Monday, July 12, 2010

Mediators: The Experience of Internet Cinephilia

Gilles Deleuze's "Mediators," published in 1985, is one of my favorite essays. I feel a deep personal affinity for it because I think it captures the way Internet cinephilia works, even though the piece itself makes no reference to cinema, cinephilia or the Internet. Perhaps I could share some of my thoughts on the piece here with you, and invite you to reflect and respond.

In his essay, Deleuze talks about movement in sports. Traditionally, our conception of movement and motion has been one in which we, as individuals, are the source, the origin of movement. Examples might be running, shot put, javelin, etc. Thus, the individual is the starting point, the source of energy and effort, and creates the leverage and momentum on her/his own.

But more and more, Deleuze notes, we see the popularity of certain recent sports -- like surfing, hang-gliding or wind-surfing -- which make us think of movement in a new and different way. These sports take the form of individuals entering into an existing wave. Thus, we as individuals are no longer the sole source, the origin of all movement. In fact, there’s no longer even a particular starting point that’s of importance. Instead, what we have happening in these sports is a sort of putting into orbit.

The key action now is to get taken up in the motion of a big wave, a column of rising air, to get into something, join something larger, more powerful than ourselves. These big waves that Deleuze is urging us to join, to ride, to be taken up by, he calls mediators.

Deleuze is saying: It is up to us to enter these waves around us, to place ourselves in the path of these mediators, these waves of thought and creation and reflection that are swirling all around us every day. For him, the more we think, work and live in isolation, the more difficult it is for us to move forward simply of our own accord. But with the help of mediators, we can get caught up in forces much bigger, more powerful than ourselves, and they can help us do and think things we could never have done or thought on our own.

This, to me, is a great model for the way the Internet functions at its best. As a cinephile, the Internet is where I find my big waves -- my mediators -- every single day: on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, magazines, journals, and other sites. Several times a day they carry me from one idea to another, one film to another, one spark of curiosity to another.

It's been my experience that often, Internet cinephilic mediators (a) appear in small, brief encounters and (b) act as stimulants. A discussion on Facebook or a stray tweet on Twitter might spur me to add a film to my DVD queue; a reference in a blog post might impel me to request an article via interlibrary loan; a passing allusion in an email conversation might have me cracking open a book I've long owned to read an essay I didn't know was there; and an observation in a movie review might find me jotting down a fresh and interesting way of looking at a familiar filmmaker.

On any given day, I might experience a dozen or more such encounters that act as little stimulants, opening doors to films or writings or ideas new to me; they keep me learning and growing in tiny ways as a cinephile and critic. The Internet has suddenly made possible a new and large community for mutual teaching and learning, a community that includes both people we might know well (e.g on Facebook) and those we don't know at all (e.g on Youtube). In pre-Internet film culture, there were relatively few critics writing for large numbers of cinephile readers. But the number of readers and writers (fellow teachers and fellow learners) has exploded on the Web. Combine this with the dizzying, accelerated frequency of our encounters with these mediators -- every day, all day -- and we find rich possibilities whose only drawback is their super-plenitude.

I've been speaking in the abstract so far, so let me provide an example by recording here a handful of such "mediator encounters" I've had just in the last 48 hours. Every single one has awoken my curiosity, or brought me an insight, or expanded my consciousness in some way, however small:

(1) Jonathan Rosenbaum's fascinating account of the ups and downs in his interactions with François Truffaut, and their consequent impact on Welles criticism.

(2) Ignatiy Vishnevetsky's piece on Tony Stone's Severed Ways (2007), a filmmaker and film I'd never heard of ("[a] cross between Los Muertos, the last reel of Last of the Mohicans, Rossellinian film-teaching, Denisian sensation and Straub's "nature has ten million times the imagination of the most imaginative artists" maxim).

(3) Chris Fujiwara's review of a Nicholas Ray retrospective that recalls Godard's comparison of Bitter Victory to a trick drawing ("One is no longer interested in objects, but in what lies between the objects and becomes an object in its turn"), to which Fujiwara adds: "Each Ray film forms patterns that are hidden in plain sight."

(4) Zach Campbell's coinages of "reversible films" (The Matrix, 300 or V for Vendetta, that all too cleverly accommodate contradictory ideologies in a streamlined fashion) and "diffuse films" (that are political but messily and knowingly so, like Splice or District 9).

(5) Dave Kehr's DVD review of Samuel Fuller's Verboten ("In Fuller’s hands, what can at first seem an error of taste often turns out to be a vision of the world.")

(6) Mubarak Ali's remarkable collage-post on Mani Kaul and Kumar Shahani's films, with text by the filmmakers, Jacques Rancière, Laleen Jayamanne, and Geeta Kapur -- and audio clips, besides!

(7) A Sight & Sound review welcoming Glauber Rocha's Antonio Das Mortes to DVD: "For Rocha the mysticism of Brazilian popular religion, a syncretistic fusion of Catholicism and the motifs of African religion transplanted with the slave trade [...] provided him with a model for the syncretism of his own film language, where the exuberant rush of images, the mix of mysticism and legend, cult and ritual, was married to a form of symbolism both political and surrealistic to achieve a visionary force."

(8) A collage of texts on the Berlin School in the new issue of Senses of Cinema: "One could perhaps reconstruct the affinity between the Berlin School directors of the 1990s and the ‘second’ Nouvelle Vague generation (Jean Eustache, Philippe Garrel, Jacques Doillon, Maurice Pialat, Benoît Jacquot) through an implicitly shared post-utopian concept of the political which can conceive of social change only as a retreat into the private realm and the cell formations which take place there."

(9) Finally: the two most valuable pages in the film-blogosphere, David Hudson's Daily MUBI Twitter site; and Catherine Grant's blog Film Studies For Free. And two more regular check-ins: new DVD release news at DVD Beaver and Criterion.

What makes Internet cinephilia distinct and different from pre-Internet cinephilia is not the presence of mediators per se. (Deleuze's own mediators existed in an age before the Internet.) Instead, their exploding number and the large volume of daily encounters we are able to have with them suddenly presents us with new challenges. Perhaps we can talk about this and other issues below.

