and maybe the greatest movie actor of all time; but when it comes to “cinematic” qualities, Keaton is the one who shines. Apparently, Straub sees things differently.

I read this remark of Straub’s years ago, but was reminded of it when my friend Prakash Younger told me about Robert Bresson’s contribution to one of the Sight & Sound Top Ten polls.

1. City Lights
2. City Lights
3. The Gold Rush
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.

In addition to being funny (indeed, Prakash described this as Bresson’s version of a Chaplinesque gag), this list reinforces something of Straub’s point: clearly, the modernists Straub and Bresson see in Chaplin a formal rigor that the general line does not account for. Even when the rest of us acknowledge the general line on Chaplin as a “received idea,” with all the limitations that term implies, that line still holds an influence that can blind us to these other virtues.

Similarly, there are possibly qualities in Eisenstein that the general line on him overlooks as well. Another of my favorite quotes comes from him: “Suppose some truant good fairy were to ask me … ‘Is there some American film you’d like me to make you the author of – with a wave of my wand?’ I would not hesitate to accept the offer, and I would at once name the film that I wish I had made. It would be Young Mr. Lincoln directed by John Ford.” This remark makes me want to re-watch Potemkin more than Young Mr. Lincoln. Are there common qualities, especially qualities in the Eisenstein, that I hadn’t seen before in these films that seem so obviously to contrast one another in so many ways? Those critics who have typically fawned over Eisenstein, Straub, and Bresson (I’m thinking here of the likes of Michelson, Burch, Sontag) never alerted me to any such correspondence.

A key part of the pleasure of these quotes is that each involves a filmmaker of the highest rank speaking candidly (and unexpectedly) about the work of another. None of this nonsense of a director saying what he thinks he's supposed to say. (In the 1952 Belgian Cinematheque poll, both Elia Kazan and Billy Wilder picked Potemkin as the greatest film of all time. I don’t believe it for a second.) A great example of a director speaking candidly about others is the fabulous interview with Jacques Rivette in Senses Of Cinema. It’s filled with great remarks about other directors. Two of my favorites: “Here's a good definition of mise en scène - it's what's lacking in the films of Joseph L. Mankiewicz.” And on Michael Haneke’s Funny Games: “What a disgrace, just a complete piece of shit!” The second remark is just funny, while the first raises a pretty important issue.


* * *

A word of thanks to Chris for those reflections. They've got me thinking. Sometimes received ideas become reinforced and cemented by being brought up repeatedly as critical short-hand. For example: Samuel Fuller's films are "primitive"; Lang is all about fate; Ozu celebrates quiet resignation, and keeps his camera low and static; Chabrol makes Hitchcockian films that are bourgeois satires; Bresson is austere and minimalist; Peckinpah's films revel in ultraviolence, etc, etc. Now, these pronouncements aren't exactly false, but by no means are they the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The problem is that they 'fix' filmmakers too easily and quickly, thus constraining our thinking about them to certain pre-determined pathways.

I'd enjoy hearing from you: What do you think are some "received ideas" in cinema, some too-familar wisdoms that might need questioning or doubting? And are there (like in Chris' examples above) filmmakers who might help us do this by expressing unexpected affinities for certain films or directors we wouldn't normally associate with them?


* * *

Links:

-- At Auteurs' Notebook, David Phelps has an epic, image-filled post on Rivette and Celine and Julie.

-- New articles at the Moving Image Source: Adam Nayman on Peter Lynch; Jonathan Rosenbaum on Marcel L'Herbier; Mark Asch on Tomu Uchida; and Tom Charity on the Chris Fujiwara-edited Defining Moments in Movies.

-- The debut issue of Experimental Conversations ("Cork Film Centre's online journal of experimental film, art cinema and video art"). via Albert Alcoz at Visionary Film.

-- Kevin Lee posts two enjoyable video essays: C. Mason Wells on Truffaut's Les deux anglaises et le continent; and Chris Fujiwara on Jacques Tourneur's Night of the Demon.

-- Michael Sicinski has me curious to check out Definitely, Maybe and The Invisible Circus ("I'm ready to conclude that this Adam Brooks fellow may well be a severely underrated pop filmmaker.")

-- On my list to track down at the library: the new issue of Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, which is devoted to Hou Hsiao-hsien and includes pieces by Hou, Adrian Martin, Paul Willemen, Shigehiko Hasumi, Kumar Shahani, and others.

-- Kristin Thompson on types and characteristics of "turning points" in Hollywood storytelling.

-- At his blog The Cine File, Andrew Schenker reviews Richard Brody's new biography of Godard.

-- New DVD releases that I've just added to my 'queue': Derek Jarman's Caravaggio, Wittgenstein, and Blue; Andre Techine's The Witnesses; Adam Curtis' The Power of Nightmares; Anthony Mann's The Furies; and Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis.

pic: Rivette from the interview: "Starship Troopers doesn't mock the American military or the clichés of war - that's just something Verhoeven says in interviews to appear politically correct. In fact, he loves clichés, and there's a comic strip side to Verhoeven, very close to Lichtenstein. And his bugs are wonderful and very funny, so much better than Spielberg's dinosaurs. I always defend Verhoeven, just as I've been defending Altman for the past twenty years."

55 Comments:

Anonymous pacheco said...

"Critical short-hand" is a great way of describing it. It's almost as if there's a handbook, or a glossary of these things. Many people use them because they sound smart and poetic, but do they truly believe them? There's a danger in reading what other people say about a filmmaker before making up your own mind. Think about it: if you know little about Peckinpah, and then you read that "Peckinpah's films revel in ultraviolence," what are you going to be looking for when you do watch the films? It starts to hinder you from discovering for yourself what Peckinpah's films are really about.

But the trouble is that there are many who are "beginners" when it comes to understanding and reading film, so they look to the "experts" for guidance, and they get the short-hand stuck in their heads from the get-go.

Again, as you said, it's not that these statements are incorrect, but it would be nice if they didn't "contain" filmmakers, and more importantly, our perception of them.

June 24, 2008 11:25 AM  
Blogger dave said...

My favorite line from the Rivette interview: "Hou Hsiao-hsien and James Cameron, same problem."

And of course Chaplin is leaps and bounds beyond Eisenstein as an editor; I always prefer the invisibly perfect to all else (Keaton, like Eisenstein, edits with a hammer rather than a feather).

Straub's consideration of Rivette has only amplified my desire to get a handle on his work (I've on seen Celine and Julie Go Boating and Ne Touchez Pas La Hache)!

Bresson's list betrays a deep understanding of Chaplin's humor, doesn't it?

June 24, 2008 1:06 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Dave & Pacheco -- I think my favorite line from the Rivette interview (although there are many many great ones) might be the closer:

"Besson is only one letter short of Bresson! He's got the look, but he doesn't have the 'r.'"

June 24, 2008 2:38 PM  
Blogger Jacob said...

The Rivette interview explains it all. So that's where Showgirls suddenly received respectability.

June 24, 2008 3:35 PM  
Blogger Ed Howard said...

