30 novembre 2009

27 novembre 2009

Random Factoid 1 : decade

Just a reminder, a decade doesn't start at zero until 9... There was no year zero at Jesus' birth. The calendar went from year -1 to year 1. The last millenium started on year 1001 and ended in 2000, just like the previous one started on year 1 and ended on year 1000. The XXth century started on year 1901 and ended on year 2000, thus the name "Twentieth" while all years start by 19.

Contrary to popular belief, the first decade of the 3rd millenium started on 1st of January 2001 and will end on 31th of December of 2010. At least for people following a Gregorian calendar. Just saying.

But if a decade is any 10 years, why not make a list of the 1998-2007 decade? What would be the point to use a decade across 2 different milleniums?

25 novembre 2009

Backstabbing French Commission

Tsai Ming-liang's Visage (2009) was a film commissioned by Le Louvre, world famous museum (currently developing a franchise in Abu Dhabi!). Its production met some problems and delays... most notably the defection of its title star, Maggie Cheng, who put aside her cinema career after falling in love with a Hong-Kong billionaire. This incident is actually integrated to the narrative of the film, like a palimpsest where the auteur traces over his original project to tell the story of his own self-included sequel-remake. Like every great auteur, Tsai incorporates elements of his autobiographical working hours, more or less fantasised or transcended, to turn life into art. This is fascinating to witness and learn from.
The Louvre's "patrons of the art" wanted to hire a critically-acclaimed festival-darling to direct a feature-length infomercial on their museum... they wanted someone to film their historical collection, the sumptuous rooms, the former royal castle exteriors, the gardens à la française, the postcard perspectives, the touristic sightseeing... and this you could tell by the commentaries of the representatives speaking about the "difficult" production anecdotes and the "surprising" final result. They imposed a celebrity (Laetitia Casta) to replace Maggie Cheng, in order to convince other co-producers, French and Taiwanese.
But Tsai is a humble man and a stubborn artist. Intelligently, he didn't want to measure up with La Joconde, la Vénus de Milo, la victoire de Samothrace, or the contemporary glass pyramid added by Chinese architect Pei Leoh Ming. What caught his eyes after a VIP visit of the premises were windowless corridors, low-ceiling attics, steel ladders, fluid pipes, underground water reservoirs for fire emergency, dark bushes... to the dismay of the public relation team, you can imagine. The only vaguely scenic view he immortalised was the majestic basin of the Tuileries gardens that ends his previous film : What Time is it There? (2001); a film containing back then the key articulations of his latest project : a brief cameo appearance of Jean-Pierre Léaud and this ending image of a wild stag in the Tuileries.

What annoys me here is not Tsai's film, which I loved (even if it's not among his most successful), but the French co-production and reception.

France can pride itself for being a safe haven of auteurs, domestic or international. I doubt filmmakers benefit from a greater liberty and protection anywhere else. This said, we would expect the highest artistic standards from a French commissioned project and above all from an art-friendly museum like Le Louvre... this is far from the truth, unfortunately.
I thought the Louvre commission was only a fund granted to an artist, for an opportunity with no strings attached. Who could think themselves in a position to give directions to a seasoned artist with a solid œuvre under his belt? Who cares for profits and commercial appeal when you're a wealthy state-owned museum? When you get the chance to work with one of the greatest film artist of our generation, you don't ask questions, you just give him money, provide all he asks for and wait for the finished piece without pressuring him. Who would better understand that than the greatest museum in a auteurist paradise like France?

I'm appalled to see that this "philanthropic" commission only showed the typical Hollywood system behaviour instead...

Of course, the final film is far from a commercial movie, but as an obscure artfilm it is treated like in Hollywood with a confidential release. And I'm offended by the reception of the French market, and above all the Parisian arthouses circuit. Visage premièred the 4th of November 2009, on only 15 screens nationwide (6 in Paris). And today, on 4th week, is only continued by 7 theatres (2 in Paris : one is one show/day, the other is 1 show/week)... I've never seen such a poor enthusiasm for an artfilm that has everything to please the cinephile-friendly Parisian arthouses. For instance, this week, Bruno Dumont's Hadewijch (2009), also slow and challenging, is given a more reasonable, decent release on 54 screens (10 in Paris), which is closer to the usual treatment for the hard-to-please niche.

Visage was selected in Cannes in official competition. Le Louvre was its godfather. Tsai Ming-liang has always been cherished by French cinephiles more than anywhere else in the world. It is an homage to François Truffaut, with 4 of his actors (Jean-Pierre Léaud, Jeanne Moreau, Nathalie Baye, Fanny Ardant). Laetitia Casta is featured prominently dressed by a flurry of haute couture costumes by French designer Christian Lacroix. Choreographed by Philippe Découflé. Its scenario was developed at the Cannes festival residence. It is shot on location in Paris. How more French could a foreign film be? It is a French co-production that should be supported by state subsidies and domestic exhibitors.
So if this kind of project is not embraced by the French market, where else will it be???

There is an artfilm "niche" in Paris too, like everywhere else, for "challenging" films like Visage, meaning that they will never get the sweeping coverage of a crowd-pleasing blockbuster, even in Paris of course! But there is always a base of art-friendly arthouses that support this kind of auteurs, whether the film is good or not, to give it a chance, to give the audience a chance to discover it before being taken down by the 2-week turnover release schedule. Usually there are at least a (couple of) dozen Parisian screens to champion this kind of films! I don't know what happened.
Les Inrockuptibles, Libération, Le Monde, Télérama praised it. OK, the snobbish Cahiers and Positif bashed it... but still.

It was already quite pretentious to "invite" an international auteur like Tsai Ming-liang to make a film in France... but given this ungrateful reception, he won't come back for sure.

We can tell the film was hard to make and struggled to come together under contradictory influences... too many ideas, not enough coherence. I agree it's not a clean achievement. I think Tsai is essentialy happy he could work with Léaud to make an homage to his mentor Truffaut. That's his main satisfaction. For the rest he filled with what he knows best, lip-synch choreographies and lavish compositions. And even from an admittedly "failed" project, I believe he pulled off a beautiful film that is nothing to be ashamed of, contrary to what detractors think.

Cinephiles celebrate Tsai when he makes sense, when he recycles pop culture, when he's provocative... but they abandon him when his contemplative aesthetic is too abstract, too experimental, to discontinuous. His adaptation of the story of the Salomé myth is what deconstructive cuisine is to fine gastronomie : a quintessential rendition of its dissociated elements. And on this level, it is amazing to observe how Tsai tailors this clever patchwork with precision and a very personal inspiration.

I command Tsai for not falling back on facile clichés and conventional narratives. He walked away from all incentives (by the production) to pigeon-hole him into a cliché of a "French auteur".

* * *

I was already disappointed by Hou Hsiao-hsien's "French film" : Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge (2007); and Rithy Panh's eponymous adaptation of Marguerite Duras : Un Barrage Contre le Pacifique (2008). Both mishandled French co-productions because it was too heavy on the Frenchisation.

The 2006 Viennale Mozart homage : New Crowned Hope, was also a product placement failure bribing auteurs to promote Mozart in projects that were already almost finished. As if contributing funds to a film gave any right for artistic inputs or suggestions... maybe in Hollywood, but not in Europe!
Rich people bring in the money and get the eventual profits (or honorific credits to help the art scene) from a (risky) investment.
Art people bring in the artistic ideas because they don't need to be told how it works.
That's how it works as far as I'm concerned. When the roles are inverted it is disastrous, both for the art and for the industry.
Though, at least, the New Crowned Hope series didn't suffer from the commission requirements (to include Mozart music), and each film is wholesome and fully coherent with its auteur's identity. Because the Viennale co-production didn't intervene from the start of the project, like the French did in the 3 aforementioned examples.

