29 novembre 2008

Ouvrir Bazin - Day 2

Avez-vous lu Bazin? / Have you read Bazin?

Day 2 (see full program here): My notes from a panel discussion on the availability of his oeuvre, and the project(s) of a complete edition in the future, with :
André-S. Labarthe (Ed. Cahiers), Olivier Faivre (Switzerland), Raymond Bellour (Trafic), Antoine De Baecque (Ramsay editor), Hervé Joubert-Laurencin (U. Paris), Dudley Andrew (U. Yale)

An estimation of over 2600 of Bazin's articles have been archived to date. Of which only 6% are published and accessible to the public today. So we know a tiny fraction of his thought on cinema.

The first anthology was edited by Janine Bazin, but was abandoned by frustration of not being able to publish a complete oeuvre. Were missing 150 texts on television, and the pedagogical dimension of his oral speeches at ciné-clubs.

Tout Bazin : la pensée de Bazin au travail

A new project finally comes together now, with Claudine Paquot (Ed. de l'Etoile), Emmanuel Burdeau (Cahiers), André-S Labarthe and Olivier Faivre (a guy who has been collecting and typing every articles for the past 5 years).
A collection of volumes, year by year, with an introductory presentation for the yearly context, and the television-related texts at the end for each year.
More a few unpublished manuscripts : his first found article "Enseignement primaire national" for Peuple et Culture (1941), his first ciné-club conference (1943), the original manuscript for his book on Welles, which is different from the edited version we know today.

It's interesting to note Bazin admitted when he changed opinion on a film. After dismissing Europa 51 at Venice, he revised his judgement later when it was released in France, in its Director's cut. Same for Les Dames du bois de Boulogne.
Thought is always in motion. Bazin writes on the same film in various venues... 10 lines in a daily, 20 lines in another, 3 pages for Esprit, 10 pages for Cahiers. Cinema is always present because we can always rewatch a film and make it present.

It was also necessary to correct the errors of Bazin when referencing films or names or citation attributions. Or the ones of Truffaut who edited his anthology. Also, errors in recent publications, that altered the original meaning, have been spotted, to be fixed. Like in his review of Malraux' L'Espoir.

In the article "Comment présenter et discuter un film !" (Ciné-club, April 1954), Bazin says the Theatre spectator is the precursor of the metteur-en-scène of cinéma, because with spectacles it is possible to re-frame the whole stage and elect details in the "wide shot". Montage stole this privilege from the movie goer. And Deep-focus/Forbidden Montage restores the power and liberty for the audience.

In the 3 months leading up to this seminar, Jean-François Rauger at La Cinémathèque Française organised a cycled of 160 films reviewed by Bazin, and Hervé Joubert-Laurencin used Bazin quotes to introduce each film in the program. (Check out each title on this list for the quotes)

Qu'est-ce que le cinéma? (1958-1962)
  • tome 1 (1958): Bazin's own edition. He rewrote selected and merged the articles himself. He approved it as is before he died.
  • tome 2 (1959): (7 texts) prepared by Bazin. Truffaut finalized it after Bazin died. Truffaut's own patchwork, he added sentences when needed...
  • tome 3 (1961): edited by Rivette, more respectful, he left all Bazin's text as they were.
But for instance the verb "bander" [to get a hard on] disappears in the review of Kon Tiki [YouTube], and in the essay "En marge de l'érotisme au cinéma", replaced by "excité" [excited]. In this same essay, "démonétisation" is replaced by "démonstration" in the sentence : "la démonétisation des jambes de Marlène Dietrich".

Fifty years later, still no comprehensive anthology of Bazin's complete work is available to the public. And still no deadline given by Labarthe & Faivre... the hopes are slim given the recent crisis of the Cahiers corporation, bought by the British publisher, Phaidon. The greatest film critic has been ignored in France! No wonder we only have a partial, superficial, approximated, vulgarised idea of Bazin's theories and thought in popular culture, or in academic circles...
For instance, Godard made up the citation he attributes to Bazin in the opening of Le Mépris / Contempt, which appears to have been lifted from an article by Michel Mourlet.

Bazin used pseudonymes (André Basselin, Florent Kirsch) mainly to write negative reviews (!) He was also an angry man, with mean disapproval and harsh criticism.

Hervé Joubert-Laurencin and Dudley Andrew present the searchable database of all Bazin articles on the website of Yale University. A cooperative project between Yale and INHA. Currently a work in progress, hopefully soon made available to the public.
  • 1962 : Positif publishes a ferocious critique of Bazin and La Nouvelle Vague: "Les Délices de l'ambiguïté - Éloge d'André Bazin" #46/#47, June-July 1962
  • 1983: "Le plus funeste des critiques : 'Bazaine'" by Claude Autant-Lara
  • 1991 : Cahiers article on Bazin by Rivette, Comolli, Daney and Narboni.
In Fernand Deligny, à propos d'un film à faire (1989/Renaud Victor), Fernand Deligny reads the letter Malraux wrote to Bazin (to thank him for his insightful review of L'Espoir), and feels like-minded with Bazin's theory. "La Sémiologie c'est de la crotte!"

