The panel of critics is of the highest standard : Jonathan Rosenbaum, Adrian Martin and Nicole Brenez. I'm really pissed I couldn't attend because it was probably a great event. There are a lot of great ideas there, and they are really good speakers on films and on cinema issues in general. Though my expectations were disappointed by the missed opportunity of what could have been such a summit (in NYC, highly cinephile city, with film students and seasoned critics/scholars, and such a deep subject as ethics in the practice of film criticism,which is an issue that particularly interests me), and I expected a much deeper topical development from these great minds.
So the problem is less that the event was "elitist", because its form was meant to be an academic seminar for film students at a film school. Though broadcasting it live or at least putting up videos or MP3 on their website would certainly help to democratize this kind of exclusive events that not doubt would interest/educate a much larger crowd outside of the academic environment. The problem I see is the level of discourse proposed by the guests to their audience on a subject that could spare facile clichés and generalizations.
Kevin Lee transcribed his notes live from the lecture hall (part 1
Others talk about the event also : Girish
and Zach Campell at Elusive Lucidity
I wanted to wait for an audio recording of the full talks, to avoid making uninformed comments based on a mere summary, but there doesn't seem anything will be uploaded online. So I offer here my random thoughts after Dave Kehr
already voiced out their criticism of the content of these discussions, and an interesting discussion unfolded in the comment section of their blog (check it out over there).
Nicole Brenez talks about "Lumpenproletariat
" (?) and poverty on screen (not poor aesthetics, but the socio-political commitment of artists!). This is an interesting question to raise before film students at NYU of course, but what roles does it play in a seminar on film criticism I don't know). First it's the business of filmmakers who are in charge of what appears on screen or not, only them could change cinema. Secondly, the "class struggle" (which is Brenez' point) is not the only way to make movies, even great art.
Meanwhile, her 4 points manifesto to challenge the filmic representation (to criticise, to identify and to differentiate, to interrogate and to transform) is insightful and worth questioning for film students. But that's not immediately related to the topic of Responsibilities of Film Criticism. Or did she imply that filmmakers and critics operate a censorship at the same level? That if a social category is under-represented on screen, the critics should act responsibly and denounce it? Her contribution to the topic doesn't make it very clear, at least from the summary I've read.
Adrian Martin published an excellent article on the very topic of "Responsibilities for the film press
", under the form of an interview for the Italian online journal cinemascope.it
, so his concern for the topic at hand cannot be questioned. Though I wish he had brought up today the same kind of insights he had written on last year.
And Jonathan Rosenbaum has a long record being on the frontline attacking the perversity of the system and sporting an irreproachable responsibility when distancing himself from the auteur's naive talking points. It's a shame not to find anything of the sort here. As Kevin points out, he brings up old anecdotes that we've read already in his books and nothing new about the situation we live in.
Instead of the same unchanged prejudice against internet (from a decade ago) we'd maybe expect evolution of the blogosphere to receive a new critical perspective (updated as of 2008). Should we conclude that the situation hasn't changed? That critics don't bother to check if there has been any notable changes? That the blogosphere doesn't improve in such a short period of time? That all this is hopeless in regard to the far superior state of print criticism? In any case we'd like this print/internet, scholar/amateur debate to be addressed less superficially, with a more accurate perspective.
Didn't these film students in the audience know more about the blogosphere than these critics? Shouldn't the scrutiny of this new medium go beyond the ostracism of the infamous "average blogger" at the expense of the striving force of online cinephilia who tries to be responsible despite the a priori bad reputation they get?
There is a lot of shit on the internets! Thanks, we knew that already. Now could we move on to something a little more substantial? I don't know what they want to achieve with such negative, pessimistic, dismal comments but it's not getting us or them anywhere. Is there hope? Will the internet play a key role in the renewal of critical scrutiny? Shall academics be concerned by a medium that isn't theirs? Is the blogosphere just not part of film culture because it belongs to a specious medium?
Well even if the blogosphere is out of the picture (though seeing the dire situation of weekly reviewers and academic studies, I do think there is no other place at the moment where a true alternative voice, independent from corporate influence and populist taste could develop!), the topic of responsibilities of critics is big enough a concern to raise lots of burning questions. Why treat it so lightly? Why not mark its importance with serious debates?
What are the responsibilities of film critics anyway? I hope the audience of the seminar got a better idea because I didn't.
I'm French, so it's not my business to figure out what the responsibilities are for American critics, but I would think there are obvious issues worth debating with film students... A country where 95% of the market is monopolized by movies made strictly in Hollywood
! 5% of admissions left to be shared by all foreign films (Non-American English films, Europeans films plus the rest of the world). Just like in Iran and India. Even China is more open to foreign films than the USA! Wouldn't that be a matter to be addressed by critics who worry a little about diversity and a multicultural landscape? Why should the USA be any different than every other industrialized nation producing a great amount of movies? Why such protectionism? Is it a fait accompli
we should all learn to live with because it's OK and should not change?
An audience who can't stand reading subtitles, who don't see anything wrong with copying foreign films and remaking them "American-style", who consumes whatever multiplexes serve them without any critical distance whatsoever, without any idea what is going on in the world. And it's not the weekly reviewers who give them a reality check (except great critics like Rosenbaum, who didn't engage in this polemic for once here unfortunately).
Wouldn't the responsibilities of critics cover the check and balance of a nationalist industry before even thinking of an ideal cinema aware of poverty exposure? Why critics fail to educate their readers to watch non-Americanized films? Isn't there a bit of self-criticism to contemplate there? Why bother to theorize responsibilities if critics don't take their responsibilities when they get a chance to speak up at a forum dedicated to Responsibilities
When I see the uniformity of the Hollywood production I think that the American film schools failed to educate their students... that the new filmmakers are all made from the same mould to become conformist, conventional, academic, success machines. They are trained to obtain (pre-formatted) results before even knowing what cinema is and cultivating a personal inspiration. So few true independent filmmakers try to develop a different cinema.
Again it's the responsibility of critics to denounce this gap and support the struggling artists who are not screened. The distribution on the American circuit alone could be debated for a week in a seminar on responsibilities! Responsibilities of the public, of the reviewers, of the studios, of the filmmakers, of the stars, of the TV networks... The responsibilities of critics toward a growingly neglected history, toward a criminally underexposed current creation, the absence of cross-examination among peers, the lowering standards of a decadent culture, the hegemony of financially and morally conservative lobbies...
What about the unheralded, undistributed filmmakers who can only be seen by the American audience through import DVDs or illegal downloads??? Who cares? Read Michael Atkinson's recent post on Exile Cinema
. So the American market (the most prosperous in the world) can't afford to publish these titles that other countries think is worthwhile?
What about the continued series of professional critics (deemed not populist enough) laid off
in many big titles of the American press? How about the incompetent editors in chief who care more about readership appeal than about critical responsibilities? So who is going to question this mentality?
When you invite famous foreign academics from Australia and France, don't you want to take this opportunity to discuss the differences between the American market and how it works elsewhere?
I could point to a few articles made by André Bazin (here
), or by Serge Daney on La Fonction Critique
, or by Maurice Blanchot on La Condition Critique
, or by René Prédal (here
), or by David Bordwell (Against Insight
Sadly Andy Horbal deleted his blog where he highlighted these kind of issues, notably at his blogathon "Defining a critic
" (here was my contribution
) EDIT: I've posted a backup page here
And also the insightful roundtable in Brisbane published at Undercurrent
But all this is old news. What is new today about the state of film criticism, I'd like to know? Who is going to tell us?
Finally, because my intention is not to criticize the event itself but the missed opportunity, I'll close with a constructive citation by one of the participant :