Friday, May 29, 2015

The New Cinephilia

I'm happy to announce that my book, The New Cinephilia, is now out. It is part of caboose's Kino-Agora series, edited by Christian Keathley.

It can be ordered from caboose for $5, and from Amazon for slightly more. It is also available as a Kindle e-book from Amazon, although, given the lovely production design, I would recommend the print version over the e-version.

As is obvious from the prices above, caboose -- responsible for the recent, acclaimed translations of André Bazin's What is Cinema? and Jean-Luc Godard's Introduction to a True History of Cinema and Television -- is less a "business" than a pure labor of love for cinema.

The publisher is running a special offer for the next week: with each online purchase of the Godard volume, it is giving away four free titles from its Kino-Agora series, including three new releases in the series: Jacques Aumont's Montage, Timothy Barnard's Découpage and Frank Kessler's Mise en scène. Please see the Godard order page for details.

Thank you for reading!

* * *

Recent online reads:

-- David Hudson has posted the list of award-winners at the 2015 Cannes film festival.

-- On Facebook, Dennis Lim put up this personal list:

Cannes Top 10. Very little separating the top 3, which towered over everything else.

1. Cemetery of Splendor (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
2. Arabian Nights Vols 1-3 (Miguel Gomes)
3. The Assassin (Hou Hsiao-hsien)
4. The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos)
5. Mountains May Depart (Jia Zhangke)
6. The Treasure (Corneliu Porumboiu)
7. In the Shadow of Women (Philippe Garrel)
8. Carol (Todd Haynes)
9. The Other Side (Roberto Minervini)
10. One Floor Below (Radu Muntean)

Plus two remarkable artifacts: Actua 1 (Philippe Garrel, 1968) and Visit, or Memories and Confessions (Manoel de Oliveira, 1982).

-- Blake Williams' rank-ordered list of the 50 or so films he caught at Cannes. And Ignatiy Vishnevetsky filed several reports from the festival.

-- Catherine Grant rounds up the last two issues of [in]Transition.

-- Jonathan Rosenbaum, in a post on Pedro Costa's Ne Change Rien: "Any film that’s about listening, as this one will be [referring to a documentary film Jonathan once planned to make about jazz pianist McCoy Tyner], will also be about looking — predicated on the philosophy that the way one looks at musicians already helps to determine the way one listens to them."

-- 85 films by women about women of color, crowd-sourced by Ava DuVernay on Twitter.

-- I recently caught up with Elio Petri's remarkable Investigation of a Citizen Under Suspicion (1971). Here is a good essay by Evan Calder Williams on the film.

-- New issues of: Cineaste; and Film Comment. Also: Violet Lucca interviews Agnès Varda at Film Comment.

-- An old piece on David Lynch by Nathan Lee at Bookforum that I had missed: "Body Surface". (Via Sam Ishii-Gonzales on Facebook.)

-- "Visual Pleasure at 40: Laura Mulvey in Discussion".

-- A video of Vivian Sobchack's lecture "Stop + Motion: On Animation, Inertia, and Innervation," part of the Kracauer Lectures in Film and Media Theory in Frankfurt.

-- The Challenge of Surrealism, an upcoming book that collects the correspondence between Theodor Adorno and Elisabeth Lenk. (Via Frederick Veith on Twitter.)

-- A Tumblr page devoted to "all-male panels". Submissions (photos and screenshots) are invited. Also: examples of all-male bibliography in an academic work.

-- The new issue of the journal Postmodern Culture is online.

-- Sam Lavigne's fascinating website, "Greetings, Fellow Alienated Subject of Capitalism". (Via McKenzie Wark.)

-- "Stupid Shit No One Needs & Terrible Ideas Hackathon".


Blogger Remy Renault said...

Hi Girish:

I'll admit I haven't yet read your book, although I would like to at some point. I was just wondering if you strongly take a side or not it, meaning are you strongly on the side of new cinephilia and the opportunities offered by the internet, because I strongly feel it's a double edged sword. I don't how to put it, but I suppose I feel "new cinephiles" are often reluctant to approach cinema from a rarefied air, dismissing the more "romantic" or "modernist" values of the old guard arthouse filmmakers as naive or what not. I feel for instance that Antonioni or Adorno or MCluhan were rather prescient about the dangers that would present themselves during the digital age. I personally feel there needs to be a nuanced discussion of this issue. Even Godard aired similar sentiments in that interview he featured in Histoire(s) du Cinema where the man interviewing him was suggesting there are too many films nowadays, so to embrace 1960's cinephile values in approaching contemporary cinema would be futile. Godard retorted by suggesting there are only ten films. Now I think what he means is he believes in the potential of cinema as a medium, but it's okay to hypothesize that a finite amount of films worthy of the likes of Shakespeare, Mozart, Dante etc. have been made up to this point. I haven't fully concluded where I stand, but it's okay to look at it from both sides I think without being "reactionary". Peter Greenaway and John Simon are reactionaries for sure, but I think the demonization of people like Armond White is uncalled for frankly, but that's just me.

I think we need to ask ourselves what it is that truly makes a Mizoguchi or an Antonioni or even a Pialat or a Renoir truly brilliant that's lacking in the work of someone like Farhadi or Kechiche and their brand of generic "kitchen sink" realism. I guess all I'm saying is I don't think the Adorno approach is naive or "bourgeois" the way some people do. All art regardless of medium is in a sense connected, and there are certain I guess "cosmic" aesthetic values that transcend mediums. Maybe I'm not expressing myself very clearly I'll admit, but I just feel there needs to be a more nuanced discussion of the implications of digital media.



May 30, 2015 8:58 AM  
Blogger Just Another Film Buff said...

Such a fantastic news! (And such a lofty place to be - alongside Godard!)

Congratulations, Girish! I hope to be reading the book soon...

May 30, 2015 11:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you're in India the book can be bought from Tokioga. There's a link on the publisher's website. The publisher will also mail the book anywhere in the world for $5.

May 30, 2015 5:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Following up on Remy's post from five days ago (urging for a discussion), here is a question that I feel is not without any relation to it: why is it that at some point people stopped bothering - to talk, to discuss, to engage? I ask with this place in mind, Girish. It is a saddening fact but a fact nonetheless that no one feels excited or interested enough anymore: you raise new topics on a regular basis, through thoughts or links, or citations, and nothing - nothing - spurs the thoughtful or at least animated responses from some time back. So the question is to anyone who reads and remembers, and even participated, in the discussions on this blog.

My emphasis is on 'thoughtful' and 'discussion', anticipating a response pointing to how things have moved to social media; but I won't say anything about that. Perhaps it will spur a discussion.

June 03, 2015 4:46 AM  
Blogger Just Another Film Buff said...


You raise a very good point. I think anyone who's been a regular customer at Girish's place would be surprised by the increasing paucity of comments. And, yes, I'm not sure if I can think of anything other than a probable shift to Facebook and Twitter as a reason for this. But then, I don't know whether everyone who comments here is as active on these social media. Is it because these media quicken the whole comment/wait-for-response/comment cycle that blogs in general have become kind of deserted? I can only guess.

(Personally, my blog reading in the past three years has plummetted and so has my inclination to engage in debates and discussion - I'm now really not certain if my case is an exception).