So, I'm wondering: What do you especially value about Internet cinephilia? How is the experience of being an Internet cinephile distinctly different -- both better and worse -- than being a cinephile in the pre-Internet era? What sorts of "mediator encounters" excite and stimulate your cinephilic enthusiasm from day to day on the Internet? Your thoughts and suggestions are most welcome.

pic: Bruce Brown's classic surf film, The Endless Summer (1964)


Blogger Matthew Flanagan said...

I offer: I - II - III - IV.

July 12, 2010 7:51 AM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

I'm not sure how succinctly I could answer your questions. First, writing online has satisfied a need to talk about film, theoretically with people who might be interested in what I have to say, and have more of themselves invested in some aspect(s) of film.

What I mostly get is an awareness of other films or related material that I could, or should, be interested in. Again, I find this also related to the much greater availability of films, primarily through DVDs, but also some online availability, so that the two are twined for me.

It is interesting that I realized that several bloggers: The Siren, Dennis Cozzalio, Brian Darr and myself all started our sites within a few months of each other, which might be said to be both a cause and effect of cinephilia.

July 12, 2010 9:02 AM  
Blogger Tony Dayoub said...

The value of a comment thread in this regard is not to be underestimated. I sometimes see moderators scold their commentors for going off-topic. But it is often these evolving, amorphous comment threads which can spur one to think in an entirely new way.

The Siren's comment threads often intimidate me because of my relatively limited knowledge of the period which she discusses in her posts. But I enjoy how they frequently zoom off into other tangents, and find each commentor to be knowledgeable. It's like a roundtable of cinematic punditry. And mustering up the courage to throw oneself into such a whitewater ride of cinephilic minutiae is often rewarded with a fruitful education.

July 12, 2010 9:23 AM  
Anonymous Andy said...

Hi Girish,

I'd be interesting in hearing about what you see as some of the challenges of Internet cinephilia.

July 12, 2010 11:16 AM  
Anonymous Chuck said...

I tried to work through these ideas in my blogging chapter in my book, but I'm not quite sure I pulled it off. I think you've laid out the basics: we now have a kind of "collective intelligence" (or what Julia Lesage calls a "processual knowledge building") that provides the potential for new encounters every day: new movie reviews, new approaches to film criticism, pointers to old movies. It's all there.

I know that many critics have complained that social media serves as a form of distraction and fragmentation, but my usual answer to that is that they are using it wrong. I think the work of aggregator-bloggers like Catherine Grant and David Hudson is of tremendous value, a reinvention of the scholarly bibliographies that often took months, if not years, to compile.

July 12, 2010 5:56 PM  
Blogger Stephan said...

Interesting thread, but can we distinguish between the mediating events Deleuze cites (waves and air currents that are a continuous force moving us in a direction) and media postings that change the direction of our thought but leave us on a course that we actively pursue?

Do we have examples of media postings (whether blogs, films, TV, print, etc.) that are of a continuous nature?

July 14, 2010 5:35 PM  
Blogger ZC said...

Good post Girish! I think that the Internet provides such all-ready access to so many things (which is not to say that it is omnipotent, or that there are no holes & lacks - only that it is bigger than we are), that when it comes to cinephilia the effect is now that the practices are rarely ones of scarcity, and instead bulwarks against the the pitfalls that may sometimes accompany plenitude. One begins to make judgments about how to spend one's time that are different in the face of access than they were when scarcity (of information, screenings, video copies) loomed larger.

'What, many of Marcel Hanoun's films are available online? Ah, I wanted to see these - any of these! - for years ... but they don't have subtitles, and my French is so bad, and the image quality isn't the best, and maybe I can watch more of them later ... when I have more time ...'

Time becomes precious in the face of so much at our fingertips. I wonder if this is one of the values of 'mediators,' precisely because they give us a chance to get into orbit within a dizzying cine-galactic system.

(I don't have many, or any, good recent examples to offer because non-cinema has occupied me the last month or so, and I'm only now easing back into the blogosphere, etc.)

July 15, 2010 8:51 AM  
Anonymous Adrian said...

Zach, I believe 'non-cinema' in your case may be code for ... marriage ??? What a life vs art opposition right there !!

July 15, 2010 9:43 AM  
Blogger Gareth said...

Or code for the World Cup...

July 15, 2010 10:05 AM  
Blogger ZC said...

Or both! Time to see movies & surf the Net has certainly been limited.

Cinephilically, during my honeymoon, there were a number of short periods of time where I could do something I almost never do in regular life, which is channel surf. Sitting in the hotel room, going between channels that alternated between English & Spanish (a few movie channels in other languages, too), I was able to approximate that old practice of stepping into the movie theater, not knowing what a movie was, and watching it just long enough to get the gist if I hadn't seen it already. Zathura, Speed Racer, Hackers, The Snow Walker, Breakin' All the Rules, Total Recall, an assortment of largely fantastical and adventurous movies seemed to rotate on the channels.

July 15, 2010 10:51 AM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...

Related (and congrats, Girish -- as well as to Matthew Flanagan, Adrian and all the others hanging around this thread whose names appear here).

July 15, 2010 12:13 PM  
Blogger Thivai Abhor said...

I don't have anything profound to say other than this post just sent me off on the most amazing morning online derive that provided me with two hours of intense film reading and a handful of sites that I have marked down to return to later.


PS I addressed this a few years ago in thinking about my cultural derives in my daily life and Michael Wesch's lessons on 21st Century Literacies

July 15, 2010 12:30 PM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...

Ah, looks like I screwed up the link up there. Here it is again, for the first time.

July 15, 2010 12:40 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

As someone who lately is feeling that the "wave" has caused him to wipeout, I respect those who hang ten and make it to shore.

Dave Hudson's MUBI Twitter feed is, indeed, along with your own site, great examples of how this wave theory applies to internet cinephilia. I think being able to stay on the board and ride the wave involves the disseminative filters of personal taste. In fact, I just sent a note to David relaying a quote by Joseph Gordon-Lewitt in the current issue of Details that speaks to what I'm saying. The creative pioneer of the new era, Gordon-Lewitt posits, is "the DJ, the curator, the remix artist, the person who confronts the superabundance, plucks out the gems, and puts them together in such a way that it means something."