Tentative Bibliography
(please correct/amend when needed)
  • Qu'est-ce que le cinéma? Tome 1 : Ontologie et langage, Ed. Cerf, 1958 -OUT OF PRINT
  • Qu'est-ce que le cinéma? Tome 2 : Le cinéma et les autres arts, Ed. Cerf, 1959 -OUT OF PRINT-
  • Qu'est-ce que le cinéma? Tome 3 : cinéma et sociologie, Ed. Cerf, 1961 -OUT OF PRINT-
  • Qu'est-ce que le cinéma? Tome 4 : Une esthétique de la réalité : le néo-réalisme, Ed. Cerf, 1962 -OUT OF PRINT-
  • Orson Welles, Ed. Cerf, 1972, Ed. Ramsay, 1986, Ed. Cahiers, 1998
  • Charlie Chaplin, Ed. Cerf, 1973, Ed. Ramsay, 1985, Ed. Cahiers, 2000
  • Cinéma de la Cruauté, Ed. Flammarion, 1975, 1987 -OUT OF PRINT-
  • Le cinéma de l'occupation à la Résistance, Ed. 10/18, 1975 -OUT OF PRINT-
  • Qu'est-ce que le cinéma? Ed. Cerf, 1975 (abridged edition, 4 volumes into 1)
  • Jean Renoir, Ed. G. Lebovici, 1989
  • Le cinéma français de la Libération à la Nouvelle Vague, Ed. de l'Etoile, 1983, Ed. Cahiers, 1998
  • What is cinema? Vol.1, Trad. Hugh Gray, Ed. 1967
  • What is cinema? Vol.2, Trad. Hugh Gray, Ed. 1971
  • Jean Renoir, 1973
  • Orson Welles: A critical view, Transl. Rosenbaum, Ed. Harper&Row, 1978
  • The Cinema of Cruelty, 1982
  • French Cinema of the Occupation and Resistance: Birth of a Critical Esthetic, Trad. Ed. HarperCollins, 1984
  • Bazin at Work : major essays and reviews from the forties and fifties, Trans. Alain Piette & Bert Cardullo, Ed. Routledge, 1997.
  • Charlie Chaplin, Ed. S.A., 2002
  • Buñuel, Dreyer, Welles, Ed. Fundamentos, 1991
  • Vittorio De Sica, Ed. Ganda, 1953
  • Was ist film?, Ed. Alexander Verlag Berlin, 2004
Selected bibliography here

28 novembre 2008

Ouvrir Bazin - Day 1

I'm back in college! It feels like it. The bilateral, Franco-American Bazin Seminar has started on November 25. See program in my previous post for detailed program.

The anniversary of his death was November 11, but they opened this event on the day that coincides with when the famous "Qu'est-ce que le cinéma?" (the original one, in 4 volumes, out of print now) was first printed, 2 weeks after he passed away. His first book, posthumous also.