June 03, 2015 5:01 AM  
Blogger Remy Renault said...

I'll admit I probably resorted a bit too much to name dropping in my initial post and got carried away in that regard, but I'll elaborate on my concerns regardless and I apologize ahead of time if I ramble at all, but I'll reassure you I'm not out to antagonize anyone but to merely facilitate a discussion.

So while I certainly agree on one level that one's aesthetic tastes can't be de-politicized, I often find with many recent bloggers, such as Girish, Zach Campbell, and Ignatiy, all of whom are prone to making perceptive insights mind you, and ones that I sometimes I agree, that there is reluctance and even fear or paranoia of surrendering in any way to the "great art-ness" of great art, as if to do were archaic, like we've grown up, we've moved past appreciating works of art for their intrinsic artistic merit, and that's something I'll never be on board with, even if I acknowledge art works aren't created in a vacuum and they're largely products of socio-political forces. With that said, I don't view aesthetic appreciation as apolitical, and it necessarily cannot be so if we conclude that form and content can't be separated.

June 03, 2015 5:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I certainly didn't interpret your comment as antagonising, Remy. One has to name things if one wants to talk about them on anything but a superficial level. And obviously, anyone who is here, I believe, has nothing but respect for the place, its inhabitants and the discussions they used to and perhaps can again foster. Hopefully, others will agree.

In any case, your and Just Another Film Buff's comments touch on a very similar issue, it seems to me. A crucial aspect of both discussion and the appreciation of art is respect and charitability. What today perhaps would rather be called 'open mindedness'. Well, correct me if I'm wrong, but hasn't 'open mindedness' gradually been substituted with 'anything goes'? You can't have a discussion if anything goes. You can't have the concept of 'great art' - in fact, I would venture to say, the concept of art itself - if anything goes. And you don't have to agree with Adorno or be an elitist to think that some kind of great art - even if you're at pains to outline the boundaries - exists and is based on some set of shared principles which, yes, are evidently changing in time. So, yes, I too have noticed this reluctance to subscribe to some understanding of great art. I'm not sure what to attribute it to except for this general relativity prevalent everywhere. A reluctance to agree on a set of principles; but also to reason about these principles. I suppose this has something to do with the history of the twentieth century. Hopefully, we'll all live through these postmodern times and come out in one piece.

As a side note, the equivalent in moral philosophy of this way of approaching art is 'moral subjectivism': there are no objective moral principles and all we do when we say this is right and this is wrong is express opinions; naturally, there can be discussion under such a view; neither can there be any reasoning, or genuine (dis)agreement. I've always found moral subjectivism thoroughly unsettling. And no less so when applied to art. Surely, if people used reason (among other things) to make films, we can use reason to talk about them?

Here's a question: what principles or criteria would you - Remy and anyone else who wants to answer - use to single out or at least refer to cinema that you consider 'great art'?

June 03, 2015 6:27 AM  
Anonymous Craig Harshaw said...

@Girish-Finished your book last night and absolutely loved it. At one point you posit that what the world needs is a bridge "that spans the great gulf that separates cinephiles from non-cinephiles, thus uniting them in a project that can help contribute, in however modest a fashion, to the project of social change". I agree.

I was born in 1965 and it seemed to me that I was connected to a vast community of cinephiles (although i did not know the word) when i was a teen in the 1970's. Today, although i actually have more access via a wide range of websites, podcasts, blogs, film screenings to a diverse community I find myself feeling more alone at least in terms of how i imagine the cinephile community. The rising tide of video essays by folks like Kevin Lee, Tony Zhou, Adrian Martin, Chrisina Alvarez Lopez, Catherine Grant, Christian Keathley and others have re-energized me- made me feel somehow more connected- as has your site and Catherine Grant's amazing Film Studies for Free. I haven't been this energized by a book on film since I read Movie Mutations back when it first came out. Thanks for the labor you put into your cinephilic project. I always look forward to new posts.

June 03, 2015 6:46 AM  
Blogger Remy Renault said...

What sort of cinema would I consider great art? Well that's tough to say. First of all, I do on some level believe cinema to be a slave to mimesis, although many cinephiles are intent on limiting that to a Bazinian sense of pluralistic realism or more crudely 'documentary realism', as if the most noble aspiration of cinema were to resemble a news reel. I think mimesis is often defined quite narrowly. For example, Richard Linklater, while embraced by the 'middlebrow', is also often well-liked by cinephiles for his supposed adherence to the principles of Bazinian realism, whereas someone like Almodovar, who isn't necessarily a great filmmaker mind you, is a bete noire largely because he doesn't adhere to such principles. He expresses himself artistically the way he wants to and the Bazinian realism zealots feel threatened by that. It also explains why Bergman, Fellini, and even Antonioni in some cases are seen as stuffy and 'bourgeois' I think. I mean really? Bergman and Almodovar are more bourgeois than Linklater? Okay, it may seem like I have an axe to grind, which I may do (half-joking, of course), but anyway, I think I'm just elaborating on what I feel to be a false dichotomy between the supposed 'pluralism' of Linklater and the stuffy 'elitism' of Almodovar or Antonioni, since the conditions under which 'art films' are actually created tend to be far more pluralistic than the conditions under which commercial fare is created. And also, Antonioni isn't mimetic?? But that's for another discussion. So I'm really just asking, what are the true political implications of putting 'arthouse' cinema "in its place" even if on the surface it may appear to be in the service of pluralism?

As for what great art in the cinema entails, it should do more than merely adhere to certain aesthetic principles, and even I have fallen prey to overvaluing films based on craftsmanship alone. For instance, I was blown away in the moment by Johnny Guitar, yet haven't ever felt the need to ever revisit it, so I have to ask myself, was it that much more than merely style and impeccable craftsmanship, albeit style that may have swept me off my feet at the time. In A Lonely Place on the other hand I could watch on a monthly basis, because I feel entails a certain uncanny element. There's an atmosphere, a strong sense of place, and paranoia vis a vis the establishment and so on. I don't know. It's very complex, and I'd have trouble consolidating all my thoughts in a forum like this. I mean Deleuze and Bazin wrote entire books trying to answer this very question.

Now I know someone will come on here and tell me that no no no I have it all wrong. These are all falsities and so on and so forth. But I just feel there are certain biases harbored by many film bloggers who are nominally on the left, and when they take such positions I feel they're working against their own interests. Vulgar Auteurism is an example of this, even if I'll be the first to agree that Tony Scott's Spy Game is better than anything Robert Zemeckis has made. So to use it as a club with which to beat down middlebrow oscar fare I think is okay, but pointing out that stuffy consumers of high brow cultural vegetables don't have a mind of their own just seems unnecessary, since by doing so you unwittingly play into the hands of the status quo and work against the interests of cinema's future as an art form. Look, we all have guilty pleasures or elements of low culture that appeal to us perhaps for personal reasons, and we've all reaped the benefits of the pluralism of the digital age *cough* KG membership *cough*. But we need to think about how someone who's actually in the director's chair both literally and figuratively sees things, even with all the seeming "narcissism" that may entail.

