31 décembre 2008

2008 Crisis in links

(Photo : Athens, Decembre 2008, a real crisis)

Digest calendar of Film Criticism "Crisis" related articles/events or dealing with the evolution of cinema practice/market and the definition of what is supposed to be Film Criticism today. Don't you like the internet open access archive where you can list such a bibliography accessible instantly at once without running to the libraries? I do. This is a selective list of links starting in December of last year. Please add in the comments anything of interest that I may have forgotten/overlooked. In brackets are links to my take on them posted at Screenville.


MARCH 2008
APRIL 2008
JUNE 2008
JULY 2008
  • CinEditions roundtables at La Cinémathèque Française (07-03-2008) With Manoel de Oliveira, Antonio Tabucchi, Aki Kaurismäki, Pascal Mérigeau, Gérard Fromanger, Didier Daeninckx, Thierry Lefebvre, Sébastien Layerle, Bernard Benoliel, Claire Vassé, Michel Chion, Catherine Breillat, Jacques Doillon, Pascal Bonitzer, Costa-Gavras, Sergio Vecchio, Florence Delay, Luc Dardenne, Jorge Semprún, Hugo Vieira da Silva, Radu Mihaileanu, Costa-Gavras, Serge Toubiana, Thierry Magnier, Chloé Mary, Malika Ferdjoukh, Nathalie Bourgeois, Carole Desbarats, Charlotte Garson, Alexandre Tylski, Joachim Lepastier, Julien Gester, Frédéric Bas, Luc Lagier, N.T. Binh., Bernard Payen, Alain Cavalier, Michel Marie, Antoine de Baecque, Laurent Le Forestier [FRENCH]
  • Interview with André Habib at Le Silo (12-03-2008) [FRENCH]
  • Open Bazin, U. Yale (12-04-2008) With Dudley Andrew, Antoine de Baecque, Hervé Joubert-Laurencin, Steven Ungar, Angella Dalle Vacche, Rochelle Fack, Bruno Tackels, Diane Arnaud, Dominque Bluher, Philip Rosen, Tom Conley, Ludovic Cortade, Tom Gunning, Daniel Morgan, Daniel Stern, John MacKay, Monica Dall’Asta, James Tweedie, Ivone Margulies, Prakash Younger, Colin MacCabe, Jean-Michel Frodon
  • Où va le cinéma? Inter-professional symposium on the state of cinema in Paris (12-04-2008) With Vincent Dieutre, Chris Dercon, Ariane Michel, Dominique Gonzales-Foerster, Heinz Peter Schwerfel, Caroline Champetier, Charles de Meaux, Jean-Charles Fitoussi, Emmanuel Finkiel, Gilles Gaillard, Benoît Labourdette, Eugène Green, Alain Guiraudie, Christophe Honoré, Mia Hansen-Love, Jean-Marc Lalanne, Olivier Assayas, Claire Denis, Bruno Dumont, Daniel Deshays, Marianne Alphant, André Habib, Hervé Joubert-Laurencin, Joachim Lepastier, Olivier Séguret, Marcos Uzal, Jennifer Verraes, Julien Gester, Emmanuel Bourdieu, Serge Bozon, Valérie Mréjen, Joana Hadjithomas, Khalil Joreige, Omar Berrada, Frederick Wiseman, Nicolas Philibert, Bouchra Khalili, Serge Kaganski, Eric Altmayer, Pascale Cassagnau, Corinne Castel, Frédérique Dumas, Denis Freyd, Sylvie Pialat, Bertrand Bonello, Pascale Ferran, Stéphane Goudet, Benoit Jacquot, Olivier Meneux, Jean-Jacques Rue, Roger Rotmann, Valérie Jouve, Mark Lewis, Clemens von Wedemeyer, Philippe-Alain Michaux, Philippe Avril, Joachim Lafosse, Tudor Giurgiu, Pablo Trapero, Liew Seng Tat [FRENCH] [at Screenville]
  • Deadline Hollywood Daily : "Hungry For More At LA Times" By Scott Foundas (12-09-2008) [at Screenville]
  • Variety : "Young reviewers put passion over profit. New voices often find themselves writing for free" By Peter Debruge (12-12-2008)
  • GreenCine Daily : "Hard Times." By David Hudson (12-14-2008)
  • The House Next Door : HND@Grassroots (12-18-2008) NYC audio podcast with Peter Debruge, John Lichman, Vadim Rizov, Michael Joshua Rowin, Andrew Schenker, Keith Uhlich, S.T. VanAirsdale, and Lauren Wissot
  • NYT : "In the Big Picture, Big-Screen Hopes" By Manohla Dargis (12-18-2008) + audio webcast [at Screenville]

29 décembre 2008

Survey : Where is Film Criticism heading to?