This is what David does. This is what you do.

July 15, 2010 2:18 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you, all, for your thoughts! They are, above all, the reason why I'm drawn to blogging...!

I didn't read Matthew's post (with excerpts from an interview with Straub & Huillet) until after I had put up mine, or I'd have included it above.

Peter, it's important that you bring up awareness of films and other material fostered by our interactions on the Web. In a very practical fashion, what I hear/read about on the Web (and in certain select magazines like Cinema Scope and Film Comment), both in terms of older and newer films, ends up determining the majority of my film-watching decisions from one day to the next.

Tony, I agree about the need for comments threads to be structured loosely, to be able to digress freely. Sometimes I wonder if the pointed questions I pose in my posts don't deter some fellow cinephiles from responding because they are afraid of going "off-topic." I propose my questions in a post only as a starting point for discussion. I need to communicate that more clearly!

Andy, I'm going to echo Zach's point above about the challenges of Internet cinephilia residing primarily in the surfeit of options -- too many good or interesting "waves" to ride! Practically, I deal with it by using an RSS reader, and pruning or expanding it regularly. Twitter is where I catch up with most new links these days, and so a lot of filtering is already done for me by the few dozen people I follow there.

Andy (and others), I'm curious to hear your take on the challenges of Internet cinephilia...

Chuck, while this post is still fresh I'd like to revisit the chapter in your book to fertilize this comments section with ideas from it!

Stephan, I think Deleuze is saying that considered overall, the flows (of air, water) are occurring not in a single direction but in multiple directions. Thus the analogy to each post or link taking us in a new, unexpected direction. And as cinephiles, I think we pursue multiple courses at any point in time, e.g. we are simultaneously interested in old and new cinema, world cinema and Hollywood, narrative and experimental, etc...

Zach, first: Congratulations on the marriage! This is fantastic news! Your honeymoon surfing story reminds me of Thierry Jousse's fish in the aquarium!

Maya, we can't allow "the wave" to wipe you out: your Herculean "interview project" is too important
to us for that...!

July 15, 2010 3:31 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Adrian devoted a FILMKRANT column a couple of months back to two kinds of cinephiles: critic-cinephiles and cheerleader-cinephiles. He wrote:

"I have always believed there are two kinds of cinephiles. The first kind is the more public, and the better known: the critic-cinephile. This is the person who writes, speaks, teaches, publishes; the person who sorts through films, connecting and analysing them. Traditionally, our culture of training and learning has elevated the critic, and become nervous when his or her position is threatened by the changing scheme of things - hence the many forums and discussions (some of them rather old-fashioned) at the present time on 'the function of criticism'. Film critics (as we hear constantly at the moment) are an imperilled species, on the verge of extinction - and many smart people take this to be one symptom of a general crisis in culture.

But I wonder whether this is really true. For there is another kind of cinephile who has always existed alongside the critic, and in fact far outnumbers him or her: what I call the cheerleader-cinephile. This cheerleader is not an analyst, not usually a teacher or broadcaster. Perhaps they are not very gregarious at all. Where a critic always seeks conversation (or an opportunity to deliver a monologue) after a film screening, the cheerleader may slink away in rapt silence. Where a critic hoards serious books, the cheerleader prefers accumulating colourful posters, postcards, even celebrity signatures (at least if the celebrity is, say, Anna Karina).

And where a critic tries to write serious books (if anybody will publish them anymore), the committed cheerleader is more prone to work for or start up a specialist DVD distribution company, just as they used to buy (and cautiously lend out) rare 16mm prints. The cheerleader is more like the art lover who actually buys paintings and adores them on their wall, rather than the art critic who runs off to nut out an appreciation of the work stored in memory or reproduced in a glossy magazine.

I am not using this word cheerleader in the derogatory way that Harold Bloom wielded it in his 1994 book The Western Canon - as a term for those who barrack for fashionable causes. No, cheerleader-cinephiles cultivate a life-long support for the pieces of cinema that they deeply, devotedly love - and the audiences for Film Festivals and Cinematheques the world over would be far smaller without them.

What has the Internet done to the universe of film appreciation? It has not necessarily decimated the critics - but it has definitely increased the visibility of the cheerleaders. In fact, perhaps 80 per cent of the best websites (blogs, magazines, etc) devoted to cinema are cheerleading in nature. Cheeleaders write little, but they link a lot, to texts and to images; sometimes, they also perform the invaluable labour of cross-cultural translation.

This does not mean that we think any less of critics today, or pay less attention to them. The Jonathan Rosenbaums or Roger Eberts (take your pick according to taste and sensibility) effortlessly retain their authority as experts, historians and pundits - in fact, their circle of influence has expanded far beyond what an Andrew Sarris or a Serge Daney enjoyed in their mainly local, parochial milieux of New York or Paris in the '60s, '70s or '80s. What has changed is simply the economy or balance of the cinephile community, at least as it presents itself publicly to the contemporary, wired world. Hail to the cheerleaders!"

July 15, 2010 3:37 PM  
Blogger girish said...

I'm curious to hear reactions and responses from others on Adrian's classification of cinephiles.

Let me toss in my two cents: Reading long, meaty, substantive essays or books is not the ONLY kind of beneficial stimulation for a cinephile. Small posts, passing references, photographs, clips, DVD release news, stray comments that might pique us about a film or filmmaker: ALL of these can stimulate or goose a cinephile's interest during the course of a day and set her/him on a path of viewing/reading that would not have occurred otherwise. The cheerleader-cinephile is able to provide such stimulation and spark on a regular basis on blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc.

I think what cheerleader cinephiles are able to do is excite/generate enthusiasm in others: this is an invaluable service!

July 15, 2010 3:55 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

I absolutely love the image of a cheerleader cinephile! Give me an "I", give me a "D", give me an "E", give me an "A": What's that spell? IDEA!!"