June 03, 2015 6:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But why a slave to mimesis? Or, rather, why a slave? One obviously needs to elaborate on mimesis here, but if you conceive of it as following reality broadly, which is not to say copying or simply registering, then I don't see why following reality - in some yet to be specified sense - should be a sin for cinema. On the contrary. What you describe, correct me if I get it wrong, is a rather extreme form of realism - cinema converging to news reel documentation - which I don't think Bazin would actually endorse. I'm not a Bazin expert but, from what I have read, I think he is subtle enough to distinguish between approaching reality (with the camera) and approaching the camera (with reality or something else in mind). The Lumière cameramen would be more of an example of the former, I believe, while codified news reel footage from the wars, for example, would illustrate the latter. The Lumiere news reel cameramen chose how and where to place the camera, they were not simply recording although of course they wanted to document reality. News reels from the wars much like contemporary talking-head documentaries or classical Hollywood film were very codified pieces of cinema - they were not so much recording reality (although, trivially, yes, the material was real) as shaping and transforming it for the camera. There is a kind of honesty and respect in the former type of news reels that is absent in the latter. To use yet more philosophically laden vocabulary, the first kind treats reality intrinsically, as an end in itself, while the second kind treats it instrumentally, as a means - to the finished film, or the story, or more prosaic things.

Sorry, I might have strayed a bit. Can you explain a bit more what you mean when you ask 'what are the true political implications of putting 'arthouse' cinema "in its place" even if on the surface it may appear to be in the service of pluralism'? Ah, and how do you understand or use mimetic here? Had you asked me before, I would have sworn Antonioni is mimetic, sure, so I'm confused.

June 03, 2015 11:12 AM  
Blogger Remy Renault said...

I'm on my phone, so I'll make it quick and return later for a longer post. As for being a slave, I only mean that narrative cinema can't entirely escape the representational element. It's intrinsic to the form. Narrative cinema is necessarily mimetic, but I think some people have a narrow sense of what could qualify as mimesis (e.g. "realism").

June 03, 2015 11:41 AM  
Blogger Remy Renault said...

Even if Bazin's and Truffaut's polemics may have searched as a radical search for truth and honesty in cinema, I feel realism has slowly devolved into a reactionary value rather than a genuinely progressive one.

June 03, 2015 11:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see, yes, and all I tried to say is that 'realism' is not a dirty word. :) Depending on the kind of 'realism' one is talking about. As you say, and I agree, the realism of mumblecore and what have you is very different from the realism of Bresson, for example. And I guess it's unfortunate that the same word is used for both. Or perhaps not: the way concepts are conceived at a given time tells a lot about said time. So it's fortunate in fact that we're able to see films that are considered realistic in different decades and form an idea of how notions of realism have evolved. Or devolved, as the case may be!

June 03, 2015 12:02 PM  
Blogger Remy Renault said...

Well I personally feel the realism of mumblecore and that of Boyhood or even Kechiche are largely cut from the same cloth. So the question is what is honest filmmaking? How do we define honesty in filmmaking?

June 03, 2015 12:17 PM  
Blogger Remy Renault said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

June 03, 2015 1:45 PM  
Blogger Remy Renault said...

But I agree 'realism' is not an incurably dirty word, and perhaps I'm exaggerating when I say mumblecore and Kechiche are the same, but sometimes when people suggest that cinephiles should learn to appreciate all cinema, both high and low, the implication seems to be that an Antonioni or Tarkovsky is overreaching with all their aesthetic "bells and whistles". So I guess I'm wondering, why take your interest in film so seriously then to the extent you pursue an advanced degree in it or a career as a professional if one can infer from your larger agenda as a thinker on film to be a 'serious' artist in the medium entails overreaching. I don't think a bibliophile would ever say one should learn to appreciate both Tom Clancy and Proust. So when I mention the political implications of putting "arthouse" cinema "in its place", I mean that one is in a sense giving into the desires of the unwashed who are perfectly content remaining "unwashed". You unwittingly play into the hands of those who want to keep the dumb and poor dumb and poor, and one way of keeping the dumb and poor dumb and poor is by providing them with low culture most of which is crap. Now occasionally , you may come across a low brow work that has merit, but I personally don't feel wading through all the dreck in the hopes of maybe falling upon the next Jacques Tourneur should necessarily be the focal point of the cinephilic experience.

Low culture, minus folk art mind you, and much of middlebrow culture is how the masses are kept in line. Now occasionally there'll be a great artist who is not highbrow and has mass appeal, like a Hitchcock or a Billie Holiday or a Ford or a Jimi Hendrix, but I think we should acknowledge that those are accidents and that most great art in Western liberal society with a lower case 'g' and a lower case 'a' has emanated from "above" or from "outsiders". Now one could cite the contrasting examples of Renaissance Italy or Shakespeare, but that was a great art produced within an entirely different kind of society with strong feudal elements. Things don't work that way in Western capitalist society. For a "guild system" to create great art on a reliable basis in liberal society simply would not be tenable. Hitchcock and Ford are the exceptions, not the rule.

Anonymous, not to worry, I'm not directing all this at you specifically, just rambling on about how I feel about cultural trends. And by the way, where the heck is Girish? Surely he's lurking, and I'm sure he has an opinion on these issues that I'd be happy to hear.

June 03, 2015 1:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, well, I think we're saying the same thing, when it comes to realism at least! I say it's not a dirty word but I don't mean that when it's applied to mumblecore. Or Kechiche. In which case, I might side with you. But I also feel you need realism for what you go on to say. The old, progressive kind, as you call it. But I would disagree that as a cinephile or bibliophile you should just ignore 'low brow' culture, even if you've managed to identify it. I have a teacher who sees his vocation as a public service: so he goes about passing knowledge and reasoning as a way of contributing to the public good. Critics, I believe, should ideally be like that as well: when you see something which is harming the public good, you don't dismiss it. You take it seriously and try to reason about the harmful processes. There's always been mass culture and it's always been reactionary but when you see that even independent cinema has become conformist and is encouraging the very same values of mass consumerism, well it's not enough to simply hold up to the 'old canon', or lament that no one believes in one anymore. To be perfectly honest, and again I'm not directing this at you too but since you mentioned it, when someone says the dumb are dumb - and one hears it from critics as often as one hears it from politicians! - I find it quite irresponsible.

Don't we all ramble! It's a dreary topic for a fresher morning. It's a good question though: can a liberal society produce 'great art'? And also, should it? Most of what counts as 'great art' is indeed a product of completely different times when those who made it and those who recognised it were a rather small unrepresentative part of the population. A better thing to work for today, I think, is responsible art.

But, by all means, it would be great to hear what Girish or anyone else who still haunts these posts thinks.

June 03, 2015 6:18 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you, all, for your wishes, and for this fascinating, wide-ranging discussion that has sprung up here! I'm (alas) on the run tonight but will make sure to respond tomorrow.

Let me make a couple of quick comments now about the reduced volume of discussions here over the last year or two. I believe it has a lot to do with Facebook (and, to a lesser extent, Twitter). In my circle of Facebook film friends, I see conversations sprouting up day and night on a range of topics big and small. Further, when I put up new posts here and announce them on Facebook, I find that, more often than not, discussions spring up THERE more than they do here.

