01 novembre 2008

Abolish locale

Nomadism that is, locale is meaningless on the web.

Coninuation from the subject mentioned in my previous post (Nomad Cinephilia), Adrian Martin writes in the latest Filmkrant (Nov 2008) : "Abolish all film magazines!"
"Almost every film magazine on the Net sticks to an old, pre-WWW format: reviews of current film releases, the latest Film Festivals and events and books, some general reflections on cinema and its cultural context. But the idea of the 'local' reigns supreme: when a new film reaches your city, that's when you devote serious attention to it - for the sake of your local audience. But why should it matter, any longer, whether You, the Living premieres in Cannes in 2007 or Melbourne in 2008 or Iceland in 2010? Cyber-magazines still refuse to face the implications of their global address; they are afraid to throw open their topics and co-ordinates."
He concludes : "And the film magazine of the future will be both a generator and an organiser of those critiques."
I couldn't agree more. The idea of the local is abolished by the Global Village. World cinema as we experience it, inaugurated in distant major festivals, creating instant buzz in every language around the world is less tied to the local than other cultural goods.
If your activity as blogger depends on local distribution (although with import, VOD and pirate download... this is rarely true), fine, there is no reason why distributors should decide the week when a film gets reviewed. But publishing a review on the WORLD WIDE WEB for everyone to see, should define itself from its material (the film) rather than its contingency (spatial or temporal coordinates when you got to see it).
When Google returns you pages on the film you're interested in, you don't pick the blog based in the nearest location to where you're at... especially if you have the luxury to rather read a better one written a year ago in another corner of the globe.
Why do we read film criticism anyway? To find something that is playing in our town, because we want "to go to the movies"... just any movie available to fill an idle night out? Or do we know our way around the cinema planet already and go right to something we have in mind? I think cinephiles don't need "recommendations of the week" or "show schedules"... they are already organised to know what's available nearby, they just need to hear about the films that are playing at their favorite theatres. And the average movie-goer can easily open several windows and make an educated choice by comparing what various critics say on such or such film.

Online reading is just no longer contingent.

Online writing is just no longer timely.

Film Criticism has no business with distribution. Newspapers made it so on paper, because they make the news, they get their package of novelties in every issue to bait the subscriber with a periodic fix... But now that the internet gives the opportunity to cinephiles to think outside the box, to be aware of what is going on beyond their borders, ahead of the weekly schedule of their local screen. People don't watch movies on cue anymore... this was so XXth century!
The audience is back in power now. We have the choice to wait before watching a film, because it'll come back in the form of DVD or VOD. We have the choice to watch it before a distributor deems it profitable, either at a festival or by imports. We have the choice to revisit oldies whenever we want, and not just when they come out on DVD, or when there is a big event at the Cinémathèque.
So why should the new Film Criticism continue to follow the pattern imposed by distributors and the weekly press? No reason whatsoever. It's just out of habit, because the framework is comfortable. Meanwhile, liberty is out there in the open, and internauts know where to find it.

We don't need to know if the critic watched the film on DVD or in theatre... WTF is a "DVD review"? Is it the improved "theatrical review"? Would the opinion be different if reviewed in theatrical release? If we plan to watch that film on DVD should we make sure to read the "DVD review" or else we'd be lost?
If I plan to watch a film in Paris, should I read reviews in French, from a Parisian website exclusively? Was the film shown differently in the print subtitled in English or in Spanish? Should we give more importance to the film object, its materiality or to its content, to the piece of cinema every viewer is expected to encounter upon discovering it, indiscriminatively, regardless for the screen size, the language and the city we happen to see it.

Nomad criticism intends to break down such trivial fences. Let's take into consideration the big picture of Film Discourse! Let's be part of one unique cinephile community, because Cinema is timeless and ubiquitous, and we all see the same movies. Let's give smart readers a consistant content, that may be used as they see fit, whenever they need it.
The critic is there to document cinema, they say what they have to say, a bottle at sea trusted to unknown currents or auspicious winds.
However, just like the buzz on the blogosphere, the Web 2.0 circulation of articles is in the hands of the READERS. And readers are everywhere and anywhere, anytime. That's the beauty of internet archives, everything is always current when we need it (provided Google put it on frontpage for us).

