Monday, January 28, 2008

Film Magazines



I'm curious to know: what film magazines do you search out, read, and find valuable?

For me, in addition to the mainstays--like Cineaste, Cinema Scope, Film Comment, Rouge, Screening the Past, Senses of Cinema--I've just taken out a subscription to Film Quarterly. And I cancelled my long-time Sight & Sound subscription (a tad expensive).

I've been looking at e-Cahiers in English but a good portion of the magazine proper is available only to paying subscribers. (Are there any Cahiers subscribers out there who would recommend it?)

I've also been frequenting the musty periodical stacks in the college library for old volumes of Film Comment from the 70s and 80s. Not only do they contain many writers I know and like (e.g. Durgnat, Rosenbaum, Robin Wood) but also some new-found favorites like Richard T. Jameson (see Jim Emerson's post which quotes from Jameson's wonderful 1980 essay "Style vs. 'Style'") and Ronnie Scheib (I think she writes for Variety now but among other pieces I can recommend an amazing Ida Lupino essay from the Film Comment archives).

The new issue of Film International is devoted to Bazin. The articles look interesting but are available in the print edition only (e.g. William Rothman's "Bazin as Cavellian Realist"; Diane Stevenson's "Godard and Bazin"; TIFF report by Barry Keith Grant). I'm considering subscribing to it.

I like to visit the Film Reference Library in downtown Toronto from time to time. They carry a large assortment of international film mags and they keep a deep archive (their periodical holdings are searchable here). On my next trip, I'll be looking to dig into the archives of Framework and the Asian journal Cinemaya.

Last week, thanks to Keith Uhlich and Adrian Martin, I discovered the Danish magazine 16:9. Each issue has one article in English. From the archives, I've culled a selection: Joe McElhaney on Fritz Lang's "cinema of the hand"; Ethan de Siefe on Frank Tashlin; a 4-part interview with David Bordwell (one; two; three; four); Richard Raskin on Groucho Marx; Murray Smith on popular music in film; Maximilian Le Cain on Tarkovsky's Mirror; V.F. Perkins on Letter from an Unknown Woman; Jonathan Frome on Mizoguchi's Life of Oharu; and Adrian Martin on Abbas Kiarostami and Larry Clark.

Finally, any particular magazine archives (and periods therein) you value and recommend hitting up at the library? Suggestions always welcome.

pic: Larry Clark self-portrait, 1962.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Richness, Intensity and Gesture: An Interview with Adrian Martin



A word of thanks to Adrian for this fun and meaty guest post on film criticism and film culture. The following interview appears here for the first time in English. It was published in the Slovenian magazine Ekran in Feb-Mar '07. The interviewer was Nil Baskar. -- Girish.

Q: A typical opening question: which critics, writers, films or books inspired you to become a film critic? Which are your the canonical names and texts?

Adrian Martin: I often think that any critic’s formative list of ‘canonical names’ is, to a very large, extent, accidental – arising from a series of fortuitous encounters with material that somehow just managed to be on-hand, accessible. In my case, as a young teenager, the main sources of critical inspiration came from what was in the local library (more the monthly magazines than the musty old ‘film as art’ books), what could be bought at newsagents (many more ‘serious’ film magazines than today), and also what was in certain bookshops (I was a sci-fi literature freak in my childhood, and so I spent a lot of time in the ‘Space Age Bookstore’!). What I remember reading, around 1975-6, that had a big impact on me, was Jonathan Rosenbaum on Bresson’s Lancelot du Lac in Sight and Sound, Jean-Pierre Coursodon on Jerry Lewis in Film Comment, and (via the sci-fi/horror connection) the Edinburgh Film Festival 1970 book on Roger Corman, which contained the first inklings of ‘British theory’ (Wollen, Willemen, etc) in relation to genre studies, mytho-poetic criticism, etc. Raymond Durgnat I was exposed to early – his 1975 Film Comment piece on ‘populism and genre’, as well as the ‘60s book Films and Feelings – but not Pauline Kael (who was already very popular among middlebrows), and Manny Farber only much later. Once I hit Teachers’ College at the age of 17, I was reading everything in the library: Noël Burch’s Theory of Film Practice and Victor Perkins’ Film as Film, as utterly different as they are, were the key texts for me (as I described in an article in Undercurrent, they were my ‘warring parents’ – probably still are); I also began devouring Stephen Heath, Robin Wood, Raymond Bellour … also at age 17, I was longingly staring at the covers of French magazines like Cahiers, poring helplessly through the pages, and so I taught myself, word by word via translations, how to read them! Radio is often left out of such ‘sentimental histories’, maybe because it so local and ephemeral: I learnt a lot of my early film culture from the radio, listening to local academics reviewing the latest films, to Peter Harcourt’s series from Canada on ‘appreciating art cinema’, and to a weekly 15-minute review program called The Week in Film which, twenty years later, I occupied for three years!