I think another reason has to do with my own posting: in the last couple of years, I've put up fewer posts here on topics that might elicit discussion. A lot of my posts have been of collections of readings or reviews (for example) of TIFF films, neither of which 'naturally' lends itself to discussion.

But I hope to design more posts this year that actively try to spur conversation--either here or on Facebook (or both).

Thanks again! Shall return soon ...

June 03, 2015 6:54 PM  
Blogger Remy Renault said...

Ok, well perhaps I wasn't expressing myself clearly there. I don't think one should ignore low culture. One should of course engage with it as you imply.

As for independent cinema also becoming conformist as well, yes of course that's the case, absolutely.

Well the point isn't that the dumb are dumb, period, but rather that certain apparatuses exist that are largely meant to keep them dumb, and both low and middlebrow culture are to blame of course.

June 03, 2015 6:56 PM  
Blogger Remy Renault said...

Well I agree with you there Anon about responsible art as opposed to 'great art', since the latter is a value easily assimilated by middle-class tastes. As for my previous comment, it was rather sparse as it was one in the morning, and I was just about to get into bed.

Now of course, even today, 'great art' and responsible art can certainly overlap, as in the case of Antonioni or mid-period Bresson. On the other hand, Godard films ranging from Week End to In Praise of Love are most certainly responsible, but it's unlikely they would fulfill the definition of 'great art'. And it's certainly possible that a film like Amour may be 'great art' without necessarily being responsible.

As for 'low culture', one shouldn't ignore it at all. I didn't say it, or certainly didn't mean to at least, Rather, the issue seems to be that for many bloggers it's all treated as fun and games (i.e. spot the "accidental genius"). I think this idea of "learning to appreciate both the high and low" while maybe possessing noble intentions can pose certain dangers. I personally feel making "serious" art should be something to aspire to, even in a medium so inextricably linked with late commerce, such as film. As soon as you make any qualified remarks about low culture, people just assume you're about to make some stuffy "cultural vegetables" argument. Now some people may define "serious" more narrowly than others. For me, films like Play Time or any of Fassbinder certainly fall under the rubric of "serious" art.

June 04, 2015 4:36 AM  
Blogger Remy Renault said...

The thing is in earlier eras, much and even most of 'low culture', including the likes of John Ford, Billie Holiday, Budd Boetticher, and even further back Dumas, almost functioned as a form of 'folk art' that genuinely emanated from the 'people' so to speak. That's not the case today, unless you want to identify a few exceptions such as Abel Ferrara perhaps.

June 04, 2015 4:39 AM  
Blogger Remy Renault said...

So on some level Haneke and Almodovar may be "problematic". I don't know, but I just don't think learning to appreciate 'low culture' for the sake of "returning to the roots of what first made you love movies" is the solution to high middlebrow stuffiness. So that's really all this is about. I think this idea that what was once high brow slowly becomes middlebrow is sort of nonsense frankly, even if certain tropes are assimilated by the establishment to produce a compromised version of the real thing, but that's just me. Even if the meme of a Joyce or a Proust is floating around ad nauseam, how many people actually take the time to read them? Likewise, I remain unconvinced that "old school" "Euro arthouse" cinema has been co-opted by the establishment to the extent that the films of Antonioni or even Bergman's Persona have become upper middle-class favorites. One has to distinguish between the co-option of a meme or an image of something and that of the actual work itself.

June 04, 2015 4:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't think I've abandoned you, Remy. Wondered whether some silence would incentivise people to brave the discussion. Apparently not. In any case, this just seems to me to prove two things. On the one hand, your own original point. And, on the other, my informed conviction that discussions haven't shifted (to Facebook or elsewhere), they've simply evaporated. I have seen some cinephile Facebook discussions and, well, I suppose that with a generous degree of tolerance you could call some of them that. Nothing against anyone - if that's what people want; I just find it pretty unsatisfying. Put this paragraph under 'rambling on about current trends'.

Now, as people seem to be put off by any mention of 'great art', I would be happy to continue discussing over e-mail. The trouble is, I myself don't know what the definition of 'great art' is. You seem to have an idea, as you manage to rule post-60s Godard out of it. Having a definition would certainly be handy. On the other hand, I am not sure how far back one can go in claiming that some part of culture we have inherited as low or high emanated from the people. Perhaps up around the time of Dumas, or a bit earlier. One looks at literacy rates and they are rather dreary up to the sprouting of reading societies and irregular schools in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Possessions of books or forms of fine art by households of other than the wealthy variety only start to overcome the tenth per cent in the eighteenth hundreds (as a fraction of total household possessions). So it might not be too sweeping to suggest that the bulk of 'people's culture' prior to a century before Dumas lay outside literature and fine art. So there was not just a whole part of culture but also a whole discourse about and mode of experience of culture that was inaccessible to a majority of the people (without implying if these were good or bad). In such an environment it is easy for a class of people to devise principles for and sustain a concept of 'great art' (again without implying anything about these principles). So my point about responsible vs great art was not so much that the latter might be assimilated by middle-class tastes. Rather that today the latter might not be a viable category at all. And that it might be better to substitute it with a concept more apt to the realities of contemporary - Western - societies. Greatness implies the acknowledgement of principles of superiority and that I suppose is partly what people object to or feel uncomfortable with. Responsibility admits, without loosing reflection, a bit more respect for and recognition of other people's lives, something which I think has been if not sufficient at least necessary for a couple of centuries now.

I couldn't agree more about Joyce and Proust memes, but perhaps to keep things tractable and maybe more alluring to other people, here's a narrower question. What sort of cinematic and social factors worked to pull various directors from the low to the high cultural status? One naturally thinks of the Cahiers group and the likes of Hitchcock, Ford, Hawks where style and social/political stances were upheld simultaneously. But there are other interesting cases. Fassbinder, for example, who maneuvered the 'lower depths' for some time, both in cinema and theatre, before gaining a more or less 'official' acknowledgement. Throwing this out in case someone takes the bait.

June 05, 2015 1:13 PM  
Blogger Remy Renault said...

Well in the case of Fassbinder, would one say he's "high brow" or "arthouse"? Frankly, I don't know, and I guess it doesn't matter, but his films nonetheless remain fully conscious of their own subversiveness to the extent they wear it on their sleeves. Is Pialat "arthouse"? I don't know, and I'm sure, for a time, Pialat was seen as somewhat middlebrow in France, considering he won the Palme d'Or for a literary adaptation and won the Cesar award for best film for another one of his works. Yet, many of his films hold up today and transcend the "middlebrow" label. Likewise Army of Shadows, which wasn't necessarily an "arthouse" film, so this is where things get tricky. Sometimes films require several decades to be placed into context. So today, Haneke may seem the quintessential ersatz Euro arthouse auteur to the extent that his films tend to flatter a certain intelligent but not necessarily cine-literate viewer who's drawn in by his dissection of Big Ideas, but from the vantage point of 2050 his films may seem far more than that. One never knows. As for 'cine-literate', I'm referring to the "cahiers" sense of what that would imply.

June 05, 2015 3:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pialat, I would think, has fallen quite firmly in the arthouse category. But Fassbinder, yes, I don't know, he's probably part of what could be called cult arthouse. At the same time, like Makavejev, his own self-consciousness rejects it. On the other hand, 'Army of Shadows' and all of Melville's crime films seem closer to Hitchcock in the way they have progressed to a high brow status. And to Henri-Georges Clouzot?

