25 octobre 2008

Online Cultural Credibility

More from Adrian Martin's Valdivia speech on The State of Film Criticism (see previous post)
Adrian Martin : "the Internet is an enormous “delivery system” that of course can carry every kind of film criticism, journalistic, middle-range or academic."
"Many older, established critics are nervous about the Internet. Some University film teachers, also are worried. They suspect that what appears on the Internet lacks cultural authority, and it is unprofessional. It is a kind of democratic nightmare, everybody shouting their stupid opinions all at the same time. It seems, to some people, like an unholy chaos."
This is key here to stop using the word "internet" as some sort of overarching cultural entity, a homogeneous community, a rival to the Press industry or TV... The internet is no competition nor an alternative to the news media, it is a NEW media.

Like Adrian Martin says, the internet is only one of many means of communication for the cultural voice to express itself. A DELIVERY SYSTEM, like the telephone is. We don't blame the telephone, as a tool, for all the useless information it is used for everyday. We don't question the reliability of this entire network system when we need to use it to deliver serious matter. Likewise the internet is not responsible for the amount of crap output. Only people, writers and readers alike, choose the level of culture they put in/expect from the internet. The new cultural entity is not the internet itself, but something people make their own : a myriad of cultural identities assembled in self-organised groupuscules. And we can only blame individuals for the misinformation and the inane babbling, not the "internets" as a whole. The internet is serious when we use it seriously, it is casual when we use it casually.

We could use the same deceiving straw man (directed at the evil internet) to describe the Press as an unreliable bundle of highs and lows, if we lump together News of The World and The New York Times.... just because they are both newspapers published on paper by the "Press industry".

I'm glad paper critics start to give up on this primary aversion to this technology, to speak of the blogosphere for what it is, for its potential (see the latest NYFF Film Criticism roundtable) and not by equating it with its lowest common denominator, its bad apples (see an earlier NYU roundtable this year).

Adrian Martin : "You will notice that it is in the comparatively smaller countries that these important initiatives are happening, places like Chile, Argentina, or my own Australia. But not so much yet in England or America or France, the “old world powers” that are expressing all this anxiety about crisis and the “loss of solid values and standards” in criticism."
Adrian also mentions an alliance of the overlooked "small countries" from the Southern hemisphere, against the cultural hegemony of the North. I agree with the unfair imbalance, this is a constructive development, to strengthen the "underdogs" in the meantime. But I'm not sure the confrontational polarity will help to make disappear the divide on the long term. We need to break down the monopoly of the North altogether. We don't need to live in a world entrenched in a North v. South mentality.

I agree that all this noise around the alleged "film criticism crisis" (as if it was a new phenomenon) in the North is futile and misdirected, especially when we read their inadequate, outdated, reactionary concerns. Although it is always welcome to get them critics to take a self-reflexive look at the state of their profession losing touch, day after day, with the quickly evolving reality of cinema, media and cultural consumption.

Adrian Martin : "Too often, we go into a new technology, with its new possibilities, with the same old ideas of what a publication should be, and what it should do. In terms of a “middle range” film magazine, this means we head straight for the latest interesting films, the latest Festivals, the latest books; we do interviews and write reviews, we talk about directors, and do some “overview” essay pieces. But this standard “spread” is not enough anymore, it is blocking our critical, intellectual imagination. We need to completely redefine what a “film magazine” is or could be, and I am interested to hear how my colleagues respond to that challenge."
"And when I see the latest amazing mixtures of these elements in the best films shown here at Valdivia, I know we have to hurry up to produce a new kind of film criticism, a criticism that is proper to our time."
Indeed! And what should be this new form of criticism relevant to our contemporary appropriation of culture and cinema? This is a vast subject...
  • Online film criticism is no longer censored by editors and sponsors with a populist agenda.
  • Online film criticism doesn't need to please the largest crowd, and may dedicate all its time to niche subjects and small crowds without risking to waste investments.
  • Online film criticism can hand-pick its own selection of films without the pressure to cover every weekly releases imposed by distributors.
  • Not writing about a film is also a form of disapproval, and it allows to spend more time on films requiring in-depth treatments (both admirable achievements or offensive films).
  • Online film criticism is open to interaction/collaboration with the reader, to turn the reader into a writer.
  • Online film criticism is immediate and reactive, instantly updatable to avoid the spread of errors or misinformation.
  • Online film criticism is multimedia. It can freely use image, sound and video to better suit the moving picture material criticized.
  • Online film criticism is hypertextual and multidimensional (spatial/temporal).
  • Online film criticism is polymorphic, taking any, every form necessary to suit each film, each topic, contrary to the stereotyped format (length, content...) imposed by the Press.
  • Online film criticism is international, in touch with every territory of underexposed cinema cultures, with other schools of thought, with other markets, with other critics, with other venues, with other cultural fields, across language barriers and taste standards.
  • Online film criticism is participative and amateur, each contributor contributing according to their engagement with the film, contrary to the professional duty for the same single critic to write something on everything, whether (s)he is inspired or qualified to do it.
  • Online film criticism is not based on institutional/academic authority where each article must honour and further the reputation of the paper it appears in. However it is based on anonymous and exceptional contributions which gain authority over time by creating a buzz by itself among its readers (and not because it was published in a reputable magazine).
  • Each article must fight on its own terms to earn a wider visibility thanks to the eventual retribution/recognition by readers and fellow bloggers.
  • Online film criticism is a FREE resource of cultural informations opened to the world (as long as you have a computer hooked up to the web), because culture (or rather the commentary on cultural activities) should be free and shared selflessly among fans.
  • Online film criticism could open a passionate dialogue about Art, between viewers and critics and filmmakers, without formal postures and talking points.
  • ...
This alone would change the face of Film Criticism as we know it. And that's for starters... a whole new world is to be reinvented.