A few notes on Dudley Andrew's introducing lecture (in French! ironically retranslated back into broken English by me) : "Vie et seconde vie d'André Bazin. Diffusion et réception d'un critique de cinéma" [Life and second life of André Bazin. Circulation and reception of a cinema critic]
  • He suggests "What will be cinema?" as a new subtitle to the anthology to better characterise Bazin's prospective definition of the medium, the chromophotographique action of cinema.
  • Regarding the iconic essay "Ontologie de l'image photographique", he reminds us that Martin Heidegger opposes ontologic (meaningful structure of existence) to ontic (plain facts of everyday life).
  • Bazin is both philosopher and Art historian.
  • To Bazin, Cinema is a vast ecological system (distinct from the circumscribed world of auteurism)
  • Serge Daney (1984) : "Bad filmmakers don't have any idea. Good filmmakers have too many. And great filmmakers only have one. One fixed idea, one obsession. For the critics it's the same, only that there is no great critic... except for Bazin"
  • To Henri Bergson, the "idea" is a stream, an "intermittent presence".
  • There are 2 Bazins :
    1) Ontology - Realism (Rosselini, Welles). In the 40ies : Realism and Nature.
    2) Impure cinema (Bresson, Cocteau, Nouvelle Vague). In the 50ies : Adaptation and Culture.
  • Note the ambiguous position of Mizoguchi on the map of world cinema in the 60ies, when New Waves spawned everywhere (Japan, Czech, Quebec, Latina America...). In France, La Nouvelle Vague opposed the old establishment (La Qualité Française), but embraced the academic establishment rejected by the Japanese New Wave, in the person of Mizoguchi.
  • 1948 : Bazin has a radio show "Profile Perdu"
  • 1963 : big controversy in the USA over the Auteur theory, between Sarris and Kael. (Pauline Kael audio : 1 - 2 - 3)
  • 1966-67 : Andrew Sarris publishes the English version of Cahiers du cinéma, for about a year. Bazin's articles among others. [AntiQbook]
  • 1967 : Hugh Gray's translation of "What is cinema?"
  • 1968 : Bazin falls in disgrace for 15 years in France, perceived as reactionary by the new culture. While he becomes a good figure in the USA.
  • 1968 : Annette Michaelson's article on "Qu'est-ce que le cinéma?" (in Artforum, 6, 10) criticism of Bazin's theory from the point of view of Semiology, Structuralism and Constructivism.
  • 1976 : era of Realism & Formalism
  • 1978 : Dudley Andrew publishes in the USA the first biography of André Bazin (book praised by Serge Daney when it was published in French).
  • Christian Metz : militant theory of cinema
  • 1988 : "Philosophical problems of classical film theory", Noël Carroll, Ed. Princeton University Press, 1988. Criticism of Bazin's theory.
  • 1995 : Sylvia Harvey's article "What is cinema? The Sensuous, the Abstract, and the Political"
  • 1997 : David Bordwell : "On the History of Film Style"
Elsewhere :
  • China was isolated until the 1978 cultural revolution, then discovers the New Wave spirit.
  • 1984 : "River without buoys" chinese film influenced by Renoir and Bazin
  • Shanghai 2008 : Seminar Bazin (June 13-14 2008) with Xie Fei, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Jia Zhang-ke, Ann Hui
  • André Bazin makes the cover of the Chinese journal "Contemporary cinema", August 2008 issue, dedicated to the seminar and Bazin's writing.

Then mademoiselle Jeanne Moreau read a couple texts of Bazin and Truffaut:
  • André Bazin, "Psychologie de la plage", Esprit, 1947
    on the desillusionned fantasy of the poor critic on the luxurious beach in Cannes full of glamorous beauties.
  • André Bazin, "Les deux Jean Renoir", Esprit, march 1952
  • André Bazin, "J'ai vu Bonjour Tristesse", L'Education Nationale, 20 March 1954
    on his reversal of opinion on second viewing, after a prior dismissal in Cannes of Otto Preminger's adaptation of Françoise Sagan's novel.
  • François Truffaut's homage to André Bazin, Venice 1959.

24 novembre 2008

Unspoken Cinema Journal (participations)

Unspoken Cinema Journal

Bela Tarr issue – Call for submissions

To coincide with recent remarks made by Béla Tarr, that his next film may be his last, Unspoken Cinema Journal is delighted to dedicate its inaugural issue to the uncompromising Hungarian master.


Unspoken Cinema Journal is a quarterly periodical devoted to scholarship, discussion and the promotion of contemplative cinema. Despite its elusive definition, we recognize contemplative cinema as one that departs from the safety of neorealism and transcendental style; to fearlessly explore the undrawn aesthetic boundaries of minimalism, mutism, existentialist and materialist film. We also recognize contemplative cinema as a truly transcultural cinematic avant-garde.

Our intention is to deliver as rich and engaging exploratory film criticism in this field as possible. Unspoken Cinema Journal encourages written and image (still) based submissions from a wide range of styles. We welcome established contributors as much as lesser known cinéphiles. Accepted formats include: polemical writing, manifestos, photo essays, transcribed interviews, traditional academic essays and journalistic reports. We advance no restrictions on ideological or hermeneutic approach. Unspoken Cinema Journal is also committed to open access, we believe that content should be accessible to the widest online readership.


Suggested – but not exhaustive – topics for the Béla Tarr issue:

Responses to journeys and travel in Tarr’s cinema; constructions of spatio-temporal geography. Explorations of the (a)political and historical landscape of Tarr’s world. Tarr’s cinema versus the conventions of commercial infrastructure. Image essays on Tarr’s cinematographic discourse: A camera as stalker, voyeur or omnipresence. Retrospectives and overviews of Tarr’s cinematic legacy. We are especially interested in contributions on Family Nest (1979) and The Man From London (2007).