17 commentaires:

André Dias a dit…

I don't have the time to make myself clear and comment on all aspects of what your overenthusiastic post says, but I think you really got carried away and threw the baby out with the bath water while trying to challenge film distribution.

I totally disagree with the idea of the local being abolished by the global village regarding films. On the contrary, many times it's the local opportunities of watching a film in a screen that makes you want to write something that might afterwards, perhaps, be valuable to other people elsewhere. Unless you're just running around trying to get the latest festival film buzz and that's your motivation to write about film!

I, for one, cannot separate the films I see locally (in Lisbon, Portugal) from what I write. And I still completely distinguish between watching a film on a file and at a screen. So, it's perfectly natural to be at the same time focused on the local events of the place you live, I mean your body, since your mind already lives in the internet, and then write stuff that other people can find interesting.
And, by the way, cinematographic writing experience isn't at all limited to reviewing new films. Cinema exists in so many other forms and so does writing about it.

And in this ubiquity dream of yours, you're forgetting of those other locals such as, yes, different languages. I sure don't what to live in a solely English speaking global village. Go ahead and start learning Farsi if you want to truly understand Kiarostami!

HarryTuttle a dit…

Hi andré dias, welcome.

Look. You watch movies locally in Lisbon. I watch movies locally in Paris. Yet you found my blog on the virtual space of the web, and we are hereby conversing in English. So it just proves my point. The idea is that you and I CAN share a common film discourse, even though our local screenings may not be identical.

I don't think we disagree on principle there.

Personally, I barely watch movies on my computer. I still prefer the big screen. But I'm talking about today's changing trends. I don't know about you, but most cinephiles I know don't settle with the local distributors' weekly slate. They hunt down and find non-current screenings. I mentioned VOD and downloads, but if you're lucky to live nearby a good arthouse, you are able to catch oldies and underexposed rarities too, or the current-of-two-months-ago that multiplex already dished, or the future-current at a local festival. Though for the largest majority of movie watchers, DVD and files are the preferred option, especially when they don't live in an active capital like Lisbon or Paris.

I meant to separate viewing habits (that we do locally) and writing habits (that the press does following studio schedules of currency). For the general public, a film becomes NEW when a distributor decides to release it to your locale. But if distributors don't care about movies you care about, you never get to write about these.
What I'm saying is that the press walks the walk of distributors, they only speak of DISTRIBUTED films. While the web listens to the heartbeat of world cinema in real time, even when movies are not released officially.
It's a new trend. It creates a new generation of writers, and readers, more aware of what is going on outside the official circuit of local marketing negotiations. Much like the cine clubs did 50 years ago, except now it reaches a global scale, worldwide.

"cinematographic writing experience isn't at all limited to reviewing new films. Cinema exists in so many other forms and so does writing about it."

Yes. But where? In weekly newspapers? In monthly magazines? on TV? no.
Scholars don't care about the currency imposed by the industry, but they rarely share with the public.

I don't like the English being the international means of communication... but it's a fact hard to ignore. And it's the language that allows the largest number of different countries to communicate with each-others. How many countries do you think use Farsi to talk about, say, Portugese cinema?
With English we can actually talk to Kiarostami, to Costa, to Ceylan, to Kawase, to Reygadas, to Tsai, to Weerasethakul... and what language do they use at the press conference in major festivals?

In one of the previous posts, I emphasized the importance of subtitles. Subtitles to watch foreign movies in languages we don't understand, and translation in our own language to read film discourse from foreign languages. So it doesn't have to go through English necessarily, as long as we manage to each deal with language barriers any way we can.

Precisely, my point was that the cinephile community should look beyond their own language. And "Nomad Cinephilia" proposes just that. So that English-speaking critics stop talking exclusively to English-speaking critics. Same for every locale-centered sub-film-cultures entrenched within their own borders.

André Dias a dit…

Your initial point was written in a way that it seemed more that we SHOULD share a common film discourse, as long as we neglected our local screenings. Maybe I've read you wrong.

