26 janvier 2013

American critic's sense of responsibility (Brody)

The Art-House Consensus (Richard Brody; The New Yorker; 25 Jan 2013)

La Politique des Auteurs VS La Nouvelle Vague (necessary reminder)

Richard Brody is kind enough to write up an umpteenth account of La Politique des Auteurs, which should be common knowledge and a boring rehashing by now, 60 years later... But whatever. And as customary in the American legend-printing, it is partial and misleading. To him there is a clear cut divide between what happened in France and what happened in Hollywood, whereas Renoir, Becker, Gance, Ophuls (and Bresson circa 1954 for sure) were just like Hitchcock, Hawks and Ford : commercial filmmakers working within the (French) studio system (just not the popular ones at the time of the article). The margin of that system only appeared in the wake of the New Wave, after 1959, with the popularization of non-studio filmmaking, when the Young Turks took realist cinema to the streets. 
There are 2 distinct stages (at least) : the critical awakening of Cahiers in 1954 (or around that year), 5 years before any of the writers became filmmakers (except for Rivette and Rohmer). This stage is referred to as 'Cahiers jaunes', or 'La politique des auteurs'. The second stage is 1959 (after Bazin's death), when some of the Cahiers critics made their first attempt at filmmaking. This stage is referred to as 'La nouvelle vague'. The only thing linking these 2 milestones is that roughly the same people were involved, but I'm sure you can tell the difference between (intellectual) journalistic activism, and (hands-on) filmmaking activism. Maybe you don't, and that would explain a lot.

Dismissing Auteurism as a Hoax... (Pathetic)

The cliché in the USA, is that "La politique des auteurs" was merely a ploy for them to set a foot in the movie industry. Which is completely retarded. How many American critics became world-class auteurs, cunningly or not, by abusing the (alleged) power of film reviewing??? Peter Bogdanovich? Paul Schrader? Yeah right... You got my point. No, whatever you publish in movie pages is not the royal road to becoming a movie star !

How does it matter if it was a ploy or not? With such superficial mentality you could look back and turn every self-made-man success story into a series of opportunist strategies. You (knee)jerk ! If that is the quality of your history classes, no wonder you can't open more than 250 arthouse/repertory screens in a country of 300 million inhabitants...

Firstly if it was a dumb hoax, we would only talk about the prank itself today (if it wasn't forgotten altogether), not about the enduring legacy of the critical theory behind it, which is probably one of the most important in film theory to date, if not THE most crucial to mainstream cinephilia. So if your "prank" results in such insightful content, it would be a little dismissive and insulting to characterize it as such, don't you think? No you don't... think. It's like rewriting history with a bitter voice : "If Galileo face death sentence to oppose the Church's dogma about geocentrism, it was just cause he was such an attention-seeker scientist." Does it make you feel better about yourself to trash other people's historical achievements? Have a bit of retrospective respect for people who have proven to be more talented than you ! 
Secondly, *IF* it was an elaborated prank (which it's not for people who value actual content instead of sensationalistic headlines), wasting 5 years of their lives writing criticism in an unpopular journal, going against one of the most powerful studio industry in the world, hoping to be successful with home-made films unlike anything offered to the familiarised/conditioned audience just because they said so in print... (Dude, you really believe in fairytales!), *IF* it was a prank, and it met the success we know today, then they deserve what they got, without your cynical undermining tone. More people should pull out "pranks" like these!

Here's a free tip : if a "hoax" takes 5 years of preparation and turns out to be validated by 60 years of intellectual scholar studies, maybe you should stop calling it a hoax... just saying.

Brandname Auteurs

His next point is to reduce the whole "Auteurism" to the marketability of films by director's name instead of poster-face stars or title or studio. Is that all you take from the principle that the director is the AUTHOR of a film aesthetic as much as a writer is the author of a book? Your beloved Godard might be a brandname that sells random stuff with his signature on it, like Duchamp, Warhol or Damien Hirst... But most auteurs are actually developping a unique style, a personal mise en scène, and a consistent content throughout their œuvre ! 
If the "auteur name dropping" tradition couldn't be taken down by the conservative establishment of the French studio system in the 50ies, the Hollywood studio system in the 70ies, Barthes and Foucault in France at the end of the 60ies... I don't see why an article by Adrian Martin in 2010 or Richard Brody today could dream of singlehandedly put an end to what has become a structural definition in world cinema culture and will remain so until the production of narrative on a visual medium will cease to be considered an art. 
It is not the only existing way to write on cinema, just like you can write about books out of their biographical context, nonetheless, reviewing a movie without mentioning the style of its author doesn't change the fact there is an author behind it.

