09 avril 2008

Hoberman's 30 years sentence

In the anticipation of another great NYC event coming up soon (announced by Doug Cummings at Filmjourney), at the Museum of Moving Image, conducted by the New York Times Company Foundation : the Institute in Film Criticism and Feature Writing (from April 10 through 15, 2008)...

somehow I missed this other very interesting, yet inevitably nostalgic, discussion on criticism with J. Hoberman (The Village Voice) and A. O. Scott (NYT), that took place on January 5, 2008, in New York City, also at the Museum of Moving Image. More food for thoughts for the ongoing debate around the status of film criticism in the media and its responsibilities.

Here are some selected excerpts :

A.O. SCOTT opens with a quote from a famous Hoberman essay (I wish I could read it, if anybody knows where I can read it, please let me know) :
“That history [of cinema] will force those critics refusing the role of under-paid cheerleaders to themselves become historians, not to mention archivists, bricoleurs, spoilsports, pundits, entrepreneurs, anti-conglomerate guerilla fighters, and in general, masters of what is known in the Enchanted Palace as counter-programming.”
(J. Hoberman, The film critic of tomorrow, today, 1998)
J. HOBERMAN: there’s this thing called film culture. Not the magazine, but something that would be akin to literature, and without being unduly weighty about it, (...) that’s the entity that I feel that film critics and other interested parties serve. It’s making film culture. I think to do that, you have to be aware of what is coming at you, being propelled at you, by the studios and the market place; and also have a kind of context to counter that with and to make sense of it which is the history of film and also to a degree, the potential, the possibilities of it. So this is why I like the idea of double bills and programming films: because that automatically puts something in context.
SCOTT: when you arrived on the scene, there were some very imposing figures on the critical landscape, which are also looked back on now with a lot of sort of nostalgia, and fear and trembling.

HOBERMAN: I think that this was sort of the end, I would say ”the tail end, maybe the bitter end” of this mythologized period that began in the late fifties, and then petered out with the bicentennial, when so many things seemed to go wrong. So I came after that, and there were some things in the landscape that definitely were better. One, very simply, was that there were more venues (at least print venues) for people to write film criticism. And there also were in New York, more venues, I think, where movies could be shown; at least revival theaters and so on. But I also think, at that time, that there was (and I think that this is true today, although less so) that there were many things that were just not being written about.
HOBERMAN: I think that there’s a dynamic which existed from the very beginning, in which passé films were rediscovered, very often by artists or artistic types, you know, "aesthetes" and were valued. The French… reorganization of American cinema, or let’s say the rationalization of it, that the French engaged in in the fifties, and then which Andrew Sarris really brought to America in the sixties is part of an ongoing process.
SCOTT: You used the phrase “academic filmmaking” before, (...) I think about… you know, [art] in the sense that you would talk about academic painting of the nineteenth century; that is, a work in a received style that is content to stay within its own parameters. I mean, where do you see that?

HOBERMAN: Well, we don’t even need to talk about stuff that’s produced by the studios, because it’s a given that commercial films need formulas; and sometimes that can be great, depending on what people do with it. But you know, anything that made money once is just assumed to be able to be recycled to make money again, that’s sort of the principle of it. But a movie like (...) No Country for Old Men (2007), to me, is a very academic film that is constructed in such a way to bring the audience along, and deliver a certain amount of thrills and excitement and surprises on schedule, and has a very mechanical aspect. But I couldn’t deny that it’s an extremely well made movie, the way that French academic painting is expert.
HOBERMAN: One of the great things about movies, and one of the things that’s really fascinating and in some ways new about the motion picture medium is that, you know, movies are time capsules. Even the worst. Sometimes even the worst, best of all. (...) I also think that there’s a great precedent for this in the case of Siegfried Krakauer. I mean, a lot of his formulations in From Caligari to Hitler may seem naïve in some respects (although not in all). But for me, this was like a blinding insight, to come across this as a teenager: to say that movies really did intersect in such a basic way with the life of their times and with the whole collectivity. (...)
read the whole transcript or listen to the full MP3 recording at Museum of Moving Image.

6 commentaires:

Doug a dit…

Harry, thanks for this excellent link--I hadn't seen it either. The Hoberman article was reprinted in his collection, The Magic Hour: Film at Fin de Siècle. If you can't find a copy, I can get you one.

I heard an agonizingly painful radio show this week discuss the waning profession of American print criticism, and the assumptions the host and guests provided were so thoroughly middle brow and stuck in criticism-as-consumer-reporting that it's really refreshing to read Hoberman talking about writing for film culture.

HarryTuttle a dit…

Thanks Doug. I'll check out if they have this book at the Library. Would there be an online version?

There was a couple of articles in NYT and Variety after Nathan Lee was fired, just to show they "care", but it was also a superficial and uncommitted statement. They comment the situation in a journalistic way, but they didn't really put into question the causes of this decline nor the foundation of the system of global-media-conglomerates sold-out to Hollywood...
Where is the counter-power of the press?
What evolution to the system did brought the publication of Rosenbaum's book : Movie Wars: How Hollywood and the Media Limit What Movies We Can See (2002)?

I don't know, from my exterior point of view, I don't see the influence of the serious critics like Hoberman and Rosenbaum could have on the "system"...

Doug a dit…

Well said, Harry. From my interior point of view, I think there are increasingly (?) two separate worlds; one that centers around commerce and infotainment and corporate media (studio, journalists rather than critics, junkets) and what Hoberman terms "film culture," ie. *everything* outside of a select few Hollywood blockbusters (American indie, European art films, indie, avant-garde, most documentry, etc.) and the dwindling--mostly online--critics who care about them. It is a total cultural divide that in some ways reflects the extreme political bifurcation in America at the moment. It's really two worlds that seldom intertwine...

HarryTuttle a dit…

That's interesting. Hopefully the democratic primaries will bring a wind of change...

It's natural that the average movie goer would be have a conservative taste driven by spectacle. It's the same in France. But the press has no reason to be exclusively "mainstream", unless they care more about seducing the majority rather than covering all territories of culture, even the less exposed minor tastes.
The USA is such a large and diverse melting-pot that there is more room on this market for alternative voices than in any other country. I don't understand why it tends to be so uniformised...

Anyway, Kevin Lee is going to report on this MoMI seminary at Shooting Down Pictures. I hope you will too.

HarryTuttle a dit…

Hoberman related links :

- J. Hoberman: Critic. Filmmaker. Feminist? By Miriam Bale, at The Reeler Blog (March 26, 2008).

- The Lopate Show, MP3 webcast, interview of J. Hoberman at WNYC

- J. Hoberman interview at The Gothamist, from March 25th 2008.

HarryTuttle a dit…

Film Critics crisis related links:

- "Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris were battling over different ways to read movies. Sarris was the more learned and academic; he was really an historian. Kael was a popularizer and passionate advocate, and wrote far more entertaining prose.

We haven't seen their like since for several reasons. The explosion of movies in the 60s and 70s has subsided. Critics became more established, and they stopped arguing about their modes of discourse. In the end, Kael won the battle. Learned auteurist Dave Kehr is not a film critic at the NYT, although many point out that reviewing DVDs is a far better job. The New Yorker's Anthony Lane is the quintessential reviewer as entertainer, where it's less about what he has to say than how he says it."
Anne Thompson at her Variety blog (April 8th 2008)

- The Death of the Print Critic by Kevin Carr at Film School rejects, on April 8th 2008.