In my mind I'm already imagining the outfit to go with it. Heh.

July 15, 2010 4:45 PM  
Blogger Matthew Flanagan said...

Thanks Girish, Ignatiy. I think the wonderful short text that Dave wrote about KINO SLANG here sums up a lot of what I find really important about all this internet cinephilia stuff. (Well, now, at least. Like Maya, I'm at the wipeout stage.)

e.g. "Rector isolates the outliers, those critical voices in the wilderness, and assembles them into a unified trajectory of what might have been—and could be still."

An echo of Nicole Brenez's tremendous piece in the last issue of Framework, perhaps.

July 15, 2010 7:07 PM  
Anonymous Corey Creekmur said...

I find myself in the rare position of not so much disagreeing with Adrian, but of not really understanding part of his distinction. OK, the critic-cinephile I understand as a category, though of course the range allowed within that group (at any one time, and historically) is worth pondering. But I don't understand how a cheerleader can live in "rapt silence," and thus not, you know, lead cheers. The cheerleader he describes seems to be what we used to just call a fan (before they became "textual poachers" or "resistant readers," etc.), or perhaps a buff, or (a term of self-pride) an archive rat. (I wonder how many cinephile-critics are also devoted collectors ...) If such a figure is gregarious they might pass along or share their passion with others, but as Adrian's definition allows, this "cheerleader" is also often someone who in fact never cheers (at least loudly, in front of crowds) and often prefers private pleasure to a leading role. Am I being too literal: why call someone who doesn't cheer or lead a cheerleader? A supporter or booster or enthusiast can act rather quietly, it seems, but can a cheerleader really work behind the scenes? Aren't they be definition up front, visible, and willingly on display?

A personal story: when seeking to find out what had been written about B-Westerns, I found virtually no criticism (that is, no critic-cinephiles, though that has changed a bit recently), but lots and lots of buffs (OK I'll call them cheerleaders for now). They view and collect, and in fact hundreds of B-Westerns are available on video or DVD to serve them (since there's little broad market for these films) almost alone. They also accumulate and publish (often self-publish) information and data (or what can be dismissed as trivia): this work is clearly a labor of love, but it is almost rigorously uncritical, and emphatically untheoretical. There's little critical impulse at all in the mass of material these folks produce about the objects of their affection. I've tended to call them film buffs, and while they are not an especially anti-social bunch, they tend to only share their enthusiasm with a somewhat closed, semi-secret society. Don't cheerleaders want everyone in the stands to get excited?

So, a half-baked response to Girish's wish to have someone consider Adrian's categories. I'm also trying to think of these in relation to Thomas Elsaesser's distinction between different historical types of cinephiles, in his suggestive contribution to the volume edited by Valck and Hagener. What are the implications of the shift from the Hollywood nostalgia shop to EBay for collectors, for instance?

July 15, 2010 11:23 PM  
Anonymous Adrian said...

Corey's point is so important he (originally) posted it three times over !! Yes, there is a murky zone in my initial definition, but I was trying to describe something I have seen in many people around the world. What I call (perhaps a little carelessly) a 'cheerleader' is more than just a 'fan' - I resist the assimilation of any form of cinephilia to just some subset of cult-studies fandom (Janet Staiger's route). I guess what I was trying to say in that piece is that a certain kind of cinephile does not necessarily express him/herself as a critic or analyst or theorist, but through a range of other acts: translation, promotion, programming, collecting (with like-minded soul-brohters and sisters) ... and linking/collaging, as we see mightily on the Web today. Some well-known and much-loved historians are more cheerleaders (in my sense) that critics as such: Bill Everson maybe, definitely Ado Kyrou, who virtually invented the high-class coffee-table film book. (Enthusiasm, film noir, erotica and surrealism all wrapped up neatly in him, Corey!) Look at someone on the Web like Joseph Coppola, with his systematic combing through ratings, listings, etc in CAHIERS: what a Herculean labour, and how fascinating it is for so many purposes! It is all 'sophisticated love' of cinema, but expressed in various different ways ...

July 16, 2010 7:40 AM  
Anonymous Corey Creekmur said...

Girish has corrected my compulsion to repeat by deleting the extra postings! In any case, perhaps I am too focused on the implications of the term "cheerleader," and of course aware that few enthusiasts of cinema resemble actual cheerleaders (at least in their American incarnations)! What I do recognize is Adrian's notion of a kind of cinephilia that manifests itself in less public or professional ways (although I'm recalling Metz's wonderful points early in THE IMAGINARY SIGNIFIER on film theory as an elaborate cover and excuse for indulging in cinephilia). As in my example, this certainly fits the fans (yes, that word seems inadequate) of B-Westerns, who are not just content to watch the films, but to collect and then WORK on them -- and I'll count collecting, of data or artifacts, as a form of work. Only a term like devotion really captures the missionary zeal of such efforts, usually performed of course without any professional support, grant funds, or other means. (I'm talking about work that is done on the side, after the tedious day job is done.) But hard work it clearly is (like, as Adrian suggests Joseph Coppola's astonishing labors). Often of course it also takes place across a lifetime.

What I'm really getting at in questioning the application of "cheerleader" to such folks is the significance of the modesty and even sometimes privacy and secrecy of such work, often done behind-the-scenes or fueled by private (sometimes recognizably shameful) obsession or only at its most public through sharing among a small cult. (Think of Bettie Page fans before she became somewhat naughty kitsch.) I'm wondering about the cinephilia that manifests itself in private collections, secret stashes, personal scrapbooks, etc. (Joseph Cornell's scrapbooks lovingly devoted to Hollywood stars would be an example: this love only came out rather veiled in his boxes, although ROSE HOBART seems an open confession.) My cheerleaders don't participate in public competitions, or build human pyramids with other cheerleaders: they cheer quietly to themselves, and often only lead others in their deepest fantasies ("why doesn't everyone love [fill in name] as fully and as passionately as I do? If I ran the world, everyone would bow at the shrine of [fill in name]!"

July 16, 2010 9:01 AM  
Blogger girish said...