Usually French co-productions are more discreet and sensible, leaving the auteur they fund and champion in control of their work. All the reason why I'm shocked by what happened with Tsai (and HHH and Rithy Panh) which was meant to be a film less commercial than the others from the get go.

18 novembre 2009

Where the Sun doesn't shine

Manhola Dargis (NYT, 18 Nov 2009) : "First shown at the Berlin Film Festival four years ago, “The Sun” [Aleksandr Sokurov's Solntse] is finally receiving its welcome American theatrical release, which means that one of the best movies of 2005 is now also one of the best of 2009"
Why does it take almost 5 years (Berlinale 2005 première: 17 Feb 2005) before a major film d'auteur gets distributed on the American market? A film featuring a (glorifying) moment of American history (not the nasty part of WW2), with General MacArthur in a positive, self-aggrandising light... And it opens on a single screen in NYC (Film Forum)?
The New York Times at least acknowledges this gap, but doesn't even bother pondering on the causes of this delay. Is it not worth investigating for the NYT? I understand that a boring foreign art film will never be released worldwide within a week, like your typical Hollywood blockbuster... that a privilege of the universal mainstream entertainment. But 4 years before someone finds an available slot in the release schedule to show this great film on commercial screens is a lot of time in the film industry cycle. 1 year is a normal waiting period after its festival première. 2 years is already quite long for the major markets. Usually the smaller countries have to wait the longest to get access to films and have to watch them after everyone else. Now, why would America want to be ranked at the bottom of the release list, like if they didn't have the money to buy the rights, or the screens to show it, like it is often the issue in tiny countries? It's as if on the cultural level, the USA is an underdeveloped country, before industrialisation, before globalisation, before the instantness of the internet; while it is supposed to be the frontrunner technologically and culturally wise, a model to look up to, a leading force to show the rest of the world how to grasp the future... How can the leading economical empire on the planet be so backward, a-critical, self-indulgent, isolationistic culturally?
The access to American culture is a long tough road. And Americans are happy the way it is. So it's not going to change anytime soon.

16 novembre 2009

Branding Abu Dhabi, Israel and the USA

What's wrong with branding a conceited image for Abu Dhabi, the ex-nihilo city built with corrupt oil money in an inhospitable desert at a pricey carbon impact tag? If you're reading the pseudo-critics flown over, all expenses paid, like a typical Hollywood junket, there is nothing wrong with it. They wouldn't even question the existence of a wannabe-major scale international festival in a country famous for restricting the freedom of expression and with an insignificant cinema production.

Money can buy all, even legitimacy!

There is a nasty climate where spoiled cinephiles believe that bashing the major international film festivals is a higher priority for film culture than to unconditionally preserve any screenings of underexposed artfilms on the world stage and particularly small films coming from countries with a struggling domestic film market. However flawed the growing "commercialisation" of festivals might be (because they need to survive economically, and draw attention to the press which only cares for blockbusters and the star system in the first place!) they represent the least evil that cinephiles have to find out about new independent foreign filmmakers. If smaller festivals have the bolder luxury to focus on hardcore auteurism... they can't give these films nearly as much press exposition as Cannes, Venice, Berlin, Toronto or Vienna do. So the naive claims to expect the mammoth mechanics of a global scale festival to be as friendly and supportive as your local "pseudo-international" festival is utterly non-constructive. Though, I already said last year all I thought about these attacks on "too many festivals".

I wish these frustrated festival-goers would put as much scrutiny in their everyday film consumption as they dare to fling in the face of long term institutions that single-handedly keep afloat the good name of selfless art films in a world obsessed with Box Office numbers and quick screen turnover. Of course criticism of big festival should be encouraged in the hope to improve the general standards and always push towards more advantages than less. Only insofar as you proved you are equally critical of alternatives to what you criticise : to the imperialistic lock-down of major studios, to the cultural censorship of the populist levelling field, to the domestic distribution conservatism and the limited access to diversity on commercial screens. Instead of barking desperately at the major festivals, the loud mouths should find a more pertinent cause to defend and a more effective war to fight.

If only there was less obtuse manichaeism among film critics... Every single problem is always simplified by a black and white mentality into a forced choice between pro OR con. Everything has to be turned into something sensational, something clear cut, something scandalous, something easy to understand and easy to take a position for or against. Are you PRO or CON major film festivals?
The fast food of critical thinking! All I'm saying is that disingenuous reviewers would have us mistake a bush for the forest. Demanding excellence from high-profile festivals is laudable, as long as you don't confuse taste preferences in certain areas of cinema (or contempt for others) with an elective selection of a small number of films limited by the scope of a given festival.
A few things to keep in mind : A festival cannot show everything they would like to, either because they don't have enough screens or because of première exclusivity at other concurrent festivals. So a line up is never an ideal sample of a years' production. There are always compromises. Spending more time than it deserves on what a festival shows and what it doesn't show is as pointless as to argue with Oscars winners and nominees... Get real, the important critical battles are elsewhere.
J. Rosenbaum : "I was tempted by [the Viennale and Filmmuseum directors' joint proposal], but various roadblocks stood in the way, most of them either logistical or ideological." [One of these roadblocks] "a reluctance to restrict [himself] to 'American cinema' after living through eight years of American separatism and exceptionalism as propounded and promulgated by the administration of George W. Bush"
Gabe Klinger writes a thought-provoking article on the ideologies of festivals, where he brushes wide strokes through the landscape of recent festival controversies. He opens with the self-critical confession of Jonathan Rosenbaum on the American-centric program he was commissioned to put together at this year's Viennale. Which is, for a change, a great critical insight on the self-indulgent ways of the American industry. Nothing wrong with showing commercial Hollywood films in itself, but the (political and economical) contextualisation of such gesture is what we expect from a true film critic. So the article started insightfully. But then, in the same breath, he links this type of valid criticism with the controversy over the Brand Israel operation at last year's TIFF... Unfortunate conflation.

If you think you're tough enough to tackle the Middle East conflict, you should use your "objective" scrutiny on the Abu Dhabi festival and the Hollywood hegemony too. That is if you're not a prejudiced critic, that your main interest at heart is the fairness granted to film culture and how the movie industry functions; not only in countries where you're emotionally/politically/ideologically involved, but anywhere similar problems arise. If you take a case out of context as an excuse to bash your victim, regardless for the degree of gravity the problem you single out rates on a global level.
And my answer to this is that Branding Israel has little to do with cinema or politics, and it's not for film critics to exploit this controversy for a discriminatory campaign that undermines the unconditional respect for people's culture. This is the central issue here : the right to promote your own culture on the international scene.

"Brand Israel" is a marketing campaign? Big deal. The Abu Dhabi festival is a marketing campaign too, and everyone pretends it is a film festival... Why act so naive? Cinema is a costly business and people who have enough money to support this art are few. Questioning the movie economy and boycott funds of suspicious origins (involving unjust wars, torture, human rights offences, money laundering, mafia, drugs...) would stop most film productions anywhere. Come on! don't pretend you're prude and shocked in one case, and totally fine with the dirty money behind the cause you support... What a hypocritical lynch mob!