Q: You live in Australia, which does not enjoy – at least until now – a reputation as a particularly cinephile part of world. Does this relative dislocation from some of the important sources of contemporary film, Europe and the States, somehow affect your critical work?

AM: To answer this question, we must rehearse the entire geo-political history of film criticism! Seriously: in a sense, I will answer you as any serious film critic from Ireland, Taiwan, Canada, and so many other similar places – places that have been ‘in the shadow of the great world powers’ – would. Because we are talking about a long history (mention of this is made in Movie Mutations) in which – just like in the art world and other cultural/intellectual spheres – the ‘centres’ or capitols of film-thought and film-discourse were taken to be only France, USA, to an extent UK … And it didn’t matter how rich or alive the film-culture scene was in your ‘local’ scene – if you weren’t from, or in, one of those ‘centres’, you simply didn’t exist on the ‘world stage’ as a critic. (I know it well personally: for my first 15 years as a writer, I barely appeared in print outside of Australia. There would be many similar stories.) As a result, we (in general) know the identity of so few of the best critics (or the best teachers, or the best journalists) around the world who worked over the past century … And it is not just a matter of ‘small countries’: Spain, Germany, Russia, Austria, Italy and Japan (to take random examples) have remarkable histories of film culture, but they too have barely been recognized, for so long, on the cinematic ‘map of the world’.

So, to come back to your question: does this ‘relative dislocation’, as you put it (one could use less polite words, like imperialism, geo-political oppression, colonialism, etc!), affect the critical work of me or my Australian colleagues? Of course it does; invisibility is both difficult (you feel alienated from so much going on elsewhere in the world) and enabling (you have a dream, a Shangri-La, a Utopia to strive for!). But what it affects most is the possibility of community: you can’t always find your own particular group or clan or ‘cabal’ at home; Movie Mutations was about the joy and possibility liberated in trying to knit up your own community beyond your national border. However, around ten years ago, you in Slovenia had never heard of any interesting Australian film critic, and I in Australia had never heard of any interesting Slovenian critic (Slavoj Zizek notwithstanding). The Internet has truly changed that; it has – to some extent – redrawn the geo-political map of film culture, particularly in conjunction with the rise of certain progressive Film Festivals (such as Rotterdam). This doesn’t mean that people read stuff on the Net and now think – ‘ah, Australia (Melbourne particularly) is the new capitol of film thought and film culture, it’s the new place to be, the new Paris or Vienna!’ – well, maybe some people do think that! – but, rather, film criticism sometimes achieves a handy condition of statelessness, a kind of ‘news from nowhere’ that is accessible to anyone on-line. Statelessness is not always Utopian (it can, at another turn of the wheel, be highly alienating, after the initial rush of intoxication) but, once again, it can be enabling – and it has indeed ‘unfrozen the polar caps’ of the film globe.

Q: Much of your critical work is dedicated to rethinking criticism itself: the ideas that permeate Movie Mutations speak in favor of a kind of a post-criticism, which would try to establish more meaningful relations between currently alienated spaces of film reflection: the work of academics and students and the work of film critics, both the local and the international ones. Can you see any tangible signs of this happening?