These are wonderful ruminations, Corey and Adrian: Thank you!

A couple of thoughts:

-- If "cheerleader" seems like a controversial coinage, I think "enthusiast" could take its place without distorting the meaning, with the added advantage of being capacious enough to contain both public and private dimensions of cinephilic devotion and expression.

-- To circle back for a moment to one of my original questions, I'm really curious about the differences between pre-Internet and Internet-era cinephilic practices. Corey refers to the community of B-western devotees as being a private or semi-private group. (Thanks, Corey, for this fascinating glimpse into a subculture I didn't know existed!) I wonder how practices of even such a private group have been influenced by the rise of the Internet. Is today's enthusiast as likely to "slink away in rapt silence" following a screening (and keep his devotion strongly private) as today's Internet cinephile, who now has an easy and versatile means of sharing that enthusiasm with kindred souls around the world?

I suspect the Internet is transforming cinephilic expressions and practices of non-critic-cinephiles as powerfully as it is shaking up the landscape of criticism for cinephile-critics. Despite the perhaps smaller degree of critical impulse in the former group (e.g. Corey's example of B-Western devotees), I'm curious to think about and catalog all the ways in which critic-cinephiles benefit from non-critic-cinephiles..

July 16, 2010 9:58 AM  
Blogger Ian said...

Hi Girish. This is an interesting discussion.

As far as the Deleuze parallel is concerned, I think all human knowledge builds on previous work -- or rather, culture is nothing but a continuous wave. (So I don't think the Deleuze parallel really says much.) Before the internet and globalization, cultures were largely isolated and unable to benefit from the knowledge other cultures had accumulated. But the internet is now a place in which almost all forms of cultural knowledge can be stored and shared.

If we are treating the critical film community and the various fan communities as isolated cultures and asking how their intermixing on the internet has changed/benefited the critical side, I should ask: What is the ultimate end of the critical film culture, and what knowledge from fan culture could support those ends?

I often asked myself this question when writing film papers in school. What good is film studies? There is a practicality to constructing various histories of film and understanding how they all interact; and there is a personal pleasure to having a firm grasp of aesthetically challenging films (the "deepening one's soul" aspect of art); but beyond that, I could never satisfactorily answer the question. What does film studies strive for? What do we use this knowledge of film for?

I think that without answering that question, it is difficult to answer the question you ask. Answering on a very basic level, I can say that the critical film community has discovered new films thanks to the fan communities. But as of yet, I don't think this exposure to B-Westerns, Wuxia, Erotica, avant-garde &c. has changed critical culture at all. These films may be receiving scholarly treatment, but it is the same sort of treatment the films of the critical culture have already had. (This is my experience, and others may think differently.)

I would venture, however, that something like the reverse has happened -- that is, more people are being exposed to critical culture and adopting its knowledge. A lay-critical culture has sprung up online: not scholarly or academic, but informed by academic/critical methods, applying it to their own particular interests. So rather than critical culture being changed by fan cultures, fan cultures have been enlightened by critical culture.

I say this as a part of the lay-critical wave. Had it not been for the internet, I would have never discovered the joys of film.

I look forward to hearing more voices weigh in on this discussion.

July 16, 2010 9:31 PM  
Anonymous Adrian said...

Girish has put his finger on something here - the way formerly more private 'cheerleading' or enthusiast practices have now come out of the closet somewhat and gone public in the Internet age. Mind you - and I am sure there have been many studies of this dynamic - some Internet 'circles' remain fiercely closed, and even when they are literally not, many choose only to 'lurk' (perhaps even here, in this friendliest of forums!). I remember, just after writing my Leone book in the late '90s, seeing an Internet group devoted to him; within a day of innocent posting, I was told in no certain terms to shove off, because a. I had 'over-intellectualised' Leone like a true academic prat would; and b. I had dared to insinuate there was something homoerotic - or maybe even GAY (even though 'homosocial' is about the most charged word or claim in the book itself) - lurking between the men in ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA !!! I got out of that group fast, let me tell you.

July 17, 2010 1:24 AM  
Blogger Maya said...

Oh you wuss. You should have stuck around and wrestled. Then shared a cigarette. Heh.

July 17, 2010 11:43 AM  
Blogger Maya said...

Having had the welcome fortune to view for a second time the recently-restored Metropolis last night at San Francisco's Silent Film Festival, that film's central axiom--that the hand and the head must be mediated by the heart--struck me as pertinent to this discussion on film enthusiasm / film criticism, especially if we align the hand with filmmaking itself (i.e., the technical specificity of its production), and the head with critical discourse that concerns itself with the formal qualities of film. The heart would then be the enthusiasm necessary to mediate these two. And I mean that in the true sense of the word--entheos--that the spirit or the god of the film enters into the heart of the viewer. And that the necessary valence to be measured is how effectively this transmission occurs.

By his own admission, Corey's criticism of Adrian's term "cheerleader" literally ignores the term's ironic poetry. A film enthusiast is not someone who's loud but someone who promotes enthusiasm. By example, I will never forget when I first launched into my "interview project" (as Girish defines it, and which--for me--feels more Sisyphean than Herculean) a conversation I had with a fellow film critic who cautioned that I would not be a good "critic" if I took the approach of engaging filmmakers since a "critic" can never trust what a filmmaker says about his own work. That comment baffled me. As an enthusiast, I am more concerned with the spirit intended in a piece of work than whether or not I hold faith in that spirit, and who would know the intention of that spirit more than the filmmaker?

Granted, to lean even more into the Greek, enthusiasm is a handmaiden to Eros in the sense that Eros is that which binds the world together. This erotic impulse, one might even say this "feel good" impulse, has strong conflicts with the intellectual (and here I envision William Blake's detached Urizen with his compass measuring specificities) and I have to put my cards on the table and say that I am, admittedly, a "feel good" kind of guy, a smush ball in fact who prefers to be "in" it than "apart" from it. I'm the kind of guy who will give you a big hug even if it's inappropriate. (I'll never forget Girish's shocked reaction when I hugged him at a past TIFF.) I'm also the kind of guy that will fix pancakes for you because I want to show you how much I care and respect you. As an enthusiast, my role is to link the art and craft of filmmaking, its intention, its dream, with the--dare I say "objective"--discernments of critics who further that craft through careful analysis. I believe enthusiasts are populists who connect the "average" audience with the critical elite. I suspect that enthusiasts, by their nature, favor the spectacular dimension of cinema, in its many ramifications, especially how the art form is inhabited by personalities.