It's interesting that Rivette is involved in this discussion, because I can't think of any director who resists "critical shorthand" quite as much. He's one of those directors about whom there's very little received wisdom being passed around, not only because his films are especially obscure, but because no two critics can seem to agree on what to say about even the ones they've seen, other than that they usually deal with the theater in some way. This resistance to shorthand reductions is itself one of the reasons my admiration for Rivette keeps growing with every film I see. There's something special about any director whose work so thoroughly dodges pigeonholing. At this point, he's even threatening to dethrone Godard as my pick for greatest Nouvelle Vague auteur.

And speaking of Godard, possibly the most ridiculous bit of critical shorthand that keeps getting passed around is that his post-60s films are "unwatchable." That is, obviously, far from the case, but this supposed wisdom doubtless discourages many admirers of Godard's 60s work from venturing further.

June 24, 2008 4:41 PM  
Blogger Gareth said...

I often feel that Ousmane Sembène is constrained by critics who refer to him being in possession of "an elder's wise tranquility" (J. Hoberman) or a "blithe naturalism" (Elvis Mitchell): he's ascribed a kind of native wisdom in ways that ultimately seem rather patronising to me. There's a repetition of the idea that Sembène is a cinematic "griot", which seems highly reductionist for someone who sets out to use film in certain specific ways as a pedagogical and ideological tool, though it seems like a nice line. There's not much real engagement with some of the problematic aspects of Sembène's work, at least in mainstream criticism, which to me does him a real disservice.

June 24, 2008 5:10 PM  
Anonymous Recktall Brown said...

Ah, that classic Rivette interview. It goes from brilliant insight, his comments on Rohmer are excellent, to hilarious commentary:

Titanic (James Cameron, 1997)

I agree completely with what Jean-Luc said in this week's Elle: it's garbage. Cameron isn't evil, he's not an asshole like Spielberg. He wants to be the new De Mille. Unfortunately, he can't direct his way out of a paper bag. On top of which the actress is awful, unwatchable, the most slovenly girl to appear on the screen in a long, long time. That's why it's been such a success with young girls, especially inhibited, slightly plump American girls who see the film over and over as if they were on a pilgrimage: they recognize themselves in her, and dream of falling into the arms of the gorgeous Leonardo.


That cracks me up.

One tends to find absurd "critical short-hand" comments about a lot of "popular" avant-garde cinema. Most comments on Snow, Brakhage, Deren, to pick the most oft-mentioned (as thats much of what builds up this 'short-hand'), tend to be the same vague generalizations over and over. I don't think this even exists that much about someone like Paul Sharits who on the scale of known to unknown in "experimental" (whatever term you like) film is hardly on the unknown side relatively (though clearly not as known as a Brakhage)

June 24, 2008 7:17 PM  
Anonymous Adrian said...

If you think the late '90s Rivette interview is good, hunt out the 2002 epic discussion with him in the special TRAFIC 'Daney 10 Years Later' issue. The team at the Rivette site should get cracking on the translation of that one!

Resnais is another filmmaker who - although not 'unbuttoned' like Rivette - has marvelous and surprising cinema tastes, especially in musicals. French VOGUE once printed his list, 'The Unusual Video Library of Alain Resnais' - it's a scream. A lot of Richard Quine, Sacha Guitry, Dennis Potter ...

June 24, 2008 7:42 PM  
Anonymous Adrian said...

BTW - Rivette's line about Besson being Bresson 'without the r' is a French pun not too well translated in that version. As Jean-Pierre Coursodon once explained to me (in another translation context), it's a pun that refers (roughly) to 'lacking the air', and "qui n'en a pas l'air" is a phrase used to
describe someone or something that looks different from what he/she/it
really is. So, the comment about Besson is even nastier/cattier than it seems in that English rendition.

June 24, 2008 7:50 PM  
Anonymous Adrian said...

BTW - Rivette's line about Besson being Bresson 'without the r' is a French pun not too well translated in that version. As Jean-Pierre Coursodon once explained to me (in another translation context), it's a pun that refers (roughly) to 'lacking the air', and "qui n'en a pas l'air" is a phrase used to
describe someone or something that looks different from what he/she/it
really is. So, the comment about Besson not being Bresson is even nastier/cattier than it seems in that English rendition.

June 24, 2008 7:52 PM  
Blogger Zach Campbell said...

The biggest & worst 'received idea' to me is that all cinema = commercial cinema (and all that that has historically entailed). This is something Craig Keller touches upon in passing in his most recent Cinemasparagus post--the insistence upon the "paying audience" at the Lumieres'.

I admit to being in the received wisdom of the Keaton camp (contra Chaplin) myself. But I have, for a while now, been meaning to take a look at both afresh in light of the renewed arguments in favor of old CC. Hear hear!

June 24, 2008 7:57 PM  
Blogger dave said...

"Critical consensus" can differ depending on which critics and which consensus one is aware of and/or taking to heart. Perhaps I fall on the Chaplin side of the "Keaton vs. Chaplin" debate because I currently receive most of my cinematic wisdom from Straub?

[n.b.: not directly. I wish.]

June 24, 2008 8:20 PM  
Blogger weepingsam said...

One thing that's probably true - whenever someone says that such and such a great director is "uncinematic," or doesn't use some element of film (editing, or they aren't interested in stories, or acting, or beautiful cinematography), you can almost bet that if you look closer, the director does, in fact, use those devices exquisitely. Though perhaps in a more idiosyncratic way - or they are emphatic about one device that people miss what they do with everything else. So Chaplin's editing turns out to be fascinating - Hitchcock's work with actors - Keaton's emotional content, etc....

I have a couple pet peeves. Ozu seems to be surrounded by a cloud of annoying ideas - that his films are about acceptance or that he's a spiritual director or that no one ever dies in his films or that he isn't interested in editing as a formal device or that he's a traditionalist or that he's the most Japanese director (in a sense that precludes a strong interest in American and european ideas), etc... Everything associated with the idea of "Capra corn" drives me mad too - Capra is way too complex for those things.... And finally - there's the line about Altman, that he's careless - let's his actors improvise and just shoots what happens.... That kills me. His films are as carefully set up and put together as any of his contemporaries - more so, some of the time - almost all of them are full of visual rhymes, sometimes whole sequences arranged around specific patterns, sequences that are symmetrical (Bart's death in McCabe and Mrs. Miller), sequences with carefully counted out numbers of shots (most of Come Back t the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean Jimmy Dean can be broken down into groups of 5 and 10 - shots, scenes, types of scenes, etc.).

June 24, 2008 8:49 PM  
Anonymous Jim Flannery said...

Most comments on Snow, Brakhage, Deren, to pick the most oft-mentioned (as thats much of what builds up this 'short-hand'), tend to be the same vague generalizations over and over.

God yes. I'm afraid I'm going to be violent the next time someone tells me Wavelength is all about a continuous zoom -- a description you can only believe in if you've never, you know, seen the film, since it leaves out everything that actually happens in the film, and the two-word phrase is itself 50% wrong.