Style guidelines
  • Articles, reports, transcriptions 800 - 2500 words and essays 3000 - 6000. Submit as A4 word format (double-spaced), using MLA referencing style.
  • Deadline for issue 1 is 19th January 2009, although we will continue to accept for future issues. All successful contributions shall appear at the forthcoming website.
  • All contact, enquiries and submissions: unspokenjournal@googlemail.com

16 novembre 2008

Long Tail consumers

Dina Iordanova : "The channels of circulation described here are still being studied independently from one another. Yet, there is a growing and overarching acknowledgement that they increasingly interact and interlink, in a hybrid and flexible, mercurial and mutating manner. The result is a more complicated picture, one that leads us to the realisation that it is necessary to underpin the argument by dynamically correlating the peripheral strategies of the global cinema."
Via "Maya" I found this book : "Budding Channels of Peripheral Cinema: The Long Tail of Global Film Circulation" Dina Iordanova, 2008 [online book preview here] Here is Dina Iordanova's own blog : Dina View
Dina Iordanova : "Chris Anderson's The Long Tail: How Endless choice is Creating Unlimited Demand. Why The future of Business Is Selling Less of More (2007) [..] contained the definitive announcement of the end of blockbuster culture and the arrival of Internet-enabled trade for niche products. [..] The suppressed treasure-trove of cinematic content of 'peripheral cinema', sidelined into the margins by the enduring blockbuster culture, is about to break through and reveal all its glorious richness and diversity, in large measure due to shifts in the channels of distribution. The Long Tail was showing and why this might already be happening.
Analysing the ways in which the new Internet-based technologies are transforming distribution patterns in the creative industries, Anderson argues that for the first time in history blockbusters and niche markets were on a nearly equivalent footing. Both are equally worthy of development from a distribution point of view because the large number of niche products multiplied by even a sales still results in a viable and powerful economic figure, creating the 'Long Tail' effect.
In the new mode of distribution, a vast number of products, while not available in stores are now obtainable from Internet-based distributors that command huge on-demand inventories and that can both expand existing markets and cater to niche consumer interests. Markets become liberated from the 'tyranny of the geography' : the new distribution set-ups permit unrestrained availability of relatively small numbers of distinctive products, and the remote village residents can have access to cultural goods as easily as those in the most central metropolitan locations." [..]
The Long Tail, Chris Anderson's lecture at UC Berkley, 17 Nov 2006 [YouTube video] 55'

The concept of the Long Tail, explained on Chris Anderson's WIRED blog, says that "when control of information and processes becomes more democratized, a tail distribution of content suppliers and consumers forms. Control shifts to the tail of its own accord." The Long Tail of least popular (less profitable) movies (for instance) counterbalances the few "best sellers". It's a Power law distribution, therefore according to the Pareto principle (or 80-20 rule, as represented by the orange-red colours on the graphic above, the 2 coloured areas have the same surface), 20% of the most prolific suppliers weigh as much stock as the 80% left of less prolific suppliers. Or 20% of the most frequent consumers order as much as the 80% left of less frequent consumers. Or the top 20% of B.O. movie winners sell as much admissions as the 80% left of B.O. bottom combined.
"The forces of Web 2.0 create a natural shift of control and democratization of supply and consumption. Low-frequency events or populations cumulatively outweigh the initial portion of the distribution. Most control falls into the Long Tail, making more use of resources, with a tendency to route around ineffective central control."
Dina Iordanova : "It's only now, with the enabling power of the Internet, that the distribution of "peripheral" merchandise can reach wider audiences alongside the few smash hits that traditionally dominate image markets. What the Long Tail concept arrestingly illustrates, however, goes beyond the immediate concern of the on-line marketability of specialised cultural goods. It demonstrates the reconciliation of commercial viability and special interests, and, with its view of triumphant narrowcasting, brings together production (niche creativity) and consumption (dispersed demand for a broader range of cinema.) [..]
We have been led to believe that the world of cinema is divided into Hollywood, powerful and thriving, and the rest, weak and fading. [..]
This model is also used to describe the Power law distribution of blockbusters vs niche movies, as well as the distribution of Paper Press (few titles but prominent fame and high circulation) vs the wide Blogosphere (small readership but sprawling endlessly, and relaying information through an interactive network), or the distribution of the "Big 6" Major Hollywood studios vs the crowd of shoestring-tight budget Indie producers, or even the distribution of the 4 major international Film Festivals vs the countless small local festivals. Thanks to the internet, stock and distance to your nearest supplier become moot points, liberating small distributors from structural costs, and opening them to an instantly worldwide consumer base. The niche interest cinephiles can now join forces and access their rare objects of desire even if the traditional commercial structure only supplies popular/profitable items.
Dina Iordanova : "These processes are best seen on a scale that transcends strictly defined framework of the national. Peripheral cinemas can no longer be treated as a mosaic of discrete cultural phenomena. One increasingly recognises that the localities of production are spatially disjointed and the audiences increasingly scattered around the globe. This is where studies of peripheral cinema come into the picture. They approach the cycle of film production, dissemination, and reception as one dynamic process that transcends national borders, reflecting the mobility of human existence in the global age. [..]
The multicultural realities of today's world make it important to grasp the complex interactions of circulating iconographies, ideologies, and narratives. Our current concepts of the pattern of comprehensive cultural exchanges are inconsistent and patchy, and there are only a handful of studies at our disposal that propose a more complex picture of the 'alternative modernities' at the periphery. We need a better understanding of the essence and the effects of transnational cultural circulation originating from the periphery, one that we can only acquire by bringing together knowledge and analysis of the various strands of trans-border media flows present in our globalized environment."
Taste in Film culture will no longer be dictated by the mainstream majority, and hopefully giving a chance to niche movies to progressively reach popular status because they are actually available. Online distributors produce their stock on order to limit wasted time and excess stock.
Whereas the old system defined the popular items a priori (through market studies and statistics), thus condemning less popular items to stay underexposed (because ordering them, stocking them, marketing them was too expensive for the unlikely customer willing to buy it locally). In the Global Village, even the less popular movies may foster a larger fanbase by accumulating all insignificant isolated local niches and turning them in a sizeable share for the market to profit from without rendering scarce items excessively overpriced.