July 17, 2010 12:32 PM  
Anonymous Charles Hartney said...


I’m a Canisius grad (’06) and had the pleasure of meeting you once (very briefly) and so was quite excited to stumble upon your name amongst those in the Film Comment piece linked by Ignatiy above. I’ve been reading for several days and am proof-positive of your theory (vis-à-vis Deleuze) about the effect of “mediators” on Internet cinephilia: it’s been a chore to tear myself away from the ever-expanding rhizome (to borrow another of Deleuze’s favorite images) of film-related scholarship and geekery touched off by each visit to your blog. Anyway, this is my first foray into the “wave” you’ve created here…

To return to an earlier query about the challenges of internet cinephilia, I think you’re right that one of the great challenges is the sheer number and variety of mediators by which one can be swept away. If, as Welles said, “the absence of limitations is the enemy of art,” one can easily extend this to the practice of art-criticism. With endless waves of discussion mere keystrokes away, the Internet cinephile (or at least this one) can be overwhelmed, even paralyzed, by the spoils available to him.

But one of the other great challenges of Internet cinephilia as you have posited it through Deleuze’s “Mediators” is the implicit lack of control one has over these “waves” (to use surfing as my primary metaphor). One does not exert force or act upon a Deleuzian mediator; instead, he or she attempts to harness or control the force of the “wave.” He or she is asked to submit, even surrender, to the force of the “wave” without truly being able to alter it in any way. One never becomes a part of a wave, but rather remains apart from it, trying to ride it out.

This isn’t to say that submitting to a force greater than oneself is not a worthwhile endeavor; it certainly is. But all cinephiles (or scholars in other fields), I think, hope to be able to add their own influence to a given debate. That’s why pre-Internet “internets” – cafes, bars, etc. – still hold a great deal of charm: with fellow debaters just across the table, you’re certain to be heard.

Riding “waves” is exhilarating (as my experience over the last few days exemplifies) but can be ultimately unfulfilling. I can’t help but think of Sam Wheat, Patrick Swayze’s character in Ghost, who is privy to all of the lies and deceptions committed by his best friend but (for the first half of the film at least) is unable to act to change the course of events (are we allowed to reference “Ghost” in the comments section of a post dedicated to Deleuze?). One can amass tremendous knowledge and passion from riding the waves of Internet cinephilia, but without being able to exert oneself on that wave, without being able to act and change the course of events, the Internet cinephile can becomes little more than Swayze’s ghost. The daunting reality of Internet cinephilia is that an individual is powerless against the greater force of the “mediator,” that any contribution will become white noise and be lost in the plentitude.

Have at it, gentle(wo)men.

July 18, 2010 1:31 AM  
Blogger YUSEF SAYED said...

The wide-ranging approaches to film criticism which can be found on the Internet has encouraged my attempts to gain further insights into films from different angles. I recently illustrated a passage from Nicole Brenez's book on Abel Ferrara (Adrian, thanks so much for translating this fine book) because I felt it lent itself to visual accompaniment. If only for my own pleasure.

The wealth of audiovisual essays, image-centred essays as well as blog entries and lengthy writing all makes for a richer involvement with film.

Thank you girish for supporting this vibrant online culture.

July 18, 2010 11:57 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Hi and thank you for your thoughts, Ian, Adrian, Maya, Charles and Yusef!

-- Ian, I'd venture that interaction between critics and enthusiasts affects both cultures; and introduces critics not just to new films but also opens the possibility for new critical methods.

When fans/enthusiasts expose critics to films hitherto unregistered or unexamined by critics, this alone changes the trajectory of film criticism (and what you call "critical-culture") and film historiography.

Also, some enthusiasts and unorthodox/nonprofessional critics like Mubarak Ali are not only unearthing little-known films on a regular basis for the critical community to discover, they are also employing new and exciting methods of presentation and analysis that illuminate the films in important critical ways using powerfully evocative collages of image, sound and text. Thus, they are inventing new methods of criticism for future critics and scholars to use and build upon.

-- Charles, I remember you, of course! Jim and Dr. Gent have spoken to me of you as well! Thanks for dropping by.

Let me gently counter your skepticism about Internet cinephilia by arguing that I believe there are many ways in which we have a strong degree of control over our "surfing" experiences. As cinephiles on the Internet, we are surrounded by thousands of options each week about which links to chase down, which pieces of criticism to read, and which conversations to enter into. But ultimately, we choose only a dozen or two from this infinity of options. And we do so with great care because our time is so limited and valuable.

I use an RSS reader to track my favorite film blogs and websites, and I also contantly fine-tune my subscriptions in order to manage and select from the deluge of new pieces/posts that appear each week.

So, rather than being tossed around powerlessly on the waves around us, I think we have a considerable degree of control over what waves to ride and which critics and sites to follow, while also being open to the possibility of discovering new writers/fans/websites on a daily basis.

About your final point, I would say: In-person conversations across a table (preferable greased by good beer, IMO!) are wonderful but (1) They are not the only mode of meaningful exchange and conversation open and available to us (good Internet conversations also prompt us to consider and mull over our thoughts and others' and craft our responses in written form--there are advantages to this that verbal "real-time" conversations don't have); and (2) For me personally, I don't have the opportunity of in-person conversations quite as much open to me since I live in Buffalo and so many of the film-friends and conversationalists I treasure live elsewhere in the world. E.g., just on this thread alone: Adrian lives in Melbourne, Corey in Iowa, Jonathan, Zach and Ignatiy in Chicago, Maya in San Francisco, Matthew in Great Britain, and so on. In other words, the Internet may be an imperfect medium for conversation but it is much preferable to the alternative, i.e. not having any conversations with these friends at all.