Also, "Welles is all about the deep focus" which is probably the least interesting thing to talk about in film like Confidential Report.

June 24, 2008 10:04 PM  
Blogger Dan Sallitt said...

In the 1952 Sight and Sound critics' poll, City Lights and The Gold Rush placed second and third. So maybe Bresson's tastes were formed during that time of consensus, like Kazan's and Wilder's.

June 24, 2008 11:09 PM  
Blogger adamob said...

I know this discussion was flowing in terms of directors, but when it comes to received wisdom, I’ve always had a problem with what people say about James Stewart. Has anyone else heard the ridiculous line that suggests Hitchcock discovered his dark side with Vertigo? As if his amazing work with Anthony Mann earlier that decade just didn’t exist.

June 25, 2008 6:31 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you, Jacob, Ed, Gareth, RB, Adrian, Zach, Dave, Sam, Jim, Dan, Adam!

Ed, that'd be an intereting list to draw up: filmmakers who resist "shorthand".

Gareth, if you feel like it: could you share something about those "problematic" aspects of Sembene's work?

Adrian, perhaps if David Phelps (one of the blogosphere's resident Rivettians and a translator for the Rivette site) is reading this, he might be moved to take up the task of translating that 2002 Trafic interview (which I hadn't heard of).

Zach, you've reminded me of that related 'received idea': the teleological notion that cinema in its first 20 years--until its apparently single-handed transformation by Griffith who created and installed its "grammar"--was 'evolving' with the express purpose of fulfilling its destiny as a narrative medium. An idea to which Noel Burch's "cinema of attractions" provides a corrective...

Dan, I think the Bresson list that Chris quoted in the post is indeed either from '52 or '62.

In James Quandt's Bresson collection, there's this passage by Bertolucci:

"Was it 1964 or 1965? ... Here I am, in front of Robert Bresson. It is early summer and we are standing on a terrace in Via San Teodoro ... I must have mumbled something like, "...can I ask you if...maybe there is somebody...in the history of...the 'cinematographe'...you like more...do you have a favourite film...or many...?"

"He looked away. "Non."

"Then with a tremendous sense of accuracy he corrected himself: "...Maybe some shots of Chaplin. But when Chaplin doesn't act.""

June 25, 2008 8:12 AM  
Anonymous Adrian said...

Some little blasts from the TRAFIC Rivette interview (with Sylvie Pierre & the late Jean-Claude Biette), actually published 2001 and recorded 2000:

On MOUCHETTE: "It's a film by a priest! It's shit!" - that's what he said at the 1967 preview, and in 2000 he adds: "The first half hour is magnificent, but after that it's just illustration, Delannoy-style, with Monteverdi to the fore when she throws herself in the water. Oh no!"

On JP Melville: "It was LE DOULOS that made me 'unhook' from Melville. I don't like this mythology of bad guys ..."

On Mankiewicz (again): "Obviously, he's historically important. But he's not on the level of Lubitsch ... He is condescending and nasty - profoundly nasty."

June 25, 2008 9:47 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Adrian, that's very interesting.

From the 1998 Les Inrockuptibles/Senses interview:

On Melville: "I've never had any affinity for the overhyped mythology of the bad boy, which I think is basically phony. But just by chance, I saw a little of L'Armée des ombres (1969) on TV recently, and I was stunned. Now I have to see all of Melville all over again: he's definitely someone I underrated. What we have in common is that we both love the same period of American cinema - but not in the same way. I hung out with him a little in the late '50s; he and I drove around Paris in his car one night. And he delivered a two-hour long monologue, which was fascinating. He really wanted to have disciples and become our "Godfather": a misunderstanding that never amounted to anything."

On Mouchette: "It's because of Bernanos that Mouchette is the Bresson film I like the least. Diary of a Country Priest (1950), on the other hand, is magnificent, even if Bresson left out the book's sense of generosity and charity and made a film about pride and solitude. But in Mouchette, which is Bernanos' most perfect book, Bresson keeps betraying him: everything is so relentlessly paltry, studied. Which doesn't mean that Bresson isn't an immense artist. I would place Trial of Joan of Arc (1962) right up there with Dreyer's film. It burns just as brightly."

On All About Eve: "...every intention was underlined in red, and it struck me as a film without a director! Mankiewicz was a great producer, a good scenarist and a masterful writer of dialogue, but for me he was never a director. His films are cut together any which way, the actors are always pushed towards caricature and they resist with only varying degrees of success."

June 25, 2008 10:11 AM  
Blogger Christian Keathley said...

Two corrections:

Prakash wrote to say that I got Bresson's list backward: Gold Rush was #1 and #2, and City Lights was #3.

In my original note to Girish, I wrote that Eisenstein's remark about Young Mr Lincoln made me want to see Potemkin. Not true. I love Young Mr Lincoln, and if I never see a frame of Potemkin again, that will be just fine with me.

I don't think Rivette will displace Godard as the greatest nouvelle vague director, but he has long been my favorite critic of the Cahiers gang. Rivette's remark about Melville -- that he doesn't like the mythology of bad guys -- reminded me that his good friend Truffaut hadn't liked Bob le flambeur, and I wonder if it was for the same reason. After all, Truffaut grew up in the neighborhood where that film is set. He probably knew guys like that and possibly didn't like seeing them romanticized.

June 25, 2008 1:05 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Chris, I was exercycling away at the gym last evening and reading the 1975 John Hughes interview with Rivette in Rouge, and came upon this mysterious bit:

Hughes: In both of your new films there is a use of the close-up that reminds me of something you once said about Nick Ray ...

Rivette: I don’t discuss my previous writings, and I disagree with or have forgotten most of them. I still admire Rossellini, Ray, Renoir, Hitchcock, but I now have entirely different reasons for liking them.

June 25, 2008 1:21 PM  
Blogger Zach Campbell said...

BTW, "cinema of attraction(s)" is Gunning--Burch's parallel/complementary periodization is the cinema before the Institutional Mode of Representation!

June 25, 2008 2:33 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Oops yes, I meant Gunning, not Burch!

June 25, 2008 2:35 PM  
Blogger Ed Howard said...

Girish: The list of directors who resist critical shorhand might be interesting, but now that I actually think about it, it might also be fairly short. In fact, other than auteurs too obscure to have much critical reputation at all, I'm having some trouble thinking of very many good examples other than Rivette. Keeping it in the Nouvelle Vague, there's possibly Truffaut; I'm not a huge fan, but he does seem to have a wide stylistic range and I can't recall any sweeping critical pronouncements that attempt to describe him in general.

More recently, there's Todd Haynes, maybe? His career is short but varied enough that he's resisted a real critical nailing-down as of yet, although nobody can seem to resist bringing up Fassbinder in conjunction with him.

Raoul Ruiz? He's pretty tricky to pin down, though that may be because huge swaths of his career are so difficult to see these days.

I don't know... Richard Kelly? Nobody seems to know what to make of him these days. Heh.