I think I understand what your preoccupations are. My doubt is if there is much to gain by separating viewing habits from writing habits, as you propose. Because, hiding behind this possible separation issue is the bigger problem of trying to understand what motivates people to write about films and what purpose it serves.

The main advantage of online writing about cinema, be it in blogs or magazines, resides for me simply in the overthrow of those overcodified rules about film writing, or film criticism taken in largest possible sense. In places such as Rouge, Kino Slang, or La lectora provisoria, for instance, one doesn't sense we're reading film reviews or scholarly essays. The enormous gap between those two forms is exactly what's being explored now: the new ways of approaching films or cinema. Cinema can and, from where I stand, should be "explored" in several different ways.

Of course I'm not avoiding the obvious advantages of having a common language such as English. But that dominion shouldn't make us lazy about other languages. I think those Americans who can't understand Spanish are really losing something (not only regarding a large share of the United States population and their culture) but also of what Quintín writes, again just as an example. Perhaps there's an Hungarian genius (not Bela Tarr!) writing wonderful stuff on cinema and we don't even have an idea about it. I'm repeating an Adrian Martin argument here.

Since you've mentioned Kiarostami and subtitles (who must have learned English recently in order to be able to integrate the even more language imperialist art market, since in the retrospective in Lisbon a few years ago we had a Farsi interpreter), he usually tells a sweet story on when he saw a foreign film in Paris (I don't recall if a Bergman or a Fellini) in a language and with subtitles he didn't understand. After many years, he managed to see the same film with Farsi subtitles, but he said he actually preferred his own version, the one his head had made.

It's not just the question of imagining or to be aware of the limitedness of everyone of us trying to express ourselves in a language (English) which is not our own. I mean, I can write or translate poorly to English, but I can't write poetry in English, that's for sure.
Sometimes, while reading foreign poetry, or even in our mother tongue, some words are incomprehensible to us. I take great pleasure in them and I rarely use a dictionary to reduce their strange power. So, this Kiarostami story was just to alert us on the eventual joys of incomprehension.

HarryTuttle a dit…

Sorry for the delay.
Thanks for your feedback, I might need to explain my point a little better.

I don't really mean to divorce viewing habits from writing habits. I'm just saying that a "universal film discourse" is possible to take place on the international scene thanks to the internet. Which was reserved to travelling institutional critics before the internet. We used to be confined within our own national bubble, because of language barrier and domestic interests.
Now blockbusters are released worldwide on the same day. And festival Premières are publicized on the internet. These are two aspects of the abolition of locale.

I don't know if you speak French, but I don't speak Portuguese myself, so English provides a neutral ground where we can communicate. If I was to write in French, I would be only talking to a French audience, who only see whatever is available commercially in France, and about French-centric interests. That exactly what I don't want.

But you're right, learning foreign language is even better to engage with other cultures. But on a practical level, it is not humanly possible to learn hundreds of languages, with the necessary in-depth to understand every subtleties, to be able to watch movies from every countries... Either you focus on a couple of countries, knowing them well and miss on everything else, or you want to get a global view of world cinema, and then rely on subtitles...

I don't think we need to be able to write poetry to be able to talk about film coherently. I'm not of the ones who think Film Criticism is a Literary Art. It's just analytical journalism... you need basic command of English for that.

P.S. I just added Kiarostami to the list because it was your example. He was translated in French from Farsi when he was in Paris for his exhibition. But I'm pretty sure I heard the others I mentioned interviewed in English at one point or another.

HarryTuttle a dit…

Emmanuel Burdeau (NYFF, 27 Sept 2008) :
"If you ask the question of what Cahiers can/should be be in the future, of course you have to ask the question whether they should move to the internet or not, both an economical and a critical question. If you want to re-invent Cahiers, on one hand the "most famous magazine in the world" and on the other hand still a very provincial magazine. You have to ask yourself whether you want to have a bilingual version or not, which is both a critical question (because if it's bilingual, all articles will be written in Paris or in New York, or Beijin whatever, it means the topical issues won't be regional). And it's of course and economical question also (cost of translation...)."