Thanks, all, for your thoughts, and please feel free to chime in anytime.

July 18, 2010 4:14 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Let me post a few links to recent, interesting posts and stories. Feel free to share your thoughts on them here if you like:

-- Henry Jenkins interviews Chuck Tryon (who commented earlier on this thread, and is the author of the book Reinventing Cinema: Movies in the Age of Media Convergence).

-- In Sight & Sound, Kevin Brownlow on the lustre of nitrate film:

‎"Fire officers took sadistic delight in relating horror stories in which nitrate *burned under water*, producing its own oxygen. “Nonsense,” we veterans retorted. “So long as you treat it properly, it is no more dangerous than the petrol in your car.” But even archives, once they... See More’d made their copies, burned the nitrate. Many of them still do. How desperately grateful we would be, in this age of DVD and HD, to have access again to those exquisite prints [...] I remember when a West End cinema was showing a nitrate print of a Garbo film – out of focus. A slight twist of the lens and it would have looked superb. I called an usher and asked him to contact the projectionist. The film was being ruined. “Oh, that,” he said, gesturing with contempt. “That’s an old film. Nothing you can do with it.”"

July 18, 2010 4:30 PM  
Anonymous Andy said...

Adrian’s categories are related to what I see as one of the biggest challenges of Internet cinephilia. If I read him correctly, we’re in the midst of a shift away from a film culture dominated (in terms of visibility and prestige) by critic-cinephiles and towards one dominated by cheerleaders/enthusiasts. Both have always existed, both will continue to exist. But whereas before the cheerleaders were largely dependent on the critic-cinephiles, who made films that weren’t available as films available to people outside of university-based or urban cinephile communities in other forms (as books, articles, etc.), now the reverse is more true: the critic-cinephile who wants to write about Sergio Leone or B-Westerns turns to the cheerleaders to facilitate that work.

This poses a challenge to the would-be full-time or occasional critic-cinephile: because it’s so rewarding to be a cheerleader today, there’s less motivation to invest time and effort in becoming a critic-cinephile. My critic-cinephile self needs hours alone in the library to do research. He needs to watch movies again and again, remote control in hand, studying them. But my cheerleader self demands constant attention: he says “if you don’t update your blog regularly, no one will read it.” He says “if you don’t comment on other people’s sites, they’ll never comment on yours." He says “watch what you say, because on the internet everything is ‘on the record.’”

In the Internet era, being a cheerleader can feel like a full-time job. It’s one that brings with it a certain amount of notoriety and prestige, and the tantalizing promise of the occasional free DVD screener or paid writing gig if you’re good at it. Today, it’s possible for cheerleaders to make friends and influence people. It’s tough to give that up, even temporarily, to apprentice as a critic-cinephile, especially when it appears as if there’s a chance you might never be fully compensated for your efforts (because of “the death of criticism,” blah, blah, blah).

I want to be both a cheerleader and a critic-cinephile. One of the biggest challenges of Internet cinephilia, for me, is finding a balance between these two parts of my cinephile identity that makes me happy. But I’ve never known any kind of cinephilia other than Internet cinephilia, so maybe this is nothing new?

July 18, 2010 5:30 PM  
Anonymous Omar said...

Hi Girish. I think a lot of this discussion goes back to the notion that for a long time cinephilia was something controlled by traditional gatekeepers who ultimately set the film agenda - this inevitably led to a canonisation and elitism of sorts amongst cinephiles. With the democratization of the media and particularly blogging, the Internet has in my opinion led to greater pluralism when it comes to cinephilia discussion. No longer is critical opinion kept within strict boundaries - debate on certain films is continuous, ideological and done in a real spirit of enthusiasm. For me personally Internet cinephilia is like being educated about film in the most democratic way possible. I do think video essays are becoming more popular as a tool for on line cinephile expression and though this may throw up potential copyright issues I think it could be the future when it comes to teaching and film education.

July 18, 2010 6:44 PM  
Anonymous Charles Hartney said...


I think you're right that we do have significant control over our cinephilic "surfing" experiences on the web. Myriad "waves" are open to us and they are constantly evolving. Sometimes this multitude of options can be daunting but, with a little work, also can become manageable if we choose to work at it.

I think my anxieties about Internet cinephilia tend to manifest themselves after the "wave" or "waves" have been chosen, i.e. how do I exert myself on this "wave" so that it is different, if only for a few moments, for my having been here?

The issue, then, is not about the selection of "waves," but rather the individual's ability to impact the "wave" once he or she has chosen to ride it. If we take the surfing metaphor literally, thousands may take to their boards on a daily basis, but the ocean remains fundamentally unchanged by their presence. How does one, in the midst of riding a cinephilic "wave," alter that "wave," change the conversation, reshape the discourse and not just become another "surfer?"

Perhaps these anxieties are my own but it seems, at least theoretically, difficult to penetrate the cacophony of voices surrounding all issues cinematic. I suppose sharing these anxieties in this forum is a start...

But don't misunderstand me: like Andy, I've never known a cinephilia other than this one and I wouldn't trade surplus for scarcity, cacophony for silence.

July 19, 2010 1:08 AM  
Blogger terabin said...

Charles, I think one distinction that could be helpful in thinking about how to ride these waves is that we're not riding the waves as individuals in isolation. We are individuals riding the waves, but we are riding them together as a community (however big you want to define that community, though Girish's blog clearly has its own). Perhaps just recognizing each other as we ride these waves is the start we need. I see that happening in the comments of this post. Friends old and new acknowledging one another, encouraging one another.

In establishing these relationships, these discussions, with fellow surfers, we influence one another. We can listen to and contribute to and mediate discussions ourselves. This seems primary goal, at least ideally, for me. Secondary is the idea of influencing the larger wave on which we ride (though I understand that practically-speaking, some folks might strongly desire this in the course of their professional lives). But even practically, I think this secondary goal comes through the primary goal. You can't influence the wave as an isolated individual. It comes through a network of personal relationships.

