17 octobre 2008

Nomad Cinephilia (Adrian Martin)

Speech by Adrian Martin at the Valdivia Film Festival, Chile (8 October 2008)
"The State of Film Criticism"

Adrian opens with the same categories David Bordwell laid out in his post "In critical condition" (May 14, 2008), to describe the disparity in form and content we can find online today:
  1. - regular short review (periodic journalism)
  2. - mid-range critical longer essay (opinionated, think piece with more distance)
  3. - Academic article or book (in-depth, no periodicity)
And this is very important to make readers aware of this partition of roles among whoever call themselves "film critic". Without such identification of the purpose and intent, the constraints inherent to each writing form, the quality standards of film discourse blend in vaguely into a unique voice or should I say "noise". And readers will complain academics aren't prescriptor of taste enough or that reviewers are too personal. It is very important to know the various levels of discourse and what specific standards they observe. Please, let's stop calling everything written on a movie "Film Criticism". Bordwell explains very well the 4 criteria that make a film writer an art critic (to describe, to analyse, to interpret, to evaluate).

Let bloggers who only care about evaluation or opinion express their impressionistic opinions. Let the actual critics get into formalist details and history without complaining they spoil the film or fail to make reading entertaining. All film writings are not equivalent, and it depends on WHAT writers put in their articles, and HOW they talk about the film that make them either a critic or a reviewer. (I shall come back to that point later)

Adrian also proposes interesting, progressive, constructive ideas on the development of film discourse on the internet. In his book presentation he talks about the "nomad theory" (in another blog of La lectora provisoria) :
Adrian Martin : "The idea of traveling theory is this: you go to a place that invites you, in which you are welcome. A place where you make some new friends. And you bring, humbly in your maleta, your ideas, your concepts, your own points of reference.
You then take your ideas out of your suitcase, and you set them up in the street, in the air. They mix with the local culture, the local language idioms, with the local ideas and situations.
Everyone, in the situation of traveling theory, has to improvise, to meet half-way. There is no fixed, imported truth that is coming from the far-away “centre” of the world.
The centre is wherever you and I are, right now, unpacking our suitcases together.
Traveling theory is all about inventing new ideas, theories, connections. It’s about building a new machine for the present. And then that machine can fly to some other place, to be pulled apart and out together again, differently."
Indeed Adrian Martin is an example of this new internet paradigm, this global culture of the World village, across borders and language barriers. This is what the internet (interconnexion of networks!) is all about and this is the bright future we could hope for a film discourse rid of its territoriality, nationalism and establishment. I don't know his bibliography from the top of my head, but I heard he has published many articles around the globe, he contributes to many small revues, participate to roundtables outside of his country (Australia).
This is the kind of critic we need in the world today. People like the best Festival curators, like Pierre Rissient, Marcos Müller, Thierry Frémaux, Olivier Père, James Quandt... who go out and visit the smallest countries to bring back discoveries. Critics can't just wait at home for the industry to send them the memo with a list of films to talk about in weekly batch format.