I agree with this part of his buyout project.
Today's Press CANNOT be regional, because local readers who use the Web know what is going on in the rest of the world. Magazines should invite foreign critics in their pages (translated in local language), because asking the opinion of resident critics is more insightful than to send a correspondent who spends a week there every year!
And Film Discourse is international, at every level.

HarryTuttle a dit…

Jonathan Rosenbaum [NYFF2008 panel]: "It seems to me that one thing that’s very different is the whole notion of audience and even geography that’s going on. Because if you look at, for example, the number of people who might go to see a Kiarostami film in the United States, probably that doesn’t seem like very much. Then you look at all the people in the world who might be interested, it’s quite a lot, and the whole notion of community is kind of different in terms of who you’re writing for. I feel that I’m a beneficiary of this because I feel that a large portion of my readership, even when I was at the Chicago Reader, was not in Chicago but people who read me on the Internet. There’s a kind of international film culture that’s quite different from the culture of individual countries that’s growing and quite potent. In fact, figures who would have been totally unknown back in the Sixties are much better known now. Someone like Pedro Costa. I mean I’ve argued that when Danièle Huillet died, there was even an obituary in The New York Times, which would not have happened 10 years ago. It’s because of the Internet that it became news in New York even. And so I think that it’s characteristic of the way that information flow goes generally. It’s very confusing because all of our models tend to be national and local, but they’re based on paradigms that no longer seem relevant. Except for business. I mean, you know, it seems like countries exist for the purposes of businesses rather than individuals."

André Dias a dit…

Going back to our discussion, taking Rosenbaum's quote as a motif, I feel you're trying to emphasize the situation now being "different in terms of WHO you’re writing for", as he mentions, while I'm worried on WHY we write about cinema in the first place.
Regarding the WHO, of course there's this apparently healthy cinephile growing online community, but at the same time there's also the language problem, our innability to express the thought film provokes in broken English and yours to get in touch with other non-translated critical and cinephile expressions, namely the misrepresented French cinephilia.
But concerning the WHY, local must not only mean national (and it would be a serious error to mistake languages with countries), but more specifically our daily experiences as spectators, which are the fountain of our will to write about cinema. We aren't all able to fly around the world going to festivals, nor to download the next big thing from some online piracy site, nor do I think it would be sain such unified focus. And for what, just to compare our opinions with several others from more hyped global critics? Seems at least shallow as an objective. Cinema deserves more. The global take on cinema needs to be more diverse, not less, in terms of films, languages, approaches, etc.

HarryTuttle a dit…

We seem to have a misunderstanding, and maybe it's caused by my bad English. I have nothing against local culture, local identity, local audiences, local screenings... We should claim our differences of course.
What needs to be universal is the access to this discourse, not the content. I don't want a "unified" or consensual film discourse. I would like everyone to gather at the same table, wherever they come from, to bring in their own perspective, their local experience to the global table of film discourse. Instead of having little isolated discussions at the local level, only concerned by local screening timetables, local issues regarding distribution, local marketing...

If you're more comfortable writing in Portuguese, it's fine. The Global Village will need a Portuguese translator to share your thoughts with other non-Portuguese speakers cinephiles in other countries who want to know what YOU felt about a film. So that other cultures could be "contaminated" (in a good sense) with a foreign influence. I'm all for cross-pollination of various cultures to get a Film Discourse transcending local concerns. Cinema is not dependent on local population, it can be watched by anybody in the world, thus talked about by everybody, thus shared among everyone, not just the people who saw the same film at the same screening, in the same language. We can break down these, now arbitrary, barriers.