But you hit an interesting spot. There's arthouse cinema and there's arthouse viewers, the two not necessarily standing in a one-to-one correspondence, as you suggest with 'cine-literacy'. But in the case of the latter, there's also a question of maintaining an image. So take cinephilia: does a cinephile engage with (arthouse, among others) cinema, or does she see herself as an (arthouse, etc.) viewer? Does she engage with the image, or does she create an image, so to speak? Or perhaps, both.

June 05, 2015 5:20 PM  
Blogger Remy Renault said...

It's interesting though. I feel Pialat and Fassbinder may have more than a few things in common, and RFW corroborates that in In A Year with 13 Moons. If you think about it, they're quite thematically and even stylistically similar, since they both display a certain raw immediacy of expression, and there's always this theme of man helpless in the face of his predicament. And I feel that with some minor tweaking Pialat's Police could conceivably be a Fassbinder film, but there are other Pialat films I could say that about as well, even We Won't Grow Old Together.

June 05, 2015 5:27 PM  
Blogger Remy Renault said...

Well my response to your second paragraph is that you have your Harry Tuttle's and you have your Ignatiy Vishnevetsky's, and we could probably safely classify both as cinephiles, albeit with different interests and concerns. I wouldn't say one is a pretender and the other not. But don't get me started on Dan Schneider, who's basically the Roger Scruton of film critics.

June 05, 2015 5:33 PM  
Anonymous Craig Harshaw said...

I will attempt to jump into this conversation. I find the "high" vs. "low" dichotomy strange in relationship to moving image culture. Cinema comes into existence in 1895 as we begin to hedge towards a kind of "liberal hegemony" in the 20th century. It is from the very beginning an internationalist affair and a popular art extraordinaire. It gets embraced for these reasons by leftwing/anti-colonial intellectuals as well as by dominant bourgeois culture figures. Add into this the invention and mass appeal of television and later internet distribution services and it seems like moving image culture has really crushed these distinctions beyond the point of repair. It seems like the concern here is that because of this people are afraid that "art will disappear into nothing" to which i might counter Cuban filmmaker and theorist Julio Garcia Espinosa's notion that "Art will not disappear into nothingness, it will disappear into everything".

I think if we look at some of the more regular featured folks on this site (Jonathan Rosenbaum, Adrian Martin, Nicole Brenez, Catherine Grant, Jacques Ranciere, Quintin, Kevin Lee, Christoph Huber, Steven Shaviro, etc) we find individuals that enter into dialogue with a wide range of moving image culture. Most seem very comfortable moving back and forth from Antoinoni to Sam Fuller to Abbas Kairostami to Michael Mann to Wes Craven to Agnes Varda to Michael Snow to Ousmane Sembene to Tony Scott to Carl Theodor Dryer. In fact, the majority of those folks are quite comfortable moving back and forth from theatrical screenings to television to youtube uploads to video installations in gallery/museum settings. I have never seen any of the proponents of "vulgar auteurism" that i respect use it in the way you have described above. On can appreciate the power of genre films, giallo and other horror films, and still appreciate the work of Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Bela Tarr, Chantal Akerman and Lav Diaz. I think if anything things are less polarized at this moment in cinephilic history.

My guess is the lack of responses here have something to do with a real distance from this debate. This isn't a real problem for me whether i am talking with cinephiles or "non-cinephiles" about films. Most people can distinguish and at least potentially embrace multiple forms of moving image culture.

June 05, 2015 5:37 PM  
Blogger Remy Renault said...


I wouldn't disagree with your first paragraph in principle and theory, and the examples of Fassbinder, Hitchcock, Melville, and a slew of others that the division between "high" and "low" may not necessarily be useful, although I'd say the jury's still out on that one. In light of this, there are a few things I'd like to say. Pursuing filmmaking as if it were an artistic endeavor should not be construed as a sin, even in light of some of the realities of moving image culture that you address. On another note, what matters with respect to a Fassbinder or a Melville regardless of the high/low dichotomy is that the work radicalizes the view, that it remains disruptive to the status quo and to bourgeois complacency. Now is Fassbinder or even Melville a case of "accidental genius"? Personally I don't think so, but I believe it's possible to see one's endeavor as artistic without necessarily fancying it as being from "above". I don't view Fassbinder and Melville as guys who were "great artists without realizing it" the way Hawks were Jacques Tourneur were.

June 05, 2015 5:47 PM  
Blogger Remy Renault said...

Now Claude Sautet was perhaps a "great artist without realizing it." ;-)

June 05, 2015 5:48 PM  
Blogger Remy Renault said...

And Craig:

I can assure you not every film I love is 'serious' or 'arthouse'. I love Mann's Heat and I've always had a soft spot for Spy Game and even de Palma's Scarface, although that last one may be a guilty pleasure.

June 05, 2015 5:52 PM  
Blogger Remy Renault said...

But one last thing, embracing multiple forms of moving image culture should necessarily imply equalizing them. Surely we should be allowed to say that Friends is not Dostoevsky without dismissed as a stuffy Protestant man. This is exactly what I'm talking about. I don't take for granted that the age of multimedia is something to be celebrated unconditionally. This is a very complex issue I think, and I can't exactly flesh out a doctoral thesis in a thread on Girish's blog, unfortunately.

June 05, 2015 5:57 PM  
Anonymous Craig Harshaw said...

@Remy- I am confused by you statement: "Pursuing filmmaking as if it were an artistic endeavor should not be construed as a sin, even in light of some of the realities of moving image culture that you address".

Who does that? Arguably Pauline Kael did this but her time has come and gone. It feels like you are arguing against the infamous "...come dressed as the sick soul of Europe" arguments against the likes of Resnais and Antonioni. I feel like these kinds of arguments are rarely made today and certainly not by anyone that tends to frequent or be featured on this site.

June 05, 2015 6:01 PM  
Anonymous Craig Harshaw said...

@Remy- "Surely we should be allowed to say that Friends is not Dostoevsky without dismissed as a stuffy Protestant man". Of course I agree with that statement but who exactly is doing this dismissing? It doesn't seem to be happening on this site.

June 05, 2015 6:03 PM  
Blogger Remy Renault said...

Well J. Hoberman, for one, sort of implies similar attitudes when he discusses certain filmmakers, Antonioni, Bergman, and Bunuel among them. He always displays a certain snark vis a vis the meme of "European arthouse cinema" even when he actually has something positive to say about the film in question, and I say this as he's one of the most "prominent" American film critics.

June 05, 2015 6:08 PM  
Blogger Remy Renault said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

June 05, 2015 6:08 PM  
Blogger Remy Renault said...

Also Craig:

As for people like Antonioni and Resnais, I just know they're occasionally dismissed or at the very least qualified for supposedly being misanthropic or for perhaps "not understanding people". Now on that note, I don't think it's art's job to 'celebrate humanity'. After all, if humanity could be celebrated, then we wouldn't need art. So in a sense, no s**t, of course Antonioni's "misanthropic", but so are a lot of great artists, and let's be honest, Fassbinder and much of late Bresson takes a far more nihilistic view of human nature than anything in Antonioni's oeuvre.