Adrian effectively exchanges with critics of other countries, such as Chile (La fuga), Argentina (La lectora provisoria), Netherlands (Filmkrant), Slovenia (Ekran, in English at Girish), Denmark (16:9), Spain (Cahiers España, Tren de Sombras)... who knows where else, and not just with France (Cahiers Atlas) and USA (NYU) and helps to internationalize the critical discourse, to meet and engage with other "schools of thoughts". And the same way we watch our favourite films subtitled, we should also penetrate foreign discourse thanks to translation. Transnational film criticism is the goal of the internet generation. It doesn't matter whether we speak about cinema in English, French or Chinese... we need to find a way to break down the institutional walls put in place by the DVD regions, the distribution market, the extent of the press circulation, and the tongue territoriality. We don't get paid on the internet, therefore we are not subject to commercial competition and other nationalistic embargo. We, isolated cinephiles of the world, passionate about world cinema, must build the bridges that the Movie Industry sees no selfish profit to fund.
Adrian Martin (in Valdivia): "At last, the inevitable has occurred: the big movie companies have decided that they no longer need critics to publicise and discuss their products, to make them known, or give them an added “special cultural value”. The movie companies almost completely control, by now, what newspapers, radio and TV can say about films."
see my post on Critical Fallacy 9 : conflict of Interest on Media Conglomerates.
Adrian Martin : "Today, to put it bluntly from my perspective, it is that “middle range” of film criticism we must commit to, strongly and passionately and vigorously. We must expand this middle range, and pull more into it from all directions. And we must pursue this dream not only in old-fashioned, single-language “hard cover” publications – but in a multi-lingual, cross-cultural way, on the Internet."
This reminds me of the fight for "Le cinéma du milieu" initiated by Ferran in France earlier this year (see my post A French Perspective (Responsibilities)), to defend the production of middle-range artfilms that don't have the big budget of highly commercial projects but require more money than shoe-string films made without expensive sets, costumes and cast. This is a thought-provoking analogy with the Film Criticism scene, both financially (budget cuts at newspapers) and culturally (disdain for middle-of-the-road articles blamed for being too intellectual and too superficial at once), because what matters is to reach out to a wider mainstream audience, and overcome the formal cost to become more accessible.

17 commentaires:

Pacze Moj a dit…

Fascinating, as always, Harry.

"It doesn't matter whether we speak about cinema in English, French or Chinese... we need to find a way to break down the institutional walls put in place by the DVD zoning, the distribution market, the extent of the press circulation, and the tongue territoriality."

I wonder if film file-sharing / piracy is a part of that. More specifically: I recently downloaded a DVD rip of a film that was released with no subtitles. But, thanks to someone's anonymous translation effort, I managed to download a subtitle in English. So, for a non-English film released in a "region" outside of my own with no English subtitles, I managed to watch a film thanks to the efforts of the ripper/uploader and translator.

Since the film was on DVD, I could have bought it along with a proper DVD player (or used my computer and a "region free" crack), in which case the ripper/uploader only made it cheaper and more-convenient for me. But the translator's subtitles were simply not available in any official capacity. If it wasn't for his/her time and effort, I could not have watched the film at all.

The "nomad theory" is interesting, too. About a week ago, I wrote a short article for a site (not up yet) that might be about an "explorer theory" of criticism, and I took almost the opposite approach: too many explorers ruin the economy, military, stability of the homeland (or centre, in Adrian Martin's terms), which I think has a real and fixed position. Not to mention that most of the poor, unprepared explorers end up going mad, giving up, going native, or dying.

I think at least this much is true if we stretch those metaphors further and take into account what you've written about the control placed on not only film distribution but also the media:

I've been reading a book about the Arab world, and the author broke up much of it into three classes: the Bedouin (nomads), the sedentary peasants (the necessary group in my own explorer theory; the opposite of explorers), and the [usually foreign, but also sometimes domestic] ruling classes.

In most cases, the rulers wanted to kill the Bedouin and squeeze the peasants and take their land; and in most cases they succeeded. If we take these rulers to be the film industry, then both groups -- nomads and peasants -- get screwed over. Leaving aside the positive effects of this screwing for the countries themselves (the development of a modern infrastructure, for example, perhaps analogous to the building of movie theaters, the manufacturing of films cameras, etc.), the effects were rather disastrous for the actual social groups: death, social conversion, increased poverty.

In film terms, are nomads and peasants going to suffer the same fate: either being smothered by official criticism and official reviews or being scooped up to become the official critics and reviewers?

Or, from another direction: as painful and destructive as the film industry may be for nomads and peasants, would it be possible for film [criticism] to exist if the industry was not killing off what are, perhaps, outdated or romantic ideas? The peasant may not want to have his land taken away "legally" by a new administration and then taxed for working it, but those profits do make that peasant's new country more competitive in the world economy (even as they line the pockets of the administrators).


...that was long and probably didn't make sense, but your posts always make me think, Harry. Tried to do it "out loud" this time!

HarryTuttle a dit…

Thanks for the long comment Pacze Moj!