In a way, trying to think of directors who seem to dodge critical concensus only reminded me of how many auteurs are often hedged in by these broad critical interpretations that seek to encompass entire careers in a single phrase. I'm not sure if it's as prevalent anymore now that most of his best films are available on good DVDs, but there used to be a prevailing "wisdom" that Rohmer is not a very visual thinker and that he's mostly just interested in dialogue. Clearly not true, as his color films make especially clear with their schematic but subtle use of color to define different spaces, characters, and emotions.

June 25, 2008 2:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just to be a jerk (kidding), but, now these are not my descriptions mind you:

todd haynes is often characterized as part of a "new queer cinema"

raoul ruiz (and this man is one of my absolute favorite filmmakers of all time, and believe you me this characterization is amazingly limited, and as i said, not my own nor my own belief) but i have seen more than once a description of the sort "orson welles + the film borges"

so, yes, even someone like ruiz can have poor shorthand "received ideas" bandied about about themselves.

June 25, 2008 4:11 PM  
Blogger Zach Campbell said...

But, anonymous commenter above, is being characterized as part of a "new queer cinema" the same as being subject to received ideas in the way people are discussing here? (If this is the case, then the original example of Rivette is out the window--he's characterized as being part of a "French New Wave"...)

June 25, 2008 6:53 PM  
Blogger Ed Howard said...

Zach (and anonymous poster): I'd say that such attempts to group directors into movements are not quite the same thing, although it's probably related. Both tendencies arise from a desire in critics -- and the film fans who read them -- to codify and quantify films in order to be able to say they "understand" them. But grouping directors in this way under a common rubric is possibly even less helpful than the kind of "critical shorthand" we've been talking about, which at least tends to have some truth to it, even if it isn't the whole truth.

But what does it tell us to know that both Van Sant and Haynes are considered "new queer cinema"? What does that tell us about them, other than that both men are gay? Does it encourage meaningful thought about the similarities or differences between their respective films?

What does it tell us to know that such distinct talents as Rivette, Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol, and Rohmer are all part of the Nouvelle Vague? Very little about their styles or films; only that they were all part of a particular historical/cultural moment in early 60s France.

June 25, 2008 8:12 PM  
Blogger Zach Campbell said...

Yes, I agree completely, Ed.

June 25, 2008 9:03 PM  
Blogger weepingsam said...

Hey, with a little work, we could get the critical line on Rivette to be that he's Unclassifiable!

Anyway - to take the other side of the question for a bit: there usually is something to the critical consensus. Sometimes it's the filmmaker himself pushing certain image - Hitchcock, the Master of Suspense... and usually, the line coheres around a genuine quality of the film or filmmaker: it may be a truism that Leo McCarey is Good With Actors - it's also true that he was good with actors. Received ideas are usually wrong, if they're wrong, because they reduce filmmakers to one characteristic of their films - and suppress everything else they do. That works with things like "movements" or stylistic tendencies (formalism, expressionism, what have you) - it doesn't bother me to talk about the "nouvelle vague" - there are enough things connecting Truffaut and Godard and Rivette and Varda to make it a useful category. It's a problem when it's taken as being adequate to describe any of them. It's one set of things they have in common - it's not the only thing any of them are.

June 25, 2008 9:30 PM  
Blogger Marc Raymond said...

I'm late to the discussion here, but one example that came immediately to mind is Jean Renoir, "the great humanist filmmaker who gives his actors great freedom". This is very much the Bazin/ Cahiers (mostly Truffaut) construction and really de-politicizes his work, especially from the 30s. Is LE CRIME DE MONSIEUR LANGE, a film that essentially advocates murder, really humanist? If so, what does that even mean?

Also, there is evidence that Renoir was very particular with actors. I took a Renoir graduate course with Chris Faulkner, who has been a Renoir scholar since the 1970s and is featured on the Criterion RULES OF THE GAME DVD. He recalled seeing some outtakes (cannot recall from where at the moment) from DAY IN THE COUNTRY in which Renoir is constantly repeating takes a la Kubrick because the actor wasn't holding the cigarette correctly.

And, of course, THE RULES OF THE GAME itself was much less humanist in its original Renoir versions (the 94 minute and especially the 80m) than the 106m cut put together by Gaborit and Durand, which was not Renoir's original version, nor was there ever a 110m version, despite the persistence of these myths on websites like imdb and allmovie (talk about received ideas coloring people's perceptions).

In general, I think de-politicizing directors is the most common way in which they are mislabeled. Also, auteurist teleology does some distorting as well, expecting that all of a director's films will have a certain unity or characteristics because of their more well-known work.

June 25, 2008 11:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That Rivette's interviews arouse such enthusiastic comments rather baffles, even worries me. I for one always regret them. Of course, I cannot resist reading them, but I'd rather he stayed silent. Bad as "critical short-hand" or any kind of labelling may be, I really cannot suffer many (too many) directors' flippant, superficial, biased, jealous, dismissive, unrespectful comments on some (most) of their colleagues, dead or alive, often without the foundation of a deep knowledge or a serious revision of their work (so Rivette suddenly saw on TV! a bit! of "L'Armée des ombres" and thought he should reconsider his ideas about Melville... I'm sure he did not revise his filmography, even so belatedly).
Of course, Rivette is far from being alone in this, he's in pretty good company. But not what Godard, Straub, Truffaut, Chabrol, Resnais (or for that matter, Bresson, Rossellini, Eisenstein, Pasolini, Melville, Demy, Cocteau, or Bertolucci, Tavernier, Sautet) may like or dislike what I find interesting or disappointing about them, independently from the fact that I may occasionally agree with them. Much as I like most of Rivette's films (although certainly not "Noroît"), I find the much maligned "Mouchette" much better and more moving than most of his own (and also than Bresson's "Au hasard Balthazar"). And if lack of "mise-en-scène" is what characterizes Joseph L. Mankiewicz' work, the author of "Lettre sur Rossellini" and "Génie de Howard Hawks" seems to me to be making the toughest charge against the very notion of "mise-en-scène" he defended in the '50s: I'm still waiting for Rivette to direct any film I like so much as "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir", "Cleopatra", "The Quiet American", "People Will Talk" and perhaps some others. To say Mankiewicz is not of Lubitsch's stature seems to me a truism, and not that deep. Neither Billy Wilder is. Nor most filmmakers indeed. On the other hand, I see no need of being reminded by Straub or Moullet of how truly great a filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille was. The same with John Ford, Louis Feuillade, Jean Renoir, D.W. Griffith, Chaplin or Keaton.
In passing, I wonder why most interesting film critics, when (and if) they become filmmakers, cease to be even good spectators, and why their often arbitrary judgements are invested with the prestige of their authority as directors. Rivette always had at leat three American blind-spots: Mankiewicz, Cukor and Minnelli. That's why Jean Douchet was a better critic.
Best,
Miguel Marías

June 26, 2008 7:56 AM  
Blogger girish said...

I've received an email from Corey Creekmur, who teaches film at the University of Iowa and is the director there of the Institute for Cinema and Culture. With his permission, I'm posting his note below.