HarryTuttle a dit…

Jonathan Rosenbaum (NYFF, 9-27-2008):

"I think the “we” [the idea of a common readership] exists definitely, it’s just that it means something totally different. I still would argue that the “we” that matters to me is not geographically based, and that’s what’s different. I feel that one of the greatest, glorious things about it for me, being retired from being a regular journalist, is that I don’t have to see new movies, [...] but I see movies all the time and I converse with friends about them all the time, and I’m learning about them all the time, including some new films. [...]
I had to spend 20 years going to see movies in the theater, whether I wanted to see them or not. And now there is no longer a compulsion. I can catch up with things later, I don’t have to be at Cannes to see it, I can wait for two years or I can wait till it comes out on DVD, or a friend might send it to me on DVD, and it might not even be legal. But the point is that the whole way that these things circulate or the way that one hears about it are different. And I don’t want to have when and how I see something be dictated just by business and according to how somebody else is going to be making money from it. That’s why I would rather read GreenCine Daily. Even though I do read The New York Times daily, if I want to learn what it meant when Manny Farber died I find out from GreenCineDaily, and I wouldn’t find out from The New York Times. Manny Farber’s death was important internationally, it wasn’t just important in the United States, but in order to find out what it meant you sometimes had to go outside of the United States and I think that’s true of a lot of things now. It’s a very peculiar paradox we’re living through, because the United States is more isolationist than it was during the Cold War, and yet we have access to everywhere else in the world through the Internet. So it’s actually an ideological phenomenon that we’re more constrained. We have the opportunity to be much more broad-minded."

HarryTuttle a dit…

News today from Google : "Instant translation of foreign-language RSS feeds in your own language !!

André Dias a dit…

Taking that Google exploit, even if it's still not so reliable regarding the accuracy of the translations, we should start a contest to discover all over the world blogs dedicated to cinema, in every imaginable language (except English).

HarryTuttle a dit…

Yes, great idea. I'm hoping, for quite some time now, to encounter cinephile bloggers from Iran, from South Korea, from Taiwan, from Argentina, from Russia, from Mexico, from Japan... but I don't know how to find the right circles of film fans in foreign languages.
In French, English or Spanish, I can tell right away what kind of cinema they like, what level of seriousness they put in their blogs... but in Farsi it's much harder.
But once we made contacts, I believe tools like Google Translate could help us to stay in touch and participate to the same Film Discourse.

HarryTuttle a dit…

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

"Blogs can respond with speed and agility to new films, but they can also discuss films long after mainstream media a coverage has tailed off."

André Dias a dit…

If you ever decide to start an around-the-world languages-tour of cinefile blogs, count me as an helper. I'm very curious about it. Some brother out there stuck, in the good sense, in his language, needing some consideration. I can already imagine some Finnish or Indonesia solitary guy (or girl)...

HarryTuttle a dit…

We need to do this, one country at the time, and scout the web for cinephiles, trackdown their network, find the hotspots. Like an investigation. ;)

I'm a little busy for the next couple of months, but I'll should get back to it eventually. Every help is welcome.

HarryTuttle a dit…

Jonathan Rosenbaum (at girish): "There's one very lamentable thing about Bunuel's MY LAST SIGH (which really should be called MY LAST GASP): the English translation is substantially cut from the French original. I'm not even exaggerating when I say that there are passages which have been cut on almost every page, although this trimming isn't acknowledged anywhere in the book. A serious crime!"

That's why the local consumer is prisoner of whatever the Industry chooses to make available (or not). Only the "nomad" cinephile who looks further out than locale to get comprehensive informations, in other languages, in other markets, in other conditions... to see if what is delivered locally is good enough, if it's the real deal, if it's available elsewhere.

Only the cinephiles with an international scope, an open mind, can put a critical look on what is offered locally, and demand the best quality from their local distributors/publishers...

HarryTuttle a dit…

Alexis Tioseco (Criticine #1, 2005) :
"One beautiful thing about the world of cinema today is that the borders that separate us are becoming thinner and thinner. As the speed and ways by which we communicate become faster and more sophisticated, so too does the transmission of culture— of images and sounds, news and art. [..]

As the world-at-large becomes more affluent with cinema from smaller pockets of the globe, the question then looms— who do we read?

While writing of western critics on eastern cinema is no doubt invaluable, to allow it to be in a monologue with itself in the dominant discourse is dangerous. It is necessary that the written word of writers native to a country’s cinema reach the world at large, for their insights— that can only be gleaned from one that lives and breathes the history, culture, and air of the work’s origin— is important. Cinema must be dialogue. Through dialogue, we will have so much more to learn."