Obviously, a marketing campaign meant to promote the local tourism business is going to emphasise the positive talking points and avoid mentionning the disincentive details. How immature do you have to be to expect California to advertize a sightseeing tour by pointing out to the risk of deadly earthquake? Or a Florida cruise advertising on the frequency of hurricanes? Should South Korea's tourism be brought to a halt because of the rampant threat of an attack by North Korea? Should Iran's cultural exchanges be embargoed because of its alleged nuclear program? Should the Holy sites in Israel be forbidden because of the peace process status quo?
Can't a country overcome the stigmata of a debilitating conflict, past or present? Do inhabitants of regions destroyed by wars, terrorism, dictatorships have to pay the price of a death toll and a wrecked economy, of which most had no direct implication in their causes, adding insult to injury to cultural alienation because spoiled overseas bourgeois fancy boycott activism? I'm baffled by the reaction of human acrimony...

Now, who wants to censor the expression of a nation's culture, even if it is a shameless self-promotional propaganda? Such tourism-oriented "propaganda" is to culture what diplomacy is to international affairs. You don't shoot the messenger! Even if we disagree with political representatives (fairly elected or not) from Iran, North Korea or China, we still invite them at the United Nation table, precisely to keep diplomatic negotiations open. Well, world culture is the same non-partisan scene, where every nation can promote their art, their heritage, their political tendencies. Film critics who begin to declare on the cinema stage that certain cultures are not welcome are simply fascist in my mind.
This is only cinema! Let political conflicts to competent people. It's already a miracle to find an objective, insightful, educated film critic giving a substantial analysis of a fiction film... Taking totalitarian positions on serious Real World matters goes way beyond their responsibilities, let alone legitimacy.

What is a boycott organised by the invisible niche of an art film festival going to do to resolve a millennium old conflict? There is no symbolic value in this absurd discrimination. The little symbol it has is negative, because it resorts to fascist ways. This is as ridiculous and counter-productive than the rally of filmmakers to support Polanski. It wasn't the filmmaker who was judged, nor his art compromised. It was the man himself, who has decided himself he was above the justice of California. Let the man deal with his karma, he's accountable for the choices he made in life. What should the cinema community do about it to pressure the judicial system or the public opinion either way? Not your business whatsoever!

The epitome of boycott absurdity, misdirection and censorship : "Freedom Fries"! There is a majority of smart people in the American congress who thought that it was a productive use of their time to REBRAND a typical American junk food because they didn't respect the right of a foreign country (not to mention, long lasting ally since the birth of the USA) to dissent and express an opinion in a democratic debate. Well done! Did it matter that the appellation was wrongly attributed to France, while its origin is Belgian? No, the priority was to make a powerful totalitarian symbolic gesture against international democratic diplomacy. See the documentary : The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear (2004/Adam Curtis/UK).

A boycott is meaningful when its effect directly impacts the issue at its root, when the offenders are directly punished by the sanction. Even when the UN embargoes a country it is a stupid move... so imagine how disgraceful it is for a film goer to boycott a country. Leaders in Iran, North Korea, China (or even France!) are not affected by embargoes and boycotts, it's their common people that are starved, the image of their culture that is tarnished for no reason. A war of attrition might be good enough for the military; however it is not a sensible action for political activists, who should know better than to cut a tree to catch the worm in one of the apples.

People in Israel don't agree at 100% with the conservative government policies. Just like Bush gulf war was not approved by 100% of Americans. Were American films censored by the rest of the world during the stand off around Iraq? I don't think so. Just like the Iranian people is not at 100% behind Ahmadinejad. Should we boycott Kiarostami, Makhmalbaf, Panahi, Pitts, Farhadi? Should we blame Iranian culture because we disagree with the policies of its government, because it threatens to nuke Israel? Is there any sense in boycotting Ozu, Mizoguchi, Naruse during WW2 (if they had been known in the West at the time)? Should Murnau and Lang be ostracised because they made film in Nazi Germany?

Should we refuse to watch Israeli films by Avi Mograbi (contesting the unjust treatment of Palestinians); Ari Folman's Waltz With Bashir (a less than glorifying introspection on the Lebanese war); Eran Korilin's The Band's Visit; Joseph Cedar's Beaufort (on the Israeli army); Samuel Maoz' Lebanon? I don't think that Hollywood pseudo-introspective war films on the Middle East occupations are as interesting formally or narratively... Should we dismiss the fiction work on Israeli society's contradictions by : Amos Gitai, Ronit Elkabetz, Keren Yedaya, Shira Geffen, Etgar Keret, Raphael Nadjari for the sole reason they live and work in a country torn apart by religious hatred?

It's fascist authorities like the Nazi Germany, Franco's Spain, Staline's Soviet Union, the Catholic Inquisition that blame culture and believe that hiding culture makes its (more or less) related ideology go away. Why would anybody today want to resort to such anti-democratic, retrograde, censoring means to get a political point across?

You want to lambaste Israel's unjust occupation of Palestine, its warmongering theocratic government, it's imperialistic marketing campaign? Fine. Follow the money. Who gives military supplies and protection, economic support, diplomatic pressure on his enemies? You know it. It's another warmongering theocratic government, with imperialistic marketing campaigns throughout the world, and unjust occupations in a few sovereign nations... If you want your political activism to be any effective, put pressure on Washington D.C. not on Israeli films and tourist venues. This is beneath anyone calling them-selves art lovers.

Besides Israel is a country smaller than New Jersey and slightly bigger than Lake Erie, with a population 40 times smaller than the USA! Should we compare the questionable American military bases and prisons around the world that compare to the wrong treatments of Palestinians in Israel? Do the USA get nearly as much flack for Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo...? I mean, criticism they receive it (even if they discredit anyone disagreeing with their ways, abroad or at home), but how much effective political/economical pressure do they get, comparatively to the cultural alienation of tiny nation like Israel?

A misdirected attack against Israeli culture (instead of its political leaders) is most often a sign of latent anti-Semitism, concealed under false pretence of a Politically Correct (although intellectually dishonest and a blanket discrimination) vendetta against an all in all harmless cultural promotion of local tourism.
Maybe Glenn Beck could resort to such dodgy rhetoric to persuade an audience of ignorants... but could any art critic take part in such xenophobic agenda, while art is supposed to bring people together beyond all barriers?

So what about Abu Dhabi, messieurs les censeurs?

Is the carbon emission impact to go review The Informant over 10000 km away from NYC a sensible exercise of the profession of film critic? Domestic junkets aren't good enough? Is it even respectful of the local culture to act like a spoiled festival goer and expect to find the Cannes quality standard in a remote micro-country that is only recently embracing cinema? Is it an informed opinion to blame a poor Arabic culture while ignoring the subduction imposed by former colonial powers in the region?

10 novembre 2009

01 novembre 2009

Ironic Toys

Panique au village (2009/Aubier/Patard/Belgium)

Toy Story 3 (2010/Lee Unkrich/USA)

26 octobre 2009

"One of the Best Video of All Time" (1)

Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)
Beyoncé - 2008 (Album I am... Sacha Fierce)

When I first saw the video I thought it was silly, over-the-top, even irritating. But the catchy tune won me over after repeated viewing, especially the voice melody in the chorus. We can't say much of the music, a very basic hammering beat. There are 2 notes on a guitar string sliding up and down, a 2 notes bass line on a synthesizer, 3 hits on a drum and continuous clapping samples, cycled endlessly with additional sound effects here and there. But that's it. The zero degree of instrumental music. I wonder what music style it corresponds to... it's probably closer to a slow Drum & Bass beat than R&B. Beyoncé admitted that the "Sasha Fierce" half of her double album is intentionally playful and rhythmic for an easy-going dance drive.
All the melodic variations come from the voice line only which is not terribly wide ranging either but seductive nonetheless. The bridge gives a bit more vocal range to the song with a more elaborate melody and intermittent back vocals.
It's totally mesmerising and after repeated viewing it becomes addictive (which is the main objective of popular music). Now I really like it and have been playing it in loop for a good while.