Related article:
Related posts:

11 novembre 2008

Cycle Bazin 2008-09

Plusieurs rendez-vous autour d'André Bazin (1918-1958) pour les mois à venir, en hommage au cinquantenaire de sa disparition (mort il y a cinquante ans jour pour jour aujourd'hui).
Tout d'abord, Ouvrir Bazin, un colloque franco-américain à Paris organisé par le nouveau campus de l'Université Diderot (site des Grands Moulins dans le quartier de la Bibliothèque Mitterrand), en collaboration avec l'université de Yale. (25-29 nov 2008)
  • 25 nov (Grands Moulins) : Ouverture
  • 26 nov (Grands Moulins) : Avez-vous lu Bazin? (Dudley Andrew, André S. Labarthe, Olivier Faivre, Michel Mourlet, Raymond Bellour, Antoine de Baecque, Hervé Joubert-Laurencin)
  • 27 nov (Grands Moulins) : Un Bazin d'après-guerre (Steven Ungar, Antoine de Baecque, Marc Vernet)
  • 27 nov (Grands Moulins) : Un Bazin moderne (Angella Dalle Vacche, Dudley Andrew, Marc Cerisuelo, Rochelle Fack)
  • 28 nov (Grands Moulins) : Un Bazin impur (Jean-François Chevrier, Bruno Tackels, Diane Arnaud, Florence B. de Courville)
  • 28 nov (Cinémathèque Française) : Un Bazin écrivain (Dudley Andrew, Hervé Joubert-Laurencin, Jean Narboni, Philip Watts)
    de Van Gogh et Guernica d'Alain Resnais, Les Désastres de la guerre de Pierre Kast
  • 29 nov (Grands Moulins) : Bilan critique, Recherches en cours (Seugnhoon Jeong, Diana Lemberg, Grant Wiedenfield, Nicolas Thys, Ryan Cook, Jeremi Szaniawski, Michael Cramer)
voir détails du programme sur le site Paris Diderot
Et, Opening Bazin, le pendant américain de ce colloque à l'université de Yale, NY, USA (voir détails sur leur site) PDF schedule
Screening: Toute la mémoire du monde (1956/Resnais)
  • Bazin in the 50s (Steven Ungar, Angela Dalle Vacche, Philip Watts, Dominque Bluher)
    Bazin and the Disciplines
  • The Transmission of Bazin (Hervé Joubert-Laurencin)
  • Bazin’s Religious Discourse (Philip Rosen)
  • Evolutions of Bazin (Tom Conley)
  • Geography: the fault lines of Bazin’s education (Ludovic Cortade)
    The Aura of the Image
  • Myth in the ontology of early cinema according to Bazin (Tom Gunning)
  • Superimposition from Bazin to Greenaway (Daniel Morgan)
  • From Bazin to Deleuze (Diane Arnaud)
  • The Tense of the Shot (Raymond Bellour, Daniel Stern)
    Screening : Nights of Cabiria (1957/Fellini); Flowers of St. Francis
    Bazin in History
  • Bazin in the USSR and Russia (John MacKay)
  • Bazin and the journals (Antoine De Baecque)
  • Bazin and Walter Benjamin (Monica Dall’Asta)
  • Translator of Walter Benjamin: impossible task (Bruno Tackels)
    Bazin in Hiding
  • Bazin’s bad taste (James Tweedie)
  • A Moustache in flight: Bazin on masks and men (Ivone Margulies)
  • Bazin’s Chaplin (Prakash Younger)
    Bazin Today
  • Bazin as Modernist (Colin MacCabe)
  • Ontology Aside (Jean-Michel Frodon)
    Screening: Nothing but a Man (1964/Michael Roemer)
    Grasping the Opening
  • The Future of an Archive, The Future of Bazin (Dudley Andrew, Hervé Joubert-Laurencin)