AM: Well, in one important sense it has always happened, in the work of certain individuals who are bold passeurs: intellectually oriented, but writing in popular or semi-popular venues, and sometimes in a populist way: Durgnat, Wood, Farber, Rosenbaum, Richard Dyer, Serge Daney, Judith Williamson, Jairo Ferreira … But, beyond such individuals (and there are many), is there a more general meeting of interests between academia and popular writing? If anything, I think that film festivals have, in recent years, provided the most opportune middle ground between these sectors: several university curricula are exploring the history and culture of film festivals, which has hitherto been a neglected area of film history. And there is also more of an ‘interdisciplinary’ interest – of the sort that hasn’t existed since the ‘70s – in creative writing, in criticism as expression, as itself a kind of ‘art’ … Of course, one always has to fight ‘rearguard’ actions of anti-intellectualism, which are louder and more aggressive in the Internet age – but lately I see more of a ‘mass desire’ for real thought and cultural engagement with cinema, way beyond simple ‘fandom’.

Q: On a different note: it seems that your work keeps investigating one thing in particular: how a particular film works or, if not, what went wrong with it. If so, what are the principal criteria and critical tools that enable such decisions? Raymond Durgnat, who I know is important to you as a critic, spoke of integrity, complexity and cruciality. Is this relevant or should we embrace the desire to love films only because of their Beauty, disregarding their contents and context?

AM: Instead of Durgnat’s list (which is a fascinating one!), I personally would propose these three words, which are certainly at the driving heart of my own practice: richness, intensity and gesture. Each word responds to a very different ‘level’ of the cinematic experience. I value (as probably most critics do) richness in cinema: the richness of great works that repay endless viewings, works with a complex logic, works that demand a real effort of ‘reading’, interpretation, deciphering, films that are ‘deep and meaningful’. But not all good, important, worthwhile cinema is rich or complex. We also have to make a place – a large place – for everything that is strikingly and memorably excessive, mad, spectacular, breathtaking, in a word intense, in cinema (and our experiences of it): phenomena that happen more on the surface of a work, rather than in its depths. This investment in intensity has led me to the popular forms and genres I love: crazy comedies, teen movies, horror, action etc .., but also the avant-garde! Lastly, gesture relates to a more politico-historical, socio-cultural dimension of cinema: that powerful wave of significance when we sense that a film is making a move in relation to all those other works with which it forms a ‘family’: when an entrenched stereotype is being lifted or twisted, when a taboo is finally being broken, when two hitherto separate ideas or genres are suddenly being fused together … Only a few people, such as Jim Hoberman, have tried to write fragments of a history of cinema beginning from these kinds of moves or gestures, which sometimes have little to do with either ‘art’ (richness) or the ‘cinematic’ (intensity).

‘Should we love films only because of their Beauty, disregarding their contents and context?’ It is not possible! Yes, there is a level of abstract beauty in cinema – maybe that’s the ‘cinematic’, mise en scène, whatever you choose to call it – but I am ‘materialist’ enough to have convinced myself, by now, that there is no such thing as a pure beauty in cinema: the moment that there is sensation, intensity, ‘primary processes’ (of rhythm, colour, sight, sound, touch), there is immediately a ‘moulding’ of such aesthetic emotion onto complex (sometimes mysterious) social and cultural processes. That is the true drama of cinema, right there: something of the ‘imaginary’ that resists social fixity, subjectification, conformity, the ‘symbolic’, etc; and, as part of the same tension, something that contributes directly to all these social processes at their worst. We need both the Frankfurt School and Surrealism to get a handle on this eternal drama!

Q: In some film criticism, there has always been a certain belief that a film can only be valued on its own terms, and that importing any ‘foreign’ concepts (from psychology, sociology, philosophy ...) unavoidably reduce the film to experimental evidence for any theory that happens along. Is this belief fundamentally wrong?

AM: Yes, it is fundamentally wrong! OK, I take your point: too often we do see films ‘reduced to evidence for a theory’, especially in academic work, but also in the worst corridors of popular journalism (where films are taken to embody the decline of moral civilization, or the transcendent value of escapist entertainment, etc). But that, to me, is not film criticism. There is no film criticism without ‘foreign concepts’. You always need a tool to help you think, to aid you in constructing some scaffold of ideas. In any event, no one can stop such ‘contamination’: cinema is impure from first moment to last, it has no borders, you can never safely say what is ‘specific’ or internal to it and what is ‘foreign’ or external to it. Indeed, cinema (like language, like any art form, like philosophy) only expands when it comes into explosive contact with something ‘outside’ it – thank god! My position is explicit: the more ideas in film criticism, the better. Of course, you have to make them work, put them to work – not freeze them into absolute verities and certainties, models and systems. Change ideas with cinema, change cinemas with ideas! This is my Godardian/Deleuzian side talking.