I briefly mentioned earlier in my post on the Paris MoMA event : "Où va le cinéma?", that Le Silo (a collaborative research group studying the relation between cinema and Contemporary Art) was conducting a survey of some 150 people from the world of cinema on the question at the heart of discussion for this symposium and for the Film Criticism roundtable in particular : "Where is Film Criticism at?", intentionnaly focused on the "how?" rather than the "why?".
Nine answers are already posted online at the Centre Pompidou website (Emmanuel Burdeau, Jean-Michel Frodon, Hervé Joubert-Laurencin, Raymond Bellour, André Habib, Christian Lebrat, Antoine Guillot, Raphaël Bassan, Christa Blümlinger) [in FRENCH]. This will culminate in yet another summit on the state of French Film Criticism sometimes in spring 2009. So more food for thoughts on the way.

Here is the questionnaire in 5 parts for you to respond and to publish yourself to take part in this open international debate. Consider it like a meme to be circulated on the blogosphere, and to "infect" others :
Who knows where is Film Criticism going to?


What is the situation of Film Criticism today? If the golden age of interpretative systems seems behind us, if critics communities, great movements and great trends vanished, on what ground could criticism found itself? Before knowing where it goes, do we know where it's at?


How does the critical relation to the film develop? How did this relation evolve in History? If film criticism comes after the film, what is its own tempo? What kind of distance to put between the film criticism and its objects (the films)? Is it a matter of method, maybe of technique? How do you work yourself?


Should film criticism reassess its positions since cinema takes new positions? Do the successive migrations of cinema (from theatre to museum, from the film on the big screen to the DVD on a TV screen, from DVD to internet...) induce new types of writing styles? And maybe other realities, other modalities than just writing? Since other modes of rhetoric appropriated its object (Film theory, Film history, Film exhibition in a museum...), should the function critique be redefined in regard to other discourses on films?


How does film criticism position itself vis-à-vis discourses of the news, of communication or of evaluation? How are dispatched taste judgement, production of knowledge and interpretation? If we consider that film criticism should speak of more than just cinema, what other territories exterior to the strict field of cinema should film criticism cover?


- If you post your questionnaire, please add your link in the comment section of this post.
- You may subscribe to the RSS feed for the comments of this post to be notified of new entries.

23 décembre 2008

Dargis high on blissful optimism

Dargis : "At the risk of sounding stoned on hope, I offer the following heresy: The movies are fine."
"In the Big Picture, Big-Screen Hopes" (NYT, 12-18-2008) :
Dargis : "There is, of course, perverse pleasure in ending the year with an angry rant, as I have proven in the past, if only to myself. But given the clanging of so much bad news, I thought I would try a change of pace. I’m not sure if optimism becomes me, but it sure feels nice. Every year filmmakers from around the world offer us stories filled with grief and tragedy that either feed our souls or rip out another little piece. I tend to fall for movies like these, but I also swoon for those filled with grace and generous sentiments, like “Happy-Go-Lucky,” that suggest that one way to face hard times (and raging driving instructors) is with an open heart and smile. Quickly now: give it a try!"

With so much Major Studio name-dropping, the NYT has turned into Variety! Does the audience really care if a movie was made by such or such studio? Is it the business of a critic to publicize these brand names in the Art pages? in a year-end article? This is corporate talks. Why should the interface with the audience (review publications) should lump them in this industrial jargon?
She prefers to save space with one-liner blurbs for her film picks, and share ample anecdotes on the whereabouts of her fellow publicists and the endeavours of Hollywood speciality divisions...
[EDIT : see comments] Let's remember the NYT is owned by Rupert Murdoch. Now it's easier to understand why AO Scott and Manohla Dargis want us to turn a blind eye on the current crisis in the Press, among Film Critics, in the Hollywood business, on the financial market... (listen to the year-end podcast!)

Dargis (podcast) : "As difficult as a year has it's been, as difficult it is in particular for foreign language film distributors to get their movies into theatres and then to get people into seats to watch those movies, the fact is that a lot of good movies continue to get theatrical distribution in this country."
Well let's take a look at the proportion of foreign movies in critics year-end top10s (mostly one or two years old), and the number of good movies sitting on the "undistributed list" appending.
Note that she doesn't mention the issue of foreign movies distribution in her article, it's a podcast-exclusive web-only supplement.

Of the movies she mentions : Paranoid Park (2007); Encounters at the End of the World (2007); Ne Touchez pas à la hache (2007); Une vieille maitresse (2007); Boarding Gate (2007); My Winnipeg (2007); Silent Light (2007); Le voyage du ballon rouge (2007); Still Life (2006); Duck Season (2004)
...is that really an achievement to be proud of for the number 1 cinema nation in the world? If a home-made blockbuster can be released simultaneously in many places all over the planet, surely foreign films deserve a better treatment than such quarantine. I believe there are lots of efforts to be made, and acknowledging them would be the first constructive step for a critical journalist to wake up out of denial.