Autres événements sur Paris jusqu'à mars 2009 :
  • 24 nov 2008 : Redefining the Neorealist Image (Angela Dalle Vacche, University of Columbia de Paris, VIe)
  • 25 nov 2008 : Vie et seconde vie d'André Bazin (Dudley Andrew, Grands Moulins, XIIIe)
  • 2 déc 2008 : Cézanne et les frères Lumières (Angela Dalle Vacche, Grands Moulins, XIIIe)
  • 12 Jan 2009 : Remnants of Tragedy (Philip Watts, rue Charles V, IVe)
  • 13 jan 2009 : Guerre et Mémoire Chez Godard (Philip Watts, Grands Moulins, XIIIe)
  • 16 jan 2009 : De Bazin à Jacques Rancière : critique et théorie du cinéma (Philip Watts, Institut National de l’Histoire de l’Art, IIe)
  • 27 fév 2009 : De Bazin à Flaubert, suite : Madame Bovary selon Renoir (Jean-françois Chevrier, Institut National de l’Histoire de l’Art, IIe)
  • 10 mars 2009 : Les films renaissent aussi. Resnais, Marker, Rouch (Steven Ungar, Grands Moulins, XIIIe)
  • 13 mars 2009 : Scènes dans une bibliothèque. réflexions sur un film d’Alain Resnais (Steven Ungar, Institut National de l’Histoire de l’Art, IIe)
  • 16 mars 2009 : Visual Remains and the Poetics of Culture (Steven Ungar &
  • Dudley Andrew, University of Columbia de Paris, VIe)
  • 20 mars 2009 : Renoir et le réalisme (Dudley Andrew, Institut National de l’Histoire de l’Art, IIe)
    téléchargez le programme en PDF sur le site de l'université Diderot

Cycle de projections de quelques 70 films sur lesquels Bazin a construit ses théories critiques. (27 aout-1er décembre 2008)
Voir détails sur le site de La Cinémathèque Française

My reports :
  1. Ouvrir Bazin - Day 1
  2. Ouvrir Bazin - Day 2
  3. Ouvrir Bazin 3 - Steven Ungar
  4. Ouvrir Bazin 3 - Antoine De Baecque
  5. Ouvrir Bazin 3 - Marc Vernet
  6. Ouvrir Bazin 3 - Angela Dalle Vacche
  7. Ouvrir Bazin 3 - Dudley Andrew
  8. Ouvrir Bazin 3 - Marc Cerisuelo
  9. Ouvrir Bazin 3 - Rochelle Fack

09 novembre 2008

Burdeau : film saviour?

In direct continuity with my post on Conflict of Interests, that was inspired by Emmanuel Burdeau's project to buy Cahiers for himself and turn it into a distribution company, here is his speech to the NYFF crowd (9-27-2008), right after Le Monde announced his "business plan" was rejected.

Thanks to Amanda McCormick for posting the videos of the panel discussion at the Film Comment blog. (see part 2 & 3 on YouTube for Burdeau's speech)
Burdeau : "I'm sure it has been more dramatic here [in the USA], we have noticed for the past 3 or 5 years that more and more movies that we love, made by directors that are really important, famous, they are not released. They have more and more difficulties to be released in France. I'm talking about Abel Ferrara, very famous director in France, his last two movies haven't been sold to any French distributor. I'm talking about, probably one of the greatest filmmakers today : Pedro Costa. He had great articles in Film Comment [Mar-Apr 2007], Art Forum [Sept 2006]... When the films are shown in festival or museum there is always a crowd. And the film was selected in competition in Cannes. But when it was released, 500 people went to see it in 3 weeks time. Whereas on the other hand, at festivals there is 3 times more in one screening. So this is an economical and a critical question: Cahiers du cinéma has always been dealing with films released each week and each month. But what happens is that the most important movies (not only ones made by obscure filmmakers) don't have the most important time of their career in public theatres, but elsewhere, in festivals or in museums... Should we change? Not be a monthly anymore? Should we change the way we organise every issue?"
I totally agree there, the situation is real. It's the proposed solution that is wrong.