Q: We are all aware that the riches of internet and the DVD circulation are not changing only the ways that films are being consumed, but also the ways they are being thought about and valued. Is this the golden age for the everyday cinephile, despite the fact that the real sites of popular cinema are rapidly disappearing, and being replaced by either monolithic multiplexes or the elite and mobile festival cultures?

AM: If I kick my foot right now, I discover the truth of your proposition: there goes scattering across my floor a Luc Moullet box set, several Stephen Chiau comedies, some top-notch Criterion releases, three Naruse’s, a 1967 De Palma film that has been unseeable for almost four decades, the Rivette double of Duelle and Noroît, a new avant-garde high-school musical by conceptual artist Mike Kelly … I counted myself lucky, about ten years ago, when I entered a ‘magic circle’ of cinephile-friends around the world who sent each other rare items on VHS; but that was an aristocratic, secretive, ‘elite’ experience as compared to the popular explosion of DVD releasing. But I think it’s too early to say whether this consumer-availability is making a big difference, or indeed any difference, to film criticism; forms of taste, habits of viewing, modes of thinking and responding do not change overnight with a switch of technology. (Did VHS really change film criticism? Did cable or ‘channel surfing’ give rise to a revolution in television criticism? I don’t think so.) Indeed, I often feel that the ‘democratisation’ of film culture via the Internet and related social mechanisms has brought on a regression in thinking about cinema: look at the proliferation of these endless, meaningless lists (best, favourite, ‘what I have seen this month’, etc), compared to how slowly, for example, people are really integrating frame-grabs, video clips and audio segments into their rigidly old-fashioned, logocentric, written analyses: Godard was already calling for this kind of ‘post-criticism’ 42 years ago, and it has yet to truly emerge! Film criticism has yet to develop a truly ‘performative’ dimension, beyond the ephemeral presentations of brilliant lecturers and teachers (another under-appreciated aspect of film culture). So, I try to stay a little detached from the ‘technological revolutions’, and apocalyptic talk of either the death or rebirth of the cinema-going experience: films will always be available in various forms (theatre, TV, computer, etc), and film lovers will always be mixing them up and moving between them: the real work begins after that, in what you’re actually going to say about these films and how you are going to say it. Content and form!

Q: Lastly, instead of asking for an another list of last year's top ten or such, I have a rather more specific wish: could you - for the benefit of the distant reader even in the age of internet - quote some of the more recent Australian films or authors, worth watching (for)?

AM: The ‘distant reader even in the age of the Internet’ – your intriguing phrase points to gaps and inequalities that still structure the geo-political film globe! When it comes to Australian critics, for example: maybe you can find a few of them (such as Meaghan Morris, John Flaus, Sylvia Lawson, Edward Colless, just to name a few), if you are pointed in the right direction (and so much on the Internet is just an inert lump until someone mobilises it for you) – but how often do you see these names cited, rehearsed, canonised in those endless lists that say ‘Bazin, Farber, Daney, etc’? Once again, it’s imagination – and generosity – that’s lacking, not ‘information’ in its brute, digitised state. Once again, it’s the dreary old ‘canons’, the familiar habits, that insist, and shape what it is possible for us to experience and think. That’s one of the main reasons that myself, Helen Bandis and Grant McDonald created Rouge magazine – to provide a kind of suggestive map to what there is, and what there could be, in the ceaseless writing/thinking/performing of film.

In terms of Australian cinema, I am always more inclined to promote the margins than the mainstream. There have been a few good films, distinctive and original, over the past few years, like The Proposition (John Hillcoat) and Ten Canoes (Rolf De Heer), that have traveled both to festivals and some arthouse or mainstream cinemas around the world. But you are less likely to have encountered word of Margot Nash’s Call Me Mum (a monologue-film funded by TV), or James Clayden’s experimental The Marey Project. Australian cinema is – as always, and like all ‘small cinemas’ – in a difficult moment of its fraught, stop-start history: digital technology has expanded opportunities for production and even created a few popular hits (such as the ingenious comedy Kenny); but it has also led to a new contagion of mindless stereotype and cliché, in a depressingly overdetermined and uninventive plethora of films devoted earnestly to ‘dramatising social issues’ (of race, class, youth, violence, drugs, gender, etc). More than ever, I believe that the salvation of any national cinema comes and goes in terms of one key thing: its ability to create new gestures, divert old stories, confound common sense, creating real surprise and delight – and giving rise to thought. When some more Australian films start doing this, I’ll let you know.