Also, listen to this delicious acoustic deconstruction by a talented home-based duo : Pomplamoose, freshly uploaded (YouTube, 17 Sept 2009)
The video could improve, but I love the false-candid, self-conscious, serious-but-ironic kind of attitude (a little Miranda July?). The rest of their channel is equally awesome.

The storyline, condensed in three paragraphs, is quite ironic. Beyoncé Knowles is the model of a very successful woman, a sex symbol, a star, and happens to be newly wed to another star, Jay-Z. Probably one of the most glamorous couple in the music industry at the moment. Yet she sings a feminist message to single ladies, incarnating the emancipation of today's women, regular women.
Basically "If you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it" translates into "If you want me, you need to marry me". A bit of an emotional blackmail. As she sings this taunt to men in general, she rubs in all women's face the big rock she sports at her ring finger. She's married, she doesn't have to worry about male indecision, fear of commitment and lack of responsibility. The choreography and the ostentatious piece of jewellery she wears around her ring keep on emphasizing the success of her personal life.
Or maybe it is a message to her ex-boyfriend(s) who missed his (their) chance to propose her before Jay-Z noticed her... something like "You didn't put a ring on my finger, he did, so now shut up". Anyway I like this straightforward dare. Ladies are not afraid anymore to put up certain conditions and deadlines in the game of seduction. "I don't care if you're jealous now. You didn't buy me a ring so I'm not yours anymore. It's not your business who I dance with." She knows it hurts to see the woman you love(d) in somebody else's arms!
But it also takes courage for the girl to end a relationship and move on, because her beloved partner is not interested to commit more permanently for a wedding. Not every woman would take the risk to break their couple, however unsatisfying it is, to go single again. Beyoncé's sex appeal saves her from staying single too long I would assume. It connects naturally with women who suffered in a on-and-off relationship and are afraid to bail out definitely.
"I've got gloss on my lips, a man on my hips..."
Here is a synecdoche for you. The whole entity (a man) is replacing a part of the whole (his hands) that is implied in the sentence. I like this line "I've got a man on my hips" it is possessive, dominating and provocative. She reverses the action, from being enlaced by someone else, she becomes the captor. The man holds her in his arms, and she says I've got him, he's stuck on me, my hips are like magnets.

Then the irony continues. She keeps singing that she wants a ring (a materialistic metaphor for marriage), and she then say don't give me things, your love is all I want. In the end she wants the wedding ring, but not the romantic presents of an endless courtship.

Three clone dancers, same height, same muscular legs, dressed alike, same shoes, same hairdo, in perfect synchronized moves.
A black body outfit hides all womanly shapes (tits & ass) because of the absence of volume shadows. However, what it reveals with frill ornamented high-cut hips are long objectified legs : symbols of feminine seduction in an hypnotic dance. Legs and hips move a lot, and are frequently emphasized by complementing hand gesture (slap on ass, hands on hips, hands in the air).
Beyoncé stands out from the trio by her asymmetrical outfit, covering most of her left arm and revealing entirely the right arm with a naked shoulder. The other two back-dancers wear a symmetrical sleeveless body outfit.
Beyoncé also wears big earrings and an ostentatious piece of jewellery on her left hand. This extension of a ring that engulf the entire forearm, called the robo-glove, was designed by French designer Thierry Mugler. It's like an Avant-Garde concept of a ring, a ring that spreads around the fingers, hand and arm with titanium and crystal. Quite a massive "ring" that imprisons her entire hand. A megalomanic outgrowth of the traditional, discreet, simple, humble wedding ring. This oversized symbol shows off how much she invests, psychologically, into this marriage proof; and how much she rubs it in everybody's face. Sacha Fierce is an "ironic" alter-ego, of course, but the irony is also a PC way to put on an arrogant attitude that would seem outrageous if not exaggerated for humorous purpose...

The "Three Graces" is a famous motif in painting and sculpture inherited from the Greek antiquity (Charites, or Gratiae in Roman mythology) : Aglaea (beauty), Euphrosyne (mirth), and Thalia (good cheer).

The song starts with the 3 girls lined up frontally, so we can notice Beyoncé is shorter than her back-dancers. The synchronous choreography is more casual. But the formation quickly moves to a triangular form, with Beyoncé ahead of the others, closer to the camera lens. This and a low angle camera uses perspective deformation to make Beyoncé taller (on screen) than the ones in the back. It seems to also help a perfect synchronisation of all 3 dancers, as they can follow Beyoncé's every moves in a faster and more precise choreography.

(to be continued)

23 octobre 2009

Truffaut on Bazin (1959 & 83)

retrouver ce média sur www.ina.fr

retrouver ce média sur www.ina.fr

16 octobre 2009

Regional Industries in India - World Cinema Stats (10)

Indian regional cinemas by language (1931-2008)
I only found data from 1931 to 1993, and only 2 years since then (2003 and 2008), but it gives a good idea how the Indian industry developed. Hindi films (the Bollywood standard, although Mumbai is in the Marathi region, but Marathi cinema is very small) clearly dominate the market, but is hardly the totality of Indian cinema as you can see. I have represented here the 8 main languages that produce the most films, consistently. The survey I used lists 51 different languages! (including English, German, Farsi, Arabic, Thai or Sanskrit, though only a single digit in total)
The production quantity really exploded since the 70ies, and it is growing again rapidly since 2000. It seems out of control.
In the early decades of talky cinema (under British rule), many regions without their own industry opted for Hindi and made their films in Bombai. And lots of films were made in native language with a Hindi version for the pan-Indian market.
The Indian Independence (15 August 1947) boosts Indian cinema as a whole and regional cinemas. Satyajit Ray opens auteur cinema in Bengale in the 50ies, for a while. In the 70ies, Kerala (Malayalam language) becomes the region of auteur cinema, with Adoor Gopalakrishnan and the New Cinema.
In 1968, Telugu film production overtakes Hindi film production for the first time.
In 1979, Tamil film production overtakes Hindi film production for the first time.
Since the 80ies, 5 industries seem to compete for the top ranking : Hindi (Delhi + Mumbai), in the North; and in the South : Tamil (Madras-Chennai), Telugu (Hyderabad), Kannada (Bangalore) and Malayalam (Trivandrum), each with a powerful film industry and studios of their own.
In 2008, Bollywood made more Hindi films (around 600, not even half of all Indian films) than Hollywood made American films (520)! Unfortunately the financial success/flops ratio is worse than in Hollywood. The production cost remains inferior than in Hollywood though and the B.O. returns are much larger.
What everyone calls "Bollywood" is in fact a series of regional cinemas, with an individual production more proportional to what we see elsewhere in the world, around 200 films each (except for Hindi recently) per year. Though they all make mainly Masala films (Indian musicals). Regional cinema and art films struggle to survive within a commercial market overwhelmed by a single standardized formula of self-censored romantic dramas containing 5 to 10 choreographic routines.

This next picture shows the important milestones and historical dates to make sense of the ups and downs of these graphs, also a few landmark films.