*********

Hi Girish:

We don't know each other, but apparently we know a few people in common -- both Chris Keathley and Prakash Younger (both former Iowa Film Studies Ph.D.s -- I teach film at Iowa). I enjoyed your website comments, with their participation, on "received ideas" in cinema, but would point out that those ideas have their histories, and one could trace (for example) the rise of the notion that Keaton was more cinematic than Chaplin, which developed more or less with the "rediscovery" of Keaton by the first generation of film scholars: prior to then, the "received idea" was that Chaplin was the greater figure. In fact, one of the revelations of the Kevin Brownlow series "Unknown Chaplin" from a few years ago was to demonstrate (through Chaplin's outtakes) how precise Chaplin was about framing, editing, etc.

In short, it's always worth pondering how and when "received ideas" were, well, received. (Another good example: Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life" only became a "beloved classic" after it fell into public domain, and could be shown endlessly without cost on American television during Christmas holidays. For at least a few decades it was a minor Capra film, and a box-office flop.)

One additional sign of the early regard of Chaplin (in addition, I mean, to his immense popularity) is the chapter on him (the only figure who gets this attention) in the great Russian formalist critic Viktor Shklovsky's 1923 book "Literature and Cinematography," just out in an English translation.

And a note on the Eisenstein-Ford connection: in addition to his essay on "Young Mr. Lincoln," in the Ford collection at the Lilly library in Indiana there's a fan letter from Eisenstein to Ford, seeking a copy of the screenplay of the film for a book Eisenstein says he was going to write on "Young Mr. Lincoln." The book was never written, it seems, and as far as I can tell, Ford never responded. But one place where the link seems evident is in Eisenstein's turn from his early films in which "the people" were the protagonist to the later "great man" films "Alexander Nevsky" and "Ivan the Terrible." There are many, many other influences at work there, of course, but my sense is that Ford played a role in that transition.

I was fortunate enough to meet Michael Powell once: when asked about the directors he admired, he mentioned a few familiar names, but emphasized: "Victor Fleming," noting that the director of "The Wizard of Oz" never got any credit from all who love the film. Whenever I have come across a Victor Fleming credit, I've remembered this unexpected praise from a peer.

Just some thoughts, inspired by yours,

Corey Creekmur

June 26, 2008 8:37 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

I use a lot of short-hand on my blog (if only I had the time and stamina to write at length on every film I feel compelled to mention, but no...) I try to avoid falling back on the usual "received ideas" too much but if I do I hope someone will call me on it.

I think it's fortunate that you put this post up while we've been talking about Cecil B. DeMille and silent cinema at the Film of the Month Club. Chris Cagle's post explores the issues of "received wisdom" in silent cinema's "Griffith narrative".

June 26, 2008 9:08 AM  
Anonymous jmac said...

Miguel, I agree with you, and you challenge "received ideas" so gracefully. :)

June 26, 2008 2:29 PM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

Thanks for that comment Miguel Marías. I too worried about these Rivette sound bites... I was wondering if it was considered a subversive eye-opener to throw such subjective "anti-consensual" blanket statements.

Especially if these received ideas aren't false, they aren't the biggest threat to film culture. Because they are convenient footholds for the neophytes. I doubt anyone who hasn't watched thousands of films could even understand what Rivette is insinuating... this "zero-pigeonhole game" would only be constructive for advanced film historians and most review readers aren't.
All depends where they are used, by who, for what public. They might look bad when taken out of context, but I believe it's a helpful touchstone for the audience to find their way around, to figure out their own taste and begin to grasp a wider scope of the cinema spectrum before they actually get a chance to see all these milestones.

June 26, 2008 3:56 PM  
Blogger weepingsam said...

I can't speak for anyone else, but I'd say the main attraction of Rivette's witticisms is that they are witty. That they sometimes give flashes of revelation about Rivette's own films, and the films and filmmakers he discusses, is an added benefit. And that happens often enough, even when he says something I'd say is wrong. He's offering observations and aphorisms, not really criticism - he seems pretty clear on that. And on his own tone: I like his remarks on Kiarostami:

Taste of Cherry (Abbas Kiarostami, 1997)

His work is always very beautiful but the pleasure of discovery is now over. I wish that he would get out of his own universe for a while. I'd like to see something a little more surprising from him, which would really be welcome...God, what a meddler I am!


Self awareness has its value.

I guess I take his comments somewhat like the better of the "received ideas" - they aren't the last word on anything, but often enough they are telling you something real about the films. In his case, probably telling you something about himself (including that he's funny as hell, which is obvious from his films, of course).

June 26, 2008 7:09 PM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

My current beef is with so-called critics who dismiss any horror film from Asia as being generic, or in a display of geographical and cultural ignorance call everything "J-horror". There is often more than meets the eye and The Eye (Pang brothers version, of course).

June 27, 2008 9:36 AM  
Blogger Campaspe said...

Saw this for the first time today and chuckled to see that I am not the only one thinking (at least in part) about Chaplin this week.

June 27, 2008 1:43 PM  
Blogger David said...

-- First off, thanks Girish, for the link, and Adrian, for tip. Adrian, if you're reading this, can you let me know what season/issue that Daney tribute is? I'd like to get my hands on it.

-- I've heard that Ozu's favorite filmmaker was Lubitsch, which makes sense: all of Lubitsch's late comedies, at least, very much seem like portraits of quiet desperation; things flee, consequences are small, the small pleasures are eternal, but small. That gist. Though I wonder what Ozu thought of To Be or Not To Be.

-- The question of influence on Rivette is interesting; I bet Rivette would say Renoir above all others (though he's admitted to Warhol as well, which is more obvious in his rare films with the occasional 20 minute take), and of course Rivette and Renoir have the exact same themes--the world as stage, the need for movement and mutation to keep things alive--and are two of the great naturalists, especially in their sound design. But for me, Rivette's films from L'amour fou to Le Pont du Nord (the Warhol period) seem like straight-up Feuillade, and it seems less like an influence than almost exactly the same artist working 40 or 50 years later. Rivette's much more obsessed with the details of everyday life, with allegory, with artificial genres and mystical beliefs, with preparation and speculation and response rather than the action itself. Which pins him as the ultimate modernist, which Feuillade wasn't. But these themes of Rivette and Renoir's are Feuillade's as well (part of what's so good about Feuillade's sagas are that the episodic structure lets him switch the plotline every half hour, so even the central characters and concerns are constantly rotating and changing--as Renoir makes them do under the guise of portraiture and plot). And Feuillade's method, as Rosenbaum and company always point out, is the same as Rivette's. Watch a bunch of people enacting some proposterous plotline on location.

-- I was skimming through Ray Carney's book on Dreyer a couple days ago, and he contrasts Renoir cinema (which finds characterization in how characters act) vs. Dreyer cinema (which finds characterization in how they don't). Part of what I love about Duchess of Langeais is that it's a perfect fusion of Renoir and Dreyer. Rivette even nods to Renoir by giving a seemingly gratuitous scene (which actually shows up absurdity of the main plotline) to one servant flirting and chasing another (named Lisette!)--the sort of scene found in countless Renoir films (but not the Balzac novella). At the same time that it's a generous take-down of the aristocracy, loving all its characters for being two-dimensional archetypes (Renoir), it's a movie watching characters sitting by themselves, thinking, lost entirely in their own world (Dreyer). It wasn't until now that I even thought about how much Rivette must owe to Dreyer; that same question in Dreyer's films about whether we're watching characters completely detached from the objective reality we're seeing, or whether we're seeing their half-asleep reimagining of it, is at the heart of almost all of Rivette's best films.