June 06, 2015 6:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


'It seems like the concern here is that because of this people are afraid that "art will disappear into nothing" to which i might counter Cuban filmmaker and theorist Julio Garcia Espinosa's notion that "Art will not disappear into nothingness, it will disappear into everything".'

I love the spirit; I hope to live till the day this happens. But, as you say, where is this happening? The only place I can think of is Marinaleda in Andalusia. Otside that, it's a nice thought but it seems to me that the fear is much more real as it is already quite instantiated everywhere else.

'My guess is the lack of responses here have something to do with a real distance from this debate.'

I am sorry to insist again but I am convinced it can't be that, and you would have to agree with me - or you would be making a very unfavourable pronouncement about the regular folks here. Girish' most recent posts span topics as diverse as Perez and cinephilia, mise en scène and film style, wonderful remarks on the relationship between sound and image, etc. How many discussions did these posts prompt? Zilch. Is there a distance from these topics too? I'm stunned, which topics do people care about then??

On a somewhat related note, I can't help but notice that most of the critics/scholars featured on this site - that both of you also mention - used to be regular discussants in the comments. I guess that was a big part of what made the place unique. It was not just that you had regular interesting discussions; you also had a group of cinephiles with a more or less public role engaging with each other in an often civil, almost always penetrating way. A place where you could see these critics conversing in what I would think is their natural habitat, the wider cinephile community, defending their views, persuading and being persuaded, exchanging ideas (and sometimes snarks, which is only natural I suppose). The only way they inhabit the site nowadays is through Girish' links, and the irregular comment reminding of links Girish has omitted. I'm sorry to be the cynic pointing this out but I can hardly believe I'm the only one who has noticed.

As for Remy's point about high vs low cinema, I too am not sure how useful it is although I wouldn't agree that the distinction has been crushed and doesn't exist. If I'm reading his comments correctly, correct me if not, I think that was exactly his original point. Sure, cinema started as a popular entertainment and has partly always remained that. Theatre too was a mostly popular art form throughout the bulk of history until the end of Elizabethan times I believe. When one distinguishes between high and low culture up to the beginnings of the nineteenth hundreds, one is necessarily drawing class distinctions. Today I don't think that adherence to high or low culture necessarily implies any class belongings. The regular Hollywood flick is flocked by both manual labourers and middle-class city people. The latter are as educated - formally, or have the same access to informal education - as common cinephiles who appreciate or at least keep up to date with 'arthouse cinema'. To complicate things further, these cinephiles need not be middle-class themselves, at least in economic terms. So yes, class and culture do not map as neatly as they used to prior to the twentieth century, and maybe also a bit later. But, like Remy, I believe the distinction exists, it should just be sought elsewhere.

June 06, 2015 7:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, yes, it all boils down to what you say in one of your comments:

'Most people can distinguish and at least potentially embrace multiple forms of moving image culture.'

Most people think the distinction is redundant and that de Palma, Spielberg, Kechiche or Park Chan-wook - to take very distinct directors - should find a place alongside Bergman, Antonioni, Bresson, or Ozu. Fair enough, maybe time will corroborate their instincts. But the arguments for are very often arguments about style that I feel in today's age are rather uncritical. It feels like the New Wave gone wild. And, mind you, when the New Wave promoted certain film makers, they did that to a large extent not just for style but for political or social reasons as well, for breaking up with systems of film making that they thought were if not oppressive, then at least stale.

Who does that, you ask. Remy can probably bring out more examples. I can think of Vishnevetsky standing up for the earnestness and fun of video game movies, and 'Resident Evil' in particular. Or Adrian Martin's recent de Palma cause - which, from what I've seen, is particularly a Hollywood-period de Palma cause - although, as I said, maybe time will be on the latter's side, who knows. But the arguments for these film makers and samples of film genres still seem to me uncritical.

June 06, 2015 7:08 AM  
Blogger girish said...

To add my two cents here ...

Anonymous wrote: "It was not just that you had regular interesting discussions; you also had a group of cinephiles with a more or less public role engaging with each other in an often civil, almost always penetrating way. A place where you could see these critics conversing in what I would think is their natural habitat, the wider cinephile community, defending their views, persuading and being persuaded ..."

Fact is, I still converse with these cinephiles and scholars (and in fact, with many more) but it all takes place on Facebook. So, rich conversations *are* happening, on a daily basis, but they are taking place there. Why is this so? I think there are at least 2 reasons: the first has to do with Srikanth's (JAFB's) point about the much quicker "comment/wait for response/reply cycle" on Facebook. Another key reason (I think) is the fact that many cinephiles and scholars feel *safer* on Facebook because they are interacting with a group of people whom they know or are acquainted with--rather than taking on the "risk" of being "exposed" to the whole wide world (and its volatility--something the Internet has a way of bringing out, as we know from comments sections of so many news and magazine sites). You can critique this desire for safety, but I think it's an undeniable factor in the move away from blogs to more self-circumscribed domains like Facebook ...

June 06, 2015 8:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's good news, Girish: if the whole quantity AND quality of the discussions has shifted to Facebook then I retract my comment and am very happy to at least know they are happening somewhere. Most unfortunately, this also renders the blog pointless as anything beyond a strictly personal site with aggregated links and insights which is fine. Your own insights were, and are, one of the jewels of the blog.

JAFB's point is one of those facts that make me suspicious of exactly how much of the quality of the discussions has shifted there, but I trust your judgment. If you think that, and have seen thoughtful exchanges happening at three posts a minute, so be it.

As for safety, I can't critique that if that's how people feel. Still, I have never felt or thought, occasional snarks and all, that this place resembles the comments sections of news and magazine sites. Quite the contrary, it hosted a more or less tight and civil cinephile community. I'm sorry to hear that critics and scholars don't feel safe anymore, for whatever reason, to have their views exposed outside their Facebook friends circles, but if that's how it is, again, so be it.

I find that more unfortunate than not, and dare I say it, a bit unconducive to public discourse, but maybe I'm in the minority.

June 06, 2015 9:39 AM  
Blogger Remy Renault said...


Are there any hard feelings between you and Harry Tuttle, because I notice he's not in your list of people?

June 06, 2015 2:11 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Remy, no, there are no hard feelings. My sidebar contains only a limited, partial list of all the cinema websites I visit.

Anonymous, there are many, many cinephiles and scholars on Facebook--I have something like 1400 "friends" (a ridiculous term) there, less than a hundred of them non-cinema people. But there are still a HUGE number of cinephiles and scholars who are NOT on Facebook (some of them on Twitter but not Facebook). I meet many of them when I go to the SCMS (Society for Cinema and Media Studies) conference each year. And I hear from many of them that they find the links to readings here useful. Further, posting links to readings works much better here than it does on Facebook because FB's searchability is notoriously poor. Any FB posts that are non-recent are very onerous to dig up, and so putting links here makes them much more quickly accessible in the future. In other words, this blog is much more than "a strictly personal site".