It's hard for niche auteurs to keep making films that only festival goers are going to watch... it doesn't payback the increasing cost of film production.
I also agree that the Film Press can no longer wait the cue of local distributors to publish an article in their pages (see my earlier post on Abolish Locale). You know the way critics vaguely mention films when they review a festival, and then wait for the national distribution to publish a full review. This is a tacit rule imposed by the MARKET that critics agree to in order to get access to private screenings. I'm not sure Film Criticism can still function that way, controlled by the Industry, in this day and age.
Because, like Burdeau says above, when the Industry decides not to release a film, this acts as an effective censorship, the Press will not talk about these unreleased films. This may serve the interests of Studios and Distributors (who manage the markets to maximize their profits) but it doesn't serve the auteurs (shelved on a waiting line), the audience (deprived of films that people can see in other parts of the world), nor the critics (who can't speak of films they want to address). This is an absurd situation. The content of film discourse shall not be dictated by the Industry.

Another problem is the fact that low revenue films draw more audience at festivals than in public theatres when they are released nationwide... Only in France could this situation survive, thanks to state subsidies funding movies, distributors and arthouses that don't make profits. So this is another aspect to look at : the direct competition of festival screenings on the subsequent public box office of these small audience films. (see my earlier post on Mushroom Festivals)

The point where I disagree is when he argues that the Film Press (in decline, and in the case of Cahiers, close to bankruptcy!) is the most appropriate patron to support these "unloved auteurs left behind" :
Burdeau: "If Ferrara or Shinji Aoyama in Japan, or Pedro Costa have a really hard time to be released, and when they are released it's a nonsense because no regular viewer goes to see it, then Cahiers should play a political role, militant, activist, and release the films themselves. We're going to become distributors for this kind of films. Some people say : "OK there's going to be a conflict of interest. You cannot be both reviewer and distributor". I don't see it that way. We're talking about obscure filmmakers, they won't make us rich."
No go. And it's not just an ethical issue (conflict of interest)...
If you are aware that this distribution branch won't make you rich, why do you add this to your "business plan" to save Cahiers from its debts? Clearly it puts an additional burden on the already financially struggling magazine! More responsibilities, more investments, more time consumed, more marketing costs...
How will the Cahiers team find resource to adequately support these films (and not ruin them), when the redaction already complains they have TOO MANY films to review each week?
Or maybe the point is to turn Cahiers into a multinational media conglomerate, not only publishing its own books and DVDs, but also distributing films and why not producing them. Thus Cahiers becomes its own self-sustainable bubble. Maybe a great "business plan" but a lame conception of artistic liberties... Was the point of all this to rack up for the Press the subsidies originally destined to Film Creation?

So obviously struggling auteurs won't be saved by a mortgaged magazine (they need solid financial support from a patron of the Arts that will not go down if one film flops), and vice-versa, Cahiers won't be saved by merging with a distribution company (because it would just ruin the reputation of journalism independence, among readers, among auteurs not-supported by Cahiers-distribution, among other distributors-competitors). Even if this new hybrid model was economically viable, which is not, I'm not sure the dubious benefits would overcome the sacrifices in term of ethics and liberties for both parties (the corrupted critics and the auteurs supported).

Why of all people in France or in the world should Cahiers be the only possible saviour of Costa and Ferrara? I know, if there were other options they would have made themselves known by now... since the movies are not released yet to date. But that doesn't mean that Cahiers, or any film magazine company, should stand in for the role of somebody else.
The cinema industry is struggling, fine, let's not jump the gun and turn the industry on its head. If we need a major reform of the cinema circuit, the preferable option isn't to let Cahiers do it all by themselves.

There are people knowing this job better than film critics, people whose job is to distribute films! This is not just a weekend distraction, it's a full time activity, film writers don't have the luxury to give attention to! If you have that much spare time you're probably not covering all the films to review that well.

There are more intelligent/productive propositions to make for a sustainable market welcoming all sorts of films :
We need to convince more investors (who know how to balance a freaking budget!), we need to help them take more risks (with more incentive regulations), we need to update the system of distribution (currently sold out to blockbuster interests), we need to organise a parallel niche market (special for low-revenue films, small crowds, slow turnout because the take-the-money-and-run weekends only work for blockbusters)

Burdeau : "The positive aspect for the crisis, to me, is that we need to understand that the separation between the critical world and the cinema world is not what it used to be 50 years ago when Cahiers was founded. On one hand we have a monthly magazine and on the other hand we have the film shown in the theatre. And to me the internet is really the place that shows that these things have to go together whether we want it or not. When you're writing on a blog, you can have on the same page an article and a piece of the movie or the whole movie. At the same time you can be a magazine and a theatre."
Well, maybe a blog can be a magazine and a theatre, because it grows outside legality and does not abide to journalistic ethics... but the equation is not reversible. This is taking the reality of the Press a little lightly to think that a magazine could just "do like the blogs" ("since they steal all our readers anyway").
To turn Cahiers towards the internet is a mature decision, progressive, inevitable... to embrace Web 2.0, to update more frequently, to engage with your readers, to go international, to be bilingual (or multilingual). Yes, that is great. Everybody wants that.
But the internet is not the excuse to turn a Critic into an imperialistic Movie Tycoon extending its hand on all branches of the industry they are supposed to watch and criticize from the OUTSIDE. If Cahiers goes executive, fine, I'll watch your Costa films, but I'll stop reading your magazine-catalogue, sorry. I don't care for more self-complacent publicity. Maybe that's what you want. You want to give up on Film Discourse, and just champion films by signing them up or not.
Cahiers films Inc. vs. the rest of the world!