I agree, the open-source subtitles available online is a treasure of the internet, in the spirit of selfless sharing of culture and cross-cultural communication. It's like the wikipedia of Film Export. I'm amazed to see how many people bother to dedicate so much time to help other people watch films in other languages, without being paid, without fame. And most of them are as good or better than the professional subs hardprint on the reels released officially in theatre. This benevolent hardwork should humble the lazy and mercantile movie industry.

Though, if I'm eenthusiastic about free-sharing of subs, I'm not sure about the free circulation of pirate movies... Simply because the auteurs don't get the royalties they need to continue making new films. As long as blogger-critics watch a film for reviewing purpose, it's like a free DVD screener (which only goes to "official" press critics), so it's OK. But it's not a sustainable economic model for the survival of cinema on the internet, it's killing it.

I don't understand your "explorer theory" analogy very well... I see your point as far as real world politics is concerned, but if we're talking about culture, nomadism can't hurt, we don't need "sedentary culture" (whatever that means), exclusive to a certain country, appropriated by an elite, constrained by market rules. Is "homeland culture" threatened by crosspolination? The history of Arts has always been about cross-cultural exchanges. What benefit do you see in preventing cultural nomadism?
Maybe the last point you bring up about economical sustainability of the movie industry, and it goes back to my reservation against piracy. But as far as Film Criticism, I believe it can exist without an official payroll or an institutional infrastructure.

That the press establishment wants to sabotage/discredit/dismiss the "blog competition", of course, we noticed that. But they are not in a dominant position anymore, the rise of the internet is the age of "decolonialism" for the press. The big powers are forced to abandon their imperialism on the market.

P.S. did you read "Du Nomadisme, vagabondages initiatiques" by Michel Maffesoli?

HarryTuttle a dit…

Though I'm concerned like you about the Institutional press attempt to sedentarize the bloggers. Just because most bloggers don't see "independent blogging" as an end in itself, they just want to get famous and be accepted in the private circles of the institutions (Press, Academia, Movie Industry...)
A blogger with junket invitations (priviledge screening, opportunity to meet stars, to fret with the big names...) begins to sound complacent and play the P.R. game of the Studios, like everyone else in the press.
Like you say, the nomad secretly begs to fit in with the norm, the basic movie-goers dreams to be part of the industry, rather than to fight for a free spirit of the www no man's land where everything is possible...

Pacze Moj a dit…

What I meant with the "explorer theory" (which I didn't explain well at all) is that if all, or the majority, of film critics (and reviewers, perhaps, in this case) are explorers, constantly searching new lands for new films, then you lose a sense of community because everyone ends up talking about his/her own film.

(And obscurity becomes a snobbish point of pride.)

As an example: I've browsed through quite a few excellent blog posts about films I hadn't, can't, and probably won't see. I wanted to join in the discussion about the film started by the blogger, but all I could really say is the generic stuff: "Nice post", "Good write-up", that sort of thing.

I think there's value in having certain sedentary reference points or bases: not necessarily the best films, but films that, for whatever reason (good distribution may be that reason) help to guide general discussions about other films.

Example: if you want to talk about German Expressionism, it's good to see and know The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari -- it may not be the best Expressionist film or even the best representative of German Expressionism, but it's inevitably one of the first examples that crops up in books, articles. It has an added value, almost.

And even if you find that kind of cinematic status quo flawed, having some kind of "explorer revolution" and bringing in a bunch of unknown Expressionist films and holding them up as the new common example(s) of German Expressionism merely replaces one idol with another. In the end, the idol doesn't matter as much as what you do with it. Talking in terms of films most people know, have seen, or can find is more effective in fostering discussion and interest than talking in terms that are more obscure.

As for the explorers themselves:

The role of the explorer would be to go out, find new films, and bring them back for the benefit of all. Otherwise, the new films benefit the explorer but almost no one else. But that "all" would be better off sticking together and talking in a common language (language in terms of films, not language language) and incorporating the explorer's discoveries rather than simply becoming a band of wandering explorers themselves.

So I guess my point would be that nomads and explorers are fine and necessary, but not everyone can be a nomad if there's still to be a community. While there is romance in the notion that online film criticism could be a world filled with wandering poets who each travel the world and occasionally camp together and share treasures, if our imaginary film-world also still includes the Film Industry, I think those nomads will feel the boot soon enough.