June 06, 2015 4:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, Girish, I know that the links are useful. Perhaps I didn't express myself correctly, I'm sorry. By 'strictly personal' I meant, and I should have said, 'not communal' which was the topic of discussion. From my experience, your blog was a personal blog, or as I should have said a 'regular blog' with links and readings and insights, as well as a 'communal blog'. It seems it is no longer the latter. Which, as I said, is fine: personally, on the 'regular' side of your blog, I appreciate the posts with your insights infinitely more than the links, so I will continue to read the former with interest.

June 06, 2015 4:28 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Anonymous, since you clearly seem to value the idea of good/rich discussions on cinema, you might consider joining Facebook, even if only to test it for a 'trial period' or under a pseudonym, just to get a feel for what those discussions look like. Not everybody is going to take to it, but there are ways to 'prune' and 'edit' your feed there to tailor it to your interests.

June 06, 2015 4:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the suggestion, Girish.

June 06, 2015 5:57 PM  
Anonymous Craig Harshaw said...

@Remy and Anonymous- Sorry to not be able to reply immediately. I am visiting family and have less time at my computer.

I don't find Adrian Martin's engagement with DePalma or Ignatiy Vishnevetsky's engagement with video game films to be "uncritical". I am not even sure what you mean by "uncritical" in this context. I also don't think that rigorous examinations of artists working in popular/industrial mediums should be somehow connected to a kind of "anti-intellectualism" that relegates Resnais, Antonioni, Bergman, etc to the garbage heap of labels more traditional "art house" cinema as inherently pretentious.

I kind of like the idea that we live in a time of "the New Wave gone wild", but, alas I don't quite think we do.

Have either of you read Adrian Martin's recent LAST DAY EVERYDAY: FIGURAL THINKING FROM AUERBACH AND KRACAUER TO AGAMBEN AND BRENEZ? I ask this b/c i think it might help to root some of your concerns in specific examples of critical writing by authors you think go "too far" in terms of the new cinephilia.

June 07, 2015 4:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To return the favour, here is a suggestion for a topic of discussion with your Facebook friends, Girish.

Two oh so tiring ol' but timely questions:

1. What is public discourse?
2. What is the role of the film critic/film scholar today?

Maybe you could summarise the results in a new blog post afterwards.

June 07, 2015 4:28 AM  
Blogger Remy Renault said...

I don't know. Maybe I'm just biased. Given the contemporary cultural landscape and the fashions of the zeitgeist, I suppose I'm just willing to give the benefit of the doubt to people like Haneke who make an effort to direct 'serious', un-ironic, and even politically incorrect films, in spite of his shortcomings as a filmmaker, of which he has a few. Nobody would deny that. It's more an issue of what Haneke represents in the current zeitgeist, even if Amour is in many respects far short of being a masterpiece. Now of course, Lisandro Alonso and Philippe Garrel make un-ironic films as well, and I respect them for it. For me, irony is anathama to artistic expression.

June 07, 2015 8:34 AM  
Blogger Remy Renault said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

June 07, 2015 8:42 AM  
Blogger Remy Renault said...

Now I'll establish that I'm often confused myself, since I acknowledge on some level the necessity of embracing both the low and the high in opposition to the middle. Granted, the language I just employed is rather simplistic, but you get my drift, so sometimes I perhaps am unsure of how I really feel, but many of the great 'serious' filmmakers sort of did combine 'low' elements with 'high' elements (e.g. Fassbinder, Rivette, Godard, Bresson, Fellini, Bunuel, and I'm sure others). Even if Rivette squarely sits within the arthouse realm, it's clear from watching his films that he's patently aware of cinema's roots as a popular distraction.

June 07, 2015 8:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your reply, Craig. And I'm sorry to have confused again, I didn't mean to imply that critical analysis of popular media necessarily invokes or comes from anti-intellectualism. It can come from anywhere. Let me elaborate on what I mean by 'uncritical' with two examples: a quick one from Vishnevetsky's Mubi review of P. W. S. Anderson's 'Resident Evil', and a longer one from Martin's 'Last Day Everyday' which you mention. I admit to having read the booklet rather quickly when it came out but revisited it before writing now, so as not to quote from (misplaced) memory.

The bulk of my objection to Vishnevetsky's mode of analysis is captured in this excerpt:

'Anderson's work may not have a lot of narrative substance, but his visual sensibility is so well-developed that it often doesn't matter; form is substituted for theme. Composed in crisp visual shorthand, Anderson's movies are *about* images'

Narrative substance, I concede, doesn't or shouldn't necessarily matter. But I find Vishnevetsky's contentment with stopping at the image unsatisfactory. Which circles back to my comment about the New Wave gone wild. It was admittedly the more or less caricature image of the New Wave that I had in mind, the one associated exclusively with the stylistic and authorial implications of the auteur theory (hence, I should have probably said auteur theory gone wild, or refrained from throwing a - perhaps misleading - catch phrase completely). The rummaging of directors' styles to salvage a distinct kind of 'visual sensibility'. As I went on to say, however, the arguments in the 60s stemmed from and were backed by a principled stance against a (French) studio system that their authors thought didn't reflect the values of their time (which to a large extent have remained the values of our time). One can criticise their premises as well as their conclusions, what is important is that the stylistic analyses were not grounded on the image per se, but on the reality the image reflects AND the reality that shapes the image. Style does not exist in exclusion. Yet Vishnevetsky writes precisely as if it does when he ignores the production details, for example, behind the 'Resident Evil' franchise or even that it operates in and sustains instances of visual expression (type of editing, sound, etc.) that are not without implications for how cinema is experienced, and from there what is expected from cinema, and art, and the exchange of ideas, dissemination of values, or simply – dialogue. Reading Vishnevetsky is like reading someone argue for Adam Smith on the basis of his well-developed style of writing. Admittedly, he had a powerful way of expressing himself, but such an analysis is extremely poor, not to say 'uncritical', without a consideration of the relevant intellectual history, Smith's academic status, or the circles of large merchants and manufacturers in which he moved.

In any case, in the end of the 60s, Peter Wollen worried about the non-existence of a 'breadth of view' in the study of film - film criticism and aesthetics, he thought, were blissfully ignorant of each other. Well, his worries are over as they are in a tight embrace by now. Film aesthetics is a fascinating field but its blissful ignorance of reality and how it interacts with it is no less worrying, I believe.

June 07, 2015 10:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(Personally, I feel that this lack of branching out from film aesthetics to its underlying reality, as it were, is accompanied by a corresponding lack of if not knowledge then at least interest in fields outside the humanities. Today is an age when it is absurd to expect Renaissance polymaths in art, science or criticism but still I am sometimes stunned by the lack of endeavour to reach towards a broader 'breadth of view', to use Wollen's words. To conclude this aside and give a concrete example of an exception, let me point to an article in Girish' and Martin's LOLA that I thought expressed an astute sensitivity - in addition to a novel approach, novelty being a trait of many writings - to aspects of cinema you see few people noticing: Helen Grace's 'Aesthetic Risk and Deficit Thinking: Some Profit and Loss Statements about Cinema and Thought'.)

Adrian Martin's writing is more evolved but while it does at times seem like it would step beyond, bewilderingly and frustratingly it always stops and turns around. Let me again take just two examples, as this is already becoming too long and perhaps boring.