© Adrian Martin January 2007


* * *

Two pieces of Adrian info/news:

(1) In case you haven't noticed it yet, he has a previously unpublished piece, "Chantal Akerman: Walking Woman," in the Contemplative Cinema blogathon.

(2) Along with Jonathan Rosenbaum and Nicole Brenez, he will be conducting a seminar at NYU on March 13-14 that will feature screenings, discussions and lectures.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

New Season



A new season begins this week at Cinematheque Ontario. In addition to retrospectives of Jacques Demy and Edward Yang (the links are to essays by James Quandt and Andrea Picard respectively), there are a number of one-off screenings that also look very attractive, e.g., the short films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul, James Benning's Casting a Glance, Serge Bozon's La France, Vittorio de Seta's Bandits of Orgosolo, and one of the few Sam Fullers I've never managed to catch, China Gate. Finally, R. Bruce Elder's The Book of all the Dead looks daunting (at 42 hours!) and interesting, although it's highly unlikely that I'll be able to see any of it.

At George Eastman House, I'll finally be able to catch up with Jerzy Skolimowski's Deep End. Also: a second shot at seeing Pedro Costa's films on the big screen.

Comments or suggestions on the above film listings are most welcome.


* * *

So, I'm back home in Buffalo, juggling the new semester, jet lag, and a fearsome cold I caught on the 15-hour flight from Dubai to New York that was transporting a battalion of bawling babies. The good news is that there's lots of interesting reading to catch up with in the blogosphere:

-- Michael Guillen's great and large Val Lewton Blogathon at The Evening Class.

-- Jonathan Rosenbaum on Jeannette Catsoulis' "ugly, xenophobic, tossed-off" NYT review of Opera Jawa.

-- David Pratt-Robson has been blogging up a nice little storm: John Ford; Colossal Youth; Ken Jacobs, etc .

-- Two meaty 2007 round-up posts: David Hudson at Greencine, and Ryland Walker Knight at The House Next Door.

-- Dave McDougall at Chained to the Cinémathèque: "Crimen Falsi Redux, Part 1: The Theory of the Image".

-- Dan Sallitt on Henry Hathaway: "Part of the problem in reevaluating Hathaway is that auteurism has never completely shaken off its allegiance to the practice of valuing directors according to their themes - no matter that themes are generally created on the level of script or story conference."

-- Among other things, Joe Bowman's blog, Fin de Cinema, is a good source of upcoming DVD info. Recently revealed: Alain Resnais' Melo and L'Amour à mort; La Chinoise; Grant Gee's Joy Division documentary; Alea's The Last Supper; Sissako's Bamako; Peter Delpeut's Diva Dolorosa; Lynn Hershman-Leeson's Strange Culture, etc.

-- via Aaron Graham: Larry Gross on Zodiac at Movie City News.

-- Some recent J. Hoberman: Last Year at Marienbad; Still Life; and Woman on the Beach.

-- In the new issue of Film Comment, "Terra Incognita: 18 Films to Look Out For".

pic: Edward Yang's The Terrorizers.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Films: Evaluation & Value



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

Let me share three recent anecdotal examples:

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

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

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

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

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


* * *

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

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


* * *

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


* * *

Links:

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

-- The Contemplatve Blogathon 2008.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

pic: part of Kapaleeshwarar Temple in Mylapore, Chennai.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

In Tamil Nadu



Chennai is hot as blazes and punishingly muggy but it's good to be reunited with my parents, whom I only see once every couple of years. Every afternoon we stir out for a walk on the beach when the sea breeze picks up but otherwise we mostly stay indoors. We've been watching lots of classic Bollywood, Keaton and Ozu, 2-3 films a day. Having nearly forsaken Bollywood cinema when I moved to the States over 20 years ago, I've had a small epiphany reconnecting with it in the last few months. It's a vast cinema, rich and strange, worthy of serious, careful attention (not to mention joyous cinephilic appreciation) but I don't see a huge amount of it out there, either in print or on the Net, at least in comparison to that other large cinema, Hollywood. One of my resolutions this year is to write more about Indian cinema, looking at it through at least two key lenses: (1) film form; and (2) as social/cultural artifacts. There are so many pleasures and treasures here, waiting to be rediscovered, to be thought about and talked about...