Perhaps in Deleuze's metaphor (I've not read the article), he would intend this network to be the wave itself, but I imagine that what is troubling with this metaphor is that the wave seems awfully impersonal, when what I am proposing above would be a network of personal relationships.

July 19, 2010 3:25 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Charlie, Andy, Terabin, Omar! I'll be sure to post a response to your thoughts tomorrow.

July 21, 2010 9:15 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Andy says: "Because it’s so rewarding to be a cheerleader today, there’s less motivation to invest time and effort in becoming a critic-cinephile."

I'm reminded of the notion, in organization studies, of two kinds of rewards: extrinsic and intrinsic. Being a cheerleader-cinephile brings often brings the former kind: visibility, website "hits," linking by other sites, etc. But the work of a critic-cinephile is unlikely to bring (I think) such extrinsic rewards of equal magnitude, or it might take a good while for such rewards to materialize. But this work--the work of criticism, what Andy means when he speaks of sitting down with a film or films and watch them over and over again, mining and analyzing them--can produce a different kind of reward that is more intrinsic, a satisfaction and pleasure generated not from the outside (money, fame, visibility, celebrity, website popularity, etc) but more from inside oneself (a satisfaction from learning and acquisition of knowledge, a feeling of accomplishment from having written a good critical piece, a feeling that one is deepening one's understanding of cinema from one month to the next, etc).

My theory is that both these kinds of rewards are important. Too much of the "extrinsic" without enough of the "instrinsic" can make one feel a bit empty and unsatisfied with the substance of one's work, while the reverse can cause one to feel unappreciated and frustrated, longing for the approbation of one's peers.

So I think every cinephile must find her own place on the spectrum between the extremes of "critic" and "enthusiast"...

Perhaps what we need here is a new notion and a new term: that of an "enthusiast critic" who takes up questions of cinema and works (and makers) of cinema hitherto unexplored or under-explored and highlights them while simultaneously performing valuable critical work on them. I think we can say that the blogs of Zach, Ignatiy, Mubarak, Matthew, Andy Rector, and others, fall into this category. What disinguishes these bloggers from more "traditional" critics is that (a) they work primarily on the Internet rather than in print; and (b) they often don't work in a traditional "film-review-essay" form in their blog posts. They explore the nooks and corners of cinema and excite enthusiasm about them while also writing criticism about this and more visible, well-known cinema...

Just thinking aloud here, your responses welcome...

July 22, 2010 3:48 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Charlie, I must admit that the "wave" analogy breaks down at some point: I believe (as Terabin does) that it is indeed possible to have an impact on and alter each other's thinking through conversations on the Internet.

It is useful (I believe) for us cinephiles to think of ourselves as students of cinema, our primary objective being not necessarily to register ourselves on the "waves" around us and "make our mark" (that might well happen at some point) but to deepen our understanding of cinema and criticism by participation in conversations, film-watching and writing. If we are committed enough to this objective, I think we are bound to shape each other's ideas about cinema, simultaneously performing the functions of teacher and student in our community. This has been my experience of Internet film culture in the 5 or so years I've been blogging.

Perhaps we can talk about this in person sometime; feel free to stop by the next time you're at Canisius.

July 22, 2010 4:13 PM  
Anonymous jim emerson said...

Beautifully expressed, girish: "The key action now is to get taken up in the motion of a big wave, a column of rising air, to get into something, join something larger, more powerful than ourselves. These big waves that Deleuze is urging us to join, to ride, to be taken up by, he calls mediators."

And you know who expresses this most eloquently in cinematic terms? None more so than my most beloved of all filmmakers: Buster Keaton!

July 31, 2010 6:45 PM  
Anonymous Craig Harshaw said...

My favorite section of the Deleuze is the paragraph where he says;

"I don't think that people on the right are deluded, they're no more stupid then anyone else, but their method is to oppose movement...Embracing movement, or blocking it: politically, two completely different methods of negotiation. For the Left, this means a new way of talking. It's not so much a matter of winning arguments as of being open about things. Being open is setting out the "facts," not only of a situation but of a problem. Making visible things that would otherwise remain hidden... The Right tends to refuse questions. If they're valid questions, then by establishing the facts we state a problem that the right wants to hide. Because once the problem has been set out, we can no longer get away from it, and the Right itself has to talk in a different way. So the job of the left, whether in or out of power, is to uncover the sort of problem that the Right wants at all costs to hide".

I relate this to a kind of "ethical" aspect of cinephilia and/or film criticism literalized by somebody like the late Robin Wood; but also evident in critics and theorists without the same kind of direct progressive political engagements. I think this statement is correct and that one of the problems of center-left culture in the US is the buying into the "razzle dazzle them" mentality because it has worked so well for the rightwing. Of course, inevitably we should not be surprised that people skilled at dazzling people often themselves move towards embracing neoliberal capitalism.

So, I do think that the very act of dialoguing about film often had a kind of politically progressive charge because it does reveal things that the power structure would prefer to remain hidden. This is particularly true now that we have the world of the internet b/c people are forced into more ideologically diverse relationships then in the past. This is one of the reasons for all of the social anxiety about the internet being "too aggressive" and "too impersonal".

I think this all becomes especially interesting in a country like the U.S. that has such a remarkably narrow electoral ideological space. The ability to be in dialogue with people in nations where the electoral space is much wider (almost all of the "democratic" industrialized world) means that sometimes people find themselves having to defend ideological positions that have remained invisible to them throughout much of their lives. This does often cause some highly charged conversation.

By the way I really enjoyed the comments posted by Thavai Abhor and especially the link and work on Ideological Formation. I am always interested in discovering if there are ways cinema can help develop greater empathy for humanity. U.S. imperialism is dependent on U.S. citizens' lack of intellectual curiousity about other countries. It seems to be that international cinema is a real threat to this because it so vividly reminds us of our shared humanity. Realizing this makes it harder to swallow the bombing of civilian targets such as we are seeing in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It also might make more U.S. citizens question the militarization projects in Columbia and Africa (the notorious Africom Project).

August 06, 2010 4:59 AM  

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