Complete timeline of film production 1913-2010 (including Silent Era) :



  • "Encyclopedia of Indian cinema" Ashish Rajadhyaksha, Paul Willemen, B.F.I. Oxford University Press, 1994, New Dehli, India.
  • "Indian Cinema. Le cinema indien" Ed. by E. Grimaud & K. Gormley, Asiaexpo Edition, 2008, Lyon, France.
  • My open-source spreadsheet

12 octobre 2009

Devdas (2002/Bhansali)

The new issue (#6) of Indian Auteur is out! With a new website overhaul, a downloadable/printable version of the journal (PDF here), or an online flipbook (here). The theme is around the musical genre, in Indian cinema and in World cinema.
My article is an analysis on the first part of Devdas (Sanjay Leela Bhansali's 2002 version). Enjoy.

08 octobre 2009

China Production - World Cinema Stats (8)

Finally found some data on Chinese film production (a 1949-86 study). Pre-1949 films still wanted though, as well as 2 periods : 87-94 and 98-05.
If these figures are correct, it wasn't as large as I expected. However few come out to our markets, they are no competition (in size) to India, EU, USA or even Japan, contrary to what I assumed from the most populous country.
But it produced a greater number of educational/scientific films (5000) and documentaries (12000) between 1949 and 1984, mostly for propaganda purpose.
Note the dramatic "shortage" during the "Cultural Revolution" repression. Recently it is growing to a better shape according to China's population and economy.

More random infos:
  • 1979 : 29.3 million admissions (all time high at the time [1984])
  • 1994 : 5 millions admissions
  • 1985 : 182,948 travelling projectors to screen about 20 films/year in rural areas.
  • 1990 : travelling projectors drop to 100,000.
  • 1995 : still 100,000 travelling projectors
  • 1981-85 : 6th Quinquennial Plan (with an objective of about 120 new films/year)
  • 1982 : 6000 theatres in urban areas / 4000 in rural areas
  • 1983 : 99 theatres in Beijing
  • 1995 : 66 theatres (only 13 modern theatres) in Beijing (=10 millions inhabitants); 3000 rural theatres

Source :

06 octobre 2009

Pariscope 2009

Rosenbaum : "As a French friend recently pointed out to me, American audiences have a tendency to regard most films as pieces of property or business ventures, an attitude reflected and encouraged by critics who refer to films at “hits” and “flops”. Perhaps this is one reason why American viewers tend to be more restless and inattentive at films than the French; having purchased a “piece of the action,” they may feel a certain anxiety about how their investment turns out. Another explanation may be two decades of television-conditioning, which seems to teach many Americans that a screen is something to be glanced at, not watched, and a soundtrack overheard as much as listened to. In France, television is still commonly regarded as a precious novelty, and one rarely sees a Frenchman watching the tube with anything less than total absorption."
Upon reading Jonathan Rosenbaum's article : "Paris Journal, Spring 1972 (Paris moviegoing, MODERN TIMES)" [Film Comment, Spring 1972; slightly tweaked, September 2009] (18 Sept 2009), I thought it would be fun to take the same survey and compare the situation today. Maybe a New Yorker will be inclined to do the same for NYC today too...

Pariscope used to be my weekly bible too, indeed. That or its twin : L'Officiel des Spectacles. But that's how we see things have changed... today I rely instead on a free online service (AlloCiné), which is a pretty good database of all French releases, week by week, screen by screen. It cost 3F in 1992 when I arrived in Paris, and it costs 0;40€ today, so the price is stable. But I bet the sales have been eaten up by the web offering of the same infos, more instantaneous. Séances was a great signpost for all obscure screenings in the capital (unfortunately discontinued in 2008). Certainly better than Cahiers's incomplete calendar, once a month, prepared too early, and not updated in real time. They never understood (to this day!) the Cahiers website had to play a day-to-day role to connect with their "monthly" readers...

So according to Pariscope #2158 (week of 30 Sept - 6 Oct 2009) 37 years later :
  • 78 commercial cinémas (Paris "intramuros" city-centre)
  • 85 commercial cinémas (Paris suburbs)
  • 3 institutions (La Cinémathèque, Centre Pompidou, Forum des Images)
    • La Cinémathèque = 35 films (3 screens)
    • Centre Pompidou = 11 films (3 screens)
    • Forum des Images = 35 films (3 screens)
  • not counting the screenings at the various museums and foreign cultural centres (Jeu de Paume, Goethe Institute, Musée Guimet, Auditorium du Louvre, Institut du Monde Arabe, Fondation Cartier, Maison du Japon, Institut Finlandais, Maison de la Russie, Institut Hongrois, Centre Wallonie-Bruxelles, Centre Culturel Irlandais, Centre Tchèque, Institut Néérlandais, Maison du Danemark, Institut Coréen...)
Stats CNC 2008 (PDF) in Paris intramuros : 85 cinémas (41 arthouses); 363 screens ; 70509 seats
26,720,000 admissions sold in Paris in 2008 = 12.57 admissions per inhabitant per year (on average).
Stats CNC 2005 "art & essai" / arthouse (PDF) in Paris megalopole (+suburbs) : 138 arthouses (=49.3 % of total arthouses France); 283 arthouse screens (=30.5% of total arthouse screens in France); 52439 arthouse seats (=26.9% of total arthouses seats France); 184 parisian inhabitants per arthouse seat; 49 parisian inhabitants per seat (all cinemas).

Total unique film titles projected on Parisian public screens : 437 =
  • 13 new releases this week (5 USA, 4 France, 1 Korea, 1 Australia, 1 Mexico, 1 Morocco)
  • 221 current run titles (196 on commercial circuit + 24 in institutions)
  • 202 revival titles (146 on commercial circuit + 56 in institutions)
Broken down by country of origin (current + revival) :
  • 101 : USA (23%)
  • 76 : France (18%)
  • 24 : Italy (5.5%)
  • 22 : Japan (5%)
  • 21 : UK (4.8%)
  • 20 : China (4.6%)
  • 19 : Germany (4.5%)
  • 6 (each) : Spain, Israel
  • 5 : Korea, Czech Rep.
  • 4 : Russia, Canada
  • 3 : Taiwan, Sweden
  • 2 : Portugal, Australia, Denmark
  • 1 : Brazil, Hungary, Algeria, Austria, Finland, Morocco, Serbia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Cameroon, Iran, Argentina, Peru, Cuba, Greece, New Zealand, Switzerland, Senegal, Poland, Mexico
Which is :
  • 18% : France = 78 films
  • 82% : Foreign films (all non-French) = 359 films
  • 37.8% : EU = 165 films
  • 62.2% : Foreign films (all non-EU) = 272 films
This week there is a Chinese cinema retrospective; a contemporary German cinema week; a complete retrospective of Guy Maddin, Kitano, Christophe Honoré, Alain Guiraudie, Park Chan-wook, Milos Forman, Robert Aldrich; other partial homages to Billy Wilder, James Stewart, Cary Grant, Bette Davis, Sean Connery, Rivette, Tarantino, Tarkovsky, Weerasethakul; a retrospective on La Nouvelle Vague...

Nowadays, there is no more unsubtitled prints in Paris, or at La Cinémathèque (maybe rare exceptions). If the original version is not subtitled in French, at least there is English subtitles provided (in exceptional cases for rare prints). Commercial multiplexes (outside Paris) usually run a dubbed version for American films, but in Paris there is at least 1 original version available for each title. Which is more like at least 50-50% ratio of Subs/French dub. I mean it's rare when a film only screens in its French translation.

05 octobre 2009


Cinema Capacity - Japan - World Cinema Stats (7)

Case study : Japan 1955-2008

The number of Admissions naturally follows the number of screens, which is a direct consequence of the supply-demand market regulation. Except for the recent surge of screens (new multiplexes, digital projection...) that doesn't translate in a proportional increase of audience.
This time-series goes back a little further than for France (in my previous post) so we can see the clear change of era with the apparition and development of home televisions. Since 1970 the admissions stabilizes right below 200 millions, which is 6 times lower than the pre-TV, 1960 peak! This said there is no significant decrease when the VHS (70ies), DVD (mid-90ies), online piracy (~2000), Blu-ray (2006) appeared. Most of the decline can be attributed to TV alone.
Japan shows a similar drop of screens capacity around 1995 (economic crisis?) before a new expansion between 1995 and 2008.