Dargis (podcast) : "it's difficult to be optimistic when there is so much bad news, but we are right now in a paradigm shift in terms of how people go to the movies, how they consume movies. And instead of thinking of it as being dire (that the theatrical experience has changed), is to think of it as a change, a pure neutral change, and that we have to shift as a consequence. And it doesn't necessarily mean that the movies are disappearing or the movies are getting worse (which tends to be the kind of vibe that is in the air a lot). There is a difference now. Maybe if you can't see the movie in your theatre, you can catch it on DVD pretty soon."
Dargis and AO Scott are actually satisfied that foreign movies don't get a proper theatrical run (as every film made for cinema should get) as long as you can watch them on DVD... So that's the fatalistic conclusion from the leading team at the NYT? No need to worry about watching foreign films that are 2 years old on the small screen, we're telling you it's a "paradigm shift" you'll have to live with anyway. If I were American I would feel so comforted by such a voice of (Newspeak) reason. Numb down the mass with vacuous smooth talking until their quality requirements are standardized.

Dargis : "And so, dear (and hostile) reader, it is in the admittedly alien spirit of optimism that I offer you my 10 favorite films, and some thoughts about the year in film. Optimism, I should add, perhaps needlessly, does not come naturally to me. (...) For a lot of people both in the movie world and in journalism, this has been the year of eating glass, which is even worse when you know those who have lost their jobs."
Her opening disclaimer doesn't convince me the smiley undertone wasn't imposed from high up. (sarcasm mode on:) Film critics shouldn't care for social insecurities and grim fate... if filmmakers take a hard look at a struggling world with a pessimistic eye, journalists paid by big corporations should call them party-killers and clear up the mind of consumers to make sure the pull towards mindless fun remains intact at the B.O. Let's put a veil over our problems and keep on supporting The Entertainment. Thank you New Yeuk Times! (end sarcasm rant)

Dargis : "But selling movies isn’t the job of the reviewer, which is something I wish some of my colleagues would remember whenever they start moaning about how critics don’t have power anymore. As if making (or breaking) movies were part of the gig. It isn’t, and never should have been."
This is an important thought to be circulated by a high profile newspaper. That would have been a great quote if it wasn't contradicted by the overall sentiment of this complacently uncritical year-end article.

Dargis : "The big studios like being in the big movie business, but it’s rare that art enters the equation as forcefully as it does in “The Dark Knight,” the Christopher Nolan film that earned critical love on its release but is now being shunned by critics’ groups that seem to think complexity, self-conscious contradictions and beauty are exclusive to the art house."
I would rather look to Wong Kar-wai's My Blueberry Nights or Ashes of Time Redux to find Art in a mainstream formula. The Dark Night was alright, but I hope it's not THE epitome of "commercial art" or else we're fucked. Art comes a long way...

Dargis : "I’m keeping my fingers crossed that more specialty divisions keep afloat. Without them it’s hard to see how a modern masterwork like Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood,” which was released last year by Paramount Vantage — whose ranks were radically thinned this year — will be made."
Let's do like Dargis and leave this dire situation up to chance and cross our fingers until someone else wants to change something in that system... Finger crossing is the most outraged a journalist employed at the NYT could afford to go to criticize Hollywood! I'm impressed. No wonder more readers rely on the blogosphere to find reality check with real feelings.

Dargis : "There is, of course, perverse pleasure in ending the year with an angry rant, as I have proven in the past, if only to myself. But given the clanging of so much bad news, I thought I would try a change of pace. I’m not sure if optimism becomes me, but it sure feels nice. Every year filmmakers from around the world offer us stories filled with grief and tragedy that either feed our souls or rip out another little piece. I tend to fall for movies like these, but I also swoon for those filled with grace and generous sentiments, like “Happy-Go-Lucky,” that suggest that one way to face hard times (and raging driving instructors) is with an open heart and smile. Quickly now: give it a try!"
Again, ending her piece with a frown on people who would dare to feature anything else than self-contentment after all we've been through this year (of all recent years)... If Dargis happened to be laid off, like many of her peers, she's already preparing her reconversion as a publicist for euphoric blockbusters. (lame humour attempt)

AO Scott (podcast) : "I think more filmmakers maybe should take up that challenge. Cause it feels to me sometimes that glum and darkness is an easy way out, and sometimes the harder work of art or of film is to hold on to some measure of optimism or hope."
This is ludicrous. Was that a meaningful statement from an Art critic? from a screenwriting expert? from the proverbial "institutional weight" dear to AO Scott?
If you didn't believe they got an executive memo to spread "hope" to their readers... now you know. Obama's hope is grand to boost the moral in Real Life society. But why does it apply to the realm of fictitious creation too?