Consequently, there will be a point when some kind of castle will have to be built and some kind of society (based on some kind of common culture or language) started to withstand that assault.

Decentralized, nomadic resistance can be effective, but not for long, and only if it's bound by a strong central idea.

HarryTuttle a dit…

A reply sent by email by Adrian Martin :

"Many thanks for this commentary on my little Valdivia talks, Harry. I am glad you fixed on this theme of 'cross-cultural translation', to me this is incredibly important. Translation used to be a big part of English-language academic film study (a lot of translations from French, but also some from Russian, Italian, German), but that dried up 20 years ago, it seems! We have to stir the curiosity to 'decipher the Other' once again, and facilitate these translations.

And Pacze, you are absolutely right: to be a nomad takes resilience, it is no picnic! It is easy to give up, give in, run for cover; sometimes one must alternate being a nomad with doing some work for money, maybe to eat something sometimes or buy a warm overcoat ... Actually, one of the texts that most influenced me as a young man was "Nomad Thought" by Gilles Deleuze, it was inspiring - little did I realise what a difficult duty it is to be intellectually nomadic !!! But it's worth it, I feel.

BTW: Harry, soon LA LECTORA PROVISORIA will be running the Spanish version of my "Walking Woman" text on Chantal Akerman, and I will make sure there is a link to the version you have up. The network increases!


HarryTuttle a dit…

Pacze Moj, I'm looking forward to read your article. Please leave me a link here whenever it is published.

I don't know to what conclusions Adrian meant to lead his nomad analogy, but I assume that to "pull apart and out again theories" doesn't preclude common references and reaching consensus here and there.
Personally, I only used his "nomad analogy" at the level of "accessibility to culture", I don't mean that every referential institutions should be pushed around. I'm a fervent believer in scholar canons, for instance. And I like to watch my movies on the big screen, so I'm not ready to tear down the cinema circuit.
What I would like to change is the chain of decision imposed by institutions and the industry to elect which movies go from project to production (Producers, Studio executives) and from production to public screening (Theatre exhibition, TV channel, DVD Distributors). These movies are formatted before they even meet their first audience, they are greenlit and distributed BECAUSE they are predicted to please a certain audience, or they are made to meet these criteria.

The nomad cinephile only makes a virtual travel. The point is not to actually go out and pick up your own undiscovered movies in the bud. But to seek out a film discourse that wasn't formatted by this chain of command, reading about films, in their country of origin, before they have been approved by any of your local official provider/translator of film news.

So the advantage of an internet-based community is to make our own highlights and to-see list, through peer-to-peer recommendations, exchange of unfiltered responses. While the institutional press only report about the festival winners, the most talked about, the awards, the ones picked up by studios, and then we only see on our local screen whatever the industry has deemed worth exploiting. So we need to generate an internet buzz around worthy films, before they have been buried by the "institutional selection".

We may end up pick more or less the same titles as the formatted press, but at least we made our choice from the source, to be sure they didn't leave anything behind, that nothing is hid from us (like movies staying on the shelf for years before seeing the light of day, because of obscure contract negotiations) instead of sitting there with a predigested list of films of the week/month...

An organised network of cinephiles throughout the world could easily bypass all barriers and delays put in place by the industry. We can read online on films before they are published in our country. We can even watch them online before they première in a festival next door. We could foster public enthusiasm around a foreign film to entice local distributors to acquire the rights. That's the possibility and the role of the internet community.

HarryTuttle a dit…


Thanks for the reply. Does Unspoken Cinema appear in the book too as the reference of first publication? That would be an international honour for our little unknown blog! Or was it just Girish who added the link in his post about your book?
I'll link back to the Spanish translation for the readers of Unspoken Cinema, of course.

Pacze Moj a dit…

The point is not to actually go out and pick up your own undiscovered movies in the bud. But to seek out a film discourse that wasn't formatted by this chain of command, reading about films, in their country of origin, before they have been approved by any of your local official provider/translator of film news.