-- My point's only that Rivette doesn't resist shorthand but greatly benefits from it. I find this true a lot; just as Rivette is using shorthand only in his interviews not only because serious criticism's a bit difficult in interviews, but because he's trying to be suggestive and point the way toward serious criticism (if we wanted to do away with suggestive quips, we'd have to do away with almost all of Godard's extremely useful criticism). Clearly, Rivette, in the interview, is not attempting to establish new hierarchies and canons based on one-or-two sentences; he seems to be doing the much more valuable task of attempting to dismantle hierarchies so that nobody is held sacred. Miguel, I agree with Godard that the key thing is to actually look at the evidence presented--and I agree that Rivette's comments on Melville are evidence of a guy who doesn't really know what he's talking about. But as someone who loves Minnelli, I find these comments fascinating. The idea that Minnelli characters inhabit a void--that basically, there's no wind in the trees--seems pretty dead-on for a guy who made extremely suffocating films. I find that exquisite design and suffocation completely deliberate; in Minnelli's beautiful Father of the Bride, which I watched a few nights ago, there's not only a Minnelli impersonation (Leo G. Carroll as The Caterer--the fussy, fastidious guy concerned with turning the house into a mausoleum), but some extraordinary use of claustrophobic space (John Alton was the cameraman) anticipating The Leopard (Minnelli and Visconti seem like companions), in which everyone moves in and out of the frame freely, except for Spencer Tray, who's stuck in place by all the crowds of people, whom he's responsible for and lost in. And then there's the Dali dream sequence--in which again he's stuck in place. Minnelli's world, even here, seems created out of a void; designed, and then executed perfectly (as in some of Hitchcock's best films). Miguel, do you dislike the fact that Rivette is using shorthand, or do you dislike what he's saying? I don't really agree with almost any of his judgments. I find it almost all extremely useful.

June 27, 2008 5:51 PM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

Girish: Carravagio was the first Jarman film I really liked. I hope you enjoy The Furies.

June 27, 2008 8:14 PM  
Anonymous Adrian said...

Apologiesa for cross-posting:

CALL FOR PAPERS

B for BAD cinema: aesthetics, politics and cultural value

Inaugural Centre for Film and Television Studies Conference, Monash University, Melbourne, April 15–17, 2009

Over the past decade, paracinema – a movement that has grown up around sleazy, excessive, or poorly executed B-movies – has seen a counter-cultural valorisation of all forms of cinematic trash or ‘badfilm.’ In many internet and print sources devoted to the celebration of paracinema, the term B-movie has (in contrast to its earlier studio-era sense) come to mean almost anything: disreputable and unworthy movies, low-budget exploitation movies, straight to TV or video movies, and even big-budget studio movies. B for BAD cinema seeks to negotiate some of the (aesthetic and moral) values and judgments inscribed in a B-movie culture in which films are deemed to be good-because-bad or bad-because-good. B for BAD cinema invites international film scholars, critics and filmmakers to present their thoughts on badfilm, with a particular focus on the following themes:
1. Cultural value and theory
2. Bad feeling and affect
3. Aesthetic value and bad art
4. Cultural morals and politics
5. Bad film theory and criticism

Plenary speakers include:
Elisabeth Bronfen
J. Hoberman
Angela Ndalianis
Adrian Martin
Ernest Mathijs
Murray Pomerance
Jeffrey Sconce

The Conference Conveners will accept proposals for individual papers or three-speaker panel sessions until November 14 2008.
Abstracts of no more than 250-words and a 100-word biography should be sent to Con Verevis: Con.Verevis@arts.monash.edu.au

http://arts.monash.edu.au/film-tv/news-and-events/2009/bad-cinema.php

June 28, 2008 2:10 AM  
Anonymous Dottie said...

"Especially if these received ideas aren't false, they aren't the biggest threat to film culture. Because they are convenient footholds for the neophytes. I doubt anyone who hasn't watched thousands of films could even understand what Rivette is insinuating... this "zero-pigeonhole game" would only be constructive for advanced film historians and most review readers aren't."

I'm someone who hasn't seen "thousands of films" but I understand what Rivette is insinuating. I believe in depth over breadth. And Rivette is basically saying: think for your damn self.

I wonder why, Harry, you keep on mentioning the difference between "advanced film historians", "the real film critics" and "mere paid reviewers", "most review readers", "the unwashed public". Does it really need to be mentioned in every other post? Just an observation. There is a tinge of condescension here, and perhaps an unspoken need to separate one's self from the "uneducated public", "the ignorant" so that one feels qualified and is thus safely ensconced in the altar of the scholarly enlightened.

I think I would receive your comments better and maybe even enjoy them if they did not carry that sense of entitlement, of someone being made to feel he is above other people because his opinion has more "worth". It is unfortunate that art produces such thinking.

June 29, 2008 8:04 AM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

weepingsam,
I find what Godard and Rivette says hilarious, but the sad part is they take themselves seriously. Though it's forgiveable for them because they are filmmakers and therefore defend their own vision of art. But if critics start to play the same game, self-indulgent subjectivity is no longer an asset.


Welcome back dottie, my secret fan. ;)

I don't know how to answer... the critical discourse isn't meant to be "enjoyable", I don't think that panning a film is meant to pat people in the back, truth is hard to swallow sometimes.
Now about the anti-intellectual denial of "elitism" among cinephiles. If you haven't seen thousands of movies, at least you know who Rivette is. What is the proportion of movie goers who heard about Rivette? let alone who watched his films... So when you say I know what he's talking about, what part of the movie goers do you represent?
Please try to find a positive acception in the word "elite", sometimes there is a pride in being educated, in acquisition of knowledge and understanding of culture to be able to share with the public a wisdom that is not dubious. I thought that was the role of a critic. If you think I'm condescending, I think you're delusional. Of course there is a gap between those who give their opinions without having read or watched anything, and those who have. Maybe I'm very conservative in the age of Demagoguery, but I still believe the cultural landmarks and education should be reserved to people who KNOW something, not to consumers.
Do you tell your kids to listen to their teachers or to ignore what they say and follow their own whim? Yes I just used a school analogy to describe the movie audience.

I don't need to say these things at Girish's blog because this is not the average audience, and nobody needs my patronizing here. All I wanted was to bring the attention to the disastrous consequences of letting everybody think they can build their own judgement, pan acclaimed masters (like Rivette), without a sufficient perspective on film history to weigh in. Is it taboo to address these issues here with you guys? Look at the state of film culture in the world today. Any idea why the auteurs attract less audience than ever? Not only they don't have the mass appeal of pure entertainment, but now thanks to Rivette's game, they also lose the institutional recognition. Why would the movie goers go watch a "boring films" if even the experts mock them without credible justifications?