Sorry I couldn't show that much oblivious optimism without compromising my soul, that tells me the world we live in is far from perfect and that denial is hardly the way to make it better. We need reforms of the system, we need actions, not affirmations and positive thinking.

18 décembre 2008

Ouvrir Bazin 3 - Marc Vernet

Day 3. Full program here
My notes on the lecture "Un Bazin pro-censure ?" [Bazin pro censorship ?]
  • The short answer is : yes.
  • About 15-20 articles written on censorship by Bazin.
  • 1950-1957 : Proud member of the Control of Films Comission. He talks about it openly and with honesty. He exposes the pro and con arguments in public, in the Press.
  • 1950 : "Censure et censures au cinéma" (Parisien Libéré, #1918, Dec 11, 1950) first article on self-censorship.
  • Bazin promotes integrity, firm principles and open debate (mentality alike to Resnais' in the realm of filmmaking)
  • Bazin is a pacifist. He believes censorship is a necessary evil ("servitude honteuse" = shameful servitude) against pro-crime movies. The political censorship is the worst.
  • To filmmakers who complain against censorship, he tells them they should blame themselves, they should accomodate and anticipate censorship themselves, with self-censorship.
  • In France, the cinema censorship is managed by the government and by the profession (producers) : CNC (Centre National de la Cinematographie) is a consensual censorship.
  • "Everybody speaking about censorship is subject to self-censorship"
  • Bel Ami (1955/Daquin) is an example of censorship dodge thanks to the litterature argument : "If the novel wasn't censored, then why would an filmic adaptation get censored?"
  • There is a context of political "cold war" in France at the time (see previous post), the PCF (French Communist Party) puts on latent pressure in the hope to overthrow the government. Cinema acts as a political leverage for a race to power control.
  • It's also the time when France begins to lose grip on colonies. The government raises the severity of film censorship.
  • Another mecanism of censorship is to be used by the authority as a publicity stunt : a film gets an obviously unfair censorship in order for the government to get the opportunity to showcase generosity, grace, pardon in the Press and lift censorship.
  • "Censeurs, sachez censurer" (Radio Cinéma Télévision, #411, Dec 1, 1957) Bazin's article : The 2 roles of censorship is to protect underaged children and to secure public order.
  • "Le Vatican, L'humanité et la censure" (France Observateur, #302, Feb 23, 1956) Bazin's article : he reminds people who apply censorship to reprehensible films opposed to their values, they shouldn't complain when films they like are conversly censored by other people.
  • In the USA, censorship is managed by the profession alone: the Hays code (1934-1968).
  • Bazin, dandy erotomane, admires the censorship system of the Production Code that develops suggestive eroticism (Pin up girl) in American films.
  • 1957-60 : in France, Malraux-De Gaulle administration. Censorship crisis. Malraux restores free circulation of films, without censorship. Which causes the emergence of local partisanship (lobbies) replacing the official censorship. See Bazin's article in Qu'est-ce que le cinéma? (also in Cahiers, #70, Apr 1957): En marge de "L'érotisme au cinéma"
  • In France, censorship has always been temporary and opportunistic. There is never full and permanent censorship. Films are eventually approved and screened, after a few years.
  • Bazin questions censorship of bad movies that aren't worth such attention/publicity. 8 out of 10 films censored are bad films.
  • Bazin defends Les Statues Meurent Aussi (1953/Resnais) and Nuit et Brouillard (1955/Resnais)
  • In the daily Press (Le Parisien Libéré), weekly (Nouvel Observateur), Bazin reacts promptly, on the go, to censorship decisions and comments them openly. In the monthly Press (Cahiers, Esprit) he looks back with more distance on the events.
  • Film censorship creates palimpsest films, patchwork with the holes of cut scenes and pieced together in a discontinuous manner. Not only the audience is spoiled, but the film itself, the integrity of the artwork is wasted.
  • Bazin promotes the idea of censorship as a public debate, in the open, that both the audience and the filmmaker would know the reasons, the arguments behind censorship decisions. *IF* censorship must be, at least it should take place in public, between intelligent people, instead of petty manipulations of small comities behind closed doors. Bazin breaks the intellectual censorship (taboo) on the censorship system.