In complete agreement there. What I dislike is when the choice of film becomes the substitute for good criticism or discussion (Indeed, often such articles attempt to hinder discussion by staying away from words, ideas, or reference points that might help readers understand them). I worry about critics going "Aguirre"!


PS: Du Nomadisme, vagabondages initiatiques isn't at the library (but can be loaned!), so I picked up another book by Maffesoli in-the-meantime: The Time of the Tribes.

HarryTuttle a dit…

Yes, that's why I see "nomad cinephilia" as an alternative to staying contained inside the fences put in place by the Industry and various cultural institutions (like the Press), and to avoid being herded by the "taste" of the establishment shepherd.
To me critics provide tools and arguments to help everyone forge their own opinions, not to impose a set of films to the public (especially if these films are pre-formatted).

I didn't read that one book, but it's a prequel companion to the one I mentioned.

nitesh a dit…

The more I read upon various strides and aspect of film criticism, and the sudden resurgence of Online Film Criticism, I can’t help but think of my own country, India. Where there is no structure called ‘criticism’ or in other words film criticism is very much dead in the Print Media or in any damn form.

However, as you quote Adrian Martin where he talks about the growth in smaller countries, something similar is happening here too. Not yet on a collaborative scale, but definitely, a ‘new’ faith fuelled in due to the rise of the Internet culture. Wherein today few of us across India are forming a common string to look and write about films and have ‘discussion’ that is helping us grow, and understand ‘ cinema’ and allow people to look at films in a new and different way. India irrespective of our illiteracy about the history of the medium and critical discourse is a country where even the common man read the film review or its rating. But the dearth of any intelligent source of helping the people overcome their generalized vocab on the medium has made most of us culturally handicap. Repeating the same mantra again and again.

I remember one such conversation with the so called people on ‘Cinema’ and, the discussion was on, ‘Autueurism’, I remember quoting the famous Robin Wood quote on mise-en-scene, and then forming my discourse into a coherence argument by also having a quote by Harry on it…it was something you had expressed, in the comment section on Girish’s blog, ‘On Auteurism’, in the end the ‘discussion’ came down to an abrupt halt.
For me the discussion offered a learning experience, on the other hand for the first time I saw that an academic like him was ready to actually read more online. I think it’s this exchange that again is important on the global scale, and especially in India. Because in a country where there is nothing available on criticism, and the prestigious film schools are laden with pseudo-intellectual, and the national cinema too happy with its overflowing hegemony, it’s the slow, but steady rise of cinephile who are slowly breaking into the mould and slightly causing people to think(is certainly a very, very, very tiny)but an
important ‘ray’ of hope here. Though, it’s a very rigid system. Where people are not willing to ‘learn’, or be ready to be ‘informed’, a very different attitude from the Western way of thinking, here the sharing and learning of the Internet culture is giving important evidence in the hands of cinephile here. The idea of presenting evidence, and further building blocks on it. Simply not quoting, but understanding. Else it’s in our nature here to become repetitive and memorize.

Furthermore, it helped me realize that day how much growth: learning, and re-learning, the ‘Internet Culture’ is actually helping shape each day: the bloggers I follow, the film critics I follow, the movies I watch. I realized that perhaps the ‘Internet Culture’ and even the ‘Nomad Cinephila’ that Adrian wrote about inculcates an important aspect of ‘honesty’ or trying to write down your ‘film watching experience’ into an honest expression. That with time, slowly, does grow, and I have seen it in my case to say the least. Secondly, for a person growing up in India that is so heavily laden down with bourgeois style of living and outlook on life, that his whole new sub-culture is helping young cinephile break away an have a voice, in short, become ‘ Independent’ It’s like express, learn, watch, re-express, and than re-learn. It’s this continuation process of the culture that I think is an important source of discovering and learning. I know and have seen both sides to such way of learning where a naïve and stupid snobbism creeps in tons of cinephile, but atleast here currently the pros outweigh the cons.

PS: the new list for online film criticism is certainly revitalizing and gives a fresh outlook, Harry.