* * *

Lots of good reading to catch up on:

-- Some year-end list-posts: Acquarello; Darren; Filmbrain; Listening Ear; Mubarak; and Zach.

-- Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell's post "Happy birthday, classical cinema!" includes a best-films-of-1917 list.

-- The 2007 Village Weekly/LA Weekly Film Poll and the critics' ballots.

-- Mark your calendars for two upcoming blog-a-thons: Contemplative Cinema 2 at Unspoken Cinema, Jan 6-13; and Val Lewton at Michael Guillen's The Evening Class, running the week of Jan 14.

-- Dave Kehr on Harry Langdon in the NYT.


* * *

Adrian's new column at De Filmkrant refers to blog posts by Sandrine Marques, Mubarak, and Zach, and discusses comparative iconography, "finding the similarities and tracing the evolution of a pictorial motif, a style of composition or an arrangement of colours across works, periods, nations":

Art history, as it is classically and sometimes too conventionally practiced, has its trap: the literal-minded emphasis on direct 'influence': which style influenced another, which artist studied and emulated another. Of course, many filmmakers have indeed been directly inspired by paintings and other artworks, handing reproductions to their cinematographers and production designers.

With 'Décadrages' ('deframings'), the 1985 book by French critic-screenwriter-director Pascal Bonitzer, however, another approach to tracing the relation between art and cinema was born: in the best Warburgian spirit, it is not about explicit influences or borrowings, but more mysterious and unconscious echoes, resonances, transmissions, 'eternal returns' of certain gestures, shapes, visual ideas - The subsequent critical work of Jacques Aumont, Alain Bergala and Nicole Brenez has traced many tantalising 'networks' between images that the old-school iconographers would probably have never allowed.

Whatever theoretical or methodological approach is used, one thing is certain: the critic who wishes to compare visual instances and forms needs to have a 'good eye', and an even better visual memory - even a 'photographic memory'! And the Internet has proved to be a fertile ground for a renewed 'iconophilia' ranging across art, cinema, still photography, advertising imagery - particularly in the copyright-indifferent blogosphere.


* * *

A page of Michael Sicinski reviews including I'm Not There, Black Book, The Band's Visit, Quiet City, and No Country for Old Men. Here's an excerpt from the write-up on The Diving Bell and the Butterfly:

I've never been quite sure how to feel about Julien Schnabel. Hailing as I do from the Marx / Barthes / Foucault / October side of the art history world, I was sort of coached to loathe the guy, since his neo-Expressionist canvases and macho posturing and most-favored-nation status in the Saatchi Collection and his bon vivant persona all marked him out as the enemy. ("Go study Barbara Kruger photocollages like a good boy!") And while I did find more than a few of Schnabel's paintings almost comically overbearing ("Portrait of God," anyone? "Muhammad Ali"?), I also quite enjoyed their chutzpah a lot of the time. Their swagger was refreshing in an anti-aesthetic age, they displayed an often misunderstood sense of humor, and the broken-crockery textures struck me as a logically impoverished, look-ma American answer to various forms of European refinement, from classical Italian frescoes to the contemporaneous Teutonicisms of Anselm Kiefer. Of all the 80s art stars, it makes sense that only Schnabel has really succeeded as a film director (observe the sad crash-and-burns of Cindy Sherman, David Salle, and Robert Longo), but it's odd that his three films have been so utterly pedestrian and undistinguished, as though the film medium were nothing more than a convenient way to sell nominally visual storytelling to the high-middlebrow masses. Although Diving Bell is his most formally ambitious film, in certain ways it's also his most conservative, surveying modernist terrain in order to claim it for hackneyed narrative and received wisdom.


Tamil Nadu map: from here.