16 décembre 2008

Reading should be a respite from watching

A.S. Hamrah : "It seems that now, more than ever, an alarm has been sounded within literary communities concerning the Internet’s potential to slight or undermine patience, attention, and contemplation"

I didn't have time earlier to comment Tisch Film Review interviews A.S. Hamrah (he publishes here) about online film culture (11-16-2008) :

He opens with an astute observation, that the line between Publicity material and journalistic report blurs so much it becomes virtually impossible to make the difference. The reason is because both sides tend to converge towards a mutual interest, a middle ground where both are happy with a lousy compromise. The P.R. hands out a pre-digested press kit including all necessary information, trivia and anecdotes about the plot line, the production, and the stars. They even use the advertising channels to take these blurbs directly to the consumer (passing by the Film Criticism institution), in TV ads, on Movie Websites, in Press Ads, on radio, in the street. Conversely, the Press tends to publish the same thing, either because they duplicate the press kit or they write a similar material themselves for the reader that demands exactly that.
Add this to the mythical "no-spoiler policy", the "incentive for positive review" and there is no room left to reflect on cinema in the Press. There is no readership for that and no editor affords the extra words necessary to get beneath the surface.

Last night at La Cinémathèque (to introduce his new film Shirin), Abbas Kiarostami said something about the futility to talk about a film either before or after a screening that has an ironic truth for the job of film critics :
"I usually see no point to introduce a screening of my films because, before, you haven't seen the film yet so we can hardly talk about it and, after, you already saw the film so there is nothing more to be said"
It's a clever excuse. A filmmaker could easily get away with that, but it leaves the role of the critic devoid of any sense.

Hamrah touches here on an irreconcilable paradox of Film Criticism. And it's exactly what separates Film Reviewing from Film Criticism, which are two distinct discipline with a distinct practice and a distinct purpose. I wonder why people keep talking about them with interchangeable terms... Let's part ways and move on once and for all. Film Criticism requires its own space in the Press, its own venue, its own readers who know what they came looking for. And too bad if it means falling into an underexposed niche of the Press...

Google gives anyone the necessary facts for a casual night out at the movies, even the show schedules at your nearest theatre. So why the Press would even bother repeating such things in the age of an internet savvy readership? Like I said earlier : Abolish Locale, being a consumer-guide is not the business of film critics!

The problem is that the specialised Press for cinema strives to catch up with the newspapers and generalist press that steals all the movie-goers attention (potential readers) by publishing useless information, blurbs and stereotyped reviews... instead of having the guts to cut loose with the dead weight and dedicate more time, space and attention to fewer movies.

I'm not sure his provocative statement that short reviews are harder to read than longer pieces holds water... but I like when he says :
A.S. Hamrah : "If magazines and newspapers were publishing writers worth reading, and who were writing original and unexpected things, and giving them enough space to do it, people would read them. Instead, they publish toadies who, along with most of the editors and publishers who hire them, feel as though they have some stake in keeping the entertainment industry afloat (which they very well may)."
This is another major issue with the Film Press. Newspapers and Film Magazines are so close to the cinema industry, even in bed with them sometimes (I'm talking about Media conglomerates tied to Studio interests), that they feel responsible for the public success of a movie. It's not even critical championing of their favourites, they lost any critical distance. Their concern is more akin to P.R. guys'. They announce projects ahead of time, report of contract signed, follow the production and post-production, negotiate interviews with stars to ride their coattail and announce the screenings and the B.O. figures! How could there be an ounce of objectivity left when it's time to rate these movies? The movie and the whole cast is already part of the family, and making sure this movie makes a lot of money is their only objective, to befriend with the stars, to please the studio, to pander to their readership whose taste has been forged all along...
A.S. Hamrah : "Many critics essentially abandoned the cinema in favor of blockbuster entertainment. They decided to go along to get along, and all of a sudden they had no patience for anything - but they couldn’t get enough of Jaws. I think they began to identify, even over-identify, with the industry in general, more than they identified with any of the filmmakers they once professed to love."
They care not about the quality of cinema, its artistic achievements, its aesthetism... they care to predict the B.O. money to be made from this variation of a formula, the award nominations to come, and believe that giving an interpretation to a plot line means in-depth critical insights... They think popular enthusiasm for dumb movies and financial success are the keys to critical greatness.
A.S. Hamrah : "This serves the entertainment industry, not readers."
I couldn't agree more! What kind of readers want to read that? What kind of culture does such journalism build?

Hamrah also acknowledges the cynicism of the Movie Industry : they don't even care if critics like their products or not... as long as they are talked about and appear enough times in movie pages! We even hear readers claim they enjoy reading bad/contrarian critics precisely to use their ratings as a reverse barometer. If this critic didn't like it, I want to go see it.
How weak is the authority of a critical judgement when they are totally overlooked by the Industry and flipped upside down by the readers?

