20 avril 2010

The lazy way out (2)

Adrian Martin: "I have spent much of my life looking at the question of Hollywood, and turning it over from different angles. It does not take so much of my time now, simply because I have made the personal decision that I want more to look at world cinema, experimental cinema, and other more overlooked forms. But it is certainly safe to say that I have been through every available position and emotion that a critic can take and experience in relation to the ‘passion for Hollywood’: defending it, rejecting it, rationalising it, exploring it, becoming disenchanted with it, becoming re-enchanted with it. Now, I feel I am ‘out of the cycle’ of this difficult passion. Like many critics, my interest in the resistant streams in world cinema has steered me more towards the true American independents: not the Sundance or Miramax camps, but people like James Benning, Yvonne Rainer, Travis Wilkerson, Jon Jost, and many others. In the semi-commercial cinema, the only Americans I really defend today are those precisely ignored (for the most part) by and in America, and discovered elsewhere: Ferrara, James Gray, Larry Clark, Monte Hellman, Elaine May." (IndianAuteur #7, Nov 2009)
This oblivious approach is, alas, "the easy, lazy way out!" (see : "cinéma d'auteur blasé (1)")

Godard replies :

Paraphrase (replacing the word "worker" by "artist"):

Who "directs" [met en scène] the cinema market in the world? Hollywood controls most of what gets screened, either directly (free market) or indirectly (through appealing propagandist marketing).
The word "direct" is loaded. Even the way I try to "direct", to fight against the law of supply and demand, is strongly conditioned by what I was taught in school, in the media, in the conformist film press.
Oppressed filmmakers are given 15 sec or 3 minutes in the media to speak up : "What do you think of the film market? what do you think of your condition of non-commercial filmmaker?" But who can give an answer in 3 minutes when you've been deprived of visibility and public speech for so long?
Intellectuals who have the means to make CRITICISM, since the exploited artists don't, we must approach them and listen to be able to transmit their words. We know they aren't allowed to speak in general, or in the films, on television.
It shows the three social forces in struggle on the film market : the exploiters, the
oppressed, and "those who are fed up". Instead of describing the individuals beforehand, it first describes the masses, and the power struggle of the masses.
The accusation is often brought against us : "you want to make film criticism for art-cinema but people don't understand". It's not that simple. First, it's normal that seeing the way film criticism is printed, that even well intentioned critics might be considered unproductive. I think our challenge is not to write criticism "in the name of auteurs", we should first speak in the name of cinema.

Where is the right to criticize?
The exploiters (Hollywood) never tell the exploited (non-commercial artists) how they exploit them. So WE tell it. It's precisely us, the news, cinema, television, the press, who enter this discourse of the exploiter, who does tell the exploited.
Because that's what cinema, novels, the press and television do : they tell. Those of us in the field should find a new way to tell, so that we might finally say something else, beyond the conformist talking point and complacent tolerance for spectacle that have been insidiously installed by the crowd-pleaser exploiter : the Hollywood system.

14 commentaires:

dave a dit…

there's so much open land... one needs to choose a place a burrow.

HarryTuttle a dit…

cherry-picking your favourites is not the lazy part; turning a blind eye on the damages caused by the hegemony (and expecting others to deal with it for you) is.
To each its own definition of resistance...

HarryTuttle a dit…

Surrendering half-way through is no resistance. Hollywood is playing a game of attrition purposefully to wear out all opposition. Stepping "out the cycle" helps the invisible hand of the market to sweep out independent cinema. Because the big studios can survive the long run, unlike isolated auteurs. Hollywood doesn't try to win the artistic upper hand, they just wait for the smaller films to die out, because they can.
It is irresponsible to recommend the readers of an activist journal (INDIAN AUTEUR) to ignore the mischief of Hollywood; as if reviewing small films (that nobody get access to anyway) is enough to make this alternative cinema survive... A bandaid on a wooden leg. At this point, smaller films need more the exposure (on actual screens) than the virtual support of an elite press (which only covers films bought by distributors anyway, thus the films approved by the commercial system).

This hegemony doesn't play out on a simplistic Good v. Evil rhetoric. The antitrust laws have been voted in 1948 to prevent studios from exhibiting their own films thus monopolising the market. But even without the connivence between production and distribution, the quasi-monopoly still happens in effect because of the supply/demand vote. The problem is not that Hollywood (and the MPA) tries to get maximum exposure for its own movies (this is normal expected business practice); it becomes an ethical problem when this commercial strategy hinders the most basic survival of anything that is not supported/backed up by a studio. De facto, all the visible culture that has any chance to reach out to an audience, is limited to whatever the commercial system has deemed profitable in the first place. Challenging, risky, visionary films ahead of the curve, unformated, unpopular are doomed to err without audience or revenue until a slot frees up, left-over from the mainstream marketed distribution. Critics won't be able to enjoy private screenings of an art-cinema for the cultural elite, at festivals or at press screenings, if less and less artists can afford its shooting.

HarryTuttle a dit…


"Every day to earn my daily bread
I go to the market where lies are bought....
Hopefully (bought) I take up my place among the sellers."
Bertholt Brecht (from Poems in Exile, 1942)

dave a dit…

diagnosis. // prognosis? // praxis??

[I'm not sure I agree that championing lesser-known films is as complicit with hegemony as you imply. I look forward to your definition of resistance.]