HarryTuttle a dit…

Very interesting comment there Nitesh.
This discussion thread at Girish was epic indeed, because the battle to discredit "auteurism" has always been a hot subject.
I don't about the situation of the Indian Press, but the circles of cinephiles are few in the world... maybe there is a longer tradition in Europe and the USA, but it's still a very limited share of the global movie-going audience. So all you say can apply to the "mainstream press" and the regular audience in France as well. The cinephile niche is not viable commercially anywhere... except in some lucky megalopolis.

And the online communities have the opportunity to overcome being outnumbered and isolated locally, to reach out and communautarize knowledge and discussions by extending the private circle of like-minded people to the Global Village. Cinephiles are too few in any given city, to meet to watch the same movie and debate afterwards on regular basis... But when they are all put into relation through the web, you find a lot more people who are interested to talk about the movie you've just seen.

I would be interested to know more about the cinephile community in India, to know more about Indian auteurs and also about critical appreciations of mainstream Bollywood productions. Do Indians blogs preferably in English or in their native tongue? The connection with the English-written blogosphere doesn't seem far-fetched.

HarryTuttle a dit…

Michael Guillen at The Evening Class talks about the various issues related to "Festival communities and the global film industry" found in the latest Film International magazine!
Et also mentions a very interesting book by Dina Iordanova : "Budding Channels of Peripheral Cinema: The Long Tail of Global Film Circulation" (2008) [preview here]

nitesh a dit…
Ce commentaire a été supprimé par son auteur.
nitesh a dit…

To really talk about the cinephile community here in India would be like opening a can of worms. But let me elucidate and talk little here regarding it, and maybe I could write a post some time later.

As you said, ‘cinephile as such are few in any given city’ so is the case here. However, what separates ‘cinephile’, I think, of any given nation and India is that: Cinephile, film lovers, practitioners here, suffer from some serious chronic problems. First is in the form of hypocrisy. It could be called a typical bourgeois mindset that hasn’t left us, so, watching ‘art’ films and ‘intellucalizting’- currently is a trend in India. There are three forms of film lovers here, one who are predominately loyal and Bollywood+ mainstream South film worshipers. People who offer prayers when their matinee idol are sick, they hate, seriously hate, the word ‘critical, and any form of critic against them or their star will result in the person being deemed a connoisseur of high art. These people and their films are not to be touched. They are for the audience by the audience and to the audience. If, and if, the audience hates the film, the same lot makes the movie for the Indian audience abroad and if even they hate it and even critics loathes it. They still have a way of escaping by saying – ‘the movie was ahead of its time’.

The second lot comprises of ‘urban’ people who slowly with their new found richness due to post 90s globalization in India have taken up watching ‘Art’ as they call cinema: Bergman, Tarkvsoky, and Godard and more European Cinema.
And collecting art. Interestingly, its is ‘ in-between’ these two forms of film lovers in the country that new filmmakers are emerging or people who are joining film school.

But the true L’ amour, and the professional ‘watcher’ for life as Serge Daney had said is missing, these belt comprises of people who have seen maybe lot or too few films, and proliferate the large group of film lovers and film people in this country. Signs of such people: when discussing cinema their ideas go everywhere else except cinema, history and tradition of the medium is non-existent to them, mise-en-scene an alien word, the willingness to learn non-acceptable and they question your own credibility for the same, and much more. For example, a recent discussion on the Cinema of Guru Dutt an Indian auteur such writer and films lovers said: ‘Casting is more important than the words of mise-en-scene you keep using’. Well, after writing so much I gave up the discussion hearing such thing.

Some of them may love films, but when it comes down to critically backing up an evidence as Godard put, or even the right reasons as Pierre Rissnet said doesn’t exist. Adoor Gopalakrishnan one of the greatest Indian filmmaker and a true auteur rightly put, ‘That people are unequipped about the medium”.

