13 mai 2009

Critical Fallacy 10 : Insularity

Insularity is the tendency of critics to look outside their windows, without making the effort to look behind the corner if the weather is changing, let alone checking out beyond the horizon, on the planet cinema as a whole, to properly contextualize whatever aesthetic trends they come up with to qualify domestic "sensations", and speculate on cinema without any global perspective on the full production of this medium. One can always believe the world is gold when this world is limited to a predefined familiar self-indulgent turf, while ignoring everything outside that could challenge it, especially if it'd pale in comparison to better films, better filmmakers, better cinema
Jonathan Rosenbaum (The House Next Door, 2006) : "To some limited extent, film can be a road into other cultures and other parts of the world, especially considering how isolated America is and how disastrous some of the consequences of those isolations are. You can see that in the newspaper every day. I feel that I am ignorant about the rest of the world, but an obvious way one can at least start to learn is through seeing films from other countries. I think that is an attitude shared by many people that I know. There is always talk about how there is no interest in foreign films, but I don’t think anybody knows what the audience wants. [..]
One thing that has been important to me is in some way to experiment with form in writing, including film criticism. Getting involved with collaborations and exchanges with other writers has also been very fruitful. I have done several books in collaboration with others. Movie Mutations, co-edited by the Australian film critic Adrian Martin, was written by several people from around the world. It’s made up of various exchanges, letters, and so on. Most people’s concept of writing is that it is a very solitary activity, but this was a very social, communal way of working."
Jonathan Rosenbaum (2009) : "[..] this criticism is often found today in different places (i.e., on the Internet and much less often in libraries), that there’s considerably more of it (including academic stuff, omitted from Peary’s survey), that whether or not it’s American is of little consequence (though whether or not it’s in English is vital), and that it’s about many more films than anyone could have possibly had access to between 1968 and 1980."
It's time to realise that since Cinema is one quasi-united phenomenon (as seen at international festivals) therefore Film Criticism is also a one single discourse. Every critic talks about the same films. And English language criticism is hardly limited to the North-American media.
Adrian Martin (Undercurrent, 2006) : "On the general question of reviewing Australian films, I certainly think, for all the reasons that we've been saying, that a film reviewer's contract is with their reader. The contract is not with the film industry, it's not with filmmakers, it's not with the film funding bodies, it's not with the film industry in any way, shape, or form. In other words, the reader has to believe that I am telling the truth about what I felt about that film."

Julie Rigg (Undercurrent, 2006) : "We shouldn't run a sheltered workshop for filmmakers just because they're local."

Lorena Cancela (Undercurrent, 2006) : "There are few occasions on which we Argentinean film critics are asked to discuss our own practice or what we have said or written about this or that. In general, the main topic is New Argentine Cinema (but now if it is dead or alive). Sometimes we tend to ignore what our colleagues are doing, or we pretend that we don't care: 'everybody knows what the colleagues are doing, but nobody talks about it.' "
Personally I believe that the only accountability of critics is toward Cinema, the art itself, the abstract entity. If readers and audience are dumb and demand entertainment, flourish style, star ratings and thumbs up/down... I say critics don't owe them anything! It's the habits of readers that participated to the newspaper crisis, so if we'd listen to them the self-promotional studio publicists would have won, and Film Culture would be left to the pundits...

The problem of insularity is not limited to national borders and domestic production. Sometimes it gets even more refined, breaking up national cinema in smaller territorial niches, defended by their guardians, who justify their own existence by calling the adverse camp "contrarians".

The contrarian fallacy : Armond White vs. the Hipsters (Lost In Negative Space, 2006)

Jonathan Rosenbaum (Chicago Reader, 2000) : "No less typical was the refusal of the New Yorker to give even capsule reviews to either Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man or Andre Techine’s Thieves, two of the most important U.S. releases of 1996 and the two movies I wanted to discuss on Chicago Tonight. Neither feature was deemed important enough by its film reviewers, yet Dead Man was distributed by Miramax and Thieves by Sony Classics. I don’t think Sony Classics could be blamed for the New Yorker ignoring Thieves; that neglect undoubtedly has much more to do with an overall neglect of foreign-language movies spearheaded by Pauline Kael during her last years as critic there, something that’s become commonplace in virtually all mainstream magazines since."
  • see illustration here

2 commentaires:

HarryTuttle a dit…

Anti-auterism and Jingoism :

The Associated Press's headline, "Film co-written by Roxana Saberi wins Cannes prize", doesn't credit this prize winner by the title of the film, nor the name of the Iranian director, but hooks up the American readers by the only thing that they could possibly connect with : the name of the American-Iranian journalist who co-wrote the script!
That's journalism...?

HarryTuttle a dit…

my comment at Girish (7-13-2009):

"I think this divide is exactly the same in France. The academic side at least. The anti-intellectual hysteria is less pregnant among French journalists. They are not as ashamed to be intellectuals, they are proud to be educated and to "teach" readers, they don't pretend to be "common people with common feelings". In the case of Positif, most writers are also scholars. In the case of (ex-)Cahiers, many contributors versed in film theory. There are other journals with academic content (ex-Cinéma 00, Vertigo, Cadrage, Eclipses) giving a public façade to the inside developments of academe.
And we are lucky to have serious film discourse on the radio or in the press (mostly the specialized cinema press, of course) by scholars/journalists (Bergala, Comolli, Aumont, Bellour, Cerisuelo, Païni, Eisenschitz, Brenez, ...) who educate the public in these mass media venues, with free lectures, debates, commented screenings (I'm talking of Paris mainly) organised by various institutions for the lay man (not reserved to academic peers only). So it does help to bridge the gap in this way.

Scholars do what they are supposed to do, research, accumulation of knowledge for the initiated. It's OK. It's not their function in film culture to vulgarize and summarize for the general audience. Even if specialisation in a certain field of study, as a job, doesn't prevent anybody to engage with people outside of their workplace, if only as a side distraction, off work. Are scholars too overworked to communicate with film journalists, with mainstream readers, with spectators? Did their education make them forget normal conversation with non-professionals? If you can do more, you can do less.

Though bridging the gap, is mostly the job of journalists. They are the ones whose function is to be aware of what is going in on in the current distribution as well as the scholar literature. They are the ones supposed to inform mainstream readers, to explain complex theories, to draw parallels between serious film studies and current films. And to teach readers the technical vocabulary."