6 commentaires:

HarryTuttle a dit…

Comment sent by Adrian Martin himself:

"your list of proposals about 'new film criticism' on the Internet is a true manifesto! Brilliant!! I am sure it will arouse some interesting comments ... I hope GREENCINE publicises it!
My Chilean friend Gonzalo Maza gave a wonderful 'impromptu' talk (not written down, alas) about Internet & new film criticism in Valdivia, I hope he will commit to the page or the screen) soon ... you would appreciate it.

I have printed out the first SPECTRES DU CINEMA (I am an old-fashioned guy that way!!) and will read it eagerly soon. This is an interesting case of how a film magazine can be born - from the frustrations of those posting at the CAHIERS discussion site - and so I think I will discuss it in my FILMKRANT column soon.
By the way, my November FILMKRANT column is also about this 'what is a film magazine today' idea ...

continue the struggle, comrade!!


Paul Martin a dit…

I found this an inspiring read but feel inadequate to offer anything other than appreciation. You've obviously given this subject much thought.

Pacze Moj a dit…

I like your list, Harry!

And the post reminds me of Marshall McLuhan's musings on new media and new technologies:

...McLuhan liked to point out that the *content* of any new media was an old medium...

In the Internet-critic case, I think we're seeing the form-and-content of print criticism transferred online.

The future [hopefully] holds changes like those you mention, with Internet criticism taking advantage of the Internet's possibilities (multimedia, as you say!) and shedding the conventions, limitations, and peculiarities of print.

It suddenly makes me laugh to look at the header image on my own site; it was modeled on the front page of the New York Times...

(McLuhan wrote about how script and then print made people more linear, and I wonder if the Internet will, or can, break away from that. I'm writing this comment in lines of blocks of texts, but given the creative freedom of publishing online [though perhaps not on sites like Blogger], we could have film criticism as flow chart (I want to try that now...!), in three, four (or more, thanks to superstring theory!) dimensions, or something else that entirely.)

...he also mentioned that the real impact of a new medium was the unnoticed changes it made to its society, which he called a change of scale...

...and, when it comes to famous McLuhan sayings, I like these when I think Internet [and blog] film criticism:

"As technology advances, it reverses the characteristics of every situation again and again. The age of automation is going to be the age of 'do it yourself.'"

"In this electronic age we see ourselves being translated more and more into the form of information, moving toward the technological extension of consciousness."

In that sense, no film critics, reviewers, writers, historians, etc. have ever been film critics, reviewers, writers, historians, etc. as much as these and the ones to come on the Internet.

Onwards, towards the Global Village of film writing?

...or, for more pessimism: "The future of the book is the blurb"; is the future of film writing the same?

NB: Stimulating, as always, Harry (and Mr Martin). Your posts always make me feel like thinking and being creative.

HarryTuttle a dit…

Thanks for the compliments all. I really appreciate the support.

The wonders of web synchronicity! I just heard about this guy, McLuhan, watching a TED video yesterday. I'm glad you bring him up here. He sounds like a visionary indeed, which is rare among people talking about the "internets".