04 octobre 2009

Cinema capacity - France - World Cinema Stats (6)

Case study : France 1975-2008

This just means that since 1975 the number of screens keeps growing, globally, but the auditoriums tend to be smaller, containing less seats each, maybe with wider seats, more comfortable (or more space reserved for concession stands). So more screens (not that many more though) to show more films, but smaller audience for each film. It's also the slow decline after the boom of the 50-60ies. Fewer people go to the movies now than they used to back then. The admission price has dramatically increased in the meantime (an average of +7% per year between 1960 and 2000).


26 septembre 2009

Critical Fallacy 11 : Egocentrism

"It's too big, it's too wide | It's too strong, it won't fit | It's too much, it's too tough | I talk like this 'cause I can back it up [..] Some call it arrogant, I call it confident | You decide when you find on what I'm working with [...] Ego so big, you must admit | I got every reason to feel like I'm that bitch"
Beyoncé (Ego, 2008, on the album I am Sasha Fierce)
A critic is an individual human who develops a judgement based on personal preferences, like anyone else of course. Unfortunately, when taste becomes the only referential for every opinions issued on a film, the level of critical insight lowers considerably.


Assuming whatever affects you, influences you, shocks you, makes you think and dream is somehow universal therefore applies to everybody else, assuming that the expression of your own taste will set everyone else's taste in tune is the delusion of the infant whose psyche is underdeveloped. The infant believes to be the centre of the universe and that people around think exactly alike. Later we learn that taste is particular and personality is what makes everyone unique.
Each viewer can relate to a film for different reasons and the reaction can be totally contrary due to taste differences, even if the rational understanding of the film is equivalent.
That's why the debate of taste preferences is left to the basic audience chatting up what they experienced outside the theatre. Writing on a film as a critic involves going beyond this immediate state of personal impressions (self-indulgent preferences, self-reflexive experiences) otherwise the review will be entirely interchangeable with anybody else's report on the film... not because of the opinionated stances it takes, but for its level of superficiality.
Taste is equally shared among people. The taste of a film critic is no better/finer/more authoritative than any average viewer's. In fact when it comes to subjective appreciations, the critics' taste is probably less spontaneous, less genuine than the general audience (who is not conditioned by theories, trendspotting obsessions, "professional" fetishism, friendly acquaintances with people working in the film industry...) The critic fabricates a certain sophisticated taste, based on knowledge, canons, compulsive viewing, this taste becomes more objective, more informed, more reasonable, more based on facts and understanding than the fully emotional response of a common movie goer. So critics can't operate within total subjectivity and shouldn't deceive their readers by pretending what they offer is pure taste and impressions.

Lorena Cancela : "Or why — if most teachers celebrate Godard's inserts or interruptions in a film as the introduction of the first person, as the presence of a voice calling for attention — can't they accept that someone uses the first person in writing as a way of saying "Hey, here I am"? "

Klaus Eder : "[..] you start, as a film critic, on a white sheet of paper or an empty monitor and it's always painful to find the first sentence, to write something. And you write about yourself. I'm deeply convinced that, if you read film critics, you'll probably understand more about the critic writing it than about the film. About his personal humor of that day. You slept, you didn't sleep well, you had some problems with your wife or your lover. I mean, it's all in there. "

Adrian Martin : "Now the gut response is not the be-all and end-all of film criticism, but you've got to start with the gut response. Hopefully, it travels from your gut to your head at some point and you write something intelligent — but you've got to trust your own gut response."

David Bordwell : "Most orthodox criticism overdoes opinions, which create the critic’s professional persona. Soon opinions crystallize into tastes, and the persona overshadows the films."
Well, the first person is indeed preferable to the impersonal style using third person, "we", indefinite subject or infinitive verbs... Because the writer should endorse his own opinions when they are just opinions, and distinguish that from factoids and general wisdom that belong to culture and are not based on impressions/assumptions. The first person corresponds to the acknowledgement of the writer of his unique personal perspective. I care less for its stylistic advantages than for its inherent qualification of a point of view and discriminate the levels of reliability of informations contained in the article.
It's OK to let the ego speak, to express personal opinions, to share subjective interpretations, to throw tentative assumptions, to suggest speculative theses. But it's better to make it clear who speaks, where these statements come from, since the journalist publishes informations for the mass that might misinterpret the level of truth of a sentence. Good critics shouldn't build a reputation on such misunderstandings.
Read also Leo Charney's article : "Common People with Common Feelings" on Pauline Kael. (in my previous post)
That's why I believe film criticism is a collective action, one nurtured by the ego and subjectivity of many, to form an ensemble of perspective that balance eachothers. Film culture is not the sum of unilateral authoritative statements imposed by a self-appointed chosen few who say "I'm a film critic so you must watch what I like". Only the plurality of voices, the checks and balances, the self-criticism, the open debate of opinions, the mutual engagements with eachother's ideas could build an accessible film culture.

JP Coursodon : "I consider myself a fairly ordinary film viewer, but I have never expected film to be the purveyor of wish fulfilment. I never expected a movie to fulfill any wish I might have. I never went to a movie with any kind of 'wish' that might somehow be 'fulfilled' by the experience of watching the movie. I don't even comprehend the concept of wish fulfilment. I can't believe that I am a freak exception and everybody else goes to movies for fulfilling some wishes. Maybe I'm in denial... JPC"
Fred Camper : "Yes, I don't come here [a_film_by] to "have fun" either. I also don't go to films to "have fun." There's nothing wrong with fun, but there are other kinds of experiences in life, and great cinema offers something different."
Here is the difference between the regular audience and the professional viewer. I could as well say the difference between the casual movie goer (who is a consumer paying to receive a guaranteed entertainment) and the art lover (who visits a "museum" devoutly, with respect for the work, with understanding, with humility).
The consumers expect a service, a gain, a return for their money. They don't care who did it, or why and how, they don't care for excuses, for explanations, for messages. All they want is to get the entertainment they ordered, to kill time, to feel good, to escape daily life, to forget their problems. They are in an egocentric attitude, where the movie should come to them or fail. That's why the audience may be disappointed by a film for many different reasons, because it didn't match the expectations they built up for this movie, or their idea of an enjoyable night-out at the movies.
The critic goes towards the film, the filmmaker, in order to find the clues, to find what the auteur had to say, to offer. This is a forward pull in the direction of the film, a film-centric perspective.
This is a very different process. And if critics tell you they can predict what your ego wants in movies, what will be your favourite movies... they are lying. A film writer shouldn't make a business of dictating preferences, being a taste maker.
A critic is there to give readers all the elements necessary for you to judge for yourself if it fits your need or not, to help you enter the world of the film, to accompany you down the labyrinth.
Adrian Martin : "There is something in criticism I value perhaps above everything else: it is what I can call the ‘personal voice’. I do not mean the autobiographical or confessional content of writing, which often bores and irritates me – and, in fact, most writers ‘in person’ are absolutely nothing like what you imagine them to be from their writing! No, I mean the way in which an individual writer can communicate and draw you into his or her own ‘system’, their way of seeing, feeling and processing films, as well as the world."
Cinemascope.it (issue 7) PDF
  • See illustration here

25 septembre 2009

The Root of Anti-Intellectualism

Common People With Common Feelings
The rhetoric of American popular criticism arises on the shifting sands between authority and persuasion. In contrast to the scholarly discourse of academic film criticism and the reportorial tone of newspaper film reviewing, popular film critics strategically emphasize the personal nature of their responses. Yet they must reach beyond this subjectivity to persuade readers, support evaluative authority, and to catalyze communal response. The critic is one viewer who expresses one opinion, yet film critics aspire to resolve this potentially troubling crisis of authority by foregrounding rather than concealing it."