Does it really matter if Keaton or Chaplin is more "cinematic", when cinema was only a couple of decades old? Does it justify bashing one to make the other look shiner? In fact, Rivette doesn't rearrange the conventional canon at all, he just asserts a subjective preference.
Remove the name of Rivette from these quotes and show them to film experts who actually like the films he pans, just to see how thought-provoking it is. A critic like Rivette shouldn't throw one-line zingers like these without a deeper development. This is an aspect of "criticism" that ruins any serious critical thinking, even when Rivette says it.

When a guy like Rivette, who was a critic and a knowledgeable cinephile, intentionally attacks conventional wisdom for the sake of making himself original and subversive, the message it sends to the reader is to ignore whatever critical consensus is reached and establish their own gut-based hierarchies.
Nothing wrong with it at the individual level actually, unless it spreads so much that critics and scholars lose any credibility (remember the Kael anarchy).

When Adrian Martin challenges "bad films", he knows what he's doing, because he has seen thousands of films, and not just bad films. But if you let the average viewer (who only watched Oscars awarded films and whatever is on top of the BO) do the same, this subjective appreciation will not be as thought provoking as Rivette's or Adrian's. And even if they come up with some bad films in common it will probably be for different reasons. We all know what the mainstream taste admires in movies. There is an insightful and a superficial way to talk about "bad movies". I'd like to hear what Harry Knowles would say at Adrian's conference!

I guess I better stop there.

June 29, 2008 2:48 PM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

How ironic that when that Tom O'Neil panned Sunrise at the LA Times a while back, critics didn't find it as "hilarious" and "thought-provoking" than when Rivette does... This is the same game. But that's what you get when you destroy any trace of respect for critical standards.

June 29, 2008 2:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I want to make clear, specifically to David, that I'm not as much against some (others I like a lot, as I did when he was a film critic) of the things Rivette says lately in interviews (and I find he's often not very precisely translated, so I'm relying rather on French-language sources) as against placing too much authority or weight on them only because he's a great filmmaker - and I'd say one of the ethical referents in today's filmmaking.
Reputed as Rivette is for seeing almost every movie which is shown in Paris (and nowhere can you see so many), I'm afraid he lately reacts rather impulsively to many of the things he sees, which merely DO NOT INTEREST HIM. He's in his right, even if this may be strongly influenced by the kind of films he wants to make, or happens to make, or is able to even try to make. What I find lacking in many of his judgements is either reflection and revision of past ideas, or at least the expression of the reasons that support his dismissals. Like Godard, he likes a bit too much to say blatant things, much too summarily. So I like him best when he DEFENDS someone, say Paul Verhoeven (I agree in this case, but even when I disagree, I go take another look... he sent me recently to watch again some Luc Besson films, or to see some I had carefully avoided, only to make me swear to myself I will never again do such a thing even if Godard & Straub together said Luc Besson is the best living filmmaker). One may be curious, one can find his comments funny or witty or unconventional, but, frankly, I won't take his word (nor anyone else's, starting with myself) for holy writ. I can find more sense in some critics, even (for me) anonymous bloggers, than in most working filmmakers, which I find professionally deformed in their scope. And it all dfepends on what is said or written, the reasons given, not on who signs it.
Anyhow, I often disagree with André Bazin, he loved films that let me cold, or did not like others I really find magnificent, but I find every thing I've ever read by him interesting, intelligent, challenging and thought-provoking. And he certainly did not trade in "received ideas" or "critical short-hand". What he wrote about Chaplin seems to me better than anything written before or after about one of the greatest unrecognized film directors ever.
I wonder if you have seen the very interesting (although somewhat infuriating, too) film Godard made for his "aborted" Pompidou exhibit, where he gives "good" or "bad" grades to some film sequences (often quite unfairly) and then stops doing that and lets the viewer with the task of thinking whether the excerpts are or not good: that's for me good anti-shorthand criticism made (on film) by a filmmaker.
Best to all,
Miguel Marías

June 30, 2008 3:41 AM  
Blogger Gareth said...

girish --

Sorry, I didn't see your question above until today (busy week!).

"Problematic" aspects of Sembène? I'll give examples from two different films.

"Emitai": a film about resistance to the colonial power, it is loosely based on real events, but completely marginalises the important role of religious figures in organising that resistance - as Sembène himself has a thoroughgoing mistrust of organised religion. In the process, ironically, he marginalises an important female figure, despite his usual focus on the strength of women. In the same film, there are scenes involving traditional religious practices - summoning spirits, etc. - which owe much to the aesthetics of Hollywood (skulls on sticks and so forth) and apparently almost nothing to historical authenticity; these scenes tend to affirm a certain view of African religion that's, in this region at least, simply not accurate. Scott Foundas commented that "Taken together, [Sembène's] body of work might constitute the closest that landlocked cineastes have gotten to the 'real' Africa, were the films themselves not so exceedingly difficult to see," but in at least some instances the films aren't a great depiction of that "real."

"Faat Kine", his second-last film. As the academic Ken Harrow has commented, the film's feminism is a touch simplistic, with the lead character simply espousing the strategies previously reserved for men, essentially behaving like a man rather than developing a different way of looking at the world. Harrow calls it an "old man's" feminism, perhaps a little harsh, but it still feels like he's hit on something. I also find it to be a far less successful film on an aesthetic level: despite the vivid use of colour, the framing and shot choices are less appealing to me - there are some ugly zoom shots that really draw attention to themselves and abruptly take you out of the world of the film.

The point in listing these is not to argue that Sembène isn't a fine director - in my view, he is, in addition to his essential role in the development of African cinema - but rather to illustrate that some of the critical engagement with his work hasn't done enough to scratch the surface.

June 30, 2008 10:08 AM  
Blogger David said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

June 30, 2008 11:46 PM  
Blogger David said...

Thanks for the clarification, Miguel; I completely agree. I also much prefer cursory defenses than attacks--opens up critical ground instead of closing it. At the same time, I'm grateful for the attack on Mouchette not because I entirely agree, but because it allows the film to be evaluated and discussed, instead of held as gospel ("if you don't get it, you don't get cinema").