New Hollywood

In your last article you suggested that Hollywod just borrowed ideas from European cinema, and dispensed itself from importing anymore European movies because the new generation of American filmmakers (New Hollywood) could do just as well. Which was bullshit on principles. And if we look into it, still is. In the 70ies you had Cassavetes, Scorsese, Spielberg, Coppola, Allen, Altman, Hopper, Deren, Mekas, Warhol (for the most important powerhouses)... where are the ones that could replace the creative invention of a Buñuel, a Bergman, a Fellini, an Antonioni, a Pasolini, a Resnais, a Godard, a Rivette, a Marker, a Duras, a Melville, a Rouch, a Varda, a Chytilova, an Angelopoulos, an Oliveira...? Who in 70ies America would offer such original voices? Let's not get into a vain battle of who's "best", just compare the FORMAL INVENTION, the POETRY complementing an environment of conservative classicism.
New Hollywood had the neorealism with a tint of modernism covered, with street-level intimist stories (which was excellent as far as naturalism is concerned, the peak of their respective career according to me, before they went on to make academic blockbusters)... but for the formal invention, the fantasy (not commercial science fiction), the oneiric, the stylisation, the mannerism, the aesthetic breakthrough there was practically nobody. And that is this fertile moment in history that you are remorselessly turning your back on, as if the end of imports from Europe didn't matter to your culture and society... 

But here's the "final blow on the head", the "trapdoor feature" of his random speech on the French New Wave :
Richard Brody : "Ultimately, that’s what is at stake in criticism—not just the evaluation of movies that are shown, but a vision of the future of the cinema. For the critics who became the New Wave, that vision was performative; for those of us who won’t be making movies, it’s a vision that remains fixed on the ever-expanding possibilities of cinematic creation itself, not on influencing legislation or on presuming to improve the minds and souls of viewers or on improving the state of the industry. The art-house consensus is a matter of power, which is why aesthetics are, too—and why audacious artistic invention is intrinsically an act of liberation. In the retrospective light of history, it’s no surprise that the French New Wave, which started out apolitical yet with a right-wing tinge, gave crucial and early impetus to the movements of May ’68."
That's what he had in mind when he name-checked Truffaut for no apparent reason. That's a long winding historical road to justify the fatalism of American critics... Sorry but Truffaut is not responsible for your apathy... In fact, his record shows quite the opposite. 
Truffaut proved that critics don't only review movies but :
  • make movies themselves, make changes, improvements in the movie industry frm the inside!
  • write about the fate of the industry, care about the visibility of films (and not just his), care about the cultural diversity, care about the availability of cinema culture
  • help make improvements, at governmental level, in confrontational ways if necessary
  • assist the government when reforms are needed
  • run cine-clubs to educate the taste of the public one screenign at the time (like his mentor Bazin)

So why name drop the Young Turks to excuse your absence of responsibility in the state of your film culture and your arthouse circuit, when THEY are the ones who shaped the prized cinema diversity and openess that we have today in France?
Don't you see that even the "ever-expanding possibilities of cinematic creation itself" is entirely dependent on the larger context of the cinema culture available in a given country, which will nurture and open the mind (or not if inacessible) of the new generations of filmmakers and spectators and critics. If you don't do shit to preserve this, you're stuck reviewing a self-referencing formulaic industry. I know Hollywood tries to circumvent this in-bred devolution by buying out talents abroad... but sticking them in a golden cage, a Hollywood cubicle, doesn't make Chaplins, Murnaus or Hitchcocks anymore. 
Let's face it. You can't live eternally on the eventuality that the studio system (sometimes) gives birth to genial auteurs... it's not as frequent as it once was. The Cold War is over dude! It's not a dichotomic clash between the studio system (Hollywood) and the arthouse (non-Hollywood cinema)... The best cinema in the world comes from various places, not necessarily an alternative to the studio system, sometimes they come from the commercial system of their respective industry (whether they are labeled arthouse or given a normal commercial release on the USA market!).

Art-house consensus?

I have no idea what the "art-house consensus" is... Is it a well known shorthand for an elaborate conceptual debate I'm not aware of? We could talk about a consensus regarding a series of opinions, votes, alignments... But what is a consensus of brick-and-mortar venues? Or is 'art-house' meant as a cultural niche? Unfortunately it doesn't make more sense. A consensus around what everyone considers "art-house films"? "art-house taste"? "art-house audience"? Why this "consensus" matters and what does it have to do with the topic of the article???

P.S. Delorme's Cahier redaction (today's staff at Cahiers) is NOT Bazin's Cahiers, or Rivette's or Rohmer's... "The ten pitfalls of the auteur cinema" was an amusing stunt, that mainly justified a posteriori their idiosyncratic choices for the year-end list of 2012... It clearly has no comparable scope and depth with Truffaut's 1954 essay.

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1 commentaire:

HarryTuttle a dit…

Same shit in Film Comment's Editorial of the Jan-Feb issue 2013 by Gavin Smith... He pats himself in the back because today's American cinephilia is so much better than in the 80-90ies! Whatever dude.