[..] the critic [of popular film criticism] distances himself from both other critics and the entertainment industry, depicting himself as independent, disinterested, and trustworthy; emphasizes the personal, subjective nature of her responses as one of the "common people with common feelings" who watches movies; and then uses this subjectivity to license a shift from personal to communal response, a shift that converts the critic's subjective opinion into the engine of communal persuasion and the focal point of a public sphere of film response. [..]

Agee disagrees with other critics as a strategy to disavow his own authority. They are the "intellectuals," the ones who determine public taste, while he is a regular guy throwing spitballs. [..] Having placed himself rhetorically as just another guy, Agee goes on to distinguish himself subtly from other members of the mass audience, enforcing his own authority as the critic. [..] But this persona is set against both "every-one," whose opinion Agee judges, and his role as a critic, a "duty" that Agee separates from the "I" who enjoys movies.

The early work of Pauline Kael took Agee's highly personal style one step further, not simply deploying a rhetoric of subjectivity but explicitly privileging subjective response over "objective" standards, which for Kael emblematized the dual manipulations of both other critics and the culture industry. [..]
Kael portrays authority and objectivity as gestures of power, designed to make regular movie-goers feel bad about the validity of their instinctive responses; personal response is all that exists, while critical "objectivity" constructs a scaffolding to justify subjective reactions and bolster the critic's authority at the expense of the viewer's response. [..] Valorizing subjective response becomes, for Kael, an anti-authoritarian gesture, an act of empowerment. Above all in "Trash, Art, and the Movies," she defined "art" as a category of manipulation, a con designed by critics and press agents to keep themselves in power at the expense of movie viewers : it is "preposterous" [..]

Placing herself against the Hollywood industry but also against art cinema ; against other critics ; and refusing to judge films by an invariably applied "standard," Kael emphasized response. She enforced her own authority by placing herself outside the sphere of those authorities she circularly defined as manipulative and untrustworthy. She gets readers to trust her by positioning herself as the only person they can trust. This emphasis both allies her with and aims to articulate a public sphere of film response.
Leo Charney, "Common People With Common Feelings" : Pauline Kael, James Agee and the Sphere of Popular Film Criticism,
in CiNéMAS, Journal of Film Studies, Vol.6, N° 2-3, Spring 1996 [Official website]
(Read/Download the full PDF article online)

Lire aussi:

20 septembre 2009

Screens & Population - World Cinema Stats (5)

Screens per million population (2007-08) 67 nations + EU + HK + Québec
  • Number of screens in 2008 (or 2007 when not available) compared to the population size (in 2008, sorry about this convenient approximation). See total number of screens here.
  • This puts every nation on equal footing, regardless for their population size. We can see the omnipresence/shortage of screens available to the entire population.
  • Iceland is still on top with 141 screens per million inhabitants (population = less than 1/3 of a million). The only country above the USA. USA (=132 scr./mil) is the widest theatre circuit in the world, bringing cinema to the largest share of population.
  • By contrast, the other "big cinema nations" could improve their theatre offering : EU (74); India (12); China (total: 31 / modern: 3), their population exceeds the American population and could score higher with a comparable abundance of screens (provided the movie-going enthusiasm follows).
  • We find the countries that topped the Attendance per capita chart : Ireland, Spain, Australia, Norway, France, Canada... albeit not in the same order. Meaning the number of screens is not always the limiting factor. The countries that are no longer on top in this stats (Singapore, New Zealand, Georgia, South Korea...) attract more audience proportionally with less screens available. These countries already have a motivated movie-going population, and could benefit from an increase of screens to improve even more their scores.
In the next chart, we can see the countries that fill theatres easily, and at the bottom those with empty theatres...

Average Yearly Audience per screen (2008) 65 nations
  • India dominates once again the chart (though it needs confirmation that the data I have for Admissions corresponds to the same screens that are tallied, like the China discrepensy between modern theatres and total screenings). This ratio showing full seats for each screen is way higher than anywhere else in the world, and it corroborates the results in previous graphs (highest admissions tally, and medium screen quantity). Either all theatres are huge, or most shows must be sold out. Which makes movie-going enthusiasm quite visible in Indian culture, in the street. No wonder Indian exhibitors had the leverage to negotiate a deal with Bollywood in the early 2009 strike. There seems to be too few theatres in India to cater for the massive audience.
  • The next nations (Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia) are only half as big as India. Surprisingly they are the ones that were at the bottom of the charts previously (film production, admissions, attendance per capita, screens), though Singapore did rank 2nd in attendance per capita. Again it shows demand exceeds supply.
  • Hong Kong and South Korea are two nations with a high production and a great audience following, like India. Over Iceland and USA, which are the top nations in Admissions per capita, they are only a 1/6 as high as India, or a 1/3 of the next group aforementioned.
  • At the bottom of this chart (Czech Rep., Sweden, Ukraine) either have too many screens, or the population doesn't like cinema (on the big screen) enough.

19 septembre 2009

Burdeau sur la critique web française

Interview sample on the France Culture website (Sept 2009): "Rentré ciné. De Twitter aux textes sans limites" La webcritique.
Emmanuel Burdeau : "Y'a beaucoup de chose à inventer, pour renouveler l'analyse de séquence, pour faire des entretiens filmés, monter des extraits ensemble, pour que la critique manie elle-même les images et le son pour en faire des outils d'analyse critique."
"Les outils de pensée que la critique a l'habitude de manier sont caduques sinon en train de le devenir (perte du pouvoir prescripteur des journaux, nouvelle cinéphilie, petit écran TV, téléchargement pirate)."
"Ce que me semble très important c'est l'aspect international d'internet, la possibilité pour la cinéphilie de fonctionner à sa véritable échelle, qui est aujourd'hui internationale. (eg. Moving Image Source)"
"Internet est une pièce centrale de reconsidération nécessaire des rapports entre la critique et le spectateur, la critique et l'industrie, la critique et les lieux où les films sont montrés, la critique et les cinéastes. Mais la réponses n'est pas seulement du côté d'internet. Elle se situe dans une interface entre internet et la presse écrite, entre internet et les salles de cinéma, entre internet et les musées..."
"On peut considérer qu'aujourd'hui la plupart des revues de cinéma et des quotidiens défendent le même cinéma, et que le lieu où peut se défendre un autre type de cinéma, c'est internet. C'est un lieu de liberté incomparable pour ça."
"Aujourd'hui, le besoin d'un esprit critique ne se fait pas tellement ressentir, mais ça va revenir."
"Un reproche qu'on pourrait faire à un certain type de blogs c'est qu'ils sont encore trop réglés sur l'actualité hebdomadaire. Ils rivalisent dans leur façon de fonctionner peut-être un peu trop avec les quotidiens, hebdomadaire et mensuels classiques. Alors que la critique de demain, c'est une critique qui pourra à la fois parler des films qui sortent, mais aussi des DVDs, mais aussi un discours donné en accompagnement d'un film proposé en téléchargement... réglée sur plusieurs types d'actualités"
"Les 'cadors', les 'petits messieurs' de la critiques existent depuis des dizaines d'années. Donc il est évident qu'il faut être absolument du côté d'internet. Entre les vieux de la vieille qui sont contents d'eux qui n'ont pas changé d'avis depuis 40 ans, et des jeunes excités qui éventuellement peuvent dire des choses irrecevables sur internet, ou très agressives, il est évident qu'il faut être du côté d'internet. Si il y a un arbitrage à faire, il est très très clair."
I'm glad to see that the positions on the internet of the ex-Cahiers editor is more progressive and realist than when he was still in command of Cahiers last year (at the NYC roundtable), or even earlier, dec 2007 (at the Cahiers roundtable). Would a certain "conflict of interest" explain this sudden reversal in favour of the internet projects, and allowing him to discredit today the pundits of the press he used to be part of?
Anyway, it's always nice when institutional voices speak out to support the agenda we've been pushing online for years. The wind is changing. Soon or later, the power-that-be, the taste-makers, the pundits of the conservative press will realise that the internet is today's modernity, that the general population has already embraced it, that the cultural landscape is migrating online and that it's where it will continue to generate the culture of the XXIst century.