June 30, 2008 11:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree, David, no film is sacred, all can be discussed. And if one does not like it, what can one do?, And no film is perfect or faultless. But "Mouchette", far from being gospelized, was from the start and remains rather a very "maudit" film, in particular after the delirious enthusiasm which greeted "Au hasard Balthazar" only months earlier. I was in Paris when "Mouchette" first opened and I first saw it, in March '67, and I was really astonished by most reviews, and it became worse yet (with black balls and quite unfair criticisms) even in "Cahiers". Of course, to adapt Bernanos roughly one year before May '68 was dangerous, unfashionable and open to attack. I don't much like Bernanos either as a novelist (he can write, but...) or as a moralist, but the two films Bresson adapted from his books are truly magnificent, even much better than Pialat's.
To return to the point of departure, i.e., "critical short-hand" - Would not everyone like to read something, say, about Minnelli which did not deal with Dream vs. Reality, the colors green and red, artifice, and which not only paid attention to his musicals, but also to his melodramas and comedies? - and cared to analyze his single contemporary/historic film, "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse", instead of dismissing it as a "remake" (which it is certainly not, by the way). How about something on Hitchcock which spared us suspense, guilt complex, wrongly suspected or accused people, or necrophilia (Scottie falls in love with the alive although feigned "Madeleine", and wants to revive her thru Judy... so where is the necrophilia?). Think how refreshing would be reading two pages about Cukor without any mention of women, fashion, theatre or color, and which could take into account "Bhowani Junction", "The Chapman Report", "A Woman's Face" and "Holiday"... and took the trouble of really looking inside "The Two-Faced Woman"? Or to read about Ozu freed from pillow-shot metaphysics, low camera, family, Zen or No?. There is more to them than such "short-hand" in most (if not all) filmmakers, and I think all deserve something fresh instead of the same tiresomely repeated topics, true as they may be, but which are not "the whole truth". Things said too often wear into meaninglessness. But then there are also very false "received ideas". I wonder who sentenced Griffith to decay after 1920, but it is pure falsehood. So there's work ahead for the younger generations. Look and think, and try to avoid what has already been written.
Best,
Miguel Marías

July 01, 2008 5:45 AM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

The world didn't wait for Rivette to produce superficial reviews ridiculing Mouchette... What does it add to the table?
Is Bresson such an hegemonic figure in film culture at large today, that we'd need Rivette to give us a wake up call and look elsewhere for our blind worship?
Bresson's following is so marginal today that a major re-evaluation is no urgent matter for film culture. On the contrary, Bresson needs more supporters. And I think this specialist minority is mature enough to revisit his oeuvre on their own...

July 01, 2008 5:58 AM  
Blogger David said...

"Is Bresson such an hegemonic figure in film culture at large today, that we'd need Rivette to give us a wake up call and look elsewhere for our blind worship?"

Actually, this has been my impression (and I don't think there's any greater director than Bresson--though there's a number who aren't any less either). Likewise: http://www.sensesofcinema.com/contents/07/43/robert-bresson-dissenting.html. (Which is not to agree with any of the criticisms of Bresson within the article, which I don't understand).

At the same time, I hear stories from people at film school (filmmaking school), where some of the teachers and assistants have never heard of Bresson.

The James Quandt anthology is great, but how many of the articles simply repeat the shorthand? Off-screen sounds, obsession with duty and process, non-actors, material/spiritual escapes, elliptical editing, etc. Bresson (who to be fair lied frequently in interviews) denied the influence of Jansenism, affirmed the influence of Chaplin. How many essays about Bresson are about Jansenism? How many about Chaplin?

I don't mean to suggest that this is the ground Rivette is opening, but yes, to return to the point of departure. What I like about the Rivette interview, though, is that I don't think he affirms any of the usual shorthand. So I'm not sure there's not much risk of it being taken as holy writ.

Thanks again for all the comments, Miguel. I need to watch more Cukor; just saw It Should Happen To You last week, and it's a really wonderful film (and a take-down of post-modernism, reality TV, and a talk show a lot like The View...from 1954).

July 01, 2008 11:45 AM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

You think so? Maybe Bresson is more popular in the States than he is in France after all, I wouldn't know. I don't see many filmmakers using "Le cinématographe" as a cookbook, and I doubt we'd find half of the hardcore cinephile minority being Bresson fans... But actual stats could easily prove me wrong.


What's wrong with "short-hands" is the "short" part, not that they repeat an accurate conventional wisdom, in my humble opinion.

I see film culture as a convergence toward "truth". Critics work from the same source, there isn't an indefinite number of mysteries to discover. So when many academics reach a consensus on a film or an auteur, they are most likely onto something meaningful. And I see no wrong or laziness in repeating what sounds right and insightful.
What's the purpose to come up with something "new" (and potentially misdirected) just because everyone else already said what was important?
I know, reality is not simple and many angles give a more comprehensive understanding. But I guess there is a point when any supplementary analysis, for originality sake, turns incredibly tangential. It's a fine balance between richness of plural interpretations and pertinence to the subject.

If Hitchcock's analysis becomes tiring, maybe it's time critics try to talk about recent (alive) filmmakers, the masters of tomorrow. Frankly, endlessly citing Hitchcock (or Bresson or Ozu or Griffith...) as the main matter for studies is a safe "common wisdom" in itself.

Nothing wrong with revisiting and trying to disprove everything that has been said by years of cinema literature, but it shouldn't be systematic. It's expected that studies converge toward a consensus, that means the film was clear and coherent (consciously or unconsciously) to begin with.

July 01, 2008 6:58 PM  
Anonymous Lloydville said...

1) The degeneration of the term "film noir" to mean any film with dark themes or shadowy lighting, by which standards films like "Casablanca" and "The Bad and the Beautiful" are called films noirs, when they logically fit into other quite distinct traditions.

2) The idea that Von Stroheim was a romantic eccentric who cared more for art than commerce. In fact, most of his films made money and some made quite a lot of money -- even the cut-down "Greed" made money domestically. He was a committed and generally very successful popular artist with a good sense of what the public wanted -- his track record in that respect was better than Lubitsch's, for example. He was hounded out of Hollywood for reasons of corporate etiquette, not because he ignored the exigencies of the marketplace.

July 09, 2008 5:14 AM  
Anonymous Larry Gross said...

thank you for posing this provocative question:

One mistaken critical commonplace that comes to mind stresses Kazan's direction-discovery of Brando, Dean and Beatty as the center of his achievement. What is ignored are Kazan's women. Vivien Leigh, Eva Marie Saint, Patricia Neal, Shirley Harris, Lee Remick, the older woman in Wild River Jo Somebody, Carroll Baker (!) Faye Dunaway all give close to career best performances under Kazan's direction. In no way, a feminist, Kazan films consistently foreground female sexuality in a singularly honest relatively non-exploitative fashion and this is a completely under-reported aspect of his art--given his historic role in the construction of male-hetero-icons.

January 02, 2009 2:50 AM  
Anonymous air force shoes said...

limeizhang Are you looking for the perfect shoes?Come to our nike air force ones store online in which you can find most kinds of air force shoes with low price but the best quality,including air force 1 low,air force one mid,Men's Nike AF1 Bird's Nest Shoes ,Men's Nike AF1 Light-up Shoes ,Men's Nike AF1 Olympic Shoes ect.If you are a male,Mens Nike AF1 Low Shoes In Black and Orange may fit for you.Everyone knows that Nike Dunk SB Shoes is the world-famous,an important factor is that Dunk SB are so cool and comfortable.You can see Nike Dunk everywhere.Dunk Low and Dunk High are Nike's flagship product.We also wholesale Mens Dunk Mid,Womens Dunk High,Womens Dunk Low.Choose one before sale out,they are easy to match your clothes.

January 29, 2010 8:05 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home