HarryTuttle a dit…

Like I first replied, it's not the help you give to a handful of auteurs that is bad in itself, it's what the exclusive focus on that action (at the exclusion of everything else you could do to help) implies for the global balance.
It's not because you're doing one little good thing, here and now, that it is the right thing, the most efficient thing to do to achieve a long term, sustainable effect.

I'm surprised the word "resistance" would cause any controversy... The real question is whether Adrian Martin believes the "let it be" attitude he advocates could be called "resistance".

The dictionary definition is good enough for me, in our current affair :
"the action of opposing something that you disapprove or disagree with"

Where is the notion of "opposition" in "stick your head in the sand until it goes away"?

dave a dit…

2 things, briefly:

'opposition'/'resistance' can also be composed of building alternate structures

each of us, in recognizing the small part we can play in any broader transformation, is tasked with some small part of that transformation. no man builds a house, or a city, or a new way of life alone.

[to the latter point, I might quote twist Adrian a bit to my cause: "You have to start from where your two feet are most firmly planted." This is more than a geographic command; it's a recognition that there's much work to be done, and perhaps we do best the work that's ready-to-hand.]

HarryTuttle a dit…

what alternate structures would you build?

dave a dit…

a propos of Godard: the alternative cinemas, and their associated distribution and production mechanisms, might be, or turn into, a space in which the silenced are allowed to speak. which is not to say it always succeeds, but that it someday might. if there is any cinema that allows us to "speak in our own name," the only way Godard thinks we can authentically embrace a political cinema, it might be within the cinema that Adrian investigates. "[A] new way to tell, so that we might finally say something else" - a way that can't be built (just) by taking apart an existing edifice.

dave a dit…

a war of position should always be fought on 2 fronts...

HarryTuttle a dit…

Now you're saying that critics build the alternative cinemas? I thought artists did that.
And their means of production/distribution is beyond what critics can offer with reviews/voice platform...

Just to be clear : Godard is talking about something else, I'm just replacing "workers" by "artists" in his speech. He wants to give a voice to the Real World oppressed class.
What I'm talking about here is the oppressed/silenced niche within the entertainment industry.
It's an amusing parallel. Nothing more.

If you say that stopping the hegemony will not, by itself, make art-cinema prosper. Of course, I agree. If artists suck, or are non-existent, then we have no use for a privileged space protecting artists. We need the raw material too, the artists, indeed.

Is it a chicken and egg paradox? My bet is that there will always be artists emerging if the climate is favourable. Artists just don't have the freedom to create today, or to show what they do.

I'm not one to believe that artists shall only create for the exclusive crowd of critics and professionals.

The missionary work is all good and fun. But what do you make of someone who not only refuses to resist to the hegemony (it's OK, it's a personal choice), but go to the actual resistant groups and ask them to stop rebelling against the system?

It's one thing to profess La Politique du Laisser-Faire in your parish, but I seriously question your collaboration with the system if you prevent activist groups from doing actual, efficient, constructive resistance. Doing nothing is bad enough; hindering opposition is helping for the enemy.

Hollywood has already stopped protectionist quotas in Korea and China, under the name of "free-market"... They won't stop until they appropriated the MAXIMUM market share in all countries. It is the declared purpose of the MPA. They don't care about local culture, non-American cinema, indie cinema, experimental cinema... They just want to make sure the local audience will choose Hollywood 100% of teh time when given the choice.

Unfortunately cultural brainwashing with junkfood entertainment is not illegal under the free-market laws.
But critics don't have to play along. Proactive restriction of this cultural hegemony (even if the brainwashed public asks for it) is the RESPONSIBILITY of critics.

No amount of film press, or friendly support to artists (which you and Adrian advocate) can stand a chance when Hollywood will have every single screen on the planet under their influence.

You can go underground, hideaway, show your championed films on DVDs or in art galleries if you like. Or worse, turn art-films into a written art, only existing for the public through the words of its reviewers. But cultural diversity will never win its deserved space in society that way.

You can argue all you want that we need both sides of the coin... Laissez Faire is only a transient solace to make yourself feel good about it. But it has no lasting effect, unless your goal is to turn art-cinema into a written-only medium.

dave a dit…

when I asked before for a definition resistance, I meant: what practices should I engage in to counter Hollywood hegemony?

HarryTuttle a dit…

Well when you propose to "build alternate structures", it's more along the lines I advocate (to reform the institutional/industrial system) than Adrian's laissez-faire you defend (stick to what critics do : promote films).

I could direct your attention to this, this, this (ironically less lazy), this, this, or that for starters.

HarryTuttle a dit…

Adrian Martin : "Palace does its own festivals, but it also ‘hosts’ others, responding to advances from small cultural groups in the Australian, Spanish, German and other communities [..] Palace becomes a partner in programming these events, sourcing prints and doing promotions and sets up the national touring, which is the big drawcard for these small groups. [..] To sum up, this whole phenomenon is not at all a ‘cultural policy’ initiative of governments (although some of the small ethnic-interest cultural groups I have mentioned may receive various government subsidies - but nothing like what it takes to do a national film tour). It is purely an ‘enlightened business initiative’ by a company that itself started as a small, independent business and has held on to some of its cultural goals to showcase international art cinema — even if still in fairly mainstream terms."

Apparently, Adrian sometimes remember that relying on the system is not always enough, that we need to develop pro-active structures to make sure diversity of offers is brought to a wider public than the lucky cinephiles living near the arthouses of capital cities!