Marshall McLuhan on the role of the audience in an era of pervasive electronic communication (from the 60ies!) :
"If the audience can actually become involved in the actual process of making the Ad then it's happening. It's like the old quiz shows, they were great TV, because it gave the audience something to do."
"The Global Village is a world in which you don't have instantly harmony, you have extreme concerns with everybody else's business, and much involvement in everybody else's life. And it doesn't necessarily means harmony and peace and quiet. but it means huge involvement in everybody else's affairs. And the Global Village is as big as a planet and as small as the village post office."
"We are in the middle of a tremendous clash between the old and the new. The medium does things to people and they are almost completely unaware of this. They don't really notice the new medium that is warping them up. They think of the old medium, because the old medium is the content of the new medium. As movies tend to be the content of TV, and as novels used to be the content of movies. So every time a new medium arrives, the old medium is the content . This is highly observable, highly noticeable. But the real massaging is done by the new medium, and it is ignored."

Then the lecturer, Peter Hirshberg (Technorati) adds : "Web 1.0 was about pages. Web 2.0 is about people. It's a customer, it's an audience, it's a person who's participating. It's the formidable things that is changing entertainment now."
"There's been more raw DNA of communication thrown out there. Content is moving from shows to particles that are batted back and forth and part of social communications. And I think this is going to be a great time of Renaissance and opportunity. And whereas TV might have gotten beat up, what's getting built is a really exiting new form of communication. And we kind have a merger of the two industries and a new way of thinking to look at."

Film criticism isn't tied to the evolution of this TV/computer rivalry, but there is a lot to learn from this transformation of the main cultural medium, since it's where the movie audience finds film critics.

The future of film reviewing and P.R. might be the blurb (aren't we there already?), and the future of film reviewers might be unemployment... I don't really care what the mainstream appropriation of film commentary does.
But the only thing that matters is where will the next (serious) Cultural Discourse on cinema will take place and how? The wide exposition of this discourse among the general population is a secondary worry... as long as true film criticism lives on (which is not the case in today's Press!).

HarryTuttle a dit…

"It suddenly makes me laugh to look at the header image on my own site; it was modeled on the front page of the New York Times..."

I like it. I take it as an ironic parody of the paper model... in digital form.
It's like the scissor and dotted line on my blog... it's a mock reference to paper clips, which is obviously impossible to cut from the screen.

Despite all I say about "multimedia", my own blog is hardly exemplary on that matter... I only publish text, and I gave up on using images when I realized they brought in unrelated traffic from Google Images, messing up my stats. ;)
I wish I did video-essays like Kevin Lee at Shooting Down Pictures, which is the best can produce the web medium.
But the potential for a new form of criticism is there.

HarryTuttle a dit…

"On Critics: Bloggers without boundaries" by Mark Fisher in Sight & Sound (Oct 2008):

"According to Adam Curtis [UK documentarian who denounced the corrosive effect of blogging in 2007], blogging does not constitute an alternative space, but 'is parasitic upon already existing sources of information'. [...]
Curtis' denunciation is a welcome antidote to the euphoria about access, interactivity and choice that has surrounded Web 2.0, and his arguments in part explain how the proliferation of media in the last ten years has led, not to an enrichment of critical discourse, but on the contrary to unprecedented levels of conformity in mainstream media.
Any general statement about blogging or the psychology of bloggers is bound to be misleading and reductive, in part because of the number of blogs out there. [...]
Sheer numbers do not of course guarantee either diversity or originality, but the old idea that blogs were simply online diaries, repositories for narcissistic trivia, is no longer sustainable. If many blogs resemble that caricature, this reflects the lack of imagination of their own writers rather than an inherent feature of the form. In any case, blogs are not a form so much as a space.
After all, a blog is simply a website whose entries are organised according to date, and the best blogs take advantage of the minimal formal and structural constraints. They are an updatable blank space, to be filled by the preoccupations of the writers. This emphasis on the interests of writers is one of the differences between blogs and much old media. Old media often cuts up its audience into self-fulfilling demographic groups. In many cases marketing and PR departments decide what kind of content audiences can cope with, not writers. By contrast, the content of blogs is determined solely by the enthusiasms of their writers, which means that they can create their own constituencies. [...]
Blogs are often celebrated for their dialogue and interactivity, but the thing most to be treasured about blogs is the individuality and persistence of the writers' perspectives. The uniqueness of the best writing (the fact that it could happen only on the web) contradicts the assumption that bloggers are at best earnest amateurs, at worst talentless mediocrities motivated by resentment. A measure of (justified) frustration with the old media is no doubt a motivating force in much blogging, just as it was in the fanzines in the 1970s. But many successful bloggers also write for print publications and their most effective writing is still often to be found on their own sites, where they are able to pursue their own agenda free from the pressure of word counts and independent community-time of consumer capitalism. Blogs can respond with speed and agility to new films, but they can also discuss films long after mainstream media coverage has tailed off."