I don't understand how high are his standards for academic writing when he equates Bordwell (who incidentally wrote his own dismissal of academic writing last year Against Insight) to Maltin... but other than this, the fact that more and more people openly speak about the disappointing level of academic writing is preoccupying.

While Mister A. S. Hamrah pretends he's sick of infotainment and sloppy writing, he certainly enjoys to pepper in some clever colourful catch phrases (one-liner review, vague approximations, and even a geeky quote from a movie!) which is what I think undermines film writing in particular and literature in general. So I'm not exactly sure what he means when he blames film literature for being cheap :
"And since, on average, every movie that comes out gets 3 ½ stars, why rate them at all? (...) I know academics I wouldn’t read a postcard from. (...) I can’t think of one book or article by any American or English academic film writer of the last 25 years that I’ve read and would re-read today. (...) jovial gleefulness (...) classroom version of Leonard Maltin’s television bonhomie (...) If it has produced anything of lasting interest, please send me a copy. (...) Vanilla Sky, that deranged, terrible monument to baby boomer hubris Cameron Crowe made for Tom Cruise. (...) I guess it’s like Marlene Dietrich says to Orson Welles in Touch of Evil: “Your future’s all used up.” (...) Watching movies on a screen and then reading about them on the same screen is a depressing system to live under. Reading should be a respite from watching; it’s different from watching movies on a screen, even if movies are a form of writing, too. Movies should complement reading, and vice versa. Now they’re being collapsed into the same thing, into television, which makes them into work and not fun. Computers are what we stare into at work. I don’t want to be chained to a device like a heart patient or a rechargeable handyvac. (...) Maybe the only hope for film criticism is that Harry Knowles goes face down into his third helping of pancakes tomorrow morning."
Is that better than Bordwell's insights?

I'm not convinced either by the menu he cites of his favourite (recent) cinema :
Vanilla Sky? Ghosts of Mars? Choses Secrètes? Land of the Dead? Marie Antoinette? Black Dahlia? A Prairie Home Companion? Lust, Caution?
I mean, come on... these are hardly the best of what "commercial cinema" produces, even if you could make the case that formulaic plots could give us anything remotely interesting in terms of Great Art. Leave these to minor reviewers who try too hard to look snob because they champion B.O. flops or unloved commercial movies. If you're going to challenge Film culture in wide strokes, from the 60ies till now, from Kael to Bordwell... I expect a taste a little more refined. He seems to name-drop a few art festival honorary guests (such as Kaurismaki and HHH, but no film title in particular this time!) only for good measure, in afterthought.
I would begin my listing from the end of his, backward, and I would eventually end with more challenging commercial movies (Secret Sunshine; Mukhsin; Persepolis; Conversations with other women; Renaissance; Paprika; Me and You and Everyone We Know...)
I know. I'm boring. Because I only care for artfilms and am so radically anti-Hollywood, anti-entertainment, anti-popular that I'm not even a cool geek.

A.S. Hamrah : "The main problem with the serious new film blogs is their naiveté. I don’t know why I expect people who write about Straub-Huillet and Pedro Costa to be a little more hardboiled, but I do."
This however is a thought worth contemplating deeper indeed.

12 décembre 2008

Decline of Hollywood Press

The House Next Door points out to this corosive article by Scott Foundas (Editor at LA Weekly) : Hungry For More At LA Times, that denounces the crumbling of journalistic standards at the LA Times. First he's pissed that Hunger (Cannes Golden Camera!), a major film of 2008 (in my top10) was relegated to a secondary (negative) capsule review. And he goes on with other blatant examples of critical blindness (or is it bad taste?) revealing the marketing of the critical branch of cinema journalism. Not only Hollywood refuse to distribute foreign films and indies, but when they do get a (limited) release, they don't even give a decent treatment to the best of them...

Foundas pinpoints the syndication of wire reviews and insists on the complicated hierarchy of word count and page placement in a newspaper. While the technical aspect of this selection is probably their main concern in the editor world, and happens to also stand for de facto editorial politics, the node of the problem, to me, is elsewhere. We could argue all year long, back and forth, about the comparative size of particular reviews... but is he saying that the editor of the LA Times must agree with his own taste? with his critical appreciation? The fact that newspapers feature different films is part of the game, I believe. If they think it sucks, they minimize the publicity space on it. It sounds logical to me. I want a Press world where editors take options, risks, strong stances... to show to their readers what are their choices. Then we, readers, may question these affirmed choices and their cinema taste.

Though I get his point when he says the LA Times is expected to give a coverage to films and events according to their respective worldwide recognition, their official rewards, their importance to the eye of the critical community, and even if they are going to speak negatively about them. A great film deserves a profound reflection, an in-depth deconstruction if it is deemed pan-able. And I certainly appreciate him calling a major title for its lazy behaviour.