In his speech, I still hear references to the old paradigm. He's concerned about "economic model and capital", "popularity and readership following in numbers", "circulation and business size"... as if these marketing considerations ever mattered to the existence of the Press. They were always materialistic statistics, and culture doesn't depend on polls and public satisfaction. His argument against the blogs is that there isn't yet one big hegemonic blog that would suck up all paper readership and single-handedly substitute the press monopole with an internet monopole.
The technological conversion doesn't present itself under such premise; there is no complete transition from one medium to the new one to be expected in the short term. What is evolving is the culture itself, not the industrial infrastructure. It's people's habits and usage that changes. Not the power balance between anonymous nerds and seasoned academics that will take over the control over film culture intelligence overnight. It's not going to happen. But if all newspapers and magazines go "virtual", it won't be a surprise. The internet is not a territorial war, it's a promised land for any entrepreneurial pioneers who want to use the tools that the consumers already use.

03 septembre 2009

Light Speed Zero

In a more or less dystopian interpretation of the cold war, Ray Bradbury depicted the crime against culture with an auto-da-fé for literature. Books and books cremated like as many Jeanne d'Arc. In a disconcerting act of Pataphysics, the firemen in Fahrenheit 451 took the name of their job a little too literally and substituted the salvaging water of their hose with a destroying fire. The only hope for humanity to save the "library of Alexandria" from ashes was to memorize every book by heart and carry them clandestinely inside your head. Vagabonds with a mind full of literature masterpieces, walking an Earth without a single book left to read. A drastic return to oral tradition when culture was transmitted from one mouth to one ear, every day and every year, repeatedly, until the younger generation is ready to pass it on to the new-born generations.

They say when an old man dies, it's like if a library is burning down. But Nika Bohinc (Ekran) and Alexis Tioseco (Criticine) were not old yet. Unbelievable tragedy!
« Pour faire un film, il vous faut obligatoirement une fille et un pistolet » in Histoire(s) du cinéma. Why did Godard ever utter this nonsense ?
A book can always be copied, reprinted, handwritten, recited, learnt by heart. Censorship has always had a hard time to suppress literature. But when the light doesn't shine through the celluloid, a film dies completely, definitively. When eyelids shut down forever at the touch of a bullet, cinema ceases to exist abruptly; not only an instant death, but any evidence it ever had been disappears at the same time. Unfortunately images are transient figments of our memory. We can't photocopy, rewrite, memorize a film when the last reel is lost, because unlike books, the sum of images and sounds exceeds whatever a narrator could transmit orally.

The preservation of film archives in celluloid was a big concern of Alexis' ultimate post on his blog Concentrated Nonsense and many of his previous articles.

I always thought the real "book-keepers", or "hommes-livres" in French, from the ending of Truffaut's adaptation of Fahrenheit 451 ending were instead the cinephiles. Most certainly, Truffaut had this analogy in the back of his head. When a film title is pulled from public theatres, when a nitrate reel burns out, when a filmmaker can't find a distributor, when censorship bans a scene or an entire film... there are only cinephiles left to testify that these images ever existed. When a film critic dies, not only the unimaginable amount of unwritten material waiting in her/his head is lost, but all the films seen, revisited, hunted down, captured, felt, cherished, understood, appropriated vanish instantly. Irrecoverably. As certain as when light halts, darkness takes over.
It takes a long time to form a cinephile. Hours and hours of steady viewing. Years and years of initiation. Thousands of films ingested and digested. This investment was dear to Alexis heart, and the raison d'être of his love for his girlfriend Nika, as you can read it in this beautiful open letter.
Domestic film culture in her land, Slovenian cinema, and his land, Filipino cinema, in particular, but also World Film Culture in general will suffer greatly from their absence. Two pairs of eyes that had seen so many wonders, that had so many things to tell us about it. I'll remember Roy Betty's final words, the Blade Runner replicant (another perfect cinephile metaphor), as of someone whose eyes had encyclopaedic memories, someone who was not allowed to live to tell. An irreparable loss for their families and friends, for a cinephile community severely lacking such exemplary models of transnational love and dedication.

Survivors are left with the responsibility to pass on to the next generations everything Nika and Alexis, ces "hommes et femmes-films", these "film-keepers", had the liberty to share and recount from the scrupulous spectatorship of their intimate filmic memory, their fragile and fugitive mental film archive.

Lights out and silence.

24 juillet 2009

World Artfilm Blogs United

Please add your recommendations for film writers in these countries in the comments below or email to me, provided they fit the criteria : (1) mainly about artfilms, documentaries, experimental cinema (2) preferably written in English, or else in local language (3) eventually a local resource. See introductory post here. Subscribe to updates of this post (RSS feed for comments thread) Seeking Artfilm Blogs Desperately
Wide Middle East
IRAN جمهوری اسلامی ايران - [Farsi/Persian]
TURKEY Türkiye Cumhuriyeti [Turkish]

ALGERIA الجمهورية الجزائرية الديمقراطية الشعبية [Arabic] [Tamazigh] [French]
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EGYPT جمهورية مصر العربية [Arabic]
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MALI République du Mali - [Bambara] [French]
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MOROCCO المملكة المغربية - [Arabic] [Tamazigh] [French]
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SENEGAL République du Sénégal - [Wolof] [French]
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CHINA 中國 [Mandarin] [Cantonese]
HONG KONG 中華人民共和國香港特別行政區 [Cantonese] [English]
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TAIWAN 臺灣 [Mandarin] [Taiwanese] [English]
SOUTH KOREA 대한민국 [Korean]
JAPAN 日本国 [Japanese]
INDIA भारत गणराज्य [Hindi] [Tamil] [Telugu] [Kannada] [Malayalam] [Bengali] [Marathi] [Gujarati] [English]

South East Asia
THE PHILIPPINES Republika ng Pilipinas [Filipino] [English]
THAILAND ราชอาณาจักรไทย [Thai] [English]
SINGAPORE [English] [Malay] [Chinese] [Tamil]

Latin America
MEXICO [Spanish]
BRAZIL [Portuguese]
PERU [Spanish]CHILE [Spanish]
Eastern Europe
RUSSIA Российская Федерация [Russian]
ROMANIA România [Romanian]
SLOVENIA Republika Slovenija [Slovene]
BULGARIA Република България [Bulgarian]

Underexposed Western Europe
Portugal [portuguese]
Spain España [spanish]
Germany Deutschland [German]

General sites on unsung world cinema