I think India may be the only country in the world where people ‘lie’ about the movies they haven’t seen in order to seem important and accepted: A friend of mine who recently joined the top Film Institute of India. A cinephile, but now studying film direction at FTII, Pune India, had gone for his interview. When he happened to meet the seniors of the college, they talked about everything under the sun regarding Cinema to him; some even appeared as masters of subjects. However, when he randomly quizzed one of them regarding films of Kurosawa (he simply made up names, and asked) believe it or not, they all acted as if they had seen the film, and even quoted the year. When he told them that these movies never existed and he just asked to test them. He never saw them in college again. Only later when joined this month, he realized that those guys were seniors of the college, and even happened to share a ‘National Award’ between them. If this is condition of our most prestigious film school imagine the nation.

Now I won’t generalize things, But the final group of people as ‘ cinephile’ the person who are seriously preparing for life a professional watcher to later make films or write on them, are dangerously on the low. Because this module atleast here in India requires ‘Honesty’. But, I believe, a slow conversion of other group would happen; when this group of people actually help create a certain ‘voice’ irrespective of the fact, that everyday is a learning experience and a way to improve. For example, its only last year around November when I started my blog that I could slowly move away from the second string of film lovers in India to being a cinephile, and only around March- April this year that I along with few people slowly started getting into Indian Cinema and writing, publishing, translating whatever we can find on my blog. This conscious habit of actually shifting planes and then seriously subscribing to write, learn and learn more, not to ‘intellectualize’ but to ‘inform’ is the task.

And I’m soon hoping to establish or organize regular discussion in Delhi and other parts of India if we can with the help of like minded cinephile achieve.
Secondly, the movies of Indian auteur are so hard to find or even acquire that it’s seriously a sad state of affairs. But whatever we can get hands on I’m writing and so are few of my friends on the blog. We have had articles on Mani Kaul, Adoor Goapalakrishan, Buddadeb Dasgupta, Ray, Ghatak, and more on Ghatak soon, Kumar Sahani and Indian Cinematographers and others. And will be adding in soon. Mind you, the article lacks critical ingenuity or even coherence, but over the months I think it’s about growing. Beside we are always sharing the copies of such films among us or people who would want them. So next time my friend is of to Paris I could dispatch you a lot.

Coming to Bollywood and critical reception of most Bollywood films are poor. As I wrote earlier, we don’t have film critics in India, this is the sad truth. There are film reviewers- journalists who write on cinema, they have seen film but are not trained critics. They may love films, but have an absolute nil understanding of the history or tradition and are neither bothered (exception could exist). Recently, I have been asked to write on foreign film releasing in India, and I get a chance to go for the Press Screening, and all I see is that every other media outlet has journalist coming to watch the film. Who write reviews seeing the Press Releases. Furthermore, one can’t be critical regarding Bollywood films in the press because the editors believe no one will read it. So, the Bollywood film is masala escapism, the review exactly imitates that. First a copy, the second a rehase of the plot with a star, it’s difficult to review Bollywood films every week, atleast for me, because I find that it hard to pen down and write something on them. It’s like after a while even a blind man can guess the mise-en-scene. And narrative well… Once a while, a film that is more of, ‘ a middle-road’ cinema that people say here, is ‘ fresh’ gets some critical attention because a change of ‘ narrative’. In my two or three months as a regular Film reviewer of Bollywood films I have found it hard to find something like what others see. I go three looking for a mise-en-scene that could be called unique, to proudly say, look a director exist in Bollywood. But no it never happens. Take any Bollywood films and every interior, exterior, shots would be identical. Staging is non-existent- only foreground exist in all Bollywood films, damn the list could go long…and the rant is getting long too so, I think, it should end here

Well, English is the language understood across India along with Hindi. So most Bloggers and website are in English. I suggest you read the two article below, the first is a convocation speech given by one of the greatest actors of our cinema that would help give you a sneak peak not only to why our cinephile act like hypocrites, but much more. And second is another interesting take on urban India that would again give you a better insight into understanding things.

- http://windsfromtheeast.blogspot.com/2008/10/balraj-sahnis-1972-convocation-address.html
- http://www.thenews.com.pk/print1.asp?id=143161

HarryTuttle a dit…

Isn't it a good thing if "watching artfilm" becomes a trend in the land of Bollywood hegemony? Or do you mean that "artfilm" as a different definition among Bollywood lovers?
You seem to be fighting an uphill battle there... and I think you're wasting your energy in the wrong places. It's like converting Hollywood to liking something else than pure American Entertainment... it's never gonna happen.
You're courageous to try to "convert" people, to engage in a dialogue with the detractors and all. But don't desperate if their taste doesn't change overnight. It's the kind of mentality that takes a couple of generations to swing the right way. And after all, they have the right to like the kind of film they choose. Some people just want to enjoy watching movies without being explained too much backstage secrets, to keep the illusion intact.