Scott Foundas : "Writing about Swanson’s appointment last year, Nikki Finke quoted one Hollywood studio executive’s description of Swanson as “a nice guy, but he knows so little about the business.” That would seem to extend not just to Hollywood itself, but to the broader world of cinema, including those pesky American independent movies that don’t have any marquee stars (at least none of Debra Messing’s zeitgeist value) and imports from foreign shores that come bearing those infernal little white words on the bottom of the screen. (It is also during Swanson’s tenure that the Times has aggressively beefed-up its mind-numbing coverage of that masturbatory Hollywood ritual known as “awards season”)."

The question raised by Scott Foundas is about the role of the press : should newspapers give a "fair and balanced" coverage of ALL releases? or should they intentionally suppress information to avoid exposing their readers to "useless information"?
And we need to define "fair" and "useless" in terms of Film Criticism. What purpose does serve the articles hierarchy within the page content?

This is only the tip of the iceberg, one obvious issue hiding many more about the commercialisation of journalism, selling out to populism, demagoguery, average statistics and majority opinion... which all benefit the blockbuster-driven business of entertainment : what matters is whatever publicity says matters. I don't want to live in a world where money defines the word culture, where journalists become P.R. henchmen, where cultural goods are appointed by Media tycoons...

05 décembre 2008

Ouvrir Bazin 3 - Antoine De Baecque

Day 3. Full program here
My notes on the lecture "Bazin au combat" by Antoine De Baecque (former Cahiers Chief editor, Book editor) [who will give a lecture at Yale on Sat Dec 6th]
  • Dec 1959 : Cahiers du cinéma #90 = special issue on Bazin
  • He was considered "un saint laïc" [secular saint] by the cinéphile community. Tolerant, understanding with his detractors, unifying everyone.
    Model from Roger Leenhardt (filmmaker, scholar of 30ies/40ies cinema, godfather of La Nouvelle Vague) who looked for compromise. The French mentality issued from Pascal.
  • But he was also impulsive, hot blooded, angry... uneasy/awkward in public at the ciné-clubs, mainly because he had a stutter. With a lack of natural charisma, a deficiant orality, he builds his personality in written words.
  • 1946-55 : Bazin is always involved in the current controversies (Sadoul, Welles, Lo Duca, les jeunes turcs...)
  • He defends Welles' Citizen Kane against the French Communist party and Sartre.
  • 1950 : his article "Le mythe de Staline dans les films soviétiques" (in Esprit, Juillet-août 1950, and in Qu'est-ce que le cinéma? tome 1, original edition) fires up a "stalisnist crisis" within the French criticism circles, forcing everyone to position themselves, politically, either pro or con Bazin's critique. Bazin compares Staline to Tarzan! Georges Sadoul (historian of cinema) sends a violent letter of disapproval to his (ex)friend Bazin. This leads to a climate of "cold war" / feeling of McCarthism among French critics.
  • François Truffaut is a controversial provocateur, heir of Bazin's battles. Bazin nurses and trains him (like a boxer's coach) to improve and channel his critical energy. He makes Truffaut rewrite his famous manifesto "Une certaine tendance du cinéma français" (Cahiers # 31, 1954), again and again, during a year, before final publication.
  • Georges Sadoul coins the phrase "Hitchcocko-Hawksien" to describe the "young turcs" at Cahiers who prefer American cinema to "La Qualité Française". Bazin calls them "neo formalists", and defends them in his article "Comment peut-on être Hitchcocko-Hawksien?" (in Cahiers #44, Feb 1955)
  • Bazin is at the look-out post, he watches, regulates in the sideline, but always ready to jump in and fight back with a fierce article.
  • Bazin accepts his own contradictions, his changes of opinions : "le parti-pris de la contradiction est le plus fécond"

03 décembre 2008

Où va le cinéma ?

Where is cinema heading to ?
Series of panel discussions at Le Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris MoMA), Dec 4-7 2008, viewable live on the website (schedule time CET = GMT+1). Video trailer (with video opinions by M. Night Shyamalan, Carice Van Houten, Lisandro Alonso, Bong Joon Ho, Yu Lik-Wai, George A. Romero, Miguel Gomes, Serge Bozon, Kiju Yoshida, David Strathairn, Albert Serra...)
You can also post your questions on the website to be asked to the panelists

02 décembre 2008

Les Statues Meurent Aussi (Resnais/Marker)

Watch part 1/3 (other parts on YouTube):

01 décembre 2008

Ouvrir Bazin 3 - Steven Ungar

Ouvrir le passé - Un Bazin d'après-guerre

Day 3 (See full program here). My notes (in broken English) on the lecture (in French!) "Arrêt sur documentaire" by Steven Ungar (University of Iowa) which will have a repeat at the Yale University (Dec. 4th).
  • Predisposition of cinema for a documentarian dimension (documentaries, films of exploration, reportage, newsreel...)
    Like Jean Rouch, Chris Marker, Franju, Rouquier, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, André Cayatte, Luis Buñuel, Nicole Verdès, Joris Ivens...
  • issue of truth in reality : newsreel re-enacted, exotic documentaries
  • Van Gogh (1948/Alain Resnais) is a minor masterpiece (for cinema) about a major masterpiece (for painting), which uses it to explicit it, without replacing it.
  • "Regard documentarisant" [documentaristic perspective?] of the post war Italian films (in tome 4 of Qu'est-ce que le cinéma?)