01 novembre 2008

Abolish locale

Nomadism that is, locale is meaningless on the web.

Coninuation from the subject mentioned in my previous post (Nomad Cinephilia), Adrian Martin writes in the latest Filmkrant (Nov 2008) : "Abolish all film magazines!"
"Almost every film magazine on the Net sticks to an old, pre-WWW format: reviews of current film releases, the latest Film Festivals and events and books, some general reflections on cinema and its cultural context. But the idea of the 'local' reigns supreme: when a new film reaches your city, that's when you devote serious attention to it - for the sake of your local audience. But why should it matter, any longer, whether You, the Living premieres in Cannes in 2007 or Melbourne in 2008 or Iceland in 2010? Cyber-magazines still refuse to face the implications of their global address; they are afraid to throw open their topics and co-ordinates."
He concludes : "And the film magazine of the future will be both a generator and an organiser of those critiques."
I couldn't agree more. The idea of the local is abolished by the Global Village. World cinema as we experience it, inaugurated in distant major festivals, creating instant buzz in every language around the world is less tied to the local than other cultural goods.
If your activity as blogger depends on local distribution (although with import, VOD and pirate download... this is rarely true), fine, there is no reason why distributors should decide the week when a film gets reviewed. But publishing a review on the WORLD WIDE WEB for everyone to see, should define itself from its material (the film) rather than its contingency (spatial or temporal coordinates when you got to see it).
When Google returns you pages on the film you're interested in, you don't pick the blog based in the nearest location to where you're at... especially if you have the luxury to rather read a better one written a year ago in another corner of the globe.
Why do we read film criticism anyway? To find something that is playing in our town, because we want "to go to the movies"... just any movie available to fill an idle night out? Or do we know our way around the cinema planet already and go right to something we have in mind? I think cinephiles don't need "recommendations of the week" or "show schedules"... they are already organised to know what's available nearby, they just need to hear about the films that are playing at their favorite theatres. And the average movie-goer can easily open several windows and make an educated choice by comparing what various critics say on such or such film.

Online reading is just no longer contingent.

Online writing is just no longer timely.

Film Criticism has no business with distribution. Newspapers made it so on paper, because they make the news, they get their package of novelties in every issue to bait the subscriber with a periodic fix... But now that the internet gives the opportunity to cinephiles to think outside the box, to be aware of what is going on beyond their borders, ahead of the weekly schedule of their local screen. People don't watch movies on cue anymore... this was so XXth century!
The audience is back in power now. We have the choice to wait before watching a film, because it'll come back in the form of DVD or VOD. We have the choice to watch it before a distributor deems it profitable, either at a festival or by imports. We have the choice to revisit oldies whenever we want, and not just when they come out on DVD, or when there is a big event at the Cinémathèque.
So why should the new Film Criticism continue to follow the pattern imposed by distributors and the weekly press? No reason whatsoever. It's just out of habit, because the framework is comfortable. Meanwhile, liberty is out there in the open, and internauts know where to find it.

We don't need to know if the critic watched the film on DVD or in theatre... WTF is a "DVD review"? Is it the improved "theatrical review"? Would the opinion be different if reviewed in theatrical release? If we plan to watch that film on DVD should we make sure to read the "DVD review" or else we'd be lost?
If I plan to watch a film in Paris, should I read reviews in French, from a Parisian website exclusively? Was the film shown differently in the print subtitled in English or in Spanish? Should we give more importance to the film object, its materiality or to its content, to the piece of cinema every viewer is expected to encounter upon discovering it, indiscriminatively, regardless for the screen size, the language and the city we happen to see it.

Nomad criticism intends to break down such trivial fences. Let's take into consideration the big picture of Film Discourse! Let's be part of one unique cinephile community, because Cinema is timeless and ubiquitous, and we all see the same movies. Let's give smart readers a consistant content, that may be used as they see fit, whenever they need it.
The critic is there to document cinema, they say what they have to say, a bottle at sea trusted to unknown currents or auspicious winds.
However, just like the buzz on the blogosphere, the Web 2.0 circulation of articles is in the hands of the READERS. And readers are everywhere and anywhere, anytime. That's the beauty of internet archives, everything is always current when we need it (provided Google put it on frontpage for us).