18 août 2007

Rosenbaum v Bergman (3)

(Continuation from posts 1 and 2)

I'm having trouble to finish my commentary because I can't wrap my head around his talking points. They sound self-contradictory and we could track down quotes from his past articles where old Rosenbaum disagrees with new Rosenbaum. Nothing really makes sense, and I need someone to explain it all.
Although he knew what he was doing when he wrote that (he called it upon himself), I feel bad about continuing this investigation because Jonathan is understandably worn out by all the heat he got... And I still admire the cause he defends. I just can't accept that he would point finger to a scapegoat in order to raise attention for his victimized champions. In the end this is about the lack of wide public fame of Dreyer and Bresson, because within the private circles of auteurists, scholars and cinephiles, none of these masters have been forgotten. His only rational to apply different standards to various parts of cinema is to oppose favorite auteurs to least favorite auteurs.
I agree that it's a shame that other masters' death have been overlooked, but that's not a reason to scorn Bergman because he's lucky to get more posthumous attention. The mainstream attention is elective and lacunary... so what? We're not going to change the mass by burning idols... Rosenbaum's wrath goes against the mainstream cultural awareness, yet all his accusation are directed at Bergman himself, who had no business in moving and shaking public trends...

"Of course, if anyone wants to argue that Bergman deeply altered our sense of film language and/or had fresh things to say about the modern world to the same degree as these other filmmakers, I'm all ears. The article is meant to stir the pot, not close the lid. (...) I'm perfectly happy to listen to counter-arguments defending the beauty, seriousness, authenticity, and/or importance of Bergman's thoughts and emotions and what they contributed to our own thoughts and feelings. Maybe Bergman DID have something to teach us all about the Death of God." J. Rosenbaum (at a_film_by)
So the burden of proof rests onto Bergman's defenders, as if we had to justify ourselves. Before to bring counter-arguments, we'd like to see solid arguments in the first place. It was his job to at least sketch out a potent framework, an insightful angle that seriously puts into question Bergman's merits. He didn't. That's not a fair debate.

"I'd just like to hear more about (...) what he did to enrich (as opposed to confirm or ratify) other people's views of the world, hopefully in terms that I don't find overly familiar or glib or boring. All of which I find in some of the larger claims made for Bergman that I've been hearing for almost half a century. This is what my piece was reacting to." J. Rosenbaum (at Scanners)
Now he wants us to write a book-length appreciation of Bergman's legacy with never-heard-before ideas, to disprove his 1000 words-long unsubstenciated gratuitous mood piece...
This is very difficult to engage with this polemic without starting from scratch to debunk the classic shortcomings reproached to any controversial filmmaker. The tabula rasa proposed to re-evaluate every steps of the oeuvre makes Bergman an exception in the auteurist realm, where we ought to demonstrate all over again his legit signature and the cinematic value of his style.
It doesn't seem to me that he's shown a willingness to open and encourage this debate.

If at least he would distanciate himself from this shaky article, I could reconcile his usual sound arguments with this one-time provocational rant. But he's in denial. All he's been doing lately was to justify his editorial line through formal limitations (he blames the NYT editor, the word count, the imposed timing, the NYT hype, the short notice, the --not so forgotten-- Bergman fandom...) instead of backing up or revisiting his allegations.
He's on defensive mode and doesn't make the discussion easy to engage for his contenders, raising the stake of legit dissent to hard-to-meet requirements. Now he has seen Fanny And Alexander, he asks his detractors to watch both versions, the theatrical and the long TV version before they could dare to dispute his claims...

I appreciate how Jonathan took the time to respond to the attacks on several blogs, replying to Ebert, Bordwell and the guys at a_film_by. Though all my comments (on his blog in particular) have been ignored so far [EDIT: he's replied since, see the comments in my next post]. I thus undersand my response is not welcome to stir his pot. He hasn't developped further any of his arguments either, patiently waiting for detractors to come up with all the ground work to re-demonstrate that Bergman is not a minor auteur. Even if it is flagrant, it is not as quick and easy than to ruin a reputation with a few punchlines.

Then again, he digs his own hole (about Bordwell's take on his op-ed piece) :
"Although I haven't yet made it to the end of David Bordwell's piece apart from skimming it (I tend to get bored when he writes long, no matter how accurate he often is), I agree with most of what he said in the first two-thirds or so. I even emailed him to agree with him that nothing I was arguing was especially new. I also agreed with his statements about generations. (...)
All perfectly true. And I do value a lot of David's work for these reasons. But as a nonacademic, I have to admit that there are times when I'm more interested in reading writers who are factually unreliable but do more to stimulate my imagination and sometimes do even more to change the way I watch films. The classic instance of this: Noel Burch." J. Rosenbaum (at Chicago Reader)
Are we to understand that his (factually unreliable) op-ed piece is meant to "stimulate the imagination"? I wonder how trashing unsubstentially any critically acclaimed master can change the way we watch films... since it's what any uneducated viewer could do when they are bored by a challenging work of art. He thought that the NYT was the right platform to further blur the line between gratuitous slander and educated, analytical criticism. Therefore degrading the level of film criticism in the public mind.
Bordwell took the time to elaborate a thought-out response to some of the challenges thrown out in the NYT, yet Rosenbaum doesn't even care to read Bordwell's post from end to end??? Did he want to open a debate or not?

Next : Rosenbaum, Dreyer and cynicism (4)

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