One place where you can see him almost making the leap is when quoting Claude Ollier on Sternberg: ‘the filmmaker’s work, this “audacious, solitary and enigmatic” work, as he calls it, “is part of a centuries-old tradition concerning the relationship of the work of art to the world”’. From here follows a ‘figural refashioning’ of Ollier’s ‘the world and its double’: Sternberg creates an abstract double governed by its own laws and populated by stereotypical features and phantoms which haunt the picture. A catalogue of universal illusions, the world and its abstract double. In stopping here, Martin – following Ollier – simply re-transcribes the history of and around the film Sternberg made efforts to create. A film of universal stocks of characters and experiences, shot in two languages to buttress its universalism and tear it away from German context. Sternberg created his own story around the film, Martin repeated it in new language. That’s what I find uncritical, and that’s something you see authors do not only in film studies. There obviously are a lot of ways to challenge or at least examine this story (and also the reasons for its creation). They all involve a fair amount of interpretation, of knowledge about the reception of the film, etc. Interestingly enough, a good penetrating and informed reading I stumbled upon recently did not come from a film critic or scholar but from an outsider, Philip Oltermann (‘Keeping up with the Germans’), who summed up his point in the following way: ‘This, perhaps, is the way in which *The Blue Angel* was most emblematic of Germany in the 1920s: its attempt to present itself as worldly-wise and cosmopolitan, and its ultimate failure to do so.’

June 07, 2015 10:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The second example is a different kind of ‘uncritical’, of again ‘not going further’ but not in the sense of ‘questioning the author’s story’ (which was, crudely put, the case above) but of being content with an observation that makes for an appealing ending of the text while remaining, to me personally, a bit superficial. Martin’s discussion of Agamben’s treatment of ‘Boulevard du Temple’ by Louis Daguerre, acknowledged as the first photograph depicting a person. Because of the long exposure of up to a quarter of an hour that the daguerreotype required, the photograph failed to capture the whole bustle and hustle of the street with the exception of one still couple at its corner: a shoeshine boy and a patron. Agamben and Martin observe how photography has managed to grab this ‘unglamorous apotheosis of a random citizen of modernity’ and how it demands we remember it. To remember the ‘ordinary, banal, yet magical and passionate sphere of the everyday’, the ‘lost names’. Photography has undoubtedly helped to preserve a lot of scenes of the everyday in history; film too. But when you are making such a pronouncement, I believe you can’t stop there. The photograph was taken in 1838. Who are these people? Obviously anonymous but what class did they belong to? I admit to not knowing anything about the shoeshine industry, which seems to not have been written too extensively on despite the illuminating histories of the shoemakers’ trade and their activism in France and England around the Industrial Revolution. Still, one can perhaps safely assume that shoeshining was a lower trade and that it was predominantly the higher classes who got their shoes shined (here is where the critic must do the empirical work). How big a part did shoeshining (as opposed to shoemaking and tailoring, for example) play in French society then? A certain Roger Cohen from the New York Times (‘The politics of the shoe shine’) tells us that it doesn’t play a role at all *today* and that’s a sign of Europe’s egalitarianism. I don’t know, even if it’s true, this tells us too little about the nineteenth century without looking at the facts. So how ‘priviliged’ a moment is this moment of everyday life? On the other hand, the specific nature of the apparatus points to another question: assuming that the photograph is authentic, that is not staged, who in 1838 Paris had the opportunity of staying for ten or so minutes on a, we can assume?, working day afternoon fairly still without having to attend to work? This was a time of mostly day labouring when being in a hurry to attend to or search for work was the reality for many people. Having asked all these questions, immediately invites questioning the conclusion with which Agamben and Martin finish: how much of a slice of the *everyday* is the photograph, or in contemporary terms, how representative is it? In fact, the vast emptiness of the photograph representing the bustling street might reveal more of the mode of temporal experience and hence lives of the majority of people in 1838 Paris, than the two still figures in its front.

So this is what I meant with ‘uncritical’, Craig. And I apologise for the inconvenience of expecting critics to go beyond the image. Of asking more questions. Is it that unreasonable?

Having said that, all these authors are undeniably gifted writers. But there is or should be something more to being a critic than being a gifted writer, I feel.

June 07, 2015 10:37 AM  
Blogger Remy Renault said...

I sometimes wonder if we undervalue the reactions of non-cinephiles but otherwise highly intelligent viewers, such as art and literature critics, or really just general intellectuals and/or philosophers, since they're ironically probably better at seeing the forest for the trees. Cinephiles, and I'm not absolving myself here, tend to fuss over certain medium specific elements that can be rationally justified in proving a certain film is great but may be irrelevant in determining a film's value as an emancipatory aesthetic experience in more of a "cosmic" sense. The sort of aesthetic devices employed by Rossellini and what he achieves with them in Voyage to Italy may be compelling to cinephiles, attuned to the mechanics of the medium. In short, one could say he's a filmmaker's filmmaker, but I doubt those aspects would really matter all that much to someone like Donald Kuspit or Curtis White. I feel they'd respond more warmly to the atmospheric virtues of L'Avventura or even Through a Glass Darkly.

June 07, 2015 10:51 AM  
Anonymous Craig Harshaw said...

@Anonymous- Thanks for the extremely thoughtful and detailed reply. I need to spend some time contemplating all the issues you raise before responding.

@Remy- I agree that we need to think a great deal about how we bring folks with interesting insights, that might not self define as cinephiles, into discussions about moving image culture. This is actually one of the reasons I quoted Girish above addressing this very issue vis-a-vis film culture and social change.

Your example above makes me wonder if folks like Kuspit and White would actually prefer other works by Rossellini to VOYAGE TO ITALY- maybe PAISAN speaks more or the later historical projects for television or INDIA: MATRI BHUMI. Or, perhaps EUROPA 51 or STROMBOLI rather than VOYAGE TO ITALY.

June 07, 2015 11:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's a good point, Remy. More broadly, it might be interesting to trace the difference between the locus of value for cinephile people, on the one hand, and a wider audience, on the other. I would think that what non-film viewers find notable would vary with the set of people you take: art and perhaps literature critics might share close sensibilities, different from those of philosophers, or social critics, or other intellectuals (who might indeed feel more proximity to Paisan, as Craig says).

And thanks for the names, I'm adding Donald Kuspit to the list of people to read, he sounds like a reasonable fellow.
(And his latest book seems to touch on the high vs low culture issues that crept up here a number of times.)

June 07, 2015 5:15 PM  
Blogger Remy Renault said...

Perhaps, although I must admit I haven't actually seen Paisan yet. Nonetheless, I'd certainly rank Stromboli and Voyage to Italy above the other two films in the war trilogy, neither of which I feel has aged particularly well. Stromboli holds up much better in my view. In either case, Rossellini fans have always seemed rather indifferent toward Antonioni, which is understandable, but at the same time it's rather baffling, since L'Avventura largely improves upon what Rossellini was attempting with Voyage to Italy. Rossellini just feels like the more conservative choice of the two. It would be like preferring Haydn to Beethoven or Bach. Like okay, but really? Then again, perhaps it largely stems from RR being a filmmaker's filmmaker whereas Antonioni is the antithesis of a filmmaker's filmmaker. Hawks and Renoir are also filmmakers' filmmakers.

June 08, 2015 5:46 PM  

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