  • "Deux documentaires hors série" on Dimanche à Pékin (1956) and Lettre de Sibérie (1957). Two films disowned by Chris Marker, who refused to grant his permission to project them for us at the seminar because he doesn't like them, even if Bazin praised them. He also declined the invitation to the seminar. He is too busy working on his oeuvre, he said.
  • The article of Bazin Lettre de Sibérie, un style nouveau "L'Essai documenté" (Radio Cinéma Télévision, 16 Nov. 1958) says it's "a filmic reportage on the soviet reality of the present and the past." The Image gives in to the Speech. Cites the scene when Marker plays three different voice-over commentary track on the same shot of a street car in the Siberian town of Yakutsk :
    1. Commentary to the glory of the socialist regime
    2. Neutral description
    3. Diatribe against collectivism
  • At the 1998 retrospective Chris Marker at La Cinémathèque Française, he said "Commentary and Image attack each others to give an object called 'film'"

  • He then coins the phrase "Montage horizontal" (or lateral montage): the image echoes laterally what is being said by the narrator, in opposition to Eisenstein's Vertical Montage, in the longitudinal axis of the film reel, plan by plan...
  • This reels up a big debate among scholars present, for about 10 minutes, to figure what Bazin meant by "horizontal", and if it has a direct relation with Eisenstein or with the verticality of the editing table at the time (before the flat bed editing table became a standard)
    Hervé Joubert-Laurencin astutely note that the word "horizontal" has no inner meaning in itself, it is just an arbitrary convention to be defined. The words "horizontal" and "vertical" are often used in film theory without referring to the same things. [I'm also a bit wary of topological concepts in general, stating their relative position in an abstract space.]
  • This leads Bazin to develop the concept of "film-essai" : a documentarist point of view (like Vigo in 1930: A Propos de Nice). This is a historical and political essay as written by a poet (like Albert Camus in literature). Essay of human and political geography, like Buñuel's Las Hurdes (1933) [YouTube]
  • Bazin says we are more used to cinema providing a comfort zone for the eye, rather than an intellectual attention. The film-essai disturbs the spectator from this comfort zone.
    The image no longer constitutes the primary matter of cinema, the idea does. Without image the text proves nothing, the text develops a dialectical relation with the image.
  • Lateral Montage will influence the 60ies period of Godard's cinema.
  • Hôtel des Invalides (1952/Georges Franju) "Legend has heroes, war has victims"
    Bazin calls it a "pacifist film", détournement of its commission by the museum of the State Military Department.
  • Les Statues Meurent Aussi (1953/Alain Resnais/Chris Marker)
    "Quand les hommes meurent, ils entrent dans l'histoire, quand les œuvres d'art meurent, elles entrent dans l'art. Cette botanique de la mort, c'est ce qu'on appelle la culture" [When men die, they make History, when artworks die, they make art. This botanic of death, is what we call culture] voiceover against a black screen. [YouTube]
  • Paris 1900 (1947/Nicole Verdès)
  • Les Maitres Fous (1955/Jean Rouch) [YouTube]
Post-lecture discussion :
  • Someone mentions a german text from 1939 by Hans Richter on essay film that could have influenced Bazin's theory, but no evidence could confirm.
  • Later examples of film-essai : J-L Godard, Pier Pasolini, Chris Marker, Luc Moullet, Marcel Ophüls, Federico Fellini, Agnès Varda, Jean-Daniel Pollet, Wim Wenders...
  • Book on Film-essai [in French] : "L'essai et le cinéma" (Éd. Champ-vallon, May 2004) Edited by Suzanne Liandrat-Guigues & Murielle Gagnebien. With articles by Diane Arnaud, Christa Blümlinger, Fabienne Costa, Didier Coureau, Christophe Deshoulières, Jean Durançon, Guy Fihman, Murielle Gagnebin, Jean-Louis Leutrat, Denis Lévy, Suzanne Liandrat-Guigues, Alain Ménil, Claire Mercier, José Moure, Cyril Neyrat, Sylvie Rollet.