Mainstream cinema is for the mass, by definition. Artfilms and middle-of-the-road cinema is not destined to ever reach "blockbuster" status, it will always be for relatively smaller niches. So writing about non-mainstream cinema is not going to attract you a lot of readers. You have to be subtle and skewed to instil some "mise-en-scène" in your "standard reviews", instead of being confrontational and patronizing. Don't use buzzwords that sound too snobbish. Show the readers that the performances they admire is carefully constructed, full of symbols, body language and colour coded. The dance numbers choreography is also the occasion to talk about spatial organisation, dynamics, back-and-forth movements, metaphors to transgress certain social taboos... Directors always find a little detail to make their film different from the previous ones.

Meanwhile, what you do, looking for elements of auteurship in mainstream movies is very interesting for film criticism. That's how Truffaut started, and he found Hawks or Hitchcock in the mainstream market that ignored them. ;)

There are bad "intellectuals", but in general I'm not anti-intellectual, I'm rather on the side of people who intellectualize film discourse too much... but I recognize that only a slim portion of the audience is interested in this kind of writing, and it's OK. There are readers for every type of writing, fan reviews and critical analysis.

P.S. Ashutosh Gowariker's Jodhaa Akbar (2008) will be showing next month in Paris. Do you recommend it?

nitesh a dit…

Well Jodhaa Akbar damn…hell, what to say, it’s not even fit to be called a costume/drama. Because all there is in the film is costume. It’s supposed to be ‘well researched’ film, the new fad in Bollywood, but its not so. The film is a typical Bollywood movie. Nothing different about it except expensive set design, costumes and plenty, plenty of jewelry works- Especially designed for the film as an ad placement, please avoid it.

Asuthoush Gowarikar has made two other good movies as per our standards:-

1) Lagaan
2) Swades.

Harry thanks for those words of advice regarding seeing things within films. It’s an uphill task I agree with you, but we are not giving up anytime soon either. It’s funny but that the reviews I write for a popular website on Bollywood films (Upperstall). I keep getting a letter back from the editor stating that change this changes that within reviews: rather simply outline plots. But I have managed to hang on without comprising, possibly because someone is reading. :), however, I did get kicked out of Rolling Stones, India, because I could never get myself to write product reviews. But it was fun anyways.:)

Beside will need your advice and guidance on ethics, regulation and the basic framework what a Film Club would actually need especially regarding programming the films. As we are moving towards establishing one soon here.

HarryTuttle a dit…

Sorry for the late reply, Nitesh.

Oh OK. It was a Première screening on a panoramic screen so I hoped it was a good Bollywood movie.

Did you read Adrian Martin's interview in cinemascope.it?
or the FIPRESCI roundtable at Undercurrent?

They talk about their experience working in a publication where they have to sneak in thought-provoking details within a standardised format.

Personally, I couldn't do that, I just feel wasting time on movies with little redeeming quality. But it is the grassroot battle to convert the mainstream audience, which is what Bazin did with his ciné-club sessions, or Daney by writing for a daily newspaper.
So if you have that courage, you need to stir your readers gently, not to tell them their taste suck or that the films they love are stupid. You need to find what is good in them, use what they like to make them see a less superficial side of cinema. And only then, will your readers follow you when you talk about movies they don't usually watch, because you could relate them to artistic details explained in Bollywood movies.

I don't have any experience in ciné-club organisation. But it's a great idea. So that the audience can express their reaction to the film after seeing it, and not be left alone. You have to be careful in your program too, because it's both educational, but should also attract non-converts, thus being open-minded, wide-ranging... alternate popular movies and more auteurist-oriented films. Or you will preach to a choir that doesn't need to be converted.